Update on the 5D Mark III (file quality vs the 1Ds Mark III)

Posted by on Apr 30, 2012 in Real Life Reviews | 23 Comments

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:

Canon 1Ds Mark III, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f8, live view manual focus

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f8, live view manual focus

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.

Canon 1Ds Mark III, Canon TS-E 24mm lens at f8, live view manual focus

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon TS-E 24mm lens at f8, live view manual focus

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.

Canon 1Ds Mark III, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f8, live view manual focus

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f8, live view manual focus

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.

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.


  1. Stephen
    April 30, 2012

    Sounds like someone returned to The Camera Store with a credit card instead of the camera.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      April 30, 2012

      No we still have our old cameras; nothing new on camera front for us :-(

  2. Dima
    May 1, 2012

    interesting findings
    i’m still waiting for extensive in-depth reviews on the 5DIII before i make my final decision if i should upgrade from my 5DII.
    but your conclusions sound pretty bad for a nature shooter like me. i have little use for the upgraded AF system, and with the advances in technology in the past 5 years, i expected a little bit more from the 5DIII sensor than to “just” match the 1DSIII in terms of details and DR.
    sure it can be useful to all the night photogs and especially those living near the arctic circle with all their auroras (can you feel the envy?)
    i really hope canon will drop the price towards the more sane 3k$, or i dont see them selling too much bodies after the initial hype has passed. right now it seems that the upgrade in IQ is very minor compared to the mkII

    • Darwin Wiggett
      May 1, 2012

      For anyone only doing generic nature or landscape photography I would recommend hanging onto or buying a used 5d Mark II. It had great live view, file quality as good as the other two cameras and is way cheaper!

      The only reason to get the 5d Mark III is if you need much better auto focus, faster controls and better high ISO performance especially for things like wedding, action or wildlife photography – but those benefits come at an extra $1600 fee!

  3. Millie Jonsson
    May 1, 2012

    Darwin, I’m planning on upgrading to a full frame from the 40D….was thinking of the 5D MarkII. My only concern is the lower fps on the ff. Did you find that a drawback on the 5D MarkII?

    • Darwin Wiggett
      May 1, 2012

      Personally I have never been limited with the lower frame rate on Rebels or the Mark II even with dog photography. But if you are planning on doing serious action or sports photography then you might want to consider a different camera. For general all-round photography I think the 5D Mark II is the best value out there and the files are also as good as the 1ds Mark III!

  4. Millie Jonsson
    May 1, 2012

    Thanks, that ‘s great to know!

  5. John Arnold
    May 2, 2012

    Hi Darwin,

    I know that you compared the 5D Mark III to the 1Ds Mark III, but from your comments in a previous post you also appear to be familiar with the 5D Mark II. I own the original 5D and am considering upgrading to the 5D Mark III. I do landscape photography as well as shooting dance and theater, which pose a lot of the same challenges as sports and low light photography. Do you know if the 5D Mark III enjoys a significant advantage over the 5D Mark II when it comes to low noise at higher ISO’s on raw files? I know that the in-camera jpegs of the Mark III offer better low noise berformance, but I haven’t seen much written about comparing the 5D mark III and 5D Mark II raw files when it comes to noise. Is the 5D Mark III appreciably better in your opinion? Thanks.


    • Darwin Wiggett
      May 3, 2012

      I once did a test of the 5D Mark II with the 1Ds Mark III and found the file quality to be the same at ISO 100. I did not do a noise test at higher ISOs.

      I do know from professional photographer friends who do people and weddings that autofocus on the 5d Mark II can sometimes be problematic in lower light and even when it seems to lock on the camera is actually rear-focusing. Mostly this is noticable with apertures like f1.4, f1.8, f2.0 etc where DOF is micro thin.

      So… hmmm, I think the 5D II is a great camera for general photography and landscape photography but it might be lacking at least in the autofocus department for low light event photography (but I have never tried it myself for the latter so take my comments for what they are worth – hearsay only!)

  6. Heather
    August 1, 2012

    Hi Darwin,
    I am just about to take a leap into the ‘full frame’ mindfield!
    Having used a canon 50D for the past 2 years, and having a selection of L series lenses, i think it is about time to take the next step – Help!
    Do I continue up the ladder to the 1D series, or take a ‘sideways’ step to the 5D / 7D.
    I tend to specialise in outdoor photograohy, both Landscapes and wildlife, but need the capabilities of low light ‘sport’ to keep a record of the family.
    Although not a professional, I do submit pictures for magazines, and want to develop this further.
    Any advice greatly received.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      August 1, 2012

      Personally I would get the 5D Mark III. It is lighter, and less expensive than the big 1dx. The auto-focus performance is awesome, high ISO performance is very good andit will do everything you need for a pro camera. I plan to get one one day and not get the 1dx. I like that I can backpack and day hike with the 5D III. Save the extra money for good glass!

  7. Gautam Dogra
    September 1, 2012

    Really nice write up.
    I spent few days considering buying a used 5D Mark ii or 1Ds Mark iii. I have been shooting with my canon 1000d for past 4 years and i really want to take that full frame leap and experience what the pros does. I was so confused that for now i bought a canon 24-105L lens considering, whatever my decision is i will need it.
    After i read your review :
    1. I suddenly feel i should not have bought this lens :P
    2. 5d mark ii and 1ds mark iii are both gone. 5d mark iii is the thing.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      September 2, 2012


      There are plenty of people out there who love there 24-105mm lens. We have been spoiled by using such lenses as a 24mm tilt-shift lens and a 50mm prime lens and we have seen just how sharp a lens can be. The 24-105 leaves us wishing for more sharpness. If you have not seen great lenses just average ones, then the 24-105mm is a decent lens in its category.

    • Gautam Dogra
      September 2, 2012

      I just went ahead and bought 5d Mark iii. Its a huge leap from rebel XS! still trying to get used to the heavy device. :)

  8. Tony Kish
    November 29, 2012


    I have recently upgraded to a Canon5D Mark 3 from a Canon 5D Mark2. I have found the upgrade to be warranted, travelling around the Australian Outback and taking landscape pictures on the Move ( from the Drivers Perspective) the Canon 5D m3 is excellent choice with the faster Autofocus and excellent in low light locations. The Canon 5D m2 was a bit slower than the mark3, found frustrating to slow down or even having to stop on road side to take the shot. I have the Canon 5D m3 body complimented with 24-70 f2.8 Lens which is an excellent combination. I was looking to upgrade to a more expensive Canon 1DX but have found the Canon 5D m3 to have more control at the fingertips than the bulkier Canon1Dx as well as the video function being right place for the thumb to activate, unlike the rest of the stable of Canon product’s as the 1Ds and 1Dx being a software menu driven.

  9. Winston
    April 5, 2013

    Unless you have mislabeled you examples above it is readily apparent that the 1D outperformed the 5D in all three cases. At least as far as picture quality goes. Each one is sharper and has more contract and dynamic range.
    At least that’s how it appears to me.

  10. Alex
    April 14, 2013

    Winston, that is exactly what I was thinking. Is this guy selling MKIIIs or what? I’m actually thinking about getting the 1ds mk III. I recently had to sell my 5D mkii and 135l but I don’t know about getting the same rig. Personally the 5d ii is awesome I think but it just doesn’t seem right that I under sold it first of all and then to replace it with a 5dii for over 3k? I even thought about going with Nikon for the AF points but I think the 1dsiii is just fine.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      April 15, 2013

      This guy does not sell any camera stuff nor do we have affiliates or kickback on sales. In my opinion, the file quality of the two cameras is essentially the same but the autofcus on the 5D Mark III is much superior to the 1ds Marrk III. If you do not need auto-focus for action shots, then get a used 1ds.

  11. Matt
    October 19, 2013

    Hi Darwin,
    I have two boys and a girl in baseball, football, gymnastics and dance. I have a 60d typically with my 70-200 2.8 is ii. I sometimes set the 60d to rapid fire and grab multiples of a catch or a gymnastics move and later create a slide show for the tube. Not getting rid of the 60d but I really want to go full frame. Over the past few months the cameras of interest have changed, starting with the 5d classic, then the mark ii and so on. Currently my sights are set on the two cameras in your comparison (5diii and the 1dsiii). So far, in the reaserch I’ve done, the 5d3 seems to be the winner for action sports with respect to AF tracking. Or is there another one I’m missing? 1dx is currently too much $$. What’s your opinion?

    • Darwin Wiggett
      October 19, 2013

      The 5D III is light years faster than the 1Ds III (which has known focus issues). For my money the 5D III is the best value full frame camera that Cnon makes. Forget the 6D, they left out important features, forget the 1dx, it ain’t worth the sheckles.

  12. Matt
    October 19, 2013

    Everything you wrote is about what I was thinking too. 6d not too impressive, 5d3 focus superior to the 1ds3 and the 1dx overpriced. Although it would be pretty sweet to have 12 clicks/second. Thanks for your response. I will hopefully have one before baseball starts in the spring!!

  13. Aj
    October 28, 2013

    I have sigma 50-500 os for canon.
    Which camera would you suggest? Second hand 1ds M3 or 5d M2?
    I’m taking a jump into full frame from my current 60d.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

  14. Bernardo
    November 4, 2013

    Hi there, I have a canon 7d with some L series optics, I wan to switch to FF, my alternative is a 1ds miii used but with less than 20,000 shots in less than $USD 1,700… do you recommend this change? my other alternative is a 5DMII for something like $ 2,000 … thanks