Unless you have been living in a snow cave for the last few days (I wish) then you will be aware that Canon has caught the photographic community flat-footed with its unexpected development announcement of the EOS Mirrorless R3 Camera. The full announcement can be seen on Canon’s website HERE and by watching the video below.
Those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis know that I do not often write about equipment announcements and that when I do its usually because something fairly significant has occurred. The announcement of the EOS R3 certainly falls into this category as it almost certainly signals a fundamental and important shift in thinking from Canon.
In order to effectively analyse what this shift means we need to take a bit of a journey down memory lane back to the Canon EOS 1D MKIV and the Canon EOS 1DSMK3. Back in their prime these two cameras represented the pinnacle of photographic equipment from Canon. They were split between the high speed, fast auto focus, low mega pixel, low noise 1DMKIV (with its 1.3 crop factor) and the slow speed, high mega pixel 1DSMK3 (full frame). The 1DMKIV was targeted squarely at the sports, wildlife and photojournalist who value auto focus capability, low noise and high frame rate over mega pixel count with the 1DSMK3 aimed squarely at the studio photographer who wanted and needed more mega pixels but had no need for high speed frame rate. The ‘S’ in 1DSMK3 actually stood for ‘Studio’. Canon subsequently combined these cameras with the 1DX line and we have seen this combined line continue with the 1DXMK2 and 1DXMK3 cameras. Although the 1DXMK3 is still current and in my opinion the best tool currently on the market for wildlife photographers – that line is now at an end with the 1DXMK3 almost certainly the last professional (and greatest ever) DSLR from Canon.
The EOS R3 development announcement is very significant as it signals the very high probability of a split in the Canon camera line up similar to what we previously experienced with the 1DMKIV and the 1DSMK3. From Canon’s development announcement we can make the educated assumption that the EOS R3 will be engineered and designed for the sports and wildlife photographer and will favour low noise, high performance auto focus and high speed with a count of likely no more than 24 megapixels (that is my educated assumption). Canon’s own language in their development announcement points expressly to this being the case. The EOS R1 (when it is announced much later this year) will almost certainly be the high mega pixel studio variant designed to go head-to-head in the mega pixel war against the Sony A1.
There will be some who will no doubt bemoan a pixel count of 24 mega pixels in the EOS R3, but I can tell you from extensive professional field experience as a wildlife photographer that I would much prefer a very clean, low noise 24 mega pixels to a higher count that sacrificed noise for pixels. This is why the 1DX cameras have been such incredible tools for wildlife and sports photographers. The file produced from these cameras is super clean, even at high ISO and this makes them the ideal tool for the wildlife photographer. Whilst Sony has tried to create a ‘do it all’ camera with the A1 (and they have to some extent) there is no free lunch and as the mega pixel count rises so does the noise. You cannot argue with the laws of physics – more mega pixels in an equal space (35mm sensor size) equals more noise – period. Typically, in wildlife photography the best photographs are made in low light and high ISO performance is therefore critical to capture a clean image. Whilst the camera marketing divisions will continue to try and sell us the flawed concept that ‘more is better’ (this one goes to 11); I don’t know a single wildlife photographer that would trade a stop of noise for more mega pixels. Likewise, I do not know a single sports or wildlife photographer that wants and/or needs 60 megapixels at 30 frames a second – thats just a storage headache. What we all want is clean files at 30 frames a second and we would happily trade 30 or more of those 60 mega pixels for better ISO performance any day of the week.
If we examine Canon’s use of language in their development announcement in detail then we can deduce the following:
The currently-in-development EOS R3 is based on the concept of high speed, high sensitivity and high reliability.
Sports and wildlife photographers are the select group that require the combination of high speed, high sensitivity and high reliability.
The EOS R3 aims to provide professional-level quality for both stills and video capture, even for moving subjects.
Targeted squarely at professionals photographing moving subjects. Sports and Wildlife.
The EOS R3 is the first EOS series camera to be equipped with Canon’s newly developed 35mm full-frame, back illuminated, stacked CMOS sensor that makes possible high-speed readout. The camera also features a DIGIC X image processor for high-speed image processing that realizes high-speed continuous shooting of up to 30 frames-per-second1 (FPS) with AF/AE tracking when using the electronic shutter, In addition, the camera significantly reduces image warping, a common challenge with electronic shutters, and is also capable of capturing moving subjects with reduced noise in such low-light environments as indoor areas or nighttime scenes.
The key points in this paragraph are the stacked back-lit sensor for high speed readout at 30 frames per second and the ability to capture moving subjects with reduced noise in low-light environments or nighttime scenes. Sports, Wildlife and Photojournalists have these requirements.
Alongside Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology—by which each pixel on the image sensor possesses both image capture and phase-detect AF functionality, thus enabling high-speed, high-accuracy and wide-range AF—the EOS R3 uses an algorithm that employs deep learning technology that enables improved head and eye detection for human subjects as well as a new capability to detect subject torsos. Thanks to this enhanced performance, the camera’s autofocus system provides high-performance subject tracking, even during portrait photography and in scenarios with frequent subject movement such as sports. Development is also underway to enable detection of additional subject types.
In addition, the EOS R3 is Canon’s first digital camera to feature an eye control function2. When shooting still images and looking through the viewfinder, this new feature enables the AF frame to adjust according to detected movement of the user’s eye, making possible more pleasant shooting with quick focus when transitioning between subjects.
From both these paragraphs we can deduce that the Auto Focus performance of the R3 is designed to be industry leading to deal with the demands of sports and wildlife photographers.
The EOS R3 answers the high-level needs of professionals by providing dust and water resistance developed with each iteration of the EOS-1 series, body design with integrated vertical hand-grip, reliability and ease of use, as well as compatibility with Canon’s Mobile File Transfer3, announced alongside the EOS R3, which supports high-speed workflows.
Canon tells us this is a professional camera that provides dust and water resistance equivalent to its 1-series cameras.
Whilst the mega pixel count of 24 is pure speculation on my part, the evidence does strongly suggest that this will indeed be the magic number (or thereabouts). There is always the possibility that a sensor sporting more pixels may find its way into the EOS R3 – but I truly hope not.