Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review: Going Pro

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Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 9
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Expandability
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 8.60
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10


  • Pros

    • Excellent photo/video quality
    • Excellent build quality
    • Advanced 61 point AF system
  • Cons

    • Best image quality from Raw (vs. JPEG)
    • Overly aggressive noise reduction
    • Monaural on-board microphone

Quick Take

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the long-awaited successor to the 5D Mark II. It offers all the benefits of the Mark II along with some notable AF and speed improvements.

The Canon 5D Mark III was announced on March 2, on the 25th anniversary of the EOS system and the first EOS SLR camera. Photography and the EOS system has come a long way since then as evidenced by Canon’s line of DSLRs and while Canon wasn’t the first manufacturer to incorporate video into a DSLR (that honor goes to Nikon with its D90), the 5D Mark II and its 1080p video was the first to be widely adopted by photographers who were (and are) increasingly being tasked with creating video, as well as still images, for their clients and employers. While the 5D Mark III’s video enhancements such as a headphone jack aren’t as extensive as that of the Nikon D4 (which we are in the process of reviewing), the 5D Mark III and its predecessor remain solid solutions for DSLR videography, as well as still imaging.

Canon currently offers two full-frame cameras: the 22 megapixel Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the 18 megapixel 1D X. The earlier-announced 1D X isn t yet available but is the flagship of the EOS line. Second in line, but no less capable, is the 5D Mark III which has benefited trickle down technology from its higher end sibling, most notably a 61-point autofocus system with customizable AF presets.

That improvement alone is very attractive but the 5D Mark III offers other updates as well including a new image sensor (with only a 1 megapixel increase from the 5D Mark II), Digic 5+ processor, enhanced performance including up to 6 frames per second continuous shooting and light sensitivity that can be expanded up to ISO 102,400. Other additions include in-camera HDR, multiple exposure capabilities, a slightly larger LCD and dual card slots. Thanks to some tweaks to controls, menu options and customization, the 5D Mark III offers more efficient operation than its predecessor.

The camera comes bundled with an eye cup, rechargeable battery and charger, neck strap, stereo AV and USB cables and aCanon EOS 5D Mark III printed manual. Two CDs are part of the package: EOS Digital solution Disk ver. 25.0 with Digital Photo Professional 3.11, Image Browser EX 1.0, EOS Utility 2.11, Picture Style Editor 1.10 and PhotoStitch 3.2/3.1 for Mac and Windows. A software instruction manual is included on the second CD.

Canon has updated a number of its lenses, albeit with a jump in price on some that will make you think twice about stepping up to the latest optics. Still, Canon offers a wide range of EF lenses, so you can build a system slowly if you don t already have a stash of Canon glass. Speedlites, wireless file transmitter, GPS receiver and other accessories are readily available as well. Videographers should budget for an external stereo microphone since the camera only records monaural sound and now that the 5D Mark III offers a headphone jack, you may want to add one to your gear bag. A mini HDMI cable for HD output is also available, as is a remote controller.

Build and Design
At first glance, the 5D Mark III looks a lot like its predecessor. In fact, at 6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 inches and 30.3 ounces, it’s about the same size and weight as the Mark II. It is very well constructed and is built around a magnesium-alloy shell. Seals at critical points against dust and water add another level of protection against heavy usage under a variety of conditions. To further enhance its weatherproofing, the WFT-E7A Wireless File Transmitter and the GP-E2 GPS Receiver are also sealed against the elements, even at the connection points with the camera. In addition to weather sealing, the 5D Mark III features an improved dust reduction system.

The shutter has been revamped and utilizes lightweight and carbon fiber blades. In anticipation of heavy usage, the shutter is designed to maintain the top speed of 6 frames per second and is rated for up to 150,000 cycles, so this camera will endure the daily use of busy professionals.

Dual card slots have been added one for CompactFlash, the other for SD/SDHC/SDXC cards. Users can designate how and Canon EOS 5D Mark IIIwhere data will be recorded. For example, the second card can be used for overflow when the first is full or as a back-up, recording the same data as the first. Images can be written to both cards simultaneously but at different compression/image quality for each. The latter will slow down continuous shooting speed, however. For shooting, I used a SanDisk 128GB Extreme Pro CF card, along with SanDisk SDHC/SDXC cards.

Ergonomics and Controls
Compared to the 1D X, the 5D Mark III seems compact, although the camera works its way up the weight and bulk ladder by adding the optional battery grip. In either case, the grip provides a sturdy and comfortable handhold thanks to its contoured, textured design. The grip design and the weight of the camera provide a good counterbalance, so the camera is easy to handle even with longer lenses.

Although 5D Mark II users won t have a real learning curve, the Mark III s control layout has been tweaked. For the most part, the addition and re-positioning of controls is an improvement. A major improvement is the addition of the 7D s Live View/Movie switch. Flip the lever to the red movie icon and Live View is automatically enabled. From there, press the center button to start/stop video recording. Move the switch to the right (camera icon) and press the center button to activate/de-activate Live View for still images.

The on/off switch, for example, sits adjacent to the mode dial on the left top panel. It s a little awkward to power the camera on and off since, most of the time, your left hand is supporting the lens. The mode dial now has a center lock button, which must be depressed to change exposure mode. It, too, is a bit cumbersome but the mode dial (and the on/off switch) won t be accidentally moved out of position. The Creative Auto mode has disappeared from the mode dial (I never understood why it was on the Mark II) but three custom settings remain, along with Bulb, Manual, AV, TV, P and Scene Intelligent Auto.

A few other controls have been repositioned (the menu and info buttons sit to the left of the viewfinder) to make room for Canon EOS 5D Mark IIIthree new additions along the left side of the LCD. The Creative Photo Button provides access to the camera s Picture Styles, the new Multiple Exposure and in-camera HDR features. The latter captures three shots and combines them in-camera for better dynamic range but the 5D Mark III also offers users a choice of HDR styles such as Natural, Art standard, Art vivid, Art bold and Art embossed. You can also elect to save all the images (useful if you want to combine them in post-processing or only save the HDR image). In playback mode, the same button provides side-by-side comparison of two images.

If you d rather do HDR on your own, up to 7-shot AE bracketing is now available with an exposure range of +/- 8, which will give you more than enough range for HDR work. Be sure to disable the in-camera HDR function first and go into the Custom menu settings to change from the default 3-shot AE bracketing and choose from 2, 5 or 7 shots.

The second button, labeled rate, allows users to apply a star rating in playback or it can be set to protect/unprotect individual images. The third is a magnify button that, in combination with the front command dial, quickly and conveniently zooms in and out of an image a welcome change from the 5D Mark II.

There s also a new Q button, positioned to the right of the LCD, to quickly access and change settings on the LCD s control panel. A programmable M-Fn button sits near the shutter release and rounds out the most important new controls.

Menus and Modes
As mentioned earlier, there multiple exposure modes: Auto, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Full Manual and Bulb, as well as three custom settings. Within the menu, Picture Style can be set to Auto, Neutral, Faithful, Monochrome, or one of three user-defined styles. Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation and color tone can be adjusted for each including the presets.

With so many features, it’s no surprise that the Canon 5D Mark III’s menus are extensive. Yet, navigation is straightforward, albeit a little time-consuming since there’s so much depth and breadth to the camera’s options.

Rather than endless scrolling down long menu pages, each main tab has secondary tabs. The Q button moves between the main tabs; sub-tabs are selected using the main control dial, while the quick control dial on the rear panel scrolls through individual settings. It may take a while to master the multiple control navigation and figure out where everything is but once you do, moving through the menu system can be mastered.

The main tabs are: Shooting, Autofocus, Playback, Setup, Custom Functions and My Menu. Since there are multiple external controls, a Quick menu and three Custom setting options on the mode dial, it s unlikely you ll spend a lot of time in the main menu system after initial setup prior to each shoot. And even that may not be necessary unless you need to adjust your custom shooting modes.

However, there’s a new menu that is particularly useful and simplifies setting up the appropriate autofocus settings. The AF Configuration Tool is discussed under the Performance section of this review.

Several improvements have been made to the optical viewfinder and the LCD. The bright, clear and relatively large viewfinder now delivers 100% coverage vs. the 5D Mark II’s 98%. In addition to image data, there s an optional grid overlay and electronic level to help keep horizons and other visual elements straight. The camera can be set to display a warning icon to alert users that the camera is set to one of several options including white balance correction, ISO expansion, spot metering, monochrome or when one-touch image quality has been utilized.

At 3.2 inches the LCD is a little bigger than the Mark II’s and offers outstanding resolution at 10.4 million dots, as well as 100% coverage. Brightness can be adjusted but, under almost all conditions, the LCD is highly usable. The LCD works well for Live View shooting but the camera can also be tethered to a computer using EOS Utility, one of the software applications that s bundled with the camera; an optional remote controller can also be used.

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