Without wanting to bow to hyperbole, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II really did change the photographic landscape. With its full-frame sensor and strengths in video recording, it bridged the gap both for film-makers and photographers wanting the best of both worlds. In this regard, this camera, the EOS 5D Mark III, has a lot to live up to.
There are plenty of significant improvements in the feature set, but there are also a few niggling points. Depending on your perspective, this camera will either exceed all your expectations, or fall on the borderline — only because the Mark II was so game-changing. Regardless, Canon has produced another great addition to its high-end EOS line, and anyone seriously invested in Canon won't be disappointed.
Design and features
The biggest shift for photographers upgrading from a 5D Mark II, or indeed coming to the Mark III fresh, are the shooting ergonomics. There's a reason that many people have dubbed this as a cross between a 5D and a 7D, and that's because many elements have been carried across. The camera borrows bits and pieces that we've seen on the EOS range for a while now, such as the 60D's locking mode-dial switch and the 7D's live view and movie-shooting switch. That's not to say that this camera has no new features of its own, though.
First up, the image sensor has been completely redesigned, and is now a 22.3-megapixel CMOS full-frame model that uses the Digic 5+ image processor. With an extended ISO range (from 100 to 25,600 native and 50 to 102,400 using the low and high modes, respectively), Canon claims that this camera has far improved capabilities in controlling noise in low lighting. There are 61 AF points on-board (like the 1D X), with 41 cross-types.
Click through for a look at the Mark III. (Credit: CBSi)
In terms of physical changes, there's plenty for photographers and videographers to get their heads around. The location of the Live View switch is one of the biggest changes, now located just to the right of the viewfinder, and toggled on or off with a flick. The record action is no longer performed by the Set button, but by the Start/Stop button located in the middle of the Live View switch. It makes sense, but the ergonomics take some getting used to for videographers coming from the Mark II. It's also more difficult to balance the camera with your right hand and shoot video handheld with this new configuration, given that your weight naturally shifts when reaching up for a button, rather than across from the thumb's natural position.
There's only one zoom button now, and you have to use the top dial to zoom in and out.
We found the relocation of the zoom button to be annoying. It's moved to the left-hand side of the screen as a single button, rather than the zoom-in/zoom-out button arrangement that used to be found on the right-hand side of the camera, just under the top LCD panel. The zoom button is useful for expanding focus when shooting in Live View, and its new positioning makes it more cumbersome to use.
There are a lot of advantages from the new design, though, particularly the silent-shooting options. The large dial, flanking the Set button at the back, is now ultra quiet, so adjusting parameters while shooting won't affect the sound of your videos. The silent-shooting mode, accessible via the drive button, is incredibly useful for shooting in sensitive situations where any noise is a distraction. It's ideal for wedding photographers. Also advantageous is the viewfinder's frame coverage, which has been increased to 100 per cent; a small, but important boost over the Mark II's.
The mode dial at the top now comes with a button lock to keep it from falling out of place. Also, the lock tab has been separated from the power switch and relocated to the bottom of the camera.
A new creative button has appeared on the back, which provides easy access to the Mark III's range of "artistic" modes. In-camera high dynamic-range imaging (HDR) is the flavour of the month for photographers and camera makers alike, and the Mark III doesn't disappoint on this front. Its HDR mode is automatic, taking three shots at either +/- 1, 2 or 3 EV from the metered exposure, and merging them together. Built-in effects to enhance the look and feel of the HDR include modes such as art standard, art vivid, art bold and art embossed.
The HDR effects. Clockwise from top left; art standard, art vivid, art embossed and art bold.
The effects err on the side of gimmicky, and we can't see these HDR modes being of much use for professional photographers — unless you really can't be bothered merging and composing HDR images in post-processing. It's also not a quick process for the camera, taking up to 10 seconds for it to piece together the HDR shot after taking the photos. The Mark III stores all the exposures that make up the HDR shot, as well as the final, merged shot.
There are also in-camera multiple exposure modes, and access to the regular picture controls from the creative button, as well.
In-camera multiple-exposure modes are nothing new, but the 5D Mark III offers two modes for controlling multiple exposures. There's function/control priority for when you are in control of the shooting situation, as well as continuous-shooting priority mode, which is used for moving subjects. The camera can automatically combine anywhere from two to nine images in the continuous-shooting mode, and a maximum of four in function/control mode. The multiple-exposure mode actually does let you dial in exposure values for each shot, or you can let the camera choose automatically.
On top of its magnesium-alloy chassis, the Mark III has made some improvements on the Mark II in terms of weather resistance. It's dust resistant and water resistant, particularly around the strap hooks and dials, so it should withstand most shooting situations.
Canon has equipped the camera with dual CF and SD card slots. The camera can be set so it will automatically switch to the other source when one card is full, record files to both cards simultaneously or store different image types on either card.
We tested the Mark III with the firmware it shipped with (1.0.7), but, at the time of writing, a new version (1.1.2) is now available for download.
Features for video shooters
The new sensor gives the Mark III plenty of scope for video shooters. According to Canon, the combination of the sensor and the processor reduces colour artefacts and moire in video. Take a look at our video test below to see how this performs.
There's also some extra screen real estate at the back of the camera, now at 3.2 inches, which video shooters will find invaluable. It's high resolution, too, more so than the Nikon D800's, at 1.04 million dots. There's a soft-touch mode dial at the rear, which ensures that no clicking sounds are recorded when shooting video, and a headphone jack is provided for monitoring audio. The new time-code feature lets you sync footage from multiple cameras much more easily than before, while continuous recording has been upped to 29 minutes.
There are two compression options available; All-I or IPB, available in 1080p (25, 24fps) or 720p (50fps). The camera can also record in VGA resolution at 25fps (IPB only).
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in FPS)
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
All figures above were derived from testing the Mark III in conjunction with a Lexar Professional CompactFlash 16GB 1000x card.
Canon rates the battery of the Mark III at 950 shots.
Autofocus responsiveness is the big win for Mark III users, with the camera able to achieve and lock focus in a much snappier fashion than the earlier camera. We tested the AF performance on a variety of subjects, from fast-moving targets, like cars and runners, right through to very low-light performance. There were very few, if any, situations where the autofocus didn't perform as we expected. The only exception was the AF in Live View, which is standard.
There are various ways to select the AF point; using the entire 61-point array, just using the cross-type points or having a 15- or 9-point arrangement. Also, within the menu system, Canon has also provided a way of tweaking the AF performance on a case-by-case basis. For example there's a general "Case 1" setting, differing all the way through to a "Case 6" setting, suitable for subjects that change speed frequently.
The 5D Mark III delivers excellent images, respectfully continuing the hard work laid down by the Mark II. In our tests, the Mark III did tend to suggest a metered exposure, underexposing by approximately half an exposure value; though, naturally, any photographers shooting in RAW would not find this an issue.
JPEG images straight from the camera showed great colour rendition, with automatic white balance also hitting the mark. Much has been written about the metering being affected by the top LCD screen's illumination when shooting in dark situations, but we weren't able to replicate this in our tests.
As you can see from this comparison, the Mark III does process its JPEGs quite differently to the RAW image straight out of the camera. The JPEG is a touch darker and the colours are not as vibrant, which is interesting, as many cameras exhibit the reverse trend.
Where this camera really excels is in its noise control, particularly at high ISO levels. Not only is the Mark III able to deliver a relatively low-noise shot at its higher levels, such as ISO 3200 and above, but even at 25,600, which is the native maximum, images are perfectly usable.
This shot was taken at ISO 12,800 (JPEG) and shows how the Mark III deals with noise at this high sensitivity. There's a fair amount of colour noise, as you can see in the 100 per cent crop insert above, but it's a very usable shot.
This is exactly the same shot as the image directly above, but shot in RAW with some tweaks performed in Lightroom 4. As you can see, with a small amount of noise reduction and exposure levelling, the RAW image, with 100 per cent crop inset, is incredibly usable. Shooting at high sensitivities produces great results.
Dynamic range remains similar to what the Mark II can deliver, with the new camera delivering a very good amount of detail from shadows to highlighted areas. RAW performance (we converted files using Lightroom 4) was excellent, though the discernible difference between it and JPEG files was quite little at lower ISO levels.
A comparison of 100 per cent crops between a RAW and JPEG shot taken at ISO 6400. These images are straight from the camera, no adjustments or processing, apart from RAW conversion in Lightroom 4.
On-screen shooting options when recording video now include a level and histogram. The headphone jack at the side of the camera provides live monitoring options and is a very welcome addition for video shooters. You can adjust levels on the fly without affecting the audio track, thanks to the quiet-touch controls.
As expected, the video quality delivered by the Mark III is excellent. Results straight from the camera are good, but a little soft; some sharpening in post does bring out the best detail — something that you couldn't really afford to do on the Mark II. Moire and other artefacts that were noticeable on videos produced by other SLRs are hardly anywhere to be seen on videos from the Mark III, a very impressive feat.
Unfortunately, for serious videographers, this camera does not support clean HDMI output, making recording to an external source rather impractical. For this feature, you'll want to look at the Nikon D800, which, at the time of writing, we haven't had a chance to review just yet.
In case you're wondering what the ever-so-slight mechanical hum is on the video above, that's the image stabilisation of the lens kicking in. We used the camera's internal mic for our video test, but of course there is an option to mount any external stereo mic using the 3.5mm jack. The video above was filmed using IPB compression.
Exposure: 1/2000, f/4, ISO 640
Exposure: 1/2000, f/4, ISO 800
Exposure: 1/640, f/8, ISO 250
Exposure: 1/80, f/4, ISO 1250
It's the little additions that make the Mark III a worthy target for photographers to upgrade from the previous camera. Feature tweaks, as well as a significant boost to the low-light capabilities in stills and video recording, will be invaluable for many photographers. Still, the Mark III is not as big a leap as one might expect from Canon, given the competitive nature of the full-frame market.
The 5D Mark III retails at AU$4399 for the body only, AU$5499 for the premium kit with the EF 24-105mm f/4 L lens and AU$6899 with the new EF 24-70 f/2.8 L II lens.