Following up on my first impressions, this is my full Canon EOS 5Ds R Digital SLR Camera Review. Since my first review I’ve spend three more days in the field, shooting a total of 2,300 frames with the camera and completed a bunch of tests in my studio, and I’m ready to share my findings!
About this Review
I am in no way supported by or affiliated with Canon, and have paid for my 5Ds R and all of my lenses just like you. I do these reviews to first and foremost to inform myself and you, the readers and listeners, about new gear that is released to the market that I personally am interested in, and that I believe you may be interested in too. Some of the links in this review are affiliate links. I am a full time photographer, and this is partly how I make my living, but this does not affect my views expressed in my reviews in any way. I tell it like it is, good, bad or indifferent.
I’m lucky enough to own some of Canon’s best lenses, and that’s what I’m basing my tests on, so I can’t comment on their older lenses, but so far, I have shot with the EF 11-24mm f/4L, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L II and the 200-400mm f/4L EXT lenses. We’ll look at example images from each including 100% crops as we progress.
To view the images at the largest size available here, click on them. If the image is almost filling your browser window, open up the browser window until the images have a larger border around them, then you’ll know you’re viewing the images pixel for pixel at 100%. The image will also automatically advance every six seconds, but if you’d like to stop that, just place your mouse over the image. You can also move back and forth with your mouse or keyboard arrow keys or tapping the left or right side of the image on a mobile device.
Also note that I’ll be comparing features with the 5D Mark III and in some areas the 7D Mark II, and discussing some new features that I think are useful. I am not going to go through every feature of the camera, just those that interest me and hopefully you too. There are plenty of other sites that simply drone through the feature list, so please reference them or visit Canon’s web site, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Canon EOS 5Ds R
There are a few preconceptions going around, which I had also believed would hold back a camera of this resolution, so first, let’s take a brief look at my initial exceptions.
Before I bought my Canon EOS 5Ds R I expected the camera to record slightly soft images, because 50 megapixels is such a high resolution. I was expecting that many of my lenses would not be able to resolve light down to a fine enough point to create a sharp image. I was wrong on this. I’m using top-end lenses, but so far every one of them is performing outstandingly.
I also expected ISO performance to drop dramatically from around ISO 800 and start to absolutely suck from around 1600. I just couldn’t see how pixels this small could perform well in low light. I was wrong on this too, as we’ll see.
I expected this camera to be virtually impossible to shoot hand-held and still get sharp images, because the pixels are so small that even the slightest camera movement will take light that should have been focussed on one pixel, and blur it into the next pixel. I was wrong on this too.
OK, so let’s take a look at some of my example images from the last week or so, to show you how capable this camera is before moving on to some of the tests I’ve run and technical information etc. If you’d like to also see all of the images from my first afternoon with this camera, take a look at my first impressions review as well.
Exceptionally Sharp Images, Even Hand-Held
I picked up my Canon EOS 5Ds R here in Tokyo on the morning of it’s release here in Japan, on June 18, 2015. I took a few lenses with me and the accessories that I needed so that I could start testing the new camera right away. After picking up the camera, I went to the coffee shop around the corner from the camera store, put on the strap, then my old battery grip from the 5D Mark III, that works with the 5Ds R as well, and I left my Really Right Stuff L-Bracket on the battery grip, which also fits fine. This is great as it makes upgrading from the 5D Mark III much more painless financially than it could have been.
I then went through the menus, and changed things like the Histogram from Brightness to RGB, changed the color space of the images from sRGB to Adobe RGB, and stopped the camera from being able to shoot images without a CF card. I could never understand why Canon makes their cameras default to being able to shoot without memory. That makes no sense to me.
I walked back down the street again and shot the first few images, hand-held. Here is the first image that I looked at; the sixth frame that I shot with the camera (below).
Nishi Shinjuku Shops
As I said, I fully expected that this would give me blurry images at this resolution, but when I hit the Magnify button and zoomed in to a 1:1 view of the image, I almost dropped the camera. I am not kidding you, the hair on the back of my head stood on end. Here is what I saw. The center of the image at 100% (below).
Nishi Shinjuku Shops (100% Crop)
Keep in mind that this image was shot hand-held, at 1/125 of a second, f/8, ISO 160, 16mm with the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L lens. As I said, I was expecting hand-holding to be virtually impossible at this resolution, but it works! I consider myself to have a relatively steady hand when shooting, but I’m not super-human, so this should be within reach for anyone that is comfortable shooting with a DSLR camera.
Note that all of the full sized images we’ll look at are resized to 1440 pixels wide for the web. The 100% crops are exactly 144o x 960 pixels cropped from the original images, without any resizing. They’re pixel for pixel. There is nothing done to these, other than the default sharpening that Lightroom applies to all images on import unless you change it.
Advanced Mirror Control Mechanism
How can we hand-hold at this resolution? At this point, I’m assuming it’s down to Canon incorporating a new Mirror Vibration Control System. This is from the Canon web site.
The camera shake that occurs from the impact of an SLR’s mirror can leave blurred details in the recorded image. This effect is magnified when working with a super high-resolution sensor like the one found in the EOS 5DS R camera. To counter the effects of conventional, spring-driven SLR mirrors, the EOS 5DS R features a newly developed Mirror Vibration Control system. The camera’s mirror is not controlled by springs but instead is driven by a small motor and cams. This system suppresses the impact typical of the camera’s mirror, significantly reducing impact and its effects on the image.
It seems to have done the trick, as I didn’t get a single blurred frame out of 200 hand-held images during my first afternoon with the 5Ds R. As I have shot more, especially with long focal lengths, I can’t claim 100% sharpness any more, but I’ve found that it is possible to hand-hold even when using the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L II lens.
Although it’s not fast-paced wildlife work, for part of my field tests, I decided to visit the Snow Monkeys, as this year’s babies are around six weeks old at this point, and promised to be as cute as can be. Here is a shot of a six week old Snow Monkey looking at his older brother, made at 220mm with the 100-400mm at f/8, ISO 800 for 1/500 of a second (below).
Six Week Old Snow Monkey
Here now is a 100% pixel for pixel crop of the baby monkey’s face, which is where I had focussed (below).
Six Week Old Snow Monkey (100% Crop)
Keep in mind that this is ISO 800 as well. Their isn’t enough noise to concern me, although I do expose to the right (ETTR) which helps to keep noise down in light areas.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. That’s only 220mm! So here’s an image shot at 400mm, hand-held. This is a white baby Snow Monkey, again shot at f/8, ISO 800 for a 1/400 of a second (below).
White Baby Snow Monkey
And here is the 100% crop of the baby’s face. Although I did have maybe a 5% fail rate shooting with longer focal lengths, this was mostly due to the subject moving quickly during the exposure or a focusing error on my part, rather than difficulty hand-holding.
White Baby Snow Monkey (100% Crop)
While we’re looking at long focal length examples, here’s one last Snow Monkey shot (below), made with the EF 200-400mm f/4L EXT lens, with the built-in 1.4X Extender engaged, at a focal length of 540mm; almost the full extent of this lens. This was however NOT hand-held. Although that lens can be hand-held if absolutely necessary, it’s generally better to use a tripod, regardless of the camera being used. 🙂
Two Baby Snow Monkeys
As you can see from this 100% crop (below), the 200-400mm has no problem keeping up with the resolution of the 5Ds R, which is a huge relief as it costs more than a small car. I would have been devastated if this lens was out-resolved by the 5Ds R.
Baby Snow Monkey (100% crop)
Moving away from snow monkeys now to a bit of landscape work. Here’s another example photo from the 100-400mm at 148mm, f/10, ISO 100 for 0.8 seconds, and the 100% crop to the right. The detail here simply blows me away.
Ichinuma Trees (100% crop)
To continue with examples from various lenses, here is a shot made with the 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens at f/11, ISO 100 for 1/100 of a second exposure (below).
Birch and Rhododendron
And here is the 100% crop from the same image (below).
Birch and Rhododendron (100% crop)
The other lens that I’ve used is the 70-200mm f/2.8L II, which I used for the tests that we’ll look at next, so you’ll see the image quality of that lens as well.
Let’s move on now to some image quality and ISO performance test results. We already know that the increase in resolution is going to hit the ISO performance to a degree, but let’s see just how much noise becomes apparent in our images as we increase stop for stop, from ISO 50 to 12800 on the 5Ds R. First, here is a series of images resized for Web, so that you can see the realistic affect of increasing the ISO for Web images.
Note that once you’ve clicked on a thumbnail, if you don’t see much space around the image, widen your browser window until the image displayed stops growing. Then you’ll be looking at the pixels 1:1 on your display.
It’s almost a waste of bandwidth showing you all 9 of these images, because I’m sure you’ll agree that even up to ISO 12800, if you are going to downsize for the Web, you can crank the ISO up to the maximum expanded ISO of 12800 without any concern.
That doesn’t mean that there is no grain though. Here is a 100% crop of the Shisa from each of these images, because that’s where I focused. Also look at the green patches and black bands in the background to see how the grain affects the out of focus areas of each image.
Your own tolerance for grain may well be different from mine, but personally, based on what I’m seeing here, I’ll be setting my soft-ceiling at ISO 3200, as I’ve been using in the field already, but also using up to ISO 6400 if necessary, and 12800 at a push.
Note though, that I have exposed these images so that the white eyes of the Shisa and the white patches on the ColorChecker chart are on the far right side of the histogram. This is a technique called Exposing to the Right (ETTR) and if you don’t do this, you may find that your images are darker with the data in the middle of the histogram, and that will almost certainly see more grain that I am seeing here. So it really depends how you expose your images as well, but do note that this image was basically zero exposure compensation, so if you set up the same test, with the same variety of tones and colors, even without exposing to the right, this is what you’d see.
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Download Our Test Photo in Raw Format
I have set up a page for you to download the ISO 100 test photo from the above set. This is a 62MP raw file, so will bring our server to it’s knees if I simply embed a link for everyone to download. Instead, I’m putting the link behind a newsletter subscription form. If you would like a copy of the raw file to explore all of the glorious detail, visit our download page here.
I’ve also included the XMP sidecar file, but all that this does is set the White Balance, so you don’t necessarily need that. Just ensure that you use the White Balance picker in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and set the white balance from one of the white or grey patches on the ColorChecker card.
5Ds R and 5D Mark III ISO Comparison
Let’s also take a look at how the 5Ds R compares to the 5D Mark III, which will probably be of interest for many current 5D Mark III owners. Here is all of the 100% crop images that we just looked at, but now with the 5D Mark III images at the same ISO inserted after each 5Ds R image. I’ve also included the last few higher ISO images from the 5D Mark III for reference, but these are not available on the 5Ds R.
Note that you see more of the image from the 5D Mark III, because I’m cropping 1440 x 960 pixels at 100% without any resizing. To show you the same section of the photograph I’d have to resize the 5D Mark III images, and that would nullify the test.
So, looking at these results, I’m actually thinking that there is very little difference in the amount of noise that you can see in these image pairs right up to 12800, the maximum ISO on the 5Ds R. The 5D Mark III goes higher, but in practice, I have hardly ever used my 5D Mark III or 1D X for that matter, above 12800. I checked my images in Lightroom and see a handful of images at higher ISOs, but from 12800, I have over 600 images from the field, so this tells me that if I can go as high as 12800, that’s going to cover most of my low-light shooting needs as well, so I’m happy.
I also think it was a gutsy move on Canon’s part to not just include higher ISOs probably just to please the marketing team, because as we can see from the 5D Mark III high ISO images, they really aren’t much use anyway.
5Ds R Dynamic Range
I don’t have the software to perform scientific dynamic range tests, but one other thing that we can glean from the test photos I’ve shot, and from my experience in the field, is that the 5Ds R does have very slightly reduced dynamic range compared to the 5D Mark III. We can tell this from comparing the readings from the white and black patches in the ColorChecker chart in our test photos.
The top left patch on the card is pure white, and using the white balance picker in Lightroom I checked that this has a luminosity of 93.5% in the images from the 5Ds R, and 94% in the 5D Mark III image. The black patch above the L on the bottom row has a reading of 1.5% in the 5Ds R image and 4% in the 5D Mark III image. From this we can tell that the darkest black is 2% lighter in the 5D Mark III image than it is in the 5Ds image.
5Ds R and 5D Mark III Dynamic Range Comparison
This isn’t a very scientific test, but it does show us a slightly reduced dynamic range in the 5Ds R, as the blacks are darker in relation to the whites. Of course, we’ll need to see what the dynamic range is reported as from DxO Mark when they’ve completed their tests, but I’d say we’re talking maybe a 1/3 of a stop less dynamic range than the 5D Mark III, or perhaps not even that much.
The pixels on the 5Ds R sensor are 4.14µm square compared to 6.25 µm square on the 5D Mark III, that means the 5D Mark III’s pixels are 2.28X larger than those on the 5Ds R sensor. With this in mind, I’d say it’s quite amazing that the dynamic range only drops by such a small amount.
Also keep in mind that in practice, the images do have plenty of dynamic range, as long as you expose your images well for the highlight areas. Here’s an image from my field tests where there was a very bright sky to the right, and at first glance you’d think that the foreground was too underexposed to do anything with.
Yokoteyama Stormy Skies (original)
Here though is the same image after a little bit of work in Lightroom, namely some Blacks and Shadows slider tweaks, a little Clarity and a Graduated Filter across the sky to bring back that dramatic stormy feel (below). This was shot at 15mm, f/14, ISO 100 for 1/60 of a second.
Yokoteyama Stormy Skies (with Lightroom changes)
And if you’re thinking, yeah, but I’ll bet that foreground is all grainy having brought out that much detail, here’s a 100% crop (below).
Yokoteyama Stormy Skies (100% crop)
Crop/Aspect Ratio Settings
Let’s move on now to a few of the other features of the 5Ds R, and work in some comparisons that I know people are interested in hearing about. One thing that has come up a lot, is the ability to use a full frame camera and crop the images down to the equivalent of a 1.6X crop factor camera like the 7D Mark II. Of course, the 5Ds R has a much slower frame rate at 5 fps compared to 10 fps of the 7D Mark II, but the question is, if you can live with the slower frame rate, is using the 5Ds R in crop mode a viable alternative to save you buying or traveling with both cameras.
Well, to help with this Canon have added some interesting Crop/Aspect Ratio settings. Basically if you know that you are going to crop down to say a 1.6X crop factor, as though you were shooting with a crop factor camera like the 7D Mark II, you can go ahead and set the camera up to shoot in 1.6X crop factor mode. You can also select 1.3X, which is the same as the old 1D series cameras up to the 1D X which is now full frame. There are also a 1:1, 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios to choose from, but I have done my tests with the 1.6X crop factor to emulate and compare with my 7D Mark II.
The cool thing about how these crop modes work is if you are shooting in raw, the camera actually still shoots full frame raw files, but adds the crop information to the image file. What’s more, Canon made the surprisingly intelligent decision to make this information understandable by Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw, so when you import your images, they are automatically cropped down to the chosen ratio. That means, if you go into the crop tool, you can change that crop, all the way up to the original full sized image if you need to.
When shooting in a crop mode, you can choose to either mask out or just add an outline frame in the Intelligent Viewfinder, so that you can see which part of the image in inside your crop. If you are shooting in Live View, only the cropped area is visible.
The results of my tests with the 5Ds R in 1.6X crop mode, doing a direct comparison to the 7D Mark II turned out quite interesting. Let’s first look at basically the same image from both cameras. These are straight out of the camera except that I have adjusted the White Balance by selecting the top centre white patch on the ColorChecker card. Here first is the image from the 5Ds R (below).
5Ds R in 1.6X Crop Mode
And here is the 7D Mark II image (below), shot with the same lens mounted to the tripod with a lens collar. I just switched out the cameras. Click on the images to see them larger, but you’ll notice that there is a clear drop in the image quality of the 7D Mark II images and the 5Ds R images have better color. This isn’t anything to do with the crop factor, just something to bear in mind.
7D Mark II (1.6X Crop Factor Camera)
Here is a 100% crop of the Shisa on which I focused, so that you can check the image quality. Don’t forget to click on the images to open them up larger, and move back and forth with your mouse or keyboard arrow keys to get a feel for the actual differences.
5Ds R in 1.6X Crop Mode (100% crop)
Here is the 7D Mark II 100% crop. Notice that the 7D Mark II has a very slightly larger image. The 5Ds R images are 5430 x 3620 pixels compared to the fractionally larger 5472 x 3648 images from the 7D Mark II. These photos were shot at f/11, ISO 100 for 0.5 sec.
7D Mark II (1.6X Crop Factor Camera – 100% crop)
What this means is, if you are going to buy one camera you could now go for the 5Ds R and crop in so far that you will get almost identical resolution images in 1.6X crop mode than you would get from the 7D Mark II, but as you see, the image quality from the 5Ds R is better.
As I said, the 7D Mark II shoots at 10 frames per second compared to the 5 fps of the 5Ds R, and the AF points cover a larger area of the screen on the 7D Mark II, so for birds in flight or sports, the 7D Mark II probably still has the edge, especially if you know you are going to crop and don’t need 50 megapixels, but you will need to give your images a little more of a boost in post to bring the image quality back.
Indeed, I’ve found myself adding more Clarity to my 7D Mark II wildlife images and when necessary, the saturation is also tweaked more than I usually would for wildlife work too. This is not to say that the 7D Mark II is a bad camera. It’s great! But now you are armed with the information you need to make your own buying decisions based on these examples.
5Ds R vs. 7D Mark II ISO Performance Comparison
While I was shooting with the 7D Mark II, I also did a comparison between the ISO performance of the 5Ds R and 7D Mark II. This is actually slightly difficult to compare because of the slightly reduced image quality of the 7D Mark II, but my tests have shown that the two cameras have very similar ISO performance.
On the 5Ds R, the highest ISO you can select with the expanded ISO setting turned on is 12800 and as we saw, this is really quite acceptable in terms of noise. The 7D Mark II goes up to 51200 in expanded ISO settings, but this is really quite rough. You can see my full 7D Mark II ISO test results in my 7D Mark II Review if you are interested, so we won’t go through all of these again today.
Here though, is a comparison between the highest 5Ds R ISO, 12800 and the 7D Mark II at the same ISO. The 7D Mark II perhaps looks very slightly better, because the image is paler, and the grain seems courser in the 5Ds R image, but if you look at places like the black dot of the Shisa’s eye, you can probably tell that the amount of grain is actually about the same.
Canon EOS 5Ds R and 7D Mark II ISO 12800 Comparison
Comparison of the 5D s R and the 5D Mark III
Before we move on to look at some of the nice new features that I’m enjoying on the 5Ds R, let’s take a brief look at the physical differences between the 5Ds R and the 5D Mark III.
At 152.0 x 116.4 x 76.4mm (5.98 x 4.58 x 3.01 in.) both the 5Ds R and the 5D Mark III are exactly the same size. The 5Ds R though weighs in at 930g (32.80 oz.) based on CIPA standards, which I believe includes the battery, and 845g (29.80 oz.) for the body only, and the 5D Mark III weighs in at 950g (33.5 oz.) based on CIPA standards, or 860g (30.3 oz.) for the body alone, which means that the 5Ds R is slightly lighter, which is always a nice development.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III and 5Ds R Comparison (front)
As you can see, their are a few subtle differences in the design but they are very similar. From the back (below) the only visible difference is the exclusion of the direct print icon below the Info button. The 5Ds R is on the right in all of these photos.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III and 5Ds R Comparison (back)
On top of the camera, the only visible difference is that we’ve lost the silver ring around the mode dial, but I think I prefer the new design here too.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III and 5Ds R Comparison (top)
OK, so enough comparing; let’s take a look at some of the nice new features of the 5Ds R. I probably should have already known about these features beforehand, but I honestly didn’t have much time to read-up on the camera before I picked mine up, so these came as a nice surprise to me as I looked through the camera menus at that coffee shop on the first day.
Intelligent Viewfinder II
I was relieved when I saw that the Intelligent Viewfinder II had also been used in the 5Ds R. I first started using this in the 7D Mark II, and instantly fell in love with the ability to display so much information right there in the viewfinder. I also like that we can now display the digital level permanently in the viewfinder. I used to set up my last generation cameras so that the M.fn button would enable the level for a few seconds, but it was not ideal. Now, it’s just there, whenever I half press the shutter button, which is great!
In-Camera Bulb Timer
I was pleasantly surprised to see a new built in Bulb timer for long exposures. Traditionally 30 seconds was the longest in-camera exposure we could achieve, before it was necessary to attach a cable release or remote timer and go to Bulb mode, then either time your shots while depressing the cable release, or set your shutter speed on the remote timer.
We still have to go to Bulb mode, which is fine, but now there is a timer built right into the camera, so it is no longer necessary to use a cable release. If you also start your exposure with a two second timer, you can get your hand away from the camera and give it time for any movement from touching the camera to die down before it starts the actual exposure. Great stuff!
Canon EOS 5Ds R – Bulb Timer
I was also happy to see that the 5Ds R has a built-in intervalometer, so that we can now do time-lapse photography without a remote timer/intervalometer. Another nice touch!
Canon EOS 5Ds R – Intervalometer
Custom Quick Control Screen
And something else that I absolutely love, is the Custom Quick Control Screen. This is similar to the Quick Control Screen that we’ve had for a few generations of Canon camera bodies now, but now we get to choose what is displayed, how wide, and where on the screen it is displayed. This is how I’ve set my Custom Quick Control screen.
Canon EOS 5Ds R – Custom Quick Control Screen
Because I’ve now disabled the standard Quick Control Screen, when shooting, if I hit the Q button that we can see on the right of this photo (above) I am brought straight to my custom screen. Another great new feature! By the way, I did not shoot this image at 04/01 23:59. That’s just what get’s displayed when you start to customise the screen. I had to wait for my 5Ds R just like most everybody else. 🙂
Do We Really Need 50 Megapixels?
I know that some people are wondering about this this, so let’s just consider too, if we really need 50 megapixels.
Personally, I’ll take every megapixel I can get if it doesn’t result in the sensor out-resolving my lenses, and doesn’t give me really bad ISO performance. I could have lived with having to use a tripod for more of my shooting, but fortunately, that is not the case, as hand-held shooting is just not a problem.
I took a gamble when I reserved my own 5Ds R back in February, while on the bus on the last day of my Winter Wonderland Tour, but I’m glad I didn’t sit on the fence and miss out on getting mine of the day of the launch, because none of these three possible issues affect this camera.
If you only shoot for the web, or never print your work, and you don’t sell images commercially, then you perhaps don’t need this many megapixels. I have almost lost commercial image sales in the past because my 12 megapixel files weren’t large enough. I was able to provide alternative shots at 21 megapixels and still close the deal, but it was a close call. For that same job, if I’d have had 50 megapixel images, it would have been a no-brainer for the client as they wanted to print the images 5 meters wide. For me, using a 50 megapixel camera make my images more saleable. I’m basically future-proofing my images that I work hard to create. It also gives me the ability to print larger without upsizing, and I can crop more if necessary.
How you proceed is for you to decide, based on your own situation and requirements.
5Ds or 5Ds R?
The other thing to consider, is whether to go for the 5Ds or the 5Ds R, which is what I went for. The 5Ds R is pretty much the same camera, but the R has the low-pass filter effect cancelled. Here’s how Canon describe it:
With all the features and capabilities of the EOS 5DS, the EOS 5DS R camera offers the potential for even greater sharpness and fine detail for specialized situations. It features the same Canon designed and manufactured 50.6 Megapixel sensor, with the low-pass filter* (LPF) effect cancelled to provide even more fine edge sharpness and detail for critical subjects such as detailed landscapes, and other situations where getting the sharpest subject detail is a priority.
*The possibility of moiré and color artifacts is greater due to the LPF cancellation function.
I have not shot with the 5Ds, so I have no idea how much sharper the 5Ds R is by comparison, but unless you think moiré would be a big problem for you, I’d recommend going for the 5Ds R. I’ve so far seen no ill-effects of cancelling that low-pass filter in the sort of shooting I do.
Do Files Take Forever to Process?
I was pleasantly surprised by the processing speed of the files. Sure, the transfer of the files to the computer takes longer than usual. I’m using a USB3.0 card reader, and I’m now finding that after a full day of shooting, it can take about twice as long to transfer my files to my computer, but when I’ve shot a lot, I just let that run in the background as I do something else.
The files also take a couple of seconds longer to “res-in” in Lightroom. With my 5D Mark III 22 megapixel files I used to have to wait about half a second or so, and now it can take up to two or three seconds, which is nowhere near as slow as I was expecting it to be. I can live with this.
At the time of this review I’m using Lightroom 6 (2015.1) on a Mid-2013 27″ iMac (32GB RAM/Fusion Drive) and a Late-2012 MacBook Pro Retina (16GB RAM/SSD). My Lightroom catalog and images are transferred directly to a Drobo Mini connected via Thunderbolt, which is slightly slower than working directly from the internal hard drive, but still runs fine, and enables me to move the drive between both computers without copying the catalog or images around.
What’s Missing from the 5Ds R?
At this point, the only thing that I am disappointed about with the 5Ds R is that it does not have GPS built in. I thought when my 7D Mark II came with this, all future Canon bodies would have GPS built in by default, but I was wrong. I understand that Canon were following the design of the 5D Mark III which also does not have GPS, but they were able to do so much elsewhere, this is a bit of a let down. I now have to continue to use my GP-E2 GPS unit to geotag my images.
BUT, this is the only thing that I can find at this point that I would have like to have seen in this camera. Sure, there is other stuff, like built-in bluetooth to pair this with my other cameras and have the ability to synchronize key settings like shutter speed, aperture and ISO etc as I change settings, but that’s been on my wish list for so long now that I have almost given up on it.
You could probably sense this from my review, but I am literally blown away by the 5Ds R. Even if my expected limitations had been true, I would have loved this camera, but with none of them affecting it, I truly believe that the Canon EOS 5Ds R is an engineering marvel.
I honestly don’t think I’m going to be able to use another camera after experiencing the image quality and resolution of the 5Ds R. My original plan was to keep my 5D Mark III as a backup body, but with my Namibia Tour and Iceland Tours coming up, the thought of going back to 22 megapixels was so scary, I’ve actually ordered a second 5Ds R. That’s how much I love this new camera.
As I said, I’ve shot some 2300 images so far, and will be sharing more photos that we didn’t look at today in the coming weeks. Of course, as this is now my main camera, most of what I publish from now on will be from the 5Ds R, so I urge you to subscribe to our newsletters if you don’t already to keep up with my antics.
If you have found this review useful, and intend to pick up your own 5Ds R or 5Ds, you can help to support my efforts buy purchasing from our friends at B&H with the below links. Note that if you already have a 5D Mark III battery grip BG-E11, you do not need to buy this again. They are the same.
Of course, this review and my recommendations are based entirely on my own experiences, and in no way biassed to encourage affiliate purchases. I paid for the 5Ds R and lenses used myself, and have received no third party compensation in exchange for or in relation to this review.
Last week, on June 20, I was one of the lucky few in Japan to receive a phone call to let me know that my Canon EOS 1D X Digital SLR camera was ready to pick up, on the day of its launch. Having spent a lot of time with the camera over the last six days, today we’re going to review this amazing new flagship from Canon.
I should say straight up that because I’m not a sports shooter, you aren’t going to see test shots of athletes running towards me, as is often the case with reviews of the 1D series from Canon. I was able to do some bird photography though, which is another common use of these fast frame rate cameras, so we’ll touch on the results of a couple of bird shoots, as well as some high ISO performance tests, which is another area that I know people are anxious to hear about. First though, let’s take a look at the camera itself, and touch on some of the nice new features.
As we progress, I’ll compare the 1D X with the 5D Mark III, which I own and reviewed in March, and have been using a lot over the three months. I’ll also compare the 1D X to its predecessor the 1D Mark IV sometimes, when that seems more relevant. I sold my 1D Mark IV in part exchange for the 1D X, so I am not able to shoot any comparison shots or show the cameras side by side.
A Beautiful Brick (in a good way!)
Canon EOS 1D X
The first thing I noticed when I took the 1D X out of the box was how sleek the 1D X is. The black paint seems courser, in a good way, than the 1D Mark IV, which was a little smoother and shinier. The lines either side of the pentaprism chamber are rounder, and the camera overall just looks and feels more refined. It’s a brick of course, and weighs just over 1.5KG, so if weight is a consideration, this is not the camera for you. If you ever held a 1D Mark IV, it’s about 160g heavier. I personally like the weight of these 1 series cameras. I buy them for their ruggedness, and really just expect them to be on the hefty side.
Externally there are also a number of new buttons. On the front of the camera we now have two depth-of-field preview buttons, so you can use either depending on whether you are holding the camera in landscape or portrait mode. Also, right next to the depth-of-field preview buttons are new Multi-function buttons. There is also a M-fn button close to the Main Dial behind the shutter buttons, so the new Multi-function buttons on the front of the camera are called Multi-function 2 buttons.
Canon EOS 1D X – Multi-function and DoF Preview buttons
The two Multi-function 2 buttons can be configured to do a number of things, and you’ll of course need to make your own selection. For me, at the moment, I’ve configured mine to toggle between One Shot and AI Servo focus. The supertelephoto lenses from Canon have buttons around the front that I always program to do this, so it’s nice to now be able to toggle easily with all of my lenses. So far I’ve found it very useful.
On the Back
On the back of the camera, there is the new Quick Control button. This is also on the 5D Mark III but it was not on the 1D Mark IV. If you press the Quick Control button while the menu is displayed, it will jump to the next menu group, but if you press it when the LCD is off, it will take you into a screen to control the camera. This is useful if you are working on a tripod and can’t easily see the top LCD, because you can change all the major settings from the back LCD from the Quick Control button along with the Multi-controller. There is also now a second Multi-controller that is position for use in portrait mode, which is very welcome.
Canon EOS 1D X Back View
The LCD on the back of the camera is larger at 3.2″, than the 3″ screen on the 1D Mark IV. The 5D Mark III is also 3.2″ but I didn’t notice the increase as much on the 5D3 as I did with the 1D X. It just seems bigger, maybe because there isn’t a line of buttons down the left side like there is on the 5D Mark III.
Also, whereas the small rear LCD panel was directly below the main LCD Monitor on the 1D Mark IV, with the image Playback button to the left, and the Erase button, Function button and Protect/Voice memo buttons below that, on the 1D X, we now have the Playback button, Index/Magnify/Reduce button, Erase button and the Protect/Voice memo buttons in a line below the main LCD Monitor and the small LCD Panel is now below these buttons. There’s a new Card/Image size selection button to the left of the LCD panel, but this really just replaces the Function button on the 1D Mark IV.
You might have noticed that this means the Magnify and Reduce button is now positioned in this group, and not up in the top right as people are used to. This is the same as the 5D Mark III, and was difficult to get used to at first, but you can program the Set button to magnify the image though, and I have done this on my 5D Mark III and 1D X, which I find to be a good workaround.
Two CF Card Slots!
I was really happy to hear that the 1D X was to have two CF Card slots, and not one CF and one SD card slot. Although CF cards are larger, they are much faster. I put an SD card into my old 1 series bodies, as a spill over, but this was more of an issue when I used 8GB cards. Since I now own two 64GB cards and one 128GB CF card, there was no longer any spill over, and the SD card slot became totally redundant.
Canon EOS 1D X – Two CF Card Slots
Another nice addition is the Gigabit Ethernet port for tethered shooting. BUT, and this is a big BUT, Canon decided that the Mac OS was not important enough to update the EOS Utility to support Wired shooting just yet. You can pair the camera with the computer, that part works fine, but EOS Utility doesn’t work. What’s even more frustrating is that all through the Canon documentation, it states that you can use EOS Utility to shoot with the Ethernet connection without any restrictions!
I spent a whole morning trying to get this working, and when I eventually gave in and called support, I was told it was not yet supported. When I asked to see where that was stated publicly, I was lead to a Web page hidden about 5 layers down on the Japan Web site. You’d never find it until you run into a problem, especially when the documentation already told you everything was going to be just fine. Oh, and I couldn’t find a mention of this anywhere on the US Canon Web site.
I figured I’d try connect to the camera with the WFT Server which is purported to have a pseudo EOS Utility that works via a Web browser, but with a tiny LiveView window, no auto-focus and no automatic downloading of images, it’s a total waste of time.
Canon, I love you guys, you know that, but stop wasting your time developing crappy applications like the WFT Server on the camera, and dare I say it, DPP and ImageBrowser could go too, and just concentrate on supporting the drivers and critical utilities that your customers need to use your cameras! The Mac OS is important to the photography community. It always has been, so get your acts together!
UPDATE 2012/02/13: I just updated to the latest version of EOS Utility, and found that although it’s not very intuitive, tethered shooting to a Mac OS X computer with an Ethernet cable does now work. The confusing thing is that you have to select EOSUtility as the connection mode on the camera, but still need to use the WFT Pairing utility on the computer. What’s even less intuitive, is that once you have paired a camera with the computer, it is no longer listed in the WFT Pairing utility. This kind of makes sense, because it’s already paired, but it looks like the camera is not being detected. It would be much better if the camera was listed, but greyed out, or marked as “Already Paired” or something, to save you looking for it. Anyway, once you have paired the camera and computer, you can open EOS Utility, and use use it to remotely control and shoot with the camera, just like tethering with USB. Oh, and tethering to Lightroom still doesn’t work, with Ethernet or USB, but I guess that’s an Adobe issue.
OK, rant over, let’s move on…
Canon EOS 1D X Side View
Battery Pack LP-E4N
The 1D X also sports a new battery, the LP-E4N, though you can also use the LP-E4 that the previous 1 series bodies use. They are both 11.1V but the LP-E4N is 2450mAh compared to 2300mAh for the LP-E4. I had heard that the performance of the camera is reduced when using the older LP-E4 battery packs, but having scoured the Manual, the only reference to performance is on page 360, and it says “The use of a genuine Canon Battery Pack LP-E4N or LP-E4 is recommended. If you use any battery other than the Battery Pack LP-E4N or LP-E4, the camera’s full performance may not be attained or malfunction may result”. This suggests to me that there is no degrade in performance when using the LP-E4, and I have noticed none in my test shooting so far either.
If you consider the 1D X an upgrade from the 1D Mark IV, then you basically gain 2 megapixels with the jump from 16 to 18. The 1D X is now supposed to be THE flagship in Canon’s DSLR line-up, and it’s a full frame camera, like the 1Ds Mark III, the previous flagship model, so I have to admit that I’m slightly disappointed by what is essentially a drop in resolution.
Canon EOS 1D X Front View
Of course, the 1D line is built for speed, and with a frame rate of 12 frames per second, or 14 fps in JPEG mode, it’s easy to see where the trade-off is being made here. Even with the increase in frame rate, Canon were still able to increase the image size by two megapixels over the 1D Mark IV and increase high ISO performance, so I can live with this drop.
Besides, I’ll be using the 5D Mark III or even the 1Ds Mark III, which I have not sold yet when I need maximum megapixels, or two weatherproofed bodies. I really want to maintain two 1 series bodies for the times when I need that rugged build and weather proofing, like when I’m sitting in a Zodiac getting drenched with sea spray in November and December this year.
Auto-Focus & Metering
The auto-focus on the 1D X has increased focus points over the 1D Mark IV, jumping from 45 points to 61 in the 1D X. The new auto-focus is almost the same as the 5D Mark III, which received a huge auto-focus upgrade compared to the nine point system in the 5D Mark II. Both the 1D X and 5D Mark III are 61-Point High Density Reticular auto-focus systems, with 41 cross-type AF points, but the major difference is that the 1D X has iTR, or Intelligent Tracking and Recognition, which the 5D Mark III doesn’t have.
Although the 1D X uses dual DIGIC 5+ image processors to process and pump those 12 frames per second through to the CF card, it uses a DIGIC 4 processor to power the EOS ISA (Intelligent Subject Analysis) which is a 100,000 pixel RGB Metering System. This is used to aid the AF system with Automatic Point Selection which improves the tracking system when using AI Servo. What this means is that basically, when you lock on to a subject in AI Servo mode, the camera uses the color information of your subject to track it across the frame, switching to other focus points as necessary. I was hoping that this would provide a magic bullet for some challenging situations, but that doesn’t appear to be the case, as we’ll see shortly.
Note that in AI Servo mode it’s not obvious at first, but for you to enable the camera to use all 61 focus points to track your subject away from the manually selected focus point that you use to obtain your initial focus, you have to select the 61 point automatic selection AF (bottom right in this diagram).
Canon EOS 1D X AF Modes
This is somewhat counter intuitive but although it’s called 61 point automatic selection auto focus, in AI Servo mode you still have the ability to move a focus single point around, and that is used to gain your initial focus. If you conversely select Single-point Spot AF, Single-point AF or one of the AF point expansion modes the camera will only use the points or groups of AF points selected, and even in AI Servo mode it will not shift to the other focus points if the subject moves away from the selected points or you recompose the image.
So, put simply to use AI Servo and have the camera track your subject around the frame, select 61-point automatic selection AF and focus with the center focus point, or move that focus point anywhere you like, and then half press the shutter button or use the back focus button to focus, and as long as you hold down the focus button, you can recompose shot or your subject can move and as long as they stay within the 61 focus point area, the camera will automatically track your subject around the frame.
AI Servo Focus Accuracy
I was always cautious of using AI Servo focusing full time, as I know some people that use the back focus button do. I never found AI Servo focusing to be quite as accurate as One Shot, and so shied away from it for anything other than moving subjects such as birds in flight. On my second day out with the 1D X though, I went somewhere that I know there’d be a good chance of seeing and photographing a Common Kingfisher.
If you’ve ever tried to photograph a Kingfisher you’ll know that they don’t hang around when moving from A to B, so I decided to shoot in AI Servo mode full time, although I could use the button the lens to toggle between One Shot and AI Servo if necessary. I could quickly tell though that the ability of the 1D X to attain accurate focus of stationary objects with AI Servo focusing was spot on.
Common Kingfisher – Stationary
This is probably helped by the 100,000 pixels RGB metering that we looked at earlier. The AF is no longer just relying on contrast information, it can actually see that there is a cobalt blue object amongst the green now. A few seconds after shooting this image though (above), the kingfisher took flight, and although I lost it with the narrow field of view of the 600mm lens, I only lost it for a second, and then caught up with the bird as it stopped to hover for a few seconds before rocketed off again.
In this next photo you can see the hovering Kingfisher, and this is something that I’ve never been able to capture before. Even if I see them do this for a second or so, the camera just takes too long searching for the subject. Now, I’m pretty sure I stopped focusing for a split second as I lost the kingfisher from within my finder, but despite the bird having moved towards me by a few meters, the auto-focus just snapped straight back in as soon as the kingfisher came into frame. It was beautiful to watch, from both an aesthetic perspective and technical one, and the focus is spot on, right on the head of the bird.
Common Kingfisher Hovering
The bird was hovering for literally just a second or so, then it flew away over to another perch, and was again too fast for me to catch at its break-neck flight speed, but I bagged a shot that I’m pretty proud of here. I actually put together a four frame animated GIF that I posted on Google+, if you want to take a look. It’s quite impressive, if I do say so myself.
Here’s one last shot of the Kingfisher before we move on. These are beautiful little birds and I’m pleased that the 1D X actually enabled me to get some shots that I actually like of these birds, for the first time.
AI Servo Tracking Performance
I had a chance to take the 1D X down to the river near to our apartment too, and there were a few cormorants fishing, then taking off, circling round up river, then having been swept back by the current, they’d take off again. This gave me a chance to check the settings that would help me to continue to track with a bird flying over water, which is always a problem because when sunlight hits the water, you get little sparkles of light and contrast that tend to steal the auto-focus from what would otherwise be a relatively easy to track subject. With a little trial and error I was able to confirm which AF settings worked best before hunger and sunburn forced me to leave in the middle of the afternoon.
I still have some experimenting to do, and of course, you’ll need to change these settings yourself based on each location you shoot in and experience as you use the camera, but AF Case 5, for erratic subjects moving quickly in any direction without any customization worked best for me with birds over water. I tried a lot of combinations, including increasing Acceleration/Deceleration Tracking from zero to 1 in Case 5, and I tried the other cases too, but generally the best settings for this situation was Case 5 with no adjustments.
Common Cormorant (f/8, 1/1600, ISO 800)
Even using these settings though, if the cormorant flew over a patch of rough water with higher contrast, the focus would sometimes snap back to that, and I’d have to release the AF button on the back of the camera, ensure the bird was in the center of the frame again, and then refocus. Once I did that, the camera generally stayed with the subject again, so it seems that choppy water behind birds has not magically become a non-issue as far as my tests have shown to this point. Against a clear sky or less choppy water though, the AI Servo was relentless in tracking the bird with any and all of its 61 focus points.
No Illuminated Focus Point in AI Servo
There is one annoying thing that was fixed in the 1D Mark IV, but is currently regressed in the 1D X, and that is that the focus point that has focus is not illuminated as the subject moves around the frame. I really liked this functionality in the 1D Mark IV, but it’s gone again. The Canon Rumors Web site says it’s something to do with the red light affecting the exposure calculation, and that Canon may be working on a fix, but no details are available as of June 2012.
OK, so let’s take a look at the insane high ISO performance of the 1D X. First, here is a range of images from ISO 800 through to 204800 in full stop increments. I shot from ISO 50 upwards, but ISO’s 50 through 800 are identical, with no grain, so it really wasn’t worth sharing the first four images. Click on thumbnails and navigate back and forth with your mouse or keyboard arrow keys.
1DX ISO 800
1DX ISO 1600
1DX ISO 3200
1DX ISO 6400
1DX ISO 12800
1DX ISO 25600
1DX ISO 51200
1DX ISO 102400
1DX ISO 204800
You can see from these examples that if you were shooting for the Web, you could go as high as ISO 51200 without worrying very much about ISO at all. Here though is a series of 100% crops of part of the main sunflower, also including the out of focus sunflower in the background. I included this second flower, because the out of focus bokeh areas of an image can often show more grain than the in focus area.
To view this at 100% you’ll need to open your browser window up as to 1280 pixels or wider, and click on a thumbnail, then navigate back and forth with your mouse or keyboard arrow keys. If you don’t open your browser window wide enough, the blog will automatically reduce the size to fit your screen. You’ll still be able to see the grain, but not as well.
ISO 800 @ 100%
ISO 1600 @ 100%
ISO 3200 @ 100%
ISO 6400 @ 100%
ISO 12800 @ 100%
ISO 25600 @ 100%
ISO 51200 @ 100%
ISO 102400 @ 100%
ISO 204800 @ 100%
You might recall from my 5D Mark III review that based on my tests, I made ISO 12800 the highest ISO that I would go to without thinking about grain at all. I also set this as the ISO that my 5D Mark III will go to when using the Auto ISO mode. At a push though, I told you that I’d go to ISO 25600 on the 5D3, with the understanding that I’d have to deal with a bit of grain.
To save going back to the 5D Mark III review to check, and also so that we can do a direct comparison, I also shot the sunflowers with the 5D Mark III, so here are the 100% crops from the 5D Mark III from ISO 800 to 102400. Note that the 5D Mark III has one stop less ISO than the 1D X, which is why we can’t compare ISO 204800.
5D3 ISO 800 @ 100%
5D3 ISO 1600 @ 100%
5D3 ISO 3200 @ 100%
5D3 ISO 6400 @ 100%
5D3 ISO 12800 @ 100%
5D3 ISO 25600 @ 100%
5D3 ISO 51200 @ 100%
5D3 ISO 102400 @100%
OK, so after that reminder of the 5D Mark III ISO performance, let’s take a look at one last set of ISO images. It’s the same shots that we just looked at, but I’m going to place the ISOs from 12800 upwards from both cameras right next to each other, so that you can flick through them on screen, to see a direct comparison. It seems though that the 1D X is comparable to one stop lower ISO on the 5D Mark III, so I’m going to start with the 1D X ISO 12800 image, so that you’ll also be able to compare the 5D Mark III’s ISO 12800 image directly to the 1D X’s ISO 25600 and so on.
1DX ISO 12800 @ 100%
5D3 ISO 12800 @ 100%
1DX ISO 25600 @ 100%
5D3 ISO 25600 @ 100%
1DX ISO 51200 @ 100%
5D3 ISO 51200 @ 100%
1DX ISO 102400 100%
5D3 ISO 102400 @100%
1DX ISO 204800 100%
As you can see, the 1D X is perhaps even slightly better than one stop less ISO on the 5D Mark III up to 102400, but I think ISO 204800 on the 1D X is actually quite a lot better than 102400, the highest ISO on the 5D Mark III. Of course, this doesn’t mean the 5D Mark III ISO performance is bad. This is just the trade-off for the extra four megapixels, and both cameras are still amazing in the high ISOs. This is a dream compared to what we had just a generation of cameras ago, and that was a revelation a few years ago too. Things are certainly moving forward quickly. These cameras can now virtually see in the dark!
Based on these results, I’ve set the Auto-ISO range on my 1D X to a maximum of 25600, which is where I’ll go without worrying about grain. I would go to 51200 at a push too, but the expanded ISOs 102400 and especially 204800 are probably best avoided. This is of course why Canon set these as Expanded ISOs, which you have to enable before you can use. With both the 5D Mark III and 1D X they seem to have the limit exactly where it should be.
Canon EOS 1D X
Canon EOS 1D X
OK, so these are the main points that I’ve come across so far. I can live with the resolution for the frame-rate and high ISO performance trade-off . I was expecting a larger leap forward in the AI Servo tracking performance, but I’m very happy with the accuracy of the AI Servo focusing when it locks on. For my cormorant tests I was working in very high contrast conditions, and with flowing water in the background, which has always been very tricky. Considering this, it performed OK, though I had hoped for a little more.
As I use the camera more I’ll update you in this area, hopefully with good news that it’s much better in some other situations, but I was incredibly happy with how the 1D X handled the Kingfisher shoot though, so there really is not anything to worry about here, but I was a little more optimistic for some of the more challenging conditions.
All in all though, I am happy with the camera. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Is it close? Absolutely! It’s a beautiful piece of engineering, and I’m looking forward very much to taking it down to Antarctica for six weeks later this year. I’ll be sharing my photos when I get back of course, and that will probably be a good time to update you on the AI Servo too, if I haven’t already done so.
UPDATE:The 1D X does perform pretty well with the 600mm and 2X Extender (now with autofocus enabled if you update to the latest firmware), probably due to the larger photodiodes and reduced resolution over the 21MP bodies. Here’s a 100% crop of a bull-frog. This is straight out of camera with Lightroom 4 default processing. It’s not as sharp as I’d like but this is certainly bordering on usable. With a bit of Clarity and a little additional sharpening this would brush up OK.
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Last week I picked up my Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital SLR camera on the day of the launch, and I took some lenses, a fully charged battery and a CF card with me to Shinjuku, so that I could start using the camera right away. A Starbucks lunch with a table gave me enough time and a place to set up the camera and take a quick run through the menus, making sure I was shooting RAW etc, and I was ready to go.
I went to the Shinjuku Gyoen Park, where I knew the Kanzakura, a type of early flowering cherry blossom, were in bloom, and this always attracts some birds which would be a good test of the new Auto-Focus, as well as high ISO capabilities, as it wasn’t a particularly bright day. I’d been hoping for White Eyes, but when I got there I found a flock of Brown-eared Bulbuls at the main Kanzakura tree, so I set in to see how the 5D Mark III handled.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
I posted the first couple of shots that we’ll look at today on my blog last week, so you may have already seen them, but lets take a look at these first, so show you how sharp the sensor is, and at high ISO’s too. Ensure that you have your browser window nice and wide, and click on the the images to view them at the full size that I posted them in, to really see the full detail.
First, here’s one of my favorite shots from the day, of the Bulbul just taking off, with a couple of blossom petals falling. This is straight out of the camera, shot handheld with a 300mm F2.8 lens and the 1.4X Extender III fitted, and using ISO 400 for 1/1000 of a second at f/5.6. Note too that this was the second of the only two shots that I was able to get as I saw the bird start to spread its wings. Had it not been for the faster frame rate of six frames per second, I’d have missed this shot.
Shot with the new Canon EOS 5D Mark III – There’s about a 3% crop on the top and right side of this, for artistic reasons, but that’s all I’ve done to this image.
Here though, is a 100% crop (if viewed with the browser window wide enough) showing just the birds head and some of the blossom. You can see that the focus is spot on, right over the head, beak and extending down to the eyes, which is exactly what I wanted. And the sharpness is amazing. Of course, that was always a given but it’s nice to see such great image quality.
Browned-Eared Bulbul Takes Flight 100% Crop
Just to be sure you know what I mean by straight out of camera here, for these first few images I had downloaded the Release Candidate of Adobe Camera RAW 6.7 which has support for the 5D Mark III and 1D X already. So basically these photos do have the default settings for the latest Adobe Camera RAW applied, but I have not applied any noise reduction at all. Also note that I cropped the full version of this image by about 3% along the top and right side, to clean up the right edge a bit, but that’s all I did.
5D Mark III Support in Lightroom
I did try to use Digital Photo Professional and ImageBrowser EX, that come with the camera, but that just confirmed my belief that Canon should stick to making great cameras. After confirming that Adobe’s Bridge and Photoshop combination is only slightly less painful, I found that if I convert my RAW files to DNG using the ACR 6.7 DNG Converter (also still Release Candidate as of March 27, 2012) I can then import and edit my images in Lightroom 4, which was such a relief.
Camera Controlled Exposure
Anyway, let’s get back to my first day’s photos. Although you probably know I shoot pretty much exclusively in Manual exposure mode, I was moving from shooting the birds on the outside of the tree, to going under the tree and shooting up at the birds, and there was much less light under the tree than on the top. This did of course mean that I had more backlight when under the tree, but I found it easier to deal with that with Exposure Compensation than a Manual Exposure adjustment. I know this is very different to my shooting techniques so far, but I was also trying to get a feel for the new brain in this camera, and it worked out pretty well.
For the last shot, I’d already started to try Aperture Priority, but I found myself constantly checking to ensure that I was getting a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the birds motion. Although I like a bit of wing movement in my bird shots, these Bulbuls move so fast that to keep their heads sharp too I needed to keep my shutter speed at 1/1000 of a second. Because of that though, I decided to also try Shutter Priority, setting the shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second, but I also took another leap of faith at this point, which was Auto ISO.
Although some of my recent cameras have had Auto ISO, I’ve didn’t feel comfortable using it because I otherwise shot in Manual, and allowing the camera to make decisions about the exposure would have taken control out of my hands. Now though, using Aperture and Shutter Priority, I figured I might as well take another leap of faith, and give the camera maximum flexibility in exposure, beyond changing the aperture or shutter speed, so I flicked the camera into Auto ISO mode too.
This resulted in the next image being shot at ISO 2000 with a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second at f/4.5, and I have to tell you, I was very impressed. Although I couldn’t reproduce the high grain on my 1Ds Mark III in my tests over the last few days, at least from my experience in the field, this images seems about as clean as ISO 400 on my 1Ds Mark III, and probably comparable to ISO 640-ish, on my old 5D Mark II.
Brown-eared Bulbul at ISO 2000
And here’s a 100% crop of the bird’s face. You can see that I nailed the focus on the bird’s eye again, and that was hand-held, at 420mm, with an aperture of f/4.5, so incredibly shallow depth of field.
Brown-eared Bulbul at ISO 2000 – 100% Crop
I used a mix of AI Servo and One Shot auto-focus, but because I was shooting under a tree with lots of branches everywhere, it was mostly One Shot on this day, but I’ve got to tell you, I really believe that the new auto-focus system on the 5D is worth the cost of the upgrade all by itself. Almost all of the 500+ frames I shot of these birds on my first day were tack sharp, right where I wanted the focus to be. The hit ratio over the 5D Mark II is greatly improved, and it’s even better so far compared to the 1D Mark IV, which was a huge improvement over previous cameras at the time too.
Before we move on though, just to reiterate, this image (above) was shot at ISO 2000, and just look how clean it is.
How High Can You Go?
So, over the last few days, I’ve been testing the 5D Mark III in my studio, to see just how high you can safely go with the ISO before you have to start to worry about the grain. I’ll show you some example photos right after this, but to cut to the chase, I’m thinking that I can use as high as ISO 12800 without thinking about the noise at all. ISO 1600 is the new ISO 400, and ISO 6400 is the new ISO 800, of course this depends on what camera you’ve been shooting with so far, but this is how I’ve mentally remapped the new ISO to Image Quality.
With the 5D Mark II and 1D Mark IV, in low light, I would go down to ISO 1600 without worrying too much, although I’d go further if necessary. My mental limit though was 1600, but now with the 5D Mark III that point where you think for a moment, will probably be when I go past ISO 12800. When I really need to push it, I’ll still go to 25600, which is where Canon set the defaults for this camera, and depending on how I intend to use the image, I’d even 51200 if necessary.
If you want to, you can set the camera to allow you to select two Expanded ISOs, H1 and H2, which are equivalent to ISOs 51200 and 102400. I think the point that Canon set the defaults is spot on, because the image degrades quite a lot at these ISOs, but still, if you are really in need of an extra stop, H1, ISO 51200 is just about usable, especially if you are shooting for the Web or printing relatively small. ISO 102400 is probably to be avoided, but again, if a UFO lands on your lawn, and they don’t light everything up for you, then use it, and try to clean the image up later in Lightroom.
OK, so let’s take a look at some photos shot through the entire ISO range. First, here are twelve shots in one stop increments from ISO 50 to ISO 102400. These have been reduced to a height of 853px for the Web, but this shows that for Web use, you can really tell no difference in the quality of the image until you reach into the Expanded ISO Range, with the two images at 51200 and 102400 at the end. Click on the first thumbnail to view the image larger, and then click the right of the image or use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move through the images.
Pretty impressive huh!? Let’s take a look a 100% crop from the above images to see how the grain really looks.
ISO 50 – 100%
ISO 100 – 100%
ISO 200 – 100%
ISO 400 – 100%
ISO 800 – 100%
ISO 1600 – 100%
ISO 3200 – 100%
ISO 6400 – 100%
ISO 12800 – 100%
ISO 25600 – 100%
ISO 51200 – 100%
ISO 102400 – 100%
Following on from the Web sized images, these do show more grain than you might have hoped in the higher ISOs, but realistically, I still think this is pretty impressive, especially when you consider just high these ISOs are. I think you’ll agree that 12800 is almost a no-brainer, with 25600 still really quite usable and even 51200 still in the running at a push.
More on Auto ISO
So, as I said, although I know people have been using this for a while, I believe this now makes Auto ISO something that I myself will be using more moving forward, so I just wanted to note a few things with regards to the Auto ISO settings.
You might be wondering how the camera makes a decision to increase the ISO over reducing shutter speed, but you’ll be pleased to know that this is quite intelligent, and you have some control over the decision too. Firstly, you’re able to set the minimum shutter speed that you’ll go to before the camera starts to crank the ISO.
If you are in Manual mode, where you set the aperture and shutter speed, Auto ISO will adjust itself to put exposure at where the camera thinks it should be with the exposure compensation caret at zero. In Aperture Priority, or Shutter Priority, you can use Exposure Compensation as well, to increase or decrease the Exposure.
If you’ve set the Minimum Shutter Speed to Auto, the camera cleverly uses the focal length of the lens fitted, including zoom lenses, as the minimum shutter speed. This is of course automating use of the popular rule of thumb regarding shutter speeds, which makes this really quite a useful setting. For example when I have my 50mm lens fitted, shooting in low light, the camera will drop down to 1/50 and sometimes 1/40 of a second, and increase the ISO rather than going slower, until I hit the maximum ISO that I specified in the Auto ISO Range. Once I hit the maximum ISO, the shutter speed will start to drop below 1/40 of a second, as a last resort. When I use my 70-200mm lens though, the automatic minimum shutter speed increases to match the focal length I am shooting at.
If you select something other than Auto for your Minimum Shutter Speed, the camera will start to crank the ISO higher when you reach that shutter speed, but again once the ISO reaches the maximum set in the Auto ISO Range, it will start to increase the shutter past the minimum you selected. In Manual mode using Auto ISO means that you do of course lose control of the exposure, but if maintaining an absolute slowest shutter speed is more important than under-exposing your images, then it’s still useful. You can set both your Shutter Speed and Aperture, and have the Auto ISO expose you’re shots to what the camera thinks is the correct exposure, but then if it gets too dark, you’ll just get dark shots, rather than slower shutter speeds.
5D Mark III – Top View
Gapless Microlenses and Larger Pixels
Although we gained a slight resolution boost, jumping from 21 megapixels to 22 megapixels, apparently now there are now no gaps between the microlenses that sit above the photodiodes, and larger 6.25 µm (micrometer) pixels which in turn means improved signal to noise ratio, higher dynamic range, and of course this is partly what’s behind the incredible new ISO capabilities. Basically the camera is gathering almost every bit of light that hits the sensor, which along with the new DIGIC 5+ image processor has resulted in better image quality in every way. I haven’t had time to search around to see if anyone else is talking about this, but I generally find the quality of the images coming out of this camera to be richer, deeper and simply more pleasing to look at.
Greatly Improved Auto-Focus System
I mentioned briefly earlier that the new Autofocus is deftly accurate, but let’s take a little bit more in-depth look at what’s changed.
One of the only things that I was unhappy with on the 5D Mark II was the autofocus system. My other cameras are a 1Ds Mark III and a 1D Mark IV, both with 45 point AF, and especially the 1D Mark IV, had much better AI Servo for tracking moving subjects like birds in flight. Spoilt by that somewhat, I was always disappointed by the 5D Mark II’s ability to track birds in flight, and didn’t like having to select just one of eight other AF points when I moved away from the center point, but that’s changed.
Although I haven’t shot birds in flight yet, from my tests on my first day, it’s easy to see that the new 61 Point AF system is worlds ahead of the 5D Mark II and even the 1D Mark IV with regards to accuracy. It just nailed the focus so much more often than I’ve seen until now. I always felt that AI Servo wasn’t as accurate as One Shot for focusing on even a stationary bird, but having used AI Servo for the relatively fast moving Bulbuls in the tree last week, I found it to be as accurate at nailing sharp focus than One Shot focussing.
Also, low light focusing seems greatly improved. I haven’t had an opportunity yet to do any tests in the field, but just focusing in my studio towards the end of the day, in light that would require around a two second shutter speed at ISO 100, both AI Servo and One Shot seem to be focusing very well. It’s snappy and accurate.
5D Mark III – Autofocus Menu
You can see (above) that Canon were serious about the Autofocus on this camera, because they gave autofocus a whole menu to itself.
Selecting AI Servo AF Characteristics
The AF Menu starts off with six presets or Cases for various types of subject, with varying Tracking Sensitivity, Acceleration and Deceleration tracking and AF point Auto Switching sensitivity.
All of the modes are based on a sport, and may not immediately seem to apply to what you are shooting, but I’m sure as we use the system it will become easy to know which to use for any given situation. I imagine for example that when shooting the Eagles in Hokkaido, that switch direction and speed very erratically, Case 5 for figure skaters might work well, or even Case 6 for rhythm gymnasts. For birds in flight without so much erratic movement, might be better with Case 4 though, for soccer and motor sports. I’m sure someone’s already posted this stuff on the Web as well, but I haven’t checked. Either way, I’ll be doing some trial and error tests myself to get a feel for each mode. All of these Case presets are customizable by the way, so you aren’t restricted to what Canon has provided us.
Also, in the other AF Menu screens, you can fine tune things like how much priority the camera should give to obtaining accurate focus before you are able to release the shutter for the first frame, and you can set a different priority for the second frame onwards in continuous shooting.
Basically this means that you can say to the camera, I’m not really worried about accurate focus for the first frame, just let me start shooting, but the after that slow down the frame rate if necessary to obtain a better focus. Or conversely you could say don’t let me start shooting until you have focus, but then shoot away regardless from the second frame onwards. These are three value sliders though, so the reality is you’d probably choose somewhere in between and try to get the best of both worlds, as you test to see what works best for you.
By the way, I set mine to prioritize focus for the first frame, and then equal priority from the second frame onwards. I’ll let you know how I get on with this later, especially if I start to make changes.
AF Area Selection Modes
There are six AF Area Selection Modes, including Single-point Spot AF for pinpoint focusing. This is was I used the most for the Bulbul shots last week, so that I could focus on the birds eyes even through small gaps in the cherry blossom petals.
Single-Point AF is also just one AF point, but it doesn’t have the dot in the middle of the square that represents the Spot AF in the last option I mentioned. AF Point Expansion enables the four AF point above, below and left and right of the selected AF point to also become active. You can also expand this selection to include all eight AF points surrounding the selected point.
Zone AF is where a block of focus points are selected, and can be moved around nine zones using all of the 61 AF points, and finally, there’s 61-point Automatic Selection AF mode, where you leave selection of the AF point entirely up to the system.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III AF Area Selection Modes
Orientation Linked AF Mode and Point Selection
Another nice touch, and something that I’ve had on my 1 Series bodies for a while, is Orientation Linked AF Points. You can now select an Auto-focus mode and manually selected AF points for each orientation, so if you have one mode and AF Point selected with the camera in Landscape mode, then switch to Portrait mode, and select another AF Point or AF area selection mode, it will remember the difference, and toggle between the two sets of settings as you change the camera’s orientation.
No Auto-Focus at F8
Unfortunately, even with such a vastly improved autofocus system, and despite the fact that it’s been ported almost exactly as is from the 1D X, the 5D Mark III will not allow auto-focus at f8, which means you can’t use a 2X Extender on the f4 super-telephoto lenses, or any combination of lens and extender that takes your lenses widest aperture to f8.
This was always possible in previous 1 Series bodies, but even the 1D X might not have this when it finally hits the streets, which has the birding community up in arms. I’ve heard that this is because the physical sensors in the 1D X and 5D Mark III system are only rated down to f5.6, so there may be a physical restriction. People tape up the connectors on the back of the lenses though, and also use teleconverters that don’t relay the aperture information to the camera to overcome this, and it seems to work on most occasions.
I’ve also heard that Canon are talking about making a firmware change to allow you to turn on f8 auto-focus on the 1D X, albeit a little slower than f5.6 auto-focus, and if they do that, it would be nice to see this change made for the 5D Mark III too. As it is right now, I’ve confirmed that my 600mm f4 lens doesn’t have autofocus with the 2X Extender fitted.
63 Zone iFCL Metering
Before we move on from the Autofocus system, I wanted to briefly mention that the 5D Mark III also incorporates dual layer 63 zone iFCL or intelligent Focus Color Luminance metering. Basically the system takes color and luminosity readings from around the selected focus points to increase metering accuracy.
Ergonomics, Buttons and Dials
A lot has been redesigned in the 5D Mark III and one thing that the people at Canon said they put a lot of time and effort into was the sound of the shutter mechanism. I wasn’t surprised to hear that, because I’d heard the shutter during the launch event, and found it very pleasing. Let me shoot a few frames here, and show you what I mean (listen to the audio).
Also, there’s a Silent mode, that slows down the frame rate, but does make the shutter mechanism really quiet, if you find yourself in a situation where that’s important. Here’s how it sounds… (Again, listen to the audio, it’s at about 31 mins.) Both of these were recorded with the camera about 15cm from the mic, so you can tell that the Silent mode is much quieter.
Both sound great, but I really like the standard shutter sound myself. I think it’s the best sounding shutter mechanism of any Canon camera so far. Great work here.
The camera itself actually now feels much better to handle. It was never a bad camera line, but the grip now feels more substantial, and the addition of the M-Fn, Multifunction button aids operation greatly. In fact, there’s a new Custom Controls menu that we see in this image, from which you can customize many of the buttons on the camera.
For example as you can see in this image (below) I have set my camera so that the new electronic level is displayed in the view finder when I press the M-Fn button, located just above and to the left of the Shutter button. This is also where you can remove auto-focus from the shutter button, so now my shutter button only meters, and then of course releases the shutter. To focus I press the AF-ON button on the back of the camera.
5D Mark III – Custom Controls Menu
There is also a Live View and Movie START/STOP button to the right of the viewfinder, which will be easier to use when shooting movies, but I haven’t yet had a chance to shoot any video. Other new buttons include a Quick Control button just above the Quick Control Dial, for easy access to the camera controls on the LCD. The Quick Control Dial is also now touch sensitive when shooting movies, so that you don’t hear the clicking sound of the dial if you change settings while you’re recording.
I found myself instinctively using the new RATE button to give stars to a few of the better images from my shoot last week, and although I didn’t check this myself, I believe these star ratings are universal, and available in Lightroom and Bridge etc.
There is also a new Multifunction Lock switch which can be programmed to lock the Quick Control Dial, the Multi-Controller and the Main Dial individually, or none at all, which will be useful if you sometimes catch these dials while shooting.
Mode Dial Lock Release
I’m also pleased to see that there’s now a button in the center of the Mode Dial, so that you can’t accidentally switch between shooting modes, such as Aperture Priority and Manual etc. With my old 5D Mark II, especially when using the Black Rapid straps, the camera would rub against my leg and change the dial quite often, which used to drive me crazy.
One change that I’m having a really hard time getting use to is that Canon decided to take the preview image magnification away from the buttons on the top right on the back of the body. Pretty much every time I go to look at an image I’ve shot, I hit the AF Point Selection button to zoom in, and nothing happens. There’s now a dedicated button in the middle of the five buttons that run along the left side of the back. It was really easy to just hit that AF-Point Selection button before, and it’s become muscle memory for most people I’m sure, so it would have been nice to have left that alone.
Note that you can, and I did change the custom controls so that the Set Button in the middle of the Quick Control Dial displays the image preview and zooms in as well. You can also set a custom function to zoom to a predetermined magnification, or remember the amount of magnification last used, which is also nice.
View Finder Improvements
We now also have almost 100% field of view in the viewfinder, which is great, and really helps to keep the edges of the frame clean when shooting with the viewfinder. The new Intelligent Viewfinder with Superimposed LCD also allows for lots of information to be displayed right there in the Viewfinder. I really like for example how the focus points and grid illuminate in low light, or just show up as a black squares and grid when it’s light enough to see them. Also the viewfinder flashes red when you achieve focus too when it’s dark, so there’s no ambiguity.
What you see in the Viewfinder is fully customizable too. You can turn the grid on or off, and how the Focus points are displayed is fully customizable as well. I can’t imagine anyone not being able to find a way that really suits there shooting style, including just turning it all off if necessary, and it’s all customizable really quickly, so you can change it for any particular type of shooting too.
Multiple Exposure Example (Click for Larger View)
One other feature that I was looking forward to is Multiple Exposure. I used to have this on my old Canon SLR film camera, and Nikon users have had this for a while, but now we have it on the 5D Mark III and the 1D X will have Multiple Exposure too, and I had a lot of fun playing with it over the last few days.
This shot is a two frame multiple exposure. For the first frame, I went to f2.8 and focussed on the Calla Lily, to send the background elements out of focus. Then for the second shot, I stopped down to f11, to bring the background into focus, and I used the Dark (comparative) control mode, which basically gives preference to darker tones over lighter ones. All the modes are useful, and you can create a nice painterly feel quite easily with a bit of experimentation.
I really was like a kid in a candy store playing with this feature over the last few days, but I soon learned that it’s very easy to overdo it. For example, you can shoot your first image totally out of focus, then overlay one that’s nice and sharp, and at first, it looks quite nice, but the more you look at the resulting images, they just look like badly done HDR images, so care is needed here.
Also, you can of course do shots of moving subjects, shooting more than two frames, up to nine I believe, and have them appear at multiple points in the frame, which is fun. The cool thing about this too is that unlike with the old film cameras, you actually get an overlay on your LCD and can line up your shots with what you will overlay them on, so it’s quite easy to get good results too. The most time consuming part was getting use to the different modes, like Additive, Average, Bright and Dark, but the creative options are huge with this, and like I say, it’s a lot of fun.
I guess I should have spent more time testing the HDR mode, but at the moment I just don’t do that much HDR, and so it fell by the wayside as I tried to find out as much as I could about the 5D Mark III over the past four days as I prepared for this review. I did do a few handheld shots with the natural mode selected, and they looked incredibly good. As I try this in the field I’ll report back with my findings, but I’m sure there’ll be plenty of others covering this in their reviews soon anyway.
5D Mark III – Rear View
Need That Battery Grip!
Apart from not getting used to the repositioned Zoom button yet, the only other thing that I have found awkward, especially while shooting the birds on my first day with the camera, is the lack of vertical shooting controls. Of course, these will come with the Battery Grip BG-E11 that is scheduled for release towards the end of April. I didn’t think I’d miss that grip so much, but I’m really looking forward to that release.
GPS Receiver GP-E2
With Lightroom 4 now having GPS support, I’m also looking forward to the new GPS Receiver, GP-E2 that fits into the flash shoe, and will work with the 1D X when I get that too, which saves me having to buy a dedicated GPS unit for the 1D X. These units record the direction that the camera is pointing when you take a photo as well, which will be useful.
Well, following that review, it’s probably a foregone conclusion, but I have to finish by saying that I give the Canon EOS 5D Mark III a huge thumbs up. You might think that I want to give this camera a good review because I just spent $3,500 on it, but really, I’d tell you if I didn’t like it, and honestly, it has far exceeded my expectations. I was really looking forward to the new Autofocus and ISO capabilities, and the Multiple Exposure. I have 10 frames per second on my 1D Mark IV, but it’s still nice to be able to shoot higher resolution images six frames per second too. It’s not lightening fast, but it was enough to get some tricky action shots with the Bulbuls, and I’m looking forward to really giving the AI Servo focusing a run for its money too.
I know there’s been a lot of fuss about the raised prices for the 5D Mark III, but I tell, from what I’ve seen, there’s easily that amount of R&D gone into this camera, and I don’t regret paying the extra and picking up my copy of this great new edition to the Canon line up. The new ISO capabilities and Autofocus open up doors to us in the Canon camp, and as I say, the images seem to have a depth and richness that I was not expecting, and I’m looking forward to hearing what others think about this. I hope it’s not just me, coming from my infatuation with my new baby.
If you are planning to buy a 5D Mark III, please support this blog buy using our B&H affiliate links…
Podcast End Notes
Before we finish, firstly, I’d like to mention that I’ve hooked up with Aurora Expeditions putting me on these eight voyages as resident photographer. We’ll be visiting Antarctica and South Georgia, the European Arctic, including Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland, and the Russian Coast including Kamchatka, the Kuril Islands, Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya.
Information on these amazing photography adventures is on my Tours & Workshops page, with links to full details of each voyage on Aurora Expeditions Web site. Do check that out if you are interested in joining me on one of these amazing photography adventures.
Partnered with Stitcher Smart Radio
Also, we’ve recently joined forces with Stitcher Smart Radio, to enable you to listen to the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast using Stitcher on your iPhone, Android Phone and Kindle Fire, as well as in GM and Ford cars that support Stitcher Radio. I’ve put a graphic tile in the sidebar on the blog and Podcasts page, if you need the app, but if you already use Stitcher, just search for Martin Bailey Photography and you’ll be hooked up in seconds.
Today I’m going to give guidance on which Digital SLR to buy in response to a question that listener Joshua Lopez was kind enough to record using the MobaTalk Comment System that you can find on the top page at martinbaileyphotography.com. I’m not going to be able to answer with a direct recommendation, because which camera is right for any individual depends on so many factors, but I will try to give some good, impartial advice on what to bear in mind when buying a Digital SLR.
Thank you very much Joshua. Sorry it’s taken a while to get around to answering this since you recorded the question a number of weeks back. I was waiting for another question which I now have received, so here we go with my answer.
I don’t think it would be correct for me to just say, go with Nikon, or go with Canon, as there are so many factors that come into play when choosing a camera that I would need to sit down and talk with you for a few hours to be able to really give you any good advice. Also, because I’m a Canon user myself, I’ll be naturally biased towards Canon gear. This is not just because I like my own gear, but because I’m used to using it. I have been shooting with Canon gear for 15 years now, and so using it is second nature to me. I have only ever held Nikon or other manufacturer’s gear a few times, and never shot with it, so it’s impossible for me to give first hand advice on the merits or demerits of this gear. As people that have been tuning in for some time will know, I only talk about stuff that I myself have first hand experience with or knowledge of. So, what I’ll do here is discuss the sort of things that you might want to bear in mind to enable you yourself to make your own decision.
I really do have to say first and foremost that most of the 35mm Digital SLRs on the market today, from Canon, Nikon, Sony or any other manufacturer will give you excellent results. With Canon and Nikon pushing the technology to it’s limits while competing with each other, it’s just not possible any more to make a digital that is not up to at least today’s standards, and expect it to sell.
So let’s talk about the factors to bear in mind when thinking about this. Especially if it’s your first digital SLR let’s check if you already have some good quality lenses or accessories for an SLR of any particular maker? If you already have an investment in Canon, Nikon, Sony or any other manufacturer’s gear, then it might make sense going for that maker’s DSLR body. However, note that I said good quality lenses and that it only “might” make sense to go with that maker. The reason for this is that, for good or bad, digital imaging allows you to view your results pixel for pixel, and this really shows the imperfections in cheaper lenses. When I was talking my wife into allowing me to buy the Canon EOS D30 some five years ago for a ridiculous amount of money, I remember saying that all I need is the body, because I already have three lenses covering my needs. Well, what happened was I replaced all three of them within the first year of owning that camera. The only lens that I regretted letting go was a 24mm F2.8 prime lens, which I need to put into the mix to get enough money to buy the 100-400mm L lens, but apart from that, my standard and telephoto zoom that I’d used happily for some ten years with my film SLR just didn’t cut it with digital. So I’d suggest taking a look at the quality of the lenses you have in any particular makers range before sticking to that maker based on your current inventory. Also remember that the Sony Alpha 100 and I’m sure any other DSLR bodies that come out in the Sony range will allow you to use Minolta, or Konica Minolta lenses if you have any. Again, bear in mind the quality of your current glass though before allowing this to effect your decision too much.
If you don’t think you’ll ever particularly want to print your images out at very large size or the main aim of your photography is say for Web publishing, where the images will be sized-down substantially, you won’t be able to see many of the imperfections that lower standard lenses introduce, so it might not be a consideration. What you really want from the camera is another very important factor. Are you going to be using the camera to make professional images that need to be printed at large sizes, or is the camera just for family and holiday snaps. The number of pixels a camera will provide is really no longer such an issue as it was years ago for standard including most professional use, even if you want to print out your images at 13×19 or larger. 13×19 prints are as sharp as tacks from anything larger than a 6 mega pixel camera, and because most of the new cameras on the market now are at least eight, and most over ten mega pixels now, it’s really not much of a worry point unless you’re considering an older second hand model. If you are, unless you really know you’re only going to output to web or small prints, try to get something at least 6 mega pixels.
Some people only want a camera that allows a certain amount of control over the shooting parameters, but really will just leave it on automatic or the P mode and shoot away. Thinking about this though, one of the big factors in earlier low end Canon DSLRs used to be that you could not use the Mirror-Lockup feature for example. Many people that always shoot hand-held and will never need the mirror-lockup feature would never have even missed it, but for many serious photographers the mirror-lockup feature is an essential feature. Now though, even the lower end models have this feature and many other features that were left out of earlier models to keep them apart from the higher end models. The only thing I can think of that really still applies is that most high-end DSLRs don’t have built in flash. If you want something in-built so that you never have to worry about carrying around an external flash unit, it’s important to keep this in mind. This is not really to keep the low and high end models apart, more that higher end camera users don’t even want a built in flash.
Actually, going back to a lens related note, it’s also important to consider what type of lenses you would buy, and although most makers have a very full range, if you want some specialists lenses, like Tilt/Shift lenses, or high magnification macro lenses, check that they are available from the manufacturers you are considering, and maybe rule out the ones that don’t have the lenses you’ll need. After all, the camera body that you decide on will probably end up being the cheaper part of the equation once you buy more than a few lenses. In fact, the body is also going to be the most replaceable part of your investment, as the technology is growing so fast right now, I find that most people end up replacing their body much sooner now than years ago when holding on to the same camera body for 10 years or so was not uncommon.
Another thing to consider is the crop factor. If you’ve only shot with compact digitals until now, you probably won’t really notice a difference initially, but if you want to shoot wide, sweeping landscapes at 24mm or wider, then you’ll need to buy a 10-22mm lens or something like that to get this coverage with a crop factor DSLR. The first lens I bought for my D30 five years ago was the 17-35mm F2.8 to be able to shoot wide angle. The truth is though, on a 1.6X crop factor camera, 17-35 actually only become 27-56mm, and 27mm is not that wide. It’s also very debatable as to whether or not the 10mm digital only lenses are really good for true wide angle work, because they just have to bend the light too much, and although they’re very sharp, they can give rise to some pretty nasty distortion and the 10-22mm Canon EF-S lens that I had also had pretty bad Chromatic Aberration when used wide open. So if you really want to shoot the sweeping wide open scenes, a full-size sensor DSLR might be the way to go. If you’d only shoot very wide on occasion, and can handle the down-side of the 10mm lenses for the odd shot, then it might not be a big consideration. Of course, on the other hand, the 1.5 or 1.6 crop factor is great if you are shooting telephoto or macro. Not only will it get you much closer with a shorter focal length, you’re only using the best part of the lens when using full 35mm size lenses.
The size of the camera is important too. I don’t have particularly large hands, but they’re big enough for me to find the Rebel series of Canon camera too small to hold comfortably. I found the D30, 10D and my current 5D to be just right. I actually even found the 20D to be a tad on the small side. So whatever you consider, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting into a camera store and actually holding cameras from a number of manufacturers. Also note that a camera will handle very differently when it has the battery grip attached. Not only do they extend the grip, making it easier to handle a smaller body with bigger hands, battery grips also have additional buttons to shoot with the camera in vertical or portrait position, which I find very helpful. Also, if necessary you have the option to remove the grip when travelling if weight is a consideration. This might also be a consideration for the body itself. If you want to be able to carry the body around with a zoom lens attached so that you always have something with you, a smaller body might be more suitable. I find that I don’t carry my 5D around with me very much unless I’m out shooting. With my 20D I used to take the battery grip off fit the 17-85mm lens and the semi-hard cover to it, and drop it into my bag “just in case” much more often.
There are also considerations such as the loudness of the shutter unit. If you shoot weddings, or timid wildlife, you might find that some cameras shutter speeds are a little on the loud side. Although some photographer’s like to hear a nice solid clunk when they trip the shutter, I like my camera to whisper to me, not shout. The Canon EOS 20D for example had a very loud shutter unit which I never liked. People would turn and look at me when shooting in a park for example, which has never happened to me when shooting with any of my other cameras. I also disturbed some birds when shooting, and noticed them look at me then fly away shortly after starting to shoot, so it’s a serious consideration. Again, you really need to get into a store and check this for yourself if it might be a problem for you.
What I would suggest make a list of features that you just couldn’t live without in a camera, then visit dpreview.com and select “Buying Guide” then “Side-by-Side” from the menu on the left. This handy tool allows you to select multiple cameras from a list on the left, and move them into a new list of cameras that you want to compare, then it builds a table to enable you to view all the cameras you’re interested in side-by-side to see detailed specifications and which have the features you require, and which do not. You can also then see the features that the cameras have that you might not have thought of originally, but may find that they’d be useful to have after all. You’ll also see that there are user ratings and street prices for the cameras as well, so you should find this useful in deciding. I’ll put a link in the show notes too, but this is just dpreview.com.
Although there are many other factors that I haven’t touch on here, hopefully this will help steer you in the right direction with regards to making your decision Joshua, or any one else that might also be currently faced with the same dilemma. The important thing is to get something that suites your needs from both a feature and ergonomic perspective, and above all else, remember that it’s you that takes the photo, not your camera. The equipment is just a means to an end.
Start Wrap-up: I would also imagine that there’ll be lots of other people with additional advice. If you have anything to add or feedback about this advice, please do post it to the martinbaileyphotography.com forum for Joshua and anyone else interested to see. I’m sure there are many others asking themselves similar questions right now.
In the next episode I’m going to answer another question, about Hyperfocal Distance. What it is, how to calculate and some tools to help you, and how to put it to practical use in your photography. So stay subscribed, keep tuning in and tell your friends if you are finding these Podcasts interesting.
So have a great week, whether you’re out shooting, or whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.