The Canon EOS M50 ($ 779.99, body only) is a new entry in the company’s APS-C mirrorless camera series. It’s the first M camera we’ve seen with a vari-angle LCD, a big plus for vlogging and video in general, and also the first to shoot in 4K. An improved autofocus system, with wider coverage and 7.4fps is a plus, and the camera does a fine job shooting video at 1080p. It’s a good choice overall, but no threat to our Editors’ Choice mirrorless model, the Sony a6000.
The M50 looks like the EOS M5, although Canon stresses that it supplements rather than replaces the M5 in its lineup. It’s on the small side, but fits nicely in the hands, even with its rather shallow handgrip. Most of the native lenses for the M system are also very small, so you don’t need a huge grip when shooting with EF-M glass. The camera is available in two colors: black and white.
Aside from the grip and lens release button, the front is free of adornments. On the top you find the hot shoe and pop-up flash; the latter is raised and lowered manually. Toward the right are all the top controls—the M-Fn and Record buttons, the On/Off switch, the front command dial and shutter release, and the Mode dial.
There is no dedicated EV compensation dial—something you get with the EOS M5, and a control that I genuinely missed when shooting with the M50. To make images brighter or dimmer, you need to use a rear control button and the control dial that surrounds the shutter release. It gets the job done, but isn’t as convenient as a dedicated control dial.
The rear is dominated by the 3-inch LCD. Controls all sit to its right. The top right corner holds the AE Lock (*) and focus point selection buttons. They’re on a bump that extends a bit farther back than the rest of the rear plate, and creates a natural thumb rest to the left.
Below the thumb rest you get Info, Menu, and Play buttons, and the rear command dial. The dial has the Q/Set button at its center and can be pressed in the cardinal directions to set EV, control the flash, toggle AF and MF, and delete images during playback.
The Q menu, which can also be accessed via the rear touch screen, is an overlay display that puts additional shooting settings at your fingertips. It’s here that you can quickly set things like ISO, toggle between single and AI Servo focus, adjust the metering pattern, and more.
The rear display is a standard 3-inch, 1,040k-dot screen with touch input support. It’s a vari-angle design, so it swings out and to the side of the camera on a hinge, and can face all the way forward, up, or back. You can also close the screen against the body, showing its back (which is covered in a textured leatherette).
There are a number of touch functions available. Menus are navigable, you can tap to focus, and if you’re in the right focus mode, you can tap on a subject to start tracking it. When using the EVF you can slide your finger on the LCD to move the active focus point. And when shooting video, sliding your finger from one subject to another racks focus.
The M50 has a standard 3.5mm microphone input, but not headphone jack, along with micro USB and micro HDMI data ports. Memory loads in the bottom, the same compartment as the battery, with support for SD media at up to UHS-I speed. The battery is the same as we’ve seen in other EOS M cameras. It can’t be charged in-body, but Canon includes a wall charger in the box. Battery life is on the low side, at 235 shots as tested by CIPA standards, less than the 300 the EOS M5 manages.
The camera also has wireless connectivity, a cocktail of Bluetooth, NFC, and Wi-Fi. It supports automatic background transfers to an Android or iOS device via the Canon Camera Connect app, so everything you shoot will end up in your phone—but it doesn’t work as seamlessly as it should. Transfers still use Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth, so you need to ensure the camera and phone are connected in order for the automatic transfer to work. These transfers are limited to JPG images—to transfer Raw images or video clips you need to manually select them using the Camera Connect app. Raw images are converted to JPG for transfer automatically, and while you can copy 1080p videos to your phone, you can’t beam 4K videos wirelessly, even if your phone supports 4K capture and playback.
There’s also a desktop companion app for Mac and Windows, Canon Image Transfer Utility 2. You need to set up the M50 to recognize and log in to your home network for it to work. Once you do, turning the camera on when you get home after taking images will initiate a transfer of everything new on the card, including Raw images, to a folder you set on your computer. Although the M50 couldn’t see my 5GHz home network, connecting to the 2.4GHz signal let the camera talk to my MacBook, which was logged onto 5GHz. Transfers are not nearly as quick as using an SD card reader, but it certainly takes less effort on your part.
Performance and Autofocus
The M50 uses Canon’s Dual Pixel autofocus system. First developed to improve video autofocus in its SLR line, Dual Pixel AF also works quite well in a mirrorless camera. It locks onto focus very quickly, in less than 0.05-second in our tests in bright conditions and a completely respectable 0.3-second in dim conditions. The camera itself requires about 1.3 seconds to turn on, focus, and capture an image—a quick result for mirrorless.
The autofocus system has been improved compared with earlier EOS M models. Powered by a new image processor—coined Digic 8—the autofocus system covers about 80 percent of the sensor area with 99 points of focus, horizontally and vertically, when paired with most EF-M lenses, including the 15-45mm I used with the M50.
A few lenses enjoy wider focus coverage—increasing the autofocus points to 143, covering the full sensor width horizontally and 88 percent vertically. The EF-M 55-200mm, EF-M 18-150mm, and EF-M 28mm Macro work with the expanded area, but we didn’t have any of these on hand when testing the M50.
Burst shooting is available at 10.1fps with focus locked after the first shot. Enabling continuous focus—Canon calls it AI Servo—which adjusts focus between shots to keep moving targets in clear focus, drops the burst rate to a still speedy 7.5fps. In our tests, AI Servo focus was effective at both keeping a target moving toward and away from the lens in focus, and tracking subjects as they move through the frame.
My biggest complaint with M50 is its small shooting buffer when working in Raw format. Even using Canon’s new, compressed CR3 format (more on that later), you only get 11 shots in a burst before the M50 slows down—just a bit more than a second of action when in AI Servo. If you opt for JPG capture you can shoot longer, for 27 shots at a time, which gives you a bit more breathing room to get the shot you want.
The M50 has a mechanical focal plane shutter, but adds a fully electronic shutter option, a first for the M series. It’s a bit limited, however. You can only access it via a Scene mode, Silent, which also suppresses sounds and the flash. Because it’s a Scene mode you don’t get manual exposure control, but Raw capture is still available.
The M50 sensor is a 24MP design. It’s the same architecture as other recent Canon 24MP sensors, but has a slightly different pixel count (24.1MP versus 24.2MP) due to the way it’s implemented in the M50 design.
I used Imatest to check the noise performance delivered by the new Digic 8 processor—it controls the camera’s JPG engine. The M50 controls image noise, keeping it under 1.5 percent, when shooting default-setting JPGs through ISO 6400. This is a slightly better result than the EOS M5, which shows 1.6 percent at ISO 6400, but the difference is academic. A side-by-side look at images from the M5 and M50 show that, as you push the ISO higher, the M50 shows just a little less detail than the M5, but you’ll need to make huge prints, crop heavily, or view images on a pixel-level to note the difference.
The M5 lags behind competing Sony-made sensors (found in mirrorless cameras like the Sony a6300 and Fujifilm X-T20) by about one full ISO setting. When shooting JPGs we see minimal loss of image quality through ISO 400, and very slight smudging of tiny details through ISO 1600. Noise (and in-camera noise reduction) does more harm to images starting at ISO 3200—from there through ISO 12800 photos are blurred a bit, but not blurry. Pushing EOS M50 to its limits—ISO 25600 and 51200—nets photos with significant blur.
Raw image quality is just about the same as you get with the M5, although the M50 has an additional setting available at the high end of the range, ISO 51200. You can shoot in Raw format and enjoy good image quality all the way through ISO 6400—there’s some grain when you push the camera this far, but it’s not overwhelming. I’d feel comfortable going to ISO 12800, but image noise is distracting when the sensor is pushed that far. Heavy noise does serious harm to images at ISO 25600, and while ISO 51200 is there, I wouldn’t use it—images are a noisy mess, even in Raw format, when the M50 is set that high.
You have two options for Raw capture. The standard, uncompressed Raw format takes up about 30MB each on your memory card and hard drive. There’s also a C-Raw option—the C standing for Compressed—which makes files smaller. Canon states compression is lossless, which is why C-Raw file size varies. I saw files as small as 10MB up to 30MB in size. Simpler scenes were at the low end of the range and more complex ones at the high end. I was able to make adjustments in Lightroom just as liberally with C-Raw as I am used to with Canon’s uncompressed Raw format. For most photographers, I see no reason not to use C-Raw, but if you’re particularly concerned about preserving as much image data as possible, you can still opt for the uncompressed format.
Canon sees the M50 as a good option for vloggers. Its vari-angle LCD, mic input, and Dual Pixel AF system are all big plusses for video. But video quality itself is underwhelming. Let’s talk about 4K first. The M5 is Canon’s first consumer model with 4K capture support, but it’s a bit crippled. The camera induces a heavy crop when recording in 4K and its speedy Dual Pixel AF system isn’t active.
Aside from the crop—which essentially requires you to use the EF-M 11-22mm zoom in order to net any sort of wide-angle coverage—the footage looks good, but not on the same level as the best 4K we’ve seen from mirorrless cameras.
It’s just not as sharp or detailed as what we see from the Sony a6300 and Fujifilm X-T20, and the frame rate is locked at 24fps—fine for someone who wants a cinematic look, but not so great for recording fast-moving action. Rolling shutter is an issue—there’s serious skew when panning or recording subjects moving quickly from one side of the frame to the other. To be fair, we also see this with the a6300 and X-T20.
And then there’s the autofocus. Dual Pixel AF doesn’t work in 4K, which puts a serious damper on how well the camera is able to adjust to changes in a scene. In my tests the M50 struggled keeping up tracking the same moving target in 4K as it was able to do with aplomb when rolling at 1080p. Even manual requests to change the focus point (by tapping the rear display) were often greeted by no change in focus at all when recording in 4K. In 1080p, with Dual Pixel working, tapping to change the focus point works consistently.
You can see the wobble in focus in the 4K clip above, and also see how quickly and easily the M50 racks focus in the 1080p shot below. The crop is also evident in the 4K clip—it was shot from a tripod with the lens set to the same zoom position as the 1080p shot.
So should you just shoot in 1080p and be happy? You definitely get better autofocus, footage that has just a modest crop applied (nothing to write home about), and your choice of 24, 30, or 60fps for normal-speed footage and 120fps for in-camera slow-motion. But, while it does avoid the rolling shutter pitfalls that plague 4K capture, the 1080p video itself is quite soft, and it’s not just because it’s recorded at a lower resolution. It’s a couple of steps behind the 1080p quality we’re used to seeing from competing models—again, the Sony a6300 and Fujifilm X-T20 are good ones to compare here, as their sensors are similar size and the cameras sell in the same price range as the M50.
It’s about time that Canon added 4K to a consumer camera—it’s currently only available in the pro-grade EOS 5D Mark IV and EOS-1D X Mark II SLRs and in its cinema cameras. But what’s in the EOS M50 was not the right way to do it. Cropped footage is something we saw in the early days of 4K, but full-width capture is expected in 2018. Even more of a drawback for consumers, who aren’t likely to manually pull focus for video, is the omission of Dual Pixel AF. Canon’s focus system delivers lovely results in video, with smooth racks from subject to subject. Going back to slower, choppier contrast detection is a step in the wrong direction.
That’s not to say the 4K option is useless. For scenes with a set focus point that don’t require wide-angle coverage, it works fine. But the quality of the video isn’t on the same level as competing models with 4K. And as much as I like the smooth autofocus provided by the Dual Pixel AF system, the M50’s 1080p video doesn’t look as good as it should.
It’s not all about video, of course. The M50 puts strong, albeit not best-in-class, image quality into a body that’s very compact and is backed with a small system of lenses, all of which are sized appropriately to match its design. It doesn’t have a huge Raw shooting buffer, but focuses quickly and tracks subjects effectively for action photography, and while it’s about a step behind the best APS-C mirrorless models when shooting images in dim light, it delivers printable results in tough situations.
I still prefer the pricier M5 for still photography, even though its focus coverage isn’t quite as wide and it doesn’t shoot as fast. But that’s because I like to have on-body controls right at hand, and the M5 delivers those. The M50 omits an EV compensation dial and only has a single control dial, surrounding the shutter. If you’re a fan of Manual mode this makes it a bit clunky to use. But photographers who shoot in Auto, aperture priority, or shutter priority will be fine with the single-dial approach.
Lens options for the M series are still a bit limited. Canon has plenty of narrow aperture zooms, but there’s only one fast prime, and the only native macro lens is a wider-angle design. You can supplement native lenses with adapted ones, either Canon EF or EF-S lenses via an autofocus adapter, or other SLR system lenses via manual focus mechanical adapters. But I’d like to see the EF-M lens system built out a bit more. Some more f/2 primes would be very welcome, as would some wider aperture zooms.
Our Editors’ Choice in the entry-level mirrorless category remains the aging Sony a6000. Ahead of its time at its release, it’s stuck around for years and enjoyed price cuts along the way. If you’re shopping more midrange, which is how the M50 is priced, the Fujifilm X-T20 and Sony a6300 are worth a look—both better the Canon in image and video quality, and have stronger lens systems behind them. But for fans of the EOS M system, the M50 slides in as a capable still camera, priced more attractively than the M5, and sized quite small, even with its integrated EVF.