Kriss Hampton heads to Andorra and shares his thoughts on shooting with Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera
|Update: Since writing this article, Canon have released the EOS R5 and the EOS R6. The newest mirrorless cameras in the 'R range'.|
Find out how the Canon EOS R fared during our trip to Andorra.
I’ve just returned from a short trip to Andorra with Amy Moore, our technical editor for photography. We were both tasked with documenting our time in the Pyrenees mountains with Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera, the EOS R. A couple of months back I attended a Canon announcement event, which gave me a tiny glimpse into what this camera is all about. So, this Andorra trip was really the first proper experience I’ve had to shoot video on the EOS R and on the back of that, here’s what I think of the camera…
Coming back to Canon
My first DSLR was a Canon EOS 550D or (depending on where you’re from) the Canon EOS Rebel T2i. We’re talking back when DSLRs were really taking off in the filmmaking world and of course, I then made the natural progression to a Canon 5D Mark III – which is pretty much the same story for everyone else… These weren’t ideal cameras for filmmaking. They lacked so many features we’ve now come to expect, but they offered pleasing colours straight out of the box and of course, the ability to shoot in a larger format without having to splash out on a high-end cinema camera.
All photography by Amy Moore.
But since then, I’ve never revisited filming on a Canon DSLR. I very much felt that the likes of Sony and Panasonic were really making headway in terms of offering me the features that I’d longed for in my – what quickly seemed outdated – 5D Mark III. Canon innovated with its Cinema EOS range, but nothing appeared in a small enough body to entice me.
This brings me back round to the Andorra trip, returning to Canon and shooting with a DSLR-sized body. In this blog, I’ll share with you what I liked, what I didn’t and who I really think this camera’s for. What I will say right of the bat, is if you’re interested in the Canon EOS R, don’t just review the specs online or take this article as gospel. Get yourself into one of our stores and try it out – better yet, hire it for a test shoot.
I’m a big fan of the EOS R’s grip. So much so I was fine jumping with it – for all those times I needed to...
The body of the EOS R is rock solid and the grip felt perfect for my hands. I wouldn’t have jumped over a stream and rolled around on the floor (see above), if I wasn’t confident using the grip. Its magnesium body felt premium, there were no parts that felt plastic or cheap, but then again, I’d expect such quality given the price tag.
The body is weather sealed and it really did hold up. I had the camera soaking wet multiple times over the course of the trip. The EOS R was covered in snow, in sub-zero temperatures, and not once did the camera play up. I was equally impressed with the battery life. It takes the popular Canon LP-E6 batteries (let’s face it, we all have these lying around somewhere) and I was getting through a day of sporadic filming on just two. I’m a big fan of my Sony A7S II, but its small batteries severally reduce the runtime. The EOS R was refreshing in that sense – I was never worried about not having enough power. I even brought along six spare LP-E6 batteries, but literally just ended up rotating the two. I think this is especially impressive considering how cold the environment was. Lithium-ion batteries tend to run very fast in cold climates but for whatever reason, this wasn’t the case with the EOS R.
When you power off the camera, the shutter automatically closes and covers the sensor. The advantages of this seem so blatantly obvious, it left me wondering why it’s a feature I’ve only seen on the EOS R. So, when it comes to changing lenses – especially when shooting in thick snow – the risk of getting dust, snow, water droplets… literally anything onto your sensor is drastically reduced.
Kriss also used a 77mm Tiffen Variable ND filter during the trip.
I’ve come to really like having a fully-articulated screen on a camera of this size. I find it makes life easier, not just for getting low and high shots, but also for capturing candid shots as you can point the camera away from your body, so your subject is less likely to notice you filming. The screen itself is also slightly bigger than that of the camera’s competitors. It’s not by much, but it’s still 3.15 inches as opposed to the 3-inch screens we’re used to seeing on the likes of Sony’s Alpha series.
If you like having a fully-articulated screen, then the EOS R is currently the only full-frame mirrorless on the market that has one. I found that the screen did the job, but if I was being picky, I would have loved something truly daylight viewable. But then again, other manufacturers are yet to do this too.
The EVF on the EOS R is really the highlight here, its 3.69-million-dot OLED screen makes for clear and sharp monitoring. When filming handheld outside, I really rely on using the EVF to one: block out any ambient light so I can clearly see what I’m shooting in bright daylight. And two: for getting a more stable shot by having my head as an extra point of contact. It’s probably the best EVF I’ve had the pleasure of using.
Touch bar and RF Lenses
I was slightly sceptical of the touch bar before using it out in the field. I thought it sounded like a bit of a gimmick, but once you get used to it and customise it so it’s set to do the things you’ll genuinely find useful, it does work pretty well. As there are only two physical scroll wheels on the body of the camera, I just set the touch bar to control the ISO, this way I had manual control of the big three: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. This isn’t the most creative use of the touch bar I’m sure, but for my needs it fit the bill. Either way, I think it’s better to have a customisable touch bar than a fixed scroll wheel that always performs the same function.
The same story goes for the control ring on the new RF lenses, an additional ring at the front of the lens that can be customised to control various parameters. As a single camera/shooter on this project (for filming), I found it very refreshing to be able to set the control ring to adjust the microphone input level. Since Canon doesn’t’ make a proprietary XLR unit (listen up Canon), I was just using the one wireless lavalier system going straight into the 3.5mm jack input. When operating handheld and using the EVF, it was so easy to adjust the microphone volume without ever having to really adjust your grip on the camera or lens. And better yet, you don’t have to take your eye away from monitoring.
There is one drawback though – the control ring is located at the front of the lens. At first, I found it very easy to mistakenly adjust the control ring instead of my focus and vice versa, it does take some getting used to. If you’re a photographer that relies on AF all of the time then this isn’t going to be an issue for you, but for filmmakers it is. I would have much preferred the control ring to be positioned closest to the body.
My setup for this project paired the EOS R with the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM kit lens and a wireless microphone system, the RØDELink Filmmaker Kit. Although I brought the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens along with me on this project, I actually ended up just using the new RF kit lens. I brought the wider lens with me to help get around that big crop in when filming in 4K (which I’ll move onto later), but in the end I just worked with the limitations. Another big factor though is that the 24-105mm is optically stabilised – if you’re shooting handheld you’re going to need that since the EOS R has no in-body image stabilisation.
Something that I did notice when using the 24-105mm is that it’s another fly-by-wire lens. This means that there is no physical connection between the focus ring and the optics inside. Instead, they are connected and controlled electronically. This is nothing new, since a lot of Canon glass works this way, but a nice feature I’ve not seen before is that you have the ability to reverse the direction of focus. So, if you’re used to Nikon glass, which focuses in a different direction, you can set the 24-105mm to operate in the same way. You can also adjust the focus in relation to the focusing speed, which again, illustrates just how customisable this camera really is.
I’m not really a filmmaker who needs a camera that’s jam-packed with lots of features. I really just look for the basics: a nice colour science, solid codecs and some useable slow-motion options. For me, the EOS-R ticks two of those boxes. The colour science is very pleasing, and it’s nice to have C-Log in a camera of this size. The EOS R can only record 8-bit internally, so you’re still going to experience some compression artefacts (like banding in the sky), but it wasn’t too bad with the EOS R’s footage. You can get a 10-bit signal out of the EOS R if you’re using a HDMI external recorder, but for this project that wasn’t something I was willing to bring along as I wanted to keep my setup as lightweight as possible. I find that C-Log is much more forgiving in 8-bit than, say, shooting with Sony’s S-Log. Overall, I was pretty happy with how the footage came out.
You’ve got a choice of ALL-Intra or IPB codecs, one at 480Mbps and the other at 120Mpbs. But without doing some intense pixel peeping, you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference. In reality, an ALL-Intra codec is just going to make editing a bit easier on your machine, since each frame is individually compressed and it's less work for your computer to decode the footage. So, if you’ve got plenty of SD cards and storage, it’s a nice thing to have. If not, then I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Either way, it’s better to have the two options than just IPB. On this project, I switched between the two halfway through, as I didn’t see enough of a difference to warrant the extra storage needed.
It’s good to see that Canon has included a time-lapse mode in the EOS R, which makes grabbing a quick time-lapse shot while out and about that bit easier. You can simply set your camera up, punch in how long you want to shoot for and once complete, the EOS R will package everything in a 4K video file for you. If you’re creating time-lapses on a Sony Morrorless Cameras, you have to (cheekily) purchase an additional app for the camera. One thing to note: if you’re shooting in C-Log, you have to change to one of the standard (not a Log profile) picture profiles when you switch over to the time-lapse mode, which can be a bit annoying after repetitive use. It would be far easier if you were able to set a default PP for this, so when you switch to the time-lapse mode, the EOS R just does it automatically.
A feature I really enjoyed using was the dual pixel autofocus [DPAF]. If you’re a traditionalist and refuse to switch to AF, then I urge you to try DPAF out. It really is revolutionary. The EOS R has a whopping 5,655 focus points and to put that into perspective, the 5D Mark IV has a still decent (but what now almost seems pathetic) 61 focus points. This gives you so much control when you’re trying to nail that critical focus. I used the DPAF a lot more than I thought I would on this trip, mainly for keeping the focus locked onto Amy while she’s moving and talking to the camera. But, I also used it when rack focusing by simply tapping between the points of interest on the touch screen. Canon says that the EOS R can focus down to -6EV, but I doubt anyone will be doing that for video, since in my opinion the low-light performance on this camera is somewhat average.
My biggest gripes
This camera is by no means perfect for video. In fact, I think there are some pretty big hindrances. The biggest one – if you’ve been reading up on the camera already, you’ll no doubt be aware of this – is when filming in 4K there is a significant crop of 1.7x. I don’t really understand why in this day and age we’re still getting new cameras that have a big crop, when pushed into 4K video mode. Is this the end of the world? No. Is it annoying to have a full-frame camera and be left with a field of view that’s similar to an APS-C camera? Yes. The one upside (probably the only real-world one) is that if you’re planning on using the EOS R as a B camera alongside a Super 35mm video camera, the two will have very similar field of views.
The camera also suffers from some pretty bad rolling shutter. I like to shoot driving segments within a car, so I can convey some sense of travel between locations, but in the end I didn’t use too much of this footage as the rolling shutter was way to prominent for what I’m comfortable with. I wouldn’t recommend buying this camera if whip pans are your thing.
A very strange hiccup, which I assume will hopefully get rectified with future firmware updates, is that when you start recording the histogram suddenly disappears off screen. This means that should you be moving the camera around – changing locations, points of interest or lighting environments – you no longer have any means to properly check your exposure, other than using zebras.
Finally, slow motion or shall I say lack of. I find it baffling that I have to drop down to 1080p just to get a 2x slow-motion effect in a camera released in 2018. This is something I’ve had the ability to do on my first generation A7S and that was released half a decade ago. You can get a 4x times slow-motion effect if you drop down in resolution even further to 720p, but let’s be honest guys, who on Earth is still running HD Ready acquisition? If you’re looking for a capable slow-motion camera, I’d look elsewhere.
Like I said at the beginning, I’ve enjoyed my time shooting with the EOS R. It has some strong positives, but equally some negatives that may prove too much for some filmmakers. At the end of the day, I enjoyed shooting with it and I’m pleased with the final imagery that came out of it.
Who do I think this camera is ideal for? Well, if you’re buying this as your sole video/filmmaking camera, then I’d probably look at more video-orientated mirrorless cameras such as the LUMIX GH5S with a Metabones Speed Booster), since that will give you a similar FOV as the EOS R but with a lot more video features. But, if you’re predominantly taking stills and want a camera that’s capable of shooting pleasing video too, then the EOS R is a compelling option.
Also, if you’re a filmmaker who’s shooting on any of Canon’s Cinema EOS cameras, I think the EOS R would make a great B camera. You’ll then have a camera that can take some great stills images, but when hooked up to an external recorder will also be able to give you stunning 4K video that’s going to match very well with your dedicated video camera.
If you’re interested in the Canon EOS R, get yourself into one of our stores and try it out or better yet, hire it for a test shoot. Please don’t fall into the trap of judging if a camera is right for you, solely based on the specs and opinions you read online. Of course, they can go a long way to help your decision, but nothing can really compare to having a camera in your hands and actually shooting with it.
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About the Author
Kristian Hampton is Wex Photo Video’s Technical Editor for Pro Video. A video specialist who has worked in corporate studios for companies such as Vodafone Group and PwC, as well as working as a freelance grip on various TV productions and features. He also runs Krade Media, providing enterprises with production services. Follow Kristian on twitter @KrissHampton
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