Despite its status as the (dominant) market leader in DSLRs, point-and-shoots, and overall camera sales, Canon's mirrorless offerings have left much to be desired. The obvious discrepancy has industry insiders wondering if Canon is intentionally dragging its heels, resisting its opportunity to embrace mirrorless out of fear that its considerable fan base will do the same.
The new Canon EOS M3 (MSRP €769.99 with kit lens), which debuted last month at CP+ in Yokohama, Japan, looks to put those doubts to rest. Where the original EOS M and the Japan-only M2 were underpowered and sluggish, the EOS M3 is a speedy, high-res beast of a camera coming to pretty much the entire world except the U.S.
With vastly improved handling, a brand-new sensor, a top-shelf Digic 6 processor, and some of the company's best autofocus technology, the EOS M3 shows Canon is finally ready to go all-in on mirrorless.
Coming to grips with Canon's newfound ambition
As soon as you pick up the EOS M3, one thing is obvious: Canon put a lot of care into improving on the original M's design. Where the M2 was little more than a warmed over update to the first M, the M3 is improved in nearly every way.
For starters, the grip is actually a grip this time around. It's substantial, with a contoured shape and a soft-touch leatherette that provides plenty of, well... grip. It's almost 100 grams heavier than the EOS M2, with a stainless-steel/magnesium alloy chassis speaking to its durability.
The improved grip and balance are both excellent news, because a shortage of native EF-M lenses mean you'll get far more out of this camera with Canon's EF and EF-S DSLR lenses attached. With such a large grip, it'll be much easier to control that larger, heavier glass.
The rest of the body has also received quite a few updates. For starters, there's now proper mode dial with the full suite of PASM settings, a ±3-stop exposure compensation dial, and a control scheme that has more in common with Canon's excellent PowerShot G16 than its lower-end ELPH cameras.
The M3 has also added a flip-up, front-facing LCD. It's a trend that every camera company at CP+ was chasing, for obvious reasons. It works quite well, but let's be honest—it's nowhere near as convenient as a smartphone.
Add it all up and the EOS M3 is a far more capable yet no less approachable camera than its predecessors. Better still, it's one that will better serve Canon's enthusiast shooters without abandoning its entry-level users.
A new sensor, a new processor, a new mission
Where the original EOS M and EOS M2 were stuck with the same 18-megapixel APS-C sensor that had appeared in seemingly every Canon DSLR since the Bush administration, the new EOS M3 gets a brand-new 24.2-megapixel sensor with Canon's updated CMOS AF III.
While the jury is still out on how good the new sensor actually is, the updated CMOS AF III was lightning quick during our time with the camera on the show floor. No wonder: The EOS M3 boasts 49 phase-detect autofocus points built right into the sensor. These are put to great use in both stills and movies, with slick, rapid transitions from point to point and acceptable motion tracking—at least, from what we could tell on the Pacifico Yokohama show floor.
The EOS M3 has an ISO range of 100–51,200 when expanded and shutter speeds all the way up to 1/4000s. It's also capable of capturing bursts of up to 4.2 frames per second, with nearly unlimited capacity for JPEG recording. RAW recording is limited to around five shots, according to Canon, but this is still worlds better what the EOS M and M2 could claim.
Though the EOS M3 better appeals to enthusiasts with features like 14-bit RAW recording and focus peaking, there's a lot for novices to enjoy. The menu is simple to navigate, and it's chock full of creative modes and features. There's also built-in WiFi and NFC, making sharing your photos with the wider world relatively painless.
The only areas that haven't seen much improvement are video and battery life. The M3 still tops out at 1080/30p recording, while battery life is a disappointing 250 shots according CIPA specs. There's still an external mic jack, but we can't see the M3 being too popular with serious video shooters.
Better late than never, Canon
Taken at face value, the new EOS M3 isn't all that special. Sure, it feels great, it's got a nice suite of controls and features, and we're eager to see what the the new 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor and Digic 6 processor can do in our labs. But compared to the top mirrorless bodies from veterans like Olympus, Panasonic, Fujifilm, and Sony, it's a little underwhelming.
Still, there's one thing that makes the EOS M3 truly exciting: the Canon logo.
This is not the work of a company that couldn't care less about the future of mirrorless cameras, or one that views them as a distraction from the serious work of producing DSLRs. This isn't a halo product meant to go toe-to-toe with the best the competition has to offer, but it's a confident step in that direction.
And say what you want about Canon, but it's still far and away the market leader in the camera industry. When it takes mirrorless seriously, it's big news.
There's an old joke: "Where does an 800-pound gorilla sit?" The answer? Wherever the hell it wants. Well, Canon's the 800-pound gorilla of the camera industry, and it seems to be getting pretty comfortable with this whole mirrorless thing.
Now if only they'd bring it back to the U.S.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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