Debuted as a new DSLR category back in 2005, the original Canon EOS-5D was the first compact and relatively affordable DSLR body with a 12 Mega-pixel Full-Frame low-noise CMOS sensor at the time when other major camera makers were stuck with smaller CCD sensors. It quickly became adopted and loved by many photographers shooting weddings, portraits, events and landscape as well as press and studio photographers thanks to its high image quality at the time. Similarly, the EOS-5D Mark II broke new grounds with its first-to-the market full-HD video in a DSLR and a 21-Mega pixel full-frame sensor. Fast forward 11 years, the 4th iteration in the 5D series was released in late fall 2016. The 5D Mark IV, is the long awaited upgrade to the EOS-5D Mark III.
Unlike the original EOS-5D, or the EOS-5D Mark II, the EOS-5D Mark IV is not a revolutionary camera. There are other full-frame cameras within the Canon brand that offer either a significantly higher resolution or a significantly higher performance. The EOS-5D Mark IV on the other hand, tries to strike the best balance between resolution, image quality, performance, feature set, size, weight and cost rather than focusing on just one of them.
In this review, I will take a close look at the strengths and the weaknesses of the EOS-5D Mark IV from the perspective of an avian photographer.
Note: Most images in this article have been processed for viewing on a 4K monitor. Click on each image to expand. All images (c) Arash Hazeghi Ph.D. and cannot be printed or posted without permission.
EOS-5D, 4th vs. 3rd
The EOS-5D Mark IV is similar in its form factor and controls to the EOS-5D Mark III, but that’s where the similarities end. Everything in the EOS-5D Mark IV is entirely new, from its 30 Mega-pixel CMOS sensor and the 61-point Reticular II AF system, to the magnesium shell.
The table below compares the EOS-5D Mark IV with the EOS-5D Mark III. Everything has been upgraded while many new features have been added.
The two cameras are shown side-by-side below. The general layout and controls are similar. This means any current EOS-5D Mark III owner can pick up the new camera and start shooting right away. Although the EOS-5D series cameras (without the vertical grip) are noticeably smaller than the full-size EOS-1D X Mark II, they are still easy to handle and operate even when wearing thick gloves thanks to large buttons. The build quality is superb as with any pro-level Canon camera.
The prism dome in the EOS-5D Mark IV is a separate piece made of composite material to allow reception of GPS/Wi-Fi signals. The camera is water resistant and dust proof to a higher degree than the EOS-5D Mark III, says Canon.
Canon have added a new AF area selection button to the back of the camera, close to the main dial. This button can be configured to perform a variety of functions using the customs control menu.
The EOS-5D Mark IV also includes a new cable management accessory which uses a thumbscrew to attach to the I/O port. It holds the USB/HDMI cables firmly in place to prevent damage to the camera’s I/O ports when using long heavy cables or if the cables are accidentally pulled.
The only thing Canon did not update in the EOS-5D Mark IV is the camera’s storage interface. It still uses CF + SD card slots. CF is getting long in the tooth and is limited to UDMA7, the newer CFAST interface allows for much faster read and write speeds (500+ MB/sec). Many of the EOS-5D Mark IV users also use the EOS-1D X Mark II and dealing with two types of storage media, card reader etc. is very cumbersome.
The capacitive touch screen in the EOS-5D Mark IV is very useful. It can be used to quickly change the menu settings, zoom in or scroll an image, move between images and more. It supports common touch gestures such as pinch to zoom, drag to pan etc. and is calibrated as good as the best smartphones on the market. The touch sensitivity can be adjusted if needed. It surprises me that Canon did not include touch functions in the EOS-1D X Mark II which has an identical touch screen hardware. Perhaps a firmware upgrade will enable these functions for that camera as well. The touch screen can be disabled it needed.
This is the first time Canon have included a Wi-Fi/NFC module in one of their high-end cameras. Wi-Fi can be used not only to connect the camera to a smart phone like most other cameras, but also to connect the camera to any access point as an FTP server. This can be used to upload images directly to your computer, NAS server, or even the internet photo-sharing and social sites (Flicker, Tweeter, Facebook, Google+ etc.). I find the transfer rate over Wi-Fi too slow when shooting volume in RAW but it can be useful for quick JPEG uploads to the web. All recent Canon bodies allow for in-camera RAW conversion so even if you exclusively shoot RAW like myself, you can quickly extract a JPEG and upload it to your destination.
The image below was converted from RAW and cropped in the camera itself and then uploaded to my iPhone via the Canon app. Click on the image to see it large, although the image quality is not as good as a RAW conversion in DPP using my desktop, it is acceptable for internet sharing or record keeping and even making prints.
Another useful feature enabled by Wi-Fi is the smartphone remote app. I have used remote apps for several other cameras including Fuji and Sony but to date none has been as robust and as refined as the Canon app on my iPhone. The live view feed is very stable and doesn’t crash my iPhone, the app can run indefinitely as long as the camera has battery without freezing or dropping the connection. Switching to other apps on the phone will not kill the connection. Most camera functions can be set remotely. Below is a screen capture from the remote app.
One killer application enabled via WiFi is reviewing images quickly on your laptop, iPad or large screen phone without needing to download them. You can browse, tag and delete unwanted images directly via the app. After each shoot you can simply walk through and weed out your files when sitting in a cafe without needing to take the camera out if your bag. you have to watch for battery usage though, using WiFi for a couple of hours can drain the battery. I found 2 fully charged batteries to be sufficient for a full day of shooting plus moderate WiFi usage (with the GPS active).
The desktop-based EOS viewer utility can be used for remote shooting over Wi-Fi from your computer. This is also very useful when the camera is attached to a super-telephoto lens on a tripod sitting outside or in a different room, or when performing calibration. You can also set the custom functions via the EOS viewer utility as well. The EOS-5D Mark IV also includes built-in GPS, like the EOS-1D X Mark II and unlike the EOS-7D Mark II, the GPS module uses little power and doesn’t drain the battery. I keep it ON at all times. Make sure you set it to mode 2 (low power).
Image quality comparison
Every EOS-5D series is ultimately going to be judged by its image quality. The EOS-5D Mark III brought only a minor resolution increase over the EOS-5D Mark II while it improved the high-ISO performance. After the introduction of the original EOS-1D X, the 5D Mark III became a strictly backup body for me. The 18 Mega-pixel sensor in the EOS-1D X provided similar resolution and at least full stop of better high-ISO performance. There was really no situation where I’d reach out for my EOS-5D Mark III, unless the my 1D X was not available. With the EOS-5D Mark IV’s 30 mega-pixel sensor I can see situations where I’d reach out for this camera instead of my EOS-1D X Mark II to take advantage of the extra resolution. That is *IF* the image quality is great, which we are going to find out.
The scene below should be familiar to those who follow my blog, it is my decoy owl decorated by game feathers to simulate a bird. I compared the EOS-5D Mark III with the EOS 5D Mark IV shooting this owl with my EF 70-200 f/2.8 IS II, set to 200mm and f/8, attached to a sturdy tripod.
The RAW files were converted to TIFF using the latest DPP 4.5. Luminance NR was set to zero to level the playing field. I used minimal amount of chrominance NR to remove color noise. Chrominance NR in DPP does not affect spatial detail. For more information please see the DPP4 RAW conversion guide.
Note: you must click on image to see the full-size crops
From the crops the resolution advantage of the EOS-5D Mark IV is readily visible. It can resolve more details across the ISO range from ISO-100 all the way to ISO-6400. At the same time, at higher ISO’s the EOS-5D Mark IV looks sharper and shows less noise. Canon have increased the pixel count by 50% and improved the high ISO at the same time which is quite remarkable. The EOS-5D Mark III was no slouch in high-ISO performance but the EOS-5D Mark IV takes it a nudge higher.
Overall I would not hesitate to use EOS-5D Mark IV all the way up to ISO 3200. ISO 6400 can be used in most situations as well, it works best when lightning is uniform.
The EOS-5D Mark III had some pattern noise (FPN) which could limit the lower ISO shadow detail. I never found this to be an issue as I have learned not to underexpose my photographs and not to shoot in harsh light when shadows are strong and equally unattractive. The only situation where I found the pattern noise objectionable with the EOS-5D Mark III was for nigh time long exposures. The darker tones could show FPN if pushed too much.
To exaggerate any pattern noise in the sensor I photographed the night scene below at 6 sec, f/5.6 at ISO 100.
I don’t shoot landscapes but below is another example which might be relevant to photographers who like to shoot landscapes, the original RAW was exposed to maintain the highlights in the sky and ocean, then I raised the exposure by an equivalent 7 stops in DPP4.5 and Photoshop for the shaded regions.
Same file after processing is shown below. Click on the image to see a very large 3000-pixel wide image (best viewed on a 4K screen)
You can push the RAW file even more, but personally, I am not a fan of the unnatural looking HDR processing that is trending these days.
As we can see the FPN has been greatly improved as was the case in the EOS-1D X Mark II. Again wildlife and avian photographers don’t usually care much for low ISO or pushing deep shadows. My starting ISO when shooting birds is usually between 640 and 800. I only make photographs in early hours of the morning or late hours of the evening when soft light makes attractive images. The improvement is welcome, nevertheless.
Field Image Quality
I spent a few months photographing with the EOS-5D Mark IV, during this time I had the opportunity to shoot a variety of avian subjects with this camera. The image quality of EOS-5D Mark IV is excellent across the ISO range. It delivers sharp and detailed files that retain their quality even after cropping. If you have an HD or a 4K monitor, click on the image below to see an example. This photograph is about 60% of the original file.
Interestingly the EOS-5D Mark IV has a smaller pixel size and thus more “reach” than the old EOS-1D Mark IV which was the professional Canon body for wildlife shooter for a number of years, obviously, the EOS-5D Mark IV has much better high ISO performance. The EOS-5D Mark IV is ideal for photographing some species that are difficult to approach such as the American Kestrel shown below.
The field low-light performance of the EOS-5D Mark IV is excellent. The image below (Merlin) was taken after sunset when it was very dark. The exposure has been boosted by +1EV in DPP 4.5, results look good, especially for a relatively tight crop.
It’s also important to note that you don’t need to spend too much time applying noise reduction and sharpening to get a high-quality output, just a straightforward conversion in Canon DPP 4.5 with optimal settings is often all you need to arrive at a clean, detailed TIFF file. This is in contrast to the higher resolution EOS-5DS R, which I have tried on many occasions, but I cannot say I find it a good fit for my type of avian photography. At low ISO’s and bright scenes the detail in the 50 mega-pixel RAW’s is stellar but as soon as the light drops and the ISO is raised, the files lose critical sharpness and become too grainy. Careful processing is needed with advanced noise reduction to get the best out of that camera. This is time consuming given the files size, and even then the files just lack the punch in lower light. I’d definitely pick the EOS-5D Mark IV over the EOS-5DS R for bird photography based on image quality alone.
I also spent a couple of days photographing in Southern California with iffy light, the high ISO performance of the ESO-5D Mark IV proved to be great.
Against the EOS 1D X Mark II
Although these cameras are targeted at different audiences and most photographers will not cross shop them, it is still interesting to see how much more detail can the EOS-5D Mark IV render from a scene.
The image below shows the resolution advantage of the EOS-5D Mark IV compared to the EOS-1D X Mark II when the light is good. I photographed the female Northern Harrier in Southern California from a vehicle. I placed my EF 600mm f/4 IS II, attached to my EF Extender 1.4X III on a bean bag and then quickly swapped bodies to take the shot before the harrier moved. It is not an ideal frame with the busy perch but demonstrates the difference.
As expected, the EOS-5D Mark IV has ~22% more resolution (resolution scales with square root of # of pixels) than the EOS-1D X Mark II. It is certainly visible but not a ground breaking difference.
This image, (double-crested cormorant) was also shot from approximately the same distance with the same lens+extender combination (EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II + Extender 2X III) at f/8 ISO 3200, but in much lower light. The CR2 files were converted using Canon DPP4.5 with optimal noise reduction settings outlined in the DPP 4 guide. No noise reduction or sharpening applied after RAW conversion.
below is the side-by-side 100% crop from each camera.
We can see that in low light, the EOS-5D Mark IV image is a bit grainier than the EOS-1D X Mark II but at the same time, it has slightly more detail as well. This is great performance on part of the EOS-5D Mark IV. I didn’t expect it to perform so well at this ISO.
Note that when the subject has dark tones or when the light is not uniform the EOS-5D Mark IV RAW files start to lose contrast and detail earlier than the EOS-1D X Mark II, closing the gap quickly. If you plan to shoot at ISO 3200 and above very frequently I’d still pick the EOS-1D X Mark II as the latter requires less effort to produce a high quality output.
The EOS-5D Mark IV is not the first camera with Canon’s Dual-Pixel CMOS sensor, but is the first one to offer Dual-Pixel RAW recording. In DPCMOS, each pixel is comprised of two individual photo diodes. The camera effectively captures two parallax 30 Mega-pixel images that are slightly shifted with respect to each other. Normally the camera combines the readout from the two diodes in each pixel to deliver a standard RAW (CR2) file. With Dual Pixel RAW (DPRAW) the two parallax images are recorded in a single CR2 file that is approximately twice as large as a standard CR2 file (60 Mega-pixels of data). User can then use these two parallax images to apply a variety of post capture corrections not other wise possible with a single photo diode per pixel architecture. It is basiclaly a crude form of computational photography.
These adjustments include post capture focus micro-adjustment, bokeh shift and ghosting suppression. Canon series II super-telephoto lenses and series III extenders are almost optically perfect so most wildlife and bird shooters will never see ghosting in their images to begin with. The remaining corrections, post-capture focus micro-adjust and the bokeh shift look appealing on paper. In practice, however, the DPRAW has serious limitations: First, The two parallax images are only a few microns shifted with respected to each other (to be precise, half of the pixel pitch or about 2.7 um). This greatly reduces the amount of focus shift that can be applied post capture. The farther the parallax images, the greater the degree of corrections that can be applied post capture.
The other factor is that because each photodiode is about half the size of a pixel, each parallax image effectively receives half the amount of light collected by the sensor. In other words, each parallax image is noisier than the image when data from both photodiodes are combined. When DPRAW corrections are applied at full strength the resulting image becomes a bit noisier. On the plus side DPP4.5 is relatively quick to process and apply corrections to the DPRAW files (when using a capable system).
When I first read about DPRAW, I wasn’t expecting miracles but I was hoping that it would help improve those files that were relatively sharp but not quite tack-sharp. After using the camera for some time, I can’t really find a field example where this feature saved the day. Besides that, the increased file size eats disk space and reduced buffer capacity means that you might actually miss a shot. Overall in its current state I don’t see DPRAW as a productive format for avian and wildlife shooters. Below is an example of DPRAW, I focused on the dog’s eye then converted the DPRAW with a focus micro-adjust of -5 and +5 (max. allowed) and a strength of 5 (choosing a higher value resulted in too much grain at ISO 1600)
As you can see the amount of focus shift is tiny. I found this to be the case with all of my lenses and in most combinations, ultimately, the system is limited by the small shift between the two parallax images. For the same reason, the image-sensor based phase detect AF systems are never as sensitive, responsive and as accurate as a dedicated AF sensor where the split images are projected much farther away from each other. (The distance between AF line sensors is much greater than the distance between neiogboring pixels on the image sensor.)
The EOS-5D Mark IV is a relatively snappy camera. It’s not a 1D camera by any means but it is not sluggish like the EOS-5DSR either. 7 fps is sufficient for many situations although it may miss the peak-of-action or the most dynamic frame, especially when several birds are interacting in a frame or when shooting fast flying raptors. While photographing raptors and some small song birds in southern California, I noticed a few occasions where the camera’s 7fps fell short of capturing the ideal head angle (HA) at first attempt even when the bird was perched. This is not a big issue if you have repeat opportunities, but if it is a one-time opportunity with a rare bird, I’d stick with the 1DX (MKII).
Fortunately the camera’s continues shooting buffer proved sufficient in most cases. The buffer depth when using a fast CF card (I used SanDisk Extreme Pro 160MB/sec UDMA7 card) is much more than the number quoted by Canon (they use a reference CF card). I was able to get about 35 shots before the camera slowed down, that is 5 seconds of continuous shooting at full speed. Once the buffer is full, it clears really quickly. If you shoot DPRAW however the buffer depth reduces significantly, the camera can only shoot for about a second before it slows down and it can even lock up for short periods. Another reason not to shoot DPRAW for action. Turning on DLO (Digital Lens Optimizer) in-camera also slows down the continuous shooting speed, I would keep it off.
Overall the EOS-5D Mark IV offers a positive experience but it is not an action camera, for that purpose I’d pick the EOS-1D X (Mark II) without any hesitation. Silent shooting is also possible at max burst speed, making it ideal for blind use.
One of the major improvements of the EOS-5D Mark IV over its predecessor is the new reticular II AF module with Canon’s 3rd generation AI-servo algorithms. The sesnor module is the same unit used in the flagship EOS-1D X Mark II This is good news but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the two cameras will have identical AF performance in the field. The EOS-1DX Mark II has a much faster logic circuit powered by dual Digic 6+ processors as well has a higher voltage battery pack that enables high-speed servo drive when a super-telphoto lens is attached. The EOS-5D Mark III was also fitted with the same AF sensor as the original EOS-1D X, yet in practice the 5D was somewhat sluggish compared to the 1D when tracking BIF with a super-telpehot lens, especially with extenders.
First the good news, the EOS-5D Mark IV AF consistency is greatly improved over the EOS-5D Mark III which itself was quite a capable camera in the right hands. With the EOS-5D Mark IV, right off the bat, I noticed a higher percentage of tack sharp files with challenging subjects. It tracks very well against complex backgrounds, like the examples below.
Northern Harriers don’t fly very fast but they are often a challenging subject for the AF to track, as the flight path is very erratic plus they tend to fly very close to the ground. The foreground elements constantly block the line of sight throwing off the servo AF. In the example below you can see that the EOS-5D Mark IV held the focus well on the harrier as the bird entered the area behind the tall reeds.
Camera held the focus on the harrier as it flew behind and the popped from behind the reeds
The sequence of 21 frames below is a particularly difficult scenario for AF tracking. The harrier is flying against a varied busy background as it goes into the shade, the AF stayed on the bird when it was in the shade and didn’t lock on the busy background as the bird emerged from the shade. The bird was then partially blocked by the foreground reeds and branches towards the end of the sequence. The AF remains locked on the harrier even when its eye is barely visible between the reeds. In order to get the best results you need to setup your camera properly. I use expansion AF pattern and set the AI-servo sensitivity to locked-on for a scenario like this. I explain my AF setup and technique in detail in Birds in Flight Photography Basics. Click on the image below to display the sequence in animation. It may take a while for the animation to load.
All the 21 frames in the sequence are tack sharp, below is one of the frames from this sequence after I raised the exposure by 3 stops in DPP 4.5.
Needless to say plain backgrounds offer no challenge for the new 5D.
Now the not-so good news:
The bare super-telephoto servo drive is pretty fast and doesn’t leave much to be desired, it’s not quite as fast as a EOS-1D X (MKII) but it is certainly fast enough. With the EF Extender 1.4X III added, the servo drive remains quick, it can still keep up with most subjects. With the EF Extender 2X III, however, the story changes a bit. All of the AF points are active at f/8, just like the EOS-1D X Mark II, and the AF remains pretty accurate for static subjects. The servo drive speed and the percentage of critically sharp BIF frames however, takes a noticeable hit. It becomes challenging, and at times frustrating to keep up with BIF once the Extender 2X III is added. In good light, it is certainly possible to lock AF on BIF against complex backgrounds, but the success rate is nowhere as high as the EOS-1D X Mark II and for that matter the EOS-1D X. The AF can lag behind if the bird accelerates too quickly. This was a bit disappointing because otherwise the camera’s excellent 30 Mega-pixel image sensor and compact body could make it a killer light combo when attached to the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II + Extender 2X III.
BIF shots with the combination of the EOS-5D Mark IV and super-telephoto lens plus the EF Extender 2X III are easiest with simple backgrounds.
Large and slow birds aren’t much of a challenge either, for the EOS-5D Mark IV attached to a super-telephoto lens and the EF Extender 2X III.
However, images like the example below are hard to come by with the EOS-5D Mark IV when the maximum aperture is f/8 and often test photographer’s technique.
Conclusion and Verdict
The EOS-5D Mark IV is a worthy upgrade to the EOS-5D Mark III which improves upon its predecessor in every measurable way. The 4th generation 5D is packed with new features that make it even more productive and fun to shoot with. There isn’t really anything else on the market at the time of writing this review that can directly compete with the EOS-5D Mark IV. There are camera bodies with higher resolution sensors but they are slower and lack the advanced and capable AF fitted in the EOS-5D Mark IV. There are cameras with even better AF and faster performance but they cost twice as much as the EOS-5D Mark IV. The EOS-5D Mark IV is not a specialized camera, it is a Swiss army knife, a jack of all trades and master of some but not all. As a primary action/BIF camera the EOS-1D X Mark II or even the now discontinued EOS-1D X are both better propositions and will get you more dynamic frames. But for perched birds plus some BIF work (with bare super-telephoto lens plus the 1.4X Extender), the EOS-5D Mark IV is on top of my list. The EOS-5D Mark IV delivers excellent resolution and sharpness at pixel level across the ISO range and at the same time is just fast enough for many things that you throw at it. Overall the EOS-5 Mark IV is an excellent complement to the EOS-1D X (Mark II) for the wildlife/avian photographer, I would recommend it with no hesitation.
The EOS-5D Mark IV body only retails for $3500, the same as the EOS-5D Mark III at the time of its introduction.
-30 Mega-pixel low-noise CMOS sensor: delivers excellent image quality, dynamic range and details across the ISO range.
-Flagship 61-point reticular II AF module: delivers fast, reliable and accurate tracking of BIF at f/5.6 or faster.
-61 AF points at f/8, makes this body ideal for long-distant shots, accurate AF at f/8
-built-in WiFi with NFC and FTP support, Canon’s smartphone app is robust and provides many functions including image review.
-built-in GPS that doesn’t drain the battery like some earlier EOS models.
-Reduced weight and improved weather sealing.
-LCD with responsive capacitive touch.
-Host of video features, 4K video with minimal compression (at the expense of large file sizes).
-Rapid dual-pixel CMOS AF in live view, makes it possible to track moving subjects reliably when shooting video.
-silent shooting is available even at 7fps, great for blind use or shooting skittish wildlife.
-7fps isn’t slow but isn’t fast either, sometimes it is not fast enough the capture the peak of action, the best pose or the best wing position.
-AF drive at f/8 not as fast as I’d like, becomes very slow in low light.
-Still uses the obsolete CF interface as opposed to CFAST, the SD interface is slow and limits the camera’s performance.
-Battery grip only uses one battery at a time (power from two batteries cannot be combined to speed up AF drive)
-Focusing screen is fixed.
-VF illumination is only in black, unlike EOS-1D X Mark II which is in red making it much easier to see the focus points.
-Dual-Pixel RAW in its current form has very limited use for avian photography.