Canon EOS M3 Review

Introduction

Canon’s EOS M3 marks their third mirrorless camera. Initially released in the fall of 2015, it’s the official replacement to the previously released EOS M2, which ran a limited release in Asia, as well as the original EOS M. It’s a mid-range mirrorless camera that they aim at enthusiasts or beginners looking for an upgrade in image quality. On paper, Canon’s promises massive updates and a host of new features over the original EOS M. And, it doesn’t appear to be a camera they’re releasing as a simple refresh.

Coming out nearly three years later, has Canon done enough to make it a worthy upgrade and successor over the failings of the EOS M? The competition in this space has dramatically improved since 2012, during the predecessor’s original debut. But, is this camera ready to take on the likes of Sony’s a6000, Olympus’ EPL-6 and E-M10, and Panasonic’s GX7. Let’s find out.

canon-eos-m3-camera-specs

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Canon EOS M3?

Pros:

Image Quality

Canon’s equipped the camera with a brand new 24.2MP CMOS sensor and the DIGIC 6 image processor, a similar configuration as the Rebel T6i and T6s DSLRs. This sensor represents a significant improvement over the predecessor’s outgoing 18MP setup, and it was Canon’s first attempt at this resolution in the APS-C format.

Overall, the image quality this camera delivers is excellent. While the image quality was already a known strength in this lineup, with this addition, it’s gotten even better. It’s photos provide ample room for post-processing, giving users plenty of flexibility in recovering details. Images are sharp, and the colors deliver that acclaimed Canon aesthetic.

It provides continuous shooting speed of up to 4.2 fps with AF-S or 2.4 fps with AF-C and tracking, the same rates as the predecessor. However, the buffer depth has improved, and the camera now provides unlimited JPEG shooting along with a blackout-free shooting experience.

Video Quality

It shoots 1080p full HD video up to 30 fps and 720p HD up to 60 fps. And it does so using the MPEG-4 codec to the highly-compatible MP4 format. Like many cameras in this class, video recordings limit at 29 minutes and 59 seconds per clip. Overall, video quality is good enough that the footage would suit amateur and casual use.

Low Light Performance

Despite the increase in resolution, low light performance is excellent and remains a key strength in this series. It features a native ISO from ISO 100 to 12,800, further expandable to 25,600. And users can expect usable images up to ISO 6,400, and even 12,800 is usable when shooting in RAW. While images at 12,800 are grainy, they’re free of color shifts or banding.

Focusing Performance

Focusing performance was the EOS M’s ultimate Achilles’ heel. With this camera, however, Canon has made notable changes. It features the updated Hybrid CMOS AF 3 focusing system with a total of 49 AF points plus phase-detection. Compared to the predecessor, focusing performance is dramatically improved.

In single AF with good light, the camera now rivals the competition. And with the touchscreen, rack focusing during video works flawlessly, with smooth and natural transitions. Overall, while the camera is slower than its rivals, it rarely hunts or overshoots before locking. And the tracking, while not the strongest, is quite tenacious at following subject movement. It’s just slow to adjust to distance changes that occur quickly in the scene. Otherwise, this system is undoubtedly fast and accurate enough for most users.

For those who prefer manually focusing, the camera provides focus peaking and magnification. And Canon’s also equipped it with a physical MF/AF toggle, making it significantly more straightforward than the predecessor and saves a trip to the menus.

Display & Viewfinder

Unlike the original EOS M, this camera now features an articulating TFT display. This marks another notable addition over the predecessor’s fixed display. The display size remains 3.0-inches with a resolution of 1.04M dots. However, it now tilts 180º forward for pieces to camera, selfies, or self-composed filming.

And, unlike rivals, it also tilts down 45º, providing added flexibility when shooting at high angles. Plus it also sports touch focus, touch shutter, and full menu navigation. From a quality standpoint, the viewing angles are excellent and the display is quite sharp. In all, while it’s not quite as helpful as a fully articulating screen, it’s a much needed and welcomed change over the predecessor.

User Interface

It obtains Canon’s long-standing user-friendly and intuitive user interface, very much similar to their EOS DSLR lineup. Both the touch interface and user menus are well thought out, color-coded, and simple to navigate. Canon’s also optimized them exceptionally well for touch input, which makes navigating its depths quite straightforward. Overall, both newcomers and seasoned users will find the menus easily mastered.

It features the Quick Menu, for immediate access to all critical shooting parameters on a single contextual menu.

It features the customizable My Menu, where users can assign any of six settings for quick access.

The camera supplies six custom buttons. In this case, the most notable being the FN, erase, and movie recording buttons, which are all programmable to a total of 15 options. And the camera even provides a custom shooting mode, C, on the Mode dial, which remembers and recalls your current shooting settings. Overall, it gives a considerable amount of customization season shooters will enjoy.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Physical and ergonomic changes are some of the notable improvements over the predecessor. Firstly, unlike the original EOS M, it now features dedicated Mode and Exposure Compensation dials, which makes the design more in line with traditional midrange cameras. These additions also save trips to the menu. And secondly, the camera also brings along with it much needed customization over the layout.

These combine to provide users more control and immediacy. Another noteworthy change is its rather large, and quite frankly, luxurious grip. Despite its smaller form factor, the camera provides a grasp that rivals even its larger DSLR counterparts. And, it’s arguably the best in its class in this regard. Even prolonged use remains comfortable, a bonus that certainly helps when using larger EF lenses. Overall, the camera is well balanced, with a nice weight in hand, without being bulky or cumbersome.

Outside of this, it features a similar magnesium alloy chassis and coating as the predecessor, which makes the camera strong and sturdy.

Niche Features/Extras

It features a built-in pop-up flash, unlike the predecessor.

It offers improved connectivity in the form of built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, which allows users to pair the camera to a smartphone to wirelessly transfer images or remotely control the camera.

It has a microphone input, and you can also adjust the levels through the menus.

It features a mini HDMI port, a feature lacking in the competition. This port offers a more robust connection to external devices compared to the traditional micro HDMI port.

Cons:

Image Quality

While the buffer has improved slightly, this improvement only applies to the JPEG format. When shooting in RAW, the camera only offers between 5-6 frames before slowing to speeds of 1 fps. Thus, it is not ideal for fast action, sports, or wildlife applications if shooting in the RAW format is critical to your workflow. Also of note, shooting with continuous AF, the burst rate slows to 2 fps, which is much lower than the competition at this price.

Video Capabilities

The camera lacks support for 4K UHD video. And it also doesn’t offer any high frame rate option in 1080p, be it 60 fps or 120 fps. Instead, slow motion is reserved strictly to 720p HD, which is antiquated and low quality compared to the competition.

Compared to rivals, the camera’s 1080p footage lacks details and also suffers from moiré in certain scenes. Overall, it’s not sharp enough for professional use.

The camera doesn’t support focus magnification during recording. Instead, to set focus, you must first set focus using the stills mode, then begin video recording.

Autofocus Performance

While focusing on the camera is accurate, its speed lags behind the competition and it’s far more on the relaxed side. Its speed becomes problematic when shooting sports, action, and other mediums where there’s a critical deciding moment. It just doesn’t deliver the confidence knowing you’ve captured those moments in focus. And, overall, for fast action, this focusing system is quite disconcerting.

Adapting the EF-M adapter reduces the camera’s focusing speed. And even in good light, the performance slows from less than a second to upwards of 2 seconds in AF-S. In dim light, it can easily take upwards of 5 seconds. And continuous AF is rendered virtually unusable. Overall, the adapter is helpful, but it has some notable drawbacks.

Battery Life

The camera’s battery life is poor and well below the standard expected for a compact mirrorless camera. Canon rates its LP-E17 battery for 250 shots per charge, 100 shy of the 350 shot lifespan expected in this class. You will undoubtedly need extra batteries with this camera.

Display

Like the predecessor, the camera lacks a built-in electronic viewfinder. If you desire this functionality, you can purchase a secondary viewfinder, which mounts to the hot shoe. Thankfully, it at least offers this as an option, as the predecessor lacked this ability altogether. However, adding the EVF does add some bulk to the camera.

The rear LCD, while bright, isn’t bright enough for composing outdoors in bright sunlight conditions. It’s a bit reflective and can wash out in direct sunlight.

Lacking Features

Like all other EOS M cameras, this camera also falls victim to a lack of native lenses for the system. To date, only eight EF-M lenses are available, and none of them are particularly new fast-aperture lenses. Canon continues to neglect this particular lineup and hasn’t devoted enough attention to developing the lenses their enthusiasts crave.

Thus, if you desire a greater selection of lenses, you will have to consider purchasing the EF-M adapter, adding both cost and weight to the package. Overall, considering this is an enthusiast aimed camera, and this demographic enjoys nice lenses, this is a continual disappointment.

It doesn’t support USB charging.

It lacks a headphone input.

The camera’s Auto ISO only allows changes to the highest ISO setting and not to the shutter speeds at which Auto ISO changes.

Is this a good beginner camera?

Yes, though it is flawed in a few ways. With this camera, Canon has addressed nearly every major weakness with the original EOS M. And, hands down, it is the far superior camera of the two. However, it seems they’ve released this camera without considering the competition at this price point. And overall, it’s a tough choice considering what rivals offer for a similar price. Sure, they’ve improved the camera over the original EOS M. But, in some ways, it’s not enough. Nevertheless, considering the larger performance offered, despite the fierce competition, it remains a competent camera for a beginner.

What are the best lenses & bundles for the Canon EOS M3?

EF-M Adapter:

Canon EOS M Mount Adapter

General Photography: 

EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM

Macro Photography:

EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM

Landscape & Astrophotography Photography:

EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

Portrait Photography:

EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM
EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM

Sports & Wildlife Photography:

EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM

Product & Still Life Photography:

EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM

Extra Batteries:

Canon LP-E17 Battery

SD Cards:

SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB
SanDisk Extreme PRO 64GB 
SanDisk Extreme PRO 128GB

Tripod:

Manfrotto Compact Action Aluminum 5-Section Tripod

External Electronic Viewfinder:

Canon Electronic Viewfinder EVF-DC2

Is this a good camera for you?

Possibly. 

For newcomers to the Canon ecosystem, considering the reduction in performance that occurs with the EF-M adapter, it’s best to stick with the native EF-M lens catalog. While this catalog is quite limited, sure, it’s ideally suited for a beginner photographer looking to get started. However, for enthusiasts or more seasoned shooters, it could be a deal-breaker. 

For aspiring videographers, this camera isn’t the right choice. There are better options at this price. 

With its slower continuous burst speeds and autofocusing, it’s not the ideal street shooter, sports, wildlife, or journalistic tool. It’s just a bit too slow compared to rivals. 

But, it’s not all doom and gloom. Where this camera ultimately shines is as a backup body for existing Canon DSLR shooters looking for a more lightweight and compact package. It offers virtually identical performance to the Rebel T6S, which is an excellent mid-range DSLR. And, that is quite appealing indeed, if you have a stash of EF lenses already, and you’d like a second angle or a light travel companion. 

In the end, Canon’s EOS M3 is a tough sell for non-Canon users not already entrenched into the ecosystem. If you’re currently cross-shopping this camera along with the competitors mentioned, you’ll find that almost all of them offer greater feature sets and provide better value. And, in several respects, this camera has been outpaced by its rivals.

Nevertheless, if you want a portable, great handling stills-centric camera that’s easy to use, it remains competitive. It provides strong image performance along with portability than makes for a solid package, despite its quirks. And, overall, it’s an interesting but flawed camera. But, if you’re aware of its limitations and don’t expect too much from it, it’ll deliver an excellent shooting experience. 

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performanc
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.8

Summary

Canon’s third shot at mirrorless is improved significantly in many respects over the predecessor. And it’s quite an interesting but flawed camera. In some respects, it’s shown to lag behind its rivals. But, for the price, it remains a competent choice for beginners or existing Canon shooters looking for a compact traveling companion.