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Canon EOS R5 review: the mirrorless future of photography

A new breed of camera is displacing the mighty SLR

Canon EOS R5 mirrorless camera

For the past half century, most serious cameras have used the single-lens reflex (SLR) system. 

With an internal prism and a mirror, these cameras divert light from the lens into the viewfinder, providing photographers with an accurate image preview whether they’re using a telephoto or wide-angle lens. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips up out of the way and light streams through onto the film or sensor.

Now, though, camera-makers are doing away with this bulky mechanical approach, replacing both mirror and prism with an electronic viewfinder that displays a video feed from the digital sensor. And the most serious of these new mirrorless cameras is the Canon EOS R5.

The Canon EOS R5 mirrorless camera
Headline specifications

The R5 is Canon’s long-term replacement for the EOS 5D, its venerable SLR workhorse. The most recent 5D model, which went on sale four years ago, shoots 30-megapixel images at seven frames per second. By comparison, the new R5 takes 47-megapixel images at up to 20 frames per second - a level beyond which further advances bring diminishing returns.

What is genuinely transformational, however, is the new camera’s incomparably fast and flexible autofocus system. The potential to customise seems limitless: you can set up single-point focusing using the rear touchscreen or joystick, use eye-detection modes to track people or animals as they move through the frame - or let the camera pick a focus point for you, either within a zone you choose or across the whole image.

The Canon R5’s eye-detection autofocus

The Canon R5’s eye-detection autofocus in action. Image taken at ISO 3200, 200mm and 1/500 sec

For wildlife photographers (even those restricted to their gardens by Covid lockdown), the ability to programme up to three buttons with custom autofocus settings is a gamechanger. For example, setting one button to focus on a single static point and another to activate eye-detection and tracking means you won’t be caught out when a bird takes wing or a crouching tiger leaps into action.

Parakeet photographed with Canon R5

A parakeet frozen in motion by the R5 and RF 70-200mm lens, taken at ISO 100, 200mm and 1/1250 sec

The R5 is also the first Canon model to incorporate image stabilisation into the body of the camera as well as the lens, helping to keep photos sharp in gloomy conditions. Or indeed in the dark: the sensor’s low-light performance lets you photograph scenes you can barely see with the naked eye.

Design and usability

The Canon R5 will be instantly familiar to anyone who has used one of its predecessor SLRs. The body is a little smaller and lighter and the shape more angular, but the controls are all where you would expect them to be. 

The biggest difference is the electronic viewfinder, although the 5.76 million pixel resolution is sharp and smooth enough that you’ll soon forget you’re not looking at the world through glass. The mirrorless approach has advantages too: the viewfinder can be set to brighten the scene if you’re shooting in the dark - or to offer a magnified view for fine-tuning manual focus (or inspecting an image you’ve just taken).

A cat prepares to launch itself at imaginary prey

A cat prepares to launch itself at imaginary prey, taken at ISO 640, 200mm and 1/400 sec

Image quality

Although it won’t turn a bad photographer into a good one, the R5 will make the most of whatever talent you have. The sensor produces crisp, well balanced images with beautiful colours, especially when paired with Canon’s new range of RF lenses (older SLR lenses can be used with an adaptor). And the combination of exceptional low-light sensitivity and a fast, flexible autofocus system can deliver sharp results in conditions that a lesser camera would have turned into a blurry mess.

An airborne squirrel with its lunch

An airborne squirrel with its lunch, taken at ISO 3200, 200mm and 1/2000 sec

The EOS R5 is available from Canon for £4,299

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