Canon 5D Mark III Preview

March 2, 2012

In this article I want to review the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and compare it versus the older model, the Canon 5D Mark II and the newly announced Nikon D800. The 5D Mark III announced on March 2, 2012, almost four years since the 5D MKII was announced (September 8, 2008). The 5D-series of full frame DSLR cameras became favorite among enthusiast, professionals and videographers from all around the world. The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is equipped with Canon’s latest technology innovation as you’ll soon see. It comes with a brand new 22MP sensor, DIGIC 5+ image processor, 3:2 3.2-inch wide-screen LCD, 100% coverage optical viewfinder, touch-sensitive rear dial, 1080p and 61-point  AF system which it inherits from the Canon EOS 1D X, Canon’s flagship DSLR.

The announcement of the 5D MK3 also comes a few days after Nikon announced it’s D700 replacement, the Nikon D800, alongside the D800E (without the aliasing filter). As I watch how the image quality improve in Micro Four Thirds cameras (ie. Olympus OM-D E-M5), I certainly expect a new full frame camera to bring some new fresh air to the DSLR market. Maybe sometimes my expectations are too high, but I really think that it’s time for Nikon and Canon to innovate. The Nikon D800 didn’t turn my head that much and I ask myself whether the 5D Mark III can do that. On paper, we can see that the camera has certainly been improved, but to what degree you might ask?

Camera Design

Canon 5D Mark III vs 5D Mark II

Canon 5D Mark III vs 5D Mark II size comparison

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III doesn’t look that much different from the MK2. It’s a bit taller (2.9mm) and it has some added curvature in its design, but not a big change from the previous model. At the back of the camera you’ll notice more differences. First of all, the 5D Mark III now features a 3.2-inch 1040K-dots wide-screen LCD display, compared to the 3-inch 920L-dots display on the 5DMKII. Due to this, the LCD takes more horizontal space, so the thumb area is narrower now.

Whether it should have any implications on ergonomics, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seems to be a big deal when viewing them on screen. Furthermore, the LCD is an improved one, which is more durable, more resistant against scratches and it’s more resistance to reflections. All in all, the LCD becomes very important when you want to check the sharpness and correct focus in images, so I can just assume that with the 5DMK3 is will be better.

The dedicated movie button is now to the right side of the viewfinder, so photographers can switch it on/off with their thumb, instead of using their left hand to do so. The “Info” and “Menu” button have moved to the left side of the viewfinder.

Here is a video tour that explains what each button does, including when the battery grip is attached:

The viewfinder itself was also improved. You get approx. 100% coverage compared to 98% on the 5DMKII. One of the cool enhancements is that the rear dial is now touch sensitive in video mode, preventing minor shake and noises compared to the 5DMKII dial. Also the Canon 5D Mark II doesn’t have popup flash, so doesn’t the Mark II camera.

At the left side you can find two new buttons:

  • “Creative Photo” (top most) – fast access to image editing functionality (ie. HDR, Multiple Exposure, etc.)
  • “Rate” – Which allows you to rate a photo and give it a rating from 0 to 5 or “not rated” which means that no rating has been applied to the image. That gives you a more convenient way to mark your favorite images. I didn’t find any information about the compatibility with 3rd party software, but I can just assume the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom knows how to read that rating information from the metadata.

Of course the big differences are waiting for us inside the camera, rather then outside.

You can compare the Canon 5D Mark III size versus other camera on compact camera size comparison tool website.

Before we continue, here’s the 5D MK III introduction video:


22.3MP Sensor & DIGIC 5+

Digic5+ processor

DIGIC 5+ Image Processor

In the heart of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III you can found a newly developed 22.3-megapixels (effective res.) Full Frame sensor and Canon’s latest and fastest DIGIC 5+ image processing unit. Both are an upgrade over the 5D MKII in terms of performance and light sensitivity (from what I’ve read, +2EV stop advantage and up to 4x faster).

So certainly we can expect a boost in the performance, responsiveness of the camera, as well as better image quality output of the sensor.good

The DIGIC 5+ is also used in the Canon EOS-1D X, which actually have two of those processors, allowing the EOS-1D X to capture 12 fps in RAW shooting mode.

The first move obvious change in favor of the new processor we can see in burst mode. The camera can shoot up to 6fps in continuous shooting mode and capture up to 18 RAW images and up to 16,270 sequenced shots in JPEG shooting mode! – sports photographers will be thrilled to hear this. As you know, it’s not only how fast the burst is, but how fast the camera can move pictures from the buffer to the memory card, the faster the better. Of course you’ll need a fast card for a maximum transfer rate.

Just note that the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is compatible with CompactFlash UDMA 7 cards, providing 1000x (150MB/s) minimum read transfer speeds or faster.  The 5DMK3 also has dual card slots, one for CompactFlash card (conforms to type I, UDMA 7 mode support) and the second one for SD memory cards (SDHC and SDXC compatible).


Here’s  comparison table, tested with 8GB CF card:

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The new highly sensitive sensor opens new dimensions for low light shooting. The EOS 5D Mark II boasts sensitivity starting from ISO 100 up to ISO 25,600 (native) and it’s expandable up to ISO 102,400.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II – 3.9 fps (78 JPEGs) | ISO 100-25,600
Canon EOS 5D Mark III – 6 fps (over 16K JPEGs) |  ISO 100-102,400
Canon EOS-1D X – 14 fps | ISO 100-204,800
Nikon D800 – 6 fps | ISO 100-25,600

The 5DMK3 certainly takes the speed to a higher level, at least when we are talking about the lower end full frame DSLRs.


61-point AF System

61-point AF sensor, 5D Mark III

61-point AF sensor, same as the Canon EOS-1D X

Most probably one of the most noticeable and important updates is the 61-point wide-area AF system, which can also be found on the Canon EOS-1D X, Canon’s flagship full frame DSLR camera. The Canon 5D Mark II had only 9-point AF system.

The new AF system should certainly give photographers a more accurate and faster AF system that can help get those fast moving subjects right in focus.  It has a 41 cross-type point and five dual cross-type points. From what I’ve heard, that was one of the Achille’s heel on the 5D and 5D Mark II.  Although I didn’t find it disturbing for my shooting habits, it seems that many people did. Especially sports photographers that wanted a fast and responsive AF system that can stand in the toughest challenges.  Now with the new AF system, you get Canon’s most reliable and fastest AF system in the EOS lineup. Certainly good news and I still want to see how it performs in practice.

Canon EOS-1D X – 61 AF points
Canon EOS 5D Mark II – 9 AF points
Canon EOS 5D Mark III – 61 AF points
Nikon D800/D800E – 51 AF points
Canon EOS 7D –  19 AF points
Nikon D700 – 51 AF points
Other than that, the 5DMK3 is equipped with 63-point metering sensor.

Here’s a video by which explains the extra functionality that was added to control the AF points, here take a look:


5D Mark III High ISO Sample images

The new sensor and image processor should certainly bring the image quality to a new level. Many of us hoping for Nikon D3s ISO performance, but let’s remember that the D3s has 12MP, so we are skeptical whether the new sensor can match that.

Canon Japan has publishes some sample images to in different ISO settings, but unfortunately up to ISO 6400. Even so, I wanted to take a closer look and see how the 5D Mark III can handle noise in ISO6400. Maybe is can give us a good idea how good the cameras is in handling noise in high ISO sensitivity levels.

I’ve decided to check the Aurora image that was shot at ISO 6400 with the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 0.6 sec shutter speed and f/2.8 aperture. Certainly a good image to evaluate the noise levels, because it’s relatively dark image. We usually don’t get to see sample images at such high ISOs, an it seems Canon knows that this camera won’t disappoint. Let’s take a look.

Aurora image thumbnail

Aurora - ISO6400 (click to 100% original size)

Click the Aurora thumbnail image above to see a 100 percent original image size (7.25MB image file).

The noise is very well handled, but it is clearly visible though. Although not the same image, I went to dpreview to checkout a Nikon D3s ISO 6400 image, just to get a good overview of its performance (here). From what I can tell from the very not professional comparison, is the the Nikon D3s might have a 1EV stop advantage over the 5D Mark III, but it’s too early to tell from just first observation. I’ve also compared it versus Nikon D800 shots, and I think that the noise levels are on par with what you get with the Nikon D800. Again, just initial “not professional” observation.

All in all, it doesn’t looks like a surprise performance, but I’m not disappointed either, a very good to excellent performance from first observation in relative to the competition.

More high ISO image samples can be viewed on dpreview too (ISO 50 up to ISO 102400; made with pre-production model)


1080p Movie Recording – What’s Improved?

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II was very popular camera among videographers and even used in some Hollywood movies to capture some scenes (ie. Captain America,  Iron Man 2, Black Swan, Searching for Sonny and other TV series – more here).

With a new HDSLR camera comes new expectations. Although the 5D Mark III won’t bring Ultra HD resolution, there are some improvements that worth talking about.

Canon wanted to answer the demand of videographers around the world and did the best it can in order to bring Full HD movies to a new height. The EOS 5D Mark II DIGIC 5+ processor in combination of the new sensor will improve image quality of videos and minimize the appearance of moire, and many kind of artifacts that aren’t welcome when shooting video clips.

With the 5D Mark III you have full manual control over exposure and the type of video compression (ALL-I and IPB are supported). For those who don’t know what ALL-I and IPB means, here’s a short explanation:

  • IPB – B stand for Bi-directional compression. This type of compression works by predicting the content of future frames. Offers better compression compared to ALL-I.
  • ALL-I – or ‘Intra-coded Frame’ is different from IPB because all frames are treated as key frames. No further compression is applies, just a frame compression. This results in better image quality, but up to 3 times the file size. Editing individual frames doesn’t hurt image quality. Furthermore, playing ALL-I compresses files take less computing resources in playback. ALL-i is also referred to as “Editing friendly” format.

So ALL-I only compress the information for the current frame, but not the information between those frames. IPB compression use interpolation and therefore requires more computing processing power, as well provides lower image quality because it deals with part of the image that is the same, and the data that is changed from frame to frame. Because repeated data can be stored only once, the intraframe IPB offers much superior compression but at the cost of image quality and video editing capabilities.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III can capture videos in various frame rates and resolutions (including size/min per compression method):

  • 1080p (1920×1080) @30/25/34 fps
    IPB: 235MB / minute
    ALL-I: 685MB / minute
  • 720p (1280×720) @60/50 fps
    IPB: 205MB / minute
    ALL-I: 610MB / minute
  • 480p (640×480) @ 30/25 fps
    IPB: 78MB / minute

I’ve read about people being frustrated that there isn’t any 29.97, but from what I’ve read on Canon Japans website and  quote:

“* 30p:29.97fps、25p:25.00fps、24p:23.976fps、60p:59.94fps、50p:50.00fps”

So 30p is actually 29.97fps, so maybe we won’t have to shout out loud before reading the tiny star notes (I guess).


Here is a Canon 5D Mark III sample video:

Here’s the official demo video called “Radball” taken with the Mark III of course:

More sample video shot with the 5D Mark III can be viewed in this page.
I’ve already mentioned it, but it’s worth mentioning again. The 5D MKIII features a soft-touch mode dial at the rear of the camera, which gives you the option to change video settings s the mic won’t pick up the clicking sound. It seems many people are enthusiastic about this cool feature. Other than that, the 5dMKIII features a headphone jack for monitoring audio in greater precision and a 3.5mm mic jack for connecting external stereo microphone for a better sound quality. Now you can record a single video up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds.


Image Editing Functions

creative photo button

"Creative photo" button

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III features plenty of image (and video) editing capabilities, which you can utilize in-camera without the need of an external software.  This includes:

  • Multiple Exposure Shooting – can overlap two to nine shots and produce one image. There are four options: Add, Averaging, Compare (Akira) and Compare (Dark). Each one result in a different effect.
  • Continuous Shooting Priority – which can take advantage of high shooting speed and unite several images into one image, which is useful when shooting moving sports subjects or animals.
  • High Dynamic Range – takes three images in different exposure and combine it into one high dynamic range image (HDR)

There is also a new “Creative Photo” button which gives you fast access to the multiple-exposure shooting function, HDR shooting mode, etc.


Another cool feature that I really like with the new camera is called “Comparison Playback”, which give you an option to view two images side by side on the back LCD display, zoom in, check focus and sharpness and decide which one you want to keep, rate or whatever you want to do with the photo after that. Just try to do that in other DSLR and you can see that it’s a pain, if not impossible, because you can’t view the images side by side and compare. You have to view on image and then the second one separately. It’s certainly a very helpful feature when shooting outdoors or even in the studio, because it tells you whether you need to re-shoot or whether you are good to go with your next shot.


5D Mark III Price

Canon MSRP price for the body-only is $3,500 and $4,300 for the 5DMKIII + 24-205mm f/4L IS USM Kit lens. This isn’t “cheaper” than we though it would be, at least when we compare it to the competition. The Nikon D800 price on Amazon at the time of writing this review stand on  $3000 (MSRP) for the body only and $3300 (MSRP) for the D800E model. Certainly quite a big difference between the two. I mean you can get the D800E and save $200. Of course the price difference is not a good reason to pick one over the other. However, it might raise some negative feedback from Current Canon users.


Video Hands-on Reviews

To get a more closer and intimate taste how the 5D Mark III really feels like, we have to watch some videos. Here a 5D Mark III hands-on review video taken by Engadget.

Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800

Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark III

Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III side by side

You are probably interested to know how the newly announced EOS 5D Mark III is different from the Nikon D800. I’ve made a simple 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800 side by side specs comparison table, so you can clearly see the differences of the key features.

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At the end it comes with the lenses and accessories that you already have. Many will upgrade/buy the 5D MKIII because they are already have previous gear that worth quite a lot of money.  Others will have to decide whether they want to invest in a new Canon Full Frame or a Nikon one. Of course if you look at the most obvious selling points for both cameras, you can see that they aren’t so different:

  • Canon 5D Mark III
    – Optimal 22MP resolution for both stills and videos and probably the optimal resolution for high-ISO performance resolution requirements for pro photographers
    – 61 AF points and 6 fps, fast performance, great upgrade over the 5D Mark II and targeted for sports photographers as well
    – 3.2″ 1040K-dots improved wide LCD display, also targeted for HDSLR enthusiasts and pros demands (probably the best LCD on the market right now)
    – IPB or ALL-I (Intra frame or Inter frame) compression methods for shooting 720p and 1080p – great option for videographers
  • Nikon D800 / D800E
    – 36.3MP, Wanting to give  the Medium Format some competition (great for studio shooting and macro photography)
    –  D800E for those who demand the highest resolution, again, aimed to studio, landscape & wedding photographers that can enjoy this high amount of details
    – FX/DX Multi-area mode video recording formats and Auto flicker reduction for improved video quality and lens usage flexibility
    – Live View uncompressed via HDMI – again, studio photographers will appreciate this a lot
    – Time-lapse photography – set intervals frame rates  – great for nature and landscape photography
    – Uncompressed HDMI output (4:2:2) – Canon videographers will be quite upset that the 5D MK3 doesn’t have that (Nikon D800 videographers, get your Atomos Ninja ready)


It’s just a few examples, but it gives an impression that the 5D Mark III is marketed as the ultimate HDSLR camera but optimal for other usages as well, especially sports photographers who had some issues with the 5D MKII AF performance and wanted a better option.
The Nikon D800 is no doubt among the best studio photography DSLR. It comes with two flavors (D800 and D800E), an option for live view via HDMI, but also continue to be the landscape photographer’s most favorite camera, including higher resolution sensor and time-lapse option.

Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that one camera is better than the other for your kind of photography needs. It just seems to be that they are marketed with more emphasize for different market segments.

I personally not a big fan of high-resolution cameras, whether it’s APS-C or Full Frame. My favorite among all is the Nikon D3s with its 12MP sensor. However, this is my favorite because it better fits my personal photographic needs. Others might be enthusiast about other features.

Regarding video, no doubt that the Canon EOS 5D Mark III shows a strong hand with the ability to choose compression method, the option to add headphone for sound monitoring and improved video quality due to the new sensor and image processor. I have no doubt in my mind that the 5D MKIII will continue to be a favorite camera among videographers worldwide. I didn’t find any comparison videos (too early), but I’m really want to see a side by side comparison of the Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D MK2 in different ISO when shooting movies.

D800 4:2:2 Clean / Uncompressed HDMI Output!
Also worth mentioning that the Nikon D800 features an uncompress 4:2:2 HDMI output, which you can record to HD recorders like the Atomos Ninja. The Atomos Ninja or Atomos Samurai can record video from a clean HDMI output and it encodes the video in real-time to the visually-lossless Apple ProRes format onto  a removable 2.5″ hard disk, ready to edit in FinalCut Studio straight away. No doubt that this features is very likely to attract many videographers, and pity that the Canon 5D Mark III doesn’t support clean HDMI output.

From what I’ve read, the Canon 5D Mark III HDMI output color sub-sampling is 4:2:0, while Nikon is 4:2:2. To better understand what color subsampling is, I recommend reading this article.


Anything Else You Need to Know?

If you want to geotag your photos, you will be glad to know that you can attach the Canon GP-E2 GPS receiver, which is compatible with Canon EOS-1D X, Canon 5D Mark III and Canon EOS 7D. However, a new firmware is required for the GP-E2 to work with the 5D Mark III and the 7D. According to Canon, this firmware will be available soon (quote from Canon official website: “The EOS 5D Mark III and EOS 7D require a firmware upgrade to be compatible with the GPS Receiver GP-E2, which will be available soon.”).




The Canon EOS 5D Mark III brings some interesting updates, but most of all the key differences between the MKII and the MKIII will be around image quality and video functionality. Canon told the press that we can expect 2-stop advantage over the Mark II and I can believe that it will do that. The new sensor architecture, 61-AF points (inherited from the EOS-1D X), DIGIC 5+ and video enhancement functionality and quality will certainly attract APS-C and current 5D MKII owners to upgrade to this camera. After all, we don’t get to see a new 5D camera every year.

I must admit that I was expecting something revolutionary, a technology that will put Canon far ahead on the map, but it didn’t happen. Almost 4 years since the previous model, and I can just ask myself if I will turn 80 until I see revolutionary changes in DSLR cameras. Having said that, I think that the most important thing is that those current evolved technologies can provide you with the tools you need to get the job done. Whether it’s for video or stills, the 5D Mark III seems like a great full frame DSLR to shoot with.

I really like the touch-sensitive dial option, the improved LCD (though I still wait for a vari-angle one, and that’s a shame that we don’t have it on this new camera), up to ISO 102,400, HDR mode, higher burst (compared to the 5DMKII) and headphone check for sound monitoring.  All are well crafted into a camera that already proven to be favorite among many professional photographers and videographers. I don’t see any way you can be wrong choosing this camera. A great new update to an already great camera. Highly Recommended!

(hey Canon, what about USB 3.0?)