A few weeks ago Samantha and I did a test shoot with the Canon 5D Mark III. We were impressed by the handling and ergonomics of the camera and we loved the new auto focus system in the camera. It seems that Canon is back in the game with an auto focus system that is responsive and accurate – finally! The only thing we were not thrilled about was the what appeared to be ‘crunchy’ file quality. We weren’t sure if it was the camera giving us the lower quality files or the lens we used on the test unit (a Canon 24-105 f4L lens) or both. Further tests were in order.
So it was off to The Camera Store where Sam and I shot some parking lot scenes at the store with both the 5D Mark III and my old 1Ds Mark III. The 1Ds Mark III gives high quality files especially when coupled with super sharp lenses like my Canon TS-E 24mm tilt shift lens and the Canon 50mm f1.4 lens. We wanted to see if the 5D Mark III would give files at least equal to the 1Ds Mark III (the latter being nearly five year old technology).
We shot the same scenes with the two cameras at the same settings (and using magnified live view for precise manual focus). We processed the raw files exactly the same. For the most part the files from both cameras looked similar as we see in the graffiti shots below:
Closer inspection shows very little differences between the two cameras in terms of file quality (although the 5D Mark III files appear a bit ‘snappier’. The photos below are magnified views showing 100% magnification of a wider scene captured with the cameras using the TS-E 24mm lens at f8.
The only real difference we saw was in high contrast scenes where it appears that the Canon 1Ds Mark III had a little higher tonal range capturing the shadows and the highlights with a tad more detail (only barely discernible) but at the expense of a slight colour shift in the shadows (slightly green). The 5D Mark III did not appear to have the colour shift in the shadows at all. But for the most part unless you are extreme in pixel peeping, the files looked very similar.
Using the same lenses at the same settings and processing the raw files exactly the same showed us that the files from the 5D Mark III could easily match the ‘gold’ standard of the 1Ds Mark II. Where the 5D takes it up a notch is in its noise performance. With the 1Ds Mark III we rarely use any ISO faster than 800. With the 5D Mark III we would without hesitation use ISO 1600. We are more conservative in what we accept as acceptable noise so our ISO numbers might appear lower than others who rave about the 5D Mark III’s low noise at high ISO.
For us the 5D Mark III is a better camera than the older EOS-1Ds Mark III for a several reasons:
- better high ISO performance
- faster more accurate auto focus (this is a real biggy!)
- much better ergonomics and handling
- much better LCD and improved live view (this one is big too; we love live view!)
- video capabilities (we’d use this)
- smaller and lighter camera (this is more important the older we get!)
- better value for the dollar ($3700 new vs $7900 new for the 1Ds Mark III, the latter is even going for over $4000)
As a final note, although we did not rigorously test the Canon 24-105mm f4L lens that the camera store originally lent us to use with the 5d Mark III, our initial impression of that lens is less than favourable. Once you’re used to really sharp lenses (like the TS-E 24mm) it is tough to go back to just ‘acceptable’ and the 24-105 lens to us is just acceptable.