Recently, we sent photographer Andrè van Rooyen a Canon 5D Mk III to use and review. As a trusted professional in the industry, he had a lot to say about this DSLR.
In a world where technology users and especially photography folk are always up against annual launch schedules and the pressure to keep up, it's often necessary to do a little retro-think, to see context, before casting judgement.
First there was Canon's 5D Mk I, which made its first appearance in August 2005, it was a significant step forward for pretty much all pro Canon shooters and got everyone talking. It offered enthusiasts and pros everywhere the chance to get in on the full-frame bokehliciousness and superb image quality, without mortgaging their homes. The 5D became the darling, the sine qua non of the pro and prosumer markets, even if the price tag kept it from swamping the amateur market.
Then, three years later, in September 2008, Canon dropped the V-bomb. Nikon had claimed the highly-anticipated kudo of "The First DSLR to shoot HD Video", by about a month with their D90 and Chase Jarvis, but in truth, the Nikon offering was 720p, had rolling-shutter jelly-wobble issues, and questionable focus strategy. The Canon 5D Mk II shot real 1080p HD video, and with fast full-frame lenses, that the APS-C sensor D90 just couldn't match. It also produced cinematic-quality video, that kick-started the professional DSLR Video industry, and spawned an entire cottage industry for the ancillary accoutrements like shoulder rigs, steady-cam rigs, lighting, and sound add-ons.
As a still camera, the Mk II continued to eat everyone's lunch, the new 21.1MP sensor (up from 12.8MP in the Mk I), accompanied by an max ISO jump to 25 600 from 3 200.
Finally, in March 2012, Canon announced the third and final revision of the 5D, in the 22.3MP Mk III. The announcement was cleverly marketing-synced to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the first EOS digital camera, and Canon's 75th anniversary year. The changes in this version were less headline worthy, but did include the new DIGIC 5+ processor, and a 61-point AF system (41 of which are cross-type), directly inherited from the 1D series. This was the first time in EOS DSLR history that the best-we-have-to-offer AF system was available in anything but their best-we-have-to-offer 1D camera.
And so, we fast-forward to 2016. The sounds of gunfire have fallen silent. The smoke has cleared. The mirrorless revolution has happened. Done and dusted. First, in waves of APS-C sensored offerings from everyone, with the notable exceptions of Canon and Nikon, and then from the new overlords, Sony, in the shape of full frame MILCs. The old guard is crushed and defeated, and sales numbers are plummeting. The battlefield is littered with discarded DSLR bodies, which are crunched underfoot.
The blogosphere has been awash with pro photographers (and others. Actually pretty much everyone) posting me-too versions of "Why/how I ditched my DSLR system for Mirrorless". Now, everything shoots full HD video. The iPhone 6S not only shoots 4K video, but can edit multiple streams of 4K simultaneously. And most of this stuff fits in your pocket, and is so lightweight it's guaranteed not to induce back-strain in a 45 kg hipster. Sony and Fuji reign benevolently. All is well.
Now that you have context, and if you're still with me, let's get to the judgement bit. Hold tight. Some of this may disturb you. I know I may have shed a tear, quietly.
‘Hey Andre. Here's the Canon 5D Mk III. Use it for a week and let us know what you think of it?’
Did we really lug these things around? How grateful am I, that we cannot recall pain?
There is just no charitable way to say this. This is a monster-big fat-ass chunk of hardware. Getting my head around the sheer bulk and manly heft of the thing, I noticed that the ergonomics of the camera are the newer generation Canon version. Like the 70D and some others, this styling/placement of controls/shaping is no longer offensive to my Nikon-experienced hands.
In fact, the camera felt reassuringly secure in my hand, and in a surprisingly short time, I was comfy and confident in making setting changes on the fly. OK, I was cheating a bit. Thanks, little Quick-menu buddy-button. Well played, Canon.
I decided to shoot this entire review, using a single lens. A Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, because *insert artistic, creative, ahhh-worthy reason here.*
Nope, That's just not true. The 50 is the only full-frame lens I had access to, which would AF properly on the 5D.
This is less of a burden that one might assume. Some might say that the entire raison d'être for using a bigger-sensor-than-your-last-camera camera is... Bokeh. In general, the bigger the camera sensor, the better bokeh. And before the purists lynch me, let me expand. There have been too many litres of ink spilt and bits burnt in the highly opinionated explanation of bokeh. Apparently, a Japanese word, which, when translated means, "blurred" or "out of focus", it's used to refer to the quality/quantity of the blur created, by wide-aperture lenses natural tendency to create a narrow slice of focus (depth-of-field). Actually, all lenses do this, it's just that some do it in a more pronounced, and sometimes, more attractive way.
The 5D and the 50 f/1.4, in combination, make for some spectacular bokeh. Which is a great segue for the punchline, the essence of this review. What do I think of the 5D Mk III?
I'm really glad I had the chance to touch and use this camera. It is an icon. It changed photography. But when it was released, it was (or became) the tool to do everything with. Weddings, portraits, sport, video. Everything.
Then, from 2005 to 2016, the landscape has moved on, and now, there are better, faster, lighter, and cheaper alternatives for almost everything the mighty 5D was once king of. It's remaining standout features? Image quality and, of course, bokeh.
And let me stress, these qualities are no better than the current mirrorless offerings. They're just the areas where the 5D hasn’t lost ground so that it's still a viable tool for the jobs requiring those features.
If you're a wedding, portrait photographer (or you just take those kind of images), and you have an investment in quality Canon full-frame lenses, by all means, consider the 5D. But it's a pricey slice of the past that you'll be buying, and there'll need to be a bit of irrational Canon love in that purchase. That's my 50 Cents.”
When it comes down to it, all photographers experience different things with the equipment they use. And there’s almost always an air of competition between the owners of different brands. But, at the end of the day, you should be using the camera that feels best to you and produces images that you’re proud of.
One of the reasons the Canon 5D Mk III is an excellent piece of equipment is that it produces images of a stunning quality, despite the market moving on and embracing the mirrorless revolution.