I remember that day in 2006 when I got my Original 5D delivered right after the gigantic Canon launch, and just in time for my big adventure around the world. Canon was advertising and marketing the “full-frame” 5D as a true breakthrough in engineering and performance, one which would change the course of professional outdoor and landscape photography forever. And it did.
Fast-forward a decade to another product launch of gigantic proportions: the Canon 5DS R. With a staggering 50MP medium-format resolution range in a SLR form factor, Canon is again advertising and marketing this new 5D as true breakthrough in engineering and performance.
Did Canon hit a home run with the 5Ds R as with the Original 5D? Or did Canon completely strike out, allowing the A7R II to leapfrog their latest flagship in record time?
Like the Original 5D, the 5Ds R’s core customer the technical, discerning and often professional landscape photographer. It’s from this perspective that review my Canon 5Ds R.
Ready? Let’s get started! First, here is an overview of the key features that matter most:
Having owned every 5D-series camera and having written Canon camera reviews for camera magazines you might say I’m a Canon fan, but that’s not entirely true. As a landscape photographer I really love and appreciate the impressive image quality combined with the rock-solid durability of the 5D family.
Build quality and durability are traditionally more meaningful to landscape photographers than other areas of photography such as wedding, sports or commercial photography, right? So how then does the 5Ds R stand apart from the rest of the 5D family with regards to build quality and durability? It doesn’t.
The 5DS R’s build quality and durability is for all intents and purposes identical to that of the 5D Mark III. This is great, yet at the same time boring news for 5D Mark III owners. It’s great because none of that rock-solid durability is lost, yet a bit boring because Canon could have shaved a few corners here and there on the build quality in the interest of weight and bulk.
Canon has already proven very successfully that they can put the same great full-frame sensor in a smaller 6D body, so why not move in that direction with the 5Ds R? If given the choice between the size and form factor of the 6D, I would have taken it.
In short, the Canon 5Ds R build quality and design has plateaued where innovation is concerned, which I don’t necessarily see a bad thing considering Sony seems lightyears away from achieving even a moderate level of durability for landscape photographers. But the big bold design moves like the original full-frame 5D to the advent of Live View and the ushering of the video era for full-frame are gone. Canon certainly played the 5Ds R design very safe by not touching anything design or build quality related on the Canon 5Ds R.
Canon again implemented useless buttons which photographers won’t use, further cluttering the back of the camera and wasting precious design real estate. Yes, they’ve removed the dreaded PRINT button however have replaced it with a PAINTBRUSH button and a RATE button. Why not make these custom buttons, mappable to anything the photographer chooses?
The CMOS sensor found in the 5Ds R delivers incredibly large, clean and detailed image files. In fact, the detail as viewed on a retina display is nothing short of remarkable.
The big question with the new lineup: Is the Canon 5Ds R discernibly sharper than the Canon 5Ds? Yes. Click here to see a detailed technical overview of this.
And the very real and significant jump in resolution and image quality between the 5Ds R and my A7R is nearly the same jump I experienced over a year ago when going from my 5D3/6D to the A7R (but it was short lived as the A7R failed miserably). The effect of the low-pass cancelation is a very simple but significant one: images are more crisp than without low-pass cancelation. This is all dependent on tripod stability, correct focusing technique and a few other things, but more on that later.
I have printed large format prints from the 5Ds R, up to 40×60, and the level of detail and color rendition is simply unprecedented. If you are a professional outdoor and/or landscape photographer involved in the printmaking process, your work will immediately gain clarity and definition.
MT. SHUKSAN ANALYSIS
Image tonality and sharpness are beautifully represented in the mountain peak closeup, with long exposure low-ISO noise looking impeccably clean and full of detail. This image hasn’t been sharpened at all, yet the details resolve critically sharp even at F20. The glacer details still hold well without being blown out, and shadow details in the treeline area look great.
MT. RAINIER SUNRISE ANALYSIS
Low-ISO noise almost has the grainlike look and feel of a low speed ektachrome film. I would expect the lower quadrant details to resolve a bit muddy, but they’re sharp and full of definition. This is where the power of the higher resolution sensors comes into play. If you were going to print a 5D3/6D file to 40×60, and print the same image from a 5Ds R file these details are where you’ll see the biggest difference.
RIALTO BEACH ANALYSIS
Upon closer inspection at 100% the details resolve critically sharp across the frame, from the lower left to the upper center quadrants. This level of detail is quite remarkable, and although I have found the 5Ds R to be very unforgiving with regards to sharpness, if manually focusing at 100% on Live View and a few other important factors are considered and practiced, getting consistently sharp images is no more difficult with the 5Ds R than any other camera.
NORTH CASCADE SUNSET ANALYSIS
Expansive wide angles are my favorite, and what I love about the 5Ds R image files is that they’re so damn huge that you can enlarge a quadrant and get an incredible amount of detail. As shown here, we have a very small section of the image with a 1:1 ratio, displaying beautiful details and definition. But if you open the image files up and view them at 100% on your display do you see the hot pixels? 95% of the time I go very light on adjustments, but opening up the shadows even a slight amount makes any otherwise neutral hot pixels incredibly obvious.
I’m only seeing this problem at 100s or longer, approximately, and although this is normal of long exposures even at ISO 100, I’ve never seen this many. I can only attribute it to the quantity of pixels, with a certain percentage getting hot at long exposures. And with a significantly greater number of pixels that percentage throws in a lot of hot pixels into a 5Ds R file, a lot more than a 5D3/6D file.
LAKE CRESCENT ANALYSIS
Another close inspection shows great detail, although at F22 it predictably doesn’t resolve as critically sharp as a lower F number. Tonality is great, highlights and DR appear well controlled. Even though the image file is 50MP, at 100% I’m seeing details just as sharp as my 5D3/6D at a significantly lower resolution and image file size.
The Canon 5Ds R is a very unforgiving camera when it comes to getting critically sharp images. Any camera shake, or a slight out of focus often results in an unacceptable result. However with the below three steps consistently executed correctly I found it quite easy to get sharp shots.
Live View focusing was only introduced to the world of digital photography with the advent of the Canon 5D Mark II with video and therefore Live View. This one feature has completely changed the game for landscape photographers, and now allows for consistently sharp results. No guesswork, no more throwing the dice with Autofocus. But few photographers use it, unfortunately. If this habit is carried into use with the Canon 5Ds R soft results will clearly show.
Another great advantage of Live View on the Canon 5Ds R over other Canon DSLRs is that the 100% zoom is more than double than the 5D3/6D, meaning the image is either IN FOCUS or OUT OF FOCUS with a much smaller threshold. This makes it easier to get images with the Canon 5Ds R sharper!
In short, use Live View 100% of the time when focusing for landscape images. As a general rule focus a 1/3rd of the way in the scene. If you’re not using Live View, or can’t for some reason, the Canon 5Ds R horsepower is crippled.
This may go without saying, but I found good tripod technique critical for getting sharp shots. With the 5Ds R there’s a lot less leeway, which means there’s some situations where I was just not able to get a solid shot, like when shooting on the coast with water splashing against and therefore vibrating the tripod ever so slightly.
I did a very throughout test of the “Vibration Control System” whereby the 5Ds R allows for a delay in the shutter to reduce in-camera vibrations, but I found no difference in real world results. Just a shutter release cable is all you need.
The Canon 5Ds R has smaller pixels than the 5D3/6D, so in theory the noise performance of the 5D3/6D should be greater at higher ISOs, with the 5Ds R performing equally with the 7D Mark II on paper. That said, Canon states the 5Ds R outperforms the 5D3/6D with regards to noise performance. We’ll see if this claim holds up…
In this real world noise performance test I benchmarked ISO 100, 800 and 12,800 between the 5Ds R, 6D and A7R2. It’s worth mentioning that the outcome of this test doesn’t impact a landscape photographer, as a shooting ISO would rarely if ever exceed 100.
In the following 100% closeup I have downsized the Canon 5Ds R and Sony A7R2 down to the 6D resolution, one 100% closeup area in shadow detail, another with text detail in bright light.
It’s best to not know which camera is which until the end, so let’s just call them IMAGE 1, IMAGE 2 and IMAGE 3.
Upon close inspection, the noise levels are equal, as you would expect with ISO 100. IMAGE 1 seems slightly warmer than IMAGE 2, and on first glance IMAGE 3 appears to have more exposure, but I digress from our noise performance. Click for hi-res 3.5 MB image.
Here we start to see differences, with IMAGE 1 and IMAGE 2 nearly indistinguishable from each other, while IMAGE 3 appears on a Retina or 4K display to have marginally less noise than IMAGE 1 and IMAGE 2. Also of interesting note is IMAGE 3 appears to have more exposure, which would render the ISO performance slightly better, and should be taken into account.
All three images look to have about the same ISO noise performance in well exposed areas of the image. All cameras were shot on Sunny White Balance, and no adjustments of any kind have been made to the images, they’re just straight out-of-camera.
Click here to download the hi-res JPEGs (132MB)
Ready to know which camera is which?
I’m not seeing any real world results to indicate that the Canon 5Ds R performs better than the Canon 5D3/6D as Canon states, however it also doesn’t perform worse either. It appears to perform the same. Hundreds of individual images shot outside this simple ISO noise performance confirms this for me.
The seemingly better noise performance on the A7R2 in the ISO 12,800 image actually may have to do with the greater dynamic range, adding exposure and therefore decreasing noise as a result, but that’s outside the scope of this simple noise performance test and I go over that in the Dynamic Range section of this review.
As a side note, all cameras had the same Sunny white balance and all were set to Aperture priority with the F22 and ISO 100 set. The subtle differences in color rendition are good takeaways from this test, with the Canon 5Ds R having a slightly warmer look and feel, with the 6D having a cooler color profile when compared with the 5Ds R. Between the 5Ds R and 6D the A7R2 has the most color neutral profile, to my eyes and 4K display.
Let’s take a look at a 3-up dynamic range shootout between the 5Ds R vs. 6D vs. A7R2 which I originally shot to be a noise ISO performance test, and it still is, but the dynamic range difference struck me most when reviewing the results. Click here to download the RAW & hi-res JPEGs files (574.3MB)
IMAGE 1 is the 5Ds R, IMAGE 2 is the 6D and IMAGE 3 is the A7R2.
The 5Ds R and 6D perform almost equally, but I’d give the edge to the 6D in terms of dynamic range. The A7R clearly outperforms the 5Ds R and 6D with regards to shadow detail and dynamic range in Quadrant 1.
Regardless of what Canon marketing and advertising campaigns claim, the Canon 6D outperforms the 5Ds R in this simple Dynamic Range shootout. Not by a huge amount, but it’s discernible in that there’s more exposure and therefore greater detail as a result. Image 3, the A7R2, has quite a bit more detail in the grass and gravel area, making it the clear winner for dynamic range performance.
Although dynamic range of sunset and sunrise shooting situations (around 18-22 stops) is well beyond the dynamic range of the sensors (11-13.8 stops) and GNDs are therefore required regardless of DR performance advantages between these cameras, I do see increased dynamic range being useful to the photographer in general shooting situations outside of dedicated landscape shooting. Travel, street photography, general shooting etc. will see real world improvements in the DR.
Is the difference in dynamic range visually discernible in a real world shooting situation? Yes. Is the dynamic range a real world advantage when shooting landscapes, particularly sunsets and sunrises where the dynamic range is extreme? Not really, but more DR may mean less GNDs to compensate for the difference between the scene and the sensors capacity. If the increased DR means that 1x 2-stop GND is not having to be used, that’s a good thing and it’s moving in the right direction.
// start tangent
When will we be able to forgo the use of GNDs for landscape photography?
Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to use GNDs to control the sunset? Well, we do, and we will for a very long time. Why? Consider: the original Canon 5D had a dynamic range of approximately 10.6 stops at ISO 50 and 100, while the Canon 5D3/6D came out to about 11-stops. Really? Less than half a stop of dynamic range in approximately a decade of research and development? That’s how slow DR moves in sensor tech, apparently. The Nikon D800E and A7R meanwhile come in around 13.4-stops at ISO 100, and it’s progression to greater DR appears just as slow.
The human eye has a DR of around 23-stops, the typical sensor is between 10.6 and 13.8-stops. A sunset / sunrise is somewhere in the 18-22 range, sometimes more. A GND simply closes the gap of DR between what the camera can do and what the scene requires. So once the DR gap gets closer to what landscape photographers requirements are GNDs will be necessary for professional landscape photographers. The A7R2 is moving in the right direction to close the gap, whereas the 5Ds R remains nearly frozen with regards to DR improvement.
// end tangent
– Canon has removed the headphone audio jack from the 5Ds R, which was present on the 5D3
– Uncompressed HDMI has also been removed
– The crop shooting modes display a blue rectangle on image playback on the LCD, meaning it may not actually be shooting on the crop area, but rather shooting the entire frame and through software doing it?
+ Live View focusing when in bright conditions now goes up to 16x, it’s much easier to get critically sharp as the focus threshold of IN FOCUS or OUT OF FOCUS is much more narrow
+ My side-by-side shots with shutter vibration control and without appear identical, the default shutter settings do not affect critical sharpness on long exposures
+ 100% viewfinder coverage, unlike previous 5D family cameras
+ The DOF button is larger now, which is nice. Like the 6D, it’s now on the shooting hand side
– When focusing in Live View at 100% the half depression of the shutter button DOES NOT exit magnification like you would expect it to, like the A7R2 does.
– The White Balance menu on Live View obstructs the composition, making it very difficult to determine which setting to choose. Very poor user experience on this very frequently used feature. It’s mess-ups like this that make me wonder about who the hell is working at Canon…
+ The SET button can now be configured to adjust ISO in conjunction with index finger dial, just like on the Original 5D. Awesome!
– The Image Edit button can’t be re-mapped as a custom button. Complete fail. Why does Canon force useless buttons like the PRINT button of the past, and now the image edit button? Canon really has no idea what they’re doing when it comes to button functionality and layout.
– I’m seeing an insane number of hot pixels at ISO 100 at 200 seconds, which I have never seen before on any other cameras. No increase of exposure can be done in these areas as can be done on other cameras. If any post is done here the red pixels become very apparent indeed…
+ Images properly focused on stable ground are incredibly sharp, and detailed.