Canon EOS R3 Initial Review

What's new and how it compares

The Canon EOS R3 is a melding of all Canon's iterated on with the EOS-1D X Mark III as well as the EOS R5 and R6 cameras, rolled into one solid pro-level body. Most of its new abilities are derived from its newly designed sensor, but there is at least one smaller refinement that has the potential to significantly streamline some photographers' workflows.

Key takeaways:


Stacked CMOS sensor

The heart of the R3 is a newly-developed Stacked CMOS sensor, which is wholly designed and manufactured in-house. Stacked CMOS is the next generation of technology beyond BSI, and sees silicon fabricated as layers that are separated from their backing and then carefully aligned and connected together. This allows more flexibility in their design since the complexity of one layer of the chip doesn't restrict what you can do with the layer above or below.

The new chip uses Canon's Dual Pixel AF design, in which each output pixel is captured using a left- and a right-looking half-pixel. This provides a stereoscopic view of the scene, which the camera can evaluate to assess distance (much as humans do, using the offset between left and right eyes). This has the advantage of making the whole of the sensor into an AF sensor, without any significant impact on image quality.

We've not had a chance to check the dynamic range of the R3 (which is effectively a measure of how much or little electronic noise is being added by the camera), but we've approximated the readout rate to be a fraction under 1/200 sec, which fits with the promise of flash sync in e-shutter mode at shutter speeds up to 1/180 sec.

This fast readout underpins all of the camera's high-speed capabilities, from its 30fps continuous shooting and AF system that can conduct 60 AF and AE calculations per second, to its EVF that can refresh at 60 or 120 Hz and has no need to blackout when taking photos in e-shutter mode.

Updated AF system

The R3's AF system is an extended version of the one Canon has been developing in its mirrorless cameras, which itself has a lot of overlap with the logic that underpinned its DSLR AF systems. So you get a series of AF points and zones of various sizes, but now with a choice to use any of them as the start-point for subject tracking (rather than Tracking being a completely separate mode).

You can assign a button to disable AF tracking while you're shooting, to halt tracking and continue to focus at the currently selected position.

Built into this AF system is a very capable subject recognition system that focuses on eyes, faces or bodies, depending on which the camera can discern. It will switch between each of these features automatically so that it doesn't lose your subject if they look away or completely turn away from the camera. The system in the R3 has been enhanced to recognize faces in a variety of challenging conditions.

As an alternative to prioritizing people, the camera can also be set to focus on other types of subjects it's been trained to recognize, with the other options being 'Animals' or 'Motorsport.' A 'No Priority' option disengages the subject recognition component of the AF system and simply tracks subjects based on color and distance.

The subject recognition system has been trained by machine learning so that it can identify people, faces and eyes or, in other modes, various animals, racing cars and motorbikes.

ISO 800 | F5.6 | 1/1600 sec | Canon RF 100-500 F4.5-7.1 L IS USM
Photo: Carey Rose

But perhaps the most critical change is that, in most modes, the camera won't solely focus on the subject underneath your chosen AF point. Instead, it will search for likely subjects close to the AF point. It sounds like a small difference but it has a huge impact on the way the camera performs and on how well Eye Control works.

In addition, the R3 gains a new AF zone mode in which the user can define their own rectangular AF area, suited to the region of the scene in which their subject is expected to appear. As an example, Canon suggests a wide horizontal box would allow a tennis player to be photographed over the net with no risk of the camera being distracted by the net.

Motorsport recognition

In addition to the camera's people and animal recognition systems, the EOS R3 has also been trained to recognize motorsport subjects. Specifically, it's been trained to recognize racing cars and motorbikes and Canon says it may not perform to its full ability if pointed at domestic vehicles.

The motorsport recognition feature includes a 'spot detection' option that focuses on a specific part of the subject, where available. So for motorbikes and open-wheel racing cars, the camera will attempt to focus on the rider or driver's helmet, rather than the vehicle as a whole.

Eye Control AF

This is a simulation of what Eye Control looks like, through the viewfinder. A circular target (whose color can be changed), darts around the screen as your eye surveys the scene. When you initiate focus, the AF system will lock onto the nearest subject.

This can seem a little overwhelming, initially, with a white box indicating your current target, grey boxes around detected subjects and a moving Eye Control indicator, but you quickly learn to ignore them all and trust that the camera will lock onto the subject you're looking at when you ask it to.

Perhaps the most attention-grabbing aspect of the R3's AF system, though, is the rebirth of Canon's Eye Control AF system, which monitors the user's eye position so that the AF point can be positioned over the part of the scene they're looking at.

Like the version Canon created in the 1990s, it uses a series of infrared beams, pointed at the user's eye, to detect the position of the eye as it looks around the scene. The system is simple to calibrate and Canon says it will become more accurate, the more times you go through the calibration process.

By default, Eye Control moves the AF point and starts focusing when you half-press the shutter button, but there's also an option to use the AF-ON button to move the AF point (and not refocus) when you press it.

Eye Control calibration

To get Eye Control to work, you need to go through a calibration process, looking at a series of dots around the viewfinder and hitting a button to confirm when you're doing so. Canon says the system will improve if you do more calibration runs, in different lighting and using the camera in different orientations.

The camera has six banks of calibration settings, meaning you can set up one for using contact lenses and another one for glasses, for instance. It also means you don't have to overwrite your own carefully built-up calibration profile if someone else uses the camera.

Calibration profiles can be individually named and can be saved to a memory card, for importing onto another camera, or re-imported if over-written.

By default, the AF point jumps to the position you're looking at when you half-press the shutter button and then start focusing, though there's also an option to only move the AF point when you press a designated button. We found the Eye Control system can be made to work pretty reliably with just a few calibrations and that it appears to work well because the camera will select a subject near to the AF point or zone, not just one directly under it. This means your AF point positioning doesn't have to be pixel-perfect for the camera to focus on the correct subject.

The system requires a little faith at first, and Canon says it won't work as well for everyone's eyes (with pale blue eyes especially creating issues, we're told), or for photographers who wear glasses. It can also struggle to calibrate if there's bright ambient light that can creep in around the viewfinder, but our initial impressions were very positive.

And, as you might expect, the R3 doesn't insist that you use Eye Control: the camera has the same joystick and IR-driven Smart Controller featured on the EOS-1D X Mark III, so there's nothing to stop you from using it that way if you'd prefer.

5.76M-dot EVF

Although Canon has used a 5.76M dot EVF panel before, it says the viewfinder in the EOS R3 is a new design. Not only does it feature revised optics to divert infrared light to the Eye Control AF sensor, but it also has the ability to refresh at up to 120 fps, with reduced lag, making it more practical for following the action during sports shooting. In our shooting, this mode appeared to be just as detailed as the standard mode.

In addition, Canon has added an 'Optical Viewfinder Simulation' mode. This builds on the similarly-named mode offered by Fujifilm, which gives a preview of the scene without the currently selected color mode being applied, and that is not adjusted in response to changes in exposure settings. Canon takes things one step further, though, exploiting the wide dynamic range its OLED display can produce, meaning that bright highlights appear brighter, relative to the midtones, and shadows don't clip to black so aggressively: giving a more lifelike interpretation of the scene than existing EVFs, to help DSLR users feel at home.

If you prefer a preview that reflects your exposure changes, you have the choice of whether the viewfinder simulates exposure, simulates exposure and depth-of-field (DoF), or only simulates exposure when you press the DoF preview button.

Anti-flicker modes

The R3's electronic shutter is fast but it's still not quite as quick as a mechanical shutter can be, so there's a slightly increased risk of banding when the camera is pointed at flickering screens and signs (something increasingly common at sporting events).

To help with this, the R3 has a sophisticated anti-flicker mode. The first part of it is essentially a continuation of the technology originally introduced with the EOS 7D II, back in 2014. This monitors the flicker of lights operating at up to 120 Hz and syncs the shutter to the flicker of the lights so that the exposures are taken at the brightest point during the flicker cycle. This mode can slow the continuous shooting rate, depending on the shutter type and flicker frequency the camera is trying to sync with. At its best, the camera can maintain 24 fps shooting under 120 Hz lighting, using its fully electronic shutter.

The HF Anti-flicker mode lets you fine-tune your shutter speed to avoid clashing with the refresh rate of fast-flickering displays and lighting.

The second aspect is called HF Anti-Flicker and is designed to work with the much faster flicker of LED lights and display panels. This lets you manually fine-tune the shutter speed in very fine increments to find a speed that minimizes banding in the image. There's also an automatic mode that detects the flicker rate in the image (between 50 and 2011.2 Hz) and fine-tunes the shutter speed to minimize a clash between the two rates.

Direct WB capture

A small feature, but one that shows how fundamentally Canon has re-thought this camera is the ability to directly capture a custom white balance reading. For many years, Canon owners have had to shoot a neutral frame and then use the menus to select that frame and derive a custom white balance from it (then remember to select custom as the WB mode), which was especially frustrating when shooting video. With this change, Canon finally comes into line with the behavior of every other camera on the market.

Furthermore, Canon says the R3's Auto White Balance has been enhanced by machine learning, to help it better interpret scenes, and not get thrown off by, for example, landscape images dominated by greenery.

Video

The EOS R3's video specs are every bit as strong as its stills shooting abilities. It can use the full 6K width of its sensor to deliver oversampled DCI 4K footage at up to 60p, or can sub-sample the full width to deliver 4K/100p or 120p with the same angle-of-view. There's also an option to shoot the squarer, 16:9 UHD format, which essentially crops the sides in, compared to DCI capture.

The basic video spec of the R3 includes DCI or UHD 4K at up to 60p. A 120p option, the ability to shoot Raw video and Super35 crop mode are accessible elsewhere in the menu.

The full 6K sampling used to produce the full-width DCI footage can be captured internally as 6K Raw if you have the card space, and again this can be shot at up to 60p.

There's also the option to use a ~APS-C/Super35 crop to deliver natively sampled DCI or UHD 4K footage. As you'd hope for from a fast readout Stacked CMOS sensor, rolling shutter appears very well controlled, with what appears to be on the order of 10ms rolling shutter rate. This is noticeably slower than the ~5ms the sensor can read out its full area at, despite video being taken from a vertically cropped region of the sensor. For now, we can't say what Canon is changing, between modes, but it's likely because video needs to be able to run for extended periods, whereas stills mode is only needed in short bursts.

For users wanting a less media-intensive workflow, the R3 can shoot 10-bit H.265 gamma-encoded footage, using the C-Log3 profile. Just as in stills, where it can shoot HDR images in 10-bit HEIF format, the R3 can also shoot 10-bit HDR footage using the PQ curve. Engaging PQ HDR mode switches the camera to Highlight Tone Priority mode (capturing an extra 1EV of highlight information), though this can be disengaged if you prefer.

Video restrictions

Raw capture and 4K/120 both require a CFexpress card rated at over 400MB/s. Raw Lite recording or All-I 4K/60 capture sees that requirement drop to 200MB/s. Most other modes can be recorded to a fast SD card or CFexpress, with the requirements becoming less and less exacting as you drop the framerate and quality.

Canon says All-I 4K/30 taken from 6K should not be temperature restricted, but 60p 4K or 6K Raw is likely to stop after around 60 minutes (at 23°C/73°F), even with Auto Temperature Power Off set to 'High'. All-I 4K/120 is the most demanding on the camera, with a quoted figure of 12 minutes. All these numbers assume the camera has been unused, so any stills shooting conducted beforehand will cut into them.

Wired and Wi-Fi communication

As you might expect from a modern camera, the EOS R3 includes built-in Wi-Fi capabilities and, as you'd expect from a pro-focused camera, it has an Ethernet socket for wired connections.

On the R3 you get the full range of capabilities offered by an EOS-1D X Mark III with WFT wireless transmitter attached; meaning you direct from camera FTP file transfer, for instance. There's also an optional accessory that allows a smartphone to be connected to the camera's USB port, and its network capabilities used, giving up to 5G data rates via the Mobile File Transfer app.

Connectivity is one of the features that is of great importance to many professionals, and unfortunately, the one that we've had the least amount of time to test. It's something we'll look at much more critically when we have more time with a full-production camera.


How it compares

The EOS R3 sits above the R5 in terms of both price and capability, taking it much closer to the company's flagship EOS-1D X III DSLR, which is designed for similar sports/wildlife/photojournalism shooting. Part of what makes the R3 stand out from the R5 is its much faster (and hence, more usable) electronic shutter, which immediately invokes Sony's a9 II as a competitor.

Canon EOS R3 Canon EOS-1D X Mark III Sony a9 II Canon EOS R5
MSRP (at launch) $6000 $6500 $4500 $3900
Sensor type Stacked CMOS FSI CMOS Stacked CMOS FSI CMOS

Pixel Count

24MP 20MP 24MP 45MP
Max burst rate 30 fps (e-shutter)
12 fps (mech)

16 fps OVF
20 fps live view
20fps (e- shutter)
10fps (mech)
12fps (mech)
20fps (e- shutter)
E-shutter rate (approx) ~1/200 sec ~ 1/50 sec ~1/160 sec ~1/60 sec
Image stabilization In body (lens IS combines for pitch/yaw) In lens only In body
(lens IS takes over pitch/yaw)
In body (lens IS combines for pitch/yaw)
Viewfinder 5.76M-dot OLED
(up to 120 fps)
0.76x mag, 23mm eyepoint with HDR OVF sim mode
Optical
0.76x mag
20mm eyepoint
3.69M-dot OLED
(up to 120 fps)
0.78x mag
23mm eyepoint
5.76M-dot OLED
(up to 60 fps)
0.76x mag, 23mm eyepoint
Rear LCD 4.2M-dot articulating touchscreen 2.1M-dot fixed touchscreen 1.44M dot tilting touchscreen 2.1M-dot articulating touchscreen
Out-of-camera video options DCI or UHD 4K at up to 120,
DCI 4K from 6K / UHD from 5.6K up to 60p
DCI or UHD 4K up to 60p UHD 4K up to 30p

DCI 8K up to 30p,
4K up to 120p, 4K from 8K up to 30p

Video options for post processing 10-bit capture in C Log 3 or PQ HDR,
6K / 5.6K Raw video
10-bit capture in C Log,
5.5K Raw video
8-bit S-Log2 / 3

10-bit capture in C Log / 3 or PQ HDR,
8K Raw video

Card types 1x CFe Type B
1x UHS-II SD
2x CFe Type B 2x UHS-II SD 1x CFe Type B
1x UHS-II SD
Battery life (CIPA)
Viewfinder/LCD
440 / 760 (smooth EVF mode) 2850 / 610 500 / 690 320 / 490
Size 150 x 142 x 87mm 158 x 168 x 83mm 129 x 96 x 76mm 138 x 97.5 x 88 mm
Weight 1015g (35.8 oz) 1440g (50.8 oz) 678g (23.9 oz) 738 g (26 oz)

As the specs make clear, the EOS R3 is a very fast camera, both in terms of continuous shooting rate and the speed of its electronic shutter. The viewfinder and LCD quality also mark it out as a high-end option, as do its video specs. What we won't know, without further testing, is how much the temperature restrictions hold back the camera's video capabilities in real-world shooting.

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