Revisiting the EOS M – time to move on?

As may well be obvious from some of the posts on this site, I have a serious interest in photography – and run a successful professional photographic business covering wedding, lifestyle / family & commercial photography.  Going right back to my first “serious” digital camera, I’ve always been shooting with Canon equipment – diving in with the [awesome at the time] EOS 10D dSLR, rocking a whole 6.3Mpix.

Fortunately the world has moved on somewhat from those days, and my current equipment bag contains a pair of EOS 5DMk3 dSLRs along with a collection of Canon & Sigma glass.   However, the interesting bit here is that as both the EOS 10D & EOS 5DMk3 camera bodies share Canon’s standard EF lens mount – meaning that despite upgrading cameras throughout the years, one of the first lenses I bought to shoot with the 10D (a Canon 17-40 f4 zoom) works perfectly well with the 5DMk3.


When Canon finally managed to release what seemed to be a reasonable attempt at a compact mirrorless camera, it’s was this rich ecosystem and incredible long-standing heritage which compelled me to buy into the EOS M concept; diving in with the EOS M body and a couple of the new EOS-M specific lenses.  While the camera undeniably delivered on its promises of great image quality and an ability to use the full EF lens line up through use of an EF to M mount adapter, there wasn’t really any getting away from its main and somewhat fundamental shortcoming; poor camera performance and abysmal autofocus.

I essentially put up with the issues for a while, perhaps more through a set of blinkers imposed from having bought into the M system with high expectations, but after maybe 5 months found I was simply using the EOS M less and less.  Every time I tried to use the camera to shoot something which moved, I ended up getting annoyed and frustrated at its inability to focus reliably – and more often than not, reached for my iPhone rather than the M.  Inevitably the M ended up living in the back of a cupboard and in the last couple of weeks, has finally been sold.


As a photographer somewhat invested in Canon, I was watching with interest when Canon launched their comeback mirrorless body; an updated 24Mpx EOS M called the M3.  On paper this looks great – a decent combination of features ranging from a brilliant image sensor & articulated touchscreen through to fast shooting performance and best of all – an new generation autofocus system.   It’s a nice looking camera too – sensibly positioned controls, a good size for photographers used to wielding more substantial cameras; and of course is still able to mount any EF lens in the range.

However, once burnt I was in no hurry to jump onto the M bandwagon again – and instead sat back and waited for reviews to start rolling in. Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for this to happen… with complaints starting to stack up around much the same set of issues which plagued the mk 1 M.  Early adopters are once again reporting problems with sluggish performance, slow shooting speeds, noisy images at higher ISO levels – and once again; slow and unreliable autofocus.

Autofocus on the M3 does seem to be improved from the M1, but in all honesty that wouldn’t have been overly difficult to do.  That said, if you look at any of the multitude of videos shot by new M3 owners who look to be wanting to prove how “good” the M3’s focus is now, it still seems to leave so much to be desired.

For example, this guy seems quite impressed by the speed the M3 manages to re-focus…

To me however, used to shooting dSLRs with properly fast & reliable focus, that still seems atrociously slow.

Yes, it’s faster than the original M would have ever managed to focus on something – but it’s still worlds away from any decent dSLR or perhaps more importantly, similarly priced competing mirrorless cameras (such as Panasonic’s Lumix GX7).  I’ve yet to see a video where someone tries to get the M3 focusing on something that moves – but would imagine that would be an equally disappointing experience.

In a similar vein to what happened with the M and limited-release M2, there are long lists of issues on various forums and review sites which dive into great detail – with threads such as these popping up all over the place:

  • EOS-M3 reportedly slower with EF lenses (in relation to Auto-focus) than the EOS-M1
  • EOS-M3 wont engage the Auto Focus function with a specific Tamron lens (150-600mm). This issue has now been identified by Tamron and is subject to an investigation.
    EOS-M3 auto-focus Assist Lamp switching on all the time when an external flash is attached. The AF light is said to remain ‘ON’ even when turned ‘OFF’ in the M3 menu.
  • EOS-M3 won’t work at all with the popular Yongnuo external flashes.
  • EOS-M3 won’t turn off Image Stabilizer on IS Lenses… even when the camera is in “playback/review mode”. Since image stabilization is known to aggressively deplete battery power, this has the secondary effect of reducing battery life on the EOS-M3.
  • EOS-M3 reported by one member to shut down repeatedly, even with a well charged battery. After shutting down and refusing to turn on again more than 5 times, the member was forced to use his DSLR to capture his shots.
  • EOS-M3 AE Lock button reportedly not working unless you use both hands and hold both the shutter down and the AE Lock button together and keep the AE Lock button depressed continuously.
  • EOS-M3 won’t retain the “Magnify Feature” when using Auto-Focus. It immediately switches from “Magnify” to Wide as soon as the Shutter Button is partway depressed. (this does not occur with Manual Focus)
  • … and many more

And, it’s a great shame, to be honest.

The M line has such massive potential here – with an enormous base of Canon users globally who, like me, are looking for a great but more compact camera which delivers image quality comparable to their professional dSLR kit.  I for one would have happily bought back into the M3. I’d love to have a compact mirrorless camera in my kit bag for those occasions when I don’t want to carry around my 5D Mk3’s and prime glass – but do still want to be able to shoot with something better than a phone camera.

I’m now looking at other options as the need/desire for a compact but good performing camera hasn’t evaporated; and have just dipped my toe into the seemingly unstoppable Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camp with a Lumix GX7.

That’s going to have to be another post, but it would suffice to say that starting to use the GX7 has absolutely confirmed in my mind just how far behind the competition Canon are in the mirrorless space by launching the M3.  

I took the GX7 and a tiny 45mm f1.8 (!!) prime lens along to a recent wedding as an experiment (shooting alongside my 5DMk3’s) – and am astounded at the image quality and performance delivered by the tiny little camera… to the point that I’m going to have to consider taking MFT more seriously in the future, along with taking a long hard look at the awesome Olympus OMD E-M1 & E-M5 bodies for my professional work. 

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