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Canon EOS R review

Capable but compromised, the Canon EOS R packs a punch but faces rivals with much heavier hands

Canon EOS R review
(Image: © Canon)

Our Verdict

Even when it was launched, the Canon EOS R looked conservative rather than groundbreaking. It's a great proof of concept, with fantastic features such as the new Control ring and M-Fn Bar, and seamless compatibility with existing EF lenses. While it compares well to a DSLR, though, its cropped 4K video and lack of in-body image stabilization place it behind its Sony, Nikon and Panasonic rivals – and now it faces competition from the cheaper EOS RP, too.

For

  • Great control customization
  • 5,655(!) focus positions
  • Fully articulating screen
  • M-Fn Bar

Against

  • No in-body stabilization
  • Cropped 4K video
  • Single SD card slot
  • M-Fn Bar

The Canon EOS R arrived in 2018, seeing Canon launch a brand new camera system built around the RF mount. Two years later, the manufacturer has done a great job of realizing its ambitions for the R system, with a mature lens lineup featuring some of the best glass in the business. However, the limitations of the EOS R remain. 

While the Canon EOS R is still one of the best Canon cameras, its claim to the best full frame mirrorless camera throne is built entirely on its place within the Canon ecosystem rather than any standout capabilities of its own. It is, effectively, a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV without a mirror or a second memory card slot, but with access to the range of stunning (if incredibly pricey) RF lenses.  

That said, its 30.3MP sensor doesn't offer the resolution of stills cameras like the Sony A7R IV, Nikon Z 7 or Panasonic S1R, and its cropped 4K video is a sore point next to the best 4K cameras – though that does leave a gap in the lineup for the extraordinary Canon EOS R5… and we also expect the Canon EOS R6 to join the line-up soon too.

Read more: Canon EOS RP vs EOS R

Specifications

• Sensor: 30.3MP full frame CMOS, 36 x 24mm
Image processor: Digic 8
AF points: 5,655 Dual Pixel AF positions
ISO range: 100 to 40,000 (exp. 50 to 102,400)
Max image size: 6,720 x 4,480
Metering modes: Evaluative, partial, spot, centre-weighted
Video: 4K UHD at 29.97p, 25p, 24p, 23.98p
Viewfinder: EVF, 3.69m dots, 100% coverage
Memory card: SD / SDHC / SDXC
LCD: 3.15-inch fully articulating touchscreen, 2.1m dots
Max burst: 8fps
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC
Size: 135.8 x 98.3 x 84.4mm (body only)
Weight: 580g (body only; 660g with battery and card)

Key features

Given its future plans to release dedicated pro end bodies, Canon pitched the EOS R squarely in the middle. It boasts a full-frame 30.3MP CMOS sensor, which is on par with the EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR. The two sensors share much in common, the key difference being that the EOS R features a phase-difference detection system with the 1D X Mark II’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF – and a staggering 5,655 focus positions, which cover 88% of the frame horizontally and 100% vertically.

On paper the AF should be untouchable, but in practice there are a couple of drawbacks. Out of the box, for example, eye tracking is only possible in single AF. And the autofocus, despite the shared Dual Pixel CMOS AF, doesn’t seem to be quite as smooth as the 1D X Mark II while shooting video. These issues should be addressable with firmware, but Canon's recent EOS R firmware update was distinctly underwhelming and concentrates simply on bug fixes. 

Other annoyances, however, cannot be fixed by firmware. Let’s get the big one out of the way: the EOS R doesn’t feature any in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) whatsoever. Sony has had five-axis IBIS since 2014, the Nikon Z6 and Z7 both have it, Panasonic’s S1 and S1R have it… even other formats like the Olympus OM-D E-M1X and Fujifilm GFX100R have it. So for this camera not to have it is something of a glaring omission.

Canon told us that it believes dedicated in-lens IS offers the optimum stabilisation, since it is specifically tailored to each lens’ unique elements and focusing mechanisms. That said, while two of the four initial RF mount lenses (the RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM kit lens and the RF 35mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro) both feature IS, it would certainly be nice if the camera had IBIS so that every lens could benefit from it. And we already know that the flagship EOS R5 will have image stabilization when it arrives later in 2020.

Video

Front view of the Canon EOS R camera

Rounding out the major grievances is the issue of video. The good news is that the EOS R comes with C-Log as standard and can record internally at 4:2:0 8-bit with Rec. 709 color space, and externally at 4:2:2 10-bit with Rec. 2020. The bad news is it can only shoot 4K (UHD) up to 30fps and 1080p (FullHD) up to 60fps; if you want to shoot at 120fps, you have to go all the way down to 720p (HD). The real kicker, though, is that 4K comes with the same 1.7x crop that afflicts the 5D Mark IV. 

Canon insists that this makes the sensor almost the same size as the Cinema EOS line, and provides a similar perspective to Super 35, so your footage will cut seamlessly with something like a C200. And while the 1.7x crop means that your RF and EF lenses won’t be nearly as wide (a 24mm lens becomes 40.8mm), you can always use EF-S lenses such as the 10mm-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM (which becomes 17-30.6mm). None of which changes the fact that the EOS R’s video capabilities aren’t up to 2019 standards for a camera at this price. 

These nasty negatives aside, however, the EOS R packs some serious wallop elsewhere that might make up for its shortcomings. Like Nikon, Canon has introduced a new lens mount with its full-frame mirrorless system. While the new RF mount has the same 54mm diameter as the existing EF mount, its 20mm back focus distance (from flange to sensor) is less than half the 44mm of its older sibling. This enables Canon’s engineers to produce optics with larger rear elements and better performance, such as the superb RF 50mm f/1.2L USM. 

It's also tempting third-party lens makers are starting to release lenses. Budget-priced models such as the manual focus Samyang 14mm and 85mm lenses now being available and making it onto our roundup of the best Canon RF lenses.

The mount also features a new 12-pin connection (over the EF’s 8 pins), enabling superior information and power transmission between body and lens. This works in tandem with the DIGIC 8 processor to offer improved performance on some older EF and EF-S lenses – all of which can be used on your EOS R straight out of the box, as the Mount Adapter EF-EOS R is included with every camera. The upcoming Drop-In Filter Mount Adapters add polarising or variable ND filters to any EF or EF-S lens, proving that Canon isn’t just trying to get you to replace all your glass – it is making your old lenses even better on the EOS R.

One bit of good news is that Canon has committed to a strong RF lens roadmap and is delivering on time. We've seen and reviewed the promised new Canon RF 24-240mm superzoom and the exceptional Canon RF 85mm f/1.2 .

One of the areas that Canon’s effort has the edge over Sony and Nikon’s is in ISO and low light performance. The EOS R has a greater ISO range of 100 to 40,000 (expandable to 50 to 102,400) and boasts superior signal-to-noise ratio across the board. In addition it is capable of autofocusing down to -6EV, making it exceptional for shooting in low light situations. If you enjoy night photography or you shoot a lot of weddings in dimly lit venues, this could be a real difference maker. 

Build and handling

Front view of the Canon EOS R camera

If the innards fall somewhat short of expectations, the EOS R’s exterior unquestionably exceeds them. The magnesium alloy body screams “quality”, feeling as robust as it does fantastic to hold. As you’d expect, it’s dramatically more svelte than its DSLR cousins; where the 5D Mark IV is a thick-cut oven chip, the EOS R is a french fry. While not quite as diminutive as the Sony A7R III, it’s roughly the same size as Nikon’s Z 6 and Z 7. If it's that little bit too big for your liking, there's always the smaller and cheaper EOS RP.

This does, of course, lead to the inevitable situation where larger lenses – the RF 50mm f/1.2L USM and particularly the RF 28-70mm f/2L USM – threaten to feel unbalanced on the smaller body. This can be offset, though, by adding the BG-E22 Battery Grip – which, unlike Nikon’s MB-N10 Multi-Power Battery Pack for the Z bodies, has a shutter and control dial for vertical shooting. 

Which isn’t to say that larger lenses don’t handle well on the EOS R. We had no problem using the 50mm f/1.2 for a whole afternoon, and even the 28-70mm f/2 (weighing in at 1,430g) feels fine for anyone who has lugged around a 1D X with a zoom lens. However, the RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM is the clearly perfect pairing for this camera. Its f/4 aperture may not be quite as exciting, but it fits the EOS R like a glove and balances like a good sword. 

Whichever RF lens you opt for, in front of the manual focus ring you will notice an additional input: the Control ring. This can be programmed (or left inactive, if you prefer) to adjust aperture, shutter, white balance or ISO, offering an extra dimension of control and customisation; videographers, for instance, will jump for joy at the ability to have a cinema-style aperture ring (although the ring on the launch lenses is not de-clickable). This input can also be added to any EF or EF-S lens with the Control Ring Mount Adapter.

Top view of the Canon EOS R

The customisation doesn’t end there. The big new addition to the EOS R’ on-body controls is the divisive, touch-sensitive M-Fn Bar. While it has received a very Marmite-like reception, we find it a genuinely useful input. Ours is set up so that a touch, tap or swipe would manipulate the ISO, enabling us to control the entire exposure triangle without taking our eye away from the EVF. It can be turned off entirely if you prefer, or locked so that it doesn’t activate until you hold your thumb on the left side for one second.

Firstly, your loving or loathing of the the M-Fn Bar will depend on the size of your hands and how you hold your camera. We’ve noticed that photographers with bigger mitts tend to support the body with their thumb right where the Bar sits, leading to some unfortunate pressing that drove the ISO unintentionally high. Secondly, while the M-Fn Bar doesn’t directly replace the traditional EOS joystick, it certainly occupies an area that a joystick could have gone. If you’re migrating from a 6D or another mirrorless system you won’t miss it, but 5D and 1D X users might be miffed at its absence. Interestingly, Canon has dropped this M-Fn Bar from the cheaper EOS RP.

In its stead, the EOS R features 'Touch and drag'. This enables you to use half of the LCD as one big trackpad when you look through the EVF, dragging your thumb across the screen as you would a joystick to select your focus point. Again, the size and stretch of your paws will dictate how elegant a solution this is for you, but we had no problems gliding across the 5,655 focus points. 

Speaking of the EVF, the EOS R’s might just be the best we’ve ever used; it’s large, fast, responsive and clear as crystal. We know that some photographers prefer an optical viewfinder, but if you’ve yet to see the light then this might be the one that converts you. And for those who prefer using the LCD touchscreen, the EOS R’s is fully articulated – if you want a "flippy screen", this is the only full-frame mirrorless camera on the market that currently has one.

Performance

Shot with Canon EOS R with Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8 (Image credit: Chris George/Digital Camera World)

An image shot on the Canon EOS R using the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens

Shot on a Canon EOS R with the RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM • 1/640 sec at f/4

The EOS R’s 30.3MP sensor, Digic 8 processor and RF lenses deliver formidable image quality. In our lab tests it blew away the Canon 5D Mark IV, Sony A7R III and Nikon Z 7 in terms of ISO noise performance, but then the 5D Mark IV is an older camera and the A7R III and Nikon Z 7 are built for resolution, not low light. As a result, the EOS R didn’t fare as well in the resolution stakes – but that’s no surprise against the Z7’s 45.7MP and the A7R III’s 42.4MP sensors. The EOS R demonstrated better dynamic range than the Sony up to ISO400, but across the board it couldn’t quite keep up with its rivals on paper. 

Direct comparisons are made more difficult by the EOS R's intermediate positioning. Nikon, Sony and Panasonic each produce an affordable 24MP all rounder and a more expensive high-resolution model – the EOS R sits between these two types and is hard to classify.

The tests revealed some interesting differences with the 5D Mark IV. The sensors in both bodies seemed so similar that we expected their performance to be identical. The DSLR, however, scores slightly higher in colour accuracy and dynamic range, and in resolution up to ISO800. It’s obvious from our use that the EOS R outperforms the 6D Mark II, but even though it’s just a matter of inches we truly predicted that it would be absolutely par with the 5D Mark IV.

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Shot with Canon EOS R with Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM 1/50 sec at f/4, ISO 6400

Shot with Canon EOS R with Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM 1/50 sec at f/4, ISO 6400

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Image 2 of 7

Shot with Canon EOS R with Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM 1/50 sec at f/5.6, ISO 160

Shot with Canon EOS R with Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM 1/50 sec at f/5.6, ISO 160

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Image 3 of 7

Shot on Canon EOS R with Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM 1/5000 sec at f/1.8, ISO 6400

Shot on Canon EOS R with Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM 1/5000 sec at f/1.8, ISO 6400

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Image 4 of 7

An image shot on the Canon EOS R using the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens

Shot with Canon EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM • 1/60 sec at f/4

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Image 5 of 7

An image shot on the Canon EOS R using the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens

Shot with Canon EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM • 1/800 sec at f/4

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Shot with Canon EOS R

Shot with Canon EOS R

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An image shot on the Canon EOS R using the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens

Shot with Canon EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM • 1/800 sec at f/4

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When it comes down to brass tacks, the practical results produced by the EOS R are hard to fault. Stress tested in the harsh midday sun and the black of the midnight hour, image quality is uniformly impressive and the files handle almost identically to those of the 5D Mark IV in post production. That magical “Canon colour science” that everyone talks about to is as powerful as ever; when it comes to skin tones the A7R III isn’t in the same league and, while the Nikon is closing the gap, the Z 7 still has catching up to do. 

While the the EOS is clearly outpunched by the competition in terms of resolution, the results from the pair of debut RF mount lenses left us highly impressed. The RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM delivers sharp results wide open and all the way up to f/11. And the RF 50mm f/1.2L, the prime lens powerhouse for Canon's new system, takes the baton from its EF predecessor and produces results that live up to its L series lineage. If a camera is only as good as its lenses, this makes for an interesting story.

Unfortunately, it’s only half the story. Compared to a DSLR, the EOS R is a fabulous photographic device. Aside from the lack of a second memory card slot, given the choice between this and the 5D Mark IV, we’d save a grand and opt for the mirrorless system. Compared to the rest of the mirrorless marketplace, however, Canon’s effort doesn’t fare so favourably. 

An image shot on the Canon EOS R using the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens

Shot with Canon EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM •   1/200 sec at f/4

For everything else it gets right – great image fidelity, fantastic color rendition, superb lens quality, best-in-class customization, incredible autofocus and tracking – there’s no skirting the fact that the EOS R is missing image stabilization and the 4K video is severely cropped. When the A7R III, Nikon Z 7 and Panasonic Lumix S1R offer IBIS and uncropped 4K, albeit at a higher price, it’s difficult to recommend the EOS R to anyone except existing Canon users who want to expand their system or keep their collection of lenses.

Shot with Canon EOS R and RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

Shot with Canon EOS R and RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM (Image credit: Chris George/Digital Camera World)

Lab tests

We've picked three key rivals for the Canon EOS R to see how they compare in our image quality lab tests. It's a tricky choice because the EOS R is pitched in a kind of no-man's-land between higher resolution but pricier full frame cameras like the Nikon Z 7 and Sony A7R Mark IV, and cheaper lower resolution models like the Nikon Z 6 and Panasonic Lumix S1. Given that EOS R prices are falling, we've updated our charts to include its lower-cost rivals to see what, if anything, the EOS R can do to justify its price difference.

(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

Resolution

The EOS R's 6-megapixel advantage over the Nikon Z 6, Panasonic S1 and Sony A7 III give it a small advantage in our lab tests, though it's not as large as we might have hoped and you may not see much difference in real world shots.

(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

Signal to noise ratio

Given that it has a higher pixel density on its sensor, the EOS R does well to match the noise performance of the Nikon Z 6 and Sony A7 III, though the Panasonic Lumix S1R is well in front here.

(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

Dynamic range

It's not such good news for the Canon EOS R in our dynamic range test. It matches its rivals up to about ISO 800, but offers progressively less dynamic range at higher sensitivities.

(Image credit: Canon)

Canon EOS R: Verdict

Capable, customizable, but compromised. The Canon EOS R is a great proof of concept, with fantastic features such as the new control ring and M-Fn Bar, and offers tangible upgrades to existing EF and EF-S lenses. While it compares well to a DSLR, though, its cropped 4K, restricted 60 and 120fps, and lack of in-body image stabilization place it firmly behind Sony and Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless bodies. 

We would still recommend it over the Canon EOS RP, which has a lower resolution sensor and a hobbled silent shooting mode, and if you're already invested in the Canon ecosystem then it's a seamless way to keep using all your existing lenses – as well as the current and future lineup of RF lenses that feature some of our favorite optics out there. 

However, with the Canon EOS R5 arriving imminently, if you're looking for the very best camera that Canon produces we would strongly advise that you to wait a couple of months… 

Rivals

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The EOS R’s closest Canon stablemate is the 5D Mark IV. Its DSLR counterpart boasts an additional memory card slot, but otherwise its features are broadly similar, making the EOS R a great complement or replacement.

Nikon Z7

Nikon’s new pro model mirrorless scored straight fives in our review last month, and outperforms the EOS R in every category – although, for an extra grand, you would certainly expect it to.

Sony A7R III

Sony’s reigning mirrorless monarch only costs £500 more than the EOS R, but delivers five-axis IBIS and uncropped 4K in addition to a more pixel-packed sensor. Sony's system has been around long enough to offer a serious lens selection, making this a very compelling alternative.

Read more:
The best Canon RF lenses in 2020
The Canon RF lens roadmap
Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM review 
Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM review
Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM review 
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM review 
The best mirrorless cameras in 2020