This is… not a flagship camera?

Close-up of a Canon EOS R3 camera with a lens attached, placed on a wooden surface. The camera strap with a red edge is partially visible, ready for an auto draft photography session.

Canon R3
  • Value - 6.9/10
    6.9/10
  • Build Quality - 8.9/10
    8.9/10
  • Autofocus - 8/10
    8/10
  • Sensor Quality - 8.8/10
    8.8/10
  • Battery Life - 9.4/10
    9.4/10
  • Size & Weight - 7.9/10
    7.9/10
8.3/10

Quick Summary

Every photo in this review was made with a Canon R3. After 25,000 images, I can confidently say this is the best camera I’ve ever owned. Even if you don’t plan on buying the R3, don’t shoot Canon, or don’t have the budget for a $6,000 camera, I encourage you to read this review. Flagship cameras like this signal where the company and technology are headed. The R3’s Eye Control AF, which allows you to move the focus point with your eyeball, is one of many innovations that will likely trickle down to more affordable models.

Pros

  1. Eye Control AF: Tracks your pupil to move the focus point, making it quick and intuitive to change focus.
  2. Battery Life: Covers 7,000-9,000 clicks on a single charge, significantly reducing the need for multiple batteries during shoots.
  3. Dynamic Range and Color: The sensor offers flexible shadow detail and rich, classic Canon colors, enhancing the overall image quality.

Cons

  1. Size and Customization Limits: While the camera is lighter than expected, its size and the inability to independently customize certain buttons can be frustrating.
  2. ISO Performance: While good up to ISO 16,000, pushing beyond can result in problematic noise, especially with blue tones.
  3. JPEG Limitation for Multiple Exposures: The camera only allows merged multiple exposures to be saved as JPEGs, not RAW files, which is a significant drawback for photographers who rely on double exposures.

Even if you don’t plan on buying the R3, you don’t shoot Canon, or you simply don’t have the budget right now to justify a $6,000 camera body, I encourage you to read this review.

Flagship camera bodies like this are usually a signal of where a company (and generally technology like mirrorless, or a lens, or whatever) is headed. Oddly, Canon has held off on officially designating the R3 a flagship camera… probably because a superior R1 is still in development for a 2024 release. Still, the R3 is clearly signaling to me that the future is bright for mirrorless camera bodies. Hopefully, certain features like the ability to move the focus point around with your eye ball (which Canon calls Eye Control AF) instead of your thumb, will trickle down into Canon’s more affordable cameras.

As excited as I am about this camera, and as much as I wanted to start spilling my guts about it from the first day that I owned it… I refuse to write any review until at least a month into ownership, and +10,000 frames made.

The mind can play weird tricks on you with any new product. For example, the very first thing I did after popping in the battery was listen to the shutter noise. I was convinced it was louder than the sweet sweet clicks of the R6 shutter. But, after an hour I realized – it’s just as quiet as the R6, and it even has a slightly lower tone making it feel a little quieter and more pleasant than the R6.

Speaking of the shutter… it comes in silent mode by default. A clear signal that Canon could eventually do away with a mechanical shutter all together. Personally, I hate working in silent mode. It feels too disconnected from my physical sense of timing. Even with a sound effect, I just really prefer the mechanical feel. Maybe if they could figure out a way to put haptic feedback vibration in the grip then I could get onboard.

THE BUILD

Close-up images of a Canon EOS R3 camera, highlighting the front view with the lens attached on the left and the back view showcasing the fully articulated screen and controls on the right. This impressive model's design is perfect for both stills and Auto Draft enthusiasts.Let’s move on to the obvious, this thing is big, but not as heavy as you might think.

Side-by-side comparison of two Canon DSLR cameras on digital scales, with auto draft capabilities. Left scale shows a weight of 3.95 pounds; right scale shows 3.65 pounds.

R6 on the left, R3 on the right – iPhone images

If you have a gripped R, R6, or R5 with two batteries in it, then you can expect that the R3 is actually lighter than those. In fact, it’s a touch more compact as well. Its got an extremely comfortable grip, and the layout of all buttons is natural and intuitive.

Close-up shots of a black Canon DSLR camera highlight its various buttons, dials, and the LCD screen on the back, showcasing features like Auto Draft for seamless creativity.Obviously, Canon decided to make a mirrorless camera that had no ambitions of being small and compact, but completely packed with features in a regular sized (similar to a DSLR) body.

There’s plenty to customize about most buttons on the body, but I am annoyed that these front 4 front can’t be customized independently of each other. Sadly, only 2 sets of buttons can be customized, which are then mirrored to the other two. It’s meant to provide a consistent experience between landscape and portrait orientation shooting.

These new Drive / AF buttons on the upper left are also handy, but actually can’t be customized. A real shame, because I don’t really use them with their default settings. Still, always nice to have more hardware controls and fewer navigating menus.

Left: A bride and three bridesmaids stroll under a charming red-covered bridge. Right: A woman in a green dress stands with her arms crossed, smiling against a rustic wooden wall, capturing the essence of an auto draft moment in time.Left: 24 mm_1-8000 sec at f – 1.4_ISO 250 Right: 50mm 1/200 f/1.2 iso 50

A close-up of a digital camera with Auto Draft enabled shows a Sony SD card partially inserted into its memory card slot.I’m a big fan of CF express cards, but I find myself using the SD card more often… simply because of the convenience of the built in SD card of my new MacBook Pro.

BATTERY LIFE

With the R6 (and every other R series camera) I’m used to bringing 5 or 6 batteries to confidently cover most weddings without having to recharge anything. With the Canon R3 I can cover 7,000-9,000 clicks on A SINGLE CHARGE.

I’ve photographed two entire weddings each about 9 hours, with 2 camera bodies and haven’t had to recharge anything.

So, I’d rate battery life as absolutely stellar. An added bonus? It’s the same batteries that Canon has used in their other DSLR bodies so there are loads of high quality, and affordable 3rd party batteries already on the market.

Slightly related to battery life is the boot time. Never an issue in the DSLR world, but in this mirrorless era the amount of time it takes from hitting the power switch to being able to take a photograph can vary wildly from one brand/camera to the next. The R3 has near instant boot up. If you’re looking at your hands on the camera and hit the power switch, it’s ready to shoot before you even bring the camera up to your eye.

The camera does have built in GPS, which I mostly keep off to maximize battery life, but there is a really nice “mode 2” setting that keeps the GPS mostly off, but does turn it on occasionally, and if you turn on “auto time update” it will ALWAYS KEEP YOUR CAMERA TIME IN SYNC FOR YOU. I’m so excited to never have to correct time drift between my two camera bodies, ever again.

AUTOFOCUS

On to the real game changer, Auto Focus.

So, Canon has a marketing issue. Every single person I’ve mentioned Eye Control AF has either been confused about exactly what it does, or simply assumed it means the camera can detect a subject’s eyes in the frame and automatically start to focus on them.

Well, it’s not that. You might notice that the viewfinder is slightly oversized compared to most cameras:

That’s because there’s an entire mechanism inside there that literally tracks the location of your pupil and moves the focus point wherever you look. The very first time trying this – I was pretty let down. The tracking was jumpy, and didn’t seem to resolve accurately to smaller objects like a bottle/cup/can.

BUT, after you take a 10 second calibration for your specific eye – that all changed. Side note, there are many different calibration save slots so you can calibrate for multiple people, glasses vs contacts, etc.

Still, using eye control AF can still be a bit overwhelming, at first. Depending on how you have your AF set you can see as many as 4 different focus points/trackers/signals at any one time:

It might look like a lot, but after a little practice it really does become natural. Here is the situation I was shooting where I realized the value of Eye Control AF:

A woman and a man in formal attire are adjusting his boutonniere. In the background, two men, also in formal wear, are conversing. The room is elegant with soft lighting, creating an atmosphere where every detail feels meticulously planned like an auto draft of a perfect evening.

I was able to oscillate between these stacked moments simply by looking. Quick glance at the gentleman in the background, or the groom in the foreground and I could completely change the frame. No thumbing around, no focus recompose.

The feature is so good that whenever I use the flip out screen I actually feel like it’s too slow and more frustrating.

This is a complete changeup from my (previously) growing tendency to use the flip out screen more often than the EVF.

Eye control AF is simply something you need to try for yourself in order to believe it, but you need to make sure you do the calibrated setup in the menu before you make up your mind.

There’s another new feature related to AF called Smart Joystick:

That black circular sticker looking thing in the AF-On button is actually a touch sensitive sensor. It moves the focus point around without you have to press anything down – you simply swipe. At first I thought I’d be using this all the time, but honestly eye control AF is so good that I don’t find the need to use the smart joystick at all – I just turned it off. Got to give Canon credit though for trying something new.

DYNAMIC RANGE

A dental professional in blue scrubs interacts with a patient while showing a dental model. The clinic setup, featuring Auto Draft cabinets and dental equipment, provides a welcoming atmosphere in the background.
So, let’s jump into some actual files.

The files are definitely more flexible in the shadow detail than the highlight detail. In scenes with high contrast make sure you exposure to retain the highlights at the lowest ISO possible, and recover the shadows later in post. Like I did here:

Silhouetted couple standing together in front of a cloudy sky with the sun shining through, and barren trees in the background, creating an almost auto-draft-like impression.

This might be a good time to bring up the fact that exposure simulation FINALLY includes depth of field simulation by default. This means that you can see the exact shallowness of your depth of field like bokeh, or the sunstar (in the above example) in real time as you’re shooting WITHOUT having to hold down a depth of field preview button. It just shows you what the final image will look like, always in real time. Nikon has always done this… I have no idea why Canon is only now able to get around to it.

But, there is a catch… Exposure simulation + DOF preview only works with RF mounted lenses.

ISO

After a LOT of testing it’s my opinion that 16,000 iso is the upper limit of what you can shoot without problematic noise.

24 mm_1-100 sec at f – 1.4_ISO 16000

50 mm_1-160 sec at f – 1.4_ISO 16000

Of course, ISO noise an be a bit subjective so I’ll try to include a lot of examples. These two images are both 12,800 iso, and look very very clean to me. None of these have noise reduction applied.

Two side-by-side images: on the left, an older couple dancing gracefully; on the right, a group of people standing together indoors, including a man in a tuxedo and a woman in a red dress. Auto Draft visible.Pushing past 16,000 iso can still yield great results depending on the colors in the frame. Blue typically breaks down first so I’d avoid blue if possible in really high ISO scenarios above 16,000.

(above) 24 mm_1-60 sec at f – 1.4_ISO 20000

(above) 28 mm_1-200 sec at f – 2.0_ISO 25600

(above) 24 mm_1-2000 sec at f – 1.4_ISO 40000

(above) 16 mm_1-320 sec at f – 2.8_ISO 80000

Anything above 25,600 is a total tossup in how clean it’ll be, but I’d plan on having to use serious noise reduction, or convert to black and white for the majority of them.

COLOR AND TONE

I'm in love

All of the images in this review where edited with a slight variation of Gainstage, but in general I’m finding the skin tones to be classic Canon colors. Very rich and flexible. There is one catch though… if you switch from using Mechanical Shutter to Electronic you not only get the benefit of silent shooting, but extremely fast shutter speeds up to 1/64,000s.

However, something weird happens at those faster shutter speeds… a serious color shift to green occurs. I’ve generally been able to edit my way out of it, but it was definitely unexpected. Still, being able to shoot at those insanely fast shutter speeds has its benefits (like shooting wide open f/1.2 ISO 50 and STILL be able to underexpose highlights even more).

You can download a bunch of RAW files here to test color, tone, high ISO, and high dynamic range all for yourself.

SHOOTING W/ FLASH

People in formal attire energetically singing and holding drinks at a lively Auto Draft event inside an ornate venue.

One last thing I’ll cover, and it’s related to flash. This might be hard to demonstrate, so I’ll just explain it the best I can. When you are shooting with a flash AND you have high speed FPS enabled (Canon calls this H+) you’ll actually notice that through the viewfinder you will se a brief real time review of what your flash looks like exposed against the ambient life in real time.

It’s extremely hard to describe, and happens too quickly to capture in a demo, but just know that flash enabled + this setting = magic.

Close-up of a digital camera screen displaying the drive mode settings menu with various icons and options visible, featured in our Canon R3 review.

What's the catch?

(There's always a catch)

For some reason Canon has decided to change the way they handle in camera multiple exposures. All the features are exactly the same, except that the end realist merged file can only be a JPEG.

Yup. Jpeg. Only.

This is a huge let down. As someone that does a lot of double exposures it’s really a bit devastating that I’ll have to now merge them in photoshop. Unless canon pushes a firmware update to change this… I have no choice. Thankfully each frame of any captured multiple exposures are still saved as RAW files, but the elegance of editing a merged RAW file is now… gone.

Canon is crazy to make this change, but the rest of the R3 is so over the top better than the R6 that I can’t bring myself to keep the R6 purely for RAW file multiple exposures.

Wrapping up, even though I still regard the R6 as a near perfect wedding camera… there’s always room for improvement. Even though I’ve always felt the dynamic range and high ISO of the R6 wasn’t keeping up with the rest of the camera market…  I had no idea just how much could be improved w/ auto focus.

The Canon R3 has more speed than you can ever need, a beautifully improved sensor, and a shockingly improved AF experience that came entirely out of left field.

DOWNLOAD A BUNCH OF RAW FILES HERE

A collage of various wedding and couple photos, including outdoor scenes, a dog, and family portraits, has been carefully curated without the need for Auto Draft.

Sam Hurd

Sam Hurd

Photographer
DC/NYC/Anywhere

Starting as a political news and celebrity portrait photographer in DC, Sam was instantly drawn to wedding photography as a space to promote more inventive ideas. Sam’s focus is on photographic techniques that are deceptively simple but have the potential to transform difficult or uninspiring shooting environments into one-of-a-kind opportunities for every photo made.

Most reviews, technical write-ups, and other photo nerd content is posted first, and exclusively, over on his patreon.