The two biggest names in photography—Canon and Nikon—sat on the sidelines and watched as Sony became the hottest player in the full-frame mirrorless world.
That changed in late summer, with both companies debuting new systems.
We've already looked at the Nikon Z 7, which is a solid first effort.
The Canon EOS R ($2,299, body only) isn't as polished or as featured, but does have one big advantage for Canon users—it works with your existing SLR accessories, as well as lenses via an inexpensive adapter.
But, despite offering a little bit more resolution, the EOS R is no threat to the Sony a7 III, our Editors' Choice in this category.
Canon's Design Choices
The EOS R's silhouette looks like a Canon—it has the gentle, sloping lines we're used to seeing in the company's industrial design, a contrast to the more angled feel of the Nikon Z 6.
It's sized similarly to an entry-level SLR, minus the extra space for the mirror box of course.
The EOS R measures 3.9 by 5.3 by 3.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.5 pounds (both figures are without a lens attached).
Canon states the EOS R is protected from dust and splashes.
It is, though its weather sealing is not as extensive as the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
A teardown by Roger Cicala at Lensrentals shows the EOS R's sealing to be more consumer-grade, similar to the EOS 6D Mark II.
The EOS R is priced in between the two, so it's not too surprising the camera sports the higher-end sensor from the 5D series and the lower-end build of the 6D.
The EOS R's handgrip is very comfortable.
It's the first thing I noticed, and a big plus—but the R falters in other ergonomic areas.
Many manufacturers put the power switch around the shutter release—Canon doesn't.
Its shutter releases tend to sit at a steep angle, at the top of the handgrip—a design choice that goes a long way to making the grip as comfortable as it is.
The R's power switch is on the top plate, to the left of the EVF and hot shoe.
It's a simple two-stage design, and takes up a good amount of space.
It's space I'd prefer to see dedicated to a different control—a programmable dial perhaps.
Missing are any front control buttons—they can come in handy, like the dual programmable buttons that sit next to the Nikon Z 6's lens mount.
The right side of the top plate is also a mixed bag.
I love the trend of putting information displays on the top—it's something expected on an SLR, but often omitted from mirrorless designs.
The EOS R's panel is monochrome, with an optional backlight, and shows the current shooting mode, exposure settings, and battery life.
A cluster of buttons sit to its right.
The Backlight control is closest, with the Record button slightly right and forward, and the Lock button.
You can set how much of the camera's controls are locked down when you turn it on—by default it will prevent unwanted changes to the rear dial and lens control ring, but you can also add the front dial, touch screen, and M-Fn bar to the list of locked controls via the menu.
The front control dial sits perpendicular to the top of the handgrip, with the M-Fn button right next to it and the shutter release ahead.
M-Fn brings up an on-screen menu to quickly adjust ISO, drive, autofocus, white balance, and flash power settings.
The latter are only for an external Speedlite—the EOS R has no built-in flash, a feature absent from almost all modern full-frame cameras.
It's the rear control wheel I find the most troublesome.
It sits flat at the rear of the top plate, but is positioned so it's a little bit of a reach to touch and turn.
It's just not quite in the right place.
And, for me at least, the rear dial is an essential control.
The shooting Mode is adjusted via a button, located at the center of the rear dial.
It's an odd choice from Canon, which has used Mode dials for all but its top-end sports cameras, to go with the button with the EOS R, while Nikon, which is typically a Mode button company, went with a dial on the Z 6 and Z 7.
I would have preferred a dial, but it's something that comes down to pure personal preference.
The Menu button is on the rear, at the top left corner in the space above the LCD and to the left of the eyecup.
To the right of the EVF you'll find the M-Fn bar.
It's something new from Canon, and to cameras in general.
The narrow touch-sensitive strip responds to taps and swipes, and can be used to adjust various sundry settings.
I opted to use it to adjust the focus area, but it can also be set to change other settings, including ISO, white balance, and microphone sensitivity, among others.
It's all well and good that M-Fn is so configurable.
But I'm not sure if it's that useful.
It has two operating modes—one where you have to touch it for a split-second before it becomes active, and a second where it's always active.
Each has its own problems—if you go with the delay, you'll find the touch controls a little frustrating to use.
If you go with no delay, you're going to change settings by accident.
It will happen, and it will happen at the worst possible time.
Also, since the bar uses the same type of technology as a touch screen, you need to have skin-to-skin contact for it to work.
If you wear gloves, make sure they're compatible with touch screens or fingerless.
Other rear controls are more traditional.
The AF-ON button is part of the thumb rest, and easy to locate by touch.
To its right are the * (AE Lock) and focus adjustment buttons.
Info, Play, and Delete are lower on the body, surrounding the four-way directional pad.
At the pad's center is Q/Set, which launches an on-screen control menu.
There's no focus adjustment joystick, which is included in the EOS R's two closest competitors, the Nikon Z 6 and Sony a7 III.
It's a shame—adjusting focus points with the rear directional pad is a slow chore, and while the LCD supports touch-and-drag focus area adjustment when you're framing shots with the EVF, it's difficult to use if you're left-eye dominant—too much of your face covers the control that you should be using to move the focus point.
In addition to on-body controls, native lenses for the EOS R include an on-lens control ring.
It's programmable and includes detents.
I like it more than the similar rings on the Nikkor Z lenses Nikon has introduced with its Z mirrorless system.
The detents allow you to lock into adjustments with confidence—if you want to adjust the aperture or EV compensation by a third of a stop, you can do so easily with a one-click turn.
The lens ring system is not perfect, though.
I found it worked quite well, but confirmed a bug that others have reported when using it as an ISO control adjustment—the EOS R can sometimes slip in or out of automatic ISO control, seemingly at random, when setting ISO using the lens ring.
Hopefully Canon will address this via a firmware update.
The rear LCD is a vari-angle design, which means it can swing out to the side, face all the way forward, up, or down, and the screen can also reverse and tuck in against the body so it will be protected for storage or transport.
It's the only full-frame mirrorelss camera we've seen with a screen of this type—rivals around this price point, the Sony a7 III and and Nikon Z 6, feature screens that tilt up and down, but don't swing out to the side or face forward.
We expect Panasonic's first full-frame mirrorless camera, scheduled to ship next year, to have a screen design similar to the Canon.
The EOS R's 3.2-inch display is sharp, 2.1 million dots deliver plenty of detail and allow you to magnify the frame to confirm critical focus.
It's also sensitive to touch.
You can navigate menus, swipe through images during review, and tap to set a focus point.
As mentioned above, it also acts as a focus point control surface when using the EVF to frame shots.
The viewfinder is very good, although not the best we've seen around this price point—I give some preference to the Nikon Z 6 there.
The EOS R is slightly smaller, with a 0.71x magnification rating, versus the 0.8x you get with the Nikon Z 6 and 0.78x offered by the Sony a7 III.
My complaint isn't with the viewfinder—it's not class-leading, but it's not substandard by any means.
It's the eye sensor I have problems with.
It does its job—switching from the LCD to the EVF—a little too eagerly.
There were several occasions when I was greeted with a blank LCD because the camera was close enough to my body to trigger the eye sensor.
We saw a similar issue with the last-generation Sony a7 II, but it was fixed in the a7 III model.
I've seen other cameras address this issue by disabling the sensor when the LCD is tilted or swung out from the body, or simply reducing the proximity that activates the eye sensor.
Connectivity and Power
The EOS R includes built-in wireless connectivity—an expected feature in today's world.
It works with the Canon Camera Connect app, a free download for Android and iOS.
The app has a step-by-step connection guide, but you can also use a QR code, shown on the EOS R's LCD, to speed up the initial setup.
Once paired you can transfer images and videos to your phone and also control the camera remotely.
You have full access to manual exposure settings, as well as autofocus settings and video mode, when using your phone as a remote.
The EOS R isn't positioned as a pro model, so it doesn't have the PC Sync socket we expect from higher-end bodies.
This is only a concern if you're still using a wired connection to off-camera strobes, at a time when the industry has largely moved to wireless external flash control.
You do get 3.5mm headphone and microphone ports, mini HDMI, remote control, and USB-C ports, all located on the left side.
The memory card slot is on the right.
The EOS R supports a single UHS-II SD/SDHC/SDXC card.
If your workflow requires the redundancy delivered by dual card slots—a failed memory card is not something a wedding photographer would ever want to deal with—wait for Canon to release a model for pros, or opt for the Sony a7 III, which does have dual slots.
Canon has opted to use the same battery that its current SLRs utilize, the LP-E6N.
It is rated for about 370 images using the LCD or 350 shots with the EVF.
That's similar to the Nikon Z 6 (400 shots LCD, 330 shots EVF), but lags behind the Sony a7 III (710 shots per charge).
RF Lens System
The EOS R introduces a new lens mount, RF.
It's not compatible with the EF-M mount used by Canon's APS-C mirrorless camera line, dubbed EOS M.
But you can use SLR lenses, both EF and EF-S, via an adapter.
Canon sells a few different adapters, the basic Mount Adapter EF-EOS R for $99.99, an upgraded version that adds a control ring for $199.99, and the Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter.
The first two are available now, with the Drop-In adapter scheduled to ship in March 2019 with your choice of a circular polarizer ($299.99) or variable power neutral density ($399.99).
The adapters are important—they allow you to use Canon's extensive line of lenses with the EOS R, with absolutely no detriment to optical quality or autofocus speed.
All of the EF lenses I used with the EOS R, which included not just Canon optics, but also third-party lenses from Sigma and Tamron, worked without any issue.
The quality and pricing of the adapters make the RF system very appealing to photographers who have a large investment in Canon glass.
You can also use Canon EF lenses via an adapter with the Sony mirrorless system, but you don't always get the same level of autofocus performance as with native lenses, even with a good adapter like the Sigma MC-11.
The native lenses are also a reason to look at the RF system—even if the EOS R isn't the most earth-shattering debut.
The standard zoom, the RF 24-105mm F4 L IS USM, is of high quality, and has a longer reach than the 24-70mm F4 Nikon has made the default lens for its Z system.
But it's expensive, selling for $1,099, even when purchased in a kit.
It's joined by two prime lenses, the $499 RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM and the premium RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM ($2,299).
The most unique and ambitious RF lens, the 28-70mm F2 L, is huge, heavy, and priced just shy of $3,000.
The only other full-frame, f/2 zoom we've seen to date is from Sigma, the relatively short 24-35mm F2 DG HSM Art, which can be used with the EOS R using one of the EF adapters.
Canon's take isn't quite as wide, but zooms in closer.
It's also the only RF lens I've not yet had a chance to try, so I can't speak to its quality as of yet.
But given how good the other three lenses are, and the price, I expect it to be a favorite for event photographers.
On one hand, I'm happy to see Canon making a statement with its RF lens line.
But I can't help but wonder if potential EOS R customers will be scared by the lens prices.
An affordable 24-70mm or 28-70mm zoom would go a long way to get folks started.
As it stands, budget shoppers should think about EF glass and the basic $100 adapter to use it.
Dual Pixel AF Sets EOS R Apart
The EOS R uses the same Dual Pixel AF system found in recent Canon SLRs.
Instead of using a series of masked pixels, as is the case with most mirrorless cameras with on-sensor phase detection, Dual Pixel AF splits each pixel in half, so each can act as a phase detection sensor due to the very slight offset between the two.
This means that any of the camera's 30 million or so pixels can check focus, although not all are active—it'd be overkill and the too much for the camera's processor to handle.
Instead Canon has opted to make 5,666 pixels active for focus, with coverage almost all the way to the edges of the sensor.
In addition to autofocus, the EOS R's Dual Pixel AF supports Canon's Dual Pixel Raw file format.
It's something we looked at closely when it was introduced with the EOS 5D Mark IV ($2,499.00 at Amazon) .
In short, it's not a very useful feature—it gives you some ability to adjust the focus point, but not by much, and comes at the cost of greatly increased file sizes and slower operation.
I'm happy to see that Canon hasn't dropped it, because some photographers may find it of use, but it's not a selling point.
In terms of speed, Dual Pixel AF is quite fast.
It locks on to targets in an average of 0.1-second, although I did notice a little inconsistency with the EOS R.
It would often lock on to our focus speed test target in almost no time, but could also slip to about a 0.2-second lag on occasion.
In dim light the EOS R is a little slower,...