First published 15 May 2023. Last updated 30 May 2023.

In the summer of 2022, I bought a Canon M50 Mark II and have been using it since then for bird photography.

This body appears to have been designed mainly for beginners and vloggers, so it needs some tuning to make it suitable for a wildlife photographer. Here I describe what I’ve done to configure it, how I use it in the field, and some of its remaining inconveniences and deficiencies.

Snowy Egret. Canon M50 Mark II at 350 mm (cropped to 425 mm), f/8, 1/500 second, and ISO 125.


Why write this in 2023? The Canon EF-M line is clearly not going to be developed any further, so surely an M50 Mark II is a road to nowhere?

First, I’m writing for existing M50 Mark II users, to help them use their bodies for wildlife photography.

Second, if you are already using EF/EF-S lenses on a Canon EF-S DSLR body, then I think buying a M50 Mark II at the clearance prices currently being offered ($600 new, often lower) and adding an EF-M to EF adapter ($70 new) will give you quite useful “mirrorless EOS Rebel”. This will allow you to continue to use your existing lenses, but will give you additional mirrorless features such as subject tracking, Eye AF, wider AF areas, and an EVF. A similar upgrade would be a RF body such as an R50 ($800), R10 ($900), or R7 ($1400), but they are all more expensive. When you’re ready to replace the M50 Mark II, you can choose a suitable RF body.

Finally, even though I’ve not used an R50, it seems to be very similar to the M50 Mark II, and so perhaps some of the ideas I present here will be useful to R50 owners looking to use their bodies for wildlife.

House Sparrow. Canon M50 Mark II at 350 mm (cropped to 525 mm), f/8, 1/250 second, and ISO 1000.


The longest native lens is the Canon EF-M 55-200 mm f/4-6.3 IS STM and there are no native extenders. That’s really not long enough for a lot of wildlife photography; all of the photographs I show here were taken with a 350 mm lens and then cropped in.

That said, there are plenty of EF-S and EF lenses that can be adapted.

Since the body doesn’t have stabilization, you will want a lens that does. Fortunately, most long EF and EF-S lenses do have stabilization, with the notable exception of the EF 400 mm f/5.6L.

I use the Canon EF-S 55-250 mm f/4-5.6 IS STM ($300 new and $150 used) with the Kenko TELEPLUS HD 1.4× DGX extender (one of the few extenders that is compatible with EF-S lenses and $150 new), which together give me an 80-350 mm f/5.6-8. It’s not fast, but it’s adequate for use in daylight.

Other EF-mount lenses worth considering are the Sigma 100-400 f/5-6.3 ($700 new and $400 used) and Sigma 150-600 mm f/5-6.3 C ($900 new and $600 used). Of course, you can spend thousands of dollars on a lens, but if you’re going to do that, you should also consider getting a more capable body such as an R7 or R10.

Vermillion Flycatcher. Canon M50 Mark II at 350 mm (cropped to 620 mm), f/8, 1/250 second, and ISO 1000.


Let me make some general comments on the controls, as these will help frame what I have to say later.

In wildlife photography you often need to adjust the shutter speed or AF method in a fraction of a second. For example, it’s common to have one custom mode for birds in flight (fast shutter speed and wide AF area) and another for perched birds (slower shutter speed and single-point AF area), and to be able to switch between them just by turning the mode dial or pushing a button. Here, the M50 Mark II falls short: it has no custom modes.

The controls on the M50 Mark II. On the top plate, the <M-Fn> button, shutter button, and <Record> button (marked with a red dot). On the back, from top to bottom, the <AEL> button (marked with a star), <AF> button (marked with a grid), <Info> button, the <Up>/<Down>/<Left>/<Right> buttons around the <Set> button, and finally the <Playback> and <Menu> buttons.

The next thing to recognize is that the M50 Mark II has very limited buttons and they’re also not created equal:

One positive to the M50 Mark II is the excellent touch screen interface. In particular, you can use it as a touchpad to select the AF point.

At first I tried using the default mapping to change the AF method (<AF> then <M-Fn>) and magnification (<AF> then <Info>), but reaching the <AF> button was too awkward. After some experimentation, I settled on this mapping:

With this, I can largely control the most important camera functions for wildlife — exposure time, autofocus, and magnification — with the first finger and thumb of my right hand while looking through the viewfinder.

Elsewhere in the shooting menus, I disable continuous AF (which focuses the camera all of the time) both to save batteries and because it messes up my prefocusing (see below), I enable touch & drag AF (since this is essential to the way I work with AF), I turn off review (since reviewing images automatically can cause me to miss action), and I turn on exposure simulation (so that the view in the viewfinder reflects the exposure).

Monk Parakeet. Canon M50 Mark II at 350 mm (cropped to 650 mm), f/8, 1/400 second, and ISO 320.


I almost always use manual exposure mode with Auto ISO. This gives me control over the true exposure variables — shutter speed and aperture — and has the camera adjust the ISO to give an adequately bright representation of the scene.

In this mode, the control dial around the shutter button by default controls shutter speed. This is probably the most important variable for wildlife photography. I’d rather shoot fast enough to freeze motion and pay the penalty in noise, as modern noise-reduction algorithms can do wonders, but motion blur is much more difficult to fix.

If I’m photographing a moving bird, I’ll want a shutter speed of 1/1000 second or faster. If the bird is stationary, I can reduce the shutter speed to 1/250 second and get a cleaner image. That’s especially important with a slow lens on a body with an APS-C sensor.

If I need to change aperture or exposure compensation, I use the exposure compensation function (on the <Up> button), which toggles the control dial between changing the shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation.

That said, my main lens is a 350 mm with a slow aperture of f/8, so I tend to use it wide open and rarely change the aperture.

I also don’t tend to change the exposure compensation according to the scene. Instead, I habitually work with “Highlight Tone Priority” enabled. This effectively takes the image with the ISO 1 stop lower than normal (for example, ISO 100 when the metering would suggest ISO 200) and then makes the appropriate adjustments so that the image appears correctly exposed when displayed. The net effect is to give 1 additional stop to the highlights (for example, white feathers) at the cost of 1 less stop in the shadows. In Av and Tv modes, this normally comes with a noise penalty equivalent to underexposing by 1 stop, but in M mode there is no such penalty since the shutter speed and aperture are set explicitly.


I tend to use low-speed continuous drive mode, which gives about 4 frames per second. I find that I can’t track birds in flight in high-speed mode, I think because the camera just plays back the last image taken rather than showing a live view. The high-speed mode is useful for photographing birds taking flight or landing.

Great Egret. Canon M50 Mark II at 350 mm (cropped to 460 mm), f/8, 1/1600 second, and ISO 320.

Auto Focus

I mainly use Servo AF (continuous AF) with Tracking AF (where the focus point follows the subject). I am quite happy with their reliability.

For birds in flight, I simply press the shutter button and allow the camera to pick the AF points. If the bird stands out from the background, the camera has no problem finding it. However, it’s not perfect and, for example, when I’m photographing swallows over water it will sometimes focus on the ripples in the water rather than the birds.

If I allow the camera to pick the AF points, it often chooses to focus on the bird’s body and that can mean the head and eye is slightly out of focus. Therefore, for perched or stationary birds or for birds moving more slowly, such as swimming waterfowl, I tend to use my thumb to position the AF tracking point on their head and then half-press the shutter button to initiate AF. (Unlike the R50, the M50 Mark II does not automatically track animals’ eyes, so you do need to pick the focus point manually.) Most of the time, tracking works fine and I can recompose at will.

My other main AF method is Spot AF. I use it when Tracking AF fails to pick up the subject, for example, sometimes when a bird is among foliage. I also use it to gain access to magnification, as I will describe below. To select Spot AF, I press AF Method (on the <M-Fn> button) twice (once to enter the AF Method menu and then again to shift one position to Spot AF) and then half-press the shutter to leave the menu and initiate AF. I can move the AF point with my thumb on the touch screen.

Back-button focus is very popular for its ability to allow you to rapidly switch between one-shot AF, servo AF, and MF. However, I found that assigning AF start to the <AEL> button doesn’t work well with Tracking AF, since I use my thumb to select the focus point using the back screen as a touch screen, and then have to move my thumb to the <AEL> button to initiate tracking.

Instead, I have put AF-OFF on the <AEL> button. This seems to work better. First, most of the time I do want to AF before exposing, and for this all I do is use the shutter button. Second, I don’t need to use my thumb to both select the focus point and initiate AF; I use my thumb to select the AF point and my first finger on the shutter button to initiate AF. Third, if I need to use MF, then my thumb has nothing else to do so it’s free to press AF-OFF. Finally, my camera is set-up so that I can hand it to someone else and it will work as they expect.

Song Sparrow. Canon M50 Mark II at 350 mm (cropped to 540 mm), f/8, 1/640 second, and ISO 200.


I find that when the autofocus system loses focus, it tends to move the lens to the minimum focus distance. If I leave it there, then the next time I want to focus on a bird, the tracking system will not work well (since the image is so out of focus) and it will take the lens a few seconds to move to a more distant focus.

I compensate for this by prefocusing. I select something — a tree, some grass, a park bench, it really doesn’t matter what — at roughly the distance I expect to find my next subject and focus on it. I do this both when the AF system has got lost and when I’m switching back to my walk-around settings. When I want to focus on my next subject, I have a better chance of starting from a position that is closer to focus, so that tracking will work and focus will be quicker.


I use magnification to help identify birds in the field. Magnification doesn’t work with Tracking AF, for reasons best known to Canon, so I have to switch to Spot AF first.

To select Spot AF, I press AF Method (on the <M-Fn> button) twice (once to enter the AF Method menu and then again to shift one position to Spot AF) and then half-press the shutter to leave the menu and initiate AF. After this, I can press Magnification (on the <Record> button) to magnify the EVF by 5× and once again to magnify it by 10×.

The viewfinder gives 1× magnification with a 50 mm lens (that is, an object seen through the viewfinder with a 50 mm lens appears to be the same size as the object seen with the naked eye), so with my 350 mm lens I have effectively 7×, 35×, and 70× magnification, all with stabilization. Given this, I normally don’t bother carrying a monocular or binocular while I’m birding.

Cattle Egret. Canon M50 Mark II at 350 mm (cropped to 430 mm), f/8, 1/400 second, and ISO 320.

Manual Focus

There are times when I need to use manual focus. For example, I might need to avoid having the AF system focus on closer foliage.

To do this, I simply press AF-OFF (on the <AEL> button) and immediately the lens is in MF mode. There is no need to move the AF/MF switch on the lens. Furthermore, with Spot AF the body automatically shows a magnified view in the EVF during manual focus.

Walk-Around Settings

When I’m moving on from a bird, I switch back to my walk-around settings so that I am ready for the sudden appearance of a new bird. They are:

This is fine for slower birds in flight, not too far from my settings for perching birds (perhaps click the shutter speed down to maybe 1/250 second), and not too far from my settings for faster birds in flight (perhaps click the shutter speed up to 1/2000 or 1/4000 second).

House Finch. Canon M50 Mark II at 350 mm (cropped to 830 mm), f/8, 1/250 second, and ISO 1000.

Power Management

Mirrorless cameras used to be notorious for having short battery lives. Recent generations are much better, but still it’s worth taking some care.

I have set the viewfinder and display to switch off after 1 minute and the camera to switch off after 3 minutes. Switching back on just requires a half-press and is quick. I tend to show the settings on the display, and I think this probably uses less power than showing an image.

With these settings, I can get 2–3 hours of use and 1000 images from one battery. I still carry spares, of course.


Here are some quick recipes that my fingers now carry out almost instantly when needed.

With Tracking AF:

With Spot AF:

To switch from Tracking AF to Spot AF:

To switch from Spot AF to Tracking AF:

To select magnification:

To use MF:

Additional Notes

Other Button Mappings

One thing to consider is that AF Method and Magnification are available by pressing the <AF> button followed by the <M-Fn> button (for AF Method) or the <Info> button (for Magnification). Using these would free up the <M-Fn> and <Record> buttons for other functions.

I personally prefer to have quicker access to these functions and so have mapped them to allow access to them with a single press of an easily accessed button. However, you might have different priorities. For example, the <Record> button might be useful for ISO or exposure compensation (including aperture).

I also note that I tried putting AF Method on the record button, however, pressing twice does nothing — it enters and leaves the AF method menu. Instead, you have to press once, select the AF Method with the control dial, and then either press again or half-press the shutter to leave. Putting AF Method on the M-Fn button is much more convenient, since the first press takes you into the AF method selection menu, and then each subsequent press selects the next method. It’s also easier to reach with my finger.