Canon 5DS R Conclusion

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II: 24mm, f/2.8, 1/100s, ISO 100, +0.7EV

The Canon 5DS R: a specialty EOS camera

Offering a whopping 50 megapixels in resolution, the Canon 5DS R (and its nearly-identical sibling) is one unique Canon DSLR. While other EOS cameras can generally be considered more or less suitable for a wide variety of subjects, with manageable image resolutions, file sizes as well as expansive ISO ranges, the 5DS R, on the other hand, introduces a streak of specialty into the EOS family by going the opposite route.

The camera's huge resolution, along with this "R" version's canceled-out optical low-pass filter, makes it particularly well-suited for high-end portraiture work, landscape and other editorial photography tasks which demand extraordinary image detail -- and are typically shot at lower ISO sensitivities. The 5DS R feels, operates and handles much like any other EOS camera, and it can certainly handle general-use photography despite its niche-market persona. However, given its ultra-high resolution sensor, in a way, the camera blurs the line between a full-frame DSLR and a medium format camera. In a sense, the 5DS R is the "medium-format" camera for those Canon shooters who've invested heavily in Canon lenses and want that familiar, classic Canon EOS operability and size.

Straightforward design offers easy operation and familiarity

There's not much to say about the design and ergonomics of the 5DS R that hasn't already been said about the earlier 5D Mark III, since they are practically identical in design, controls, button layout and other physical exterior features. The 5DS R is comfortable and altogether familiar territory for seasoned Canon shooters. As a camera geared toward professional photographers, ease of use and familiarity is an important factor; in a professional environment, if you upgrade cameras to the 5DS R, there's little to no learning curve to get up and running.

50-megapixel sensor captures stunning, impressive detail

Not surprisingly, the big story for the Canon 5DS R is image quality, and specifically image quality at low ISOs. This camera absolutely thrives at base ISO. Images are packed with detail; letting the avid pixel-peeper grin in delight as he or she zooms-in to check the crispness of that eyelash, lock of hair, or scales on a lizard, for example.

Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II: 400mm, f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 400, 1.6x Crop Mode (See also: RAW file)
100% Crop

Like other Canon DSLRs we've tested, the 5DS R's hue accuracy and color handling is excellent when using manual white balance. Skin tones appear natural and pleasing, and color saturation is even-handed and not overdone. Despite the full-frame sensor, however, the dynamic range of the 5DS R still lags behind competing high-resolution models from Nikon and Sony, though we did find a slight improvement compared to the 5D Mark III.

The 5DS R also introduces a new "Fine Detail" Picture Style, which offers more fine-grained control of in-camera image sharpening in a similar vain to that of Adobe's Unsharp Mask tool. Using this preset, the 5DS R's JPEG images really pop with much more sharpness and detail compared to the Standard Picture Profile and with minimal sharpening artifacts. Though RAW capture may be the preferred workflow for many prospective 5DS R owners, for JPEG workflows, the new Fine Detail Picture Style is a fantastic addition.

Despite limited high ISOs, 5DS R proves quite capable

While the Canon 5DS R really shines at low ISOs and despite its full-frame sized sensor, the camera is not as versatile for high ISO performance as the 5D Mark III. In fact, according to Canon, the 5DS R shares similar high ISO and noise performance to the 7D Mark II, which has an APS-C sensor -- the 50.6MP sensor shares a similar pixel-pitch to the 7D Mark II's 20.2MP chip.

16-35mm f/4L IS: 16mm, f/4, 1/40s, ISO 6400, +0.3EV

Compared to other full-frame cameras, such as the 5D Mark III, this is one of the 5DS R's major limiting factors in terms of general-use versatility. Limited to an expanded ISO of just 12,800, while the "Mark III" tops out at ISO 102,400, the Canon 5DS R is not designed for handheld low-light performance. That being said, the 5DS R showed rather decent performance at higher ISOs, despite the resolution. It wouldn't be our first choice to use for a low-light indoor shoot or at a nighttime sporting event, but the 5DS R can handle higher ISO situations rather well, all things considered.

Big resolution means big responsibility on shooting technique

Though the 5DS R handles just like a 5D Mark III, the 5DS R warrants a bit more caution and more focus on your technique to ensure crisp, sharp, properly focused photos due to the higher-resolution sensor. There's so much resolution that you can really tell even if you miss focus ever so slightly when viewing images at 100% magnification, so nailing correct focus is key.

The increased resolution also often necessitates a faster shutter speed than the usual "1/focal length" rule of thumb. The pixels on the sensor are so tiny that a much smaller amount of movement poses a larger risk for per-pixel blurring than on other full-frame cameras with larger pixels.

Lastly, this "R" version of the Canon 5DS-series lacks an optical low-pass filter (or rather has a canceled-out low-pass filter). You gain an increase in very fine detail, but run the risk of moiré interference patterns and other aliasing artifacts. For the majority of the shooting we did with the 5DS R, both inside the lab and out, moiré wasn't much of an issue, though we did come across it every once in a while on certain subjects, so bare this in mind. If you shoot a lot of architecture or fashion, for instance, the regular 5DS might be the way to go to help avoid dreaded moiré.

Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II: 400mm, f/4.5, 1/1250s, ISO 800, 1.6x Crop Mode (See also: RAW file)
100% crop from unedited RAW file (no ACR adjustments) showing visible moiré pattern effects on the fine details of the bird's feathers.

Not the speediest camera around, but far from sluggish

Given its high resolution, it's not surprising to find the burst rate isn't as fast as other sports-oriented DSLRs. That being said, we found the burst rate to match up quite closely to Canon's claimed 5fps spec, which isn't all that bad considering the camera's resolution. Buffer depths and clearing times were also very respectable given the 50MP sensor.

As for autofocus performance, the 5DS R shares the same 61-point AF array as the 5D Mark III and 1D X but adds in the 7D Mark II's enhanced iTR AF (aka "Intelligent Tracking & Recognition AF") for improved subject tracking. In our lab tests, the AF performance clocked-in at speeds more in-line with consumer-level DSLRs, with full AF lag single point (center) AF measuring similar to that of the 7D Mark II, for example. In real-world scenarios, though, we found the AF to be more than capable with tried-and-true DSLR autofocus performance, plus the vast array of AF points makes composing shots very easy, putting focus right where you need it.

Limited video features, no 60fps, but fun built-in timelapse mode

Like high ISOs, video is not one of the 5DS R's hallmark features. Canon designed this camera with still photography in mind. Nevertheless, the 5DS R captures very good 1080/30p video, and despite the lack of an optical low-pass filter, moiré and aliasing artifacts did not appear during our testing -- though rolling shutter effects were quite apparent.

The lack of 60p video is glaring in this day and age, especially for such a high-end camera and one using Canon's latest DIGIC 6 image processor. For more advanced videographers, the lack of a headphone jack, Dual Pixel CMOS AF (or any on-sensor phase detect), and clean HDMI output may very well be deal-breakers to using the 5DS R as a video camera.

Canon 5DS R Timelapse Sample Video
1,920 x 1,080, H.264, Progressive, 30 fps
Download Original (109.6MB MOV)

The one trick up its sleeve for video is a new in-camera timelapse movie mode. Similar to the built-in intervalometer, the setup is quick and easy to pick the specific interval and number of shots to record. However, despite the camera capturing 50MP stills, the resulting timelapse video is only in 1080p, which is disappointing. Furthermore, the camera doesn't keep any of the individual still frames, so you can't go back to create a higher-resolution timelapse if you wanted to -- you'll need to manually create a timelapse using the intervalometer instead.

Summary: The Canon alternative to medium format

All said and done, despite its limited high ISO sensitivities, its limited video capabilities, and increased technical skill involved with getting sharp, properly focused images, the Canon 5DS R is an all-around impressive camera. The 5DS R is Canon's highest-resolution EOS body to date, and it can capture some seriously impressive, incredibly detailed, ultra sharp photographs.

Its high price point and aforementioned limited features put the 5DS R squarely into a niche category. If you want a more all-around, general use full-frame Canon DSLR with a more versatile ISO range and more video capabilities, the 5D Mark III is the better bet. However, for portrait, editorial, landscape or nature photographers looking for extreme image detail in a tried-and-true Canon DSLR package -- and don't want or need the increase in bulk and expense of a digital medium format system -- the Canon 5DS R will fit the bill. All told, the Canon 5DS R gets the nod as a Dave's Pick in our book.


Pros & Cons

  • Highest resolution Canon DSLR camera yet
  • Phenomenal resolution and sharpness
  • Excellent print quality performance
  • New Fine Detail Picture Style offers excellent image quality with very fine details and low sharpening artifacts
  • Decent high ISO performance for the resolution
  • Excellent color and hue accuracy with manual white balance
  • Improved normalized dynamic range compared to 5D Mark III
  • Excellent optical viewfinder accuracy
  • Decent burst speed with good buffer depths and clearing times considering the resolution
  • Able to autofocus in very low light
  • Design & controls identical to 5D Mark III
  • Excellent build quality
  • Built-in intervalometer & timelapse movie mode
  • Dual memory card slot (CF/SD), though two of the same type would be preferable
  • Battery life could be better
  • AF speed tested closer to consumer-level DSLRs
  • Dynamic range still significantly lower than competing models from Nikon and Sony
  • ISO range tops-out at 12,800
  • Lack of OLPF means subject to more aliasing artifacts with some subjects
  • Goes without saying, but need very sharp glass and excellent technique to take full advantage of the sensor's resolution
  • Default Auto and Incandescent white balance settings struggle in tungsten lighting
  • No built-in flash
  • Auto white balance has a tendency toward slightly cool colors outdoors
  • No 60p option for video
  • No clean HDMI output
  • No headphone jack

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