The shooting process itself may not be the EOS M's banner feature, but image quality is quite impressive, even in low light. As we mentioned, you can kick the ISO all the way up to 25,600, though we didn't find any need to venture beyond 6400 when using the camera's 18-55mm image-stabilized kit lens. Nighttime and day-lit shots alike looked fantastic, with sharp details even when viewing each 18-megapixel image at 100 percent zoom. You'll find all of our IQ samples at the more coverage link at the bottom of this page, and they're included in the gallery above as well, but let's take a peek at a select few right now.
The M's f/2.0 prime kit lens not only enables low-light captures with faster shutter speeds, but it also yields beautiful bokeh, as you can see in this frame below. We focused on the shopper's reflection in the mirror for a pleasing soft focus effect in the foreground. Color balance, exposure and sharpness are superb.
Don't let the muted colors fool you -- this scene was captured just as we saw it, with the t-shirt colors faded from many days under the bright Tokyo sun. The sharpness and exposure are excellent as well.
This scene, shot through an open hotel window, yielded spot-on color accuracy and exposure. The camera's 18-megapixel sensor even let us make out text on a highway sign hundreds of feet away (see inset below).
Night scenes are never easy, even for the most powerful DSLRs. The M tackled this Akihabara street with ease, in full-auto mode (we found this setting to be more accurate than aperture priority when shooting after dark or in low light).
Dark laptops aren't easy to photograph, especially when displayed against a backlit surface, but the EOS M did excellent work here, with great color balance to boot. Some of the other images from this shoot had a pink hue, as you can see in our hands-on post (note that the main photo there has been color corrected, though all of the images presented here are untouched).
This image of Toyota's Smart Insect prototype EV was shot at ISO 3200, and offered excellent color accuracy and limited noise, even when viewed at 100-percent. In fact, we spent a day shooting at CEATEC with the M fixed at ISO 3200, which came in handy in dimly lit booths, with great results overall.
You can't properly test a mirrorless camera these days without shooting plenty of video, so we hit the streets of Tokyo to grab some footage in Harajuku, the subway and an Akihabara arcade in order to evaluate image quality and audio in a variety of situations. In video mode, ISO tops out at 12,800, and there's a full manual option that enables you to set aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity. When set to auto, exposure compensation is the only adjustable setting. You can also choose from one-shot or continuous focus -- if you opt for the latter, simply tap on the bottom left corner of the display to jump back to continuous, or press the shutter halfway to adjust focus once. You can shoot stills during recording by pressing the shutter fully, but the video will freeze for about one second, so you'll probably want to avoid that feature.
We found the microphone to be excellent when used for narrations, even in noisy environments, but the top-mounted mics were less effective for interviews -- for these shoots, we'd recommend taking advantage of the M's audio input jack by adding an external mic. We also brought the camera along for a day of trade show hands-ons at CEATEC -- while focus was occasionally an issue, the STM kit lenses enabled silent focusing and smooth manual zoom. Catch our sample reel just below.
There's plenty of good news here, just not much for Canon. With dozens of mirrorless cameras coming onto the market each year, there is now a wide range of options available to consumers -- many models are priced well below Canon's $799 sticker. If fast focusing doesn't top your list of priorities, the $500 Sony NEX-F3 kit is a relative bargain, building upon the NEX-C3's strengths while adding features that have become key in 2012. The NEX-6 ($850, body only) is also worth your consideration, adding a built-in EVF and a mode dial that the EOS M so desperately needs.
If you do have a need for speed, the Olympus E-M5 ($999, body only) or the company's latest PEN kits, the E-PL5 ($700) and E-PM2 ($600), have certainly proven their worth on that front -- focusing performance is on par with top DSLR options, and you also get more advanced controls and a tilting LCD. For video buffs, Panasonic has made a huge push with its Lumix GH3, and while that option has yet to hit stores, you shouldn't have long to wait.
We like the Canon EOS M -- far more than we might have expected, given its mediocre performance during our hands-on -- but the company's first mirrorless ILC falls short on several fronts. Professional photographers can affix their pricey L lenses, which is nice, but the dismal focusing performance means SLRs will probably be far more appealing to these users. With the M, Canon is providing a digital camera bridge of sorts in the hopes of capturing the hearts (and wallets) of amateurs looking to step up from point-and-shoots. Indeed, this is far more versatile than what these beginners are used to, yet it's still built on a simple interface that isn't intimidating. Granted, this isn't what the pros had been hoping for, but Canon's DSLR series clearly isn't ready to free these users from their hefty housings, leaving the company's ever-strong professional lineup to live another day.