The Canon 5Diii Upgrade

21 Feb 2013

If you follow me on Flickr, Facebook or Twitter you may have noticed I have upgraded my 5Dii to a shiny new 5Diii. I've had quite a few emails asking how I am getting on with it, so I would write a mini review of my key thoughts and observations now I am a month or so and a couple of thousand frames in. Bear in mind I am speaking from a landscape point of view here. I'm not overly concerned with FPS or autofocus ability.

Firstly, why did I choose to upgrade to the Mkiii?

My mkii was almost exactly 3 years old when I started getting an occasional error 20. The first error code I had seen on screen at all in fact. Removal of the battery, powering down and putting back the battery sorted it out, however after a month I was needing to do this most trips out and eventually it was not sidestepping the error. The solution is to fit a new shutter box. No big deal, but with the corroded hot shoe, the persistent dust spots and heavy usage I decided I would prefer to demote it to backup body (after repair) and have a new main body.

I did contemplate the D800 briefly but for a number of photography related reasons as well as financial ones, given my lens investment with Canon fit, decided that the 5Diii was "the one". 

When the 5Diii was first launched I was a bit underwhelmed. It got a little overlooked by the new pretty kid in class with the D800 stealing the limelight. However, having handled several 5Diii's started realising a lot of thought had been put into refining an already groundbreaking camera. Paying £3000 (at launch) for a measly extra 1 mega pixel sounds like a joke. But it's about more than resolution.

Now the price has dropped and the 5Dii officially discontinued it was time to change.

The 5Diii is a refinement.

The features that make it a better camera. (in no particular order)

The addition of "Live View during DOF Preview"

I've never been a fan of exposure simulation mode in live view. I have always had this off and used the little square which you move around with the joystick to target areas for focusing by zooming in on live view. This doubles up as being a metering box, so I can target a tonal range to meter from.

The new option allows me to do the same but at the click of the DOF preview button and allows me to have a simulated exposure displayed on screen and also gives me the benefit of checking for DOF. In case you are thinking, "But that DOF preview button is so awkward, why would I want to contort my fingers for that, the other good news is that it's now been moved (finally!) to the front right (as you hold the camera) and is perfectly placed to press quickly and easily.

You still need to opt for full time Exposure Simulation for the live histogram.

The LCD & Live View Performance

A slightly larger LCD which, believe it or not, is even sharper than the mkii. Canon have nailed this. It's pin sharp and I trust it for image focus review completly. I have used my mkiii alongside D800 users and also alongside more enthusiast models of a variety of manufacturers on one-to-one's and I have yet to find a better LCD. Live View on the mkiii is useable quite some time before the others. It's not quite night vision, but it's exceptionally good. I have had a 20 minute head start on using live view for composition and focus before sunrise on some occassions!

Live View Spirit Level

The multi axis on screen level is very handy and I have found makes shooting stitched panos without a pano head much easier for instance. Should live view become broken for any reason, you can even use the focussing points in the view finder light up to get you level. Or just keep a bubble in your bag which is even easier!

Dedicated Live View Button

The Live View Button has also moved to the left hand side of the camera making it easier to reach and now has a switch around it to change from movie mode to stills without going into menus.

Better Buttons

The Power Button is now alongside the Mode Dial and not as fiddly as the mkii power switch. Turning the Mode Dial now requires the centre of it to be pressed, to unlock it, so no more "How did it get into AV mode!" The top panel LED button certainly feels easier to press, without jogging my tripod. This button on my mkii always felt like it was too recessed and needed quite an awkward press with a fingernail to get it to light up. 

I also rather like the "rate" button located on the left side of the screen. I use it for highlighting shots to be stitched with a 1 star rating for example and obviously to highlight images you've identified on the LCD as being ones you're keen to process. The star ratings are imported into Lightroom 4 which is a nice touch. (I haven't tried Adobe Camera Raw/PS etc.)

Image Review Functionlality

The zoom button has moved to the left hand side of the LCD and you now use the front (shutter speed) wheel to zoom in and out) once the zoom button is pressed. You can now get back from 10x zoom in one press of the zoom button. This took me a few days to get used to, but I now much prefer it.

Dual Memory Card Slots

It's great to be able to use a combination of CF and SD cards now. These slots can be configured to record to both cards at the same time or overflow from one to another.

Crop Modes

It is not possible to select different crop modes, such a 6:6 to capture square images. You get an overlay on Live View to aid composition and show you what you get. Not sure I will use these often, but nice to have to option. You do only get the selected area recorded, so you can't change your mind later. Personally I think I would prefer a better choice of overlays for composition, rather this more permanent method. I know it will suit many people though. 


I only have one autofocus lens - but it's good to know if my needs change I have a complely redesigned 61 point auto focus system at hand. The actual hardware is the same as the 1Dx, which boasts a dedicated DIGIC 4 processor to run it, at higher performance than the mkiii.

Image Quality

Functionality aside, new buttons and features aren't going to make better images, but it's nice know that Canon have listened to what people want and made using this camera much nicer.

ISO performance.

ISO100 files are remarkably clean and a significant improvement on the mkii in all lighting conditions. 

High ISO performance has greatly improved. I would say a 2 stop improvement accross the board.

See the sample 100% sections of files from the 5Dii and 5Diii to compare. 

5Dii 5Diii
5Dii ISO 3200 5Diii ISO 3200
A 100% section at ISO 3200 with no noise reduction. Straight out of camera.
A 100% selection at ISO 1600 with no noise reduction. Straight out of camera.


I'll let you decide for yourselves what you think of the comparisons.

Do bear in mind that I am no Tim Parkin, so these can hardly be used in a true side by side technical comparison. I have simply selected a correctly exposed shot at the same ISO's on both the 5Dii and 5diii. I've used aurora shots because that's what I had, so this is by no means a technical exercise.They do however represent a comparison on my use of the two cameras. 

Shadow Recovery

The issues common to the 5Dii such as the introduction of noise and even banding on underexposed images is hugely improved. Shadow detail or exposure increases can be pushed several stops beyond what was feasible on the mkii with nothing like the noise issues of before.

5Diii sample image
An unadjusted image.
5diii sample image
The same image with the Shadow Slider in Lightroom fully across to +100
5Diii sample image
The same image with shadow recovery set back to zero, but exposure slider at +4 stops.

What's Missing?

Top of my wishlist is a viewfinder blind. The rubber cover on the strap is a faff and if like me you don't use a strap a real pain.

Another 22mp would be nice - but I am a patient man!

My Verdict

I am completely satisfied with my decision to stick with Canon and thrilled with the quality of the images and really enjoying actually "using" the camera.

Top marks to Canon for delivering a quality product and for refining a camera which was no halfway house. While I would have liked a more substantial jump in resolution, to enable bigger prints, less stitching, more flexible cropping options, none of these reasons were good enough to jump ship. I have every confidence that Canon are working on their rival to the D800 as we speak and until then I will be shooting with a great camera. With any luck I'll bag enough good shots to earn me enough cash to upgrade my storage solutions in anticipation and replacing my Mac so I will be able to process those monster files!