EOS M3 – A Brief Review

 

 

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The M3 is the third generation of Canon’s mirrorless EOS cameras, although the EOS M2 which was never released in the UK was mostly a minor increment of the original M. This, however, is a complete redesign.

I bought the original EOS M about a year ago when it was on special offer. My idea was to be able to have something more portable than my EOS 5D Mark III and to use it as a second body with my various Canon lenses.

In most respects the EOS M was uninspiring. The autofocus speed and accuracy were poor (this was improved somewhat by a firmware update but still nothing to be proud of). The kit lens 18-55mm is both unrewarding and quite large for a mirrorless system. But the optional ef lens adaptor works well and I found several good uses for it, for example taking shots with a Samyang 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens underground in a French silver mine.

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The biggest problem with the EOS M for me was inability to accurately see what was on the screen in bright daylight, making photography outdoors a bit hit and miss as almost everything (including switching modes) has to be done on the touch screen.

On the positive side I really do like the combination of the EOS M body and the EF-M 22mm f/2.0 STM lens, being both fast and small it reminded me why I wanted such a camera to begin with.

The EOS M3 is a significant upgrade in every way. The most obvious differences are the dramatically improved ergonomics over its predecessor, it is more easily held and has a whole suite of physical control dials for selecting modes, setting parameters and a dedicated exposure compensation wheel. Someone who really understands what photographers need got involved in the EOS M3 design.

The EOS M3 adds a tilting screen which can tilt up to 90 degrees up and 45 degrees down, but not side to side. It’s certainly a very welcome improvement.

Internally the camera uses an APS-C 24-megapixel sensor (the same as in the EOS 750D/760D but hopefully without the production faults that plagued early versions of the sensor in those models). It has 49 AF focus points, and focuses quickly, six times faster than the original EOS M.

It also has a built in pop-out flash unite previous models, however I found the small flash was really not good enough for anything other than emergency illumination and the optional external 90EX flash (image below) provided with my original EOS M works better. However the 90EX (and any of the more professional EOS speedlite flashes which all work with this camera) can’t be used at the same time as the electronic viewfinder.

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And while on the subject of negative aspects there are three other gripes, firstly the menu button in the bottom right of the rear panel is far too easy to accidentally trigger if you are holding the camera single handed, especially with a heavier lens. The original EOS M keeps that area of the camera clear.

Secondly one thing I really liked with the EOS M was its strap which had a unique fitting that allowed free rotation of the camera and an easy way to unlock and lock the strap in place. As I was frequently switching between having the camera around my neck and having it mounted on an auto rotating mount for panoramas it was very convenient.

The Eos m3 goes backwards and uses the more traditional metal brackets through which a normal camera strap is fixed, it’s not the worst change in the world but I much preferred the old strap style. I assume many photographers wish to use third party neck straps hence the change.

Thirdly, for anyone upgrading from the EOS M to the M3 it’s very disappointing to find that Canon have again changed the battery from an LP-E12 to an LP-E17, which are almost identical in size and charge. The only reason they have done this is to make us buy new batteries again. So I now have multiple chargers and multiple different batteries for different cameras.

For me the biggest improvement is the ability to use the EVF-DC1 electronic viewfinder plugged into the flash hot shoe. This is the first time an electronic viewfinder has been available for the EOS range, and I ordered it assuming it may end up being more of a gimmick than a useful tool.

I could not have been more wrong.

This electronic viewfinder is a game changer. Being stuck in the canon EOS ecosystem for many years it has always been a bit of a mystery why mirrorless cameras are so popular and why someone would choose one over a DSLR. Now I know. And I feel so stupid for doubting those people who switched.

This is a phenomenal tool. I went out recently in Moscow with my EOS 5D Mark III and the EOS M3 at the same time. The difference in ease of use is incredible – with the electronic viewfinder you get to preview exactly how your photo will come out. Adjust the exposure compensation and you see the results in your viewfinder immediately. And take a shot and your shot is previewed in the viewfinder for a couple of seconds (you can disable this for fast action). You can even view and control the menus from within the viewfinder which makes it much easier than the 5D Mark III when you’re needing to change something in bright sunlight. No more running to find a shady spot.

But it comes into its own when confirming focus, you can zoom in 16 times in the viewfinder to get your focus pin sharp – just like you can do in live view on recent canon DSLRs but far more usable especially when hand-held outdoors.

Now, all you mirrorless camera users will be smugly laughing at this point and pointing to your Sony NEX or whatever and saying you have had all this for years. And you’re right. We should be embarrassed. 

To be fair there are still major advantages with focus speed and accuracy with a DSLR and it may be some time before a mirrorless camera can truly match professional quality DSLRs in this regard. For action and wildlife photography DSLRs are still hard to beat.

When canon launched their mirrorless system they also launched a brand new lens mount called EF-M. There are only four lenses available for it and only two of them are any use in my opinion. The best by far is the fixed 22mm lens I mentioned before, the EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM ultra wide angle lens is also useful but relatively slow. The kit lens (EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM) provided with the Eos M3 is the same uninspiring lens provided with the original Eos M and it’s fine for general snaps but really provides nothing to show the camera to its full potential. There is also an EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 zoom which I haven’t used but by all accounts is no better than the kit lens in quality.

The redeeming factor is the ability to buy adapters to mount normal EF and EF-S lenses with full autofocus, adapters also exist for a wide range of other lens types (mostly as manual focus).

With the adaptor I started playing with different EF lenses. While in Moscow I was asked to help photograph a friend’s wedding – I took a few photos with the EOS-M3 and the 11-22mm lens and they were OK but not very interesting.

As I was using the EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM with the 5D mark III I decided to go the other way and stick a longer lens on the Eos M3 – I had in my bag the EF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens and threw that on the adaptor. Wow! Results were amazing – a very impressive combination for portrait photography when you don’t want to be too close to your subject.

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And now is probably a good time to mention a common misconception about APS-C sensors, that you multiply by 1.6 (or 1.5 on Nikon) to say that a 100mm lens on a cropped sensor is equivalent to a 160mm lens on a full frame camera. It isn’t.

It’s true you get the same coverage, so a building that just fits into the view at 160mm on a full frame will equally just fit into the view on a 100mm/ APS-C combo. But the perspective compression is different. It’s much more accurate to say that the 100mm lens will give you exactly the same picture on both cameras, with the same perspective compression, but with a full frame you get to see a great deal more of the view. This is particularly important for portrait photography and while the 100mm lens on a cropped sensor can give nice images if I had the equivalent 160mm lens on my full frame camera the compression may make faces look too flat and people look too close to their backgrounds.

This is why the 100mm macro on a cropped sensor wasn’t such a crazy idea after all for a wedding. Even Comrade Lenin approves.

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If you have seen some of the mainstream reviews of the EOS M3 in the photographic media you would be mistaken for thinking it was a mediocre camera as it has got generally middling reviews. I think in most cases this is because the magazines are reviewing Canon’s official combination kit for the M3, containing the body and the dull EF-M 18-55 lens.

Canon! What were you thinking?

This is a totally different camera with the viewfinder attached. They should have bundled it with the viewfinder and the EF-M 22mm lens instead of the kit zoom.

The zoom lens is the lens everyone thinks they want, except they don’t. Yes you can get your framing done much easier with a zoom lens but a slow zoom lens like this inevitably leads to mostly dull photos. If you want people to appreciate why they are using a camera rather than a cellphone for photography then a fast lens is a must.

For me now the realisation that mirrorless can be much more productive for general photography leads to a big problem. I was looking at getting the EOS 5DSR 50 megapixel camera – indeed I may still do – for ultra high resolution mineral photos for mindat.org, but do I really want another DSLR?

Canon haven’t launched any full-frame mirrorless cameras, but Sony have. The new 41 megapixel Sony A7R Mark II is mirrorless with electronic viewfinder, full frame with no low pass filter, and has a very high sensitivity sensor. The Zeiss lenses for Sony are extremely well regarded, but for me the real exciting news is that with an optional adaptor they can take Canon EF lenses and autofocus with them fast. Is this going to be the ideal camera combining electronic viewfinder and high resolution? I’ll have to wait and see…

But, until then I remain very happy indeed with my EOS M3.

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3 Responses

  1. Martin Barratt says:

    What’s the real world focus speed with the 22mm like?

    I bought the original M, and found it absolutely unusable for me (I shoot a lot of street stuff) but I know the lens itself is very good.

    The idea of the M3 with the 22 appeals a lot, and if it’s similar to Rebel speeds I could get used to that, I just don’t want to end up with another useless (to me) M body.

    • jolyon says:

      The speed of the M3 with 22 is very good. It’s a lot faster than the original M (although the original M speed was improved dramatically by a firmware upgrade.) Considering how pocketable the camera is it’s a super combination.

  2. Andrew says:

    The original M with the firmware upgrade is still not up to even slow-paced activity. The M has been a mixed camera for me – the form factor, the 22mm EFM, access to EF catalogue, and the image quality have been huge Pros, but the inability for the AF to latch on to anything has been so incredibly frustrating that I had to buy a fujifilm instead. Might buy a cheap M3 at some point in the future, or wait for the M4, just to access the 22mm EFM again, that’s how great that lens is!

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