Toronto skyline during sunset

I was surprised and excited earlier this week to see the announcement of Canon’s new EOS R3 camera. I was expecting them to announce their flagship R1 camera (which would sit alongside their 1D series), but instead, Canon has surprised me with a ​“new” product line.

The 3‑series moniker has been used by Canon before, but not since 1998. (In fact, they never made a digital 3‑series camera.) The R3 incorporates the EOS-3’s headlining feature: Eye Control AF. Eye Control AF essentially uses the position of the photographer’s eye in the viewfinder to dictate autofocus placement. If it works well (the 1998 implementation was not always well-received, but it’s been more than 20 years since), I think this could be a game changer.

Not only that, but this looks like a 1D-series camera: it has an integrated battery grip. On the Sony camera I used to own, I bought their battery grip separately to make the camera more comfortable for me to hold. Canon’s cameras fit my hands much more naturally, but I’d still be very interested in something a little bigger.

But I’m way more excited about two other features in this camera: 30 FPS shooting and the Stacked CMOS sensor.

30 FPS shooting means that this camera should compete directly with Sony’s technologically-breathtaking A1 on at least some level. The A1 is Sony’s flagship, though, and the R3 will not be Canon’s flagship. I’m taking 30 FPS on the R3 as a statement that Canon can outdo the A1 whenever they release their R1 flagship camera (next year, perhaps).

The Stacked CMOS sensor is even more interesting. For years, Canon has been behind in sensor tech. Stacked CMOS leaps over the BSI technology Sony used for years and skips an entire sensor generation. More importantly, Canon designed and will manufacture the chip themselves. Unlike Nikon’s sensors, this won’t be a Sony gizmo.

This will be the first Canon sensor with backside illumination, which will help dramatically with low light shooting (an area where Sony still edges out, in my opinion). But it’s also going to be a boon for overall sensor speed. That Stacked CMOS sensor is undoubtedly how Canon is getting to 30 FPS.

There are some obvious questions that remain from this announcement:

  1. What is the megapixel count? (I don’t need more than 20 – 30mp, but I’m curious who the intended market is for the R3.)
  2. Does it record video? Of what quality, and with what limitations?
  3. Does it have a flip-out screen?
  4. When can we get one?
  5. What’s it cost?

That being said, there are some less obvious questions that are more interesting to me:

  1. The R3 already looks an awful lot like what I expected the R1 to be. In fact, my mirrorless R6 performs quite similarly to Canon’s flagship 1D Mark III dSLR. Canon’s new bodies are exceptional, but clearly they think they can make them even better. How much space is left above the R3 for an even better camera?
  2. If the R3 competes with Sony’s A1, does the R1 sit in a new class of its own?
  3. If Canon can surprise us with an in-house Stacked CMOS sensor, does that make the rumours about their global shutter more likely to be accurate? (That would be incredible.)
  4. How does a Stacked CMOS sensor change the familiar attributes of Canon’s cameras? For me, Canon’s approach to colour and exposure is more intuitive than Sony’s. How much of that is because of their (admittedly outdated) sensor tech? Will any of these positive attributes get worse?

The past couple years have been the most interesting years for camera bodies in two decades. I’m extremely excited about the R3, but largely because it represents an even bigger change in the lineup. It means that Canon isn’t resting on their laurels — likely because of Sony’s aggressive market reach and increasing dominance in the mirrorless sensor. As a fan of both companies and an owner of Canon’s system, nothing could excite me more.