Canon EOS R3 review: Innovative eye control focus and speed, for a price

Deepak Gupta February 9, 2022
Updated 2022/02/09 at 4:06 PM

After Sony released the A7 III in 2018, I wondered if Canon and Nikon could catch up to their autofocus and other technologies. With the launch of the 24-megapixel EOS R3, however, it’s Canon that is at the forefront with its “eye control” AF that lets you focus on a subject just by looking at it.

The R3 is also Canon’s first camera with a backlit stacked sensor. This offers silent mode continuous shooting speeds of up to 30 fps with autofocus and autoexposure enabled. Plus, it has top-notch video specs with 6K RAW capture at up to 60 fps.

EOS R3

pros

  • Fast firing speeds
  • Reliable autofocus
  • good handling
  • no-obligation video
  • Innovative visual control AF

cons

  • High Price
  • Limited eye control AF
  • mediocre resolution
  • Complicated micro HDMI port

Here’s the problem, though: For US$ 6,000 it’s relatively low resolution, while Canon’s own 45-megapixel EOS R5 costs over $2,000 less. So who is this camera good for exactly? And is Eye Control AF a useful feature or just a toy? With the help of my professional photographer friends, I spent some time with a final production model to find out.

body and handling

The first thing you’ll notice about the R3 is the large camera body that makes it look like a DSLR, mirrorless camera mashup. Much like the 1DX Mark III that inspired it, it has dual controls for both landscape and portrait photography modes, including a shutter button, matching dials and joystick.

Despite the large body, the EOS R3 is relatively light at 2.3 pounds including battery and memory card. The 1DX Mark III, on the other hand, weighs 3.17 pounds, while the EOS R5 weighs 1.6 pounds.

As you’d expect from a big camera, it has a great grip. This gives a feeling of security when you hold it, and it’s great even with large telephoto lenses like Canon’s RF 70-200mm f/2.8.

The R3 also has plenty of dials and buttons so you can operate the camera without delving into menus most of the time. The control layout is similar to the 1DX Mark III and uses the same infrared control knob. This lets you set the focus point just by sliding your thumb over it – faster than a joystick, but easier to inadvertently activate until you get used to it.

Canon EOS R3 mirrorless camera review

Steve Dent/Ploonge

A dedicated button lets you easily switch between photo and video modes, offering separate settings and menus for each mode. However, it uses the same old Canon menus, which aren’t as intuitive as they are on newer models from Sony, Nikon and Panasonic. You can control it in a variety of ways, using the dials, joystick or touchscreen. This makes it quick to get to a setup once you figure out where you are.

The large 3.2-inch touchscreen has a crisp resolution of 4.15 million dots, nearly double that of the R5. For scrolling through menus, navigating through photos and more, it’s extremely responsive – far more so than Sony’s A1 or any other camera I’ve tried. The screen also opens up for low-angle shots or vlogging, although the R3 is a little heavy for the latter.

The 5.76M-dot OLED EVF is equally crisp and offers a smooth 120Hz refresh rate. It doesn’t stack up on paper to the 240Hz 9.4M-dot EVF found on the A1, but I couldn’t see it. a lot of difference between them, to be honest.

It uses the same huge LP-E19 battery as the 1DX Mark III that delivers up to 620 shots on a charge or about two hours and a quarter of 4K 30p video recording. Depending on how you shoot, you can easily exceed those numbers, though.

For storage, you get a fast CFexpress Type B and an SD UHS II slot. It’s nice to have the SD option if you prefer to shoot with these cards. However, if you want to backup CFexpress card with SD, the performance will be slow. As this is primarily a professional camera, Canon should have offered dual slots for both, as Sony does, or perhaps two CFexpress slots.

Canon EOS R3 mirrorless camera review

Steve Dent/Ploonge

It has a new hot shoe interface that supports Speedlite and other flashes, along with accessories like Tascam’s new 4-channel XLR microphone interface. This finally matches what Sony and Panasonic have been offering for years.

The complicated micro-HDMI port isn’t ideal for camcorders, and it’s an odd decision considering Canon had the space with the R3’s large body. It also comes with USB-C for data transfer and in-camera charging, though you’ll need another optional accessory if you want to power the camera externally while shooting.

Now, let’s talk about Canon’s new eye control feature. It’s only really useful if you calibrate it, but luckily that’s easy to do – you just look at the five points. You may need to calibrate it several times, depending on whether you are wearing glasses and contact lenses, or even for different environments. Fortunately, you can save up to six different settings.

Once calibrated, I could select an object to focus on just by looking at it. Even if the eye control circle wasn’t exactly on a subject, autofocus would usually pick it up if it was close. From there, face, eye, or subject tracking would be activated as needed to track the subject.

It worked even in tricky environments with lots of subjects or movement, although it turns off when you press the focus button and start shooting. It worked well for me, but it didn’t work for my photographer friend with light blue eyes and astigmatism. So if you’re interested in the feature, you can try it out before making a purchase, as the functionality seems to depend on eye color and other factors.

Performance

Canon EOS R3 mirrorless camera review

Steve Dent/Ploonge

First of all, the EOS R3 is a speed demon. That starts with the shutter, which goes up to 1/64,000th of a second in electronic mode, faster than any other consumer camera. It also supports some of the fastest bursts we’ve seen, up to 30 fps in silent mode or 12 fps with the mechanical shutter. Unlike some recent Sony models, you get these maximum speeds with uncompressed RAW files and not just lossy.

You can also take a lot of pictures in these modes. At 30 fps with the electronic shutter, you can take 150 shots on a UHS II or CFexpress SD card before the buffer fills, according to Canon. However, I was able to shoot much more than that with a fast CFexpress card, with only a slight reduction in shutter speeds past the 150-frame mark. It will handle 1,000 uncompressed RAW photos or more with the mechanical shutter before stopping.

Dual Pixel autofocus can keep up with those speeds too, so I had very few photos that weren’t sharp. Face and eye detection is fast and fluid for people, though a little less reliable for animals or birds. The EOS R has a car tracking feature designed primarily for racing cars, and unfortunately I didn’t have access to a Bugatti Chiron during testing.

Shooting sports is this camera’s forte, and at a decently lit indoor soccer game, Samuel, the professional photographer I was working with, only had a few out-of-focus shots. It didn’t perform as well as the A1 for birds, but it still did better than most cameras I’ve tried. Overall, the EOS R3 has a very powerful AF system that puts Canon on par with Sony.

The IBIS system can offer 8 stops of vibration reduction with supported lenses, more than any rival camera. This allowed me to get sharp handheld shots at low shutter speeds when shooting in low light. And thanks to the sensor’s fast read speeds, the rolling shutter is well controlled and only noticeable on fast-moving subjects or fast panning.

image quality

The EOS R3 might be Canon’s best mirrorless camera for image quality, particularly when it comes to dynamic range. The new 24-megapixel sensor offers at least a more dynamic range than the EOS R5, giving you more room for adjustments with RAW images. JPEGs also look great straight from the camera, with well-balanced sharpening and noise reduction.

Canon’s color science is still the best, delivering stellar color accuracy and natural skin tones. As usual with Canon, it has a slight bias towards warm tones.

The R3 really shines in low light too. Noise is almost non-existent up to ISO 3200, with almost no noticeable drop in dynamic range. It remains well controlled up to ISO 12,800, and images can be used at ISO 25,600 and even higher if you expose them perfectly.

The biggest downside is the low resolution of 24 megapixels. With the 45-megapixel EOS R5 or 50-megapixel Sony A1, you can shoot birds or wildlife from a greater distance and still have room to crop. R3 is much more limited if you want to retain details.

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