When the Canon EOS RP — touted as the most affordable and most portable full-frame Canon camera ever — was officially released recently, the internet was teeming with HOT TAKES from a wide variety of camera reviewers, each tripping over their own appendages to claim how vanilla this new camera is, or at least putting that language in their clickbait-y headlines. But while the majority of vloggers and message board optical engineers joined a massive scrum to pooh-pooh the RP, some looked beyond the pedestrian specs and gave it a fair shot. To those reviewers, much respect.
As for me, I borrowed a late pre-production RP from Canon for a few cloudy, miserably cold days here in New York, shooting in JPEG only (RAW files weren’t recognized by Lightroom or DNG Converter) and testing video only in 1080p (there was no 4K on this pre-production version). So while I can’t personally form an opinion on the camera’s dynamic range or video capability (there’s plenty of that online already), I can certainly give my thoughts on the RP’s performance in other areas. So, um… here it is!
Body & Handling
The Canon EOS RP is the most comfortable mirrorless camera body I’ve ever held. Its gentle curves fit the hand nicely, the rubber coating provides a firm grip, and the controls are easy to find and manipulate. The polycarbonate (that’s marketing talk for plastic, kids) exterior and compact size keeps the weight down, and even with the hefty RF 24-105mm lens attached, the camera is surprisingly easy to carry around. No, it’s not especially handsome-looking, but after an hour of holding this camera (no strap, no bag), I didn’t miss the sharp, angular profiles of some competing cameras, and the plastic body was comfortable to hand hold in near-freezing temperatures. I wasn’t able to score an extension grip for additional testing, but in the few minutes I was able to give one a whirl, I can confirm it is a very nice, very lightweight addition if you have larger hands and want to make the RP a bit easier to carry.
When compared to the more expensive EOS R, this camera is obviously missing some of the extra bells and whistles, but I found that I didn’t miss the much-maligned Multi-Function Bar or the top LCD screen, and it was nice to have the normal mode dial back. The lack of a dial (drive mode, AF mode, SOMETHING) on the left side still puzzles me, however. It seems that space would be much better off with something more useful than a power switch, but the RP’s quick menu and touchscreen interface are so intuitive and responsive that it turns out I didn’t really notice after a while.
As for the rest of the body, the vari-angle screen is the typical good-quality Canon flippy LCD, the EVF is not especially detailed but it’s quick and bright, and all the buttons feel just like they should… specifically, like all your other Canon DSLRs. As I mentioned above, the LCD is very responsive, and not only does it work extremely well for menu navigation, it’s also helpful for autofocusing, particularly when using the Touch & Drag AF feature (see below). And on the side, it does have a mic port, headphone port, HDMI out and USB-C, which I didn’t have an opportunity to use, but hey, they’re ports… I’m sure they’re fine, and it’s nice to see that Canon didn’t cheap out on these small components that can make a big difference in the usability of the camera.
Oh, I should probably mention that there’s only one card slot, and the battery (LP-E17) is small and doesn’t last all day since it has to power an EVF or LCD screen. Also, this is a full-frame camera and it’s $1299.
Features & Performance
The EOS RP, being an entry-level full frame camera, doesn’t have a laundry list of high-tech, whiz-bang features. 4K video is limited to 24p only, and the field of view is cropped, AND there’s no way to color grade the 1080p footage… it’s 8-bit and that’s it. Of course, the target audience for this camera isn’t exactly video aficionados, so considering this camera does include a microphone port and a swiveling screen, it’s actually a fairly good option for vloggers who want great autofocus and high audio quality but don’t need ultra-high video resolution/bitrates/etc. Also, this is a full-frame camera and it’s $1299.
When it comes to stills, however, this camera is much more at home. The main feature of the EOS RP, apart from it simply possessing a full-frame sensor, is Dual Pixel Autofocus, available full-time thanks to the mirrorless design. Whether I acquired focus with the viewfinder or touchscreen, I found the AF to be snappy and accurate, and if I may, Canon’s “target acquired” autofocus chirp is easily the most pleasant of all the camera manufacturers. Object tracking was satisfying and on-target. I didn’t get a chance to try face detection or eye detection outside of a training session, but both worked reasonably well, even in miserable hotel conference room lighting. This iteration of eye detection can’t compete with the speed of Sony’s system, but since they use literal sorcery, it’s not really a fair comparison.
My favorite feature of many new cameras — including the EOS R and RP — is Touch & Drag AF. When looking through the viewfinder, you can use your thumb on the LCD panel to move a tiny autofocus point relative to where your finger starts on the panel. It’s a tiny bit laggy, but it’s accurate and VERY useful, especially when you don’t want to change AF modes just to pinpoint your focus. Compared to the microscopic thumb nub used on DSLRs and many other mirrorless cameras, it’s much more user-friendly.
The EOS RP also features Focus Bracketing, which takes a series of images (you set the quantity limit) at different focus points that you can stack in software to create an image with an obscene depth of field. It took me a while to find this feature (it’s in the menus somewhere) and although I took a couple test sequences, you can’t render or preview a stacked shot in-camera. I ended up not caring enough to give it an honest try. It may truly give you staggering results, but I’m afraid I’ll never know because it was 34 degrees F and my need for instant gratification superseded my desire for all the dead trees I was looking at to be in sharp focus. Sorry.
To test the EOS RP, I took a couple shots outside a hotel in Manhattan (before running from a snowstorm), plus I made a trip to a local nature preserve and state park, both rife with deciduous trees in the dead of winter… in other words, absolutely zero color. On the plus side, the weather was terribly overcast, so at least my shots weren’t all contrasty. Again, I didn’t have the option of processing RAW images to test out the limits of this camera, so I let the image processor do the work, and ended up with quite a few nice JPEGs (slightly edited to taste), despite the dreary subject matter.
The Canon EOS RP is an exercise in conservatism. Not the political kind, mind you, but the kind that results in the launch of a camera that provides just enough new tech to keep the product line moving forward while changing as little as possible. Everything about it is unmistakably Canon. It is supremely comfortable. The controls are thoughtfully laid out and satisfying to use. The vari-angle LCD screen is like an old friend that you met for drinks, but now your friend actually has a decent job and can pay for the drinks (that’s my idiotic way of inferring that the touchscreen is great). The JPEG colors — even on a bleak, sunless afternoon — are familiar and excellent. The L-series lenses designed for this system are brilliant, just as they have always been.
Not to say all this is a bad thing… Canon still owns the DSLR market, and there’s no reason to abandon the concepts that brought you to the dance. But in this new world of full-frame mirrorless camera systems, what makes the EOS RP stand out? What could take market share away from Sony, or give Nikon and Panasonic a shot across the bow right out of the gate?
Answer: This is a full-frame camera and it’s $1299. I may have mentioned that before.
In the end, the EOS RP is compact, lightweight, comfortable, easy to use, backwards-compatible with every EF/EF-S lens ever made, and it’s cheap. If you don’t need 4K, if you don’t need to color grade your video footage, if you don’t shoot in inclement weather, if you don’t need super fast burst shooting (this tops out at 5FPS), if you don’t care about in-body stabilization (most Canon lenses have IS already), and you don’t require dual card slots, then the EOS RP is an excellent, all-purpose camera with an exceptional autofocus system at a remarkably low price.