Ophrys Photography

Wildlife photography by John Devries, Kent UK. Inspirational images from nature.
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Canon 5D mkIII early impressions

Canon 5d mkIII front Canon 5D MKIII rear
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 bright.

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 than previously.
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 now.

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 subjects.

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 camera.

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 camera otherwise.

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)
on the 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.