Canon 5DS R Field Test Part II

Cranking up the ISO and checking out timelapse video

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

Big sensor...but small pixels

With the Canon 5DS R's massive allotment of megapixels, its ability to capture lots and lots of detail is no surprise. However, the flip-side to the ultra-high-resolution 50.6MP full-frame sensor is very tiny individual pixels. In what's basically the polar opposite of the low-resolution Sony A7S II, whose full-frame, 12-megapixel sensor has extremely large individual pixels, the Canon 5DS R has rather limited high ISO capabilities as a result -- at least for a full-frame camera.

In fact, Canon's even explicitly stated that the pixel pitch of the 5DS R's 50.6MP full-frame sensor is more comparable to the Canon 7D Mark II, with its 20.2MP APS-C sensor, than with the earlier 5D Mark III. With this, the high ISO performance should be similar to the 7D Mark II. Bottom line, though, is that I went into this Field Test with the understanding that the Canon 5DS R probably wouldn't have stunning low-light performance, as it's not designed to for that. Its primary focus is on high-resolution images at lower ISOs; similar to many medium format cameras. Nevertheless, the standard, native range of the camera's ISO scale tops out at 6400, which gives it some decent capabilities in lower light situations.

16-35mm f/4L IS: 30mm, f/5, 1/60s, ISO 6400

In this second (and final) installment of my 5DS R Field Test, I took the camera out for some evening shooting as well as an early morning hike to test the camera in indoor, dark and dim-light conditions. Additionally, video recording features is another aspect I focused on with this Field Test. Like high ISOs, video is not one of this 5DS and 5DS R's primary selling points (i.e. no framerates higher than 30p, no Dual Pixel CMOS AF, and no headphone jack). However, it does introduce a new in-camera timelapse movie mode, which is a first for an EOS camera.

Okay, let's get started.

16-35mm f/4L IS: 16mm, f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 6400

Despite tiny pixels, high ISO performance holds strong

With the high ISO performance of the Canon 5DS R pegged to be similar to the 7D Mark II, right off the bat, you're starting with rather decent low light performance, all things considered. Sure, the 5DS R is a full-frame camera, and with a pixel pitch similar to that of an APS-C camera, it will be at a disadvantage against other full-frame cameras with larger pixel sizes (i.e. Canon 5D Mark III, Sony A7S, etc). Now, that being said, the Canon 7D Mark II, for an APS-C camera, gets very nice marks from us for high ISO performance. And with that in mind, the 5DS R shouldn't get dinged with a big disadvantage for poor low-light performance, in my book.

I took the 5DS R out for an evening shoot in the city as well as an early morning hike through a heavily shaded forest. I found the high ISO image quality -- even at the maximum native ISO of 6400 -- to be quite good, by and large. I admit, at ISO 6400, images become quite noisy and grainy when you pixel-peep at 100 percent magnification, and fine detail is degraded and softened due simply to noise and/or NR processing. However, the 5DS R images still retain a lot of fine detail, even at this high ISO level or after a bit of noise reduction in Adobe Lightroom. I was also pleased with the level of fine detail in the JPEG counterparts processed with the camera's default noise reduction (with the Picture Style set to "Fine Detail").

I own an original Canon 7D, and I have shot with that camera for a long time, particularly at nighttime sporting events with ISO levels pushing 3200 and higher. Editing high ISO shots from the 5DS R reminded me a lot of the look and feel of the noise and detail performance of Canon's APS-C camera...but more on that later.

No, it's not a Guinness with a straw, but a nitro cold-brew coffee.
16-35mm f/4L IS: 16mm, f/6.3, 1/20s, ISO 6400

During the nighttime outing, I was photographing right around sunset and shortly afterwards. On a number of earlier shots with the sky still rather bright, the camera's auto-exposure managed to get the sky properly exposed, leaving the foreground buildings and other objects darker and underexposed. Despite the higher ISO, I was pleased with the amount of detail I could lift out of the shadows with minor adjustments in post-processing to the 5DS R's RAW files. These boosted shadow areas obviously became even noisier (which was to be expected), and despite the rather heavier application of noise reduction in Lightroom in these cases -- but without pushing the NR slider too far -- I was still impressed with the amount of detail retained in these particular images.

16-35mm f/4L IS: 16mm, f/4, 1/125s, ISO 6400
Edited in Adobe Lightroom LR6. Click for full-res JPEG.

During my morning hike, capturing better-lit, more well-exposed photos was far easier, though I still ended up using higher ISOs due to the heavy shade under the trees. Again, despite the higher ISOs used here, I was impressed with the detail in the images. For example, this image below of a spider and his…breakfast was shot at ISO 3200. It has an impressive amount of detail, and noise does not appear overly problematic -- and this is without any luminance noise reduction applied (default Adobe Lightroom color noise reduction applied, however).

16-35mm f/4L IS: 35mm, f/6.3, 1/160s, ISO 3200

5DS R vs 7D Mark II: ISO 6400 Comparison

With Canon's claim of similar high ISO noise performance to the 7D Mark II, I was curious to see if this was, in fact, the case. We happen to have a 7D Mark II here at IR, and I was able to shoot a few side-by-side shots at the same high ISO. I used the 1.6x crop mode on the 5DS R to help match a similar resolution to the 20-megapixel 7D Mark II (the 1.6x crop mode on the 5DS R creates a 19.6-megapixel JPEG, but leaves a full-size RAW file). Upon close inspection, you can see the noise characteristics are very similar, if not nearly identical. The fine detail from the 5DS R edges out the 7D Mark II, however, even in this 19.6-megapixel crop.

Canon 5DS R High ISO Comparison (Click images for full-res)

24-70mm f/2.8L II: 70mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s, ISO 6400

100% Crop: 5DS R, "Fine Detail" Picture Style, 1.6x Crop Mode

100% Crop: 5DS R, Standard Picture Profile, 1.6x Crop Mode

100% Crop: 7D Mark II, Standard Picture Profile

Very good high ISO image quality despite sensor resolution

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with the high ISO performance of the 5DS R. The limited ISO range can make it more difficult to get shots in really low light, or if you're trying to maintain a fast enough shutter speed when hand-holding longer lenses, but I did not find myself in those situations very often -- and I typically try to avoid shooting over ISO 6400 regardless of the camera I'm using.

Are there better cameras out there for low light? Sure. The Canon 5D Mark III and Sony A7R II both offer an expanded ISO range of up to 102,400 and the Sony A7S (I and II) has expanded ISO sensitivities that climb to 409,600! If you're looking for a top-notch high ISO camera, the Canon 5DS R (or plain 5DS) probably isn't the camera for your needs. However, the 5DS R is surely capable of making pleasing, usable images in less than favorable lighting.

16-35mm f/4L IS: 16mm, f/5, 1/40s, ISO 6400

Video features lag behind other EOS models somewhat

As with most cameras these days, the Canon 5DS R is able to shoot video in addition to stills. The 5DS R comes with most of the bells and whistles for video recording, though its video feature set isn't as robust as other Canon HD-DSLRs such as the 5D Mark III and 7D Mark II. Again, Canon's primary focus for this high-res EOS camera is for still images.

High quality video, but lacking 1080/60p

While the 5DS R shares a similar dual DIGIC 6 image processor configuration as the 7D Mark II, it doesn't include the increasingly popular 1080/60p frame rate -- video tops-out at 30 frames per second for 1080p video. You can shoot 720/60p, however, if you don't mind the drop in resolution. And despite the higher resolution sensor, 4K video is not offered on the 5DS R (nor is available on any current EOS DSLR aside from the massively expensive EOS 1D C).

Canon 5DS R Sample Video #1
1,920 x 1,080, H.264, Progressive, 30 fps, ALL-I
Download Original (541.2MB MOV)

Quality-wise, 1080p footage looks really nice to my eyes. Details are very crisp, and colors 'pop' with a nice vibrancy using default Picture Style settings. Unlike other "video-heavy" cameras, such as the Panasonic GH4 or new Sony A7R II, the 5DS R does not offer dynamic range-improving or contrast-reducing picture settings out of the box -- like Panasonic's Cinelike-D or new V-Log options or Sony's S-Log2 profiles. You can, however, enhance the dynamic range of video footage somewhat by installing the Technicolor CineStyle picture profile -- despite it being designed back for the 5D Mark II. You can also use the in-camera Picture Style settings to tweak the image manually to a degree.

The lack of 1080/60p is certainly a big downside for some, though I found that in my typical use-case, shooting calmer, slow-moving subjects and with little-to-no camera movements, the lack of this faster framerate wasn't much of an issue. However, if I was to film fast action, sports or other fast-moving subjects where I'd want to re-time and slow down footage in post, the lack of 60fps is problematic -- or at least problematic if I also wanted higher resolution 1080p footage.

Canon 5DS R Sample Video #2
1,920 x 1,080, H.264, Progressive, 30 fps, ALL-I
Download Original (248.7MB MOV)

Moiré not an issue for video, but rolling shutter is

Other factors that can effect video image quality are moiré and rolling shutter. The latter of these two I was able to observe and test quite easily. The 5DS R unfortunately displays quite apparent rolling shutter with both 1080/30p and 1080/24p video, as well as with 720/60 to a lesser, but still visible extent. So be careful how quickly you pan the camera.

Moiré, on the other hand, is surprisingly well controlled, I found -- despite the lack of an optical low-pass filter on this "R" model. In casual shooting, I did not come across moiré or aliasing artifacts. I then intentionally tried shooting video on subjects that have induced moiré in the past on other cameras, such as the fine-patterned fabric of a chair, rooftop shingles and a metal mesh table. With all of these subjects, I could not see any moiré or aliasing artifacts in the resulting video 1080/30p clips. I also shot a video of the metal mesh table at 720/60p, and here I was able see some moiré pattern artifacts and banding. Perhaps with just the right subject matter, the right distance and the right focal length, moiré and aliasing could appear in Full HD videos. However, for average, real-world video at 1080p resolution, the 5DS R handles moiré and aliasing quite well.

Missing video features: Dual-Pixel CMOS AF, clean HDMI, headphone jack & more

The Canon 5DS R does offer full-time autofocus in video mode, but unlike the 7D Mark II (and even the lower-tier 70D), it doesn't offer Canon's nice Dual Pixel CMOS AF on-sensor phase-detect autofocus system. While AF speed in live view or in video isn't nearly as speedy or "snappy" as it is on Dual Pixel-capable cameras, AF is fairly smooth, especially when making small distance changes to focus. Larger AF adjusts from near to far subjects or vice versa can appear abrupt but otherwise quite quick with little to no hunting or "wobbling" on subjects with good contrast. I did find that with Movie Servo AF enabled, it is quite easy to see the AF system constantly making small adjustments (especially with handheld video or with moving subjects) as it tries to keep the subject in focus, which may not be that aesthetically pleasing.

Canon 5DS R Sample Video #3
1,920 x 1,080, H.264, Progressive, 30 fps, ALL-I
Download Original (356.7MB MOV)

To further separate the 5DS R from more video-centric Canon models, the 5DS R lacks clean HDMI output, zebras and focus peaking as well as a headphone jack for monitoring audio (there is a mic jack though). For casual video shooters, these two features maybe not be cause for concern, but for more high-end productions, these can be crucial features -- especially that headphone jack.

Canon 400mm f/5.6L: 400mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO 1250

Simple, easy, built-in timelapse is a first for an EOS camera

Now, while the 5DS R seems somewhat lacking in the video department, Canon did add a unique video feature not found on any other EOS camera to date: timelapse. In addition to the built-in intervalometer, which takes continuous still images at a set rate for a predetermined length of time, the new timelapse movie mode captures and creates a finished timelapse video clip all in-camera.

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

Similar to the setup for the intervalometer mode, timelapse movie mode lets you define the interval between each shot and the number of shots to take during this session. The camera helpfully provides the corresponding amount of time needed to capture the full amount of frames, the resulting playback time of the movie clip and how much record time is left on the memory card(s). To get started, you then adjust your exposure and take a test shot or so, and then finally press the Start/Stop button to begin the capture process.

The entire process is smooth and simple, but you just need to keep in mind that timelapse sequences can take a long time, multiple days even. I did a simple 300 frame timelapse at one frame every minute, which took five hours. Another factor to consider is battery life. Using a single fully-charged battery, I nearly depleted the battery after my five hour timelapse. For anything longer, it would be best to either use a battery grip for double the battery capacity or better yet a Canon DC Coupler, which lets you simply plug the camera into a power outlet.

Interestingly, after the sequence is complete, the camera creates the timelapse video in-camera, but does not provide the raw individual frame images; all you get is a single 1080/30p video. One of the main benefits to timelapse is that by using still image frames, you can create videos with resolutions many times larger than standard typical video clips. In the case of the 5DS R, if you want full-resolution 50-megapixel timelapse video, you'll need to use the intervalometer function and process the individual frames into a video in post-production.

16-35mm f/4L IS: 16mm, f/4, 1/160s, ISO 2000, -1.0EV

Canon 5DS R Field Test Summary

Simply put, the Canon 5DS R is an impressive camera. It's certainly familiar territory for anyone used to Canon EOS DSLRs: identical controls, size and ergonomics, as well as menus, to other high-end EOS cameras, namely the 5D Mark III. Image quality at low ISOs is amazing, with a stunning amount of fine detail. And, even with supposedly less than optimal high ISO performance for a full-frame camera, the 5DS R does a respectable job in my opinion in terms of well-controlled noise and good detail. For really low light situations, the maximum expanded ISO of just 12,800 can be a limiting factor, however.

Overall, the image quality is great, and the build quality is fantastic -- it feels like a tank, which has both positives (solid) and negatives (heavy). Plus, the highly versatile and powerful 61-point AF system performs very well, and though it's a bit limited in terms of high-end video features, the new timelapse movie mode is simple and fun to use. The Canon 5DS R is a pricey proposition, however, at almost $4,000, and it offers way more megapixels that most mere mortals need to contend with. But, if you're a professional photographer or an advanced enthusiast looking to capture landscapes, portraits, and even certain wildlife, at the utmost resolution with your quiver of Canon EF lenses, then the Canon 5DS R will certainly fit the bill.


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