I wanted the Canon EOS R to be a contender. To be salvation – if that is even possible in the world of photography. I think the Canon EOS R does a great job of producing great photos, but I don’t feel there is anything really new here. You won’t be wowed by the RAW files the Canon EOS R produces, but you won’t be dissatisfied with them either. You may hate the functionality of the camera right from the beginning though. Especially if you are using one of Canon’s pro level bodies like the 5D or 1DX.

My Canon History

The first photo that I took in 1993 was with a Nikon 8008. I switched to Canon in 200o because of the technology that Canon was integrating into their gear at the time. Features like Image Stabilization were too important to pass up and Nikon was severely far behind. Every professional photo that I have taken up until this past summer has been with a Canon camera and lens. If you want to know why I decided to switch manufacturers for the third time in 25 years read Why Leica.

The Canon EOS R showed promise as a native body replacement for my extreme telephoto lenses. Leica doesn’t offer extreme telephotos for their SL body at this point. I figured an easy $2299 plus $99 for the EF-EOS R adapter and I would be good to go with super fast auto focus, IS functionality and a significant weight and size savings over a 1DX. Excitement abounded, then I turned on the camera and the struggle began…

Canon EOS R Build

My Canon EOS R setup came with the new RF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM lens. This kit will set you back $3,399. If you are looking for the body only you are in for $2299 plus another $99 for the EF-EOS R adapter that will allow you to use all of your current EF mount lenses on the Canon EOS R. The camera body with new RF lens attached tipped the scale at 1365 grams. This is just 300 grams lighter than the Sony a7 III with a 24-70 f/2.8 lens attached. Comparing the Canon EOS R body with a Sony a7 III from a weight perspective is almost an identical match – 660g/655g respectively. The Canon EOS R is almost a 1000 grams lighter than their flagship pro 1DX body.

The Canon EOS R feels good in the hand. Canon states that is has similar weather proofing to their 6D II body, which is potentially less sealing than a 1DX Mark II. The new RF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM lens on the other hand feels a bit more plastic and hollow. I also noticed some blurring around the edges of my frame when shooting with this lens at f/11. Not something that I would expect at this point from Canon.

Canon EOS R Mount

Why the new lens mount? This is my most asked question regarding mirrorless cameras from Canon and Nikon. I have been told that mirrorless’ lack of shutter mechanics is the cause for the change. Basically, manufacturers move the sensor closer to the lens because of this, which makes current lenses obsolete from a mounting perspective. On the plus side though, lenses can have less elements and thus weigh less. Canon’s RF mount is a very large 54mm diameter mount with now 12 data contact pins instead of the EF mount’s 8. If you cut through all of the “Revolutionary” marketing mumbo jumbo, there is some actual science to what they are doing here.

“The shorter flange-back distance allows Canon to mount a large rear lens element much closer to the sensor, and the wide diameter means they can create lenses that don’t need to squeeze light through a narrow tunnel. Designing lenses that don’t have to make such dramatic adjustments to the course of the light passing through the lens allows lenses with fewer optical aberrations. It also gives the option to use fewer elements, which can make some lenses lighter.” – Richard Butler, DPReview.

This camera is basically the beginning of the future for Canon.

Canon EOS R Handling

When first picking up this body, you will feel like Canon nailed the design. It feels great in your hands. It is a larger body than Sony’s ‘a’ series mirrorless cameras. In fact, it is about the same size as a Leica SL. This isn’t bad for those of us with big hands. Well until you need to turn the camera on and actually use it. This is where the fun begins.

I am going to flat out commend Canon for this camera for a mere moment. It is a massive step in a new direction. Ok, good feelings are gone.

While the menus look and contain many of the same features and functions as a 5D Mark IV or 1DX Mark II, the camera controls placement and functionality is significantly different. You will not move over to this camera as would moving from a 5D Mark III to Mark IV.

A massive part of the Canon EOS R functionality is dictated by touch screen just like your iPhone or other touch screen device. Canon has ditched the large wheel found on the backs of the 1Dx and 5D cameras. They have also ditched the joystick which made switching autofocus points so simple.

Photos like this aren't as easy to produce with the EOS R. I was lucky.

Canon EOS R Autofocus

The autofocus point selection was the first feature that threw me for a loop. To adjust autofocus out of the box, you first press the autofocus on button, then use the front control dial to scroll points left to right and the back control dial to move points up and down. You can also set a custom function option to use the new four-way controller or use the touch screen on the back while your eye is pressed to the viewfinder. Like I said, this is a very different animal.

There are 5,655 selectable autofocus points built into this camera though. The EOS R will focus in light as low as -6EV and I witnessed that when shooting landscapes just after dark.

The autofocus controls flustered me, but the auto focusing action itself made me feel even more inadequate as an action photographer. In 30 days of testing, I never felt like the camera was autofocusing, though many of my shots were in focus when downloaded. Luck or product performance, I just don’t know at this point. The camera is really hard to use if you are shooting action, and significantly easier if you are photographing slower changing subjects like landscape.

I liked the ability to move the autofocus around from the LCD better than using the 4-way adjusting ring. Though I really wanted the joystick of my 1DX to return for moving my autofocus points.

The left and right arrows highlight the Multi-Function Touchbar.

Multi-Function Touchbar

This touchbar is a brand new customizable feature from Canon. The Multi-Function touchbar can be tailored as two buttons and a swipe mechanism that works with the options that you program it with. Out of the box this feature is unset and off. There are 6 customizable SWIPE options and 7 customizable TAP options available for the user to program the Multi-Function touchbar. Some options include: ISO, White Balance, Autofocus, Movie Recording, and many more.

Again, I commend Canon for adding this cool design element, but I didn’t find it useful for the way I shoot. I am pretty good with adapting to new devices and technology, but at this point feel like there is way too much stuff being crammed into this 600 gram body. In fact, I feel like the M-Fn touchbar was in the place where I wanted the Autofocus On button to be.

Canon EOS R with 24-105 Kit Lens -Review and photo by Jay Goodrich
Say hello to the new oldness. The RF Control Ring.

Control Ring on RF Lenses

Do you remember the aperture ring on lenses of yesteryear? If so, this little feature that Canon has implemented into all of the new RF lenses is kind of cool. This clicking dial can be customized to act as an aperture adjustment dial or programmed with other optional parameters like shutter control, exposure compensation and ISO, if you think outside of the old-school photography box. Unlike the M-Fn touchbar, I feel that this is a new useable feature. Retro in thought, new by design.

Switching Between Stills/Video

For 15 minutes I sat in my office trying to figure out how the hell to turn on the video with the Canon EOS R. Finally, like many of the new setup and touch screen functions, I realized it was a two-step process. Touch the Mode Button then touch the video option on the rear LCD. Ummm, Canon, you had me with the simple video/still switch on the 5D Mark IV and 1DX Mark II. Stop reinventing the wheel that isn’t broken!

Video Quality

Canon may have added 4K video to this camera, but unlike its competitors there is a significant 1.8X crop to 4K on the sensor. Forget a wide angle field of view at this point. They are also only offering 4K at 30FPS and there is significant rolling shutter. You do get Dual Pixel autofocus while running video though, which is a welcome surprise. Again good luck figuring it all out. Drop a hit of acid and all may make sense just like Adobe renaming Lightroom.

24mm Landscape shot at: 1/13 sec @ f/13 Iso 1600.

Camera Speed

I would love to say that this camera is unbelievably fast and competes with the 20FPS rates of Sony’s a9, but that is hardly the case. The Canon EOS R shoots at 8FPS, one frame better than the 5D Mark IV. Where it drops out significantly is during AF tracking. With AI Servo set to first frame focus you will get 5FPS and if you want to make tracking your subject a priority the EOS R drops down to a meager 3FPS. Like I mentioned earlier, this camera is probably not for the action photographer although Canon paid Jimmy Chin and Devin Graham a lot of money to make it seem otherwise.

Photo Quality

If you currently own a Canon 5D Mark IV, you will struggle to notice any difference between the RAW file quality here. I would say that noise levels are definitely higher than the Sony a7 III, so if you absolutely love low level light photography with high ISOs, stick with a known good. That being said, the photos look really good out of this camera, I wasn’t disappointed with anything that I was able to produce, just know you are on another Canon horizontal tech move.

Notice the noise of the RAW on right compared to JPG on left. At 100%.

Epiphany JPEG Moment

Somehow, even though I was confident that I switched the camera from JPG to RAW recording mode, I didn’t. When reviewing photos, I was pretty bummed that I didn’t correctly save my selection or finalize my touch screen option, but I discovered that the EOS R does a better job of reducing noise in-camera with a jpeg recording option selected over a RAW one.

Canon EOS R Viewfinder

The EOS R sports an OLED EVF with 3.69 million dots of resolution to it. YEAH! Another manufacturer to move beyond Sony. The viewfinder on this camera may actually be my favorite part of it. It is crisp. Similar, yet better than what I tested on the Fuji X-H1 and far better than looking through any Sony.

More Coolness

Mirrorless cameras have no protection for the sensor. It just sits out there in the elements for every lens change, adding more and more dust for the photographer to clone out. Canon has helped with the EOS R, by allowing the mechanical shutter to cover the sensor when lenses are removed.

The Canon EOS R features an articulating LCD. The LCD has significantly more adjustment than what Sony currently offers. It will even spin back on itself allowing you to close it when traveling, minimizing the opportunity for backpack scuffs and scratches.

Canon has also built WiFi and Bluetooth into the EOS R, but they have still ignored the GPS component. I am sure that there will be an extraneous adapter for this in the future, if there isn’t already. But… if an iPhone can have builtin GPS why can’t a mirrorless camera that is almost the size of a traditional DSLR have it too? It can, Leica did it.

One last little bummer with the EOS R, only one SD card slot. I personally like to create a running in-camera backup of all my photos using the second card slot.

Canon EOS R Adapters & More

One place that Canon didn’t skimp is with their EF to RF adapters. My initial thought was WTF, but after using the camera, realized their cheapest $99 EF-EOS R adapter was good and the other two are even better options. The Control Ring EF-EOS R adapter will add the new RF Control Ring lens functionality to any EF lens for $199 and then the Drop-in Filter EF-EOS R adapter will allow you to add a circular polarizer to any EF lens when attached to the EOS R camera. This adapter would be awesome when using lenses like the 8-15mm Fisheye.

The EOS R currently has four lenses available for it, so it’s a bit limiting right now. In addition, some of those lenses seem to step out of this camera’s price point. Beyond the RF 24–105mm F4 L IS USM that I tested with, there is an RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STMRF 50mm F1.2 L USM, and the mic dropping bomb of an RF 28–70mm F2 L USM. The RF 28–70mm F2 L USM has an entry price point of $2999.

So what’s the deal with this f/2 $2999 lens? I believe it may actually be some forward thought from Canon. Maybe there is a truly pro level EOS R body on the table. This leads me right to one of my major hangups with Canon.

DREADED Body Options

Back when digital photography was coming of age, Canon had this marketing model in place that made me want to kill everyone who worked there. They had the 1D, a 1.3x crop sensor camera that shot fast frame and auto focus rates and the 1Ds which had a full-frame sensor and crappy frame and focus rates. If you were a photographer who wanted full-frame functionality with fast frame and auto focus rates you were out of luck. You had to buy the two bodies and choose accordingly. Canon kept this marketing bullshit on for generations of cameras until they finally got sick of all the complaints and released the 1DX. To this day I still see them utilizing this concept within menu options of cameras of different price points.

Will this become the new future of the EOS R line? Is there some EOS 1Rx or 1Rs in the works that opens up crazy cool options for double the price. My magic eight balls says, “All signs point to yes”. The beauty of a mirrorless system is that you aren’t really dependent on the functionality of the mechanical systems (think shutter speeds) so firmware upgrades can fix lots of issues that aren’t processor related. Firmware upgrades aren’t really Canon’s cup of tea either though.

Final Thoughts

The Canon EOS R camera lured me in like the Sirens of Greek Mythology. A full-frame 30MP mirrorless camera from the brand I have spent my entire pro career using. The true reality is that this camera is so feature and tech packed it alienates Canon’s current users – myself included. There is no doubt in my mind that Canon knows how to market, even when a device they create, doesn’t work for the group they are marketing it to. Is Canon a bit of a snake oil salesman with the EOS R?

I think photographers hear full-frame sensor and our ears perk up like a sleeping dog when he hears the closet door open where his food is stored. Do I hate this camera? No, but on the other hand I don’t really like it either. I think this camera is another horizontal move made by Canon even with its Multi-Function Touchbar, RF lens mount, and lens Control Ring. The actual picture producing part of the camera is a jump reminiscent of the 1DX to the 1DX Mark II. The EOS R is really only different from 5D Mark IV in that it is a mirrorless camera. Yes a bit faster, with new RF lens mount, but seriously, if I had my choice right now, I would buy the 5D over the EOS R.

Who Is this For?

The EOS R feels like a stepping stone to something else, which definitely worries me.

So why the drastic change? Well maybe the marketing peeps at Canon know something about photography that I don’t? I actually know they do. My concern is that Canon may have tailored this camera to a new generation of photographer. One that lives on the touch screen mentality and would kill to play another round of Fortnite. A generation who has 1000 times my followers and knows how to leverage them with shitty photographs that are as soulless as their knowledge for the history of photography itself. A bit harsh, maybe, but time will tell. Prove me wrong Canon. Prove me wrong.

Canon EOS R - Pros

The 30MP sensor produces great publishable photographs

5,655 autofocus points that cover 80% horizontal and 100% vertical of the viewfinder

Great low-light autofocus down to -6EV

Camera and new RF lens combinations are definitely forward thinking

You can use EF lenses to fullest extent with EF-EOS R adapters

New inventive technologies could be the way of the future

RF lens Control Ring hints at the past with more usability

Canon EOS R - Cons

30MP file isn’t really any different than current 5D Mark IV files

8FPS shutter speeds are limited to 5 and 3FPS using AF

Misplaced inventiveness

The RF mount is a step in technology but needed because mirrorless is so different than 35mm DSLR tech

Too slow for action photography

Autofocus points very hard to adjust

Autofocus can be slow and inaccurate

Switching from still to video difficult

Over the top touch screen functionality becomes a burden for the fast moving photographer

Menu feels like Canon but is also option limited

Get you some of this.

Canon EOS R.

Get your very own – Canon EOS R Kit. It is a step in the mirrorless direct for Canon.

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