Canon EOS M3 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Typical saturation levels with excellent hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
100
200
400
800
In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links above to compare ISOs, and click to load a larger version.

Saturation. The Canon EOS M3 produces images with saturation levels that are quite typical. Dark reds are boosted the most, with orange, dark greens and dark blues pushed a little, while cyan and yellow are slightly muted. The mean saturation of 110% (10% oversaturated) at base ISO is about average these days, and it's fairly stable across the ISO range, gradually falling off to a minimum of about 106% at ISO 25,600. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. The Canon EOS M3 produces pleasing, natural-looking Caucasian skin tones in our tests when using manual white balance (Auto WB was similar, just slightly more yellow). Darker skin tones show a small nudge toward orange, but lighter tones are more pinkish. Very good results. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. As we've come to expect from Canon, the EOS M3's hue accuracy is excellent when manual white balance is used (as it always is for these results), and is much better than average. There are the usual shifts in cyan toward blue (though actually quite small), red toward orange, orange toward yellow, and yellow toward green, but all are fairly minor. Average "delta-C" color error at base ISO is only 3.66 which is excellent, among the better scores we've recorded to date. Delta-C color error varies slightly with sensitivity, but remains better than average even at the highest ISOs. Hue is "what color" the color is.

Click to see EOSM3FAR2I0100.JPG Click to see EOSM3OUTBMP3.JPG Click to see EOSM3hSLI00100NR2D.JPG
See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Auto and Incandescent settings both struggled with household incandescent lighting, though Manual white balance worked well. Average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV

Indoors, under incandescent lighting, the Canon EOS M3's Auto and Incandescent white balance settings struggled, producing very reddish or orange/yellow color casts. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon among cameras we've tested, but disappointing nonetheless. The Manual setting produced the most accurate results, though just slightly cool with a small nudge towards green. The Canon EOS M3 required +0.3 EV exposure compensation for this shot, which is about average among the cameras we've tested. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)

Outdoors, daylight
Very good color, though a tendency towards slightly cool color balance with somewhat high contrast under harsh lighting. Slightly below average exposure accuracy.

Manual White Balance,
+1.0 EV
Auto White Balance,
0 EV

Outdoors, the Canon EOS M3 produced slightly yellow skin tones with Auto white balance so we preferred manual WB, though overall color was generally very good. The Canon EOS M3 required +1.0 EV exposure compensation to keep the mannequin's face bright, a little higher than average for our"Sunlit" portrait shot. The Canon EOS M3's default contrast is a little high, producing some washed-out highlights and dark shadows under the deliberately harsh lighting of the shot above left, though the camera's Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone Priority settings help with high contrast scenes like these. See below for examples of this. The Far-field shot (above right) is a bit cool, and exposure is a bit dim at default exposure, but with the camera avoided blowing any highlights, though there are some deep shadows which are noisy and discolored.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
~2,700 to ~2,800 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, about 2,800 from RAW.

Strong detail to
~2,800 lines horizontal
In-Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,700 lines vertical
In-Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,800 lines horizontal
ACR Converted RAW
Strong detail to
~2,700 lines vertical
ACR Converted RAW

Our resolution chart showed sharp, distinct line patterns up to just under 2,800 lines per picture height horizontally and to just over 2,700 lines vertically. Some may argue for higher numbers, but lines begin to merge at this resolution, and some aliasing artifacts in the form of moiré patterns can be seen at lower resolutions. Extinction of the pattern occurred between 3,400 and 3,600 lines. An Adobe Camera Raw converted .CR2 file produces about the same resolution as the in-camera JPEG, though complete extinction of the pattern was extended to between 3,600 and 4,000 lines, close to the limit of our chart. While ACR was able to extract more detail, it also produced more moiré and false colors. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

PDAF pixel substitution artifacts?

Both in-camera JPEG and ACR converted resolution target images contain purple "stripes" centered along the main horizontal line patterns, which are likely a side effect of pixel substitution required for the on-chip phased-detect autofocus photosites. (Please note that saturation was increased for the above crop to make the stripe more visible.) We doubt this type of artifact would ever be an issue in real-world images, though.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Somewhat soft images at default sharpening, but with noticeable sharpening artifacts. Minor to moderate detail loss due to noise reduction processing even at low ISOs.

Using default sharpening
settings, the Canon EOS M3's JPEG
files are slightly soft, yet with
some noticeable sharpening artifacts.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of
the model's hair here.

Sharpness. The Canon EOS M3's 24-megapixel sensor captures very good image detail when coupled with a good lens, though JPEG images are a bit soft at default settings. (Keep in mind Canon has decided to keep an optical low-pass filter in the EOS M3 to reduce aliasing artifacts at the cost of slightly reduced sharpness, unlike some competing models which have gone the other way.) Yet the EOS M3's default sharpening setting generates visible edge-enhancement artifacts in the form of obvious sharpening halos around high-contrast edges, as shown in the crop above left. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows some detail loss due to noise suppression in darker areas and in areas with low contrast, perhaps just a little more than we're accustomed to seeing from an APS-C sensor at base ISO. Still, a good performance for a 24-megapixel model. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above the Canon EOS M3 produces JPEG images with very good detail, but that are somewhat soft with visible sharpening halos. With a good RAW converter, additional detail can often be extracted with fewer sharpening artifacts. See below:

Base ISO (100)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare a best quality in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to the matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 9.1 using default noise reduction with some strong but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (300%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).

Looking closely at the images, we can see ACR extracts additional detail that isn't present in the JPEG from the camera, particularly in the red-leaf and pink swatches where the fine thread pattern is likely treated as noise by the JPEG engine. Fine detail in the mosaic crop is also improved, but as is often the case, the conversion isn't as clean and smooth looking, with more noise that can be seen in the flatter areas of the bottle crop. You can of course apply stronger noise reduction (default ACR NR used here) to arrive at your ideal noise versus detail tradeoff. And, as expected, sharpening halos aren't nearly as strong as the default camera output. Still, not bad in-camera default JPEG processing, but as usual you can do noticeably better by shooting in RAW mode and using a good RAW converter.

ISO & Noise Performance
Good high ISO performance for a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1600 ISO 3200
ISO 6400 ISO 12,800 ISO 25,600

Images are quite clean at ISOs 100 and 200, with just a tiny amount of luminance noise seen in the darker areas, and very little chroma noise. Some blurring of fine low-contrast detail is already visible at base ISO, though, as mentioned previously. Noise "grain" is slightly more evident at ISO 400, but detail remains very strong despite some minor blurring due to noise reduction. ISO 800 is of course a little noisier, but fine detail is still very good with a noise grain that's quite fine and chroma noise well under control. At ISO 1600 blurring becomes noticeably stronger resulting in a more evident drop in image quality, though a fair amount of fine detail is still left. ISO 3200 is quite a bit grainier with minor chroma noise, but there is still some fine detail left. ISO 6400 is quite grainy, but the grain is still fairly tight and not too obtrusive. Noise and the effects of noise reduction working hard to keep it under control really become apparent at ISOs 12,800 and 25,600 with heavier luminance noise, stronger blurring and more obvious chroma blotching.

See the Print Quality section below (when available) for our evaluation of maximum print sizes at each ISO setting.

A note about focus for this shot: We used to shoot this image at f/4, however depth of field became so shallow with larger, high-resolution sensors that it was difficult to keep important areas of this shot in focus, so we have since started shooting at f/8, the best compromise between depth of field and sharpness.

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Strong overall detail, but somewhat high default contrast and unremarkable dynamic range. HTP and ALO options do a great job of dealing with tough lighting. Good low-light performance.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

The Canon EOS M3 produces images with moderately high contrast with some washed-out highlights and deep shadows under the deliberately harsh lighting of the test above. The mannequin's face was too dim at the +0.3 and +0.7 EV settings so we preferred the image with +1.0 EV exposure compensation. This resulted in some clipped highlights in the shirt and flowers, a bit more than we're used to seeing from an APS-C sensor lately, indicating mediocre dynamic range compared to the best of recent competitors. Shadow detail was however pretty good, though very deep shadows are a bit noisy and discolored. Bottom line: while dynamic range isn't bad, the Canon EOS M3 didn't do as well with this difficult shot compared to some recent state-of-the-art peers.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)


Highlight Tone Priority
The Canon EOS M3's Highlight Tone Priority (HTP) option did a good job of preserving highlight detail, though shadows were also affected, as shown below. (Mouse over the Off and On links to load the corresponding thumbnail, histogram and crops.)

Highlight Tone Priority (+0.3EV)
HTP
Setting:



Off


On

Highlights
Shadows
(Levels boosted
to reveal noise.)
Histogram

Both shots above were captured at the same exposure, the only difference being that HTP was enabled for the second shot which necessarily increases the ISO to 200; part of how HTP works. Although very few highlights were blown at default exposure to begin with, the histograms and thumbnails above clearly show a reduction in highlights when HTP is enabled, however shadow brightness was also affected somewhat. If you look closely at shadows (the levels in shadow crops above are heavily boosted to reveal noise that would be difficult to see otherwise), you'll notice an increase in noise is the price you pay when ISO is boosted from 100 to 200.

Automatic Lighting Optimization
Like previous Canon EOS models, the EOS M3 offers three selectable levels of Automatic Lighting Optimization (ALO), plus Off. In fully automatic (Scene Intelligent Auto) ALO is automatically enabled and it's available in P, Tv and Av exposure modes. Mouse over the links below to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the links to load full resolution images.

Automatic Lighting Optimization (+0.3 EV)

As you can see above, ALO has the effect of shifting shadows and mid-tones in the histograms to the right, brightening shadows and indeed most of the image while preserving highlights. ISO is not boosted for ALO so increased noise is not an issue, though it may be slightly more visible in shadows that have been boosted significantly.

HDR
The Canon EOS M3 includes a High Dynamic Range mode, which takes three continuous shots at different exposures and merges them together to create an image with wider tonal range than would be possible with a single exposure. It also offers four Artistic effects: Art Standard, Art Vivid, Art Bold and Art Embossed, as well as a Natural setting. We did not test this feature in the lab, however there are examples in our Gallery shots (look for filenames containing "HDR").

Face Detection
Just like most point & shoot cameras these days, the Canon EOS M3 has the ability to detect faces, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly.

Face Detection
Aperture Priority
Face Detect: Off
0 EV
Aperture Priority
Face Detect: On
0 EV
Auto Mode
0 EV

As you can see from the examples above, it works well, as the center image with face detection enabled is much better exposed for the face than the left image where face detection was not employed. Full Auto mode (right) was a further improvement, selecting a larger aperture than we normally use for this shot (f/2.8 vs f/8), a slightly higher ISO (160 vs 100) as well as using the standard Auto Lighting Optimizer setting for a lower contrast image.

Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.

In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.

Here, we decided to compare the Canon EOS M3's dynamic range (orange) to the EOS M (the model previously available in the US and practically identical to the M2 in terms of sensor performance, shown in red), and the Sony A6000 (yellow), one of the most popular mirrorless cameras out there. You can always compare other models on DxOMark.com.

As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger version), the Canon EOS M3's dynamic range is improved over the original EOS M across the board, with a peak of about 11.8 versus 11.2 EV at base ISO, and a minimum of about 6.6 vs 6.0 EV at the ISO 25,600 setting. Some of the improvement is due to the M3's higher resolution, though, which produces lower noise when normalized.

The Sony A6000 does significantly better at low to moderate ISOs, though, with a peak of about 13.1 EV at base ISO which is almost a 1.4 EV advantage. But as ISO rises, the gap shrinks and the two cameras perform very similarly at ISO 800 and above, with the Canon even besting the Sony slightly at some ISOs.

Bottom line, dynamic range has improved over its predecessor mainly due to the increased resolution, but the M3 still lags behind the best APS-C rivals, at least at low ISOs. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Canon EOS M3 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.


  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc
No NR
ISO
100
Click to see EOSM3LL001003.JPG
2s, f2.8
Click to see EOSM3LL001007.JPG
30s, f2.8
Click to see EOSM3LL001007XNR.JPG
30s, f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see EOSM3LL032003.JPG
1/15s, f2.8
Click to see EOSM3LL032007.JPG
1s, f2.8
Click to see EOSM3LL032007XNR.JPG
1s, f2.8
ISO
25600
Click to see EOSM3LL256003.JPG
1/125s, f2.8
Click to see EOSM3LL256007.JPG
1/8s, f2.8
Click to see EOSM3LL256007XNR.JPG
1/8s, f2.8

Low Light. The Canon EOS M3 performed well in our low-light tests, capturing bright images at the lowest light level (1/16 foot-candle), even with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). As expected, noise increases as ISO goes up and light levels go down, but luminance noise remains fairly low and fine-grained at ISO 3200. Some chroma noise in the form of subtle color blotching in the shadows and dark areas is visible at lower light levels, though it's effectively suppressed by default noise reduction. As you'd expect, noise is quite high at the maximum ISO of 25,600, particularly when noise reduction is minimized (extreme right column in the table above).

We noticed a few hot pixels here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary. We didn't see any signs of heat blooming and banding (fixed pattern noise) appears to be very low, though random noise in very deep shadows is a bit high.

Color balance was fairly neutral with Canon EOS M3's Auto white balance setting, just a touch cool at higher light levels, but warming up at lower.

The Canon EOS M3's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to just below the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens. That's pretty good for a mirrorless camera and the M3 was able to focus in complete darkness with AF assist enabled.

As always, keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Large sensored cameras like the Canon EOS M3 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
High-quality prints up to 30 x 40 inches at ISO 100-400; Nice 11 x 14 inch prints at ISO 3200; and 4 x 6 inch prints squeak by at ISO 25,600.

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageISO 100/200/400 images all look nearly identical, and with lots of fine detail and pleasing, vibrant colors, these images make excellent prints up to massive 30 x 40 inches. At close inspection, there is some slight softness, as we're really pushing the resolving power of the 24-megapixel sensor, but at typical viewing distances for prints of this size, the resolution looks great. 30 x 40 prints are quite large, and the largest we test-print at IR. You're really only limited to how much you want to push the 24MP sensor's resolution should you wish to print larger sizes.

ISO 800 images still look very good, however, we can see that subtle shadow noise has become apparent, making a 20 x 30 inch print the largest size we're comfortable with. With that said, the colors and detail are still very good, so a 24 x 36 print could do well for less critical applications.

ISO 1600 prints look great up to 16 x 20 inches. Noise in the shadows is more visible now, though finely grained, but overall, prints at this size still show a lot of detail and pleasing colors.

ISO 3200 images might work up to 13 x 19 inches for less critical applications, but the increasing appearance of noise has us playing it safe with 11 x 14 inches. Fine detail is still quite good at this print size, but we noticed colors begin to appear slightly drab with a subtle greenish tinge now.

ISO 6400 prints look great up to 8 x 10 inches. Naturally, noise is stronger and more apparent at this sensitivity now, but there's still a good amount of detail.

ISO 12,800 images top-out at 5 x 7 inches. Details become too soft due to noise to really consider any larger print sizes acceptable.

ISO 25,600 prints just manage to squeak by with a usable 4 x 6 inch print. At this size, the increased noise and drab colors are workable, though we're very hesitant to print anything larger at this ISO sensitivity.

Sporting a big upgrade in the sensor and processor department compared to the original EOS M, the new Canon EOS M3 has an impressive showing in the print quality department, particularly at lower ISOs. Surprisingly, prints from ISO 100 up to 400 look virtually identical with lots of detail and great colors allowing for very large prints up to 30 x 40 inches. At the middle ISO ranges, the M3 does well to control noise and balance NR processing with a good amount of fine detail. At ISO 3200, the M3 manages a pleasant 11 x 14 inch print, though colors have begun to appear slightly "off" at this point. Even at the tip-top of the ISO scale, the new Canon EOS M3 achieves a usable 4 x 6 at ISO 25,600.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageTesting hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Canon EOS M3 Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon EOS M3 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!



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