The non-photographers amongst you might want to skip this blog posting as this is a fairly nerdy / geeky in depth look / review of Canon’s new 5D mk iv camera. And an advanced warning . . . being as Lightroom was only updated yesterday there’s not a whole host of sample images included at the moment.
I’m fortunate enough to have received a launch day release 5D mk iv camera body a week and a half ago so I’m posting my initial thoughts on it from a wedding photographers point of view. Although I’ve had two weddings since the camera was delivered I decided not to shoot either of them with it as Adobe Lightroom didn’t support the files until the latest 2015.7 update was released yesterday. However, I’ve still used the camera fairly extensively over that time so I feel I have a fairly good understanding of its capabilities.
The 5D series is the main workhorse camera for the majority of wedding photographers that use Canon gear. I first used the 5Dmkii back in 2012 when I started shooting weddings commercially and then moved onto the 5D mk iii a year later. I still use both of these cameras today. They are solid, well built, high performing full frame cameras. However; the elephant in the Canon room for the last couple of years has been the limited dynamic range when compared to the competition. Depending on what data you look at the 5D mk iii is about 3 stops behind its competitors from Nikon and Sony.
Why does this matter? The dynamic range gives an indication of the amount of tonal data that the camera can capture. The higher the dynamic range the more information can be captured between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks. The human eye has a range of about 20 to 24 stops, the latest full frame Nikon / Sony cameras about 14 stops and the Canon 5D mk iii 11.7 stops. As well as giving more tonal range the higher dynamic range also allows for more malleability of the files during post processing. ISO invariance is another term that tends to be used in association with these characteristics, the more ISO invariant the sensor the more you can push under exposed files in post-production.
So what are the reasons behind this? A little back story is necessary to explain . . . Canon still design and make their own CMOS imaging sensors but most other cameras today, including many from Nikon, use sensors manufactured by Sony. For the last few years Sony has used a different architecture where by the analogue to digital converters are integrated into the imaging sensor. With Canon’s previous designs the converters were off chip, separate from the sensor silicon. Having them integrated helps with the dynamic range as the longer the signal is routed in analogue domain means there is more opportunity for noise or interference to corrupt the signal. This is most noticeable in low amplitude signals, i.e. the shadow areas of the image, as the low level signals gets lost / corrupted by the noise. This goes some way to explaining why you’ve not been able to push the shadows in Canon files too much in the past. If you push a base ISO file more than 2 stops you begin to see banding, red splotches and other artefacts.
Canon’s two most recent releases, the consumer level APS-C sensor 80D and the top end, £5000 1D X mkii were their first cameras with this new on chip converter architecture. These two cameras showed that Canon had managed to close the dynamic range gap on the competition, but most wedding photographers were waiting on the performance data from the 5D mk iv. A lot of naysayers are saying that the 5D mk iv is a make or break camera for Canon, if they don’t close the gap then many more wedding photographers could jump to competing brands.
When Nikon released the D750 a fair few Canon shooters migrated over. The D750 featured much of the technology from the high end Nikon D810 but repackaged in small, light, (relatively) cheap body. The big draw for most of those switching was the price coupled with a sensor with massive dynamic range improvements over anything Canon could offer (plus it had a flippy screen). Many Canon shooters have held on in the anticipation that the 5D mk iv will be enough of a match to not have to make the transition to a different brand.
So how does the new sensor in the 5D mk iv perform? There’s already a fair amount of data out there using some pre-release cameras, the DPReview team have already run one through their studio comparison scene -> Canon EOS 5D Mark IV added to studio scene comparison. However, I wanted to do some testing with real world conditions. My good friend Darren from Darren Gair Photography is a Nikon shooter and kindly lent me one of his D750 cameras so that I could do some back-to-back testing. We both also have the Sigma 24mm f1.4 DG HSM Art lens, so I have chosen to use that for the purpose of this testing so that the only difference between the tests is the camera bodies themselves. A lot of Canon photographers are also looking to see what the sensor improvements are compared to the current 5D mk iii to see if it’s worth upgrading, so I’ve also included that in the testing too.
The first test, and probably the most important one for Canon shooters is how much can you push the files before you get artefacts appearing?
I shot the same scene using RAW format on all 3 cameras with each at four different ISO settings; base ISO of 100, 400, 1600 and a high ISO of 6400. For each setting the scene was shot with a “normal” exposure and then successively under exposed by a stop over 5 consecutive shots. The files were then imported back into Adobe Lightroom without any corrections or processing applied (the zeroed preset was applied). Each of the underexposed files was then pushed in Lightroom back up to the “normal” exposure level and then exported as full size jepgs. I then compared to see at what level of exposure push did the file start to look unusable. So before I present my summary a word of caution about the results. I’ve tried to be as consistent as I can when shooting with the different cameras – ensuring that I used the same settings where possible. However, the analysis is a little subjective as I used my uncalibrated eye for the assessment.
I won’t post all 60 images here as it will clog up the blog post. Instead I have summarised the results in the following tables – green indicates my assessment is that the file is usable, yellow borderline and red unusable. Again just to re-iterate, these are my own opinions on what I would consider deliverable to a wedding client, your mileage may well be different.
The results show a fairly substantial improvement for the Canon 5D mk iv over the performance of the 5D mk iii, but it’s still not quite as good as the Nikon D750.
I’d call this file just about useable there’s some banding starting to appear in the top half of the frame. The 3 stop pushed file prior to this on looked absolutely fine.
**** UPDATE 22/09/2016 – I’ve been discussing these results with several other 5D mk iv users and in a couple of on-line forums and there is some suspicion that my camera isn’t working correctly. This morning I spoke to Canon CPS UK and they heve confirmed that the banding seen on my camera is unusual and it needs to be replaced. Therefore these test results will need to be updated once the replacement camera has been delivered. ****
**** UPDATE 28/09/2016 – So my replacement 5D mk iv body has now arrived. Unfortunately I’ve not had time to repeat the original testing as we have come away on a family holiday. However; I have done a real world dynamic range test when I was out for a walk. Here’s the original image, which was shot at base ISO and exposed for the sky, as before, this was zeroed in Lightroom and then exported as a JPEG.
I then did a quick edit to see how much I could recover the shadows. I applied my standard import preset and then boosted the exposure by 2.8 stops, set the highlights to -100, shadows to +87 and the blacks to -52 which gave the following . . .
Considering that the bottom corners of the zeroed image are black I think this is mighty impressive. Although I didn’t have my mk iii with me to do a back-to-back test, from experience I know that this would not be achievable without the characteristic red blotching and banding that happens when you push files from the mk iii. So for all those concerned about the dynamic range this really should allay any fears that you might have ****
Ideally I wanted to do some backlit portrait shots with a bright sunny sky to properly test out the dynamic range, highlight retention and shadow recovery. However; the weather gods conspired against me and over the last week I’ve not had suitable combination of good weather with free time and Darren’s D750. I might return to this at some point in the future.
As well as the dynamic range improvements Canon have also upped the sensor in other ways too. The new sensor allows for an increase in the native ISO range from 25600 on the mk iii up to 32000. It’s a small improvement in the maximum headroom but what is noticeable is that the noise handling is much improved over the entire range compared to the mk iii (probably in part thanks to the on chip ADCs). I was never happy using the mk iii above ISO 6400 but the mk iv looks good up to 12,800. It may even be useable above that once I’ve had more time to test the files in Lightroom.
The sensor resolution has increased from 22.3 megapixels up to 30.4 megapixels. For weddings I think this is good compromise between resolution and performance. Some people always think that more resolution is always better but it’s never that simple. The higher the resolution the bigger the files, the more storage you need, the slower the files are to open and edit and also the higher shutter speeds you need to freeze action. If someone really has the need for higher resolution then there’s the option of the 50 megapixel Canon 5DSR.
The sensor has also changed in another way too as this is the first time that the 5D series has used a dual pixel design. The dual pixel architecture was initially developed for allowing better focusing during live view, more on that further below. Dual pixel has appeared on a few Canon cameras before but the 5D mk iv is the first camera which allows dual pixel RAW (DPRAW) files. These files are supposed to allow some further post processing options such as image micro adjustment, bokeh shift and ghosting reduction. So far I can see three disadvantages of dual pixel RAW;
1) It doubles the RAW file size from approx 30MB to approx 60MB
2) Currently these features are only accessible using Canon’s DPP software. This means it probably would interrupt the standard workflow of virtually every wedding photographer that wanted to use this feature. DPP is a little slow and clunky at the best of times so I’m guessing most people won’t use this feature unless it’s integrated into Lightroom or other post processing tools.
3) The biggest issue is that it doesn’t really do anything! I’ve only played briefly with this feature but do not see it being much use as the level of change that can be applied is barely noticeable. Tony Northrup’s video shows this better than I can -> Canon 5D Mk IV Dual Pixel Raw Review.
There’s currently a lot of chatter online about the DPRAW files having an extra stop of highlight detail compared to the normal RAW file. There’s some interesting information on this on the RAW Digger website on the following link -> Canon Dual Pixel Technology: Gaining Additional Stop in Highlights. But again, unless this is accessible using a fairly standard workflow the majority of wedding photographers will not use it. I’ve had a quick play with a DPRAW file in Lightroom and it looks like Lightroom uses only the auxiliary sub frame as the DPRAW file is a stop darker than a standard RAW file.
The changes between the 5D mk iv and 5D mk iii go a lot further than just the sensor. There’s a whole raft of other changes and improvements . . .
For me personally, one of the other new key features that this camera needed was integrated WIFI. It seemed slightly bonkers that in 2016 if I wanted to get an image off my camera to share on social media I also needed to take a laptop with me. I’m glad that Canon have finally solved the problems of integrating a WIFI transceiver into a body with a magnesium alloy housing. This is a huge plus for me, instantly being able to share images via my mobile phone. The WIFI also allows remote control of the camera from your smartphone too, which is a great feature. For weddings this would allow one photographer to remotely operate a second camera from their phone, allowing multiple angles to be taken by a single person. This could be great in churches where you’re not allowed to move – simply stick a second camera on a tripod at the back of the church and fire away from your phone.
One of the other big pluses for me is that the overall design of the body is relatively unchanged. Canon haven’t messed with the layout meaning that anyone who’s used a 5D series camera before will be able to pick it up and run with it straight away. The muscle memory will allow you to use the camera without having to look. The only new button is the addition of the AF area selector switch located between the AF area selector and the rear jog wheel. The default operation of this button can be changed to allow exposure compensation control, even when your in manual mode with auto ISO (this could not be done on any previous 5D body). The body is also a little bit lighter which is always welcome. I think a lot of people were hoping for a physically smaller camera too. It’s interesting that the strip down done by Lens Rentals (Lensrentals’ Canon 5D Mk IV Teardown) states that they think there is a lot more free space in the mk iv compared to the mk iii and they believe the camera could have been made smaller but it appears Canon made a design decision to keep with the previous form factor.
The auto focus system also sees some changes too. The camera has the same number of phase detect AF points but the vertical spread of the AF points within the viewfinder is now 22% wider (there’s no change to the horizontal spread). Any change which pushes these closer to the edge of the frame is always welcome, so this is a big plus too. The AF system also sees an improvement in the low light level focusing abilities, it can now focus down to -3EV, where the mk iii was limited to -2EV. I’ve only had limited opportunity to test in low light (a darkened room at home) but it does feel significantly better compared to the mk iii. I’ll test this out properly at my next wedding now Lightroom has been updated. In normal lighting the focus feels a little better than the previous model but not significantly so (could be the placebo effect!)
However, it’s an entirely different story in live view mode. This is the first time that dual pixel sensor design has been used on the 5D line. This effectively turns every pixel on the CMOS sensor into a live view AF point. Combined with the touch screen display this enables live view touch focus. Live view focusing on the mk iii was not really up to scratch if you’re shooting a wedding; moving the AF point with the joystick was ponderous, the face detection was unreliable and being as the previous camera used contrast detection the focus speed was slow and would often hunt. There was an option to flip the mirror up and use the phase detection AF but I always thought the implementation was a little clumsy.
Now with live view face tracking you can simply tap a face on the screen and the camera will automatically track it. I put the system to test the weekend the camera arrived when we visited a local street festival. My two-year-old daughter was having a jump around on the bouncy castle with about half a dozen other children. I popped the camera into live view, tapped on her face and the camera tacked her brilliantly.
The only time it lost tracking was if someone stood in front of her for a second or two, it would then jump onto that person and track them. However, when she became visible again a quick tap on her on the screen would re-lock the tracking (I may be able to improve the subject tracking once I’ve had more of play with the settings). I’ve done some other limited testing at home and have been really impressed with how good the tracking and touch focus are, for me it’s one of the most important changes over the mk iii and will allow me to use live view much more efficiently than any previous Canon camera.
The touch screen can also be used for navigating the menus and reviewing images. This works really well and can speed up changing settings and chimping. However, I wish there was a double tap to zoom fully in to a specific point to speed up checking of critical focus. Currently you can only pinch zoom which can take two or three pinches to zoom all the way in.
The other big improvement of the screen is the resolution has also been increased from 1.04 million dots to 1.62 million dots. Despite it being the same size the resolution increase does make a noticeable difference when reviewing files. There are also some nice changes to the optical viewfinder too. You can set it to display / overlay lots more information than previously, things such as; electronic level, battery status, drive mode, AF mode, metering mode etc.
There’s lots of other improvements too which I haven’t really had time to evaluate yet – more tuneable Auto ISO, the inbuilt interval timer (again this will allow wedding photographers to easily set up a second camera to take shots), the customisable touch screen Q menu, the improved metering sensor taken from the original 1Dx (I’m interested to see how this will handle back lighting and other tricky situations in Auto ISO), the new anti-flicker feature taken from the 7Dmkii which can combat the effects of high frequency flickering lights.
Despite all of these changes there are a few things in the update that are a little disappointing / perplexing. . .
Other than the astronomical £3599 launch price in the UK (for the body only), the biggest disappointment for me is the lack of a titling / flippy / articulated screen. Like many photographers, I’m always on the lookout for getting a creative angle and don’t always shoot with my eye to the viewfinder, sometimes using live view for composition. An articulated screen makes using live view so much easier. It allows you to place the camera on the floor and you don’t need to lie down to see the screen. Framing overhead shots with a fixed screen can also be a bit hit and miss. I can sort of understand why it wasn’t included on this camera. The 5D series is a full spec pro camera that is designed to take a fair amount of abuse. The flippy screen can be seen as a weak point. There may also be implications is terms of reduced weather sealing too. I’m also unsure of how good an articulating screen would be when combined with a full touch interface which includes touch to focus. I need to do a bit more testing but I’m hoping that the subject tracking of the dual pixel AF might negate much of the need for the articulating screen. I hope that it will be good enough to enable you to lock onto a subject at eye level and stay locked as you move the camera above your head or down low. I’ll have to do more testing before I can comment on how this works out.
The next biggest disappointment for me is the choice of card slot. I think the decision to go with CF and SD is a little strange, especially the decision to make the SD card only UHS-1 compatible. I feel this camera should have been released with either CFAST or UHS-II compliant SD cards. This is supposed to be one of Canon’s top end professional line cameras which is which has an update cycle of 4 to 5 years and they’re releasing it to market with what would be considered obsolete technology. To me this looks like deliberate crippling of performance to protect the 1D X mk ii. Faster cards would lead to faster write times which would could give higher frame rates or a deeper buffer. This would no doubt take more customers away from the top of the range 1D X mk ii which has it’s insane 14fps shot rate and larger buffer as a key selling point. On the plus side the buffer on the mk iv is a little bigger, empties quicker than the previous model and the frame rate increases from 6 to 7 fps.
The third biggest miss for me is that there is no full time AF point illumination. In AI servo it can be configured to pulse when AI servo is active, this is an improvement over the mk iii. However; in one shot mode the AF points still only flash when focus is achieved. For a wedding photographer this can be an issue as it’s possible to lose where the selected focus point is in a dark venue.
The design changes that allowed for Wi-Fi also enabled a GPS receiver to be integrated for automatic location tagging into the file metadata. It’s a nice feature to have but I think it will be a bit of a battery drain as it feels there is a missing mode. Currently there are three available modes . . .
2) Mode 1 – Acquires GPS data even when the camera is turned off
3) Mode 2 – Acquires GPS data when the camera on, even when it is in auto power off mode
For me the GPS needs a 4th mode where it only acquires GPS data when the camera is on but not in auto power off mode. I quite often don’t turn my camera off using the power switch and don’t want the GPS draining the battery when there’s no need for it to be active.
A lot of video-centric users have bemoaned some of the video features, the main issue being the choice of Motion JPEG for the file format and the fact that 4k capture doesn’t use the full frame but a crop mode. To be honest I rarely use the video features on a DSLR so this doesn’t really affect me at the moment. The ability to pull stills from 4k footage in camera looks like it could be useful though. This will allow the generation of 8-bit stills at 30fps. However; Being as the files are 8-bit JPEG they will have far less dynamic range and flexibility in post-production compared to the standard jpeg files or full size RAWs.
The bigger misses for me in terms of the video and live view implementation is that there is still no focus peaking in live view or exposure zebras for highlight metering. This really does look like Canon protecting its Cinema EOS line. Will this hurt Canon in the long run? Quite probably, these features are already available on many mirrorless cameras including the full frame Sony A7 series which has seen many DSLR video shooters change brand. I’ve also noticed that there’s no AF available if you switch to any of the high frame rate / slow motion modes which pretty much renders them unusable for most people.
One of the minor things that I’ve noticed is that the RAW files in Lightroom look a lot flatter than those from the mk iii or the mk ii. The next image shows the zeroed file from the mk iv followed by the equivalent on the mk iii.
This might cause problems for people that are shooting events with different cameras. I didn’t really notice any colour or tonal difference in the files between the mkii and the mk iii and could easily use my standard colour or black and white preset on either without having to tweak it. I think that will have to change for the mk iv, it definitely needs more contrast than the old cameras which will mean a camera specific profile. It’s not a big issue but something that people need to be aware of.
Are there any features I feel are missing? I hoped there would be a highlight exposure metering mode for better ETTR metering (similar to Nikon’s configuration), I would still like auto ISO to work above 400 ISO, there’s still no spot metre from any focus point (even though this is on the 1 D X), a lower base ISO of 50 would be nice (this may be available using DPRAW?) and there’s still no ability to see the shutter count!
So what’s my overall initial thoughts?
When the camera was originally announced there seemed to be quite a lot of negative comments online about the lack of groundbreaking features, I guess you could accuse Canon of being conservative in terms of innovation. If you’re a Nikon or Sony user there probably aren’t any reasons for you switch to Canon for this camera, unless you want / need the rather impressive dual pixel AF. However for existing Canon users there’s a hell of lot to like about the Canon 5D mk iv, virtually every aspect of the camera has been improved over the mk iii. Should you upgrade if you’re a 5D mk iii user? For me it comes down to how much you want / need the extra dynamic range and how useful you think the live view dual pixel AF is. Just these two changes alone make the camera an essential upgrade for me. I like to push my files in post so the extra dynamic range is a huge plus. Also I can really see the live view dual pixel AF changing the way I shoot. All of the other incremental updates add up to a much better performing camera than the 5D mk iii in every area. The more I’m using the mk iv the more I’m finding to love about it. Although there are some negatives, none of these are deal breakers (I just really wish it had a flippy screen!).
This is the Canon’s first generation of on-chip ADC sensors, it bodes well for the future. It’s also interesting what may be in store for future generations of the dual pixel sensor design . . . are Canon working on quad pixel for further post processing power?
**** UPDATE 16/10/2016 – Last weekend I shot my first wedding with the Canon 5D mkiv . . . big thanks to Amy-Rose Photography and the bride and groom, Amy and Chris, for having me along and letting me play for the day. The wedding was at Cripps Stone Barn in the Cotswolds and proved to be a great opportunity to put the camera through its paces in some difficult lighting conditions. Lots of backlit and lots of low light shooting through the day.
My main thoughts from the wedding are that my keeper rate was much higher than normal with less shots that missed focus, especially given the poor lighting. Here’s a couple of example frames; the first a heavily backlit shot during the ceremony, and the second one a night time sparkler exit lit only by the light from the sparklers and the backlight from the building.
I also found the live view touch focus to be incredibly useful. For this next shot I touched the bride’s eyelash on the screen and it locked focus whilst I recomposed with the camera high above her head.
The following groomsmen shot was also taken with face detect live view and it proved to be a real bonus. It allowed me to maintain eye contact with the groom as I talked to him to get a reaction. Something that is much harder to do when your eye is pressed to the viewfinder.
From shooting a full wedding with the mkiv I’ve found only one area where the new camera doesn’t perform as well as the mkiii and that is in terms of battery life. I would estimate that battery life is down on the mkiv by about 30% compared to the previous model. Normally at a wedding I’ll change batteries on my mkiii at around 1200 frames, however, on the mkiv it was abut 850, and this was with the GPS and WIFI features turned off. It’s actually a little worse than this as the mkiv was fitted with a brand new LP-E6N, which is rated at 1865mA, against my 3 year old LP-E6 batteries in the mkiii which are rated at 1800mA. I spoke to Canon CPS about this and they said it’s due to the higher power consumption of the new sensor, the motor / mirror mechanism from the 5DS/R and the touchscreen. They confirmed it’s down compared to the mkiii bur should be around the same level of performance as the 5DS/R. So it’s not a deal breaking loss in performance but it just means that I’ll need to ensure another spare battery goes in the bag.
The colours from the new sensor are great and I actually think the flatter profile works better with my standard colour pre-set than on the mkiii. The noise handing is also improved. The next shot, although it looks like broad daylight, was taken after sunset and is ISO 3200.
So I’ll again re-iterate what I’ve stated before. The more I use the camera the more I’m finding it excels over the mkiii in virtually every aspect of performance. A well worthy upgrade.