Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Canon 5D Mark IV - My Real World Review

I am going to start this blog post by starting this: The Canon 5D Mark III is my workhorse camera and the model that I rely on heavily for my photography business. Yes, I do have the Canon 1D X and the new Canon 1D X Mark II, which I do use quite often, so you might be wondering why I rely on the 5D series so much. Here are the main reasons:

1. The Canon 5D Mark III is a smaller camera body and easier to take with me when traveling. Unless I am shooting sports, fast moving wildlife, or portraits in my home area, I prefer the smaller and lighter 5D. I usually take a 1D X and a 5D with me to photograph events, using the 1D for portraits and the 5D for everything else. When traveling to other cities, I prefer carrying the 5D over the 1D X, not only for the size and weight advantages, it also looks less conspicuous.

2. The Canon 5D Mark III has a silent mode which makes it way more advantageous to use inside Temples and Churches, and I do this a lot! Using the Canon 5D Mark III, I can shoot in silent mode from the back of the room, even during a silent prayer, and nobody can hear the shutter. This is not true for the Canon 1D series. that we have that covered, let me tell you why the release of the Canon 5D Mark IV was of so much interest to me.

1. The Canon 5D Mark III has been out for almost 4 years now and I was looking for a new workhorse camera body with improved performance in ISO, focus accuracy and more.

2. I have always disliked the slow speed of the SD card slot in the 5D Mark III and been looking forward to a much improved buffer clear using the new memory card technologies. More on this coming up...

It has been a long wait for this camera, with rumors and expectations being really high. And now that Canon has announced and starting shipping the Canon 5D Mark IV, and I have received my camera, it is time to determine if this new camera is different enough to warrant upgrading from the Canon 5D Mark III.

And for those of you hoping to get my conclusion right away, without reading through the blog, I can tell you this: There are some features of the Mark IV which were not as improved as I was hoping for, and there were a lot of surprises for me that make this new camera very interesting to me. Hopefully you will read through my findings and determine for yourself if the Canon 5D Mark IV is for you.

First reaction when picking up the camera

It is always fun for me to pick up a new camera for the first time, and trying to see how it differs from what I have been using in the past. I am not talking about the technical specs here, I am talking about the feel of the camera, the sound of the shutter, and the layout of buttons. In the case of the Mark IV, there were a couple of notable differences that I noticed immediately.

As I took my first look at the new camera, I was greeted with familiar placement of most of the buttons, dials and inputs. This is very important to me, since I am so used to where all the key buttons are located on previous models. But as I looked closer, I noticed a couple of new things. There is a new, tiny little button, on the back of the cameras which Canon calls the AF Area Select Button. I think that this is a bad name for a cool button. It can be modified to many different functions, with me changing mine to act like the ISO button on the top of the camera, which I often mistake for other buttons. This button can do so many things, I think Canon should have called it the "Custom feature button" or something like that. But hey, the name withstanding, it is nice to have.

I also noticed that they moved the remote connection input to the front of the camera. This is handy, since I use this all the time when shooting on a tripod. I always found it a little frustrating to open up the large rubber piece on the side of the camera to just use the one input.

The first time I took a photo with the new camera I was immediately surprised by the sound of the shutter. It was VERY different from the 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III. It is a much softer, quieter sound. It almost sounds like the silent mode of the Mark III, but just a little louder. The silent mode of the Mark IV is supposed to be quieter as well, but that was not as noticeable to me.

Once I had taken some photos, I encountered one of the bigger user interface changes on the 5D Mark IV, and there is no button for this. The screen now supports touch, so that I can now move from one image to another, zoom in and out, all from the LCD. Basically, the screen of the camera now works much like the interface of my iPhone. This is really handy when I want to zoom into a photo to see if my focus is where I want it. There is also another advantage to this touch screen while shooting, but I will get to that in a second.

Better ISO or not? 

Let's start with the ISO, since this is very important to me. I shoot a lot of parties which are in dimly lit rooms, and so I am often shooting at ISO 3200 or higher. I was really curious to see if the new Mark IV would make a similar jump in ISO cleanliness as the Mark III did over the Mark II. And at ISO levels of 1/100 to 1/3200 I would say the answer is no. Where I see a bigger difference is at ISO 4000 up to ISO 20,000. People might scoff at shooting these crazy high ISO levels, but you know what, the images look pretty darned good. Look at the images below, the first photo was taken at ISO 4000 and the second photo at ISO 5000. Is there digital noise in the images? Yes, but you can't tell me that most clients would not accept these. I think they would.

You can click on this photo to see it larger

Above you will find a comparison of the same image taken at ISO 160 (on the left) and ISO 20,000 (on the right). They both look pretty good, right? Sure, if you zoom into the high ISO shot, you will see grain, but better to get a shot with some noise than no shot at all!

In my tests, I did notice that when shooting at the same settings (using both the Mark III and Mark IV) that the camera's shutter speeds were different. In other words, if I had the cameras both set to Aperture Priority, ISO 3200 at f/4, the Canon 5D Mark IV shutter speed was slightly slower than the Mark III. I am told that this is not uncommon, and that every camera model has slightly different sensitivities due to the sensor, processors, and other components. Since shutter speed is important to me when I am shooting events, I decided to cheat the ISO up to 4000 (I usually stay at 3200) for the mitzvah that I photographed last weekend.

Dynamic range and black levels

When comparing the same images taken with both the 5D Mark III and 5D Mark IV, the first thing I noticed was that the color saturation, sharpness and black levels were not as strong. My first reaction was "Oh no, this camera has gone backwards in image quality!!!"

Image taken with the Canon 5D Mark III
Image taken with the Canon 5D Mark IV
I did the test late at night and went to sleep feeling a little let down. But, believe or not, I actually woke up at 4am and thought "Wait a second...I have always thought that the 5D Mark III black levels were too dark!" After going back to sleep, still thinking about this, I woke up later in the morning and did some more tests, and sure enough, the new Mark IV has more accurate black levels and contrast, and improved dynamic range. What at first appeared to be a let down actually has proven to be a positive.

And two days ago, I was shooting images with the Canon 5D Mark IV before and after sunset at Newport Beach, and I noticed that the dynamic range of the camera is vastly superior to the Mark III. When I shot photos with great contrast of bright and dark areas, I was surprised to see less of the highlight alerts blinking on the back of the camera LCD than I am used to seeing on the Mark III.


If you have seen me teach in the past 10 years, you know that I am not one to buy into the hype that more megapixels is better. I was plenty happy with the 22MP of the Canon 5D Mark III and rarely ever saw a need for more pixels. In the Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon decided to add more pixels, cranking up the total to more than 30MP. This will allow me to crop into my photos a little more while retaining better resolution, which is nice, but it also means that my file sizes are larger. I guess, in this world where hard drives are so inexpensive, this is fine. It is not a huge selling point to me, but I am not going to complain about more pixels, unless it is at the expense of high ISO noise, and that does not appear to be the case here.

Memory card slots

As many of you know, my only real complaint with the Canon 5D Mark III was the ridiculously slow SD card slot that they put into the camera. I like to write RAW images to both card slots to make sure I get all my images, even if one card were to become corrupted. And I have had countless times with the Mark III would not allow me to take more images, as it loaded images to the slow SD slot. Well...I was looking forward to a new model with much faster card slots. I figured that Canon would go with a combination of CFast (the newer replacement format for Compact Flash) and a SD UHS-II so that both cards could offload images from the camera's buffer quickly.

It turns out that I was wrong on both guesses. On the first slot, Canon went the ultra conservative route and kept the Compact Flash slot. This means that instead of offloading at 3500x speeds to a CFast card, we are limited to the 1066x spec, which is as fast as CF will ever go. This is not as critical in the camera, since you can still capture a lot of RAW images to the CF card before it hiccups, but I would like to be able to use a faster card to download faster. With that said, I do understand that most photographers out there have a large collection of CF cards and do not want to spend hundreds of dollars more on new cards. I am sure that this factored into Canon's decision to go CF and not the newer, and more expensive CFast.

And then we need to talk about the SD slot. This is where Canon really missed the mark! After all these years of waiting for the "SD issue" to be solved, Canon opted to only use a UHS-I slot in the Mark IV. What the heck???? Canon's competitors have been using the much faster UHS-II slots for 3 or 4 years now. I have no idea what the engineers in Japan were thinking when designing this part of the camera. So...the SD card slot is faster than the slot in the Mark III, but not as fast as it should be in 2016! This was a dumb decision.


The Canon 5D Mark IV now has the better and faster focus system that I am used to from the 1D X Mark II. And this is awesome. As you know, I relied heavily on that focus system at the Olympics in Rio and it is excellent. Compared to the older Mark III, the focus points are spread out wider, which helps me get focus easier on my subjects without doing as much focus and recomposing. But the one focus mode that I did not know about, and surprised me the most, was the facial recognition.

Last weekend, I was photographing a Bar Mitzvah and using the Canon 5D Mark IV for the first time in a real world scenario. (I was waiting for Adobe to support the RAW files in ACR before really relying this camera for real work). I had the camera on a tripod in the back of the Temple, and switched it to Live View mode. I touched the screen and saw a small box show up on the subjects face. And then I noticed that it was moving with them as they moved positions. I thought to myself "Will this really track my subject well?" and "Can I trust this enough to rely on it?" Since I was shooting for a client, I used the face detection mode at times, but then also turned it off and shot with back-button focusing and manual focusing like I have always done. I had to cover my bases just in case it was not dead on. Well...guess what? It was EXCELLENT! I was blown away when I got home to my big 32" 4K monitor and saw the results. Canon calls this Dual Pixel AF, but I just call it awesome!!! I will now rely on this for all future mitzvahs and weddings!

Click here to watch a short video of the focus tracking


Canon finally added GPS into the 5D camera body. For those of you who want to track the exact location of each of your photos, you will like this feature. For me, I am not as interested in this and keep the setting turned off. This might change in December and January when we are in Cuba and Africa. Time will tell.

Dual Pixel RAW

Canon has added a new feature called Dual Pixel RAW into the Canon 5D Mark IV. This new technology is supposed to allow photographers the ability to make small adjustments to the focus in an image, even after the image is captured. For those of you who are familiar with the Lytro technology, it is nothing like that. This is only capable of making very small adjustments to an image. Since Adobe does not currently support this feature, and the files are twice as big, I am not planning on using this feature at this time. This is not to say that my focus is always 100% spot on, but...

Wi-Fi connectivity 

Many consumer cameras have had Wi-Fi connectivity for years now, but the pro cameras from Canon have not included this as a built-in feature. Since I shoot only RAW files, I have not really been interested in Wi-Fi connectivity, since it would be way to slow to move 30+MB files from the camera to my computer wirelessly.

When I saw that Canon had now included Wi-Fi in the 5D Mark IV, I figured that this would go unused by me. But then I read about the connectivity and found two features that I really love!

1. I can connect my iPhone to the Mark IV and take photos remotely, even seeing the live view on the phone and making changes to the focus, aperture, ISO and more. That is really cool.

2. I can take RAW photos on the Mark IV and transfer them (in reduced size) to my iPhone to post to social media or email to a client. If you have seen some of my recent posts to Facebook or Instagram, you will see some of the photos sent directly from the DSLR. I love this!

I did notice that the Wi-Fi feature drains the battery faster than normal, so I only turn it on when I need it.


If you have read through this entire blog post, you might be looking to buy a new camera or you might be looking to upgrade your Canon 5D Mark III to the Canon 5D Mark IV. Many people have asked me for my opinion of the new camera, and I think that it can be summed up this way: For those trying to determine whether it is worth upgrading their Mark III to a Mark IV, my response will be to send them to this blog post to make their determinations. Depending on what features are important to them, they can make that decision.

Going forward, the Canon 5D Mark IV will be the camera I use and recommend to most professional event photographers. Like the Mark III, it is a workhorse camera with tons of capabilities.


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Ralph Arvesen said...

Thanks for the review, I always enjoy your articles and videos. I have two questions which I understand you might not be able to answer right now.

1) Do you have a feeling how much better ISO 3200 and above is over the 5D III? For example, ISO 8000 on the 5D III is similar in noise to X ISO on the 5D IV.

2) How much better to you feel the auto focus accuracy is in ai-servo? I know that's hard to quantify... I'm not sure if the 5D IV is 5%, 25%, 50% better than the 5D III when it comes to accuracy.

Thanks again, I always appreciate your time.

Don - Trap the Light said...

I noticed you mentioned the auto focus system is the same as in the 1D x II. Can a sport shooter depend upon the focus capability in the 5d mark iv to match the 1D? The price differential is great, so I'm wondering if I need to go for the extra cost. Also, I shoot often in very low light, using a 1d mark iv. I use iso 8000 with some frequency, and 6400 somewhat regularly. Is the iso capability in the 1dx II better. Sounds like I'm looking for a 1Dx II review, doesn't it. Thanks very much. Don

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Ralph and Don,

I will try to do another post comparing the ISO levels of the 5D MK III, 5D Mk IV, 1DX and 1DX MKII.

As for focus, it will be tough to compare the cameras since it is touch to measure this. But I am hoping to try the new 5D at a sporting event soon.

Thanks for reading and commenting.


Larry Brandt said...

Hmm I prefer the "darker" black with the punchier red, the bottom image looks a bit "peachy" in colour. Of course I don't know how the original looked. Disappointing to hear about the slow SD slot. High ISO looks very impressive! I would be hesitant using the facial recognition seeing as you cannot really focus on the eyes like that, but I guess with a smaller aperture (larger F-stop) this isn't so critical.

Unknown said...

Thank-you for you post Jeff, always a great read.

Hong Kong Communiqu� said...

Thanks very much Jeff, this is hugely helpful as I try to decide between replacing my 1D mk IV with a 1DX mk II or 5D Mk IV. I'm not always shooting sports or BiF - but I've seen no practical comparisons between the two cameras and I'm very interested in understanding the delta - most importantly for me, the 5D Mk IV focus accuracy and speed against the 1DX Mk II in either of these setting, and the low light focus sensitivity and speed - specs are the same, but how are they in practice?

Captain K said...

I as well am very interested in your opinion comparing the new 5D MK IV and the likes of a 1DX MKII. I shoot live ballet; dim lighting, long distance, high speed and must be VERY quiet! I'm going to upgrade very soon and am trying to decide between the MK IV or spend the extra bucks and jump to the 1DX MKII. A gloomy day at a sporting event would probably be the best reference for what I do. Live performance Ballet shooting in my opinion is as tough as it gets. Thanks very much, I always go to your opinions first Jeff!

Stan Olszewski said...

Nice summary Jeff - it looks like a nice upgrade to the 5D3.

I currently use 2x 1Dx and 1 5D3 for my wedding and editorial work. The 1D's are amazing but really obnoxious in cathedrals and on tv sets. To get around this, I use my 5D3 in silent mode. How does the 5D4 regular shutter sound compare to the 1Dx2 silent shutter?

Dan said...

I read the article but I don't understand why would someone choose an older model (Mark III) when the newer one (Mark IV) is available? Eventually Canon will stop supporting the older model. I get not necessarily wanting to upgrade but why would someone buy a new Mark III when they can buy a Mark IV?

Jen said...

For the black levels, it's possible that a different colour profile would make your photos look more like they did on the Mark III. My photos with the Mark IV look better on screen than on the computer, but once I switch from Adobe Standard to Camera Standard the reds are much deeper and there's more contrast in general. Sometimes it's too much contrast and I need to do some fine tuning.

Unknown said...

i am having canon 5d mark iv and shogun flame. so in that case is it possible to record 4k DCI in shogun flame. if yes than how its work...... please revert me on may email (