Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Resolution: 22.30 Megapixels
Sensor size: 35mm
(36.0mm x 24.0mm)
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
Native ISO: 100 - 25,600
Extended ISO: 50 - 102,400
Shutter: 1/8000 - 30 seconds
Dimensions: 6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 in.
(152 x 116 x 76 mm)
Weight: 33.5 oz (950 g)
includes batteries
Availability: 03/2012
Manufacturer: Canon
Full specs: Canon 5D Mark III specifications
22.30
Megapixels
Canon EF 35mm
size sensor
image of Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Front side of Canon 5D Mark III digital camera Front side of Canon 5D Mark III digital camera Front side of Canon 5D Mark III digital camera Front side of Canon 5D Mark III digital camera Front side of Canon 5D Mark III digital camera

5D Mark III Summary

The Canon 5D Mark III is a true "superstar" camera, with impressive capabilities for both still and video shooting. It suits the needs of well-heeled amateurs and working pros equally well, and while its resolution is only very slightly higher than that of the 5D Mark II, the Canon 5D Mark III offers so many improvements over its predecessor that it'll be an easy upgrade decision for many 5D Mark II owners.

Pros

Superb still and video image quality; Powerful, fast, and accurate AF system with loads of cross-type points, loads of configurability and great frame coverage; Rugged, weather-sealed body with great control layout and user-interface configurability.

Cons

Dynamic range is limited by noise in deep shadows; Somewhat heavy-handed noise suppression and sharpening at default settings. (Shooting RAW avoids both.); No AF illuminator.

Price and availability

The Canon 5D Mark III initially started shipping in April of 2012, though shipments were temporarily halted while a light leakage issue was resolved in early units; body-only street prices in early 2013 range from US$2,600 - US$3,300, with most authorized dealers hovering around US$3,000.

Imaging Resource rating

5.0 out of 5.0

UPDATE, 12/16/2016:
The Canon 5D Mark IV (successor to the 5D Mark III) just won "Best Professional DSLR" in our 2016 Camera of the Year awards! The 5D Mark III is still an excellent DSLR, though, and would be a bargain on the used market, if you don't need 4K video recording. To help you decide between the two, here are links to a comparison of the Canon 5D Mark IV vs Canon 5D Mark III, and our Canon 5D Mark IV review.


Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review

By Shawn Barnett, , and Zig Weidelich
Preview Posted: 3/2/2012
Shooter Reports added: 7/9/2012
Video page added: 01/27/2013
Added 5D IV COTY award update:

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Though Canon makes many excellent digital SLR cameras for pros and consumers, none has reached the superstar status of the Canon 5D series. The original 5D's 12.8-megapixel full-frame sensor produced legendary image quality, and the 5D Mark II raised the resolution to 21.1 megapixels and added superb video quality to the mix, creating a sensation in video production. The Canon 5D Mark III raises the game in terms of overall camera performance, from frame rate to autofocus, while increasing the resolution only slightly (by just over a million pixels to 22.3-megapixels). Of all the additional features, probably the most important is the new autofocus system, brought over from the 1D X, which in addition to having more points (61) and more cross-type points (41), covers considerably more of the Canon 5D III's image area, while the AF system of the past two models were brought over from the company's APS-C cameras, thus covering much less image area in the viewfinder.

Other additions include a DIGIC 5+ processor, which is said to be 17 times more powerful than the DIGIC 4 processor in the 5D II. The 7D's 63-zone dual-layer metering system reappears in the Canon 5D Mark III, instead of the 1D X's 100,000-pixel RGB sensor. We'll go over the other features in more detail below, but the Canon 5D Mark III also includes a 150,000-cycle shutter rating; a new HDR mode; Full HD, 1080p video at 24, 25, and 30 frames per second; a 3.2-inch, 1.04M-dot LCD; a new CMOS sensor with higher sensitivity and an eight-channel readout that allows a 6-frame-per-second frame rate; a Quick Control dial that includes touch capability for silent adjustments while in video mode; multiple raw image sizes; 100-percent viewfinder coverage with an adjustable LCD grid and AF overlay; a 1.5 percent spot meter; a dual-axis leveling system; and Standard or Quiet operation modes.

The size and shape of the Canon 5D Mark III is similar to the Mark II, only a little heavier. The grip is sized right for the camera body, though somewhat large for small hands; it fit my medium-sized hands comfortably. Canon specs the body weight at 30.3 ounces (860g) body only. That's 1.7 ounces (50g) heavier than the 5D Mark II. Dimensions are 6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 inches (152.0 x 116.4 x 76.4mm). Only height and thickness have increased a millimeter or so.

Two minor elements are moved on the front of the Canon 5D Mark III: the Infrared port is now on the grip (where you'll find it on most every other Canon digital SLR with the feature), and the Depth-of-field preview button has moved to the grip-side of the body. The Self-timer lamp moves up to its usual position, and the monaural microphone moves from below to above the EOS 5D logo.


The top deck includes a Mode dial with the Auto+ mode, combined from the Creative Auto and Green Zone modes on the 5D Mark II. The 5D Mark III's power switch juts out from beneath this dial, as it does from the Canon 7D as well. Also from the 7D is the Multi-Function button behind the Shutter button. Canon has remapped the Status LCD.

The control cluster on the back of the Canon 5D Mark III resembles the 7D more than the 5D Mark II. Even so, keeping with Canon tradition, many buttons have shuffled around, and new ones appeared. Menu and Info buttons are well-placed on the upper left side of the LCD. Five buttons left of the LCD are Creative Style, a new Rate button, a Zoom button, and finally the Playback and Delete buttons. Rather than silkscreen the logo next to the button, Canon's eliminated the doubt and put the logo right on these buttons.

Lower left of the LCD are three holes for the speaker, and a small window for the ambient light sensor, used to automatically adjust the LCD backlight.

Right of the LCD the controls are nearly all 7D, except for the new, more logical position of the Quick menu button, just upper left of the Quick Control dial. The Movie Record/Live View control includes a switch to select between modes, and a button to either start and stop Movie recording or to start and stop Live View mode. The Quick Control dial turns with its normal coarse click stops, but in Movie mode it also responds to touch for making silent adjustments whose noise won't appear in the audio track.

The LCD itself is a 3:2 aspect ratio design that's just as gorgeous as recent models have been, with a 1.04-million dot array.

The thumbgrip on the right is a little better than on the 5D Mark II, with a more comfortable taper down the length of the back, rather than a simple arc that didn't match the contours of the thumb.

 

[UPDATE 4-11-2015: To see the 5D Mark III paired with the new EF 11-24mm f/4 L lens click here!]

 

Brief Field Test and Intro

by Shawn Barnett

As soon as we got the Canon 5D Mark III in our hands, we went to work shooting it. That didn't stop when the lab closed that evening, though, because I took the camera home to my basement studio and shot a slew of portraits of my girls, using the 24-105mm f/4 lens.

I set the incorrect white balance for my lights, making the straight-from-the-camera JPEGs you see below warmer than they should be, if not objectionably so. But I processed the image above from raw and like the results. I also like the warmer look seen below, so I'm torn. In both cases, the Canon 5D Mark III captured some very nice images, but it wasn't just the camera; the background, models, lights, and I had something to do with it too, not to mention mommy's wardrobe ideas and ample props.

f/7.1, 1/125, ISO 100 f/7.1, 1/125, ISO 100 f/7.1, 1/125, ISO 100
f/6.3, 1/125, ISO 100 f/7.1, 1/125, ISO 100 f/7.1, 1/125, ISO 100

My overwhelming impression was that the 5D Mark III excelled for one main reason: It slathers your subject with autofocus points. Because so many of those points are cross-type, there's no more need to focus with the center point and recompose repeatedly. Just move the AF points as your subject moves. Even as your orientation changes, you can have your AF points or clusters change too, remembering where you last had them set. If you sometimes prefer a single AF point and at other times want one or even two of the multi-point options, you can set one to each orientation, either left or right. Just turn on Orientation Linked AF point and by rotating left or right, you can have two specialized portrait modes: one for zeroing in on the eyes, another for ensuring most of the face is in focus.

The only bad news about the 5D Mark III's excellent array of 61 autofocus points is that it makes the 5D Mark II less of a bargain, at least for me now that I've used the Mark III. My camera bag is also heavier thanks to the larger glass and heavy body of the 5D Mark III compared to the Canon T3i and Olympus Pens I usually carry.

About the best thing I can say about the 5D Mark III is I haven't felt as free to shoot and create in a long time. Despite its deeper menus and greater complexity, once it's all set it just gets out of your way and lets you work. When a camera manufacturer achieves that, it's harder to say much in a review.

We wanted to get the opinion of some working photographers as well, so we put the camera into the hands of Jeffrey Kuo and Ellis Vener to get their thoughts. They used the camera in their pro work and wrote down some of their experiences with the Canon 5D Mark III, so be sure to check it out below.

 

Portrait Shooting with the Canon 5D Mark III

by Jeffrey Kuo

As a wedding photographer I'm forced to shoot in a wide variety of lighting conditions. I shoot with the Canon 5D Mark II. While it's a great camera, some of the Mark II's features force me to compromise how I usually capture the hundreds of important, but fleeting moments of a wedding day. Now that I've spent some time with the Canon 5D Mark III, I can say that I'm incredibly impressed with the improvements made over the 5D Mark II.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Ergonomics. There are quite a few improvements, and we'll take them a few at a time. First, I appreciated how the Canon 5D Mark III felt more solid. The 5D Mark III's grip also fit more nicely in my hands; my fingers wrapped around the grip more comfortably. My thumb rested on a more pronounced protrusion than on the 5D Mark II and was more comfortable to hold for long periods. On the 5D Mark II, with a heavy lens such as the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L or the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, my thumb would start to turn red from the friction of the grip after several hours of shooting; that didn't happen with the 5D Mark III. This improvement alone illustrates the improvements in handling comfort that Canon has made. I absolutely loved how much more comfortable it felt in my hands. The entire camera is more rounded on all corners than its predecessor, and the battery and memory card bays are now spring-loaded for those of us looking to save a second or two when we have to swap memory cards or batteries. Its improved weather sealing is also a plus.

Canon made a few changes to the button layout from the Mark II to the Mark III. First, the power button moved to the mode dial, similar to its placement on the Canon 7D. While I prefer turning on my camera with my shooting hand, I generally leave it on (it doesn't drain the battery much unless its in Live View mode) and can understand Canon's move to separate the now-programmable main dial lock from the power switch. The Mode dial now has a lock to prevent accidental mode switching, something that would sometimes happen to my 5D Mark II when moving around during a wedding day, or when placing my camera in a backpack or roller for transportation. There is also a new magnification button for zooming on image playback, one that appears in a new location, a feature I'll touch upon in more detail below.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III menu

Menu System. The menu system is displayed beautifully on a gorgeous 3.2-inch LCD. While similar to the 5D Mark II and the 7D, the menus are divided into color-coded subgroups. For a photographer who doesn't have time to read all the menu options, being able to navigate quickly to the right setting is critical. Due to the improved autofocus system, Canon has dedicated an entire group of menus to customizing the autofocus features. All of the Custom functions are now displayed individually, rather than hidden in subgroups as before. Canon also includes basic information on nearly all of the items displayed in the menus, accessed by pushing the Info button, conveniently located next to the Menu button. While I spent some time with the instruction manual, the in-camera information often provided sufficient explanation on what each setting controlled for on-the-go customization.

My biggest gripe about the menu system is that there is still just one user-defined Custom menu page, restricting you to six items in the Custom menu. I populated mine with items such as LCD brightness (set to turn brighter when showing photos to clients under bright sunlight, and lower to conserve battery or to save your eyes in low light), Highlight alert (useful for the photographer, sometimes confusing for clients), Beep (useful in portraits, annoying at events), Custom white balance, Battery info and Card format.

While it's only 0.2 inches larger (3.2 versus 3.0-inches on the 5D Mark II), the LCD display on the 5D Mark III seems much larger, thanks to its 3:2 aspect ratio, which matches that of the camera's native image aspect ratio. Compared to the screen on the 5D II, photos completely fill the screen, so the effect is that of a significantly larger screen at the old aspect ratio.

Shooting Impressions

During my time with the Canon 5D Mark III, I shot in several places: around my home casually; I found a singer performing in a dimly-lit cafe; I shot a wedding, a session with pets indoors; and also shot a quick portrait session.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

If there's one feature that makes a camera sound more professional, it's the shutter. I noticed that the Canon 5D Mark III's shutter felt and sounded snappier and more responsive from first shot. Both the shutter lag and the viewfinder blackout times are improved; it's quite noticeable compared to the 5D Mark II. The camera now also includes a silent shooting mode for a quieter shutter, great for photographers trying to capture moments without distracting their subjects or calling attention to themselves.

The autofocus system is one of the new features that everyone should be very excited about. On the 5D Mark II, I usually used the center cross-type AF point when shooting critical moments. Nearly every wedding photographer I've spoken to who uses the 5D Mark II only trusts the center AF point. This limits a photographer's ability to compose a shot on location. It often forced a photographer to shoot center-focused and possibly at a wider focal length and then crop creatively in post-production or center-focus and recompose, sometimes missing the shot or losing critical focus at wide apertures. The 5D Mark III is the camera I wish my 5D Mark II was. The AF system on the Mark III is more accurate in any AF mode, benefitting from the 61 AF points provided (up to 41 of which are cross-type). I used the zone-AF mode most frequently, with the camera locking focus with any of my lenses quickly anywhere within the AF-selectable zones. Only rarely did I switch to single-point AF to force the camera to focus on exactly what I wanted, for instance if the AF zone was focusing on an object that had more contrast behind my subject. The bottom line is that the new and improved autofocus system provides the confidence a professional needs to know that he's getting the shot he's being paid to capture.

One of my favorite new additions to the autofocus system is the "Orientation-linked AF point" setting, which allows a user to set separate AF modes and points for the camera when shooting in both landscape and portrait orientations. Being able to set a single AF point on the eyes of a subject in portrait-orientation while using zone-AF modes for landscape-oriented photos dramatically improved my ability to shoot in fast-paced situations without being distracted by constantly switching AF points manually.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

The ISO performance on the 5D Mark III is nothing short of incredible. I was able to shoot indoors without flash at ISO 12,800 with noise and detail levels similar to ISO 3,200 on the 5D Mark II. With ISO performance this good and the rising popularity of portable LED video lights, a portable continuous-lighting setup comes within the realm of possibility, avoiding the tedium of wireless strobe systems.

When using the Auto-ISO feature, you can set the slowest shutter speed you want the camera to use (I used 1/125 of a second) before it chooses to bump up the ISO. With ISO performance this good up through ISO 12,800 or even ISO 25,600, Auto-ISO becomes an option I would use more often (you can also set the lowest and highest ISO you want to allow Auto-ISO to use in the camera settings).

One change that was hard to accept was the new magnification button. The 5D Mark III is the first Canon to move the image playback zoom function away from the two top-right buttons (the AE-lock and AF-select buttons) to a magnification button located immediately above the Playback button, left of the LCD (as it appears on Nikon SLRs). It drove me crazy when I first used it, especially since I'm accustomed to zooming in to check critical focus with my shooting hand rather than having to use both hands (one to hold the camera, one to zoom). The default setting for the magnification button is to zoom in to the center, which made no sense to me if my focus point was not in the center. Once I changed the setting to "Actual size (from selected pt)," I absolutely loved the new magnification button, which would zoom in to 100% at the focus point I used to shoot the image, allowing me to check critical focus immediately and quickly (you can find the various options explained on page 252 of the manual). Zooming in and out of the image is now controlled by the top dial near the shutter release, which was faster and more responsive than pushing or holding the top two buttons (AE-lock and AF-select buttons) to zoom in and out. What's great about the zoom button is you can push it directly to start image playback zoomed in without touching the playback button. A one-button press allows me to check critical focus at least twice as fast as on the 5D Mark II!

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Another new addition is the ability to shoot to two memory cards with one slot holding a CF card and the other an SD card. I shoot in raw+JPG on my 5D Mark II to minimize risk of data corruption. In case a memory card or file is corrupted, I can try to recover the smaller JPG file and vise versa (a fellow photographer told me this has saved him in the past). With the two card slots, though, I set the camera to record raw to the CF card (saving space those JPG files would eat up), while I had the camera save JPG files to the SD card for backup. I could have also increased the storage capacity by having the camera write to the SD card after the CF card was full to reduce unnecessary card switching. Another benefit of shooting JPG to the SD card is that more laptops and tablets are coming with a built-in SD card slot, enabling a photographer to upload photos quickly to share or allowing the photographer to access photos if their CF card reader was lost or damaged on a trip.

One thing I don't like about the dual-card setup is the camera's inability to remember which card it should default to for image playback when both cards are in the camera. If you remove the CF card to load photos after a day of shooting, and close the memory card bay with the backup SD card still in the camera (it's meant for backup only so chances are I would only load the CF card's raw files from a shoot), the camera will default image playback to card slot 2. When you place a CF card back into card slot 1, the camera does not switch default image playback back to card slot 1, which could be cause for confusion if you continue shooting with the same SD card as a backup card only. At best, it's still a minor annoyance having to go into the menu to switch image playback back to card slot 1.

I love that the Canon 5D Mark III uses the same Canon LP-E6 battery pack as its predecessor, which is great for 5D Mark II photographers who invested in spare batteries for their 5D Mark II. I noticed the battery seemed to drain faster in the 5D Mark III than in the 5D Mark II based on the number of shots and the remaining charge reported by the camera (about 550 photos with 37% remaining, though I did use an image-stabilized lens which is powered by the camera battery, so that could have shortened the battery life). That seems to differ from the higher battery life reported in CIPA testing, where the 5D Mark III scored 950 shots to the 5D II's 850 shots. Despite this, the battery still performs well and is capable of lasting though plenty of shots. 

Weddings. My favorite feature of the 5D Mark III was definitely the improved AF system. When shooting a wedding, I sometimes shoot two to three of the same photo to ensure an in-focus shot with my 5D Mark II, which leaves me with more post-processing work, sorting through similar photos. Combining the accurate off-center focus points with the AI Focus mode allowed me to capture a bride walking down the aisle without necessarily having to shoot and compose with the center focus point, as I normally do with the 5D Mark II. With the new AF system on the 5D Mark III, I found myself trusting the camera to get a good focus much more often, allowing me to move on to the next shot, and spend more time observing my surroundings to get ready for the next beautiful moment.

Portraits. Again, the AF system made shooting portraits more enjoyable and more reliable for capturing images with a sharp focus on the subject's eyes. When shooting a portrait, especially at wide apertures, nothing is more aggravating than missing the focus just slightly and ending up with the focus on the nose instead of the eyes. With the new AF system, I had more confidence while shooting and could compose using an AF point directed at the eyes in the upper third of the frame because I no longer had to use a center AF point and recompose (which could potentially result in back-focused shots depending on focus-and-recompose technique).

f/2.8, 1/125 second, ISO 12,800 Same shot with white balance, brightness, noise reduction, and sharpening applied to raw file

Indoor Performances. I stopped by a cafe to visit a singer who I've photographed in the past. As luck would have it, the cafe (already dimly lit) turned the lights down for the performance! The AF system and the amazing high-ISO performance of the 5D Mark III made it possible for me to shoot without a flash, which would have been unacceptable to the audience enjoying the music. All of my shots were taken at ISO 12,800; I could not have captured these photos with my 5D Mark II. My favorite feature again was the orientation-linked AF setting that enabled me to shoot landscape and portrait oriented images without switching my AF zones/points back and forth every time I changed orientations.

Pets. Working with pets is another passion of mine, and challenges me in ways that benefit my wedding photography as well. My favorite new feature for shooting pets was again the AF system, especially the faster cross-type points that are away from the center zone. The fact that the side focus points focused as quickly as my 5D Mark II's center focus point meant I was able to capture shots I otherwise would have missed. With pets, split-second focusing is a significant benefit because of their unpredictable movements and reactions. Using the 5D Mark III's high ISO sensitivities to increase the shutter speed also meant I could freeze the action even indoors or in shade. I'm sure wildlife and pet photographers shooting in poor lighting situations will benefit from the improved ISO performance and AF system significantly.

The overall experience I had with the Canon 5D Mark III was incredible. I shot with more confidence in the autofocus system and captured a high percentage of in-focus shots regardless of which focus point/zone I used. I was able to capture indoor scenes with significantly lower noise than the Canon 5D Mark II. I really enjoyed the orientation-linked AF setting for on-the-fly shooting at either landscape or portrait orientations. I felt more secure about my digital files with the dual memory card slots, and I loved being able to check critical focus quickly with the magnification button set to zoom in at my focus point. For any photographer, especially photographers who are paid to capture critical, fleeting moments, the Canon 5D Mark III is a powerful tool, and a significant upgrade to its predecessor, yet priced affordably when compared to the Canon 1D-series cameras.

 

In the field with the Canon EOS-5D Mark III

by Ellis Vener

While on the surface it appears that the obvious camera to compare the Canon 5D Mark III to is the 5D Mark II, having had the opportunity to shoot with a late pre-production model for about ten days on a variety of assignments I have a different perspective: Until a much higher resolution 36x24mm (AKA "Full frame") Canon DSLR shows up the 5D Mark III is the logical successor to the EOS 1Ds Mark III.

I base that conclusion on the evidence: Like other 1D/1Ds series cameras it sports two media slots.

That may not seem like a big deal to a casual user, but it is a standard feature on DSLRs meant primarily for professional photographers, like the 1D, 1Ds, D3 and D4 models. Now this feature can be found on smaller-bodied cameras as well like the 5D Mark III and D800. While high quality CF and SD media has been pretty reliable for years, write errors can and will occur, so I always have my cameras write to both cards. Beyond creating in-camera backups as you shoot, doubling up on media creates a couple of other options: recording raw and JPEG files on separate media or having the second card provide additional capacity.

Other points to consider:

  • The improvements in autofocus, shared with the 1D X, seem more like an evolution from the 1Ds Mark III AF system and a couple of quantum level jumps past the 5D Mark II Autofocus capabilities.
  • The same goes for the metering, although it's not quite as extreme a change, especially with regards to E-TTL flash metering and control.
  • The improvements in weather and dust sealing are more in line with what is found in the 1D and 1Ds-series offerings.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III

While the 5D Mark III's megapixel count is only a tiny amount larger than the 5D Mark II or 1Ds Mark III, high-ISO performance is in a different class altogether. Dynamic range and color relationships are better as well: at ISOs above 1,600 the signal is cleaner in the shadows and lower midtones.

Overall, putting their best current technology in a smaller body the makes Canon 5D Mark III less expensive to manufacture and distribute and its comparatively lower price will appeal to more customers (Compared to the 1D series, that is). That has to be an idea that appealed to Canon's bean counters as well.

During my ten days with the camera I shot a wide variety of projects: A school age soccer team's first game of the season; A class portrait; Orchids at the Atlanta Botanical Garden; A collection of figurines from around the world for a book; A fireworks display; Photojournalistic documentation at a Sunday school; and also some casual snap shooting. In general the camera handled all of these situations the way you'd expect a high-end camera to behave, but there were a couple of control placements that baffled me. I don't doubt that more time with it would have made finding certain controls more automatic, but I have always found it disconcerting the way the info displays in a Canon DSLR's viewfinder go dark when you change shooting mode.

Before going out and making actual photographs I did some very low-light (but full-dynamic-range) testing to see just what the practical ISO limits were in worst case scenarios, and then tested the full ISO range in a more typical low-light situation to see what the base-level noise and dynamic range responses were as I moved up the ISO scale.

Rather than rely on Adobe's standard camera calibration profile in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw to interpret color, I created a custom profile for the camera--a simple process if you have a current Xrite ColorChecker 24 patch target and either Adobe's DNG Profile Editor or X-rite's ColorChecker Passport software--both are free downloads.

As of deadline, Canon had not updated their DPP raw processing software to handle the 5D Mark III's .CR2 format, so I used Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.1rc as my raw processor.

In my tests there appeared to be no practical difference in image quality (looking at color, detail, dynamic range, and signal to noise ratio) with settings between ISO 100 to 800, and this held true in real world situations. Well, there is just a touch of noise in dark colors at ISO 800, but unless you are doing nose-to screen pixel peeping at 100% or greater magnification you won't see it. For most general low-light purposes I felt comfortable going up to 6,400 with minimal amounts of luminance noise reduction in Lightroom. This wide usable range makes for a real world difference in image quality in other real photographic ways: shorter shutter speeds that freeze motion better combined with moderate apertures mean greater depth of field; that means better action shots, and also lower energy demands on flash batteries. In other words, ISO settings become a creative tool: if you have a short enough shutter speed to freeze motion and want shallower depth of field at a specific shutter speed just use a low ISO number, or if you want greater depth of field and still want to stop motion you can crank up the ISO (within reason) and not lose much, if any, technical image quality.

At the other end of the sensitivity scale ISO 12,800 and 25,600 produce a grainy impressionistic look in the highlights and mid-tones (see http://tinyurl.com/fresson) but you will see color freckles down in the shadows and blacks will be noisy and relatively weak. Unless that is a deliberate style choice on your part (and I encourage you to play) use of the ultra-high-ISO settings should be limited to when you have no other choice.

Autofocus. Real world autofocus performance is also improved over the 1Ds Mark III, as well as the 5D Mark II, especially when tracking action sequences and in low light use. This is to be expected as it uses the same system the forthcoming 1D X uses. For best AF performance you need to do your own tests with your own gear and tune your camera to your lenses with the built-in autofocus micro-adjustment tool and optimize specific lens and camera body combinations. I use the LensAlign MkII from Michael Tapes Design. One thing I don't recall seeing in other cameras I've used up until now is the ability to set different AF micro-adjustment setting for both the short and long focal length settings of a zoom lens. That is a pretty nifty feature. If you really are a hardcore sports photographer the 1D X is a better choice, if for no other reason than its greater maximum frame rate and larger buffer.

Metering. Canon continues to evolve its evaluative metering system--no surprise there--but where I see a real jump is in how well the E-TTL flash control system works, especially with multiple Canon Speedlites. As the new 600EX-RT Speedlite and transmitter system was not available when I wrote this, I used a combination of 580 EX II and 430 EX II Speedlites for a commissioned still-life project. To get the master flash off camera I used a 33 foot long cable from www.ocfgear.com, and the other three Canon Speedlites were set into Remote mode.

I used a variety of light modifiers from Chimera, Honl, Lastolite and Rogue to shape the light. One thing about working with small smart lights is that they are a heck of a lot easier and faster to move around and adjust for different effects than monolights or pack-and-head systems are. Married to the 5D Mark III's ability to make ultra-clean images at ISO 800 and you get a very versatile, if not inexpensive, lighting kit. This is not to say big lights do not have their place in a lighting kit, just that these other options open up with the camera's high ISO capabilities.

You can see the results on my site here. The figurines in the collection range in size from sixteen inches to an inch-and-a-half in height or length. Exposure for all photos was ISO 800, f/11 @ 1/200 second. To keep color balance even throughout the series, even though the flashes were in E-TTL control mode, I shot a frame of the white balance target in Xrite's ColorChecker Passport as reference at the beginning of the day-and-a-half-long session. When I began processing the raw files in Lightroom 4 this frame was used to set white balance for the entire session.

Even with the E-TTL metering changing energy levels based on the lighting effect and subject reflectance, according to Canon's Technical Information Advisor Chuck Westfall, "Canon added a feature called automatic color temperature compensation to its EX-series Speedlites starting with the 580EX. With this feature, a circuit in the flash reads the battery power level and the flash duration for every shot, and then applies a color temperature compensation factor to the white balance data in the resulting image files. This has the effect of equalizing the color temperature for all flash photos taken with the 580EX or newer Canon Speedlites with EOS digital SLRs."

All I can say is that whatever is going on under the hood, the system works very reliably.

Speaking of color, my only real problem came about while shooting a casual snapshot portrait in very mixed (tungsten, fluorescent and possibly LED) lighting. Even when using the custom camera calibration profile created for this camera and carefully white balancing the frame, the results were far too red. The solution was to slightly dial down the red saturation in the camera calibration tab; however, I do not recommend that as a general strategy to color balancing a photo. Only to touch the camera calibration sliders in an emergency.

Of the special features found on the Canon 5D Mark III, the one I relied on most during my time with it is the dual-axis level indicator. I played some with the in-camera HDR features (there's a nice selection of options, but pseudo HDR tone mapping doesn't exactly rock my world), and I did not test the camera's video capabilities. The 3.2-inch (diagonal) 1,040,000-dot LCD screen on the back of the camera is gorgeous to look at, and so is the new menu structure, once you get the hang of the menu organization. The "Q" button makes it easy to see and set up all of the camera systems.

In short, the Canon 5D Mark III performance matches the assumptions of what an unreasonably critical working pro photographer should expect from a top-of-the-line DSLR in 2012. Although it has almost exactly 40% fewer pixels than the nearly simultaneously introduced Nikon D800, unless you regularly make very large prints, that might not be the drawback it appears to be on paper; especially if you already have a lot of money invested in Canon lenses and lighting. As to how it handles, no camera will ever be perfect for everyone (I'd prefer the Exposure-mode-change switch to be on the right side of the pentaprism for one thing) but with one major exception it is fine.

That exception is the viewfinder. In itself it is pretty good, with its new 100% coverage, but as someone who wears glasses I find it hard to see the entire frame, so I'd like the viewfinder to be more eyeglass-friendly. Battery life is pretty good--I averaged only around 700 frames before needing to recharge--but I use Live View a lot, and was constantly writing the 22.3-megapixel raw files (averaging around 33.5MB each) to both the CF and the SD media so you'll likely get more life out of a battery charge if you do things differently. The EOS-5D Mark III is not a revolutionary camera, but one that evolves Canon's DSLR lineup in a substantial way.

 

Canon 5D Mark III Demonstration Videos

We shot some videos to illustrate the Canon 5D Mark III's various new features, as well as a video of how the Canon 600EX RT's radio flash works with the 5D Mark III.

First, Chuck Westfall demonstrates the Canon 5D Mark III's various autofocus patterns:



Then he runs through the standard and silent shutter modes:



Next Chuck shows us the HDR menu:



Chuck demonstrates the new Comparison feature in Playback mode:



Finally, Chuck goes over the options available with the Canon 600EX RT radio flash:



A new version of Canon's Digital Photo Professional software ships with the 5D Mark III. As well as supporting new features of the camera, it adds a Digital Lens Optimizer function for still images. This refers to a built-in database that allows automatic correction of both spherical and chromatic aberration, astigmatism, curvature of field, diffraction, and low-pass filter effects.

Canon expects to ship the 5D Mark III in the US market from the end of March 2012. Pricing is set at around US$3,500 body-only, or US$4,300 in a kit with an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens.

The BG-E11 grip is priced at around US$490, and the WFT-E7A wireless file transmitter at about US$850. The GP-E2 GPS receiver costs around US$390. All three accessories ship from April 2012.

Finally, the new Speedlite 600EX-RT costs US$630 or thereabouts, and the new ST-E3-RT transmitter is priced at approximately US$470. These will be available alongside the camera itself in March.

Canon 5D Mark III Technical Insights

Let's take a closer look

by Mike Tomkins

Canon 5D Mark III tech section illustrationThe 5D Mark III's 22.3 megapixel, full-frame CMOS image sensor has a pixel pitch of 6.25 microns. Although resolution is almost unchanged, it now features eight-channel readout, gapless microlenses, and boasts improvements in transistor structure and on-chip noise reduction that should yield improved image quality, even for raw shooters.

Two reduced-resolution raw modes are also available, providing 10.5 or 5.5 megapixel resolution.

Sensitivity ordinarily ranges from ISO 100 to 25,600 equivalents, and can be expanded to encompass ISO 50 to 102,400 equivalents. For video mode, the upper limit is capped at ISO 25,600 equivalent.

Canon 5D Mark III Image Quality Comparison

See how the Canon 5D III's image quality compares to rivals

by Shawn Barnett

Canon 5D Mark III image qualityHere we present crops comparing the Canon 5D Mark III's image quality to its predecessor's the 5D Mark II, as well as to other recent full-frame DSLRs: the Canon 6D, Nikon D800, Nikon D600 and Sony A99. Though we normally start with ISO 1,600 here, we thought we'd start with the base ISO to show the best each camera can do.

Canon's 5D Mark III indeed looks quite improved over the 5D Mark II, despite the slightly smaller pixel pitch. It also shapes up well against Nikon's 24-megapixel D3X, an impressive feat. Even if they were playing a bit of catch-up, it seems we can say they've caught up quite well.

Canon 5D Mark III Conclusion

A true superstar camera

by Shawn Barnett

As one of the true superstar digital SLRs retailing for a medium-high starting price, the Canon 5D Mark III deserves close scrutiny, and it's lived up to our expectations. Replete with new features, the Canon 5D Mark III's most important one is its full-frame sensor, whose resolution Canon kept to a conservative 22.3 megapixels. The image quality we see is good enough that we can say Canon's covered the right base first, so one needn't worry too much about image quality, even as ISO rises. There are issues, as with any system, including more limited dynamic range by comparison, and default settings for noise reduction and sharpening are a bit extreme in JPEGs, but most of that can be worked around or avoided by shooting raw.

Those who handled the camera consistently remarked about the viewfinder experience, particularly the improved autofocus coverage area. The myriad options for adjusting autofocus concentration and emphasis also got high marks.

 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera
  • Eyecup
  • Body cap
  • LP-E6 lithium-ion battery pack (7.2V, 1,800mAh)
  • LC-E6 battery charger
  • AV Cable
  • USB cable
  • Neckstrap
  • EOS Digital Solutions Disk
  • Manuals and warranty info

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity, high-speed CompactFlash or SDHC/SDXC memory cards
  • Extra battery
  • Lenses
  • Flash
  • Large camera bag

 

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