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Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

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  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
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  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
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    by Stu Maschwitz

Why I Bought a 5D Mark III

Image courtesy

You probably saw this one coming. I just pre-ordered a Canon 5D Mark III from Amazon. Here’s why.

A Focus on Photography

I shoot a lot of stills with my 5D Mark II. It’s a great camera. But it’s a camera out of balance. The sensor can work in light so low that the autofocus system, inherited from the original 5D, can’t keep up. The 5D Mark II today is still a great camera—but its autofocus technology is six years old!

The 5D Mark III, on the other hand, arrives with Canon’s most recent and potentially most awesome autofocus system to date, the same one as the highly anticipated 1D X.

This plus the 6fps burst speed means the next time I’m chasing three-year-olds around Oakland with a fast 50, I hope I’m using the 5D Mark III.

Medium Megapixels

Speaking of shooting stills, I’m thrilled at the restraint that Canon showed in the 5D Mark III’s megapixel count. It’s barely bumped from the Mark II, meaning that all the advancements in sensor tech translate directly into reduced noise.

I’m not a resolution fetishist, and I still kinda miss the enormous, velvety-smooth pixels from my original 5D. So my hopes are high that Canon’s restraint reflects well in the 5D Mark III’s stills.

Moiré? Significantly Less Ré.

As much as I love shooting stills, video is a huge part of my purchasing decision. For the first time, Canon’s marketing directly addresses the HDSLR community’s biggest gripe about EOS video: the aliasing/moiré artifacts caused by the hasty downsampling off the sensor. The sample films we’ve seen so far back up Canon’s claim that the 5D Mark III features a dramatic reduction in these artifacts.

DPReview had this to say:

Although at first glance the video specifications of the 5D Mark III might look very similar to those of the 5D II, the results should be greatly improved. From our limited use, the new sensor shows much less of the rolling-shutter effect that was very apparent with fast movement on the Mark II. The more powerful Digic 5+ processor is also able to reduce moire artifacts in videos, giving cleaner output.

If this doesn’t turn out to be true, I can always send the 5D Mark III back. Pre-ordering now gives me that option. But I’m sure long before it shows up at my door, we’ll all be treated to endless “short films about charts” showing just how the Mark III behaves itself around tiny lines. I just hope some are as good as this one.

Sound On

The 5D Mark III is the first EOS DSLR to feature a headphone jack for audio monitoring. Embarrassing, but true. This, combined with the manual audio level control, might save me from a dual-system audio setup on some shoots. When you’re as lazy as I am, that’s a good thing.

The other thing that I like about Canon’s commitment to audio is the touch-sensitive feature of the rear dial. You can silently adjust audio levels while recording.

HD Out

Although the 5D Mark III’s HDMI out is not a clean, capturable 1080p, it is HD, which is not the case with its predecessor. This should make catching focus on my 5” Marshall LCD easier.

This is a real concern, by the way. One of the sneaky reasons it’s possible to manually focus your HDSLR off the tiny rear LCD screen is the very line-skipping that the Mark III allegedly does away with. The artificial sharpness of the poorly-sampled video we’ve grown accustomed to from our EOS HDSLRs causes in-focus detail to “pop” into crisp relief, acting as a kind of peaking focus assist. Unfortunately, this effect is permanently burned into your footage. If the 5D Mark III truly addresses the downsampling/moiré issue as Canon claims, the downside may well be that we’ll find it even harder to keep our crazy-shallow DOF shots in focus. An EVF or external LCD may go from a nicety to a necessity.


Full-frame slowmo. Hopefully with less ré.

Last Longer

Again, quoting from DPReview:

The camera is also happy to record for its maximum 29:59 minutes without overheating risks in normal working temperatures and can split a single clip across multiple files so that it isn’t impeded by the 4GB file limit of the FAT 32 file system.

My Pants Still Fit

All of my existing support gear for my 5D Mark II and 7D will work beautifully with the 5D Mark III, including my batteries and chargers. No need to upgrade my Redrock Micro shoulder rig or my various other camera support gear.

Bigger is More-er

I’ve long characterized the 5D Mark II as the video DSLR that makes up for its technical shortcomings with gobs of sex appeal. Though I love so very much about the Canon C300, its Super 35 sensor is, you know, “only” as big as motion picture film. Once you get a taste for the sultry, soft depth-of-field control possible with a full-frame sensor, it’s hard to go back.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel a $3,500 purchase dimishinging my desire to make a $16,000 one, I go with that feeling.

Canon 5D Mark II For Sale

Seriously. It’s still an amazing camera, and I’ll probably get decent money for it, so although I agree with those who lament that the Canon 5D Mark III is “overpriced,” I can’t exactly say that it’s “too expensive,” because, looking less at the price tag and more at the upgrade cost after selling both my 5D and my 7D, I just ordered one.

If you do the same, and go through these links (Amazon, B&H), you help support my hasty decision-making and encourage future Prolost blathering. And your earn my gratitude. Thanks!

Reader Comments (17)

Great rundown, Stu (best I've seen so far in fact). So, as far as stills are concerned (I'm about 90% stills and 10% motion currently and love the output from my Mark II) is the general consensus that there's not, or won't be, much to choose between the Mark II and Mark III?

March 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterGeoff Smith

I'd consider the following advantages for stills alone: Dramatically better autofocus, 6fps, updated sensor with better low-light performance, better weather sealing, twin memory card slots, bigger LCD screen.

March 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterStu

Ditto for pre-order.

Seriously, just all the crap you needed to buy to make the mk2 behave somewhat reasonably (monitor with DSLR scaling, the Mosaic anti-moire filter, etc.) justifies the price increase in my mind. If everyting else was exactly the same, reduced moire and rolling shutter alone is worth paying extra for me.

March 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterArt Chong

Stu, thank you for the great post. I'm salivating over all of the new features and great improvements. Looking forward the the full frame 60fps and HDR functions!
I just preordered thru your link! See you on the other side!

March 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterJadan

What can we hope about the new video coding?



March 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterJose Ignacio

I applaud all the people making the leap with their credit cards so soon. I'm going to wait to see actual native video comparisons with the current MK2, C300 and new Nikons before making any decision. Hoping for a Great Zacuto Shootout 2012!

March 3, 2012 | Registered Commenterjim bachalo

Stu, thanks for the great posts as always. I currently have a 7D and I have been waiting for the "moire free" 5d upgrade for a long time now. My biggest pause over the 5dmk3 is canon's statement about their 4k "C" branded DSLR to be released before the end of the year. What are your thoughts on that? I am not a huge resolution fetishist or anything, but the idea that it has their cinema branding makes me think video will likely be THE priority of such a future DSLR. I just have no idea what it will cost though. Will it be more similar in price to a 5dmk3 or to a C300? I would love to hear your thoughts.

March 3, 2012 | Registered Commenterandy g

Andy, I wish I knew. That potential future camera is nothing but a market-confuser right now.

One thing's for sure though: There will always be something around the corner that might be better than what we have now. Always. So buy only what you need, and only the very moment that you need it.

March 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterStu

Hey Stu,
what't the chance we'll see you update your FXPHD HDSLR DOP210 course for 2012?

March 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterMatt O'Donnell

If you have the budget, I think it's a very good upgrade for still and good upgrade for video although nothing that exciting. A friend of mine just ordered the C300 as his A camera for video and the Mark III as his A camera for stills and B-cam for video but he does a lot of pro DP and still work. Seems like a pretty sweet setup.

Me, my IMAX project consumes my funds, so my 7D will have to keep going and maybe the 7D Mark II will arrive.

March 3, 2012 | Registered Commentertest

I'm definitely going to buy a full-frame DSLR before the summer, but I'm still not sure if it will be the 5D3 or the D800 (or something Sony or Pentax bring out?)

in the meantime, as soon as someone gets his hands on one, I'll be very happy to create a new set of picture styles taylored specifically for the 5D3

my Flaat_4 can get in video mode nearly all the dynamic range that the 7D has in RAW stills mode (and yes, that's over one stop more than CineStyle delivers), but the crappy codec and non-stellar low light performance of the old canons make this a not-as-good-as-it-sounds option, only good for those times when you absolutely need all the DR you can get

hopefully the 5D3 won't have these problems, so a high DR picture style would be more useful with that one (though the codec is still 8-bit, I think, so Stu's trick of gentle denoise + gentle add noise may be needed to avoid banding)

also, this time I intend to create two sets of picture styles: one based on Neutral, for people like Stu that are great at the color booth, and one based on Portrait for people like me, that have problems getting nice skin tones back after shooting with flat picture styles based on Neutral

so: if somebody gets hold of a 5D3 and wants to help me create these picture styles, all I need is a simple set of RAW pictures taken with the 5D3 (and updated DPP and PSE software that can work with those files, but I guess I'll be able to download those directly from canon soon), write to me at samspqr_gmailcom

March 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterSamuel H

Cheers Stu ! your debt for all these lowdowns.. however no mention of the Nikon D800 or D800E on your blog yet which has suprised me a little.... are you intending anything?

March 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterMatthew Thistle

I signed up for one for all of the reasons people are citing, but in particular, the expectation that moiré is all but eradicated and the promise of close to 1000 lines of resolution in 1080 mode.

The thing that gave me pause (about 12hrs) is the lack of 4:2:2 color. It's a little ambiguous, but it seems pretty assured it's not going to give us that. The intraframe is nice, but I'm wondering if that will help at all on the cc/compositing front. Stu, you're a respected digital gear head, what do you think on that point?

March 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterRuss Johnson

Hi Stu,

I "hope" the Canon 5D Mark III is a long-term failure for professional video / cinema use, and is a success for photographers!

Sometimes product success slows technological progress, and that's clearly the case with the Canon omitted features list and price increase. I think the video features are appropriate for 2010 for no price price increase, but not 2012.
Canon certainly has a lot of technology on the shelf, waiting for someone else to move first. I hope it is part of a last generation legacy DSLR offering by both Nikon and Canon.

Other industry manufacturers have the golden opportunity to go mirrorless with 33.18MP sensors, 4K or 8K resolution, higher framerates and RAW video.

Fortunately, there are so many other choices in the marketplace including used 5D Mark II, I see no sense of urgency to upgrade and choose to sit on my cash using those options waiting to see if the Canon Cinema EOS meets my minimum professional needs with 10bit 4:2:2 color and clean HDMI output.

That said, Canon will sell a ton regardless, and I think it's certainly a good choice for many who need a FF camera right now, and a better long-term investment than a C300 for many. It looks like a solid tool, and no excuses I'll use it wherever appropriate.

Hopefully, NAB 2012 will present many more options with next generation video features for video use going years forward...

March 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterNick D

It was nice to see that the moire and rolling shutter seem to be greatly reduced. Does it bother you Stu that the detail resolved seems to be pretty much the same as the older canon DSLRs though? I feel like we are at a point where most cameras are getting great details. Whether it is the C300, fs100, or even a cheap little gh2, it seems to me the technology is not really a constraint for resolving great detail in a 1080p image from a high megapixel sensor anymore. Do you think canon is intentionally not resolving to its best abilities on the 5dmk3 in order to protect its "C" cinema line? Curious as to your thoughts, as I am considering backing away from my 5dmk3 pre-order now. A fairly big letdown to me as there are so many things that make me want to stay with canon and their DSLR line...

March 8, 2012 | Registered Commenterandy g

It seems that big-sensor shooters who long for higher detail are probably best served by leaving the DSLR realm for a hacked GH2. The lack of details doesn't bother me though.

As for Canon ever "intentionally" crippling anything to protect anything, I can't think of a better company to continually remind us of Hanlon's Razor.

March 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterStu

hi stu,
are you familiar with the Weapons of Mass Production guys?
they have a fun camera comparison between the D800 and the 5d markiii:

August 28, 2012 | Registered Commenterdavid superville
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