FINALLY! Canon 5D Mark III Lands With Upgraded Everything

Posted in Equipment, News by Nathan Lee Bush on March 2, 2012

And Now, the Moment You’ve All Been Waiting for…

If there’s any rockstar-like moment in the photo industry that would warrant a comparison to a seminal launch in other mainstream consumer electronics, like a new iPhone 5 or Windows 8 announcement, the Canon 5D Mark III would be that moment. The 5D Mark II was one of those industry defining products, which made the leap to cultural ubiquity, to the point where all your friends with no interest in photography and too much money on their hands keep asking you, “should I get this 5D Matt II I keep hearing about?” Why did it achieve such widespread acclaim?

The HDSLR Revolution

The 5D Mark II is a great stills camera, yet, to the surprise of pretty much everyone, its dominance came by revolutionizing, of all things, filmmaking. Nikon was first out of the video gate with the D90, but the Mark II was an astonishing leap forward in manual control and image quality in movie mode, and the ability to capture cinematic images, with their characteristic shallow DOF, from a relatively affordable stills camera changed the face of the film industry forever.

Before the Mark II, pro video cameras many times the cost utilized small sensors, inhibiting film-like shallow depth of field, dynamic range, and low-light capabilities. The 5D Mark II pushed the whole imaging industry into catchup mode as it was enthusiastically embraced by DIY filmmakers the world over, and instigated a revolution from below, allowing enterprising and savvy bit players a spot at the table on formerly higher end jobs. Simultaneously, stills shooters have almost universally stepped into the video production arena, irresistibly drawn to utilize such a key attribute of their kit. The ‘5D look:’ extremely shallow focus, highly stabilized to avoid the inherent rolling shutter, has become a ubiquitous and instantly recognizable style. This was truly a bottom-up, grassroots revolution, and before you knew it the majority of films at film festival entries were shot on 5D Mark II’s and even an episode of ‘House.’

And not only image makers have benefited. A whole cottage industry has grown out of building add-ons and accessories for DSLR video shooters.

The Mark II’s impact cannot be understated. Video cameras (a category whose boundaries are increasingly ambiguous) have been forced to grow their offerings by leaps and bounds, lowering prices, implementing larger sensors, and retooling ergonomics, thanks largely to the 5D Mark II’s success.

So it’s no surprise that video is one of the main focuses of the 5D Mark III. But Canon has completely retooled the camera on all fronts, with an impressive mix of upgrades for stills shooters in the mix.

Introducing The 5D Mark III

Many of the main specs have been leaked leading up to this official launch (these companies really need to start enforcing an Apple-like “we will hurt your dog” code of silence), like the newly designed 22.3MP sensor, dual CF/SD card slots, standard ISO from 100-25600 (50-102,800 expanded), 6FPS continuous shooting (up from 4 on the Mark II) and a 150,000 shutter actuation rating. But a few surprises remain.

The 5D Mark III is a mashup of the highly regarded, vide0-centric APS-C flagship, the 7D, borrowing heavily from that camera’s form factor, with some cutting edge features from the recently announced full frame Canon flagship, the 1D X trickling down.

From the 1D X, it inherits the 61 point autofocus system with the unique presets menu (for various shooting scenarios), all supported by Canon’s blazing fast Digic 5+ image processor (though the 1D X has two of those bad boys, and a Digic 4 just for the AF system). This is a welcome addition, as the most common complaint among 5D users was the unreliable 9-point autofocus system compared to its main competition from Nikon. Its upgraded anti-scratch 3.2″ 3:2 aspect ratio LCD is now sharper at 1040k dots. In video mode, moire suppression is built-in, and the All-I compression format is also thrown in. Clips can be up to 30 minutes long, and 60fps is present, though reduced from Full HD to 720p, as has proved to be standard on this generation of cameras outside of Sony. Movie mode gives much more external control from predecessors, including live audio monitoring.

Canon has dutifully provided a video whose absurd scenario is really an excuse to show off the various facets of the Mark III’s video capabilities. So we have bicyclists playing… soccer(??) with their bikes in some sort of brightly colored graffiti’d abandoned warehou…? Whatever, just watch for the color rendition (skintones look C300 great, and strong colors really pop), lack of rolling shutter and even the occasional slo-mo bike soccer goal(??). All in all its a pretty substantial jump from the Mark II.

From the 7D, the 5D Mark III borrows many ergonomic touches, including the live view movie mode switch, the quickmenu dial, as well as a multifunction button on the front.

As we’ve come to expect from Canon, the camera is a real looker, with a updated, sleek design. Also of note, the camera finally has 100% viewfinder coverage, quiet shooting mode, and enhanced weather sealing, a glaring omission from the previous incarnation, which felt a bit plasticky.

The Gloves are Off… Sort of

The 5D Mark III despite its substantial improvements in almost every area, feels less the breakout camera of its predecessor and more like a champion trying to retain its crown. And how could it match its roots? The HDSLR revolution the Mark II heralded was a once-in-a-generation turning point. Unless this camera came out with a 14-bit, 4:4:4 video mode and could levitate, it couldn’t hope to match the leap forward of its previous incarnation.

And with that, the Big Two have shown their hands in the pro arena. At the top end, we have the Nikon D4 and Canon 1D X duking it out with the most bleeding edge photographic technology outside of medium format.

But the D800 and 5D Mark III, with their mass-market appeal and the stakes impossibly high, is the showdown to watch. Will the D800’s megapixel play and newfound video chops entice the Canon faithful? Will the 5D hold its vicegrip on the video market? Will the price differential have an impact (the Mark III’s MSRP is $500 more than the D800 and $200 more than the D800E)? What do you think? Take our poll below.

For a handy rundown of features side-by-side check out this comparison tool from the always-exhaustive DPReview.

We’ll be renting these as soon as we can get our hands on them. And if you’re in the market to buy, you can pre-order one here.


Nathan Lee Bush is a fine art photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his sitevimeo and blog

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  1. […] this blog, Through the Looking Glass, we cover the hotly anticipated launch of the Canon 5D Mark III full-frame multimedia DSLR, and reflect on the legacy of the video-revolutionizing 5D Mark II, and […]

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