Canon 7D Mark II vs Canon 5D Mark III

September 21, 2014

Canon 7D Mark II and Canon 5D Mark III cameras side by side

In this article I’ll compare the Canon EOS 7D Mark II vs Canon EOS 5D Mark III. The first is Canon’s APS-C flagship DSLR, the second is Canon’s very popular Full Frame DSLR. I assume that many have already seen the 7D Mark II specs and found it to be very appealing, and might think twice before spending a lot more for the 5D Mark III and enjoy the benefits of full frame photography.

The question that you should ask yourself is obviously if there are any benefits of buying the more expensive 5D Mark III over the 7D Mark II and vice versa.  At the time of writing this comparison review,  the 7D Mark II sells for $1600 less for the body on B&H. Whatever this difference is more or less, this is a significant price difference which cannot be ignored.  If you don’t have a budget issue, I recommend reading this comparison truthfully.  It might convince you to buy one camera over the other.

Full Frame vs APS-C

To put things more into context, one of the reason why many photographers consider the 5D Mark III is for its full frame sensor. A full frame main sensor advantage over APS-C are: increasing the background blurring effect (consider the same equivalent lens aperture and focal length), larger pixels leads to better signal to noise performance, higher dynamic range, more detailed images and overall better image quality (in most cases, also depends on other factors). You can take full advantage of Canon’s EF ultra-wide angle lenses with their actual focal length (16-35mm does equal to 16-35mm, not 25.6-56mm equivalent as with a 1.6x crop factor APS-C). This is one reason why landscape photographers favor full frame cameras.

The FF sensor is ore expensive to make. The APS-C does have a few advantages to on its side. It’s cheaper to make obviously, the equivalent focal length is multiplied by the sensor crop factor for the same lens specs, which can be suited for long distance subjects like sports and wildlife, as well as macro (can shoot from further away from the subject). Of course if you compare APS-C and Full Frame sensors for the same generation, you can see that in almost all cases, FF outperform APS-C at high ISO and image quality.

Some of you might might prefer getting the cheaper Canon EOS 7D Mark II and spend more money on a better lens or another lens to add to your lens arsenal. This can help you be more creative and productive, something that upgrading to a FF camera might not give you.

Now that you’ve got a good understanding of some of the cons and pros of each type of sensor, lets move on to the introduction section, where you’ll learn about the key features of each camera.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EOS 7D Mark II APS-C DSLR is here

Many people have waited 5 years for Canon to release the EOS 7D Mark II, which replaces the 7D model. If you want to now how the 7D Mark II compared to the 6D (Canon’s entry-level FF camera), I recommend reading my Canon EOS 7D Mark II vs Canon EOS 6D comparison (compared also to other APS-C Canon DSLRs).

The Canon EOS 7D Mark II is a big update and have many improvements over its predecessor. Some will argue Canon didn’t innovate much considering the time it had to improve upon the 7D, I kind of disagree with that, and you’ll soon understand why.

At the heart of the 7D Mark II is a newly developed 20.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor. This new sensor utilizes Canon’s Dual Pixel AF CMOS technology, an on-sensor phase-detection pixels. This technology also found on the Canon EOS 70D for example, allows the camera to take advantage of the phase-detect AF advantages in Live View and in video recording. This works in alongside contrast-detection AF (aka Hybrid AF) to promote faster and more accurate AF performance, and to give the camera a camcorder like performance. Changing focus onto a subject is now much smoother compared to contrast-detect AF alone. It also uses Movie Servo AF to automatically lock on the subject and track it.

A few words about the Dual Pixel AF CMOS technology. Each pixel on the 7D Mark II features two individual photodiodes, each one can capture light. During AF, the camera analyses signals from each pixel to determine the correct focus. However, when the camera captures the image, the light data from those two photodiodes for each pixel outputs and represents the data for a single pixel in the final image rendering. So having this on-board AF technology doesn’t reduce the image quality, in such a way that the light data on the phase-detect AF pixels is not lost, it’s also used for determine the accurate color for that individual pixel.

The Dual Pixel AF CMOS technology is compatible with almost any Canon EF lens, but make sure it does appear in this compatibility list found on canon.com website.

Canon pushed the AF system even more that that. the 7D Mark II now offers 6 different autofocus subject tracking presets to choose from. Each one is optimized for different subject movements — Canon calls it, Advanced iTR focusing and it has presets as follows:

  1. Versatile multi purpose setting
  2. Continuous to track subjects, ignoring possible obstacles
  3. Instantly focus on subjects suddenly entering AF points
  4. For subjects that accelerate or decelerate quickly
  5. For erratic subjects, moving in any direction
  6. For subjects that change speed and move erratically

By telling the camera how you expect your subject to behave, the camera will make inner adjustment and use a slightly different algorithms to make sure that the subject always stays in focus. This works amazingly well, not just for sports or fast action photography, but even for street photography, in studio, etc.  With its 65-point all-cross type AF system and its EV -3 sensitivity (center AF point is f/2.8 dual cross-type), you can trust the camera to perform at its best, even in dark conditions. Also worth mentioning that the Advanced iTR system is an improved one that found on the EOS-1D X, a camera that costs around $7K. This system also takes advantage of advanced color analysis and Face detection technology when shooting people.

The new sensor and its on-board phase-detection pixels will certainly benefit in video recording. The Canon EOS 7D Mark II can record beautiful full HD videos with full-time autofocus and excellent subject tracking performance. You can also shoot in 60p, as well as choose to shoot in either MOV or MP4 video formats. Those are to types of containers, as below the surface, both capture videos using H.264 codec. For some people it’s easier to process, edit or upload an MP4 for its wider accessibility (industry standard) and stronger compression (MOV: 1920×1080/59.94 440 MB/min. vs MP4: 1920×1080/59.94 431 MB/min.). Many videographers prefer the MOV container, Apple’s compressor. Converting MOV video file to MP4 can be done without re-encoding or any quality loss — both though are lossy formats.

That said, you do have the option to choose between IPB or All-I video compression types, which does heavily effect the video file size. For example, a 1080p30 All-I video in MOV video format records at 654 MB/min, whether an IPB version of it records at 255 MB/min — more than 2.5x times smaller file size. The image quality does take an impact, but if the file size in a concern, shooting in IPB is the way to go. For example, on a 16GB memory card you can record a total of 1 hour and 7 minutes in IPB for 29.97 fps, compared to only 34 minutes using All-I. For a frame by frame editing in video editing software, All-I compression is certainly the preferred method, because it retains more data.

Yes, there is Uncompressed HDMI output for both monitoring and recording with an external recorder.

The 7D Mark II is built to last and its very durable camera. It featured a rugged magnesium alloy body, has up to 200,00 cycles shutter durability and it is dust and water resistance. According to Canon, it has four times better weather-sealing than the 7D.

Can I shoot with the Canon EOS 7D Mark II in the rain? — According to what I’ve read in Canon Philippines website (quote: “Dust and water resistance”), Canon does not recommend shooting with it in the rain. I assume that the camera can survive a light rain or water splash, but I personally wouldn’t take it to the test — I’m sure some will.

The Canon 7D Mark II is backed by Dual DIGIC 6 image processors that supports its super fast 10.0 fps burst shooting. Among it’s other features are: 150,000 pixel RGB+IR metering sensor, built-in GPS, CF+SD Dual Card slots, built-in HDR,  comparative playback function, 3.0 inch ClearView II non-rotating display, USB 3.0, dual-axis electronic level, Intelligent viewfinder with 100% coverage and more.

*video by dpreview.com

No doubt that the 7D Mark II is a big improvement over its predecessor, and I have no doubt in my mind that it will be one of Canon’s most popular DSLR for 2014/2015. For an initial price of around $1800 as of the time of writing (body only), it doesn’t come cheap.  You can buy the EOS 7D (older version) for $700 less. That said, a few sites reported the 7D listed as discontinued at Amazon.com, and that was on July this year. I revisited Amazon.com website, and at the time of writing it’s written “Only 5 left in stock”. So it seems that the stock wasn’t renewed, as I assume that Amazon.com wouldn’t be left out of stock of a camera that can drive more buyers now that the 7D Mark II is out and people are expecting a large drop in price. So I assume that there wasn’t a better time to buy the 7D (the older model) as it is now.

We’ll look deep into the specs in the comparison section. Now let’s learn more about the 5D Mark III.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EOS 5D Mark IIIThe 5D Mark III was announced on March 2, 2012, replacing the 5D Mark II which was announced on September 17, 2008. It’s probably Canon’s most popular Full Frame camera. The 5D Mark III is a mid-range model in Canon’s FF camera lineup, sitting above the affordable Canon EOS 6D but below the EOS-1D X, Canon’s professional flagship model.

Let’s take a look at a price comparison for a second, before we continue on.

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark III: ~$3400 +$1500 than 6D
  • Canon EOS 6D: ~$1900 -$1500 than 5D Mark III
  • Canon EOS-1D X: ~$6800 +$3400 than 5D Mark III
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II (discontinued):  ~$2700 -$700 than 5D Mark II

* rounded prices via B&H as of 9.21.2014. Visit B&H for the latest prices. Except the 5DMKII price, via amazon.com

People buying a Canon full frame DSLR not really have a large selection (active models), not like the selection you have with Canon’s APS-C cameras which most of the older model are still in production. The Rebel T3i is Canon’s most popular DSLR camera, and this model was announced on the first quarter of 2011.

That said, professionals and enthusiast who pay a premium price for a DSLR do their own math. I have to admit that until now Canon was lagging behind Nikon in the APS-C arena, and Canon needed a semi-pro APS-C to get back on the track. Now that’s the 7D Mark II is out, many people might think twice before paying for a full frame. A few of the full frame benefits are: user the actual focal length of the EF lens (no multiplication), enjoy Canon’s ultra-wide angle lenses for their fullest potential, better low-light performance and higher dynamic range.

OK, let’s move back to our main subject, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III key features.

At the heart of the camera is a 22.3 megapixel Full Frame CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5+ image processor. Let’s first take a look how big is a Full Frame sensor compared to that of the 7D Mark II, which is an APS-C size sensor.

Sensor size comparison: 5D Mark III vs 7D Mark II

Sensor size comparison: 5D Mark III (full frame) vs 7D Mark II (ASP-C)

Another important spec which is the most important one is the pixel size. The larger the pixel/photodiode (in the case of the 7D Mark II, each pixel has two photo diodes), the better the sensor’s light sensitivity. Each pixel can gather more light, containing more information to reconstruct the digital color data. Each pixel of the 5D Mark III full-frame sensor measured 6.25 microns, whether on the 7D Mark II, each pixel is approximately 4.1 microns. That’s a 41.5% different in size. There are other properties that effect image quality that should be taken into account, including among others, the sensor design technology and image processing. So it can happen that a sensor, even if it has larger pixels, can be inferior to another with smaller pixels. This is very evident in cameras from different generations, but even in same generation cameras.

61-point AF sensor, 5D Mark III

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

The 5D Mark III was designed to prevail in both stills and video capture, and in fact, it’s one of the most popular HDSLR cameras. The 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III were used and are being used in Hollywood. The 5D Mark II (previous model) was used shooting some scenes in Captain America, Escape from Tomorrow, ParaNorman (3D stop-motion animated film), Dimensions (award-winning British sci-fi film), Black Sawn, Red Tails and others. You can shoot videos at 1080p 30/24 frame rates. Videographers have the option to select shooting either in All-I or IPB compressions, with All-I resulting in larger file size but higher image quality. You also have both a heaphone jack and mic input to connect an external microphone. When it was launched, the 5D Mark III lacked a clean HDMI output, but Canon add Clean HDMI output and improved AF performance in the new firmware update.

The 5DMKIII is built to perform. It has magnesium-alloy body with 150,000 shutter cycles and it’s dust and weather resistance and s an improved self cleaning sensor unit to further prevent dust spots in your images. Canon added a new Live View switch at the top with start/stop button and 8-way multi controler, which I find to be very convenient to use.

The camera features a 61-point high-density AF system with 41 cross-type AF point and 5 dual diagonal AF points (to f/2.8) and center AF point which is cross-type at f/8. The camera can shoot at 6.0 fps in continuous shooting mode. The speed is one of the thing that professional can expect from a full frame camera, but the viewfinder certainly plays an important role as well. If you haven’t shot with a full frame before, you don’t know what you are missing. The 5D Mark III features an Intelligent Viewfinder with Superimposed LCD. It utilizes aspherical lens elements that provides the photographer a crystal clear view of the scene. You can even turn off the shooting information to get a clean and clear view of the subject without any distractions.

At the back of the camera you’ll find a 3.2″ 1040K-dot anti-reflective ClearView II LCD display. This large LCD is very useful for professional that need to check focus and sharpness on the spot, as well as for video recording (although the rear LCD is not tiltable, but fixed in position).

Among the 5D Mark III features are built-in HDR and multiple exposure modes, Raw+JPEG, CF+SD dual card slots, comparative playback function,  GP-E2 GPS receiver compatibility, 14-bit RAW,  1/8000 sec shutter speed and more. I personally found the AF configurations to be more robust than any DSLR I’ve shot with in the past.  There is a configuration option to every aspect of the AF functionality, giving photographers a huge range of creative possibilities.

Before we move on, check out this informative Canon 5Dmk3 review by Philip Bloom, DP, direction and filmmaker. If you are into video shooting, you’ll love this video.

..and last video by spikyhead180 YouTube user that explains about the 5D Mark III functions.

This is just a glimpse of the 5DMK3 features. In the next section we’ll dive deeper into the 7D Mark II and 5D Mark III specifications and learn about each camera’s cons and pros.

7D Mark II vs 5D Mark III

Now it’s time to dig deeper into each camera features and see how it compared to its peer. Let’s learn more about the cons and pros of each camera. Here you’ll get to cross-check the camera specs with your shooting style needs and see which of the two fits you best.

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Before we continue to the conclusion section, let’s first take a look at some two sample videos taken with each camera.

First is the Canon 7D Mark II sample video.

Canon 5D Mark III test film

Conclusion

Both cameras might look very similar on the outside, with the 5D Mark III being bigger, but there are significant differences between those the 5D Mark III and the 7D Mark II. You first need to understand the benefits of shooting with a full frame camera, and obviously see that when it comes to image quality, the 5D Mark III takes the 7D Mark II hand down, regardless of the 7D Mark II new sensor and stronger and more advanced (Dual) image processor.  The 5D Mark III is a king when it comes to low-light performance, but the 7D Mark II gave it a good fight. I personally would expected a better performance, but I’m probably always expecting much more in each iteration, and most of the time I get disappointed 🙂

That said the Canon 7D Mark II has several advantages over the 5D Mark III, including among others: smaller body (if that’s of an important), full-time AF in video recording and Live View, AF sensor with more AF points and more of them are cross-type and it’s 1EV more sensitive (better in low-light conditions), better light metering sensor, smaller but more advanced viewfinder, built-in AF assist lamp, pop-up flash, Anti-flicker/timelapse/in-camera HDR shooting modes, faster burst and flash X sync speed, 1080p60 and the ability to shoot between MP4 and MOV,  dual-card slot, better reach to due the sensor crop factor USB 3.0, built-in GPS and compass (records the direction the camera/photographer is facing (great to determine the exact position you took the shot when you come back to the scene) in most part.

For approx. $1800 for the body, the 7D Mark II doesn’t come cheap, but it’s significantly cheaper than the 5D Mark III (~$1600 less). No doubt the the larger viewfinder, better high ISO performance and higher extended ISO, better battery life and larger screen are great advantages that the 5D Mark III. For landscape photographers this is not a question. The fact that you can take advantage of Canon’s ultra-wide angle lenses can definitely widen your creative borders, and for some photographers it’s a must have.

As a dual I think that they both work great, but if you are not buying the 7D II as a backup/secondary camera, you certainly pay a good attention to the differences I’ve mentioned here. Maybe you have many EF-S lenses from your older camera, and you might pay extra for losing money on those lenses in order to buy new EF lenses instead.

The question is whether the Canon 5D Mark III is worth it (for YOU) over the 7D Mark II. In my opinion, it is, at least for the price difference. I would prefer buying the 7D Mark II and for the price difference, I would buy a better lens or two. I also shoot more tele than wide-angle, so I earn from the crop factor focal length multiplication there, great for wildlife photography. I think that with one or two fast lenses, you won’t get to the point that you need to shoot at very high ISO and therefore won’t get noisy image (although high ISO performance is very good, don’t understand me wrong here).  If low-light photography is your primary, no doubt in my mind that you should buy the 5D III.

So there you have it. I hope that this article was able to provide you with the information you need to make a decision. If you have question or have anything new to add, please add your helpful and knowledgeable thoughts in the comment section below. I would love to hear your opinion about the two cameras and how the two differ in related to your particular shooting style.

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