Why the Canon EOS R Might Be the Best Choice for RF Shooters

When Canon launched the RF mount with the EOS R, your choices were limited to that one camera if you wanted to buy into Canon's stellar new lens system. While it's a bit long in the tooth, it's definitely still a viable camera, and possibly the best camera to get if you're starting out in the system.

While it may not seem like the best idea to buy a 3-year old camera, especially when a lower-priced, newer option is available in the EOS RP, that's not necessarily the case.

I'll start by positing that the EOS RP really only makes its case on price. Build quality and specs are a bit lower than the EOS R. But photographer and YouTuber Jacek Sopotnicki raises a good question about whether the EOS R is still worth it in 2021. When Canon launched the EOS R, it was not clear where in the market it was aimed for. While it was ostensibly using an EOS 5D Mark IV sensor, its controls were definitely not at the same level. I'd argue, looking back at it several years later, that this wasn't an intentional move, but rather an experimental one. Sopotnicki talks about some of the new tech that was never seen before in this camera, such as the touch bar (or as Canon calls it, the multi-function bar) and the ability for the shutter curtain to close over the sensor to help avoid the entry of dust. There's also the use of a four-way controller instead of a traditional wheel at the rear of the camera that's been the mainstay of Canon cameras above the Rebel line, an unusual move for a camera in the EOS R's price/performance class.

The controls on second generation RF-mount cameras went back to "traditional" Canon-style controls. The EOS R had some experimental items, like the touch bar, that photographers didn't entirely find useful.

That said, why is this even a discussion in 2021? Because Canon's taken an interesting route with the follow-up cameras to the EOS R. In recognizing that the multi-function bar didn't work well for anyone, they've scrubbed it from the latest full-frame offerings, the EOS R6 and EOS R5. The traditional AF joystick and wheel have returned. But the positioning of these two cameras puts purchasers in a pickle.

While there's no doubt that when it comes to frame rate, viewfinder refresh rate, and controls the R5 and R6 have the older R beat, but an interesting element is the megapixel count on these three higher-end cameras: 20 MP for the R6 (almost certainly similar in design to the 1DX Mark III), 30.3 MP for the EOS R (similar to the 5D Mark IV) and 45 MP for the R5. This puts the EOS R squarely in the middle of the two cameras. The EOS R also retains a top LCD screen while the R6 has a traditional mode dial.

Where does this leave Canon shooters? They can sacrifice a little resolution for newer features (and 8K video!) or they can bump up the photo resolution for a lower price, albeit on an older, but still very good, sensor. to say nothing of the EOS R5, where shooters can have their cake and eat it too.

For me, the increased resolution of the R makes a difference, as the 20 MP of my older EOS 6D was starting to feel a bit limiting on 4K and 5K monitors. Any breathing room is welcome. That said, while I'm not too worried about the wheel at the rear, one of the most maddening things to do on the EOS R is to change focus points. It's clear Canon expected users to use the touchscreen a bit more than usual in this case.

While Sopotnicki talks about all the features of the camera and how they hold up in 2021, what's your own experience with the EOS R system? Is it worth it to go with one of the newer cameras or does the elder statesman of the RF family still hold up today?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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The real question is whether Canon will follow with an R mark II or let the now three year old R die on the vine.

Rumors (don't you just love rumors) suggest that Canon would, after the R3, turn to fill in the lower end with an RP mark II and/or even lower-end R-series camera (or APS in an R body) with some inexpensive lenses to match. But between the RP and the R6/R5 there's a hole, and if the original R isn't updated, one would think Canon would come up with something.

I'm still shooting a DSLR (80D) but would be tempted by an RmII or R replacement. I'm less tempted by the RP which itself is two years old. With all my Canon lenses I'd prefer to stay Canon, but it's a interesting time, and Nikon/Sony/Fuji could certainly get my attention. An RmII might just get me to bite.

I have the R6 and it isn't "magic". I use my 80D all the time. I'd say wait a bit longer.

Very interesting article. I am a new EOS R user, upgrading from an old EOS 350D and an ef 70 200 L f4. I was considering to upgrade quite some time. I was between Fuji, Sony (even Panasonic S5 for a while). I read a lot about specs and what various bloggers say. It seems that Canon R/RP were concept cameras. The R6 and the R5 are the modern and technically competitive Canon solutions, but are quite pricey. For me switching to another system would be costly as well. So the only thing I would consider is price. I was careful and bought my R in a price below 1500€ body only during a seasonal offer. At that price, I got a stills oriented advanced amateur camera, capable to use all my equipment, much cheaper than Sony 7 iii, and Fuji XT4. I WOULD NEVER PAY 2K TO GET THE R. But at that price level it was extremely competitive to high end APSC and 2k class full frame. For me as an enthusiast user oriented in stills it is an excellent choice. 4k crop "goes away" when paired with my efs 17 55 kit lens. I do not care about IBIS and the experience as a whole is fantastic. I still have the opportunity to get second hand EF glass and look into the future... I paired the R with an RF 50 1.8 and I have a good basic package.

I moved from Sony APS-C (a6400) to Canon RP for the color quality, larger sensor, excellent handling and availability of Canon lenses. I have no regrets. It’s light, small, accepts all RF and EF lenses (with adapter) and produces terrific photographs. Nothing compared price-wise. Canon full-frame for less than 1K. Loved the a6400, great fast and accurate focus, but the color quality and handling were disappointments and the menu system was confounding to me.

I would love an R MII with the updated DPAF and bird eye focus.
The current R is just lacking there.
The MP of the sensor is perfect just update the firmware and add the newest DPAF and keep the price the same and Canon will have a real winner.
One last thing, IBIS.

Im sure the R5 and R6 are great, but the R on Black Friday was too good to pass up. My R is actually an upgrade to my old 1Ds mk III. The image quality is comparable, I get 50% more pixels, and the modern features like eye AF and the EVF really boost the usability. The touch bar is useless, and i would prefer a rear dial, but with FV mode I can quickly dial up any exposure settings with my thumb on the mode dial and trigger finger on the front dial. This article suggests that one might consider the R as cheaper access to RF glass, and I'm sure Canon would be thrilled with that. But, EF L glass (and other gems like Sigma Art) are fantastic, too. Plus, with the EF mount lenses I can use the drop in filter adapter and have just one polarizer and one variable ND that work with everything. Nice. The extenders that I already have work great with my big glass from Canon and Sigma on the R, too. Oh, one more thing. I dont bother selecting focus points manually anymore. I find it much easier and faster to use AI Servo and face detect. Just place the focus point on your subject (doesn't have to be a face), half press the shutter (or use BBF if you prefer), and fire away. You can reframe with the subject all the way to the edge of the frame if needed, and the camera continues to track any subject movement.

Beside of this awful controls of the EOS R (coming from 5DIV), it was mainly about the mirrorless advatages (Eye-AF, new lenses etc.) that made me upgrade to the EOS R. Thankfully the first issues have been solved and the overall performance has been improved with firmware upgrades.

In between I've tried my very best with Sony (A7 to A7RII to A7III), but the ergonomics were dealbreaker for me to dig more into this system and switch completely. Sorry Sony, even if the results have been satisfying, it was no fun to work with your cameras.

Therefore I've focused back on Canon's mirrorless cameras and couldn't be happier. Finally I've changed my EOS RP for the R6 as my main body. Until now I don't miss any resolution, and if so, I make use of the 30MPx of the EOS R, which acts currently as second or backup camera.

For a start into the RF-ecosystem the EOS R is imho still a good choice, whereby professionals should directly focus on R5/6 for all the well known reasons.

"They can sacrifice a little resolution for newer features (and 8K video!)"

The R6 doesn't shoot 8K video. Only the R5 does.

Discovering the touch screen for focus was a revelation. I think one of the biggest improvements that has happened to digital cameras. I NEVER use the joystick for focus on my R5. That is infinitely, slower, and just plain awkward. I would love if it was a programmable button instead! Why does anyone use the joystick when the touchscreen is available? (Left eye shooters I can understand)
The original R is still an excellent camera unless you are shooting sports or need higher resolution video

I work in a studio often and shoot regularly with the R5 and R6. The R5 is easily the best Canon camera I've ever had the pleasure of shooting with. 45 mp and 8K video is just plain ridiculous. That being said, it's just too expensive. By a considerable amount. But if I had my druthers, that would be my go-to for everything. But let me get to the point. I travel a lot for photography and videography, and a while back I decided to try out the R from my local rental place. Ended up buying it for my leap into the mirrorless scene. It's such an underrated gem of a camera for so many reasons:

1. It's small and lightweight. I can easily attach it to a gimbal, pack it in a travel bag, handhold it throughout the duration of a shoot (I don't like neck straps)-it's just a really nice difference from the bulky 5DIV and noticeably heavier R5.

2. 30 mp and a top LCD is just better than the R6. It's like a 5DIV in a mirrorless package, but with slightly better video capabilities. I'm all for that.

3. I don't care what anyone says, the touch bar is as useful as you make it. It's highly customizable, easy to learn, and you can even shut it off if you don't care for it. People complaining about this feature don't understand innovation and likely haven't spent much time with it. Canon tried something different. I think it's cool, and after a couple of shoots, I got the hang of using it. (I have it set to adjust ISO speed.) And when I'm in the studio, I use the R5 as my main and my R as a secondary, and both sets of controls are like second nature to me now.

4. Touch screen manual focus selection is KING. I'll never go back to a joystick for this. The R was my introduction to this feature, and it was so intuitive that I wondered why Canon hadn't thought of it sooner. It seriously made my editorial and portrait work so much smoother and faster. And the fact that you can set what part of the touch screen to use is just so much more icing on the cake. No matter how I'm holding the camera, I can easily change the focal point-and I don't even have to pull my eye away from the EVF to make room for my wandering thumb. This is high on my list of favorite things Canon brought in with their mirrorless cameras.

4. (This one is the biggest selling point for me.) The R will always have far more visual versatility than the R5 (GASP!) as the camera can do both RF and EF lenses with the adapter. This has been an absolute gamechanger for me. I have the adapter with the ND filter, and the shooting possibilities I get with it are crazy. I'm not limited to the (currently limited) and very pricey RF line, as amazing as those lenses are. Canon EF L glass is still industry-leading equipment, and I regularly use those lenses on my R. I didn't have to get rid of any of my older glass. That kept more money in my pocket, and that made the R worth every single penny and then some. Further, having that one variable filter for any of the EF lenses I throw on the camera has been amazing for on location shoots where I've found I don't have to do anywhere near as much battling with the sun or artificial lighting. I even tried out a couple Sigma Art lenses with the R, and the results were just as gorgeous as any of the L and RF glass. Name another camera that can do this, and as well. I'll wait...

Ultimately, the R has been an absolute sleeper hit of a camera for me, one of those things you just find yourself charmed by and eventually falling in love with. Completely unexpected. I don't think Canon knew quite what they were doing with it, and maybe that was for the best. While it definitely has its flaws and limitations, it's a unicorn in a land of horses.

Back up a second ... The R5 can use the adapter, so I'm a bit confused by #4?

I get great photos with my EOS R. I like the 30 mp resolution and i really dont do video.i really cant justify the larger price tag of the newer models.I still recommend the R to friends that are looking for a great photo stills camera.