Call it photography’s holy grail or marketing hype, but companies have spent years trying to create “DSLR-quality compact cameras.” EOS M ($800) is Canon’s first official entry into the category, distilling its entry-level T4i/650D DSLR into a mirrorless body only modestly larger than the widely-admired S100, an engineering feat Canon once suggested was impossible. Designed to compete with mirrorless cameras already released by Nikon and Sony, EOS M offers enthusiasts the key advantages of DSLRs—interchangeable lenses and a mid-sized 18-Megapixel APS-C sensor—while streamlining the user interface, adopting a 3-inch touchscreen for most of its controls.
The major reason EOS M will interest users is size: at 4.29” by 2.6” by 1.26”, it’s only fractionally larger than Canon’s 3.9” by 2.36” by 1.1” S100, while packing a larger sensor, the ability to use flash accessories, and a new interchangeable M lens system that supports old Canon lenses with an optional adaptor. Just like the T4i, EOS M offers 1080p video recording and up to 25600 ISO support, while adding a 31-point autofocus system, all backed by a DIGIC 5 processor. And unlike the $850 T4i, Canon will ship EOS M with a 22m (35mm equivalent) prime lens for the lower $800 asking price, offering more expensive bundles with an 18-55mm lens and/or an EF lens adapter. In some countries (not the United States), EOS M will even come packaged with a small detachable flash.
Viewed alone, EOS M is impressively tiny and solid thanks to its painted magnesium frame, which will be available in four colors. But apart from the small body, which will still depend upon larger lenses, there’s no standout feature to make it preferable to the T4i or, say, Sony’s latest NEX cameras, which have upped the ante with articulating screens and other novel features. There are also some as-yet-unresolved questions as to the EOS M’s autofocus speeds, particularly with EF lenses, which otherwise should offer image quality comparable to the T4i. For the moment, this appears to be a small, DSLR-esque camera made for heavily invested Canon lens owners; we’ll see if it evolves into something more appealing after its September release.