Canon web sites around the world posted additional detail regarding the previously development-announced EOS R3, Canon's to-date top of the product line mirrorless full frame digital camera, and one that is ostensibly intended for sports and action photographers. Much of the additional detail could have been predicted and came as little surprise. However, there were a few new specifications that merit comment.
Resolution Bounded at 4K Oversampled
By far the most significant new information is that the R3 will shoot 4K and 4K oversampled video -- but not 8K. While the sensor megapixel count was not specified, this very likely means that the sensor will not be in the 45+ MP range of the R5. More likely, according to some commentators, it will be somewhere in the 20-24MP range -- although one suggests 24-32MP, the upper end of that range putting it in EOS 5D MkIV territory. How 4K and 4K oversampled video maps onto a 35mm frame with a resolution in this range is yet to be determined. Earlier Canon 4K implementations simply used a 1-for-1 cropped rectangle in the middle of the frame. The 20MP EOS 1DX Mk III down sampled from 5.5K to record 4K. The actual resolution and how oversampling will be done will have to await further revelations. We give our opinion on this development at the end of this commentary.
What Else Do We Know?
There are plenty of positives. The camera will provide up to a 30 frames per second rate, undoubtedly with electronic shutter. Indicative of the R3's advertised emphasis on sports and action, the subject recognition capability will now encompass vehicle recognition in addition to people and animals. Motor sports are a hugh market segment, and this will be welcome news to NASCAR, F1, Indy car, SCCA and other motor sports photographers. And, making a return will be eye-controlled AF subject selection -- the latter not seen since the EOS 3 film camera. Also, the R3 will use the same battery as the 1DX Mk III, surely a boon to owners of the flagship DSLR model, making transition to mirrorless a bit more palatable.
Another welcome feature for this market is enhanced network offloading capability, both WiFi and LAN. (We hope this includes a more user friendly product than the rather arcane Canon Connect app currently on offer.) Rather remarkably, the camera is advertised to be able to achieve focus down to -7 EV, certainly a boon to event and wedding photographers -- although one has to question whether 20+ megapixels will suit the latter. The well received optical/touch Smart Controller for AF point selection has been brought over from the 1DX MkIII. A new hot shoe adds additional functionality, including the ability to power accessories. The camera will be able to flash sync with electronic shutter, a feature missing from the R5, and one that will be much appreciated by bird photographers who use flash extenders for flash fill.
Perhaps most indicative of Canon's future direction is the announcement of Canon's first stacked backside illuminated sensor, a technology that Sony has had near exclusive dominion over for years -- and one which has given Sony Alpha cameras virtually unique dynamic range, low noise and fast readout capabilities. The announcement called it "Canon developed" rather than Canon manufactured, so there remains some question as to exactly how and by whom the sensor is to be manufactured. Certainly there have been many Canon patents for a stacked BSI sensor in recent years -- as well as for a global sensor. And, Canon has signed a cooperative agreement with Xperi for use of their Direct Bond Interconnect (DBI®) technology. One suspects that, going forward, there will be a Canon technical white paper on the sensor once the R3 is announced.
What Does It Mean
The short answer to the question, "What does it mean?" is simply that this isn't a camera I'm interested in. After using the 45MP/20fps R5 for a year, in my opinion the best mid-priced general purpose camera on the market today, anything less that 40-50MP seems a big step backward, and not one I am prepared to take. Many seem to believe that professional sports photographers neither want nor need more than 20MP. The key requirement seems to be uploading files rapidly to customers, in which case large files are more of a detriment than any benefit gained by increased resolution. Or so they say. Whether this is true, or will remain true as communication bandwidths continue to rise with the march of technology, remains to be seen.
Certainly the specs revealed so far match up well to the perceived requirements of the announced target market segment. Sales will determine all, but perhaps the best indicator prior to market availability as to whether this is the right choice is the fact that Sony's A1 features 50MP stills at 30 fps as well as 8K video. Nikon's development-announced Z9 is rumored to be in the 50MP range, a necessity to provide the announced 8K video, possibly achieving 20fps, although neither spec has been confirmed by Nikon. These cameras are professional build quality, ostensibly the same target market for the R3, but at 50MP/8K they are also all-arounders, much as the R5 is, the latter at a significantly lower price point.
One guesses that by limiting the R3 resolution to half of Sony's and Nikon's multi-purpose flagship models Canon has limited the potential customer base compared to their competitors. Even with the same processing pipeline, 30MP would be achievable: 45MP x 20fps = 900MP/sec = 30MP x 30fps. After the outstanding success of the 45MP R5, this seems a misstep. Time will tell, but in my own opinion the era of the 20MP camera is in the rearview mirror.
Why an R3?
Much speculation has followed the initial R3 development announcement. Two themes run through the discussion. First, with everyone anticipating a top-of-the-line mirrorless flagship comparable to the 1DX DSLR series, nominally an R1, why an R3, especially one that, because of the 4K spec, appears to be less capable than Sony's recently announced A1? The second thread is, where does the R3 fit in the R lineup and how does it compare to the products of other makers?
Regarding the first question, speculation centers around the possibility that Sony's A1, speced at 50MP and 30fps, came as a surprise to Canon, and that the R3 was to have been an R1, but, having been blindsided by the A1, for which Canon did not yet have an answer, the product was quickly renamed the R3. This seems a bit implausible given the time required to create and productize a new camera. Also, one suspects that each manufacturer has an inkling of what the other makers are doing long before products are announced. If these speculations are accurate, then there was an R3 planned all along, and the technology basis for an R1 is downstream.
Regarding where the R3 fits in the Canon ecosystem and how it compares to other makers, a few precedents come to mind. Back in the film days, Canon introduced the EOS 3, which coincidentally had eye-controlled AF point selection much as the R3, before introducing the flagship EOS 1V. Once the transition to DSLRs happened, for a long time there were two pro-level gripped bodies, one a high frame rate camera for sports and action and the other a high-resolution version for studio use, the 1D and 1Ds series. Nikon had a similar differentiation, both makers eventually moving to a full-featured sports body and a somewhat less robust body for general purpose use, the EOS 5D series in Canon's lineup.
In addition, Sony now has two pro-level camera lines, each with a stacked, backside-illuminated sensor, the A9/A9II and the new A1. Finally, with the sales of low-end interchangeable lens cameras drying up due to the ubiquitous presence of cell phone cameras, makers are forced to concentrate on higher end cameras for the professional and the well-heeled enthusiast in order to stay in business.
The above seems a rational and plausible explanation for the R3 -- although only Canon knows for sure.
Price and Megapixels Leaked. . .
Over the past few days, reliable details have emerged concerning vital stats of the R3. Canon has publicized a product announcement scheduled for September 14, and with that the sensor megapixel count and probable price have been published by a highly reliable source. The relevant numbers are 24MP at 30 frames per second and $5999 USD. I will probably get a loaner just to evaluate the eye controlled focus, having owned the EOS 3 film camera (with eye controlled focus). But, after using the 45MP R5 for a year and having seen the extent to which distant telephoto images can be cropped while retaining excellent image quality, this camera is a hard pass for me personally.
It will be interesting to monitor the reviews and market success of a camera priced not far below Sony's 50MP/30fps A1 but with less than half the MP count. Perhaps there is a future R1 in the works that will compete with the A1 and Nikon's pre-announced Z1, also rumored to be in the 45-50MP and 30fps range. But for now, the R3 is it for Canon users, and at a price that will give pause to many. After all, the Sony A9II, also at 24MP but only 20fps, is only $4500, or $4800 with add on grip. Is eye controlled focus and an additional10fps worth $1200? The market will tell all.
Today at 6:00 AM EDT, the R3 went live. Leaving aside the disappointingly overhyped presentation style and the vitually pointless initial photographer-in-the-field segments that proved to be more fluff than stuff, there was virtually nothing revealed that was not already known from rumors and leaks. Much breathless energy was expended extoling the virtues of features that Sony has had for several years via its own backside-illuminated and stacked sensor in the A9/A9II, and now the 50MP/30fps A1. Actual technical details concerning things that matter were few and far between.
One item that some may have missed is the stated target market for the camera. Despite early pre-announcment teasers that included wildlife photography as one of its intended genres, the live-streamed reveal featured only sports and news photographers. With these segments, the driving influence behind the choice of 24MP becomes clear. Canon has long claimed that those photographers neither want nor need more as they are working under deadlines and must transmit files quickly to waiting editors -- in which case, so it is claimed, 24MP is a blessing rather than a curse. This will leave many wildlifers, and especially bird photographers a bit underwhelmed.
One hopes the camera itself will be more impressive than the reveal, which I turned off after a few minutes and went looking for spec sheets and other, more informative presentations by those who have had a chance to work with a preproduction camera. These proved to be quite helpful, thankfully rescuing a pre-dawn wakup alarm from sleepy futility. The bottom line is that many of the restrictions and shortfalls of the R5 have been removed, and for the intended market this camera should be a winner. Among the fixes are those listed below.
If my subjects included a more generous helping of sports and action I would be far more enthusiastic. One baseball game convinced me that the stacked sensor's fast scan speed is a necessity for fast action with electronic shutter. While not every photo includes the swing of a bat or a tennis racquet at maximum velocity, some of the most dramatic images do -- and a warped bat, racquet or ball renders an image an instant delete. With the R5, the best electronic shutter images -- i.e. bat meeting ball -- were useless. While 12fps in mechanical or EFCS isn't exactly slow, it isn't 20fps either.
Unfortunately, my own personal photography no longer includes a high percentage of sports and action photography. Nor are there a great many opportunities for BIF. It does, however, encompass a healthy dose of landscape and architecture as well as bird photography, where feather detail and ability to crop are important. Given the amazing cropability of R5 45MP RAW/CRAW files, the 24MP R3 is a hard pass -- unless and until action photography resumes. However, there is a remaining point of curiosity -- the effectiveness of the eye controlled focus. It will have to work significantly better than the EOS 3 film camera to be useful. We will update this page if and only if we try out that feature via loaner.
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