Canon 5D Mark IV Field Test Part II

Testing performance capabilities, 4K Video and Dual Pixel Raw

by Eamon Hickey | Posted

70-200mm f/4L IS: 78mm, f/4.5, 1/500s, ISO 5000
This dunk came off a backcourt steal, which required instant reaction to unexpected action. The camera reacted faster than me, focusing perfectly while I wasn't quite able to get the framing right.
(Note: This image has been adjusted. Click image for original.)
Performance for almost any type of shooting

If there's one thing you can count on from an enthusiast or pro-level Canon SLR, it's superb responsiveness, and the 5D Mark IV does not disappoint. It just does everything fast. For example, I know that it can't actually shoot at the exact moment that it's turned on, but the lag is so short I can't detect it — power-on to first shot seems instantaneous. Every other camera operation and control are similarly quick. When I'm shooting, I often take 3-shot bracketed sequences, and the 5D Mark IV rips through these in a 1/3 of a second. During my time with the 5D Mark IV, I never found myself waiting for the camera, which is, of course, exactly as it should be for a pro-level tool.

The Canon 5D Mark IV's autofocus as advanced as it gets

As we noted in our overview, the 5D Mark IV comes equipped with an extremely advanced autofocus system, very similar in many ways to the EOS 1DX Mark II. In my tests, it's pretty amazing in low light, able to focus reliably and relatively quickly in situations so dark that I can't really see the subject with my naked eye. The good low light sensitivity holds for both normal viewfinder operation and in live view mode thanks to Dual Pixel CMOS AF.

Over the course of half a dozen shoots with the camera, I took hundreds of pictures of stationary subjects using the 5D Mark IV's One-shot AF mode, indoors and out, and it's predictably excellent — very fast and decisive on almost any subject. Using S-AF in live view mode, the focus point options are somewhat different, and the 5D Mark IV isn't quite as fast and decisive as it is when using the viewfinder. Still, it was reasonably responsive in my tests — even able to focus quickly and accurately on a scatter-brained dog who wouldn't sit still for more than a second at a time.

35mm f/1.4L II: 35mm, f/2.0, 1/2000s, ISO 100
Live view autofocus had no trouble getting the dog's eye sharp, and the EF 35mm F/1.4L provided the smooth background blur.

Truthfully, I haven't used a camera in many years that wasn't capable of excellent autofocus in single-shot mode on stationary subjects. I was much more interested in how the 5D Mark IV does with moving subjects in what Canon calls AI Servo AF mode. It's here where the truly cutting-edge AF systems really stand out. Canon's is as sophisticated as it gets, with multiple focus point settings, the ability to intelligently track the subject from focus point to focus point as it moves within the frame, and various settings that control things like how long the system will delay before switching from one subject to another, how sensitive it is to acceleration and deceleration, and other parameters. In recent years, high-end Canon DSLR cameras have been providing an AF Configuration Tool menu setting with AF "case" options that set many of these parameters automatically based on the kind of action you're shooting.

70-200mm f/4L IS: 200mm, f/4.0, 1/500s, ISO 200
This is part of a sharp, 6-shot sequence of this fast skater.
(Note: This image has been adjusted. Click image for original.)

For my first test of AI Servo, I took the 5D Mark IV and a Canon EF 70-200mm F/4L USM lens to the Bryant Park ice skating rink. I started out using "Case 5", which Canon says is for "erratic subjects moving quickly in any direction," such as figure skaters. I then tried "Case 1", which is Canon's "versatile, multi-purpose" C-AF setting. When using either Case setting, I mostly utilized the "AF point expansion" mode (sometimes with four surrounding points, sometimes with eight). I ended up getting a somewhat higher hit rate using Case 1, which worked exceptionally well for tracking skaters of all speeds. The rink was crowded the day I went, and obstacles between me and the particular skater I was aiming at were actually a bigger challenge than tracking the skaters. I noticed two things in particular at the skating rink: the 5D Mark IV is extremely fast at acquiring focus when set properly, so you can swing it to your subject and start shooting right away. And it's also very good at accurately tracking erratic motion, so I got a good hit rate on many sequences, even at eight frames per second.

70-200mm f/4L IS: 78mm, f/4.0, 1/1000s, ISO 500
(Note: This image has been cropped and adjusted. Click image for original.)

After shooting the skating and using it as a learning experience, I got permission from the nice folks at New York University's Department of Athletics to shoot the NYU Holiday Classic basketball tournament. I chose high-level basketball because it really puts an AF system (and photographer) to the test. The games are played indoors in significantly lower light than outdoor sports; players move fast and erratically in three dimensions; the action switches instantly and unpredictably from spot to spot as the ball travels around the court; and there are constantly obstacles (players and referees) crossing between you and your subjects. This is a far, far harder test than shooting a single athlete moving in a predictable direction and speed, as with running or bicycling.

70-200mm f/4L IS: 200mm, f/4.5, 1/640s, ISO 6400
This is one of a sequence of 5 shots, all in focus.
(Note: This image has been cropped and adjusted. Click image for original.)

70-200mm f/4L IS: 70mm, f/4.5, 1/640s, ISO 6400
The 5D Mark IV's decently high frame rate and extremely high percentage of sharp images improves your chances of capturing peak moments.
(Note: This image has been cropped and adjusted. Click image for original.)

For basketball, I used the "AF point expansion" mode and both Case 1 and Case 4 (for subjects that accelerate and decelerate quickly) in the AF Configuration Tool menu setting, and again I noticed no real difference in my success rate between Case 1 and Case 4. Over the course of about four hours of shooting, the 5D Mark IV and EF 70-200mm F/4L combination performed extremely well, giving me hundreds of sharp pictures of very fast, unpredictable action. The camera's ability to acquire focus quickly, get the first or second shot sharp, reacquire focus almost instantly, follow erratic movement, and ignore momentary obstacles was really impressive. All while maintaining an 8fps burst rate.

This sequence shows how the sophisticated AF system of the EOS 5D Mark IV can ignore obstacles (in this case a referee) that momentarily pass between the photographer and the subject when you're following action and shooting a burst sequence. The third image isn't quite tack sharp, but the camera has regained perfect focus only one shot later.

Performance in these kinds of situations is essentially impossible to quantify, but I got about the best results I've ever achieved shooting basketball. Although I can't say if the 5D Mark IV is as good at autofocusing sports as, say, an 1D X Mark II or a Nikon D5, I would feel totally confident shooting any sports assignment with it. I can't say that about most of the cameras I test.

Two top-notch lenses. And wide-angle bokeh.

I got two other lenses along with the 5D Mark IV: an EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and an EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM. The 24-70mm has been around for a while, and we've reviewed it very favorably, so I won't spend too much time talking about it. Suffice to say, it's as good as a mid-range zoom can get.

35mm f/1.4L II: 35mm, f/1.6, 1/60s, ISO 320
The EF 35mm f/1.4L shows off its low-light, shallow depth-of-field capabilities.

We've also given a very positive review to the EF 35mm Mark II lens, but this was my first chance to use it, so I went out two or three times with it alone. It's a handful, but it's beautifully built, with a rock-solid feel. Aside from the weight, it was a joy to use. It focuses quite quickly on the 5D Mark IV and produces beautiful images. The f/1.4 maximum aperture gives this lens the ability to isolate subjects with shallow depth-of-field even with its wide-angle point of view and even when the subjects aren't at super close distances. This worked very well for a shot I made on a dark and funky subway stairwell in Grand Central Station. To me, this is a valuable quality — I often like wide-angle pictures with shallow depth-of-field, and there aren't too many wide-angle lenses that can do it credibly for non-macro shots. Of course, the very wide maximum aperture means the lens has to be big, and that's the tradeoff. For me, the EF 35mm is just too big to be a casual carry-around lens. You win some; you lose some.

35mm f/1.4L II: 35mm, f/1.4, 1/500s, ISO 2000
The camera focused and shot instantly on this dark subway stairwell.

I also shot several video clips with the EF 35mm, and it made very crisp footage. Great performance is what you expect from a lens like this, so I guess what I'm saying boils down to, yes, it's as great as it should be!

5D IV's 4K video crams your computer, but the quality is great

I shot a bit more 4K video with the 5D Mark IV than I typically do for a camera review, and this camera marks the first time that I've run into some computing power obstacles. My MacBook Pro is not new (it's a 2013 model), but it has a quad-core 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7 processor, a separate NVIDIA graphics processor, a 512GB SSD drive, and 16GB of RAM. It has never choked on 4K video before, but it can't quite handle the 500Mbps MJPEG footage from the 5D Mark IV. Playback stutters slightly, and I haven't found a way to cure that. I haven't even tried to edit or grade the clips, but I'm sure it wouldn't be fun on my computer. This isn't a criticism of the camera, per se, but be warned that its 4K footage may put a strain on your computing resources.

The EF 35mm F/1.4L USM makes very crisp 4K video on the EOS 5D Mark IV.
Canon 5D Mark IV 4K Sample Video #1
4K (4096 x 2160), 30p, Motion JPEG
(Note: This clip was trimmed in-camera from a longer sequence.)
Download Original (2.54GB MOV)

Aside from the stuttered playback, my video clips from the 5D Mark IV look fantastic — very sharp and rich. Even clips shot at ISO 6400 have good color, with only a little bit of noticeable noise.

When you're playing back a video clip on the 5D Mark IV itself, it's easy to save 4K still images (4096 x 2160 pixels) from the clip. The stills are quite good, perhaps partly because of the bit rate and codec that the 5D Mark IV uses. Compared to a still image shot at full resolution, with the same framing and settings, then downsampled to the 4K pixel dimensions, the 4K stills from video aren't quite as sharp, and colors aren't quite as well-differentiated or saturated. But the difference is smaller than I've seen with any previous 4K still image function that I've tested.

This clip was shot at ISO 6400, but the color is still vibrant and noise is relatively mild.
Canon 5D Mark IV 4K Sample Video #2 - ISO 6400
4K (4096 x 2160), 30p, Motion JPEG
Download Original (1.48GB MOV)

A snowstorm was no problem for the weather-resistant EOS 5D Mark IV, but it was a challenge for my video skills, and I wish I had exposed this clip a half stop darker.
Canon 5D Mark IV 4K Sample Video #3
4K (4096 x 2160), 30p, Motion JPEG
Download Original (1.77GB MOV)

Testing out the 5D Mark IV's Dual-Pixel Raw features

We've already described the Dual-Pixel Raw feature of the 5D Mark IV in depth, so I won't go into the technical aspects of how it works. To test it, I shot a still life subject in the garden behind my apartment building. Using the same image, we're showing all three Dual-Pixel Raw adjustments at their maximum setting here.

24-70mm f/2.8L II: 50mm, f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 400, -0.3EV
(Click here to download the Raw file.)

This 100% crop example from the above image demonstrates the extent of the Image Microadjustment range using Dual Pixel Raw.

Honestly, I don't see myself ever using Dual-Pixel Raw much in real life. I can't see any practical benefit to either the Image Microadjustment (i.e. focus), as shown above, which has a very small effect, or Bokeh Shift tools, but maybe that's a failure of imagination on my part. I also can't personally think of any time that I would use the Ghosting Reduction, but it occurred to me that for some rare technical or forensic purposes, it might help in the identification of out-of-focus details. Whatever the case, using Dual-Pixel Raw requires you to set the camera beforehand to capture the raw images in dual pixel mode, and the resulting files are almost twice as large as a standard raw image, so the feature is not cost-free.

Dual Pixel Raw: Bokeh Shift example

Dual Pixel Raw: Ghosting Reduction example
Versatility is the name of this camera's game

So what's my main impression after shooting for a few weeks with this 5D Mark IV? More than anything else, it's the sheer versatility of this camera, with its high resolution and image quality, extensive feature set, and top-notch autofocus and overall performance. It's hard to think of anything I couldn't shoot with it -- the 5D Mark IV just does the job, no fuss, no muss.


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