Canon 5D Mark III Review, First Impressions

This is a camera that a lot of people have been anticipating.  I finally was able to pick mine up from a local camera shop (FOTO Forum) here in Phoenix that had them in stock. Sales tax sure hurts on such a pricey item, but I like supporting these local shops that have been struggling to stay afloat with online competitors plus I wanted to have the camera for some upcoming shoots and I just dont like waiting.

A little background…

My first DSLR was the Canon 10D, shot with that for 2 years, then upgraded to the 5D which I have been shooting with the original 5D (Mark I) since late 2005 and held off ever buying the Mark II because I never had any interest in video and was waiting for more tech advancements on the still-image side.  Rather then upgrading camera bodies every year that depreciate at obscene rates I just invested in glass and upgraded from 550ex to 580 EX II Flash which I felt had more gain for the price.  Being that my 5D was getting up in shutter counts I bought a 50D as a backup and for a 2nd camera for telephoto work due to crop sensor.  I skipped on the 60D because I preferred the magnesium metal body of the 50D and the stationary LCD screen, and didnt need video.  But I had noticed with the 50D the vastly improved focus system and menus, ISO range, noise reduction, and build quality.  This made me even more excited for the 5D Mark III to see what they had in store.

And a quick shot of the whole family… 10 years of EOS

Canon eos cameras

Improvements

Bear in mind my perspective is coming from the original 5D Mark I not the Mark II so some of my points may have been changes applied to the Mark II prior but features that are new to me.

  • ERGO! Right out of the box my first impression was ‘sweet this thing is beefy!’  The ergonomics in terms of the shapes, materials, build quality, button layouts…wow.  Just tons of changes and improvements. They built this one to last through commercial work – it feels like the Canon 1 Series.  The camera just sits in your hand better even without the vertical grip it feels very firm and secure even with heavy glass attached. The depth of field preview button was moved so it sits right under your ring finger on your right hand.  Much more convenient, no accidental pushing unlike the previous location where I would always hit the DoF button when reaching for the lens zoom ring. Also, all of the buttons and dials have a nice flush and firm feeling, the rubber points are grippy, the memory card door is tight and sealed…just overall tons of improvements.
  • Auto Focus System – Holy cow what an improvement! 61 Autofocus points, which is great but the amount of control over the whole thing… between the lens profiles, cross-point AF, focus zones, and literally complete customization.  Its actually made me fall in love with my 24-105 F4L IS.  This lens is notoriously soft shot at wide open F4 and I considered selling it for a 24-70 F2.8L more then once…but not anymore, razor sharp focus on this camera without any micro focus adjustment. The ability to change between focus clustered areas, specific points, or zones plus the 6 “case settings” for predictable autofocus modes for tracking moving subjects and the ability to customize those presets.  Genius!  The camera is much more focus conscious though – if you tell it to focus on a specific point it will so managing your focus point selection is more crucial then the old 9 point systems.
  • Viewfinder image – 100% coverage so no more need to compensate for that extra margin of recorded area. Nice and bright plus you can enable the grid overlay in the menu versus changing the focus screen.  Also, related to the new AF system… when focus is confirmed the AF points and grid light up red in low light so you get a quick visual confirmation.   Very handy for events and especially when your tired or eyes are stressed.
  • LCD Screen and Processor – For the first time Ive seen yet with any DSLR… the images Im capturing match on the LCD screen and on the computer monitor.  With previous cameras they always looks nice and balanced on the camera screen but very flat on a monitor or lacking detail that would have to be recovered in post. More importantly the images right out of the camera now are more balanced – highlights,  shadows, and colors are all in check plus there is more recorded data to work with through the hole dynamic range in the files. Past digital bodies have all seemed to have a 3 stop exposure variance before losing detail or clipping and between the new sensor and processor this camera seems to be back to around a 5 or 6 stop variance or better.  Sorta like comparing transparency to print films.
  • In terms of noise, Ive been experimenting with the extreme high ISO settings just to play.  I can honestly say I could easily shoot at 8000 ISO and still print 20×30 with good clarity.  When you get into 10,000+ it gets a little noisy but a lot of it filters out clean.  And just for practical reference.  Im sitting here in the office under fluorescent lights and at ISO 8000 I just shot an image of a focus calibration chart at 1/2000 at F4 and again at 1/125 at F16…all ambient fluorescent light!  I was shocked seeing as though my 5D Mark I at 1250,1600, and H ISO settings have more noise then the Mark III has at 8000.  Even the 50D, although not as bad has a significant amount more noise at 3200+.
  • Battery Gauge and Warning – Coming from the BP-511 battery pack and gauge on the 5D Classic the LP-E6 that was adapted in the Mark II and now on the Mark III is very much improved.  On a more practical note – when the battery is running low it will warn you ahead of time.  In fact, I’ve been able to squeeze another 30 photos in RAW after the battery warning starts flashing.  In the past when it dies it comes all at once.  Once it would flash the battery warning the camera shut off and that was it, not anymore with the improvements.  You also get the battery info screen that will tell you the shot count for that specific battery, the percentage of battery life remaining, and the recharge performance. Pretty cool!

Trying to keep it brief for now with all the video reviews and tech info already available…just kinda my personal first impression feedback.

If anyone has questions about the camera or wants an opinion on a specific feature, please comment and I will be happy to answer!

UPDATE 4/25/2012…

Now that I’ve had several jobs shot through the camera I can definitely say the new AF system significantly improves the number of soft or out of focus shots. I do however wish the AF points illuminated in bright shooting environments as well as dark.  Ive shot mostly in RAW but also mixed some JPEGs in and adjusted some of the picture style settings for sharpness. I would definitely NOT recommend increasing sharpness in-camera!  You will get a sort of jagged over-sharpened aliasing look – you will get much better results sharpening in Lightroom or Photoshop.  Check out some example photos shot through the 5d III:

Peritoneum Fashion & Beauty

Katie & Matt Engagement Photo Session

 

About the Author:
Ryan holds a Bachelors in Marketing from Grand Canyon University, graduating on the dean's list. He has been providing professional photography services starting in 2003 and internet marketing services starting in 2007. His experience in specific industries including e-commerce gift/retail, aftermarket automotive industry, and Beauty/Cosmetology education and salon, and high-end designer fashion market provides him with unique insight for practical application of photography as it applies to modern advertising mediums and business needs.

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2 Comments:

  1. james moro April 03, 2012 Reply

    Good to hear about the improved dynamic range and the 5-6 stops that you can push the files too. That’s definitely great to hear.

    Have you played around with the AF performance shooting w/ the outer focus points, wide open using primes? That’s something that my 5DII would absolutely fail at doing. Heck, it literally cannot lock AF shooting in the shade under a tree on a sunny day if i’m using the outer AF points.

    • Ryan April 03, 2012 Reply

      Hey James, right now Ive just been shooting with L zooms, the 24-105 F4L and the 70-200 F2.8L IS II. I have taken a few shots with the 15mm F2.5 Fisheye but not enough to really test the AF system well enough to really comment. I dont yet own any of the other primes. I’ve been reading a lot of those complaints about outer AF points but so far it seems to do very well in any situation with the zooms. Using the cross type AF points does improve speed a lot in low light.
      Just a quick practical note about the dynamic range… I was walking around a local park with my wife and it was high-noon 1pm direct Arizona sun, harsh shadows. I was looking for subjects with challenging light – reflective, back lit, hard shadows, etc and in almost every instance I could meter right in the middle and the shadows and highlights would be in check. The only spot that proved difficult was shooting this waterfall fountain scene which is notorious for blown highlights especially for long exposures for blurred water… only had very minor blown highlights and only because I meter dead in the middle. The shots stopped down for highlights were fine, and I could easily bring the darker areas back to preference in lightroom. I also tried the standard HDR mode just to see what would happen (handheld)… pretty much the same result as the edited regular ones in lightroom. Pretty much did its job in bringing highlights down and shadows up. Cool stuff. I have some studio beauty shoots scheduled soon and some engagement photos, very anxious to put it through all the paces.

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