The EOS M inherits the same clean, unfussy design seen on the majority of PowerShot and models – irrespective of the embossed branding there’s no mistaking it for a Canon camera. Edges are soft and curved, and the EOS M’s main design cue is the sculptured indent around the shutter button. This has enabled Canon to set the shutter button at a slight angle, which results in a slightly more comfortable shooting position when holding the camera.
In terms of its overall size the EOS M is similar to Nikon’s J1 and J2 models. The camera lacks a proper handgrip although there is a small, low profile rubberised grip on the front along with a curved thumb rest on the back. Together these actually allow you to get a pretty good grip of the camera. Overall build quality is very good too, with much of the body constructed from magnesium alloy. This helps to provide a reassuring weight and quality feel to the camera.
Physical controls are kept to a minimum, with the rear touchscreen used to control many of the camera settings instead. The exposure mode dial is located on the top-plate, while on the back you’ll find a one-touch movie record button along with dedicated Menu, Playback and Info buttons. As is common to Canon cameras there’s also a four-way directional pad that can be used to access EV compensation, Drive Mode and Auto Exposure. The Delete button doubles up as a quick way of returning the AF point to the centre of the frame.
While many of the camera touchscreens we’ve reviewed in the past have left a lot to be desired with unresponsive screens, the EOS M’s has to be one of, if not the most responsive we've yet tested, with the 3in, screen registering even the lightest of touches. In addition, it's also possible to swipe, pinch and zoom in on an image just as you would on a smartphone. To say we’re impressed would be putting it mildly.
Alongside the EOS M's neatly laid out interface the screen’s responsiveness results in a camera that’s really intuitive and fun to use. If you don’t want to delve through the in-camera menus then there's a handy on-screen Quick Menu button that will let you change a host of key settings. The on-screen menu icons are generally large enough to press first time too, without the need for pinpoint accuracy or a stylus! On top of this the screen itself offers plenty of clarity and contrast and provides good viewing angles too. We also like how the 3:2 aspect matches that of the sensor, which means that still images will fill the whole of the screen when viewed in playback mode.
One thing that is missing that we would quite liked to have seen is the ability to double tap images in Playback mode to review them at 100%. Also there’s a slight delay before images are rendered at full quality as you're flicking through your images, which can be slightly annoying if you’re in a hurry. That aside, it has to be said that EOS M's blend of responsive touchscreen and intuitive interface delivers a fast and seamless user experience.
While the EOS M's Hybrid AF system isn’t quite as fast as some of its CSC rivals – we’re thinking primarily of the Lumix G-series and the Olympus PEN range here – there's still very little to moan about. Focus lock is still impressively quick and very rarely finds itself hunting for focus. The Stepper Motor is barely audible in general use too, with a smooth transitional focus during video recording.
Selecting an AF point while the camera is being used in FlexiZone Single mode couldn't be easier, with the touchscreen allowing you to pinpoint where you want to focus, and if you wish, trigger the shutter too. Should you want to revert to the central AF point then it’s as simple as hitting the Delete button. The EOS M's focus-tracking mode does a pretty good job, although like many other CSCs, it does begin to struggle when faced with a fast-moving subject.
Shooting at the EOS M’s top burst speed of 4.3fps we were only able to capture 11 consecutive JPEGs (or five Raw images) before the buffer filled and the frame rate dropped to well below the headline rate. The EOS M is also a touch slow to start-up, with a 2-3 second delay from switching the camera on until it’s ready for you to start shooting.
As might be expected from an APS-C camera manufactured by Canon, overall image quality is very good indeed. Metering remains consistent across a range of conditions, with the camera delivering pleasingly accurate results. We did find that, occasionally, when shooting high-contrast scenes that there was a tendency for the EOS M to slightly underexpose, however this was nothing a bit of on-the-spot exposure compensation couldn’t fix.
The EOS M benefits from the same Auto Lighting Optimizer technology that’s found in Canon DSLRs. This essentially employs in-camera processing to balance highlight and shadow areas. You can choose from Low, Standard or High options – or you can switch it off altogether. It can be useful when faced with high-contrast scenes, although be warned that the High setting can result in something not akin to an HDR effect.
With its 18MP APS-C sensor the EOS M is able to resolve good levels of detail. As with Canon DSLRs T
The EOS M’s anti-shake system is of the lens-based variety (rather than sensor-shift). Thankfully the bundled 18-55mm EF-M kit lens has this IS technology built-in, effectively giving you an extra four stops to combat the effects of camera shake with. It’s worth noting, however, that the 22mm pancake lens doesn't offer IS.
Noise is very well controlled too. From the baseline sensitivity of ISO 100 up to ISO 800 images are pretty much noise free. Above ISO 800 and image noise does become progressively more noticeable. ISO 6400 is just about acceptable, although colour noise does see the image deteriorate quite a bit.
Comparing unprocessed Raw files to their processed JPEG counterparts reveals that JPEGs have a touch more contrast and slightly punchier colours. At higher ISO settings, JPEGs also exhibit less in the way of noise thanks to the application of noise reduction at the processing stage. This results in smoother images, albeit at the expense of sharpness. At these sensitivities it makes more sense to shoot in Raw if possible, and then process the image yourself.
Automatic white balance delivers generally neutral results under both natural and artificial light sources, although it can be a little cool on occasion. As with other Canon digital cameras the EOS M offers a selection of Picture Styles to choose from that can be used to accentuate colour saturation and suchlike. The ‘Standard’ setting delivers pleasing results though.
The Canon EOS M is one of the most capable and easy to use CSCs we’ve tested. It’s also a very well specified camera, with plenty to keep both entry-level and more experienced users happy. Image quality is some of the best we’ve yet seen in a CSC and certainly a match for many DSLRs. What really sets the EOS M apart from its rivals though is the fantastically responsive touchscreen interface, which is by some distance the best in its class. Of course, there’s still some room for improvement; AF speed and burst shooting could both be faster, and at present the range of EF-M lenses is currently a bit limited at just two. That said, we fully expect to see Canon expand the EF-M range in the near future and for an extra £130 you can always buy an EF-M adaptor that will enable you to use regular EF and EF-S lenses.