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Customer Review

646 of 700 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Should you upgrade? Photo and video shooters, read and decide!, March 31, 2012
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This review is from: Canon EOS 5D Mark III 22.3 MP Full Frame CMOS with 1080p Full-HD Video Mode Digital SLR Camera (Body) (Electronics)
I was able to pre-order and the Canon 5D Mark III arrived on March 29th. I had mixed feelings when the press release first came out with the specs on the new Mark III. Several features that were high on my wish list didn't make it into the camera, but when I started seeing some of the image samples, particularly in low light, I knew I wanted it anyway.

I'm currently an owner of the 5D Mk II and the 60D and my expectations were that the Mk III would inherit many of the superior handling features of the newer 60D. I am an enthusiast and not a professional photographer but I do make my living shooting product photography for online sales. For pleasure I shoot nature, architecture, and the occasional portraits. I'm also an avid fan of DSLR video and the fact that these cameras can literally capture Hollywood quality footage with few modifications is a big deal to me and a lot of people in the independent cinematography community.

The much anticipated release of the 5D Mark III was a bit of a letdown to me initially. One of the things I LOVE about the 60D is the articulating screen. The articulating screen is so handy to have and a joy to use in situations where the camera needs to be at an odd angle, such as low to the ground, high above your head or in tight quarters. The other indispensable use for the articulating screen is shooting self-portraits and videos of yourself. As a one-man act, you can't shoot a video and also be in it at the same time if you can't see the screen! So I really couldn't believe it when Canon came out with the specs on the Mark III -- and NO articulating screen!? It's a feature that has been in the lower-grade 60D and T3i for over a year and a half already, and here we're paying three times the price of the 60D we don't get it? COME ON, Canon!

Canon's reason for not including an articulating screen to preserve weatherproofing. To remedy this I'm getting the Swivi 5.6" HDMI LCD Screen which is a giant 5" articulating LCD screen that even has FOCUS PEAKING (really cool). I guess I'm making lemonade out of the lemons in this situation. Another feature that didn't make it into this camera that has all the cinematographers grumbling is there is no clean HDMI output which would allow the uncompressed video footage to be captured on an external recorder. This feature would have made this a true high-end movie making machine to rival the $30,000 RED ONE and knock the socks off the Panasonic GH2 and even the AF100. For myself, not a deal breaker... but the Nikon D800 has this. [UPDATE: The latest Canon Firmware Update 1.2.3 has enabled clean HDMI output, but it's a disappointment. The uncompressed footage is still hampered by an internal processing system that delivers soft footage.]

Probably the most vexing thing that did not make it onto my wish list is the elimination of the rolling shutter problem. It has been reduced a little, but it has by no means been eliminated, so the jello effect remains an issue and impossible to completely remove in post. And so far, there has been NO program that has been able to eliminate it entirely without creating additional artifacts (believe me, I've wasted untold hours trying them all). Rolling shutter has only been reduced by 20% or so and I won't be fully satisfied shooting video until we get the global shutter and eliminate this unprofessional looking artifact altogether.

Continuous autofocus during video? It's not even an option. The Panasonic GH1/GH2 have it, and do it well. And now the Nikon D800 can auto focus continuously during video recording too, and includes face detection to keep subjects in focus. The only option for autofocus with this camera whole shooting video is still the old way: press the AF-ON button, and you'll set a clunky, noisy, re-focus point. So don't think about replacing your camcorder yet. Shooting video with this camera remains a manual focus affair best handled with a rig and follow-focus setup... classically handled as a two-man operation.

Those are my three primary disappointments. Now the fun part: all the great things (and more) that DID make it into my wish list:

1. Live View focusing with half depress of shutter button. The Mk II had a really awkward way of focusing while in Live View mode. You had to depress the separate AF button on the BACK of the camera, then hold absolutely still while you moved your finger back to the shutter button, and then take the shot. The Mk III acts just like the 60D in that you half press the shutter to focus, just as it SHOULD, which is to say exactly like shooting with a viewfinder. And you no longer have to go into the menu and set Live View to Stills-Only in order to get Exposure Simulation: The Mark III has a handy dedicated movie/stills mode switch.

2. Better low-light performance. Nikon has been beating out Canon in high ISO performance since the D3, then the D3s, the D3x, and the D700. It's taken two product cycles for Canon to finally catch up. The Mk II was the low-light king when it came out, and still performs exceptionally well, but the Mk III takes it to a new level. My initial test shots show that ISO 12800 on the Mk III has about the same noise levels as ISO 6400 on the Mk II, but with better sharpness and improved color rendition. ISO 12800 is actually usable for high-quality work, whereas at ISO 25600 things start to fall apart--but still plenty good enough for smaller web images. These ISO settings will allow you to actually get the shot even at night in situations that were previously unthinkable. Most importantly, overall image quality in terms of dynamic range and the quality of the noise at high ISOs has been improved for both stills and video.

The claims were that ISO 25600 on this camera was going to be like ISO 6400 on the Mark II, a two stop improvement. The truth is that it's not. It's just about a one stop improvement, maybe slightly more, but that's still a significant achievement.

3. No megapixel escalation! I was relieved that Canon DIDN'T try to stuff 36 megapixels into the Mk III. They kept it roughly the same at 22mp. Way to go, Canon! It's been proven time and time again that more megapixels doesn't make for a sharper image, only larger file sizes. "More megapixels equals better image quality is what's known as "the megapixel myth" Cramming in more megapixels means a lower signal-to-noise ratio and less full well capacity for each photo site. At some point you don't get more detail with a higher pixel count; you just spread the detail around on more pixels. I hardly ever need 21mp as it is, and I am absolutely relieved not to be dealing with larger files because I often shoot RAW.

4. Exposure bracketing. The Mk II could only do 3 exposure bracket shots automatically; the Mk III can do up to 7. Bingo! But you have to go to page 316 in the manual under Custom Settings to read how. It's not even in the index and the main entry under Exposure Bracketing says it does 3 (the default) and doesn't even mention that it can do up to 7. There is also White Balance Bracketing (redundant if you shoot RAW), but unfortunately no focus bracketing (focus stacking). That would have thrilled me. (Focus bracketing/stacking function is available via the Unified Magic Lantern Firmware for the 550D/60D/600D/50D/500D.)

5. Chromatic aberration correction. A feature inherent to Nikon and Panasonic micro 4/3, it's about time Canon got it. But it's unclear whether RAW images processed with PhotoShop Adobe RAW already have this applied or not... and you have to load in lens profiles manually. I will have to experiment with this.

6. Improved White Balance settings. One of the major gripes I have with all cameras is the accuracy of the Auto White Balance. Sure AWB works fine outdoors in natural light, but in indoor light it's usually awful. Even the tungsten setting is rarely accurate. Invariably I've had to create custom white balance settings on all my cameras using a white card. But FINALLY, on the Mk III, not only is the tungsten setting accurate, even the Auto setting gives decent results indoors.

7. Electronic Level. The 60D has it on the LCD. The 5D Mk III now has it. But get this--the Mk III not only has a side-to-side level, it has a FRONT TO BACK level too! Great for architectural photography. And there's more--a grid overlay and electronic level in the VIEWFINDER. (Once again you must go into Custom settings to set a shortcut button to enable this.) This is way more than I was hoping for and Canon gets bonus points for this.

8. Quiet shutter. The shutter noise from "mirror slap" has been greatly reduced even in Standard mode, and there's a new "silent shooting mode" where you don't hear the mirror at all. This is something I've always wanted in an SLR, and was pleasantly surprised. I guess Canon WAS listening after all.

9. Auto ISO in manual mode. This is so cool. You can set the camera to M, set the exact shutter speed and f/stop that you want, and let Auto ISO choose the ISO for the correct exposure. Considering that this camera gives good results up to ISO 12800, this is a really great way to achieve the exact depth of field and stop motion effect that you want, and let the camera pick the right ISO. Couldn't do this in Mk II. Works with stills and video.

9. Full video exposure control. Speaking of videos, the ability to control exposure when shooting videos has been greatly improved. The Mk II was the camera that started the whole DSLR movie craze. I'm sure that Canon never imagined when they stuck this feature onto the Mk II as an add-on, that it would explode into the DSLR cinematography revolution that it has. But the Mk II was severely hampered by crude exposure control. Now, full manual control is available. Strangely though, only auto ISO is available in Av, Tv, and P. There are more shooting modes: 1080p at 24, 25, or 30 FPS and 720p mode now does 50 or 60 FPS, with two compression options,including an I-frame only compression for better quality suitable for grading.

A whole wave of enthusiasts use the Magic Lantern firmware patch that allows cinematographers to gain access to enhanced functionality like manual audio, zebras, focus assist tools, and more. The Mk III now handles a few of these functions naively such as manual audio (and a headphone jack), plus a video ISO range that goes to 12,800 with 25,600 as an option.

UPDATE 6-2013: A MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH IN THE MAGIC LANTERN FIRMWARE: Amazingly, Magic Lantern has released a version that enables recording of 14-Bit RAW 1080p directly to a CF card. This is a total game changer and a huge buzz in the DSLR video community right now. (!!) the RAW footage blows away the internal H.264 codec in terms of both resolution and dynamic range. Once again a Canon camera called 5D is shaking up the independent cinematography industry big time! Stay tuned.

10. The 4GB video file size limitation. Finally, Canon has crossed the 4gb file size barrier and supports file spanning. Now clips can go as long as 30 minutes instead of 12. A big improvement, but come on... The Panasonic GH1 & GH2 have been able to shoot video with NO time limitation for years. Continuous shooting is a MUST HAVE for event videographers. Sorry, this wish-list item still doesn't make the full cut. Why do camera manufacturers hamstring this when it's obvious these cameras are capable of unlimited video recording? Thirty minute cutoff due to a European tax law... can someone fix this PLEASE?

There is much more... of course the completely overhauled complex AF system, primarily for action shooters, dual CF and SD card support, and in-camera HDR and other image combining effects...

Biggest annoyance: the AF point selection button no longer controls magnification in Live View and playback mode. This is a big pain when you want to use focus assist in Live View, because you can no longer just use your right thumb... you have to take your left hand from the lens to press the magnify button which is now on the left side of the LCD. I hate when they move a button from the perfect spot to one that is NOT ERGONOMIC. Workaround: You can assign Magnify to the `Set' button which is on the right (but not to the old button which would have been better).

So here's the big question: at list price of thirty-five hundred dollars, should you upgrade? My thoughts:

A. If you are primarily a through-the-viewfinder still photographer shooting in good light (outdoors and flash), it's rather hard to justify the extra cost. Many of us have barely scratched the surface of the creative possibilities of the Mk II, and in many ways this is not a major upgrade for traditional style, properly lit photography. This camera isn't going to make you a better photographer, though some of the new tools like the electronic level are quite handy.

B. Cinematographers: There's already a lot of carping and moaning in the video camps that this upgrade is a big disappointment. I think it's great for part-time video shooters like me, but it's missing a lot of features that the pros were hoping for. Of course if they want all those pro features they can buy the Canon C300 for $16,000. But current users locked into Magic Lantern are probably going to have to wait for Magic Lantern to catch up anyway. They've already got Magic Lantern for the T2i, T3i, 50D and 60D, so it's just a matter of time. [UPDATE: THE MAGIC LANTERN HACK IS AVAILABLE WITH EVEN MORE OPTIONS INCLUDING SHOOTING RAW VIDEO.]

C. Low light / night photographers, action sports, theater and concert shooters, documentary videographers: This upgrade is a MUST! This camera sets a new benchmark for image quality in less than optimal light conditions. That one stop advantage, better color depth and dynamic range in existing light is important to these guys and gals. The image quality improvement in low light is very noticeable.

C. The rest of us. Many pros are going to want this model, if not now, eventually. The state-of-the art feature set is quite impressive; the handling improvement is modest. For hobbyists, the steep price may be difficult to justify. The Mk II is still a fantastic tool and unless you really need ISO 12800 this isn't going to give you significantly better images than you can already achieve with the marvelous Mk II.

My verdict: An enthusiastic Five Stars as a still photography camera; Four Stars overall due to the lack of three important features that have been available from Panasonic for several years already: articulating screen, continuous autofocus during video, and unlimited video recording time.

If you're on the fence about upgrading or even a first time buyer, I hope my review has been useful. Happy Shooting!
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Showing 1-10 of 44 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 1, 2012 5:49:12 AM PDT
Ciaran says:
Thanks for the good review! I absolutely agree with point's beyond ridiculous now. I'm glad that we at least have 30 minutes of recording time now with the file stitching (I rarely shoot more than 5 minutes a take for the type of work I do, but it's nice to have), but I can't understand why Canon aren't using their hardware to the full potential that the people from M.L. are doing. Is there any particular reason? I haven't done much research, although I heard someone talk about the sensor over-heating?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 2:01:55 PM PDT
Hi DOBrien,

There is some possibility of sensor overheat but the real reason for the 29 minute 59 second cutoff is the there is a European tax (duty) on the importation of camcorders. Cameras that shoot 30 minutes or more of video have to be categorized as a camcorder under this law, and are taxed at a higher rate. Panasonic sells two different versions of the GH1 / GH2 for this reason, but there is a hack for the European model that fixes it. Since we don't have the tax here in the States, it's ridiculous that we have to suffer for this. Now that the file spanning has been implemented. I'm hoping someone will now be able to hack the Mk III.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 2:16:43 PM PDT
Ciaran says:
Thanks for the info - i'll be the first to be downloading the hack when it's out. :)

Being from Europe, I know all to well about extravagant would think that Canon would go back to their having seperate editions of cameras like in the 80's and 90's to avoid this...

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 2:23:57 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 1, 2012 2:25:31 PM PDT
I don't see why not since Panasonic has already done this. Of course Europeans just order the U.S. version on eBay now. ;)
Maybe Canon distributors in Europe would protest...

Keep an eye on the Magic Lantern site for Canon firmware patches.

Posted on Apr 3, 2012 1:19:51 PM PDT
Kay One says:
Very nice and thorough review, I'm very impressed with the Mk III specs and wished the D800 kept a lower MP similar to this unit.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 3, 2012 1:43:12 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 3, 2012 1:48:29 PM PDT
Thanks Kay. But if I had an investment in Nikon lenses I wouldn't hesitate getting the D800. It also has very impressive specs, the highest sensor score ever achieved (according to DxOMark), and if the 36mb is too much for you, you can just dial it down and shoot in Medium resolution mode (5,520 x 3,680) which is 20mp. It also has a 15mp DX mode if you have DX lenses (Canon doesn't do that). It also has multi crop modes for movies. Plus it's $500 less than the Mk III !! What a deal!

It seems the tables have turned, where before Nikon had the most expensive full frame cameras with lower megapixels, and now Canon's costs more and Nikon has the high MP's. The Nikons fans always said "megapixels don't matter". Now, they are crowing about having the "best" 36 megapixels.

You know, the grass is always greener... if you're a Nikon person, just get the D800! If you can, that is... it's not in stock anywhere. Just wait a while and they'll be available. I'm sure you'll love it, it's getting fantastic reviews.

Posted on Apr 9, 2012 7:36:57 AM PDT
Very thorough review, David! Thanks a lot!


In reply to an earlier post on Apr 9, 2012 9:25:02 AM PDT
Thank you, my friend. I'm still on the learning curve with this model. The RAW images require a little different treatment in Adobe Camera Raw than the Mark II.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 9, 2012 4:31:24 PM PDT
George says:
For Tax reason I heard. If it is over 30 min, it is categorized as camcorder and taxed differently. Stupid rule.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2012 9:28:03 PM PDT
Yes but that only for the Euro market which makes it ridiculous here. Panasonic makes 2 versions of the GH2. I guess Canon / Nikon don't want to deal with that. I hope someone comes up with a firmware hack, now that the 4gb barrier has been broken.
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