The 22.3-megapixel Canon 5D Mark III might
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
look like its famous predecessor but there are
some significant changes under its hood.
Canon’s follow-up to its pioneering HD-DSLR offers more than initially meets the eye.
As far as follow-ups go, the 22.3-megapixel Canon EOS 5D Mark III would seem more
like an evolutionary “next step” than the revolutionary “leap forward” in camera
technology its predecessor was.
You remember its predecessor, the HD-shooting, 21.1-megapixel 5D Mark II, right?
It’s the camera first made famous by photographer Vincent Laforet, who used it to
shoot his pioneering HD short, “Reverie,” back in 2008. And, oh yeah, the 5D Mark II
was also used to capture an entire episode of the TV show House, which was the first
time that had ever been done with an HD-DSLR.
So what does Canon do for an encore with the 5D Mark III? It gives the camera
a new image sensor with a slight uptick in resolution, a better autofocus system,
and a few other photo and video features along with a price tag ($3,499 body only)
that’s nearly $1,000 higher than the Mark II originally sold for.
Don’t sound too impressed? Well, we didn’t either at first. That was until we got
to try the camera out in a range of shooting situations and realized how much more
versatile and polished its photo- and video-shooting chops were over its famous
Is it enough of an improvement to justify ditching your old Mark II for the Mark III?
We were on the fence, initially, but after lending the camera to photographer Jason
Groupp ( www.jasongroupp.com) to try out and then comparing notes, we started
to change our tune.
“There isn’t any doubt in my mind that I’ll have to upgrade to this camera within the
year,” says Groupp, who is currently a 5D II user. “The image and video files are amazing.”
Here’s more of what we both thought.
The 5D Mark III itself doesn’t look a lot different from the previous model. Aside
from some new buttons, its dimensions are within a fraction of an inch of the 5D
Mark II and the weight is nearly the same at just over 33 ounces.
The 5D Mark III is more fully weather-sealed than its predecessor with enhanced
dust and water resistance. Small upgrades abound including the metal alloy reinforcement in the slot door over the new dual CF and SD cards bays; a new 3.2-inch Clear
View II 1.04 million-dot LCD; a dedicated start/stop button for the 1080p HD video
mode at 24p ( 23.976), 25p and 30p ( 29. 97) frames per second (fps); and a headphone
jack to monitor audio. A lot of this stuff is now standard on most HD-DSLRs, which
reminds you how ahead of its time the 5D Mark II was.
a durable, all-sport beast like Nikon and Canon’s two respective “flagship” DSLRs: the
D4 and 1D X. While the 5D Mark III’s 6 fps bursts are only half as fast as the 1D X, they
are a significant upgrade from the 5D Mark II, which could only shoot 3. 9 fps.
The 5D Mark III also just feels better in the hand than the previous model, with a
more comfortable grip and improved balance.
“When I’m shooting a wedding over a long day, I get cramps in my hand and I
refuse to buy a battery grip for my 5D II. But this camera just felt a lot more comfortable, making an extra grip unnecessary,” Groupp says.
The 5D Mark III’s shutter was more responsive than the 5D Mark II while its new
Digic 5+ image processor and 61-point High Density Reticular Autofocus System
(with up to 41 cross-type points and five dual cross-type points) massively improved
how this camera performed, whether recording 1080p video or just locking in on a
subject in low-contrast shooting situations.
Along with being superior to the 5D Mark II’s AF system, which would often “lens
hunt” while struggling to find focus in low light, the 5D Mark III consistently outperformed the Nikon D800 when focusing in dim conditions with the subject moving
toward the camera. It’s clear Canon sweated the small stuff with the 5D Mark III,
making it a more usable product for pros.
IMAGE QUALIT Y
Most importantly, image quality has improved. While the 5D III only sports a bit
more resolution than its predecessor (and trails the class-leading 36.3-megapixel
Nikon D800), the new full-frame ( 36 x 24 mm) CMOS sensor produced excellent
results in a range of lighting conditions. Pixel size is slightly smaller than the 5D Mark
II ( 6. 2 microns per pixel compared to 6. 4 on the previous camera) but the 5D Mark
III’s imaging chip now uses gapless micro-lenses designed to capture more light. We
saw great results both at low and high ISOs (the sensor can shoot between ISO 50
and 102400 and has on-chip noise reduction).
Groupp compared his 5D Mark III photos, favorably, with E- 6 slide transparency
film from back in the day. “The images have lots of contrast and the dynamic range
is incredible,” he notes. “I didn’t see any blowing out of the whites or losing detail
in the blacks, which is one of the things you worried about with transparency film.”
I was impressed with how the 5D Mark III significantly outperformed both the
5D Mark II and the D800 at high ISOs in low light. The 5D Mark III’s images at up to
12800 were some of the cleanest I’ve seen. With ISO 3200 to 6400 on the 5D Mark
III, you really can’t go wrong, making this a great camera for everything from photographing wedding receptions in natural light to some photojournalism where you
don’t want to use flash.
On the downside, when I zoomed in on my ISO 6400 RAW files, I saw less detail than in my D800 photos, and not just because that camera has more resolution. Zoomed in at 200 percent, the 5D Mark III’s high-ISO photos showed slightly
smoothed out edges, which could be a result of the camera’s aggressive Digic 5+
processing engine. That is really nitpicking though since very few—if any—clients
are going to pixel peep in this way.
Though the 5D Mark III didn’t make the jump to shooting 4K video as some had
predicted—for that, you’ll have to save your pennies for the $15,000 Canon EOS-
1D C—the improved quality of its 1080p HD video and more robust video capture
feature set is significant.
Along with capturing 1080p HD, the camera can shoot 720p at 50/60 fps mode
and VGA video at 25/30 fps. You can also now save movies at up to 29 minutes, 59
seconds (the previous camera had a 4 gb limit). There’s a H.264 video compression
format available to speed up postproduction work; Intraframe (ALL-I) compression
for easy editing; and inter frame (IPB) compression for better data storage.
There are two methods of SMPTE-compliant timecode embedding on the 5D Mark
III: Rec Run and Free Run. For audio, it’s the same internal monoaural mic. So if you’re
a video shooter, you’re going to want to upgrade to a good stereo mic to attach to the
stereo mic input. The 5D Mark III also adds manual audio level control with 64 levels.
All of which is to say that video options abound for the 5D Mark III, making it a far
more sophisticated video tool than the previous model.