Review of the Canon 5D Mark III
This is a real world review of the Canon 5D Mark III DSLR camera, released in March of 2012.
Let’s cut to the chase.
I look for four main characteristics in travel cameras: image quality, usability, portability, and ruggedness. The 5D Mark III image quality is exactly what you’d expect – phenomenal. For usability, after a short learning period it feels like an extension of my own hand. It’s portable enough to bring on long trips, but it’s too heavy and too large. Ruggedness is high. The camera is made of metal, it feels solid, and it holds up well to the elements. Overall this is a great camera with a few minor drawbacks for the travel photographer.
What’s wrong with it?
It was rushed to market. Nikon and Canon are always trying to one up each other, and I get the impression there was a bit of an “oh shit” moment when Nikon announced the D800. Canon announced the 5D Mark III immediately after, and in the end both cameras felt rushed for different reasons. The 5D Mark III had a very inconsequential light leak through the top LCD panel that required owners to send it in to a Canon service center for repairs. It’s not a big deal, but if you buy one used ask if it’s had the light leak fixed.
It’s too expensive. Compare it to the soon to be released 6D. The 5D Mark III is a better camera, but is it $1000 worth of better? I don’t think so, and definitely not for the travel photographer who doesn’t need the insanely good autofocus of the 5D III. And the Nikon D800 has always been priced cheaper. The 5D Mark III is too expensive.
It’s too heavy. It weighs more than it’s predecessor, the 5D Mark II. You are definitely aware of the camera’s weight as you lug it around day after day in a foreign country. It’s a large camera too; it’s comfortable to hold but it’s not a camera that goes unnoticed in sensitive areas.
The warranty sucks. ONE year? Really Canon? Way to stand by your product…
There’s no flash. The Nikon D800 has one, and it’d be great to have a pop up flash on the 5D III as well. Canon claims it would affect weather sealing so it wasn’t included. Some reviews say the lack of a flash makes the camera somehow “more professional”. I have to wonder what they’re smoking; pros want their cameras to be usable, and built in flash adds a lot of usability especially when you’re on the road.
What’s good about it?
Everything else. This is truly an incredible camera that will knock your socks off if you’re used to shooting on a crop sensor. The image quality is tremendously high when paired with the right lenses.
It performs well in low light. You can take sharp, low noise pictures at previously unattainable ISOs. This means a lot for indoor and night photography, especially if you don’t like to carry a tripod around. I have no problem using 6400 ISO and I’ll even go as high as 12800 ISO if the scene requires it. Canon’s crop sensor cameras get very noisy above around 1600 ISO.
It captures details. Noise appears as a film-like grain rather than an ugly digital pattern. This means the camera is better able to capture small details in your images, details that would quickly disappear in most cameras as ISO increases.
It’s easy to use. There’s not much of a learning curve for the 5D if you’re already used to Canon cameras. I leave the power on all the time and walk around with the lens cap off. It wakes up quickly from a sleep state, and it’s ready to shoot when I am.
The C1, C2, and C3 options are incredibly useful and are a carry over from the previous 5D Mark II. The options allow photographers to cycle quickly between camera settings that they personally have preselected. In my case, I have C3 set to aperture priority, C2 set to shutter priority at 1/10 a second, and C1 set to rapid fire a 5 exposure HDR. In practice, I can emphasize depth of field in a street scene, then instantly switch to my C2 setting and capture movement on the street at 1/10 a second. It can’t be overstated as to how many new photographic possibilities are available.
It’s rugged. It’s made of metal and you feel the toughness of this thing every time you shoot with it. I’ve already dropped mine while climbing a rocky hillside – I watched in horror as it tumbled a short way down, but it was no worse for wear. It’s also weather sealed, and I’ve shot in some pretty challenging weather conditions with zero problems.
It’s a great all purpose camera. The 5D Mark III is a performer in just about any area of photography. You can shoot sports all day with 6fps and it’s tack sharp autofocus system. But the detailed pictures and good low light performance mean this camera is equally useful shooting landscapes, architecture, weddings, and so on… And it has two memory card slots so pros and amateurs alike don’t have to worry as much about card failure.
What kinds of pictures can you take with the Canon 5D Mark III?
Here’s a small collection of images that showcase what’s possible with a 5D Mark III:
Is it worth it?
It’s a great camera, but it’s expensive. When you can get about 3 Canon 60Ds for the price of one 5D Mark III, you have to wonder if it’s worth it. It’s important to note that a better camera will not help you take better pictures. A better camera only helps you take higher quality photos of the same kinds things you were shooting before.
It’s not worth it:
- if you primarily shoot outdoors and in good light
- if you prefer to travel light (full frame cameras and lenses are heavier than their crop sensor counterparts)
- if you don’t print a lot of pictures, and instead put them up online
- if spending your money on a nice camera means you’ll be skipping your next travel destination
If the 5D III isn’t worth it for you, check out these less expensive options with similarly high image quality: the original 5D, the 5D Mark II, and the soon to be released 6D.
Otherwise, it is worth it for photographers who want a portable, general purpose travel camera with seriously high image quality. I can easily see using this camera for the next 5-10 years. Photography is really all about timing and getting the shot, and the 5D Mark III allows me to get the shots I want to take in a high quality way. It really is that good.