A Viewfinder Darkly

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Canon 5D Mk III Camera Review

May 2 2012

by Philip Northeast

The Canon 5D Mk III has better video performance, autofocus and image processing speed. Tests suggest the image quality of the digital photos is the same as the 5D Mk II.

Canon 5D cameras are popular with professionals and advanced photographers as they offer higher than normal digital resolution at a reasonable cost. The Canon 5D Digital SLRs use a larger sensor, closely related to the size of 35mm film, but in a smaller camera body than the top of the line 1D models.

“The EOS 5D Mark III represents a big step forward for the EOS 5D series,” said Kieran Magee, Marketing Director, Professional Imaging, Canon Europe.

Canon 5D MkIII front view

“The EOS 5D Mark II is an exceptional camera and we’ve listened carefully to feedback from its passionate community of users to improve performance in every area.  This camera has been designed to meet virtually any creative challenge – it’s faster, more responsive and features the tools to adapt to everything from studio photography to creative videography, while producing results of the highest quality.”


DxOMark Sensor Tests

According to the DxOMark tests the new sensor offers no significant improvement over the MkII version.


DxOMark score summary Canon 5D MK III and Mk II models

The Mk III appears to have a slight advantage in the DxOMark low light score. Closer inspection of the test results show much of this is due to extending the ISO range to higher settings. At lower ISO settings there is only a small reduction in image noise in the Mk III version compared to the Mk II.


DxOMark noise comparison of the Canon 5D Mk III and Mk II digital SLRs


The Canon 5D MkIII received serious attention to its video performance, and according to Canon it, “incorporates enhanced video features for professionals in the fields of cinematography, television production and documentary filmmaking, including better noise reduction, longer recording times and a built-in headphone jack for audio monitoring.”

Canon’s move to broaden the appeal of their top end Digital SLR cameras may leave dedicated still photographers behind. Digital SLRs are the product of the long development of 35mm film still photography. Digital technology introduced cheap compact camera that dispensed with expensive optical viewfinders. Instead they use the same LCD display for reviewing pictures and for composing the digital photo.

Canon 5D Mk III rear view

As photographers upgraded to DSLR cameras manufacturers recognised a marketing advantage in incorporating a familiar system for these photographers. It was only a short step in technology to recording the LCD view as digital video.

DSLRs have advantages for videographers with quality lenses and low noise for low light videoing. Combined with their compact size DSLRs are attracting serious video creators.  Having video capability in a still camera is a definite plus for some users as it can save carrying two camera systems. DSLRs are fine for occasional video, but there are limitations such as overheating sensors when used for long periods of time.

With their emphasis on the video performance of the 5D MkIII in an attempt to create a new market niche Canon might be neglecting the bulk of current DSLR users who want high quality still digital photos.

Canon are developing new high performance camcorders based on DSLR size sensors and using the DSLR lens mount system for a mixture of DSLR lenses and new EF Cinema Zoom and Prime lenses. Perhaps Canon’s research budget has digital video as a higher priority than still digital photography.

Three way Sensor Comparison

The Canon 5D Mk III is not a poor performer, the comparative DxOMark tests show it is a match for the main opposition, the Nikon D800, a high performing full frame DSLR. The 5D MkIII also enjoys an advantage over the stand out APS-C sensor DSLR, the Pentax K-5.

DxOMark summary comparing Canon 5D Mk III, NIkon D800 and Pentax K-5

The only exception is the 5D Mk III’s surprisingly poor dynamic range performance. The DxOMark tests show the 5D Mk III has the same flat spot in the dynamic range curve as the older Mk II model. At low ISO the Canons trail the opposition markedly. It is surprising Canon did not address this area of performance in a brand new digital sensor.

dxomark dynamic range

DxOMark dynamic range comparison, Canon 5D Mk III, NIkon D800 and Pentax K-5


The 5D Mk III’s low DxOMark Landscape score is due to its relatively poor dynamic range at low ISO settings. The dynamic range of the Nikon and Pentax cameras increases at lower ISO settings, giving a clear maximum dynamic range at their minimum ISO. For landscape photography dynamic range is important as photographers try to capture bright skies and delicate details in the shadows of the scene.

Landscape photographers often use small apertures to maximise the area of the scene in focus. To achieve a reasonable exposure the choice is to slow the shutter speed or raise the ISO setting.  This is why tripods are popular with serious landscape photographers to minimise the blur caused by camera shake that is more likely with slower shutter speeds.

Autofocus and Image Processing

The Canon 5D Mk III has the faster image processing system from the new 1D X, doubling the frame rate of the MkIII to six frames per second. The autofocus system is new and is also based on the 1D X’s. This does make it more versatile for a camera with strengths appealing to fine art and landscape photographers.


The 5D Mk III has an impressive specification sheet for videographers with expanded options for video format. Canon says the new model captures 1080p Full HD video at 24p (23.976), 25p, and 30p (29.97) fps; 720p HD recording at 60 (59.94) and 50 fps; and SD recording at 30 (29.97) and 25 fps, giving cinematographers and videographers more flexibility and options for video capture.

The 5D Mark III inherits SMPTE-compliant timecode embedding from the 1D X for synchronising video footage from multiple cameras and separate audio recordings in post production.

The 5D Mk III has a headphone socket for monitoring sound recording and facility to adjust sound levels for video recording.

The Canon 5D Mk III has a couple of disadvantages  for video work. The continuous Autofocus function does not work in video mode, so tracking a fast moving subject could be problem. Then there is limit on the maximum recording time of the 5D Mk III. This is mainly the result of the sensor heating while it is in use. Canon say the 5D Mk III can “ record video continuously up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds across multiple 4GB files.”

This heat problem is inherit in all digital sensors and becomes more significant in larger digital sensors. For normal still cameras it is usually not a problem, although Hasselblad do have a cooling system for medium format camera digital cameras with much larger sensors.


For photographers with a Canon L series lenses seeking high quality still digital photos the 5D MkIII may be a disappointment. The new sensor has the same still picture performance as the 5D MkII yet costs considerably more. Canon seem keen to emphasise video performance and the Mk III has better support systems, but the final result is the quality of the digital photo. The 5D MKII offers similar image quality for far less money.


Adorama offer the  Canon 5D Mk III for  $US 3,500.00 and they still have the Mk II model for  $US 2,200.00



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