March 2, 2012

Canon 5D Mark III - A Game Changer [Again]

Canon continues to revolutionize digital photography with the EOS 5D line.

In August, 2005, Canon released the 12.8 MP 5D, the first standard body sized DSLR loaded with a full-frame 35mm (36 x 24mm) sensor.  Not only did the 5D offer the shallow depth of field and wide angle field of views film photographers were familiar with, it offered superb image quality at a bargain price.  The 5D retailed for $3,200 in 2005, which was far more affordable than the $7,999 1Ds Mark II.

Canon undoubtedly made a dent in the universe with the release of the 5D Mark II in September, 2008.  Canon loaded the 5D Mark II with features, such as a huge ISO range (100 - 6400), clean 21.1 MP files able to produce detail-rich large prints, and best of all, 1080p HD video.  Canon even managed to drop the price to $2,600, making the versatile camera even more affordable.

With the announcement of the 5D Mark III, Canon has changed the digital photography market yet again.  Canon addressed the shortcomings photographers felt the 5D Mark II possessed and developed a well-rounded, do-it-all, full-frame camera.  Although the pricing of the 5D Mark III is substantially greater than the 5D Mark II, the new features and dollar inflation make the $3,499 body only price tag [somewhat] justifiable.

Important Specs:
- 61 point AF System (up to 41 cross-type points)
- ISO 100 - 256,00 native / 50 - 102,800 expanded
- 100 % viewfinder coverage
- 6 frames per second continuous burst
- Silent shooting mode
- Dual card slots (CF and SD)

(© dpReview)

Think evolution, not revolution.
The 5D Mark III is not a revolutionary camera.  The specs are not as impressive on paper as the 5D and 5D Mark II were.   Instead, the 5D Mark III is a evolutionary camera.  Its new features will be welcomed by most and accustomed to by others.  Let's take a look at a few of the noteworthy pros and cons of the new 5D Mark III:

  • 61 point Autofocus system (with up to 41 cross-type points)
  • AF mode types:
    • Full Auto (all 61 points active)
    • Single Point
    • Single Point expansion (4 surrounding points)
    • Single Point expansion (8 surrounding points)
    • Zone
    • Spot
  • AF sensitivity to -2 EV
  • Silent shooting at 1 or 3 fps
  • 6 fps burst
  • Native ISO 100 - 25,600
  • Dual card slots (CF and SD)
  • Headphone out port
  • In-camera star rating (Adobe and Apple compatible)
Much of the autofocus system is derived from the flagship 1Dx, however the 5D Mark III uses the 7D based 63 zone iFCL metering system instead of the 100,000 RGB pixel metering system found in the 1Dx.

Canon made a huge improvement to the AF sensitivity of the 5D Mark III in comparison to the 5D Mark II.  The 5D Mark III offers AF down to -2 EV, whereas the 5D Mark II was only sensitive to -0.5 EV.  This means locking focus in low light conditions such as receptions, concerts, and indoor rodeos will be much easier.  For reference, -2 EV is equivalent to full moon light.  Combine this AF sensitivity with Canon's fast primes, and the insanely high ISO capabilities, and the 5D Mark III can have you shooting in near pitch black scenarios.

Silent shooting was available on the 5D Mark II but could only be used with the bright LCD shining in Live View.  That feature never seemed practical as the photographer more than likely wanted to be stealthy while shooting.  The 1D series [non-Live View] silent shooting mode has found its way into the 5D Mark III.  This is a great feature for wedding photographers and photojournalists to have.  The slapping of the mirror can be distracting and unwanted while covering a wedding ceremony, a trial at the court house, a ballet performance, or even scenes on a film set.  Click, clack no more!

15 cross-type AF points at f/5.6 (© dpReview)
41 cross-type AF points at f/4 (© dpReview)
5 double cross-type AF points at f/2.8 (© preview)

  • Fixed focusing screen
  • Price
  • 63 zone iFCL metering system from the 7D and 1D Mark IV instead of 100,000 RGB pixel metering system from the 1Dx
  • Headphone out port location
Canon made few changes to the HD video for the 5D Mark III.  Recording time has been extended to just under 30 minutes, cinematographers now have a choice between ALL-I and IPB compression, and audio levels can now be seen and adjusted directly from the LCD while recording.  Another great feature Canon gave the 5D Mark III and not the 1Dx is a headphone port to monitor audio quality.  On the negative side, Canon placed the headphone port on a separate port panel from the Mic In port.  This reduces the weather sealing of numerous other accessory ports when using an on-board mic – like the Rode VideoMic Pro – and monitoring audio with headphones.

Its a win-win for everyone!
There is no denying that the Canon 5D Mark III is a beast of a camera.  The improvements Canon made are not as drastic as with the 5D and 5D Mark II, but they are all necessary.  Once all of the new features are added up, with the new autofocus system being the biggest, the $3,499 price tag becomes much easier to handle.

The 61 point autofocus system of the 5D Mark III is the selling point.  The increased frame rate and ISO performance make the body more useful in various scenarios.  The 5D Mark III is a do-it-all Go-Getter.  As a photojournalist, it is not uncommon to have a portrait assignment in the morning, a corporate luncheon hours later, and a sports assignment in the evening.  In the past, photojournalist were torn between the 5D Mark II for its excellent image quality and the 1D Mark IV for its agility and autofocus system.  Now photographers can have the best of both worlds for less money (in comparison to the 1D Mark IV).  Having 10, 12, or 14 frames per second is not nearly as important as having a great autofocus system, superb image quality, and quality lenses.

If the 5D Mark III is out of your price range or excessive for your photography needs, Canon has stated that the 5D Mark II will coexist with the 5D Mark III.  Better yet, 5D Mark II prices are set to drop within the next few weeks.  This makes the 5D Mark II the best full-frame camera on the market for Canon, especially if your main focus is cinematography.  For those that require the most robust build quality and speed available, the Canon 1Dx is the body for you.

Pre-Order your 5D Mark III today!
B&H Photo
Canon 5D Mark III Body Only – $3,499
Canon 5D Mark III + 24-105 f/4L IS kit – $4,299
Canon 5D Mark III Body Only – $3,499
Canon 5D Mark III + 24-105 f/4L IS kit – $4,299

Is the Canon 5D Mark III everything you had hoped for or were you hoping for a higher MP camera like the Nikon D800?  Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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