Canon EOS R Mirrorless Camera: A Hands-On Review
The Canon EOS R isn’t the newest Canon camera on the block, but it’s one of Canon’s four full-frame mirrorless offerings.
Which means that, if you’re an advanced Canon photographer looking to move to mirrorless, you don’t have many options.
But what does the Canon EOS R offer advanced and professional photographers? And how does is hold up in the field?
That’s what this review is all about.
I’ve now had the Canon EOS R for nine months, which has given me plenty of time to test it. I’ve worked with the EOS R in rain, in snow, through blowing sand, at night, in the studio, and much more. So I know what this camera can do; I also know its limitations.
And I’ve used the EOS R with an EF to EOS R adapter, so I can confidently say whether Canon EF/EF-S lenses work well with the EOS R, or whether you need to purchase a whole new set of (expensive) Canon RF glass.
Are you ready to discover everything you need to know about the Canon EOS R?
Let’s get started.
Canon EOS R: Overview
The Canon EOS R debuted back in 2018 as Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera, featuring:
- A 30.3 MP sensor
- A native ISO range of 100-40000
- Dual Pixel Autofocus with 5655 AF points
- 5 fps shooting with continuous autofocus; 8 fps shooting with One-Shot AF
- A fully-articulating rear LCD with touch functionality
- A 3.69M-dot electronic viewfinder
- One SD card slot
- 4K/30p video (with a 1.7x crop)
- A 370-shot battery life
- A brand new (RF) lens mount
- Weather sealing
- 1.46 lb (660 g)
- 5.35 x 3.86 x 3.31 in (136 x 98 x 84 mm)
- Current price: $1799 USD
While there are plenty of worthy capabilities on that spec list, at the time the EOS R was seen as something of a letdown.
For two key reasons.
First, the EOS R only offered a single SD card slot. This meant professional photographers who require redundancy in their work (e.g., wedding photographers, sports photographers) didn’t feel comfortable working with an EOS R.
Second, the EOS R didn’t include any innovative features, and certainly not any features on the same level as Sony’s groundbreaking autofocus, huge megapixel counts, blazing-fast continuous shooting speeds, and in-body image stabilization (admittedly, Sony doesn’t offer all these in the same camera, but still!).
That said, the EOS R did, and does, offer some compelling attributes.
And after testing the EOS R for nearly a year, I can say, without a doubt, that it is a great camera…
…for the right person.
Absolutely, the EOS R has some drawbacks, and it fails to really break out in most areas. But it’s also reasonably priced and gives you access to additional mirrorless capabilities that you just can’t get on a DSLR, without needing a brand new bag of lenses (not to mention its relatively fast autofocus and strong image quality that we’ve come to expect from Canon’s higher-end cameras).
Plus, no two photographers are alike, and one photographer’s trash is another photographer’s treasure.
While the EOS R just doesn’t work for some photographers, there are others for whom it’ll be an absolute dream to use.
So let’s take a closer look at the Canon EOS R!
Canon EOS R: Build
The Canon EOS R is medium-level compact, with a relatively lightweight (but solid) build. It’s easily smaller than the full-frame Canon 5D Mark IV, which is longer, taller, and around 1.5x heavier; the same is true of the Canon 6D Mark II.
That said, the EOS R hardly feels slim, and it doesn’t really scream travel-ready to me. Personally, I don’t mind the weight of the EOS R, but if you’re coming from a smaller APS-C mirrorless body then the difference may take a little getting used to.
The EOS R packs a top LCD, as well as a shooting mode dial, a video button, a standard top command dial, and more.
Moving on to the back, you have a 3.2-inch fully-articulating touchscreen, which tilts in pretty much any direction and flips out to the side. You also get several buttons that are almost completely programmable, along with an (also programmable) multi-selector wheel.
Then there’s the electronic viewfinder and, to its right, a programmable touch bar (which I’ll discuss more thoroughly in a moment).
Now, the Canon EOS R is listed as weather-sealed, and it can clearly withstand some difficult conditions. I’ve used it (carefully) in snow and rain, and I’ve had no problems whatsoever. At the same time, the weather sealing just isn’t on the same level as some of the true professional bodies on the camera market, which is why I don’t think the EOS R is the right choice for shooters that regularly subject their gear to intense beatings.
Canon EOS R: Handling
I think I’m in the minority here, but I absolutely love the feel of the EOS R and its in-built capabilities. I’d even go so far to say that it’s the best camera I’ve ever handled, thanks to a few key features.
First, I’m a huge fan of the fully-articulating screen, which is fantastic for getting into odd angles when shooting macro photos, architectural photos, landscape photos, or even street photos when shooting unobtrusively from the hip. Plus, you get touchscreen-based autofocus, so you can easily tap your desired AF point and lock focus in milliseconds.
Second, the electronic viewfinder is clear, bright, and crisp. Thanks to its 3.69M-dot resolution, I rarely miss my optical viewfinder (which was a huge concern for me when I first added mirrorless technology to my camera lineup).
What’s also great about the EVF is how you can use it to “see” in black and white. You can literally look at a black and white world, which is ultra-helpful when it comes to composing compelling black and white images using the viewfinder.
Third, the camera fits perfectly into my hand and I can easily use it without checking where I’m pressing, due to a deep front grip and well-positioned buttons.
Fourth, the EOS R offers the programmable touch bar. This has been a point of contention among EOS R users, because some find it finicky to the point of being unusable, but I’m firmly in the opposite camp. I love the touchbar, which I immediately programmed to adjust my ISO and I haven’t changed since. It’s saved me from missing countless images, because instead of fiddling with buttons and dials, I can boost the ISO with a roll of my thumb.
Have I had occasional issues with the touchbar?
Yes. It’s very sensitive, which means that I’ve accidentally boosted the ISO without meaning to. But while this was frustrating, it was absolutely worth the trade-off discussed above.
I love the silent shooting mode. Unlike silent modes offered on other cameras, the EOS R’s silent shooting is truly silent or, at least, so quiet that you can’t hear the shot unless you listen very, very closely. This is one of those features that just can’t be done on DSLRs, and when it is present in mirrorless cameras, it can be inhibited in some annoying way (e.g., as a separate mode that doesn’t allow you to adjust all your other camera settings).
But on the EOS R, silent shooting is unrestricted, which is one of the reasons I love using the R for street photography. It’s a discrete option in the menu that can be toggled on and off at will. And it allows you to fire off shot after shot without being heard (which is also useful for photographing quiet events, such as weddings and concerts).
That said, there are two key usability issues with the EOS R.
First, the single SD card slot, which I mentioned above, but bears repeating. For me, it’s not a big deal, because I’m not a professional wedding photographer, sports photographer, or portrait shooter. But I can absolutely understand why certain photographers require the second card slot, and in those situations I’d simply refuse to use the EOS R; having a backup is just too important.
Second, battery life is mediocre for a mirrorless camera, which is to say very poor compared to DSLRs. Canon rates the EOS R at 370 shots, and I’ve been able to get far more than that out of it (maybe 600 shots or so), but you’re definitely going to need at least two batteries in the best of situations, and if you’re doing long photoshoots then three is probably better.
It’s also worth mentioning the lack of in-body image stabilization in the EOS R. This is disappointing, and if you’ve ever used cameras like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, you’ll know how powerful good IBIS can be for low-light shooting. But Canon does offer a lot of image-stabilized lenses, so it’s certainly not a dealbreaker.
Canon EOS R: Autofocus and speed
The EOS R uses Canon’s much-loved Dual Pixel AF technology, which was confined to Live View modes on Canon DSLRs. In practice, the autofocus feels fast, but doesn’t really give Sony a run for its money. I spent a few hours shooting ducklings in a river, and my hit rate wasn’t as high as I’d like, especially when the ducks were backlit.
AF coverage is very good, though, and spans pretty much the entire sensor (thanks to the mindblowing 5600+ AF points).
Another bonus here is that autofocusing works all the way down to -6 EV. I’ve used the EOS R in almost complete darkness, and I’ve found that autofocus does indeed work, though it hunts as you approach that -6 EV territory.
That said, the EOS R does offer Eye AF, which allows you to nail focus on your subject’s eyes when capturing portraits. Note that this is generally used instead of Face Detection AF, though the two are designed to work together to get you the best focus depending on whether the eyes or only the face are in view.
You have two options on the EOS R regarding autofocus selection:
You can select AF points using the touchscreen, or you can select AF points using the multi-selector wheel on the rear of the camera. I use the touchscreen almost exclusively, and there’s a nice implementation that allows you to make only a corner of the screen touch-sensitive for AF use, so you don’t have to worry about repeatedly selecting AF points with your nose.
In terms of shooting speeds, I do wish the EOS R were faster.
You can work at 8 fps if you’re using One-Shot AF, but this drops to 5 fps when autofocusing continuously. I consider that 7-8 fps a minimum for action photography, and 5 fps just can’t compete in sports or wildlife or other action scenarios.
The upshot of this is that the buffer is relatively deep; you can capture 65 RAW images without pause, or 126 high-quality JPEGs, which is always nice for situations where you need to keep on shooting during once-in-a-lifetime moments.
So while the EOS R clearly isn’t well-equipped for dedicated action photography, it won’t completely fail you in fast-paced situations.
Canon EOS R: Image quality
The EOS R offers reliable image quality without being particularly groundbreaking.
First, in terms of resolution, you get 30.3 MP, which offers a middle ground between the 45+ megapixel sensors offered by Sony’s A7R series and the Nikon Z7 (as well as the Canon 5DS/5DS R), and the standard 24 MP sensor. Personally, I think this is a nice place to be, because you get good detail and significant cropping capabilities without producing huge file sizes or a lot of high-ISO noise.
Canon cameras aren’t usually known for their high ISO performance, and here the EOS R is a good performer without being great.
The Canon EOS R offers an ISO range of 100-40,000, with the ability to expand to ISO 50 on the low end and ISO 102,400 on the high end. I feel comfortable pushing the ISO to 800 or 1600 when aiming for a clean image, and I’ll often go to ISO 6400 when shooting street images at night, but this is a step down from the truly impressive low-light capabilities of the Nikon Z6 or the Sony a7 III.
The same is true of dynamic range, where images are good without being breathtaking. You don’t get the 15 stops of a Sony a7R IV, but the results are perfectly usable for, say, serious landscape photographers.
All in all, I’m pleased by the Canon EOS R’s image quality without being floored. If you’re coming from an APS-C camera or an older full-frame DSLR, you’ll notice a big difference, but the EOS R doesn’t offer much of an image quality boost compared to a camera such as the Canon 6D Mark II and is pretty on par with the 5D Mark IV.
Canon EOS R: Using the adapter
There are three Canon EF to RF adapters on the market:
The basic EF-EOS R adapter, which simply allows you to connect your EF/EF-S lenses to an EOS R body.
The midrange EF-EOS R adapter, which gives you a dedicated aperture ring when using EF/EF-S lenses.
And the high-end EF-EOS R adapter, which allows you to drop in filters (such as a circular polarizer or an ND filter).
I have only used the first of these, which you can grab for $99 USD. I’ve tested it on the EOS R with a handful of lenses in quite a few situations, and it works flawlessly. I’ve noticed zero autofocus lag, which means that you can comfortably use your EF and EF-S lenses without worry.
However, the adapter comes with two minor drawbacks:
First, it does take up space, either in your bag or on your camera. If you’re aiming for the smallest, lightest kit possible, then it’s probably not your best option.
It’s inconvenient to work with a group of lenses, some of which are EF-mount and some of which are RF-mount, because you have to keep moving the adapter on and off the camera.
To me, these drawbacks aren’t a big deal, and I plan to keep my EF lenses for a long time. But it’s certainly worth thinking about.
Who should purchase the Canon EOS R?
If you’re looking for an advanced or pro-level camera that’s easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and can do a lot of things well without really specializing in one area, then the EOS R is a great option. It’s especially compelling if you’re already a Canon shooter and have a slew of Canon lenses that can be attached via the EF-EOS R adapter.
You can use the EOS R for great results if you’re a:
- Portrait photographer
- Street photographer
- Landscape photographer
- Travel photographer
- Macro photographer
- Architectural photographer
But it’s not an action camera, which means that you shouldn’t grab the EOS R if you’re looking to shoot sports or wildlife exclusively. Instead, I’d recommend the newly released EOS R5 or the EOS R6, which both offer a whopping 20 fps shooting via the electronic shutter. The same is true when it comes to wedding photography: Both the EOS R5 and the EOS R6 offer dual card slots, which make them much better choices for the redundancy-conscious photographer.
In fact, given the release of the EOS R5 and EOS R6, which are pretty much all-around powerhouses, it’s worth asking:
Is the Canon EOS R obsolete?
In most ways, the EOS R5 and the EOS R6 are objectively better than the EOS R.
But in the end, it comes down to price; the EOS R5 costs over twice that of the EOS R, and the “cheaper” EOS R6 is also relatively expensive ($2500 USD) while only offering a 20 MP sensor.
So if you’re looking for a high-quality camera but you can’t afford the EOS R5 or R6, then the EOS R is a great choice.
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