Canon's RF mirrorless line has been making lots of waves for its spectacular lenses and the astoundingly powerful upcoming R5 camera. But did you know Canon has had an entirely separate interchangeable lens mirrorless system for the past eight years? What is next for it?
Back in 2012, long before mirrorless had really taken hold (a year before the first Sony a7 model was even announced) and years before the RF system was on the horizon, Canon introduced a new lens mount and mirrorless system, the EF-M. The EF-M mount featured an 18 mm flange distance and 47 mm throat diameter and was designed to be used with APS-C sensors.
The system had a very slow start, with no EVF and slow autofocus, though many applauded its ability to adapt EF and EF-S lenses and its compact build and decent sensor taken from Canon's DSLRs. The other issue was native lenses for the EF-M mount. An 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and a surprisingly good 22mm f/2 came in 2012, but as of 2020, there are only eight Canon brand EF-M lenses available. Five of those are variable aperture zooms. One is a rather neat macro lens with a built-in ring light, one is the aforementioned 22mm f/2, and the final is the 32mm f/1.4. This leaves no constant aperture pro zooms and only three prime focal lengths: 35mm, 45mm, and 51mm (in full frame equivalents). Third party options have become available, but the system still has a relatively limited lens selection.
The bodies slowly began to improve, with the M5 representing the first highly capable camera in the system. However, by the time it was released in late 2016, both Sony's a7 series and Fuji's X series had made serious strides, and the M5 felt a bit late to the party. Nonetheless, the EF-M line marched on, and by the end of 2019, 10 bodies had been released. Many M line owners have noted that they make fantastic travel cameras or extra landscape bodies with their compact footprint and ability to adapt EF and EF-S lenses. They have also gained some popularity among the vlogging community, where Canon's lauded DPAF combined with the small size of the bodies and lenses make them great on-the-go devices.
Niche or Popular?
I'll admit I have never seen an EOS M camera in the wild. They don't seem to be particularly popular here in the U.S. However, in Japan, they are wildly popular. In fact, in mid-2019, the EOS M50 was the most popular mirrorless camera by units sold, having sold almost twice as many as the next closest, the Sony a6400. And the EOS M100 occupied the third spot. It seems that Canon has found a good niche in creating compact, affordable enthusiast cameras with well-priced lenses to match.
What's Next for the EF-M System Then?
Business as Usual
The EF-M system may not be particularly exciting for gear-heads, but it has evolved into a solid and portable system for enthusiasts that is quite affordable (you can get a new camera and lens kit for around $500 right now). Given the very iterative changes from model to model and slow release of non-extreme lenses, I doubt the line is costing the company much in terms of research and development. And given its success overseas, there is probably no reason to discontinue it. Canon saves even more money by sourcing sensors for the line out of its APS-C DSLRs, but as the DSLR era comes to a close, that could present an issue, though even if Canon were to stop making new DSLRs today, they could still get a couple years' mileage out of the latest sensors before they felt really out of date in the EOS M cameras.
Canon Discontinues the EF-M Mount and Pushes Users Toward the RF Mount
Canon has shown through the remarkably affordable EOS RP and their upcoming lens releases that they are building out the RF mount and accompanying cameras to provide a range of price points depending on users' needs, and that could make a good exit point for the EF-M system. I personally would not be surprised to see an APS-C RF camera at some point, and given the EOS RP's price that currently hovers around $1,000 (originally released at $1,299), I would not be surprised to see an APS-C RF camera that pairs nicely with a lens like the RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS STM at around $1,200 for the kit on release or below $1,000 for the body only. Canon may want this path, as it becomes a gateway to push users toward the more premium RF options. One thing I do not see happening is the introduction of an RF-S mount akin to the EF-S mount.
Canon Reinvigorates Its Development Alongside the RF Mount
With the EF mount on its way out, at least as far as new development goes, Canon might decide to devote some resources to the EF-M mount. After all, it has a strong foundation in Japan, and Canon may want to keep that edge over rivals like Sony. And if the company eventually produces an APS-C RF camera, they can share sensors with EOS M cameras.
What Is Most Likely?
Personally, I do not see Canon aggressively developing the EF-M mount while also pouring tons of resources into the RF line. It seems they have a good handle on what the EF-M line is and more importantly, what it is not. However, given how aggressively Canon is pursuing its RF line, I would not be surprised to see the EF-M line eventually shuttered once Canon has released more budget-level RF lenses and an APS-C body to match, as this would provide a similar setup to what has made the EF-M line successful while consolidating the company's resources into a single system and giving them the ability to push users toward the more premium RF products whenever they are ready to upgrade. From the users' perspective, it would give them a clear path of growth within the Canon ecosystem without the costly and tedious task of switching mounts.
Of course, I can only make educated guesses about the future of the EF-M mount. Do you think it will stick around, or is it on its way out?