5 Reasons Why the Canon 5D Mark III is $3500 and Why It's Worth It
The Canon 5D Mark III was only announced a few days ago and many sites and blogs have weighed in on whether this full-frame low-light monster is worth the extra money over the 5D Mark II. Many users have commented that it is far beyond their budget compared to what they already have, or the updated specs aren’t worth the extra $800 over what the 5D Mark II cost in 2008 when it was announced ($2700). Many also say that clean HDMI and 1080 60p were deal-breakers at this price. I’ll give you 5 reasons why the Mark III is worth the price. But first, here’s a video showing the 5D Mark II vs. the 5D Mark III at 12,800 ISO:
This is one of the more remarkable things I’ve seen in the last few days. This video was taken with a beta 5D Mark III, and it’s clear that even in its unfinished form, it blows the doors off of the 5D Mark II. Some have commented about about the lack of resolution in the 5D Mark III compared to the Mark II in this video, but it’s possible for two reasons: proper down-scaling and noise reduction. The 5D Mark III no longer has the same aliasing problems as the Mark II, and with this, comes a slight reduction in “apparent” resolution. There is obviously some noise reduction happening in-camera, which could make the camera appear as if it has less resolution. This is only conjecture about this video as we have no other details about how it was actually shot (the details are in Japanese, if you can read Japanese, please let me know in the comments if I’m missing any details).
Here are the 5 reasons the Canon 5D Mark III is $3500, and why it’s worth it:
1. Low-light Performance/Reduced Noise
Based on the improvements Canon has made to noise reduction, the 5D Mark III could be the best performing full-frame camera at this price point in low-light situations. Color fidelity also looks to be much improved at high ISOs, and should retain more information. The FS100 is not full-frame and is another $1500 more expensive. For some, having this performance is not a necessity. They may never be shooting in reduced light like this video. Since it’s not about the high ISOs for these people, they should look at it another way: with an improvement in high ISOs comes an improvement in low ISOs. Based on what Canon has said about a two-stop improvement in noise overall, this camera is virtually noiseless at all normal shooting ISOs. ISO 1600 should look like ISO 400 did on the 5D Mark II (maybe better). That’s a big deal, because it means that your “base” ISO can be somewhere above where it would be shooting on cameras like the C300, FS100, RED Scarlet/Epic, and Alexa. No one has complained about those cameras shooting natively at around ISO 800. This camera “should” have similar dynamic range performance throughout its ISO range, unlike the RED cameras, where ND filters are necessary to shoot in daylight and have adequate dynamic range performance.
2. Resolution/HDMI at 1080p
The Canon 5D Mark II could resolve at best 650-800 lines of resolution. Aliasing helped tremendously to make this camera appear like it was shooting 1080p. In actuality, it was shooting 720p upscaled. For many purposes the aliasing sufficed, but it reared its ugly head on camera movements and straight lines. In this new generation of cameras, that type of performance would be unacceptable. Thankfully, Canon looks to have improved the down-scaling algorithm to the point where this camera will be resolving much closer to 1080p. The Panasonic GH2 has the most resolution of any “DSLR” at the moment, but it’s about to be matched by the 5D Mark III. Yes, the GH2 is a sub-$1000 camera, but the 5D Mark III is full-frame. Getting wide on the GH2 can be a pain, and getting a fast wide angle lens is a whole other story on M4/3.
Now that the camera is resolving closer to 108op, it has also become the best full-frame B-camera at this price point. The 5D Mark II, at times, would stick out when inter-cut with more expensive cameras. It’s likely that this camera can now be used on any production finishing in 1080p, and be inter-cut with any other camera without much issue (at least regarding resolution).
While not clean HDMI, the camera nonetheless will not go down to 480p when hitting the record button. Finally, it will be much easier to get focus with an external monitor than it was with the 5D Mark II. Not only was that camera limited in outgoing resolution, but the 480p would not fill the entire screen unless the monitor would adjust accordingly (SmallHD DP6).
3. Reduced Moire and Rolling Shutter
Both of these were miserable on the 5D Mark II. Now, it looks like they are either non-existent or less apparent to the point of being invisible. Moire could easily ruin many shots, and it wasn’t always possible to see it on the small LCD. Clothing, bricks, water – all of these could wreak havoc on the Mark II. Not so with the new camera, based on the promotional videos and what Canon has said, moire should be reduced to a point where we will not have to adjust our shooting to compensate. Same with rolling shutter. While not as good as the 4-times more expensive C300, rolling shutter on this camera looks to be as good, if not better, than any of the DSLRs out there, GH2 included.
Both of these could really ruin a shot, but now that we can shoot almost freely without worrying about them, it makes for a much, much better and consistent shooting experience.
4. ALL-I Codec at 100mb
While not exactly 100mb (it’s still a variable codec from my understanding, but close enough), it should blow away not only the D800 internal codec (obviously) but the native internal codec of any other camera below $10,000 – besides, of course, the Canon 1DX. I say native internal because we all know that some of these cameras can be hacked (GH2, Canon DSLRs with Magic Lantern) or can shoot uncompressed from HD-SDI or HDMI (D800). This codec is well above the broadcast standard of 50mbps, and in bitrate alone, will actually beat the $16,000 C300 (50mb internal). For many people and situations, dealing with an external recorder is just not possible. Many also just don’t want the hassle. Now with the Mark III we can shoot internally to the CF cards and have an image that should be almost indistinguishable from the uncompressed HDMI (which we obviously can’t record because of overlays). Color will still be limited to 8-bit 4:2:0 internally (to my knowledge), but as we all know the much more expensive Sony F3 is also limited internally to a 35mb 4:2:0 codec. In practice, 8-bit 4:2:0 color sampling is less of an issue than a low bitrate codec.
Not only is the bitrate high with this codec, but the intraframe nature of the ALL-I codec is a tremendous improvement over every other Long-GOP compression system. Each frame is compressed individually instead of relying on frames around it. This keeps the results much more consistent, especially in darker scenes. This addition alone is worth the extra money over the Mark II, as this internal codec is better than any camera under $10,000.
5. Audio Monitoring/Record Limit Up to 29:59
I put these two together because in practice, for many people, they tend to be less of an issue than the other 4 reasons. Audio monitoring is much, much better than it’s ever been on a Canon DSLR. Not only do we have a headphone jack, but we can now monitor and adjust the audio during a take. The most incredible part is that for the first time in a DSLR, we can adjust audio silently, because the scroll wheel is touch sensitive for this very purpose. While audio recording might not be much improved, the actual process of recording audio is leagues ahead of what it was on the Mark II. Magic Lantern does a great job on the Canon DSLRs, but it’s far more of a hassle and not as intuitive as having those options in camera.
The record limit being raised to almost 30 minutes will be a blessing for many documentary folks out there who couldn’t stand the 12 minute limit. While it would be nice to have an unlimited record time, because of crazy European tax laws, if the camera records 30 minutes or more it is considered a video camera and would have to cost more to compensate. 30 minutes is much more doable for documentary work, because it allows interviews to go on much longer and have more fluid breaks in between. For live events, it’s still a pain, there’s no getting around that – but at least you will have less clips in the long run with this camera if you’re shooting a concert or other live event.
If you compare the feature set of this camera not only to the previous 5D Mark II, but to cameras that cost much more, you can see why the Mark III is worth the price. The C300 is the next large-sensor camera that can record internally at more than 30mbps. But at $16,000, it’s nowhere near as affordable as this camera. In terms of low-light performance, there isn’t another full-frame camera out there at this price point that can match it, and the next closest camera is another $1500 (FS100). We’ll have to wait and see if this camera can be hacked, as I’m positive there is more capability under the hood. Let’s hope the people at Magic Lantern don’t have another 7D on their hands.
The improvements made may seem slight at first glance, but when you really take into consideration what else is out there at this price point, you start to realize that it’s almost a bargain. There is not another camera below $3500 with an internal codec at 100mb, and clean ISO at 1600. These are simply tremendous improvements, and it’s the reason why I say the Canon 5D Mark III costs as much as it does, and is worth every penny.
If it’s not in your budget range, I think now is a good time to understand why. Do you shoot for fun – or not very often? What are your requirements in a DSLR: low-light, record time, resolution? If these improvements don’t affect your shooting style or your final product, then by all means stick to the camera you have or wait for a price drop. This camera will not make you a better shooter, but it will certainly improve your workflow if nothing else. Gone are the limitations of the 5D Mark II. Now the only thing stopping us from shooting beautiful full-frame video is imagination.