A Canon 5D Mark III camera review (or, how to stop worrying and just copy Nikon)
I never bought the first iteration of the Canon 5D. I was a staff photographer for a wire service at the time, and I was working with a pair of 1DmkII’s or III’s. Didn’t feel the need to pay for my own camera body when I had them supplied from work. But I remember looking on enviously at the files my friends produced with that little camera, and slowly grew to loathe my beastly 1D cameras. Sure, they were fast, but when I was working on non-news stories, be it commercial work or just editorial features, I would always borrow a 5D and leave the bricks at home.
When the 5DmkII came out, I was on board and bought one right away. It was amazing, the files were big and gorgeous, and shooting in low light with my main lens, the 35 1.4, was incredible. Even though I still had a pair of office-issued 1D cameras, the 5dmkII was by my side all the time, unless I was shooting sports. For most everything else, it was the 5dmkII.
When I started shooting weddings, I would pair the 5DmkII with a borrowed original 5D as a second camera, and but you know what? I found myself basically using the 5D as a lens holder, and switching lenses to the 5DmkII whenever I needed to switch to a long lens. So although technically I was shooting with two cameras, at the end of the day about 95% of the images were made with the mkII. The files were just so strong, and for the most part, the camera was so responsive….
Or, at least, I thought it was. Until I tried on a few Nikons. Thats when I realized I had basically been shooting with one arm tied behind my back with my Canons. Not sure what Canon’s engineers had been smoking, but the 5D autofocus was so ridiculously bad it was laughable (or cryable, depending….). Maybe you got used to it and worked around it most of the time, but then you’d shoot next to someone with a Nikon, and then you’d feel like you were driving a Lada while they were driving a Porsche. I always felt proud that I could produce strong images DESPITE working with the 5D’s limited autofocus, that working with this constraint actually made me a better photographer. Whatever. It just sucked, and Canon lost a lot – A LOT – of customers because of this***
So, along with thousands of other Canon shooters around the world, I was pretty excited to get my hands on a mkIII for one reason and one reason only – workable autofocus. I could care less about the video. I could care less about a file size upgrade, and even if there was a negligible upgrade in high ISO I would be fine. All I wanted was a 5D that had good autofocus.
Canon delivered. They created a camera that has the beautiful files that has been the hallmark of the 5D series from the start, and combined it with very good, maybe even PRO -level autofocus in a small, robust camera body.
In short, Canon finally threw in the towel and made a Nikon.
The autofocus is fast and intuitive, just like a Nikon? Check. The body is more robust and rugged, just like a Nikon? Check. The backside layout of the camera more resembles a Nikon than a traditional Canon? Check. The viewfinder is no longer rectangle, but now an oval, morphing closer to Nikon’s traditional circular viewfinder? Check. Its a Nikon in Canon’s clothing, and that’s OK with me.
I know a lot of shooters who switched over to Nikon over the years, and I’m sure none have them have ever looked back. But today? There will always be a Nikon-Canon debate, but I’d say Canon shooters are no longer hindered by a garbage autofocus system. Plus, I’ve been hearing rave reviews about the 1Dx coming out of the London Olympics, where they’ve also introduced an amazing 200-400 lens (finally, about 5 years after Nikon did), and it will be interesting to read comparisons between that and Nikon’s D4. Anyway, I’m sure there are some good arguments for both sides, but I’d say for the first time in years Canon and Nikon are neck and neck, that the differences are minimal and it will come down to your preference on how the cameras feel and your needs w/r/t file size. For the first time in half a decade, I can honestly say that if someone offered me the chance to swap all my Canon gear for comparable Nikon gear at no cost, I’d probably say no.
For the first time in a long while it feels good to be shooting without one hand tied behind my back. Now, if my images suck, its all on me. And that’s just fine.
– Zippy, accurate autofocus. I actually can use AI SERVO mode for the first time on a 5D, and it works great.
– Frame rate. Six frames a second is a pretty big boost. Comes in handy sometimes. You could actually shoot sports with six frames per second.
– High ISOs. I’ve been shooting wedding receptions at 8000 iso. EIGHT THOUSAND ISO! Looks awesome. With a fast lens you can shoot just about anything now.
– Price. I feel like I’m paying a huge markup for the brand, and specifically for the video functions. Now that DSLRs have replaced video cameras, it kind of sucks that I’m forced to pay for a professional-grade video camera when all I want is a stills camera. Hope there’s an option for a video-less, less expensive 5D in the future. But of course, why on earth would Canon do that and loose my $$$?
*** Canon lost a lot of pro customers because they massively failed with the autofocus on the 1DmkIII at just about the same time that Nikon came out with the slick, super fast focusing D3. Bad time to put out a lemon, Canon. Up to then, Canon was coasting, and had cameras in the hands of the majority of pro shooters. That changed very quickly. Nikon were very aggressive in getting that pro body out into the market, for instance outfitting every single AFP shooter around the globe with brand new Nikon gear in return for taking all of AFP’s Canon gear worldwide and dropping it into a landfill somewhere…. And that’s kind of what pissed off a lot of Canon clients: they had been coasting, while Nikon took the initiative, and it showed.
(Images, shot with the markIII [except for the tilt shifts], are from a wedding in Halifax, Nova Scotia where I was second shooting for the great Emma Rose)
*** Canon lost a lot of pro customers because they massively failed with the autofocus on the 1DmkIII at just about the same time that Nikon came out with the slick, super fast focusing D3. Bad time to put out a lemon, Canon. Up to then, Canon was coasting, and had cameras in the hands of the majority of pro shooters. That changed very quickly. Nikon were very aggressive in getting that pro body out into the market, for instance outfitting every single AFP shooter worldwide with brand new Nikon gear in return for taking all of AFP Canon gear and dropping it into a landfill somewhere…. And that’s kind of what pissed off a lot of Canon clients: they had been coasting, while Nikon took the initiative, and it showed.