Canon R3 — Flying Birds in Low Light

Someone recently asked me to test the Canon R3 in low light. Little did I know I’d find myself in overcast, dreary, drizzly, windy, and cold conditions all weekend. What a test!

All of the following photos were taken with the Canon R3 in Case 2 Auto Focus, High-Speed burst, and Whole Area Auto Focus. The camera is still set-up as it came out of the box otherwise.

Camera Settings: Shutter Priority, 1/6400th second, ISO Auto, f10, over-exposed by +1 because it was so overcast. (The exposure compensation was based on a test shot using the histogram and the exposure simulation in the viewfinder.)

All photos have been processed in Adobe Camera Raw. Settings: Texture +20, Vibrance +20, Saturation +20, Shadows +35-40, Noise Reduction 16. No other hocus-pocus or magic.

Merlin in Flight From a Boat

This is a screen capture of 18 frames I got of a merlin flying across the bow of a boat. The boat is in motion, I’m moving, and the merlin is flying, of course.
First image in the series at 100% crop. Process details above.
16th image in the series. at 100% crop

Notice that the R3 acquired focus on the merlin in flight and then held the focus until the bird was out of my sight. That’s exactly what I expect of a camera at this level. No hesitating and no delay.

All of the above are are ISO 16,000 with Adobe Camera Raw’s Noise Reduction at 16.

Northern Shoveler’s in Flight

Back on land but in the same weather conditions. Cold, overcast, drizzly, and windy. I wasn’t dressed for the weather so only stayed at this location for 10 minutes. Ducks were taking flight in front of me and flying to the right. I took 219 photos in that 10 minutes. Same settings and processing as above.

Screen capture of some of the images that follow unprocessed.

I realized at this point that the Canon R3 was going to acquire focus and not let go even on these flying ducks. For the next 10-minutes, I photographed any duck that flew by. Reminder that I am pivoting to the right on each duck that flies by.

ISO 8000 on this series. I captured 22 frames of this female as she flew by.

Female northern shoveler in flight. ISO 4000 and cropped to 100%
Northern shoveler coming right at me. The Canon R3 with the 100-500mm RF lens acquired focus.
Northern shoveler male in flight with ISO 5000.
Above is a tricky situation for some cameras. Single bird flying in front of a busy background. Another camera might focus on the background since the large zone auto focus is set.
The Canon R3 found the northern shoveler.
The image above enlarged to 100%.

I am totally impressed with the auto focus on the Canon R3. The camera never lost focus on a flying bird. I shot for a total of three hours on this day and never was I disappointed in the performance of the Canon R3.

For users of the Canon EOS 1-D x — The R3 is equal to and better. Canon has given us an amazing camera.

Questions or comments? What me to test something else on the R3? Post below.

Author: kathyadamsclark

Professional photographer leading workshops and tours.

13 thoughts on “Canon R3 — Flying Birds in Low Light”

      1. The large focus area is a sort of long rectangle in the middle of the screen, I’m surprised there is no real full screen choice. So for birds in flight you would use the large rectangle focus area, animal tracking but not eye tracking? I was using the face/eye+tracking and sometimes it worked good and other times I could not grab onto the bird. I’m assuming the R3 works better from what you say. What is best set-up for BIF’s in the R5/R6 cameras?


      2. I keep the “Animal Eye” set in all the time. That’s in AF 1 menu. “Subject to Detect — Animals” and “Eye Detection — Enabled”. Same on the R3 and the R5/6. Those settings don’t really help with this super fast birds in flight photography. It’s the Large Zone that helps. I found it was pretty good on the R5 and R6. It’s very good to very darn good on the R3.


      3. Mark, I just noticed your first sentence of your post. Large Focus Area is the last focus at the right of the row. Not the one in the middle. The large focus area covers most of the screen.


  1. Kathy – thank you for providing the examples of actual shots. I have started taking video for YouTube and have eliminated the R5&6 due to the overheating issues even though I don’t shoot in 8K -60 frames a second, currently. Have been strongly considering the R5C. Can you test the video capability of the R3 and provide your opinion of its capability?


  2. One other question. With a 24 MP sensor, do you anticipate “extra grain” if you were going to blow up a picture for a large print?


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