M5 a Travelling Camera for Canon Shooters?

The Canon Mirrorless Experiment

Although Canon only has nine lenses at the moment for their mirrorless camera, they seem to be slowly re-engineering the M series mirrorless cameras, that uses the EF-M mount. It initially came out in June of 2012. Then Feb of 2015 they launched the M3 and increased the resolution to 24 megapixels. This was quickly followed by the M10 in Oct of 2015 at 18 megapixels and the focal points were increased to 49. Now, this September they have announced an M5, which now looks more like DSLR than any of the previous cameras.

Is it Consumer or Prosumer

If you go back through the reviews and history of the M series one thing sticks out. Very few reviewers seem interested in comparing the M series to the leading mirrorless cameras on the market. Most comparisons are between the M series and other Canon DSLRs. Perhaps this is because they saw the mirrorless camera market as occupied by the consumer low-end market. However beginning with the M3 they seemed to add more advanced features, introducing features found in their DSLR so there must have been a shift at this point. Still, this left the camera half way between and in no position to compete with the higher end mirrorless cameras, which were now adding Pro features to their cameras.
The M5 could bring Canon into line with the prosumer market but it is unclear if it would raise the quality of the camera to the professional level; a level that the flagship cameras made by Sony and Fujifilm are now at. It will be impossible to tell until serious reviews have had time to do the necessary testing and analysis of this new camera.
In the meantime, the only thing we can to is to look at the technical specifications and compare them.

A Technical Comparision

If we look carefully at the chart below we can see there are a number of hallmarks of the high-end mirrorless cameras missing (I have included the A7RII full frame in the comparison even though it is not an APSC camera because it is around the same size as these cameras):
  • The camera is only compatible with UHS-I cards, unlike all the others that use UHS-II cards. This means the camera’s  write speed slower and ones read speed will also be slower.
  • I can not find magnesium body anywhere on their website so the lightweight and durability advantages of the other cameras are not present with the M5.
  • A big difference is the extremely low number of focus points 49 compared to 425/321/399 perhaps the most problematic issue.
  • Having only nine native lenses for this camera which puts it way behind its competition and lenses are really important. Also unlike the other cameras no third party lenses are available.
  • Auto ISO maxing out at 6400 is very curious when the others max out at 12,800 and 25,600, I wonder what that says about noise at high ISOs.
  • Lack of complete weather proofing is also a difference between this camera and the others. Canon claims it is weather seal but not like their DSLR, I am not sure what this means?
  • The frames per second is a decent 7fps but this does lag behind the other APSC cameras.
  • Then there is the single SD drive the most recent APSC cameras now have dual drives, additional insurance against card failure.
  • There is the smaller APSC sensor which impacts pixel pitch which is the lowest of all the cameras, which means the lowest image quality.
So it seems, although the M series is improving, it is not really marketing towards Prosumers and Pros yet, at least as far as a comparison of technical specifications can tell us.

Should You Buy One?

I think if you are familiar with Canon and their products there is something to be said for sticking with the family, and if you own a previous version of the M camera you already have some lenses. However, if you do not have M lenses, in terms of value for the dollar, the Sony A6300 is a smaller, lighter and a more advanced camera for the same price. The Sony lens stable is also much larger both native and third party. In addition to this high-quality adaptors allow all Sony mirrorless cameras to use Canon EF lenses and they will operate faster (with 5-axis stabilisation) than on the M5.
If you are really looking for a good high-quality travelling camera then Fujifilm’s APSC cameras, both the X-Pro2 and X-T2 might be the way to go, although it is more expensive its lenses are smaller than both the M5 and Sony’s cameras. They also have a disproportionately high recommendation rate on lens testing sites. So these two cameras would create your lightest kit.

Buying the Most Advanced Camera: or preventing technical ageing

This is a difficult thing to track down but beyond the mythical organic sensor rumours, the most advanced technology in the camera is usually the sensor. Here two new things have just reached the market the use of copper substrates and Back Illuminated Sensors BSI. This is the latest technology and can be found in Sony sensors currently Nikon, Fuji and Sony are using Sony Sensors, Canon manufactures their own sensors. The only cameras on the market, that I am aware of, with copper a substrate is the Sony A6300, Fuji X-T2, Fuji X-Pro2, Sony A7RII and Sony RXiRII the later two are full frame and also have BSI. So if you are concerned about the technology not ageing you would want one of these cameras.

The Technical Leap in Image Quality because of BSI and Copper Substrates

  • Copper substrate sensors have a much lower heat signature so your noise level is at least one to two stops better, which means you can run your ISO up without a lot of nasty noise. Good for night shots or poorly lit churches.
  • BSI sensors allow a wider angle of light to be recorded by the sensor, therefore they are more accurate and increase the dynamic range of the camera by one or two stops as well as improve colour rendition and other improvements.

A Size Comparison

In this comparison, I used a pancake lens version of each company’s lens, so they don’t exactly match up, but they do demonstrate how compact they can be if you are using a pancake lens on the camera. As you can see none of these cameras is pocketable, but compared to a DSLR they are really half the size, perhaps more. Keep in mind that all the cameras are APSC sensors except for the A7RII which is full frame.
Left to Right: Canon M5 22mm, Sony S6300 20mm, Sony A7RII 35mm and Fujifilm X-T2 18mm (equivalent to 28mm)