A System Guide to Canon EOS M

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Items on same line indicate model updates. Different lines indicate varying model levels.

EOS M doesn’t have a deep history, dating back to only 2012, several years after mirrorless cameras first appeared. Moreover, Canon was clearly tentatively experimenting early on, so we only got a few cameras and lenses at first, and they were not distributed worldwide. 

Today, we have a lineup of four current cameras (M5, M6, M50, M100; in bold in the table).

Body-wise, I’d say things are relatively simple: buy an EOS M5 if you want an EVF. Perhaps consider the M6 if you’re looking for a body with no EVF. The older cameras aren't up to the levels of the M5/M6. The M50 is a significantly feature-reduced version of the M5 if you’re really are on a budget. The M100 is a similarly cut down version of the M6. Don’t get swayed by 4K video capabilities on the newest models, as that comes with a lot of gotchas you probably won’t like. 

Lenses aren’t much deeper than the camera line up. We have three primes, five zooms, and the ability to mount Canon EF or EF-S lenses via an optional adapter. That last bit makes the EOS M a solid candidate as a second or travel camera for a Canon DSLR user, as you can use lenses you already own on your EOS M camera. Be careful, though, as putting a big DSLR lens onto an EOS M camera tends to overwhelm it and make it front heavy.

As I write this, you don’t have a lot of choices to make, in my opinion. Here are my top choices:

  • EOS M5 body — simply the best body Canon has made to date, and highly competitive with the other mirrorless cameras at its price point.
  • 22mm f/2 — this is a no brainer. This small 35mm equivalent lens makes for a really small camera/lens package and is often all the lens you need.
  • 11-22mm f/4.5-5.6 — Smallish and better than expected. Provides you with a really competent wide angle zoom capability (something like 18-35mm effective). 
  • 32mm f/1.4 — a fast, normal lens that isn't too big. Street, portrait, and low-light photographers probably should have this lens in their kit.

The 28mm f/3.5 is also a very interesting lens, but somewhat limited in functionality. That’s because at the 1:1.2 maximum magnification ratio you’re focused at 3.7 inches, which puts your subject right up near the front element of the lens. Indeed, that’s why Canon has put a ring light around the front element, otherwise you’d have a very hard time getting light to your close subjects. However, the 28mm f/3.5 makes a smallish normal lens that’s quite sharp and can focus closer than a normal lens usually does, which is more how I use it.

The various “kit” mid-range zooms are a mixed bunch. The original 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 is the best of the bunch, in my opinion, but “best” in this case is a relative word and 18mm at the wide end means you're really at 30mm equivalent. I don’t find any of the three mid-range zooms particularly compelling over one another, so pick based on focal length needs and cost.

The one telephoto zoom is okay, but also not anything overly compelling. If you need telephoto you either buy the 55-200mm EOS M lens or use the optional mount converter to put one of your Canon DSLR lenses on the camera.

Since we’re talking about using Canon DSLR lenses, are there any that stand out on the EOS M with the adapter? Yes:

  • EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM — the 22mm f/2 EF-M option is better, but if you already have this small DSLR lens, it performs nicely on the EOS M bodies.
  • EF 40mm f/2.8 STM — another really small DSLR lens that fits very well into the EOS M world via adapter. Makes for a reasonable 70mm equivalent option, which is a portrait lens focal length.
  • EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM — the 28mm EOS M macro is just a bit too short of focal length to be fully useful if you’re seeking 1:1 levels of macroness. This is the next option up for an EOS M user.
  • EF 85mm f/1.8 or 100mm f/2 USM — focus performance drops a bit, but these make EOS M-sized 140mm and 170mm effective lenses.

The good news is that Canon has standardized on their DSLR accessories for the M series. So the remote control, the optional Speedlites, even the Rebel DSLR battery are all what the EOS M5 uses. Canon DSLR shooters will find that some of their accessories work just fine in the EOS M world.

The EOS M system has expanded and offers more options today than it did when it first appeared. Nevertheless, it still is a system with a relatively reduced set of options. That's not a bad thing as you won't be spending a fortune on building a basic M system, but it can be a limiting thing for those that want to explore some types of specialized photography. 

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