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Canon Adds the Pro to an Already Tested Cinema Guerilla

A brief pre-test comparison of the Canon 5D Mark II and Mark III models · Posted on 03-06-2012 in Canon News

Canon Adds the Pro to an Already Tested Cinema Guerilla

So, I'll admit two things up front: 1.) I already have a mkii investment, as they say, and 2.) I was hoping Canon's refresh would include a medium format option--okay, my pockets are empty at the moment, but who doesn't want something to aspire to?

Beyond that, though, there are a lot of things going for the 5D refresh, and it's a good thing they plan on keeping the old one. Read on!

5D mark III versus 5D Mark III

They share a lot but the're as different as housecats and panthers. Money is the big thing. If you really pixel peep, get the new one. Otherwise, the other one is still a great buy.

Don't get me wrong. If the equation read: [5D Mk3 in front of me]+[money exists in pocket] I'd already be on the waiting list for a Mark III, just as soon as I get done with this project, or that one....

The Mk3 is what a lot of people said the Mk2 should be when it debuted. There are a lot of things going for it, not the least of which is the fact that Canon changed it in ways people requested. A novel concept, I know. When Canon announces new hardware it's usually a bit of a party, so here are some punchbowl talking points.

Well, to heck with it. All fine points aside, a non-action sports photographer will be happy with a Mk2, and the Mk3 is mostly intended for videographers (and action shooters, though it's less attractive than many APS-C offerings in that respect). The Mk3 is almost a camcorder--but Canon also sells a camcorder now! How cool is that!! Well, sort of a copout, but, whatever. In Canon's line, it's not really the feature set that's the cutoff, it's the refinement of the feature set (therefore price, sadly).

The sensor size difference between the 2 and 3 is negligible and for $1,000 savings the Mk2's slightly smaller ISO range and earlier noise reduction software will not matter much, even to discerning pro-ams. Many pros don't use in-camera noise reduction anyway, because it softens. Best to reduce noise at whatever part of the production process is appropriate for the image and ISO instead of letting the camera decide. Auto is for when you don't have to get the shot, you just want it.

For the Mk3, Video is the topic Canon responded adeptly to (sure, caps is all right this time).

Such a broad heading? Well, there's a lot TO video. In this ever-budding age of automation, we like to think that a camcorder is something you pick up, point at things, then video comes out and everyone goes home. Nice try!

Video is a pain, to put it simply. There's a reason for the gigantic multinational post production operations which fuel feature films (they're not simply relics from a time of transistors and cutting rooms, there's a lot going on in modern cine). There have been encyclopedic treatises published on lighting since probably the time of Edison, talking about how Shakespearian stage hands had it good but "now things are crazy." Frame rate, DOF, bit rate, stream type, channel type, these are esoteric, highly variable things for which there are bunches of competing standards for specific, occasionally overlapping purposes--and if you want "That Look" you'd better know how to get it.

It's {[(camera)X(motion)]/quality}=(footage/quality). It just naturally gets messy, like making cookies with a 5 year old, or trying to explain things with math when you were an English major.

The digital age is bringing about some consolidation in video standards and the expectations of cameras--sorry, camcorders and cine cameras--but think about it: there are as many reasons for the kinds of video cameras out there as there are reasons for the SLR, DSLR, P&S, MF, and other camera markets. They each suit a purpose (even if it is only marketing or filling in the lowest common denominator). Until selling frequency drops far enough below production frequency, the market idles. In shorthand, if someone's buying it, they may keep making it.

It's so complex I can't even really put it simply. Funny how that works.

Shot of a man through a cheap viewfinder crystal

Okay, but "How" did they make video betterer?

Forgive my grammatical license, but I fraternize with some pretty hip people, though I'm not one myself.

First off, they included timecode, and for anyone who likes to have their video right without a lot of fussing, this is a big deal, practically Copernican. If you "do video" and you don't know what timecode is, look it up, but not until you buy a real NLE and set aside some water and food--you won't leave the computer for a while.

Professional level NLE is possible without timecode, but not pretty. It sucks in comparison. Missing or not-created timecode can be so much of a headache that pros eschew it. Eschew is a fancy word for "Won't go near it with a ten food pole IF they can help it." Of course timecode-less footage is everywhere these days, and the Mk2 was such a hit on the scene that I'm sure there are a lot of nudge and fudge experts out there right as you read this. And they hate that I called them that, but it's a dirty fact of the matter.

They included a headphone jack on the Mk3, so in-shot monitoring and adjustment of audio levels is now possible without an external audio device. No word on whether the built-in audio is improved, but many HDSLR shooters prefer to capture audio on a separate device anyway. It will at least help with syncing that awesomely powerful timecode.

Next up is the addition of a Movie Mode switch. This goes well with the discussion we have here on Camera Enthusiast about buttons--nostalgia and practicality versus simplicity and gut-wrenchingly detailed knowhow. I understand how having a button do something special is good, but it's redundant to me. I'm in the simplicity camp. In all realism, though, it can't hurt. At least I hope so.

The Mk3 can alter its compression, which in the hands of capable 'togs will aid in reducing some problems in the capture. It can even trim video in-camera.

Perhaps the most anticipated change comes in the video duration department. The Mk3 improves upon the Mk2's 8-12 minutes of video with a max capture duration of just a few seconds under 30 minutes. A great thing for filming webcasts and children's plays, but it's not the unlimited shooting capability a lot of people clamored for.

Then again, considering wedding movies, maybe they kept it under 30 out of mercy. :D

Lightning, 2012 Lincoln, Nebraska

Video? Is that it?

No, not really. To say they focused heavily on video (aw yeah, pun!) is an understatement but they also basically reworked everything except the silhouette.

The list of features include in-camera single image HDR, in camera compositing of up to 9 images, and a side-by-side image comparison feature called Comparative Playback--very interesting feature I think will be a winner. It has a shutter rated to 150,000 clicks now, and the shutter actuation time has been reduced to 59ms, so people who felt that the the Mk2 had shutter lag should see some good improvement, and a faster shutter might fix some of the Mk2's low light handheld problems. There's also the new 61-point autofocus system, which is the same as is used in the 1D line. It's a feat to move such a big mirror, so be happy!

It'll also have a locking mode selector, which I'll have to see to believe, and touch to see how easy it breaks. I'm always bumping my mode selector. And for those who shoot weddings, funerals, and press conferences in old, boomy hallways, the ability to use the new "Silent" shooting modes should be fun. I imagine that they all involve mirror lockup plus Live View, something which it actually is a good thing to have a button for.

If you had your money on Canon building wireless into their camera, better pay up. They didn't include it, and my bet is that they won't. Wireless technology changes more quickly than the life expectation of these cameras, and Canon is smart, no, bordering on GENIUS for NOT including it inside the body--a LOT of pros will appreciate Canon's not taking the Apple route on this one. Besides, didn't anyone notice Canon already offers their own wireless transmitters? And Pocket Wizard and Alienbees dominate that market these days anyway.

One thing which will probably change the look of pictures long before people outside the Canon circle know "what's up" will be the iFCL metering, which gauges luminosity and color in relation to their position within the AF system--as someone who deals with off focus and chromatic aberration plagued photos all day, believe me, this is impressive. Almost as impressive as a camera whose pictures you can refocus in post (when's that day coming, Canon?).

CA be gone? Can we hope?

One piece of encouraging news is an update to Canon's exceptional software suite. The new Digital Lens Optimizer (DLO) promises improved moire and chromatic aberration reduction. Since the last version of their software/firmware combination was so effective at all but the most severe CA and noise, I'm looking forward to what they call a groundbreaking improvement.

What else is there?

The Mk2 also sports an increased capture rate, up to 7.5 fps, from the Mk2's 3.5 fps. Canon did increase the LCD screen size, and as usual it's probably better this iteration. But it's only a fraction of an inch larger, and the pixel count isn't much higher anyway.

The Mk3 has a new sensor. It's about the same as the Mk2 in size, but it will have some capabilities specifically suited for its new body. More about that later, if it's pertinent.

All in all, there are a lot of reasons to recommend the Mark III, and there are a lot of reasons to recommend the Mark II. If you want a remarkably different camera, wait for the next iteration, unless by remarkable you are intimating that there is a pebble under the mattress, like the old fairy tale, and you really are looking for a way to fix it all :D

Having had a few problems with flutter and breathing using the Mk2 for video, I'm very interested if the new compression and the better DIGIC 5 engine can really truly fix this. It also remains to be seen whether the Mk3's inboard audio is as abyssmal as the Mk2's. (I've had some good and bad experiences with it, but it's true you absolutely must get an off-board mic to get consistent sound with the Mk2). If they fix the sound with the Mk3, it'll be a neat, even, 3-base hit.

-Loren Rye, 2012

Canon U.S.A. press release

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