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Canon EOS M3 review: Canon's mirrorless M3 sadly still pales in comparison

Review Sections

Shooting speed

Olympus PEN E-PL7
0.3
0.4
0.3
0.3
0.8
Samsung NX500
0.3
0.8
0.5
0.5
1.6
Canon EOS M3
0.5
0.5
1.1
1.1
1.7

Legend:

Typical shutter lag
Dim-light shutter lag
JPEG shot-to-shot time
Raw shot-to-shot time
Time to first shot

Note:

Seconds (smaller is better)

Design and features

Build quality is on par with Canon's magnesium-alloy dSLRs, though without the weather sealing. The magnesium-alloy/stainless-steel body doesn't creak when gripped tightly like cameras made of plastic are prone to. The recessed grip strikes a nice balance between usefulness while maintaining a low profile. The vulcanized rubber gives it the familiar feel of a dSLR.

m3grip.jpg
The M3's grip strikes the right balance between size and usability Dave Cheng/CNET

Shutter speed and aperture have dedicated dials, while ISO sensitivity is an easy press of the combined directional pad/toggle wheel located at the thumb. With no manual-focus switch on the lens, MF is selectable via the thumb dial along with flash modes.

Those familiar with Canon's menu system of the past few years will find the M3 easy to navigate. Users can also customise their own menu with up to six selections for menu options they find themselves frequenting.

The touchscreen offers a sharp view of the scene. It's easy to use and responsive but all functionality is also available via the dials. Where the touch screen comes into its own is in selecting a focus point. It's fast and accurate, and while navigating the menu and changing the exposure is often better via the dials, selecting focus is overwhelmingly faster with a tap of the screen.

The quick menu button on the top right hand of the touch screen offers fast access to AF mode, image size and quality, movie recording quality, self-timer, white balance, metering and aspect ratio. It saves on menu-diving and streamlines the shooting experience.

The tilting screen also comes in handy and offers three alternative shooting styles. The screen can angle 45 degrees downwards for holding the camera up which works well for the street photographers or those looking to shoot from a lower angle. Paired with the self-timer function and the screen rotated 180 degrees and it's ready to take the next selfie.

Remote shooting with the 'EOS Remote' app Dave Cheng/CNET

Remote shooting with an Android phone is easy with Canon's EOS Remote app. Pairing via the camera and phone's NFC spot is straightforward and you're guided through the steps to connect your phone and camera via Wi-Fi. Without NFC pairing an iPhone is a slightly more involved process that requires you to go into the phone's Wi-Fi settings. Both Android and iOS version offer exposure control and AF point selection as well as the ability to preview images on your phone.

Conclusion

The latest entry in Canon's EOS M series remains a competent if not outstanding player in its market: the interchangeable-lens camera segment that caters to enthusiasts as well as people looking for something better than a phone or point-and-shoot who are willing to pay a lot more than $500 (£450, AU$700) to keep it smaller than an entry-level dSLR like the Canon EOS Rebel T5/EOS 1200D or Nikon D3300 .

One problem is the price: while it has comparable photo quality to competitors with same-size sensors like the Samsung NX500 and likely to the Sony A5100 (which we haven't reviewed), its performance is disappointing and its feature set doesn't justify its higher price. In the US and UK, it's overpriced, costing as much as faster models with built-in viewfinders. Notably, it's not such a bad deal in Australia, where it seems to be competitively priced -- at least for the moment.

While there's a relatively small selection of EF-M lenses designed for this series, it's a sad fact that most buyers will never venture beyond the existing kit-quality options. The Canon 22mm f2.0 STM (with the equivalent angle of view of 35mm, just a little narrower than most phone cameras) is the only native-mount lens for those looking for a fast aperture. People who do want to use better lenses have to resort to significantly bulkier full EF-mount lenses and pay extra ($50, £99, AU$130) for the adapter.

Unlike competitors, it does offer a viewfinder option, and it's a very nice viewfinder, the same EVF-DC1 that works with the G series compacts. But that'll set you back about $240 (£205, AU$250), which bumps the total cost into the territory of much more powerful cameras.

It's a perfectly competent camera, but it doesn't stand out from an increasingly crowded field, making the M3 a camera that's hard to recommend above any other.

Comparative specifications

Canon EOS M3 Fujifilm X-A2 Samsung NX500 Sony Alpha A5100
Sensor effective resolution 24.2MP Hybrid CMOS III 16.3MP CMOS 28.2MP BSI CMOS 24.3MP Exmor HD CMOS
Sensor size 22.3 x14.9 23.6 x15.6mm 23.5 x15.7 mm 23.5 x15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
OLPF Yes No Yes Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800/ISO 25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/
ISO 200 - ISO 6400/
ISO 25600 (exp)
ISO 100 - ISO 25600/51200 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Burst shooting None with continuous AF/AE
(4.2fps with fixed focus and exposure)
None with continuous AF/AE
(5.6fps with fixed focus and exposure)
9fps
40 JPEG/5 raw
6fps
56 JPEG/23 raw
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
Optional
EVF (DVF-DC1)
2.36m dots
0.48 in/12.2 mm
100% coverage
None None None
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes No
Autofocus 49-point
Phase-detection AF
49-area
Contrast AF
205 phase-detection AF
(153 cross-type)
209 contrast AF
179-pt phase-
detection; 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity 2 - 18 EV n/a -4 - 20 EV -1 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 30 - 1/4000 sec.; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 30 - 1/4000 sec.; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/6,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 384 zones 256 zones 221 area 1,200 zone
Metering sensitivity 1 - 20 EV n/a n/a -1 - 20 EV
Best video H.264 Quicktime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p
H.264 MPEG-4
Quicktime MOV
1080/30p
H.265 MP4
UHD/30p; C4K/24p; 1080/60p, 50p; 720/120p
XAVC S
1080/60p, 30p, 25p, 24p; 720/120p @ 50Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo Stereo Stereo
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes n/a Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time per clip n/a 14 minutes 29 minutes 29 minutes
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical
LCD 3-inch/7.5 cm
Tilting touchscren
1.04m dots
3-inch/7.5 cm
Tilting
920,000 dots
3-inch/7.5cm
AMOLED tilting touchscreen
921,600 dots
3-inch/7.5cm
Flip-up touchscreen
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 xSDXC 1 xSDXC 1 xSDXC 1 xSDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC
Flash Yes Yes Bundled optional Yes
Wireless flash Yes Yes No No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 250 shots 410 shots 400 (est.) 400 shots
Size (WHD) 4.4x2.7 x1.7 in
111 x68x44 mm
4.6 x2.6 x1.6 in
117 x67 x44 mm
4.7 x2.5 x1.7 in
120 x64 x43 mm
4.3 x2.5 x1.4 in
110 x63 x36 mm
Body operating weight 13.3 oz
376 g
12.3 oz (est.)
350 g (est.)
12.3 oz
348 g
10 oz (est.)
283 g (est.)
Mfr. price (body only) $680
AU$850
n/a n/a $450
£550
Primary kit $800
£600 (est.)
AU$870
(with 18-55mm STM lens)
$550
£450 (est.)
AU$600 (est.)
(with 16-50mm lens)
$650
£550 (est.)
AU$1,000
(with 16-50mm PZ lens)
$600
AU$900
(with 16-50mm PZ lens)
Release date April 2015
October 2015 (US)
February 2015 March 2015 September 2014

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