A short mirrorless experiment
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
For my recent photographic trip to Patagonia I decided that I would like to extend my usual camera arrangement of a Canon EOS 1-DX Mk II and a Canon EOS 5DS R by another camera in-between the two. I.e. more resolution than the 1-DX II, but better low-light capabilities than the 5DS R. The obvious choice would have been to take along a 5D Mk IV but I had read a bit about mirrorless cameras and of course I heard about the hype surrounding Sony's latest product, the α7R IV. Based on this I decided to try out Canon's first more serious mirrorless system, the EOS R. After all, Canon is going full blast for the new RF lens mount in all its latest lens developments. And anyway: what could go wrong since the EOS R would be equipped with the same sensor as the 5D Mk IV...?
RF lens mount, video by Canon
Well: after using it only on a single trip, the auction hammer will fall on this camera like a ton of bricks in an online auction later today. This should tell you a bit about it. But let me be more precise.
When is the Canon EOS R good?
- In good, better still in controlled light
- Photographing static or slow-moving objects
- For events such as weddings (minimal to no shutter noise)
When is the Canon EOS R useless?
...you need to quickly shift between AF points;
...you need to instantaneously switch between One Shot AF and AI Servo;
...you want to capture bursts of action shots tracing fast-moving objects;
...you head out in good light (I mean good for photography, thus, blue light)
...you're in the field in cold weather;
...you want to attach a decent tripod mount to it.
I am sure more comes to mind, but this should be enough to tell you that if you're serious about wildlife photography in the wild, and unless you're after retired sloths, the Canon EOS R will be useless for you to take along. Just forget it. It can't provide what is important for wildlife photographers, and you will be frustrated establishing a confirmation of what I write here.
Quick shift between AF points:
To shift between AF points, the relevant button on the right of the camera back must be pressed to activate the four directional buttons (up down left right). True, you can make the actual focus field smaller and instead of being limited by a number of AF points, you can take it almost exactly to where you want it to be. But pressing a tiny button and then pressing more buttons to scroll around is totally impractical when I follow an animal moving through the bushes. It simply isn't fast enough and in cold weather with gloves on it is downright impossible to accomplish. Why did't the guys at Canon offer the EOS R a multi controller or a multi control dial, like the big EOS cameras have? After all, the EOS R isn't priced for entry-level users!
Switch between One Shot AF and AI Servo:
Honestly, I haven't even found out where such a switch could be done. On my big cameras I program one or both of the programmable buttons on the front of the camera to manage these AF settings. They are important, as I want to be on AI Servo only when an animal is mobile. As soon as it stops, I want to use One Shot AF as it helps me to prevent AF hunting whenever there is some vegetation between my subject and the camera. This is almost always the case. Oh, and by the way, the use of a touch screen in rough field situations, especially in cold weather is very difficult.
Bursts of action shots of fast moving objects:
Doesn't work. Before I could even pinpoint what was irritating me, my friend Octavio Campos Salles put it this way: whenever you look through the viewfinder, you're not looking at the reality in front of your lens. You are actually looking at a tiny TV trying to tell you what the reality in front of your lens is. There is a delay and a distortion. When I capture a few photographs and quickly want to check for settings, instead of looking at the delicate screen on the back which is anyway turned inside for protection, I can also look at the #tinyTV. But it takes its time switching between telling you what you last photographed and telling you what it thinks is happening in front of your lens. Sorry Canon, but if you plan on releasing a pro-grade mirrorless camera, I sincerely hope you are on top of tinyTV performance. The EOS R certainly isn't for my use.
Photographing in good light:
Speaking of tinyTV: it gets very confused as soon as the light for wildlife photography turns good, i.e. when the sun is gone, or not yet up. Using the viewfinder in lower light is a trauma. The poor EOS R tries so hard, but it just can't give you a proper image of what is happening up-front. Btw. the same is true when you want to use a circular polarising filter. tinyTV doesn't seem to understand the concept of polarising effects and therefore it is very difficult to reach a desired position for the filter setting while looking through the viewfinder.
Use in cold weather:
We have all heard about the high power consumption of mirrorless cameras. I have no doubt that in future, better batteries will solve this problem. Right now the battery life on an EOS R is not satisfactory, especially in cold weather.
Maybe I am a bit crazy here, as I like to attach my tripod mounts forward-facing rather than sideways. The reason is that I use a Wimberley Gimbal and an Arca Swiss Monoball tripod head. Each of them I can handle better if the plate is attached forward-facing. Screwing a longer tripod mount to the camera results in the swivel screen rubbing against it whenever it is moved. This is really annoying and would result in a scratched case at some point. All it would take for Canon is to leave 1mm of space somewhere between the screen frame and the embedded tripod mount nut. But again, maybe I am the only person with this kind of problem.
Long story short: as would be typical for technological disruption the day may come when mirrorless cameras surpass DSLR cameras regarding specs and prowess. Equally, the day may come when RF lenses surpass EF lenses in terms of image quality on all focal lengths (did I mention I just upgraded to a 600mm Mk III this year?), but these days are not here yet.
My word of advice: if you are serious about wildlife photography in the wild, for normal to fast moving mammals and birds, then the mirrorless Canon EOS R is not for you!
August 2019 - Patrick Meier