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Cameras

Canon sharpens its image with 5DS R (hands-on)

With 50-megapixel resolution and anti-aliasing-filter cancellation, you'd expect the 5DS R to be the sharpest Canon yet. Take a look at what a preproduction sample of the camera yielded.

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The 50-megapixel models in Canon's EOS 5D series of full-frame cameras aren't expected to ship until June, but Canon released some preproduction versions, one of which I got to shoot with for a couple of weeks. According to Canon, the photo quality isn't final yet; while past experience tells me that it probably won't change much, keep in mind as you read and look that it's all subject to change.

The 5DS R body costs $3,900 (£3,200, AU$5,300). From a who-needs-it perspective, its biggest competitors are the 36MP Nikon D810 (available for about $3,000, £2,150 and AU$3,700) and Sony Alpha A7R (approximately $1,900, £1,300 and AU$2,400), though if you're going strictly by pixel count, the medium-format (43.8 x 32.8mm) 51MP Pentax 645Z (roughly $8,500, £5,700 and AU$9,500) was previously your cheapest option for that resolution.

The difference between this model and its slightly less-expensive sibling, the 5DS , is that it 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.

Why might you need that many pixels? Cropping and printing. For exceptionally high-quality 600 or 1,200 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 if you've ever been caught without the right lens, the ability to use a crop mode and still have a 30MP (1.3x) or 20MP (1.6x) image comes in really handy. Plus, some scenes, like landscapes, simply demand as much detail as possible when you're selling your work.

Image quality

The photos from the prerelease camera are certainly sharper than any I've seen from a Canon, and they're a whole new level of quality compared to the 5D Mark III. But the photos from the preproduction version aren't as good as those from the D810. (For the purposes of comparison, I shot with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM | A lens for each mount, one of the few good cross-platform 50mm options.) They've got more noise in the raws starting at midrange ISO sensitivities, and the D810 seems to have a broader tonal range. The camera offers a Fine Detail Picture Style that enhances sharpness and helps with photos ISO 800 and higher, but it also increases artifacts. The higher resolution does help in cases where the focus is slightly off, though, making scaled down images look a little sharper than they might have otherwise. And the video, even though it's two-megapixel HD, looks a lot sharper than Canon's other models.

Image analysis samples

You can see how sharp the 5DS R is at low ISO sensitivities. (Shot with a preproduction unit; may not be representative of shipping model.) Lori Grunin/CNET
The high resolution helps keep images sharper at midrange ISO sensitivities than they might be otherwise, but this isn't as good as I expect from a $4,000 camera. (Shot with a preproduction unit; may not be representative of shipping model.) Lori Grunin/CNET
You can sometimes get better results from the raw files (ISO 3200). (Shot with a preproduction unit; may not be representative of shipping model.) Lori Grunin/CNET
The Canon's images don't show much moire; this was one of the handful of cases I found. (Shot with a preproduction unit; may not be representative of shipping model.) Lori Grunin/CNET
The Canon didn't exhibit as much moire as the Nikon D810, but it's not as sharp either. (Shot with a preproduction unit; may not be representative of shipping model.) Lori Grunin/CNET
Canon's Fine Detail Picture Style helps preserve detail at higher ISO sensitivities -- this is ISO 1600 -- but not without exacerbating artifacts. (Shot with a preproduction unit; may not be representative of shipping model.) Lori Grunin/CNET
The choice of lenses makes a big difference with this camera. (Shot with a preproduction unit; may not be representative of shipping model.) Lori Grunin/CNET
You can see the comparative amount of noise between the 5DS R and D810 at IS0 800 (the test images were exposure-adjusted and white-balanced to match each other and noise reduction turned off). (Shot with a preproduction unit; may not be representative of shipping model.) Lori Grunin/CNET
Video from the camera does looks a little sharper than usual. (Shot with a preproduction unit; may not be representative of shipping model.) Lori Grunin/CNET

Performance

I didn't run any performance tests on the preproduction model, but while shooting it occasionally felt a little slow to focus and process raw+JPEGs. Moving all that data through the image pipeline, even with dual processors, does take its toll. And the in-camera HDR and multiple exposures is really slow and ties up the camera. It has the same autofocus system as the Mark III and it performs respectably -- but it's not for chimpers; you can keep shooting, but you can't do anything else while its writing the burst to the card. And while the autofocus system isn't bad, I did have problems with focusing in low light.

And the battery life is "meh." I thought it might be a preproduction issue, but then realized Canon only rates it for 700 shots.

Design and features

The body design is pretty much the same as the 5D Mark III and the 7D Mark II, and I like it and find it comfortable to shoot with. As with the 7DM2, I really wish it had an articulated LCD, but in this case just to spare me the embarrassment of crawling around on the ground for knee-high shots.

There are necessarily some internal differences. 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 can also 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. I didn't notice any shots with unusual shake. It also incorporates the updated viewfinder display of the 7DM2, and upgrades to USB 3.0.

Only a few menu items differ from the 7DM2, and those apply to features that exist only one camera or the other; for example the 5DS R has the Fine Detail Picture Style, a delay option when shooting with the mirror in the locked and upright position; and a nice, bright crop view in the finder when working in a crop mode. Disappointingly, the time-lapse mode in the 5DS R is implemented as a movie function and can only create a movie automatically in-camera; that's in contrast to the 7DM2, which has a real interval-timer shooting mode.

The 5D Mark III stays 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 headphone jack and can't output clean HDMI.

For a complete accounting of its features and operation, download the 5DS R's manual.

Conclusion

Given what I've seen of the EOS 5DS R, it looks like a solid (if expensive) performance and image-quality upgrade from the Mark III, but only a really compelling option for existing Canon photographers or people for whom 36MP isn't sufficient. I also makes me even more curious as to what the 5DS's photos look like; that model probably has better photo quality than the Mark III, but at $3,700 ( £3,000, AU$5,000) it seems overpriced.

Stay tuned for a full review of both when I get my hands on them.

Comparative specs

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS 5DS R Nikon D810
Sensor effective resolution 22.3MP CMOS
8-channel readout
14-bit
50.6MP CMOS
16-channel readout
14-bit
36.3MP CMOS
12-channel readout
14-bit
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)
5fps
14 raw/510 JPEG
(JPEG rating not at highest quality; likely not with AF/AE)
5fps
n/a
(6fps in DX mode, 7fps with battery grip)
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
Optical
100% coverage
0.71x/0.71x
Optical
100% coverage
0.71x/0.71x
Optical
100% coverage
0.70x/0.70x
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
51-pt
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 sec.; bulb; 1/200 sec. x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 sec.; bulb; 1/200 sec. x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 sec.; 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; headphone jack Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input; headphone 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
Fixed
1.04m dots
3.2 inches/8.1cm
Fixed
1.04m dots
3.2 inches/8cm
Fixed
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)
Optional
(Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E7)
Optional
(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
(1,800mAh)
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
Body operating weight 33.5 oz.
28.3g
29.8 oz. (est.)
845g (est.)
34.6 oz.
980g
Mfr. price (body only)
$2,800
£2,000 (est.)
AU$3,950
$3,900
£3,200
AU$5,300 (est.)
$3,000
£2,350 (est.)
AU$3,700 (est.)
Release date March 2012 June 2015 July 2014

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