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Taking the 5D to Mark III

April 9, 2012

Taking the 5D to Mark III

EOS 5D Mark II

THE EOS 5D Mark II was rightly hailed as a landmark camera, especially for independent filmmakers, since it was not only a high-resolution still camera, but also a DSLR that took a more serious stab at shooting video.

So now about four years on, Canon has finally introduced its successor, the 5D Mark III, which, on the surface, hasn't really changed much from its predecessor - at 22-megapixels, the Mark III only gains an extra megapixel over the Mark II.

However, look deeper and you'll realise that Canon has tweaked the camera in a number of significant ways and improved image quality and other important features by quite a bit.
Improved features
Put the Mark II and Mark III together and you'll probably not notice a significant difference in physical design. Side by side, the cameras are about the same size and shape, although when you hold it in your hand, you'll notice that the Mark III grip is more comfortable and substantial in the hands.
On the back though, the camera controls have changed substantially over the Mark II - almost every button has had functions reassigned and moved around, so if you're a professional upgrading from the Mark II to the Mark III, be prepared for a period of acclimatisation.
For example, the Menu and Info buttons now have their own dedicated buttons on the top left corner of the Mark III, while the power switch has moved from the bottom right-hand corner to the top left-hand corner, just under the mode dial (which now gets a lock to prevent accidental switching of modes).
Perhaps the hardest thing to get used to is during image playback. Instead of pressing the Magnify button then using the thumb buttons on the top right to zoom in and out like on the Mark II, the Mark III now uses the command dial at the top of the camera to zoom in and out after you press the magnify button.
Under the sleek exterior of the Mark III, the changes are quite substantial as well - autofocus has been completely revamped and now offers an all-new 61-point High Density Reticular autofocus system.
Compared to the nine-point autofocus of the Mark II, the Mark III's autofocus is a great improvement - it not only has more autofocus points, but 41 of these points are cross-type (i.e. sensitive to both vertical and horizontal detail).
In use, the new autofocus system is impressively fast and very responsive, so no complaints in this department.
The Mark III's shutter is already reasonably quiet, but the camera has the option to turn on a Silent ­shooting mode - it's not totally silent, but it definitely reduces the decibel level quite significantly when you turn it on.
Continuous burst speed has been improved, as the Mark III now shoots at a maximum of 6fps (frames per second) over the 4fps of the previous generation.
In terms of video, there isn't a really big change. You still get 1080p at a maximum of 30fps (or 29.97fps to be exact) but you also get more choices for shooting at a few lower resolutions at different frame rates.
On the side, you also get a 3.5mm stereo output now so that you can monitor audio levels during video recording by plugging in a pair of headphones, ­something which videographers should find useful.
Last, but certainly not least, we have to commend Canon on the 3.2in LCD on the back of the Mark III - at 1.04million dots, it's higher ­resolution than on the Mark II, and seems to have a lot more accurate colour balance too.
Image quality
Of course, what's most important is photo quality and here is where the Mark III really pushes ahead of the Mark II.
There really isn't any difference in detail between the 21-megapixel Mark II and the 22-megapixel Mark III, at least at lower ISO settings. Coupled with a good lens, both ­cameras exhibited loads of detail.
If anything, the Mark III's metering system was slightly better at coping with extreme lighting conditions.
White balance is markedly improved in the Mark III - we took a few interior shots using tungsten lighting with both cameras, and the Mark III proved much better at getting the white balance right.
The biggest noticeable difference, however, is that the Mark III is a lot better at high ISO settings than the Mark II.
While detail and noise are much the same between the two cameras up to ISO 800 or so, by ISO 1,600, the Mark III is still producing clean, ­nearly noise-free images while the Mark II is starting to show some noise in shadow areas.
By ISO 3,200, the Mark III pulls comfortably ahead, producing still relatively clean and usable images with only a hint of noise while the Mark II is already showing quite a bit of noise.
On the Mark III, noise is still well controlled at ISO 6,400 and produces images which has only a slight loss of detail, but which I would still not hesitate to use if I needed to.
ISO 12,800 is at the limit of what's acceptable to our eyes - there is a noticeable loss of detail, but even here, noise is very well controlled.
canon eos
By the time you crank up ISO to 25,600, noise reduction kicks in quite hard and you start losing a lot of detail and colour saturation also starts to suffer.
Overall, top marks for image ­quality and noise control.
As with all modern cameras, the 5D Mark III has very good battery life and certainly nothing to complain about.
For those interested, you can download the full-resolution photos from our Picasa site at
Remember to go to Actions then Download Photo to download the whole file if you want to evaluate quality.

It may not look like it from the base specifications alone, but the EOS 5D Mark III is a great improvement over its predecessor in every way that counts - autofocus, exposure and ISO have all had the benefit of the technological improvements Canon has gained since the 5D Mark II was released.
Copyright 1995-2012 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)


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