Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review


You’ve seen this camera’s predecessors, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 7D and Nikon’s D90, everywhere or, least you’ve seen their product on TV or at the movies.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III front.jpg

What made many industry players sit up and look closely was the use of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II to shoot the finale of the series House, produced entirely on this camera.

In TV and feature movie production, cameras like these have been snapped up eagerly by producers, camera operators and Directors of Photography who know what top quality should look like and then read the low sticker price!

Until recently, the big boys like Sony, Panavision, Arri, JVC and others were responsible for the top camera gear in this field and the prices were astronomical … and then RED entered the field with a different approach to professional digital video capture.

Side-by-side with this situation still cameras also became smarter and able to capture Full HD 1920×1080 pixel video capture. So we now have the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, ready and waiting for the TV and movie industry to take up the technology.

Of course, there are issues with the use of a digital still camera to capture a high end moving image. Among them are the awkward viewfinder arrangement, lack of a power zoom, the use of a rolling shutter which can cause havoc with cross-frame action, audio capture is an issue, the file format is another … and there are others, not least of which is how to cope with the odd shape of a DSLR compared to a pro video camera.

There are some attractive pluses in this situation, amongst which is the large image size, enabling operators to use lenses which are closer in focal length to the optics used in 35mm motion picture film photography, the gold standard of the industry. As a film industry friend once said to me: “Everyone in this industry wants the film look but no-one wants the video look!”

But hey! It also shoot stills!

Canon EOS 5D Mark III 7_k285_body_back_CA.jpg

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Features

Supplied with the f4/24-105mm EF lens the review camera bundle was surely a big beast, weighing in at 1.5kg.

The body is constructed from magnesium-alloy, while dust and water resistance have been improved with the addition of water-resistant seals around buttons, dials and strap hooks.

As arguably the top DSLR model, around this camera is now the equivalent of the one time medium format 6×6/6×9 cameras that sat near the top of the pile. It is also one of the reasons for the popularity of Micro Four Thirds, Four Thirds and similar smaller sized sensors: these little babies can shoot images all the way up to as large as most people want.

The EOS 5D Mark III has a full frame 36x24mm sensor holding 22.3 million pixels, with a maximum image size of 5750×3840 pixels, or an enormous 49x33cm as a print. Of course, with a high quality lens and the right shooting conditions you can expect a much larger output with the use of a lower dpi. It accepts Compact Flash and SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.

It’s worth making a comparison between a camera such as Samsung’s NX200 which has a pixel population of 20.3 million, packed into a sensor that is just 40 per cent the size of the Canon’s. With the latter’s larger pixels you enjoy the benefits of a higher signal to noise ratio and an expanded dynamic range.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III 16_k285_EF24_70_top_CA.jpg

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch in this game so a larger sensor means you need longer focal length lenses to capture an image equivalent in perspective to the smaller sensor cameras. Longer focal length lenses = reduced depth of field.

In the AF area there has been a distinct improvement with the use of a new 61-point reticular AF system; this includes up to 41 cross-type focus points while extra points have been positioned to left and right of centre frame. The result is greater precision. A big improvement over the Mark II.

You also can now enjoy 6fps continuous shooting with a release time of app 0.59ms.

High Dynamic Range is now included in the new camera: three images of a single scene are captured at different exposures varying by an f stop each; these are then merged into a single HDR image.

Oddly, in such a high level camera there are four picture effects available (Art Standard, Art Vivid, Art Bold and Art Embossed), surely an admission by Canon that even pros will occasionally resort to a quick and dirty picture fix to get that special effect wanted by clients!

There are two multi exposure modes: function/control priority for composed multi-exposure images and then theres’s a continuous shooting priority mode to snare multiple exposures of a moving subject. This means you can combine two and nine images in a single image in continuous shooting mode or four in function/control priority mode.

I liked the extensive array of external controls, which meant there is less dipping and diving into the viewfinder menu, excellent as it is.

One comment: there is no onboard flash gun; Canon says this exclusion is due to body integrity requirements — adding a flash would jeopardise dust and moisture exclusion. But it’s a pity that there’s no vari-angle finder.

Menu 1.JPG

Menu 2.JPG

Menu 3.JPG


The EOS 5D Mark III captures video in Full HD 1920×1080 in the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 format.

Some notes: unlike a camcorder or some other digital cameras the autofocus does not operate while shooting; if you zoom during a shot there may be some changes in exposure; you can ‘pull focus’ during video shooting by hitting the AF-ON button (not the shutter button!); fast lateral pans may show vertical distortion; the camera’s onboard microphone is mono but an external stereo mic can be plugged in; total shoot time is between 1hr 20 and 1hr 30 minutes or limited by your memory card’s capacity.

You can, surprisingly, shoot a still while mid-movie recording and command the camera to record each to the same card. This of course interrupts the movie recording.

Post-shooting you can edit the start or end of the movie clip and save the edited clip as a new file. This worked surprisingly well and could be useful to an operator in the field.

I found extended handheld use of the camera a bit of a strain; a shoulder harness or similar would be useful.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III ISO Results

Canon EOS 5D Mark III ISO 100.JPG

Canon EOS 5D Mark III ISO 800.JPG

Canon EOS 5D Mark III ISO 2000.JPG

Canon EOS 5D Mark III ISO 3200.JPG

Canon EOS 5D Mark III ISO 6400.JPG

Canon EOS 5D Mark III ISO 12800.JPG

Canon EOS 5D Mark III ISO 25600.JPG

The ISO range extends to ISO 25,600 but there is an extension to 51,200 and 102,400.

My tests were set to go only as far as ISO 25,600, at which point, as you can see, definition is acceptable but noise is identifiable.

Extra Gear for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III

The BG-E11 Battery Grip can house 2 x LP-E6 and 6 x AA batteries. It also has a multi-controller and M-Fn button for easy and quick operation.

The new Speedlite 600EX-RT is the first Canon Speedlite to offer wireless radio transmission (and not IR), along with a shorter recycle time.Guide number: 60m at ISO 100, lens at 200mm. Coverage? A wide 20mm.

The WFT-E7 Wireless File Transmitter supports high- speed communication over 802.11a/b/g/n networks and can be connected to high-speed wired Ethernet networks.

There is also a compact GPS receiver, the GP-E2, enabling photographers to record shooting location and orientation.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Quality

This baby will shoot top TV and stills industry gold standards. Nuff said.

Chinese Gardens 1.JPG

Why you’d buy it: you want a silent shooting mode; industry standard video capture.

Why you wouldn’t: weight is against your style.

Town hall and buildings.JPG
This is obviously the one to beat in the top shelf.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Specifications

Image Sensor: 22.3 million effective pixels.
Metering: 63 zone full aperture, partial, centre-weighted; spot.
Effective Sensor Size: 36x24mm.
35 SLR Lens Factor: 1x.
Shutter Speed: 30 to 1/8000 second, Bulb. Flash X-sync at 1/200 second.
Memory: CompactFlash (Type I, UDMA mode 7-compatible), SD/SDHC/SDXC.
Image Sizes (pixels): 5750×3840 to 720×480.
Movies: 1920×1080 at 24/30/50 fps, 1280×720, 640×480.
A/D Resolution Power: 14-bit.
Viewfinders: Optical pentaprism, 8.1cm LCD (1.04 million pixels).
File Formats: RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG, MPEG4 (MOV).
Continuous Shooting: 6fps.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 25,600xxx.
Interface: USB2.0, AV, HDMI mini, mic, headphone, PC, remote control.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, AC adaptor.
Dimensions: 152×116.4×76.4 WHDmm.
Weight: Approx. 860 g (body only).
Price: Get a price on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III (body only)at Amazon.

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Canon EOS 5D Mark III
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Barrie Smith is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

Some Older Comments

  • phil marion May 19, 2012 07:15 am

    I still get great results with my 30D. Canon is crazy to charge this much for the 5D III. If they lowered the price I'd snap it up. But i guess the gearheads upgrade to the latest no matter WHAT the price.

  • Naukri May 11, 2012 02:00 am

    I love my Canon EOS 5D Mark III. As for creative modes this is a professional grade camera.

  • Sam Docker May 4, 2012 06:08 pm

    Derek, the mkIII is completely over-priced, don't get sucked into the hype that canon and some other photographers create when a new camera is launched. Everyone seems to get new kit envy, but you have to ask yourself, what does that camera have for twice the price?

    It has a 61 point AF system - who needs 61 points?! I for one use back focus and always re-compose, so its wasted on me. Unless your shooting sports or moving objects regularly, its just not needed.

    It has a better frame rate - hold on, it was only 2 months ago people were raving about how amazing the mkII was for video, so I presume it still is!! If you only shoot a little video, I'm sure you'll still be able to do some amazing work with the mkII.

    It has a greater ISO range - but how often do we need this? It won't stop you taking great photo's in low light, especially if you invest in some good lenses, which I'm sure you'd need to do anyway!

    Better weather-proofing - for me, probably the only addition I'd like on the mkII, but it doesn't warrant spending £3k per body!!

    For me, the mkII is still an amazing piece of kit, spend the money you save on some good glass (35mm 1.4, 24m 1.4 etc)

    Here's my latest blog post, all shot on the mkII with a 35mm and 85mm -

  • Peter May 4, 2012 04:32 am

    Contrary to other reviewers this review was enough for me as a DPS regular. If I want more their are other review sites I'd visit. Either way, I'm buying my daily lottery ticket for this body!

  • Mark May 3, 2012 03:00 am

    I have to honest. This review seemed off to me. The reviewer is reviewing a professional level DSLR camera and comparing it to a Sony point and shoot. The price difference alone would seem to indicate that people would not be trying to decide between the Sony or the Canon. He indicates that the camera doesn't have an on board flash. This has always been the case with the 5D series as in the 1D series. These cameras are typically used by professionals who understand that an on camera flash is very limited. Professionals have no problem using a speedlight if needed. I find it odd that he is an experienced photographer that doesn't seem to have portrayed these concepts well. I'm currently shooting with a 40D and plan to step up to either a 7D or 5D mark iii as my next camera. The reason i have stayed away from the 5D series so far has been the frame rate. But with increase in speed it has become more attractive then the 7D.

  • Derek May 2, 2012 03:53 pm

    I would be interested in anyone's take on differences between this and the mark 3. More specifically, I'm looking into buying a mark 2 (cost is an issue for me), which I'm a little more familiar with. Does it make sense though to spend more and invest in the mark 3 or is the mark 2 the better buy considering my purposes are rather modest; i.e. might do a little video, but mainly for still photography.

  • Michael Delman May 2, 2012 09:17 am

    Further to my previous post, Barrie Smith emailed me the high-resolution ISO test shots, which were shot as jpeg's and then downscaled for publication on the web. While I found it impossible to see any difference looking at the images in the article here, the files do show noise at ISO 25,600. And, yes, the high-ISO performance in these lighting conditions is remarkable.

    My own 5D3 experience with high ISO shots in low-light situations were less impressive and, arguably, low-light situations are where high ISO performance matters. (Don't get me wrong, the camera performs well. It just doesn't perform miracles.)

    However, Mr. Smith did take the photos and the originals do show different results at different ISO's, so I stand corrected in this regard. I appreciate that he took the time to address this with me.

  • Michael Delman May 2, 2012 07:36 am

    I'm in complete agreement with Grumpy. This review is lacking in substance and has many "WTF?" moments such as those that Grumpy pointed out.

    Regarding the four "picture effects" the author mentioned, there are in fact five -- the other one being "natural" -- and these apply ONLY to in-camera HDR shots (manual page 174). Btw, the camera will keep the three bracketed shots as well as creating the HDR. HDR isn't my cup of tea, but it's in the camera for anyone who wants to use it and after trying it out I found that the "natural" mode HDRs generated were very subtle.

    One statement by the author that I find particularly frustrating is "Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch in this game so a larger sensor means you need longer focal length lenses to capture an image equivalent in perspective to the smaller sensor cameras. Longer focal length lenses = reduced depth of field." First of all, $3,500 is not a "free lunch". That expression is meant to connote that you must pay more to get more. In fact, with this camera you DO pay more and you do get more. A larger sensor is the key to why high-end SLRs cost as much as they do and perform, in terms of picture quality, as well as they do. As to the widely-misunderstood topic of full vs. crop sensors with respect to focal length and field of view: if you want a narrower field of view for an image taken with a given lens on a full-frame sensor camera, so that it *seems* to have been taken using a longer lens, simply crop the image from the full-size sensor down to the same field of view produced by the same lens on a crop-sensor camera! An APS-C sensor absolutely does not turn a 100mm lens into a 160mm lens or a 400mm lens into a 640mm lens, no matter how many times you read that somewhere on the internet.

    Lastly, I just have to ask if anyone has taken a close look at these ISO comparison shots. I've looked at them closely on a 27" iMac and I can hardly tell any difference. I have used a 5D3 and I can tell you that in conditions such as those images were taken in, the difference between a shot at ISO 100 and one taken at 25,600 is obvious and substantial. The 5D3 has great high-ISO performance, but not *that* great! I'm curious to know where these comparison shots came from. Did the author actually take these shots?

    Nuff said.

  • Aperture Ray May 2, 2012 04:30 am

    You're off about House- the 5D II was already well established in the film and tv industry as a viable video camera- using it on the show did not make anyone "sit up and look closely". Also, the initial intent was to film the final season episode using either 4 or 5 MK II's but due to time and cost, they ended up filming a small amount of footage using the Canon and the rest with normal video cameras.

    As for creative modes- this is a professional grade camera and there is not a single photographer alive that would even dare use any type of in camera processing or special effects. Not even sure why Canon thought to include it to begin with.

    Perhaps the most important part which the author only glossed over (did he even try out this camera?) is the exposure modes and the ability to choose different types of autofocus tracking, i.e. moving subjects, subjects moving erratically, ability to lock focus on a subject coming into the focus zones- the 5D is very advanced on what you want focus set on.

    Also missing from this "mini review" is the fact that the camera supports Eye-Fi wireless SD cards- there is even a special setting in the camera in the options dedicated to Eye Fi configuration.

  • Zman May 1, 2012 02:13 pm

    I own the 5D MkIII. I have shot only a couple of test videos, so I won't give my opinion of that. But the video I have shot looks great. What I like about this camera is the low light capability. The Af is outstanding as well. I don't know all of the settings for the AF yet. In low light, the AF sometimes struggles to lock on. I'll bet this is the case for most camera's. I do like the HDR functionality. It's descent, but don't expect it to work as good as Nik's or Photomatix. Don't try to compare them. It does work better than I expected. Both the 5D Mk III and Nikon's D800 are outstanding camera's. If you are invested in Canon glass, there is no reason to switch to the D800, or vice versa.

  • Barrie Smith May 1, 2012 10:03 am

    To Grumpy

    The review was written after only a week with the camera. It has to interest not only high level photographers but those who have never owned a DSLR or even a film SLR.
    Hence the para "It is also one of the reasons for the popularity of Micro Four Thirds, Four Thirds and similar smaller sized sensors: these little babies can shoot images all the way up to as large as most people want."

  • rich May 1, 2012 08:07 am

    I love my 5dm3.

    I have a stack of photos up on flickr so that you can see the low light (ISO > 8000), in built HDR etc.

  • Barrie Smith May 1, 2012 07:45 am

    sorry to disappoint you but the audio was done separately and not recorded with the EOS.

  • Alexx May 1, 2012 04:00 am

    I really like it but why the $1500 price increase?

    I'm looking for a full frame camera upgrade from my T3i and I'm thinking this looks like the way to go.

    I just don't like Nikon.

  • Grumpy McGrumperson April 30, 2012 11:47 pm

    I'm a occasional reader and a photo enthusiast and have been following 5Dmk3 reviews and am thinking about buying one. With that in mind, this might seem a bit Canon fanboyish but try to see past that and see this as a critique of a camera model review in general:

    I feel this was a alltogether lacking review; it seemed more like a expanded specification list with a couple of sample shots on the side. Speclists are available anywhere - it would have been nicer to read more about how you really tested the camera in the field and what you came across that isn't listed as a megapixel count, i.e. how it handled in real use. There were a few comments about the weight/bulkiness, but it left me wanting more opinions on the feel of it, button placement, shutter responsiveness, that kind of stuff. Things that the user will probably like, things he will hate. Stuff that isn't in manuals, things that pro's with several years of experience notice right away.

    It's unclear if you liked the camera or not, and a few parts are generally just confusing. For example:
    "As arguably the top DSLR model, around this camera is now the equivalent of the one time medium format 6×6/6×9 cameras that sat near the top of the pile. It is also one of the reasons for the popularity of Micro Four Thirds, Four Thirds and similar smaller sized sensors: these little babies can shoot images all the way up to as large as most people want."

    Now, English isn't my native language, but I've re-read that paragraph a couple of times and I still can't figure out what you're trying to say. Are you simply stating that most types of digital cameras these days can produce high-resolution images? Or are you comparing a highend fullframe DSLR with a micro 4/3? That would seem a bit strange, since the target consumers for those types differ greatly. Unless of course pro wedding, sport and landscape photographers have gone over to 4/3 lately?

    And this part:
    "It’s worth making a comparison between a camera such as Samsung’s NX200 which has a pixel population of 20.3 million, packed into a sensor that is just 40 per cent the size of the Canon’s. With the latter’s larger pixels you enjoy the benefits of a higher signal to noise ratio and an expanded dynamic range."

    It's worth making a comparison between a APS-C and a fullframe based on megapixel count alone? Why not in that case mention Nikon's D800 which would by those criteria blow everyone out of the water with its 36 MP?

    I also felt it a bit strange that you would note the inclusion of picture styles in such a pro(sumer)-oriented camera as a odd thing, while still wanting a vari-angle viewfinder and built-in flash - features usually found in lower-end models. Somewhat contradictory, no?

    A camera's main function is to take images (or nowadays, video), and hence one of the most important questions is how well does it perform in that. Image quality is a property which can't/shouldn't be measured, due to its subjective nature. It is something that many have a sometimes varying opinion of, and that is why many who read reviews want to hear what the expert/reviewer felt about the image quality. We sometimes need experts to point out in what ways the tonalities, dynamic range and overall properties of the produced image are good or bad.

    In this review, the above properties are described with: "This baby will shoot top TV and stills industry gold standards. Nuff said."

    What. The. Heck. Multiexposure shooting, picture styles and extra gear get at least a paragraph each, but image quality gets "Nuff said"?

    This review wasn't directly bad, it just needed more (the right kind of) meat on its bones. In my opinion! I'd recommend having a look at's reviews, they usually do quite comprehensive articles.

  • Kerryn Cuthbertson April 30, 2012 11:29 pm

    I am looking at upgrading my Canon EOS 50D and can't decide on the 5D Mark ii or 5D Mark iii... I am a hobbyist who is learning as I go and want to achieve sharper images especially in low light situations.. The video would be a plus but only for personal use at this stage so not AS important... I would also have to invest in higher quality lenses as most of mine are EFS and aren't compatible to the full frame cameras.. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated...

  • 1107photography April 30, 2012 09:10 pm

    Where can you find good examples of the in-camera HDR from this camera? Just wondering how it compares to HDR using an external program such as Photomatix?

  • Digitaltouch April 30, 2012 06:42 am

    Wow the video and the sound of the birds was amazing. This camera is a great addition to canon arsinal.