Review: Canon R3 Panning Assist Feature
In the latest firmware (1.4.0), Canon added some cool new software features to the R3, one of which may or may not have a significant impact on motorsport photography – Panning Assist.
Given that panning is such an essential part of the craft, I took it upon myself to give this new feature a thorough workout to see how much of an impact it makes on getting those all-important sharp panning shots.
So, let’s have a look at what Panning Assist is on the Canon R3, how it works and how much of a difference it makes.
What Is Panning Assist?
As per Canon’s press release when the new firmware was released: “With the v1.40 firmware, the EOS R3 continues to raise the bar when it comes to action photography. With the new Panning Assist function that is unique to Canon, image stabilisation and subject blur correction can be applied during exposure. This improves the number of successful panning shots a photographer can capture, while using shutter speeds up to two stops slower than previously possible, with the ability to retain sharp details.”
In essence, the Canon R3 uses its image stabilisation system, image stacking and some background computation to ensure the subject of the photo remains sharp while chasing that motion blur effect that comes with panning. The concept being, that it will help out if you don’t already have a smooth panning action (or just having an off day).
How Does Panning Assist Work?
I had a chat with some of the technical team at Canon to get a better idea of what’s actually happening. And while they didn’t give me specifics, in layman’s terms, the software enables to use of a combination of the camera and lens stabilisation features to work out what movement is intentional. Then, by combining exposures, determine what the subject is and what should be sharp (at least in part) to produce the image.
That said, it does have limitations. As per Canon’s updated Advanced User Guide for version 1.4.0 firmware for the Canon R3, Panning Assist only works when shooting in [M] Manual or [Tv] Time Value mode, and the camera is in electronic shutter mode.
In addition, the feature only works with compatible lenses. I had a look through the list, and most of the RF mount lenses are compatible. However, for those of you still transitioning across to the mirrorless system, only a handful of the more modern EF mount lenses were. You can check out the full compatibility list on Canon’s website.
Here’s the full list of limitations, as per the Advanced User Guide:
- For details on lenses compatible with this feature, visit the Canon website.
- The camera shoots in [Electronic] shutter mode.
- Maximum continuous shooting speed is approx. 7.5 shots/sec.
- An icon () appears in the upper left of the shooting screen when this feature is enabled.
- Flash photography is not available.
- Although lens IS is applied to images captured with lenses compatible with this feature, the effect is not shown on the screen as you shoot. (IS and subject blur correction are activated when you shoot, regardless of the lens IS setting.)
- The following subjects or shooting conditions may prevent suitable subject blur correction with lenses compatible with this feature.
- Subjects with very low contrast
- Subjects in low light
- Strongly backlit or reflective subjects
- Subjects with repetitive patterns
- Subjects with few patterns, or with monotone patterns
- Subjects with reflections (such as images reflected in glass)
- Subjects smaller than the Flexible Zone AF frame
- Multiple subjects in an AF point or frame
- Subjects moving in irregular directions or at irregular speeds
- Subjects that sometimes move erratically (such as runners who move up and down as they run)
- Subjects with significant changes in speed (such as immediately after initial movement, or when moving along a curve)
- When the camera moves too quickly or slowly
- When camera movement does not match subject movement
- Use of this feature may increase noise in the image area. Note that the noise will not appear in captured images.
Does Panning Assist Make A Difference?
In short, yes. However, you might not immediately notice the difference if you already have a solid panning technique.
The Panning Assist feature doesn’t actually guarantee that all your panning photos will be sharp. What it does is improve your hit rate. If you already have a good smooth technique, it will help make improve the likelihood that those shots that were almost sharp previously will now be. However, those who struggle with rough and shaky pans are still going to have the same issues.
After some fairly extensive testing across a couple of events at different circuits over the last few weeks, I found that Panning Assist on the Canon R3 definitely helped. Especially when panning at super slow shutter speeds. At one event in particular, I very intentionally shot slower shutter speeds than I would normally to confirm the impact on my hit rate. Verifying that the feature was actually working as intended – and it does.
That said, there are some drawbacks that you need to be aware of.
Firstly the feel in the hand while panning. With Panning Assist turned on, you can feel the IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilisation) bouncing around inside the camera. It feels odd and can be a little off-putting at first. My natural reaction was to compensate for the vibration which actually led to a poor result. But once I started to ignore it, my hit rate improved.
Also, the reduced frame rate while shooting in high-speed continuous takes some adjustment. After using 1DX series cameras for so long and now the R3, I have developed a comfort level as to what shots I will get. However, I found that I would slightly miss the framing I was chasing with Panning Assist turned on, particularly with photos like the one at the top of this section where I’m panning with cars going in different directions. To get the same shots, I had to shoot a little wider than usual at then crop in.
But probably the most odd thing I noticed about using Panning Assist on the Canon R3 is that while yes, it did ensure that part of the subject of the photo was sharp. It wasn’t always the part of the image you would expect. I noticed this more when doing super slow pans (1/10th and below), and I think what it’s doing is salvaging shots that would almost certainly be throwaways otherwise by ensuring something is sharp. One good example was when I was focused on the manufacturer badge at the very front of the car, but I was consistently getting the window banner sharp instead.
The Panning Assist feature in the Canon R3 will certainly help motorsport photographers ensure that they get something sharp in their panning photos. That said, you will still need to have a solid panning technique to take advantage of it.
If you are having an off day, then it will certainly increase the likelihood that your pans will be sharp. But as with all things photography-related, the more you control manually, i.e. doing your pans the way you’ve always done it, the more likely the resulting photo will be what you expect it to be.
That said, being a software feature, I’m very curious to see how it improves with future firmware releases for the Canon R3 (and other Canon cameras).
I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.
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