(Pocket-lint) - It's taken Canon a long time to advance its mirrorless line-up. For 2018 it's clearly a big year because in addition to the EOS M50 accomplishing more than its lesser EOS M models, the company also released its EOS R full-frame mirrorless line-up. While the latter might be a tempting proposition, the different target market and huge price tag sees the far-more-affordable EOS M50 sit in its own, worthy spot.
With on-body controls and a more usable setup than any other EOS M model to date, the M50 brings together a vari-angle touchscreen and built-in electronic viewfinder, making it the most complete model in the range. However, with the likes of Sony offering more capable and complex autofocus in its A6500, is the Canon a credible offering this late in the game?
- EOS M lens mount
- 3-inch vari-angle LCD touchscreen
- 0.39-inch, 2.36m-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF)
- Updated 'Guided UI' interface - for beginners and beyond
- Body: 116.3 x 88.1 x 58.7mm
- Single SD card slot
- Wi-Fi and NFC
Any Canon users we've bumped into on our travels have immediately gravitated to the M50 and asked to touch and try it. That's for one simple reason: this camera is so much smaller than their DSLR cameras. Indeed, we've been using it as the stand-in for our work and travel camera to see how it holds up, without eating up too much bag space.
We're especially fond of the M50's vari-angle touchscreen, as it can be stowed backwards against the camera body to avoid any potential scratches (something that's high risk if you're chucking the camera into a bag full of other bits). The touchscreen is responsive enough, although it can sometimes be pressed accidentally and move the focus point somewhere you don't want it, for example, which can be irksome. Still, we'd rather have touch control than not.
In addition to the screen there's a built-in viewfinder, which is a rarer sight at this kind of level. It's helpful to use when in bright sunlight for composition, while its high resolution ensures a decent quality level. It's not the biggest viewfinder you'll ever see, but sufficient at this level. There's an auto activation when your eye approaches the finder, or anything else for that matter - we've found the when going to press the exposure compensation (only accessible on screen, as there's no separate physical dial) that we've disengaged the screen, which, again has been irksome. There are clearly some touch-based foibles in the way the camera is setup.
The menu setup is based on Canon's Guided UI, which is said to make it easier for newcomers to find their way around the main menus. That's true to some degree, as the large graphics show what each of the four main areas contain within, but it quickly becomes just another layer that slows down selection and, we suspect, it won't be long before you deactivate it. The menu system that sits behind Guided UI is the same as a Canon DSLR, so familiar to those in the know, or approachable for newcomers who are happy to go digging.
Not that you'll need to go menu digging all the time. The arrangement of buttons on the M50 means functions can be assigned. However, by default the d-pad directional buttons just engage Eco mode, rather than their assigned compensation/AF/flash/delete control, so you will have to configure these for their proper uses.
Overall the M50 has the basis of success, but is a conflict of its own interests. Get it setup correctly and it feels natural enough, but some default settings barriers and touchscreen foibles can make it an occasional nuisance.
- Enhanced Dual Pixel CMOS AF - up to 149 focus areas
- 7.4fps (continuous) / 10fps (single) burst shooting
- Built-in 5-axis image stabilisation system
We've taken the M50 to a variety of places: to the Audi e-tron unveiling; to the Kia ProCeed unveiling; and used it for product photography on Pocket-lint for a number of articles. In that regard it's proven adept enough for the job, with some caveats.
First thing's first, the battery life is poor. It seemed to be decent, but the three bar display for battery life is hugely inaccurate: once a 'third' has depleted, the final 'two thirds' last nowhere near as long and it'll be flashing red in no time. At the Audi launch, as a result, the battery died on us entirely, which wasn't particularly helpful, as we didn't have a spare. Yes, you could carry a spare to negate this, while Eco mode will extend life, but it's tricky to monitor the life - which is the biggest problem we had.
In performance terms, Canon has always seemed rather coy with the EOS M series. Its autofocus setup is rather simplistic, offering Face Detection/Tracking AF, Zone AF, or 1 Point AF.
The Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus system is snappy, but there's just not a huge amount of variety or complexity. Sony's Alpha series is far more considered. It's as though Canon couldn't bring itself to have the EOS M match its DSLR line-up, because it resides on the same kind of setup as the company's compact cameras, which isn't at the level it should be at this price point.
Exposure, too, will often need a tweak. The M50 is cautious to overexpose, which is certainly handy if you're shooting raw, but we've often needed to boost the metering by +0.7-1.0 of a stop. That's more a learning curve thing, really, as different metering modes and competitor cameras behave slightly differently.
For continuous autofocus the camera place a blue grid on screen, actively showing what's being followed for focus, rapidly updating as subjects move. It's rather proficient, but not quite perfect (the Fujifilm X-T3 trumps it, for example).
Burst shooting is rather rapid, too, at up to 10 frames per second (or 7.6fps with continuous autofocus).
- 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor with Digic 8 processor
- 4K movie capture to 30fps, 3.5mm mic input
The real reason to buy a system camera is for its image quality. Beneath the M50's shell is an APS-C sensor size, similar to that found in many Canon EOS DSLR cameras. The quality, therefore, can often be much the same.
Well, sometimes. A lot of image quality is dependent on the lenses attached and, frankly, the Canon EOS M mount doesn't have the range of glass to achieve best-in-class. The 14-42mm kit lens is average, the 18-150mm we've been using for much of this test isn't great at full extension (although it can close focus rather well, and is compact for a zoom lens).
It is possible to use other Canon lenses on the M50 via an adaptor, but then you may as well bypass the M series altogether and just buy a Canon DSLR or whole other system anyway, no?
At lower ISO sensitivities, typically in good light, the EOS M50 can produce colourful, natural images with ample detail. There's some processing which sees the finest of details lack, but not to excess.
As the light dips and the ISO sensitivity rises, results remain strong up to ISO 800. In the four-figure sensitivity region you'll start to see some grain creep into shadow areas, which becomes excessive upwards of ISO 3200.
Perhaps the biggest news is that Canon has - finally! - taken the plunge and introduced 4K capture (that's Ultra-HD resolution, 3840 x 2160) in a consumer-grade camera. There's even a microphone input, which may appeal to vloggers. We didn't think that was going to happen any time soon, but here it is, pride of place in the M50.
The Canon EOS M50 is a step up for the M series. It's taken time to get here, but Canon finally has a credible mirrorless APS-C camera on its hands.
But is that good enough? Given how adept the Panasonic G series have become over the years, and how much more advanced the Sony A6500's autofocus setup is by comparison, Canon still doesn't sit above its competition in any one area.
There are enough positives though: the vari-angle touchscreen and built-in electronic finder are nifty, while image quality is decent and autofocus capable. Importantly the control setup is more manageable than in any EOS M before it, which makes using the camera far better.
Canon still hasn't perfected its mirrorless line-up, though, that's for sure, but the EOS M50 scrapes into the good books by a whisker. At least we can see things are improving so, should the M series survive, this will be the stepping stone into the series' future.
Sony's mirrorless powerhouse is pricier than the Canon, but for the right user it'll be worth the cash. You'll struggle to find a mirrorless cameras with quicker autofocus, while image quality is great, too.