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Canon finally gets serious about mirrorless with the new M5

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Better late than never

Canon

Canon is finally ready to get serious about mirrorless cameras. Today the company announced the Canon EOS M5, a new SLR-style mirrorless camera with a built-in electronic viewfinder that will be shown off at Photokina next week. It’s the company’s fifth and most fully featured interchangeable lens mirrorless camera to date, and it will cost $979 (body only) when it goes on sale in November of 2016.

If you’re looking for something to compare it to, the M5’s specs line up pretty closely with Canon’s most recent midrange DSLR, the 80D. It has the same size 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor, a similar 49 cross-type autofocus points, and an ISO range of 100-25,600. It also employs Canon’s "dual pixel" autofocus system, where each pixel is capable of simultaneously capturing light while focusing. Dual pixel is becoming a standard for Canon, and by most accounts, it’s fast and impressive, even if other Canon cameras (like the 7D Mark II) have more total autofocus points. The M5 gets Canon’s newer Digic 7 image processor, though, and so Canon says users should expect the camera’s image quality to be as good or better than what they can get on the 80D.

The M5 will also be fairly fast when shooting. It can capture stills at 7 frames per second with continuous autofocus, or 9 fps without it — though that’s still slower than the more expensive Fujifilm X-T2, or the similarly-priced Sony a6300. The M5 is also capable of capturing 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second, but videographers should note that the 3.2-inch, 1.6-million dot rear LCD touchscreen only tilts out 85 degrees and down 180 — it can’t swivel out and around like the screen on the 80D.


When compared to Canon’s previous mirrorless efforts, though, the M5 stands out. Those cameras — the EOS M, M2, M3, M10 — were compact bricks with no viewfinders. The M5 is anything but. It features a more classic SLR-style body that looks like a chubbier Fujifilm X-T2 (especially around the grip). The extra space allowed Canon to build in a 2.36-million dot electronic viewfinder instead of pressuring customers to buy an external EVF that plugs into the camera’s hot shoe. It also gave Canon room for more buttons and dials — there are four dials and buttons at the top and a scroll wheel with menu controls on the back of the camera, and almost all of them are customizable. To top it all off, the camera is weather-sealed, though Canon says it’s not as robust as the 5D Mark IV’s sealing, and despite a number of requests the company hasn't said what the body is made from other than to make clear it's "not magnesium alloy."

Canon says the M5 will be the first camera in the EOS line equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy, allowing for an always-on connection to a user's smartphone. It sounds similar to Snapbridge, the always-on connection that Nikon started building into its cameras earlier this year, but Canon was short on details about how its version of the idea will work.

The M5 looks fast, light, and reasonably priced

One thing that’s missing from the M5 is a joystick for selecting focus points, like the one found on the X-T2, the Fujifilm X-Pro2, or even some of Canon’s DSLRs. Canon did say that you’ll be able to drag your thumb across the LCD screen to select a focus point, though, a move that follows in the footsteps of companies like Olympus. There is also 5-axis image stabilization, but it's digital — a far cry from the mechanical stabilization available in competing cameras from Olympus or Sony.

Perhaps the biggest knock on Canon’s mirrorless efforts so far — even more than camera design — is that the company offers a meager lineup of native lenses. Canon is adding one more lens to that lineup today — a 18-150mm f3.5-6.3 lens with image stabilization. It will retail for $499, and Canon will sell it bundled with the M5 for $1,479, but it won’t be available until December. You can also use the bigger lenses meant for Canon’s DSLRs with the M5, but you need to buy a $99 adapter.

Like Nikon, Canon has spent the last few years focused on its DSLRs instead of adapting to the growing mirrorless camera market. The M5 feels like Canon's first whole-hearted attempt at changing that. It mashes modern features with traditional style while keeping things small and light. (The M5 weighs 13.4 ounces, about half the weight of the 80D.) It's not the digital version of Canon's classic AE-1 I hoped for late last year, but it's the company's first mirrorless camera that doesn't look like an afterthought.