It is Friday the 13th, and the world is abuzz with a rumor of 5D Mark III recall. I know for sure that this rumor is a April fool joke done little late. So leaving all fears aside, let us review the brand new Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
When original EOS 5D was launched in October 2005, it represented the first affordable full-frame DSLR. Three and a half years later, the 5D Mark II almost doubled the resolution from 12 to 21 Megapixels. It became the first DSLR to really embrace the potential of video recording, a feature which was adopted by a lot of independent filmmakers and even a few cinema and television production crews. Now, in March 2012, we have the 5D Mark III, inarguably one of the most highly-anticipated DSLRs for years. I had two 5D Mark II’s which I used as my workhorses for the best part of past last 3 years. I received my new 5D Mark III, two days after it was launched in India. In this review I will be comparing 5D Mark III mostly with its predecessor Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
Let us see the salient new features of Canon EOS 5D Mark III
- new 22.3 Megapixel full-frame sensor with 100-25600 ISO sensitivity (expandable to 102,400 ISO)
- 1080p video at 24, 25 or 30fps and 720p at 50 or 60fps
- 61-point AF system (with 41 cross-type sensors)
- 6fps continuous shooting
- 100% coverage viewfinder
- 3.2in screen with 1040k resolution,
- 63-zone iCFL metering
- 3/5/7 frame bracketing
- new HDR mode
- Multiple exposure mode
- new headphone jack
- two memory card slots (Compact Flash and SD)
The control layout has also been adjusted and the build quality is greatly improved. So while the resolution and video specs remain similar to its predecessor; the continuous shooting speed, AF system, viewfinder, screen and build, are all improved.
If you look closely at the camera it is not just another rehash of the 5D Mark II. Almost everything except the name has changed. The 61-point AF system, 100% viewfinder, headphone jack and 3.2in LCD screen are all borrowed from the upcoming EOS 1D X. 63-zone iCFL metering along with much of the control layout and body build taken from the EOS 7D.
Build and ergonomics
5D Mark III now sports a much stronger construction with weather sealing, all of which is inherited from the EOS 7D. It looks and feels more like the 7D than the 5D Mark II. The grip is now larger and has a nice rubber-like feel. It feels much more confident to hold and ergonomics have vastly improved. The relocation of the depth-of-field preview button to the grip side of the lens mount is a very welcome design decision as compared to the 5D Mark II, which had this button right below lens release button. Many times I have inadvertently triggered 5D Mark II’s DOF button and felt pretty annoyed.
The moon above was photographed using Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM with 2X teleconvertor, the image is cropped.
New mode dial is now lockable. I liked the new power switch is around the mode dial, instead of the original awkward position near bottom of the body along with the lock button for the rear wheel. Creative Auto shooting mode has now been removed and the Green Square Auto now upgraded to Auto+. Since I do not use this mode at all, I am not sure how it is, as compared to the earlier one. LCD information panel on the upper right side has the same buttons as before. There is a new customizable M-Fn button by the shutter release similar to the one on the 7D and by default is used on the 5D Mark III to switch between the various AF modes. Most of the buttons including the DOF button are also customizable to your liking from the default settings.
The EOS 5D Mark III now has a upgraded LCD screen inherited from the EOS 1D X. It’s bigger than the 5D Mark II at 3.2 inch, more detailed with 1040k vs 920k dots, and perhaps most importantly of all, wider with a 4:3 aspect ratio. This gives a clearer and sharper picture for preview. 5D Mark III’s rear looks very similar to the EOS 7D. It has the 7D’s useful Live View / Movie switch as well as a new Q button near the joystick. Upon pressing the new Q button you can then move a blue / green highlighter over the desired setting using the joystick and then either turn the thumb wheel or finger dial to directly adjust it, or press the SET button to view a dedicated menu for that item. These dedicated menus also appear when you press the Metering / WB, AF / Drive or ISO / flash compensation buttons alongside the upper screen.
This Stray cat suddenly passed in front of my camera while I was trying out the focusing capabilities of the camera.
5D Mark III has inherited the new touch-sensitive controls from the 1D X, which allow silent adjustments in movie mode. Once enabled, you can tap the dial to make adjustments without the clicks being recorded to the microphone while recording video.
New to the 5D Mark III is the ability to give an image a star rating using the new RATE button which I think is a waste. There is a new magnify button above the play button which works in conjunction with the wheel to zoom or reduce. I found the change in magnification control a little unsettling at first as my thumbs was naturally headed to the top right corner controls where it used to exist. 5D Mark III now adds a new headphone jack for monitoring audio when filming movies – a very welcome addition.
Here you can see my favorite combo Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM with 1.4X teleconvertor used for macro. Check the ISO 10000 results
5D Mark III now has twin memory card slots, one for Compact Flash as before, and a new onw for SD cards. Now you can configure the slots to record different image formats simultaneously if desired. The 5D Mark III will exploit the speed of UDMA-7 CF cards, but disappointingly SD card slot will not get the advantage from UHS-1 SD cards. Even if the 5D Mark III won’t exploit the fastest SD cards I like this format slot as SD cards are typically cheaper than CF at the same capacity – it also gives the 5D Mark III a more affordable Wifi option in the form of Eye-Fi SD cards. You can configure the 5D Mark III to record duplicate images on both cards for redundancy or record different types to each card (such as RAW to one and JPEG to the other), or simply switch from one to the other when the first fills up.
Now I can use Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS lens in daylight at smaller aperture for macro without the help of external flash, thanks to high ISO performance. Even though this does not give you optimum results it is still usable.
Even though it is powered by the same LP-E6 Lithium Ion pack as its predecessor, new sensor and image processor are very frugal resulting in a whopping 100 shots more than 5D Mark II. You can now take up to 950 photos per charge. The EOS 5D Mark III now sports full 100% coverage compared to 98% on the 5D Mark II, and usefully offers similar on-demand LCD guides and AF-point indicators as the 7D.
The 5D Mark III also becomes Canon’s third DSLR, after the 7D and 1D X, to feature on-demand LCD graphics in the viewfinder. The 5D Mark III can switch an alignment grid on or off, along with displaying any number of its 61 AF points with outlines indicating their coverage in certain modes or with certain lenses. Meanwhile a faint dotted circle indicates the spot-metering area. If the VF electronic level option is enabled, the AF markers can also act as a dual-axis leveling gauge.
Here you can see my favorite combo Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM with 1.4X teleconvertor used for bird photography.
The 5D Mark III also inherits the silent shooting options of its predecessor. Mode 1, the default, is quieter than normal shooting and also supports continuous shooting at around 6fps. Mode 2 is quieter still by employing an electronic first curtain shutter to actually take the picture, but delaying the noisier re-cocking of the physical shutter so long as you keep the shutter release held. 5D Mark II used to scare away jumping spiders by its shutter noise, newer silent shutter in Mark III did not seem to bother them much.
Live View on the 5D Mark III is available at 720p when the camera’s connected to an HDTV using the HDMI port, or connected to a PC or Mac and using the supplied EOS Utility. Unlike the 5D Mark II, the resolution doesn’t drop on hitting the record button. One flaw I noticed while using Live view with a separate external monitor is that the camera LCD still remains switched on thus draining battery.
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM with 1.4X teleconvertor is quite fast and focuses pretty fast
The EOS 5D Mark III inherits the 63-zone iCFL metering system of the EOS 7D. It was far better than the 35-zone TTL metering of the 5D Mark II. The 5D Mark III also shares the Partial, Centre-weighted and Spot metering options of the 5D Mark II, but the Partial and Spot sizes have reduced from 8 to 6.2% and 3.5 to 1.5% respectively. This metering is remarkably accurate in all my tests. I noticed occasionally it takes 1-2 seconds for the metering system to stabilize from the point of switching on the camera, so first few shots after switching on the camera may not be correctly exposed.
Canon has finally equipped 5D Mark III with decent exposure bracketing. And speaking of HDR, there’s also a new HDR mode which captures and combines three frames (at 1, 2 or 3EV increments) using a choice of five tone-mapped presets, while also considerately recording each frame separately in case you prefer to do your own processing later. It will not produce usual grungy HDR like the one created by photomatix pro, but a well exposed natural looking photograph (unfortunately saved in JPEG format only) incorporating best of dynamic range sensor could capture. The 5D Mark III also inherits the multiple exposure capabilities from the 1D X, allowing it to combine up to nine separate frames into one, using a choice of four compositing options: Additive, Average, Bright and Dark.
The EOS 5D Mark III is equipped with a new full-frame CMOS chip with 22.3 Megapixel measuring 5616×3744 pixels. The image width of 5760 pixels is perfectly divisible by 1920, the width of HD video. This in turn makes it easier to down-sample the full sensor width to the HD frame while avoiding cropping and minimizing scaling artifacts. The DIGIC 5+ processor also offers some new tricks, so along with peripheral illumination correction; we now finally have chromatic aberration correction on a Canon DSLR.
These are camera processed JPEG shot in neutral picture style and arranged in Photoshop CS6 beta. If you want full resolution file you can get from here. As you can see ISO 12800 is perfectly usable.
Now the ISO sensitivity is boosted by two stops to 100-25,600 ISO, expandable to 50-102,400 ISO. Auto ISO can operate between 100 and 25600 ISO and you can set the minimum and maximum values, along with the slowest accompanying shutter speed from 1 second to 1/250. I found the ISO 12800 perfectly usable as the noise profile is much better than the one from 5D mark II. In my tests I found that there was absolutely no difference in the detail and resolution between 5D Mark II & III when it came to the lower ISO’s.
The 5D Mark III is undoubtedly punchier by default and enjoys the benefit of in-camera correction of color fringing, but many will prefer the more natural, less cooked style of the 5D Mark II.
This full moon covered by cloud was photographed at ISO 25600. I took the meter reading as camera showed and used no post processing.
Continuous shooting speed
The 5D Mark III’s sensor features 8-channel readout and the much more powerful DIGIC-5+ processor behind the scenes, allowing it to pull data-off and crunch it faster than before. So the from 3.9fps continuous shooting speed of the 5D Mark II, has been increased to 6fps on the 5D Mark III, with a buffer that’s good for a quoted 18 RAW files or over 6000 JPEGs when equipped with a UDMA-7 1000x CF card. I found this increased speed much more useful for action photography as compared to the sedate 5D Mark II.
Unfortunately it looks 5D Mark III has inherited the similar size buffer from 5D Mark II. Its shooting rate has doubled, but if you start shooting continuously with slower CF card, it will fill the buffer. I was shooting raw files continuously and I kept on hitting the buffer limit. On my Sandisk 45 mb/s Cards I could get continuous 13 shots RAW & Sandisk 60 mb/s – 16 shots RAW before the speed dropping to 3fps. Even though the specs said 6fps I was getting 6.4fps while shooting like that. This camera is going to be used for sports or wildlife photography much more than the older version so they should have doubled the buffer. Probably they have kept that feature reserved for the 1Dx. As Canon stated that it will be slower on SD slot as compared to CF slot, and as I did not have fast SD cards to try, I skipped that test using SD slot.
So if you need to clear your buffer quickly, it’s best to use the fastest CF cards (like UDMA cards) you can afford with the 5D Mark III and to avoid SD or you’ll need to accept smaller bursts and leisurely buffer-flushing times.
The 5D Mark III inherits the same 61-point AF system as the EOS 1D X – a significant boost over the earlier 9-point system. A considerable 41 of them are cross-type sensors, while five boast dual cross-points. I put the 5D Mark III’s continuous shooting – and tracking auto-focus to a test in a variety of conditions. In each case the camera performed very consistently and felt a world apart from the 5D Mark II. The new AF system is highly configurable across no fewer than five new dedicated menu pages; indeed Canon has published a 47 page guide for the 1D X which also applies to the 5D Mark III. This guide and the 5D Mark III manual also explain which lenses can exploit which AF points in the system, as the most sensitive dual-cross type sensors in the middle only work with lenses at f2.8 or faster, while others are limited to f4 or faster. Even the slowest lenses still get at least 33 AF points / 15 cross-type sensors to work with.
What make the 5D Mark III and 1D X stand out is the three parameters to describe the motion: Tracking Sensitivity, Acceleration / Deceleration, Tracking and AF point Auto Switching. While some of these have been seen in Custom functions of on earlier models and can still be manually tweaked, Canon now provides six presets for specific styles of sports. I’m no sports photographer so I’ll leave a detailed analysis of the different cases to those who do it for a living. I do hope that they give similar presets for wildlife or bird photographers. I think most of the 6 presets can be adapted to wildlife photography too.
I found the spot AF useful for precisely targeting a subject, such as a person’s eye, in a static photo. It was not so useful for a moving object. AF Point Expansion (which also takes four points above, below, left and right into consideration), AF Point Expansion (which also takes eight points around the manually selected area into account) was the best to track movements as well as wildlife photography. Zone AF was a handy way of just leaving the camera to work out everything, but giving it the guidance that the subject was in a specific section of the frame. Also appreciated, is the option for Orientation Linked AF Points, where the point, area or zone could automatically adjust depending on portrait or landscape shooting. There is also AF Micro-Adjustment options, which now let you enter different values for both ends of a zoom range rather than just one.
This swift moving swallow was very well tracked by the AF servo in the case 2 preset mode with center 8 point AF Point Expansion selected, thus proving a very good bird in flight camera.
The new AF on the 5D Mark III returned a high ratio of hits and felt very responsive. In fact, after the tests I did, the AF seemed to be far better than the one on my 1D Mark IV in tracking and for latching on to the subject. I was so annoyed by the 5D Mark II’s auto-focus that I had to buy 1D Mark IV to compensate for those moments which needed crucial auto-focus. If you are cribbing over the price premium over the 5D Mark II, I would say it is well worth the money only for this one feature.
5D Mark III gets several important video enhancements from 1DX. First is the choice of intra-frame (ALL-i) or inter-frame (IPB) compression formats, the former capturing higher quality and more easily editable footage, albeit at a hungrier data rate. There is SMTPE time code embedding, allowing easier syncing of audio and video in post-production, especially useful for multi-camera setups. It can also record clips one second shy of half an hour, thanks to files which seamlessly run into each other – a big boost over the 12 minutes or so of the 5D Mark II and making it a lot more useful for interviews and documentaries. You still get 1080p at 24, 25 or 30fps, but the 50 or 60fps option is only available at 720p.
Now let us look at some video tests done using 5D Mark III. I was fortunate to have a close friend who is a very talented Independent Filmmaker, Arjun Suri, who has used the 5D Mark II for his earlier work and now (due to my influence) shifted to the 5D Mark III. He has specially created and reviewed the video part of 5D Mark III for this review. I am really indebted to his beautiful work and review. The following review of video of 5D Mark III is entirely his.
Nikon’s D90 may have been the first DSLR to offer video recording, but it was the EOS 5D Mark II which made it truly useful for professionals. It’s fair to say the enormous popularity of the 5D Mark II for video came as a surprise to Canon, but the company really took the ball and ran with it, refining the features in subsequent models and updating the original with enhancements. Let’s see how they did in 5D Mark III.
This short film shot in Mangalore, India to test out the Canon 5D Mark III and various lenses (Canon 100mm 2.8 (Non-L) Macro, Canon 50mm 1.2L, Canon 70-200 f/4L IS and Canon 24-105 f/4L IS) The footage was shot with a modified “Neutral” picture profile (Sharpness dialed all the way down + Contrast dialed down two steps + Saturation dialed down 2 steps). In post-production, the footage was sharpened in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 using the “Unsharp Mask” tool. Contrast was added in the “Fast Color Corrector” tool. All shots made at a constant shutter speed (1/50s) at 24fps ALL-I encoding. Aperture varies along the clips and the ISO range tested here is from ISO 100 to ISO 6400. Music: “Infra 3” by Max Richter
General Image Quality/Ease of Shooting: The image quality from the camera in All-I mode was exceptional. Although the camera records at a variable bit-rate, it is consistently higher than that on the 5D Mark II (~28mbps). The various clips I shot all showed a bit-rate of around 60-80mbps. This is a huge plus as it leaves a lot of room for color correction and also allows for better keying. Also, with the 5D Mark II, I always used to shoot using a flat picture profile with sharpness turned all the way down. However, adding sharpness in post was possible only to a very small degree and exceeding that, the footage used to break and show all kinds of artifacts and fringing. On the 5D Mark III, that wasn’t the case. The sharpened images looked crisp and free of any aberrations/artifacts. I won’t ever need to worry about the patterns on a subject’s shirt again (huge problem with all DSLR’s before the 5D Mark III) as however hard I tried, the camera refused to show any signs of moiré/aliasing. The output from the HDMI port is now at 720p and stays the same after hitting record (Drops to 480p on the 5D Mark II on hitting record). This makes pulling focus on an external monitor a lot more efficient and easier.
Non-narrative short test video shot in Mangalore, India to test out the Canon 5D Mark III. The footage was shot with a modified “Neutral” picture profile (Sharpness dialed all the way down + Contrast dialed down two steps + Saturation dialed down 2 steps) In post-production, the footage was sharpened in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 using the “Unsharp Mask” tool. Contrast was added in the “Fast Color Corrector” tool. All shots made at a constant shutter speed (1/50s) at 24fps ALL-I encoding. Aperture is constant at f/1.2 . ISO varies as specified
Low Light: The low light performance of the 5D Mark III is what truly had me sold. The 5D Mark II itself was considered a low light beast when it was released but taking cues from some really neat large sensor technology that has come up in the last couple of years, including Canon’s very own C300, the 5D Mark III takes low-light video to another level. In the tests I did, the footage at ISO 3200 was comparable to ISO 640-800 on the 5D Mark II. Stepping up-to ISO 6400, it was still perfectly clean and usable. The noise was also more filmic and was at par with the noise seen on the 5D Mark II at ISO 1600-3200. The footage at ISO 12800 held up quite well, surprisingly! The amount of noise in the footage was comparable to the 5D Mark II at ISO 4000-6400, but without the color artifacts seen on the latter. ISO 25600 wasn’t great at all and looked quite similar to 5D Mark II ISO 6400 footage with all those artifacts and strange video-grain, yet, usable if shot well and by avoiding pitch black areas in the shots (as this enhances the color noise/artifacts). The places where I shoot are usually at temperatures above 30-35 degrees and the 5D Mark II needed some cooling after every hour or so of shooting as the sensor got very hot from shooting video. Over the past weekend, while working for hours at stretch on the 5D Mark III, the heat warning never came up (I’m hoping that this isn’t due to a faulty warning!).
Audio: Half of every film watching experience is sound and DSLR’s have always been really bad at it. Yes, using professional microphones with the 5D Mark III will still need accessories but it being a DSLR and not a dedicated video camera, I’m not complaining. The headphone jack was the only addition I expected but there’s a lot more that’s been done. Silent audio-level controls while recording audio were a blessing and even though the audio is still at the same 16bit/44kHz, it sounds much richer and cleaner than the 5D Mark II. High end filmmakers will probably continue to record audio on their external recorders and sync it with the video in post but documentary shooters can surely rejoice at this (and at the extension of maximum video clip length from 12 minutes to 30 minutes).
Thus if you notice Canon, in 5D Mark III has fixed almost all the complaints people had about 5D Mark II.
- Crappy AF sensor – fixed, 61 Point AF system from 1Dx which is top notch, even blew my 1D Mark IV away.
- Questionable battery grip – fixed, now molded to the body and strong.
- Weak 3.9 frames per second – Fast 6 frames now.
- Single card slot – fixed with dual card slots now
- Better ISO – fixed two more additional ISO ranges.
- Poorly designed memory card door – fixed and weatherized.
- Weak weather sealing – fixed, nearly as good as 1D Series.
- Locking mode dial – fixed, it locks now.
- Better on/off switch location – fixed, no more accidental turning it off.
- Poor DOF Button – fixed, The DOF button moved to the grip side of the body makes it real easy to see the Depth of Field before shooting.
Now let us see what I didn’t like about the 5D Mark III
- Buffer is not enough cope up with the increased continuous shooting speed.
- SD card slot is slower than CF card slot.
- There is still no built-in flash unlike Nikon D800
- The 5D Mark III doesn’t have any built-in wireless or GPS.
- Doesn’t have any kind of built-in time-lapse or interval shooting facilities.
- Even though canon’s EOS T3i / 600D’s supports cropping in movie mode, Canon has chosen not to implement any kind of movie crop mode in 5D Mark III to deliver a magnified image.
- Camera LCD screen is always on during Live view on an external monitor.
- Metering system is occasionally unstable and produces under exposed images during camera start-up.
Last two complaints seems to be bugs in the camera and I suppose they can/should be corrected via firmware upgrade.
The steep $3500 price tag on the 5D Mark III might steer some people away, but if you look closely, this really isn’t a tweaked up 5D Mark II, it’s a brand new camera! With most of the best features from EOS 7D and 1Dx and the vast improvement over it’s predecessor, I definitely think it’s worth an upgrade. If you are looking for a snappy and surefooted auto-focus, better metering, faster continuous shooting speed, larger viewfinder and LCD screen, better build, improved sensor, better low-light performance, headphone jack, constant 720p HDMI output, better video recording codec; then that higher price is well worth an upgrade. However, if you’re a 5D Mark II owner who mostly shoots stills, landscapes at low ISOs, I see no reason for you to upgrade to the 5D Mark III as the low ISO performance remains unchanged.
I like to wish my very special heartfelt thanks to Arjun Suri, Vivek Bhat, Vaibhav Bhat, Roshan Rao, Smoke N Oven and the people of Car Street, Mangalore who really made this review possible.