Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Describing a camera as 'much anticipated' at the moment rather smacks of understatement. Photographers have been waiting for the D4 and D800 from Nikon with as much baited breath a Canon's EOS-1D X and EOS 5D Mark III. Now that all four cameras are here, there must be working photographers up and down the land seriously considering a new equipment purchase.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III comes some four years after the game-changing EOS 5D Mark II, which brought 21.1-megapixel full frame resolution and Nikon-matching high-ISO performance to the masses. Plus, of course, HD-video capabilities that revolutionised an industry. That's quite a lot for the Mark III to live up to, and expectations have been riding high on a tide of internet rumours about just what the new camera would be like.

In fact, the final specification of the EOS 5D Mark III surprised many who were looking for a bump in resolution. At 22.3 megapixels, the new camera provides more-or-less the same file size as its predecessor - that's 5760x3840 pixels, which on the face of it is still enough for A1 prints to be made.

Rather than sheer numbers of megapixels, the new camera's strengths lie in sensitivity and speed, making it more of an all-rounder than the Mark II. ISO sensitivity now extends to ISO 25,600, with the ability to 'push' up to ISO 102,400. This is accomplished with an all new sensor that uses gapless microlenses to focus even more light onto each pixel on the sensor's surface. Canon claims that this gives a two-stop improvement in low-light performance, which, if true, is an achievement: images at ISO 6400 should have the noise of those taken at ISO 1600 on the Mark II. Our full test of the camera next month will establish if this is the case or not, and it will be interesting to find out.

The DIGIC series of processors has been at the centre of Canon EOS cameras for years now, and the EOS 5D Mark III features the latest DIGIC 5+ chip, a vital component in making the camera faster and more powerful. It's also allowed the new camera to have a decent 6fps shooting speed, compared to the 3fps of the older camera.

The new camera's autofocus is improved too - something we know will please owners of the EOS 5D Mark II, which has a pretty outdated nine-point AF. The Mark III camera features the same 63-point focusing system as the EOS-1D X, with combinations of cross-type, double cross-type and normal focusing points spread out across the frame. The face recognition and colour tracking features of the EOS-1D X are missing though, because the EOS 5 D Mark III relies on a 63-zone evaluative exposure metering system, and not the more advanced 100,000-pixel exposure sensor of the flagship camera.

AF can be fine tuned though. Tracking sensitivity and acceleration can be adjusted, as can the tendency of the AF points to switch between each other. This is useful for those situations when you may be tracking a moving object, but foreground objects, such as tree branches, could occasionally be entering your line of view. You don't want the camera trying to focus on foreground objects, and this new system allows it to maintain a lock on a moving subject.

Then again an erratic fast moving subject that changes direction requires more sensitive AF, so settings can also be fine-tuned for this scenario. A number of presets is provided, so you don't have to figure out which combination of settings works best for a particular scenario.

There are a few new tricks up the sleeves of the EOS 5D Mark III too. The most useful is built-in HDR shooting, which captures three frames at different exposures and combines them to form one image with an expanded contrast range. A number of tone mapping options are available, and an auto-frame alignment option for handheld shooting, and we'll be interested to see to see how effective this is in our full test next month.

A curious addition is the ability to shoot multiple exposures. This might have been useful in the days of film, but Photoshop has replaced many in-camera effects techniques, including this one. That said, the ability to create composites in camera could be useful to those working in the field without a computer.

More useful is the ability to Raw process images into JPEGs in-camera, meaning press and documentary photographers can make a number of JPEG versions of an image to file when they are in range of a WiFi hot spot. The ability to rate pictures in-camera is useful too and it's also possible to compare images side by side. The ratings are saved in the file's metadata so that, when images are viewed in Lightroom, Bridge etc, it's possible to filter them down to a selection of favourites chosen when out in the field.

Whether or not you go for the new EOS 5D Mark III may be governed by what you really need in a camera. The new features are impressive, but the gap between the Mark II and Mark III is nowhere near as great as between the Mark I and Mark II.

EOS 5D Mark II owners will need to think long and hard about whether a trade up is the right thing to do. Of course if your old camera has had its fair share of shutter actuations and a bang or a knock then it might be time to replace it anyway, in which case the EOS 5D Mark III is for you - it's one of the best cameras out there. But if you have a perfectly good working Mark II, you might want to think about how much two stops of low-light shooting, faster autofocus and 6fps continuous shooting will ultimately improve your photography. The new camera carries a rrp of £3000 after all - compared to the £1395 that the Mark II was being offered for at Focus - so it's not a budget option, particularly in these austere times.

HD video

Of course the EOS 5D Mark II is best known for being the DSLR that changed how we shoot video so it wouldn't be fair to appraise the EOS 5D Mark III without looking at what it can do with moving pictures. While the Mark II seemed to have almost accidentally found favour with cinematographers, the Mark III has features that have been designed with the film industry in mind.

On the outside you'll find the headphone socket that was so sadly lacking on the Mark II, and this enables you to monitor sound as you are filming. The edge of the camera's rear quick control wheel also features a touch-sensitive 'Silent Control,' and this allows camera settings to be changed with the most gentle of touches, ensuring that you don't wobble the camera.

On the inside, the camera now records video with one of two industry-standard compression methods, which should streamline editing workflow. You can also make use of an embedding time-code in the format Hour:Min:Sec:Frame. Users can choose from 24, 25, 30, 50 or 60 fps frame rates.

Taken from the May 2012 issue of Photo Professional magazine