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Canon unveils 22.12 million image pixel, 6fps EOS 5D Mark III  
Thursday, March 1, 2012 | by Rob Galbraith
Canon has announced the EOS 5D Mark III, the highly-anticipated update of the popular EOS 5D Mark II that features a 22.12 million image pixel full-frame CMOS sensor, 6fps top shooting rate, a standard ISO range of 100-25,600 (which can be expanded to as high as 102,400), the same 61-point AF system as the EOS-1D X, 63-zone metering, CompactFlash and SD card slots, DIGIC 5+ image processing, 1080p/29.97fps video capture with new compression options, timecode embedding and a headphone jack, all in a reworked magnesium alloy body that takes its styling cues from the EOS 7D.

The 5D Mark III is compatible with Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E7, GPS Receiver GP-E2 and Battery Grip BG-E11, all of which have been unveiled today too.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III feature summary

The EOS 5D Mark II is a camera with an exceptional image sensor, breakthrough video capabilities, a crisp viewfinder and, in our experience, decent overall autofocus. In other respects, though, its responsiveness, frame rate, metering system and configurability lags behind a long list of digital SLRs from Canon and its competitors, both current and some earlier models.

The 5D Mark III is Canon's move to change that. It's as much about shoring up the camera-ness of Canon's latest full-frame digital SLR as it is about improving image quality and video features. To that end, Canon has, for the first time in about a dozen years, equipped more than just its flagship model with the company's best-appointed AF system. Plus, shutter lag is down, frame rate is up and the entry-level metering system has been dispatched, while the body itself has been given an EOS 7D-style makeover.

While things like pixel count, ISO range and video additions such as the headphone jack will get the most attention and discussion in the days ahead, the real story of the 5D Mark III is how much effort has been directed towards making it better as a camera.

Here's the 5D Mark III, at a glance:
  • Magnesium alloy body with some weather sealing. Environmental protection is described as being superior to the 5D Mark II, but not quite up to the EOS-1D X

  • Several interface refinements relative to the 5D Mark III, including a combined Live View/video mode switch and Start/Stop control, new Custom Controls (Q) and Rate buttons, locking top mode dial, a multifunction (M.Fn) button near the shutter release plus a touchpad within the Quick Control Dial meant for making silent adjustments to such things as audio levels while video is being recorded

  • 22.12 million image pixel full-frame CMOS sensor. Image dimensions at full resolution are 5760 x 3840 pixels. Among the file format settings are full-resolution RAW plus two reduced-resolution settings: M-RAW (3960 x 2640 pixels) and S-RAW (2880 x 1920 pixels)

  • Optical viewfinder with 100% frame coverage and optional grid display

  • 6fps top shooting rate. The 5D Mark III has two continuous-shooting modes: Continuous High (6fps) and Continuous Low (3fps)

  • At ISO 100, the 5D Mark III is specified to shoot 18 CR2 or 7 JPEG+CR2 frames in a continuous burst to a UDMA Mode 7-capable CompactFlash card. Also with a UDMA 7 card loaded, the camera was able to shoot Large Fine JPEGs continuously without interruption in Canon's testing

  • Revised mirror and shutter mechanisms (the latter has a durability rating of 150,000 cycles)

  • A standard ISO range of 100-25,600 in 1/3 step increments, plus 50, 51,200 and 102,400 with ISO expansion enabled. EOS 5D Mark III high ISO performance is promised to be second only to the EOS-1D X in Canon's lineup

  • A top shutter speed of 1/8000 and x-sync speed of 1/200

  • A startup time of 0.1s and a shutter lag of 59ms (we don't have a figure for mirror blackout time yet)

  • 61-point AF system with 41 cross-type points

  • 14-bit analog-to-digital conversion and 14-bit DIGIC 5+ digital image processing

  • 63-zone, dual-layer ambient/flash metering sensor (this component first appeared in the EOS 7D)

  • Dual-axis electronic level

  • In-camera multiple exposures, with several options for how the camera captures and blends the frames

  • In-camera RAW converter

  • HD video capture at up to 1080p/29.97fps or 720p/59.94fps with new H.264 compression options, timecode embedding and, best of all, a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack

  • 3.5mm stereo audio mic jack

  • New in-camera Chromatic Aberration Correction, which can be enabled for stills and video

  • 3.2-inch (diagonal), 1,040,000-dot rear LCD featuring Canon's ClearView II technology. While playing back photos, it's possible to put two side-by-side on the LCD for comparison and zooming

  • One-touch zoom to area around active focus point at 100% magnification (plus other zoom shortcut options)

  • Two memory card slots, CompactFlash Type I and SD/SDHC/SDXC. The CompactFlash slot supports the UDMA Mode 7 data timing protocol for promised fast write speeds, but the SD slot does not support UHS-1 and so is likely to be considerably slower than the CompactFlash slot when comparing the quickest-available cards of each type

  • Eye-Fi wireless/SDHC combo cards are officially supported. This includes the ability to enable/disable transmitting via the camera's Eye-Fi menu

  • Powered by the 7.2V/1800mAh Battery Pack LP-E6. Other power options are AC (requires the optional AC Adapter Kit ACK-E6) and the accessory Battery Grip BG-E11

  • Connection options include USB 2.0, Type C Mini-HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm powered stereo mic jack, PC sync and N3 remote socket. The 5D Mark III does not have an Ethernet port

  • Accepts the new WFT-E7 802.11a/b/g/n wireless transmitter, GPS Receiver GP-E2 and Battery Grip BG-11
Feature highlights

Body The 5D Mark III body includes a new 3.2-inch (diagonal), 1,040,000-dot ClearView II rear LCD, a touchpad within the Quick Control Dial that allows for silent adjustment of camera parameters such as audio levels during video capture, a combined Live View/video mode switch and Start/Stop control, a Rate button (0 to 5 stars; the rating applied will be recognized by various applications including Photoshop Lightroom and Photo Mechanic), locking top mode dial, a multifunction (M.Fn) button plus a Q button that allows for quick access to the adjustment of various camera settings.

The body weighs 33.5oz/950g with battery installed.

Shutter and mirror The 5D Mark III shutter has a 150,000-cycle durability rating, the same as the 5D Mark II, but the shutter lag has been shortened, to 59ms in the new model from 75ms in the old .

The x-sync shutter speed, at 1/200, is the same as before. With Canon Speedlites, High Speed Sync above 1/200 is possible as well.

The mirror mechanism has been reworked to accommodate the camera's faster frame rate. The main difference is better stability - less bounce - when the mechanism is in the down position.

The improvements to the mirror, says Chuck Westfall, Technical Information Advisor at Canon USA, pave the way for two new quiet shooting modes. Called Silent Single and Silent Continuous, they reduce the amount of mechanical noise emanating from the camera in both single-shot and continuous shooting (the latter is restricted to 3fps when operating silently).

Viewfinder The viewfinder optics in the 5D Mark III are new. Key specifications include 100% coverage, .71x magnification, 22mm eyepoint and -3 to +1 diopter correction. It uses the same translucent LCD overlay technology as the EOS-1D X, with the same on-demand grid lines option, plus the visual appearance of the AF points is very similar to Canon's upcoming flagship camera too.

Unlike the 5D Mark II, the 5D Mark III's focusing screen is not interchangeable.

Image sensor and ISO Canon has increased the number of pixels in the 5D Mark III's 24.0 x 36.0mm CMOS sensor, relative to the 5D Mark II, though only slightly. By reducing the pixel pitch, from 6.4m to 6.25m, the total number of image pixels has climbed from 21.02 million in the earlier model to 22.12 million in the new one.

Canon has also evolved the sensor technology, reworking the internals of each pixel on the way to producing what is promised to be a considerably less noisy sensor than its predecessor (and the 5D Mark II was already pretty good in this respect). Westfall indicates that at moderate-to-high ISO sensitivities, the 5D Mark III has about a two-stop advantage over the 5D Mark II. As an example, he says, an ISO 3200 picture shot with the new model has roughly the dynamic range, noise and other characteristics of an ISO 800 picture shot with its predecessor.

He emphasizes that the bulk of the higher ISO image quality improvement comes from enhancements to the image sensor itself, as opposed to heavier-duty noise reduction being applied once the picture has been converted from analog to digital form. The only camera from Canon that will beat the image quality of the 5D Mark III at higher sensitivities, says Westfall, is the EOS-1D X.

The 5D Mark III's ISO range is 100-25,600 in 1/3 step increments. Switching on ISO expansion enables the selection of L (ISO 50), H1 (ISO 51,200) and H2 (102,400) in full steps above and below the standard ISO settings.

Auto ISO is available from 100 to 25,600 in P, Tv, Av and M exposure modes. It's possible to set both the maximum ISO as well as the minimum shutter speed.

The self-cleaning mechanism, Canon's Integrated Cleaning System, is similar to that of the 5D Mark II, but incorporates a fluorine coating on the front of the low-pass optical filter to help repel dust particles.

DIGIC 5+ processor The 5D Mark III contains a single DIGIC 5+ processor. The latest generation of Canon image processing unlocks new capabilities, including:
  • Chromatic Aberration Correction The new filtering is implemented in a manner similar to Canon's vignette-reducing Peripheral Illumination Correction: profiles of Canon lens characteristics are loaded into the camera for the glass you use most, and then the correction is turned on in a menu. Chromatic Aberration Correction is applied to both stills and video, and addresses both lateral and axial aberrations.

  • Multiple exposure mode Up to nine individual exposures can be combined, with a buffet of frame blending options including four different compositing methods - Additive, Average, Bright and Dark - and two different ways of capturing the source frames.

    The first way involves shooting one frame at a time, watching the blended image build to completion on the rear LCD as each new frame is shot. You can undo the last frame and retake it, you can optionally use a previously-captured RAW frame as your starting point for the multiple exposure and you can choose to save each individual frame as well as the composite frame to the memory card.

    The second way is simpler: shoot a multiple-frame continuous burst at up to 6fps and the 5D Mark III will blend them.

  • In-camera RAW converter Conversion settings that can be adjusted prior to conversion include software exposure compensation, white balance, Picture Style, colour space, Auto Lighting Optimizer, High ISO NR, Peripheral Illumination Correction, Chromatic Aberration Correction and the output dimensions and quality of the converted JPEG.
63-zone dual-layer meter This 63-zone ambient/flash metering sensor made its debut in the 7D. Unlike the 63-zone meter in earlier 1-series Canons, which utilizes zones of different sizes, the 5D Mark III's metering sensor contains 63 equal size zones arranged in a 9 x 7 grid. The sensor contains two unique layers, one being sensitive to red/green only, the other being sensitive to blue/green only. This colour data is used along with the brightness data gleaned from the metering sensor, and contributes to what Canon promises will be more accurate exposures overall, and more consistent exposures from frame to frame, than the 5D Mark II's 35-zone meter.

61-point AF system In specification, the 5D Mark III's 61-point High Density Reticular AF system, which is identical in almost all respects to the EOS-1D X, is a significant step up from the 5D Mark II and its 9-point arrangement.

Of the new AF system's 61 points, 41 are cross-type which retain both their vertical and horizontal line sensitivity with f/4 and faster lenses.

With most lenses whose maximum aperture is between f/4 and f/5.6, 21 of the 41 points continue to be both vertical and horizontal line sensitive. In addition, a centre column of five points act as high-precision diagonal cross-type with most f/2.8 or faster glass. The precision of these diagonal cross-type points, is said to be higher than any autofocus system ever to come from Canon.

Pointy: The 61 AF points in the 5D Mark III. Blue are high-precision diagonal cross-type, red are standard precision cross-type and black are single line sensitive only

AF point selection options are comprised of:
  • Spot
  • Single point (the 5D Mark III allows for all 61 points to be selected individually, or subsets of 41, 15 or 9)
  • Single point + surrounding four points
  • Single point + surrounding eight points
  • Zone
  • Automatic (all 61 points)
The lens or lens + teleconverter combo must have an aperture of f/5.6 or faster for the AF system to fully operate.

All AF settings and options are identical to the EOS-1D X, except one: there is no EOS iTR AF (Intelligent Tracking and Recognition AF) option on the 5D Mark III, since it requires the higher-resolution metering sensor of the EOS-1D X.

Battery The camera can capture the following number of frames per charge when powered by the 7.2V/1800mAh Battery Pack LP-E6:
  • At 73F/23C, no Live View: 950 frames
  • At 32F/0C, no Live View: 850 frames
  • At 73F/23C, Live View on: 200 frames (or 90 minutes of video recording)
  • At 32F/0C, Live View on: 180 frames (or 80 minutes of video recording)
Video The 5D Mark III's video mode closely mirrors that of the EOS-1D X, plus you get one feature that the 1-series model doesn't have: a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack with adjustable output volume (holding down the Rate button and pressing the multicontroller shifts the volume up or down).

The 5D Mark III's video mode also has manual and automatic exposure control, three static AF options that can be activated prior to and during video capture, both a built-in mono mic and a 3.5mm miniphone jack for an external stereo mic, a built-in speaker, H.264-codec movie files and a 29:59 clip length limit.

The video output settings:
  • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels at 30fps (actually 29.97fps)
  • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels at 25fps
  • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels at 24fps (actually 23.976fps)
  • 720p: 1280 x 720 pixels at 60fps (actually 59.94fps)
  • 720p: 1280 x 720 pixels at 50fps
  • SD: 640 x 480 pixels at 30fps (actually 29.97fps)
  • SD: 640 x 480 pixels at 25fps
Other changes:
  • Longer uninterrupted video The 5D Mark III will keep on recording without interruption right up to 29:59, even if that creates more than 4GB of video data. It's still limited to a 4GB clip length (this is a function of the file system used on the memory card and not an artificial restriction imposed by Canon), but the camera will automatically create multiple 4GB video files to do so, without dropping frames in the process. The clips can be placed in sequence in a video editor; once reunited, the transition from clip to clip will be seamless.

  • Timecodes The 5D Mark III is the second Canon digital SLR - after the EOS-1D X - to have the option to embed SMTPE-compliant timecodes in video clips. Both free run, which is most commonly used in multiple-camera shoots, and rec run, which is better-suited to single camera assignments, are supported. The timecode format is h:m:s:f (hours, minutes, seconds and frames). There is no support for genlock synchronization of multiple cameras.

  • Two compression format options The default type employs an intra-frame compression method, which allows for individual frames to be extracted from the video but at the expense of compression efficiency. The second type uses an inter-frame compression method, which gives much smaller file sizes than the default type, says Westfall, but is not as well-suited to individual frame extraction.

  • Improved audio 5D Mark III audio levels can be manually adjusted (in 64 increments) both prior to and during recording. The new touchpad within the Quick Control Dial makes it possible to bump audio levels up or down silently, or nearly so, as it doesn't produce a click sound when operated.
The 5D Mark III's Chromatic Aberration Correction can be applied to video as well. Video captured with the new camera is also expected to show fewer instances of moir, relative to the 5D Mark II.

Other refinements Canon has woven several other changes into the 5D Mark III, including:
  • Dual-axis electronic level Similar to the feature that first appeared in Canon's lineup in the 7D, an electronic level in the camera detects both pitch and roll; with it, you can level the camera both left/right and up/down, using a display that appears in both the viewfinder and on the rear LCD.

  • Quicker zoom New menu settings lets you dictate the behaviour of the playback zoom; one option will, with a single press of the zoom-in button, enlarge the picture to 100% magnification around the AF point that was active when it was taken.
Accessories Three accessories have been developed for the 5D Mark III (two of which will work with certain other Canon digital SLRs too.) They are:
  • Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E7 With an appearance that's modeled after Canon's original WFT-series transmitter, the WFT-E1, the WFT-E7 (and its regional A/B/C/D variants) is an 802.11a/b/g/n wireless transmitter that features a Gigabit Ethernet port as well. It's not sized to fit one specific model, as has been Canon's practice in recent years. Instead, it's a straight slab that screws into the camera's 1/4-20 socket and links to the camera's USB port through a short USB cable.

    The WFT-E7 is compatible with the 5D Mark III, 7D and EOS 60D (the latter two models will probably require a firmware update). It's powered by a single LP-E6 battery, and has an LCD status display on the side. All configuration of the unit is done from the camera. It has all of the network features of existing WFT units, including FTP Transfer, remote control and triggering in either EOS Utility or WFT Server modes and precise time synchronization with other cameras.

  • GPS Receiver GP-E2 The new GPS device will communicate with the 5D Mark III through the hot shoe of the camera, or through a USB cable from the device to the camera's USB port when it's not in the shoe. It's compatible with the EOS-1D X too, both in the hot shoe and through USB.

    In addition to the usual GPS data - latitude, longitude, altitude and UTC time - the GP-E2 determines compass direction too. The GP-E2 also has a logging function, so that it can track time and location while disconnected from the camera entirely, and then its log data can be married up with the picture files later.

    The GP-E2 is powered by one AA battery.

  • Battery Grip BG-E11 It accepts up to two LP-E6 batteries or a tray of AAs, and incorporates a multicontroller, M.Fn button and shutter release.
Price and ship date

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is slated to ship at the end of March 2012 at an expected street price in the U.S. of US$3499. It will also be sold in a kit with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM for US$4299.

Following at the end of April 2012 will be Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E7 at an expected street price of US$849.99, GPS Receiver GP-E2 for US$390 and Battery Grip BG-E11 for US$490 in the U.S.

In Canada, the 5D Mark III is to have an expected street price of CDNS$3799.99; in a bundle with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, CDN$4649.99.

Full-resolution photos (and reduced-resolution video clips) taken with the new camera are here.
Related articles  
Related coverage of this topic includes:
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 7D used in filming of The Avengers (May 10, 2012)
  • Canon posts Wireless File Transmitter setup guides (May 8, 2012)
  • Canon opts for low-tech but effective solution to EOS 5D Mark III metering error (May 2, 2012)
  • Canon updates EOS 5D Mark III metering error advisory (April 24, 2012)
  • Canon posts firmware v1.1.2 for Canon EOS 5D Mark III (April 24, 2012)
  • Canon releases DPP with EOS 5D Mark III RAW processing fix (April 17, 2012)
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark III shipments halted in Canada (April 16, 2012)
  • Canon issues EOS 5D Mark III metering error advisory (April 13, 2012)
  • Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM now expected in early July (April 12, 2012)
  • Canon EOS-1D X ship date slips to middle of June (April 12, 2012)
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