Canon 5D Mark IV Field Test Part I

A wealth of useful upgrades in a familiar shell

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Canon 35mm f/1.4L II: 35mm, f/1.4, 1/250s, ISO 100, -0.3EV

The Canon 5D Mark IV: An evolution of the 5D series

I've been a Canon fan for a while now, having purchased my first one, a Canon 7D -- that's still working perfectly by the way -- back in 2010. I've shot with various Canon DSLRs along the way since then, including the 5D Mark II extensively as well as their latest beast, the 1D X Mark II. However, between then and now, I've gravitated towards the mirrorless world, as the size and weight advantages have become rather important qualities if I am to haul some photo gear around with me. Hiking, traveling, or social gatherings all lend themselves to having smaller, lighter camera gear.

So, when the Canon 5D Mark IV made its debut, I was a little hesitant to get excited about the camera, at least from a size and ergonomics standpoint. For one thing, I wasn't too excited about its typical DSLR bulk and weight. Under the hood, on the other hand, the 5D IV sports a lot of great new features, including some nice amenities, such as built-in Wi-Fi and a touchscreen; two features that have quickly become must-have features on my own personal cameras.

So, without further ado, let's dive in and see how Canon's latest 5D-series camera performs out in the field.

The 5D Mark IV design is all about familiarity

For those acquainted with the Canon 5D Mark III or 7D Mark II, the 5D IV should feel instantly recognizable and familiar in your hands. The 5D IV is a professional tool -- key word being tool -- and the professionals who move around between different Canon camera bodies or eventually upgrade their arsenal to a new model want things to work and work well, without a steep learning curve. The 5D Mark IV fits that bill perfectly, and based on my experience with other Canon DSLRs, the new 5D Mark IV works and feels like all the others. It's familiar and reliable, which is entirely fine with me; as they say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Comfortable grip with familiar, responsive controls

In the hand, despite being Canon's largest non-gripped DSLR (aka a 1D-series), the 5D Mark IV fits very securely and comfortably in what I could consider my average-sized hands. As with other Canon DSLRs, your most-used shooting controls are easily within reach of your thumb and forefinger, allowing for quick, responsive settings adjustments and exposure changes without taking the camera down from your eye.

Speaking of responsiveness, the 5D Mark IV seems quick and nimble to react to button presses and dial movements. Changing the aperture with the front control dial, for example, feels pleasingly precise and accurate, with each detent or dial increment directly corresponding to an aperture adjustment. I can scroll the dial quickly or slowly, and I have an awareness of how my aperture changes will respond and how much or how quickly I need to rotate the dial to make the adjustments I need.

Typical DSLR size & bulk but surprisingly nimble to carry around

As for the size and weight, I was actually quite surprised by how indifferent I was to the bulk. Now, I love how compact my Olympus E-M1 and its lenses are compared to similar DSLR gear, but walking around with the 5D Mark IV, the 24-70mm f/2.8L II, 16-35mm f/4L IS and even a 400mm f/5.6L in a small backpack was surprisingly enjoyable. Either with the camera out in hand or slung over my shoulder, the camera felt surprisingly light and inoffensive.

A few helpful tweaks to the controls

As I mentioned earlier, the 5D Mark IV looks and feel very much like its predecessor, with nearly identical controls. The one new addition to the rear controls layout is a small, rectangular-ish button right below the multi-directional joystick control, which Canon has dubbed the "AF Area Selection Button." Similar in function to the circular thumb-lever control that surrounds the joystick control on the 7D Mark II, this small easy-to-press button is customizable to a number of different functions, the primary one being a quick-access way to toggle through the camera's various AF point arrangements. In the 5D Mark III, the default way to change AF point areas involved first pressing the AF Point Selection Button up on the far right corner and then using the multi-function button on the top of the camera to toggle through the various AF point configurations.

The controls on 5D Mark IV (left) are nearly identical to the previous model (right), with the primary change being the new "AF Area Selection Button" next to the "Quick Menu" button.

This new single-button solution is very convenient, though not significantly faster to use, I found, perhaps given the muscle memory I developed after using the older method so often on earlier Canon DSLRs. Interestingly, and perhaps a bit disappointingly, you cannot re-assign the dedicated AF Point Selection Button in the top corner to another function, despite the addition of the new button. It's also worth noting that this button is completely disabled by default, which doesn't really make much sense given its official name of "AF area selection button."

Another helpful button customization, which I immediately turn on since it too is also oddly disabled straight out of the box, is setting the joystick control button to directly move the AF point(s). Again, instead of a multi-button approach that involves first pressing the AF Point Selection Button then moving the joystick, you can just enable the joystick control to move the AF point or group around instantly. Just like with the new AF Area Selection Button, this useful tweak helps make quick-fire adjustments that much quicker, which can be very helpful while out in the field to avoid missing that crucial moment.

Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS: 16mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 100

Finally, a fully-functional touchscreen comes to a full-frame Canon DSLR

The other major new physical feature on the 5D Mark IV is the addition of a fully operational touchscreen. While Canon has had touchscreens for some time now on a number of PowerShot models and in their EOS M lineup, we first saw touch capacities on EOS DSLRs with the 1D X Mark II, albeit with very limited functionality. The 5D Mark IV, on the other hand, offers full touchscreen functionality. You can, of course, use tap-to-focus for live view shooting, but you can now also navigate every menu screen, the Quick Menu and swipe through images and videos in Playback mode. You can even use pinch gestures to zoom in or out while reviewing images, which is pretty cool. I find it much faster to check focus with the touchscreen -- if only you could double-tap to automatically go to 100%, but alas, you can't. You can, however, double-tap to go to 100% within the live view screen of the Camera Connect remote control smartphone app.

The 5D IV's menu system, which looks similar to other recent EOS cameras, does not seem to be designed for touch navigation, with fairly small icons, particularly the various sub-section page numbers under each main menu category. However, the touch targets are rather forgiving, I found, and I rarely mis-tapped on a page or menu item accidentally. You can even tap and drag your finger over to the item you want for a bit more precise navigation. The Quick Menu, on the other hand, seems perfectly designed for a touchscreen, with larger icons that are easy to tap on accurately with your finger. It works like a charm on the 5D IV.

While out shooting, I typically used the camera as a traditional DSLR, in that I used the optical viewfinder to compose my shots, and so the touchscreen didn't come into play much in those instances. However, when I wanted to shoot from, say, a low angle or needed to hold the camera out to get closer to something, it was quite nice to be able to flick over to live view and tap where I wanted to focus -- much like on my E-M1. The inclusion of Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology makes live view shooting fantastically easy, quick and reliable. Live View AF is lightning-quick, which mirrors my experience with other Dual Pixel-capable cameras like the 7D Mark II and 1D X Mark II. I've also quickly become used to using pinch-to-zoom gestures to review focus rather than using the magnify button and scrolling with the front control dial.

Canon 35mm f/1.4L II: 35mm, f/1.4, 1/400s, ISO 100

Interestingly, this image was easier to get using Live View than with traditional viewfinder shooting. The AF would always focus "past" the tiny spider. However, I was able to easily flip over into Live View mode, tap the focus box onto the spider -- which focused right away -- and extend the camera out away from me to get it closer to this small subject. Worked like a charm.
On a side note, the 35mm f/1.4L II is most assuredly not the best choice for macro-style photography!

A nice touchscreen that's crammed onto a fixed rear display

In my opinion, what's really holding the 5D IV back in this area is the fixed rear LCD screen. The 5D-series -- and many other Canon DSLRs, as well as similar models from other brands -- have all had fixed LCDs for years, making it a bit awkward to shoot from low or high angles. With the addition of full touch capabilities now on the Mark IV's LCD, it would work very nicely with at least a tilting LCD, I think. If it's a matter of ruggedness and durability, then I guess that's a compromise that 5D designers took into account. However, Olympus, Panasonic and Pentax are all capable of making highly weather-sealed cameras with articulated rear displays.

Canon 35mm f/1.4L II: 35mm, f/1.4, 1/100s, ISO 100

Silent Shooting Mode: Not new, nor "silent" but a useful noise reducer

The last thing of note regarding operability from my shooting experience so far is the "Silent" shooting mode. It's certainly not a new feature on the 5D Mark IV, as previous EOS models have had it as well, but rather, it's a mode I've generally forgotten about. When I'm shooting on the streets -- which is rare for me -- or at social gatherings and events, I like my camera to be as unobtrusive and as quiet as possible. A number of mirrorless cameras can shoot in completely silent modes thanks to electronic shutters.

The physical size of the 5D Mark IV already puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to stealthiness, so shooting as quietly as possible would be nice. Sadly, the 5D IV lacks a completely silent electronic shutter shooting mode. However, the "Silent" shooting mode does make a noticeable improvement to shooting noises. Personally, I don't find the normal shutter and mirror slap sounds of the 5D IV to be all that particularly loud compared to other DSLRs, but in a quiet location, it is certainly noticeable. Although it's far from truly silent, switching to Silent mode softens the shutter noise quite a bit as well as reduces vibrations. For sound-sensitive shooting opportunities, such as weddings, photojournalistic settings like press conferences or certain live performances, having the abilities to make your camera less noticeable is definitely a useful feature.

Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS: 33mm, f/5.6, 1/40s, ISO 5000

Canon 5D IV offers very good image quality at a range of ISOs

With its new 30MP full-frame sensor, the 5D Mark IV offers a nice increase in image resolution over the 22MP predecessor, though it still falls short compared to some of its big competitors like the 36MP Nikon D810 or 42MP Sony A7R II. Personally, I think 30MP images offer more than enough resolution for my needs unless my end goal is to make an absolutely massive print. The 5D Mark III only saw a very small resolution increase going from the Mark II, from 21.1MP to 22.3MP, so it is nice to see a larger megapixel count to help the Mark IV compete against the other competition out there.

30MP sensor is lower-res than competitors, but it provides manageable files with lots of detail

I found that the 30MP images produced by the 5D Mark IV offered a nice balance between lots and lots of image detail, great high ISO performance and image file sizes that are decently manageable. Although storage media is becoming more and more affordable every day, I was easily able to grab one of my older 32GB CF cards and happily shoot all day without filling up the card, even with RAW+JPEG enabled.

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II: 70mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 100, -0.3EV
Lots of detail. Despite some mid-afternoon haze, this 100% crop from an un-retouched RAW file (apart from the default adjustments applied by Adobe Lightroom upon import) highlights the amount of fine detail captured by the 5D Mark IV.

Great image quality, accurate colors and nice dynamic range

As for the image quality itself, I am certainly pleased with the photos I've seen from the 5D Mark IV so far at low ISOs as well as at higher sensitivities, especially with RAW. Photos display lots of fine detail, even when pixel-peeping. I can zoom-in and see lots of intricate, crisp detail even in distant objects. The dynamic range was also very good, allowing me to pull lots of detail back out of the shadows without introducing too much noise. The camera's metering was quite good, and I never found myself with dramatically overexposed images while using any auto-exposure modes. That said, the RAW files also felt sufficiently flexible enough to pull back some highlight hotspots and regain some detail in some bright areas.

Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS: 16mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 100

The top images shows the photo straight from the camera without any retouching, while the middle image demonstrate the level of detail that can pulled out from the shadows using the RAW files. The bottom image is a 100% crop from the edited RAW files showing the lack of visible noise in the boosted shadow region.

One of the benefits of the less-than-astronomical amount of megapixels on the 5D Mark IV is that the camera is easier to shoot handheld while still capturing crisp images. Having shot the 50MP 5DS R and 100MP Phase One XF, the ultra-high resolution makes it much more critical to shoot with faster shutter speeds and judiciously nail the focus. The resolving power of these higher-res cameras puts you at a higher risk for per-pixel blurring, making it more important to shoot with higher shutter speeds to eliminate camera shake and get things tack-sharp. Also, focus is increasingly important when you're viewing high-res images at 100 percent on-screen, as the perceived depth of field is much more apparent. As I said earlier, the 30MP 5D Mark IV strikes a good balance, I feel, with enough resolving power plus a bit more flexibility in how you shoot compared to these ultra-high-resolution cameras.

Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS: 24mm, f/5.6, 1/100s, ISO 100, +0.3EV
This version has been edited. Click the image for the unedited version.

Overall, the 5D Mark IV's color reproduction appears accurate and pleasing, particularly when shooting outdoors in natural light as I often did. When shooting indoors under artificial light, I did find that Auto White Balance, by default, would create very warm tones under tungsten lighting. The 5D Mark IV does, however, introduce a way to combat this in-camera (without resorting to a manual color temperature white balance setting). Carried over from the 1D X Mark II, the new AWBW (Auto White Balance "White Priority") offers a way to bias the auto white balance under tungsten colored lighting to make a whiter, less warm, image.

As someone who shoots in RAW practically all the time, I often, for better or worse, leave my cameras in auto white balance mode. With RAW, it's very easy to correct or adjust the white balance later in post-production. However, if you need to shoot JPEGs -- and there are numerous scenarios where even professionals need accurate JPEG files -- then this AWBW is a handy feature to have if you find yourself needing cleaner, whiter whites in your images while shooting under warm lighting.

Great higher ISO performance, especially from RAW files

The Canon 5D Mark IV is designed to be a versatile camera, one that's not only great for landscapes and portraits at lower ISOs, but also for trickier subjects like photojournalism and weddings where high ISO quality is very important. The 30MP full-frame sensor offers adequate surface area and large enough pixels for very good image quality if you need to crank the ISO up as the light fades.

Canon 400mm f/5.6L: 400mm, f/5.6, 1/1600s, ISO 12,800, +0.3EV
Using this ISO 12,800 image as an example, notice the difference in visible fine detail from the RAW file (top crop) compared to the JPEG file (bottom crop) with 'Standard'-strength in-camera Noise Reduction processing.
Click here for the RAW file.

While out shooting one early morning with my Canon 400mm f/5.6L lens, I let Auto ISO float as high as it needed to in order to get proper exposures as well as shutter speeds fast enough to handhold such a long lens. In the dim morning light, with ducks, dogs and geese often still in the shade, the 5D Mark IV was often pushing the ISO up well past 1600-3200. When I was able to nail focus, which was rather tricky with a moving subject using a non-stabilized 400mm lens on a 30MP full-frame DSLR, the resulting in-focus subject displays lots of fine detail, especially in the RAW files. Sure, on an ISO 12,800 RAW file, noise is very visible when looking closely, but even at default Adobe Lightroom NR settings, the noise is very finely-grained, and the image itself has lots of intricate detail.

I explicitly mention high ISO detail from RAW files, as I did notice a big improvement in the amount of detail when using the RAW file compared to the corresponding JPEG. Using this ISO 12,800 photo above as an example, which was shot using the Standard Picture Style and the default "Standard" level of in-camera noise reduction applied, you can see a significant amount of fine detail loss in the JPEG due to the noise reduction processing compared to the RAW.

Canon 5D Mark IV: JPEG Noise Reduction Comparison
All Images: ISO 12,800, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II @ 70mm, f/5.6, 1/3200s
No Noise Reduction
"Low" NR
"Standard" NR
"High" NR
"Multi Shot" NR

Doing a comparison of all the in-camera noise reduction levels as well as the JPEG-only Multi Shot Noise Reduction mode -- which combines multiple images together and subtracts the noise variation for a cleaner image -- you can see how the amount of fine detail decreases as the strength of noise reduction increases.

If you need to shoot JPEGs and want some noise reduction, personally, I find the "Low" setting to be preferable to the "Standard" mid-range level. There appears to be a noticeable drop in details going from Low to Standard, and there's quite a bit of artificial-looking smoothing going on to out of focus areas that look a bit too unnatural for my taste. That being said, the Standard NR does a decent job of balancing fine detail while removing distracting graininess; however, I personally would opt for a bit more detail in exchange for some grain. I wasn't a big fan of the "High" level of noise reduction, as it really softened out a lot of detail, and images overall take on a stronger artificial appearance.

The Multi-Shot NR, on the other hand, offers just a hint more fine detail compared to the "High" setting but does quite a nice job at removing and smoothing out lots of background noise and grain from the image. You'll need to disable RAW, in-camera Digital Lens Optimizer and AF Servo mode in Live View in order to enable Multi Shot Noise Reduction. The Multi-Shot NR setting automatically captures four separate images in a quick burst and processes that sequence immediately afterwards. I found that it worked quite well on a tripod as well as handheld, without any noticeable stitching or processing artifacts from camera movements. However, just as with normal single-shot photo modes, if you're shutter speed is too slow, then you can end up with a blurry image due to camera shake. Overall, if you want reasonably noise-free JPEGs at high ISOs and don't mind the slightly longer multi-shot capture and processing time and that it's JPEG-only, then Multi Shot NR mode can be a great option.

Canon 400mm f/5.6L: 400mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s, ISO 2000, +0.3EV

Robust, full-featured Wi-Fi comes to Canon's 5D series at last

Last but not least, to wrap up my first Field Test installment, I'll mention one of my highly sought-after features in a new camera: Wi-Fi and remote shooting capabilities.

What I thought was just a gimmick back when a few models started including this feature has become one of my favorite things about modern cameras. I admit, I love being able to browse and quickly send images over to my iPhone to edit and share on Instagram. Plus, having remote control capabilities is a major plus, allowing me to get more creative with my shooting, especially with wildlife and bird photography.

After 2012's EOS 6D, this is only Canon's second full-frame DSLR with built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. And in fact, I'm a little surprised to see it in the Mark IV, especially given Canon's apparent reluctance to include Wi-Fi features in their more professional, highly weather-sealed DSLRs. Back when the 7D Mark II arrived, I asked Canon why it did not have built-in Wi-Fi (yet had GPS?), I was told the rugged metal body and the high degree of weather-sealing made it difficult to include, as it apparently affected the wireless signal. Therefore, I was pleased to see Canon overcome this seemingly technical limitation and include wireless features in a 5D-series camera that's said to sport weather-sealing to a similar level as the 7D Mark II. (Note: Canon has since released an Eye-Fi-esque SD card adapter that adds wireless sharing functionality to the 7D Mark II and 5DS/R models.)

Functionality-wise, the Canon 5D Mark IV has a very robust and full-featured wireless system, with practically all critical shooting features available via the remote app. Major shooting functions, such as drive mode, AF mode, manual focus adjustments, as well as full exposure controls are all available remotely via Canon's Camera Connect smartphone app. More fine-grained settings, such as white balance, image quality mode and noise reduction, cannot be changed using the app, however. You can shoot still images as well as start and stop movie recording, though you can't send video files wirelessly back to your smart device (they will be saved only to the memory card).

In my experience, the remote shooting system worked very well. I love the full-featured setup, which allows me to place the camera where I need it and then fully control the camera from a distance. The app was very responsive, with little to no apparent lag or delay when firing off a shot. There was only a slight lag when tapping on the live view screen within the app to move the AF/AE box around the frame, but nothing egregious. Also, the working distance was rather impressive -- I was still able to control the camera from at least 30 feet away without issue.

My main gripe, if you can call it that, is that when you tap on the live view screen to move the focus box, the camera automatically adjusts for exposure (if the camera is set in an auto-exposure mode like Aperture Priority), but the camera will not re-focus. It's only after you tap the dedicated AF button in the app that the camera will adjust focus. I have no idea why it's set up this way, and other Canon DSLRs with Wi-Fi function the same way. It's far from a deal-breaker, but it's an odd little "gotcha" to remember, especially since you can, for some reason, hide the on-screen AF button within the app, at which point there's no way to autofocus remotely.

Wireless setup with my non-NFC-capable iPhone 6S was straightforward and quick. I connected my iPhone directly to the 5D IV's ad-hoc wireless network, and then once connected, I switched over to the Camera Connect app. After only a moment of pause while the app recognized the camera connection, I was off shooting.

Of course, you can also transfer photos over to a smart device either one-by-one or by batch. The app can resize JPEG images to 1920 x 1280 to make transfers quicker, but if you want the full-size photo you can set the app to not resize images. If you have the camera set to RAW-only, the camera will process a JPEG file to transfer to your smartphone.

Overall, the Canon 5D Mark IV offers an excellent wireless experience for those who want to share quickly and shoot remotely.

Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS: 16mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 100

Canon 5D Mark IV Field Test Part I: Summary

A versatile camera that offers improvements but remains familiar to long-time EOS users

So far, I'm pretty pleased with the Canon 5D Mark IV, despite my initial hesitations about the size and bulk of the camera. It's still full-size DSLR, but I didn't feel over encumbered. Although it looks and feels like just another Canon camera, that's a 'plus' in my book. The controls and operability are familiar and robust, which makes it a great professional and enthusiast tool for those who just want to grab the camera and get out shooting without a lot of fiddling around with unfamiliar menus and buttons. The camera feels and operates reliably and responsively. Image quality is fantastic at both low and higher ISOs, which I've come to expect from a Canon camera, and especially one of this caliber.

Although I'd like to make a couple of changes, particular by adding an articulated rear display and perhaps a truly silent shooting mode, there's not a lot of downsides to the 5D Mark IV that I've come across so far. Of course, having a smaller and lighter design would also be amazing, but I don't see that happening to the 5D-series.

Up next...

In our next Field Test, we'll take a deeper look at the camera's performance, both with burst shooting and with autofocus. We'll also delve into the camera's cool new Dual Pixel RAW technology and its video recording features, which, at long last, offers 4K video. Stick around!


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