Imran Aziz's Blog

Capsule Review – Canon 5D Mark III

Canon 5dThe Canon 5d Mark III is a solid improvement over it’s predecessor in terms of build quality, autofocus and image quality.  The previous model (Mark II) was a great camera, although it had some weak spots that Canon has mostly addressed with this update. For example, only the center focus point on the Mark II would reliably focus with high precision and AI Servo mode had a hard time tracking moving subjects, i.e. kids, sports, etc.   Also, trying to push exposure on images from the Mark II, caused artificial looking pattern noise to appear in the shadow regions, which was bothersome.


Back in the film days, Canon produced some wonderful camera bodies such as the Canon 1N and 1V series. The camera bodies just felt great in your hand, were solidly built and made to last.  It took Canon over 10 years, since introducing the D30 model, but we finally now have a Canon digital camera that is comparable to the professional film bodies.

The Mark III also allows you to personalize most cameras buttons to suit your needs. One of the first things I did was to modify the “SET” button to automatically zoom into an image at the focus point. I also programed the joystick on the back to let me select focus points manually by default.

+Build quality and weather sealing now at Canon 1N levels

+Customizable menus and buttons

Low ISO Image Quality

The Canon 5d Mark III seems to have slightly higher resolution and sharpness than the Mark II at low ISO settings (ISO 50-400).  My comparison is based on RAW files processed using both Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) and Adobe Lightroom 4.1 RC with all sharpness and lens correction parameters set to zero.

I shot a full frame image using a Canon 24-105mm f4 L lens @ f8 focused manually using Live View on the cereal box label (left-side of image) below.


Here is an example comparison using the “High Speed” DPP setting shot at ISO 100 (click on images to see actual size):


Adobe just released an update of Lightroom, which can handle Mark III RAW files.  Here is a comparison of the RAW files using Lightroom 4.1’s processing engine:


It’s clear that the Adobe RAW converter is pulling in more details from the Mark III RAW file than Canon’s own software.  I’m curious to see what improvements future upgrades to processing software will bring, although I’m quite happy with these current results.

Another quick experiment was to increase “Brightness adjustment” by +2 within DPP to see how the new sensor on the Mark III improves on its predecessor in terms of pattern noise at low ISO.  The shadow areas on the Mark III are smoother with almost film like noise distribution, while the Mark II noise appears to be more artificially generated.


Here is a more practical example of how dynamic range and film-like grain can be useful in the field. I accidently underexposed the image below by a stop or so and had to fix it later in Lightroom 4.1.  With the 5d Mark III, I was able to lift the shadows and get a good quality photo without artificial looking pattern noise showing on the subjects face.


Note: The Canon 5d Mark III comes with a software program to process RAW files called the Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP).  In order to get the highest quality output from Mark III RAW files, I suggest you choose the “High speed” option in DPP versus “High Quality.”  The current version that ships with the Canon Mark III seems to have a software bug that effects the quality of the Mark III RAW files adversely compared to the Mark II.

+Image resolution, color and clarity noticeably better over the Mark II in RAW mode.  Color gradients appear smoother and per pixel sharpness is higher.

+Dynamic range and pattern noise  significantly improved from the Mark II as well.  You can now afford to underexpose an image a stop or two without a headache.

+Grain structure is much more film-like than with the Mark II. B&W photos at high ISOs look great in particular now.  

-HDR mode is fairly basic and didn’t find it super useful.  Would be nice to have simulated graduated filter effects built in.

Sample photos

Canon 16-35mm mark II @ 16mm, ISO 400, f/11, 1.0sec

_K0C9345 (2013_04_14 05_37_48 UTC)

Canon 16-35mm mark II @ 22mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec


Canon 70-300 @ 229mm, ISO 160, f/5.6, 1/250 sec


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