Canon's compact EOS RP isn't the strongest full-frame camera, but a $300 price drop makes it worth a second look
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- The entry-level Canon EOS RP has a new low price of $999, giving a budget option to those interested in upgrading to full-frame photography.
camerasoffer superior low-light image quality and, when matched with the right lens, a shallower depth of field to separate the subject from the background.
- Unlike a large DSLR that uses a mirror, mirrorless tech makes the RP compact for a full-frame camera.
- Despite being two years old, over that time, Canon has rolled out several affordable lenses, thus making the EOS RP more attractive than at launch.
- While cheaper, it's still outclassed by entry-level full-frame models from Sony and Nikon, no thanks to an aging sensor.
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In February of 2019, I traveled to New Orleans for the Canon EOS RP pre-launch event. The RP was an important camera not because it brought any new tech or features to the table, but because it offered a different kind of evolution. It took full-frame imaging, generally reserved for high-end enthusiast and professional photographers, and simplified it down into a friendlier and much cheaper camera meant to appeal to a more casual audience.
At that time, the RP was the smallest, lightest, and cheapest full-frame camera ever made. Even if the camera offered lackluster specs, it still felt like an important product. The camera industry has moved increasingly upmarket as smartphones have gobbled up the entry level, and with EOS RP, Canon found a way to bring this upmarket experience to the masses. Well, sort of.
As a tech reviewer and experienced photographer, I was unimpressed with the RP. It may have a full-frame sensor, but it lacks the responsiveness and performance I've come to associate with full-frame cameras. My feelings haven't changed dramatically in the time since. Picking up the RP again, it is clear that it is not aging well. Even Canon has left it in the dust with its much more powerful EOS R5 and R6 cameras that, while significantly more expensive, are in a completely different league and feel like a full reboot of the 2-year-old EOS R system.
The RP has always been a price-point camera. It doesn't inspire confidence like upmarket Canon R-series models do, and it's missing out on some key features, like in-body image stabilization, now common in the full-frame mirrorless arena. However, if price is your primary concern, there have been two changes since the RP's launch that should make it more attractive.
Firstly, the body-only price has dropped from $1,299 to $999, putting it just in the magical sub-$1,000 zone. This is also a good margin below the aging Sony A7 II (not to mention the newer A7 III and A7C), which had been the RP's closest competitor and which, arguably, is the better camera.
Secondly, and arguably more importantly, Canon has put out several new affordable lenses. A lack of inexpensive glass to pair with the RP was one of my biggest complaints when I originally tested it. At the time, there was only one sub-$1,000 RF-lens. Now, there are seven. (RF is Canon's designation for its full-frame mirrorless camera lenses.)
It's clear that the RP got off to a rocky start, but the road looks a tad smoother now. Still, this is not a camera that will wow you with features, performance, or image quality. But if you want a full-frame camera for under $1,000, especially if you're a current Canon DSLR owner looking to move into mirrorless, then the EOS RP may just be your best bet.Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
Specifications of the EOS RP
At a glance:
- Sensor: Full-frame CMOS
- Image processor: Canon Digic 8
- Photo resolution: 26.2 megapixels
- Video resolution: 4K, 1080p, 720p
- ISO: 100 to 40,000
- Continuous shooting speed: 5 frames per second
- Shutter speed: 1/4,000 second (max)
- Viewfinder: 2.36 million pixels, 0.7X magnification
- Display: 3-inch vari-angle color touchscreen LCD
- Dimensions: 5.22 (W) x 3.35 (H) x 2.76 (D) inches
- Weight: 1 pound (body only)
- Power: Rechargeable and removable 1,040mAh lithium-ion battery (250 exposure)
- Storage: SD/SDHC/SDXC
- Port: USB-C (power and data), Mini HDMI (Type C), microphone, headphone
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
The RP was never meant to be a camera that leads on specs, so it doesn't stand out on paper. It uses a 26-megapixel full-frame sensor with an ISO range of 100 to 40,000, and is a good performer in dark environments. Continuous shooting speed tops out at 5 frames per second (fps) and the shutter speed maxes out at 1/4000 second. Battery life is rated for a mere 250 exposures. None of these numbers are what I'd call impressive, but they should be plenty for the novice or casual photographer.
One of the truly impressive specs, however, is the autofocus system. The RP uses a version of Canon's Dual Pixel Autofocus (DPAF) with 4,779 focus points in total. That's a lot of points, and it means you get fast phase-detection autofocus nearly to the edge of the frame. It also includes face and eye-detection, which, while not up to the level of the newer EOS R5 and R6, is pretty good on a $999 camera.
For video, the RP shoots Full HD 1080p at 24, 30, or 60 fps and Ultra HD 4K at 24 fps. While Full HD records from the full width of the sensor and allows for fast DPAF, 4K is recorded from a 1.7X cropped region of the sensor and is incompatible with DPAF, resulting in much slower autofocus performance.
Stills and video are recorded to a single SD card located in the bottom of the camera next to the battery. The RP also has some level of weather-sealing, although it doesn't boast the same build quality as Canon's professional cameras.
Like most modern cameras, the RP can connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth/Wi-Fi. When paired, you can use the companion app for remote shooting and for transferring downsized versions of your images for sharing purposes.
Design, controls, and viewfinder
Canon's goal with the EOS RP was to create the lightest-weight, interchangeable-lens full-frame camera. It's a goal it achieved at least until the introduction of Sony's diminutive A7C. It weighs just 17 ounces, although that weight can jump considerably depending on the lens attached. With the RF 24-105mm f/4 L-lens provided for this review, the total package came in at over 2.5 pounds.
That's not bad, but it's important to remember that if portability is what you're after, you may want to consider the APS-C format over full-frame. APS-C is a physically smaller sensor, which in turn means lenses can also be smaller. In general, a smaller sensor is also less expensive, so you can get more bang for your buck. Take, for example, the Fujifilm X-S10, which also costs $999. This APS-C mirrorless camera offers faster performance, in-body image stabilization, and better 4K video than the Canon EOS RP - all in a smaller package. But if you're set on full-frame, it doesn't get more portable than the RP.
As an entry-level model, the RP features a simplified control layout with a standard mode dial that's more approachable for casual photographers. But importantly, it maintains dual command dials, allowing for direct access to shutter speed and f-stop or exposure compensation - things photographers need to adjust quickly without having to jump into a menu. The grip is decently ergonomic if a bit small for my hand. I would have liked an autofocus joystick, but otherwise, I can't really complain about the design. The camera gives you the controls you need to respond quickly at the moment, and that's what counts.
As for connectivity, it's actually pretty good. You get both microphone and headphone jacks, and there's even a Type C Mini HDMI port, which may not be as nice as a full-size Type A, but is vastly superior to the common Type D Micro port found in many cameras. My guess is not many RP owners will bother hooking it up to an external monitor, but those who do at least won't have to bother with an insecure Micro HDMI port. USB-C is also present, and while that has been par for the course for a while, Canon does still ship some new cameras with older Micro USB ports - I'm glad they didn't do that with the RP. Beyond fast file transfers, USB-C also allows you to charge the RP by plugging it in, just like many of your other devices. (You can still charge the battery by removing it and using the external charger, too.)
The fully-articulating touchscreen is a nice touch on a camera at this price, and it's very responsive. Tapping to focus is easy, and helps alleviate the frustration of not having an autofocus (AF) joystick. Menu navigation is equally snappy. The only issue I ran into is that my thumb kept encroaching onto the screen whenever I wasn't shooting, holding the camera in one hand down at my hip. Each time I raised it back to my eye, I found I had inadvertently selected a random function in the Quick menu. It's a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is sufficiently good, but not excellent. The EVF is your window into your photographs as you take them, so I do think it is an important component of a camera. The RP's is on the lower end, with 0.7X magnification and 2.36 million pixels. That isn't much compared to the 3.69-million, 5.76-million, and even 9-million-pixel EVFs out there today, but in practice, I really didn't find myself distracted by the lack of resolution. Are there better viewfinders out there? Absolutely. Even the similarly entry-level Nikon Z5 has a 3.69-million-dot EVF with 0.8X magnification, but it's also the more expensive camera after the RP's price reduction.
All of this is to say that there isn't anything about the RP's design and usability that will blow you away, but at the same time, everything is perfectly adequate and more or less what you expect for the price.
Performance and use
The Canon EOS RP uses a 26-megapixel (MP) full-frame sensor that was first introduced in the EOS 6D Mark II DSLR, in 2017. While the camera is old, the sensor is even older. But I have no qualms with the resolution - it is more than fine for the vast majority of photographers - but from a technical standpoint, this sensor has never been known for delivering the type of image quality we now expect of full-frame. Dynamic range - the amount of detail a sensor can capture from pure black to pure white - is lacking, and while high-ISO low-light performance is good, it doesn't best anything else out there.
Creatively, though, the full-frame sensor produces what you'd expect: When paired with a large-aperture lens, you can achieve a very shallow depth of field, perfect for those attention-grabbing portraits that set the subject in stark relief against a blurry background. And now that Canon offers a trio of affordable, f/1.8 prime lenses - a 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm - the RP may not be a bad choice if you want to get into full-frame portrait photography for relatively little money.
That sensor is also covered in 4,779 autofocus points, thanks to Canon's generally impressive Dual Pixel Autofocus (DPAF). This system works really well for the most part, although the face/eye-tracking is certainly not up to par with the newer EOS R5/R6 cameras. You'll need to be relatively close to your subject for eye-detection to work, and it can be thrown off easily if said subject wears glasses. DPAF also doesn't work in 4K video mode; instead, it reverts to painfully slow contrast-detection autofocus. (There are plenty of other reasons to avoid 4K on this camera, too, which I'll get to later.)
One thing you won't find in the RP is sensor-shift stabilization. This feature has grown increasingly common, especially among full-frame mirrorless cameras, but Canon was simply late to the game, not adding it until the EOS R5/R6. It is certainly a shortcoming next to the likes of the Sony A7 III and Nikon Z5 but, again, the RP is cheaper. Fortunately, most Canon RF lenses offer built-in optical stabilization, but I still would have preferred to have sensor-shift stabilization along with it.
Shooting performance also leaves much to be desired. It can hit 5 frames per second, but only 4 FPS with continuous autofocus. The shutter speed tops out at 1/4000 second, a stop below both the Sony A7 III and Nikon Z5. Flash sync speed is a mere 1/180 second, but I don't expect RP photographers are exactly the type to care about this. Plus, with the prevalence of both first- and third-party flashes with high-speed sync functionality, it's kind of a moot point.
Of all the RP's shortcomings, the one that could affect even the most beginner photographer is battery life. I shot just 120 photos before the battery indicator started flashing at me, below the 250-shot rating, although that was over a period of several hours that also included plenty of image review and standby time. Mirrorless cameras are not known for having great battery life, but the RP's is pathetic even in this company.
These specs might not be deal-breakers to many photographers, but they are a reminder that what you're paying for with the RP is the full-frame format. It is not, by any other measure, a high-end camera. There are APS-C cameras that will meet or beat it in virtually every metric save depth-of-field control and low-light performance, like the aforementioned Fujifilm X-S10. Even the Sony A6100, at just $750, offers faster burst shooting up to 11 fps and arguably has even better autofocus, especially during 4K video recording.
Image and video quality
Despite the videography-friendly features - headphone and microphone jacks, HDMI port, articulating touchscreen - the EOS RP is not a camera to buy if video is a primary focus. While it can shoot 4K, it is limited to a single frame rate - 24p - and is severely cropped by a factor of 1.7X, making the effective sensor area smaller than APS-C and severely limiting your ability to capture a wide-angle perspective.
Cropping is usually done as a way to cut down on processing requirements. Since 4K video uses only 8.3 megapixels, it's easier for the camera to process exactly that number of pixels, rather than look at the entire sensor and figure out how to handle all of those extra pixels. Where some cameras will oversample pixels and then downscale the video to 4K, resulting in sharper quality, the RP apparently lacks the processing power to do so. The other option is called line skipping, where only certain rows of pixels are recorded - this preserves the field of view, but severely hampers resolution, which would kind of make 4K not worth it.
4K video also suffers from horrendous rolling shutter, or "jello cam." This is when vertical lines appear slanted when panning the camera or shooting a fast-moving subject, and can cause handheld footage to look wobbly. All of this is in addition to the aforementioned lack of Dual Pixel Autofocus when shooting 4K.
Shooting in lower-resolution Full HD (1080p) is better. You get the choice of 24, 30, or 60p frame rates and, while it lacks the resolution of 4K, at least your footage will be sharply in focus thanks to DPAF, which is available in this mode. In short, there's nothing wrong with using the RP to grab some quick clips of your family vacation, but I wouldn't rely on it for any actual production work.
I want to stress that I'm coming to this conclusion about video not only from a technical point of view but also as a professional videographer. Having to shoot high-quality productions for clients, I know what's required of a camera, and the EOS RP falls short. However, if you're making videos for personal reasons, the EOS RP may be adequate for your needs. My editor Les Shu, for example, shoots short clips as part of his photography hobbies and finds 4K videos from these types of entry-level cameras to be fine for sharing on Instagram or YouTube. In fact, he usually downscales his videos from 4K to Full HD because the file sizes are more manageable and the quality is acceptable for today's screens, whether it's a phone or TV.
As for still photography, the EOS RP is stronger. While the 26MP sensor doesn't technically stack up to the competition, it should suit most photographers. Power users may be disappointed with the flexibility of the RAW files, which lack the dynamic range of full-frame sensors in Nikon, Sony, and Panasonic cameras. You simply can't extract as much detail from the shadows and highlights.
But casual shooters should be happy, especially those who just want strong in-camera JPEGs and don't want to bother editing their images on a computer. In fact, I'd say JPEG processing is one of the RP's strengths, as JPEGs generally offer great color and contrast. Auto white balance can be a bit hit-or-miss, with colors sometimes shifting dramatically between two shots of the same subject, but many other cameras also struggle with this.
Overall, I wouldn't say anything about the RP's image quality impressed me, but again, if you're after that full-frame, shallow-depth-of-field look, it can certainly deliver it.
Should you buy it?
If you just need the basics, the EOS RP is a good buy for full-frame photography, but mostly because of how affordable it is. Paired with one of the RF f/1.8 primes - the RF 50mm f/1.8 is just $199 - it could make for a great portrait camera on the cheap. This is not, however, an aspirational product, and you may soon find yourself wishing for something better. In-body image stabilization, less limited 4K video, better face/eye-tracking autofocus, longer battery life, and faster performance are all on the wish list.
As it approaches two-years-old, I wouldn't be surprised if Canon has a replacement planned within the next 12 months. You could hold off if you aren't in a hurry, but whenever a replacement arrives, however, expect it to cost much more.
What are your alternatives?
The Sony A7C is the new leader of small, lightweight full-frame cameras - although it is actually a hair heavier than the RP thanks to a higher-capacity battery. Its big selling point is Sony's Real Time Eye autofocus - the best AF in the business. It offers sensor-shift stabilization, better 4K video, up to 10-FPS continuous shooting, and 680-shot battery life. In a couple of ways, however, it shares some of the RP's limitations, like a 2.36-million-dot viewfinder, maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 second, and a flash sync speed of 1/160 second. At $1,799, it's also considerably more expensive.
The larger Sony A7 III is actually $100 cheaper than the A7C at the time of writing and is another solid alternative. Its features are mostly on par with the A7C, but with a faster 1/8000-second top shutter speed and 1/250-second flash sync speed, signaling its position as a more professional-oriented camera.
The Nikon Z5 is closer to the RP in price, at $1,300. It offers in-body image stabilization, although it's a three-axis system compared to the five-axis systems in the Sony cameras. Battery life is also better than the RP, at a respectable 470 exposures, and the 3.69-million-dot viewfinder is a step up. Unfortunately, the Z5 suffers the same 1.7X 4K video crop as the RP.
While it's not hard to get a better camera than the RP, the price difference may not be worth it depending on the features you need - or what you're willing to live without.
The bottom line
The Canon EOS RP gives budget-conscious and beginner photographers a taste of full-frame imaging without sinking thousands of dollars into a camera body. It's far from perfect - I think the RP is the most lackluster full-frame mirrorless camera on the market - but it checks a few important boxes at a price that nobody else can match.
Pros: Compact, lightweight, affordable, good JPEG image quality
Cons: No in-body image stabilization, terrible battery life, lackluster RAW image quality, 1.7X crop on 4K video, no Dual Pixel Autofocus in 4K video
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