HDSLR REVIEW: Canon 5D mk III – Really so awesome/mediocre?

March 28th, 2012

If anything the new Canon 5D mark III has created a lot of debate. Some call it a massive failure, others the best camera you can spend $3,500 on.

What is true?

We’ve had a 5D mark III for testing and having worked with HDSLR from the start I’d like to point out the most important plusses and minuses of the camera in this short review.



As so often in life judging this camera really seems to be a matter of perspective and expectation.

If you look at it from the “what could be done” view you could trash it really hard. To be honest we’ve been having feelings of disappointment from this perspective for a very long time now!
If you look at it from the “HDSLR’s we’ve had so far” view you can easily find that this camera is all we’ve wished for in an HDSLR camera. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
And the question it comes down to for me is: Am I ready to lower my expectations and shoot a movie?

What Canon has done to make HDSLR more pleasurable:

+ Moiré and aliasing have probably been the most annoying things you would not like to see in your HDSLR footage. It has driven people to tears. The Canon 5D mark III has so little moiré and aliasing it’s no longer an issue.
(related videos: link, link, link)

+ Rolling shutter, the wobbling effect the slow CMOS sensor has always produced on your HDSLR is reduced to an acceptable degree. It will no longer annoy us in extreme handheld situations.
(related video: link)

+ A powerful codec, i-frame compression, high bitrate for HDSLR and embedded timecode. Here’s all you need to simplify your workflow and boost your video quality to a professional degree. The difference is what makes your footage just that more safe, clean and more gradable. Noise is now more filmic and the Technicolor CineStyle is more welcome than ever.
(related videos: link, link, link(last part), link)

+ Even more low-light power, means you have to spend less on lights, lenses and manpower to achieve your shot.
(related videos: link, link, link)

+ Built-in audio. For the first time an external audio recorder is not a necessity anymore. The manually controlled audio-in and headphone-out ports provide exactly what was need to achieve a semi-professional audio workflow within the camera. Another important detail that can save you a lot of time and money.

What we are unhappy with and is it a problem?:

Image sharpness (actual resolution). To see the same HDSLR softness we’ve been used to is saddening. Actually, before we saw the 5D mark III most of us didn’t know we wanted more sharpness, but now we realize we do.
Here’s the fact: It’s not as sharp as Alexa, C300, Scarlet or the low cost hacked Panasonic GH2 for that matter (which is exceptional in terms of sharpness).
However: With sharpness applied in post to its high quality files the 5D mark III can deliver a very clear HD image none the less. If you’re not a pixel peeper it should be sharp enough to produce high quality footage that looks stunning on any HD screen, but it will not replace that extra crystalline feel of 35mm film.
(related videos: link, link, link)

There is no clean HD signal coming from the hdmi port. If it were clean we could record to an external disk recorder and have even better quality files. This is uncool.
But it is a limitation, not a requirement on this camera. The internal files already have good quality so an external recording isn’t required anymore.
(related video: link)

The loupe button is now on the left hand side. And it’s pretty annoying! For me it has become an automated move to zoom in with my right thumb and check focus before recording. This is especially useful when you’re holding the camera with one hand only.
However the zoom function can be applied to the “Set” button on the right hand side which is not ideal but a compromise ok to live with.

No articulated screen. There have been some HDSLRs that had a screen you could tilt, this was nice and very useful. If you use a monitor or an EVF this will probably concern you less.

No crop factor. In its new HDSLRs Nikon introduced a crop mode that allows for the use of a smaller portion of the sensor thus giving us a deeper depth of field and makes a more versatile use of your lenses field of view. This is an extremely useful feature which would have been nice on the 5D mark III, especially for those who don’t crave the large sensor soft focus look as much, or those who want to use APS-C lenses as well.

Conclusion
The Canon 5D mark III is not perfect, but one has to admit that it is closer to perfect in all important aspects of HDSLR filmmaking than any HDSLR has ever been. It is the first to cover all the basic musts, the little details to make it work as a real video camera without hurting compromises.
While there are currently other cameras out there that will serve you better in certain aspects, there is no semi-professional one that is so well rounded, hack and tweak free as the Canon EOS 5D mark III.

Will anything better come along?
That’s for sure. But when? In 3,5 years no other company has taken Canon’s HDSLR front row seat. Maybe the next truly worthwhile update is another 3,5 years away. From what I hear the Nikon D800 has worse file encoding and moiré and aliasing problems which for me would now fall below the new standard the 5D mark III sets, but we’ll have to see a viable comparison to properly judge Nikon’s efforts to make a worthy HDSLR camera as well.

B&H – $3499

Amazon – $3499

Adorama – $3499

Europe – 2999€ (=$4005)

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