Canon EOS R8 Review: The Best Full-Frame Canon for Most People
With the introduction of the R50 and the R8, Canon further teeters on the edge of having too many cameras rather than too few.
Well, you can’t say that Canon doesn’t have a well-rounded lineup of mirrorless cameras anymore.
I tested the Canon R8 for several days at a press event in South Carolina and I walked away (flew away, actually) impressed. Canon reps described the R8 as a solid option for the photographer moving up the ranks towards cameras like the EOS R6 Mark II and the R3, and it’s an excellent choice for that user.
But the camera is also a terrific second camera for the pro and could even work as a primary camera for many wedding and event photographers. It takes the best features of the R6 Mark II and puts them into an affordable, comfortable, and functional body — albeit one with some sacrifices to keep the price and size down.
At just $1,500, this camera is more than $1,000 less expensive than the Canon EOS R6 Mark II, meaning a Canon shooter can get the R8 and at least one great lens or three R8 bodies and one mediocre lens for the same price.
I coupled the camera with various lenses in my time with it, including the new RF 24-50mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM. I found that shooting with Canon’s excellent higher-end lenses yielded great results and made me sometimes forget that I was shooting with a downmarket camera.
Truth be told, I like the size and the weight of the R8 better than that of the R6 Mark II, a camera that has the power I like but in a body that feels heavy to me after years of shooting Sony.
Canon EOS R8: Strong Yet Small-ish
At its core, the R8 is a Canon R6 Mark II. The sensor, processor, and AF systems are the same as on that higher-end body but arrive with a scaled-back set of features.
The 24.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor has Dual Pixel autofocus (AF) and a DIGIC X processor. The autofocus system has Canon’s new AI-Servo subject recognition technology, allowing it to lock onto eyes and more types of animals more accurately, and has an “auto” setting that (theoretically) allows the camera to determine the subject and set conditions to match the recognized subject.
In practice with both the R6 Mark II and the R8, the autofocus functions with greater accuracy when set to the correct subject, but having an auto-detection mode is the way that all artificial intelligence-based (AI) focus will likely head.
The inclusion of the new AF tracking from the R6 Mark II makes the R8 a very compelling camera. It’s capable of finding and locking onto various subjects, including people, birds, and animals, and it can track them anywhere in the frame. These AF features put the R8 ahead of cameras like the Sony a7 IV and a7C and Nikon Z5. The pure autofocus chops also puts the R8 ahead of Nikon’s Z6 II and Z7 II.
The significant difference between the R8 and the R6 Mark II is the lack of in-body image stabilization on the former. I bid a fond farewell to the readers who got to that sentence and decided this wasn’t the camera for them.
This limitation is much more important than the other differences in the camera versus the R6 Mark II. Many high-end photographers would only return to a camera with image stabilization. While I thought this would be a deal-killer for me, I also found that when I coupled the R8 with Canon’s image-stabilized lenses, it performed very well for portrait and landscape photography.
Looking at my images, I can’t tell the difference between those shot with an image-stabilized lens and a picture I’d have taken with an image-stabilized camera and a non-IS lens. For many people, a less expensive camera and more expensive glass is a good tradeoff, as it’s easy to upgrade a camera while the glass lasts forever.
The lack of image stabilization also means video shooters must carefully plan their shoots around either image-stabilized lenses or situations in which the camera can be locked down on a tripod or gimbal.
I have been testing the DJI RS 3 Mini, and the R8 would be a perfect camera for the 795-gram maximum load of the compact gimbal. The R6 Mark II is heavy enough that some lenses can’t be used and meet the weight requirements.
The rear LCD screen is identical to the R6 Mark II, though the EVF is smaller and has fewer dots (0.39 inches versus the 0.5-inch EVF on the R6 Mark II and 2.38 million dots versus 3.69 on the R6 Mark II).
Unlike the R6 Mark II, the R8 does not have a standard mechanical shutter but has an electronic front curtain and silent modes. The lack of a mechanical front curtain shutter means that the R8 has a max shutter speed of 1/4000 second in electronic front curtain and 1/8000 second in electronic. In contrast, the R6 Mark II has a top speed of 1/8000 in mechanical, electronic front curtain, and electronic.
Without a mechanical shutter and with a more consumer-build, the R8 is limited to six frames per second (FPS) with an electronic front curtain shutter but can achieve the full 40 FPS that the R6 Mark II achieves when shooting a fully electronic shutter.
The buffer for the R8 fills at around sixty RAW shots (using a high-speed SD card), but it can capture more than 1,000 large JPEG images before filling.
Speaking of SD cards, there is only one slot, something that would have made camera reviewers stroke out just a few years ago, but it is a compromise that makes sense in this more consumer-oriented camera.
That single slot is of the things that makes this not a “professional” camera, the other being the small-sized battery that significantly cuts down on use-per-battery compared to the R6 Mark II. I understand that a smaller form factor often necessitates smaller components, but this is one area in which I’d gladly take a slightly bigger body in exchange for longer battery life.
The spec sheet for the R8 doesn’t list the CIPA rating for battery life — not that CIPA has been reliable in this area for some time — but I got less than a full day of shooting when mixing stills and video.
There are also some user interfaces differences, such as the missing joystick on the back and the lack of photo rating buttons. The rating buttons I can do without, but the joystick are one of those camera elements that should be adopted globally but often isn’t.
There’s an optional grip that serves to expand the grip surface, adding about a half-inch of material under the camera body. It makes the R8 easier to hold but just made me wish the R8 were that height, to begin with, and included a bigger battery.
Like the R6 Mark II, the R7 has a micro HDMI port, which is a shame as that connector breaks easily and leads to many video issues.
Canon EOS R8: Misplaced Creativity
Canon has added its new A+ automatic mode and several creative control features to the R8, which could have been more complex and valuable. With other creative controls already part of Canon’s camera user interface, having another dedicated dial and several LCD screen buttons seems disorganized.
I discuss these new features in greater detail in my review of the Canon R50.
Canon EOS R8: Kit Collection
I tested the Canon R8 with the RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM lens, the Canon RF 135mm f/1.8 L IS USM, the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM, and the new kit 24-50mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM ($299), and the images are much better than I expected.
The 24-50mm produced sharp, vibrant images with some distortion, but generally high image quality. I shot portraits with the 24-50mm lens, which, while not in the same league as the 50mm f/1.2, provided good enough quality to have used it for a paying job.
Canon EOS R8: An Upgraded Downgrade
The Canon EOS R8 is an excellent full-frame mirrorless camera and it helps flesh out Canon’s product line. With the addition of the R8 and the R50, also introduced today, Canon has really improved the range of offerings.
Other companies have more products in their lineup, but Canon’s mirrorless RF-mount cameras are checking all the boxes. The R8 makes the lineup more compelling and more interesting.
It took almost no time to mentally switch to the R8 from shooting the R6 Mark II; I mostly had to get used to the missing joystick. As a left-eye dominant shooter, I can’t use an LCD screen as a touchpad — my nose moves focus points — so losing a joystick significantly reduces convenience.
While most of my shooting uses cameras higher-performing than the R8, it fits nicely into the spot I’ve filled for years with the Sony a7C. I’ve used the a7C as a travel camera, a studio camera, and a portrait camera and the Canon R8 fills all of those niches as well. There are rumors of a new a7c II which might change the dynamics of this product comparison, but for me, now the R8 and the a7C are similarly attractive. The a7C is smaller, but the R8 is more powerful.
The Canon R8 feels like the perfect travel camera. When I’m with my family, I want a camera that’s going to capture great images, and I don’t want it to be that flashy or large. There are a lot of times when traveling when it’s good to have a camera that doesn’t look like a pro body, and the R8 fits in nicely there.
The fact that it has the same sensor as the R6 Mark II means it’s easy to match images and footage captured with the R8, and it means that the image quality is remarkably good. In many of the images in this review I coupled the R8 with a Canon prime like the 135mm or the 50mm, but I shot with the new 24-50mm and it felt great to use, and as I mentioned, it created amazing images.
The target customer of the R8 will be okay with the compromises made to fit the $1,500 price. Still, Canon releasing several budget-friendly-yet-capable lenses in the RF lineup would make the R8 even more popular than I’m confident it will become. RF users won’t find reprieve from Canon’s high-priced optics on the third-party market either, since Canon won’t license its RF mount.
The R8 is essentially a stripped-down R6 Mark II, missing some of the features that make the R6 Mark II so powerful but keeping a good deal of others that still make it desirable. The compromises are excellent tradeoffs for customers looking for a high-power camera without all the bells and whistles.
Are There Alternatives?
Due to the feature and price of the Canon EOS R8, even in Canon’s camera lineup, there isn’t a solid full-frame competitor with a similar price to the $1,500 R8. The closest option would be to purchase the R7 with it’s APS-C sensor, but comparing APS-C to the full frame is apples to oranges.
Sony’s a7 IV is another alternative, but it uses autofocus technology that’s years old and the R8 surpasses its focus performance.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, if you’re looking for a solid camera with “pro” features, the Canon EOS R8 is for you. It’s the best full-frame Canon you can get without paying significantly more.