My weekend with a Canon 5D mk3

Where to begin.  In September of 2008 Canon announced a long awaited update to the  Canon 5D.  The most disappointing thing about the Canon 5D mk2 was that the AF had not changed.  When Nikon was putting pro level AF into their D700, people were a little upset about that and Nikon gained some market share because of it.  I enjoyed shooting with my Canon 5D2’s for a LONG time.  I received both of my 5D2 cameras in November 2008 (if you remember, my first body broke within a few hours of using it…some weird mirror thing that had to be returned).  But, the addition of 14-bit color, better high ISO noise control and a slew of other features made the 5D2 a worthy upgrade.  I’ve shot a few hundred thousand images and can easily say it was a beautiful  camera.  I never let the poor AF be an excuse for me to not get any shots, but, I always wished it was better.

Enter the new Canon 5D mk3.  It was the camera we had all been waiting for.  A compact full-frame camera body that had pro AF at a reasonable price.  When the 1DX was announced, I was first shocked at the price, but then realized it was the camera of my dreams.  It had a LOT of other features I didn’t need but was willing to pay the price.  After a while I was slowly talking myself out of the camera, and along came the 5D3 which really was the “dream camera” that any portrait or wedding photographer could want.  Pro-level AF, amazing high ISO images, what more could I want?

I received (4) Canon 5D3’s this past Friday (ordered from 2 places, didn’t think they would ship on the SAME day) and I was elated.  I have shot a cumulative total of about 20 hours with the camera and have a pretty good feel for all its new functions.  To make a LONG story short, this camera is impressive.  Really impressive.

I have posted below some sample images to showcase some of the new strengths that it brings to the table, and also going over my experience shooting it during “real world” situations.  I’m never one to pixel peep and measure-bate, because its never likely those same conditions during a wedding.  While a lot of the internet review sites were posting spectacular shots of ISO6400 samples of a still-life in good light, it doesn’t always transfer to the same effect in a dark reception hall or at dusk.

While this is certainly not the most comprehensive review, hopefully some of these features can showcase why I am SO excited this camera is now real, in my hands, and kicking some serious butt.

Here goes.

1.  Auto-focus.  This is arguably the saving grace for this camera.  If it had anything less than the AF Canon decided to put in it, it would NOT be worth it’s price.  It’s not quite the full-blown 1DX AF system, but it has almost all the same bells and whistles.

The new menu system makes it easier and quicker to access a lot of the AF features.  The only ones I really needed to change were on menu AF4 (I really like how they number the submenu’s!).  It was easy to change the selectable AF points to only cross-type points (of which there are 41 from what I can count on the screen) and spread widely throughout a large portion of the viewfinder.  Only allowing cross-type means I’ll be getting a much better AF lock.  Happy camper.  They made it easy!  Then there are some sweet “AF area selection modes” which allow me to choose from Single-point Spot AF, Single Point, Expanded (single point plus 4 more), Surround (single point plus 8 more), Zone and All 61pt AF.  The menu allows me to select which AF modes I can toggle through as I’m using the camera.  Very cool.  Because I don’t shoot many moving objects, the ones that seemed most helpful to me were: Single, Expanded, Surround and Zone.

The M-Fn button next to the shutter button is my toggle between the modes.  Hit the AF selection button (back of camera, far right “thumb” button) and then use the M-Fn button to toggle through the modes.  Super fast and EASY.  Thank you Canon.

I’m also glad to see a feature they first introduced with the Canon 1D4.  The 5D3 now has orientation linked AF points.  If I’m shooting in a landscape orientation, it saves the AF point.  If I switch to Portrait orientation, it has its own AF point.  And, by pressing the multi-controller joystick in the center (which would select the center point), hitting it again goes back to the registered AF point.  AWESOME.

AF lock confirmation illuminates the entire viewfinder and makes it very clear when it has locked.  I did find that in the dark reception halls it wasn’t as bright (weird, must have some auto brightness setting, even though I turned that ON in the menu).  Bright sunny outdoor shooting also made it harder to see.  So even though I set the AF5 menu option to ‘ON’, it still seems to be implementing some “auto” dimming of the AF illumination points.

To summarize, the AF on this camera is AMAZING.  It really is.  AF lock is fast and VERY accurate.  I shoot a lot at f/2-f/2.8.  I like shallow DOF and use it a lot, so the 5D2 made focus and recompose a little tricky sometimes.  With the 5D3, I get VERY accurate lock even at f/1.4.  I’ve enjoyed shooting this camera at f/1.4 a LOT and haven’t been disappointed yet.  A few examples below (processing is VERY minimal here, just exposure/contrast, NO sharpening added).

I did notice in low light scenes that the AF seemed to take a bit longer to lock focus.  But, it did lock and it was in focus.  Still need more time with the camera to assess other variables that could have been in play.

high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images
high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images
high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images

Also, the camera seems to lock on VERY well even in bad flare, something the 5D2 could NEVER ever do.  I was crossing my fingers the 5D3 would be better at this, and I’m glad to report that I’m happily surprised that it does, and it does it VERY well.  A few examples below.

high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images
high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images

On a side note, the new “Q” button which goes into the camera buttons that the 5D3 allows you to customize, the DOF preview button (now located on the right side of the lens–YES!) can be set to “ONE-SHOT <> AI SERVO” toggle.  I shoot a lot in ONE-SHOT because I shoot portraits.  But now I can hold down the DOF preview button and it goes to AI-SERVO instantly.  I LOVE this.  Now if I need to track motion really quick, I don’t need to do 3 button clicks to get there.  Super fast and conveniently placed.  Awesomeness.

 

2.  High ISO.  I’ll be straight with you.  I don’t have “real world” examples of 12800 or above, but based on some simple tests around the office and at home, 12800 is BEAUTIFUL.  I mean, wow, it will make every 5D2 shooter cry their eyeballs out.  While the proof is in the pudding (samples below), the main notable comments in comparison to the 5D2 is that there is NO MORE BANDING.  I never had a real problem with the 5D2 and high ISO banding, but it was there.  I can see NO noticeable banding from the 5D3, period.  THANK YOU.

Even at 6400 there is still a LOT of detail and sharpness in the image.  The images below aren’t the sharpest images to begin with (softish lenses), but its MILES ahead of the 5D2 in quality.  6400 is as clean as butter.  I’d say it’s equal to the same quality the 5D2 gave me at 800.  And it pushes VERY well.  If I underexposed a 5D2 image, it will give me ‘grittier’ noise that wasn’t always pleasant.  Now with the 5D3, you can push an image and easy 2 stops and it doesn’t look any different than one that is well exposed.  The detail is there, the shadow detail is there.  The image below shows a 2 stop increase in exposure (ACR 6.1 processed) with no noise reduction, ISO3200.  At 100% you can see some noise, but it doesn’t look bad AT ALL.  I like it in fact.  3200 is just incredible.

With the 5D2 I’d prefer to shoot at 1600 rather than 3200 if possible, and under-expose one stop and bring it up in post.  I liked that quality better than 3200.  Now, I wouldn’t hesitate one minute shooting at 6400 on the 5D3, it’s that good.

Click on the photos below to show the FULL resolution:

ISO 6400
high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images
ISO 3200
high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images
ISO3200
high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images

3.  Screen.  I remember when I bought my first 1Ds mk3.  It was before the 5D2.  I loved it.  At the time it was an incredible camera.  But the screen SUCKED.  I then went to shooting with 5D2s (price was definitely a factor) and was very happy.  We all knew the 5D2 had a beautiful screen, and we all love it still.

Imagine the same jump in quality between the 1Ds3 and the 5D2.  The 5D3 obliterates the 5D2 in screen quality.  Seriously, this thing is like a beautiful retina display.  The colors, sharpness, dynamic range, wow, it’s just beautiful.  The 5D2 looks like utter crap in comparison.  3.2” is a great size, and while I won’t appreciate the new dimension ratio, I’m sure the video guys will.

While I have no scientific data to prove it, the dynamic range is a welcome surprise on the screen.  It just seems to show me shadow detail and highlight information much more accurately.  It’s very visible.

While not directly associated with the screen, the new preview method of zooming in is different.  When I got to play with a 1DX at WPPI, I didn’t like the change.  All of the zooming is done with buttons next to the screen, but now that I have it I REALLY like it.  Press play to show the image, then the magnification button above it will jump to a specific magnification size that you can set in the menu.  My one complaint is I would like to jump to 8x and have it center on the AF point.  Currently the menu only gives you ONE option to zoom to the AF point, and its on the 100% zoom setting.  I’d like to have it zoom out a little further (like 8x), but have it focus on the AF point as well.  Hopefully this will come via firmware update and new menu options.  It gives you 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x and 10x, but they are all zoomed to the center.  Rarely, if ever, is the information I want to zoom in on at the center.  Please Canon, give us more control.

 

4.  Flash exposure.  This is something that I believe the 1DX will do even better at, with the ability of the camera to expose for faces (because it has face detection), and when using a flash being able to detect if the face is properly exposed or not…ignoring bright backgrounds and exposing for the face.

I’m not entirely sure that the 5D3 has this same technology, but, when using my 580EX flash for bounce (or direct flash, gasp!), it seems to give me a much more accurate exposure, and much more consistent as well.

I use a hybrid system of off-camera lights plus direct camera flash for my reception/dance photos.  I want to drag the shutter a bit and have my off-camera + on-camera flashes freeze them at the same time.  With a 24mm lens, my on-camera flash is set to a 70-80m zoom setting which adds some vignetting.  With the 5D2 exposures would be much less consistent from shot to shot.  With the 5D3, they are all much much closer in exposure than before.

high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images

 

5.  Battery life.  This is something the 5D2 did very well.  I could easily shoot a solid 1500-1800 frames on one charge.  While I’m still testing it out, I feel like I have to change the batteries more often on the 5D3, but here are a few things to consider:

I’m shooting with an SD card and CF card.  CF card gets the full RAW, and SD card gets the Large JPG (highest quality).  So I know the camera is doing more work.  A few shots on the battery charge were with the new HDR feature and Multiple Exposure feature.  But, I feel like battery life has dropped 25% or so in comparison to my 5D2.  Batteries are cheap and I’m glad they kept them the same, so maybe I’ll pick up an extra 2 just in case.

 

6.  Mode Dial.  It has a lock.  It is VERY welcome…thats all.  Not quite, because the Custom Mode banks are VERY handy.  Previously on the 5D2 they were terrible.  You would register your settings to whichever mode you wanted them on.  It was cool on paper, but terrible in application.

If I had a setting for “low light”, and registered it to: f/2, 1/60, ISO 1600, thats what it would be at.  But if I’m shooting in C1 with my “low light” settings, and I adjust my exposure because it got darker, and THEN switched to C2 and back to C1, C1 would pull up the “registered” setting, and I’d have to dial in my exposure settings again.  Stupid.  I never used them because of that.

When the 1DX was announced that the C modes would be “smart”, and remember the last settings you had before switching out of the C mode, I got really excited.  Finally a useable C mode!  Now I can set C1 to the same “low light” setting, but if I go to C2 and back to C1, C1 now will have remembered my new exposure settings!  WIN.

It’s handy to have an AV mode set with a custom AF zone or drive mode as a C mode.  Just switch to it and you’re ready.  THANK YOU CANON.

 

7.  Creative Options.  I don’t know the official name for it, but I’ll call it the “creative button”, which is located just below the “Menu” button near the top left of the rear LCD screen.  This is where you can set your Picture Styles, and also navigate between the “Multiple Exposure” and “HDR” menus.  Both sounded gimmicky when I first read about them on the 1DX, but really they work VERY well.  A pat on Canon’s back for getting something right the first time!

The one I’m most excited about is the “Multiple Exposure” options.  I’ve always wanted to be able to expose multiple times on a single image, like you could on film (accident or not).  This new feature allows me to stack multiple images into ONE image, AND it gives me a RAW file!  I’ve only tried the “Additive” option, and stacked as many as 8 images together.  Set the drive to 6fps and shoot away.  Below is an image, while possible in one single “long” exposure (2 seconds or so) with multiple flash pops, the Multiple Exposure settings just made my job much easier.  It does take a few seconds of processing power, but man, it’s pretty slick!  I was very happy to see this feature because no one else was talking about it.  But, its a feature that will get good use out of me!

high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images

Everything else.  Here is a mental dump of the rest of my experience using this camera.

-The Rate button looks and works pretty well, allowing you to quickly rate images from 1-5 stars.  I’m crossing my fingers Adobe Lightroom will be able to access this metadata upon import.  If I shoot an image and its my favorite, rating it is one button now, which will help me go back in post and access it quicker.

-The Main Dial (on back of camera, controls our aperture) is much quieter and the clicks are firmer.  It’s a noticeable change.

-The location of the power switch has changed, no more accidentally hitting the power button when its at your side!

-The Live-View button is now easy to push if you’re holding the camera with one hand.  It seems to actuate much quicker than the 5D2 as well.  I also appreciate that its a mechanical switch to toggle between live-view ONLY and movie mode.

-Custom file naming!  I can now set how I want my files to be named, just like the big-boy 1D cameras could in the past.  Very welcome addition.

-The menu system is much easier to navigate.  Previously they were filled with lots of sub-menus, now the submenus are brought out into view and quicker to access the changes you need to access.

-The viewfinder can now show a grid!  YES!  It’s something you turn on and off, very cool.  The only nitpick is that the horizontal lines are not divided by 3…so it doesn’t show you the “rule of thirds” lines.  Kinda annoying, but still very welcome.

-Spring loaded doors.  Both the battery door and memory card door are spring loaded, so they want to jump open now :)

 

Complaints:

-There still is NO way to manually set your flash curtain sync.  With the 5D, it was a menu option regardless of what was sitting in your hot-shoe.  With the 5D2, you could only set 2nd-curtain sync when a Canon Speedlite was in the hot-shoe.  So if I’m using off-camera strobes and will be dragging the shutter (like the reception shot above), I cannot manually set the camera to fire the flash at the 2nd curtain.  GIVE US 2ND-CURTAIN SYNC CANON.

-There are a few times when its either really bright, or really dark, that the AF point illumination is very hard to see.  There is a setting in the menu for this…Auto, On, or Off.  Auto apparently will determine the exposure and set how bright the points are.  On, assumingly, will make them illuminate brightly regardless of the lighting.  Mine is set to On, but sometimes its very faint.  Bug?

-I had never heard of “Spot AF” before.  Apparently the 7D had it, but the 1D4 did not.  So when I first read the menue item of “Spot AF” point, I assumed they finally added the ability to Spot Meter on a single AF point.  Nope, I was wrong.  Spot AF is just a smaller AF point inside a single AF point.  While that is welcome, whey can’t we have the ability to Spot Meter on a single AF point?

 

 

Overall, the camera feels better in the hand.  The rubber has more grip, the body feels a bit heftier and more solid.  The button layout is very logical and easy to use.  I’d like to call it a 5D3, but I feel that the magnitude of the upgrade from the 5D2 is much more substantial.  At $3500 this camera is a STEAL.  Buy it.  You will love it.

high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images
high iso sample 5D3 5D mk3 mkiii images

PS – Images are hosted on Flickr, hope its fast enough!

Leave a comment:

26 Comments

  1. March 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm ·

    Thanks Spencer for your thoughtful review. It was a great read, and helps me make that decision to upgrade. You shared some things I didn’t know the camera had. I also appreciate you sharing your samples. Would love to see what it does at 12,800 in low, natural light.

  2. March 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm ·

    Great review! I am surprised the silent shooting did not make it on your list. It’s one of those small things, but I love it…

  3. Spencer
    March 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm ·

    Joel, yes the silent shooting mode is nice, but I think the 5D3 is already quieter than the 5D2 so I didn’t need it much.

  4. March 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm ·

    Nice writeup, I will have to start saving my pennys

  5. March 27, 2012 at 2:14 pm ·

    Very nice! I must get me one of these cameras!

  6. March 27, 2012 at 2:38 pm ·

    Since Joel is the techno geek of the two of us :) I only skimmed the review,(however I’m sure it’s awesome!) but I love the photos.

  7. March 27, 2012 at 8:30 pm ·

    Awesome, thanks for the detailed write up! Definitely great to hear the camera is working out.

  8. Davo
    March 27, 2012 at 9:54 pm ·

    Thanks for great review Spencer!
    Just a bit confused about the ISO 6400 photo, that looks quite noisy and not even better than the 5D2′s ISO 6400, let alone ISO 800

  9. March 28, 2012 at 1:58 am ·

    Thank you very much for this review! I appreciate all the details and the examples! One questions please: where did you buy your cameras from? Everywhere I checked, it said it was back ordered.
    Thank you again!

  10. March 28, 2012 at 7:14 am ·

    wow I am so glad the camera is worth it, Just not worth it to me for the price right now. When the price drops about a grand Ill pick one up!

  11. Jr
    March 28, 2012 at 8:12 am ·

    Thx for the writeup Spencer…how did you find the files at ISO 100-400 as compared to the 5D2?

  12. March 28, 2012 at 11:05 am ·

    Thanks for the review. Just the sort of stuff I was hoping to get insights on. I shoot a lot of available light only and this camera is going to answer a lot of needs for me.

  13. March 29, 2012 at 9:57 pm ·

    Great review Spencer and interesting to hear you elaborate on some areas of the camera that I haven’t seen discussed before, such as multiple exposure etc. The main upgrade reason for me is AF as at the moment my 5D MK2 wont even hit focus at certain distances from subject. Keep it up!

  14. Spencer
    March 29, 2012 at 10:26 pm ·

    Cosmin – I bought 2 from Pictureline.com, and 2 from B&H Photo
    Chicago – 100-400 looks the same, which is good :)

  15. March 30, 2012 at 3:43 am ·

    Great review, just what I needed…a review from a wedding photog. Kinda wish I hadn’t bought 2 5d2s in december, but I’ll compliment it with a mk3 later this year!

  16. March 30, 2012 at 11:21 am ·

    Thanks for the in-depth, real world write up. While I have enjoyed seeing the “staged” sample images, these are so much more valuable. Now, if my two mk3s will just get here!

  17. March 31, 2012 at 8:14 am ·

    Thanks for the review, good job.

    I’m tempted, but will wait a bit for the price to drop. Do you find yourself using the extra cross type focus points during a wedding? I’m afraid, that I’d buy the camera and still only use the centre focus point.

  18. April 1, 2012 at 8:37 pm ·

    great review spencer. I’m super stoked on the multiple exposure function. you’re the first person i’ve seen to show an actual real world example of it in action. I can see some very cool creative possibilities opening up with this feature :)

  19. Kimberly
    April 5, 2012 at 10:07 am ·

    Thank you for your review!

  20. April 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm ·

    Totally changes wedding work, frighteningly good :)

  21. May 24, 2012 at 8:06 pm ·

    Wonderful review!! On the topic of rating your favorite images, I have tried to view my ratings in Lightroom but it doesn’t seem to recognize this metadata. I was curious if you had the same problem, or if you have come up with a workaround! Thanks :0)

  22. Roy
    June 9, 2012 at 3:59 pm ·

    Loved the review and with a few extra points I haven’t come across in other write-ups, gives me extra confidence that I have made the right choice for me in ordering one as my fisrt “full frame” DSLR.

  23. October 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm ·

    Great review all in all but I’m not sure about your iso findings.i would say it is only half a stop better than the mk2.But all the other pluses make it a worthy upgrade.

  24. November 7, 2012 at 8:58 pm ·

    Spencer,

    thanks for putting this great review together.. i bought myself one and used it today, totally rocking..

    the shutter feels and sounds fast, like the 40D, also the LCD is just what you said, Retina Display like..

    i haven’t tried out the high ISO yet, but it seems you have a liking towards its capablity..

    the one thing i don’t like is the view button, i am so used to operating the view of the shot i just took with the patterns on the 5DMK2, now displaying the image on the LCD and zooming in wards with the spinning dial is weird.. :)

    thanks for the doing this review, i know it took some time to orgainize your thoughts, post up sample images, and doing it all so well too. you got a fan here..

    phamster

  25. November 21, 2012 at 6:09 pm ·

    thanks for the review! sounds like a great improvement over the mk2 which was already a great camera by itself!

  26. February 19, 2013 at 3:57 am ·

    Thanks for the writeup. The 5d iii is just awesome. My second shooter has a 5d iii and when processing my 5d ii files side by side, I almost shed a tear, they look awesome. My only worry with it (same as with my 1d iv) is the size of the autofocus points – on the mark 2 they were small enough to drop one right on someone’s eye, but with these bigger points, at any distance away they cover the entire face, so it’s a bit of a gamble as to what’s going to be in focus, the eye or the nose. Will I be saving up for one and trading in – yep!

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