Review: Canon EOS R3 mirrorless camera, eye tracking look-to-focus and 6K60p video

Canon’s EOS R3 camera is easily one of the best cameras the company makes. The R3 blends many of the best features you expect from Canon today and puts them into a robust body that is so capable there’s a good chance this is more camera than you are a photographer.

This is one of the latest cameras in Canon’s growing list of full-frame mirrorless cameras, as we continue the march away from DSLR’s in favour of the latest and greatest technology, flipping mirrors seems like a thing of the past.

The R3 features many of the same Canon knobs and buttons on the body that you’ll be familiar with, and while the touchscreen is certainly powerful, Canon continues to provide its users with physical buttons for almost every function they need while shooting in a range of lighting and environment conditions.

After spending a couple of weeks with the camera body and a couple of lenses (24-70mm and 100-500mm), it’s time for a full review of the camera.

DESIGN

Familiar body with plenty of buttons.

The body of the Canon EOS R3 is solid, there’s no mistaking this is a serious camera ready to perform for you. After using many Canon’s the look and feel certainly feels familiar, with many of the buttons, knobs and dials in the same position, making navigating the vast array of options quite easy if you’ve shot Canon before.

There is no doubt that if you’re new to Canon, or have only dealt with entry-level cameras then this will be quite confronting when you first get hands on.

After using Canon cameras for well over a decade, I was really satisfied with the feeling of the camera in my hand, now I’m someone with large hands, so others may struggle without a tripod, but the grips for your hands are perfectly placed to secure the camera and keep it still during shooting.

The rear display is a rotating touchscreen that offers great quality, touch interaction and is really bright. This rotates out and supports multiple angles, really handy when you’re shooting at different heights, like low to the ground, or over people or fences. Certainly not new to this model, but still equally appreciated is the ability to fold this display back on itself to protect the screen during transport. This allows you to throw the robust body in a bag without fear of scratching anything.

On the right side, you have the dual-memory card slots, while the left side of the camera features the majority of the I/O ports. Firstly the battery is a simple twist and pull away from extraction, which can then be placed on the charger to replenish, or if you grab a second, switch for a fully charged battery and keep shooting.

The R3 offers a 3.5mm microphone in and headphones out ports, along with a dedicated charge port, great for those long exposures. There’s also a USB-C port for transferring the data off your camera if you want to avoid the memory card to reader step of the process. In advanced workflows, you could certainly switch out the memory card and have a colleague download the photos while you continue on a new card.

The camera offers a mini-HDMI out, this works great for showcasing photos to clients, or outputting video to an external monitor, allowing a larger group of people on set to review footage.

When selecting different modes with the camera, you’ll have the mode selection dial which requires a push down before rotating. When switching between shooting modes, you’ll have the option between the viewfinder, the rear LCD display and the top display. This is one of those times where Canon are trying to appeal to all preferences and certainly add complexity, but others could call that utility and flexibility.

On top of the camera is a hot shoe mount, great for LED light panels, microphones, larger displays and more. This is covered by a cap, which can be easily slid off when required. This cover is likely required to keep the electronics covered if you find yourself out in bad weather.

On the front, the business end offers support for all the regular red ring expensive Canon glass and even more options with an adapter. Canon provided a massive 100-500mm lens to help showcase the abilities of this camera and I’m really glad they did. After snapping the big lens in place it gives the camera a whole different look and suddenly what was a massive body just seconds ago, suddenly feels proportionate to the glass in front.

Overall the design of the camera work really well and it’s hard to imagine many scenarios where you’d be asking for more.

PERFORMANCE

How does it perform ?

I had the chance to attend a couple of events during the time I had the Canon EOS R3 and these offered a great opportunity to put the camera to the test, alongside normal testing in the local area.

The first of these events was a stunt plane exhibition over Albury. This featured a demonstration by the Air Force Roulettes to support a Defence Force Recruiting Careers Expo. The 6 planes flying in formation, performing aerobatics maneuvers in the middle of the day, provided my first chance to get acquainted with the camera and its new autofocus system.

Shooting with the 100-500mm lens, I was hoping to capture some close up detail of the planes and that’s exactly what I got. As the planes rotated their bodies through the sky, the smoke trails followed close behind and the massive zoom lens enabled me to capture the action better than I could’ve hoped.

Not every single photo was in focus, that was me learning the camera, but from the more than 670 photos I snapped in the 15-20 minute performance, I was left with some amazing shots. As with every photoshoot of fast-moving, live objects, a little bit of work in post to enhance colour and cropping to center the subject matter, takes a good shot, to a great shot.

For the first shoot, I was really happy with the end result, although did struggle at times to use the eye-focusing technique. After going through all the menus that night, I realised I could calibrate the eye detection and from that point, it felt like it was a lot more accurate, so I’d definitely recommend you do this immediately when you get this camera.

Because the planes were moving at such speed, I also thought this would be a good opportunity to test the fps. While you’ll often read the spec sheet and see a growing number in the FPS column, what does that actually do for you?

In this context, with the planes rapidly changing their angles, light was reflected differently in fractions of a second. This means if you want to catch the light, just right (and reduce your work in post), then you can shoot at up to 30fps. With these bursts, you fire off the digital shutter to capture a bank of images and as you track the plane through the sky, you can see it twist and turn through the viewfinder.

When you review the photos later, you then have a bank of photos to select from, allowing you to pick the exact moment the plane was angled correctly, whether creating the perfect silhouette or exposing the full colours of the livery that runs the top of the wings through a banked turn.

If you do plan on using the rapid-fire, continuous shooting at high fps, then ensure you have plenty of storage available as each .CR3 raw file is as much as 30MB each. If you’re firing RAW+JPG, then add another 10MB per frame. If you leave your finger down for just a few seconds, you’re talking about a file size measured in Gigabytes.

The second event was a hot air balloon light show in Wangaratta. Staged in the afternoon and running into the evening, the event saw a series of hot air balloons inflated and boosted with flame in time with music, quite the spectacle.

This shoot featured two challenges, distance from the hot air balloons, and lighting changes over time, particularly once the sunset and the night sky was lit up by this spectacle.

An event like this, with a crowd of thousands, is always going to be bathed in safety protocols. This means the general public was positioned well back from the action, so again the zoom lens came into its own.

While many attempted to capture the action using their smartphones, even with the best zooms from the very latest flagships, there’s no doubt the 100-500mm lens from Canon offered optical zoom they could only dream of.

This means the proximity distance was negated and I could shoot closeups of the hot air balloons being filled as if I was standing right next to them.

When it comes to lighting, I did experiment with the camera modes and this is where a bit of personal preference comes into photography. Personally, I feel most at home with AP – Apture-priority where I set the aperture value and the camera automatically finds the right shutter speed to use. Keep in mind, I didn’t take a tripod, these were all handheld shots and I was delighted with the final result.

It’s a similar story to the first event, where off the camera you’re really happy and could share many photos immediately, but with a tiny bit of effort, you can take a great shot and make an amazing shot. Adjusting exposure and minor cropping was the two focuses in post for this event.

What was great about this shoot, is that the inflation of the hot air balloons took place over a long period of time, allowing me to explore, move through the crowd to different positions and try a couple of different lenses.

When positioned front on to the balloons, the zoom lens, even at 100mm was too tight, so switching to the RF 24-70mm was a great option. At F2.8 it was also fast, capturing a great amount of light in darkening conditions.

Overall the performance of this camera is amazing in terms of what it offers from the hardware from Canon and its up to your photography skills to extract the best from it.

FEATURES

Stand out features of this camera.

Easily one of my most favourite new features from Canon’s is the unique Eye Control AutoFocus technology. Focusing your shots, along with exposure, is one of the most difficult challenges as a photographer and on more than one occasion I have missed the perfect shot thanks to an error with focus.

This camera feels quite magic as you simply look through the viewfinder and focus your eye on a part of the scene ahead of you, only to have a orange focus ring jump to exactly where you’re looking. This allows you to select the perfect focus, simply by looking at the object you want to have appear sharp.

It is definitely worth spending the time calibrating this before using it for the first time, but once you have it really works exceptionally well. It’s crazy to think that this works at all, with just a few centimeters of the body in front of your eyes, somehow it’s able to monitor your retina and track movements, then adjust the camera’s focus accordingly. Wild stuff, but seriously beneficial to your photography.

You also benefit from camera shake with Image Stabilizer (IS) technology. The camera’s In-Body IS works in tandem with the Optical IS built into many RF lenses, letting you shoot handheld in dim light or while using longer shutter speeds.

Capture oversampled 4K or RAW video footage internally to a CFexpress card with Canon Log 3 for greater dynamic range and colour grading possibilities. Crucially, the same object recognition available to stills photographers is also available to videographers.

If you connect the camera to your computer, then you can use the EOS Utility software to establish a USB connection to remotely control the camera. In a more modern implementation, you can use the Camera’s WiFi connection to connect to your iOS or Android mobile app to easily get the photos from your camera to your mobile device, which enables sharing to your social channels in just seconds.

This new Canon Mobile File Transfer app is only available for a short list of cameras, the 1D X Mark II/III and EOS R3, R5, R6.

 

Specifications

I know our readers love the technical details, so below is the list of features on offer with the Canon EOS R3.

  • 1,053 Autofocus Segments
  • 24.1MP Megapixels
  • Shooting speed – 12fps mechanical and 30fps electronic
  • Battery – LP-E19
  • ISO Speed (204,800)
  • Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/GPS
  • 3.2″ foldable LCD touchscreen display
  • Storage – 1x CF Express Type B, 1x SD UHS-II
  • Dimensions (approx. w x h x d in mm) – 150.0 x 142.6 x 87.2
  • Weight – 1,015 grams

 

 

SAMPLES

Some examples of what this camera is capable of

FEATURES

Stand out features of this camera.

Easily one of my most favourite new features from Canon’s is the unique Eye Control AutoFocus technology. Focusing your shots, along with exposure, is one of the most difficult challenges as a photographer and on more than one occasion I have missed the perfect shot thanks to an error with focus.

This camera feels quite magic as you simply look through the viewfinder and focus your eye on a part of the scene ahead of you, only to have a orange focus ring jump to exactly where you’re looking. This allows you to select the perfect focus, simply by looking at the object you want to have appear sharp.

It is definitely worth spending the time calibrating this before using it for the first time, but once you have it really works exceptionally well. It’s crazy to think that this works at all, with just a few centimeters of the body in front of your eyes, somehow it’s able to monitor your retina and track movements, then adjust the camera’s focus accordingly. Wild stuff, but seriously beneficial to your photography.

You also benefit from camera shake with Image Stabilizer (IS) technology. The camera’s In-Body IS works in tandem with the Optical IS built into many RF lenses, letting you shoot handheld in dim light or while using longer shutter speeds.

Capture oversampled 4K or RAW video footage internally to a CFexpress card with Canon Log 3 for greater dynamic range and colour grading possibilities. Crucially, the same object recognition available to stills photographers is also available to videographers.

If you connect the camera to your computer, then you can use the EOS Utility software to establish a USB connection to remotely control the camera. In a more modern implementation, you can use the Camera’s WiFi connection to connect to your iOS or Android mobile app to easily get the photos from your camera to your mobile device, which enables sharing to your social channels in just seconds.

This new Canon Mobile File Transfer app is only available for a short list of cameras, the 1D X Mark II/III and EOS R3, R5, R6.

 

Specifications

I know our readers love the technical details, so below is the list of features on offer with the Canon EOS R3.

  • 1,053 Autofocus Segments
  • 24.1MP Megapixels
  • Shooting speed – 12fps mechanical and 30fps electronic
  • Battery – LP-E19
  • ISO Speed (204,800)
  • Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/GPS
  • 3.2″ foldable LCD touchscreen display
  • Storage – 1x CF Express Type B, 1x SD UHS-II
  • Dimensions (approx. w x h x d in mm) – 150.0 x 142.6 x 87.2
  • Weight – 1,015 grams

 

 

ISSUES

Not everything’s perfect

After reading the spec sheet, I went on the search for this magical 6K video quality which is 2K more than any display I have to test it on, but regardless, I wanted to shoot in the best quality available. After kicking the camera into the video mode, I see 4K, 1080p etc, but no “6K” icon.

Some internet research later and it seems that Canon’s decision to bury the 6K resolution option under one of the 4K icons, as long you have high frame rate disabled, you go into the 4K items and scroll the resolution options until you see one that is 6000×3164, despite having selected the 4K icon. Seriously Canon, this is just weird, please add a 6K icon into your next firmware update to help users like me that go searching for the best resolution available.

My other annoyance with the R3 is the fact that it isn’t (at least not yet), supported by Canon’s webcam software. I love utilising technology for multiple uses and with an investment of this size, it’s likely you’ll want to extract more value from the camera by using it as a webcam when not on location.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

How much and when can you get one ?

The Canon EOS R3 Mirrorless Camera (body only) is available now from a variety of retailers and at around A$8,500 is certainly a camera targeted at prosumers. If you’re an enthusiast taking shots of the moon, then this feels like a high price to pay, but if your photography skills are any good and you get paid for your work, chances are you’ll be able to finance an investment in a new body like the R3.

If you are spending these kinds of numbers on a camera body, I’d expect you already have a decent investment in glass aka lenses. If you’re looking at this as your first camera, then more power to you, but generally most purchasers would be upgrading from older models. On that front, I think most people with a 4-5-year-old DLSR would be really pleasantly surprised by the new technology available in a modern camera like this.

How much you value new features versus outright image quality is a very personal thing, but what is important to recognise is that this is just as much a video creation device, as it is a photography and still image device.

To put these prices in perspective, Canon’s flagship professional camera, the EOS 1DX Mark III costs as much as A$10,999.95, so by that token, you’re getting a good deal, as the R3 offers higher resolution photos, higher quality video and the reliability offered by a mirrorless camera.

OVERALL

Final thoughts

After having now reviewed both the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R3 Mirrorless cameras, I’m certainly convinced that the days of DSLR are numbered. These cameras offer an amazing set of features against a backdrop of absolutely stunning quality in photos and video.

If you asked me to choose between the two, it’s actually a more difficult decision than you may expect. The R5 offers 8K video, over the 6K on offer with the R3, but the R3 feels so capable, and that look to focus option is absolutely killer. Keep in mind the R3 is more expensive, the best part of A$2,000 more than the R5, so you absolutely pay a premium for it.

Which camera is right for which person is such a personal decision. The answer really can only be answered by you, but if your budget can stretch for it, the R3 is an awfully nice place to live.

More information at https://www.canon.com.au/cameras/eos-r3

Jason Cartwright
Jason Cartwrighthttp://techau.com.au/author/jason/
Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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