Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review

Introduction

Initially released in spring 2012, the 5D Mark III is the replacement to the wildly popular 5D Mark II. And like the Mark II, it’s a high-end professional workhorse DSLR photography camera aimed to tackle the harshest shooting conditions. And while this camera sits directly below Canon’s flagship 1DX lineup, it inherits several features that make it, in many respects, the more compelling option for a wider array of demographics. However, it has been quite some time since the release of this camera. And it begs the question, is this a camera that’s relevant today, in the advent of touchscreen capacities and 4K video? Or has the day finally come to retire the DSLR giant? Today, we assess it’s strengths, weaknesses, and answer whether or not it’s still relevant in today’s modern age.

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What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Canon 5D Mark III?

Pros:

Image Quality

The resolution has improved slightly over the predecessor, now moving from 21.1MP to 22.3 MP, a 6% change. Nevertheless, the 14-bit RAW images it’s CMOS sensor delivers are sharp and rich with colors. And the dynamic range is surprisingly good, considering its age. Combined with the in-camera HDR effect, you can create HDR images with little noise and artifacts when recovering shadows.

The metering system on this camera has also improved. It now features the newer iCLF metering system inherited from the 7D. It now analyzes not only color and luminous data but also captures data from each point of the AF system.

It delivers a continuous burst rate of 6 fps, and when used with the faster UDMA 7 CF cards, it offers a 33 RAW or 60+ JPEG buffer. While not the fastest, the camera is undoubtedly capable of moderate sports and wildlife.

Video Quality

From a video standpoint, the camera shows its age, but it remains excellent. It shoots 1080p full HD video up to 30 fps using the All-I compression, inherited from the 1DX, allowing the camera to supply an impressive 91 MBps data rate. While the camera doesn’t offer the variable frame rates introduced following its release, the 1080p footage remains sharp, vibrant, and delivers exceptional dynamic range. And, unlike the predecessor, it now provides the industry-standard 29 minute and 59-second recording limit. Previously, video recordings capped at 10-minute segments.

With version 1.2.1, the camera can now output a clean, uncompressed, 8-bit 4:2:2 signal to an external monitor or recorder—a perfect option for filmmakers.

Low Light Performance

Low light performance represents a significant leap in capabilities. The new Digic 5+ processor is the driving force behind its impressive high ISO performance. It now features a native ISO range from ISO 100-25,600, further expandable to ISO 102,400. Previously, the predecessors capped out at ISO 6,400 natively, so this two-stop improvement is quite the addition. In performance, the camera delivers a one-stop improvement over the predecessor. And it can easily deliver usable images up to ISO 6,400 without any real need for post-production. Above that, images will require minor post-production noise reduction.

Focusing Performance

The autofocusing system on this camera has greatly improved over the predecessor. Unlike the predecessor’s 9-point AF system, Canon overhauled this system with a very advanced and sophisticated 61-point system closely mirroring their flagship 1DX. With this system, 41 of its points are cross-type compatible. Not only has the system improved 128% in coverage, but the points now spread to both the left and right thirds of the frame. And, compared to the predecessor, it significantly reduces the need for focus recomposing. Focusing performance is both fast and accurate, even in low light. And even the outer edges track subjects with a remarkably high hit rate. Gone are the days of relying on the most central AF point for accurate focus. The camera also provides an enormous amount of customization over the AF performance through the menus as well, allowing users to customize its performance to best suit their needs. Users can customize autofocus point switching, tracking sensitivity, and even acceleration sensitivity. Outside of the 1DX flagship, this is among their best performing system for shooting stills.

Battery Performance

Battery life is excellent for this class of camera. It uses the standard LP-E6 battery, which Canon rates for 950 shots per charge.

Display & Viewfinder

It features a top-deck LCD, which displays critical shooting parameters when shooting at waist level to save time looking at the rear screen.

It features a 3.2-inch rear TFT LCD with a resolution of 1.04M dots. The quality of the rear screen is more than sufficient for image preview, and it provides excellent color reproduction and ample contrast.

It features an optical viewfinder with 100% coverage of the image area and 0.71x magnification. This viewfinder, however, isn’t the standard implementation typically seen on DSLRs. With this release, Canon has installed an intelligent display, which is a superimposed overlay that displays both AF points, exposure information, and gridlines. Helpful.

User Interface

It features traditionally designed and structured Canon menus. Both newcomers to Canon and existing users will find the navigating experience on this camera very intuitive.

It features the customizable My Menu, which allows users to make a custom list of their favorite Menu settings on a single page.

Like many other Canon cameras, it too features the Quick (Q) menu, for immediate access to critical shooting parameters on a single contextual menu.

It features built-in RAW processing, which allows users to convert RAW images to Black & White, adjust white balance, brightness, and other in-camera effects.

It now features side-by-side image review, for more straightforward comparative image reviewing in the playback mode to compare details.

It features three custom shooting preset modes, C1-C3, for quick access to fully programmable shooting configurations.

The Depth of Field Preview button is now programmable and conveniently located by the grip for easy operation with the right ring finger.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

The body is largely unchanged from the predecessor. However, it does provide a few key improvements. Firstly, it now features a dedicated Live View switch, for more convenient access to this functionality. Secondly, there’s now a dedicated button to view Creative Options, such as in-camera HDR, multiple exposure, and filters. Thirdly, it now features a lock on the Mode Dial, to prevent accidental changes during transportation. And, unlike the predecessor, it now features a dedicated Rate button, which allows users to rate images in-camera, making the processor of sorting through images faster. These ratings also translate to post-production software, saving quite a bit of time. And, lastly, it features a customizable multi-function button, which users can map to any number of different functions.

In terms of physical size, the camera is quite large and among the largest Canon SLR’s to date. In this case, it weighs 860g body only. However, like most professional-grade digital SLRs, it provides sufficient physical controls to tailor the camera perfectly to match the demands of professionals. All critical shooting functionality and parameters are accessible by dedicated buttons for ease-of-use. It features a robust magnesium alloy construction, giving the camera full weather sealing as well as the impression of solidity and durability.

It features an AF joystick, for immediate autofocus point selection or more straightforward menu navigation.

Niche Features/Extras

It houses dual card slots, one of which is Compact Flash (CF) and the other an SD card. This setup is perfect for professionals who need redundant recording, and it also unlocks better still shooting performance in the form of a deeper buffer. The SD slot also works with Eye-Fi wireless SD cards for wireless tethering and image transfer.

It has a microphone input, and you can also change the microphone sensitivity or display the levels for monitoring while recording.

It now has a headphone input to monitor captured audio, unlike the predecessor.

It now features a built-in electronic level.

It features Autofocus Micro Adjustment, which fine-tunes and adjusts the attached lens for precise focus.

It has a Synch Port, which supports time-code so users can sync multiple camera setups or directly trigger compatible flash units.

Cons:

Video Capabilities

Due to age, it does not feature 4K or any high frame rate recording in the form of 60 or 120 fps.

Like many cameras, it also partitions files into 4 GB segments, which requires post-production merging.

Autofocus Performance

Unfortunately, the camera lacks continuous autofocus during video recording. And the available autofocus is quite slow and only works by half depressing the shutter or using the AF-ON button. Therefore, while this is capable as a video camera, it is not the ideal video tool for those who rely on autofocus during video recording. Consider Canon’s 5D Mark IV or 7D Mark II cameras instead, as manually focusing is the only real option here.

Display

The rear screen is both fixed and doesn’t supply any level of touch capability. Thus, composing at awkward angles is challenging, and navigating the menu occurs only through the joystick and jog wheel.

Lacking Features

It lacks a built-in pop-up flash.

The camera does not feature built-in Wi-Fi. If you desire wireless connectivity, you will have to purchase an Eye-Fi capable SD card.

It lacks a built-in intervalometer for timelapse recording. If you desire this functionality, you’ll have to use an external remote to do so.

Is this a good beginner camera?

Potentially yes.

The camera itself is fairly intuitive to use and features a good deal of capabilities to progress as a photographer. The main drawback, however, is it lacks any guide or helpful scene selection modes. It does feature a program auto mode, which is helpful sure. But, not as beneficial as dedicated scene selection modes on other entry-level Canon cameras. With that, if you are a complete beginner, it would be best to look at other alternatives in Canon’s two-digit lineup, for example, the 80D or 90D. If you already have some working knowledge, it could be an excellent step-up camera from your current setup, especially considering its current price.

What are the best lenses & bundles for the Canon 5D Mark III?

General Photography:

Canon EF 24–105mm f/4L IS II USM

Specifically for Macro Photography:

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro
Canon EF 180mm f3.5L Macro USM

Specifically for Landscape & Astrophotography Photography:

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM

Specifically for Portrait Photography:

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4.0L IS USM

Specifically for Sports & Wildlife Photography:

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM

Specifically for Product & Still Life Photography:

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro

Extra Batteries:

Canon Battery Pack LP-E6

SD Cards:

Lexar Professional 128GB VPG-65 CompactFlash card
SanDisk 256GB Extreme PRO SDXC UHS-I Card

Is the Canon 5D Mark III a good camera for you?

Possibly.

It’s an excellent choice for professionals who shoot demanding subjects such as weddings, sports, or journalism that need a rugged camera with an autofocusing system that guarantees accuracy. In this regard, the camera marks a significant improvement over the predecessor. But, otherwise, many of the updates are quite incremental. Nevertheless, it’s a compelling choice for someone looking for a robust photography centric tool, who doesn’t necessarily need the fastest shooting speeds, nor do they need video.

For videographers, while this camera is capable, it’s quite limited for the aspiring professionals. It’s main drawbacks come in the form of lacking video-centric features such as continuous autofocus, 4K video, and high-speed frame rates. When compared to today’s cameras following the advent of 4K and easy touch focus, it’s best to look elsewhere if video is essential to you. However, if you’re content with shooting strictly in 1080p at 30 fps with single-shot AF or manual focus, this is otherwise an excellent video camera.

Should current Mark II owners upgrade? Yes. This camera delivers several key improvements over the Mark II. Most notably, much faster autofocusing, better video quality, updated controls, and a more configurable feature set. And, while it’s mostly an incremental update, these changes do make for a better overall camera.

In the end, the 5D Mark III is a high-end enthusiast and professional camera aimed at photographers looking for a competitive all-rounded stills shooter. And, even after some much time has passed, it has aged quite gracefully and remains a powerful tool in one’s arsenal. Although it seems to build on everything that made the Mark II so famous, the Mark III is a new camera, from the ground up. While it’s not a complete overhaul or dramatic leap in technology, it does fix all of the gaps in the predecessors’ performance. And it still manages to deliver to any daring professional, even considering its age.

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Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.9

Summary

The Mark III is a high-end enthusiast, and professional camera aimed squarely at the photographers looking for a robust camera for virtually every medium possible. It’s aged quite gracefully, even following the advent of powerful features such as 4K video and touch focus. Overall, even now, it remains a powerful tool in one’s arsenal and a competitive photography-centric piece of kit.