Canon has been my camera manufacturer of choice for a decade now. Ever since I picked up a Canon 40D within a week of it’s release, back in 2007 in England, I have been loyal to the brand and most of it’s lenses. Infact, Canon officially invited me to review the 5D Mark II during it’s release and subsequently, the 7D too. Over time, I graduated from the 40D to a 5D Mark III and more recently, to the 5D Mark IV a few months ago.
A busy wedding season in the last quarter of 2016 gave me ample opportunity to try out the the 5D Mark IV. I also used it for a few fashion shoots, documentary projects & street work and managed to explore it’s features well enough to write a review about it. But before you read this review, please do bear in mind that this is not intended to be an exhaustive technical review (the folks at DPReview do an excellent job for that) or a general review for street photographers/everyday users. I have written it from the perspective of a professional wedding photographer (not cinematographer), keeping in the mind the challenges that wedding photographers face, and Indian wedding photographers in particular. However, it may still be relevant to other photographers who are looking for an overview of what this camera has to offer.
The 5D Mark IV is very similar to the 5D Mark III in build, albeit a little lighter which is noticeable when you are carrying it all day long. It has an additional selection button at the back for scrolling through autofocus modes. Initially, I felt this was pointless but I have slowly started using it more, especially since Zone AF has face tracking. Apart from that, a few buttons have been shuffled around but once you get used to them, the workflow is essentially the same. Headliner change is the sensor, upgraded to a mighty 30 megapixels. I never thought I would need that many megapixels and I still don’t think I do. The main result from the increase in megapixels in an increase in the filesize and subsequently resulting in an increasing number of hard disks to buy (I just bought my first pair of 8TB hard disks earlier this month).
The autofocus has been completely overhauled and now resembles the system on the 1dX Mk II. It has larger vertical coverage across the frame, that allows you to place the subject more towards the upper/lower of the frame without having to focus and recompose. It is effective upto -3EV, translating to better low light performance (the live view autofocus is effective upto -4EV!) and this will prove handy during Sangeet events and Cocktail parties. It also features a face detection system (in certain AF modes) but I still stick to manually selecting a single AF point most of the times.
Personally, I shoot exclusively with high aperture prime lenses (35mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.2, etc) which have fast autofocus, apart from the 85mm f/1.2 which is a little sluggish owing to the large amount of glass that needs to be moved for focus. And even though all my lenses they have always performed well on my old Mark III, I have found renewed confidence in their accuracy when used with the Mark IV. Things change quickly during weddings and the faster speed has lead to fewer missed moments during those critical moments. I have also found that the Mark IV autofocuses with ease in backlit scenes unlike the 5D Mk III.
The new live view dual pixel autofocus system is really snappy and is a pleasure to use with the touchscreen. It has been useful when I wanted to shoot at f/1.2 since I knew that the AF would be spot on, as opposed to the traditional autofocus system where there always exists a possibility of a slight calibration error which becomes very apparent at large apertures. The touchscreen is not great for tracking moving subjects but works perfectly for those portraits where you really want to achieve the maximum depth-of-field. You can even enable ‘touch-shutter’ which makes the camera work more like your phone’s camera app. Simply touch the subject on screen and it will automatically take a photo once the subject is in focus, no need to press the shutter button.
Dynamic Range/Low Light
The dynamic range is noticeably better but this only has a minor impact for me during wedding ceremonies as the lighting is usually well controlled. However, for prewedding couple shoots in an outdoor location, the larger dynamic range makes me comfortable to shoot the couple against a bright sky since I know that I can retrieve the detail in the sky later during post production.
The native ISO range has been expanded marginally (from 25,6oo to 32,000) and low light performance has been improved. I recently shot a wedding where there was a power cut just before the muhurtam time leading to groans from all the traditional videographers but I happily clicked away at 10,000 ISO and was able to deliver usable (if slightly grainy) images to the clients.
For me, the major change for me is the Auto ISO department. The Auto ISO mode now finally allows you to set a minimum shutter speed manually, above 1/250. I know that Nikon had this feature for a while now and I am glad that Canon has introduced it too. Earlier, you only had a limited number of pre-set options for minimum shutter speed but now you can set the whole range of available speeds that the camera can shoot at. I find this feature to be a godsend during Sangeets when there is a lot of movement and during bridal/groom entry when you are bound to be walking in the middle of a crowd while simultaneously shooting and do not want to risk blurry images.
Funnily enough, one of the main things I miss about my 5D Mark III is the chunky sound of the shutter. The Mk IV has a improved mechanism with a dampened sound (which is useful during quiet ceremonies at home) but otherwise feels like less ‘dSLR-like’. The camera has a faster burst mode (from 6fps to 7fps) but the difference is weddings is barely noticeable.
The top plate of the camera has been divided into 3 sections to allow for the GPS module to sit underneath the hotshoe. This really should not bother me but I am not a fan of the texture of the plastic that has been used for the middle section. It is rougher than the other sections and feels uncomfortable when I rest my palms on it during a shoot.
I am a huge believer in the top LCD panel of the camera. It allows me to absorb a lot of information with a quick glance so it puzzled me when I saw that critical information was removed in the 5D Mk IV. The limited space in the LCD meant that they had removed information about the file format (JPEG, RAW, etc) and replaced it with GPS and WiFi status. I understand that WiFi/GPS is important but for a professional photographer, file format is definitely more important. We have multiple cameras in our team and all of us strictly shoot RAW so you must be wondering why we would ever change the setting. However, there is the odd occasion when a camera has been loaned to a friend, etc and it comes back with some settings changed. Unless we review it in detail, it is easy to overlook this and end up shooting an entire event in JPEG.
Fortunately, the viewfinder now shows a wealth of information (including file format) so I was fairly relieved. Changing drive modes and autofocus mode is easily done while keeping your eye to the viewfinder and allows for faster operation in the middle of a shoot. You can also enable it to show pretty much all the same information as the top LCD but that would lead to a very cluttered viewfinder.
The much touted Dual Pixel RAW feature is quite useless. It requires you to use the proprietary Canon software (which I have not used in years) and promised to allow to change autofocus after shooting. In reality, the change is virtually unnoticeable and furthermore, shooting in DP RAW mode doubles your file size. Perhaps this feature might become more practical in future cameras but for now, it changes nothing.
The batteries are the same build as earlier ones but are called LP-E6N and have a barely noticeable increase in power. In real life use, the Mk IV has had worse battery performance when compared than the Mk III. But this can definitely be attributed to the fact that I now use the screen significantly more during shooting than before. Autofocusing from awkward angles using the touchscreen is a game changer and I try to make the most of it during crowded Indian weddings where you end up with the odd aunty/uncle partially blocking your view.
An anti flicker mode has been introduced which combats uneven exposure in situations with fluorescent lighting. While most wedding venues have decent lighting, I often find that fluorescent tubelights in the rooms where the bridal makeup is being done and this ends up adversely affecting the images. It is a minor upgrade and a lot of people will probably never notice this but regardless, this feature will help to lessen bad images.
- Revamped autofocus system (faster, better in low-light and wider coverage)
- Better low light performance (when the lighting is less than ideal)
- Larger dynamic range (practical for photos with backlight)
- Intelligent viewfinder (less reason to take your eye away from viewfinder)
- Touchscreen and dual-pixel focus (making low angle shots easy)
- Built in WiFi & NFC (instant transfer to phone, edit and share online)
- Lack of display of image quality in top LCD (has led to a couple of nervous moments when I accidentally thought I was shooting JPEG)
- Lack of tilt screen (would have been a godsend combined with the touchscreen)
- No real use of dual pixel raw files (too cumbersome for practical usage)
- Not compatible with the old battery grip (this particularly annoys me)
If you have a Canon 5D Mark III in good condition, then you honestly don’t need the 5D Mark IV immediately. It is not going to make you a better photographer but if your 5D Mark III has been well used over the years (like mine had been), then the 5D Mark IV is a worthy investment. And it would be a significant leap for 6D owners.