5D Mk III – Review


Apr
26
2012

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Two weeks ago I picked up my new Canon 5D Mark III.  This is a review of my first impressions. Although I’ve not had the chance to get out with it as much as I would have hoped, I have been out enough times to give some initial feedback which I felt people might find useful if they’re considering the new body.

THE GOOD

1) Noise
The noise improvements seem to be as promised.  I often felt frustrated with the amount of noise I was getting at relatively low ISO’s on my 5D Mark II and I agree that there is a significant improvement in the Mark III.  I have not done super detailed testing (I’m happy to leave that to people with more technical skill and time) but from a user perspective I have noticed a significant improvement in the amount of noise at ISO 400 to 800.

2) Electronic Level
The electronic level tool is an excellent addition for architecture photography.  I’m sure it would be a useful addition for landscape work and other applications too.

3) HDR / AEB
Until about 30 mins before I posted this blog entry, the AEB / HDR capabilities of the Mark III were considerably below what I had been led to believe prior to purchase.  After some final research while preparing this blog entry, I now find that these capabilities are firmly in the “Good” category, and this has greatly affected my view of the capabilities of this camera (for the better).

When I first tried the new body, I was under the impression that it was impossible to bracket more than 3 images in an HDR sequence (i.e. 4 or more images with defined variable shutter speed per image, ideally achievable through high speed continuous shooting).  There has been much written about this issue on various blogs, and one of the problems I found is that there are contradictory entries made by people who do not have the camera in their hands, and because the manual from Canon is less than clear on this subject.  So, to my findings:

It is not possible to take more than three images using the Mark III HDR function.  This is a shame, but there is a solution – as shown below:

Exposure level increments can be defined as 1/3 or 1/2 stop.  The bracketing sequence can then be defined with three options, including my personal preference of -0+ (as opposed to the default 0-+).  Number of bracketed shots can then be defined as 3, 2, 5 or 7.  Finally, bracketed shooting can be used with high speed continuous shooting.

The good news, therefore, is that it IS possible to take a series of 7 bracketed images using high speed continuous shooting.  Anyone who has spent any time working with HDR will likely understand the benefits that this offers.  The (supposed) downside that the Mark III does not create it’s own HDR image from these bracketed shots (which is what it does do from 3 images taken in HDR mode) is not a concern of mine.  I prefer to merge my HDR images in post production (using Photomatix Pro) and feel the results that can be achieved from this method are far better than what can be produced ‘in camera’.

For those people who are still confused, you need to refer to pages 170 and 316 in the user manual (which is one of the reasons I believe there is so much confusion on this subject).

4) Locking Mode Dial
The locking mode dial fixes one major headache with the predecessor 5D Mark II, which was constantly changing shooting mode for me when I put the camera back in my pack etc.  This is now resolved.

5) Continuous Shooting Speed.
This is certainly an improvement for many of my applications – namely sports shooting (as well as bracketed work where movement of the subject may be an issue).  What I had not previously considered is the fact that on my 5D Mark II I could leave the shooting mode on continuous and because it was only shooting 3 fps, I had no problem removing pressure on the shutter release before the second shot in sequence was fired if I only required a single shot.  Now it’s not so easy, although with time and hands-on experience it may be easier.  Canon cannot be blamed for this minor frustration, as its a feature of the enhanced FPS, but it is not something I had even considered before purchase.

THE BAD

1) Lightroom
When I purchased the 5D Mark III, I did some test shots, and then on trying to download them through Lightroom, I found that Lightroom v3 does not support the Mark III.  Not only that, but having then paid to upgrade to Lightroom v4, I found that this also does not support the Mark III.  Finally, after much digging, I found that there is a CR (candidate release) of Lightroom v4.1 which DOES support the Mark III.  So, the good news is that it is possible to use Lightroom with the Mark III.  The downside is that it requires an upgrade, and I’m disappointed in Canon and Adobe that this was not resolved before release of the new body, so that as a minimum it was a tried and tested release.

2) Live View
The quality of live view is, in my opinion, shocking.  Even at x10 zoom, the quality is not good enough to trust the live view for manual focusing.  Not even close.  I have tested this with another person (in case it was my eyesight (which it was not)), and tried with a high quality loupe, as well as an external monitor, and it is NOT possible to use Live View for fine focusing.  Even with the viewfinder focusing screen it’s very hard to achieve manual focus accuracy — it is completely unreliable for accurate focus.  When using lenses which do not have an autofocus option, this is a MAJOR issue.  I have read that the focus assist (green dot) feature can help resolve this problem, and need to look into this in more detail.

3) Buttons & Placement
The Rate and Print buttons are a complete waste of space on a camera of this level.  Do Canon seriously think that prosumer users are using these features on a body of this level?  Not only do they “clutter up” the back of the camera, they make it more difficult to find the more important buttons by touch.  Placement of the zoom button is a huge step backwards from the 5D Mark II.  Previously it was in an intuitive place in the top right hand corner, and was easily accessed by touch alone when required.  Now it is buried in a mass of other useless buttons on the left hand side.

4) Viewfinder
The deeply-recessed Canon viewfinder eyepiece does not improve on the 5D Mark II and it is recessed enough to make cleaning difficult – i frequently find dust, raindrops and other debris restricting my view, and it is very difficult to clean on location – at least without using a q-tip.

THE SUMMARY
Prior to my latest findings regarding AEB, bracketed shooting and HDR capabilities, I was more than a little disappointed with the Mark III.  It was such a major factor in my decision to upgrade, that my confusion through the poor instructions in the manual,  meant that I was almost regretting buying the Mark III.  With my findings this afternoon, this view is changed, and the benefits that I personally find with the camera now outweigh the downsides.

That is not to say that I do not have frustrations.  The “bad” points listed above are significant problems in my opinion.  I find it surprising that the second camera in Canon’s new lineup has such issues, and am concerned that a ProSumer / Pro camera body appears to be having functions added which are not only of use and interest to a market that are never going to invest in a Mark III, but actually reduce or frustrate users who do not need “auto”, print and rate functions on the camera body.

My hope is that either Canon and/or a new Magic Lantern (ML) release will address some of these issues.  Custom button programming, together with improved manual focusing options (such as a peaking feature) would be a great option.  The fact that the Mark III has two card slots would also enable ML to be installed on a second card, while images are written to the first one – enabling the user to format the image recording card without losing MF – something that I personally would love to see.  I did not use MF on my Mark II, but I have heard great things about it, and would love to see what an install on the Mark III could resolve.

Prior to this afternoon I would not have recommended the Mark III as an upgrade.  Now I probably would.  For those who do not know me, I commercially shoot a combination of architecture and action sports (skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and mountain biking).  The benefits of the increased FPS, reduced noise, and HDR (through bracketed exposures) make the new body a significant improvement over the Mark II.

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