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Canon EOS R3 Preview -- Development Announcement

by William Brawley
Preview posted: 04/14/2021

Great news, Canon fans! An all-new EOS R-series camera is on the horizon, with Canon announcing the development of the new EOS R3 full-frame camera. The upcoming R3 will be Canon's fifth full-frame R-series mirrorless camera and will sit above the EOS R5 as Canon's most high-performance, most high-end R-series camera to date. However, despite its high-tier status among Canon's camera lineup, the company states that it's not technically their "flagship" camera. The 1D X Mark III (or the 1D X-series in general) reigns supreme as Canon's top-tier EOS camera for now. The new EOS R3, therefore, sits between the R5 and the 1D X series, but it will still serve as the top-of-the-line R-series camera.

As this is just a development announcement at this point, full specs and product details have not yet been released, but Canon has unveiled a handful of key details about this upcoming high-end camera.

Canon EOS R3 Key Features & Specs (that we know so far)

  • All-new Canon-developed, full-frame stacked BSI CMOS sensor
  • Up to 30fps burst shooting with electronic shutter
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF with Deep Learning-based eye- and body-detection AF
  • New recognizable subjects with Subject-detection AF
  • New EVF with "Eye Control AF" mode
  • All-new body design with integrated vertical grip
  • EOS-1D-class weather sealing

New Stacked BSI CMOS sensor is designed for speed

From a broad overview, the new EOS R3 is designed for professionals and advanced amateurs and, in particular, those needing a durable and high-speed camera with fast burst shooting and sophisticated AF performance for sports, wildlife and other action subjects. As such, the EOS R3 is centered around an all-new, Canon-developed full-frame sensor, designed for high-speed readout performance and minimal rolling shutter distortion when using the electronic shutter. While we don't yet know the new sensor's resolution, the new EOS R3 will house Canon's first stacked full-frame CMOS sensor with a back-illuminated structure.

Additionally, the R3's stacked sensor design, in a similar vein to the stacked CMOS chips inside the Sony A9-series and the Sony Alpha 1, allows for faster data readout from the sensor, which in turn helps reduce "rolling shutter" distortion during fast electronic shutter-based still-image shooting. Canon claims very minimal rolling shutter distortion during still-image shooting compared to other Canon cameras' electronic shutters. Furthermore, the R3's high-speed sensor will provide an electronic shutter with continuous burst shooting rates of up to 30fps with continuous AF and auto-exposure.

High-speed Dual Pixel AF and Eye Control AF technology

Given the focus on speed and performance for sports and wildlife, it comes as no surprise that the Canon EOS R3's autofocus system will likely be top-notch. Again, we don't yet know all the details about the camera's AF system, but Canon does state that it will build on the sophisticated and upgraded Dual Pixel CMOS AF system we saw in the EOS R5 and EOS R6 cameras. The R3's AF system will also incorporate Deep Learning for its subject-detection system that will track eyes and bodies as well as (we assume) birds and certain types of animals. According to Canon, the R3 will "offer new recognizable subjects for its AF system," which means we will likely see new types of objects that the camera's AF system can automatically detect and track.

One very cool new feature that's making its debut (or "re-debut," rather) for the first time in a modern EOS digital camera: Eye Control AF. Incorporated into the R3's EVF, the R3 will let users select the initial AF point or area for AF subject tracking simply by looking at a particular area in the frame. The EVF's Eye Control AF system will track a user's eye as they look through the viewfinder and then quickly move the AF point/area to the spot where they are looking. In theory, this should make it much quicker to reposition the AF point in fast-moving scenarios than fiddling with a rear joystick control or directional buttons.

I mentioned "re-debut" as this isn't the first time a Canon camera has had this type of eye-tracking-based AF control. Several Canon EOS film cameras, starting with the EOS A2E in 1992, included an Eye Control AF feature, offering the same general idea as in the R3: move the focus point to where the user's eye is looking. Having never used a Canon film camera with Eye Control AF, I can't comment on how well it worked. However, from this interesting retrospective on the technology from Dale Baskin at DPReview, performance seemed like a bit of a mixed bag depending on which camera you used; the EOS 3 camera with a 45-point AF system appeared to struggle a bit more with picking the precise AF point than the Elan II E did with its modest 3-point AF system.

Canon does state that there are some limitations to the EOS R3's Eye Control AF. Eye input AF might not be available in specific shooting environments or when wearing certain sunglasses, mirror sunglasses, hard contact lenses or bifocal eyeglasses. (The Canon film cameras' implementation did allow for some degree of calibration of the Eye Control system to account for eyeglasses or contact lenses, so it'll be important to see if there's a similar calibration system with the EOS R3.)

It's hard to say exactly why we've not seen Canon's Eye Control AF feature translate into the modern, digital era sooner. However, camera technology has evolved dramatically over the years since we last saw Eye Control AF, and we can't wait to see how it performs in the new EOS R3!

Canon brings gripped design & 1D-class weather-sealing to R-series

As you can see from the product image, the new Canon EOS R3 features a large, one-piece design with an integrated vertical grip, much like Canon's 1D-series DSLRs. This should make the ergonomics much more balanced and comfortable when shooting with longer, heavier lenses and when shooting in portrait orientation. While we don't have full product images from all angles, we can see that the R3 also features several customizable front-facing buttons, similar to what is offered on an EOS 1D camera. Further, the vertical grip position offers its own shutter release button and front command dial. It also appears that the R3 doesn't use a standard PASM mode dial and instead likely offers a similar set of top-deck controls as a Canon 1D-series body -- though we can't yet say for certain without a top view of the camera.

Though we can't say for certain yet, but based on the front product images, it appears the EOS R3 might have a similar set of top-deck controls as the 1D X Mark III.

In terms of weather sealing, the EOS R3 is also said to offer the same robust level of dust- and moisture-resistance as Canon's flagship 1D-class cameras, ensuring durability and reliability in adverse weather conditions and being able to withstand the general wear and tear that a professional photographer may subject their camera.

Lastly, Canon is also debuting a new mobile app called Mobile File Transmitter alongside the EOS R3. While we don't know if this is an EOS R3-exclusive app (we suspect not), the networking app for iOS and Android devices will allow for both wired* and wireless image file transfers. (*Wired connections require an optional cable.)

Canon R3 sets aim on Sony A1 and Nikon Z9 professional mirrorless cameras

In many ways, the R3 is shaping up to be a direct competitor to several recent and upcoming high-performance mirrorless cameras, most notably the Sony A1 and the upcoming Nikon Z9, in particular. All three of these cameras feature full-frame CMOS sensors that utilize a stacked design for higher performance and fast, low-distortion shooting with electronic shutters. While we don't yet know the maximum burst shooting specs of the upcoming Nikon Z9, the Sony A1 with its 30fps burst shooting looks to go head-to-head with the upcoming EOS R3 when it comes to sheer burst performance. Meanwhile, the Nikon Z9 also features an integrated vertical grip design, much like their flagship DSLRs. While the trend in the past seemed to focus on mirrorless cameras' inherent compactness and lightweight form factors, this new breed of pro-class gripped mirrorless cameras -- along with the gripped Olympus E-M1X -- put a focus on better ergonomics and handling, especially when using longer telephoto lenses.

Pricing & Availability

TBA. Pricing and availability for the new Canon EOS R3 has not yet been released.

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