The Canon 5D Mark III was never the sharpest camera in DSLR land, but it did improve on many of the image issues of the previous Mark II. Now over two years old, it's to be expected that newer cameras like the Panasonic GH4 and the Sony a7S would be steps up in image quality, but what about a smartphone camera? The Chinese OnePlus One smartphone, which uses a Sony sensor to shoot 4K video, is sharper than the Canon 5D Mark III when both are shown at 1080p.
While comparing 4K to 1080p would be a little unfair, the footage from the OnePlus One has been scaled down to 1080p, and while that also may seem unfair, the Sony a7S has shown that there's no reason a DSLR or mirrorless camera can't get sharp 1080p footage compared to 4K-downscaled footage. We should also get this out of the way: resolution/sharpness isn't everything, these are very different cameras, the Mark III has a bigger sensor with interchangeable lenses and more controllable depth of field, and has much better quality with the Magic Lantern RAW Video hack.
With that said, here's the comparison from Giacomo Mantovani, who sent this over to us. [Update] The Mark III was using the Tamron 24-70mm 2.8, which was around f/10 most of the time. Also, the 300% crop of the OnePlus is from the 4K file, so it has more resolution from the start and is not really an apples to apples comparison at that frame size. The non-cropped frames, however, are both at 1080p:
The sole aim of this test is to compare how the OnePlus One performs in respect to the Canon 5D Mark III in a ideal light condition. In this case I am pleased to notice that the OPO is the clear winner, but no doubts that the Canon 5D Mark III is still the best option for filmmakers, for all the many reasons that make a DSLR what it is. It is though interesting to notice that, in terms of dynamic range, the OPO performed incredibly well compared with the 5D, and I can tell you that with a similar exposure, there is almost no difference between the two.
I wouldn’t ever use a phone for professional shooting, but for sure this is an incredible device for all filmmakers that want to be able to shoot something great on the go, when they don’t have their professional equipment in the bag.
Here are some images from the OnePlus One in 4K:
In low light:
It also does 120fps at 720p:
Here's another look at the smartphone, which supports both UHD and 4K DCI:
This looks like real resolution, not just increased sharpness, and part of that has to do with downscaling from 4K to 1080p, and the other part has to do with how the 5D Mark III combines pixels in video mode to get from its over-5K sensor down to HD. Other cameras, like the a7S, are actually scaling down from the full resolution, and have better internal processing for video, so the quality is naturally higher.
Dynamic range and color are different conversations altogether, though it looks like the OnePlus One actually does a decent job holding up with its excellent Sony Exmor IMX214 sensor. Cameras are a mix of hardware and software components, and getting them all right is the key to a great image. While there are other cameras in the Canon lineup that would likely produce far superior images, the idea is not to say how soft the Canon looks, but to show just how far smartphone and small sensors have come in the last few years.
When our smartphones are producing such terrific imagery, there is no reason more expensive cameras shouldn't be able to keep up. I expect Canon to have much sharper DSLRs in the future as they improve their tech, and as they see that other companies have no problem releasing great, cheap cameras that complement their higher-end cinema cameras.