The Canon 5D Mark III is very similar to the 5D Mark II in appearance and handling, with barely any changes to the size and feel of the camera. There are some big updates to the overall control scheme of the camera, however, actually bringing it more in line with the usability that the Canon 7D offered. The top plate of the 5D Mark III, for example, is nearly identical to the 7D, with a locking mode dial and power switch on the left side of the viewfinder.
The back of the camera is also more in line with the ergonomic updates made to the 7D. The controls are still quite similar to the 5D Mark II, with five keys along the left side of the rear LCD, rear control joystick, large rear control dial, and control keys just below the top readout display. The menu key now sits where the button to engage live view did on the Mark II, replaced with a dedicated "creative photo" button. Where the old creative photo button was now sits a button that lets you immediately rate a photo, a metatag that will carry through conversion to other files and into photo editing programs.
Live view and video recording control is now the same as on the 7D, with a dedicated start/stop record video switch with live view lever. Canon's "Q" quality menu button is also present between the control dial and control stick, a feature that now pops up across Canon's DSLR lineup.
The left side of the camera houses all of the camera's many input and output ports, hidden behind rubber flaps that securely click into place. The right side has the dual memory card slots, which allows for both CF and SD cards to record images, a big upgrade over the 5D Mark II.
Users of the 5D Mark II and 7D will both feel right at home picking up and shooting with the 5D Mark III, though Mark II users will have a few new features to learn. Altogether it's an amalgamation of all the improvements Canon has made to their high-end DSLR lines since the 5D Mark II's release, better designed to accommodate both still and video shooters.
The menu on the 5D Mark III is nearly identical to the one found on the new Canon 1D X, save for the additional options that the Mark III does not have. The menu is organized into tabs, with pages nested within each tab. This lets you navigate the menu from page to page, rather than having to scroll down through dozens of options to find what you need.
As with the 1D X, the Canon 5D Mark III's menu is heavy on the options. The camera specifically has an incredible amount of autofocus control, letting users save up to 6 "case-based" autofocus sensitivity settings depending on the type of subject they are shooting.
It's that level of control that will appeal to professional photographers, though the menu should look familiar (if seemingly infinitely more complicated) to anyone who has used a Canon DSLR in the last three years. There are still some hiccups (the multi-function button still only has a limited amount of options that it can be set to, for example), but overall the Canon menu is still ahead of most of the competition in terms of design and usability for shooters of all levels.
While we don't expect many newcomers and novices to flock to the 5D Mark III as their first DSLR, the camera could very well appeal to experienced photographers and videographers alike. The control similarities between the 5D Mark III and 7D are surely going to make many users consider jumping up to a full frame camera that handles in such a similar fashion.
For professional users, though, the introduction of some new features are going to speed up workflows somewhat. The "Q" quality menu lets you easily adjust shooting settings on the rear LCD, rather than just the top display. The implementation of the 7D's start/stop and live view lever is a welcome change, while the RATE button should speed up workflows significantly.
In actual operation, the 5D Mark III's use of the 1D X's 61-point AF system will make shooting moving subjects even easier, as the AF sensor's latticed structure should better track moving subjects across a frame. Canon also specifically highlighted their use of M-RAW and S-RAW (smaller RAW files of reduced resolution) that, while something that's been around for some time, speeds up workflows by letting users have options between JPEG and full-resolution RAW.
The 5D Mark III is a hefty camera, as you'd expect from a professional-level device. With the 5D Mark III in hand it's unlikely you'll forget it's there, and the idea of having it around our neck for days on end is already making us wince. The size of the camera body is not too unweildy though, and the grip accommodates the hand marvelously.
For a professional, though, the 5D Mark III is still significantly better to carry around than a 1D-series camera, and it's certainly quite capable overall. The camera is pretty easy to hold in a single hand, though a second hand to stabilize is certainly necessary when actually shooting.
The control layout is a great mix between the 7D and 5D Mark III, and we're glad Canon saw fit to bring so many of the best features of the 7D into a full-frame camera. The 5D Mark II, while great in its own right, really drew heavily on the 5D's design, and there have certainly been ergonomic advancements made since the 5D's release in 2005.
The locking mode dial, live view lever, start/stop record button, top plate power switch, and the addition of the "Q" quick control and creative control buttons all come from the 7D and only improve the 5D from a usability standpoint.
The mode dial on the 5D Mark III is taken mostly from the 7D, with a locking mechanism and power switch added. The dial contains options for three user-savable custom modes, the typical aperture-priority, shutter-priority, manual exposure, program automatic, as well as an automatic+ mode.
The 5D Mark III's Automatic+ mode is very similar to the one found on the Canon 7D, taking over the camera's exposure settings to even brightness based on your current metering system. The camera also features the usual "P" program automatic mode, which will let you make a few more adjustments in the camera. The big addition for 5D Mark III users from the 5D Mark II is the expansion of exposure compensation and bracketing. The 5D Mark III will let you use a full exposure compensation scale of +/- 5 stops (compared to +/- 3 stops on the Mark II), with bracketing up to seven shots (also up from three on the Mark II).
Video on the Canon 5D Mark III is sure to be a very hot subject, with the 5D Mark II such a popular option for videographers over the last few years. The 5D Mark III inherits many of the best video features of the 1D X, with some slight differences.
Like the Canon 1D X, the 5D Mark III will offer both All-I (interframe) video encoding and IPB. All-I interframe encoding will offer larger video sizes, but will be easier to edit. Conversely, the IPB encoding will provide smaller file sizes, with bidirectional prediction, but will require more overhead in the editing process.
The Canon 5D Mark III will feature some hardware upgrades that will assist video recording as well, with a step up in image processor as well as the addition of a 3.5mm headphone jack. This will let shooters monitor incoming audio, with on-the-fly audio level control also available. The Digic 5+ processer in the 5D Mark III is vastly more powerful than the one in the 5D Mark II, which will let the camera downsample far more effectively, reducing moire compared to the Mark II. This also lets the camera shoot video at up to ISO 102400, with more efficient noise reduction.
The dual memory card slots should also allow for increased storage, while the improvements to internal heat management will let the camera record up to a full 30 minutes per clip. The 30 minute restriction is a result of the VAT tax applied to video-recording devices in certain territories, so it's an arbitrary limit rather than a hardware one.
We'll have a full report on the 5D Mark III's video quality when we do our review, but it will be awfully tempting for videographers looking for greater control when it does hit.
The 5D Mark III's improved image processing doesn't just benefit video, as it will also result in an improvement in shot-to-shot speed as well. While not matching the 1D X for speed, the 5D Mark III will feature 6fps still photography shooting at maximum resolution.
With a new rotary magnet tension shutter, the camera also can shooting in what is called "silent continuous" mode, which reduces speed to 3fps. The result is an extremely quiet shutter—a big addition given the fact that Canon shutters are rather notoriously loud in normal operation. The effect is dramatic, if not entirely silent. You'll still know someone, somewhere is taking a photo in, say, a completely silent theater, but it's not nearly as disturbing as the shutter is in normal operation.
The Canon 5D Mark III features three user-savable sets of camera settings that can be assigned to three individual spots on the mode dial. These allow you to customize the operation of the camera to specific settings that you may frequent often. The camera also features a set of customizable image modes, called Picture Control, with a dedicated creative photo button allowing instant access (same as on the 5D Mark II and 7D).
Playback on the 5D Mark III has also been improved, with the camera's processor allowing it to do a few more tricks. The biggest improvement is the option for comparative playback, letting you view two images side-by-side on the large rear LCD monitor. This has a few customizable options, letting you compare two images in close or with a variety of graphs and histograms to compare exposure.
The camera also features a new RATE button along the rear LCD that lets you apply a rating metatag to the photo. This tag will stay with the file through multiple workflows, letting you tag an image that you could then import with Adobe Bridge, develop in DXO, and edit in Photoshop with tags sticking with it all the way.
The 5D Mark III will let users save images in RAW, JPEG, M-RAW, S-RAW, and RAW+JPEG, with options to direct particular filetypes to different cards (JPEG to SD while RAW goes to CF, for example). The camera's maximum resolution tops out at 22.3 megapixels, but the M-RAW and S-RAW let you saw uncompressed files at a reduced resolution of 10.5 and 5.5 megapixels, respectively.
The Canon 5D Mark III will offer some enhanced in-camera HDR modes, with the ability to composite multiple images to enhance dynamic range. The camera can then apply a number of creative effects including natural, standard, vivid, bold, and embossed HDR effects.
Perhaps the biggest upgrade to the 5D Mark III is the inclusion of the same 61-point autofocus sensor as the Canon 1D X. This gives the Mark III a total of 20 outer points cross-type to f/4.0, 21 center points cross-type to f/5.6, and 5 center diagonal cross-type points sensitive to f/2.8. The center points have a latticed structure that is more accurate, but the diagonal sensors are spread further apart, requiring an f/2.8 or larger aperture to activate.
The Canon 5D Mark III does not inherit the new RGB metering sensor from the 1D X, instead borrowing the same 63-zone system from the Canon 7D. The metering sensor is dual-layer, allowing it to adjust for both brightness and color, improving the way the sensor adjusts for certain colors scenes, such as red. It also incorporates autofocus info, letting it determine the most important parts of the scene.
The 5D Mark III will also take better metering readings over a longer period of time, averaging several readings together. This will let the camera better diagnose artificial lighting (especially fluorescents) that tend to pulse, as opposed to the constant natural light outdoors. This will help reduce the times where a camera grabs a reading while light intensity is too low or too high.
Crucially, the camera will also now spot meter on a much smaller area (1.5% of the picture area), which will allow users with very specific image goals in complicated lighting to get the picture they need without having to worry about getting a false reading.
The 22.3-megapixel image sensor on the 5D Mark III will allow for an expanded ISO range of 50-102,400. The native ISO range of the sensor is 100-25,600, but can be pushed to ISO 50 or 102,400 (including 100-25,600 during video recording). This puts it almost in line with the Canon 1D X, though the 1D X can go one stop higher.
In seeing noise samples up close (provided by Canon), there seems to be significant improvement in the camera's ability to handle noise at the sensor level. So despite having smaller pixels, the 5D Mark III actually provided better noise results in the limited samples that we saw.
The 5D Mark III includes a number of white balance settings along with the ability to manually set a white balance value and capture a custom shot of a white card. The camera's settings are dead on with the 5D Mark II, though the improved metering system should better capture color temperature information.
As with all Canon DSLRs, the 5D Mark III does not feature in-camera image stabilization. Canon builds its image stabilization systems into their lenses so that they can be tuned to the optics of that particular lens, also allowing the image to be stabilized through the optical viewfinder. The camera does have some digital alignment features for lining up multiple images, specifically when recording HDR images.
The 5D Mark III includes a full measure of picture control settings, as seen on other Canon cameras. This lets you adjust things like contrast, saturation, tone, and sharpness in a group of user savable settings. These can also enhance images in a particular way. This is exactly like the Canon 5D Mark II, though the picture control button has been replaced with a creative photo button that allows for some greater control.
The image sensor on the Canon 5D Mark III has 22.3 effective megapixels of resolution, with a Digic 5+ processor handling the data as it comes off the sensor. The improvements on a pixel level allow the camera to use smaller pixels than the 5D Mark II, but improve signal-to-noise ratio despite that. The sensor is full-frame, same as the 5D Mark III, putting it above the APS-H that Canon used in several older cameras and in line with the 1D X. The lens mount is a Canon EF, and the camera can not physically function with EF-S lenses and their smaller flange-back distances.
The 5D Mark III inherits the same 3.2-inch, 1.04-million dot LCD as the Canon 1D X. The screen is exactly the same unit as on the 1D X, and the quality level is about as good as we've seen on any other DSLR. The top LCD has seem some small upgrades as well, mostly on the order of providing more information about the newer features in the Mark III, including whether silent shutter has been activated or not.
The viewfinder sees a large upgrade from the 5D Mark II, with 100% coverage. The viewfinder is much brighter to our eyes than the 5D Mark II, very similar to the 1D X. It also comes with Canon's "intelligent viewfinder" system that allows for grid selection on-demand and swappable focusing screens. The display on the viewfinder also has Canon's "alert display" which the user can have flash when certain settings are activated.
For example, if you frequently shoot in the monochrome picture control, you can tell the alert display to tell you if you have the camera set to shoot monochrome so that you know to change it back if you wanted to capture a color image. It's a small touch, but it's something that will aid specific workflows greatly. The alert display can also be set to trigger when white balance shift, one touch image quality (JPEG or RAW), ISO sensitivity, spot metering, or the auto light optimizer have been activated. This way you'll no longer set ISO manually to a high setting and forget to turn it back to normal levels ever again.
There's no built-in flash on the 5D Mark III, as expected, with the top section housing the optical viewfinder. The camera has a full hot shoe, as you could probably guess, and contains considerable control inside of the camera itself. Like the 1D X, the camera features the ability to integrate better with modern Canon flashguns, including things like setting personal radio PINs to make sure flashes only communicate with the master on your Mark III and not someone else's camera by mistake.
The 5D Mark III includes a variety of plugs on the left side of the camera. The plugs are just behind rubber flaps that lock securely into the body of the camera. The Mark III includes a 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, USB 2.0 (no SuperSpeed here), mini-HDMI, flash terminal, and remote release ports.
The battery on the 5D Mark III is the same as the Mark II, the LP-E6, which is a great boon to those looking to upgrade who invested heavily in the Mark II system. There's no word on CIPA ratings yet, however, and we'll update as soon as we have those.
The 5D Mark III will also now feature dual card slots, with one slot for CompactFlash and one for SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. The dual card slots now have the ability to record simultaneously as well as independently of one another, letting you store your RAW files on CompactFlash for storage and JPEGs on SD for easy review.
The Canon 5D Mark II is arguably one of the most successful cameras of the decade, incorporating videography into a DSLR as seamlessly as any camera before it. The result was a smash success and the adoption of the Mark II in professional video workflows across the industry, in addition to its prowess as a lighter professional full-frame DSLR.
The 5D Mark III improves on the 5D Mark II in nearly every conceivable way, with more sophisticated video control and compression, faster shot-to-shot times, better image processing, an improved autofocus system, and more powerful processing across the board.
The increase in resolution to 22.3 megapixels should not hinder the camera in the low light department either, with Canon-provided samples showing a nearly two-stop improvement over the Mark II's noise reduction abilities. The camera also benefits from the developments Canon has made in ergonomics over the last few years, bringing many of the best features of the prosumer Canon 7D to the full-frame professional space.
In truth, the Mark III is not a revolutionary camera, but more a refinement of an already successful formula; it's the combination of some of the advancements put into the flagship Canon 1D X along with a great deal of features first seen in the prosumer Canon 7D. There are plenty of things the 1D X has that didn't make the step down (the 100k-pixel metering sensor, for example), but we're betting the 5D Mark III's sub-$3500 price is going to fit into far more budgets than the $6800 1D X.
All in all, the 5D Mark III may not turn the photography world on its ear the way the Mark II did, but it's a worthy update that adds many of the features Mark II users have been asking for. What's more, it represents a real and valid alternative to the Canon 1D X at a little more than half the cost. With performance upgrades also in tow, we're excited to see just how far Canon has pushed the 5D series in its third iteration.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.See all of TJ Donegan's reviews
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