I got excited when Canon Netherlands asked me to review the new Canon EOS R3. Together with the camera, I received three lenses and was offered just four days to use them under different circumstances. In this review, I share my first impression and shooting experience.
We all expected the next camera in the mirrorless R series would be a flagship camera, something that would replace the amazing Canon EOS 1D X Mark III, which I reviewed more than one year ago in 2020. Canon surprised everyone with the Canon EOS R3, and I could be mistaken, but the number seems to refer to the old analog Canon EOS 3. That camera was the first one to have an eye-controlled AF system, just like the EOS R3. More about that later.
The Most Important Specs
- 24-megapixel stacked CMOS Dual Pixel sensor
- Electronic shutter up to 1/64,000 second
- 30 frames per second in electronic shutter mode with full 14-bit raw
- 5.69-million-dot electronic viewfinder with eye-controlled AF
- Eye, head, and body AF for humans and animals, also vehicle detection
- Extensive customization for AF buttons and AF settings
- AF-ON with Smart Controller
- No blackout in the electronic viewfinder
- HDR viewfinder function to mimic an optical viewfinder
- 4.15-megapixel fully articulating 3.2-inch LCD screen
- PQ HDR recording 10-bit HEIF files
- AF works up to -7.5 EV with an f/1.2 lens
- DCI and UHD 4K video up to 120p and oversampled 60p
- Raw video with 10-bit C-Log3
- Hot shoe with interface
- In-Body image stabilization of up to 8 stops
First Impression of the Camera Body
Just like every Canon EOS 1D model, the EOS R3 also has a built-in grip for vertical shooting. You can find double controls on the back and the second set of custom buttons on the front. The small LCD screen below the main LCD screen is gone. The left side of the top plate has a few buttons, similar to the EOS 1D models, and it has the wonderful Smart Controller on the AF-ON button. Every other design element is similar to the Canon EOS R5.
The large 3.2 inch LCD touchscreen has 4.12 million dots, which is the largest resolution you can find at this moment. The screen Is fully articulating, and the body has a large recess that makes it easy to move the screen from its closed position, even when wearing gloves.
The touchscreen itself can be used to operate the full menu or the quick access menu. You can also use it for swiping the AF point to the desired area. In a way, nothing is surprising about that, since it is similar to every other modern Canon camera with touchscreen functionality.
The Autofocus Possibilities
There is a lot to tell about the autofocus system of the Canon EOS R3. It has improved subject recognition, and you can switch between human, animal, or vehicle. The system is smart enough to recognize the object you have chosen, but it will automatically switch to one of the other subjects if the chosen subject isn’t found in the frame.
Just like the old Canon EOS 3, the Canon EOS R3 has an eye-controlled AF system. The Canon Dual Pixel AF system allows a much more precise use of this feature, something that wasn’t possible back in the old days.
The system works better than expected. After you have calibrated the system to your eye, it will know where you are looking at in the viewfinder. If you activate the AF system, it will focus at that point. In other words, you won’t activate the AF system just by looking at your subject. You still have to activate the AF yourself. But the eye-controlled AF will make it much easier to set the AF point at the right spot.
There are up to six memory banks for the eye calibration. In the standard setup, the SET button will activate the eye-controlled system so you can quickly activate it if needed or deactivate it.
The customization of the AF system goes beyond any previous EOS model. Of course, you can customize nearly every button on the Canon EOS R3, but if you choose to assign the AF function to a button, it is possible to dive into two layers of additions AF settings. This way, you can not only use more than one button for the AF to activate but each with different behavior and setting.
There are different ways to place the AF point in the right area in the frame. The first one is the aforementioned eye-controlled AF. The second is the old-fashioned joystick, and the third is by swiping over the touchscreen. The Canon EOS R3 has the Smart Controller on the AF-ON button as a fourth option, just like with the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III. This small infrared sensor enables you to use it as an inverted mouse, moving your thumb over the button to move the AF point. I love this system and do miss it on my Canon EOS R5.
The vehicle detection is said to be designed for sports motorcycles and sports cars. Unfortunately, there was too little time available for a good test. I tried to shoot some ordinary vehicles, and the system does recognize the cars and also bicycles, but perhaps it would have done this also without vehicle detection. More testing should be performed to get a good idea of its performance.
The Speed of the Canon EOS R3
With the mechanical shutter, the Canon EOS R3 will allow up to 12 frames per second. Although this is a respectable speed, the camera will become much faster when switching over to the electronic shutter. Without any blackout in the electronic viewfinder, it is possible to shoot up to 30 frames per second.
With 12 frames per second, the camera can keep up with writing files to the memory card without any limit. During a test, I stopped shooting after 1,500 images in both c-raw and JPEG. With 30 frames per second, the camera can record up to 100 frames in one burst, also in both c-raw and JPEG.
If you need to shoot at this speed for a prolonged amount of time, switching over to JPEG or 10-bit HEIF will probably increase the number of images in one burst. Of course, the speed of the CF-Express type B card or UHS-II SD card will also have an influence. I used a Sandisk Extreme Pro 128GB CF Express type B with a writing speed of 1,200 MB/s.
The Canon EOS R3 uses a stacked CMOS Dual Pixel sensor with 24 megapixels. Although it’s not the highest resolution, this is more than enough for most situations. It also allows a good signal-noise ratio, which results in great high ISO performance.
You can use the Canon EOS R3 from ISO 100 up to ISO 25,600 and add three stops in the expanded ISO range. I used the camera mostly in the auto-ISO setting, and due to the dark winter days in the Netherlands, I did need the full range of ISO settings that are available.
I already noticed how well the camera handled the high ISO levels. It surprised me how well images at ISO 16,000 looked straight from the camera. A simple studio test also showed a great high-ISO performance. Correcting a five-stop underexposure at ISO 400 showed almost the same amount of noise compared to the image exposed correctly.
My Shooting Impressions
I’m by no means a sports photographer, but I love shooting our dog while playing. For the fast shutter speeds I wanted, I had to increase the ISO levels a lot, sometimes up to the maximum setting of ISO 25,600. Although I was afraid of the noise at first, the images straight from the camera looked clean and full of detail.
Holding and using the Canon EOS R3 is very comfortable. The camera is only 1,014 grams, which is less compared to the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III. The ergonomics are great, and every button or switch is easy to reach. The buttons, dials, and switches are of great quality and have good feedback. The touchscreen works great, and thanks to the fully articulated screen, shooting from difficult positions is easy. Combined with the flexibility and accuracy of the AF system, you can fully concentrate on the action and composition.
I noticed how the reliability of the AF system depends on the configuration. I used the camera for a soccer game and for mountain bikers in a forest. Although the system won’t let you down, the accuracy increases when the most optimum setting is found. For that, the Canon EOS R3 has amazing customization abilities for the AF system. For instance, the eye-controlled AF worked great at the soccer game, but is less easy with a mountain biker that moves between trees. Using different settings for different AF buttons will make life a lot easier with the Canon EOS R3. You might need time to discover which setting works best for each sport or action.
The speed of the camera is amazing, and the buffer is large enough to capture fast action. During the short amount of time I was able to shoot with the Canon EOS R3, I found it to be an amazing camera, and I'm sure it will excel in sports, action, and probably wildlife photography as well. It may not have the amount of resolution that can be found in the Nikon Z 9, which I also reviewed a week earlier, but you get a lot in return.
Some are also comparing this camera with the Sony A1, but somehow, I don’t think that would be a fair comparison. The Canon EOS R3 is designed as a sports and action camera, just like the Nikon Z 9. I found the Sony A1 to be more like an advanced all-in-one camera and not specialized in one branch of photography.
Things I Like
- Good ergonomics
- Shutter speed up to 1/64,000 second
- Extremely customizable, especially the AF system
- Eye control AF works surprisingly well
- Smart Controller in the AF-ON button
- Large memory buffer with fast writing speed to an empty buffer
- Large dynamic range and great high-ISO performance
- High-resolution LCD touch screen with well-designed recess to grab the screen
- Auto bracketing function accessible with button combination
- Older EOS 1D X batteries can be used
- Despite the size, it weighs 1,014 grams including battery not too heavy
- Eye-AF works already when the subject is small in the frame
- Large and bright electronic viewfinder with good optical HDR simulation
Things That Can Be Improved
- Shutter speed still limited to 30 seconds before switching to BULB
- Accessible functions for custom buttons somewhat limited
- No possibility to activate the AF with eye control AF.
- No PASM dial
About the Video Functions of the Canon EOS R3
The Canon also offers a range of video functions, although the purpose of the Canon EOS R3 is sports, action, and wildlife photography. The possibilities are enough for the average user. It offers full HD and 4K resolution, up to 120p. You have the option for raw movie format and C-Log3 also.
There was too little time available to test the video functions. I did notice the lack of a noticeable rolling shutter effect, which is a good thing for a camera that is for fast action photography. But I do think it isn’t the most ideal and versatile camera for the filmmaker.
A big thanks to Canon Netherlands for providing the Canon EOS R3.
You can purchase the Canon EOS R3 here.
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