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Canon 5D: 12 Years & 5 Cameras

(Editor’s note: This is a guest post from our friends at MPB.com a great place for photographers and videographers to buy quality used gear as well as to see thier old equipment.)

Canon’s 5D series

Canon’s 5D series of cameras has been revolutionary its inception. The original 5D was the one of the first full-frame digital cameras–one of the first to have a sensor the same size as 35mm film–and it was a relatively affordable price. Each iteration on from the Mark I, with the exception of maybe the Mark IV, there has been some aspect of the series which has really shaken things up. The Mark II’s revolutionary addition of full HD video gives videographers and filmmakers the cinema look. The Mark III, with its incredible low-light performance and finally the 5DS and 5DSr, offering medium-format like resolution in a much more manageable package both physically and financially.

In this article, we’ll compare each iteration of the 5D and see how the pictures stand up. Whilst we are not pixel peepers or usually ones for camera/lens tests, we also understand that there are many options out there. When discussing cameras and lenses, we mainly choose to focus on what the best options are to fit particular needs, rather than judging a camera because it has 2 MP less than another.

You can read all about it below, or just watch these this video and the follow up at the end of this post.

The 5D series compared

This is a camera test that will focus more on the practical and real-world uses of these cameras. Having the comparison provides contrast so that if you do choose one of these cameras, you can decide whether each feature tested is a good compromise against cost.

We’ve split this test into two segments, the second of which will be covered in a subsequent post. The first part will concentrate on basic rendition, shooting the same scene on each camera body with the Canon 11-24mm F/4L lens. The cameras in question are the Canon 5D Mk IIIIII5DSr and Mk IV. We omitted the 5Ds as we felt it was too close to the 5DsR and we knew the two were released with the same sensor, one having the AR filter removed to increase sharpness.

We kept the test as standardized as we could: the tripod remained static throughout the duration of the test and the only anomaly was the exact position of the base plate upon changing the cameras over. This accounts for the slight difference in framing for each of the camera and lens combinations.

We metered the scene using a Sekonic L408 light meter to ensure we were impartial on how the scene was read. We were also lucky to have chosen a sunny day with virtually cloudless skies which meant from midday onwards conditions hardly changed. We metered at intervals and found the metering didn’t change from the f/8 1/250 at ISO 100 we got initially.

All images were shot RAW and rendered out of Lightroom at full res JPEG with no editing of the images.

So, with the test conditions covered, let’s begin.

Canon 5D MK I

5D MK I

Honestly, I didn’t expect the Canon 5D Mk I image to look as good as it did. I guess this is due to the fact that I haven’t shot with one for quite a number of years and after using so many newer cameras in that time, I felt that it had no right to produce images that look this good! Color rendition is accurate throughout the frame, which we balanced at 5600K. It’s in the upper center of the image where the camera shows its age, in its inability to hold that highlight detail well.

Equally, since the highlights are getting close to blown, we would have thought the shadows would hold some more detail. What we see however at the bottom right, is that there isn’t much detail in the tree shadows.

Canon 5D MK II

5D MK II

The range rendered by the 5d Mk II is slightly more pleasing. There seems to be a touch less contrast in the overall rendering, yielding a slightly flatter image. In my opinion, this just gives a few more options in post. The sky, much like with the 5D Mk I, is still edging towards blowing the highlights, particularly in the center of the image where the horizon meets the sky. However, it seems to be doing it more evenly and without almost going to pure white as with the 5D Mk I. Color rendition overall gives a slightly cooler cast, which is noticeable only when doing a direct comparison with the 5D II’s predecessor. The lower right portion of the image shows slightly more detail in the shadow area where the trees are. However, this isn’t a slight on the Mk I, it’s just an expected improvement that comes with the Mk II.

Canon 5D MK III

 

5D MK III

Canon 5D Sr

I really had high hopes for the 5dsR, mainly due to its billing as THE camera that was to render Medium Format digital pointless. Whilst I don’t think Medium Format can be discussed purely from a resolution point of view, the considerably cheaper price of the 5DsR and compatibility with all of Canon’s EF lenses does make it a very attractive proposition. Anyway, onto the image. Whilst I find rendition to be very similar to the 5D Mk III, it’s when expanding this image to its max resolution that the 5dsR really flexes its muscles. Even at almost 100% crop, it hardly misses a beat and renders an image almost as detailed as the web-optimized image you see above.

 

5dSr at 100% crop

You can see the phenomenal detail the 5dsR retains even at web compression. This is where the camera really shines—not only because it provides various crop options, but also in out-and-out resolution in case you plan on printing on a large scale or need to retain fine detail. However, although the scene we chose to photograph might not allow us to see key differences or improvements from the Mk III, it’s nice to see that color rendition, shadow/highlight detail and dynamic range are at least as good as the 5D Mk III. What is likely to disappoint some photographers is ISO performance for low light shooting. Due to the 5DSr’s pixel density, the Mk III will still rule due to its larger pixels contained within the same sensor size.

Canon 5D MK IV

 

5D MK IV

Conclusion:

 

Canon 5D Mk I: Still relevant today

The first thing I’d mention is how much I enjoyed testing these 5 cameras. It made me realize that even at 12 years old, the Mk I more than held its own during the course of this test. The issue we have with testing—and more importantly, comparisons—is that there will always be a loser. Sadly, the loser was always going to be the Mk I. But in many ways, it was also the star of this test. This camera represents phenomenal value due to its full frame, sturdiness and the fact that when shooting RAW it still gives lots of latitude for post-production. Granted, it was never going to win against the more refined images of the latter two cameras, but then again, it can be picked up at a tenth of the cost of the most expensive.

Canon 5D Mk II: Revolutionary

The Mk II brings video to the fore—full HD, full frame video. And even though we have been spoiled with better codecs and even 4k, it is a camera that when treated correctly, will still yield marvelous results. Stills wise, it ups the ante with a doubled megapixel count and improved ISO performance.

 

Canon 5D Mk III

The Mk III is probably the odd one out here, but not in the way you may think. At MPB, it is one of the best selling cameras we stock and this is a totally deserved accolade. While some might say Canon lagged behind Nikon with their releases of the D800 and D810, it is purely by comparison that the Mk III sometimes gets a bad rap. In actual fact, when judged solely as a producer of photographic images, it is a standout camera and a deserved replacement for the Mk II.

 

Canon 5DsR: A Megapixel Monster

The 5DsR and its spec sheet speak for themselves. 50 megapixels is largely why people buy this beast. Although a web compressed image won’t do it justice, it truly renders wonderfully detailed images that will even rival Medium Format.

 

Canon 5D Mk IV: Evolution of a legend

Where does that leave us? Ah yes, the 5D Mk IV. I felt it truly provided the most well-balanced image of all 5, but that was to be expected. The point here was not to crown the Mk IV as the winner but to show that although digital imaging has progressed leaps and bounds, cameras from 12 years ago are still hugely capable and should by no means feel like a limiting factor.

See the results of the portrait tests on Facebook.

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