14 Mar Why I AM Upgrading to the 5DmkIII
Since the announcement of the Canon 5DmkIII, there have been a lot of bloggers out there chomping at the bit to denounce the idea of spending the $3,500 to upgrade their current 5D2 to the new 5D3. It’s as if they couldn’t wait to say that the new 5D3 isn’t even close to being considered for their own business. I hope you are not running a serious business, guys. Anyone who has used the 5D2 for a substantial amount of time would be happy to hand you a laundry list of faults where the 5D2 has disappointed over and over throughout the years. There may be a few people out there who work in ideal, happy, well-lit, never rushed, never found in challenged environments who may be looking at me like I’m crazy, but I’m sorry… if you think that the 5D2 is without any issues, you are the crazy one, and I challenge you to step out of your perfect world and shoot a couple weddings and tell me you have the same opinion. I know a lot of naysayers out there are looking at the megapixel count (the 5D2 with 21 and the 5D3 with 22) and going, “I don’t get it, what’s with the only one MP jump?” I think this is why a lot of people are shaking their heads at Canon when they were expecting something more when asked for 3500 clams. People, it’s not about megapixel counts, and don’t say that’s not your reason for bitchin’ because if the new 5D3 touted a 36MP spec, you’d have reserved your copy of the 5D3 faster than I can say the word “sucker.” Simply put, for those with the adequate experience with the 5D2, I think that the 5D3 is the camera you always wanted in the mkII. Once you can look past the megapixel spec, you’ll find that the 5D3 truly is a new camera from the ground up.
The Canon 5D2 was released September 2008. I’m not an expert in math, but I know that’s roughly three and a half years ago, and that’s a long time for technology to make a quite a few leaps forward. Canon had almost 4 years to make amazing improvements on the wildly popular 5D2, yet when it was released the 5D3 was only sporting a sensor that creates a 22MP image. How can that be? On the surface, it may not make a lot of sense to newbs, or even those stupid enough to attempt a dethroning of the 5D3 before they’ve even touched it. I’ve used a 5D2 for over 3 years now. I don’t want to know how many times I’ve clicked the shutter on it or the hours I’ve clocked with it in my hands. I’ve held it to my face in a dizzying amount of environments, from land, sea, and air. I’d like to think I have a little experience with my old friend, the 5D2. Let’s take a closer look at the things I love about the 5D2, challenges I’ve face with the camera, and some of the things I can’t wait to see fixed via the arrival of the 5D3.
Picture (sensor) Quality and Low Light Performance
Let’s nip this bud in the head, shall we? The slight jump from the old 5D2 21MP sensor to the new 5D3 22MP sensor isn’t just a small one. To bean counters this is baffling, and to those who understand sensor quality has little to do with MP counts, they will look beyond this number. And yes, beyond the simple resolution number is so much more. The new sensor is completely redesigned, using a number of new technologies and advancements that Canon has developed since the mkII sensor was released. The new sensor is more light efficient, meaning is can make better sense of the same amount of light which hits the sensor, resulting in a cleaner image across the board. Adding to this is an on-chip noise reduction system to improve the quality of data being sent to the processor. I’ve seen side-by-side image comparisons of low light, high ISO images with a mkII and mkIII in the same exact situation, and not only is there less noise in the 5D3 images but the color rendition is dramatically better. Canon claims a 2-stop quality difference, meaning the new camera can shoot an image at ISO 6400 that is as good or better than what the 5D2 shoots at ISO 1600. That is HUGE for photogs who work events like… you know… one of the biggest markets for photographers – weddings.
Canon has equipped the new 5D3 with a Digic 5+ processor. As you can assume, just like your computer, the newer it is the better it is at doing the same task. The new Digic 5+ does just the same, so it’s going to process the image data rolling off the sensor better and faster. This results in not only better looking images, but the ability to take images at a faster rate. The 5D2 could take 3.9 frames per second where the 5D3 will be able to do 6FPS.
One MP bump between models, but a large leap in quality and performance. Besides, I’ve never once shot with a 21MP sensor and thought, “gee, I wish this resolution was larger.” I work all kind of events throughout the year, and it always seems that the fancier the event is the worse and darker the lighting conditions. We are talking damn near dark room conditions, with just a flicker of light coming out of the dimmed canister lighting above. I typically walk into indoor events expecting shooting situations with a minimum of ISO1600 settings, and I pray I can pullout a shutter fast enough to make that work so I don’t have to jack the ISO any higher. The fact that I know I can push the 5D3 to ISO6400 and get the same quality, while getting shutter speeds 4 times faster is beyond a welcomed addition to my arsenal. One megapixel bump, I’ll take it, but I’m much happier about the low light performance. In my world, this is enough for the bump to the 5D3.
For those who have had the unfortunate privilege of capturing images in a halfway dark environment with the 5D2 know just how bad it’s focusing limitations are. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had to re-approach a photographic composition because my 5D2 couldn’t lock focus. It’s kind of a joke. Not to mention the limited 9-point focus point system, which made you forget you were holding a “gold standard” imaging product, and had more of a focusing system you’d expect on your daughter’s Hello Kitty toy camera. So if you shoot weddings, this is NOT the camera you want to go into battle with. In fact, there have been many situations where I’ve had to have an assistant hold up a flashlight on my subject so that I could lock focus. How embarrassing, right? “Hold on one second, my $3,000 camera can’t focus on you for some reason, let me grab my mag light.” It’s never cool when you have to blast a bride in the face with a flashlight on her special day. Hell, I’ve been in my studio with the modeling lights set to low and my 5D2 has trouble locking focus at times… it’s not good.
Well… good news, the 5D3 has stolen the 1D’s autofocus tech, the first time the flagship’s focus tech has trickled down to another model. This translates to a focus system that actually works! Not only does it work significantly better, but you get a 61-point focus system, not… lol, 9. It’s about time I stopped feeling like I sacrificed all of the standard, usually fine working functions of a camera (like the ones found on much less expensive models) for image quality with the 5D2. One thing is for sure, the images rolling off of the 5D2 are beautiful, but at times the very simple things in life (like trying to snag a damned focus) don’t happen, you want to toss the thing off the roof of a very tall building.
So, on a side note, I know there are a lot of folks out there who never had the money to spring for a 5D2 and have been eagerly awaiting the 5D3 arrival so that you could watch the price fall on the 5D2 and snatch one. You’ve been warned. If you shoot events and/or find yourself in low light environments, I’d recommend a 7D over the 5D2. There’s no point in great low light performance if you can’t find focus, and the 7D holds up pretty well as far as low light performance. I think the 5D3 is the camera all current 5D2 wedding shooters are dying to get in their bag.
If you’ve had your ear to the ground in any form with DSLRs in the past couple years, you know how much the video market has been invaded with astonishing speed by DSLRs. You can thank the 5D2 for that. Amazingly, as much as the 5D2 rocked the video industry with its balance of versatility and video quality, it’s wasn’t really designed to be a video camera. I’ll remind you, prime time TV shows have been exclusively shot with the 5D2, yet this wasn’t a camera designed with high importance on video functionality, and that’s clear when you simply try and shoot video with a 5D2 for the first time. You’ll look more like an ape who has been handed a Rubik’s Cube and asked to solved it rather an a videographer. As Yoda would say, “intuitive the video functionality on the 5D2 is not.” I had to pull out the camera manual and step myself through it the first time. Once you’ve enabled the camera to take video, you then use non-dedicated buttons to capture video. Not the biggest deal in the world, but just a point that clearly Canon didn’t even know how influential the 5D2 would be in video or they would have put a bit more effort into the body design to accommodate such regular use. I think Canon added great video functionality to the 5D2 as more of a bragging right that their camera could shoot 1080p, and not a game changer (like it would prove to be). The rest is history, and you see more DSLRs shooting video now than you do dedicated video rigs.
Aside from poor control design, my copy of the 5D2 suffered badly from rolling shutter and random gray pixels hopping around on my video files. It was so bad that once I got my 7D I never opted to use video on my 5D2 again. Less than a year’s time between the creation of the 5D2 and the 7D, you could see video’s influence on the DSLR market (and vise versa). The 7D came with dedicated, quick and easy buttons for on-the-fly video shots, it didn’t experience any rolling shutter, and it came with more video capturing options, yet this camera cost $1000 less. The 5D3 has followed in these footsteps, and have brought all of the 7D’s video functionality to it, as well as fixing the rolling shutter. Building onto that, they added an audio-out port, so you can monitor sound input, as well as on-display audio meters. This is great because sometimes I’m paranoid that the battery in my mic might die, therefore losing sound and I wouldn’t know it until I reviewed the clip. Now I can see if there are any sound issues while recording. Timecoding is now possible for those who like everything time stamped.
“Wait, hold on, aren’t you a photographer?” Yep, however, with a bit of experience in video production and editing, I often shoot video for some of my photography clients. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t see me hanging out a sign and bragging about my video projects, as I will always recommend the guys who do that for a living, but I will do small jobs for my clients. With a flick of a switch I can go from shooting photos to video at an event I’m covering, and that flexibility is very appreciated by my clients. That is how it often works. I hardly ever show up with only a video production on the agenda, and if I do, it’s to capture a simple interview. But the typical situations usually has me shooting photos as my primary role and then getting some quality video on the side if I can (when asked). Don’t be surprised if you are asked down the road to shoot a little video.
And that does it for the large improvements for my line of work. These issues may seem very trivial to some folks, and I bet those are the same folks that either don’t find themselves in a lot of challenging shooting environments, or they just don’t shoot seriously for a living. For me, these improvements will ensure that I can work better and produce a better product for my clients. There are however a few other improvements worth pointing out.
Icing on the Cake
An all new feature first for the 5D series is a silent shutter mode. This significantly reduces the sound of the shutter operation making it a lot more adaptable to shooting situations that were otherwise very obtrusive. Practical applications like key moments in a wedding ceremony, no one likes to hear shutters firing continuously as the couple says their I Do’s. Maybe you are present for a video production and capturing behind the scenes photos ( where sound can be a critical element), and they can’t have your shutter popping off in the background. I know I’ll use this feature all the time.
Another great add-on is the dual card slot, so you can store images on both a CF and SD card, and increasing your storage size. This will be great for wedding shooters or other who are in rapid fire mode. It’s never fun when you are in the heat of the moment, going machine gun with your camera, and you are watching your storage count whittle down to nothing. 32GB memory cards are still pretty spendy, but 16’s are pretty do-able. So sticking a 16 CF and a 16SD will give you 32, nice. Or, instead of using two cards for doubling storage, you can configure it to write the same photo files to each memory card, effectively creating a redundant storage solution in the off chance that one memory card goes belly-up on ya. Pretty cool.
Other improvements include a touch sensitive dial on the back, so instead of having to click the wheel around, you can just rub it and it will make adjustments. This will come in handy during video capture, taking out dial adjustment vibrations and clicking sounds. They also beefed-up the weather sealing, which is always a good thing.
If you’ve been shooting with the 5D2 for a number years and shoot a decent pace, your shutter count has to got be getting up there. If I do the math on mine, it’s gotta be well over 100,000 actuations, if not reaching Canon’s predicted 150,000 lifespan. How many miles does she have left? Am I going to wait until you just quits during the middle of a shoot and while I’m trying to run a business before I get another body? I don’t think so, even with my 7D on standby. My current lens collection and my abilities are structured around a full frame camera setup, while using a cropped frame sensor (7D) as a telephoto advantage. If my 5D2 broke today, my 7D couldn’t produce the same product, perspective wise. It’s just something to think about. In today’s digital world, fast shutters, and easy-to-manage photo software, it’s easy to forget how many photos our camera has taken. In my case, I think the 5D3 arrived just in time after heavily shooting my 5D2 for over 3 years. To the naysayers of the newly arrived model, are you just bitchin’ because you only bought your 5D2 a year ago and it has plenty of miles to go? Of course you wouldn’t upgrade immediately, that wouldn’t be a wise business decision. Aside from a low mileage 5D2 and passing on unnecessarily upgrading it, I can’t dream of what your complaint really is about the new model. Is it that the camera is better in every way, more refined, and answered the complaints of the 5D2 shooters? Isn’t that what each camera model has done since the beginning of digital which you were satisfied with? Maybe it’s the confusion that since we’re so accustomed to seeing megapixel counts skyrocket every 6 months that it is inconceivable to consider this a great improvement in the 5D model line. Is it the price? Yep, it’s $800 more than when the 5D2 came out at what is approaching 4 years ago. Just like gasoline, ice mochas, and everything else in life, it’s effected by inflation, while compounded by the complications Japan has been facing since the natural disaster over there. If it bothers you that much, raise your photo prices. Have you seen lens prices recently? They’ve gone up! If I spread out the planned lifespan of the 5D3 over 4 years, I’m looking at and added cost of between $1 – $2 per shoot. I think I’ll be able to manage that in order to deliver a superior product to my clients.
There are a number of sites out there that have done an amazing amount of homework on this camera, and they can rattle-off the nerdy details until the cows come home, but I didn’t want to do that here. I wanted to translate what the transition from the mkII to the mkIII will mean for working professionals who conduct the same kind of work I do. Everything can sound great on paper, or even in some demonstration video, but that doesn’t exactly equate to what you are trying to accomplish in your work.
For those who have been waiting for the 5D2 to drop in price and you do not shoot low light situations or video, the mkii will probably suit you just fine. If you are a guy like me who have no idea where you’ll be shooting gig after gig, you might want to think about gunning for the mkiii, especially if you can makeup the difference in price by working a extra job or two. A large reason for writing this post is for you guys looking at scoring a cheaper 5D2. This post wasn’t to just point out all the awesomeness that the 5D3 will bring, but to point out the weaknesses the 5D2 has, which have popped-up in challenging situations on-location and how they’ve been resolved with the mkiii. Especially when there are better, more-fitted solutions for you out there for you low light shooters, I’d hate to see you shell out for the mkii only to be disappointed in challenging situations. I can tell you that there have been shots I’ve had to pass on because my 5D2 just couldn’t handle it, which I try not to think about as it’s a frustrating position to be in, but you definitely SHOULD think about if you are looking and investing in one. Knowing a camera at half the cost of a 5D2 could handle the same situation without any issues is a little maddening.
Yes, I’ve written this post based off of my extensive experience with the 5D2, but only photographic examples, in-depth professional reviews, and spec sheets for the 5D3. I do not have any personal experience with the new 5D3 since it has not been released yet, but my copy will be here around March 22nd, and I can give a review once I get a couple shoots under my belt with it. I highly doubt anything will fringe on buyer’s remorse.