On the day of releasing this article it has been almost four months since I decided to complement my Nikon equipment with the Canon EOS 5DS R camera. Now I would like to share my experience with my readers, rebut some false statements that have emerged and perhaps even help you a bit to make up your mind if you consider buying this camera.
I will start with the most important thing first.
QUALITY OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS.
This was the main reason for me to buy this Canon, and I am definitely not disappointed. The colors are clear and bright, without undesirable casts or tints. Automatic white balance is very precise, but I still almost always adjust it to suit my creative intentions. Photographs (RAW only, I don't use JPG in cameras) are relatively contrasty when compared with Nikon, which suits me as I usually prefer to increase the contrast. Lower dynamic range when compared to Nikon was not a problem for me yet, I use Lee graduated filters or exposure bracketing if needed.
Noise appears quite unpredictably, sometimes it is rather apparent even at ISO 100, sometimes almost invisible even around ISO 800. Of course, this camera is not intended for night reportage in flickering street lights, for this we can use Nikon Df for instance. When the noise does appear after all, it can be removed relatively easily, as the amount of details in the photographs is so high, that a small decrease will not be even noticed. With high noise, color blotches may sometimes appear, but more likely only where you would expect them, e.g. in large contrast night scenes, etc. With photographs taken in sufficient light conditions it is possible to brighten up shadows rather efficiently without introducing ugly artifacts and noise. Of course, here you cannot afford the same things that you can do with lights and shadows in photographs taken by Nikon.
WORKING WITH THE CAMERA.
I bought this body as a replacement for a digital back as their prices make me laugh and you never know when its manufacturer goes out of business without a warning and you have no choice but hope, that you can find someone willing to provide repairs for potential breakdowns (recently it did not look good for Hasselblad for instance).
That is why I find it natural to work with the 5DS R as with a digital back as well. That means a solid tripod and tripod head, well tightened, set up with leg spikes or rubber feets. Shooting in the live view mode, where the shutter opening is the most silent and with the least vibration. Exposure with a self-timer or the RC-6 remote control. Using monofocal lenses. Clean optics. High-quality filters. I am used to this way of working so it is no wonder I have been successful at creating perfectly sharp and detailed photographs from the very beginning of shooting in 50 Mpix resolution. Please don't take this as bragging, it is just a statement, that the work in medium format quality requires a certain approach. Of course, with faster shutter speeds or with an efficient optical stabilizer it is definitely possible to shoot hand-held in some situations, but using the tripod is always safe and also allows slower and smoother work, which is what I like.
CAMERA CONTROLS – BUTTONS AND DIALS.
As I can compare with Nikon here, I can say that Canon controls are also very good. All the problems for which I have reproached the 5DII model have been eliminated by the manufacturer. It is now possible to work with all the dials and buttons with your hands in winter gloves. Naturally, a bit more concentration is sometimes needed, but it certainly is doable. No element bothers me or hinders me. I have slightly modified the dial and button to switch between stills and video, so it does not distract me any more either. The camera feels very good in my hand, the surface is not so nicely rubbery as on Nikon, but it is not such a “sandpaper” as some older 1D models. The eyepiece has pleasantly soft sides, the viewfinder is large and bright. I miss the built-in eyepiece curtain that Nikon pro-cameras have, having to remove the eyepiece and fit a rubber cap is somewhat cumbersome. There is an interesting option that allows you to see additional information in the viewfinder, e.g. the battery status, white balance, exposure mode, etc. It is also possible to display an artificial horizon so that you could assess the tilt of the camera in longitudinal and transverse direction and you can also see a grid to check the horizontals and verticals.
I have placed a piece of black insulating tape over the stills/video symbols and covered the bold white line in the middle of the switch with a few strokes of a black alcohol marker.
What I find clumsy is the inability to adjust the duration of the top-plate LCD illumination. Even though I mainly use the big display on the back, the top-plate one comes often handy and the mere six seconds of the preset are too short. A similar problem is an even more cumbersome fixed duration of exposure metering – about four seconds with no way to change it. However, if you want to adjust the exposure using the back dial after having a look at the shot, you must first half-press the shutter release button, which will start the metering and only after that you can make the adjustment. This will also needlessly start and stop the stabilizer mechanism if you have it on at the moment. Nikon allows adjustments of both the LCD illumination and metering duration, and for Canon it would certainly be possible to add these features as well. The only solution is to work in the M mode, which I therefore use more and more often, not only because of these limiting timers but also to eliminate measurement errors that appear when a color composition changes in a shot with constant lighting. An example: You use continuous lighting in a studio, in Av mode. Most of the shot is filled with a dark object. When you replace it with a light object, the camera will shorten the exposure, even if the lighting is still the same. This is a known phenomena, but perhaps it may help someone.
Non-illuminated and illuminated display.
CAMERA CONTROLS – MENUS.
Is it good to know that you can quickly jump between individual tabs using the Q button. Like many users, I also find it useful to create my own menus. You can set it up to appear right after pressing the Menu button, even if you had browsed through other tabs previously. Another option is to completely turn the other tabs off, so the only one you can see will be the one you made. Luckily, you can easily change it back if needed. One “dot”, i.e. one subpage of a tab, can contain six items and you can create up to five subpages, which is quite an extensive menu. Each subpage can also be given any name, which is a plus. Talking about custom menus, a new feature of the 5DS and R cameras is the option to create your own info screen on the back display. This is very handy, you can easily add or remove individual information fields, choose between various sizes of the fields, etc. The Info button can therefore provide (1) standard overview of information on the back display, (2) your own overview, (3) overview of user banks, noise reduction and card space, (4) artificial horizon, or (5) nothing, if the light from display is distracting you or you need to save battery. Some of the screens can also be turned off so you can switch just between two of them for instance.
An example of two menu tabs – first subpages of Photography and My Menu.
The C1, C2 a C3 presets on the top left hand dial are an excellent feature. For instance, you can set up your camera for landscape photography with a tripod. So you choose the M mode, fixed ISO 100, self-timer, etc. You save this into the C2 preset for instance and your setup is always close at hand. When I travel through the landscape, I often meet wild animals, birds, etc. However, the camera is just completely set for static photography, what shall I do? It is very easy. In the C1 preset I have saved my setup, that will change the still digital back into a fast machine for reportage with just a flip of the dial. Av, large aperture, automatic ISO, continuous shooting, Ai servo, etc. The birds fly away, the animals run off, the train leaves – I flick the dial back to the C2 position for landscape settings and continue my work. It is not that I am lazy to set up the individual features, but there are just too many of them and I can easily forget some and lose my photograph. So many times before I tried to shoot a flying bird or coming train, but after pressing the shutter release button, I did not hear the familiar sound of the mirror and shutter, but instead the beep – beep – beep sound of self-timer countdown …
Stored settings C1 – C3 can be easily selected by turning the left-hand dial.
The camera allows you to choose the size of the image that is saved in RAW format. The size reduction is made by an internal program that will downsample the image. In my experience so far, the algorithm is very good, so it will even slightly increase the quality of the images, as expected. It is not cropping so there is no change of “focal length” (angle of view) by a crop factor.
There are three sizes:
RAW – 50 Mpix, 8688 x 5792 pixels – native resolution of the sensor, no downsampling.
MRAW – 28 Mpix, 6480 x 4320 pixels – internal downsampling.
SRAW – 12 Mpix, 4320 x 2880 pixels – internal downsampling.
Three RAW sizes in the menu.
The beauty of it is that we have three available cameras in fact. A digital back with 50 Mpix resolution, versatile camera for general purposes with 28 Mpix, and a nimble documentary device with 12 Mpix resolution for reportage and snapshots that will not be used for large prints. Beware of one little detail though. Although the chosen size is shown on the back display even in the live view mode, it is not shown in the viewfinder. Here you can turn on the information that says whether you shoot into RAW or JPG, but the RAW size will not be shown. The same is true about the top-plate display, this one does not say anything about the image format at all. So it is important to be careful not to forget to choose the RAW size with the highest available resolution when you intend to shoot a photograph, that you wish to use for large prints.
BATTERIES AND CHARGING.
As I almost always have the information on the back display turned on and I also mostly photograph in the live view mode, the battery runs out quite fast. One option would be to use an additional vertical shutter release that can house two batteries, but I am afraid that this would decrease the rigidity of the entire assembly, especially when shooting vertically without an L-plate. That is why I always carry another fully charged backup battery with me for the time being. Currently I often shoot at night when the temperatures drop to -15 °C so the battery power in the camera drops very fast.
The arrows indicate the screw heads that hold the new reinforcement in the bottom part of the body. Canon 5DIII (newer pieces) has just wells in these places.
The charger is simple, but it can show you what phase of charging is currently under way by the number of the orange LED blinks. This is very useful if you need to go photograph soon as this way you can quickly estimate, how much time is left until the end of charging. When the charging cycle is over, a green LED will light up.
A battery in the charger.
WRITING TO TWO CARDS.
The problem I have described in my article about 5D III, continues. When you remove one card, the camera will automatically switch to the other card and will stay in this even after you put the first card back. If you set the camera to write to the card no. 1, the right behavior would be to always write to this card, whenever it is present and has some free space available. I hope the manufacturer will fix this problem, perhaps with the next firmware update.
Both cards ejected out of the camera. For the reasons described above, I don't use the smaller one, the SD type.
Canon EOS 5DS R does exactly what I have bought it for: photographs large format photographies with high amount of details and clear and accurate colors. The colors are the main issue I cannot come to terms with in the new Nikons 8xx. You can get used to the different controls of Canon easily and I don't even have any problems with switching between both brands if I need it. Given the number of lenses and other gear I have, I would naturally prefer to have photographs with the quality of the 5DS R from some Nikon body. We will see what the future brings us.
Prague, 21. January 2016.
All photographs: © Martin Mojzis, 2015 – 2016.