Sorry this is NOT an in-depth review. I spent more time working on it than I planned but I wanted to be sure of my first impressions. So it is what it is. Hopefully some of you will find enough information here to make your own decisions. Also note that all the images you see here are JPEGS with minimal processing, virtually straight out of the camera, through 15 seconds of tweaks in Aperture 3.2 and then converted for use in this post. I had no way to convert the RAW files based on the computer and software I had with me in Alaska so I’ll update later on the RAW files.
I can’t think of many cameras that have been more eagerly awaited than the new full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark III. The Canon 5D MK II was one of the most popular DSLRs ever sold. But let’s face it, it’s a little long in the tooth.
This may come as a surprise to many of you but I was never a big fan of the 5D MK II. I gave plenty of them away on Twitter because THAT is the camera YOU folks wanted, but as for me, well my best reaction to the 5D MK II was “Meh.”
I think the 5D MK II was soft, slow and bulky. The AF was slow and in general, I think there are many better cameras. That said, I was in the minority and the MK II became a fan favorite – so who am I to argue with the fans? Now that the 5D MK III has shipped, the game has changed. Today I have in my hand a new, revamped camera – the 5D MK II’s successor – the Mk III. All I can say is wow!
Here are my initial thoughts – I am going to primarily concentrate on new features here and give a summary of my limited experience with the III. (By the way this review is based on me actually using, shooting and owning a MK III not based on the Canon press release.)
Let’s start with the new processor. The new, 30% faster DIGIC 5+ offers many improvements to the Canon line including better chromatic aberration correction, a multiple exposure mode and in-camera RAW conversion. There is also now in-camera HDR and 2, 3, 5 and even 7 frame auto exposure bracketing. It also allows for up to six FPS shooting which is a dramatic improvement from the MK II. In my experience all these claims proved to be true. The camera is noticeably faster.
The new magnesium alloy body shell is more waterproof than the old version. It feels beefier in the hand and just a tad heavier than the II. I didn’t personally test the waterproofness – but I did use the camera from a boat for a week and found no problems.
I primarily tested the camera with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II Lens both with and without a new Canon EF 1.4X III Telephoto Extender. The results were fantastic either way, but the camera was (as expected) slower to focus with the 1.4 mounted. The images are crisp and the color rendition accurate. (Thanks to Borrowlenses.com for shipping me the 1.4 TC. I forgot mine and they overnighted me one to Alaska so I could test it for this post.)
The viewfinder now offers 100% coverage and is very bright – I mean REALLY bright. I like this feature because it just makes it easier to find the photograph. There are also electronic levels on display in the viewfinder and LCD. The LCD is 3.2″ and less reflective than the old screen. There’s a noticeable improvement in my opinion.
There is a CF AND an SD slot onboard along with all sorts of improvements to the audio including a dedicated headphone jack, mic jack, and input level control (using a touch sensitive dial). Moire and aliasing problems are mostly gone.
HDSLR movie shooters will love this camera since shooting video was factored into the design of the III where it was more of an afterthought on the II. There is a well-placed, video start stop button and there is less rolling shutter effect. Canon has also added SMPTE timecode recording, maximum 29:59 minute files, a better CODEC and better HDMI out options.
I only shot a few minutes of video on the camera and that just to test the manufacturer claims as best I could. I do see a decrease in rolling shutter – not a dramatic decrease mind you – but noticeable. The overall video quality seems about the same to me.
The autofocus has been beefed up significantly in the MK III and frankly it’s about time. The 61 point AF on the new MK III is identical to the 1DX except that it does not include face detection. (Boo!) It’s fast, reliable and much easier to customize than the MK II’s AF. I cannot stress enough how much I like this new AF. If I had to decide on upgrading to this camera and money wasn’t a factor, I’d do it on the basis of the new autofocus alone. I photographed eagles, flying erratically and straight at me and the new AF stuck with them every time. I had about a 92% keeper rate on the toughest shots – compared with about 85% on the 1D MK IV and 60% on the 5D MK II. This autofocus rocks. Period.
There are other small improvements. You can now set a minimum and a maximum range in the Auto ISO and Auto ISO can now be used in manual shooting mode. One thing I really like is that Canon kept the battery the same for both the MKII and the MKIII. Since many of you have multiple MKII batteries, then you won’t have to waste that investment if you upgrade. I also really like the fact that Canon didn’t take the bait and increase the megapixel rate on this camera to match the D800. It isn’t necessary.
What I don’t like? The price increase is dramatic. Those of you with less-expensive glass are going to complain about your images on the MK III because Canon reduced the thickness of the anti-aliasing filter so cheap glass will be found out quickly here. With 22 megapixels and full-frame resolution, you’re going to want to limit yourself to “L” glass on a MK III. I also think Canon could have thrown in just a few more goodies for video shooters like peaking and focus assist. Some will also complain about the lack of an articulating screen but I don’t think that is that big a deal. The eyepiece comes off VERY easily so I’m ordering several replacements since I know I’ll eventually find one missing.
As far as accessories go, the 5D Mark III works with a new grip, the Canon BG-E11 Battery Grip for Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital SLR Camera. It replicates most of the main shooting controls for portrait format shooting, and can accept either two LP-E6 batteries or a tray full of AAs. Canon is also offering a new flash. The Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Flash is the new flagship flash which comes with a guide number of 60, a fully-articulated head, zooming that now covers 24-200mm and weather sealing. If you want to shoot off camera you’ll need the Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter to work with the new flash.
NOTE: All these new accessories are very expensive. (The trio listed above will set you back about $1500!) This will no doubt influence the third-party developers to make similar, compatible devices costing less. So if you’re on a budget, and can wait, you might want to wait a few months to see what companies like Pocket Wizard for instance do with the new flash and a wireless way to trigger.
At $3499, the new MK III is about one thousand dollars more expensive than the 5D MK II. Is that a good investment for YOU? It depends. If you shoot video on the DSLR then it’s a no brainer. Absolutely. The video improvements in the 5D MK III make upgrading an easy decision. If you just want the best AF Canon has ever built – upgrade. The handling, interface, etc., are all improved. The camera is faster, beefier and offers a solid full stop of improvement in its already stellar low-light shooting capability. (Canon claims two stops improvement which hasn’t been borne out in my early tests but I’ll continue to evaluate on this front and update here if my opinion changes. I think it’s about a stop better – but it’s still great low-light performance no matter how you slice it.)
All-in-all I think serious shooters will want to consider this upgrade, even with the significant price increase. If you’re a casual shooter or you can’t afford “L” glass, or just don’t ever plan to shoot movies on your DSLR, then you might want to stick with the 5D MK II, especially if you can manually focus.
For me, the Canon 5D MK III is a keeper. Highly recommended. I can even see some wildlife and sports shooters finding this to be a good compromise if they can’t afford the 1DX. It’s that fast.