Canon EOS M3 Review

The EOS M3 is Canon’s third attempt at designing a basic mirrorless camera. The original EOS M appeared in the summer season of 2012 and had an 18mp APS-C sensor. The EOS M2 appeared late the following year and added phase detection autofocus, Wi-Fi, and a few other touches.

But here’s where items got strange: the M3 and the 11-22mm EF-M lens that came before it was not initially made available in the US. After having a difficult time establishing the EOS M in America and other regions that didn’t specifically embrace mirrorless cameras, Canon limited the EOS M3 to mostly the Asian markets, where mirrorless cameras were more popular.

Canon reversed this course six months afterward and brought the EOS M3 to the US market in what I’d call almost a tentative fashion. That turned out to be a good choice on their part because the M3 has gained a small, but loyal following here.

Update: Check Out Canon M6 Mark II

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Let’s start our tour in the M3 where we’ll find a 24.2mp APS-C CMOS imaging sensor coupled with the DIGIC 6 imaging ASIC. APS-C is the same crop area as Canon’s crop sensor DSLR models (Rebels), and indeed, this is basically the same sensor you’ll find in some of those models. These two chips give the EOS M3 the image quality capabilities of most of the lower end Canon DSLRs, indeed, slightly better than the lowest end versions, which are only 18mp.

ISO values from 100 to 12,800 are supported directly, and you will shoot in JPEG or 14-bit CRW raw files. The shutter is an electronic initial curtain, mechanical second curtain model-good to keep shutter shock out of picture results-that can be set from 30 seconds to 1/4000 second and has a 1/200 flash sync speed. Continuous shooting can range to 1000 JPEGs at 4.2 fps, but only 5 for raw documents. The camera has the usual bulb and self-timer modes you’d expect.

The metering system uses the imaging sensor and will meter down to 1EV. Exposures could be set in 1/3 stop methods, with +/-3 EV direct exposure compensation available via a dial at the top of the camera.

Despite its small size, the camera has both a built-in pop-up flash (GN16’/5m) and a hot-shoe. As with the Canon DSLRs you have got a full range of flash options, including second curtain sync and red-eye reduction.

If you’re into the video you won’t find much more than the basics, with 1080P/30/25/24, 720P/60/60 supported using MPEG-4 H.264-type compression. The camera includes a stereo mic and a stereo microphone jack, but no headphone monitoring. The maximum recording period is the usual 30 mins to stay within European import restrictions without triggering extra customs.

For composing your images, you’ve got a 3” tilting LCD with 1.04m dots in the back of the camera. The tilt can go to 180° upward (so that the LCD faces the front of the camera) but only 45° downward. That LCD is also touchscreen capable, including a touchscreen shutter release capability.

If you want a viewfinder, an optional EVF-DC1 plugs into the hot shoe and provides a 2.36m dot watch of the world. The DC1 also tilts upwards if you want, but remember, it takes up the hot shoe, so larger or remote flash is out when you’re using it.

An autofocus system is a hybrid approach. The camera uses phase recognition pixels in the image sensor to help the contrast-detect autofocus system. Autofocus sensitivity only goes down to 2EV, so not as great as some rival systems.

Overall, the M3 is relatively little (4.4 x 2.7 x 1.7” or 110.9 x 68 x 44.4mm) and light (12.9 ounces or 366g). That’s with an SD card in the one card slot and the LP-E17 battery installed. That battery is rated to 250 pictures CIPA, a relatively low number, even for mirrorless cameras.

How’s it Handle?

For it’s size, the EOS M3 feels densely heavy. Some might not like that, but I happen to believe reasonable mass is good for a camera. The M3 has plenty of mass you need to actually grasp it well, but when you do the mass works towards keeping the camera steadier. In short, the heft of the camera functions for me, but it’s not a camera you want to handle casually (despite the available lens-based IS).

More good news is that Canon has put a small-but-useful handgrip and thumb grip for the right-hand position. Coupled with the soft material used, this is enough to get a solid hold on the camera with your right hand. At least for small to medium-sized hands. For a soap-bar style camera, the M3 manages to avoid the usual slipperiness that other companies don’t seem to understand is counterproductive to getting steady shots (it’s almost as if some camera companies believe that Is definitely systems are perfect and thus they can skip basic ergonomics).

The dials up the top-mode dial and exposure payment dial-are both resistant to casual changes, another thing that is often wrong on many lower-end cameras but not the M3. You virtually have to desire to change the setting dial setting in order for it to move. And while the exposure settlement dial is exposed more than enough so that you can rotate it together with your thumb, it doesn’t stick out in a way that means that any camera handling-such as moving the camera in and out of a pocket or bag-changes the placing. Personally, I prefer these “stiff” dial designs.

Also, the ring around the shutter release that controls the aperture or shutter speed in Tv, Av, or Manual exposure modes needs to be specifically moved by the user to change values; it’s another stiff dial.

How’s it Perform?

Battery: Yep, this is not a camera where you desire to be shooting without a fully charged extra electric battery in your bag. I got more than the 250 shot CIPA rating-probably because I didn’t execute a lot of flash work-but I wouldn’t expect a lot more compared to the mid-300’s from a battery in most shooting situations, a fairly low amount for photography enthusiasts.

Buffer: You can shoot JPEGs nearly unlimited at a bit over 4 fps. Raw mode, however, has a genuine buffer penalty: you’ll get a bit over a second of shooting, following by a delay as the buffer is definitely cleared. Essentially consider it a 5 body buffer if you’re shooting any kind of raw.

Where the EOS M3 starts to have issues is with moving subjects, especially if you need to track them. If that’s your primary subject type, the Sony A6xxx series is probably what you should be looking at in a mirrorless camera of this size. It’s not that the Canon can’t handle moving topics. It’s that it is slow to lock-in. And for tracking, well, I experienced okay results for slower, regular motion, not okay outcomes with fast, erratic movement. I just don’t think you buy this camera for stopping motion.

Be careful with “Continuous AF” (note that this isn’t “Continuous Servo AF”, but a different option). This has a tendency to eat battery in order to make focus snappier when you perform press the shutter discharge, as the camera is actually focusing constantly it is on.

Image Quality: I haven’t used all the Canon DSLRs, but I was struck by how similar the EOS M3 was to a few of them I’ve used. That shouldn’t be unexpected, as the EOS M3 uses the same picture sensor and processing engine as do the Canon DSLRs.

General, the EOS M3 seems to have Canon’s usual dual Hue shift (green and red both shift a little towards yellow). Adobe’s converters seem to be very friendly to the natural Canon data files, and the EOS M3 ones are no exception.

Final Words

The M3 is up against the juggernaut of the crop sensor mirrorless products, the Sony A6300 (and now A6500). Sony beats the Canon on a number of levels-built-in EVF, dynamic range at the sensor, focus velocity, etc.-but the Sony also costs quite a bit more (US$1000 for the body as I write this, versus US$480). You’re paying for that extra performance and the built-in EVF, for sure.

And yet, in many respects, the EOS M3 holds its own when it comes to more casual picture taking. While it’s no rate racer with regards to autofocus overall performance, for casual and static subjects the system is just great. With 24mp on a well-verified Canon sensor, there’s plenty of ability to shoot in low light and to print large, actually if it can’t quite match the Sony with regards to overall powerful range in the deep shadows.

The simpler approach Canon took-the menu system isn’t nearly as loaded with options as the Sony-makes for a simpler, more approachable camera. In most ways the EOS M3 lines up more closely to the Sony A5100, and there it provides a really close match, with the Sony being truly a little lighter and smaller but the Canon being less compact-camera like in its handles.

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