Ten years ago, Canon released its first mirrorless camera: the Canon EOS M. the Nikon J1 about what could have been.
The Canon EOS M was never really designed to take over the world. It was a classic defensive move by a tech holder, designed to avert photographers’ eyes from new mirrorless players like the Sony NEX-7, the charming Olympus PEN E-P3 and the impressive Samsung NX200.
But what’s fascinating about the Canon EOS M is how, almost exactly ten years later, history seems to repeat itself. Across the street from the Canon EOS M dive bar, the new Canon EOS R7 and EOS R10 – their spiritual successors – are celebrating their two-month anniversary in an elegant cocktail lounge.
These two cameras are different beasts from the EOS M, most obviously because they share the same RF mount as Canon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras. That makes sense; instead of separating its amateur and professional cameras into incompatible families, Canon is finally following the unique mounting strategy of its archrivals Sony and Nikon. That means its two new players must be among the best mirrorless cameras for beginners.
However, there’s one big similarity between the EOS M and Canon’s new APS-C mirrorless cameras – a distinct lack of native lenses. Ten years after the late arrival of its first mirrorless camera, the camera giant has apparently killed the entire EF-M family with the EOS R7 and EOS R10. But will these cameras learn from the EOS M’s biggest mistake?
The Canon EOS M was born into a very different world from the EOS R7 and EOS R10. In July 2012, Facebook had just started its plan to destroy Instagram after buying it for $1 billion and the most popular smartphone on the market was the Samsung Galaxy S3, which had a single 8MP camera.
If Canon understandably didn’t see smartphones as a threat back then, it was a little dismissive of mirrorless cameras. The first of these, the Panasonic Lumix G1, arrived four years before the EOS M in 2008, and Canon’s mirrorless debut felt like a reluctant, reluctant experiment by the DSLR giant.
Not that the EOS M didn’t have its charms. It had a large 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor, the same as the Canon EOS 650D DSLR that arrived a month earlier. However, it was also impressively small, not dissimilar in size to a Canon PowerShot compact camera, and came in four colors, including red and white.
Another thing that the EOS M really got right was its touchscreen. Cameras took a long time to embrace touchscreens, particularly those that work with their menus, but the EOS M did so in 2012 with a responsive panel that put many later cameras to shame.
Unfortunately, the EOS M also dropped in two major areas. One, slow autofocus, was somewhat understandable at the time, and would later be greatly improved by successors like the Canon EOS M6 Mark II.
But the other, the lack of native lenses, would continue to be the series’ undoing until, well, its recent apparent demise with the arrival of the Canon EOS R7 and EOS R10 in May of this year. The question is, does Canon care enough about APS-C mirrorless cameras this time around to avoid the same mistake?
glass half full
When it came to making amateur-friendly mirrorless cameras in the early 2010s, the big companies – Canon and Nikon – were always in a bind when it came to lenses.
They had already made wide varieties of lenses for their DSLR cameras. So your three options were; completely ignore mirrorless cameras (which they’ve tried for a while), leave DSLRs behind and go all-in mirrorless (not really feasible at the time), or do a no-compromise compromise by making a lens adapter. who connected their old lenses with their new mirrorless cameras.
Like Nikon, Canon took the latter path. Its EF-EOS M adapter meant that EOS M owners, in theory, had access to over 60 DSLR lenses. However, most of them weren’t a good fit for compact mirrorless cameras (or ‘CSC’ as they were known at the time). And that meant Canon could afford to be a little lazy with the introduction of proper native glass that could have elevated the EOS M and its successors to mirrorless heights.
In the ten years after the EOS M arrived, Canon made just eight lenses for the camera and its successors. Most of these, outliers like the EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM, were pretty boring plastic subjects. Sigma and Tamron later came to fill in the considerable gaps, but by this time Canon had already moved on to their new mirrorless toy: the RF mount.
For all its good points, the Canon EOS M (slogan “be a gaming pro”) was the embodiment of its maker’s feelings about mirrorless cameras for hobbyists – it just didn’t take them seriously. Whether it’s AF performance, video clippings or lenses, there’s always been a feeling that an EOS M camera would suffer in some way. Despite the arrival of some solid successors, such as the Canon EOS M6 Mark II, this remained the case for the next decade.
History repeating itself?
Not that the Canon EOS M and the mirrorless family it started can be considered a failure. They have always been popular in Japan, where just this year the Canon EOS M50 and M50 Mark II were among the best-selling cameras (according to BCN Retail (opens in new tab)).
However, the Japanese camera market is quite different from the rest of the world and Canon has not launched a new EOS M body since 2020. The lack of investment in the system has become clear and the arrival of the EOS R7 and EOS R10 show that they are curtains for a system that began exactly a decade ago today.
But will these two cameras meet the same fate as the original EOS M? This time, the signs are much more positive. Both the EOS R7 and EOS R10 have Dual Pixel CMOS AF II autofocus intelligence similar to much more expensive cameras like the Canon EOS R3, which lets you track subjects including animals and vehicles. That’s particularly impressive for the EOS R10, which is just $979 / £899 / AU$1,499.
Both cameras also have the great benefit of being compatible with all of Canon’s latest full-frame mirrorless glasses, thanks to this RF mount. This is a much better solution than the EOS M adapter-based approach.
However, that doesn’t mean APS-C mirrorless cameras don’t need their own native glass. A big reason to buy a camera like the EOS R7 or EOS R10 is because the lenses and entire setup can be smaller, lighter, and cheaper than their full-frame counterparts.
There are currently only two ‘RF-S’ lenses for the two spiritual successors of the EOS M (one 18-150mm and 18-45mm). Sound familiar? Yes, you can still retrofit some lovely old glasses with the EF-EOS R adapter, but hopefully Canon has a few more native lenses in the pipeline than the eight it gave the poor EOS M series.