Canon EOS M3 review:

Canon's mirrorless M3 sadly still pales in comparison

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CNET Editors' Rating

The Good A very well-designed mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, the EOS M3 offers high-quality photos.

The Bad It's slow, with a relatively limited feature set for the price.

The Bottom Line The Canon EOS M3 offers dSLR-quality photos and a nice design, but its feature set is average, performance is sluggish and its price relatively high, at least in the US and the UK.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Image quality 8.0

Canon's M3, the company's most recent foray into the growing mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera (ILC) market, is its most promising. Canon's first entry, 2012's EOS M , had widely-reported autofocus issues that turned off many customers before a firmware update addressed the problem. Its successor, the EOS M2, was only released in Japan and China. The third in the series should overcome the stumbling blocks of its predecessors, but the real question is whether the M3's respectable specs and high-quality photos can make up for its continued sluggish performance, lackluster lineup of dedicated lenses, and a lesser feature set than closely priced competitors.

The M3 is now available in the US as well as the European and Australian markets. Pricing runs $680 (AU$850) for the body; $800 (£600, AU$870) for the kit with the 18-55mm STM lens; and $1,050 (AU$1,300) for a kit with both the 18-55m and 55-200mm STM lenses. Canon also brought over the EF-M lenses it never shipped in the US, the 55-200mm STM ($350) and 11-22mm STM ($400).

Editors' note: Originally published on May 4, 2015. With the introduction of the camera into the US market, we've added results for our performance and image-quality tests, and have significantly updated the review and ratings based on those findings. The performance subrating has dropped to 7 from 8, pushing the overall rating down to 7.5 from 7.8. Note that this still works out to 3.5 stars.

Image quality

Image quality is as good as any of Canon's midtier APS-C dSLRs, such as the T6i/750D ; in fact, it's almost identical to that one thanks to the same 24.2-megapixel sensor and Digic 6 image processor. JPEGs look clean and sharp through ISO 800, between ISO 800 and ISO 1600 you can see some obvious smoothing in out-of-focus areas and by ISO 3200 some detail starts to degrade due to noise. You can get much better results by shooting in raw format at those mid to high ISO sensitivities. Like many cameras, the M3's JPEG processing emphasises maximizing tonal detail in the shadows over sharpness in low light.

Colors show good saturation, but the automatic white balance tended to shift a little toward purple in our lab tests.

The EF-M-mount 18-55mm IS STM lens that comes with the kit is a solid offering. Like most consumer kit lenses, it doesn't offer a very wide maximum aperture across the zoom range at f3.5-5.6. Lens distortion isn't bad by any measure and it handles aberrations well. Canon knows what it's doing with lens design and the 18-55mm IS lens performs well when coupled with the M3's sensor.

Paired with the optional Mount Adapter EF-EOS M (roughly $50, £99, AU$130) and Sigma's 50mm f1.4 Art lens, the M3 was able to show off its low-light capabilities. Shooting at ISO 6400 produces night photos usable at moderate sizes, such as a cat lit by a street light.

Video on the M3 is not its strong point. Tracking and continuous autofocus does a great job of following moving subjects, but through the kit lens it's all somewhat flat, and the only way you can get the most out of the video autofocus is with one of the few STM (stepper motor) lenses. The 3.5mm mic input should help with sound recording but there's no audio output for monitoring sound.

Analysis samples

JPEGs are clean at low-to-medium ISO sensitivities. Lori Grunin/CNET
In JPEGs between ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 you start to see noise-suppression artifacts like smoothing and the beginnings of some detail loss. Lori Grunin/CNET
Without the EOS-EF M adapter and an EF mount Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens, this shot would not have been possible. Dave Cheng/CNET
JPEG processing places a greater emphasis on bringing out details in the shadows. You can also see the lens distortion it corrects for on the left and top. Dave Cheng/CNET

Performance

While it may not feel terribly slow during shooting, it certainly tests that way. It takes 1.7 seconds to power on, focus and shoot, which is a relatively long time. And unlike other cameras which take that long, the M3 doesn't have a zoom lens that it's extending, which is usually the main holdup. In good light, time to focus and shoot runs about 0.5 second, which is on the slow side, but it also takes 0.5 second in dim light, which isn't too bad. (Note that all but our continuous-shooting tests use single-shot autofocus; leaving a camera in continuous AF mode isn't recommended since it's a huge drain on the battery and annoying to contstantly feel the lens moving when you're not actively shooting.)

Time to shoot two sequential photos, which includes time to refocus and (depending upon the camera) time to write to the card, takes 1.1 seconds for raw or JPEG on a fast card -- the longest time we've seen in recent memory -- and that rises to 2.2 seconds with the flash enabled, also on the slow side.

It's rated at 4.2 frames per second for continuous shooting, but that's with focus and exposure fixed on the first frame. The camera doesn't seem to support continuous autofocus or autoexposure at all in this drive mode, which limits its usefulness to subjects pretty much staying in one place, like a child blowing bubbles. That's lowest among its competitive cohort, though it can sustain that burst for 1,000 JPEGs, nice, but far more than anyone really needs. Raw continuous shooting is even more subpar, managing only 4 to 6 shots before slowing. (Since our performance testing for this mode requires continuous autofocus, we don't have results for it.)

Though the battery is rated for a low 250 shots, in practice battery life was good especially when considering the M3 autofocuses continuously in its default Servo mode. After taking 1,000 JPEGs the camera indicated more than half its battery capacity was left unused.

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