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Up close with Canon's impressive new cameras

The 50-megapixel EOS 5DS and diminutive EOS M3 make their debut

Canon announced a lot of new cameras today, but two in particular stand out — the 50-megapixel EOS 5DS is now the highest-resolution full-frame DSLR in the world, and the EOS M3 represents the camera giant’s most serious take yet on the mirrorless category. While the camera industry is going through a period of transition, Canon remains a dominant force; it sells more high-end cameras than anyone. I went along to the Tokyo launch event to see how its latest are shaping up.

The EOS M3 is easily Canon’s most usable mirrorless camera to date. The company managed to fit most of the controls you’d want onto the palm-sized body, including two control rings and a separate exposure compensation dial, and the new ergonomic grip makes the camera far more comfortable to hold than its predecessors without adding too much bulk. The biggest criticism of the original EOS M (and its successor, which never left Japan) was the way it eschewed physical controls for fiddly touchscreen operation. The touchscreen remains on the M3, in newly flexible form, but it’ll be a lot easier to ignore than on previous models.

Canon EOS M3 and 5DS event photos

Autofocus performance seems much improved, too, though it’s hard to say for sure without testing in various lighting conditions. The 24-megapixel APS-C sensor uses the latest iteration of Canon’s on-chip phase detection AF technology as well as giving a bump in resolution.

There’s no space for a viewfinder in the EOS M3’s diminutive frame, but the camera is compatible with the EVF-DC1 accessory that launched with last year’s G1 X Mark II. Unfortunately, it’s not as good an experience as the built-in units on even mid-range models from Fujifilm or Olympus; the LCD isn’t as vibrant, with lower magnification than you’d hope for, and it just doesn’t feel as natural holding your eye up to a bulbous accessory sticking out of the top of a camera. The option is there if you need it, but if you’re the type of shooter that prefers a viewfinder, this probably isn’t the camera for you.

The EOS M3's biggest roadblock might be Canon itself

Overall, though, the EOS M3 is an impressive body that should, on paper, be very competitive with others on the market. But the biggest roadblock might be Canon itself. As you’ll see in a photo below, the EOS M line still only has four lenses available, three of which are slow zooms. You can use an adapter to mount EF DSLR lenses, but then you’re missing out on the size and weight advantages of mirrorless in the first place. And it appears that Canon is opting against releasing the EOS M3 in North America, instead restricting it to Asia and Europe. I think Canon’s proven that it knows how to make a good mirrorless camera; all the company needs to do now is give it the push it needs.

Canon EOS M3 and 5DS event photos

The EOS 5DS, on the other hand, looks like a straightforward hit. Building on the success of its 5D line, the 5DS uses a record-breaking new 50-megapixel sensor that gives more resolution than any full-frame DSLR ever made. With this camera, Canon is targeting studio and landscape photographers who might be tempted to make the leap to medium format. But the 5DS’ body is near-identical to the current 5D Mark III, making for a much more portable package than something like a Pentax 645z.

That’s the problem with trying to tell you anything about the 5DS at this stage, though — upon using it at Canon’s event for a while, my first impressions were "well, this sure does feel like a 5D." That is by no means a bad thing, but the real test for this camera will be how it performs under actual professional use. Given the 5DS' smaller pixels, it’s likely that the 5D Mark III will offer better low-light performance, for instance. Dynamic range is also a concern. The Mark III will remain the clear choice for videographers, as the 5DS removes key features like the headphone jack and HDMI output. And just how many Canon lenses out there will be able to take advantage of the sharper canvas afforded by the sensor?

But for advanced photographers who work in controlled light situations, the $3,699 5DS (and the $3,899 5DS R, a variant that removes anti-aliasing for sharper images) should be warmly received. The megapixel wars have been ignited once again, and the previous resolution champion, Nikon’s 36-megapixel D810, has a serious new competitor. Ahead of next week’s CP+, the biggest camera show in Japan, it’s clear that Canon has come out swinging.

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