The Canon EOS 5D Mark 3… Is it worth the hype?

Canon’s long-awaited 5D series successor to the 5Dmk2 has finally arrived. Aptly named the 5Dmk3, this full frame DSLR sports a 22 mega pixel sensor with an insane ISO capability of between 100-25,600 & full HD video capabilities. The Mark 3 now comes with 61 point AF system with 41 cross sensor type AF. A vast array of improvements include a headphone jack for video, customizable AF system & a reworked menu system, not to mention built-in HDR & multi exposure capabilities.

But before I continue, I’d like to mention that this is not a camera review. I am not going to touch on all aspects of the camera. Just the ones which I think matter to some people who may be looking to upgrade from their 5Dmk2 or 7D DSLRs. I prefer to focus on things that improve the cameras usability rather than image quality or ISO performance. All this is good, but I feel a camera is an extension of oneself which allows us to create photographs. I will try to talk more about such aspects when compiling my thoughts on this latest version of the Canon 5D series.

Noteworthy improvements

1. Auto focus accuracy & customizability

I don’t care for 61 AF points to be honest. What I do care for is the AF speed & accuracy. I shoot mainly with a Canon 50mm f/1.2 L so the slightest misfocus will render an image unusable. I’ve suffered intensely when using this lens at anything wider than f/2.0 on any DSLR. On the Mark 3, even at f/1.2, the focus is accurate & the images at this aperture is tact sharp. The Mark 3 will certainly make many prime lens shooters very happy!

2. Improved ISO range

On my 7D & my old 5Dmk2, I dare say I shoot up until ISO 3200. I’ve only really shot 1 photo at ISO 6400 using the Mark 2 while I was at a Chinese opera performance last year. On the Mark 3, the ISO range has improved a further 2 f-stops to a usable ISO 12,800.  The noise levels for ISO 25,600 is much like the old ISO 6400 on the Mark 2, which to me is rather poor. That said, the camera can still churn out pretty darn usable shots at ISO 12,800. Kudos to the Canon engineers who made this happen!

3. Automatic correction of lateral color fringes

Purple fringing was a huge problem when shooting using the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L on the 5Dmk2. The problem becomes very apparent when shooting against strong back lighting, like for instance, the bright sky behind some branches & leaves. Post processing was a nightmare & even after removing the purple tint, the images looked as if layered incorrectly on top of each other at the corners. This is a big improvement especially for those shooting with the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L & the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L II.

4. Silent mode

This is by far my favourite feature on the Mark 3. Turning off the focus beep & enabling the silent mode… I can shoot without disturbing others & is extremely useful when doing street or candid photography. I personally do quite a bit of street & candid photography so this function is god given! Of course in this mode, the continuous shooting speed is reduced. However in single shot mode, you will hardly notice a difference in the speed of execution.

5. Flash sync. speed in Av mode

You can now flash sync. your Av mode to between 1/60 sec – 1/200 sec variable, or hard set it to 1/200 sec. Aperture priority shooters like myself will love the ability to control this!

6. Other improvements

Other improvements include the ability to set your exposure bracketing to 7 exposures, improved ergonomics especially the thumb grip, headphone jack & touch sensitive rear dial while shooting video.

What still needs work!

1. The playback review after each shot

The playback review after each shot is very limited & prevents you from flipping between shots. In fact the only thing you can do is to switch from the different previews (eg. exposure information & histogram) & zoom in/out. If you wanted to compare sharpness between 2 shots by zooming in & then turn the dial to the next photo… you can’t! You need to press the PLAY button which will temporarily bring the playback mode out & in again!? To me this crippling effect is dumb & is an oversight by the Canon menu designers.

2. The auto focus can sometimes slow you down

I don’t mean the auto focus speed, I mean the time it takes you to move your focus point from one place to another takes quite a while. You cannot hold the little joystick down to move the cursor. You actually have to click it each time to move 1 square… Great! Now with 61 AF points, you should get what I mean by SLOW! By the time you move your AF point, you would have missed the decisive moment. Nice work Canon!

Also the focus point do not light up when you are trying to focus on a subject. The red light does illuminate the viewfinder for a brief moment when focus locks, however before that the focus point is but a black square. When you try to focus in low light, you will have problems finding where the hell the bloody focus point is! This is inexcusable & folks are going to waste a lot of time figuring out where they positioned the focus point especially in low light or while focusing on dark surfaces!

3. No focus illuminator & no pop-up flash

There is still no focus illuminator on this version of the 5D series. Missing also is a pop-up flash for those nice to have moments when you need some fill-light.

4. Stupid RATE button!

I am dumbfounded! This must be the most useless button on a DSLR ever! Wait! You can customize it!… but only to protect files from being deleted. You cannot program it to do anything else other than protect & add stars to your photos. Face palm!

5. Not all lens correction information is loaded

Information on a popular lens like the 50mm f/1.4, is missing from the factory preload of lens data on the 5Dmk3??? Good thing is that you can install it manually. It just seems very odd that a popular lens like this is not factory loaded by Canon when they shipped the Mark 3.

My thoughts

Although the Mark 3 is still lacking in some areas, it remains a formidable upgrade for 5Dmk2 & 7D users. The AF accuracy & ISO performance is good enough as any to justify getting the 5Dmk3. And for photographers who like being stealthy, the silent mode is a welcomed addition to the list of features available on this camera.

My verdict? Highly recommended!

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