Let’s start off with some honesty: I’m not a professional reviewer so this will be an “outside of the lab and in the real world” review. I also already shoot with Canon.
What’s important to a wedding photographer?
A month or so ago, Canon released the new 5diii. How does it stand up as a wedding camera? To answer that, we need to know what’s important to a wedding photographer. Here are my key thoughts:
- Accurate and quick focussing
- Excellent high ISO quality
- To ensure you can deliver the photos
- Stay quiet and unobtrusive
- Speed of use
- Shoot in any conditions
Handling & usability
The 5diii is similar is usage to the 5dii, so if that was your previous camera you’ll feel right at home. A few buttons have changes – there’s a new rate button which I doubt will be of massive use to wedding photographers – but on the whole it’s an incremental change. Of more importance, the mode dial has a lock feature which means it’s not possible to accidentally knock it any more.
Canon have added a feature which allows you to map many of the buttons to work in a way you would like them to. Particularly popular for wedding photographers right now is being able to reassign the DOF preview button (now on the right hand side of the lens) to temporarily switch focussing mode from one shot to AI servo (or vice versa). My favourite is remapping the “Set” button as a change ISO option – you hold “Set” and change ISO with the front dial. When in Manual mode, this allows you to continue to see your exposure meter which really helps.
One of the most important changes for me is the inclusion of dual card slots into the camera. There is now a CF and an SD card slot and you may write your files to both at the same time. This will allow me to use 64Gb cards and not have to switch over the day since I’ll always have a backup – bliss!!
Also on the positive front is providing a usable auto ISO function (it was very poorly implemented on the 5dii). I’ve never really used auto ISO before, but effectively it’s the same as any other auto mode. On using it at a wedding I found myself really liking it. However, Canon have not provided EC with Manual mode with using auto ISO and it really needs it. The auto ISO options are also a little on the light side: there’s no option to choose, say, 1/80th as the minimum shutter speed. Providing EC (Exposure Compensation) with Manual mode would solve a large part of this problem. It’s also missing the option to limit ISO by third stops – you can only choose 6400, 12800 etc…
The disappointment is that Canon didn’t provide support for the UHS SD cards so the SD slot is significantly slower to write. As a further disappointment, the buffer size has not increased so if you wanted to write RAW to the CF and JPEG to the SD, the buffer is only 6 shots. The buffer isn’t as poor if you’re writing the same RAW files to both card.
Coupled with the slow writing to the SD card, the flexibility of this option is reduced for wedding photographers. It makes it more difficult to take advantage of the upgraded 6fps shooting mode (up from 4fps with the 5dii) and shoot RAW and JPEG. However, in practice I personally found virtually no instances where this affected my work since I shoot RAW to both cards.
One of the most impressive features is the new silent mode shutter. This halves the amount of noise the shutter puts out and will be fantastic for shooting in a quiet church near to the couple. Kudos for such an effective feature Canon! In Church the shutter was effectively silent to those around me. I doubt anyone heard me shooting. View a video demonstration below:
When considering the body, the weather sealing of the camera is improved. I never had a problem shooting with my 5dii in rainy conditions, but the 5diii should be even more secure. The body also feels better in my hands – more modern grips and better sculpted.
Screen, menus & viewing photos
The screen on a digital camera is incredibly important these days. Gone are the days where it’s impossible to check the accuracy of exposure on your screen – these screens now offer the ability to view your photos in bright light. I found the 5diii was the closest yet to having the brightness needed to view the image in bright light, but I found the auto brightness option really wasn’t that effective which is a shame.
The significant change is to the zoom function. Rather than having zoom in / zoom out using the buttons on the back right side of the camera, there is a dedicated zoom function and you use the front scroll wheel to zoom in and out. That will take some getting used to and hasn’t been incredibly popular. On the positive side, it’s possible to zoom straight in to 100% on the last focus point to check focus quickly. That’s a really welcome change when confirming that your focus is accurate before moving on.
There is an all new menu system too which is similar to the previous one, but with more pages. The menus are definitely easier to navigate through. The custom functions have also been moved out of the deep difficult to find menus and there is useful help explaining the various functions now.
It’s obviously important to a couple that their photos are in focus. The 5dii was dead on in good light and fairly accurate in low light, but only the centre point was really usable. I personally took more photos that necessary just to ensure I had photos in focus. In poor light I’d also use the focus assist on my canon flash (with the flash on minimum power, pointed away).
The 5diii has an all new pro focus system from the new 1DX with 61 points, where 41 are the more accurate cross type points. The 5 central points are a new special dual-cross type which should improve accuracy even more. In practice, the 5diii is able to focus down to -2 EV compared with -0.5EV with the 5dii and the focussing was spot on even in incredibly low light. It’s amazing!
At a wedding this allowed me to achieve shots I simply wouldn’t have been able to, or would have had to use the focus assist light on the 5dii. See the example shot – this sample shot was taken at ISO12800, f2, 1/125th – that’s not a lot of light! Yet the focussing is pretty much spot on.
The question often asked about focus systems is how many shots are in focus vs out of focus. Well, there were very few out of focus and those that were were probably my fault. However, in extreme low light the camera did take some time to focus but we’re talking about situations where the focus system would be pushed to it’s maximum. Was it 100%? No, but it was pretty close…
To go with this, there is a new focus menu which 20-30 options. You’re able to make quite significant changes to the focus tracking system in order to work in conditions which are more simple (like someone walking towards you), as well as more complicated (like tracking ice skaters). It’s very flexible.
The slight disappointment is the viewfinder. It’s hard to see the red flash on a focus point in good light. I found an option where the AF point could switch off when focus was achieved and that helped a bit, but that mode doesn’t show the focus point when AI servo is switched on, so you can’t see where you’re focussing. There is also a problem where you can’t see the dark focus points against dark objects, so it can be hard to work out what you’re focussing on.
I’ve passed this feedback to Canon for a future firmware fix. On the plus side, it’s got an integrated grid which can be switched on and off. I love a grid since it’s helps me keep everything straight and reduces my time spent making little corrections in post!
Image quality (IQ) and RAW files
The 5dii was widely regarded as having fantastic IQ. It had the double whammy of a high resolution 21MP sensor and yet keeping up with the 12MP Nikon d700 in high ISO tests – a truly astonishing sensor.
The 5diii builds on this with a 22MP sensor which features the same stunning skin tones with an improvement in high ISO noise of 1/2 to 1 stop in raw. In practice, I’d happily shoot the 5dii at ISO3200 in RAW when processed in LR. With the 5diii, the improvement in the quality of the noise (how it looks) I’d happily shoot at ISO8000, or maybe a little higher if the scene is fairly bright. (Note to Canon: Please can we have third stop ISOs with the Auto ISO option?). That’s effectively a stop and a third improvement in usable ISO range while keeping the same resolution.
Where Canon falls compared to it’s competition is low ISO (ISO100-400) dynamic range – the deep, deep shadows are just not very nice quality. In practice, I would happily push the shadows by 2 stops but not more. The competition are offering 4-5 stops now and this is something which Canon can work on in the future. Does this get in the way? No, not really for me. In a wedding there may be a few shots where more than 2 stops of deep shadows need be recovered and there’s always an option to use a flash instead. This is a stylistic point though – others may find their needs are different.
What I do really like is that Canon kept this camera at 22MP. The competition is increasing the amount of MP all the time and, while this might be useful for landscape photographers, it does mean storing and processing photos becomes that much harder. 22MP will print a beautiful quality A2 photo so I neither need or want more resolution. Kudos again Canon.
As an aside, the camera also offers an improved JPEG engine with more effective noise reduction and many other elements. As I photograph in RAW it’s not an issue for me, but it’s a welcome improvement.
I suppose I should talk about the various alternatives:
- Canon 5dii: slightly lower quality at iso3200 than I’d like and focussing that you need to work around. Nice and cheap now though!
- Canon 1ds3: similar in many ways to the 5dii but with much better focussing but a poor quality screen.
- Canon 1d4: a 1.3x crop version of the 1ds3 which I always felt would ruin my lens selection at the wide end.
- Canon 1DX: Canons newest offering (yet to be released). Likely to be the king of the hill for sports photographers but rather overkill for weddings and shutter is no where near as quiet.
- Nikon D700: a great overall wedding camera used by many pros, but rather low resolution now at 12MP. Nice and cheap now though!
- Nikon D3: similar to the D700 but a more professional body and feature set.
- Nikon D3S: still the low light king (although 5d3 and d4 come close) and a great all round wedding camera. Still rather low resolution at 12MP. Probably what I’d be shooting with if I was a Nikon man.
- Nikon D800: Too many megapixels to be useful for wedding photographers (50-70Mb RAW files with no mRAW option!!) but fantastic low ISO dynamic range and decent high ISO performance. If you shoot JPEG, the file size isn’t so much of an issue.
- Nikon D4: Nikons best overall wedding offering with a combination of 16MP, great low ISO DR and great high ISO performance. Rather expensive though and more geared towards sports, like the 1dx.
On a general Nikon point, I’ve always found that Nikons tend to white balance towards green by a random amount. While some way like this look, I personally don’t. Cleaning this up in post costs me time and therefore money. It’s one of the reasons I’ve preferred Canon to Nikon.
Every camera has it’s pros and cons and the 5diii is no exception:
Pros, in order of importance to me
- Dual card slots to backup image files
- Class leading auto focus system
- Clean high ISO (ISO6400 and maybe ISO8000 is very usable)
- Silent shutter option
- 22MP is just the right resolution
- Improved weather sealing
Cons, in order of importance to me
- Inability to see the red flash in the viewfinder in bright light (but there is a workaround) and inability to see the dark focus point against dark objects (for which there is no current workaround, but Canon are aware of). This really is the only serious issue and it should never have happened.
- The auto ISO options are too limited – EC in Manual and options to choose any shutter speed and third stop ISOs are essential (this is only important if you’re going to use Auto ISO, but I recommend you give it a try…)
- The lower speed SD card slot (only an issue if you shoot large bursts and especially if you want to shoot RAW to one card and JPEG to the other)
- Poor quality deep shadows (only an issue if you push shadows more than 2 stops regularly to increase dynamic range)
On the whole it’s an amazing update which addresses the improvements that events photographers wanted to see from the 5dii. I personally believe this is the best overall wedding camera on the market today – it’s nearly the perfect combination of the right features at the right price.
While the 5dii had a fairly significant issue – the focus system – the 5diii only has minor issues and it has matured significantly because of it. On the price point, the 5diii is probably a little expensive, but you can buy two 5diii’s for not much more than a 1dx or d4. This makes it a very attractive option for a wedding photographer who is likely to upgrade again in 3 years.
Sample 5diii images from a real wedding
I can confidently say that some of the images in this selection could not have been taken by the 5dii without extra focus help..
Beautiful colours and subtle tones
Spot on focussing with the outer focus points
Even with a thin DOF, the focussing on the hand is perfect
The focussing is fast enough to capture a fleeting smirk
… and to capture an unexpected hand shake
Coupled with the Canon 135f2 lens, the camera can produce beautiful photos
And focussing with the outer focus points means razor sharp images
At f5.6 this shot is incredible sharp
Another very quick capture that the focussing system kept up with in low light
Accuracy of focussing through this mirror is fantastic
Auto ISO at work. I was moving around and found that Auto ISO gave me the ability to react quickly
Low light focussing on the dance floor
On a 5dii this kind of shot would have required a focus assist lamp
A new take on dance shots courtesy of the super accurate focussing
And another superb dance floor capture
Those beautiful lenses…
As a final point, the key Canon prime lenses (24L, 35L, 50L, 85L and 135L) are revered for their quality and the beauty of the images they produce. Only a Canon camera can use these and they are a constant reminder to me that, while a camera body is important, the lenses are equal or more so. They are a large reason I shoot Canon and will continue to do so.