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.

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

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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