It was over 70 degrees in New Orleans by the time I ate breakfast. It would crest 80 before lunch. Having left Oregon’s below-freezing temperatures (and a dusting of evanescent snow) the day before, it may as well have been 100 — not the type of weather in which I want to lug around a bunch of camera gear. Fortunately, the event that had drawn me to the Big Easy was the unveiling of the smallest and lightest full-frame camera Canon had ever made, a model that — with the right lens — I could comfortably carry without breaking a sweat.
That camera was the EOS RP, a low-cost model in Canon’s mirrorless EOS R system designed for portability and ease of use. It takes the 26-megapixel sensor from the 6D Mark II DSLR (introduced in 2018) and puts it into a body measuring just 5.2 × 3.4 × 2.8 inches (it would be even thinner were it not for the ergonomic grip). But the best part? It starts at just $1,300 for the body only — the cheapest ever for a new full-frame camera at launch.
A value strategy
Like the EOS R, the RP is built on the RF mount, which is considerably shorter compared to the EF mount of Canon’s DSLRs. Along with foregoing the bulky DSLR mirror box, this is what allows the RP — and any mirrorless camera — to slim down to such small dimensions.
Thanks to rumors and leaks leading up to the event, the 20 or so camera journalists Canon had gathered in New Orleans already knew many of the details before arriving. We weren’t expecting anything earth-shattering, and those expectations were met. The RP offers little in the way of new tech and is far from the high-end, professional R-series model that Canon has promised (and which, Canon representatives reassured everyone, is still coming).
There are many things I find lacking or even downright frustrating about the RP, yet it does have an important role to play in the growth of the nascent EOS R system. Maybe this isn’t the camera we tech journalists want, but it might just be the one Canon needs. This is the cheapest full-frame model Canon makes, mirrorless or otherwise, and it may give more casual photographers a gentle nudge to make the move up from smaller formats (or their phones, which really aren’t much cheaper these days).
It’s an interesting approach in a market segment that has moved increasingly toward higher-end cameras and away from lower-margin, consumer-focused models. Nikon’s first two models in its mirrorless Z series came in at $2,000 and $3,400; Sony’s full-frame Alpha line also starts at $2,000, although it does keep older models around for less; Panasonic’s brand-new S series starts even higher, with the Lumix S1 coming in at $2,500.
But Canon is banking on drawing in new users at the other end of the spectrum, and it’s a strategy that may very well succeed — even if it means the RP is not exactly exciting for tech enthusiasts.
Making full frame affordable
The RP is a full $1,000 cheaper than the EOS R, and likewise trails it in most specifications. It uses a smaller battery, borrowed from the Rebel series, that’s rated for just 250 exposures. Electronic viewfinder (EVF) resolution is 2.36 million pixels; the LCD, 1.04 million. Those numbers are down from 3.69 and 2.1 million, respectively, in the R. The love-it-or-hate-it multi-function touch bar is gone, and a classic mode dial replaces the R’s top information display. Like the R, there is no internal image stabilization, but fortunately most of the RF lenses are stabilized.
I found the physical controls somewhat limited; the job of adjusting settings falls primarily on the touchscreen, which is responsive and generally easy to use. There’s no dedicated ISO button, but simply tapping the ISO display on the screen allows you to quickly adjust it. You can also map ISO control the multifunction lens ring, a feature unique to RF lenses (or adapted EF lenses using the Control Ring Adapter).
For still photography, Dual Pixel Autofocus remains one of the best autofocus systems I’ve ever used.
As with the R, there is also no autofocus joystick on the RP, but you can use the touchscreen to move the focus point around, even when looking through the viewfinder. You can also map the four-way button cluster on the back of the camera to control the AF point, but there is one glaring goof: The button in the center of that cluster, the one that definitively should reset the focus point to the center of the frame, brings up the quick menu. To reset the focus point, you have to instead press the delete button, which makes no sense and takes your thumb away from the other focus control buttons. You can remap that function to the quick menu button — but you can’t remap the quick menu to the delete button.
Maybe that’s not a deal breaker, but time after time I kept running into variations of this issue. (Another example: There’s no EVF/LCD button; you can map that control to the sole function button, but you’ve probably got a better use for that.) Overall, the RP is quite easy to use, but it becomes frustrating if you try to use it outside of the bounds established by Canon.
There are also some features that feel truncated without reason (other than to justify the R’s $1,000 premium). The most egregious example of this is that the silent electronic shutter is now only available as a scene mode. Like most scene modes, this forces the camera into automatic exposure. Let me make this clear: There is no way to shoot in manual, aperture priority, or shutter priority exposure modes using the silent shutter. A silent shutter is one of the core advantageous of mirrorless cameras, and yet here’s a brand new model that inexplicably locks that capability to a mode that any experienced shooter would rather avoid. Commence groaning.
The video features also feel artificially limited. Full HD is available in 60 or 30 frames per second, but not 24, while 4K is offered only in 24 fps. Mixing resolutions is therefore going to be more difficult, and as 4K incurs a severe 1.74x crop, there would be more reason to do this than on cameras that don’t crop. If you need a wide-angle shot, you’re basically forced into Full HD — but there are no matching framerates between the two resolutions.
While you could possibly argue that the camera just can’t handle 4K at 30 fps (I doubt this, as it uses the same Digic 8 processor as the EOS R, which does offer 4K/30), there is no technical reason not to at least include a Full HD/24 fps option.
4K is also cordoned off from the regular shooting modes, accessible only by rotating the mode dial into movie mode. This isn’t the only camera to do this, but I always find it a strange approach. I didn’t even realize the camera offered 4K resolution until a Canon rep told me about this.
The camera does offer both microphone and headphone jacks and features a fully articulating screen that can flip into selfie mode. So despite its software limitations, these physical features may make the RP a decent vlogging camera — but you’ll likely want to stick with Full HD resolution.
This is because Dual Pixel Autofocus (DPAF), which is Canon’s take on on-sensor phase-detection autofocus, does not work for 4K video. It works great for Full HD, but the camera reverts to painfully slow contrast-detection autofocus in 4K mode. I found it to be all but unusable if you need to refocus during a shot, and it likely won’t keep up with the sort of walk-and-talk continuous autofocus needs of the average vlogger.
For still photography, DPAF remains one of the best autofocus systems I’ve ever used, acquiring focus in as little as 0.05 seconds with sensitivity down to an impressive -5 EV (the EOS R works all the way down to -6 EV with bright f/1.2 lenses). In a dimly lit dining hall, it gave me absolutely no trouble. It’s down on total number of focus points compared to the R, but still boasts 143 selectable zones. Unfortunately, it won’t hold up for fast action, and the RP has a top continuous shooting speed of just 3 frames per second when using continuous autofocus (or 5 fps with single-shot AF).
Face and eye detection are also present, and work decently for relatively close subjects. If there are multiple faces in a scene, you can cycle between them with the press of a button, but I found the system often ignored anyone farther than a few feet away (using a 35mm lens). It also didn’t work at all on someone wearing glasses. Canon may still need to work out the kinks, and hopefully will solve these problems in a future firmware update.
For not being a professional model — as Canon was constantly reminding us — the RP includes one decidedly professional feature: Automated focus bracketing. This is useful for focus stacking to increase depth of field in macro photography, which often suffers from very thin depth of field due to the closeness of the camera to the subject. It can capture up to 999 exposures at different focal planes, with control over focus deviation between frames and focus smoothing. This is advanced stuff, but it can’t actually do anything to finish the focus stack in-camera — those images must be merged in Adobe Photoshop, Canon’s own Digital Photo Professional, or other computer software.
I’m not arguing against its inclusion, but I’m not sure this is a feature that the RP’s target demographic really needs. On the other hand, I imagine more than a few people who bought the $2,300 EOS R would appreciate it, but that camera doesn’t have it.
A lightweight in a heavyweight world
At a hair over 17 ounces, the RP is the lightest current-model, full-frame mirrorless camera on the market and about 6 ounces lighter than the EOS R. This was immediately noticeable the first time I picked it up. Despite the downsized build, I still found the grip to be quite comfortable — in fact, I preferred it over that of the EOS R. The ergonomics may be my favorite thing about this camera, but this depends greatly on the lens mounted to it.
Back when mirrorless was little more than a novel side project of the camera industry, the models used only smaller APS-C or Four Thirds sensors. A full-frame sensor demands larger lenses, and the thinking at the time was that bulky systems would defeat the whole purpose of going mirrorless. But in the wake of Sony’s success with its full-frame Alpha line, we’ve learned that small cameras with big sensors sell just fine, and so far, Canon hasn’t exactly tried to make many compact RF lenses. Among the initial offerings were a 50mm f/1.2 and 28-70mm f/2, both with wider-than-usual apertures that necessitate bigger and heavier glass. This isn’t necessarily a problem for customers at the high end of the market who want quality over all else, but it does leave the budget-conscious RP user with few appropriate options.
The RP delivers what I would expect for a $1,300 full-frame camera, and possibly a bit more.
The kit lens for the RP is the RF 24-70mm f/4L IS — it’s a decent lens with good zoom range and effective image stabilization, but it feels completely out of balance on the RP. I also tried out the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS via the EF-RF adapter; it gave me great results, but was almost comical on the small body. This isn’t a problem unique to the R system, but I think it is emphasized somewhat by the RP’s specific focus on being light and nimble.
However, there is one lens that allows the RP to really come into its own: The RF 35mm f/1.8 IS. This compact prime made for a perfectly balanced setup that I could have used all day, even under the bizarrely hot February New Orleans sun. Of course, I was still slowed down by the weighty pack of additional lenses strapped to my back, which I later chose to leave in my hotel room and set out with just the RP and 35mm in hand.
This is the way to use this camera: The combination of fast aperture and slight wide angle is great for street photography or casual indoor settings, and the relatively small size should help ensure you don’t draw too much attention to yourself if you’re at a restaurant and want to grab a quick photo of your plate (not that I’m into that sort of thing, of course).
Sadly, at this time there aren’t any other native RF lenses that match the compact style of the 35mm. What’s more, many of the lenses currently available cost more than what somebody buying a $1,300 camera probably wants to spend. The 50mm f/1.2 is $2,300; the 28-70mm f/2, $3,000. These are high-end lenses and priced appropriately, but there just aren’t many low-cost alternatives better suited to the RP user. (Canon has announced the development of five additional lenses coming in 2019, including a 24-240mm f/4-6.3 that will likely be the most attractive to RP photographers. The other four are high-end L-series models: the 15-35mm f/2.8L IS, 24-70mm f/2.8L IS, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, and 85mm f/1.2L.)
For now, if you want (relatively) affordable glass, you can buy the RP with an EF version of the 24-105mm lens, a bundle which is discounted at launch to $1,700. To be clear, that’s the EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6, not the higher-end L-series f/4 model. The RP kit with the native RF-mount 24-105mm f/4L, however, will cost you considerably more: $2,200, also currently on discount. Fortunately, autofocus performance was quite good on the adapted EF 85mm f/1.4, so there doesn’t seem to a penalty for using EF lenses on the RP other than the extra bulk of the mount adapter. Still, not having a cheap native kit lens for the most affordable new full-frame body ever seems like a misstep for Canon.
Great out-of-camera image quality
Shortly after we set out to our first shooting location in one of New Orleans’ famous above-ground cemeteries (the “cities of the dead,” our bus driver called them), I made a mistake. In order to test the high dynamic range (HDR) mode, I had to set the camera to JPEG only. You can see where this is going: I forgot to turn RAW back on when I was done and shot the rest of the day in JPEG. Thankfully, the RP’s JPEG processing is really quite good. The colors pop, but not unnaturally; tonality is rich, even if bright highlights were blown out in high-contrast outdoor scenes. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything about how malleable the RAW files are or if Canon has managed to improve them over the 6D Mark II (we’ll delve into this in our full review at a later date).
What I can say is that the RP delivers what I would expect for a $1,300 full-frame camera, and possibly a bit more. Even with noise reduction turned off, ISO 12,800 is totally usable. Beyond that, there’s a definite jump in noise, but you can take the camera up to its non-boosted max ISO of 40,000 without getting into too much trouble. Combined with the see-in-the-dark, -5 EV autofocus, I think people will be very happy with the RP as a low-light camera, and this may be the primary reason for someone to consider upgrading from a smaller format.
I was also pleasantly surprised with the accuracy of the metering, which gave me great results almost 100 percent of the time when shooting in aperture or shutter priority modes. The evaluative metering system, which looks at the entire scene, knows to pay more attention to the area of the frame where the focus point is. When photographing a bright subject against a dark background, this ensured that no highlights were blown out on the subject.
The sample images here are all straight out-of-camera JPEGs with exactly zero post-processing, and for the most part, I’m fine with them. There are some where I wish I had the RAW just to make a white balance correction or recover some highlight or shadow detail, but overall, I think the RP can give you a ready-to-share file without any fuss, and that may be exactly what much of its intended customer base wants.
A rocky start
Years ago, a Canon rep told me that the company doesn’t make version 1.0 products; the first version it produces incorporates refinements generally reserved for version 2.0, were it any other brand. This often means the company may be slower to market with a particular product category or feature, but when it delivers, it does so with noticeable benefits over the competition. I think Cinema EOS (Canon’s line of professional movie cameras and lenses) is a good example of this.
EOS R, on the other hand, is not. As a system, it is still very rough around the edges. It launched with a sole camera and a group of lenses that appeared to be slanted toward the high-cost, high-quality segment. Now, its second camera is the cheapest current-model, full-frame mirrorless camera you can buy. Something doesn’t add up.
Canon will undoubtedly expand its lens offerings both up and down the price ladder, but for now, the RP is stranded on an island. If you already own Canon EF lenses and are fine working with an adapter, then it offers an easy and affordable way to make the jump to mirrorless. If not, it may be better to bide your time and see how the lens roadmap plays out. Personally, I would love to see a couple more compact primes in line with the 35mm f/1.8, but Canon seems to be focusing on zooms (and one very high-end prime) for the time being.
Still, in the long run, I believe Canon’s strategy of going after a more entry-level user is sound. This is an area that Nikon and Panasonic (and, depending on how you look at it, Sony) have so far ignored with their full-frame mirrorless options. It’s not the most exciting move, but it may yet prove to be a very smart one. The tech we use most doesn’t necessarily inspire love letters — the best-selling sedan in America is a Toyota Camry, after all — and the RP will likely find plenty of happy customers thanks to its ease of use and low price.