Getting it out of the box and in my hands for the first time I realised how ergonomically similar it felt to my 7D, only that the 5D Mark III was bigger. The texture on the body seems to be a little more rough, the body feels a tad larger and overall a bit more solid (not having a pop up flash probably exemplifies this feeling a fair bit).
There are some changes that may not be apparent at first glance (unless you were looking really closely) such as the extension of the grippy rubber material over the memory card door, dual memory card slots and the SET button not rotating when you rotate the rear dial (apparently this annoyed some people).
And there are some changes that are quite obvious, such as the lock on the mode dial (I personally wasn’t a fan at first seeing I’ve never knocked the dial from any other Canon model I’ve shot with, but you get over this quirk quite easily), the new RATE button and the larger screen gracing the back.
There’s one BIG advantage that is usually overlooked, but for people upgrading from the 5D Mark II or 7D, it uses the same batteries and chargers.
The Battery Grip
Nikon shooters have been spoilt since the D300/D700 battery grips, because they have had side-mounted battery trays, a second multi-directional joystick and a more comfortable shape, so it’s about time Canon did something about it.
This is by far the nicest grip that Canon has made for their semi-professional line. It is the first time that they have decided to use a side-mounted tray mechanism for the batteries (similar to the 1D series) rather than the rear door design of older grips. This makes the grip much less block-shaped and more triangular, which conforms to the shape of your palm a lot better.
One thing that this battery grip has that previous grips from Canon were sorely missing, is the second multi-directional joystick that can be used in portrait mode. I personally like this change because I’m forever changing the AF points in this orientation when shooting portraits, it just makes using the camera that much more convenient.
Another advantage I picked up is the shutter button on the grip is positioned more forward-facing than previous grips, and has a bit more travel before activating the shutter, so it’s a tad harder to hit accidentally if the camera is slung by your side.
Using it for the first time
Firstly the most obvious change is found by looking through the viewfinder, where you’ll find a 100% coverage viewfinder and a revamped AF system with on-demand grid lines (Nikons have had this for ages but the 7D was Canon’s first DSLR with this feature).
Now I wasn’t a big fan of the 5D Mark II’s AF system when it launched because I was finding it was hunting more frequently in low light compared to my 40D at the time. But the one put in the 5D Mark III is lifted from the 1D X, so it’s super responsive, fairly accurate and has a few more AF points and modes to play with than the 7D, so in a nutshell, it’s really very good.
I must admit when picking up the camera for the first time I was thinking that it was similar to the 7D’s system but with more AF points, but having used it on a shoot, I can tell you it’s not. The first few shots I took from the 5D Mark III weren’t as sharp as I’d like, but this wasn’t the camera’s fault so much as it was my own. Learning a new camera’s quirks and how it performs is something you should do well before any important shoot because it usually takes a while to perfect.
If you’ve come from an older generation camera you’ll also find that the look of menu system on the camera has changed as well. Most of the menu items aren’t nested within other menu options anymore. Now they’re expanded into different tabs, which makes it look a little more confusing at first because there’s more tabs than you’re used to, but you quickly get used to it.
As I said previously AF system is fantastic on the camera, it’s fast, accurate and has plenty of modes to make it easier for you to get that shot. I like that some of the good bits from the 7D has carried over, such as the ergonomics and the on-demand grid lines in the viewfinder, but at the same time it improves on this by adding new features such as dual memory card slots, new AF system and an improved video mode.
The camera seems to feel well sorted and balanced, the buttons are positioned logically where you’d like them to be and you can keep shooting whilst changing different settings without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.
The video mode on the 5D Mark III is a treat to use, especially as they have lifted the video mode switch from the 7D, making it easier to activate and record. All the goodies from the firmware upgraded 5D Mark II are there as well including on-screen adjustable audio levels whilst recording and a new high bit-rate recording setting called ALL-I. I haven’t tested the video mode on the camera extensively just yet but I will very shortly and post an update.
Quirks & Gripes
Firstly my combination of camera and lenses were a tad out of focus so some AF calibration and micro-adjustments were needed before getting tack sharp images. While we’re on the topic, one thing I would mention about the AF Micro-adjustment is that the 5D Mark III can have two different values for each lens (one for Wide and one for Telephoto).
Some other minor gripes I do have with the camera are :
- the SD slot isn’t UHS-I optimised so the write speed to SD cards are slower,
- the locking system on the dial impedes quick mode changes,
- the spot meter still isn’t linked to the AF points like Nikons,
- the multi-directional joystick on the body feels a little inaccurate because of the weather sealing (feels a little squidgy),
- when in Live View with a radio flash trigger on top (PocketWizard or Elinchrom SkyPort), the camera doesn’t fire the flashes when you take a shot, and
- the new zoom method using is great for zooming in quickly to 100%, but more annoying at zooming out compared with the method on older cameras (and at the moment there’s no way to customize it).
Now most of these gripes you come to terms with quickly and adapt as you learn the camera’s layout and handling so it quickly becomes a non-issue as you keep shooting with the camera.
On a side note, I’d also like to mention that users of Eye-Fi in the 5D Mark III may find some issues with the Eye-Fi card going to sleep and frequently disconnecting direct mode to an iPad (I’ve set the sleep timer to never on the camera, card and iPad so it shouldn’t be doing this). I’m not really sure if this is a Canon, Eye-Fi or Apple thing but it’s an annoying quirk that I found out personally, so hopefully it’ll be fixed soon.
Things I didn’t know but accidentally found out…
One cool thing I found out by accident is that the ring around the SET button on the back of the camera is touch sensitive whilst recording a video. This is so you can change your settings on screen whilst minimising handling noise from the inbuilt microphone. If you’re serious about video you usually use off camera mics but for people who don’t have this luxury it’s a welcome addition.
The new Quiet mode on the camera is actually really quiet. In fact it was so quiet that I accidentally took a few images of the ground without realising whilst on a scouting mission. The mode’s good for wildlife photography for times where the sound of the shutter can startle the animal, Nikons again have had this feature, good to see it’s on the 5D Mark III.
And in Playback mode, hitting the button above the new RATE button brings up a side-by-side comparison between two images you select, which is really handy for chimping (no I don’t mean monkeys) out in the field.
1 Month Later…
So having used the 5D Mark III for a couple of weeks now, I’ve become used to the quirks of the camera, and it’s one cracking piece of kit. Overall I find the camera to be very responsive, the AF is quick to lock on, the detail in the images are stunning and overall it feels like a very nice camera to pick up and use.
So far I’ve tested the camera on wildlife, still portraits, some close-up work and running children. It has coped with most situations admirably. I’m still getting used to the fact that Canon hasn’t enabled spot metering linked to AF points like the Nikons, so I’m perfecting my AE Lock, focus & recompose technique to counter this.
I have yet to test out the video mode extensively on a job but first impressions is that it’s quite nice, motion is controlled well with minimal jello and moire effects visible. What I have found is that sharpness needs to be bumped up a little in post just to get it looking tack sharp. Otherwise I’m fairly happy with the results it gives.
If you own a 7D or looked at one and thought, gee I wish I could have a full frame sensor in this type of body, then the 5D Mark III is pretty much it. Well actually it’s actually more like if a 1D X and the 7D had a love child, the 5D Mark III would be the result. Now sexual connotations aside, all it means is that the 5D Mark III combines the good bits from the 7D (ergonomics, metering system and on-demand viewfinder grid lines) with the good bits from the 1D X such (AF system, battery grip ergonomics and button placement).
I can’t really add anything else to what has already been said by countless reviews online, but you can tell I quite like the 5D Mark III. It seems Canon have listened (for the most part) to the complaints of the 5D Mark II and fixed it.
It’s a well sorted camera that’s very versatile, responsive and takes fantastic images and video. What more do you want? Yes the camera’s not perfect, but no product really is, and ultimately it boils down to personal preferences and shooting styles. In the end it’s not the camera that makes the image, but the person behind it, all the camera does is makes it easier to get that image.
Oh and one final thing, why are you still reading this review? Go out and take some awesome images!