Canon EOS R3: first experiences in test

As a long-time EOS-1D user (most recently Canon EOS-1D X Mark III), I have been waiting for the (mirrorless) successor model to the EOS-1D X Mark III for quite a long time. Concerning the Canon EOS R1, the question is probably not whether Canon will deliver this new camera, but simply when it will come onto the market. Canon has repeatedly emphasized in the past that they deliberately left room for a real flagship above the EOS R3 and there are rumors that the Canon EOS R1 will be shown at the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Reliable information about the technical data of the Canon EOS R1 is still a long time pending. Nevertheless, there have of course been various rumors in the last few months, which often mentioned a resolution in the range between 45 and 50 megapixels. There was also talk at times that the Canon EOS R1 was equipped with a completely new, innovative full-format sensor that would offer a resolution of 100 megapixels. This means that Canon’s highest-quality camera would also significantly outperform its own competition in terms of sensor resolution. The Canon EOS R3 only offers a resolution of 24 megapixels and the much cheaper EOS R5 has a resolution of 45 megapixels, but this camera cannot keep up with the speed and some of the features of the professional class. Canon should also improve the readout speed of the (stacked) sensor, and some people still dream of a global shutter.

Improvements in autofocus are probably mandatory, but at the moment it doesn’t look like Canon will implement a new quad-pixel autofocus. However, the eye control autofocus of the EOS R3 is said to have been adopted and significantly optimized. It is still unclear whether Canon wants to adopt the viewfinder of the EOS R3 for cost reasons or install a new EVF with around 9 million pixels.

With key data like that, the question naturally arises as to whether you shouldn’t test the EOS R3, Canon’s current flagship mirrorless camera instead of waiting for a camera which is not so outstanding as orginally expected.

The EOS R 3 looks very similar to many generations of professional digital SLR bodies 1D, 1Ds and 1DX. While the R3’s looks and excellent ergonomics are similar to these cameras, the weight is anything but comparable. The EOS R 3 is more than 40% lighter than the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. The R3 has a 24-megapixel full-frame sensor that works great even in low light. You don’t have to worry about using ISO settings that were considered crazy not long ago. A disadvantage of the sensor for some is that it “only” has 24 MP; A modest number compared to the 45MP Canon R5. In many cases, 24 MP can be considered sufficient.

Shooting is extremely fast and can be completely silent; 30 frames per second (fps) with the electronic shutter in full raw format with full autofocus and metering, with a buffer that I couldn’t use to capacity on first attempts. Like the R5, shots with the mechanical shutter are possible at up to 12 frames per second. The equation is simple: the more shots you can take, the better your chances of getting a clear image of a bird in flight.

Photographing birds in flight is one of the most strenuous but also most fulfilling photographic challenges. Capturing the birds in their element, in flight, is often the only way to photograph these birds up close. They obviously feel safe in the air and come much closer to the photographer, as is obvious with Swallows and Swifts.

The R3’s speed and excellent autofocus make a powerful combination. A sequence of 35 images I took of a jay in flight were almost all in focus, and the 30 frames per second helped capture some very pleasing wing positions. There was some blurring on the jay’s wing tips, but this isn’t a major problem with this model. The autofocus (AF) appears to be a step up from the R5, especially with a 2x converter; The additional power of the R3’s larger battery also supports the improved AF system. The R3 has a very capable Eye Detection AF system that was extremely quick to focus on the eye of any bird I aimed it at.

Overall, you can say that the R3’s AF system is really accurate. Especially the animal eye AF function. Keeping an animal’s eye in focus is a crucial challenge in bird photography, and keeping the ideal focal point on a bird’s eye is a key to this challenge. When a bird turns its head, the ideal frame usually changes as quickly as the head, so the AF point often has to be moved across the entire frame. Flying or swimming birds can change direction almost instantly or simply dive. All too often the subject changes position again before the AF point is in the desired new location. The consequence is: the recordings are missed. Combined with the EF to RF adapter, the R3 works very well with older EF lenses, but even better with one of the new RF lenses.

With the R3’s Animal Eye AF system, the AF point is no longer an issue in most cases, and the photographer can concentrate on framing the shot as the animal’s eye is tracked across almost the entire frame. I have photographed a variety of birds and animals with the R3. But even when Eye AF wasn’t used, this camera’s AI Servo AF tracked moving subjects very accurately even in other focus settings.

Of course, the animal eye AF can be irritating. This applies, for example, when the eye of a nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) can be seen between sprouting willow buds. The Canon R3 also has a fascinating “eye control” AF function that allows it to focus on everything the photographer’s eye sees. This seemed to work well, but I preferred this method due to the speed and accuracy of Animal Eye AF. Battery life is good at around 600 shots and is roughly in line with my experience with the EOS-1D X Mark III. However, multiples of this number are also possible.

It is pointless to go into the features of the electronic viewfinder instead of the optical viewfinder. The discussions were still taking place 5 years ago. In any case, the viewfinder in the Canon R3 is large, bright and has excellent details.

All in all, it’s a nice camera. I like the ergonomics and functionality of the vertical battery grip, and the weight also remains very manageable. The R3 has two card slots; one for the new super-fast CFexpress format and one for the more popular SD card. A constellation like the Canon EOS R5 is probably not to be expected with a Canon EOS R1. Some photographers would undoubtedly prefer two CFexpress slots.

It is understandable that a professional level of performance means a high price. I think I would like to have action shots and more pixels. I think I’ll wait until the Canon R 1, even though the R3 is the current speed and autofocus king in the Canon range.

I would also like to point out the options for communication connections (including WLAN connection with EOS utility). The built-in communication devices in the Canon EOS R3 establish a connection to a smartphone or laptop computer quite quickly. I had already tried it out at my location. Viewing, editing, retouching and transferring recordings remotely is not my wish. But I like to use the practical remote control that comes with it with prior remote viewing through the camera. The laptop display shows exactly what I would otherwise see through the viewfinder or on the rear camera display. With the EOS Utility software, photos are taken with many setting options (even with a magnifying glass function) and then triggered.

Shortly after purchasing the Canon EOS 1DX Mark III, I became interested in expanding the communication device. The Canon EOS 1DX Mark III can be remotely controlled with a so-called wireless file transmitter over a range of 150 m at a speed of 5 GHz. These are significantly greater distances with less interference than via the integrated Ethernet port or the integrated WLAN interface of the camera body. The WFT-E9 is necessary for this. This offers more range and reliability. This is very practical, especially in an environment that is “polluted” with lots of jammers, such as in inner-city areas with cell phones.

However, the price is steep for the new wireless file transmitter – designed especially for this EOS 1 camera – and is a good 700 euros. Maybe the WFT-E9 will find a new docking option with a Canon R1. In any case, it is not intended for the R 3.

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