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.