On Saturday (2 days ago), I picked up a 5D Mark III from Castle Cameras in Bournemouth. My first entrance to the world of Full Frame digital was when I got my Canon 5D Mark II back in August 2009, and I absolutely love that camera. It’s high ISO performance is superb, I never really had a problem with the AF and if it wasn’t for continued development of FoCal I wouldn’t have got the Mark III. But I did, and having got one pretty early (they’re not supposed to be officially released until this coming Thursday as far as I know), I wanted to share my thoughts.
First off, I want to say a few things about this “review”. It’s not a review. It’s just my impression of the camera after a couple of days of using it. I had a really busy weekend so I didn’t specifically take the camera out to get test shots, I just tried to take shots of normal life over the couple of days. The test shots are not great, but they at least show that the Mark III can take photographs!
I’m also writing this as the owner of a 400D, 5D Mark II, 7D, 1D Mark IV, Nikon D7000 and Sony NEX5, so I have a fair amount of experience with different cameras. I use Canon kit because I have an investment in that, but I honestly believe that Nikon and Canon are at the top of their games.
Finally, if you want specs, camera shots, how-to-use guides etc, then Google is your friend. I’m only going to talk about the things I’ve played with and got a bit of an opinion on.
Anyway, that over with…
It’s black. It’s slightly heavier than the 5D Mark II (and it actually feels a bit heavier too), it’s solid. Button layout wise it’s much more like the 7D. The power switch is under the mode dial and LiveView/Video is operated with the same selector switch as the 7D.
A nice feature is that the locking mode dial is now a standard feature. There have been a number of times I’ve knocked the dial on the 5D Mark II and 7D, and it’s not funny! You now have to press the button in the middle of the dial to move it:
And, of course, there are 2 card slots – one CF card and one SD card, much like the 1D series cameras. I haven’t played with the settings (and have only used the camera with a CF card so far), but I believe you can do the same sort of things as the 1 series – duplicate the images to both cards, use the SD card as an extension for more memory, record RAW to CF and JPEG to SD and other combinations.
Canon seem to have a reputation for being less consistent at focusing than Nikon. The 1D Mark III didn’t help with all it’s problem, and the general comparisons over time between the Nikon D3s and the 1D Mark IV have shown that there are subtle differences, with the D3s generally being better in real world situations.
The 5D Mark II had a simple AF system based on (but I believe improved from) the original 5D. It was 9 point, with cross-type centre point and 6 hidden assistance points which helped with tracking. I use fast primes (35mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.2), and I have never really found even the outer focus points on the 5D Mark II particularly bad. If it’s a critical shot, I take a few in succession, but generally they work well.
So how does the 5D Mark III compare? Well… over the weekend, I shot almost entirely at f/1.4 and f/1.2 to give the AF a workout. And on static shots, I didn’t have a single miss from the camera. Not one. I missed a few times, or I got the shutter speed wrong and ended up with a blurry mess, but even down at ISO 25600 and f/1.4 at 1/250s the AF would get it right. Again and again. And again.
Notice that I say static shots. When things moved around, I had less success but it’s important to note that (a) I was shooting kids and dogs which are wildly unpredictable, and (b) I was using the “Versatile multi purpose” case setting on the camera. I have no doubt that with a little more time the AF performance of this camera will be the best I’ve ever used.
The AF system on the 5D Mark III is based on the system from the 1D-X, and has 61 points. The key difference between the 5D Mark III and 1D-X is that with the 1D-X, the AF is also linked to the 100k+ pixel metering sensor so for tracking modes, colour and metering information helps in the tracking algorithm. There’s also significantly more processing grunt in the 1D-X, so my gut feeling is that it will be both faster and more reliable in any instances where the AF may begin to reach it’s limits.
But the AF sensor and general algorithms are the same, so the performance should be pretty similar. As such, you end up with the same sort of settings on the camera for adjusting the AF system.
I’ve got a 1D Mark IV, and the AF settings are spread all over the Custom Functions menu. Some settings affect the operation of others, and you have to pretty much learn the AF section of the manual to get the best out of the camera. With the 5D Mark III, the AF settings are grouped into a few sections, and the settings are applied to AF “Cases” (kind of like Picture Styles, but for AF). There are 6 pre-defined cases which you can quickly choose between:
So, as I said above – I think by selecting the best case for the situation, the AF performance of the camera will catch those situations it’s missed in the “general” case during my quick testing. I’ll report back when I have some more experience with it.
For FoCal development, I need to be able to change the AF microadjustment. The 5D Mark III has the most advanced AF Microadjustment settings of any camera to date (it’s the same as the 1D-X, but that’s not released yet).
A couple of big differences are that (a) you can set the AF microadjustment value at both ends of a zoom lens and it will calculate the best value depending on the zoom position of your lens (including inbetween values). In fact, if you only store a value at one end, it will still adjust across the zoom range to try and give the best microadjustment value. And (b) for lenses which report serial numbers, you can specify settings on a per-lens basis. So if you’ve got 3 copies of a Canon 100 f/2.8L IS Macro lens, you can store 3 different values and the camera will pick the appropriate one for the lens:
The screen above shows the serial number setting for the lens – actually, in the case of the 35 f/1.4L, the “*” means it cannot read the serial number and it will apply the setting to all copies of the 35 f/1.4L, but for newer lenses which supply their serial number to the camera, you can enter the serial number (or it will be populated automatically) to differentiate lenses.
For the first time (that I know of) in a Canon camera, you can also process images in the camera. The RAW processing engine can be used to convert RAW shots to JPEG, to downsize RAW from full size to smaller and other options as well. The only time I can really think of using this is to clear up space on a card, but it’s a powerful feature nonetheless and it may turn out to be more useful than I anticipated.
The menu layout is quite different too – the tabs across the top are more general, and each one has a number of sub-pages (indicated by the squares on the left under the tabs – in this case, there are 4 sub pages to the shooting options and you’re currently seeing page 1):
You can also rate images in camera. This can be pretty useful when you want to quickly edit back at base. You can set a number of stars (from unrated through to 5) and this will be stored in the image metadata. When you import images into Lightroom (and others) or DPP, you can quickly see the ratings:
High ISO. The 5D Mark II was no slouch in this regard. I regularly used shots at ISO 6400, and at a push I could make something of a shot at 12800 or if very careful 25600. The shot below is from the 5D Mark III at ISO 25600. Content is nothing special, but it shows that at web sizes you can’t even really see the noise. The reason I converted to B&W is because it was lit with a sodium vapour streetlamp and it looked very orange.
Here is a 100% crop of the drain (Lr4 through beta DNG converter, no sharpening, no NR).
And here’s a handheld shot of the sky (ISO25600, f/1.4, 1/5s):
Yes. HDR. Any point to it? Probably not for your average 5D Mark III user, but ever since having the NEX5 I have used the HDR mode on that quite a bit to just boost shadow detail and bring down highlights in genuinely high dynamic range instances (e.g. sunsets). Out of the camera (NEX5), they can look a little flat – and the result is obviously a JPEG as it’s been processed – but you get more editing ability when you bring them into Lightroom and I guess this will be the same for the 5D Mark III. The shots below are straight-out-of-camera from the 5D Mark III (handheld):
There are more and more sample images across the web now from the 5D Mark III. I didn’t have much time to setup shots, and a lot of the ones I took over the weekend are of family events (it’s been Mothers Day in the UK this weekend) and I don’t really want to share them in a mini review, so the selected below is just a few to show that the camera does at least work. They’ve been processed in Lightroom, but as Lr 4.0 doesn’t yet support the 5D Mark III, I’ve used the beta DNG converter (containing ACR6.6 beta) to convert to DNGs which can then be imported into Lightroom.
This was a quick Live View capture. Exposure has been boosted a little. The Live View shooting functions haven’t really changed, but it did seem a little snappier to run it’s contrast detect AF routine:
Quick lean down and shoot – AF worked perfectly (ISO100, f/1.4 at 1/1600s):
Lighting was a bit lower for these (ISO1600, f/1.4 at 1/250s), but AF and IQ still work very nicely:
My daughter, looking delighted that yet another camera was being pointed at her! (ISO400, f/1.4 at 1/250s)
We made a cheesecake which needed some fresh lemon juice in the with cheese (ISO400, f/1.4 at 1/60s):
And my mother visited with a small rat that was pretending to be a dog (actually, she was surprisingly cute!) This shot has been dragged up from 2 stops underexposed and cropped a bit to chop out a leg on the left (ISO400 f/1.4 and 1/2000s):
A stop off on a nice wander around Upton Heath (ISO100, f/1.4 at 1/1600s):
And “Poppet” in the kitchen – me lying on the floor, rubbish background but spot on focusing! (ISO400, 85mm at f/1.2, 1/50s):
I summed the 5D Mark III up this morning something like this:
Take all the bits that you didn’t like about the 5D Mark II and correct them. Take all the bits you did like and make them better. Then you’ve got the 5D Mark III.
Oh… and charge a fortune too!