Canon 5D Mark III Review

Friday March 02 2012

Sensor Review
Introduction | Canon 5D Mark III Hands-on Review | Canon 5D Mark III versus competition | Canon 5D Mark III Sensor performance | Canon 5D Mark III versus Nikon D800

Here is a first review based on the specifications and our first impressions about this new Canon flagship camera. We are really looking forward to getting a production sample in our lab to be able to test it.

Full-frame 22-megapixel sensor: the new generation 

Between the 21Mpix of the Mark II and the 22.3Mpix of the Mark III, there has been a lot more progress than meets the eye (given how nearly identical the two iterations seem to be on the surface).

Canon 5D Mark III sensor

But as a matter of fact, nearly 4 years have gone by since the release of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon has integrated a new-generation CMOS full-frame sensor which is characterized by two important developments:

  • The mesh network is different, thanks to borrowing the EOS-1D X’s gapless microlens sensor technology that uses bigger photosites than those of the older generation. As the 5D MKIII’s photosites will potentially receive more light than those of its predecessor, it will be very interesting to see if its low-light performance will be better than that of other full-frame cameras of the same generation, such as the Nikon D800.
  • Each photodiode is equipped with an underlying transistor that provides initial noise processing at the instant of signal transmission. This means that the EOS 5D MK III can achieve a nominal sensitivity of 25,600 ISO, extendable up to 102,400 ISO in H2 mode. According to Canon, an image shot at 25,600 ISO should be completely usable. (We will certainly not fail to verify this in our tests for noise!)

To avoid overheating while shooting in Live View and video modes, Canon has exploited the potential of heat dissipation via an exothermic body.

New Digic 5+ processor and bursts

Treating the EOS 5D Mark III with all the dignity due a camera outfitted with a demanding autofocus, with an iFCL meter, and especially with a new 22-megapixel sensor, Canon has endowed it with a new processor, the DIGIC 5+. The “plus” here is important, because while the DIGIC 5 is 17 times more rapid than the DIGIC 4, the DIGIC 5+ is 3 times more rapid than the DIGIC 5. Still...

Even if it can’t come close to catching the shadow of the EOS-1D X’s 14 fps burst frame rate, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III can still shoot in bursts at 6 fps, a medium speed that starts to become interesting for certain kinds of action photos. In RAW, the burst duration is limited to 18 consecutive photos when using a CompactFlash UDMA-7 card. In JPEG, burst shooting is essentially unlimited (i.e., one can take several hundred consecutive photos).

Silent mode and silent shutter

Canon is starting to encroach on Nikon’s territory, events photography. The Canon EOS 5D Mark III has a new shutter and a new, carefully-worked and quiet mirror mechanism that will be praised for its silence (and we can confirm this). In classic mode, it is already nearly noise-free. In silent mode, the sound is completely suppressed, going from 60 dB to 50 dB — a technical success. Naturally, when shooting bursts in silent mode, the rate is reduced to 3 fps, because to achieve this level of noiselessness, the EOS 5D Mark III slows down the mirror action. The shutter, by the way, has been tested through 150,000 cycles.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III incorporates the EOS-1D X’s autofocus

In the same way that Nikon put the autofocus of its D4 camera into the D800, Canon has put the high-density (61-collimator) reticular autofocus of its EOS-1D X camera into the hands of 5D MKIII buyers, with a few limitations. This autofocus module offers very strong detectivity in its center, with 41 collimators in a cross array and the 5 ultra-central collimators arrayed in a double cross. Unlike the 1D X, however, it loses the coupling of color measurement to exposure.

The range covered by the Mark III’s autofocus in the viewfinder (8x19mm) represents a big step forward with respect to the EOS 5D Mark II.

The Mark III also brings with it a well-thought-out ergonomic innovation for its autofocus: a simplified set of parameters in a very visual menu and the ability to store settings for six different use cases according to the subject’s type of movement — e.g., regular, erratic, etc.

Following the subject is predictive just as it is with high-end reflex analog cameras: with AI Servo, the autofocus anticipates the subject’s movement in order to adapt the focus to the distance at which the subject will be when the photo is actually taken, in order to compensate for the slight delay between triggering the shutter and the actual shot.

To facilitate its entrance into the agencies whose photography pools frequently change cameras and lenses, the EOS 5D MKIII can couple the microadjustments of the autofocus (i.e., back focus / front focus) to the lens series number. So a reflex calibrated for a 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM II, for example, can store and use the settings specific to this particular 70-200mm F/2.8 lens.

Full HD Video

The Mark III features the Full HD video mode that was such a big surprise success for its predecessor, in 24p, 25p, and 30p. For certain needs, such as for super-slow-motion, a 60p mode is available in 720p. The integrated microphone is mono, but one can use an external microphone for stereo recording, controlling the sound level via the meter on the screen, or  even better, via headsphones — because just like the Nikon D800 and D4, the Mark III offers a headphone jack. Video can be shot at high sensitivities at (announced) unparalleled quality and if the claims hold true, it’s on these grounds that the 5D MK3 will be able to challenge its competitors by offering direct access to 12,800 ISO and even to 25,600 ISO.

The video stream is encoded in H.264, leaving the choice of compression to the user:

  • LL-I:  all images are intracoded, meaning higher quality, but heavier compression.
  • IPB: One out of 10 images is coded, with one control image out of 3 so as to reconstruct missing image frames a posteriori. Lighter compression, but lesser quality.

And if you’re wondering... no, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III does not offer video output via HDMI nor RAW video recording. And no, the 5D Mark III doesn't offer full-time AF in video, just like the 5D Mark II.

Canon 5D Mark III connections

Videos are stored in a file allocation table (FAT) with a limit of 4 GB per file (around 12 minutes on average). However, the HDSLR stores the video and creates a new file every 4 GB without interrupting the recording.

Some DNA from the EOS 7D

This is what the “Canonistas” have been waiting such a long time for: the third-generation EOS 5D has finally borrowed some of the refinements that have made the the EOS 7D so attractive, to wit:

  • Its viewfinder with 100% coverage, a new pentaprism, a magnification of 0.71x, and an eyepoint of 21mm. As a means of being able to use the EOS 5D Mark III more quickly, it’s a success — as pleasant to use as a EOS 7D, and with a full-frame sensor to boot. Canon has integrated an LCD screen that delivers more information to the viewfinder such as the base (virtual horizon) and the vertical tilt of the camera.
  • Its double-layer iFCL exposure meter, with each layer measuring the brightness of a duo of colors.
  • Its construction in magnesium alloy with an exothermic design, tropicalization, and O-ring seals. The method of fitting the housing together is likewise borrowed from the 7D: the faces are not attached to one another directly, but rather by using a nested gasket. The EOS 5D Mark III is anti-runoff, further earning its chops as a pro reflex camera. Its finish is a significant leap forward in quality.
  • Canon uses the same battery for the EOS 5D Mark III as it has for the 5D Mark II and the 7D, the lP-E6 — good news for those already thus equipped. The autonomy of the Mark III increases by 100 images with respect to its predecessor for a total of 950 images per charge.

New ergonomic features 

  • The Canon EOS 5D Mark III’s user menu interface has been revised: it seems simpler and should provide much quicker access to desired functions and settings.
  • There is a new Live View activation button.
  • The activated collimator can switch by itself when one shoots in portrait orientation and one can also program in the orientation change point to save a little time.
  • In video mode, recording is triggered by using the shutter button, which permits the use of a wired remote.
  • Embedded editing: certainly very practical in the field, the EOS 5D Mark III provides a “rate” button for initial star-rating of photos while they are still in the camera. But that’s not all: one can also take advantage of the camera’s large 3.5-inch, 1,044,000-point screen to compare two images side-by-side, to zoom in, to compare histograms, and to compare the histogram of a selected part of a photo and that of the photo as a whole.
  • Even though this is a resolutely professional camera, the EOS 5D Mark III still offers an automatic mode with scene detection (iA+).
  • The shooting mode ring is locked via a pushbutton in its center.
  • A touch-key allows direct access to image styles, to HDR, and to multiple exposures.
  • The optional new grip incorporates an additional joystick.
  • Finally, the EOS 5D Mark III offers dual memory card slots, one for CompactFlash and another for SD/SDHC/SDXC with various storage options— by format (RAW or JPEG) and by content type (photos or videos)… in duplicate so as to keep data safe or for use as a backup when the first card is full.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III: price and availability

The 5D Mark III is now ready for launch; it seemed as if Canon had been waiting to see what Nikon was going to do in this market segment. The EOS 5D Mark III will be available the beginning of April, and — no joke — on April Fool’s Day at that. Its price will be confirmed in the course of the day, but it is expected to cost $3500. The Mark II will continue to be sold until the end of 2012 and can be found for under $2000.

New accessories

The release of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is enhanced by a complement of new accessories:

  • The new optional BG-E11 grip (but significantly, the reflex still uses the same LP-E6 battery).
  • Two new Speedlite flashes: 600EX and 600EX RT (radio frequency triggering), with a guide number of 60.
  • A Wi-Fi WFT-E7 module (802.11 a/b/g/n with Ethernet) operates with a LP-E6 battery (just like the 5D MKIII itself). The transmitter is Bluetooth-compatible as well as compatible with the EOS 7D (if updated). This module lets the camera interact with computers and smartphones or tablets via their browsers.
  • GP-E2: this new GPS receiver connects to the accessory shoe in place of the flash and adds geotagging information to photo and video EXIF metadata. It can also function in log mode, and can record your journey to within two seconds. In addition to longitude and latitude, it also records the azimuth.