Canon EOS R3 review: Hands-on First Look

September 14, 2021

Canon EOS R3



Price as Reviewed:

£5,879.99 (body only)

Andy Westlake takes a first look at Canon’s high-speed professional full-frame mirrorless camera

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Canon EOS R3 at a glance:

  • £5,879.99 body-only
  • 24.1MP stacked CMOS sensor
  • ISO 50-204,800 (extended)
  • 30 frames per second shooting
  • 5-axis in-body stabilisation
  • 6K 60p video recording
  • 5.76m-dot electronic viewfinder
  • 3.2in, 4.2m-dot fully articulated touchscreen

Back in April, Canon revealed that it was working on a new professional full-frame mirrorless camera, the EOS R3, which would be capable of shooting at 30 frames per second. In June it teased more details, reinforcing the message that this will be the fastest and most capable camera it’s ever made. So I was particularly excited to receive an invitation to the firm’s UK headquarters for a sneak preview prior to the R3’s official launch.

In-hand, the EOS R3 feels much like slightly shrunken EOS-1D X Mark III

With a body-only price of £5879, the EOS R3 clearly isn’t aimed at the average enthusiast. Instead, it’s designed for professional sports and news photographers who demand speed and reliability along with rugged build and intuitive operation. But it’s always exciting to see the technology included in such high-end cameras, as it tends to filter down to more affordable models surprisingly quickly. So what, exactly, can the EOS R3 do?

Canon EOS R3: Features

Canon has built the EOS R3 around an all-new 24.1MP full-frame stacked CMOS sensor, which offers a standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-102,400 that’s expandable to ISO 204,800. The stacked architecture brings remarkable speed, including a world-record top shutter speed of 1/64,000sec, and the ability to combine flash with the silent electronic shutter at a sync speed of 1/180sec. The shutter lag is just 20ms, which is so short that Canon is offering a menu option to lengthen it to match its DSLRs.

An all-new 24MP BSI stacked CMOS sensor lies at the heart of the EOS R3

That headline top shooting speed of 30fps is achieved using the electronic shutter, with a buffer of 150 14-bit raw files. Switch to the mechanical shutter and the speed drops to a still-impressive 12fps, but now with a vast 1000-shot raw buffer. Canon also claims that image distortion due to rolling shutter effects is almost completely eliminated, while flicker suppression is able to combat colour banding effects under LED lighting.

Files are recorded to either CFexpress type B or UHS-II SD cards

Canon’s choice of 24MP may come as a surprise, given that the Sony Alpha 1 employs a 50MP chip, and the upcoming Nikon Z 9 reportedly uses a 45MP sensor. But the firm believes it provides the ideal balance between image quality and file size for sports shooters who need to be able to transmit files back to their news desks as quickly as possible. Let’s not forget that the EOS R5 already offers 45MP at 30fps for those users who want both.

Power is provided by the large LP-E19 battery, which slots into the vertical grip

As is becoming increasingly standard, 5-axis in-body stabilisation is built in. This works together with optically stabilised lenses to provide up to 8 stops of stabilisation, according to CIPA standard testing. Two card slots are provided for recording files: one CFexpress type B, and the other, UHS-II SD. Power is provided by the same LP-E19 as in the EOS-1D X Mark III DSLR, which is officially rated for 860 shots using the LCD and 620 with the EVF. But for this kind of camera, these CIPA ratings aren’t very relevant; in practice you’ll get many times higher when shooting high-speed bursts.

Canon EOS R3: Video features

Video recording capabilities are just as impressive as for stills. The EOS R3 can record in 6K at up to 60fps; DCI 4K at up to 60fps; and 4K UHD at up to 120fps. Canon promises up to 6 hours of video capture, raw video can be recorded internally, and both Canon Log 3 and PDR HQ are available. Conventional 3.5mm stereo microphone and headphone sockets are built in.

Canon’s new multi-function shoe provides a digital audio interface via a series of contacts that you can just about make out here

Canon has also developed a new multi-function hot shoe that allows wireless connection of a microphone, with the ability both to accept a digital audio input and to supply power to the connected device. At launch, it’ll work with Canon’s new DM-E1D directional stereo microphone and the Tascam CA-XLR2d-C adapter that enables connection of two XLR microphones. There’ll also be a small ST-E10 off-camera radio flash controller, and an AD-E1 hot shoe adapter that’s required to maintain weather sealing with Canon’s existing Speedlites.

Canon EOS R3: Connectivity

Pro-level connectivity is included for rapid file transfer, including 5GHz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, and a built-in Gigabit Ethernet port. The EOS R3 is compatible with both Canon’s Camera Connect app, and a new Mobile File Transfer app for sending files to an FTP server via mobile networks, which could be an invaluable tool for news shooters. For this purpose, the camera is MFI certified to support wired connection to an iPhone.

The cameras connectors, including Gigabit ethernet, are found under these covers on the side

Canon EOS R3: Build and handling

One area where the EOS R3 really stands out is with regards to its handling. It has a similar body design to Canon’s EOS-1D X Mark III pro DSLR, with an integrated vertical grip and replicate controls for portrait-format shooting. But it’s rather smaller and lighter, although it still weighs in at over a kilogram. In your hand, the weather-sealed magnesium alloy body provides the same kind of robust, bomb-proof feel as its DSLR cousin, while the distinctively textured rubberised coating offers excellent grip.

The integrated vertical grip makes the camera feel solid and robust

The R3 also benefits from Canon’s latest design thinking, including an extra control dial that’s used to change the ISO, and can temporarily shift the setting when Auto ISO is engaged. The result is an evolution of the 1D template that has its own distinct character. But seasoned Canon users should still be able to pick it up and get stuck in straight away, without having to learn much new.

Have a look inside the Canon EOS R3:

On display at The Photography Show 2021, Canon are showing the internal construction of the Canon EOS R3, and the tough looking metal body:

Canon EOS R3 Magnesium Alloy Body (Internals)

Canon EOS R3 Magnesium Alloy Body (Internals) – Click the image to view larger

Canon EOS R3 Magnesium Alloy Body (Internals)

Canon EOS R3 Magnesium Alloy Body (Internals)

Canon EOS R3 Magnesium Alloy Body (Internals)

Canon EOS R3 Magnesium Alloy Body (Internals)

Canon EOS R3: Viewfinder and screen

Canon has equipped the EOS R3 with a 5.76m-dot viewfinder that offers 0.76x magnification and a choice of 60fps or 120fps refresh rate. Essentially, this is the same excellent unit as on the EOS R5 and R6. But it now gains an OVF simulation mode that aims to mimic the experience of using an optical viewfinder, rather than preview image processing and exposure.

The viewfinder is superb, while the fully articulated screen facilitates shooting at awkward angles

On the back you get a stunning 3.2in, 4.2m-dot fully articulated touchscreen. Compared to the tilt-only unit on the Sony Alpha 1, it provides superior compositional flexibility for shooting at high or low angles in both landscape and portrait formats. Together these make for as good a viewing experience as you’ll find on any other camera.

Canon EOS R3: Autofocus

Autofocus is based on Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF II technology, where every sensor pixel is split in two to enable phase detection anywhere in the frame. No fewer than 4779 focus points are available for selection, and the system is said to operate in incredibly low light levels equating to -7.5EV with an f/1.2 lens. Canon also claims an acquisition time of just 30msec, making this the fastest-focusing EOS R model yet.

Along with a multi-controller and AF-ON button smart controller on each grip, the EOS R3 features eye control focus

However, these raw specs arguably aren’t even the most impressive aspect of the AF system. The camera employs an updated version of the subject recognition system based on machine learning that worked so well in the EOS R5, but in addition to humans and animals, it’s now capable of recognising vehicles such as cars and motorbikes for motorsports photography. In principle, it can even focus specifically on the driver’s crash helmet.

Eight low-power infrared LEDs in the viewfinder detect where the photographer is looking

Three methods are available for selecting the focus area. Along with a conventional joystick, the EOS R3 also inherits the EOS-1D X Mark III’s smart controller, where moving your thumb across the AF-ON button can be used to position the AF point. In addition, Canon has re-introduced a technology it originally introduced in the 1990s, in the shape of Eye Control AF. This employs an array of infrared LEDs to determine where you’re looking in the viewfinder, indicated by a circular blue cursor, and then use this to select a subject for tracking when the shutter button is held half-pressed. However, the firm cautions that it requires extensive calibration to the individual photographer’s eye to work reliably.

Canon EOS R3: First Impressions

Even after just a short time hands-on with the EOS R3, it’s clear this is a phenomenally capable camera. It’s startlingly quick, handles brilliantly, and has a superb viewfinder. On paper it surpasses the EOS-1D X Mark III in almost every imaginable way, to the extent that it’s difficult to see why Canon hasn’t given it a 1-series designation.

In terms of specification, the EOS R3 surpasses the EOS-1DX Mark III in almost every way

Presumably Canon is paying homage to the 35mm EOS 3 – the last model to sport eye control focus – and I suspect it’s also trying to manage the expectations of any professional users who can’t believe that a mirrorless camera might match their DSLRs. But I suspect any such scepticism is likely to be short-lived once they discover what this camera can really do. Make no mistake, the EOS R3 – along with the likes of the Nikon Z 9 and Sony Alpha 1 – sounds the death knell for the professional sports DSLR.

Canon EOS R3: Full specifications

  • Sensor: 24.1MP stacked CMOS, 24 x 36mm
  • Output size: 6000 x 4000
  • Focal length mag: 1x
  • Lens mount: Canon RF
  • Shutter speeds: 30-1/8000sec (mechanical), 30-1/64,000sec (electronic)
  • Sensitivity: ISO 100-102,400 (standard), ISO 50-204,800 (extended)
  • Exposure modes: P, Av, Tv, M, Fv, B, 3x Custom
  • Metering: Evaluative, partial, centre-weighted, spot
  • Exposure comp: +/-3 EV in 0.3EV steps
  • Continuous shooting, silent: 30fps (electronic shutter) 150-frame raw buffer
  • Continuous shooting: 12fps (mechanical shutter) 1000-frame raw buffer
  • Screen: 3.2in, 4.2m-dot fully articulated touchscreen
  • Viewfinder: 5.76m-dot, 0.76x magnification
  • AF points : 4779
  • Video: 6K up to 60fps; 4K UHD up to 120fps
  • External mic: 3.5mm stereo, multi-interface shoe
  • Memory card: 1x CFexpress type B; 1x UHS-II SD
  • Power: LP-E19 rechargeable Li-ion
  • Battery life: 860 shots (LCD), 620 shots (EVF)
  • Dimensions: 150x 142.6 x 87.2mm
  • Weight : 1015g with battery and card