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The Canon EOS R3, from the Perspective of a Nikon-Using Ex-Wedding Photographer

16 March 2022

The Canon EOS R3, from the Perspective of a Nikon-Using Ex-Wedding Photographer

I'm Laura, and I have been working here at Hireacamera since 2016. When I was asked to test out Canon’s new flagship EOS R3, I was a little daunted – I used to be a wedding and portrait photographer but that was over a decade ago and my weapon of choice was a Nikon D700. That’s not to say I’m not a Canon fan, I’ve always had the utmost respect for Canon cameras, but when I invested in my first digital SLR set up all those years ago, I just found Nikon cameras much more useable and ergonomically friendly. Back then, I was choosing between the Nikon D80 and the Canon EOS 350D. It sounds silly now, but having gone through college with a 25-year-old (at the time), fully manual film SLR, the thing I liked the most about the D80 was the fact the aperture and shutter speeds were adjusted using two different physical dials. The other thing I preferred was the build quality of the D80, the 350D just felt a bit like a toy.

When I first got hold of the R3, I was suitably impressed with the build quality and ergonomics, it felt truly special – like the feeling you get when sitting in a luxury car. The action of the buttons and dials were precise and deliberate, and even the surface texture was a joy to touch. With it I had the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM and the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM. The 28-70mm surprised me with its hefty size and weight, I had been warned about this, but it really is a beast. However, with this slight compromise you are rewarded with astoundingly sharp images and, albeit a bit of cliché comment, beautifully dreamy bokeh. The 70-200mm on the other hand is relatively compact, especially when compared to my old Nikon F mount 70-200mm f2.8.

The first thing I wanted to experiment with was of course the Eye Control Autofocus. This is some seriously space-age Terminator-style technology where the camera tracks the movement of your pupil and moves the autofocus point to exactly where you are looking, it’s rather unnerving at first! I decided I’d need some fast moving subjects to test this out – plants in my garden or my very snoozy cat just weren’t going to cut the mustard, so I decided to take the kit to the zoo and try and capture some speedy creatures.

I packed my trusty old Lowepro Mini Trekker AW kit-bag with everything I needed – camera, lenses, keys, phone, snacks etc – all in all it weighed around 5KG. The wedding photographer in me couldn’t help but think that this would be a bit of a millstone if I were shooting a 12-hour wedding, I’d probably have to factor in the cost of an assistant to the client! But off I went.

I spent most of the day with the 70-200mm, I half expected the camera to draw a fair bit of attention, but no one even gave it a second look, most people were just trying to wrangle their kids around the very crowded zoo, (I hadn’t taken into account the fact it was half term). Suddenly however, a small boy looked at me, wide-eyed and demanded ‘What is THAT?’ whilst pointing a rather sticky finger at the R3, I explained it was a camera and he looked baffled.

I calibrated the Eye Control AF before I went and I must admit, it felt very strange to begin with. I found my biggest problem, having been used to such old cameras, was that I kept moving the camera to track the subject, rather than letting the AF tracking do its thing. Once I got my head around this I began to marvel at the incredible abilities of this revolutionary camera.

Another thing I found a bit tricky to adjust to was the menu system of the R3. I’m so used to shooting with Nikon that at times I found certain functions I wanted difficult to locate – at one point I had to hunt around the zoo for phone signal so that I could look certain things up. Having said that though, I believe this was purely down to my lack of experience with Canon cameras in comparison to my familiarity with the Nikon system. Although it is still pretty alien to me, I think that after a while the navigation would become second nature. Another thing that caught me out a couple of times is the fact that Canon zoom rings rotate in the opposite direction to Nikon, but again, this just down to habit and I quickly got used to it.

As a dyed-in-the-wool analogue SLR fan (my first SLR was a Canon AE-1), I’ve always been sceptical of digital viewfinders. The first time I tried a camera (which shall remain nameless) with an EVF was around 2017, and I hated it. It just didn’t keep up and I couldn’t work out what all the fuss was about. But the viewfinder on the Canon EOS R3 is unbelievably lifelike. You can still tell you’re not looking straight through the lens, but it does an incredible job of replicating an old fashioned viewfinder.

Nothing worse than being a third wheel...

Sadly, I came to the realisation that the zoo I had chosen wasn’t exactly the ideal location for shooting speedy wildlife as nearly everything is behind Perspex – reducing the sharpness of the images, and the autofocus on the R3 is so eagle-eyed that it kept locking on to the marks on the glass.

When I got home I decided I’d like to take the R3 to my old stomping ground of photography – portraiture. I went to see our dear friends in Pevensey Bay on a rainy Sunday afternoon to photograph their gorgeous little boy, Koa. He is coming up to two years old and never stops running around, so he was a great subject to test out the Eye Control AF. The room was fairly dark, but just look at the clarity and detail. I opted for the 28-70mm and it performed brilliantly.

Had I had this sort of technology back when I was shooting weddings, I can’t help but think I would have gotten better images – not because the camera is doing so much of the work technically, but because I would have been able to put so much more thought into composition and light, rather than faddling about trying to move the AF point with a joystick, or locking focus and then recomposing the frame, which can lead to out of focus images. It really allows your creativity to flourish, unhindered, so that capturing special and crucial moments becomes an absolute joy. If you were ever to meet a photographer who had only ever used Eye Control AF and presented them with a camera without it, and told them to shoot a wedding, they would either laugh or cry. Possibly both. If you tried to explain to them that’s how we used do it, they would probably think you were either magic or mad. Saying this, I must emphasise that I don’t believe this technology means that anyone can just pick up an R3 and become an expert wedding photographer, you still need an eye for detail, composition and lighting, not to mention people skills and a fair amount of stamina. What it does mean, is that if you are already equipped with these assets then this camera will make you, and your clients sublimely happy.

So would I consider switching to Canon if I were still shooting weddings? Well, I adore the colours that Canon cameras produce and they are so well suited to weddings, I do think they capture fractionally more accurate white balance – I often found Nikon could be a bit too warm. But as I sit here looking at my old D700, I still feel that for me, the menu systems and button locations are just more logical and intuitive. Perhaps this is just down to experience and the fact the D700 has far fewer options and functions to control – it doesn’t even shoot video! If I were to start from scratch with no experience of either system, either Nikon or Canon would be a wonderful choice, you just can’t fault them, but until Nikon matches the AF tracking and Eye Control AF of the R3, I admit I would be persuaded to convert to The Dark Side… I mean, Canon!

The Canon EOS R3 is waiting for you, HERE.