Canon 5D mkIII early impressions
Canon EOS 5DmkIII front
Canon EOS 5DmkIII rear
I was not intending to upgrade my 5DmkII to the 5DmkIII as I
felt that the benefits gained from changing did not justify
the cost to change. However, the "Camera
Comparometer" on the Imaging Resources website demonstrates
a very significant image quality hike on the mkIII and this
whetted my appetite. If you look at the website, you can set
up the two cameras side by side and I recommend selecting the
still life images at various Iso's - be sure to click on each
image to get the full size versions to compare. The new camera
is often claimed to show a two stop noise improvement at high
Iso. Finally the new 61 point autofocus system is claimed to
be a quantum leap over the 5DII's 9 point system. Enough of
the claims - what do I think of the camera ?
What's good ?
In a nutshell - a huge amount. In most respects the mkIII is
a significant improvement over the mkII which was already a
great camera. The build quality is a step up and is not dissimilar
to a 1 series camera now, just minus the integral battery pack/handgrip.
In many ways the mkIII shares many functional similarities with
the EOS 7D but is of course a full frame camera with better
image quality. Weather sealing is apparently improved and the
camera feels really good in the hand and the new rubberised
coating is grippier than before. The battery door feels more
robust now and my lenses appear to be a tighter fit on the camera
than on other Canons with less play which is a good thing.The
viewfinder now gives a 100% view and is beautifully big and
The On/Off switch has moved to the top left of the camera and
this makes more room on the back for other buttons. A "Q"
button has appeared for the first time on a 5 series camera
which is useful to jump through the menus without going into
the sub menus and also is handy when making changes to camera
settings from the rear screen (via the joystick).
At last the mode dial has got a lock on it - a push button that
prevents inadvertently changing settings when getting the camera
out of a bag or when carrying it, something that used to drive
me nuts before.
The new rear screen is simply stellar. It is so bright and vivid
with great resolution and contrast and makes checking focus
a doddle. New coatings make it easier to see in bright light
too.This is not only relevant to image playback but when working
in liveview too. I find it much easier to focus manually now
At last Canon has put a white boundary around the histogram
on the rear screen so at last it is easy to see where the histogram
ends - hoorah.
I like the fact that many of the buttons are customisable and
I have assigned the function of Af Off to the Af On button for
example. I can now shoot in AI servo and press/hold the Af On
button to stop focus - effectively taking me to a temporary
One shot mode where I can focus and recompose. The camera facilitates
rear button focus that can be assigned to the Af on or star
button if preferred.
The depth of field preview button is now much bigger and relocated
into a much more accessible position than before. If preferred,
other functions can be assigned to the button such as changing
between AI servo and One Shot. The camera is extremely customisable
I don't shoot much video but might be more tempted to now that
there is a dedicated switch with a push button availalbe to
change between liveview and video. No more delving into menus.
The C1, C2 and C3 buttons can easily be programmed to remember
every setting that you have put into the camera and recall it
instantly. So you could now have a Birds in Flight setting,
a Landscape setting etc. Previously I had all three settings
set to default as the lack of lock button made them more of
a hindrance than a help.
The autofocus system is probably the biggest single change and
appears to be a huge improvement over the 5D mkII and borrows
a lot of technology from the range topping 1Dx camera's system.
You now have 61 points to choose from rather than a paltry nine
where it was difficult to place a point over a bird's eye before
particularly in portrait mode. You can now pre select different
Af points in horizontal or vertical formats. The options for
customising the Af through 6 "cases" looks sensible
but each case has a sports example assigned to it and these
will need interpretation into wildlife scenarios. Gary
Luhm has written a useful article on this.
I will not repeat a description of the many improvements to
the Af system that have been made, as this is covered on other
websites and I have not yet had a chance to put AI servo to
the test on action subjects, but first impressions are very
promising - lock on is very snappy and every single test picture
that I have taken so far has been critically sharp when viewed
at 100% later.
* Since writing this article I have tested the AI servo a little
by photographing my cat walking towards me. I got 23/23 images
in critical focus which is a terrific performance, the 1D4 would
have thrown in a few out of focuis frames in that sequence.
Next I need to try a faster subject.
I also tried taking some closeups of a butterfly collection
in a case using ai servo and flash. I purposely moved the cameras
towards the subject in AI servo while taking the shot and it
was so sharp, I could see the scales on teh wings of the butterfly.
The shot was sharp because the flash was fast enough to remove
motion blur, but the focusing was challenged and got it spot
on. This is very encouraging and I will now definitely use AI
servo when focusing on butterflies and other flighty closeup
The frame rate has now improved from 3.9fps to 6 fps and the
carbon fibre shutter's sound is fairly muted and is a "nice"
sound. More importantly the shutter is less likely to scare
off jumpy subjects. The 1 series cameras are shocking for this
- the 1DmkIV machine gun with its hard metallic clack scares
off most birds when working close up in a hide. The 5DIII has
another ace up its sleeve in that it can shoot at 3 fps in silent
mode. The 1DmkIV can only do this as a single shot and is still
noisier. Silent mode is now really impressively quiet and will
be incredibly useful to me I'm sure.
Most important of all, the 5DmkIII's files are extremely high
quality in terms of noise performance, colour rendering, resolution
and contrast. The files take cropping and sharpening very well
- better than a crop camera does.
The mkIII can perform in-camera HDR and saves the individual
RAW files separately to the HDR. Also the exposure bracketing
can now be performed on up to 7 bracketed shots.
It can also perform multiple exposures and also in-camera RAW
conversion of selected images that are saved to jpeg (but not
Tiff). I'm not sure if I will ever use this feature as the whole
point of shooting RAW is the control it provides the photographer
in post processing.
I'm sure that there are improvements on the video side too,
but as this does not interest me - I buy my cameras to shoot
stills, so I will leave others to report on this side of the
What's not so good ?
The most disappointing thing is that I cannot reproduce the
Imaging Resource website's image quality differences between
the mkII and the mkIII . They were using jpegs and I only shoot
in RAW, so the differences may not be there in RAW. The 5DII
files have always been superb but I can see zero improvement
with the mkIII. The mkIII only has 1 more megapixels
than the mkII but has gapless microlenses on the sensor and
larger pixels as a result so I hoped for at least a minor improvement.
I have read a lot about the mk III's improved
noise performance (up to 2 stops) but again I am disappointed
in this aspect. Rather than reproduce my findings here, I have
found another website that already mirrors my findings : Bellissima
Photo. In a nutshell, the noise up to 800 Iso is very similar.
Over 1600 Iso the 5DIII shows a tiny improvement (0.5 stop)
and this gets better still as Iso rises. I could now imagine
using 6400 iso on occasions but the difference between
cameras is probably more like 0.75 stop at Iso 3200/6400.
It may get a bit better still at super high Isos, but unless
you are only reproducing small web images etc, I don't find
such super Isos are very useful for quality work.
The Bellissima article also makes the point that the Canon DPP
software currently produces images that are softer than ACR.
I used ACR and certainly saw no loss of sharpness.
One example of my results is shown below - focus was on the
toy chimp's eye. 100% crops - Zero noise reduction, zero sharpening,
converted identically from RAW with no white balance correction.
ISO 6400 5D mark II
ISO 6400 5D mark III
In the crops above, look at the noise in the green triangle
- top right corner of both pictures. The new camera is a little
better, but both images would clean up very well with chrominance
and luminance noise reduction in the ACR RAW converter or later
with NR software such as Neat image.
From the X Rite colour samples it appears that 6400 on the 5D3
is similar to the 5D2 at 3200
These are with zero noise reduction and sharpening in ACR
Moving on , the Af points are now seen as black squares in the
viewfinder prior to selection and are hard to see against dark
backgrounds. They do not light up individualy in red as expected
once selected, so you have to remember where the selected point
is while placing the black square against your subject. Also
the viewfinder illumination can be seen through the front of
the lens.This is really annoying some stage set, theatre and
wedding photographers. You can read more here.
I should add that the camera will flash a focus confirmation
in red. Also you can press the Af select button which makes
all 61 points light up (overbrightly) and then make a selection,
but all goes black again after selection.It is a shame that
the method used in the 1D cameras was not adopted, where the
selected Af point is permanently lit.
Apart from this, the camera actually focuses very well in low
light (easily beating the 1DmkIV) and makes a superb low-light
It looks as though this issue and the following one are known
to Canon and may well be fixed in a future firmware update.
There is a video of an interview with the technical director
of Canon USA (Chuck Westfall)
Canon Rumours website and at about 8mins you can hear what
Chuck had to say about this.
The magnifying tool which used to be in the perfect place on
the top right of the camera and just required repeated presses
to enlarge the image playback has now been moved to the left
of the camera and requires the left thumb to press the button
and the right thumb to turn the main dial to change magnification.
I think that this is a change from all previous Canon DSLRs
and I am having a devil of a job adjusting. My muscle memory
takes me to the Af select button every time ! To make the review
of images a one handed operation, I have now assigned the Set
button to double as the magnifying tool and it now goes straight
to 10 x mag when pressed to check focus which is useful.
In Liveview mode, the aperture and shutterspeed is reported
in tiny red on black numerals which are impossible to see in
bright light. This was also the case on the 5D mkII - why not
just use white lettering on the black background ? I should
add that this only occurs in 5x or 10x view, in normal view
the lettering is white on black (so why change
it when magnifying ?)
Auto Iso has undergone improvements but is still not perfect.
I never used to use it but will consider it now for Birds in
Flight. In Av or Tv mode you can now use exposure compensation
and also rely on the camera to automatically set the Iso to
as low as possible without inducing camera shake. You can now
set a minimum and maximum Iso and shutterpeed, but Canon have
missed a trick here. The minimum shutterspeed only goes up to
1/250 sec unfortunately. For action such as BIF , If only you
could set it to any value you could set it to say a minimum
of 1/000sec and the camera would maintain shutterspeeds of over
1/1000 sec at the selected aperture by adjusting the Iso.
The mkIII shoots at 6 fps which is quite an improvement over
the 3.9fps of the mkII but I suspect that Canon could have made
this even faster with the Digic 5 processors fitted and the
improvements made to the shutter which is now carbon fibre .I
will be really cross if I discover that frame rate has been
hobbled due to the demands of video.
Like the 1Dx and previous 5DII, the 5DIII cannot autofocus at
apertures wider than f5.6. This means that a 500mm f4 lens cannot
autofocus when fitted with a 2x converter as the effective widest
aperture available becomes f8.Also an 800mm f5.6 cannot focus
with a 1.4x converter for the same reason All 1 series cameras
prior to the 1Dx could focus to f8. This is a shame, as telephoto
shooters are already missing a little reach on these full frame
cameras due to lower pixel density than crop cameras. If the
5DIII had 36 Mp like the Nikon D800 then this would not matter
so much as images could be cropped harder on the computer to
compensate. With subjects that do not allow a close approach
this is a minus, but we must not forget that only a few years
ago we only had cameras with around 6Mp to play with and still
managed somehow !
Should I upgrade to a mk III ?
In summary, when viewed in its own right, the 5DIII is a sensational
camera with just a few minor negatives and is generally a joy
to use. I would go so far to say that this is Canon's nicest
camera to date and once you try one you will probably want one.
Although the image quality and noise performance are excellent,
only the noise performance is improved over the 5D mkII and
then only by a small margin.
When deciding to upgrade or not, the primary question you need
to ask yourself is "Will I take better pictures as a result
of the upgrade? " If you only shoot landscapes or macro
or product photography in a studio and manually focus a lot,
I don't think that I could recommend the considerable cost of
upgrade from the 5DII as your results will look identical to
those taken with a 5D mkII.
However, for those shooting action such as wildlife or sports,
the big improvements to the autofocus system and also weathersealing
will probably justify the cost of upgrade alone. Some users
claim that the 5DIII now has better autofocus than a 1DmkIV
but I have yet to form an opinion on this as I have had the
camera just a few days.I will report back later on this.
More reliable autofocus will equate to more pictures in focus
and may enable you to get a shot that the 5D MKII would miss.
Also, for me, the 3 fps silent mode is really a major advance
as it will really make the difference between getting more than
one shot of a shy subject before it is scared off. Also the
small matter of a lock on the mode dial will also get me more
shots as I have missed sudden opportunities in the past due
to the dial having moved inadvertently and messing up my exposure.
The remainder of the differences I would class as "Nice
to haves" rather than essential but they do make using
this camera such a pleasure. It is very hard not to fall in
love with it as it is very capable in every department and as
such is very easy to live with.