Canon's entry into the mirrorless space started with the EOS M in 2012. Unfortunately, the company's first interchangeable lens camera failed to impress, due to its sluggish performance, a tedious user interface and subpar battery life. A year later, the improved (and mostly faster) M2 was introduced, but Canon only ended up selling it in China, the UK and its home country of Japan. Fast-forward to today and the EOS M3 is set to ship in the US next month, despite being announced in February and having been available overseas for almost as long. But now it's here. And, unlike the original EOS M, this one was actually worth the wait. Canon, it seems, has finally figured out the right formula to building a satisfying mirrorless shooter.
Inside, the EOS M3 packs a 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, Digic 6 processor and Hybrid AF III focusing system. What's interesting about these specs is that Canon borrowed them from its latest entry-level DSLRs, the T6s and T6i, which bodes well for the M3. The camera also comes with the same focus peaking system and dynamic image stabilization, all inside a much smaller body than both of those other models. As has become standard on most cameras, Canon's new mirrorless features NFC and WiFi, letting you easily transfer pictures to an iOS or Android device. You can also use the company's Connect app to shoot remotely. What you won't find here, however, is 4K video; the EOS M3 can only record up to 1080p movies at 24, 25 and 30 fps, with a maximum ISO range of 6,400, although lower-res movies support up to 12,800 (12,800 with expansion to 25,600 for stills). If you want to take high-speed snaps, on the other hand, there's a modest 4.2 frames-per-second mode.
Thankfully, the M3's performance matches its strong spec sheet. The main gripe people had with previous EOS mirrorless cameras from Canon was speed, and I'm happy to report that's not an issue in the third-generation model. It's as fast as you'd expect a mid-range compact shooter to be in 2015, even compared to standouts like the Panasonic Lumix G7, Samsung NX500 or Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. And when I say fast, I'm talking about not only focusing on and capturing subjects, but also browsing through the menus and finding settings you're looking for (e.g., ISO, white balance or choosing a file format for pictures or videos).
During my time with the EOS M3, I used an 18-55 IS STM lens (EF-M mount), given that's the kit Canon will be pushing in stores. But, and here's one way in which the M3 outshines some of its rivals, there are adapters to make it compatible with Canon's full line of lenses, including the EF and EF-S. Regardless of the glass, the M3 managed to capture beautiful shots for the most part, even in low-light situations. One of my favorite things about it is how quick it is, so much so that I often felt comfortable just picking it up, aiming at a subject and hitting the shutter without a second thought. One of the things I was trying to do there was see what the M3 could do in full-auto mode, since this is a relatively affordable camera and will likely end up in the hands of a few beginners -- people who just want something better than a point-and-shoot.
The efficient autofocus represents a marked improvement over the EOS M: It's fast and accurate in nearly every shooting situation, save for a hiccup here and there in poorly lit conditions and video-recording mode, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. Overall, Canon has made the necessary improvements to its EOS M mirrorless camera, both inside and out. The addition of an articulating, selfie-friendly screen and a built-in flash, for example, will be appreciated by newcomers and power users alike -- though I do wish it had a pop-up electronic viewfinder, similar to the one on Sony's RX100 IV. At $680 for the body only (or $800 with an 18-55mm lens), Canon's EOS M3 is worth the money -- and that's something I couldn't have said about either of its predecessors.
To view sample images shot with the Canon EOS M3, click here.