Why I Bought Into a Dead-end Mirrorless System for 2023

Why I Bought Into a Dead-end Mirrorless System for 2023

I’ve always had a set of “work” cameras and “fun” cameras, the former being big, heavy professional tools and the latter being the kind I’d bring on family trips and for street photography.

When one of the fun cameras, my Olympus E-M10 II, took a spill and died at a protest this past fall, I knew that I’d need to find something to replace it.

I’ve long been a proponent of the Micro Four Thirds system, having recently written a love letter to my 2013-era Panasonic Lumix GM1. But the truth of the matter is that it was the pair of cameras that really made for good street photography, the E-M10 being the eminently capable small camera and the GM1 being my pocket camera. Losing the E-M10 and being left with the older, more limited camera was a signal that it’s time to move on.

Aside from small and light, cheap is also a criterion for my fun cameras. They don’t make me money, after all. That’s when Canon put out its holiday sales and its M series lineup was marked down by a lot. I figured it was time to really give it a chance, even though with the R series pushing into APS-C territory, the writing is already on the wall for M lenses and cameras.

I purchased a $399 refurbished Canon EOS M50 Mark II and a used EOS M5. For lenses, I went with the Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM kit lens (the one that’s packaged with the M50 Mark II), the Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM lens, and the Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens. I basically had a more or less complete “fun” system for around $1,000.

Unlike the EOS R system, Canon didn’t send cease and desist letters to Sigma about the autofocus capabilities of its lenses on the M system, as the company has a nice set of quality primes with AF for the EF-M mount. Having two high-quality primes for focal lengths that I use all the time was a huge draw, as well as having updated bodies that are only slightly larger than my dear, departed Olympus E-M10 II. None are small as my GM1, but they’re infinitely more capable and have viewfinders.

After more than a month with this setup, I’m sold, and I’m sad. I’m sad to see the system go, that is. Here’s why.

Squirrely kids aren't a problem with fast, accurate eye-detection autofocus - even at f/1.4, as in this photo.

Fast-focusing Pocket Cameras

Focusing and image quality were never the strong suits of my previous Micro Four Thirds setup. As lower-end bodies, the speed was adequate, but the ability to track on either Panasonic or Olympus bodies (even my higher-end ones) has never been good. Forget about tracking my fast kids without some sort of phase detection.

Updating to the M series cameras has been amazing. A lot of the niceties I’m used to on my Canon EOS R6 and R5 were pioneered on the M series bodies. While the M5 is a little older and is relegated to face-tracking autofocus only and 1080p video, the M50 Mark II gets 4K video and eye-detection with servo capability. It nails focus quite easily, and the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system in both cameras focuses much better than Olympus and Panasonic’s contrast detect-only AF systems.

While I made do with a D-pad or poking the screen on my previous street setup, the M5 and M50 Mark II feature Canon’s superb touch-and-drag autofocus capabilities. I set the right side of the screen up to function as a trackpad to autofocus, and I can generally work faster than even my R6 or R5 with their AF joysticks (they also have touch-and-drag). There’s something that oddly works/feels better when using this coupled with a viewfinder that the GM1 just can’t duplicate.

Beyond that, having a viewfinder makes precise manual focusing and shooting in bright sunlight easier. For a package this small, having autofocus that's within spitting distance of my more expensive R cameras is pretty rad.

Better Sensors

Micro Four Thirds cameras have seemed to hit the limit with sensor tech vs. size. I’ve owned many 12- and 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds cameras of different generations, and image quality is more or less the same across the board. You’re generally paying for the toughness of the body and quality-of-life features. The M series, with larger APS-C sensors, are a decent upgrade in that department.

I’m able to pull more out of the shadows and reign in highlights better, and I can print a little larger with 24 megapixels on tap.

But Is It a Good Idea to Buy Into M Now?

I thought long and hard about whether this was a good idea. Buying into the EOS M system means that you’re looking at, most likely, no more new camera bodies or lenses, at least from Canon. And it’s more than likely no third-party manufacturer wants to develop new lenses for a system that never really gained traction with the public. What’s out there is what it’s going to be.

In analyzing my own habits, my most used lenses tended to be the 40mm-equivalent Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 II ASPH. lens and the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8 lens, mostly due to their size. I would occasionally dip into the superb Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 lens.

Luckily, Canon makes the excellent 22mm prime, and Sigma has portrait needs covered with the 56mm, which has all the image quality of the Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R, but coupled with the superior autofocus of the Canon system and a cheaper price tag for both bodies and the lens. If I needed an ultra-wide, there’s the Canon EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens.

That said, where the system falls a little flat is at the longer end, where there aren’t any fast telephotos without adapting larger, heavier EF or EF-S glass, which defeats the purpose of the whole system. The lack of lenses is one of the major weaknesses of the system, but if the lenses on offer match your needs, as they do for mine, then there’s no reason not to buy into it.

Image quality-wise, the sensors in these cameras draw a lot from the 80D-era of Canon DSLRs, and that’s not a bad thing. The 24-megapixel sensors in both cameras have a decent amount of dynamic range and offer a larger image size than anything Micro Four Thirds has, short of the GH6. Again, though, this is a dead end. There likely won’t be any new camera bodies, and so that’s something to consider, in addition to lenses. But, as I always say, a camera doesn’t ever take pictures any worse than the day you buy it, and so, if I was happy with 16-megapixel cameras all the way into 2022, 24 should be just fine (and so should the 20 in my EOS R6).

It’s Worth It

The sun is setting on this lighthouse, and the EOS M system. Shot with the EOS M50 Mark II and the Sigma 56mm f/1.4 lens.

Just like when your favorite TV series gets canceled in its prime, such is the case with the EOS M system. It seems to have really hit its stride from the price, performance, and size perspectives at the end of its life. I used the EOS M and M3 when they were brand new, and they were so laughably bad compared to the competition that I wrote off the M series entirely until now. It was Canon’s mistake to club those cameras in the kneecaps at launch, damaging the reputation of the system as a whole. When the M3 was launched in 2015, for instance, it went with a slower, clunkier Hybrid CMOS AF III when the far superior Dual Pixel CMOS AF was already out in the 70D. And it cost $800.

Perhaps Canon didn’t want to cannibalize sales of EF lenses and DSLR bodies. It seems that was less of an issue in the last few years, since the R series was doing that anyway.

Canon hasn’t officially put out any word on the death of the M system, but you can see it in the rapid discontinuation of official M products. The M50 Mark II and the low-end M200 are the only bodies left that you can buy brand new, and lens supplies seem to be dwindling too.

Why not just get an APS-C R camera? While they’re undoubtedly going to have a longer shelf life, they’ll never hit these small sizes and cheap prices. The M series is unique in that regard.

In my opinion, if you’re looking for a portable, powerful package that can easily fit in a pocket or small bag, it’s time to pick up an M system camera, while you still can.

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21 Comments
Gary Pardy's picture

I'll preface by saying everyone is entitled to their own purchasing decisions, their own rationale and opinion, etc, etc. If EOS M meets your needs, don't sweat it - what matters most is that you use it to create something.

With that out of the way, I'd be pissed if I were an EOS M shooter - same as if I were a Sony A-mount shooter a few years back. Except worse, because at least A-mount is adaptable to E-mount, just as EF is adaptable to RF-mount.

Up front affordability is good, but when you buy into a dead system you tend to pay for it in the long run. Bodies lose value regardless of platform, but you generally want lenses to hold their value - even an old lens can find new life on a new body. Except no one is adapting EF-M glass. Losing value in your lens catalog is a bad thing when it inevitably comes time to upgrade.

Still a good system, but a bad investment.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I don’t do much adapting - the times I have it’s always been a crapshoot.

I do see the point about how people would be pissed. If I paid full freight on these not expecting the system to die, I would probably feel the same, but in this case it was not that - I paid close to the bottom and I full well know that this is it.

Edo Photo's picture

These are just tools... and you get what you can for the time and for the money you want to spend and you take it from there. I wish the line wasn't discontinued - and I'm definitely not getting a RFS, as those are not small enough.

I have 3 M bodies, and have adapted lenses was a huge selling point for me, while others on dpreview whined about the small size that a mirrorless experience should be. Years later we know that the size savings was pretty much a big lie.

I find it hugely ironic that the RFS system is a barren wasteland in terms of lenses. Yes they will be re-housing some of the M lenses, but the RFS series at least what's been released so far is nothing close to what a small M body is.

So while RFS customers wait for any kind of decent lenses, for my M bodies I can choose between the 22 f2, the 11 to 22, and my recent sigma 30 mm 1.4. right now RFS users can only dream of those. I really don't appreciate what Canon did for those customers, especially considering non-l RF lenses are weak in the optics. But hey maybe they will want to upgrade to $2,000 lenses, hehe.

Thomas Oed's picture

Sounds like you thought it out very well before taking the plunge, and a thousand bucks for two camera bodies and 3 lenses isn't a bad deal, even if you hit a dead end with them in a few years.

As you said, as long as they fit the intended need, you really aren't losing anything in terms of usability. The only possible worry that occurs to me is the better than average chance that parts and repair support will run out somewhat sooner on a line that Canon is abandoning.

I'm not a Canon shooter, so I was completely unaware of the M series even existing.. Maybe it's like the Nikon, what was it called the V series mirrorless? (I skipped those entirely, and didn't start dipping into mirrorless until the Z system debuted.) Those got abandoned even faster and harder than your M series has, so hopefully you'll be able to get support for those for a while, especially with your connections at Canon.

In the flip side, if that gear remains as inexpensive as it is now, if you drop and break one of those cameras in a couple of years, you can probably just buy another used one, perhaps for less thelan the repair would cost, even if they can still find parts!

Anyway, I enjoyed your well thought-out story, as well as your photos. Best of luck in 2023!

Pixon Pix's picture

How EF-M series camera different from an obsolescence point of view from a point-and-shoot one? The EF-M gets decent images and there are several lenses available. Sure, the camera will break at some point, and so will the lenses, but is it any different than buying a camera with a fixed lens? If anything, with EF-M you will have a longer lifetime of the system because there will be, albeit small, market for cameras and lenses.

A couple of years ago I purchased a new M6 body with 18-150 IS lens for about $400 at B&H. That price is lower than for a common point-and-shoot camera. I got a 22mm lens and along with a 50mm EF lens with an adapter, those two lenses are staying on M6 camera all the time. While I don't particularly use 18-150 lens, there's one great application for it -- video. A huge zoom range and IS make it a great production in a tiny package. My larger cameras often stayed home because I can put M6 with a 22mm lens in my jacket pocket while skiing. The small size does have an advantage and the screen that tilts up/down is a great feature.

There were some issues that I have hard time getting used to with the M series: there's a tiny delay between pressing a shutter and when the picture is taken. Bigger cameras are quicker. Also the wake-up time, even a second, can be somewhat annoying.

The small size of M6 paired with a 22mm lens made it a perfect camera to fit an underwater enclosure for diving. With the enclosure just as big as the one for a point-and-shot camera, a large sensor of M6 and better focusing really makes a great companion for low-light waters. I loved it!

It was the underwater setup that made me value the EF-M so that I wanted a backup in case something happens to it. When Canon had refurbished M6mk2 on sale for under $700, I got another EF-M body as a backup. Some may think it's a toy, but it's a pretty capable toy. The M6mk2 is slightly larger than the original M6 and harder to fit in a pocket.

Interestingly, the new R10, while having a bigger grip and being a bit taller, is similar in size to M6. So the new RF line may be a good substitute for the M. The EF-M 18-150mm lens is tiny compared to similar 24-105mm RF lens (that is even worse spec-ed). Completely agree that there are more small and capable M lenses right now than those available for R platform. Will the M cameras be obsolete? Of course, just like any other camera or system. But it does fulfill a specific niche that I don't see other cameras are filling, even today. And if someone uses the platform, it's not obsolete.

Scott McDonald's picture

I've got two M50 bodies...these guys work like little champs for what you pay for them! I generally use them for video but they are great for sticking in a carry-on bag to use for stills when traveling. Lightweight, compact and interchangeable lenses! The M50 II and the original M50 are Canon's number 1 and 3 best-selling cameras with the RP in the middle...that means there are boatloads of them out there and I never shy away from secondhand equipment if either one of mine bites the dust. I've got the 15-45mm kits lens, 22mm, 28mm Macro with the cool built-in ring light, and 32mm native lenses with four 7 Artisans EF-M mounted lenses. I don't do a lot of long-range shots but I do have some older EF-S lenses with adaptors to use if needed. For my other photo needs, I have a range of full-frame bodies to choose from (I'm a bit of a packrat) but these little APS-C cameras are worth that bang for the buck you get out of them for (not bad) stills or for video jobs! They've got my thumbs-up!

Eric Robinson's picture

“I’ve always had a set of “work” cameras and “fun” cameras, the former being big, heavy professional tools ”

When ever were the size and weight of a camera major determining factors as to its image quality? The other thing is what the hell was he doing with these big heavy cameras? Hammering in nails?

It reminds me of an old sitcom from way way way back; Never Mind The Quality Feel The Width!

Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Though I understand your reasoning, the truth is, that in the "old" DSLR days, if you needed all the bells and whistles in a camera, like an AF joystick, the ability to mount a battery grip, FTP connectivity, higher than 5fps shooting speed or just a higher than 24MP sensor, you ended up paying for it in weight.

And then came the lenses. Most likely high-quality optic with a bright aperture. It all adds up in weight.

Professional tools don't just mean image quality. I also mean the ability to get the picture, no matter what the circumstance the photographer found him/herself in.

Alex Lancashire's picture

I found that the EOS M6 mk2 to be a very competent camera ideal for the serious amateur and a great back up for a professional. Should have had a built in EVF though, the add ons were cr*p. I have had great pics using adapted EF L lenses and equally good video. I will be sorry to see it go. I thought the pics from it were better than my current R6 mk2. The M5 which I had before had a pleasing design, which I would like to see in the R series, but thats just me. Been taking pics for 50 years plus and video since 1990.

Jake Lindsay's picture

I've created a kit like this around the A7C. Image quality and autofocus is, imo, as good as it gets at 24MP. There are so many affordable and compact lenses from Sony, Tamron, Sigma, Samyang, and now Viltrox. Even some second hand Zeiss lenses can be had for less than $500. I tried this for a while with Fuji but I couldn't trust the continuous autofocus (something I rely on for my type of shooting) and didn't love the low light performance. Full frame and Sony AF system solve this. I do miss the controls and jpeg engine on the Fuji for sure.

Doug Barry-Martin's picture

Similar reasoning to why I bought a Sony a6000 then later upgraded to an a6400. Very competent but small package. It's my carry around camera with the 16-50 kit lens.
I Use Nikon DSLRs for work but they are large and heavy.
I also have a Sony Rx10iii, which is a cheap way to get a good 600mm lens. The ergonomics are not great but it has it's uses. The rest of the lens range is useful too (24-600).

Josh Koch's picture

I'm with you. As a mainly-film hobbyist who only occasionally takes the odd design or photography print request, I'm rolling with decade-old cameras like the 60D and 50D. I just acquired a 6D, my first foray into full frame, which will largely be shot with old M42 manual focus lenses.

A lot of the stuff that is affordable and available is "obsolete" or a bad investment. But that only really matters if you're flipping bodies every couple years. If I find a system that works, I run it until it dies. Enjoy your EOS-M.

And let's be honest with ourselves about the "investment value" of EOS R series. Canon has a history of screwing over current system users when they introduce new systems, like when they changed the flange distance from FD to EOS, forcing users off vintage glass. They also always overprice their new systems, so it makes total sense not to be an early adopter, or even cannibalize the old systems that suddenly lose market value.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

As someone who over the last year has been slowly moving my EF glass to RF glass, I'm astonished at the price increases with these new lenses. They are generally better than their older counterparts, but in the case of the 24-70 f/2.8 for instance, the $700 price increase is mind-boggling. The difference is not great enough to justify the price increase and just smacks of taking advantage because it's the lens that they know everyone is going to need to round out their kit. In the case of the 70-200 f/2.8, I can see the huge weight/size reduction as a justification for the price. But yeah in general, the change in mounts always sucks.

I just sold my 6D two months ago after many years of use. Was a wonderful camera. Enjoy yours.

M Hector's picture

I loved my M50, but as it became more and more apparent that Canon was abandoning the M mount, I knew that I had to set sail and find another ecosystem (Sony). I still love the camera. It is a great little camera. You will enjoy using it, free of the utter disappointment of being ghosted by your formerly beloved camera manufacturer, free of feeling that you invested on a path to hardware longevity only to have a giant oak fall in the middle of the road. 😁

Mike Clare's picture

Thanks for a great article, Wasim.
For those of us who sometimes get a bit hung up on analysing the ‘return on investment’ offered by buying various cameras/systems, I did a complete rethink about depreciating camera value when I overheard a customer in a camera store grizzling about the poor price offered to him when trading in his old camera. The sales assistant agreed that the value wasn’t great but then said to the customer that he could offer a special deal and would pay the customer the full retail price of the gear from when it was new. The customers’ eyes lit up and he wanted to know more - all he had to do, continued the sales assistant, was to bring back all the images he’d ever made with the camera and they’d be deleted forever.
This gave the customer a new perspective on what value the camera had been to him over the years and it’s something that I think about when it comes to ‘valuing’ my gear. Cheers.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

This is amazing. Thank you for sharing that story - so true.

Stephen Strangways's picture

"M50 Mark II gets 4K video and eye-detection with servo capability." Unfortunately in 4K you don't get phase-detection AF, and there's a 2.4x crop. I gave the EOS M system a good look when used prices started to drop, and knowing the Sigma f/1.4 primes were available for it, but if you're at all interested in video, an E-M5 III would give you great 5-axis IBIS, phase-detection AF in 4K video, and less of a crop, at 2x. It's crazy that Canon couldn't do better - not to mention that they were a full decade behind other mirrorless systems in adding eye detection. If they had kept going, maybe an M50 III or M60 could have equalled the capability of other mirrorless cameras from 2016, so if they had gotten it out in 2022, it would have only been 6 years behind their competition.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

That's a good catch - I meant those things as two separate features (4K video and eye-AF for photos) but my clunky sentence structure made that unclear.

Greg Edwards's picture

I have an M5 as my only camera, along with the 22mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm. I'm not a professional - I just take photos for me because I enjoy it - such as when we go go travelling, days out, or special events. Otherwise, my iPhone is adequate.

I initially bough the M3 with viewfinder add on, and the above lenses, as an upgrade from my old G12. I knew it wasn't an amazing camera and the autofocus was a bit slow. But I worked for Canon Business Services at the time and got a very generous staff discount. I considered a DSLR, but I didn't want to cart one about on holidays, and I knew at some point, mirrorless would replace DSLR. So I thought I was buying into a system that would last - I never considered Canon would invent yet another mirrorless system to replace DSLR at a later date.

I wanted the M5 as soon as it was released, as for me, it resolved all of the M3's shortcomings - built in EVF, autofocus speed, Bluetooth connection for GPS. But I waited as it wasn't urgent. When Canon announced the image.com service as replacement for their image gateway and realised my M3 wouldn't be supported but the M5 would I eventually gave in and p/ex'd the M3 (and viewfinder) for an M5 with the lovely people at MPB.com for a really good deal - only cost me a little over £100 in total.

I'm totally happy with this camera still, and I don't feel the need to replace it with a newer canon, M mount or otherwise. With the death-warrant all but signed for this system I've been hoping to see some deals on lenses, but they appear to be holding their value, even on the used market. The 28mm macro and maybe the 11-22 could be useful. I considered replacing the the 55-200 and 18-55 with the 18-150, but dismissed it, as I don't really want lens that large as an everyday walk around.

That said, using just the 22mm as a walkaround travel companion is a lovely thing. It fits in a pocket (just about) and produces some beautifully sharp images, even at night - it's definitely the best lens in my collection. I know what you mean about the longer lenses being slow. I can get some nice shots with the 55-200 on a day out at the zoo, but even wide open, the ISO soon creeps up. But I very recently discovered DXO Pure Raw. This does some magical things with these mildly noisy images at the expense of file size (looking at 100mb DNG for each image). So I think I'll reserve this for my favourites. And it's certainly cheaper than buying a faster and larger tele-zoom!

As I've come to enjoy the 22mm so much, I've considered getting an older, smaller M body to fix it too, or and old Fuji X100 series, partly because I want to play with the film simulations (I put a lot of my photos through mastin labs excellent LR presets) but mainly "just because". But I don't really need it and I know my M5 and 2mm is still a competitive combo in that arena. Not to mention, the price of used X100 series cameras has shot up recently due to tiktokers discovering them.

Nevertheless, when my system finally dies I'll revisit that compact fixed lens walkabout camera idea, and possibly pair it with a compact 1 inch sensor superzoom. Who knows where the technology will be by then. Heck, even smartphone will likely outpace my humble M.

Gary Pardy's picture

I have to admit, that 22mm f/2 is pretty incredible.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Agreed. It's almost permanently affixed to my M5.