In 1987 Canon unveiled the EOS 650 to the world. It was the Japanese manufacturer's first 35mm autofocus SLR and the start of the EOS system. With its fully-electronic lens mount, in-lens aperture and focus motors, and reliance on electronic button and dial operation, Canon's EOS system established a blueprint that all successive camera systems have followed. Now, 25 years later, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the latest model in the line.
Review based on production Canon EOS 5D Mark III with firmware v1.1.2
Up until now, the 5D series has been a dynasty of slightly unlikely revolutionaries. The original EOS 5D of 2005 was the first 'affordable' full frame SLR, and the camera that cemented the 24x36mm sensor as the format of choice for many professional applications at a time when many were questioning its continued relevance. The 5D Mark II was the first SLR capable of recording full HD video, a feature that revolutionized the market in a fashion that no one could possibly have envisaged at the time - least of all Canon. On the face of it, though, the latest model offers little that looks likely to make the same impact.
The 5D Mark III has a 22MP full frame sensor in a body that's based on the EOS 7D design, and with a 61-point AF system borrowed from the flagship EOS-1D X. From the glass-half-empty point of view, this could be seen as an unambitious update that trails disappointingly behind Nikon's 36MP D800 which was announced around the same time. But for those whose glasses tend more towards the half-full, it might just turn out to be the camera that 5D Mark II owners always really wanted.
Indeed the 5D name itself is almost misleading; compared to its predecessor the Mark III is essentially a completely new model, with every major system upgraded and updated. In a way it's better seen as a full-frame 7D, with that camera's control layout, extensive customizability and 63-zone metering sensor. But it also gains a raft of additional tweaks and improvements in response to customer feedback; these range from dual slots for CF and SD cards, through a locking exposure mode dial, to a large depth of field preview button that's repositioned for right-handed operation, and can be reprogrammed to access a number of other functions.
Read on to find out out how the 5D Mark III performs in our studio and real-life tests, how we liked its handling and operation and if it is the right camera for your requirements and type of photography.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III key specifications
- 22MP full frame CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-25600 standard, 50-102,800 expanded
- 6 fps continuous shooting
- Shutter rated to 150,000 frames
- 1080p30 video recording, stereo sound via external mic
- 61 point AF system
- 63 zone iFCL metering system
- 100% viewfinder coverage
- 1040k dot 3:2 LCD
- Dual card slots for CF and SD
Canon EOS 5D Mark III and II key differences
Most of the key specs are substantially upgraded compared to the 5D Mark II. The new sensor, coupled with Canon's latest DIGIC 5+ processor, offers a standard ISO range of 100 - 25,600 that's expandable to 50 - 102,800. An 8-channel sensor readout enables continuous shooting at 6 fps. The shutter is rated to 150,000 cycles and has been refined for quieter operation; the Mark III also inherits the 'silent' shutter mode previously seen on the 1D-series. Viewfinder coverage is a full 100%, and the 1040k dot, 3:2 aspect ratio 3.2" LCD screen has improved anti-reflection properties and a hardened glass cover to protect against scratching. And let's not forget that 61-point focus system from the 1DX - the first time Canon has put its top-spec AF sensor into a non-1-series camera since the film-era EOS 3.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
||22.3 MP full-frame CMOS
||21 MP full-frame CMOS
||50 - 102800
||50 - 25600
|Maximum shooting rate
||3.2" - 1,040,000 dots
||3.0" - 920,000 dots
|All-I and IPV video compression options
|Touch-sensitive rear dial
|Side-by-side image comparison
Movie mode turned out to be the 5D Mark II's trump card over its rivals, and its successor naturally offers improved capability in this regard. In terms of ergonomics, the camera gains the 7D's rear movie mode/live view switch, so you no longer have to compromise your stills Live View settings when setting up for video recording. There's a built-in headphone socket for audio monitoring, and rear control dial gains touch-sensitive 'buttons' that allow recording parameters (shutter speed, aperture, ISO and sound volume) to be changed silently. The video output specifications are essentially unchanged in terms of resolution and framerate (1080p30 maximum), but Canon says the processing is improved to minimise moiré and other artefacts, and has included the higher quality All-I and IPB interframe compression options introduced with the EOS-1D X. What you don't get though, is the uncompressed output over HDMI seen in the latest Nikon models.
There's a couple of entirely new features too; the 5D Mark III becomes Canon's first SLR capable of in-camera High Dynamic Range shooting, in an unusually well-implemented and flexible fashion, and gets expanded autobracketing options too (up to 7 frames covering a vast +/- 8 EV range). It can also record multiple exposures, if you so desire. The introduction of DIGIC 5+ means that JPEG processing (finally) includes chromatic aberration correction, based on lens profiles which are stored in-camera (and therefore limited to Canon's own lenses). Last but not least, playback mode adds the ability to compare images directly side-by-side, in a number of different views.
The 5D Mark III also gains a refreshed menu system, essentially based on that of the EOS-1D X. It's not entirely dissimilar to the 5D Mark II's (so existing users will still feel at home), but it gains a completely new tab for managing its complex AF system, based on a range of usage-scenario presets. The ordering of options has been rationalized, and a number of functions that were previously hidden deep within the custom functions have bubbled-up closer to the surface as top-level menu items, perhaps most notably mirror lockup and Highlight Tone Priority.
Canon EOS 1D X Feature Advantages Over the EOS 5D Mark III
- More advanced metering system (100k pixel, 252 zone RGB vs 63 zone iFCL)
- EOS iTR AF (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition AF including facial recognition)
- Frame rate is 2x faster (12 fps vs. 6 fps)
- Higher frame burst rating (RAW: 38 vs. 18)
- AF point-linked spot metering and Multi-spot metering
- Faster AF driven by more powerful battery pack (with select Canon L lenses)
- EV 0-20 Metering range (vs. EV 1-20)
- Higher native ISO settings available (51200 vs. 25600)
- Higher expanded ISO settings available (204800 vs. 102400)
- Less high ISO noise
- Faster X-sync speed (1/250 vs. 1/200)
- Dual DIGIC 5+ processors plus DIGIC 4 processor dedicated to AE functions
(5D III has a single DIGIC 5+ processor and a non-specified AF-dedicated processor)
- Higher battery life rating (1,120 vs. 950 shots)
- Higher shutter durability rating (400,000 vs. 150,000 cycles)
- Higher viewfinder magnification (.76x vs .71x)
- Shorter viewfinder blackout time
- Viewfinder provides more nose relief from LCD (less nose spots on LCD)
- Has a viewfinder shutter
- Built-in Ethernet Port
- More advanced self-cleaning sensor
- Better Weather Sealing
- Built in vertical grip
- Accepts optional focus screens
- 7 LCD brightness levels (vs. 3)
- More custom functions (31 vs. 13)
Canon EOS 5D Mark III Feature Advantages Over the Canon EOS 1D X
- Price (a big advantage for most of us)
- Higher resolution (22.3 mp vs 18.1 mp)
- In-camera HDR mode
- Headphone jack
- Lighter weight with lighter battery
- Compatible with Canon wireless infrared remotes such as the RC-6
- Quieter shutter (my memory/expectation - no side-by-side testing done yet)
If you see one or more must-have 1D X features, you can go directly to the Canon EOS 1D X Review. Otherwise, let's dive into the core of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III review - starting with a look at the new sensor and the image quality it delivers.
* DLA (Diffraction Limited Aperture) is the result of a mathematical formula that approximates the aperture where diffraction begins to visibly affect image sharpness at the pixel level. Diffraction at the DLA is only barely visible when viewed at full-size (100%, 1 pixel = 1 pixel) on a display or output to a very large print. As sensor pixel density increases, the narrowest aperture we can use to get perfectly pixel sharp images gets wider.
DLA does not mean that narrower apertures should not be used - it is simply the point where image sharpness begins to be compromised for increased DOF and longer exposures. And, higher resolution sensors generally continue to deliver more detail well beyond the DLA than lower resolution sensors - until the "Diffraction Cutoff Frequency" is reached (a much narrower aperture). The progression from sharp the soft is not an abrupt one - and the change from immediately prior models to new models is usually not dramatic.
Check out this specific diffraction comparison example using the ISO 12233 chart comparison tool. The mouseover feature will show you the degradation at f/11 compared to f/5.6.
Impressive (best-available) image quality for a very reasonable price made the Canon EOS 5D Mark II the ideal choice for serious photographers (both enthusiast and professional) - and it is going to take more than an additional megapixel to convince people to buy a 5D III over a more-affordable 5D II (which has not been discontinued as of 5D III review time). Fortunately, there is much more to the 5D III.
Canon opted for only a small increase in megapixel count to maximize image quality - along with delivering the current record continuous shooting speed for a 20+ megapixel full frame DSLR of 6 frames per second.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the first full frame camera utilizing gapless microlens technology to hit the streets (though the 1D X was the first announced full frame DSLR with this technology). Gapless micro lenses insure that all light reaching the sensor is directed into a pixel well. A new photodiode structure also improves the photoelectric conversion rate. This of course all equates to better image quality.
After spending a huge number of hours evaluating the 5D III's image quality, I determined that the originally-included-in-the-box Canon Digital Photo Pro software version 126.96.36.199 had a problem. While 5D III RAW files were shown very sharp in the DPP Quick View window, the same files were noticeably softer when displayed in the Edit window - and were similarly soft when output to 16-bit TIFF files. This anomaly occurred when the "Viewing and saving RAW images" preference (in the "General settings" tab of the "Preferences" menu selection) was set to "High quality" (recommended/default/what-you-want-to-use).
With DPP version 188.8.131.52, this problem has been corrected. The take-away here is that you may need to download an updater for the out-of-the-box DPP software you receive with your 5D III
For historical purposes, here is a demonstration of the original DPP problem.
With corrected software in place, I can continue the Canon EOS 5D Mark III review.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III's small additional resolution over the 5D II can be seen using the mouseover feature in this Canon EOS 5D Mark III vs. 5D Mark II resolution comparison using an enhanced ISO 12233 Chart. While the resolution increase can be seen in this comparison, the difference is not huge. Of course, the 5D II had excellent resolution itself.
Below is a 100% crop comparison between the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, Canon EOS 7D and the Canon EOS 5D (missing ISO 100 and 200 results).
Evaluating and comparing DSLR image quality is very difficult - in part, due to the various imaging pipelines involved. My goal for this comparison is to get as close to the data coming off of the sensor as possible - removing all software enhancements - especially since these enhancements can typically be done on a computer as well as in the camera. I want to see what the camera itself can do.
The following test images utilized an identical camera setup, identical targets, identical lighting, identical framing and identical processing with all noise and other optional in-camera processing turned off.
Manually-exposed images were captured from a Foba Gamma Studio Camera Stand-mounted Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens set to 100mm and a below-DLA aperture of f/6.3. RAW images were captured with Auto White Balance, the "Neutral" Picture Style and again, absolutely no noise reduction (a key factor). RAW file conversion was done using Canon's Digital Photo Pro (DPP) using the "Standard" Picture Style and Sharpness set to "1" (very low).
DPP (free/included) is easy to use and delivers image quality as high as or higher than any other RAW converter available (though more full-featured and easier/faster/nicer to use software is available - such as Adobe Lightroom). Another DPP benefit is that the latest Canon camera models are always supported. RAW images were converted to 16 bit .TIF files and Photoshop CS5 "Save for Web" was used to create the 70% quality .JPG crops shown below.
Lighting is from a crazy-hot 4000 watts of Photoflex Starlite tungsten lights in a pair of daylight-balanced Photoflex SilverDome softboxes.
With those details out of the way, let's review the comparison images. There are over 12 MB of files required to be downloaded to make all of the links in this review function properly - please be patient while they load.
And again, this test gets us as close as possible to the image quality delivered directly by the sensor. With the 5D III, Canon promised an about-2-stop advantage over the 5D II and has said that much of this improvement is due to sensor design improvements.
Obviously, the 5D III has two higher ISO settings available than the 5D II does, but ... I haven't been able to think of a scenario that the 5D III's extended ISO 51200 and 102400 setting image quality would be acceptable for - even with noise reduction added (below). As usual, the camera manufacturer's highest ISO settings are apparently only for marketing.
On a direct ISO setting comparison basis, the 5D III's noise improvement over the 5D II is not remotely close to two stops at any ISO setting. Honestly, I really I didn’t expect it to be. This technology is not changing that fast – and Canon didn’t release any disruptive technology in this case. Still, better than what was excellent before is positive. I do see some improvement in the 5D III's high ISO noise - especially in the highest comparative ISO settings - the bar has been raised.
Note that, if you can't see a difference in these comparisons, it is unlikely that you will see a difference in your images.
Noise reduction is generally available to any image during post processing but continues to get plenty of in-camera attention from Canon - and in-camera noise reduction is more typically where large high ISO noise improvement figures are derived from.
I wanted to take a closer look at noise reduction in the 5D III. Following are four noise reduction scenarios along with a set of sans noise reduction images (same as shown above).
The "Manual NR in DPP" examples were captured identically to the without noise reduction samples. Noise reduction was then applied in DPP to match the in-camera "Standard" noise reduction settings which are represented next as "NR In-Camera". "Auto DPP NR" shows the amount of noise reduction being automatically applied by DPP when this DPP preference is enabled, which, as seen in the chart below, matches the settings used by the 5D III when "Standard" noise reduction is selected with the JPG image format - "NR In-Cam JPG".
The chart below shows the noise reduction settings use for the NR sample images. NR settings are expressed in Luminance,Chrominance format.
The first two example sets below utilize the Standard Picture Style set in DPP (Neutral was used in-camera). The last three examples utilize the Standard Picture Style in-camera.
All examples again use sharpness set to "1" (very low). The last two use in-camera sharpness settings of "1", which convert to Strength:(1), Fineness:(7), Threshold:(7) in DPP (different than DPP's Sharpness = "1").
Hopefully that was not too confusing - or that I can clear all of this up in the summary below the Canon EOS 5D Mark III noise reduction sample images presented here.
Here are some take-aways from this comparison:
Noise reduction can definitely improve image quality at higher noise level ISO settings. But, noise reduction is destructive - especially in terms of image sharpness.
The "Manual NR in DPP" and "NR In-Camera" results appear the same to me - the process of adding noise reduction during post processing does not appear to be disadvantaged.
The last two examples are using the in-camera sharpness setting of "1" (very low) - and both show significant oversharpening - especially at the lower ISO settings. Look for the strong halos around the color blocks and other details. Again, these examples were shot using the low "1" in-camera sharpness setting. The RAW images are sharper than the JPG images and, even with identical noise reduction settings, the JPG images show less noise than the RAW in this comparison.
Basically, you are given the ability to tune your images - and the camera's default settings may not be the best for all situations. My advice is to shoot in RAW and dial in your shots as desired for each situation.
Important is to remember that, when viewing images from any camera, the settings used to produce those images can completely change their appearance. Someone (Canon, Nikon or another individual) had to make choices for the settings selected to capture and/or process those images. Those choices may or may not have been good ones for the specific examples shown.
The 5D Mark III's ISO 51200 and 102400 remain a complete mess even with strong noise reduction applied - You have to be desperate to use these settings. ISO 12800 and 25600 remain very marginal for my uses. I always shoot in the lowest standard ISO setting that will allow me to get my desired shot, but begin to cringe when settings above ISO 3200 must be employed. Your standards and applications may be different.
Here is another comparison example that includes fine details that better-hide high ISO noise.
Notice the 5D III's improvement in high ISO image quality over the 5D II.
Typically, more resolution brings out more details in the fabric - this is especially noticeable at low ISO settings. The 5D III does not have significantly more resolution than Canon's previous resolution leader, the 5D II, but the 5D III results show a noticeable increase in visible fabric detail - indicating that very good pixel-level detail is being delivered by the 5D III.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III images can be further improved in-camera or in DPP with Picture Styles, the Auto Lighting Optimizer, High ISO NR, Color Spaces, Peripheral Illumination Correction, Distortion Correction and Chromatic Aberration Correction.
Also available to 5D III RAW files via the latest off DPP is a new feature called the Digital Lens Optimizer. When a compatible lens is used (initially, 29 are compatible), the following lens corrections will be made to an image: spherical aberration, astigmatism, sagittal halo, curvature of field, chromatic aberration (both kinds), diffraction and the effects of a low pass filter on an image.
Note that DLO-corrected RAW file sizes will grow 2 to 3 times their original sizes while DLO is turned on for them. My example 5D III .CR2 file size went from 25 MB to 50 MB. DLO is a non-destructive option for a RAW file - it can be removed and the file size returns to normal.
Also large is the download for the entire 29 (this number will grow) lens profiles - about 500 MB. Most would only need to download a small subset of the available lens profiles.
A big advantage of shooting in RAW format is that you often benefit from improvements that come long after the picture was taken (especially those in DPP). The DLO feature within DPP can be used on all RAW files taken with Canon EOS cameras released since 2006 including, if I understand it correctly, the Canon EOS 30D. Have a favorite shot from years ago that you would like to improve? Perhaps DLOing-it is the answer.
A new imaging option available on the 5D III is the ability to shoot multiple exposures - stacking between two and nine separate frames to create one single final image. Stacking settings available are Additive (like Multi-Exposure with film cameras - requires each frame to be underexposed), Average (automatically underexposes images for stacking), (Comparative) Bright (emphasizes bright areas) and (Comparative) Dark (eliminates bright areas).
When the 1D X was introduced with the "multiple exposures" feature, my mind immediately jumped to in-camera HDR (High Dynamic Range) - and I got excited. Only to be disappointed as HDR was not an ME option - and I don't see myself using this digitally-improved film-era technique. At least not in-camera. However, the 5D III does have a new HDR feature.
You can generate JPG HDR images directly in-camera using 3 base RAW or JPG images (which can optionally be retained). In HDR mode, the 5D III will capture 3 images with one shutter press and generate a JPG result image. The three base images are captured using automatic exposure bracketing or at a user-specified bracketing of +/- 1-3 stops along with base EV compensation.
I'm not sure why, but the mirror operates between each of the three exposures unless mirror lockup is used - but then a second (and blind) shutter release is required. The two second self-timer with mirror lockup delivers the three shots with the mirror locked up using only one shutter release press - the ideal solution if using a tripod.
Handheld HDR is supported with an Auto Align option. The downside to auto align is that your image is slightly cropped as demonstrated below. Be sure to allow for this cropping in your framing.
Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) has been supported in Canon EOS DSLRs for a long time (+/-5EV in 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments in two, three, five or seven-shot sequences for the 5D III), and the resulting images could be used for HDR processing - just not in-camera.
Exciting is that DPP once again mirrors this in-camera feature. This means that HDR processing in DPP becomes available for images captured with older EOS camera models. I immediately HDR'd some of my 1Ds III images - and am really pleased with what I see.
I have seen a LOT of HDR images that I don't like - and hand-processing of HDR images using layers in Photoshop has been my standard procedure. But, Canon's Natural HDR setting with some contrast adjustment is going to get used by me. It delivers a very nice, realistic, HDR image. Here are examples of the available HDR presets based on a two-bracketed-image 1Ds Mark III photo that has been sitting in my processing queue since last fall.
The water in the "Base +" image is blown (RGB value of 255,255,255 - solid white - no details), but the shadow details are picked up in this image. The shadows are blocked in the "Base -" image (RGB value of 0,0,0 - solid black - no details), but the highlight details are held. Combined, the right balance can be achieved.
Each HDR preset is highly configurable - I included a pair of modifications to the Natural preset in the examples above. I also include an auto-aligned example to show the cropping done by this function - from 1Ds III full size 5616 x 3744 px down to 5368 x 3778 px.
HDR is not right for all situations, but it rocks for many still life and landscape shots.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III picks up the in-camera RAW processing feature seen in Canon's latest DSLRs. I personally do not expect to ever use this feature - but I'm sure someone will find this to be the reason to upgrade from the 5D II.
A clean sensor is a strong contributor to good image quality. The 5D III inherits the 5D II's Integrated Cleaning System with the addition of a dust-avoiding fluorine coating. I have read in Canon documentation that the 5D III's self-cleaning sensor system incorporates a more efficient ultrasonic vibration but I'm not certain that this is correct. It was perhaps copied in from 1D X documentation.
I have changed lenses on my 5D III a huge number of times and have not needed to clean the sensor since I blew the single factory dust bunny out when the camera first arrived.
The new Auto Picture Style has landed in the 5D III. The Auto Picture Style is said to be especially effective with nature and landscape images (including those taken at sunset). I currently shoot in the Neutral Picture Style because of the low-contrast histogram it gives me, but will consider giving APS some attention in the coming days.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is delivering better Auto White Balance results - especially under tungsten lighting. No more red AWB results when shooting under this common indoor lighting. The violin recital sample picture later in this review shows AWB under tungsten lights delivering a precise match for the tungsten white balance setting.
Reaching new megapixel heights also means reaching new RAW file size records. The 5D III does not have a big increase in pixels over the 5D II - and the corresponding file sizes are not significantly increased.
The following table shows comparative RAW file sizes for a photo of a standard in-studio setup with a moderately high amount of detail taken with the referenced Canon EOS DSLR body.
Canon RAW file sizes increase with: 1. Resolution 2. Bit Depth (14-bit is better) 3. Detail (noise adds detail, so high ISO file sizes increase). Memory and disk are cheap - buy more. :)
Not surprisingly, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III receives the most-powerful-at-review-time Canon DIGIC processor - the 5+. The 5D III's single DIGIC 5+ processor is 17x faster than a DIGIC 4 and 30% faster than a DIGIC 5. It is used to power many of the features already discussed in this review - including moving massive amounts of data from the sensor and improved high ISO noise reduction (without a reduction in frame rate or burst depth).
If you ask me what the Canon EOS 5D II's biggest shortcoming was, I would have no trouble delivering the answer. It was the AF system performance. The 5D II still uses AF technology that was not top-of-the-line when it was installed in the original 5D - circa 2004. Low light AF performance was another popular 5D II complaint I have heard.
I was very successful with the 5D II's center AF point and the outer points worked OK in reasonable light, but better technology was definitely available. I have spent a lot of time helping people make purchase decisions between the price, speed and AF performance-advantaged EOS 7D and the image-quality of the low-light-ruling EOS 5D II. Yes, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III was available, but at a huge price premium.
I have to admit that my jaw dropped when I read the 5D III press release - the 5D III had the 1D X's impressive AF system - "... the most sophisticated DSLR AF system Canon has ever released." No way!
The new AF system is the Canon EOS 5D Mark III's biggest headline feature. I think the 5D III earns its price differential over the 5D II in this regard alone. I'm having very good success with it.
The images below show the 1D X AF point layout (similar to the 5D III) along with that of several other Canon EOS DSLRs.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III AF sensor is larger than previous AF sensors. The vertical measurement is 8mm, and the horizontal measurement is a huge 19mm - a dramatic improvement over the 5D II's spread. High AF point counts and densities are great, but it is the overall spread that often has more importance to me. For one example, the increased horizontal spread allows placement of an AF point on a person's head at a closer focus distance in vertical orientation. The more-rectangular layout is unique compared to the diamond and oval layouts EOS owners are used to.
After spending lots of hours behind the 5D III viewfinder, I have to say that I'm loving the new AF point layout. As expected, I especially love the larger spread it provides. I am finding the dense pattern more useful than I expected - especially because of the accuracy these points are delivering. And, I am finding the rectangular shape to be more useful as well. I am better able to frame non-centered subjects while avoiding a focus-and-recompose technique - a technique which of course does not work in AI Servo (continuous) AF mode.
This is how CPN describes the 1D X AF points (which are the same as the 5D III AF points):
"To improve focus accuracy, all 61 AF points feature a dual-line zigzag arrangement, as seen on three AF points within the EOS 7D. This arrangement provides the best aspects of both increased pixel pitch for finer precision and increased AF tracking speed with extra data points, without any of the drawbacks of either solution alone, allowing for both fast and accurate AF."
"Five of the central AF points, arranged vertically down the mid-line of the frame, function as Dual-Cross type AF points with lenses featuring an f/2.8 or faster maximum aperture (as seen on the central AF point of the EOS 7D). This means they are also arranged with a diagonally orientated AF point in an ‘X', plus a conventional horizontally and vertically arranged AF point, like a ‘+', offering increased focus precision."
"With lenses that have a maximum aperture of f/5.6, or faster, the central bank of 21 AF points will all function as cross-type AF sensors, and the left and right banks of 20 AF points each will act as cross-type sensors at f/4 and f/5.6."
"An advantage of the increased focus sensitivity is the ability to detect extreme defocus and correct accordingly. By using the whole AF sensor, where every point is vertical line sensitive at f/5.6 or greater, the lens can be refocused much more quickly than before. As part of this increased sensitivity, the EOS-1D X can now focus in even lower light levels than the EOS-1D Mark IV. Using a single central AF point with an f/2.8 lens, the EOS-1D Mark IV could focus in light levels of EV -1. However, the EOS-1D X is able to focus in EV -2, which is the equivalent of shooting under the light of the full moon."
It is hard to find a subject that is too dark or has too little contrast for the 5D III to focus on. This DSLR simply nails focus in nearly every condition I ask of it.
Like the Canon EOS 1D X and similar to the 7D, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III features six AF point selection modes: Spot, Single Point, Single Point with surrounding four points, Single Point with surrounding eight points, Zone selection and Automatic AF point selection (all AF points active). Spot AF activates a smaller section of the selected AF point for more precise focusing (Spot AF is not recommended for tracking action or for use in very low light scenarios). In Spot and Single Point AF selection modes, the viewfinder will visually indicate that a non-cross-type AF point is selected by flashing the selected AF point while an AF point is being selected.
In AF point expansion modes, the 4 or 8 AF points surrounding the selected AF point will be used to assist in subject tracking. In Zone AF mode, one of nine zones is selected and the 1D X will automatically select the AF point to be used within the selected zone.
Autofocus point selection can be orientation-specific. Separate AF points can be selected to correspond to the camera being positioned grip up, grip right or grip down. The grip-down orientation is about as useful to me as an upside down orientation would be. I can't remember the last time I released a shutter with the grip down.
But I love the orientation-specific AF point selection feature. Using a big prime, I can track an athlete in horizontal orientation using perhaps an AF point about 1/3 from the left. As the subject approaches and begins to fill the frame, I flip the camera to grip-up orientation and one of the top-most AF points is immediately ready to focus on the athlete's head.
Page 79 in the EOS 5D Mark III owner's manual begins lists of lenses that have reduced dual cross-type AF capabilities, from Group A - H. Interesting is that the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens, even with its f/2.8 aperture, can only utilize the center AF point as a dual cross-type point. The list of lenses that support no dual cross-type points is quite large - mostly f/4 max aperture lenses and lens + extender combinations. The 800 L lands in Group F, supporting only 47 AF points. Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6 L USM Lens owners will be disappointed with their group G placement - supporting only 33 AF points. The Canon EF 180mm L USM Lens also lands in this elite group.
Like the 5D Mark II, the 5D Mark III requires a max aperture of f/5.6 or wider for autofocus to function using fast phase-detection AF. Live View's much slower contrast-detection AF remains available for lenses with narrower max apertures.
The 5D III AF settings are highly customizable. Canon EOS DSLR AF settings historically are accessed via a custom function menu, but on the 5D III and 1D X, they are promoted to a full menu tab - and many sub-tabs. Expect to spend some time to become efficient with the menu options now available to you (the time spent will be worth it). Configuration settings include tracking sensitivity (how quickly AF jumps to another subject), the acceleration/deceleration of tracked subjects and AF point auto switching.
New with the 1D X and 5D III are AF presets. To reduce complexity of the 5D Mark III AF system, Canon provides six preconfigured (and easily changeable) AF "Case" settings for common shooting scenarios (with icons representing their intended purpose).
Case 1 (default) is for general purpose shooting.
Case 2 is designed for situations where the subject may move away from the AF point momentarily.
Case 3 will allow you to instantly focus on subjects that enter the AF point area.
Case 4 is designed for subjects that change speed or direction rapidly.
Case 5 is designed for use with automatic AF point selection, Zone AF and AF Point expansion and subjects that move erratically, up and down or left and right.
Case 6 is like a combination of both 'Case 4' and 'Case 5' and is for subjects that change speed abruptly and move erratically.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III receives the same-as-the-1D-X-upgraded predictive AI Servo autofocus algorithm. One stated change is that the initial subject will continue to be tracked even if the AF point is not on the subject for a short period of time - or if an object passes in front of the subject. I have found this implementation to be successful - being able to track soccer players through a goal net is one example of how this feature captured my attention. Another example I've encountered is that a relay runner's baton can pass through a selected AF point without focus leaving the runner's body. Tracking sensitivity is configurable of course.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III AF system inherits the 1D X light source detection technology. This is how CPN describes this feature:
"As first seen in the EOS 7D, the EOS-1D X features a light source detection system to improve focus accuracy under artificial lighting. Because of the higher resolution of the AF sensors, chromatic aberration within the optics could lead to focus errors because the different colours of light waves are focused at slightly different distances. However, because the camera is able to determine how much red/green or blue/green light there is in a scene, the AF system can adjust for any potential chromatic aberrations that may occur within the AF system. While this is useful in all shooting situations, the greatest benefit will be seen when shooting under artificial lighting."
CPN also described the 1D X's AF system durability:
"AF system materials used have been chosen to withstand high and low temperatures equally well, as well as conditions of high humidity. The sub-mirror of the AF system has also been modified from an elliptical shape, as found in the EOS-1D Mark IV, to a flat surface in order to provide higher AF stability."
The increased sensitivity of the focus system has also allowed for faster predictive focus measurements. Increased processing power is another factor to the 5D III's excellent AF performance - "The dedicated AF processor is four times faster than the one found in the EOS-1D Mark IV". In addition, there is no longer a warm-up period while the AF system begins tracking - unlike with all previous EOS models except the 1D X.
A properly AF-calibrated camera/lens combination is a requirement for accurate autofocus. AF tuning through AF Microadjustment has been available on the better Canon EOS bodies for years now, but the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, like the 1D X, takes AFMA a step forward.
The 5D III is now able to automatically (or optionally, manually) detect the serial number of the mounted lens, and therefore, it can differentiate between multiple copies of the same lens. This means that multiple copies of the same lens model can be individually calibrated to a single 5D III body. I know that this feature is not going to mean much to most individuals, but it can mean a lot to agencies, schools and other organizations that have a large pool of cameras and lenses available.
What might be more important to individuals is that the EOS 5D III now allows separate AF Microadjustment for both the wide angle and the telephoto settings of a zoom lens.
It has been suggested that the 5D III has a more-accurate in-focus indicator light. I compared the 5D III and the 1Ds III using a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM Lens and a Datacolor SpyderLensCal. This testing shows that the 5D III is, overall, equivalent to the 1Ds Mark III in its in-focus indicator light accuracy. So, no improvement here. The 5D III did perform slightly better when focusing from MFD toward infinity. The 1Ds III was slightly more balanced in its reading.
Fully evaluating a DSLR AF system takes an incredible amount of time. In summary, with over 5,000 actuations on my 5D III shutter, I'm still learning the system - but I'm very impressed with the 5D III's AF system's performance so far.
One Shot AF is of course much easier to implement than AI Servo AF - just as still subjects are much easier to frame than those in fast motion. And, the 5D III's One Shot AF has proven impressively accurate in my use.
I have given One Shot AF a solid workout with a wide range of subjects and lenses - including harassing the family dog and solid black cat with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM Lens at near MFD with a wide open f/1.2 aperture. Both pets are camera shy (it figures that a photographer's family would have camera shy pets) and are constantly moving when a lens is in their face - even when they are lying down. Every 5D III AF point I aimed at them nailed accurate focus every shot. I've tested the 5D III in many other situations and One Shot AF continues to perform consistently impressively.
AI Servo (continuous) AF is not only much harder to implement, but much harder to evaluate as the situations that can be presented to it can be infinitely different. Complicating this testing is that the 5D III AF system is incredibly configurable - offering 45 possible setting combinations on one AF menu alone. Multiply that figure by the number of AF points and the resulting factor by the available AF point selection modes and the resulting factor by the various lighting conditions and ... you start reaching a number that is overwhelming from an exhaustive AF testing standpoint.
As of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III review date. I have shot over 4,000 soccer, track & field and horse jumping action images with the 5D III and the impressive Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM and Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lenses mounted. Conditions I have shot in range from multiple light rain events and heavy clouds to full sun and with both backlit and front-lit subjects in fast motion.
As should be expected, experimentation leads to some less-than-perfect results. But when I dial in the right AF settings for the situations and do my part behind the camera, the 5D III's in-focus hit rate is very impressive. I'm excited by my 5D III AF experience to date. 5D III AF is definitely a big step up from the 5D II – especially in the peripheral AF points I think that the 5D III's AF system alone is worth the difference in cost from the 5D II.
For a Canon EOS 5D Mark III AI Servo AF example, we will go to the finish line of the girls high school 4x400mm relay. As you will see depicted in the first set of images below, a non-center AF point was selected.
The AF point examples are screen captures from DPP's Quick Viewer. There is no AF point available to cover the runner's face, but the chest-positioned AF point is as good as it gets in this situation. Before the 5D III, I usually used the center AF point only when shooting sports. While this technique can work, running subjects are often leaning forward - leaving their eyes forward of the point of focus (typically the runner's hips). Having impressive-performing AF points across the viewfinder is a huge benefit in situations like the one shown above.
This was a dark day with some light rain during the event, resulting in an ISO setting of 640 to get an action-stopping 1/1600 shutter speed at f/2.8 using a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens. The 100% crops are included to show that ideal focus being achieved - not to show the 5D III's ultimate image quality. These were processed using DPP's "High speed" (vs. High quality) preference (due to the DPP v184.108.40.206 bug) and no noise reduction was added. Only a light amount of sharpening was added to these cropped images.
For straight-on running subjects such as the above-portrayed athlete, AF Case 2 is working very well for me. If the eyes are not sharp, I usually throw the image away. As you can see in the example, every shot is a keeper in this regard. Even after the arm and baton passed by the AF point in example 2.
Also fortunate is that the second runner place is not yet in the frame. :)
The 5D III does not have any trouble tracking even the fast men's 100m dash participants at the finish line. And I'm hitting an in-focus rate approaching 100% with straight-on running subjects.
The 1D X, with it's 2x-faster frame rate, is going to capture many more running positions in this AF example. The 1D X also has a more powerful battery pack, enabling it to drive the lens AF motor even faster (the EOS 1D IV also has this advantage).
The other 1D X AF advantage lies in its metering system. The 1D X has an approximately 100,000 pixel RGB sensor and a dedicated DIGIC 4 processor for exposure metering. With this sensor and the power behind it, the EOS-1D X supports EOS iTR AF (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition) with face and color detection data made available for improved subject tracking while using automatic focusing point selection.
As seen in the EOS 7D, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III receives an iFCL (Focus, Color and Luminance) 63-zone (9x7 grid), dual-layer ambient/flash metering sensor. One layer is sensitive to red/green only, the other layer is sensitive to blue/green only. Color and luminance information gathered from the sensor is algorithmically combined with information from all AF points (selected and otherwise) to determine proper exposure. Evaluative, Spot, Partial and Center-weighted metering options are available.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III betters the 5D Mark II 3.9 fps frame rating by 50%, turning in a reasonable 6 fps frame rate. To accommodate the faster frame rate and to improve AF performance, the 5D III has a new, better-stabilized, mirror mechanism utilizing two independent motors (one drives the mirror and a second drives the shutter).
If relying on a frame burst to capture a key moment, 6 fps is 50% more likely to capture a key moment in time than the 5D II's 3.9 fps. For example, if you are following a tightly framed soccer player running fast down the field with the ball, the ball is going to be quickly in and out of the frame. I throw away most of the shots without the ball in them, so if using a camera with a 50% faster burst rate, I expect to get approximately 50% more player+ball potential keepers - or I have 50% more photos to select the best from.
Of course, the 1D X doubles even the 5D III odds. While most sports shooters have chosen the highest frame-rate 1D bodies, I love the subject-separating shallow DOF look the full frame sensors create for sports images and have been using the even-slower 5 fps 1Ds III to capture these events.
Pressing the shutter at the precise moment (instead of relying on a burst to capture the action) is of course another method for capturing the perfect shot. And for that purpose, the 5D III's short shutter lag is another important improvement over the 5D II. While the 5D III's 125ms mirror blackout time is not an impressive spec, its short 59ms shutter lag is only bested by 1-Series bodies.
The 5D III's available shutter speed range is 1/8000 to 30 sec. as well as bulb. The 5D III's X-sync speed is 1/200 sec.
As seen above, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III can utilize both SDHC/SDXC and CompactFlash memory cards. A sustained write speed of up to 167MB/sec is supported when a fast-enough memory card is used. The UDMA-7 Class-10 CompactFlash standard is supported, but the SDXC UHS-1 standard is not. Use UDMA-7 Class-10 CompactFlash for ultimate performance. I'm still using SDHC cards when speed is not important to me as it makes uploading easy via my laptop's built-in card reader.
Eye-Fi wireless/SDHC combo cards are officially supported via the 5D III's Eye-Fi menu. Also note that the memory card door now springs open when released - a welcome feature upgrade.
To test burst rate, I shoot in M mode (wide open aperture, 1/8000 shutter speed), ISO 100, MF, IS off, lens cap on and all noise reduction off. For this test, I used a SanDisk 32GB Extreme Pro UDMA-6 CompactFlash Card. Using this card, the 5D III delivers a far-above-rated 27 RAW frames at 6.1 fps and continues to shoot at 3.5 fps indefinitely.
I clearly specify which card I'm using because your card choice can make a dramatic difference in your 5D III buffer depth results. A fast UDMA-7 card such as the Lexar 1000x CompactFlash Cards will give you even more buffer depth while slower cards such as the Lexar Professional 133x SDHC Cards deliver substantially fewer shots in a burst.
Of course, when we read this Canon EOS 5D Mark III review in 5 years, UDMA-7 will probably be average or slow by that day's standards. The 5D III burst rate is not affected by the memory card speed - until the buffer is full.
Here are the Canon EOS 5D Mark III MP3 sound clips for your review.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III 6 fps Continuous
Canon EOS 5D Mark III 3 fps Continuous
Canon EOS 5D Mark III Single Shot
Canon EOS 5D Mark III Silent Single
Canon EOS 5D Mark III Silent Continuous (3 fps)
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, then 5D Mark III, 7D and then 1D Mark IV Burst Comparison
Though the 5D Mark III operates relatively quietly, two silent shooting modes, Silent Single and Silent Continuous, are now provided for very quiet operation. The Silent modes reduce the amount of mechanical noise produced by the camera in both single-shot and continuous shooting (3 fps only) options. Though "Silent" is not silent, the 5D III's Silent shooting modes are awesome - they noticeably quieter than normal operation and are significantly quieter than the 1Ds III Silent mode.
I have frequently utilized the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III's "Silent" shooting mode - especially when shooting music performances and other quiet events. Though the 1Ds III is quieter in this mode, it can still interfere with a performance. My photos are usually not the primary purpose of a performance, so I try to be very respectful of the event. I capture what I need without becoming a spectacle myself.
With the 5D III in Silent mode, I have a lot more freedom for shooting - allowing the capture of more than just the insurance shots. Below is an example of a successful creative shot that I would not have felt comfortable shooting enough exposures to capture with another DSLR.
This was my favorite image out of about 20 normally-dirty-looks-inducing exposures captured at a subject-motion-blurring 1/15 sec shutter speed. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens was used at 200mm and f/2.8 with the 5D III at ISO 160.
Perhaps the most significant downside to using Silent mode is that shutter lag is increased. This didn't bother me while shooting the recitals.
"Silent" will be especially welcomed by event and wedding photographers along with photojournalists. The 5D III's Silent mode will also be welcomed by videographers shooting the same events as photographers. And by those in attendance at the events.
Following is a visual example of a 6 fps capture sequence.
Because of their speed and bouncing motion, cantering/galloping horses are one of my favorite challenges to throw at a camera and lens. This subject of course challenges me as well. The 5D III and the mounted Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens are definitely up to this challenge.
Though not a big worry for all but the most prolific shooters, firing a faster frame rate increases the actuation count at a faster rate. And shutter mechanisms continue to be a mechanical operation subject to wear over time. The Canon EOS 5D Mark III receives a 5D II-matching 150,000 actuation durability rating. This rating is second only to Canon's 1-Series bodies.
|Canon EOS Rebel T4i / 650D
|Canon EOS Rebel T3i / 600D
|Canon EOS Rebel T2i / 550D
|Canon EOS Rebel T1i / 500D
|Canon EOS Rebel T3 / 1100D
|Canon EOS Rebel XSi / 450D
|Canon EOS Rebel XS / 1000D
|Canon EOS Rebel XTi / 400D
|Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D
|Canon EOS 60D
|Canon EOS 50D
|Canon EOS 40D
|Canon EOS 30D
|Canon EOS 20D
|Canon EOS 7D
|Canon EOS 5D Mark III
|Canon EOS 5D Mark II
|Canon EOS 5D
|Canon EOS 1D X
|Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
|Canon EOS 1D Mark III
|Canon EOS 1D Mark II N
|Canon EOS 1DS Mark III
|Canon EOS 1DS Mark II
Also durable is the Canon EOS 5D Mark III's build. The 5D III's solidness is noticeable immediately upon grasping the camera. Attached to a steel base plate is the 5D III's rugged-but-light magnesium alloy body shell. The 5D III remains solid when tripod mounted (serious photographers will find that low end DSLR models flex noticeably more on a tripod).
Weather sealing is part of this camera's design. The level of weather sealing incorporated into the 5D Mark III is referred to as superior to the 5D II, lesser to the 1D X and equivalent to the EOS 1N film SLR. I shot a soccer game and a track meet with the 5D Mark III in light rain with no problems, but I tried to keep a gloved hand over the camera as much as possible.
Click on the labels below the following image to compare the various DSLR camera models from a top perspective.
Overall, the 5D III body top view looks similar to the 5D II top view. But, there are changes to the design.
One change is the relocation of the power button to the top - similar to the 7D and 60D configurations. I'm still not convinced that I like this design change. With previous models, I was able to pick up the camera and power the camera on with my only right hand.
Like the 7D and 1D X, the 5D III now has a programmable Multi-function (M.Fn) button on the top. Using the Custom Control settings menu, the M.Fn button can be programmed for: FEL, AE Lock, image quality settings and Dual-Axis electronic level activation. Many other 5D III buttons can also be programmed as desired. With AF selection turned on, the M.Fn button changes between AF area modes.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III's top LCD display has been reconfigured. I like the new layout, but the change is not significant to me.
Like the 60D (and as retrofitable on the 5D II), the 5D III now has a locking mode dial. I'm mostly indifferent on this change, but growing to like it more over time. Those with camera bodies frequently swinging by their side will find this feature change more valuable.
CA (Creative Auto) has been dropped from the 5D III's mode dial and the Basic Zone pre-defined modes found on lower-end DSLRs remain absent. The new, more intelligent, "A+" fully automatic mode replaces the former green square fully automatic mode. A+ takes advantage of the new Auto Picture Style, utilizing information collected by the EOS Scene Detection System. In addition to general purpose use, Canon especially recommends the Auto Picture Style for nature and landscape photography.
There custom shooting modes (C1, C2, and C3) are once again present. The C-Modes allow you to store a set of camera settings for quick recall. A great new change with the 5D III and 1D X is that setting changes made while in any of the C modes update the stored settings and will be recalled when the camera is again switched to that specific C mode - or when the camera is awakened/powered up. Like many other camera settings, this C-mode aspect can be configured to work the old way via a menu setting.
The one differentiating design aspect I want to point out on the 1-Series bodies is the extended viewfinder. One of the major advantages this gives you is nose relief from the LCD. I wish Canon had implemented this extension in the 5D III, but instead I'm dealing with the nose oil smear on my LCD and a slightly less comfortable shooting position. I avoid the smear, but it still happens. If you ever see me with a little piece of microfiber cloth glued to the tip of my nose, don't ask.
Let's move to the back - here is a visual comparison of the back of many Canon Digital SLR bodies.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the largest non-integrated-grip Canon DSLR available, but it is only slightly larger than the EOS 7D and about the same size as the EOS 5D II. Add the optional BG-E11 Battery Grip and the 5D III matches the EOS 1D X in size.
As with the top comparison, the 5D III and the 5D II look essentially similar. But, there are a lot of back-of-the-body changes to discuss.
With the power switch moved to the top of the body, the rear power switch becomes a menu-configurable Main Dial/Multi-controller lock. I appreciate the power switch and controller lock now being separate switches.
Moving up, the Quick Control Dial is been slightly reshaped (I like the change) and a touchpad is present within the Quick Control Dial. The touch pad is used for silently changing settings while recording video.
The "Q" is now present. Pressing the Q button while in shooting mode will bring up the Quick Control Screen where camera settings can be accessed and adjusted quickly and easily without having to use the menu or look at the top LCD panel. Pressing the Q button while in playback mode will present an overlay with applicable options - including RAW processing options. Software exposure compensation, white balance, Picture Style, Auto Lighting Optimizer, High ISO NR, Color Space, Peripheral Illumination Correction, Distortion Correction, Chromatic Aberration Correction and the output dimensions and quality of the converted JPEG can be selected prior to processing.
A Live View/Video Start/Stop button is a new and very-welcomed 5-series feature.
Moving to the right of the Start/Stop button, take careful notice of the new thumb rest design. Modeled somewhat after the 7D design, the new 5D III thumb rest protrusion shape provides a more-sure grip on the camera. I really like this design change - and I wish the 1D X had received the same thumb rest shape. The 5D III's grip is somewhat chunky and easy to hold onto - I really like it.
Notice that the blue lettering has disappeared from the two top-right-most buttons on the back of the 5D III? Canon has revamped the image the image zoom feature as present on every EOS DSLR that hit the streets before the 5D III - and it is driving me crazy. Image playback is as it has been, but zooming from the default playback view requires the button above the zoom button (magnifying glass) to be pressed. Good is that you can skip the playback button and immediately go to the zoom view. The view you see after pressing the magnify button is one of many that can be configured in the Magnification menu option (including 10x magnification). Zooming in or out from this point requires the top dial to be turned. I'm thinking that it is going to take me a long time to get used to this change.
Two images can now be displayed simultaneously during playback for comparison and zooming. Scrolling through a magnified image is very fast (still using the Multicontroller/joystick).
The button above the magnification button is new - "Rate". To me, this button is a complete waste of space. The 5D III's LCD is really nice, but it is still very tiny for critically evaluating images - I wait to do this on a computer. However, not everyone is like me - and I'm hearing the complete opposite reaction from others. So, as always, make your own decision on the usefulness of this feature.
Each press of the rate button adds a star (up to 5 stars) to the image. The rating is recognized even by non-Canon applications that include Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. One more use of the rate button is for adjusting the headphone output volume when shooting video (hold down the rate button and press the Multicontroller up or down).
Yes, like many other 5D III buttons, the Rate button can be reconfigured. But, the only other option for this button is Protect - which is even less useful to me. No big deal.
Update: a reader gave new idea for the rate button - press it to mark the start of a sequence of photos for easy recognition later. No more need to shoot the back of your hand for this purpose.
The next button up is the Creative Photo button. Pressing this button displays a menu with Picture Style, Multiple exposure and HDR Mode selections available.
The menu button lands in the top-left position (where it should be) and the Info button is beside it (also a good location).
The entire set of left-side buttons are required be pressed too deeply - they are hard to inadvertently press, but they are too hard to intentionally press. Pressing these buttons becomes even more challenging with light gloves on. The camera is otherwise easy to use with gloves.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III has received the larger eyecup used on the 1D X, 1D IV and 7D.
Behind the eyecup is of course the viewfinder. You will love the Canon EOS 5D Mark III' big and bright all-glass pentaprism viewfinder. And a big upgrade from the 5D II viewfinder is that you get a 100% view of your subject. No more guessing where the frame edges really are - a big advantage in my opinion.
Another big upgrade from the 5D II is the 1D X-like translucent viewfinder LCD, displaying more essential information within the viewfinder including the 61 AF points, Zone, Spot or Expansion AF points and a grid when enabled. The viewfinder display is highly configurable via the menu options controlling it.
In dim light, red LEDs light the viewfinder LCD display for easy visibility. These red LEDs can optionally be set to always be on or off using the menu.
The 5D III's viewfinder LCD grid negates my need for the optional grid focusing screens I used in my 5D II and my 1Ds III bodies, but note that the 5D III is not compatible with interchangeable focusing screens. Those needing a focusing screen other than the grid will need to look at the Canon EOS 1D X - or the 5D Mark II.
Like the 1D X's viewfinder, the 5D III's viewfinder is designed for harsher environments and better operation in below-freezing temperatures.
Once again, I'm excited to see the Dual-Axis Electronic Level featured in an EOS body. This feature is especially helpful when photographing landscape and architecture - or any other situation where you want a level camera. The electronic level is also very helpful in very low light scenarios. The electronic level is available on the rear LCD or in the viewfinder. I have my M-Fn button programmed to show the level and have been making good use of it.
The 5D III's electronic level, when shown on the rear LCD, is spec'd to show 360° of roll and +/-10° of pitch in 1° increments. Accuracy is rated at +/-1° at up to +/-10° and +/-3° between +/-10° and +/-45°.
I frequently used a Hot Shoe Spirit Level when shooting landscape. Unfortunately, these are not always as accurate as I would like - and may be accurate in one installation position only, or may be accurate in only certain hot shoes (the same can be true with tripod head-mounted spirit levels). It is also more difficult to physically lose the built-in level, or to accidentally put it through the washing machine (done that). The built-in level also frees the hotshoe for an important accessory.
While I thought it might receive the Vari-Angle treatment, I'm not surprised to see the 5D III receive Canon's best-at-review-time Clear View LCD II. The Clear View LCD II measures 3.2" (81.1mm) and has 1.04 million dot resolution compared to the 5D II's also-decent 3.0" 920,000 dot resolution. Canon's Clear View II LCDs have no gap between the protective glass cover and the LCD unit, eliminating air-glass interface, reducing refraction and reflection. The glass LCD cover has an anti-reflective coating.
This new LCD is very nice - and most importantly, I can clearly see the histogram even in direct sunlight.
The 1D X was announced first, but the 5D III hit the streets first, so we can argue about which Canon EOS DSLR was first to utilize Canon's new menu structure. Either way, we now have the new feature in our hands. The new, customization-option-laden 5D Mark III menu features 6 tabs, each with up to 5 submenus. Each submenu has up to 7 options and some of those are sub-submenus. Press the Q button to jump from tab to tab and use the top dial to go from submenu to submenu.
Found in the menu are 13 Custom Functions divided into 4 sections:
C.Fn 1 - Exposure
C.Fn 2 - Display/Operations
C.Fn 3 - Others
C.Fn 4 - Clear
Producing incredible video image quality played a big role in garnering the ground-breaking EOS 5D Mark II its fame. And the 5D III takes video up another level - matching the EOS 1D X video functions and capabilities with one solid exception. Here is a rundown of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III video specs:
Available recording sizes and frame rates are: 1920 x 1080 (30, 25, 24 fps) (actually 29.97, 25, 23.976 fps), 1280 x 720 (60, 50 fps) (actually 59.94, 50 fps) and 640 x 480 (30, 25 fps) (actually 29.97, 25 fps). HDMI out is 720p during record.
The .MOV file format is used with the H.264 codec and new, selectable IPB (Bi-directional compression) or ALL-I (Intra-coded Frame) compression methods. IPB offers a higher compression rate by compressing multiple frames together while ALL-I compresses each frame individually - allowing for more precise editing. ALL-I compressed footage will be about three times larger (but requires less computing power) than IPB compressed footage.
The 5D III supports the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) timecode standard of Hour:Minute:Second:Frame (0-29 for 30 fps) with four options (and more sub options) for this counter. A drop frame count menu is available to compensate for counts when using frame rates such as 29.97 fps.
With its ability to start new video files during filming, the 4GB /12 min HD Movie clip limit has now been surpassed. "Legal reasons" (to fall below the EU's higher tax rate video camera designation) now limit the maximum total HD clip length to 29 minutes and 59 seconds (generating three files).
Video exposure control is via Program AE or fully Manual exposure. ISO 100 through 25,600 are available (extended ISO range is not available in video mode) as well as ±3 stops of exposure compensation in 1/3- or 1/2-stop increments.
Audio recording options are the internal microphone capturing 16bit mono sound or the 3.5mm stereo input jack - both recording at 48KHz. Manual audio level control is available (64 levels) and features a live audio level meter displayed on the rear LCD during filming. The audio recording level is now able to be adjusted (along with shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation) during filming using the new Silent Control Function located inside the Quick Control Dial - a capacitive touch pad.
Both chromatic aberration and peripheral illumination correction are now available in 5D III video.
The 5D III video focusing option is the same as Live View Shooting. Plan on using manual focus.
The very-welcome exception from the 1D X specs list is that the 5D III has a headphone jack. You will see the symbol on the port cover below.
A notable video change from the 5D Mark II is that the 5D III is able to process data fast enough that a line skipping technique is no longer needed. All data from the sensor is now read and downsized to the selected video format, resulting in less moiré. Firmware updates additionally help reduce this issue.
Expect world-class, cinema-grade video capabilities from your 5D III - if you know what you are doing.
The ports available on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III are, clockwise from top right, the 3.5mm headphone jack, USB 2.0 Audio/video OUT/digital terminal, the HDMI mini out, remote control terminal (N3 type), PC terminal and 3.5mm external microphone IN terminal.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III shares its 7.2V/1800mAh Canon LP-E6 Battery Pack power source with the 60D, 7D and 5D Mark II. Canon rates a fully-charged LP-E6 to deliver the following from the 5D III:
At 73°F/23°C, no Live View: 950 frames
At 32°F/0°C, no Live View: 850 frames
At 73°F/23°C, Live View on: 200 frames (or 90 minutes of video recording)
At 32°F/0°C, Live View on: 180 frames (or 80 minutes of video recording)
My experience to date is:
567 shots = 41% battery remaining (for approx 961 total)
1,387 shots = 16% battery remaining (for approx 1,651 total)
1,358 shots = 26% battery remaining (for approx 1,835 total)
769 shots = 78% battery remaining (for approx 3,495 total)
1,025 shots = 38% battery remaining (for approx 1,653 total)
The first example above involved a lot of Live View shooting. The next two examples included a lot of AI Servo, high frame rate sports and action photography and the fourth example was almost exclusively AI Servo high speed burst shooting. The fifth example had a mix of shooting, but still plenty of AI Servo action was shot. I will have no problem living with those impressive rates from this little battery.
Need more battery life? Double the above numbers by adding a battery grip. Battery grips are great accessories - especially for the vertical grip they provide. The EOS 5D Mark III gets its own new custom battery grip - the Canon BG-E11 Battery Grip.
The most-notable new feature on the BG-E11 is the addition of a Multi-Controller for the vertical grip.
For even longer run times, the 5D III can be AC-powered using the optional AC Adapter Kit ACK-E6.
Another compatible accessory new with the 5D Mark III launch is the block/slab-style Canon WFT-E7 Wireless Transmitter, supporting 802.11a/b/g/n wireless protocols and wired Gigabit Ethernet. The WFT-E7 is also compatible with the EOS 7D and EOS 60D (perhaps requiring firmware updates).
The WFT-E7 is attached to the camera (or a bracket) via a 1/4-20 socket. Connection to the camera is via USB cable and configuration is performed through the camera's menu. The WFT-E7 features the usual capabilities including FTP Transfer, remote control and triggering (including Linked Shooting of up to 10 cameras) in either EOS Utility or WFT Server modes (control available through web browser) and Multi Camera Time Sync Function.
Also new and available for the 5D Mark III, 1D X and 7D (with a firmware update) is the Canon GP-E2 GPS Receiver, as shown above the WFT-E7 in the following photo.
The single AA battery-powered GP-E2 can be hot-shoe mounted or bracket-mounted and connected via a USB cable - or alternatively carried elsewhere (such as in a pocket) in logging mode for later synchronization. The GP-E2 provides latitude, longitude, altitude, compass direction and UTC time. The receiver can be used to set the camera time with +/- 1 second precision using satellite atomic clock time. New Map Utility software is available to utilize the GPS coordinates - showing where images were captured.
When you buy a Canon DSLR, you are buying into an incredible family of lenses and other accessories. You need a minimum of one of one lens to get started with your 5D III.
A significant percentage of the early 5D Mark III purchasers were upgrading from another DSLR - and commonly from the 5D Mark II as these owners knew what to expect from a 5D Mark III. Most of these DSLR owners already had at least one and often many lenses, so the 5D III body-only kit was in most-demand.
The other 5D III purchase option is the with-Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens kit. The 24-105mm L Lens is my at-review-time favorite general purpose lens, and the with-lens kit comes with a significant discount - about $350.00 in the USA.
Two other general purpose lenses I recommend or expect to recommend most highly for this camera are the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens and the new-and-coming-soon Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens. If you need to stop action in low light or need to get the shallowest DOF possible in the 24-70mm range, get one of the 24-70 L lenses. Otherwise, the 24-105 provides a longer focal length range in a smaller/lighter package - and has image stabilization.
There is a huge range of other incredible Canon lens options available to meet almost any need a photographer comes up against.
While on the lens topic, I want to mention that the IS unit in the Canon EF 200mm f/2 L IS USM Lens and Canon EF 800mm f/5.6 L IS USM Lens make a strange noise when mounted on the 5D III. Canon's official statement is "We have acknowledged that when using the camera with specific lenses, there is an abnormal noise during IS operation when the shutter button is pressed halfway (or remains pressed halfway), and we are now considering the countermeasures. We will let you know about the countermeasures as soon as they are finalized"
I'm not worried. Canon has always taken good care of me. The support provided by Canon's USA division is excellent (I have no experience with the other Canon divisions but generally hear similarly positive stories of them). When I call for support, I get an intelligent person who sincerely wants to help me with whatever my question or problem is. Repair service, though I don't frequently need it, is fast and reliable. Join CPS (Canon Professional Services) for extremely fast repairs.
As usual, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III review does not cover nearly all aspects and features available on this camera. I highly recommend reading the owner's manual (link at the top of this page). It is a huge 404 pages long.
While the Canon EOS 5D Mark III will be a bargain to many (I regard it as such), it is going to be priced out of reach for some. Those needing only excellent image quality without the superb 5D III AF and other capabilities/features should consider the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
Those needing a fast frame rate but not able to afford the 5D III should consider the Canon EOS 7D. Though its image quality will not be a match for the 5D III, the 7D offers a good AF system, advanced features and a very good frame rate - at a more affordable price.
For those whose budgets exceed the 5D III, the Canon EOS 1D X is currently the must-consider alternative. I included the differences between the 5D III and the 1D X at the beginning of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III review.
Upgrading? I enthusiastically recommend upgrading to the EOS 5D III from any of the APS-C DSLRs. The step from the 5D II to the 5D III makes a lot of sense to me - especially from an AF perspective. Moving to the 5D III from many of the 1-Series bodies can even make sense. Later model 1-Series body owners probably will want to wait to see how the 1D X performs before making this decision.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III just seems right for nearly all uses - from the most serious professional needs down to the most-important family memories captures. The 5D III has become my primary DSLR - at least until the 1D X appears - though I will likely retain a mix of these two DSLR models even then. This camera is a lot of fun to work with.