Canon 5D Mark III Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Very high resolution
  • Great image quality
  • Excellent hue accuracy
  • Superb high ISO performance
  • Real-time chromatic aberration and corner shading compensation
  • Exceptional prints up to 30 x 40 inches
  • ISO 51,200 shots produce a good 4 x 6-inch print
  • Wider range of bracketing options
  • Very responsive, fast autofocus
  • 61 autofocus points, 41 cross-type
  • AF points cover more of the full-frame image area than past 5D models
  • Separate wide and tele AF microadjustments
  • 63-zone dual-layer metering
  • HTP and ALO help with difficult lighting
  • Support for MRAW (10.5MP) and SRAW (5.5MP) files
  • Good burst performance for its class (6fps)
  • Excellent buffer depth for JPEGs, good for RAWs, very fast buffer clearing (supports UDMA 7 cards)
  • Dual memory cards (SD and CF)
  • Good control placement
  • Extensive customization options for user interface
  • Clever side-by-side playback option helps with shot selection in the field
  • Big, bright, 100% viewfinder
  • On-demand grid in optical viewfinder
  • High-res LCD is very sharp, great for off-angle viewing
  • Solid build, weather-sealed mag-alloy chassis
  • 150K shutter life expectancy
  • Infrared remote port
  • Very good battery life with OVF
  • Headphone jack for audio monitoring
  • Ability to adjust audio levels during video recording
  • Very good video detail
  • Excellent control over moiré in video
  • 720p video looks very good, with smooth motion and no degradation of quality for the sake of frame rate
  • Rolling shutter artifacts are well controlled
  • Night videos are very clean
  • Excellent audio quality
  • Dynamic range not as good as competitors (deep shadow noise is rather high in raw files)
  • Auto and Incandescent white balance are quite warm in typical indoor lighting
  • Default noise reduction a bit high, loses detail even at low ISOs, flattens subtle detail quite a bit at higher ISOs
  • Default sharpening is heavy-handed, produces noticeable halos
  • No built-in flash
  • No built-in AF assist lamp
  • Distortion correction available only when processing raw files, not while shooting, nor in JPEGs
  • HDR images are a little soft
  • Moderate noise suppression in videos creates a slightly artificial look (possibly related to its excellent moiré suppression)
  • Internal mic is monaural, not stereo

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.

The Canon 5D Mark III caters to a split market, on the one hand admirably serving still photographers, while on the other serving as the benchmark camera for digital SLR videography. Canon tuned the 5D Mark III's video capability to include more frame rates and they removed the 4GB file size limit seen in the 5D Mark II. Our tests show that the 5D Mark III makes significant strides in removing moiré effects, some of which we saw in the 5D Mark II, and more recently in the Nikon D800 and Sony A99. As a result the 5D Mark III's video is improved overall, though perhaps with a slight bias toward noise suppression, and avoiding moiré also means slightly softer-looking videos overall. Mic and headphone jacks add to the party, along with live audio levels control, and the ability to adjust ISO sensitivity, shutter speed, and aperture during capture. Audio quality is quite good, with very little hiss, and rolling shutter is quite well controlled at 1080p 30fps and almost non-existent at 720p 60fps. (Visit the video page for details and sample videos.)

We wish the 5D Mark III included a pop-up flash, given the well-heeled superset of customers who will buy the camera because it's "the best one." Nikon uniquely understands this, including a pop-up flash even on the competing D800. The good news is the Canon 5D Mark III's low light performance is stunning, so shooting in ambient light is easier than ever. The 5D Mark III is unique in the market in that it's a safe buy regardless of how you'll use it, so it's easy to recommend.

Ultimately the Canon 5D Mark III really is a true superstar camera, an easy choice for a Dave's Pick.


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