Canon 5D MkIII – Thoughts after One Week of Use

Cinnabar moth caterpillar with Canon EOS 5D MkIII.

Back in March, I was lucky enough to get an invite to see the then new Canon EOS 5D MkIII at the Focus on Imaging event. I published my thoughts in my First Impressions of the New Canon EOS 5D MkIII blog entry. I have now finally taken the plunge and have owned it for one week. So far, I haven’t had a great deal of opportunity to put it through its paces. However, I have taken over 350 macro images (mostly in windy conditions) and explored how high I can push the ISO and last night I was able to test the autofocus a little.

First thoughts, are that it feels very good in your hands, as I also said previously. You definitely know you’re holding it from the weight, but (for larger hands at least), I think it fits perfectly, without feeling like you might drop it. Pretty much like the 7D in fact. I probably still need to read the manual properly, but mostly, I have been able to find out where things are. The mirror lockup is now on the first page of the menu, without having to delve into the (illogical) AF menu to find it. However, I am finding the zoom action a little difficult to get used to. In many ways, it is actually in a more logical position, but old habits often die hard. Also, the Q button screen doesn’t seem to have any access to the AF selection, like it does on the 7D, using the AF selection and M-Fn buttons instead.

Macro photograph with Canon EOS MkIII at ISO 6400.

My first concern was over manual focus, as I have always found manual focusing on the 7D through the transmissive viewfinder difficult, but despite having the same design, I haven’t had any problems with the 5D MkIII. The next step was to test the amount of noise and see how far I was willing to push it. While it was difficult, due to the windy conditions (motion blur always makes the noise look worse), my initial feelings are, that with correct exposure, ISO 6400 will work well for macro work, but ISO 12,800 is too noisy, although it may be ok for printing to A4 or even A3. That is a full two stops better than the 7D (which is actually noisier at ISO 1600, than the 5D MkIII is at ISO 6400 and probably at least one stop better than the 5D MkII.

Testing autofocus system of Canon EOS 5D MkIII against busy background.

After only being able to take macro shots in my back garden, I was finally able to get out and about with the camera last night. I deliberately left my 7D at home, so that I wasn’t tempted to go for the extra “reach”. I didn’t get too many opportunities, as most of the bids were pretty distant, but I did get some test shots. The first opportunity was a group of carrion crows on the path. There was a person coming in the opposite direction, so rather than me disturb them and I get a rear end view, I decided to wait for the other person to disturb them, so that they flew in my direction. The first thing I noticed, was the frame rate. Even though it’s only 2 fps less than the 7D, it’s obvious in use. While it isn’t critical (or even required) for most circumstances, when it is needed, it probably wouldn’t be quite fast enough for really fast moving action. However, the AF was so much more assured than the 7D and even in that short time, I had much more confidence that I could get the shot when push came to shove.

Testing image quality of Canon EOS 5D MkIII o nslow moving subjects.

In terms of image quality, it was night and day compared with the 7D. Even though many of the birds were distant, there was so much more definition. It was even noticeable in the slower moving targets, such as the mute swans, where the reach wasn’t important. The 300mm f/2.8 with 1.4x extender coupled to the 5D MkIII, produced images as sharp as the 300mm f/2.8 without extender does on the 7D and that’s without any AF microadjustment. I’ve done very little wildlife work with the 5D MkII, so I don’t have much to compare, but the AF alone makes it a much better camera in that regard and the indications so far, that it produces sharper wildlife images than the MkII, probably due to the focusing abilities rather than any sensor differences.

I thought long and hard about getting the MkIII, but in the end, it just made sense for the type of shooting I do. For landscape photography, I doubt it will make much difference to the MkII, but it has now become useful for action shots, with a much more assured focusing system and the benefits of the higher image quality from the full frame sensor. In the past, It was always a debate, which camera to take, if I had to travel light. Now it is a no-brainer. Where the 5D MkII would have let me down when photographing fast moving wildlife and the 7D wasn’t ideal for landscapes and suffered in low light; the MkIII is the best compromise for all the shooting I do. If I could afford bigger primes,  then 7D would be quietly retired, but I need the extra reach too often to sacrifice it at the moment. Perhaps an option would be a used 1D MkIV, or perhaps I’d be better off getting a big(ger) white. That’s a debate for the future though. No doubt, I will be publishing a fuller review, once I’ve gained more experience shooting with it.

Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 – NOW SOLD

I’ve been pretty busy with work lately, but I’ve finally got around to listing my Canon 100-400 telephoto zoom lens for sale on eBay. The starting price is £750, but I’m hoping to get a little more than that, as most sell second-hand for over £900, being close to £1100 new.

For anyone who is looking for this lens, it is in near mint condition, with minor scuff marks on the hood.

First Impressions of the New Canon EOS 5D MkIII

Yesterday, I attended Focus on Imaging. My main aim was to have a look at the 5D MkIII and 1D X (although I never did get the chance to see the 1D X in the end). A few days before the exhibition, I received an invite from Canon Professional Services (as did all members) to attend a presentation/demonstration on a first come first served basis, so I rushed to the CPS area on arrival to book my session. I have written this article as a first impression, as well as some insight, opinions and impressions of the CPS representative.

The session lasted one hour, during which time, the rep gave an overview of some of the salient features and compared it to the 1D X, to which it arguably most resembles. However, we didn’t have a chance to compare it to the 1D X at that time, although there was both the MkIII and the 5D MkII side by side and both with the appropriate grips attached. Also available were the new flash and radio transmitter, along with the new GPS/Ethernet/Bluetooth unit (which has some useful features of its own). Although to be honest, none of the six people in our session gave much more than a second glance to those. The group seemed to consist of a wildlife photographer, a landscape photographer and a wedding/events photographer, so it was a bit of a range, besides my main interests of wildlife and landscape. We were able to ask questions and play with the camera, but there wasn’t a card in any of the slots. The rep also gave some insights on some of the design decisions that were made and some of the shortcomings and the reasons for them. He came across as very honest, but he also admitted that he’d only received the camera the night before, so his testing was limited.

Ergonomics and Aesthetics

When I first picked the camera up, apart from the extra heft with the attached battery grip, it felt very familiar. It’s much more curvaceous than the MkII and looks and feels very much like the 7D as you’d expect. The buttons are pretty much as have been seen in all the pictures that have been flying around since its first “unveiling” in Kenya. All in all, no surprises. One of the others in the group didn’t like the feel, as he said it felt too much like a Nikon, although I would disagree with that assessment, as I find Nikon cameras to be quite blocky in comparison, although I haven’t held too many of them.

Menus and Buttons

These have changed considerably. The menu headings themselves are brightly coloured and more modern looking, although in some ways, this makes them look a bit like something you would see on a child’s toy, with the fluorescent pinks and greens (although I could be remembering the actual colours wrong). They actually look very much like the images of the 1D X menus that have been seen. In use though, they are a definite improvement, although they will take a bit of getting used to. Each of the different areas are divided into sections, in some ways like the old menus, but instead of drilling down in the same way, there are a number of top level pages within each section, which can be scrolled through using the joystick; this will mean much less key presses and quicker access, once you find out where everything is. I didn’t spend a great deal of time looking through the menus, but I liked what I saw overall.

The buttons didn’t show any surprises, as they are all visible on the leaked images. The new Rate button is pretty much as you’d expect, you press it once for 1 star, twice for 2 stars and so on up to 5 stars. The Rate system is designed to be fully compatible with the likes of Lightroom and Photoshop. The other new button, is the edit button. This allows in camera editing of RAW images. We didn’t go into too much detail, but I could see it being a useful feature for the likes of photojournalists, if they ever decided to shoot in RAW. I didn’t look at the new Creative+ mode on the new dial. I also completely forgot to try out the new lock. The zooming into images will probably also take a bit of getting used to, but there are various options in the menu to adjust the zoom behaviour, allowing direct view at the pixel level if required, with a single press of the zoom and turn of the top dial.

Focusing

This is probably the hottest topic in the 5D MkIII. It was very difficult to do any real testing, but it seemed more responsive than the MkII in the same conditions (hardly difficult to achieve). Here the rep gave us some insights. He was saying that one of the hardest things for any camera to focus on, is a series of vertical lines, such as those found on radiators. This isn’t something I’ve paid much attention to (it simply doesn’t match any type of shooting I would normally do). He didn’t say exactly what his test was (but I suspect it involved radiators in low light), but apparently, he has devised a very demanding test of the autofocus system in low light conditions. He said that only one (Canon obviously) camera has passed that test, with the ability to focus most of the time and that was the 1D X, but it took it about 1 second to lock on. The 5D MkIII also failed, although he seemed to suggest that it was able to lock focus almost half the time. At this point, one of the others asked about the speed of the AF on the MkIII in comparison to other cameras. The first comparison was to the 1D X. The rep said that the 5D MkIII has slower AF than the 1D X (unsurprisingly), but he said the main reason was the fact that it only has a single DIgic 5+, instead of the three processors in the 1D X. However, he said it is the fastest focusing non-1 series camera. Someone then asked about the 1Ds MkIII as a comparison, to which he replied that the 1Ds MkIII was slightly quicker for a single point. Whether that means he hadn’t compared multi-points or whether the 5D MkIII was faster for multi-points I’m not sure.

Then came the inevitable question, the issue of f/8 focusing. This was where, he had a prepared explanation, that had been explained to him and as it was discussed, he offered his own personal viewpoint and impression, based on what he’d been told. He explained that the new focus sensors were larger, which enabled much more accuracy in low light compared to the 1D MkIV and other cameras. It was the enlargement of these sensors that has led to the compromise of losing f/8. His impression was, that it was a physical limitation and not firmware, but he didn’t know for sure and couldn’t rule out the possibility. However, he did say, that if it could be adjusted by a firmware update, then it would likely affect low light AF accuracy in his opinion. It was at this point, that the person asking about f/8 AF stated that it was always a bit iffy anyway and couldn’t be guaranteed in any way. The rep said, if the accuracy was only 20% would it be acceptable and I think the consensus was no. In low light, the 5D MkIII should have the most accurate low light focusing of any Canon camera, with the excecption of the 1D X.

Next came the new AF presets for different scenarios. He went through them, with the comment from the wildlife photographer, that wildlife is always missed out. The reply was, that there is supposed to be a firmware update in the future, with a preset for wildlife scenarios.

ISO Sensitivity and Noise

This was something that I couldn’t test in the demo, but I did manage to make some quick and dirty comparisons to my 5D MkII afterwards, in the same lighting conditions and similar images. However, some impressions and comments from the rep first. Canon are stating that there is a two stop improvement in noise levels compared to the MkII. I asked for clarification on whether that was with noise reduction or with noise reduction switched off. The slightly cryptic reply was, that he always leaves NR switched off. He also stated that the 1D X has an extra 1 stop over the 5D MkIII. In addition, they are still tweaking, so that could improve further in the released version. Apparently, earlier groups seemed to think that the MkIII had a 3 stop advantage over the 5D MkII.

My impression from the quick testing I did, based on the image on the LCD screen (the card slots were taped up), seemed to show that the MkIII had slightly more noise at ISO 25,600, than the MkII did at ISO 6400. I would therefore suggest an improvement of around 1.5 stops, but that is still pretty good, even if it doesn’t match the 2 stops claimed and it could be that I was mistaken or that the new screen allows visualisation more easily. Also, I had the 24mm f/1.4 MII on my 5D MkII, with the 24-70 (original) on the MkIII, so the comparison was skewed slightly towards the MkII, due to the higher quality lens. Incidentally, the focus accuracy looked to be ok.

Sensor, Image Quality and Dynamic Range

Let’s get the hot topic out the way first. I’m sad to say, I was slightly distracted, through playing with the menus, when he was asked about DR, so I didn’t hear the full answer. I did hear that he hadn’t had a chance to test the DR on the 5D MkIII, but I think he said, that the 1D X has a 1 stop improvement in DR, but I could be wrong there.

He went into quite a bit of depth on image quality. While he didn’t mention Nikon, it was obvious who he was referring to when he mentioned a 36 MP camera. Canon have developed the philosophy that  22 MP is good enough at the moment, as high resolution sensors require faster shutter speeds to prevent motion blur. He commented that many people who had been using the 5D MkII and then used the 7D had this problem, realising they needed to use faster shutter speeds to freeze the motion of even relatively slow moving subjects (he went on to explain shutter speeds that were required to freeze a bride walking down some stairs, that seemed a little spurious, but the main point was valid). He also mentioned that many of the older lenses wouldn’t cope with high resolution sensors and that Canon didn’t want their customers to have to replace large numbers of their lenses, just because they were getting a high resolution camera. He then went on to say that lenses released in the last 4-5 years would be able to cope with a high resolution sensor (i.e. in the 36 MP range). This supports my theory that Canon may be waiting to upgrade more of their lenses before releasing a higher resolution sensor.

Next, he mentioned the thinner anti-alias fliter. This has allowed an algorithm within Digital Photo Professional (DPP), that essentially reverse-engineers the blur caused by the filter and lens, by following the light path, allowing higher levels of sharpness and greater definition, this is called Lens Optimizer. There is also in camera chromatic aberration correction (probably JPEG only).

Metering

I won’t say too much about the metering, other than it is less sophisticated than the 1D X and the same as the 7D. Apparently, it was motorsports shooters who asked for the colour metering, to help with the difficult metering of reds and greens. The rep mentioned that Ferrari red was notoriously difficult to focus on. It is also linked to the AF points to improve metering of the subject.

Build Quality

When asked about weather sealing, he stated it was at the same level as the 7D. When asked what that meant, he mentioned that he likes to shoot  timelapse photography of thunderstorms (each to their own I suppose :P). With the 1 series cameras, he is happy to leave them out all night in heavy rain. The 7D, he is happy to leave out for 3-4 hours, while the 5D MkII, he wouldn’t leave out for half an hour. This was carried through to the new battery grip. On the MkII, you could see daylight between the grip and camera, but the new grip has a much tighter seal with the camera body and is moulded to the shape of the bottom of the camera. This helps to prevent the use of the grip being a weak point in adverse weather conditions.

The sound quality of the shutter is much improved over the MkII. It is a softer and higher pitched sound. Also, the MkIII has a silent shutter mode, which is unique, as even the 1D X doesn’t have it. It is much quieter than the normal shutter (ten times quieter in fact). He was then asked how it worked. In the 5D MkII, a motor raised the mirror, which was then allowed to fall by gravity, but the MkIII mirror is raised and lowered by a motor. There are a couple of downsides to the silent mode (one I’ve forgotten, it was that important), the frame rate drops to 3 fps. This is still almost as quick as the MkII and I would say that it’s unlikely that you would need a fast frame rate in situations where the quiet mode was important (I remember having the feeling that the second downside wouldn’t be a hardship in those situations either).

One other thing I’ll mention in this section, involves the viewfinder. Like the 7D and 1D X, it uses a transmissive LCD overlay. Now I find the 7D harder to focus manually, but he said that the MkIII is easier to focus than the MkII, only by using it will we find out if this is true.

Overall Impression

During the short time I was able to see the 5D MkIII, I was very impressed with the overall feel. The ISO sensitivity and noise levels stand out as some of the main features, but also of course the AF system. This is exactly the same as the 1D X, but is slower due to only having the single processor. For wildlife, I think it is ideal. It isn’t often that the motor drive is needed, I think I can count on both hands in two and a half years, the number of times that I have needed it on the 7D and if the AF matches the specs, then that will be a huge improvement, as will the IQ from the full frame sensor. The downside is the loss of reach from the crop factor, but I can keep the 7D to cover that problem. For landscapes, it will give me what I have now and probably a bit more too, especially if the DR is improved. If I was shooting primarily landscape photography, then it probably wouldn’t be worth the upgrade, but for wildlife, it will expand on what I can achieve, with improved AF and improved ability to shoot crepuscular subjects in low light.

For those who want full frame, but either can’t afford the 1D X or don’t need the extra features the 1D X has and shoot anything other than (or as well as) landscapes, then the 5D MkIII is the obvious upgrade path, but if you need the weather proofing bullet proof AF or any of the other features of the 1D X (such as the new anti-pixel blur), then that is the only option. Many who had ordered two 1D X’s, are now considering changing their pre-orders to one of each camera.

I’m sure there are some things I missed (we elected to skip the video bits) and there are other things that will come to light as more people see the camera and reps become more used to it, but hopefully this gives some insights into my first impression.

View my galleries at http://ps.avalonlightphotoart.co.uk.

Focus on Imaging 2012

Yesterday was the start of this year’s Focus on Imaging exhibition. I decided not to attend last year, as Canon weren’t attending and there wasn’t anything specific I wanted to have a look at. This year though was set to be full of anticipation, with Canon’s recent releases of the 1D X and 5D MkIII, not to mention Nikon’s D800 and D800E.

I had originally decided to go out of curiosity, to have a look at the 1D X, but then of course with all the rumours and subsequent release of the 5D MkIII, it took on a new edge, as it was a camera that was more in my price range or more to the point a price range I could justify, based on my level of sales. Then the week before the exhibition, I received an invite from Canon Professional Services (CPS) to a demonstration of the 5D MkIII, so my first stop on arrival was the CPS stand, next to the main Canon auditorium, to book a session.

My overall impression of Focus, was that there were less people there than I remembered from two years ago. However, it could just have been that they were all crowded around the 5D MkIII and 1D X stands, as you couldn’t get anywhere near them when I arrived, such was the interest and the corridor in that area was completely blocked. The usual range of show offers from the various exhibitors were in evidence, including a good price for a Black Rapid strap and a set of small Interfit 5-in-1 reflectors, but as usual, the paper I usually use was noticeable by its absence, despite a couple of exhibitors having a selection from Hahnemuehle (including Hahnemuehle themselves).

Then the time came for the demonstration and I will make another post with my impressions (along with some impressions expressed by the rep) of that and the subsequent quick testing afterwards. After that, I also made a beeline for the area where they had the only sample of the pre-announced 200-400 with built in extender. First of all, I picked it up and was immediately surprised by the weight, or rather the lack of it. It was much easier to handle than my 300mm f/2.8 IS (original version). I think this was partly due to the lightness and partly due to balance. I would say it’s only marginally heavier than the 300mm f/2.8 but much better balanced. I then had a chance to try it on a 1D MkIV. I wasn’t able to get any real impressions beyond seeing the difference between the extender in and out, but it’s very easy to reach the switch to flip it in and out with your left thumb. If it has the same image quality of other super teles (which I’m sure it will have), then it will be a lens to lust after.

All in all, it was worth attending and it was a good opportunity to see the new cameras and upcoming lenses. For anyone who is considering attending over the next couple of days, I would say get on the train or in your car and take a trip.

Canon 5d MkIII, 7D MkII or Something Completely Different?

I don’t normally post anything to do with rumours of upcoming cameras, but today, a series of images was posted, purportedly taken by a tourist in Kenya, who was in the same vehicle as a Canon employee testing the new 600mm MkII and the announced 200-400mm with built-in 1.4x extender. The photos look a pretty good match for released images by Canon. More interestingly though, not only does there appear to be a 1D-X being tested, but also a mystery smaller format camera. Speculation varies as to whether it is the future 5D MkIII or the 7D MkII, but it is clear that the layout appears to be an evolution from that of the 7D, which isn’t really unexpected. It also appears to not have a pop-up flash and the size of the pentaprism would suggest it is full frame. Beyond that though, it is anyone’s guess.

See the images for yourself:

http://blog.apertureacademy.com/2012/01/canon-200-400mm-and-600mm-prototype.html

or read the discussions:

http://www.canonrumors.com/forum/index.php/topic,2963.0.html

Having had some time to digest the available information, the following summarises the salient facts.

  1. Pentaprism size suggests larger than APS-C, perhaps full frame.
  2. Some of the visible buttons might suggest high speed shooting.
  3. Button layout is a combination of 1D-X and 7D.
  4. Longer format rear screen might suggest greater emphasis on video.
  5. Lack of Creative Auto setting on mode dial – departure from both 5D and 7D lines.

So, lots of ifs buts and maybes, that don’t really do much to answer the questions. When the specifications of the 1D-X were released, some of them had me interested, for example, the better low light and overall image quality. However, the price is out of my range and the move to full frame would lose me “reach” over the 7D, which would be the obvious camera to replace. The thought of a possible small format version of the 1d-X (with its cheaper price point) does interest me and if it just happened to have  1.3x crop (i.e. the now supposedly defunct APS-H format) and around 22MP, so that it would offer improved image quality over the 7D, then I would probably be planning on a purchase in the future. Even full frame at around 25MP if it had improved image quality, better tracking and improved dynamic range and sensitivity over the 5D MkII would spark interest, as I could then keep the 7D for when I need the reach and use the new camera for all other circumstances, effectively replacing the 5D MkII.

Time will tell in the end and ultimately, we just have to wait for the announcement. The Camera and Photo Imaging Show starts on February 9th in Japan and with Focus on Imaging a month later, it is an ideal time coming up for Nikon and Canon to make some high profile announcements.