In 1987 Canon unveiled the EOS 650 to the world. It was the Japanese manufacturer’s first 35mm autofocus SLR and the start of the EOS system. With its fully-electronic lens mount, in-lens aperture and focus motors, and reliance on electronic button and dial operation, Canon’s EOS system established a blueprint that all successive camera systems have followed. Now, 25 years later, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the latest model in the line.
Up until now, the 5D series has been a dynasty of slightly unlikely revolutionaries. The original EOS 5D of 2005 was the first ‘affordable’ full frame SLR, and the camera that cemented the 24x36mm sensor as the format of choice for many professional applications at a time when many were questioning its continued relevance. The 5D Mark II was the first SLR capable of recording full HD video, a feature that revolutionized the market in a fashion that no one could possibly have envisaged at the time – least of all Canon. On the face of it, though, the latest model offers little that looks likely to make the same impact.
The 5D Mark III has a 22MP full frame sensor in a body that’s based on the EOS 7D design, and with a 61-point AF system borrowed from the flagship EOS-1D X. From the glass-half-empty point of view, this could be seen as an unambitious update that trails disappointingly behind Nikon’s 36MP D800 which was announced around the same time. But for those whose glasses tend more towards the half-full, it might just turn out to be the camera that 5D Mark II owners always really wanted.
Indeed the 5D name itself is almost misleading; compared to its predecessor the Mark III is essentially a completely new model, with every major system upgraded and updated. In a way it’s better seen as a full-frame 7D, with that camera’s control layout, extensive customizability and 63-zone metering sensor. But it also gains a raft of additional tweaks and improvements in response to customer feedback; these range from dual slots for CF and SD cards, through a locking exposure mode dial, to a large depth of field preview button that’s repositioned for right-handed operation, and can be reprogrammed to access a number of other functions.
Read on to find out out how the 5D Mark III performs in our studio and real-life tests, how we liked its handling and operation and if it is the right camera for your requirements and type of photography.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III key specifications
- 22MP full frame CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-25600 standard, 50-102,800 expanded
- 6 fps continuous shooting
- Shutter rated to 150,000 frames
- 1080p30 video recording, stereo sound via external mic
- 61 point AF system
- 63 zone iFCL metering system
- 100% viewfinder coverage
- 1040k dot 3:2 LCD
- Dual card slots for CF and SD
Canon EOS 5D Mark III and II key differences
Most of the key specs are substantially upgraded compared to the 5D Mark II. The new sensor, coupled with Canon’s latest DIGIC 5+ processor, offers a standard ISO range of 100 – 25,600 that’s expandable to 50 – 102,800. An 8-channel sensor readout enables continuous shooting at 6 fps. The shutter is rated to 150,000 cycles and has been refined for quieter operation; the Mark III also inherits the ‘silent’ shutter mode previously seen on the 1D-series. Viewfinder coverage is a full 100%, and the 1040k dot, 3:2 aspect ratio 3.2″ LCD screen has improved anti-reflection properties and a hardened glass cover to protect against scratching. And let’s not forget that 61-point focus system from the 1DX – the first time Canon has put its top-spec AF sensor into a non-1-series camera since the film-era EOS 3.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
|Sensor||22.3 MP full-frame CMOS||21 MP full-frame CMOS|
|Processor||Digic 5+||Digic 4|
|ISO range||50 – 102800||50 – 25600|
|Maximum shooting rate||6fps||3.9fps|
|LCD screen||3.2″ – 1,040,000 dots||3.0″ – 920,000 dots|
|AF Sensor||61 points||9 points|
|All-I and IPV video compression options||Yes||No|
|Touch-sensitive rear dial||Yes||No|
|Side-by-side image comparison||Yes||No|
Movie mode turned out to be the 5D Mark II’s trump card over its rivals, and its successor naturally offers improved capability in this regard. In terms of ergonomics, the camera gains the 7D’s rear movie mode/live view switch, so you no longer have to compromise your stills Live View settings when setting up for video recording. There’s a built-in headphone socket for audio monitoring, and rear control dial gains touch-sensitive ‘buttons’ that allow recording parameters (shutter speed, aperture, ISO and sound volume) to be changed silently. The video output specifications are essentially unchanged in terms of resolution and framerate (1080p30 maximum), but Canon says the processing is improved to minimise moiré and other artefacts, and has included the higher quality All-I and IPB interframe compression options introduced with the EOS-1D X. What you don’t get though, is the uncompressed output over HDMI seen in the latest Nikon models.
There’s a couple of entirely new features too; the 5D Mark III becomes Canon’s first SLR capable of in-camera High Dynamic Range shooting, in an unusually well-implemented and flexible fashion, and gets expanded autobracketing options too (up to 7 frames covering a vast +/- 8 EV range). It can also record multiple exposures, if you so desire. The introduction of DIGIC 5+ means that JPEG processing (finally) includes chromatic aberration correction, based on lens profiles which are stored in-camera (and therefore limited to Canon’s own lenses). Last but not least, playback mode adds the ability to compare images directly side-by-side, in a number of different views.
The 5D Mark III also gains a refreshed menu system, essentially based on that of the EOS-1D X. It’s not entirely dissimilar to the 5D Mark II’s (so existing users will still feel at home), but it gains a completely new tab for managing its complex AF system, based on a range of usage-scenario presets. The ordering of options has been rationalized, and a number of functions that were previously hidden deep within the custom functions have bubbled-up closer to the surface as top-level menu items, perhaps most notably mirror lockup and Highlight Tone Priority.