Canon EOS R5 reviewPart 1: Photography

Part 1: Photography | Part 2: Videography

This review is based on R5 firmware 1.8.1

Intro – Why?

There’s a million Canon EOS R5 reviews already out there, so why write another? Well, as it often goes, I’m creating a solution to a problem I had, hoping it will help others.

And the problem I had is that most of the reviews focus on technical specs of cameras and mention very little the details of the user interface, usage experience and overall ergonomics of the cameras.

Having a feature is nice, but it’s not the same thing as having it easily accessible, under your fingers, able to turn it on or off in a split-second.

So, despite doing a lot of research before buying the R5, including reading the whole 900+ user manual and reading/watching many detailed reviews, I was still surprised by certain features of the camera.

I don’t think that should happen and it’s a failure of both the manual and those reviews that, despite my best efforts, surprises (both good and nasty) were waiting in the R5 box I was about to unpack.

Hence, this review will be focused on usability and user experience in photo and video, and will for the most part skip the technical specs you can find everywhere else.

A word about my background

I’ve been a professional photographer and videographer for many years, owned and worked extensively with Canon (5D Mark III, 6D), Fuji (X-Pro2, X-T2, X100F) and Nikon (D850, Z6, Z8 review here).

I specialize in run-and-gun and candid type of photography and videography, which is where the fascination (or rather, obsession) with usability and ergonomics comes from. Milliseconds really do matter here, and they mean the difference between a stunning shot and a sad blurry reminder you were too slow. I customize each of my cameras to death and try to squeeze every last drop of utility out of them.

I like to make things complicated for myself, so while moving around a lot while shooting, I also use only prime lenses mostly shot wide open, at f/1.4. This makes a responsive camera with fast and precise AF crucial for my work.

Let’s dive right in

I’ll spare you the unboxing impressions, there’s plenty of that around the web.

Soon after unpacking, I spent several hours going through its many settings and customizing each and every last one to allow it to do the most in the least amount of time and keypresses.

I do this with my cameras literally before taking the first shot because I know a lot about their image quality (first thing most reviews talk about), but I know precious little about those details of real-world use that you will bump into constantly during shooting.

So, you could say I’m anxious to get the customization part out of the way, because it is this what will ultimately determine how smooth the shooting experience will be.

The amount of customizability on R5 is huge, which I always love in a camera, although of course Canon decided that you can customize only some things only part of the way.

For example, you can disable photography modes you don’t plan to use, like the P or Tv modes in my case, but surprisingly you can’t disable the full-auto beginner mode. Presumably Canon thinks that pros will sometimes give their cameras to complete beginners, and they will know how to switch to this mode to be able to use it?

It’s an odd decision, because out of all the modes, this one would be first to go for most pros, I’d imagine.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the disabled modes are still displayed on LCD while switching modes; they’re just grayed out and the selection skips over them.

I’m not sure what to make of this. It makes for a more cluttered screen, that’s for sure. On the other hand, if you forget you disabled some modes, this will presumably… help?

You can also customize available AF modes in a similar way. Again, they will remain displayed, just not selectable. This has slightly more logic because it’s more conceivable you could forget all the available AF modes (even if you turn some off because you rarely use them), so it may come in as a handy reminder. I guess.

Control layout (certain buttons) can be customized for photo and video separately, which is great.

Pages, if not books, have been written about customizing the control layout. Many buttons can have many functions assigned to them, but some of those buttons are very picky.

Like the AF-ON button supporting only a few functions due to Canons arbitrary limitation (Apple’s philosophy comes to mind) of what functions should be available for assignment to this particular button. (There are more buttons like this, and some limitations make more sense than others.)

Since not every button can have any of the available functions assigned, Canon created a huge and somewhat overwhelming table of possible combinations. You can find it in the advanced user’s manual, but you’ll probably find it’s easier to just dive into the menus and see what’s available.

Control dials and rings (on RF lenses and EF adaptors) can also be customized, both for their functions and rotation direction. And thankfully, the focus-by-wire system of RF lenses can be customized by picking to rotation direction and the response (linear, similar to lenses with direct mechanical coupling, or rotational speed dependent).


I only used RF lenses and, unsurprisingly, they focused reliably and quickly. However, I was more interested in the general AF usability and user interface, because this area has historically been very tricky to get right for camera manufacturers.

For example, face and eye detection is always marketed to death, but the actual implementation is often lacking… something.

The main point here is not the reliability of detecting an eye, a face or a head, even though it’s important, of course. What I’m really after is a quick way to activate and deactivate face detection while shooting.

Why? Because we’re still in the phase of faces getting detected correctly most of the time, but not ALL of the time.

What is most? That varies depending on manufacturer, camera, firmware version, lenses, amount of light, the subject you’re trying to recognize and even general shooting conditions (like when you’re shooting a crowd of people, but trying to focus on a particular person).

Even if we have a 80 or 90% detection rate, there will still be 10-20% of cases where face detection will fail and you will miss an important shot.

So, what I want from a camera is a way to (de)activate face recognition in a split second, ideally by pressing and holding a button. No digging through menus, opening the Q menu or holding a button and turning a dial. These are all non-starters. You will miss shots in real events like weddings and they could be the crucial shots, the ones that last for a second and then they’re gone.

Finally, Canon came through and gave us a way to do just this. Kind of. It’s complicated.

One thing I always adored with Canon, ever since 5D Mark III era, was the ability to assign a button to quickly switch between one shot AF and AI-servo (continuous) focusing. I always assign this to the DOF preview button, and while it’s depressed I’m getting continuous focusing. Let it go, and you get one shot AF, along with focus and recompose functionality. Amazing! (I always missed this with Nikon… which came close to offering it, but not quite.)

Now, Canon allowed us to assign one aspect of face detection to certain buttons (I went for AF-ON button). The thing is… it’s not officially called face detection, but eye detection. It’s probably meant to temporarily turn on eye detection if you’re already using face detection. But luckily, if the eye isn’t detected, face (or body) is!

This is a kind of workaround which works really well, even though it’s confusing when first setting it up.

My use case is this: I’m mostly shooting in continuous AF with a small target box (usually expanded AF, or D-9 in Nikon’s lingo). When I need face detection temporarily, I keep AF-ON depressed and during that time I get face/eye detection.

It works amazingly well!

I quickly got used to this and it’s lifechanging, not having to use the joystick to jump around the screen all the time just to keep the framing as you envisioned.

The best part is that if you decide face detection is not working out, you just let go of the button and get the reliable and predictable focus box you can move around as you please.

(I will add here that the multi-controller (joystick) works great and you can customize its sensitivity. It also automatically switches sensitivity – while you’re continuously focusing, it becomes very precise allowing only small movements, meant to aid in precise positioning of the focus box. While you’re not actively focusing, it does bigger jumps so you can quickly get to the any position)

You can also spend a few minutes (or hours) in various custom settings and turn on the option of starting face detection near your focus box, wherever you happened to have positioned it.

This is hugely important because I’m terrified of systems which only have face detection when working with large AF areas (like the whole screen). I cannot have the camera decide which face it will focus on looking at all of the frame!

I shoot weddings and event with a lot of people. If I have 10 people in front of the lens, even if it perfectly detects all of their faces, I will still need to use some method to tell the camera which face I actually want it to focus on. This takes time, constant effort during a long wedding day and you will of course miss shots while fiddling with face selection, whether it’s via joystick, touchscreen or something else.

So, to reiterate, Canon figured out a great way where the face search begins around your current focus point and then keeps tracking that face wherever it goes. You can use this to recompose the shot before snapping it, or you can let it track the face until the decisive moment. It’s fairly sticky and worked well in most lighting conditions.

I settled on using the continuous AF mode with expanded area AF point, and with on-demand face detect on a custom key. Now you can use the joystick to move the AF point where you roughly want it, activate face detect and then it will stick to the person you pointed out.

Or, a quick hack you’ll figure out soon, is not wasting time to move the point for split-second shots, but rather reframe the shot in any way necessary for the existing point to cover subject’s face, then activate face detection and quickly reframe back and snap the shot. Tracking is that good!

Fv mode

Canon also includes the Fv shooting mode (‘F’ standing for ‘flexible’), where you decide which parameters from the exposure triangle will be automatically set, and which ones you want to control. It’s basically an amalgamation of P/Av/Tv/M modes, so shutter speed, aperture or ISO can be set either automatically or manually, independent of each other. (The mode is available exclusively in photo mode.)

While this isn’t a game-changing upgrade, it’s nice to have, reminiscent of Fuji’s direct control via dials which could be set to ‘auto’ thereby providing a similar functionality. My main concern here is that it takes some time to get a setting from a manual setting back to ‘auto’ (e.g. for shutter speed you need to scroll through a lot of time values before reaching ‘auto’).

Canon’s manual mentions using the delete button to revert the setting back to auto, but I couldn’t get this to work. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but the fastest way I figured out was to use the touchscreen to quickly scroll using my finger.


Now that I mentioned it, there’s a fully-articulating screen. I was a huge fan of this design, until I tried it.

When flipped out sideways, it fully turns upwards or downwards for low/high shooting angles and it can flip forward, for self-portraits and to aid studio work.

It’s also great to be able to protect the LCD by turning it inwards towards the camera body for transport or if you mainly use EVF (less greasy stains of your face sticking to the LCD).

All great, right?

Well, if you’re in a hurry, or need to do this 200 times in a day, not so much.

To position the screen for shooting overhead (e.g. in a crowd of people), you need to flip it out sideways and turn it 180°, which takes a bit of time. (And also figure out the one rotation direction that would allow you to do this, as it cannot do a 360°.)

So in time I needed to flip it out, turn it around and adjust down for shooting overhead, I could turn on my Nikon, flip out it’s non-fully-articulating LCD, take the shot and click the screen back in.

Sure, some practice would help with time to make it more automatic, but it would still be slower.

And even when you do all of this quickly and get the shot, you’re still left with a screen sticking out far from the camera body, unprotected and held by one flimsy little plastic hinge. It’s just asking to get bumped and broken, especially if you work with two cameras and change between them often. You just can’t leave it hanging with screen flipped out, so you flip it back in. And when you need to take another shot, you find yourself thinking “do I reeeeaaaally need to flip it out again?”.


Canon keeps insisting on using their own sensors which are showing their age. While they’re CMOS technology, which they in part pioneered decades ago, they are neither BSI CMOS (back-side illuminated, offering better light gathering efficiency) nor stacked CMOS (offering quick readouts and approaching global shutter requirements).

I used to be on Canon many years ago, but switched to Fuji and then Nikon for their (or rather Sony’s) better sensors, primarily in the area of dynamic range. I could hardly bring up shadows for more than 1,5-2 stops on my 5D Mark III, while the small APS-C Fuji could offer me 4 stops of shadow recovery, with Nikons doing even better on their low base ISOs of 64.

The happy news is that R5 is much better in this regard now. Its dynamic range and shadow recovery isn’t yet on par with the likes of D850, but it’s getting very close. So close that you don’t need to worry about it anymore.

The noise performance on high ISOs is also great, similar to D850.

People often go on about ‘Canon colors’, ‘Fuji colors’, ‘Nikon colors’ so let’s just touch upon this.

I’m in a unique position of using (and having used) multiple systems, often side-by-side. I’m not emotionally invested and looking at it rationally, my conclusion is that all of that color talk is just the result of endowment bias effect – placing a higher value on something you already own.

When shooting raw, this talk of color differences — Fuji greens, Canon skin-tones or Nikon whatevers — is just meaningless in my opinion. Your raw converter and the assigned photo-profile will determine the look of colors! Even if you don’t like it, you have a wide latitude and a lot of tools to adjust it to your preference. (If you’re shooting JPEG, things are very much different, but most pros shoot raw so I won’t get into it.)

I had zero problems adjusting colors from Canon camera and lenses to perfectly match Nikon camera and lenses, or adjusting Fuji’s colors to either. Of course, you need to be using the same color profile for all (e.g. Adobe color in LR), and not manufacturers’ own profiles.

This and that…
(shutter, metering, power switch)

Coming from Nikon SLRs, I just loved the discrete and quiet shutter sound of the R5. Even without the huge mirror slap, it was still quieter than Z6 sound. In any kind of reasonably noisy environment (basically anywhere on a wedding), the sound was practically silent to my subjects, which was great. It’s less intimidating and makes it easier for your subjects to relax and forget you’re shooting (or forget how much you’re shooting).

One of the bigger ergonomics annoyances is the position of the power switch. It’s on the left side of the camera, in a place where your hand won’t naturally land when picking up the camera. You can forget about one-handed pickup & power-on in one smooth motion.

I knew this in advance and thought it won’t bother me that much, but it did, especially when frequently powering off the camera while trying to conserve battery power and cool it down when not in use.

Okay, a few words about another topic I thought we left far behind in this day and age – the light metering.

On the RF lens I mostly used, the camera kept consistently underexposing the scene for about 1 to 1,5 EV!

While this is fairly easy to recover in raw, it’s still not ideal. It makes ETTR exposure technique more frustrating and also embedded JPEG previews less useful for culling, especially in shots with strong backlight.

The worst part of it is that the underexposure isn’t consistent, which I found out the hard way. After all the testing, I left the +1,33 EV bias constantly applied, and in 10% of shots that were in direct sunlight, the camera suddenly decided to properly expose the shot, which resulted in burnt out faces. After noticing this, I kept closer eye on the exposures and fiddled with exposure bias much more than I’m used to.


After shooting with many, many pro-level cameras for two decades, I came to the conclusion that the Canon EOS R5 was probably the most enjoyable camera I ever shot with. Canon’s ergonomics and UX are probably industry-leading and at the end of the day this matters more to pros than anything else.

R5 isn’t perfect, of course – useful and unique options are often buried deep in the menus, sometimes confusingly named and not helped by the user manual which is… bad.

Quick rant: Most camera manufacturers have the same problem – the manuals talk a lot about obvious basic stuff and are very terse when they discuss advanced stuff pros actually need. They never go into technical details, have only the most basic, cryptic explanations and often explain some advanced functions recursively, by just repeating their names. (Title: Function XYZ. Explanation: ‘Turns on and off the function XYZ’.)

However, most of the quirks in R5 are things I could learn to live with. It’s a great camera with a lot of clever shortcuts and great image quality that goes along with it.

Bonus: a quick look at Canon RF 24mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro

The RF 24mm lens was a bit of a surprise to me.

I probably should have researched it more than I did, but I was surprised to learn that this lens had many compromises built in. In hindsight, given its price, this should have been obvious, but I was following the Nikon’s logic where new mirrorless camera mounts gets high-quality glass, with reasonably priced f/1.8 primes.

However, the RF version of the 24mm is anything but. First, it comes without a lens hood. (How cheap, Canon!)

Second, it’s not weather sealed in the least. Third, its front element doesn’t have advanced coating we’ve gotten used to, so after a decade of not having to deal with a few raindrops causing a catastrophe after wiping them down, this is exactly what happened in the middle of the shoot.

Fourth, and probably worst, it’s optically atrocious! The barrel distortion is beyond acceptable and can only be fixed with software with its exact profile as the distortion is complex (good news: new LR/ACR support it). While this can be done automatically, I noticed this slowed down my photo editing (and especially export), even on the very fast M1 Max.

In video, geometric distortion with this lens can’t be turned on or off and my tests showed no visible barrel distortion, which led me to conclude this is permanently turned on… and probably causing additional processing, heating and battery drain compared to optically corrected lenses.

I haven’t tried other RF lenses and I’m sure the L-lenses are amazing. But do keep this in mind when getting the regular RFs.

I also had a weird thing happen while shooting a macro with RF 24mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro. I was shooting the wedding rings and came fairly close to them, not minimal focusing distance but close. The magnification was pretty good for a wide-angle and I was happy with the shot.

Using continuous focus, it was easy to focus looking at the EVF so I took a few shots. However, upon review, they were grossly out of focus. Not slightly, as if I had moved, but completely out of focus, with focus somewhere in the background.

I repeated the process, this time paying special attention in the EVF to what is actually in focus. I took another series of shots and the same thing happened again!

Many of the theories that immediately came to mind (like focus point focusing through the ring’s opening, or body movement during macro shooting) could be dismissed because I was using a mirrorless camera – its EVF shows exactly what falls on the sensor, a true WYSIWYG! How could it be that the photo is sharp in the EVF and misfocused when taken?

I didn’t really have time to play around and explore what might be going on, so I used D850 to shoot the rings which came out perfectly and predictably focused.

A final thing I’d like to touch upon is the RF control ring.

In my setup I used it to set exposure bias and that worked fine. It has tactile feedback via small clicks, which is nice (unless shooting video). My complaint is that it’s fairly narrow and close to the focusing ring in this particular lens. While I could easily adjust it when carefully placing the hand on it, when the things got hectic and I needed to do a quick adjustment, I often grabbed both rings together and messed up the focus along the way.

On the bright side, it’s easy to make large adjustments with the control ring as it easier to turn a long way quickly compared to a small control dial on camera’s body. It’s not something you often need, but it’s nice to have.

In conclusion, RF 24mm f/1.8 is a decent lens with great AF, a good choice if small weight and low price are a primary concern to you.

Note: all images in this article were captured on R5 with RF 24mm f/1.8 in raw mode and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Part 2: Videography review of R5