Friday, September 17, 2021

Finally - my real world review of the new Canon R3 camera!

The first time I got my hands on the Canon R3 (pre-production) camera was in the weeks before I headed out to Tokyo to photograph the Olympic Games. I was allowed to show a photo of me holding the camera, but I was not allowed to show any more images of the camera or say much more than what I posted. Yes, it was a tease, but I was bound by the NDA I signed with Canon.

Now the camera has been officially announced and I can talk freely. Normally I would have pre-written this blog and posted on the day of Canon's announcement, but I was flying back from spending a month in Africa and did not have a chance to do so. So...let me tell you about my experience with the Canon R3.

First impression

On that day back in early July, I was waiting anxiously for the FedEx box to arrive and could not wait to rip it open to see the R3 in person. The first thing I noticed was that the camera was noticeably smaller and lighter than the Canon 1DX MKIII. I even put it next to the 1DX to confirm my first thoughts. I was also happy to see that it used the same batteries as the Canon 1D series. 

Having used the Canon R5 and Canon R6 for some time, all the buttons and dials were in familiar places, so using the camera seemed easy. The one noticeable difference was the over-sized eye piece, which was made larger to support the new eye control. More on that later...

I played with the camera and took a bunch of test photos. I had a lot of questions about the setup, and had numerous calls with the technical people at Canon to fully understand the new features and to fine-tune the camera for what I wanted. My goal was to set up the camera for optimal shooting at the Olympics, with dual back-button focus and having the eye-control trained for my pupil. As it turned out, I ended up using a newer version of the Canon R3 in Tokyo and had to retrain that camera, but I made notes of everything I had changed at home, so it was easy to make those adjustments at the Olympics.

Real-world use at the Olympics

I went to Tokyo with two Canon R5 cameras, a bunch of lenses, lots of ProGrade Digital memory cards, and knew that I would be getting an R3 when I arrived at the Games. My original plan was to shoot with the Canon R5 cameras as my primary cameras, and use the Canon R3 as my "test camera" for those times when I was not contractually obligated to shoot for Team USA.  But that changed almost immediately! I started using the Canon R3 at the Opening Ceremony and never stopped. The Canon R5 cameras basically sat in my camera bags for most of the Olympics.

The Canon R3 is blazing fast, with the ability to capture up to 30 frames per second. This may not be needed by all photographers, but at the Olympics it was amazing. 

This fast frame rate allowed me to capture the peak of action much easier than in Olympics past.

I love that the Canon R3 is silent when shooting since it is a mirrorless camera, but I also really appreciated that Canon added a simulated shutter sound, that can be turned on and off. As a long-time DSLR shooter, I have grown accustomed to hearing my shutter speed. It was a welcome feature during these games.

I did not always use the fastest setting, as it was not needed for all photos. For this multi-exposure shot, I wanted a slightly slower burst rate, so that the images did not stack up on each other too closely.

But...when I needed to capture that key moment, the Canon R3 came through beautifully.

Johnny Hooper is known for his strength in the pool, and I captured this image of him rising high out of the water during the men's last game. Having a super fast frame rate allowed me to grab that one image at the top of his shot, with his body highest out of the water. That same fast frame rate also meant that I had a lot more images to go through after each game. I still remember the first time I shot a water polo game, downloaded the photos in the press room, and saw that I had bursted out 2600 images during the one hour game. Yikes! Being under such a tight deadline, this added a new wrinkle into my workflow, but the better images made up for the slight delay in culling speed. 

The most asked question "What is the resolution?"

The most asked question for the last two months was "Can you tell us how many megapixels the camera is?" And of course I could not. But as many of you saw, there were numerous photography sites that grabbed my photos, dissected them and determined that the camera is 24MP. Is that enough? For most of my photography, this is plenty of resolution.  USA Water Polo currently has large billboards in Southern California using one of my images from the Tokyo Olympics, and it was taken at 24MP. Heck, I remember using 4MP cameras in the past and having those images enlarged to 4' by 8' at trade shows. Do I wish for more megapixels in the Canon R3? Yeah, maybe a little more would be nice. But I really did not need more for what I was shooting and I was not cropping much. I can tell you that in Africa I was using two Canon R5 cameras and loved the ability to shoot small birds, crop in on the images, and still have good sized files to print.

Focus speed and eye-control

In the last couple of days, I have had many people ask me about the focus speed and eye-control of the Canon R3 and their overall effectiveness. I can tell you that the focus speed of the R3 was top-notch, giving me a very high percentage of "keepers" from each event. When shooting the fast action of the Olympics, it is a tall order to ask for all images to be tack sharp. This new camera did an amazing job of locking focus. 

I used eye-detection for some of the sports, but also chose to go "old school" and use a single point back-button focus for many of the events. There were many times when I would not be facing the athletes head on, or I had so many people in the frame that the camera did not know who to focus on. This is where the eye-control would be most welcome, and I had high hopes to use this at the Games. But I was using a pre-production camera and the eye-control did not seem fast enough at the time for this action. I should have tried it more, but since I was under pressure to get my photos every day, I chose to turn it off most of the time. With that said, I think that the eye-control will be awesome for my event photography, allowing me to lock focus on my chosen subjects for portraits, weddings, bar mitzvah or corporate events. 

My challenges with the Canon R3

Honestly, there are not many things to pick on with this new camera. But you know me, and you know that I am really demanding with my camera gear. The one thing that I did not like about the Canon R3 is that Canon chose to have one CFexpress card slot and one SD card slot. I always write RAW images to both cards when I am shooting (for redundancy), and since the SD card is so much slower than the CFexpress card, I have numerous times when I filled the camera buffer and missed some great shots. For the USA Water Polo women's gold medal game, I decided to pull the SD card and shoot to just the CFexpress card. I could not risk having buffer issues during this key game!

I should mention that I shot the entire Olympics in RAW+JPEG mode, since I could not easily open a Canon R3 RAW file and had to work with the JPEGs for the whole Games. I wanted to capture the RAW files, since I plan on re-editing the best photos from the RAW files in the weeks to come, once Adobe has added the R3 to Adobe Camera RAW. Shooting RAW+JPEG really slows things down, and I don't plan on shooting that way in the future. 

Overall impression of the camera

Not everyone needs a camera that performs at the level of the Canon R3, but for those of us who need to fire off 30 frames per second, need the super fast focus speeds, and want the very best, this camera is awesome. Ever since using the Canon R5 and Canon R6 for my photography, I knew that mirrorless was the way to go. The new Canon R3 brings all the power of the Canon 1D series to the mirrorless world, and that is a welcome addition to the Canon line-up. Canon may not like me saying this, but for anyone looking to purchase a Canon 1DX MKIII, I would recommend going with the Canon R3. I think that the R series is the future for Canon, with all the new lenses coming out for these new bodies, and the camera just performs better in so many respects.


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genomeboy said...

So sell my 1Dx3? Does it have the same eye/face detect AF for animals as the R5? How long did the battery last?

dobeall said...

Great review, I've been waiting to hear your thoughts on the R3! About the buffer issues and the CF Express/SD slots, so do you think that shooting RAW+RAW will be less taxing on the buffer than the RAW+Jpeg? I used to get so frustrated with my old 1D Mark III, with the CF/ SD situation and I am not excited at the idea of having to deal with that sort of situation again. Not sure if you ever used the 1D Mark III? You absolutely got some beautiful shots in Tokyo, looking forward to seeing what you capture next year in Beijing, with I'm assuming the R3 again.

UFA88 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Nice post.
Will saving RAW to CFExpress and JPG to SD be a better intermediate solution to increase the buffer size, rather than RAW+JPG to both cards, or to one card?

Anonymous said...

Nice post.
Will saving RAW to CFExpress and JPG to SD be a better intermediate solution to increase the buffer size compared to RAW + JPG to one card or both cards?

BenandBeccalee said...

What are your thoughts on the compatibility of your EF lenses using the adapter? Particularly that 200-400 f/4. thanks!!

Ralph Hightower said...

If mirrorless technology in 2013 was where it is today, then I may have considered Canon's mirrorless cameras. But mirrorless technology wasn't ready to warrant my consideration. The 5D III matched the performance specs of my Canon A-1 and F-1N with their respective motor driver: full frame, 5-6 fps.

Anonymous said...

Same stupid decision Sony made initially with the A9 and two speeds of cards.
They hurriedly corrected this with the A9 II and didn't repeat the mistake with the A1.
This alone puts me off purchasing a $6000 camera.
Its mindblowingly dumb.
Canon should fire the Product Owner that approved this decision.

Anonymous said...

All the specifications are to the top notch but 25.1MP is very disaponting> I was impaciently waiting for this camera to be a 45+MP so that it could be a all round camera for any genery of Photography. I love this camera but will never buy it just foe that one reason.

The Logician said...

Truly awesome photos from your Africa trip, Jeff. Especially liked the series on the "smaller" wildlife.