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The Next Canon 5D - 5DIII/5DX?


Tis the season for camera releases. The Nikon D800/E’s have been announced, the Olympus OM-D has been unveiled and the Fuji X-Pro1 is just around the corner. As for Canon, the rumour mill is in overdrive. The 5DII is a three year old camera and despite still being a great body, it’s beginning to look a little long in the tooth as technology marches on. Things got kicked up a gear in late January when photographer Stephen Oachs posted some images, and accompanying story, of an unreleased Canon camera body in the wild. Based on the lack of an integrated grip this camera was clearly not a 1-Series so the next possibility was either a 7D or 5DII successor. Regardless of whatever camera it was that Stephen saw, it seems likely, given the weight of rumour, that a Canon 5D successor is around the corner in one guise or another.

Today, Canon Rumors posted a CR3 rumour with the below specs:

  • 22 Megapixel
  • 61pt Auto Focus
  • 100% Viewfinder
  • 3.2” LCD
  • Dual CF/SD Card Slots
  • $3500 Approx
  • Announcement on 27th or 28th February

A CR3 rumour is their highest level of certainty and although I’ll not personally call it a certainty until Canon officially launches a new camera, I thought I’d take a moment to weigh in on what I hope for from a 5DII successor and how I interpret the specs that are being reported. Consider this less a rumour piece, and more a discussion of what I want in a great wedding camera.

First off, let me say this. The Canon 5DII is a much maligned camera in some quarters, mainly when compared to other models, but I’ll go so far as to say this: It is the single best camera I have ever used. This may not be something that I can state definitively, but from my point of view it works tremendously well. It produces gorgeous images, I know how to get the best from it and in terms of ergonomics I find it works really well. I also have very few serious nits about working with the camera in a professional situation. That said, I look across the fence from time to time and I see Nikon users who have better AF, considerably better ISO performance and I know that while the 5DII rocks, the technology available today makes a better camera than the 5DII perfectly possible. To that end, here’s my analysis of the rumoured specs.

- 22 Megapixel is just fine for me. More would be nice but not MUCH more and certainly not at the expense of high ISO performance. The newly released D800 produces 36mp images at or above the 50MB mark. At a wedding where I might shoot upwards of 1500 frames, that has a huge impact on storage capacity. One card that Canon holds that Nikon doesn’t is their proprietary sRAW and mRAW formats. These allow for full sensor images but the camera saves a lower res image than the full resolution available. If Canon brought 36mp to the table, I’d be happy, providing the option is there to shoot at 22mp or so using an sRaw format. At the end of the day, 22mp is a sweet spot for me. It allows for full page Folio Album spreads at high res, provides plenty of cropability when needed but isn’t excessively large in terms of file size.

- The new AF is something people are going wild for. When I first started longing for a Nikon beating camera body from Canon, my main desire was more ISO performance. That has now changed somewhat and AF is at least of equal priority in my mind. The 5DII AF gets a really bad rep which is at times undeserved. The centre point works well and is perfectly up to the task of most work. Where the system falls down is the lack of decent off-centre focus points. This makes life really tricking when shooting things like a bride walking down an aisle because it ends up being central composition or nothing. The outer points on the 5DII simply do not offer the accuracy I require.

A lot of stock seems to be placed in the number of AF points available. Personally I am less bothered by the number than I am by their accuracy, and tenacity at holding on, and the spread of points available. Digital SLR’s all suffer from over-centralised focus points. I’d be overjoyed to be offered 9 high performance AF points. One centrally and then 8 forming a box around that centre point placed halfway between the sensor centre and the frame edge. Give me that. Make them work. I’d be in heaven.

Another area that gets a lot of press is which current Canon camera the 5DIII/X will steal it’s AF unit from. Frankly, I don’t care. Just make it modern, non-crippled and tenacious. And give me those outer points!

- ISO isn’t mentioned in the above specs and it has me slightly concerned. Improved AF I hanker after, but greater ISO performance I positively crave. I use my 5DII all the way up to ISO6400 and I use it up there all the time. The UK is a dark country at times and we’ve got a lot of old buildings with small windows. While the 5DII does a good job up to 6400 beyond that the 5DII falls apart. 12,800 is a mess and I try to avoid using it if I possibly can. Now, before we go any further, go check out these images over at Rob Galbraith’s site of the Nikon D3s at ISO12,800. Image 1. Image 2. IMHO these are seriously impressive displays of the lead Nikon has developed in this area. By comparison, at the same ISO level, my 5DII is banded and ugly. To be fair, it’s a much older camera, but nonetheless the difference is stark.

When the 5DII was released it was Canon’s best camera as far as ISO performance goes. Canon sells a lot of cameras to the wedding photography market and given that, I call for it to be the top performing camera in this area again. I fear that Canon will hold back on the 5DIII’s ISO performance to differentiate it from the 1DX but I consider this a real shame. High ISO performance is a crucial factor in a good wedding body and I’ll be gutted if I see a camera launched that’s intentionally crippled.

- Dual CF/SD slots are partly great, partly crap. Dual slots? Huzzah! Multiple formats? Boo. I don’t get why camera manufacturers insist on this approach. Multiple formats simply complicates things. It requires keeping track of two full vs empty card ‘pipelines’, forces me to go and buy a bunch more cards and also introduces a much smaller, much more fiddly card into my workflow. Annoying.

- Price. This seems a little high. Canon will make a killing either way, but bringing the price down beneath 3k US would be pretty special.

So, there’s my thoughts on the camera we’re likely to see. Now it’s time to play wishing-well and speculate on some things that I’d like to see but that probably won’t happen:

  • An option to allow for permanently illuminated AF points. While shooting a pitch black dance floor in AF Servo mode, sometimes it can be hard to figure out exactly what your AF point is resting on. Frankly, when it’s that dark it’s improbable that the AF is going to lock on anyway, but it’d be great to be able to turn the red illumination on full-time to make it easier to spot the live AF point.
  • Proper Auto-ISO. An Auto ISO system that allowed for the setting of maximum/minimum shutter speed and aperture would be hugely welcome.
  • An integrated AF illuminator would be a blessing also. Often I want to shoot a dance floor by ambient light or using off camera strobes. The camera can handle the light conditions but the AF tracking is poor as the contrast available is limited/moving. I could pop a 580EXII on the hotshot but I’d rather have a radio trigger on there. Some sort of full-time tracking support for AF Servo as well as One Shot would seriously rock.
  • A more ergonomic grip. I shoot my 5DII’s with grips all the time, mostly because I prefer the balance and I can’t shoot straight verticals without them! As I said above, I really like the ergonomics of the 5DII - it’s one of the things that’s kept me with Canon over Nikon as it happens - but the grip/body integration could use improvement. At present, it’s a bit of a block, some sculpting here wouldn’t go amiss.
  • Integrated flash commander, preferably via some sort of radio. This is rumoured to be in a new 590EX speedlite, so hopefully we’ll see it in the 5D replacement as well.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity. This’ll never happen. Canon are far too entrenched in the business model of making shed loads of money selling overpriced WFT grips. Nonetheless it’d be nice!
  • Shorter mirror black out. Many people say that the 5DII can’t be used for sport photography. They’re wrong. I’ve used it very successfully, but the mirror blackout does make it tricky at times.
  • Faster fps. See above!
  • Locking Mode selector switch. This was added as a retrofitted upgrade for the 5DII, I hope it’ll be standard issue on the new model. Nothing worse than bringing the camera up to the eye only to find it’s entered green square mode.
  • Get rid of the stupid two-stage ‘on’ switch. I always want to use the thumbwheel. ALWAYS. Stop offering me the option to turn it off by mistake. This is probably my number one reason for poorly exposed shots.
  • Please don’t depart too heavily from the 5DII in terms of interface and usage. I don’t have to think when I pick up my 5DII, please don’t change that!

That’s all I can think of for now. Cameras are constantly evolving, but hopefully the next iteration of the 5D line will make me want to upgrade rather than jump ship/consider a 1DX/commit sepuku. Delete as appropriate.

Keep your fingers crossed, I’m ready to spend and I’m hoping the 5DIII isn’t too far away. I’ve been waiting long enough!

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