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The Canon EOS M5: Creativity in a Compact Size

November 16, 2016

Rick Sammon

As a professional photographer, I am often asked, “Hey Rick, what is your specialty?” I reply, “My specialty is not specializing.” That’s because I like to do it all, which includes taking studio portraits (illustrated by the opening image for this article), outdoor natural light portraits, indoor and outdoor shots, landscapes, scenic images, HDR and so on — all illustrated throughout this article.

When novice photographers come to me for advice, I suggest not specializing, because I feel that not specializing makes for a well-rounded photographer — a photographer with pictures that might attract a range of potential sales or clients. Plus, getting good at one specialty can help getting good at another.

Lately, I have been photographing with the Canon EOS M5 compact interchangeable lens camera, which I call the lightweight and compact camera for photographers who don’t specialize — because it can do it all.

It’s a do-it-all, versatile camera not only because of its features — which include a 24.2 megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor, automatic and manual exposure modes, super fast auto focusing, full HD video, fast and easy controls (including +/- EV control), a tilting/fully-functional touch-screen, RAW and JPEG image recording — but because with the Canon Mount Adapter EF–EOS M, I can use all my Canon L series lenses on the camera.

Sure, the L-series lenses add to the weight of the camera. So when I want to travel light and still get super sharp images, I use, as I did for the opening image for this article, the Canon zoom EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens (24-72mm full frame equivalent), or the Canon zoom EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM lens (28.8-240mm full frame equivalent), which I used for the sunset photography below.

Photography is really about storytelling, that is, photographers telling their own story of a location or scene. First, let’s take a look at how the Canon EOS M5 helped me tell the story of my visit to the Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. I share these photographs, as well as my tips, to illustrate how you can tell a good story with several photographs.

Here’s a wide-angle (Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens), in-camera HDR image of the outside of the main temple at the monastery. Notice how everything in the scene is in focus. To achieve that effect, I set the lens to 11mm (that’s coverage equivalent to about an 18mm lens, on a full-frame camera), selected a small aperture (f/9) and used the touchscreen to place the focus 1/3 into the frame. That technique — wide-angle-lens, small aperture and focusing 1/3 into the frame — is the concept for getting maximum depth of field in an image.

My visit to the monastery was my “test drive” for the camera. To check the noise level, something of which I am very well aware of in all my images, I took this interior photograph of the main temple with my ISO set to 1000. Even in a 24x36-inch (roughly equivalent to a metric-size A1 print) enlargement, I saw no noticeable noise. By the way, this is a hand-held shot and as you can see, it’s very sharp.

Speaking of noise, check out this photograph, which I took in very low light behind the main statue. It’s an in-camera HDR image. The ISO for this hand-held image was 3200. Even in the low and soft light, noise is at a minimum.

Close-ups, like these two in-camera HDR images, help the photographer tell a story. For these pictures I used my Canon 11-24mm lens, looking for uncommon angles to once again tell my story . . . or share my vision, which is what I encourage you to do when you are photographing.

Earlier I mentioned the +/- EV control, which is adjusted by an easy-access dial on the top of the camera. To get a good exposure of these small Buddha statues (10,000 surround the large Buddha statue), I adjusted my exposure using that control, while checking the live histogram to ensure that my highlights were not overexposed. Exposing for the highlights is one the main tips I give my photo workshop students.

A few days after my temple photo session, I did a model session in my backyard here in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. Here’s one of my favorite shots (yes, it’s the same model that’s in the opening image), which I took with a Canon EF 24-70mm lens.  To place the focus on the model’s face, I used the touch-and-drag AF feature on the camera’s touchscreen, one of the highlights of working with the EOS M5 camera.  If you’re using the eye-level viewfinder, you can run your thumb across the LCD monitor, with the camera at your eye, and adjust where the AF point is in the viewfinder.  

Hey, if you have not been a fan of touchscreen, this screen will change your mind, especially when it comes to autofocus, which incudes changing the AF area size for different sized subjects and even memorizing and instantly returning to a set AF point. How cool is that!

Here’s a behind-the-scenes shot taken my by wife Susan, of my backyard model photograph. A few quick tips: select a good setting/location first, set a wide-aperture (f/3.5 here) to blur the background and to separate the model from the background, and photograph from eye level so the viewer of the photograph feels as though the subject is looking at him or her.

After our model outdoor photo session, we moved into my den, where I had a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT set up in a Westcott Apollo Softbox. I handed the model one of my electric guitars and positioned her against a black background. I tuned on a smoke machine and was ready to photograph.

I triggered my Canon Speedlite with a Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3 RT, which was mounted in the hot shoe of my EOS M5. The softbox and flash, which were positioned off to the side of the model, created the shadows on the model’s face. So the tip here, also illustrated (more dramatically) by the image below: if you want an interesting subject, don’t light the subject’s entire face. Quick note: if you don’t own a Speedlite, the camera features a built-in flash for quick and fun shots.

I like surprises, pleasant surprises that is, when I am photographing. The model shot that opens this article is spot on exposure-wise and color-wise, and it’s the first flash picture I took of my model.

After my model session, I drove to the New Croton Dam, which is about 10 minutes from my house, to take a few more shots. This picture was taken with the EF-M 18-150mm lens at a shutter speed of 1/3 second to blur the flowing water. Here too, I used the touchscreen to place the focus on the rowboat, which has actually been in that spot for several years. Quick tip: to get a sharp shot of the surrounding area when using long shutter speeds like this, you must use a tripod.

One of the big advantages of using a mirrorless camera is that, of course, it does not have a mirror. No mirror means a smaller and lighter camera, but it also means that you can shoot at high frame rates to capture action, because there is no mirror to flip up and down during a shoot. The Canon EOS M5 lets you shoot seven frames per second with autofocus active for each shot, and up to nine frames per second with AF lock. For this action shot, I had my model spin around as fast as she could for a more animated shot, as opposed to a posed portrait. Quick tips: placing the subject off center makes for a more dynamic photograph, as opposed a photograph where the subject is placed dead center in the frame. Also, count on cropping for an image with more impact. And remember, cropping gives you a second chance at composition. Here I cropped the picture square for Instagram (although now you now can post vertical and horizontal images there, as well). And speaking of Instagram, the Canon EOS M5 also features Bluetooth and Wi-Fi® so you can quickly and easily transfer your images from your camera to your phone . . . and then to social media.

I’ll end this article with a feature that’s not listed in the Canon EOS M5’s instruction manual: using this camera can make a subject feel less intimidated, as he or she might feel when photographed with a big professional camera. The result: your photo session may be more fun for the subject, and you may get more spontaneous photographs and expressions.

Here’s a shot my wife took of me during my backyard model photo shoot. Holding the camera away from your face opens up your face to the model, so he or she can see your expression. Why is that important? Because as the saying goes: the camera looks both ways; in picturing the subject, you are also picturing a part of yourself. In other words, you are a mirror.

Rick Sammon has been a Canon Explorer of Light since 2013. He has written 37 books, his latest is Evolution of an Image. Visit with Rick at

Rick Sammon
Rick Sammon

Rick Sammon is a tireless, prolific and inspirational image-maker.Rick divides his time between creating images, leading photo workshops, and making personal appearances. He is a man on a mission – a mission to make digital photography fun, creative, exciting and rewarding for others.

Rick Sammon

Canon Explorer of Light and award-winning photographer Rick Sammon loves his day job. A tireless, prolific and inspirational image-maker, Rick, called by some “The Godfather of Photography,” is one of the most active photographers on the planet – dividing his time between creating images, leading photo workshops, and making personal appearances. Rick’s enthusiasm for digital imaging is contagious. He is a man on a mission – a mission to make digital photography fun, creative, exciting and rewarding for others.

A natural teacher, Rick enjoys sharing his photographs and providing practical how-to advice to a wide audience of photo enthusiasts through his blog, books, how-to videos, iPhone and iPad apps, a podcast and an expanding following on social media. With nearly 800,000 Google+ followers, he has been recognized as one of the top photographers to follow on Google+. In his spare “desk time,” Rick writes the “Quick Fix” column for Digital Photo Magazine.

Rick started his professional photography career as an underwater photographer, producing six underwater books and leading scuba diving expeditions to the seven seas. He easily transitioned into travel, landscape, wildlife, cultural and nature photography. Rick’s images, from his travels to more than 100 countries, have been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, and have been featured in his 36 books, including the popular Rick Sammon’s Exploring the Light, and 11 apps, including Rick Sammon’s 24/7 Photo Buffet.

While Rick describes himself as “evolving,” he hesitates to categorize his work. “I’m an A-to-Z type of photographer. I do it all – and I enjoy the freedom of not specializing.”

With nearly 40 years of experience, this self-taught photographer has many accomplishments – and many more anticipated for the road ahead.  As Rick suggests, “When you are through changing, you are through.”

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