The Canon 5D MK3 has entered the market in March 2012 and has the Canon 5D and the Canon 5D MK2 as illustrious ancestors. The latter still remains available. The Canon 5D was the first affordable full-frame digital SLR, the Kodak 14 not included, and had no competitors in the early years. Its successor, the Canon 5D MK2, immediately got competition from Nikon and Sony. Since the AF system of both the Canon 5D and the Canon 5D MK2 has a simple design, the target group of these two cameras is rather landscape photographers and wedding photographers than sports photographers. The Canon 5D MK3, however, has an advanced AF system and the frame rate has gone from barely 4 to 6. Moreover, the Canon 5D MK3 focuses much more on video. This makes the Canon 5D MK3 a versatile camera.
The design, think of the somewhat rounded shape of the pentaprism, is familiar. Nevertheless, the Canon 5D MK3 is just a little better in the hand than its predecessor. Perhaps because of the slightly rougher coating. The buttons and knobs all feel more solid and the Shutter durability is increased. Conveniently, the battery for the Canon 5D MK2 is also usable on the Canon 5D MK3. What is new is that 2 memory cards now fit in the camera: 1 CF card and 1 SD card.
In many details it appears that Canon has listened well to users. Thus, the PASM mode button is locked against unintentional turning and the on/off button is now much easier to operate. The readability of the non-rotating but slightly enlarged screen is improved. Very clever is that you can immediately zoom in on the piece of picture on which you focus. That saves a lot of scrolling. The shutter is just a tad noisier than the shutter of the Canon 5D MK2. But there is also a separate setting on the Canon 5D MK3 with which the shutter makes less noise.
Those many improved details and the appearance of increased reliability ensure that you get the impression that you are dealing with a totally different camera. But that also means that the familiarization time is a bit longer.
Canon is, rightly or wrongly, seen as the driver of the megapixel war. But with the Canon 5D MK3, Canon has opted out of a lot of extra pixels and has chosen for better video abilities, lower noise and higher usable dynamic range. For many applications, about 20 megapixels is enough and if you want more pixels, you switch to a medium format camera, Canon might have thought. The Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E are also an alternative for that of course. And that ruins the Canon 5D MK3 party a bit.
Measurements for this test have been carried out with the aid of Imatest.
Canon 5D MK3 versus Canon 5D MK2
- The AF system of the Canon 5D MK3 does not have 9, as the Canon 5D MK2, but 61 AF points. Part of it is executed as cross sensor and the sensors can be divided into groups. The sensors are spread better across the viewfinder.
- The number of megapixels is barely increased, from 21 to 22 MP. The ISO range is greatly expanded up to 102,400 ISO.
- The maximum frame rate, important for sports photographers, has risen from barely 4 to 6 frames per second.
- The menu structure has changed. The menu structure of the Canon 5D MK2 is very similar to those of, for example, the Canon 40D, 50D, 60D and 7D. The menu of the Canon 5D MK3 knows colors and an extra subdivision.
- The sealing against water and dust would be improved. This is not tested by us. However, the camera feels much more solid.
- The video possibilities have increased and the specifications are better.
Canon 5D MK3 versus Nikon D800 / Nikon D800E versus Sony 900
- The nearly simultaneously introduced Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E are the successors of the Nikon D700 and has 38 MP. The number of images per second is 4 and the retail price is somewhat lower than the Canon 5D MK3. The Nikon D800 has a built-in flash, the Canon does not.
- The Sony A900 now belongs to the previous generation of full-frame cameras and the 24 MP image sensor is known for a somewhat greater sensitivity to noise at high ISO values. The camera is now discontinued and Sony would work on a successor, the Sony A99.
Viewfinder, screen and menu
If you are used to an APS-C cameras, the large and bright viewfinder of the Canon 5D MK3 is very refreshing; carefully making a composition is made much easier. The viewfinder accuracy is 100%, a slight improvement over the Canon 5D MK2. The magnification is 0.71, so the total magnification is 0.71. The indication of shutter speed, aperture, etc. is more readable than with the Canon 5D MK2. Very useful is the ability to turn on a grid in the viewfinder. Leaning horizons are therefore of the past. The screen on the back of the camera is not rotated or tilted; especially macro photographers will experience this as a shortcoming.The net size of the screen is a bit increased. The menu has been thoroughly worked on by Canon’s engineers. You now have 5 tabs in width and each tab has its own color. Some tabs have a breakdown so you never have to scroll. Once you are used to it, it is very useful.
Sharpness: resolution Canon 5D MK3
The Canon 5D MK3 delivers, with a good lens like the Canon 100 mm IS Macro, a jpg file with an average resolution of 2000 LW/PH. With a standard processing of the RAW files in Lightroom, a greater sharpness impression is obtained, which translates into an average resolution of just over 3000 LW/PH. We see almost the same values with the Canon 5D MK2. At higher ISO values, the resolution decreases; with the Canon 5D MK2, it happens earlier and stronger.
Sharpness Canon 5D MK3 in practice
In terms of resolution at low ISO values, the Canon 5D MK3 behaves virtually identical with the Canon 5D MK2. Here you see a 200 ISO shot, taken with the Canon 5D MK3. Below are two 100% part magnifications of a RAW file and a jpg file. At higher ISO values you see a difference between the 2 image sensors. With the Canon 5D MK3, the resolution decreases less than with the Canon 5D MK2.
Here you see an image cropping of the above picture taken during the day with the Canon 5D MK3, set to ISO 200.
Move your mouse over the image for an enlargement of a jpg file at 100%.
This bench is a small detail from the above picture of a house. The difference in sharpness between a jpg file directly from the camera with a resolution of 2000 LW/PH (left image) and a RAW file developed in Lightroom 4.1 RC1 and a resolution of 3000 LW/PH (right) is clearly visible. See for example the gravel under the bench or the stones in the wall.
The total dynamic range is 13 stops for a RAW file over the entire dynamic range. That is the maximum of what we can measure with our test setup and what a 14 bit sensor can get. The Canon 5D Mk2 reached this value in our last test too.
The usable dynamic range of a Canon 5D MK3 RAW file at ISO 100 is up to 2 stops larger than of a 5D MK2 file. That is a big difference. In practice we found that the correct exposure in bright sunlight with the 5D MK3 was much easier than with the Canon 5D MK2. On both sides of the histogram, we always had ‘space’ left, which is the way it should be!
The good signal-noise ratio of the Canon 5D MK3 is partly responsible for the high usable dynamic range. The test results are listed in the Canon 5D MK3 test report. The difference in noise between unprocessed RAW files and in-camera jpg files is remarkably small. From the pictures and the graphs, it appears that the difference between the Canon 5D MK3 and the Canon 5D MK2 is about 1 stop. Right is a detail from an ISO 200 RAW jpg image.
An A3 + print with a base of 12,800 ISO, RAW or jpg, file looks very good. Many details and noise, even in flat surfaces, is not visible. Above that you will have to devote more attention to noise reduction.
The Canon 5D MK3 delivers RAW files with a very good color reproduction throughout the entire ISO range (Delta E 94 = 6 for RAW and JPG) in daylight. Previously, the saturation of the colors became lower if you set a digital camera to high ISO values. That is no longer the case. At the RAW files (developed in Lightroom RC 4.1), the saturation remains constantly 105% throughout the entire ISO range. At the jpg files, the highest ISO files are about 10% less saturated. Here is a image taken at 25,600.
In artificial light, the color deviation is twice as large for jpg (Delta E94 = 11) and RAW files (Delta E 94 = 13). See for more information the Canon 5D MK3 test report. Those who shoot in RAW, can easily improve the white balance in artificial light compared to the automatic white balance. Our experience is that with a little adjustment of the white balance of artificial images, almost the same accurate color reproduction can be obtained as in daylight.
The Canon 5D MK3 has no built-in flash, while the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E do.
Autofocus speed and accuracy
The autofocus system of the Canon 5D MK3 is taken from the Canon 1DX, except that the Canon 1DX has an additional AF processor. The system consists of no less than 61 AF points that are scattered well over the viewfinder for a full-frame camera. That distribution area is 2.5 times as large as with the Canon 5D MK2. As a result, it is much easier to choose an AF point that is in the right place in the image with the Canon 5D MK3. Many AF sensors are extra sensitive cross-type sensors and the menu lets you adjust the autofocus. This way, you can opt for a static subject or for a moving subject followed by the AF system. An accelerating subject needs a different setting than a subject of constant speed. You can also set some things so that there no focusing on an object coming between the camera and the subject. And to make it complicated, with 3 parameters, each setting can be fine-tuned. To make the story even more complicated, as a photographer, you can also choose which AF points are used. Quite reassuring is that you can configure the camera in such a way that you can select the used AF point with a simple button.
We have also compared the autofocus speed of the Canon 5D MK3 to the autofocus speed of the Canon 5D MK2. We have selected the center AF point to focus on 1 fixed point. The camera had to focus from 15 meters to 1.5 meters and the lens used was the Canon 70-200 2.8 mm II. The Canon 5D MK3 appears to be up to 40% faster than the Canon 5D MK2. In addition, all images were sharp.
The autofocus of the Canon 5D MK2 did not do well with moving subjects. How does the Canon 5D MK3 operate in this area, featuring the Canon 70-200 2.8 II?
We have taken many series of about 18 shots of cars coming towards the camera at 80 km/h. The central AF point was used and 6 frames per second were taken. Of the 18 shots, 17 were usually sharp, in some cases 16 or 18. In short, this works well.
In a variant on this test set-up, we had a car between the camera and the car intending to drive in the opposite direction with a speed of 80 km per hour. See the pictures. The AF system was thus briefly bewildered, as it were, by the car that was momentarily between camera and subject. Once there are no car anymore between the camera and the car which is in focus, the Canon 5D MK3 needs about 2 or 3 frames to return to getting sharp pictures.
Of course we are very curious whether the Canon 5D MK3 can follow a moving car driving into the image at an angle. The camera then needs different AF points. The speed of the oncoming cars was about 50 km/h and we manually selected 1 AF point. We had configured the camera in such a way that automatically other AF fields were chosen to be able to follow the car. Of the 10 series, it worked well in 9 cases. In 1 series, the car was not properly followed. This result too gives us cause for satisfaction.
Conclusion Canon EOS 5D MK3 review
- High usable dynamic range
- Low noise sensitivity, A3+ prints 12,800 ISO are noise free
- Good color reproduction
- Very good AF system
- ‘Only’ 22 MP image pixels
- Good video specifications
- ‘Only’ 22 MP image pixels
- Medium white balance
- High recommended retail price
- AF system requires getting used to
- Screen does not swivel or tilt
The Canon 5D MK3 has become a worthy successor to the Canon 5D MK2. The number of pixels is barely increased so that the maximum resolution at low ISO values has not become higher. From ISO 6400, the resolution decreases more strongly at the Canon 5D MK2 than the Canon 5D MK3. The noise performances of the Canon 5D MK3 are better, the profit is between 1 and 2 stops, depending on RAW or JPEG. A major advancement, about 2 stops at ISO 100, is made in the usable dynamic range. In addition, the camera body is greatly improved. The frame rate is increased and the grip is improved. The AF system meets high expectations and makes the Canon 5D MK2 bite deeply in the dust. The enhanced video capabilities of the Canon 5D MK3 compared to its predecessor will also appeal to many photographers. After familiarization, it is a pleasure to work with the 61 AF sensors, the AF speed is high and fast moving objects are properly followed. The cheaper Nikon D800 / Nikon D800E do have many more pixels. But if 22 megapixels are enough for your type of photography, there is little to criticize on the Canon 5D MK3.