Notes on Canon R5

Canon R5 and lenses


I acquired the Canon R5 in January 2021, adding it to my toolkit alongside a couple Sony Alpha rigs. After shooting on Alpha for five years, I was eager to match some of the muscle memory and lessons I learned over those years to the contemporary Canon platform. These notes capture my evolving experience with the Canon R5, and where possible, how I match its configuration to my Sony A7Rii to make cross-platform photography effortless, comfortable, and enjoyable. These notes are broken up a little haphazardly by topical area, and as I evolve my preferences, I’ll strike out the old and date them, hopefully with shot notes in an appendix at the end to share the lessons learned and my rationale. While exploring my notes, please keep in mind my style and goals of shooting are casual and on-the-go — it’s something I mostly do on my way to somewhere else, and so I prioritize configurations that balance technical goals with impulsive composition. Your mileage may vary.

I’m open to comments and suggestions, but to avoid low-quality noise, they cannot be shared here.

Autofocus Modes and Usage

My habit is to meter and focus from the frame center, lock, and recompose the frame as needed. This isn’t always ideal, but it’s the leading priority in my configuration choices for autofocus. For impulsive street photography, it works reasonably well with practice, but I’ll admit there may be better ways to address off-center AF while preserving a general style preference. The settings below tend to assume that I will designate a subject using a spot focus point, and I expect the automation to follow from this.

  • Servo AF initial track/position may be set by using the AF spot box, and that box can be relocated around the screen three ways:
    • With the joystick (multi-controller) enabled in the custom menu, the joystick relocates the box in the expected way. Reset the spot box to frame center by pressing the stick.
    • With the touchscreen open and folded against the body AND using the viewfinder, its right half behaves as a touchpad, allowing thumb use to move the spot box around the frame in the expected way. Reset the box to frame center by pressing the SET button.
    • With the touchscreen open and folded against the body and not using the viewfinder, any touch in the frame area positions the spot box directly. Reset the box to frame center by pressing the SET button or the on-screen reset icon.
  • One Shot AF changes the initial track point behavior
    • The initial track point is no longer the AF spot box, rather one must manually engage tracking by clicking the joystick while aimed at a target, OR
    • One may use the touchpad behavior of the touch screen to mouse-style select an initial track point.
    • Face/eye focus works, but only on the initial lock.
    • The behavior is a bit jarring when unexpected, as there is no spot AF box displayed unless toggling to Around mode using the custom toggle on the AF point select button.
  • Quick Switch AF Modes w/Buttons
    • TOGGLING between two AF modes with a button
      • First, restrict all AF modes in the AF > 4 > Limit AF Methods menu to Track and 1-Point AF. 1-Point AF is mandatory, so to make the toggle effective, no other modes are feasible.
      • Map “Direct AF method selection” to some button, likely one of the two thumb-buttons under the mode dial, which results in a toggle effect with each button press.
    • One button momentary alternation (preferred)
      • Custom Functions > 3 > Customize buttons > Switch to registered AF function; Configure the registered AF function to map the desired AF mode (Around is my choice). NOTE: There is only one registered AF function globally, therefore any mapping to this action results in the same target AF mode, so it is not possible to use this for a toggled mode swap.
  • Force tracking AI to use AF spot box as initial point:
    • AF > 5 > Initial Servo AF pt for face+tracking > AF pt set for spot/zone modes.
  • One Shot + Dynamic Manual Focus
    • Enabled One Shot + MF w/Magnification which allows manual adjustments during shutter half-press, similar to the Sony DMF mode. Autofocus isn’t perfect, sometimes you want to pixel-peep the subject for sharpness or rather because you lack faith in the system to make it tack-sharp.


I prefer the screen to be off most of the time, I rarely use it but for configuration and reviewing frames. I also prefer the viewfinder to be mostly empty, to let my mind’s eye compose without distracting instrumentation.

  • Manual VF/screen toggle is possible (as implemented on my Sony also,) with configuration:
    • Set Up > 3 > Screen/viewfinder display > Screen | Viewfinder -> Forces one or the other display always-on.
    • Custom Function > 3 > Customize buttons > SET > Switch between VF/screen
    • This combination configures manual toggle and disables infrared sensor automatic toggle, though the VF will sleep when unused and wake based on the infrared sensor, as is ideal.
  • Thin out the information displays a bit to avoid clutter
    • Shoot > 7 > Shooting info display > Screen info settings
      • Disable all but the last two pages, which are mandatory. The camera state is indicated in the top panel LCD, making the rear screen redundant.
    • Shoot > 7 > Shooting info display > VF info/toggle settings
      • Disable page 2, leave 1 and 3 active.
    • Shoot > 7 > Shooting info display > Focus distance display > When Focusing
      • This shows the tape briefly when focusing in either mode, but clears the screen when settled.

Auto Speed Constraints

I’m glad to be able to set exposure minimums, especially with shutter speed, that allow me to prioritize image sharpness while leaning on automation almost entirely. Often the focal length reciprocal is not sufficient for street scenes, but wide variances in available light benefit from automating exposure decisions above a set “floor”, for example, going from a shadowed section of a city block where exposure values will bottom out to a narrow section of sunlight at an intersection, where exposure values may immediately risk blowout.

  • Minimum shutter speed in AUTO ISO mode w/Fv and Av modes
    • Shoot > 2 > ISO Speed Settings > Minimum shutter speed > <auto [slow|standard|fast] || range>
    • This setting varies by mode as listed in Custom Shooting Modes below. In my experience, using the auto setting is desirable for static scenery as it accounts for focal length when shooting in marginal light, such as around sunset and dusk assuming there is adequate ISO headroom. With Safety Shift enabled, the camera will violate the minimum shutter speed constraint if the exposure solution is unachievable. The safety shift feature may be set to violate either the minimum shutter or ISO constraints as suits your shooting style.

Custom Control Maps

As mentioned in Overview, one goal of this work is to match – to a reasonable extent – the behavior and controls of the Canon R5 to the Sony A7Rii and A7Sii. In an ideal case, I can select either camera based on mood and leverage my muscle memory. Why I use two systems is a good question for another day.

Note: Default settings are not listed. The behavior of some mappings depends on the configurations above.

Custom buttons

  • AF Point Select -> Switch to registered AF function (Around)
    • Cannot match this on A7’s.
    • This setting seems superfluous with AF initial point set as described in Autofocus Modes and Usage above. Leaving for now as a fallback for quick composition against a static target.
  • M-fn -> Dial Function (Drive mode, One Shot|Servo, Metering mode)
    • Cannot match this on A7’s(?), but the “Q”uick menu on the A7 can be edited down to a sparse config instead if useful.
    • I’ve not become accustomed to this button yet, and this setting is merely speculative.
  • Set -> Switch between VF/screen
    • Matched A7’s
    • This is useful for discretion and avoiding inadvertent input.
  • Multi-controllers -> Direct AF point selection
    • Similar to A7 back dial/d-pad point selection
    • For folks like me with mediocre hands, the multi-controller joystick is convenient to reach, but less efficient than using the touchscreen-as-trackpad mode. You really need long fingers to hit the touchpad while maintaining reach of the shutter button, I feel. To wit, with my right index finger on the shutter, I can reach just the upper right 1/8th of the back touchscreen with my thumb. Your mileage may vary (YMMV).

Custom dials

Note: The Sony A7Rii and A7Sii do not currently support mapping ISO to the thumb dial, which is a Canon R5 default. Following this constraint, I remapped the dials to match the Sony configuration. Mapping ISO on the back dial on either platform isn’t ideal, but I’m going with it for now as I prefer to have all three exposure variables directly accessible.

  • Thumb dial -> Av
    • Matched A7’s.
  • Back dial -> ISO
    • Matched A7’s.
    • This benefits somewhat from the back dial having moderate friction, so ISO is unlikely to change without deliberate input. On the A7’s, the back dial is a bit more loose and subject to inadvertent changes. I may find the return on investment isn’t worth this mapping in the future, TBD.

Custom Shooting Modes

Note: When configuring a custom mode, the shooting mode must be selected first, then all other options to be stored within the custom function memory. Changing the shooting mode will inherit that mode’s last option set, rather than inheriting the option set from a pre-set custom memory, so any other options customized within the individual memory will need to be reconfigured after the shooting mode is selected.

Note: Custom shooting modes are restored from memory each time the camera sleeps and wakes! If your memory setting is f/2.8, and you’ve stopped it down to f/5.6 to deal with shooting conditions, it will reset to f/2.8 after a sleep/wake. Configure memory settings to middle values to avoid being dragged too far out of range for given shooting conditions.

C1 Street

This mode relies on tracking autofocus and a fast minimum shutter to prioritize moving subjects, and leans heavily on high ISO as the sacrificial variable to prioritize sharpness. Evaluative metering mode prioritizes tracking focus spot.

  • Mode -> Av
    • Aperture-priority, for me and many I know, tends to be the dominant variable we select when negotiating what to control and what to leave automated. This is in part because the other two variables, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity, tend to lend themselves well to range-constrained automatics and compromise while aperture is a key component of framing.
  • Aperture -> 5.6
    • Selected as a mid-point to be saved in memory, so when the camera wakes one can quickly reach f/8 or f/2.8 with slight movements of the dial.
  • Minimum Shutter Speed -> 1/500
    • For my taste, 1/500th is the slowest I like to go for moving subjects, and while one might get away with a little slower, years of theatrical photography for dance have accustomed me to 1/500th for sharpness.
  • ISO -> 1600; (changed 11-JAN-2021) AUTO 400-25600
    • I find that I lean heavily on the auto ranging for quick shots rather than optimistically adjusting the ISO on the fly in heavily varied Manhattan lighting.
  • Drive mode -> Continuous-High; (changed 11-JAN-2021) Continuous-Low
    • Continuous high is just ludicrously fast for street scenes, ‘low’ is sensible, IMHO.
  • AF operation -> Servo
    • For tracking moving subjects, natch.
  • AF method -> Face and Tracking
    • The new tracking autofocus is one of the big selling points of the R5. It sort of goes without saying that this mode is the most compelling for general subjects, particularly when you’re shooting on the street and encounter anything from people to birds or vehicles.
  • Metering mode -> Evaluative
    • Take note that evaluative metering will bias towards the AF focal point in metering evaluation.

C2 Urban Scenery

This mode accommodates flexibility better suited for static scenes, where focus is acquired and locked from the center point, exposure measured from center point to be locked with the “*” button to enable high-contrast compositions (my favorite,) and an exposure bracket of 1 EV combined with Continuous-High drive to quickly capture 3-frame bursts (with AEB set, the drive operates in a burst manner, requiring the button to be depressed for each 3-frame cycle.)

  • Mode -> Av
    • Aperture-priority, for me and many I know, tends to be the dominant variable we select when negotiating what to control and what to leave automated. This is in part because the other two variables, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity, tend to lend themselves well to range-constrained automatics and compromise while aperture is a key component of framing.
  • Aperture -> 5.6
    • Selected as a mid-point to be saved in memory, so when the camera wakes one can quickly reach f/8 or f/2.8 with slight movements of the dial.
  • Minimum Shutter Speed -> Auto, Standard
    • Apply a minimum speed constraint based on focal length, where ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ are one stop shifts in speed from the focal length reciprocal. (see ISO Speed Settings for Still Photos).
  • ISO -> AUTO 400-25600
    • I’m leaning on the auto ranging a bit here also, because much of my shooting is within Manhattan where the lighting changes from block to block, but I admit that this range may be ‘lazy’ and I end up at the high end a lot more often than I should given the shooting conditions.
  • Drive mode -> Continuous-High
    • Continuous-High works here, unlike in Street, because it’s limited to 3-frame bursts by bracketing.
  • AF operation -> One Shot
    • Some may argue that with AI tracking and servo precision, I could get away without ‘One Shot’, but I’m not yet there and my old habit is to center-focus, lock, and re-compose the frame for static scenes.
  • AF mode -> One point
    • As mentioned above, I tend to select a point of focus, lock, and re-compose the frame as an old habit.
    • I’ve started to move the focus point around the frame with the multi-control joystick when composing. We’ll see if that sticks, it’s a bit of a luxury for static shots where I’m dwelling in one spot for awhile. (14-FEB-2021)
  • Metering mode -> Spot; (changed 14-FEB-2021) Evaluative
    • I prefer strong contrast scenes, so will often meter on the highlight I’m after and lock exposure there. I tend to use EV compensation to further pull down the shadows, coupled with the spot meter, but I admit I will shift EV comp around often to achieve some effect. There may be better ways to achieve this outcome, but this works for me now.
    • While I prefer strong contrast, I’m finding that my shooting style in this mode has shifted to appreciate the movable AF point more, using the multi-control joystick, and thus the metering point should follow that also. Evaluative offers meter biasing on the focus point, whereas spot metering is always taken from the frame center. (14-FEB-2021)
  • Auto Exposure Bracket -> 1 EV
    • I haven’t been a huge fan of bracketing before, but in the modern era, it’s so easy to catch 3 frames at high speed that the only downside is tossing the frames in post. Maybe in the future I’ll get back to exposing something once and pushing/pulling in post.

Appendix: Shooting Notes

Findings from 09-JAN-2021

  • Autofocus won’t detect this person in this scene with people+tracking mode set; figure out how to quickly adjust to center AF
    • FIXED by switching the Initial Servo AF pt for face+tracking setting to AF pt set for spot/zone modes.
  • Shutter speed dropped to 1/320th in program mode; figure out how to set a minimum shutter speed and save it to a contextual settings group, or perhaps use Fv mode for flexibility.
    • Fixed(?) by setting Shoot > 2 > ISO Speed Settings > Minimum shutter speed > 1/500th in conjunction with an Auto Range value of 400-25600, which appears to be the top end of useful ISO on this unit according to DPReview.
      • A brief in-home test shows the minimum speed will fall below 1/500th if the  maximum ISO is insufficient for the shooting condition, but only in Av or Program mode.
      • In program mode, the minimum shutter speed is only enforced at initial metering, if the program is shifted, the shutter value is no longer constrained, but if the AE lock timer elapses, the program shift will remain effective and the new AE solution will respect minimum shutter speed by raising ISO. The ISO is set at initial AE evaluation, but not again during the lock interval.
  • 135mm would have been amazing for the above shot, 70 is not enough.

Findings from 11-JAN-2021

  • Continuous Shutter – High Speed is too fast for everyday street photography. Continuous-Low is more managable for C1 mode.
  • I have ISO 1600 explicitly selected in C1 mode, but it lacks the latitude I need unless I sacrifice aperture flexibility. Since noise/color/dynamic range is a relatively modest consequence of ISO excess, I’ll enable a broad-latitude AUTO ISO.
  • I’m spoiled such that 70mm isn’t enough telephoto for my interests.

Findings from 14-FEB-2021

“Electric Dandelions” by Liquid Pxl, South Street Seaport – Billie-Grace Ward, CC0/Public Domain

Went out shooting the public art lighting installation at South Street Seaport last night. The photo attached above is unedited (RAW, processed by LightRoom and exported as JPEG w/Adobe RGB colorspace).

  • This was another session where I leaned heavily on the multi-control joystick to compose by moving the the focus spot within the frame to a point I felt was most suitable for focus and metering, typically the sphere at the center of the sculpture. I counted on the 1EV bracket I have set in this C2 memory, and the camera’s ample headroom for highlights to give me something to work with in post (shooting RAW files.)
  • The dynamic range is nice, but I didn’t do anything magical to get that (Auto ISO selected 2500).
  • Most of my attention was on framing the sculptures to create pleasing arrangements, I occasionally used the EV compensation shift when it felt right, but I can’t explain any particular rationale for that right now.

Appendix: Scratch Space

Notes on Metering Modes

  • Reference:
  • 4 Metering Modes (as is common,) evaluative, partial, spot, center-weighted average.
    • Question: Is it possible to have exposure weighted at a servo/tracking focus point? Put another way, if I want a partial-frame bias, can it track the focus point instead of the central region?
      • Answer: Yes, in evaluative mode, (see “AE Lock Effects” on Exposure Lock (AE Lock) page), the AF point in focus is biased, whether selected by tracking or by manual relocation of the autofocus zone. Note that in the other metering modes, only the central frame region is evaluated when AE lock engages.
      • Color: This December 2020 forum post offers some interesting insight into metering behavior on the R-series: You’ve hit the only gripe I have with Canon…
    • Important: Autoexposure locking behavior differs between evaluative mode and the remaining three modes. According to the notes section of the Canon reference page above, evaluative mode respects the shutter button half-press AE lock behavior, but in the remaining three modes, autoexposure evaluation continues until the picture is actually taken. It is not yet clear to me why this is inconsistent, but this behavior for “One-Shot Focus” may be modified by engaging a custom function (see AE lock meter. mode after focus).

Copyright 2021, Billie-Grace Ward, Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution