Amazing! The Canon EOS R3 Eye AF Works on Butterflies

When I first tried out the Canon EOS R3, I was blown away by the autofocus performance. With the R3, Canon has not only mastered what mirrorless cameras traditionally struggle with — autofocusing in the dark — but manages to keep up with a 30 fps burst and quickly lock focus on even the eyes of an animal.

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If I was a professional wildlife photographer (rather than a wedding photographer), the Canon EOS R3 would be my camera of choice. Yes, there are several cameras with animal eye AF. But, many of them seem to struggle with dark-colored eyes on a dark-colored animal, such as my brown dog with brown eyes. The R3 could impressively focus on dark eyes on dark fur or feathers — even on a tiny animal like a black-capped chickadee, with an eye no larger than a bead.

I recently had the chance to test out Canon’s new RF 100mm Macro lens — and of course, I wanted it mounted on the R3. But, while testing out this lens, I realized Canon’s eye AF is even better than just focusing on the tiny black eye of a black-capped chickadee when the R3 drew an autofocus box around the eye of a butterfly.

The animal eye AF on the Canon R3 is so insane that it focuses on the eyes of insects. Mind = Blown.

I’ve updated the Canon EOS R3 review with the new experience. Here’s what I added:

The Animal Eye AF is so good, in fact, that it actually sometimes even works on insects. With the RF 100mm macro, the R3 found a butterfly’s eye for me. It also was capable of distinguishing the head of a bumblebee from the rest of its body. This works similar to how the animal eye AF works overall — if you are close enough for the eye to be more than a few pixels, the camera will find the eye. If you are too far away for the eyes to be that big, it will find the animal. It works on larger bugs when close enough but naturally didn’t find the eyes of, say, carpenter ants. While it works best with macro lenses, it even locked onto the eyes of a butterfly with the 70-200mm f4 L lens.

If you have a macro lens and can get close enough, the R3 will sometimes lock right onto the bug’s eye. The R3 was alternating between following the whole body of a flying bumblebee and, once closer, the eye of the insect itself. Macro lenses are naturally a bit tougher to focus with, so I did have a few more autofocus misses with the 100mm, but the R3 was able to find the correct point to focus on — the eye — faster than I could manually. It’s not perfect — it can occasionally be fooled by the pattern of the butterfly’s wings. But, had I waited for my finger to place the AF point, the insect would have moved and I would have missed the shot entirely. That’s a huge advantage when shooting bugs and wildlife.

The Canon EOS R3 has the best autofocus system out of any camera that I’ve personally shot with so far. (Though, to be clear, I haven’t tested all the flagship full-frame mirrorless cameras yet, like the Z9). If the Canon R10 and R7 truly get some of the smarts of the R3 as Canon says, then those cameras are going to be game-changers for beginners shooting wildlife.

Want to buy one? After checking out our review of it, consider purchasing the camera from Adorama or Amazon.

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.