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Canon 5D MkIII digital SLR review

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5dthumbCanon’s 5D MkII was a game changer. A fine stills camera, it also set a standard for DSLR video capture that set the chase for competitors. This, of course, made it a tough act to follow, even for its maker.

When Canon revealed the MkIII, it appeared Canon was keen to appease its customers’ criticisms of the MkII.

Pretty much everything that I had hoped to see, and for that matter should have been improved in any case, have been realised.

DESIGN

At first glance, the MkIII looks exactly like its predecessor but big differences soon reveal themselves.

My first impression was that Canon had borrowed a lot from the 7D’s styling. The on/off button has been moved to the top panel on the left under the mode selector.

Good to see the mode selector has a lock, too. It was always too easy to inadvertently rotate that dial. There also is a settings lock under the rear selector wheel.

The 5D MkIII looks muck like its predecesor the 5D MkII

A manual function button has been added next to the shutter release button and there is a video/still selector button just to the right of the viewfinder, just like the 7D.

Otherwise, the body styling is very close to the MkII.

Another welcome change is the repositioning of the depth-of-field preview button to the right of the lens mount, which means it’s now just a bit of a stretch for the right index or middle finger.

The Canon 5D MkIII now has a lock on ther mode selector and the depth of field preview button has been repositioned

FEATURES

A major change between the MkII and MKIII is the menu layout.

Each main menu now has up to five sub-menus selected subsequently with the top dial.

The back dial is used to select sub-menu items. What MkII users should soon notice is there is a new menu dedicated to the MkIII’s Auto-Focus operations. 

A well-received improvement is the shutter, which can be slipped into a silent mode that actually is very quiet. To some users, this may seem inconsequential but there are plenty of situations, such as shooting a wedding ceremony, when quiet shutter operation is a very desirable thing.

The Canon 5D MkIII has a silent shutter mode

Important new features include a DiG!C 5+ processor married to a 22.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, multiple exposure capture, HDR capture with a choice of styles, spirit level with twin-axis tilt, and improved moiré handling when recording video.

Also sure to be a hit with those shooting stills and video is dual card slots – one for CompactFlash, the other SD. 

PERFORMANCE

The MkIII’s AF performance is easily the biggest single improvement over the MkII.

Delve into the AF menu and you’ll see Canon has made a serious effort at addressing the MkII’s sluggish AF performance.

For instance, the first AF setting is a general purpose one with tracking sensitivity, acceleration/deceleration and AF point switching all set to the mid point.

The Canon 5D MkIII's Auto-focus system is greatly improved. Here, the AF is set to react to objects "suddenly appearing" in the AF sensors. This shot, with the bike moving very fast towards the camera, was very difficult with the MkII.

Case 3, a setting I put to test extensively shooting motorbikes, is described as “Instantly focus on subjects suddenly entering AF points” and it works a charm.

All of the AF presets are editable. Combine this with the MkIII’s 61 AF points and you have a shooter that is very well suited to sports and action shooting.

You get this plus a large sensor to capture to, so if you’re shooting for large prints the MkIII makes an excellent tool. Image quality overall is excellent, with an extra million pixels over the MkII adding just enough edge to feel like you’ve upgraded.

Low-light performance is substantially improved, with side-by-side comparisons of the same subject under ISO 6400 showing that Canon’s claims for its DiG!C 5+ processor are substantiated.

Indeed, I would happily use the ISO 12,800 setting on the MkIII for sports under lights. With the MkII, I avoided any ISO higher than 3200.

Also impressive is the MkIII’s dynamic range which, at ISO 100, was about a two-stop improvement over the MkII. This is a big deal for all users but especially those who can manage manual exposures.

The 5D MkIII boasts a wider dynamic range than its predecessor

In video mode, I found it pretty difficult to pick much difference between the MkIII’s image quality and the MkII, bar the improvement in moiré reduction.

If anything, the MkIII is a bit softer but the source video responds better to post-processing than does source from the MkII.

The built-in HDR will mean more to some users than others but this feature, along with the multiple-exposure capability, would have been embarrassing to have not included given their presence in other “lesser” cameras.

Greatly improved captures at high ISOs are clearly evident with a side-by-side comparison of the MkII (left) and MkIII

That said, I like to shoot HDR panoramics which is now a whole lot easier with the MkIII’s built-in HDR and spirit level.

About the only disappointment is the MkIII’s frame rate of 6fps.

If you need faster, you’ll need a fatter cheque book. Also, the longest manual exposure time is 30 seconds.

Given the timer is electronic, the MkIII’s 30 second limit seems a bit silly. Why not an editable time exposure setting?

VERDICT

As with the MkII, the MkIII delivers excellent (if not the best) price/performance ratio of any camera in Canon’s range, which explains why so many pros have them as back-ups or full-frame alternatives for their 1D.

Many, especially wedding and portrait photographers, use the 5D as their main camera.

There is no quantum leap on offer with the MkIII, rather it’s an evolution of the MkII but this sits well with the camera’s market position.

That said, in addressing the MkII’s inadequacies, Canon has made an already great DSLR even more desirable. It’s a corker of a camera.

Canon 5D MkIII

Price: $3799 (body only); $4899 (Pro Kit – body with 24-105mm lens)

Four and half stars (out of five)

* Review written by Chris Oaten – a professional photographer from Insight Visuals

www.insightvisuals.com.au

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