About Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas is a professional fine art photographer and writer specialising in photography related instructional books as well as travel writing and street photography. 

Thoughts on the new Canon 5D Mark IV

Thoughts on the new Canon 5D Mark IV

Canon 5D Mark IV

After much rumour and speculation (or deliberate leaks) Canon has finally officially announced the 5D Mark IV. The new camera is the latest version of the venerable 5D line which revolutionised the DSLR market when it was first released, being the first mainstream DSLR with a full frame sensor. The new 4th generation version has an improved 30mp sensor, shoots 4k and has built in WiFi and GPS.

As someone who has owned both the original 5D and the 5D Mark II, I was keen to see what Canon would do with this release. I’ve shot with a variety of cameras over the years, including Nikon, Sony and Fuji, but when I look back through my library, I still love the shots from my Canons. I have been considering getting the next generation for a while, and now that it’s finally here, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the release.

As a stills camera

The 5D series has become in effect two different cameras. For some people it’s primarily a stills camera. For others it’s primarily for video, and of course, for many it’s both. The decision to add full frame video recording to the 5D Mark II was the start of a revolution (Nikon had added video to the D90 earlier, but it was so bad it was practically unusable) and the evolution continued with the 5d Mark III. There were a lot of expectations for the video capabilities of the Mark IV leading up to the announcement, given Sony’s dominance of the market lately, but I’ll get to that in a minute. First I want to talk about stills.

There is a lot to like about the 5D Mark IV when it comes to stills. In the era of high megapixels, 30mp seems like a good compromise. The new entry level seems to be 24mp and so, it’s a good middle ground between that, and the high resolutions of the 5DS.

It’s also good that Canon has specifically mentioned improvements in the dynamic range. This had been one of the frustrations I had with he 5D Mark II. The noise in the shadows was particularly unpleasant, as it wasn’t just random noise, it was a pattern like colour noise, that was unpleasant and hard to remove. It limited what you could do in high contrast situations compared to other cameras. Lightroom did add tools that let you fix this problem after a while and then it was less of an issue, but until recently Canon has lagged behind Sony (and it’s customers including Nikon) in terms of its sensor’s dynamic range handling.

Canon has improved this lately though. The recent releases of the 1DX Mark II and the 80d both had significant improvements in the dynamic range handling, bringing them closer if not level to Sony in this department. Hopefully the 5D Mark IV has all of these improvements too. I loved the colours from my original 5D and I would love to have that with the dynamic range I get from my Sony cameras.

There’s some additional innovations in this new version of the 5D too. Canon have introduced what they’re calling Dual pixel raw. Rather than me trying to explain it, here’s the relevant section from Canon’s website:

The EOS 5D Mark IV camera’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF system enables capture of Dual Pixel RAW (DPRAW) files. Images shot as DPRAWs offer advanced photographers significantly more parameters for post-production adjustment with Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software. DPRAW files processed in Digital Photo Professional can be adjusted with functions that include Image Micro-adjustment to help reduce blur and maximize sharpness in detail areas, Bokeh Shift for more pleasing soft focus areas and Ghosting Reduction to help minimize aberrations and flare.

This sounds interesting, but don’t expect Lightroom support for that feature any time soon.

Other features include 7fps continuous shooting, which is impressive given the pixel count, and a new 61 point autofocus system.

At the moment the 5D mark IV has only just been announced, so we will need to wait until it gets into the hands of some photographers in the real world to see how it does. I’m keen to get proper samples, but from the specs it looks like it could be a good evolution of the Mark IV line.

The samples I’ve seen, while not full res, look great. It looks like the stills side of the 5d IV will be excellent, and so I’m looking forward to seeing it out in the wild.

As a video camera

When it comes to video, expectations for this camera were pretty high. Canon seems to have lost interest in the field that it created, and lately Sony has been wiping the floor with the competition in this department. A lot of people were hoping that with the Mark IV, Canon would catch up to and pass out Sony when it comes to video functions. Unfortunately, a lot of those people may be disappointed.

I would like to point out that at this moment, all we really have are specs. We need to see how it fares in the hands of proper film makers before we can really pass judgement. Canon has posted some samples, but they’re not very good.

There were two features that film makers really wanted to see on the Mark IV. One is 4K video and the other is some form of Log or flat picture profile. We only got one of those, the 4K option, and that comes with a couple of caveats.

Fir a start the 4K is the DCI (digital cinema) variant rather than the UHD variant. While this is a slightly larger frame, it’s also in a weird 17:9 aspect ratio. If you’re planning to shoot for Television or online delivery, you may prefer the UHD format, which means some additional re-framing in post. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s one extra step.

The bigger issue is the fact that it’s 1.64 crop from full frame. Now, there are two schools of thought on this so far. One is that many other cameras have a crop to get 4K from their sensors, and that the crop is approximately super 35mm size. The other is that Sony can manage it with the A7R mark II, so why can’t canon.

In my opinion, it isn’t a huge deal, but it is an inconvenience. The main reason is that it will be difficult to get suitable wide angle lenses for it. While the Nikon D5 for example has a pretty big crop too, you can at least use Nikon’s DX lenses on that camera. You can’t use Canon’s EF-S lenses on the 5D because Canon’s EF-S lenses can’t be used on any of the company’s full frame cameras. This is due to the fact that the rear element on EF-S lenses protrudes into the mirror box, and could damage the mirror. Ironically, the best way to get an ultra wide ma be to use a Nikon DX lens with an adaptor.

At the end of the day this isn’t a huge problem. Even using the full frame 16-35, this will give you the equivalent of a 27mm lens, which is probably wide enough for many users. There’s also Canon’s 11-24mm which will give you roughly an 18mm field of view. You probably won’t need to go wider than this for most normal video shoots anyway.

Recording is done internally to an 8 bit 4:2:2 motion Jpeg codec with bit rates of up to 500mbs. There is no option to record 4K to an external recorder, and apparently the HDMI is using an older spec. The camera also has an SD and CF card slot, but no super-fast format like C-Fast or XQD which could make getting cards compatible with the high data rate difficult.

One of the bigger issues is the lack of any kind of Log format or even a native flat profile. Many people have commented that Canon is afraid to encroach on their Cinema EOS line of cameras, and this would seem to be one of the things that would back up said conspiracy theory. Given that Sony can put a log format into their compact cameras, It’s hard to understand why Canon couldn’t do this. Given the emphasis on the improved dynamic range, its a shame they won’t allow you too maximise that in video. I know there are things you can do by adjusting the colour profiles, but it’s not the same as a proper log format. I know that Log isn’t for everyone, but when done right it really gives your video a much more mimic look. Maybe in a firmware upgrade. Or a hack. Here’s looking at you magic lantern.

The sample that Canon posted “A trip to the beach” clearly shows this off, having a problem handling the contrast in the shots. The waves peaking are clipped and asked out, and it’s hard to believe that this is the best you can do with a 2016 high end camera. Of course this is partly due to the way this was shot, and a better cinematographer would have gotten around this problem by properly exposing, but it shows a lack of foresight on Canon’s part. Given that most of its competition has some from of either a Log or flat profile, the lack of anything like this is a bit of a disappointment.

There is a new HDR video mode when shooting in HD which does give you an extended dynamic range, but it’s not available in 4K. It looks interesting, and it does address some of the problem, but again, it’s not Log and it’s not available in 4K.

Wrapping up

Over all, I’m both excited and disappointed about the new 5D. It looks like a great stills camera, but only ok, if a little disappointing on the video side. I know there’s lots I haven’t talked about here, and I’m guessing Canon fans will take issue with everything I’ve said, but anyway. Would I buy one? I don’t know. I would like to see how it performs in real life. I do have a good bit of canon glass, and I loved my first generation 5d (not so much the 5D mark II) so I would like a newer body, but I do want a proper DSLR for both stills and video, and it’s hard to ignore what Sony are doing in this space. (Ok, I know Sony is technically Mirrorless, but you know what I mean!)

I’m interested to see how Nikon responds. I’m guessing a D900 or similar can’t be far away. Sony’s next generation should be interesting too. I think if Canon had launched this a year ago, it would be a huge success. I’m sure it still will be, but I suspect that some of the enthusiasm for it will be blunted by offerings from the competition that look better in some respects, at least on paper.

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