Hands on: Canon EOS R3 review
If you want a glimpse of the future of Canon’s mirrorless cameras, take a look at the Canon EOS R3 – it might look like a DSLR from a decade ago, but inside it’s one of the most advanced sports and wildlife cameras ever built.
Canon says the EOS R3 sits in between the Canon EOS R5 (its smaller mirrorless all-rounder) and the Canon 1D X Mark III (its chunky flagship DSLR). In practice, it’s a combination of the two, and the mirrorless successor to the latter.
But Canon hasn’t just repackaged its existing tech with the EOS R3. It’s the flag-bearer for a host of new technologies, most notably a new 24.1MP backside-illuminated stacked CMOS sensor.
This sensor’s stacked design apes that of Sony cameras like the Sony A1, giving the R3 a purring photographic engine that’s capable of producing 30fps raw burst shooting and minimal rolling shutter in video.
Unusually for a pro sports camera, the EOS R3 also packs video treats like the ability to shoot 6K raw video internally, and an articulating touchscreen. There’s even a modern incarnation of the ‘Eye Control AF’ system we saw back in the 1990s on Canon’s SLRs, which lets you choose focus points just by looking at them in the viewfinder.
But does this rare combination of talents add up to a great camera, or a slightly confused one? We had the opportunity to get some brief hands-on time with the R3 at Canon’s UK HQ, to form our early thoughts on how big a weapon the EOS R3 could prove to be in Canon’s great battle with Sony for the hearts, minds and wallets of pro photographers.
Canon EOS R3 price and release date
- The Canon EOS R3 will cost $5,999 / £5,879 (around AU$9,500)
- That’s pricier than the EOS R5, but less than the EOS 1D X Mark III
- It’ll go on sale globally in November
The Canon EOS R3 will have a body-only price of $5,999 / £5,879 / AU$8,599. As expected, that’s a pro-level price tag that will be beyond most amateur snappers, although it is lower than the Sony A1’s launch price ($6,500 / £6,499 / AU$10,499), and that of the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III, which cost ($6,499 / £6,499 / AU$9,999) when it landed in early 2020.
Been saving up for one? Canon says you’ll be able to buy the EOS R3 from November, although it’s not yet clear how much stock will be available then. We suspect the global chip shortage may be at least partly to blame for the two-month gap between the EOS R3’s delayed announcement and its on-sale date, but the camera’s price tag means it’s unlikely to be a huge seller.
We’ll update this page when we get a more precise date for its availability – but it’s probably a good time to think about putting the family dog up for sale.
- It’sna smaller, lighter version of the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III
- Super-crisp, fully articulating 4.1 million-dot touchscreen
- Same electronic viewfinder (EVF) as the Canon EOS R5
Canon won’t ever describe it as such, but the Canon EOS R3 is clearly the mirrorless equivalent of its Canon EOS 1D X Mark III sports DSLR. This means it’s larger than the Sony A1 (which doesn’t have a built-in grip), but smaller than its DSLR cousins.
In the hand, the EOS R3 is considerably lighter than the 1D X Mark III, weighing 822g (or just over 1kg with a card and battery). That’s a huge weight saving of over 400g, which will please the spines of sports snappers. The size difference is less noticeable, with the EOS R3 being not quite as tall or wide as the 1D X Mark III, but slightly deeper.
What really marks out the EOS R3 as a professional sports camera, compared to smaller models like the Canon EOS R5, is its build quality and built-in battery grip. It has a magnesium alloy body that makes it the toughest mirrorless camera Canon has made so far.
The EOS R3 has the same level of weather-proofing as the 1D X Mark III, but it isn’t built to withstand the same extremes of temperature as Canon’s bomb-proof DSLR; this is predominantly a sports camera, after all, as shown by that built-in portrait grip. It also uses the same LP-E19 battery as the EOS-1D X Mark III, which has a capacity about a third higher than that of the Canon EOS R5’s LP-E6NH battery.
Canon has clearly attempted to make the EOS R3 as comfortably familiar as possible for those coming from its pro DSLRs. There’s no room for the 1D X Mark III’s mini display on the back, but the majority of its rear buttons are in the same place as on that camera – and it also has the Smart Controller that debuted on that DSLR in 2020.
This touch-sensitive AF-On button is a bit like an upside-down computer mouse, letting you quickly move your autofocus point around the frame. While it split opinion among photographers, Canon clearly had enough good feedback from its pro snappers to keep it on the EOS R3 – and there’s an extra Smart Controller button for when you’re shooting in portrait, too. Those who aren’t a fan of this modified AF-On button can also use the traditional, knurled AF joysticks.
Because the Canon EOS R3 is a mirrorless camera, there are naturally some differences between it and the company’s sports DSLRs. The two most obvious ones are its viewfinder and rear screen. Canon has confirmed that the EOS R3 has the same electronic viewfinder (EVF) as the Canon EOS R5, which means it’s a 5.67 million-dot affair with a 120fps refresh rate.
Canon claims this “rivals an optical viewfinder”, which is crucial for pro sports photographers. It’s also added an ‘OVF simulation View Assist’ mode, which lets you see the action that’s going on outside the frame. We haven’t been able to give this a test-drive yet, but the EOS R3’s large eyecup certainly felt comfortable when held up to our face.
A more unexpected inclusion is the vari-angle touchscreen, which has a super-crisp 4.1 million-dot resolution. This completely blows the Sony A1’s 1.44 million-dot, tilt-only rear screen out of the water, and its full articulation will be particularly handy for video shooters. It’s a big change from the Canon EOS 1 DX Mark III’s completely fixed rear screen, which was designed purely for sports snappers.
The EOS R3’s top plate also has more in common with the EOS R5, with a square display in the top-right displaying your current settings. As on the R5, this is a handy way to keep the rear screen switched off between shots to help preserve battery life. Over on the left side, though, the EOS R3 apes the 1D X Mark III’s approach, with dedicated buttons for the Drive, metering and AF modes.
One new feature that we haven’t seen on any other Canon camera so far is the new Multi-Function Shoe in the middle. This is interesting because, like Sony’s Multi-Interface Shoe, it allows for high-speed, two-way data transfer between the camera and any compatible accessories that you mount on top of it.
Canon has announced a new Directional Stereo Microphone (DM-E1D) and Speedlite Transmitter (ST-E10) that are both fully compatible with the new shoe – which means they can draw power from the camera. The hot-shoe is the same size as Canon’s standard hot-shoe, so you can use all your old accessories with it, but one downside is that it doesn’t create a weather-proof seal – if you want full weather-proofing, you’ll need an optional accessory.
- New Eye Control AF mode moves focus to where you look in the EVF
- AF tracking now includes vehicles, along with humans and animals
- Improved low-light focusing down to -7.5EV
In the great mirrorless camera war between Canon and Sony, one of the main battles is autofocus – and the EOS R3 breaks new AF ground for Canon cameras.
Like the Canon EOS R5, it has the Dual Pixel CMOS AF II system, but there are a few differences this time. Firstly, Canon claims the EOS R3 is “the fastest EOS R series camera yet” in terms of focusing, trumping the R5 with its ability to focus in 0.03 seconds, compared to 0.05 seconds. Such minuscule differences mean very little in real-world shooting, but we’re looking forward to seeing if the R3 lives up to that billing.
The EOS R3 is also the first Canon camera to have a ‘vehicle tracking’ autofocus mode. This is something we’ve seen previously on the Olympus OM-D E-M1X, and the R3’s mode works in a similar way to that camera’s Intelligent Subject Detection AF system, locking focus on rally cars, motorbikes and open-cockpit F1 cars so that you can concentrate on composition.
We haven’t yet been able to test this AF tracking out, but it appears to offer slightly more granular control than the Olympus system – you can, for example, prioritize either the vehicle or driver’s helmet for your focus point. If this works anywhere near as well as Canon’s Animal Eye AF, which is class-leading, then it should be a useful tool for sports photographers. Naturally, the EOS R3 has all the other AF tracking modes for humans, dogs, cats and birds, that we saw on the EOS R5.
The final AF performance improvement over the Canon EOS R5 is slightly better low-light performance. Canon says the EOS R3 can focus in lighting conditions as low as -7.5 EV (think a night-time scene with minimal moonlight), which is an improvement on the EOS R5’s quoted low of -6EV. Bear in mind that both of these figures are based on shooting with an f/1.2 lens at ISO100, making it more of a theoretical focusing limit – we’ll need to do some tests with more typical camera settings to see how the camera fares in real-world scenarios.
But the Canon EOS R3’s autofocus skills aren’t all about tracking the beads of sweat on a racing car driver’s forehead – the camera also brings with it a new method of controlling your AF point, called Eye Control AF. Despite sounding pretty futuristic, this is actually a new version of the ‘eye-controlled autofocus’ system we saw back on the Canon EOS 3 SLR in the late 90s.
In short, it allows the camera to detect where you’re looking in the viewfinder and move the autofocus to that point in the frame. The idea is that, in fast-moving scenarios, this will be quicker than using manual controls, and will let you concentrate on adjusting your exposure and/or composition. Canon says the system has been adapted from technology used in the company’s medical division, and uses eight low-powered LEDs in the viewfinder to track your eye and overlay that information on the sensor.
How does it work in practice? We were only given a short preview, but it’s likely to be a nice-to-have mode rather than a real shooting staple. It’s designed to be used more for focus acquisition than tracking – for example, picking out one particular motorbike that’s racing towards you on a track. Once you’ve used Eye Control AF to pick your subject, you’ll then press the shutter to start the autofocus tracking.
Another slight potential limitation is that the system will need calibrating for both your eye and different scenes, so whether the benefits are worth the added friction is something we’re looking forward to testing more in our full Canon EOS R3 review. But one thing’s for sure – no camera we’ve seen gives you more options for controlling your autofocus. Between the Smart Controller, touchscreen, AF joysticks and Eye Control AF, there’s now very little excuse for not nailing your focus.
Specs and performance
- New 24.1MP backside-illuminated stacked CMOS sensor
- 30fps burst shooting (raw or JPEG) with electronic shutter
- Only 12fps continuous shooting with mechanical shutter
The Canon EOS R3’s most significant feature is its new 24.1MP sensor. This has been both designed and manufactured by Canon, despite earlier rumors that it would be made by Sony. This is noteworthy in the context of the great Canon vs Sony mirrorless battle, but more importantly this is also Canon’s first ‘stacked’ sensor.
Sony has pioneered stacked full-frame sensors, the layered structure of which allows more complex circuitry to be built behind the photosites. The result is higher data read-out speeds, which brings benefits like faster burst-shooting speeds and reduced ‘rolling shutter’ in video. And that certainly seems to be the case in the EOS R3.
In a world where the Sony A1 is capable of shooting 50MP photos at 30fps, the EOS R3’s 24.1MP resolution might sound disappointing. But unless you regularly crop into your photos a lot, that’s more than enough for most photographers – and the professionals who’ve been pinning their livelihoods on the 20.1MP Canon EOS 1 DX Mark III certainly haven’t complained.
This means the Canon EOS R3 is more of a rival to the Sony A9 II, which has a 24.2MP stacked full-frame sensor, than the A1. And in a few specs battles, the EOS R3 comes out on top. In very specific conditions, it can hit continuous shooting speeds of 30fps with AE/AF tracking when using the electronic shutter, and maintain that for 540 JPEGs or 150 raws (in other words, 18 seconds or five seconds of shooting respectively).
This is something we’ll need to test, though, as burst speeds can be affected by a lot of factors – for example, those maximum 30fps speeds are when using a CFexpress card with particular lenses and exposure settings in favorable conditions. Still, the EOS R3 will still likely offer faster burst shooting than the Canon EOS R5, or the same performance – 12fps – when using the mechanical shutter. Interestingly, that 12fps figure is slower than the 20fps that’s possible with the 1D X Mark III’s mechanical shutter, which shows that electronic shutters are fast becoming the default.
One of the main reasons for this is the ability of modern mirrorless cameras to eliminate ‘rolling shutter’, which is a warping effect that’s noticeable during fast panning movements. We saw minimal evidence of this on the Canon EOS R5, and Canon claims its new sensor “almost entirely eliminates rolling shutter distortion” in the R3. Again, that’s something we’ll have to test more rigorously, but it’s certainly promising for anyone who fancies using the R3’s silent electronic shutter for wildlife or weddings.
Beyond the ability to hit staggering shutter speeds of 1/64000th of a second, the electronic shutter can also be synced with external flashes (up to 1/250th of a second), something that was previously only possible with mechanical shutters. Like Sony, Canon has also added Flicker detection and High Frequency anti-flicker shooting modes to help detect and correct flickering indoor light sources.
Another big benefit for handheld shooting over the Canon 1D X Mark III is the inclusion of in-body image stabilization. When you use the EOS R3 with compatible RF lenses, you’ll get shake reduction of up to eight stops. This will allow you to preserve still image quality and, if it works as well as in the Canon EOS R5, get reasonably smooth video without a gimbal.
Because the Canon EOS R3 is designed very much for pro sports photographers, it also goes big on connectivity. Alongside Bluetooth 5.0 and 5Ghz Wi-Fi, you also get a Gigabit Ethernet port for firing images via FTP servers. Pro snappers will also be able to use Canon’s Mobile File Transfer (MFT) app to transfer images to remote servers via their smartphone or tablet.
This will combine nicely with a new accessory, the Smartphone Link AD-P1, which will let you mount your iOS or Android phone on the optional Multi-Function Shoe Adapter. While most of this will be overkill for the average photographer, full-time agency photographers will definitely enjoy bathing in the EOS R3’s generous connectivity.
- Capable of shooting 6K/60p raw video internally
- Also shoots oversampled 4K/60p video and 4K/120p slow-mo
- Can shoot up to six hours of regular video or 1.5 hours at high frame rates
Canon was relatively quiet about the EOS R3’s video powers in the run-up to its full launch, but they’re far from a footnote. It’s a powerful hybrid camera that can unusually shoot raw video internally (at 6K/60p, using the full width of the sensor) along with oversampled 4K/60p video.
The benefit of oversampled video is that it tends to have more detail and less noise, so we’re looking forward to seeing how it performs during a full test. In theory, the EOS R3’s video should also have very little rolling shutter, thanks to that new stacked sensor.
When shooting in 6K raw, you can opt to shoot in the CRM (Cinema Raw Light) format, which should produce relatively manageable file sizes without coming at the expense of dynamic range. Color graders will also be pleased to see support for the C-Log 3 format for malleable 10-bit files, while the overheating issues that dogged the Canon EOS R5 before its firmware fixes are less likely to be an issue with the EOS R3.
This is partly because there’s more room in the R3’s body to spread its components out, and also because of its lower-resolution sensor. Canon claims you’ll be able to shoot for six hours at a time (assuming you have enough juice) when shooting standard frame-rates, and for up to 1.5 hours in the high 120p mode.
Handily, you can record video to both the CFexpress and UHS-II slots simultaneously to create a backup, and the EOS R3’s video credentials are further bolstered by that new Multi-Function Shoe, which can power accessories like the new Directional Stereo Microphone DM-E1D.
We haven’t yet had the chance to test out any of these promising video powers, but the Canon EOS R3 is certainly shaping up to be a powerful mirrorless video tool – and probably an even more practical one than the Canon EOS R5.
The Canon EOS R3 may not officially be Canon’s flagship mirrorless camera, but it’s certainly qualified for the job – it showcases the camera giant’s latest technology for sports and wildlife shooters in a traditional, DSLR-style body.
That design, and the fact that it’s a 24.1MP camera that ‘only’ shoots 6K video, means the EOS R3 isn’t Canon’s direct answer to the Sony A1. Perhaps that will come later, in the shape of a true flagship like a Canon EOS R1; but for now, this camera neatly fills a gap in Canon’s lineup under the label ‘Sony A9 II rival’.
On paper, it has the beating of that camera in areas like burst shooting, in-body image stabilization and handling, although we’ll need to spend a lot more time with the EOS R3 to be sure.
But based on what we have seen so far, this is a camera that will turn the heads of many professionals – and a lot of keen hobbyists who’ll be doing some math to work out if it’s a feasible purchase. We’ll let you know if it’s really worth that price tag in our full review very soon.