Canon EOS M3 Conclusion

Canon M3 Field Test -- Gallery Image
18mm equivalent (EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM at 11mm), f/8, 1/50s, ISO 100
This image has been modified slightly. Click for original image.

Big upgrades to Canon's key mirrorless model

Sadly for Canon, the debut of the first-generation Canon EOS M was met with a rather ho-hum response, at least here in the US. Limited lens selection and less-than-stellar AF performance were major factors, as was the more established success of competing manufacturers in the mirrorless space. Canon, nevertheless, soldiered-on and introduced this noticeably beefed-up EOS M3 model with a new external design, improved ergonomics, a built-in flash, as well as all-new internals, including a higher-res sensor, a faster DIGIC 6 image processor and, indeed, better autofocusing.

Higher-res sensor captures great images

After using an 18MP APS-C sensor in the original M (and the M2 refreshed model), the EOS M3 makes the jump to a 24-megapixel sensor. Similar to the chip in the recent Rebel T6s and T6i cameras, this newer sensor allows the EOS M3 to capture excellent images. In both our lab tests and real-world Field Test, the M3 earns relatively high marks from us in terms of image detail. The 24MP sensor captures lots of detail, though we found the in-camera JPEGs were a bit on the soft side with the default level of image sharpening resulting in noticeable halos around higher contrast edges. We found much better results using RAW files and controlling sharpening ourselves in post.

Canon M3 Field Test -- Gallery Image
320mm equivalent (EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM at 200mm), f/6.3, 1/320s, ISO 1600
This image has been resized. Click for original image.

High marks for high ISO & dynamic range, but trails some competitors

Despite the higher-resolution sensor, which necessitates smaller individual pixels, the EOS M3's high-ISO performance is quite good for a 24MP APS-C camera and is in fact better than mirrorless cameras based on smaller Four Thirds sensors, though it's not quite as good as the best APS-C competitors. On a similar note, dynamic range from this new sensor is noticeably improved over the original 18MP EOS M, but, again, we see competing cameras showing better performance in this area.

Canon M3 Field Test -- Gallery Image
35mm equivalent (EF-M 22mm f/2 STM), f/2, 25s, ISO 1600
This image has been modified slightly. Click for original image.

Big improvements to autofocus!

One of the major complaints levied against the original Canon EOS M was its lackluster AF performance. While it did have a hybrid autofocus system with a combination of contrast-detect and phase-detect AF, the autofocus speed was still rather sluggish and simply did not perform as well as many other competing mirrorless cameras. When Canon debuted the 70D with Dual Pixel CMOS AF for live-view focusing, which was quite snappy and performed well, many hoped this technology would make its way to a Canon mirrorless camera. Sadly, this has yet to happen.

However, the EOS M3 does get an AF upgrade by way of Canon's Hybrid CMOS AF III system, which it shares with the T6s and T6i. There are more AF points on the M3 than the original M, and it's supposedly around six times faster than the original. In our lab testing, the M3 did indeed produce very fast AF speeds, and not only compared to the original M, but also mirrorless cameras in general. In real-world testing, the AF performance was also very good, with quick and accurate focus acquisition in most scenarios, and even in dimmer lighting conditions. Our Field Tester did notice some slight hunting issues when using a longer telephoto lens, but AF performed well overall.

In other metrics, the EOS M3 offers mixed performance. By today's standards, the M3's approximately 4fps continuous burst rate is disappointing. The buffer capacity with JPEGs was excellent however, at 50+ frames without any indication of slowing down. On the other hand, the buffer becomes rather paltry when using RAW or RAW+JPEGs at a meager 4 frames, though buffer clearing is quite fast with any file type.

Video recording also felt rather bare-bones, as the M3 shoots only up to 1080/30p video despite numerous competitors offering 1080/60p, slow-motion modes, and even 4K Ultra HD capabilities.

Canon EOS M3 Review -- Product Image

Updated design makes for a more enthusiast-friendly camera

While the original EOS M looked more or less like a PowerShot camera in terms of the amount of physical controls and its simplified bar-like design, the updated EOS M3 feels more like an advanced camera with a regular PASM control dial, a dedicated exposure compensation dial and a customizable multi-function button on the top deck of the camera. The fuller handgrip is also a big improvement that provides a more secure hold and an overall more comfortable experience.

Lack of a built-in EVF will surely frustrate some

The addition of a tilting LCD display is a very nice touch, though we, like many others, find the lack of an EVF rather frustrating. With longer telephoto lenses, not to mention using heavier adapted EF-mount glass on the M3, an EVF would be nice to have straight out-of-the-box. The M3 is, thankfully, compatible with an add-on EVF, but you have to purchase it separately, and it's a rather pricey accessory at around $220 or so.

Canon M3 Field Test -- Gallery Image
35mm equivalent (EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM at 22mm), f/8, 1/60s, ISO 200
This image has been modified slightly. Click for original image.

Native lens selection holding back Canon's mirrorless cameras

Though Canon is slowly growing the native EF-M lens family, it's still a very limited offering with just four zoom lenses and a single pancake prime at the time of this review -- a far cry from the healthy lens lineup of competing cameras. This was a major downside for the original M, and sadly it's still the case here with the M3. The current list of EF-M zooms cover a wide range of focal lengths for general shooting, but for advanced and enthusiast photographers, there's not much on the market for specialty lenses or fast f/2.8 zooms, for example.

Better than the original, but doesn't fit the bill for everyone

All said and done, the Canon EOS M3 is a significant improvement over the original EOS M. There's a better sensor, better AF performance and better ergonomics, which should please more advanced photographers. Image quality overall is very good with lots of detail, as is high-ISO performance despite the higher-res APS-C sensor. While it's probably not the mirrorless camera many Canon fans were hoping for -- no EVF, a limited selection of lenses, and no Dual Pixel CMOS AF -- it's certainly a much improved and more advanced mirrorless camera than the original M, and thus gets the nod as a Dave's Pick.

 

Pros & Cons

  • Canon Rebel DSLR image quality and resolution in a mirrorless body
  • Improved dynamic range over its predecessor, but still not as good as competing models
  • Good high ISO performance for a 24-megapixel APS-C model, though not quite as good as some leading rivals
  • OLPF means potentially fewer aliasing artifacts, but at the expense of slightly reduced sharpness (could be a Pro or Con depending on perspective)
  • Excellent color and hue accuracy
  • HTP and ALO useful in high-contrast scenes
  • In-camera HDR mode
  • Very fast single-shot autofocus
  • Low prefocused shutter lag
  • Focuses fairly well in low light for a mirrorless model
  • Built-in flash
  • Much improved ergonomics with larger, more pronounced handgrip
  • Full PASM & Exposure Compensation dials
  • Tilting, touchscreen LCD screen is very handy
  • Responsive touchscreen with handy tap-to-focus
  • Despite CIPA ratings, battery life felt longer-lasting than expected
  • First EOS mirrorless with Wi-Fi & NFC
  • Below average battery life according to CIPA ratings
  • Sluggish power up, play to record and single-shot cycle times
  • Slow burst mode at only ~4fps
  • Shallow buffers (4 frames) when shooting RAW (not uncommon for its class, though)
  • Auto and Incandescent white balance settings too warm in tungsten lighting
  • Slightly soft JPEGs at default settings (yet with noticeable sharpening halos)
  • Below average dynamic range at low ISOs
  • No built-in EVF, but supports external add-on
  • Limited native lens selection
  • LCD is tilting only; no vari-angle articulation
  • No 4K and/or 1080/60p video options
  • No headphone jack


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