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Hands on: Canon EOS 5D MkIII Pre-production

This article is based on a Pre-production version of the Canon EOS 5D MkIII kindly supplied by Roger Machin of CANON South Africa.

Whenever I get a new piece of equipment in my hands I always get exited about the possibilities. It’s not unusual for me to be disappointed, in fact it is common. So far the Canon EOS 5D MkIII does everything but disappoint. The first thing I noticed was it’s weight and balance as I picked it up, it had no lens and I was surprised that it felt “right” straight away. I mounted the CANON EF 24-105mm f/4 L lens immediately and found it’s balance. Understand me, it is not a light camera, particularly paired with the battery grip and 2 batteries, however the later is  worth having for the extended battery longevity alone, not to mention the portrait  photography controls include the mini-joystick to select focus points amongst other things..


Full Frame sensor

I come from a long line of 1.6x crop sensors, in short, put a 16mm and take a few step back. With the full sensor, put a 16mm and step forward and than a little more. It will required a retraining of the brain, I used to be able to estimate distances from the lens to the subject relatively well, no more.
Than there is the depth-of-filed, it’s shorter, I heard about it before but really how can a sensor be that different? It just plainly is, at f/2.8 I feel like I am at f/1.4, I like that a lot!!!

Depth of field and low light
Canon EOS 5D MkIII BETA ISO 3200, Depth of field

Click on image to enlarge.
Lens: CANON EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS
Focal length: 105 mm
Exposure: 1/200sec at f/4.0
ISO: 12800
Edit: Adobe Lightroom 4.1 RC, 20% Noise reduction

Colour rendition

I have an strange issue with colour rendition, I thought my Canon EOS 7D did very well, the Canon EOS 5D MkIII baffled me with accuracy and I noticed it immediately.

1.6 Crop vs. full sensors
Click on image to enlarge.
Camera: CANON EOS 7D
Lens: CANON EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L
Focal length: 24 mm
Exposure: 1/400 sec at f/9
ISO: 200
Edit: Adobe Lightroom 4.1 RC, conversion to JPG only.
Lens: CANON EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS
Focal length: 24 mm
Exposure: 1/400 sec at f/11
ISO: 200
Edit: Adobe Lightroom 4.1 RC, conversion to JPG only.

Low light performance

This has been an issue with the Canon EOS 7D, past ISO 3200 it gets too noisy for my taste, doing fast moving sports such as Martial Arts in horrible lights has been a challenge even with a flash and a fast 2.8 zoom lens. Doing HDRs past ISO 1600 was just not an option. Now steps in the Canon EOS 5D MkII, a different beast all together, shoot at ISO 12800 as comfortably as ISO 1600 on the 7D. I did not believe it… Until I made an HDR with 7 brackets at ISO 12800 with very little noise, the noise is easily controlled in software from the raw images. That is opening opportunities, think about it, no tripod required, well that is not quiet true, read on!

Low light performance
Canon EOS 5D MkIII BETA ISO 3200, no edit.

Canon EOS 5D MkIII BETA ISO 3200, 25% Noise reduction edit.
This is a 1 to 1 pixel crop, click on image to enlarge.
Lens: CANON EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II 
Focal length: 27 mm
Exposure: 1/5000 sec at f/11
ISO: 3200
Edit: Adobe Lightroom 4.1 RC, conversion to JPG only. Edit: Adobe Lightroom 4.1 RC, 25% Noise reduction


This would never affect 90% of the users but it affects me, 7 brackets? Why did I not have this on the 7D? Makes my HDR shooting just so much easier. Now will Canon update the 7D’s firmware to do that too? The only drawback is the frame speed at 6 frames a second, which I have yet to achieve, 7 frames handheld is going to be a challenge, over a second of absolute stillness. Out will come my tripod.

7 brackets HDR

Click on image to enlarge.
Lens: CANON EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS
Focal length: 24mm
Middle Exposure: 1/320sec at f/9.0
ISO: 200
Edit: Adobe Lightroom 4.1 RC, Photomatix Pro4.2 and Topaz Adjust

Focusing system

Blistering fast and pin sharp in any light situations, I suspect that the lens profiling helps too.

Dual card slots

CF and SD card slots are available, I write the RAW on the CF card and the JPG on the SD card. A word of warning though, it will slow down the burst speed of the camera dramatically. These 2 card slots are individually configurable, so they can act as one large card or be mirrored.
Unexpected but very welcomed is the full Eye-Fi compatibility, it can be switched on or off too, in camera, allow you to save battery life. This also allows me to transfer the JPEGs to my iPad, do basic retouch quickly and post them online without the need of a computer. Handy functionality that just works.

Surprises good and bad

The HDR mode, which I initially found futile, was a good surprise. It does a decent job which was rather unexpected. it gives me the opportunity to do quick and dirty HDR photography with a relatively acceptable result. I do not think I will use it much but time will tell.
The new button layout will catch me for a few months to come, the 7D’s “Q” button as now been replaced by the menu button and the Q button is a a more logical place next to the “Quick Control Dial”, some brain rewiring will be required.
To my surprise the auto focus mode is now out of the “Q” functions but is available a t a touch of the “Focus Point” button only. Will this be fixed in the final product?
Lastly, all the EOS that I ever used, make use the AE Lock and AF Point selection buttons for Zoom in and out in preview mode, that is gone, replacing it is a zoom button, I did not find that amusing.

Built in HDR a good surprise
Original Photograph. Click to see larger version.
In camera HDR Photograph. Click to see larger version.
Original Photograph

In camera HDR Photograph

Click on image to enlarge.
Lens: CANON EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS
Focal length: 24 mm
Middle Exposure (Shown): 1/500 sec at f/4.0
ISO: 1600
Edit: Adobe Lightroom 4.1 RC, resized and 20% noise reduction

The irritating

Originally I was going to leave this out and it may just be this pre-release model but it seems to be trigger happy, the shutter button is feather-sensitive.
Another point about the HDR mode, it is better to have the Fast Continuous Drive mode on, however in “1 shot” HDR it will disable the HDR functionality but not the continuous drive mode, I got caught out a few times with this lack of functionality.
Both these issues are memory card intensive at an average of 28MB per RAW image it stacks up fast.

All in all the CANON EOS 5D MkIII impresses and outperforms most my expectations. I will post more in the next few weeks,  expect a string of “Living with” posts.

Pascal Parent

Pascal's day job is as a technologist but you can mostly find him behind a camera after hours. As a passionate photographer he regularly shares his experiences with the world. From how-to to reviews you will find it all in his regularly updated blog and other places.

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