Earlier this year Canon announced ultra high resolution variants of their 5D series DSLR camera, the 50.6 Megapixel 5DS and 5DS R. I will not attempt to rehash details and specifications which at this point have already been discussed ad nauseam. If you are not yet familiar with this camera I highly recommend Bryan Carnathan’s extensive in-depth review. I will be providing you with my perspective on the camera as an active photographer, what it’s like to use the 5DS R out in the field on a daily basis. Hopefully I can help you determine if this is the right camera for you.
It’s all about the Photographer
One of the things I have really come to appreciate about pursuing my passion for photography around the Canon Pro camera system is their overarching philosophy.
Nowhere else does a dedication to real and active photographers show more. I recall tweeting frustrations about missing features in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) a few years ago and they quietly made it into a subsequent release. I’m not suggesting that I was the reason but I am sure I wasn’t the only one. They listened. I am convinced there is an active and deliberate effort at Canon to put the photographer at the forefront of every decision.
It shows even more with the 5DS and 5DS R. This camera is not a trendy gadget or toy. It is not intended to give gear heads Megapixel bragging rights. It is a distillation of everything Canon has determined to be of importance to real and active photographers. A lot of thought has gone into the fundamentals critical to good and effective photography and it shows.
Resolution – More of a Medium Format
The 5DS R fills less of a traditional DSLR role, where you are typically on the move and shooting in dynamic situations. It is more of a compact and portable Medium Format body that just happens to work with your existing Canon camera system. This is perhaps it’s biggest value proposition. A year ago I was seriously considering investing in a Medium Format system, however I was not looking forward to maintaining two separate lens systems. One of my frustrations with the 5D Mark III was the low pixel density of the sensor, it just wasn’t well suited when shooting high resolution still life and panoramas for my limited edition prints while traveling. So I very often packed my 7D Mark II for this. However this meant more work in post processing and stitching. I also thought it was a shame to waste most of the image and sharpness of the amazing EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens with the lower pixel density of the 5D Mark III sensor. I often found myself wishing for a full frame sensor with a pixel density closer to the 7D Mark II. This is exactly what canon has delivered!!! Thank you Canon!
Here are a few frames from my shots of San Diego a few weeks ago along with 100% crop close-ups. Images were rendered in-camera and unedited.
Tripod Required and Shooting Technique is everything
Unless you’ve honed your shooting/breathing/heart-beating technique on a high pixel density body such as the 7D Mark II, you will find the 5DS R very challenging for hand held or walk around photography. Like the 7D Mark II, it is very unforgiving when it comes to camera shake. Due to the sensor being much bigger motion/shake will be even more pronounced towards the edges of the frame where axial rotational vibration is more pronounced and image stabilization can only do so much about it. You can see this in the shots of the Christmass tree. Still, this shot would not be this sharp without the shutter delay, another well thought out feature. Whenever you pack the 5DS R, you should always pack a sturdy tripod to get a as close as possible to 50.6 Megapixels of detail.
Below are a few handheld shots while walking around downtown, exploring fall colors. I have also included 100% crops since the images would otherwise be too large.
Cutting Edge Optics required
Before you consider adding this megapixel monster to your kit, make sure the lenses in your kit are capable to resolving details as close to the sensor resolution as possible. I highly recommend updated Canon EF L-Series lenses of the Mark II revision. No. That EF 24-105mm f/4L lens that was tack sharp on your 5D Mark II/III will not resolve anywhere near enough detail for the 5DS R. This is a common problem some have with the 7D Mark II because they don’t realize it has over twice the pixel density of the typical full frame body and thus the lens must be twice as sharp as on a full frame body. Without proper optics, megapixels are merely wasted. Thankfully Canon realized this several years ago and began revising their top lenses in preparation for ultra high resolution photography. The EF 70-200mmf/2.8L IS II lens has an effective resolution very close to the 50 Megapixels from center to edge or frame. The EF 300mm f/2.8 IS II lens most definitely out-resolves the 5DS R sensor from center to edge of frame. What an amazing lens!!! Well done Canon!
ISO and noise performance
As I’ve said before and most recently in my post Canon 7D Mark II – First Impressions , anyone using high ISO noise performance as a benchmark is obviously not into or does not practice enough photography. All sensors generate noise at higher ISO but most importantly have a significant loss in dynamic range. What is most critical is how a sensor performs between ISO-100 and ISO-800. This is my cap for any photography that I plan on taking to print or publishing. Beyond ISO-800 there is more noise than I am willing to put up with (regardless of the camera). With that said, the 5DS R delivers the goods where it matters most. All current generation image sensors by far exceed this key requirement. It makes no sense whatsoever to shoot anything at ISO-25000 or ISO-100,000+. I would really like to know who is shooting anything at those ISO levels and for what purposes. In my opinion high ISO capability is about as relevant as lens cap keeper – pointless.
The dynamic range observed in practice is much better than I expected. It is indeed better than the 7D Mark II’s sensor however not quite as wide as the 5D Mark III’s dynamic range. Still, very useful without any terrible cut off.
I love the synergy and harmony of the ergonomics in the Canon Pro camera line. I routinely switch from the 7D Mark II to the 5D Mark III and now the 5DS R seamlessly. This goes back to Canon’s “Photographer First” philosophy I discussed at the beginning of this post.
Auto Focus (AF), Speed and Performance
The 5D series finally gets a professional grade AF. Dual DIGIC6 processors is really the only way to go with the pro bodies. This affects every aspect of a camera system. Canon pulled out all stops to make sure once you are ready, nothing gets in the way of you getting your shot. While photographing the model (Shelby) above in near darkness, the 5DS R was able to acquire focus consistently with the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II at 60 feet away while moving. On time, reliable and accurate AF is a big part of effective photography.
Having dual processors is even more indispensable when processing those large 50.6 Megapixel images on the fly. I recommend the fastest possible memory – high speed 1000x 64GB CF cards or more. While it may have a slower shutter, it is effectively pumping out more pixels that the 7D Mark II or 1Dx in full burst mode. Don’t bother with SD cards even the “high speed” ones. They’re ok for backup. Image files are huge. You will need a beefed-up workstation to process the RAW files comfortably. Battery life is acceptable considering how much data the camera has to process with each shot. Because the images are much larger, every action on the camera will use more power. Expect about half the battery life of the 5D Mark III. I recently shot all afternoon and evening in San Diego with the 5DS R and one full Canon LP-E6 battery and was left with 1 bar. I took over 1000 shots and minimized use of the display, and other power hungry functions. This is where an optical viewfinder makes all the difference.
Feature Wish List
The 5DS R is ultra high resolution done right. However here are few things I thought would be especially useful to have, ideally in future firmware revisions.
- Image review default zoom level. Since we are often interested in zooming in when reviewing images, it would be most helpful to be able to set what zoom level the images is shown at (say 0-4) when reviewing images. That way you can just use the joystick to scroll around the image. This feature would be nice to have on 7D Mark II and 5D Mark III as well.
- Intervalometer exposure ramping. When shooting time lapse of a changing scene like sunrise or sunset, this feature would allow me to tell the camera metering system to never set an exposure higher or lower than the previous shot. This often happens when shooting a time lapse at sunset where subtle changes in the scene cause individual frames to be slightly underexposed relative to the previous one. This introduces flicker in the time lapse which requires complicated linear video filtering using VirtualDub to try and minimize. This feature would be nice to have on 7D Mark II.
Thanks for stopping by and reading. I hope you find this post useful. Please feel free to share any feedback, ideas or questions you may have.