Canon 5D Mark III review

This respected full-framer is a popular choice for wedding photographers, semi-pros and enthusiast photographers – anyone who needs an all-rounder. Find out how it performs in our Canon 5D Mark III review

30 second Canon 5D Mark III review…

While it doesn’t have the high pixel count of the Nikon D810 or the Canon 5DS and 5DS R, the Canon 5D Mark III captures a good level of detail and produces images that are of sufficient quality and size to satisfy the needs of many professional wedding and lifestyle photographers.

It also has a complex and customisable autofocus system that is capable of getting sharp shots at most sporting events. It’s this all-round capability that has made it a popular choice for experienced enthusiast photographers. Its video credentials have also made it popular with legions of videographers.

However, a replacement can’t be too far around the corner and many people anticipate that its replacement will feature an even better AF system along with 4K video capability.

Key features

Camera type DSLR
Date announced 2nd March 2012
Price at launch £2,999/$3,499 (body only)
Sensor size Full-frame (36 x 24 mm)
Effective pixel count 22.3 million
Processor Digic 5+
Lens/Mount EF
Viewfinder Optical with pentaprism 100% coverage
Sensitivity range ISO 100-25,600 expandable to ISO 50-102,400
Reflex AF system 61-point with 41 cross type including 5 dual cross type
Live View AF system Contrast detection
Monitor 3.2-inch Clear View LCD II with 1,040,000 dots
Max shooting rate 6fps
Max video resolution Full HD (1920 x 1080)
Storage CompactFlash (UDMA 7) and SD/SDHC/SDXC
Dimensions 152 x 116.4 x 76.4mm
Weight 950g (body only)

Many Nikon lovers scoffed at the 5D Mark III when it was announced back March 2012 because its pixel count of 22.3 million seemed paltry in comparison with the 36 million on the D800’s sensor announced just a month earlier. Nevertheless, the 5D Mark III has proved very popular with its target market of semi-professional and dedicated enthusiast photographers, as well as professionals who want a smaller camera than Canon’s top-flight 1DX (now replaced by the 1D Mark II).

Alongside the 5D Mark III’s full-frame (36x24mm) CMOS sensor are two Digic 5 processing engines which enable a maximum continuous shooting speed of 6fps (frames per second) and a sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600 with expansion settings equivalent to ISO 50, 51,200 and 102,400.

There’s also a 61-point autofocus system (the same as the one in the Canon 1DX), with 41 cross-type points (of these 5 are dual cross-type). Meanwhile Canon’s iFCL metering system takes care of exposure.

It was the Canon 5D Mark II that really sparked the video SLR movement and while the Mark III doesn’t really take things much further there’s a headphone socket alongside the mic port to enable audio monitoring as well as the ability to adjust audio levels silently.

Canon 5D Mark III Build and handling

Thanks to its magnesium alloy body and high-quality build the 5D Mark III feels nice and solid in your hand. Textured coatings on the front and rear grips also make it feel secure in your hand, while their ergonomic shape make it comfortable to hold during prolonged shoots.

The mode dial on the top-plate gives a quick route to the popular advanced exposure settings (aperture priority, shutter priority, manual and bulb) as well as program and a fully automatic option. In addition, there are three custom modes that the photographer can use to access saved setting configurations quickly.

On the back of the camera there’s a button to access the creative options of Picture Style, Multiple exposure and HDR (high dynamic range). The HDR mode deserves a special mention because it’s the best currently available, enabling you to keep all three composite images in raw and JPEG format in addition to the composited image and there’s a variety of image styles from Natural to the most extreme HDR look – Art embossed.

There’s also a rate button which turns chimping (reviewing images on the camera) into a valuable pass time because you can quickly add star ratings (up to 5) to images and make it easier to find your favourites in Lightroom or Adobe Bridge when they’ve been downloaded.

Over on the right side of the camera there’s a switch that can be used to swap between video and stills mode. Switching to video mode actives the live view image and pressing the central button starts/stops video recording. In stills mode, pressing the central button activates live view mode. Helpfully, pressing the Creative button in review mode allows you to compare two images and you can rate the selected image.

As it’s an SLR, the 5D III has an optical viewfinder. This is a pentaprism unit that shows 100% of the field of view. While the image in the viewfinder is bright and clear, it’s easier to focus manually when composing the image on the 3.2-inch 1,040,000-dot Clear View II screen in live view mode with the target area magnified.

Canon 5D Mark III Performance

It was interesting to conduct a Canon 5D Mark III review again some four years after it launched. As it has 22.3 million pixels its not surprising that the 5D Mark III can’t match the 36Mp Nikon D810 for detail resolution. However, it doesn’t disgrace itself and it does a better job of controlling noise throughout the sensitivity range. The dynamic range is also good with images have good tonal range at most sensitivity settings and standing up to a fair degree of post-capture tonal adjustment.

As is usually the case, it’s best to stick to the native sensitivity range (ISO 100-25,600) as noise levels take a hike in the upper expansions settings.

At the upper native settings the camera does an excellent job, producing images that look good at A3 size. Further good news is that the autofocus system performs very well in the type of lighting conditions that require these high sensitivity values.

If you shoot lots of sport and action its well worth investing some time getting to know the complexities of the AF system, discovering which of the six AF Are selection modes work best for any given activity and learning when to customise aspects such as the tracking sensitivity, acceleration/deceleration tracking and AF point switching.

While many aspects of the 5D Mark III’s performance are excellent, the using the Evaluative metering system in mid to high contrast conditions can be very frustrating. It puts a heavy weighting upon the brightness of the subject under the active focus point and this can cause dramatic under or over exposure if you are unaware.

Canon 5D Mark III Verdict

We found in our Canon 5D Mark III that the camera remains an excellent all-rounder that captures enough detail to make good sized prints without generating too much noise for it to be used in low light conditions. It’s also an excellent video camera that has been used for many professional applications.

However, March 2012 is a long time ago in camera development terms and a replacement is widely anticipated – with many citing Photokina in September this year as the likely launch venue.

Many expect the 5D Mark IV to be the sport and video partner to its high resolution siblings, the Canon 5DS and 5DS R. These 50Mp cameras do a very impressive job of keeping noise levels down while delivering huge images. It’s also widely anticipated that the new camera will have 4K video recording, Canon’s C-log Picture style to produce video footage that’s designed for grading and a vari-angle touch-screen that makes it easier to compose videos and make silent adjustments.

The fact that a new camera maybe on horizon doesn’t make the 5D Mark III any worse a camera, it’s still a good option for its target audience and there might be a few bargains to be had over the coming months.
Score:

Also consider:
Nikon D810
Pentax K-1
Sony Alpha 7II
One up: Canon EOS-1DX Mark II
One down: Canon EOS 7D Mark II