Earlier this week I was invited to attend a meeting with Canon at which Chuck Westfall provided details of the new Canon EOS 5D MkIII that was officially announced today. While I was able to closely examine the camera and several new accessories that were released along with it, the camera was a pre-production model and Canon did not want any images taken with that camera published since it may not have had the final version of the production camera firmware and so it’s possible (but probably unlikely) that the images might not be fully representative of what the production camera with the final firmware can achieve. Once we receive a production camera to test, we will be able to publish image samples. I don’t know when that will be but we’ve certainly put in a request for the first available camera to review.
Well, the EOS 5D MkIII will not come as a big surprise to anyone who has been listening to rumors over the last year or more. As time has gone on those rumors have become louder and more specific, but here are the actual facts about the new EOS 5D MklII. I suppose it now time for the EOS 7D MkII or EOS 5D MkIV rumors to start up….
The Canon EOS 5D MkIII
An entirely new 22.3MP CMOS sensor with a gapless microlens design and 8 channel readout
A 61 point high density AF system with 41 cross sensors (also found in the new EOS 1D X)
AF rated to -2EV
A 63 Zone iFCL metering system (also found on the EOS 7D)
A 59ms lag time shutter assembly, rated for 150,000 cycles
“Silent Shooting” mode which slows down reflex mirror and shutter recocking for lower noise levels.
From the details of Canon’s presentation and from the detailed camera specifications it’s clear that Canon have put a higher priority on improving the intrinsic quality of the Canon EOS 5D MkIII’s images than on developing a camera with the highest possible pixel count. In fact the pixel count has gone up by a negligible amount from the 5d MkII, from 21MP to 22.3MP but that’s a very minor part of the sensor story. The new sensor is an entirely new design with a gapless microlens and a new pixel structure. The gapless microlens concentrates more of the light onto the photosensitive pixel surface resulting in a great “photon to electron” conversion. This higher efficiency, combined with the new design results in significantly lower noise than the 5D MkII sensor. Canon showed sample images which indicated that JPEGs from the EOS 5D MkIII at ISO 3200 showed a noise level similar to those taken at ISO 800 with the EOS 5D MkII. RAW files also show lower noise levels, though not by as big a margin as the camera generated JPEGs.
14-bit data is read from the new sensor array via an 8 channel link rather than the 4 channel system used by the EOS 5D MkII. That means that the data can be readout much faster with helps with both continuous still shooting and especially with video readout. With the EOS 5D MkII lines of data were skipped when reading the sensor for video shooting in order to obtain the necessary throughput. With the 5D MkIII every pixel is read, even when shooting 1080HD video at 30 frames/sec. Maximum still shooting rate is 6 frames per second. When shooting JPEGs with a fast memory card the buffer is unlimited and you can shoot at 6 frames/sec until the memory card(s) are full (maximum rate with the 5D MkII was 3.9 frames.sec). When shooting RAW images the buffer size is around 35 frames, after which the frame rate will slow down.
The autofocus system of the 5D MkIII is also far better than that of the 5D MkII and uses the same AF sensor system that is used in the new flagship Canon EOS 1D X. There are 61 autofocus zones in a high density array with 41 of those zones using cross type sensors. The AF zones cover 51% of the horizontal frame width (vs. 41% for the %D MkII). There are 5 central AF zones which are high precision when used with lenses with an aperture of f2.8 or faster, and 20 cross zones which give high precision AF with lenses of f4.0 and faster. Note that the EOS 5D MkIII does not support the iTR AF mode which is supported by the 1D-X. The 1D-X uses dual Digic 5+ processors plus a dedicated Digic 4 for the AF system which enables it to handle the focus data for iTR AF at a fast enough rate. The 5D MkIII has a single Digic 5+ processor.
The metering system of the 5D MkIII is also greatly improved over that of the 5d MkII. The 5D MkIII now used the same 63 zone iFCL metering arrangement as the EOS 7D. Metering takes into account color and focus as well as measured light intensity when calculating optimum exposure. The metering system can detect when the light source is flickering (e.g. some fluorescent lighting) and make compensations to try to ensure accurate exposure.
The shutter mechanism of the the 5D MkIII has a lag time is around 59ms and the shutter is rated for 150,000 cycles.The 5d MkIII uses a new mirror mechanism and it has a “silent mode” where the mirror speed is slowed down to reduce noise. Shutter cocking in silent mode is also slowed down to further reduce noise. Maximum frame rate in silent mode is lower than that when the camera is operating in normal high speed shooting mode (3fps vs 6fps). Otherwise the shutter specs of the 5D MkIII are similar to those of the 7D, with a range of 1/8000s to 30s plus B and a maximum sync speed of 1/200s (the 7D is 1/250s)
Data storage on the 5D MkIII is via dual memory cards. There is one slot for a CF card and one for an SD/SDHC/SDXC card. Data of any given type (JPEG, RAW, mRAW, sRAW) can be assigned to either card, Jpegs can be written to one card while RAW files are written to the other or both cards can record the same data simultaneously in order to give an instant backup of important images. The cards normally use the FAT32 file system but the 5D Mark III supports exFAT not only for SDXC but also for CF cards with storage capacities greater than 128GB. Maximum card size isn’t specified, but Canon commented that the latest 256GB cards work just fine and larger cards should work in the future. I can’t say for sure if the full 2TB limit of the file systems will be fully supported, but I think the day of 2TB cards is probably far enough away that it’s not really much of a concern (not to mention such cards would likely cost more than the camera…). UDMA mode 7 is supported.
HDR and Multiple Exposures
The EOS 5D MkIII has a couple of multiple exposure modes. The first is the same as that found on the EOS 1D X where you can combine multiple images via several user select able blending modes (e.g. average, additive, bright, dark). The second is a true HDR multi exposure mode. The camera will combine 3 exposure taken at up to +/- stops exposure difference. There is in-camera image alignment (provided that the differences between the 3 images are fairly small) and the resulting HDR image can be tone mapped in various ways to give the desired effect. While not as controllable as using an external post exposure HDR generating program, in-camera HDR generation is obviously much faster with results which can be instantly reviewed. The HDR image is saved as a JPEG.
While all images are shot and recorded full frame, 1:1, 4:3 and 16:9 framing guides are available and RAW files are tagged with the selected aspect ratio information for use in the supplied Canon DPP Raw processing software. A new version of DPP will be supplied with a few extra features. One is a comprehensive abbe ration correction feature which will initially operate when one of 29 selected lenses are used with camera .CR2 files generated by cameras available since 2006. I’d assume that would include the EOS 7D, EOS 1D-X, EOS 5D MkIII, EOS 5D MkII, EOS 1Ds MkIII, EOS 1Ds MkIV, EOS 1D MkIV, EOS 50D and 60D and the EOS Rebel T1i, T2i, T3i and T3. Corrections for just about all lens aberrations including, spherical aberration, longitudinal and transverse chromatic aberration, coma, astigmatism, distortion and vignetting can be applied to the image to maximize sharpness and image quality.
When it comes to video, the EOS 5D mkIII has a numberimprovements over the 5D MkII. Video frames are smaller than the native resolution of the sensor and so the image must be downsampled. With the 5D MkII in order to read out data from the sensor fast enough, a line skipping technique was used. The 5D mklII is fast enough to read out all the data from the sensor at video rates and downsize the image to the selected video format. This, combined with appropriate firmware, results in lower Moire patterning video image. of Moire patterning.
HD video uses the standard H.264 codec, but as with the 1D-X there is a choice between ALL-1 and IPB compression schemes. IPB is Bi-directional compression and basically records differences between frames. IPB produces the smallest files but at the cost of quality. ALL-1 is Intra-coded Frame where each frame is individually compressed. While files are 3x larger than IPB compressed files, image quality is higher and less processor power is required for playback. The EOS 5D MkIII also supports the recording of timecodes in video files.
The 5D MkIII has a headphone outlet for monitoring of the audio signal which is lacking on the EOS 5D MkII. Audio record level is manually adjustable and can be diaplayed on the LCD screen. For those wondering if the EOS 5D MkIII can stream uncompressed HDMI video, the answer is no, it can’t.
The EOS 5D MkIII has no video crop mode analogous to that on the EOS 60D where only the center 640×480 pixels are used to record VGA video. In the case of the 60D this gives an effective 7x video digital multiplier. The EOS 7D and EOS 1D-X also lack this feature.
Thoughts and Conclusions
I’m sure there will be a lot of attempts to compare the new Canon EOS 5D MkIII with the new Nikon D800, though until someone has the opportunity to shoot them side by side and compare images, much of the discussion will be pure speculation based on nothing but guesswork (or wishful thinking or maybe pixel envy!). It would seem (and I emphasize “seem”) that it’s likely that the EOS 5D MkIII images will show lower noise (which in turn usually means higher dynamic range) then those from the Nikon D800. I base this on both the relative pixel sizes of the two cameras and their ISO ranges (the ISO limit of the D800 is 2 stops lower than that of the 5D MkIII). However only side by side testing will reveal the actual difference and since I doubt that anyone has had both cameras in their hands at the same time, I’m assuming that nobody has yet had an opportunity to do that.
Additionally (and this part isn’t guesswork!), the D800 should initially sell for $500 less than the 5D MkIII and it has a built in flash which can be also be used for wireless control of external flash units. The 5D MkIII has no built-in flash and requires either a wireless speedlite controller or a hot-shoe speedlite capable of acting as a wireless master controller to control an off camera flash. The D800 also offers USB 3.0 while the EOS 5D MkIII has USN 2.0 and for serious video shooters, the D800 offers streaming live uncompressed video from its HDMI port, while the EOS 5D MkIII doesn’t. All of these factors “favor” the Nikon D800.
Of course both cameras have a host of features that can be compared. Nobody yet knows how the video form the two cameras will look. The 5D MkIII reads out every pixel from the sensor and from examples shown by Canon that factor, in conjunction with processing algorithms, has greatly reduced the intensity of Moire patterns which appear in the video images as a result of the required downsizing process (from the full sensor resolution to the 1920 × 1080 resolution of 1080HD video). I don’t know if the D800 reads out all 36.3MP for every video frame, but I suspect it doesn’t and that it samples pixels by a technique such as line skipping. Reports I’ve read seem to suggest that it does in fact skip lines, though I don’t know for sure. If so that could result in lower quality video (increased Moire patterning). However again, only actual side by side testing will tell the real story and that hasn’t yet been done by anyone.
So it would seem that, as might be expected, the Nikon vs. Canon battle still continues with each camera (D800 and 5D MkIII) having its own strengths and weaknesses when compared to the other. It should be an interesting “fight”.
Whatever the competition, the EOS 5D MkIII clearly represents a very positive upgrade of the 5D MkII. In particular the improved “state of the art” AF system should please a lot of photographers who weren’t fully satisfied by the rather more basic AF system of the 5D MkII. Pretty much every system and subsystem has been upgraded. So while the 5D MkIIis very good and has been widely praised over the last few years, the 5D MkIII looks like it will be even better!
Where to Buy
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Canon 5D Mk III Body & 24-105/4 lens kit, (buy from Amazon) (review). From the Canon website: Canon is proud to present the highly anticipated EOS 5D Mark III. With supercharged EOS performance and stunning full frame, high-resolution image capture, the EOS 5D Mark III is designed to perform. Special optical technologies like the 61-Point High Density Reticular AF and an extended ISO range of 100-25600 (expandable to 50 (L), 51200 (H1) and 102400 (H2) make the EOS 5D Mark III ideal for shooting weddings in the studio or out in the field, and great for still photography.
The Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
The Canon 600-EX-RT has both optical and wireless E-TTL built in and can trigger compatible slave units to to 30m (98ft) away. With the 5D MkIII or EOS 1-D X it can control up to 15 slave speedlites in up to 5 groups. The flash head zooms to cover lenses from 20mm to 200mm. In optical mode it is fully compatible with all prior optically-based Wireless E-TTL Speedlites. The estimated retail price is $629.99 and the 600EX-RT should be available by the end of March 2012.
The Canon ST-E3-RT Wireless Speedlite Controller
The Canon ST-E3-RT Wireless Speedlite Controller provides full support for the wireless baseed E-TTL flash technology introduced with the 600EX-RT and supports up to 5 groups of flashes up to a distance of 30m (98ft) away. It has a remote shutter release capably allowing a single camera shutter to be triggered or up to 15 remote cameras via a linked shooting feature. The ST-E3-RT can be configured via the Flash control menu of the EOS-1D X or EOS 5D MkIII cameras or by the built in controls and LCD. The estimated retail proice of the ST-E3-RT is $470 and availability is expected to be late March 2012
The Canon BG-E11 Grip and Battery Pack
The Battery Grip BG-E11 accepts two LP-E6 batteries or 6 AA cells. It’s equiped with a multicomtroller button as well as a mutifunction (M.Fn) button as well as the usual grip controlsand shutter release to enable easy shooting in both portrait and landscape modes. The body is made of magnesium alloy and the grip is weatherselaed. The estimated retail price is $490 and availability is scheduled for the end of April 2012.
The Canon GP-E2 GPS unit
The Canon GPS Receiver GP-E2 cab be connected to the camera via the hot shoe or a USB cable. There is a built in logging feature which records latitude, longitude, elevation and time which records the camera’s location even when not shooting. The same information can be tagged to images, along with the direction in which the camera is pointing via a built in compas function. The GP-E2 is compatible with the EOS 5D MkIII, the EOS-1D X and the EOS 7D. However when used with the 7D the following restrictions will apply: a) geotagging function will not work for movies while recording; b) geotagging features will not work for movies when using the Map Utility; c) electronic compass information and automatic time setting is not available; d) transmission via the hot shoe is not possible. The estimated retail price of the GP-E2 is $390 and it’s scheduled to be available by the end of April.
The Canon WFT-E7A Wireless File Transmitter
The Canon WFT-E7A Wireless File Transmitter provides wireless LAN support for 802.11 a/b/g/n signal protocols. It connects to the camera via the USB port and includes a built-in gigabit Ethernet connection, time syncing for multiple cameras on the same network, FTP mode, EOS Utility mode, WFT Server mode and Media Server mode. Clocks can be synchronized on multiple cameras. Bluetooth-compatible equipment can be linked to the WFT. The estimated retail price is $849.99 and it should be available by the end of April 2012.