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Canon hits 50 -- megapixels, that is

The company's new 5DS and 5DS R full-frame dSLRs are its bid to compete with cheaper medium-format models.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography | PCs and laptops | Gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
6 min read

Editors' note, February 8, 2015: Updated with correction to US prices and addition of Australia and UK pricing.

The rumored high-resolution Canon dSLR finally makes an appearance, geared to take on pricier medium-format cameras like the $8,500 Pentax 645Z and the Nikon D810 . The two versions of the camera -- the 50-megapixel Canon EOS 5DS and 5DS R -- pose the question "how much do you really want those extra pixels?" ( Check out my preview with photo samples from the 5DS R. )

Shop for Canon EOS 5DS (Body Only)

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Canon 5DS breaks the megapixel barrier (pictures)

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In the US, Canon expects to charge $3,700 for the 5DS and $3,900 for the 5DS R. They're currently available for preorder in Australia for AU$5,000 and AU$5,300, respectively, and the official prices in the UK are £3,000 and £3,200.

The 5D Mark III will stay in the product line, presumably without any official price drops, and that will still be the videographers' camera of choice -- the 5DS/R lacks a

jack and can't output clean HDMI.

As much as we might mock the "moar megapixels" crowd, for professionals, high resolution can be critical. For exceptionally high-quality 600 or 1200 dpi prints, a 50MP photo only translates to about 10x15 inches (25.4 x 38.1 cm) or 5x7 inches (12.7 x 17.8 cm). Even at 300dpi, it's only 29x19 inches (73.7 x 48.3 cm) -- large, but still not 44-inch format large. It also gives professional event photographers the ability to crop out unexpected and unwanted elements of a scene and still have plenty of resolution left for high-quality prints. And some scenes, like landscapes, simply demand as much detail as possible when you're selling your work. The resolution, as well as the large tonal range and the expanded depth-of-field control bestowed by the larger sensor, is why medium-format cameras still exist.

The two 5DS cameras differ in one way: The "R' model cancels the effect of the OLPF (optical low-pass filter) in order to remove the sub-pixel blurring that most cameras need to fix artifacts incurred by turning a pixel array with missing colors into a smooth, full-color image. The price you pay for using an OLPF is lost sharpness, so to obtain maximum sharpness from sensors a manufacturer removes the filter or cancels the effects. Canon chose cancellation to avoid concomitant changes necessary in the optical paths of its lenses.

What's notable

  • Pixel pitch: The size of the pixels matters: bigger is generally better, since it implies more surface area for capturing light, which in turn delivers a broader tonal range. The 5DS/R has a 4.1-micron pixel pitch. For comparison, the 5D Mark III and 645Z's are 5.3 microns, the D750's is 6 microns and the D810's is 4.9 microns. That means it has the smallest pixel size in its cohort, a result of cramming so many onto a relatively small sensor (36x24mm), at least compared with a medium-format sensor (32.8 x 43.8mm in the case of the 645Z). This doesn't bode well for the tradeoff of resolution vs. image quality.
  • Body design: The body is pretty much the same as the 5DM3, with a few important, invisible exceptions. To minimize vibration, Canon had to reinforce the chassis, baseplate and tripod socket, and incorporate a new motor rather than the spring-controlled mirror system similar to the 7D Mark II. You'll also be able to set a shutter-time lag in the mirror lock-up mode in order to delay movement and reduce vibration. A little shake goes a long way when you're talking about resolutions this high. It also incorporates the updated viewfinder display of the 7DM2, and upgrades to USB 3.0.
  • Autofocus and metering: While it retains the autofocus system of the 5DM3, it includes the newer, more advanced metering system of the 7DM2. Canon had to double up the Digic 6 image processors in order to handle all this extra data and the much larger files as well.
  • Features: While Canon finally adds time-lapse to a dSLR, it looks like it's implemented as a movie function and can only create the movie automatically in-camera. To go with the high resolution there's also a new Fine Detail Picture Style, which gives you more granular control over sharpening options.

My take

So much about this camera hinges on the dynamic range. Without $3,700-quality tonality, you might as well get a much cheaper 36-megapixel D810 which does deliver, and which doesn't compromise on the video capabilities. Plus, the D810 lacks an OLPF, which could make it a much better value than the 5DS R. And of course, it remains to be seen how many full-frame lenses exist that can resolve detail to that extent.

There's a ridiculous amount of pixel peeping in this camera's future.

Comparative specs

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS 5DS/5DS R Nikon D810
Sensor effective resolution 22.3MP CMOS
8-channel readout
12-channel readout
Sensor size 36mm x 24mm 36mm x 24mm 35.9mm x 24mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
OLPF Yes Yes/Yes (disabled) No
Sensitivity range ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 25600/102,400 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/12800 (exp) ISO 32 (exp)/64 - ISO 12800/51200 (exp)
Burst shooting 6fps
18 raw/unlimited JPEG
(with AF/AE fixed on first exposure and IS off)
14 raw/510 JPEG
(JPEG rating not at highest quality; likely not with AF/AE)
(6fps in DX mode, 7fps with battery grip)
(mag/ effective mag)
100% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 61-pt High Density Reticular AF
21 center diagonal to f5.6
5 center to f2.8
20 outer to f4
61-pt High Density Reticular phase detection
41 cross-type to f4
5 dual cross-type at f2.8
1 cross-type at f8
15 cross type
11 cross type to f8
(Multi-CAM 3500-FX)
AF sensitivity -2 - 20 EV -2 - 18 EV -2 - 19 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 200,000 cycles
Metering 63-area iFCL 150,000-pixel RGB+IR with 252 zones 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III
Metering sensitivity 1 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p, 50p @ 42Mbps, 1080/30p, 25p, 24p
@ 24Mbps
Audio Mono; mic input; jack Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input; jack
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time per clip 29m59s 4GB/29m59s 20 minutes internal
40 minutes (with external pack)
Clean HDMI out Yes No Yes
IS Optical Optical Optical
LCD 3.2 inches/8.1cm
1.04m dots
3.2 inches/8.1cm
1.04m dots
3.2 inches/8cm
921,000 dots plus extra set of white dots
Memory slots 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Optional
(Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E7A)
(Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E7)
(WT-4A Wireless transmitter or UT-1 Communication Unit with WT-5A)
Flash No No Yes
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 950 shots
700 shots
(1,865 mAh)
1,200 shots
(1,800 mAh)
Size (WHD) 6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 inches
152.0 x 116.4 x 76.4 mm
6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 inches
152 x 116.4 x 76.4 mm
5.8 x 4.9 x 3.3 inches
146 x 123 x 81.5 mm mm
Body operating weight 33.5 oz
28.3 g
29.8 oz (est.)
845 g (est.)
34.6 oz
980 g
Mfr. price (body only)
£2,000 (est.)
AU$5,000/AU$5,300 (est.)
£2,400 (est.)
AU$3,800 (est.)
Release date March 2012 June 2015 July 2014