Canon EOS R3 Teases Remarkable AF. But What About the Sensor?

Canon is being a tease — the company just shared their second peek on what features the upcoming EOS R3 will offer.

The upcoming Canon EOS R3 will be able to focus in the moonlight, maybe even without a tripod. That’s what the latest specs on the still-under development camera seem to suggest. Canon teased a handful of new details on the upcoming Canon EOS R3. It’s a high-end mirrorless that mixes the R5 and 1D X Mark III DSLR features. The key details coming from today’s announcement shed light on the camera’s autofocus and image stabilization system, but raise questions about who exactly is making the camera’s sensor.

Canon EOS R3: What We Know So Far

Here’s a quick recap of what we know about the still-developing Canon EOS R3, including details from today and from the first teaser:

  • First full-frame back-illuminated stacked sensor “developed by Canon”
  • Electronic shutter up to 30 fps with AE/AF tracking
  • Improved eye and face AF; sports tracking for motor vehicles
  • Autofocus to – EV expanded
  • Speed Lites will be compatible with the electronic shutter
  • Weather-sealed, magnesium alloy body with multi-controller and vari-angle LCD
  • Integrated vertical grip with three dial operation
  • CFExpress and SD card slots
  • Wired LAN and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
  • Same battery as EOS 1D X Mark III
  • Video: Canon Log, oversampled 4K, RAW internal recording, AF tracking

Better Low-light AF Than Sony a9 II?

The list of specifications includes details on low light performance. The camera, Canon says, will focus in low light down to -7 EV, which is basically shooting in moonlight. It’s an expanded range, so it’s unclear if this capability will need a specific focus mode or slow down performance like Nikon’s Z series low light AF mode. Notably, this is twice the Sony a9 IIs -3 EV autofocus range limit. 

The R3 will also have eight stops of stabilization. The two features combined should help make the camera a powerful low-light performer. I’ve shot 30-second exposures handheld with 7 stops of stabilization and a wide-angle lens, so this very well could be a camera rarely needs a tripod.

The R3 autofocus system will also have subject recognition for motorsports, cars, and bikes, which feels like a copycat of the Olympus E-M1X. That AF tracking will also work with video. Canon blew me away with the autofocus on the R6: I was actually able to focus on a glass jar full of fireflies at dusk. If they’re able to put that into a camera that has 30 fps, it could be an earnest camera for even low-light indoor sports.

A Sensor “Developed by” Canon

But, we haven’t heard enough about the sensor, and we’ve heard almost nothing about the processor yet to get really excited. Canon says that the full-frame sensor will be “developed by Canon.” It’s the first backlit stacked sensor to be developed by Canon. But, they’ve always worded this as “designed and manufactured by Canon” in previous cameras. Canon has edged around our questions on the sensor: they haven’t come out and said that they are manufacturing the sensor, but they haven’t denied it either.

Canon is one of the few interchangeable lens camera systems that uses their own sensor instead of one developed by Sony or another company like Tower Jazz. It’s what gives Canon images a bit of a different look, particularly in the color science. If Canon develops but doesn’t manufacture the sensor, will that change?

If Canon is going to impress with the R3, the company will need to set the camera and resulting images apart from the Sony a9 II. If the Canon R3 has a stacked sensor produced by the same factory as the stacked a9 sensor, this may be harder to do. However, the 30 fps (to the a9 II’s 20 fps) and the -7 EV low light autofocus (to the a9 II’s -3 EV) may be enough, especially with the innovation of eye focusing.

Innovations with the Canon EOS R3

During the first teaser, Canon shared that the mirrorless will be gaining the eye-focusing ability that their film cameras in the 90s had. The viewfinder will essentially use a sensor to detect where the eye is looking, then the camera will focus on that part of the photo. That’s much more innovative and true to Canon’s style than anything announced today. Several features in today’s announcements make the R3 feel like a full-frame sibling to the Olympus E-M1X.

Canon also said that the camera will have a “new accessory shoe,” but the company didn’t release details on what new accessories this shoe would accommodate. Perhaps the port is geared towards sports journalists getting images to press quickly or using the R3’s video features. Or, maybe I’m thinking too far outside the box, and this new port will be for updated lights and mics. But, your guess is as good as mine. Regardless, we hope Canon photographers can still use their old accessories with the R3.

If the Canon EOS R3 lives up to everything promised so far, and does it with a unique sensor, the R3 may be a serious contender. The extended autofocus range and stabilization could make the camera body an easy decision for photographers shooting indoor sports like basketball and swimming. But we, along with many photographers who love Canon sensors, hope the camera will feature a sensor developed and produced in-house.

The Canon EOS R3 doesn’t yet have an official launch date.

Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photographer and tech writer based in Michigan. She shoots weddings and portraits at Hillary K Photography. A mother of three, she enjoys hiking, camping, crafting, and reading.