In the Field with The Canon M5

Quiet Observers
Quiet Observers

As I always mention before my review, my observations are completely subjective. There are no photographs of brick walls, ISO charts, or the like. What you will read is purely my observations in the field. I do not test every feature, just the ones that I feel will improve my speed, accuracy or workflow. As a professional photographer I rely on my cameras to be an invaluable tool to help me produce salable images. Any camera can make great images, but if something stops me in that endeavor or frustrates me, I will make a note of it. Conversely, if something helps me, you’ll see it in my review.

Hey There Ladybug!
Hey There Ladybug!

Why did I purchase the Canon M5?

As I’ve done several years in the past, this past August I backpacked the backcountry of Colorado. On this trip I took the same set that I took the previous year – A Canon 5DsR, 16-35 f/4l lens, 100mm F/2.8L lens, and the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L lens along with batteries, cards, a couple filters, etc. Additionally, I took along my travel tripod. Needless to say this is not a light kit. For me, I always want the best possible quality and this kit is proven and reliable to produce salable images.

On the first day I loaded up my pack and my friend and I ventured into the backcountry. This day was a fairly light, 3 mile hike with not much elevation gain. We made camp, ate dinner, and went to bed. The next morning we awoke at 7 am packed up camp and started hiking. This day was a different story, however, with a continuous ascent. We went from steadily climbing to halting every half mile, to halting every quarter mile, to pretty much halting every 100 yards or so. It was arduous, the packs felt like a ton, and getting late. By the time we were about to reach the first pass at 11,000 feet we were pretty much defeated.

During this whole time I had probably captured a paltry 15 or so images. Since the pack was so heavy I hated to take it off to get my camera out and when I would just carry it around my neck. Needless to say, it was heavy and after hours of doing this put a kink in my neck. This was not a pleasurable experience and not conducive to photography.

After this trip I decided I needed a lighter kit. I had shied away from mirrorless in the past because I like having the viewfinder and the performance of the previous mirrorless cameras just wasn’t there. After some reviews and trying it out in the store, I decided that the M5 was truly the first Canon that I felt combined the response of a viewfinder and the size I was looking for.

A Joshua Tree Evening
A Joshua Tree Evening

How is the capture experience?

I have three pros and four cons. The positive is that the camera is responsive and when I click the shutter the capture is immediate. The frames per second were better than expected and the viewfinder very responsive. The autofocus is also very good, my only issues are when shooting in very low light in Joshua Tree, but that is to be expected.

My four cons are as follows in order of least annoying to downright maddening. First, when using the viewfinder my nose would frequently touch the back screen and move the focus point. There is a feature to turn off portions of the screen to prevent this. Why should I have to do this? If my eye is up to the viewfinder, don’t let touching the screen affect it.

Secondly, when mounted on a tripod there is no way to change the battery or the card. You have to unmount and remount.

Third, occasionally I would be shooting with the back screen on, but in a position that my shadow, or the shadow of something else would be cast over the viewfinder and it would shut off the screen. Annoying.

Lastly, the record video button is in the wrong place!!! I accidentally hit it way to often. I don’t even know how many videos I have of me hitting it at the wrong time. This winter when I was shooting in 10 below weather my gloved hands seemingly only hit this button – even more than the shutter! I thought about redefining it in the menu (even disabling it if I could), but I actually might want to capture a movie sometime. Move this button, Canon, please!

Ice Crystals
Ice Crystals

How is the picture quality?

I’m used to using the 50 megapixel 5DsR so I’m used to big files from a full frame sensor. I also shoot frequently with a 70D and 7D Mark II, both APS-C cameras similar to the M5. The M5, however, shares its sensor with the well reviewed 24 Megapixel 80D. I’ve never had issues with the image quality from the 70D or 7D Mark II and so I was willing to trade the weight for lessor pixels.

I’ve shot in a variety of conditions, dark, light, high contrast, low contrast. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the noise at high isos and the quality at all ISOs. I am confident I can print large (30×40 or even larger) with images produced by this camera, something that is extremely important to me.

One item to note, with this camera I purchased 5 EF-M lenses:

EF-M 18–150mm f/3.5–6.3 IS STM
EF-M 11–22mm f/4–5.6 IS STM
EF-M 55–200mm f/4.5–6.3 IS STM
EF-M 15–45mm f/3.5–6.3 IS STM
EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM

While I also purchased the EF to EF-M adapter, I have tried to only use EF-M lenses as I feel those are the lenses that most would purchase. Additionally, I only plan on carrying EF-M lenses with me when I go hiking. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of these lenses, in particular the 11-22 and the 28 macro. I plan on doing future reviews on some of these lenses.

Silently Floating
Silently Floating

Anything else to keep in mind?

A couple of items. One, the LP-E17 batteries are small and battery life is short. I have three now and plan on adding a fourth here shortly. Also, make sure you have fast SD cards. I’ve used some pretty slow ones and that makes the shooting experience worse. I recommend the Sandisk Extreme series, and I bought 2x 128 GB cards.

Overall, I think that the Canon M5 great purchase for anyone trying to get more than they can achieve with a smartphone and certainly as a secondary camera for those that need something lighter or less intrusive. I’ve enjoyed shooting with this camera (except when I hit the record button) and look forward to taking it on a long hike and saving my back from carrying a good 5-6 pounds of camera gear along with my pack.

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