Cameras

Head to Head: Canon 5D Mark II Vs. Canon 5D Mark III

We've finished our full performance testing of the Canon 5D Mark III and are now ready to answer the burning question: does it have what it takes to replace its incredibly popular predecessor, the 5D Mark II?

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As of this writing, the Canon 5D Mark III is the best DSLR we've tested in terms of all-around performance. To read our full review of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, including our full breakdown of its still and video performance and features, please go here.

While the Canon 5D Mark II wasn't the first DSLR to allow for video recording (that honor belongs to the Nikon D90), it is undoubtedly the one that has been adopted most by amateur and professional filmmakers. The 5D Mark III is Canon's follow-up, and it improves on the Mark II in key ways that will benefit videographers and still shooters, be they amateurs and professionals.

In our full review of the Canon 5D Mark III, we found its two biggest improvements for still photography are its greatly improved autofocus system and faster continuous shooting speed. The new AF system has 61 AF sensors in a latticed construction, with 41 of those points cross-type sensitive. Compare that to the Mark II, which we reviewed here back in 2009. The Mark II had a 9-point AF with only a single cross-type sensor. Along with a 3.9fps continuous shooting speed, this made the Mark II practically useless for sports and news photographers.

The Mark III can now shoot at up to 6 frames per second, though with the kit lens and optimal (Canon-prescribed) conditions, the best we could manage was 5.2fps. Still, the improvements to autofocus alone are laudable, with the camera also coming with a quiet, slightly slower, continuous speed that comes in handy in quiet environments.

In the end, though, the Mark III's legacy (like the Mark II before it) will largely be defined by its video quality. The Mark II was the camera that truly broke through into the pro video market, but it had its limitations. The Mark III drastically improves video control, with some minor improvements in video quality. There's no full-time AF, though, so there are better options for home movies and recording something like a soccer game.

The new full-frame image sensor doesn't resolve much more detail than the Mark II did, but the speedier processing does greatly reduce the moire effect that plagued footage on the Mark II. As you can see below in these crops (downsized from 100%) taken with the same lens at the same exposure settings, the Mark II produces significantly greater moire when just a minor sharpening filter is applied.

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The footage also better stands up to other forms of post-production work, namely color grading and brightness changes. In addition, the Mark III produces significantly lower noise at most ISO settings, with the ability to push ISO all the way to 12800 while video recording. We found that the Mark III needed just 6 lux of light to produce a usable image, while the Mark II needed 13 lux in the same test.

The increased control is also worth noting. The Mark II, as great as its video was, did not have videographers in mind when it was designed. The Mark III, from its inception, is designed to include the kind of video control that such productions require. The Mark III allows for a choice of ALL-I or IPB compression (in 1080/30p, 25p, and 24p), control over audio levels, timecode features, live control over all exposure settings, ISO, and a silent control mode. The rear display also now shows a full HD signal, without the resolution drop when going from live view to recording that the Mark II had.

It's not a perfect camera (lack of uncompressed output, live view autofocus is still a struggle, etc.), but the Mark III is a considerable jump forward that adopts many of the best parts of other cameras in Canon's lineup. Overall, we felt it was the best camera that we've tested to date and a true successor to the Mark II. Yes, it costs considerably more with the Mark II still on the market, but if video is a primary concern, the quality jump and enhanced control features make the Mark III the better value.