Canon Unveils Probably the Best DSLR of the Last Times
By James Artaius
After being rolled out to pros at the Tokyo 2020 (2021) Olympics, the Canon EOS R3 is now available to professionals at large – and Canon’s latest mirrorless camera threatens to be the most capable all-round tool for working pros. While it’s not technically a replacement for, or even an equivalent to, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III (as this is ‘only’ a 3-series camera rather than a flagship 1-series), it nonetheless technologically leapfrogs the 1D X III in virtually every department – and stakes a bold claim as the best professional camera thanks to its 6K RAW video, blistering (and blackout-free) 30fps shooting, and its peerless AF system that now enables you to move focus points by moving your eyeball.
Still, with the 50.1MP stills / 8K video Sony A1 already here (and the Nikon Z9 on the way with 8K video and a minimum of 39MP resolution), does the Canon EOS R3’s 24.1MP sensor provide sufficient pixel density for pro-level shooting in 2021? Let’s see that below.
There’s no doubt that this is Canon’s fastest and most advanced camera ever, even outdoing the mighty Canon EOS R5 when it comes to technology – not to mention record times and overheating, when it comes to video. Has Canon dropped a clunker, or been incredibly clever, by opting for a 24.1MP sensor and 6K instead of 8K? Let’s find out.
The Canon EOS R3’s headline features are jaw-droppers. Its stacked, back side illuminated 24.1MP sensor boasts super-fast readout speeds that can capture photographs at up to 30fps when shooting with the electronic shutter (buffering 540 JPEGs or 150 RAWs), or 12fps with the mechanical shutter (for over 1,000 JPEGs or 1,000 RAWs). And the speed of the sensor also virtually eliminates rolling shutter.
In fact, the whole camera is so fast that you can actually slow down the shutter mechanism itself. The R3’s shutter lag is just 20ms, which is so quick that your muscle memory from using other camera might mean that you depress the shutter too soon – so you can adjust the shutter lag up to 45ms to compensate.
Speaking of shutter speed, you can shoot all the way down to 1/64000 sec to literally freeze moments in time, and you can use flash with the electronic shutter – something that was unheard of not long ago.
The 24.1MP resolution means that the sensor can capture 6K RAW video up to 60p, which also enables you to record oversampled 4K up to 60p. In addition, 10-bit 4K can be captured at up to 120p (with even cleaner results than the 4K 120p in the EOS R5) and the camera features the Canon Log 3 profile.
The back side illuminated sensor construction works in tandem with the impressive sensitivity of ISO100-102,400 (expandable to 50-204,800) for formidable low light performance, with the AF capable of focusing down to -7.5EV.
In terms of focus, the R3’s signature feature is Eye Control AF – a phenomenal function that enables the camera to detect where your eye is looking, so you can place a focus point by simply looking at your subject.
On top of that is the same core Dual Pixel CMOS AF II system that powers the R5 and Canon EOS R6, but featuring a brand new Deep Learning AF algorithm – which means that not only is autofocus performance even more robust, it adds a new subject detection capability beyond human eye AF and animal eye AF: vehicle AF.
Again like the R5 and R6, the EOS R3 also features a powerful in-body image stabilization system that offers up to 8 stops of compensation with select Canon RF lenses (including pro and trinity lenses like the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L).
In terms of handling, the Canon EOS R3 is a cross between the chassis and general configuration of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and the ‘grammar’ of the Canon EOS R5. That means we things like the mode dial and black LED top screen of of the R5 with the shape, size and layout of the 1D X III. And it feels familiar to users of both.
Like the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, this is a professional DSLR-style body with integrated vertical grip (using the same high-capacity battery), featuring mirrored controls in the same position when used in portrait or landscape orientation. In keeping with the rest of the EOS R family, the R3 possess a fully articulating touchscreen – but despite this, it still retains the same level of weather sealing as the flagship 1D X Mark III.
The only caveat here is the new 21-pin Multi-Function Shoe, which (like a number of new Sony cameras) provides both power and communication to mounted devices. This means that new accessories, such as the Canon Stereo Microphone DM-E1D, can be used without the need for an internal battery or additional cables – and they can be controlled directly from the menu system of the camera itself.
However, while these new accessories will retail the weather sealing capabilities, using current generation accessories such as the Canon Speedlite EL-1 with the hotshoe will compromise the R3’s weatherproofing. To use retain weather sealing while using current accessories, you’ll need the new Hot-shoe Adapter AD-E1.
The R3 feels as solid and substantial as the 1D X III, though of course the articulating screen means that it won’t be quite as robust. It’s noticeably lighter, of course, yet somehow it doesn’t feel bulky or heavy when switching between the it and the R5 – and that vertical grip means that the bigger RF lenses, like the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L, are very well balanced.
The R3 takes the memory card setup from the R5, rather than the flagship DSLR, featuring one SD card slot and one CFexpress Type B slot. Like the R5, in one sense this is incredibly helpful, as it means that you don’t need to invest in the expensive new card format – and you’ll never be stuck for a spare card.
However, certain shooting modes (such as 4K 120p) aren’t available with an SD card, and buffering images at 30fps doesn’t always play nice. And as a professional grade camera built around supreme performance, a dual CFexpress setup would have made more sense.
One of the best handling features is the inclusion of the optical Smart Controller from the 1D X III. Where the standard joystick moves AF points one position at a time, the Smart Controller enables you to whizz it around the screen as fast as you can move your thumb – but not as fast as you can move your eye.
To power the Eye Control AF, the electronic viewfinder is much chunkier than on other EOS R cameras. Using technology pioneered by Canon’s medical division to map and scan the human eye, the EVF features eight low-powered infrared LEDs that scan the front of the eye and then project that information to place a point on the sensor. And it actually works! (More on that below.)
Crucially, for a camera designed for sports and news photography, the R3 boasts a super-fast startup time. Canon clocks the bootup at just 0.4 seconds – and while our thumbs weren’t fast enough to see how true that figure is, flick the switch and the camera turns on pretty instantaneously. Much like the 30fps shooting, the R3 really is about speed!
There’s just one thing that can be said about the Canon EOS R3: it delivers.
We still need to perform full lab tests, but after extensively shooting with the Canon EOS R3 we can confidently say that it should be the tool of choice for working professionals. Whether you shoot sports, weddings, portraiture, pets or news, the blackout-free 30fps stills and 6K RAW video mean that you never miss a moment of action or detail – and the improved AF performance, coupled with ghostly good Eye Control AF, ensure that every shot is focused exactly where you want it. This is the professional camera of the future, a monster, folks, in a good sense of the word – and it’s here now. Check out some photos taken with it below.
James Artaius is a free lance photographer and contributes to many online magazines on the topic.