The 22.3-megapixel Canon EOS 5D Mark III captured some of the cleanest images I’ve seen from a DSLR when shooting in low light at high ISOs. That’s no small feat. Cameras such as the 5D Mark III’s predecessor — the 5D Mark II — and the 16.2MP Nikon D4, are designed as low-light assassins, with large, full-frame sensors approximately the same size as a frame of 35-millimeter film.
That the Canon 5D Mark III does so well in so little light is all the more impressive because the pixels on its 36 x 24-millimeter CMOS sensor are smaller than those in the lower-resolution D4. Tinier pixels have less surface area for absorbing light and should, theoretically, stumble more easily in the dark. Not so with the 5D Mark III.
Even at ISO 25,600, which makes the camera’s chip so sensitive to light it can almost “see” in the dark, my still-life test shots with the Mark III had few crunchy, digital artifacts — aka “noise” — in the shadow areas. The results carried over to real-world usage in an outdoor portrait session I shot with the 5D III.
The camera’s ability to shoot crisp images in only available light — and intentionally murky light at that — allowed me to put away my external flash and keep my subject looking soft and natural. It’s not that you can’t create a similar effect with a flash if you know what you’re doing, it’s just that with the 5D Mark III, it’s often unnecessary.
On the downside, when I zoomed in, I saw slightly less detail than competing cameras such as the Nikon D4. The 5D Mark III’s Digic 5 processing engine seemed to smooth out the rough edges of my shots. This was disappointing considering the 5D III’s 22.3 megapixels of resolution should have allowed me to make nearly billboard-sized prints from my photos without sacrificing image quality.
In decent natural light or in controlled studio lighting though, the 5D III’s photos were fabulous, with my portrait session producing creamy skin tones and attractive colors. If you photograph weddings, parties, or people in general, this is the camera for you. The 5D III’s 6-frames-per-second continuous shooting and improved durability with weather resistance are a step up from the previous model. I photographed a model moving through quick poses outdoors under threatening skies without worry.
The 5D III’s HD video skills have improved, too, with more frame speeds and compression options that allowed me to experiment with different looks and files sizes. While the previous 5D model was a truly groundbreaking videography tool upon arrival, there’s not as much of a revolutionary shift evident here. But I loved the high-quality HD movies I shot, which were crisp and nearly artifact-free, thanks to the better processing from the 5D III’s Digic 5+ chip.
WIRED In-camera HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature combines three shots into one image with better exposure. “Silent” shooting mode helps capture stealthy candid portraits. Rank photos in-camera with one to five stars, then carry those ratings over to Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Bridge and Apple Aperture. Same 61-point (41-cross-type-point) autofocus system as top-of-the-line Canon 1D X.
TIRED Only slightly more resolution than four-year-old previous model. Starting price nearly $1,000 higher than predecessor. Built-in mic only offers mono sound.
Photos courtesy of Canon, Inc.