Monday, 26 March 2012

My First Wedding Shot on the New Canon EOS 5D Mark III

I, like most 5D Mark II owners, have been waiting for the Mark III for what feels like an eternity. I love my Mark II and think the image quality is exceptional, but I felt it was missing certain features that the Nikons have had for a while and a level of customisation that you just don't have on the Mark II. My biggest gripe has been the autofocus system which has always seemed clunky and not the snappy system I would have liked. I felt I was missing crucial shots when the camera would just refuse to focus. This was further highlighted to me just the other day when I bought a mint EOS 3 film camera whose AF feels much more refined that the Mark II despite being released back in 1998!

Seeing various Nikon releases that have looked amazing I asked myself the same question again: Why did I get rid of my Nikon D100 all those years ago. I got bored of waiting for the Mark III to be released, so when the flagship 1D X was announced I put may name on the list with the fantastic people at Fixation. They said they would be happy to switch my name to the 5D Mark III list should that camera ever be released, which the obligingly did when it was announced earlier this month.

I did feel rather guilty buying the camera especially with a price of £3000 body only. My mates as usual joked that I was buying another toy, but they fail to realise that these are actually the tools of our trade and that we have to have the best tools to do our job. I felt slightly vindicated when checking my gear on Friday afternoon the day before the wedding and firing a few test shots on my trusty original 5D (which I still think takes just brilliant images) and the mirror detached from its mechanism and fell out! Fixation tell me this is common fault and that it is a free of charge repair. They will even post it back to me for free! These are situations where I think that buying form a pro dealer is so worth it. You would never get this level of service from a website you bought your gear from for £25 less.

I was more than pleased I had bought the Mark III now. I have worried about the shutter count on my 5d and 5d II floating around Canon’s shutter rating for a little while. But speaking to a good mate and very talented wedding shooter in Australia he assured me I had nothing to worry about as he and other people he knew regularly shot weddings on their Mark IIs which had over 100000 actuations over Canon’s maximum rating and they were going strong as ever. I have always been a wary of this as I had to replace the shutter mechanism on my trusty 20D when It had surpassed the 100000 actuations it was designed for and had failed on a job.

So I picked up my 5D Mark III on the Friday afternoon and began to get acquainted. Initial impressions are that is feels just like a 7D in the hand. It has a much grippier rubber (though this might be because it is new) and ergonomically moulds better to the hand. I love that they have added more buttons to the body that can be customised to suit one’s needs, just like a Nikon! It feels as you would expect, like a more grown up version of the Mark II. I was very excited at the prospect of shooting a wedding with it and trying out the new AF system and the low light capabilities. I seldom would push my Mark II over 3200 ISO so was keen to see how it performed at the wedding the following day that I knew was going to have some rather tricky lighting conditions.

So the wedding went well and these are my first impressions.
I always shoot with a battery grip and hand strap (no neck strap) on my cameras and not having one felt very strange and my hand hurt after a full day. This is not really a criticism of the camera as I love the fact that you have the choice of small or large body for different occasions.

The 6fps is fantastic and a vast improvement on the Mark II. I am pleased the frames per second are no more than this as my cards would fill even faster and I would have to wade through even more images than before. The shutter lag is noticeably shorter on the new camera. For weddings I have my set to continuous but usually take just the one shot at a time. With the Mark III I found myself involuntarily taking 2 shots at a time as I was not used to the improved shutter lag. This was never a problem on the Mark II.

The shutter sound is completely different. Gone is the slow, loud clunk of the original 5D and the Mark II, replaced by a similar noise to the 7D which I think is a little rattly and doesn't feel that reassuring. It somehow didn’t feel very ‘pro’ as it makes a similar noise to the cropped sensor entry level cameras of the guests! Not really a problem but it does feel very different.

I love the fact you can now choose to have a high and low speed continuous too. One incredible feature is the new silent shooting mode which is just brilliant for shooting in quiet churches. This alone is worth the money. It is near silent from a few feet away. In the past I would always wait for there to my singing or praying to take some shots as I do not like to  be the annoying photographer clicking away during the sacred important moments. Whilst my approach will not change, this does mean that I can take a couple of shots at least at the crucial times without disturbing proceedings. Just fantastic.

I also love the dual card slots. I have never been a fan of huge memory cards for shooting such important events as weddings. The idea that a 64GB card could corrupt and you lose a whole wedding is too awful to bare. I realise that cards are incredibly reliable, but I still prefer to spread my eggs. In the past I have always shot on 4GB and 8GB cards which can mean keeping a close eye on the number of available shots and a little bit of swapping cards at the critical moments which is never good. Now I still keep an eye on the card but if it fills up it just keeps recording to the SD card and swap the CF card over at a calm moment. You do have to remember to tell the camera to start recording again to the CF rather than continuing recording to the SD. There is probably a way of setting it to do this automatically but I have not found it as yet.

The ability to now set a minimum shutter speed (like on the Nikons again...) is fantastic. You can rely on the camera a little more an you can concentrate on framing the shots and not missing the action. Previously the camera would chose very slow, but not impossibly slow to be unable to handhold, shutter speeds particularly with very wide angle lenses. This could sometimes catch you out, not any more with this new setting.

Another little change that is a great improvement is the ability to dial in 3 stops of over and underexposure compared the the 2 stops in the Mark II. A small but significant change to the usability of the camera.

So on to the all important AF. I will freely admit I have not worked it out yet. I currently find it totally perplexing as there are so many more modes, options and settings than on the Mark II but it is a huge improvement. It feels much more snappy that before and nails more shots. Sometimes I was not sure if it had refocused as I was expecting that short moment of blurring before it refocused on a new subject that I have come to expect. I do however find that with so many focus points it can be hard to spot which one has lit up, particularly in low light.

More focus points also means that you have to tilt the joystick many more times to select to point you want to be in focus (if you are not using the centre focus point and recompose technique). I know you can pick clusters of points rather than individual points to speed things up somewhat.

On my 5D and 5D II I have the joystick set to directly select a focus point. It seems to me that you are now forced to press another button first and then the joystick which I find fiddly and time consuming. Perhaps it is possible to set up but I have not found it yet.

One little thing that has changed that I am not a fan of, is the zooming on a photo in playback. You now have to press the dedicated magnifying glass button and zoom in with the dial. In the past you just you could just zoom in without the need for a separate button. This is one Nikon way of doing things I have never liked. Not only is this extra step annoying, but zooming with the dial makes a clicking sound which is not great when in quiet environments like churches. I have my Mark II set up to replay the image by pressing the SET button centre of the wheel which meant in the past that after taking a shot it could replay and zoom in with one hand which was very handy. You now need two which is much less so. Another welcome improvement is that you can set the level of magnification on first press. At last!
For the wedding on Saturday I rented from Fixation the 70-200 f2.8L IS II to compare it to my version I of the lens. Chatting to Brett Harkness on one his off camera flash courses he was telling my how Canon had lent him one to try out and how much he loved it compared to the first version. I have to agree with him- it does seem to lock focus faster that before and the IS is now practically silent. The images are sharper and have more contrast and I think look more like shots taken with my old 70-200 f4L which I have always thought produced more pleasing images than it more expensive older brother.

One thing I did find was that the Mark III uses more battery than the Mark II which makes sense considering the higher frame rates and greater processing power. It still far surpassed the quoted maximum number of shots by a very long way!

I am also very pleased that the megapixel count has not gone up significantly. I personally think that 21-odd is more than adequate. I seldom need the resolution for printing but do appreciate it when retouching, particularly on my interiors and architecture shoots when I need to remove a little bedside lamp cable poking out and ruining the shot...

I also like the locking mode dial on top of the camera. On a couple of occasions when running around the dial has moved and I have suddenly found myself shooting bulb exposures as the bride and groom are coming out of a dark church into blazing sun. Not great.

So all in all I am very pleased with the Mark 3. Canon seem to have listened to what shooters have needed and I am looking forward to understanding the myriad of AF options and I’m sure will love. It has some very welcome improvements and some funny quirks too but I am sure like most things it will only a matter of getting used to.

 These images are not necessarily the best ones from the day, they are ones I thought would show the capability of the camera in different lighting situations and a wide range of ISOs, types of lighting and brightnesses. I think that the camera allows you to take pictures under conditions that you couldn't before. The thing that struck me is that at 6400 images in low light do have noise and that at 12800 they seem to have very similar levels of noise again, not twice as much. To me how noisy is not really important. I think that is you can have an image that is usable that you were unable to get before then its all good. Yes if you zoom it at 100% it will be noisy, but as you can see below they shots are perfectly usable when zoomed out at a normal level. On a Mac, If you pull the images off onto your desktop, open the shot in Preview and then do CMD+I you can see all the EXIF data if you are interested in the ISOs etc.

All shots here were converted with the latest beta of Adobe DNG Converter and then imported into Aperture. They were then adjusted for the usual exposure, levels, curves etc. No noise reduction has been applied. I thought it was better to show them lightly edited, as in the real world you would never send an image to a client without post processing. Normally I would possibly take these shots through some Nik plugins for noise reduction and black and white conversion at this stage, but decided to leave it here for purposes of this post.

Finally I’d like to give a huge thanks to Sophia and Barney, the beautiful bride and dapper groom, for being absolutely fantastic on the day and for allowing me to put a handful of images online to show the capabilities of the camera.

I hope this is useful! Feel free to leave any questions or comments in the box below.

Thanks and all the best,


All images Copyright Patrick Butler-Madden