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

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The Good Image quality; Build; Movie clarity; Improvements over predecessor.

The Bad None.

The Bottom Line The Canon EOS 5D Mark III represents a significant advance over its predecessor. It's fast, flexible and can't be faulted on image or video quality. It's a well-specced piece of kit at a reasonable cost (the price below is for the body only). The Mark II's successor has been well worth the wait.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

9.3 Overall

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Canon has pulled out every proverbial stop for the EOS 5D Mark III. The sensor is new and was designed specifically for this model. It's got more auto-focus points, an improved movie mode and it's faster and more responsive all round.

Following the three-and-a-half-year-old Mark II, it represents a logical next step. The question is whether the specs are sufficiently improved to tempt an upgrade from existing Mark II users.

It can be bought for £3,000 for the body only.

The Mark III upgrades

The 5D's new sensor remains a 36x24mm chip, which matches a regular frame of 35mm film, but the number of effective pixels has been marginally increased, from 21.1 to 22.3 million.

Canon EOS Mk III front

The 5D Mark III's sensor is brand new. It's a full-frame element with 22.3 million pixels -- slightly more than its predecessor.

More importantly, the processor has been upgraded from Digic 4+ to Digic 5, which Canon claims is 17 times faster than the previous generation. This means the camera can more effectively analyse the composition of the image and quickly choose the most appropriate settings. It also allows for better image noise reduction, allowing you to shoot at higher sensitivities without introducing excessive noise into your pictures.

Canon's own tests suggest that images shots at ISO 6,400 on the Mark III match those shot on other cameras at just ISO 1,600.

The auto-focus system has been significantly upgraded, with the Mark II's nine AF points expanded to a far more versatile 61. Exposure compensation is broader (+/-5EV, as opposed to the Mark II's +/-2EV). And maximum sensitivity in regular use is ISO 25,600, expandable to ISO 102,400 -- up from the previous best of ISO 6,400.

It has a larger monitor (3.2 inches versus 3 inches), better eyepiece coverage (100 per cent versus 98 per cent), and a wider choice of display overlays. In almost every sense, the Mark III is a significantly better camera than its predecessor. There should be more than enough here to tempt an upgrade from the Mark II's existing user base.

Canon EOS Mk III test photo

Around the back, the EOS 5D Mark III's display is larger than average, stretching to 3.2 inches.

Handling

Like the Nikon D800, it has dual memory card slots to take CF and SD formats. You can optionally write different image formats to each one, to keep your raw and JPEG shots separate. I used a Class 10 SD card in my tests and achieved manual shot-to-shot times of less than a second. Burst mode tops out at six frames per second (another upgrade on the Mark II's 3.9fps).

At this rate the buffer was filled after 14 shots when shooting raw and six when snapping raw and JPEG combined. A slower secondary burst mode pushed this to 17 raw shots (eight raw and JPEG combined), before it had to pause to offload some data onto the card.

Canon's literature claims that it's possible to capture 18 raw files in a single burst when using UDMA 7 CF cards.

Canon EOS Mk III test photo

The 5D Mark III has dual memory card slots to handle both CF and SD media. You can write separate formats to different cards.

Exposure compensation stretches to +/-5EV in 1/3EV steps, the control for which is neatly paired with exposure bracketing, with the rear quick-control dial adjusting the setting on the regular scale and the top-mounted main dial used to extend this by a further three stops in each direction.

It's hard to fault the build quality. The buttons have a soft but sure travel, the control wheel is damped so that it doesn't click excessively and the body is weather-hardened magnesium alloy. Even with a chunky 24-105mm lens fixed to the front, it's well balanced and comfortable to hold for extended shoots. Indeed, it was so well balanced that I could even hand-hold quarter-second exposures without any lateral blur.

Canon EOS Mk III test photo

This hand-held quarter-second exposure shows no sign of lateral movement from the camera body, resulting in sharp surroundings and an attractive blurred weir (click image to enlarge).

Stills tests

I tested the 5D under very mixed conditions, with both direct sunlight and overcast skies, using 16-32mm and 35-105mm lenses. In all situations the chosen lens was quick to find focus, and to refocus following recomposition.

Tones were extremely realistic and true to their originals throughout my tests. Even flowers and blossom, which are traditionally tricky for a camera to expose well in direct sunlight, were accurately rendered. The white apple blossom below retains an impressive level of detail, rather than burning out.

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