Canon EOS 5D Mark III review: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

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CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars Outstanding
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Improved AF performance. Excellent image quality. Headphone monitoring. Improved video quality with low moire and artefacts. Excellent high ISO performance.

The Bad Repositioned buttons may annoy Mark II upgraders. No clean HDMI output. Video and images straight from camera can benefit from a small amount of sharpening.

The Bottom Line Packed full of improvements for photographers, Canon has proved that you can improve on an already-strong formula with the 5D Mark III.

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Without wanting to bow to hyperbole, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II really did change the photographic landscape. With its full-frame sensor and strengths in video recording, it bridged the gap both for film-makers and photographers wanting the best of both worlds. In this regard, this camera, the EOS 5D Mark III, has a lot to live up to.

There are plenty of significant improvements in the feature set, but there are also a few niggling points. Depending on your perspective, this camera will either exceed all your expectations, or fall on the borderline — only because the Mark II was so game-changing. Regardless, Canon has produced another great addition to its high-end EOS line, and anyone seriously invested in Canon won't be disappointed.

Design and features

The biggest shift for photographers upgrading from a 5D Mark II, or indeed coming to the Mark III fresh, are the shooting ergonomics. There's a reason that many people have dubbed this as a cross between a 5D and a 7D, and that's because many elements have been carried across. The camera borrows bits and pieces that we've seen on the EOS range for a while now, such as the 60D's locking mode-dial switch and the 7D's live view and movie-shooting switch. That's not to say that this camera has no new features of its own, though.

First up, the image sensor has been completely redesigned, and is now a 22.3-megapixel CMOS full-frame model that uses the Digic 5+ image processor. With an extended ISO range (from 100 to 25,600 native and 50 to 102,400 using the low and high modes, respectively), Canon claims that this camera has far improved capabilities in controlling noise in low lighting. There are 61 AF points on-board (like the 1D X), with 41 cross-types.

In terms of physical changes, there's plenty for photographers and videographers to get their heads around. The location of the Live View switch is one of the biggest changes, now located just to the right of the viewfinder, and toggled on or off with a flick. The record action is no longer performed by the Set button, but by the Start/Stop button located in the middle of the Live View switch. It makes sense, but the ergonomics take some getting used to for videographers coming from the Mark II. It's also more difficult to balance the camera with your right hand and shoot video handheld with this new configuration, given that your weight naturally shifts when reaching up for a button, rather than across from the thumb's natural position.

There's only one zoom button now, and you have to use the top dial to zoom in and out.
(Credit: CBSi)

We found the relocation of the zoom button to be annoying. It's moved to the left-hand side of the screen as a single button, rather than the zoom-in/zoom-out button arrangement that used to be found on the right-hand side of the camera, just under the top LCD panel. The zoom button is useful for expanding focus when shooting in Live View, and its new positioning makes it more cumbersome to use.

There are a lot of advantages from the new design, though, particularly the silent-shooting options. The large dial, flanking the Set button at the back, is now ultra quiet, so adjusting parameters while shooting won't affect the sound of your videos. The silent-shooting mode, accessible via the drive button, is incredibly useful for shooting in sensitive situations where any noise is a distraction. It's ideal for wedding photographers. Also advantageous is the viewfinder's frame coverage, which has been increased to 100 per cent; a small, but important boost over the Mark II's.

The mode dial at the top now comes with a button lock to keep it from falling out of place. Also, the lock tab has been separated from the power switch and relocated to the bottom of the camera.
(Credit: CBSi)

A new creative button has appeared on the back, which provides easy access to the Mark III's range of "artistic" modes. In-camera high dynamic-range imaging (HDR) is the flavour of the month for photographers and camera makers alike, and the Mark III doesn't disappoint on this front. Its HDR mode is automatic, taking three shots at either +/- 1, 2 or 3 EV from the metered exposure, and merging them together. Built-in effects to enhance the look and feel of the HDR include modes such as art standard, art vivid, art bold and art embossed.

The HDR effects. Clockwise from top left; art standard, art vivid, art embossed and art bold.
(Credit: CBSi)

The effects err on the side of gimmicky, and we can't see these HDR modes being of much use for professional photographers — unless you really can't be bothered merging and composing HDR images in post-processing. It's also not a quick process for the camera, taking up to 10 seconds for it to piece together the HDR shot after taking the photos. The Mark III stores all the exposures that make up the HDR shot, as well as the final, merged shot.

There are also in-camera multiple exposure modes, and access to the regular picture controls from the creative button, as well.

In-camera multiple-exposure modes are nothing new, but the 5D Mark III offers two modes for controlling multiple exposures. There's function/control priority for when you are in control of the shooting situation, as well as continuous-shooting priority mode, which is used for moving subjects. The camera can automatically combine anywhere from two to nine images in the continuous-shooting mode, and a maximum of four in function/control mode. The multiple-exposure mode actually does let you dial in exposure values for each shot, or you can let the camera choose automatically.
(Credit: Canon)

On top of its magnesium-alloy chassis, the Mark III has made some improvements on the Mark II in terms of weather resistance. It's dust resistant and water resistant, particularly around the strap hooks and dials, so it should withstand most shooting situations.

Canon has equipped the camera with dual CF and SD card slots. The camera can be set so it will automatically switch to the other source when one card is full, record files to both cards simultaneously or store different image types on either card.

We tested the Mark III with the firmware it shipped with (1.0.7), but, at the time of writing, a new version (1.1.2) is now available for download.

Features for video shooters

The new sensor gives the Mark III plenty of scope for video shooters. According to Canon, the combination of the sensor and the processor reduces colour artefacts and moire in video. Take a look at our video test below to see how this performs.

There's also some extra screen real estate at the back of the camera, now at 3.2 inches, which video shooters will find invaluable. It's high resolution, too, more so than the Nikon D800 's, at 1.04 million dots. There's a soft-touch mode dial at the rear, which ensures that no clicking sounds are recorded when shooting video, and a headphone jack is provided for monitoring audio. The new time-code feature lets you sync footage from multiple cameras much more easily than before, while continuous recording has been upped to 29 minutes.

There are two compression options available; All-I or IPB, available in 1080p (25, 24fps) or 720p (50fps). The camera can also record in VGA resolution at 25fps (IPB only).

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Start-up to first shot
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • 0.080.20.150.01
    Nikon D4
  • 0.10.30.30.04
    Nikon D800
  • 0.20.40.30.1
    Canon EOS 5D Mark III
  • 0.30.40.40.3
    Canon EOS 5D Mark II

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in FPS)

  • 10
    Nikon D4
  • 6
    Canon EOS 5D Mark III
  • 4
    Nikon D800
  • 3.8
    Canon EOS 5D Mark II

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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Where to Buy

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Part Number: CNETCanon EOS 5D Mark III

Typical Price: $4,399.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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