Broadly speaking, compact system cameras (CSCs) can be divided into two groups; those that are designed to look and feel like mini-SLRs, and those that have a more rectangular appearance and look more like compact cameras.
The mini-SLR style CSCs are usually better specified, having key features like an electronic viewfinder and built-in flash, while the compact-style cameras are often a little more spartan, with some such as the Sony NEX distinguishing themselves with luxurious additions.
Canon has opted to go down the compact-camera style route for the M, and has shied away from giving it a viewfinder or a pop-up flash.
Although there's no port to attach an external viewfinder, there is a hotshoe to attach an external flashgun (and UK buyers get the Speedlite 90EX in the kit). This puts the M in the entry-level realm where it competes with the likes of the Panasonic GF5, which at £374/$499.99 with the standard 14-42mm kit lens, is considerably cheaper than the M.
The M's touchscreen is very responsive and the control layout has been well thought through so the camera is easy to use.
There's also plenty of control for more experienced photographers, and well as fully automated and hand-holding modes for less-experienced photographers.
Canon hasn't stinted on the build quality of the M, and with its 18-55mm kit lens this combination is capable of producing excellent results that challenge the company's SLRs.
With the 18-55mm lens mounted the M feels unbalanced in your hand and the slim grip on front doesn't provide enough purchase.
Canon's Hybrid AF system isn't as fast as Panasonic or Olympus's contrast detection systems - or Sony's Hybrid AF system - and the M isn't suited to shooting anything other than stationary subjects.
We'd also like a less reflective screen to provide a better view in bright sunlight.
As yet Canon only has one CSC and two compatible lenses (plus and adapter), and potential buyers might like some indication of the level of Canon's commitment to the M system before they invest.
Despite being very late to the CSC market, Canon has managed to produce a camera that isn't too far off the pace in many respects, and it should give the Nikon J2 a serious run for its money.
Thanks to the combination of the 18MP APS-C format CMOS sensor, DIGIC 5 processor and the high-quality EF-M 18-55mm kits lens, the M is capable of producing superb quality images that even outperform those taken on the Canon 650D EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II mounted.
The touchscreen controls are also very good and it doesn't take long to get to know the camera.
However, the M is let down by its AF system and its unbalanced feel that stems from it not having a decent grip.
First reviewed 16th November 2012