Canon EOS R review

Capable but compromised, the EOS R is Canon's first full-frame mirrorless camera, and it faces tough competition

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Our Verdict

Capable, customisable, 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 stabilisation place it firmly behind Sony and Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless bodies, and now it faces competition from the cheaper EOS RP, too.

For

  • Great control customisation
  • Dual Pixel AF with 5,655 AF positions
  • Fully articulating screen

Against

  • No in-body image stabilisation
  • Cropped 4K video
  • Single SD card slot

2018 was a big year for full-frame mirrorless cameras. Canon and Nikon both launched new model ranges, and we've now had the chance to try out the the Panasonic Lumix S and the brand new Canon EOS RP. A lot has happened in a short space of time, so where does that leave the EOS R?

Update: Samyang has announced two new EOS RF mount lenses at CP+ 2019 and is the first independent lens maker to support Canon's new lens mount. We've updated this review to take account of the latest developments in the fast-moving full-frame mirrorless camera market.

Read more: Canon EOS RP vs EOS R: key differences and how to choose between them

Sony changed the game five years ago with its Alpha series of full-frame mirrorless cameras, getting the jump on 'the big two' and causing users to switch brands in their droves. However, the long-awaited release of the EOS R has seen Canon reclaim lost ground and dominate the mirrorless market – even though, while a great camera in its own right, it can't compete with Sony and Nikon's efforts in a couple of key categories. 

There's more. The EOS R now faces competition from within its own ranks. The Canon EOS RP is a cheaper stablemate for the EOS R and not the high-end 8K EOS R confirmed by Canon as being on its development roadmap. We hear reports that Canon has ditched its medium format research in favour of working on a 100MP EOS R with IBIS. Canon has also released a firmware update for the EOS R which we had been hoping would add new features but instead concentrated on fixing bugs. 

Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM lens review
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens review

The cheaper EOS RP is especially significant because the EOS R was already pitched between 'affordable' full frame mirrorless cameras like the Nikon Z 6 and Sony A7 III, and pro models like the Nikon Z 7 and Sony A7R III, so probably the last thing the EOS R needs is a cheaper alternative.

Worse, (for Canon) Panasonic's new Lumix S series is backed by the powerful L-Mount Alliances and is a further challenger in a suddenly-crowded full-frame mirrorless market!

Canon 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)

Canon EOS R: Key features

Given its future plans to release dedicated pro and 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.

Back view of the Canon EOS R camera

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.

Canon EOS R: Video capabilities

Front view of the Canon EOS R camera

Rounding out the major grievances is the issue of video. The good: 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: 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 2018 standards for a £2,300 camera. 

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, with the news that Samyang has released two RF Mount versions of its 85mm f/1.4 and 14mm f/2.8 manual focus primes. This will widen the lens choice for EOS R adopters.

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 now promised six new RF lenses in 2019. These include a 24-240mm superzoom and an 85mm f/1.2 – that will pique the interest of long-time Canon portrait photographers who love the 85mm f/1.2 DSLR lens.

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. 

Canon EOS R: 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 A7RIII, it’s roughly the same size as Nikon’s Z6 and Z7. 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-clicklable). 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’ 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.

Canon EOS R: Performance

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 Z7 in terms of ISO noise performance, though it 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. 

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

Swipe to see all of the images


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 Z7 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 colour rendition, superb lens quality, best-in-class customisation, incredible autofocus and tracking – there’s no skirting the fact that the EOS R is missing image stabilisation and the 4K video is severely cropped. When the A7R III offers IBIS and uncropped 4K for £550 more (and the Z6 for just £440 more), 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.

An image shot on the Canon EOS R using the RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM lens

Shot with Canon EOS R and RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM •
1/150 sec at f/1.2

Canon EOS R: Lab tests

Colour error:

All the cameras score well for colour accuracy when shooting JPEGs at Standard colour settings, though the Z7 sets the benchmark by a whisker.

lab test graph for the Canon EOS R

Signal to noise ratio:

The EOS R's images are consistently cleaner than the mirrorless competition throughout the sensitivity range, likely thanks to its larger, more light-sensitive sensor photosites.

lab test graph for the Canon EOS R

Dynamic range:

Their sensor specs may be very different on paper, but all the cameras produce incredibly close dynamic range scores, regardless of sensitivity. Real world results will be almost identical.

lab test graph for the Canon EOS R

Resolution:

It's no surprise that the pixel-packed sensors in the Nikon and Sony cameras are in a different league from the EOS R for resolving detail. The new Canon does at least maintain respectable image clarity right up to ISO 25,600.

Front view of the Canon EOS R

Canon EOS R: Verdict

Capable, customisable, 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 stabilisation place it firmly behind Sony and Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless bodies. This is clearly just the start for Canon, though, as the launch of the cheaper EOS RP, the promise of six new lenses in 2019 and the continued development of a high-resolution 8K variant suggests that the EOS R range is going to me a major force in the future.

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.