Canon EOS M5: Hands-on Review

I’ve been a fan of the Canon EOS M-series since it was introduced in 2012. After several iterations the camera bodies and system have come a long way, but in some respects still lag behind competitors.

Cautious Optimism

When the EOS M5 was announced September 15, 2016, I was intrigued, but did not instantly consider an upgrade from the M3. I mostly shoot landscape photographs. The EOS M5 sensor size and quality is essentially unchanged form the M3 and while the addition of dual-pixel (phase-detection) auto-focus (DPAF) to the M5 is fantastic I wasn’t sure if it would benefit me.

One of the best (and for some photographers, most annoying) features of the M3 is the optional/detachable tilting electronic viewfinder (EVF). I spent many years shooting exclusively with my iPhone and the Canon PowerShot S-series of compact cameras. When I started shooting with the original EOS M I did not miss a viewfinder at all, and, unlike many, had no problem shooting exclusively with the fixed rear screen. Thus, I felt the M3 gave me that best of both worlds: an ultra-compact inter-changeable lens camera (ILC) and the ability use a viewfinder when needed. I cannot understate how amazing the tilting function of the EVF is on the M3. It works so wonderfully at chest-level, when using a compact tripod, or for shooting ground-level landscapes and macros.

While I was looking forward to a more substantial grip on the M5 (I do occasionally shoot with larger EF lenses via the EF to EF-M adaptor), I was concerned about the added bulk of the built-in EVF and the lack of EVF tilting.

Canon EOS M3 w/ EVF vs. Canon EOS M5 (Front)
Canon EOS M3 w/ EVF vs. Canon EOS M5 (Front)

The other area of concern turned out to be a non-issue exacerbated by poor reviews. The M3 rear screen tilts up 180 degrees and down 90 degrees. While I have no interest in selfies, having a screen that tilts both up (for use on small tripods, at chest level, and low angle) and down (for shooting high-angles) is now essential for me. On the M5 the screen now tilts down 180 degrees, but every review (while quick to point out the selfie compatibility and video-blogger incompatibility of this camera) omitted wether or not the screen tilted up at all. A screen that does not tilt up seems like nonsense, but I thought maybe the EVF eyepiece interferes with tilting up in someway. This would have been a deal breaker for me. Alas, the M5 rear screen does tilt up 85 degrees (90 degrees would be better but the EVF would then be in the way a bit).

Wishes Granted

In early 2016, a thread on asked, “What Do You Want to See in the EOS M System?”

Having a very compact option already in the form of the M3, I was most interested in the M-series including a beefier premier body that borrowed more form Canon’s enthusiast DSLR bodies.

Let’s review my wish-list from last year and see if the M5 delivers.

  • built-in EVF — check
  • …with 90 degree tilt — nope, but I didn’t really think it would happen
  • built-in GPS or support for the GP-E2 (but built-in might kill the battery, so this is optional) — no
  • very slightly larger body — check
  • …at least slightly different back button layout (my palm often hits the menu button accidentally) — better and definitely more intuitive, but my palm still presses the menu button when holding larger lenses
  • vertical grip option with support for two batteries — nope, and this is still one of my major wish list items since I plan to use this body with a longer lens
  • use the same battery size as M3, please — check, yeah!
  • more pronounced back focus button (I use back button focus about 90% of the time and the one I can assign on the M3 is hard to locate by touch, especially with gloves) — better, the thumb-grip is more pronounced and the still-flush buttons are easier to locate
  • better than 4 frames RAW buffer (unlimited would be ideal) — check, 17 RAW or 26 large JPEG shots.
  • better than 4 frames per second continuous shooting (7 frames would be better) — check, 9 FPS or 7 FPS with Servo-AF
  • way faster autofocus — check, DPAF is a dream compared to the old sensor and on par with the Canon 80D DLSR from which it is borrowed

There were a few things I didn’t like about the M3 that I wanted changed:

  • the EVF contacts in the hotshoe broke support for the GP-E2 GPS receiver (doesn’t even work attached via USB) — GP-E2 mounts on the M5 but is still not recognized by the camera
  • button function assignment was not as flexible as it should be — much improved, almost any button can have any assignment (except the * button which is either exposure lock or focus in several different combinations along with the main shutter button). The multi-function top control dial and DIAL FUNC. button borrowed from the G-series and S-series is a brilliant addition.
  • not all menu items were saved in the Custom shooting mode, making it pretty useless — fixed, all shooting menu settings and anything added to MyMenu, including Custom Function items, can be saved in either C1 or C2.
  • autofocus with the screen magnified always switched the display to a zoomed out view — fixed
Canon EOS M5 w/ Canon EF-M 11-22mm 1:4-5.6 IS STM (Back)
Canon EOS M5 w/ Canon EF-M 11-22mm 1:4-5.6 IS STM (Back)

Big Brother Is Watching

Canon is not a company with a reputation for pandering to user requests. They are firmly entrenched as the professional DSLR

market leader (particularly in sports and editorial segments) and seem loathe to make radical changes to there camera body lines for fear of alienating their user base or, worse, messing up their profit margins. This is the common opinion in the blogosphere anyway. In some respects I agree, but am a little more lenient.

While Canon does seem to be a little cautious, they have actually been iterating quite quickly for the past three years. Proven features from pro-/enthusiast-DLSR bodies are trickling down the line and innovative functions from lower camera lines are being adopted by higher-end bodies. To me, the M-series is the middle ground where proven DSLR tech and innovations like touch-UI or the multi-function control dial can merge.

Canon don’t often offer firmware updates with feature additions, unlike, for example, Fujifilm. Canon firmware updates usually address performance issues (like the update to the original M which significantly improved AF). As cameras continue to be more about software choices though I can see this changing for Canon.

The fact that 11 of my fourteen wish-list and gripe-list items have been addressed in the EOS M5 show that Canon is, in some way, listening to its customers. (Also, none of my favourite features were removed. Yeah!) The three items that were not address (built-in GPS, tilting EVF, and vertical grip) are mostly forgivable omissions. I’d really like the grip, but understand the market for this accessory might not be substantial.

Auto-focus Overhaul

The DPAF system is a welcome if obvious improvement on the M5. The flagship M-body should always have Canon’s flagship live-view technology. Full-stop.

When shooting with the EVF the M5 allows you to use the touchscreen as a touch-pad control of the autofocus point (Touch & Drag AF). You can choose to use the full screen as the touch-pad, half the screen, or any quadrant. You can also choose to select the focus point via absolute position (like touching a smart phone display) or by relative position (like a laptop trackpad). I use the right-half of the screen in absolute mode and it is brilliant.

The M5’s subject recognition and tracking is pretty good, but Touch & Drag AF makes it so much better we will soon wonder how we ever shot without it. At the moment it is class leading. (Canon’s touchscreen adoption has always been one of the primary reasons I have chosen their MILC and compact cameras over Sony’s).

The M5’s improved auto-focus system (especially with adaptor-mounts lenses) combined with the EVF and easier to hold body led me to bight the bullet and acquire a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 super-telephoto zoom lens. I’ve wanted a lens in this class for a while but it never made sense on the smaller M-Series bodies. With he M3 I could really only wrap two fingers around the grip while my index finger was on the shutter button. With the M5 I can wrap three fingers around the grip — a big improvement that facilitates hand-holding this long lens.

The M5’s increased FPS and shot buffer also facilitate more action oriented shooting.

Other Noteworthy (Minor) Features


Canon’s smartphone integration has always been okay (better than competitors I understand) but not brilliant. The inclusion of Bluetooth LE and ability to use the iPhone as a wireless remote control is a nice addition to the M5. The Bluetooth remote is much faster than initiating a Wifi connection and even faster than digging my wireless remote out of the camera bag.

Shooting Display Settings

I don’t do a lot of studio shooting these days, and when I do I use my Speedlites 90% of the time, but occasionally I need to use my studio strobe lights. With the M3 it was difficult to use strobes because, while the exposure was set to match the flash, composing and focusing used the much dimmer modelling lights and the screen/viewfinder image appeared very dim. With optical viewfinder (OVF) cameras the viewfinder is always as bright as it can be. The M5’s “Exposure simulation” setting allows you to turn of screen dimming with slow shutter speeds or smaller apertures so the screen/viewfinder remains bright under the modelling lights.

The M5 EVF shows a nice combination of information. It is not huge though and with glasses on I struggle to see the corners of the image in the EVF. Luckily the “VF display format” setting allows you to shrink the sensor image display by about 80% for greater eye relief. (The side shooting info icons stays in the same absolute position when the image display is shrunk, now displayed on black for better contrast. The bottom shooting exposure data is always displayed on a black bar at the bottom of the EVF.) It’s little customizations like this that make an EVF more flexible compared to an OVF.

Auto ISO

The M5 is the first in the M-series to include Auto ISO. The control of this feature is limited however, providing only the ability to set the maximum automatic ISO. This is very far behind the competition.

Frankly, I have never understood what all the fuss of Auto ISO is about. I shoot in Manual exposure mode 99% of the time. Occasionally I use Aperture or Shutter priority but I am rarely satisfied with the results. I understand Auto ISO gives you better creative control, letting you to lock in both the shutter speed and the amount of desired depth of field while allowing the camera to deal with changes in scene brightness, however, I feel that if you want that level of control you are better off switching to full manual exposure. People who swear by Auto ISO also tend to put a high importance on a dedicated Exposure Compensation dial, as this seems to be how they control the brightness of the image. Doesn’t an easy to change ISO dial do the same thing?

If Auto ISO (or Av or Tv) was so brilliant then I’d expect it to handle gross scene brightness changes such as the subject moving from direct light to shade and during burst shooting each frame should have relatively similar exposures. This is not the case though and when I shoot auto-anything bursts I too often end up with the best composed frame being over or under exposed and the best exposed frame being the one with less than perfect composition/timing.

On the M5 the top control dial can be set to default to ISO adjustment. Thus a photographer can have a dedicated shutter speed  dial (front main dial), a dedicated aperture dial (rear dial), and a dedicated ISO dial (top dial). Adjust for brightness using the ISO dial rather than the exposure compensation dial.

I judge exposure via the histogram 99% of the time. I make sure the whites are not clipping (except if a light source is in the scene) and boost my shadows in post-processing if needed (which is most of the time for average- or high-contrast scenes). I don’t understand why there is not an option to indicate over/under-exposure on the histogram.1 I can’t quickly check both the histogram and exposure indicator since they are always on opposite sides of the display. Thus I use the over/under-exposure indicator as a secondary indicator at best and don’t often use the exposure compensation dial.

If I did use auto-exposure more often then perhaps I would care if Auto ISO had more configuration options. As it is, I don’t.

In-Camara Raw Processing

New to the M5 is in-camera RAW processing (also added to the G7 X Mark II which makes a tempting upgrade). I shoot RAW 99.99% of the time. The only time I shoot JPEG is if I use the built-in HDR function or if (in the past) I needed a faster burst rate. When Canon started including Wifi on there bodies I switched to shooting RAW+JPEG when travelling without a laptop so I could easily transfer images to my iPhone/iPad for mobile sharing. I’d delete the JPEGS once transferred to the computer. Adobe Lightroom Mobile’s support for RAW images and processing largely make the RAW+JPEG workflow redundant. Now, with in-camera RAW processing I can just shoot RAW and generate JPEGs in camera for the few images I want to share but don’t want to bother processing in Lightroom Mobile. Less wasted card space. Less wasted buffer and camera processing. Faster desktop offloading.

(The first step in my RAW workflow is to apply a custom Camera Calibration created specifically for a given camera with an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport calibration target. For in-camera JPEGs I create a custom PictureStyle which mimics the custom Camera Calibration profile and install that Picture Style on my camera. In other words, I never use Canon’s built-in JPEG colour processor.)


The M5 is limited to 1080p video. I personally think 4k video is overkill the majority of the time and frankly I maybe shoot 3 minutes of video a year (and use about 15 seconds of that), so video features mean little to me. I can imagine that Touch & Drag AF would be particularly useful for shooting video as other reviewers have stated. The M5 does include 5-axis in-body image-stabilization (IBIS) for video only, adding stabilization to non-stabilized lenses, or better stabilization to compatible already stabilized lenses. I have not tested this functionality but it is nice to know it is there.

Room for improvement

After several weeks of almost continuous use I haven’t found too many problems I’d like to see addressed in future iterations or firmware updates. The M5 is a solid camera.

Tilting EVF

I so rarely use the built-in flash I wouldn’t mind sacrificing it to have a tilting EVF. Besides low-angle macro/landscape work, a tilting EVF is handy for chest-level shooting. I am a bit over average height and shooting people from eye-level means either looking down on my subject or getting a soar back. This is a major reason why many famous photographers, including Diane Arbus, Cecil Beaton, Robert Capa, Robert Doisneau, Alfred Eisenstadt, Vivian Meier, Imogen Cunningham, and Richard Avedon used Rolleiflex TLR cameras — people should generally be shot straight-on and this means lower than photographer eye-level. Of course, on 35mm or APS-C, a tilting EVF would not help in portrait orientation, and a solid hot shoe is always a higher priority.

Being forced to use the eye-level viewfinder now I was also “forced” to acquire a new larger tripod (Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3). (Honestly, I needed a stiffer tripod for use with the Tamron 150-600mm, so I can’t completely blame the EVF.)

EVF/Liveview Blackout

Even though the AF and drive system of the M5 is much improved over its predecessors, the M5 still lags (pun intended) behind the competition when it comes to screen blackout during continuous shooting. EVF will never replace OVF for sports and action until this is sorted out. Its an industry-wide problem, but Canon should be at least as good as the strongest MILC competition at this point.

EVF/Screen Auto-switching

By default the M5 is configured to automatically switch between the EVF and the rear screen display when the camera is raised/lowered. This is facilitated by a proximity sensor near the EVF. The auto-switching function works great if the rear screen is used in the flat/stored position. If I tilt the screen up, then my thumb tends to trigger the proximity sensor often, which is nothing but annoying. In reality, the camera should switch to the rear screen anytime the screen is moved from the stored position as the EVF physically cannot be used. This is something that can be fixed with a  firmware update and has been noted by other reviewers. For now, I have turned off the auto-switch and assigned a manual switch to the trash button during shooting (I have to remember to switch screens before entering playback mode).

DIAL FUNC. In Playback Mode

In playback mode the DIAL FUNC. button is inactive and the top control dial is dedicated to increasing/decreasing magnification, which defeats the purpose of having a MULTI-FUNCTION dial. And since I can assign magnification to the * and AF Point buttons I would like to be able to assign another function, such as EVF/Screen switching to the top control dial. During playback other possible assignable functions of the top control dial include star-rating, image protection, rotation, creative filters, etc. And off course magnification.

Touch Actions In Playback

The G7X has a nice feature in Playback mode called Touch Actions. When viewing a recorded image you can touch and drag up or down and then towards one of the screen corners to select a user-assignable action (e.g., favourite, protect, erase, rotate, send to connected device, or jump through images). For the travelling photographer these functions are very handy as a lot of image editing and management takes place in-camera. I am shocked that the M5 does not have this feature. Touching the big, beautifully touchscreen during playback does nothing but scroll through images or an image index. The EVF is not a barrier to adding Touch Actions as the rear screen could still be used as a touchpad, vis-a-vis Touch & Drag AF, during playback.


The EF-M lens line-up continues to grow but there a few obvious gaps.

The lens that came in my M5 kit, the 8.3x super-zoom EF-M 18-150mm 1:3.5-6.3 IS STM, is another nice addition. With this lens I don’t have to choose which zoom range to carry, though probably with the trade-off of a bit of speed and sharpness. This lens is not natively supported by Lightroom yet and I am still in the process of creating a custom lens profile so I haven’t come to any hard conclusions about it.

The compact Canon EF-M 28mm F3.5 Macro IS STM is also interesting lens, but I have not yet had a chance to try it out.

The big gap in the EF-M lens line-up is obviously fast-anything. The 22 f/2 is the lone prime in the line-up but it is relatively slow focusing.

The following wide/normal primes in f/1.8 or f/2 would be welcome options: 15mm, 18mm, 35mm (equivalent to 25mm, 28mm, and 56mm respective in FF).

A fast f/1.4 or f/1.8 portrait lens would also be appreciated, in the 55mm range (an 85mm FF equivalent).

The current line-up of image-stabilized zooms are compact and good for all-round photography, but for lower light and action (indoor and sports) a fast f/2.8 suite would be ideal: 11-22mm (2x), 18-55mm (3x), 55-165mm (3x).

Canon EF-M Lenses 2016
The majority of the Canon EF-M lens lineup as of the end of 2016. From left to right: 22m f/2 pancake, 11-22mm f/4–5.6 wide-angle zoom, 18-55mm f/3.5–5.6 standard zoom, 18-150mm f/3.5–6.3 telephoto super-zoom, and 55-200mm f/4.5–6.3 telephoto zoom. The EF-M 28mm f/3.5 macro and 15–45 mm f/3.5–6.3 zoom are not shown.


The Canon EOS M5 is a significant update over its predecessor, the M3, and is arguably Canons first formidable entry in the MILC market. It is also a very well-built, adaptable, and enjoyable camera in its own right. Initially I hesitated to upgrade, but now I will not likely be using my M3 except when I need a very compact camera body or a back-up (the M3 image quality is essential the same as the M5).

I’d still be interested in a full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens (MILC) body from Canon. We mays see this in 2017 or early 2018. There are currently rumours of a Canon EOS M6 announcement slated for this month, but not many details about what that body might entail.

  1. The over/under exposure indicator is a logarithmic scale while the histogram is a linear scale, so one indicator can’t really take on both rolls. However, it would be nice to see at least a pointer indicating mean exposure as part of the histogram. For centre-weighted average exposure metering the pointer would essentially indicate the weighted-mean of the histogram. For spot metering, the pointer would indicate the location of the measured spot brightness relative to the rest of the histogram.

Canon PowerShot G7 X


Prior to the recent Photokina in Germany there were many rumours about what products Canon might introduce. On the DSLR front, there was much expectation for a new EOS 7D Mark II, and that wish was granted. I think the surprise of the show (simply because nobody was expecting it before-hand) was the the introduction of the PowerShot G7 X. Following the discussions in camera forums after its introduction, it is clear that the high-end compact is an important camera segment and that this camera in particular may have been the most important release by Canon this year.

The high-end compact camera segment sits somewhere below interchangeable mirrorless cameras and above traditional small-sensor point-and-shoots. I have been shooting with Canon S-series cameras for years (S80, S90, S110) and would describe that series as being in the high-end compact segment. They provide full manual control, have fast, wide lenses, and allow you to save raw files. Sony raised the bar several years ago when they introduced the the famous RX100 with it’s large 1 inch-type sensor. I considered the RX100 when I bought my S110 two years ago, but at more than double the price, I wasn’t sure if it was a piece of equipment I wanted to carry with me on canoe trips, backpacking, skiing, or on slightly dodgy travel forays. I went with the S110 and love the pictures and usability of that camera (I also have an EOS M so I have a larger sensor and better lenses when I need them and still in a fairly compact package — no amateur needs a mirrored DSLRs).

When the G7 X was introduced I was immediately intrigued. For the past two or three years the point-and-shoot category has been dying a speedy death due to competition from smartphones. However, for me there will probably always be a place for a quality manual compact camera. Unless the physics of the universe are altered, smartphones will just never a have room for a fast zoom lens and a sensor larger than the head of a pin. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the camera in my iPhone 5 — not to mention the 5S and 6-series — especially with the addition of more manual control in iOS 8.)

The G7X is clearly designed to compete head-to-head with the latest edition of the the RX100 III. The rumour is that it even uses uses the same Sony-built 20.2 megapixel sensor. Couple that large sensor, with an amazing Canon lens with image stabilization, the DiG!C 6 processor with 6-frames per second shooting capability, a tilting screen, and cram all that into a body that is not much larger than the S120, and you are going to have a winner.

Of course I am not the first to review the G7 X, so I won’t cover what others have already said. Instead, I’ll highlight some of the key differences compared to the RX100 (good and bad, based on my very limited hands-on experience) and note some of my favourite features.

The first thing you will notice when handling the the G7 X is that clicky-ness of the large front control ring. While some may enjoy the positive detent action of the ring, forget about using this noise-maker while shooting video. I feel that Canon could have made the click action less aggressive. Based on my experience with the S110, I doubt it will become smoother over time. This may be a deal breaker for some potential buyers. The RX100 front control ring is smooth as butter in comparison. I don’t shoot video, and like other reviewers I prefer some positive detent action in the control ring.

The G7 X does not have an electronic view-finder (EVF). The RX100 does and it seems pretty darn nice. Again, for some buyers this will be the deciding factor. I haven’t looked through a viewfinder in 5 years. I do 90% of my shooting outside (70% of that around water or on snow). While an EVF would be brighter than a naked LCD screen, especially in daylight conditions, squinting through a little hole taking pictures is not my kind of fun, so the EVF is more of a nice-to-have than an important feature for me.

The G7 X screen tilts up 180°. This is great for low angle shots and (god forbid) selfies. I keep wanting it to tilt down too, so I can compose while holding the camera up high, but it doesn’t. I’ll get over it. The RX100 screen tilts both up and down. This is great, though the Canon hinge mechanism is much, much, much simpler and seems less likely to be damaged. The G7 X also has a touchscreen (the RX 100 does not). Try entering a Wifi password with a dial versus the touchscreen keyboard and you’ll realize how valuable this feature is.

The G7 X includes an exposure compensation dial under the mode dial. I love this feature when shooting in aperture or shutter priority modes. The S-series has always had an exposure compensation button which gave one-click access to this feature. The RX100 has a button as well. A dedicated dial is even better though.

By all accounts the Canon lens on the G7 X is fantastic, and my own tests so far confirm this. It has a longer zoom range that the RX100, extending from an equivalent 24 mm to 100 mm. The aperture varies from ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/2.8 depending on the focal length which is nice and fast even at 100 mm. Variable aperture lenses are not all created equal. Sometimes they stop down to smaller apertures fairly early in the zoom range. Not so with the G7 X. I saw a chart, which of course I cannot find now, which compares the maximum equivalent apertures at various focal lengths across the high-end compact segment — the G7 X is the clear winner in this spec compared to the RX100. Couple the zoom range and the fast aperture with image stabilization and the low-noise CMOS sensor and you get great photos even in very low light situations.

[table th=”1″]
Zoom range and maximum aperture
24 mm,f/1.8
35 mm,f/2.2
50 mm,f/2.5
85 mm,f/2.8

For me the deciding factor when choosing between the RX100 III and the G7 X was Canon’s superior interface usability. Canon’s button and menu system are highly refined. Everything is there when you need it and hidden when you don’t. Button and front control ring functions are highly customizable. Even the icons shown on the settings screen can be moved or hidden (e.g., I never change the compression level so I don’t need to see that setting, ever). While I don’t have a tonne of experience with other camera brands, I have used some that have downright atrocious menu systems. The Rx100 seems very customizable, but Canon is consistently reviewed as having some of the best ergonomics and usability. The touchscreen helps in this regard. And, the fact is, I can pick up any Canon camera and use it’s most basic or most advanced features with out any sort of learning curve. I want shooting to be fun and intuitive. If something is annoying, I won’t use it. End of story.

I can highly recommend the Canon G7 X. You really should also look at the Sony RX100 III. Sony pioneered the 1 inch-type sensor high-end compact segment and it is about time that Canon stepped into the ring. The G7 X and RX100 are both fully-capable manual cameras. If this segment is for you and you are in the market for a new camera, simply buy the one that feels the best in your hands and go out there and shoot something.


[table th=”0″]
Item,Canon PowerShot G7 X
Pros,”wide and fast lens, large sensor, compact body, customizable, touchscreen, ergonomics”
Cons,”aggressive detents in front control dial, lack of EVF”
Summary,”Finally, a competitor to Sony’s venerable Rx100 series, with an even better lens. If you are a serious amateur looking for a compact manual camera, this could be the one. Long live high-end compacts.”


Some sample images taken over the first few days with the G7 X.

Manual this, auto that

I think the portraits, hands, coffee, rocks, and Rocky Mountain Ash leaves were shot in full manual mode with auto-focus. The flower vase was shot in manual mode with manual focus and focus bracketing. The grass and berries were shot full manual with manual focus. The red leaf bush in front of the gold leaf bush was shot with the in-camera HDR mode — some ghosting is visible due to branches moving in the wind.


Most images were shot between 125 and 320 ISO. The coffee and leaves on a wooden table were shot at 1600 ISO. The flower vase was shot at 6400 ISO.


The hands and the first portrait were shot with “cloudy” white-balance. The coffee through to the last portrait were shot with auto white-balance (I would prefer most of them to be a bit warmer). The ash leaves and flower vase were shot with daylight white-balance (even though they were not taken in direct sunlight).


Though I shot RAW+JPEG, these images are all taken straight from the JPEG versions imported into iPhoto (except for the coffee shot which had some manual adjustments applied to recover some shadow detail and tweak the colour balance).

Opinel No. 7 Carbon-steel Folding Knife Detailed Review

This is a follow up to my initial review of the Opinel No. 7 carbon-steel folding knife. I have been using this knife for about 10 days now. I’ve kept it with me almost constantly throughout this time (except while sleeping and showering) and I’ve tried to use it as much as possible. Here are my impressions.

Opinel Carbon-steel Folding Knife No. 7

A Good Everyday Knife

As I noted in my initial review, it took a bit of tuning up before I was happy with this knife. After that initial work though, this knife has been a pleasure to carry and use. I appreciate its lightness, and rarely notice that it is in my pocket. The handle is very comfortable, though I do feel the No. 8 would fit my hand better.

Opening, Closing, and Locking

Opinel Carbon-steel Folding Knife No. 7 — Lock DetailThe folding mechanism is very smooth. I actually like that it does not have a spring tension lock like the type found on most folders, Swiss Army knives, etc. the lack of spring resistance means that the folding action of the Opinel is very smooth — almost effortless. Engaging the fingernail opener slot is sometimes difficult, but almost not necessary. Just disengage the hinge lock, and pull the blade open with your thumb and forefinger.

The fastest method of engaging and disengaging the hinge lock is with a quick swipe of the thumb of your knife holding hand. This is fast, but the lock mechanism does tend to dig into the pad of the thumb. On the plus side, I am getting a nice callous on my thumb.

Blade Performance and Maintenance

I have used the knife to cut just about every material I have encountered over the previous ten days: packing tape, cardboard, envelopes, cheese, bread, pâté, plastic, wood, epoxy, string, etc.

Though a bit short, the blade excelled in the kitchen and for simple food prep tasks. I would not hesitate to keep this knife as a permanent addition to my hiking/skiing lunch bag kit.

The blade performed very good in wood, doing light carving tasks. It was also great for opening packages, etc.

Opinel Carbon-steel Folding Knife No. 7 — Blade Detail
Blade damage after cutting moderately hard material

I did find that the blade tends to lose its edge quite quickly. After cutting anything even moderately hard, the edge is noticeable marred and wanting a quick sharpen. The good news is that the carbon-steel is easy to touch up. Plan to keep a small diamond file around if you get an Opinel carbon knife. A dull knife is dangerous as you have to exert more force and therefore increase the likelyhood of slipping.

One of the first impressions I had about this knife is that its blade is quite thin and flexible. It has a single bevel grind that goes all the way from the edge to the back of the blade (“full-flat” grind). In use, the blade does not flex as much as I thought it might, but still it would not be the best knife choice for heavier work. I have a Leatherman and a medium-size Wenger folder that I wouldn’t hesitate to use carving heavy wood, cutting rope, repairing a canoe, etc., but I would avoid using an Opinel in these cases.

I’ve been pretty good about cleaning and maintaining the blade over my short usage period with this knife. If I used the knife with food and had to clean it with water, I dried it well and applied a thin coat of olive oil (because that is what sits on our kitchen counter all the time). I have had no problem with rust spots or tarnishing. I am curious to see how the carbon-steel holds up over the long term.

Summary and Specifications

Opinel folding knives seem to be a real bargain. The No. 7 is a compact and lightweight folder that would be a good everyday knife. You won‘t even notice it in your pocket, and it will stand up to most typical tasks you will encounter. If you need a serious work knife, consider something else, or try one of the larger Opinel sizes. If you are hard on gear and don‘t feel up to the task of maintaining a carbon-steel blade, then consider getting the Opinel stainless-steel version instead.

Opinel Carbon-steel Folding Knife No. 7 — Open

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Item,Opinel No. 7 Carbon-steel Folding Knife
Materials,”Beechwood handle, carbon-steel blade, stainless-steel lock”
Length,”77 mm (3 in) blade, 177 mm (7 in) overall, 100 mm (4 in) closed”
Weight,”37 g (1.3 oz)”
Availability, or
Pros,”lightweight, comfortable handle, easy to open/close/lock, easy to sharpen, nice aesthetic”
Cons,”factory finish needs some tuning-up, carbon-steel requires more care, requires sharpening often, light-duty blade, handle is small in average male hand”
Summary,A good value folding-knife for everyday light-duty use.