Introduction and key features
Canon’s 5D series of cameras has a rich heritage – the original EOS 5D bought full-frame photography to the masses, the Mark II unleashed Full HD video capture for the first time on a DSLR, and while the Mark III didn’t have quite the landmark features of its predecessors, its improved AF system made it one of the most complete DSLRs of recent times, loved by enthusiasts and pros alike.
Despite the range deviating a little since then, with the arrival of the 50.6MP 5DS for those wanting even more pixels, the arrival of a new generation of the 5D is a big deal.
At a glance:
- Full-frame CMOS, 30.4MP
- ISO100-32,000, expandable to 50-102,400 (H2)
- 61-point AF, 41 cross-type
- 7fps burst shooting
- 4K video
- 3.2-inch touchscreen, 1,620,000 dots
The 22.3MP sensor in the 5D Mark III was starting to look a little dated compared to some of the competition – it was actually only a minor bump-up in resolution from the 5D Mark II – so it’s nice to see a notable jump to 30.4MP here.
That’s not quite rivalling the 36.3MP Nikon D810 or 42MP Sony Alpha 7R II, but files still come out at 6720 x 4480 pixels, meaning that if you want to print at 300dpi the native size is just under A2 at 56.9 x 37.9cm (22.4 x 14.9 inches), while those looking for even more pixels have the option of the 50.6MP 5DS.
The 5D Mark IV is also using the same latest-generation sensor technology that we’ve seen in both the 1D X Mark II and 80D, with on-chip digital-to-analogue conversion, which should deliver improved noise performance as well as broader dynamic range.
That’s not the whole story as far as image quality goes though, with the arrival of Dual Pixel Raw technology giving photographers the capacity to fine-tune the area of maximum sharpness.
With each pixel made up of two photodiodes, it allows for the creation of a file which contains a pair of images with two very slightly different focus points. You can then open the file in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software, and use Image Micro-adjustment to shift the focus ever so slightly; not massively, but Canon believes there’s the potential to rescue some shots using this technology.
As you’d expect, the file size increases dramatically, from 37MB to 67MB – and you will have to use Canon’s rather clunky DPP software.
The native sensitivity runs from ISO100-32,000, and is expandable to 50-102,400. Impressive though this is, this expanded range is actually identical to the 5D Mark III’s, although Canon reckons it has enhanced the noise-processing algorithm for improved results at higher sensitivities, while it’s also a stop more than one of this camera’s closest competitors, the Nikon D810.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV uses both a DIGIC 6 and a DIGIC 6+ processor, with the former used solely for metering, freeing up the DIGIC 6+ processor to handle everything else, including the 61-point AF system with 41 cross-type sensors (five of which are dual cross-type for even greater accuracy).
The AF system is sensitive down to -3EV (-4EV in Live View) – that’s darker than moonlight, so focusing shouldn’t be an issue in poor light, while the fact that you can use lens/teleconverter combinations with a maximum aperture of f/8 and still have the luxury of all 61 AF points (21 cross-type) will be a real draw for sports and wildlife photographers.
The 5D Mark IV also inherits Canon’s Dual Pixel AF technology, meaning there are phase-detection points on the imaging sensor itself, promising quicker AF acquisition than we saw in the 5D Mark III, and performance as speedy as in a lot of mirrorless cameras.
The large 3.2-inch display boasts an impressive 1,620,000 dots and touchscreen functionality, as on the 1D X Mark II. The difference, though, is that while the touchscreen was only active during Live View on the 1D X Mark II, the touchscreen interface on the 5D Mark IV is active all the time, enabling menu navigation and image review as well.
Canon has also kept the same battery as in the 5D Mark III, which might not seem that big a deal, but it’s a shrewd move, meaning that existing users looking to use both cameras in tandem don’t need two sets of batteries and chargers.
Canon created its own micro industry when the 5D Mark II came along with Full HD video, but the video landscape has changed quite a bit since then, with the likes of Sony and Panasonic getting their act together in this area, so it’s no surprise to see Canon fighting back here with the inclusion of 4K video.
To be more precise, the 5D Mark IV features DCI 4K video capture at 4096 x 2160 pixels, at 30/25/24fps (approx 500Mbps). This also means you can extract 8.8MP JPEG images from 4K video if needed, thanks to the Motion JPEG file format available for 4K capture.
This is the only file format available when shooting 4K however, while there’s no option to shoot in a flat gamma profile. Things do get better at 1080p, with a host of Full HD options, as well as the ability to shoot 120fps HD video for some impressive slow-mo movies.
The 5D Mark IV has external microphone and headphone ports, as well as HDMI Mini out and USB 3.0 terminals.
Finally, the 5D Mark IV sports dual SD and CompactFlash card slots accepting fast UDMA 7 cards, and features both Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity for transferring images to a compatible device – and that’s not forgetting the built-in GPS unit.
Build, handling and AF
Build and handling
At first glance the 5D Mark IV bares a striking resemblance to the outgoing Mark III (and for that matter the 5DS and 5DSr), and there’s a simple reason for that. In a nutshell, Canon doesn’t want existing 5D users to have to, as they say, ‘re-learn’ the new camera, and so aims to keep the transition as hassle-free as possible.
That said, there have been numerous tweaks and refinements to the body. The hand grip has been enlarged for starters, providing an even more satisfying hold when you pick the camera up, while the pentaprism now stands slightly taller to accommodate the GPS unit.
Despite cramming more tech into the body, the engineers at Canon have managed to cut the weight of the 5D Mark IV by 50g compared with the Mark III, while at the same time improving the weatherproofing, with extra grommets and seals.
The reduction in weight hasn’t compromised the overall feel of the camera; it certainly feels incredibly well put together, and ready for the rigours of professional use, with a combination of magnesium alloy and polycarbonate for the body, plus a glass fibre prism cover.
While it looks a little different to the sprung lever we first saw on the EOS 7D Mark II, the 5D Mark IV now features a customisable button just below the joypad on the rear of the body. This can be assigned to perform a multitude of functions in conjunction with the front command dial – a useful option would be to set it to control ISO, allowing you to toggle the sensitivity without having to take your eye away from the viewfinder.
As you’d expect for a camera that’s in its fourth generation, handling is very polished (and much improved for the extra functionality in the touchscreen – more on that in a bit), so existing Canon users should feel right at home, although photographers shooting with the 5D Mark IV alongside a 1D Mark II may end up inadvertently pressing a wrong button or two because of the slightly different assignment of controls.
As you’d expect for a camera that sports a virtually identical AF configuration to the flagship 1D X Mark II (Canon is at pains, though, to state that the systems aren’t completely identical, with some different internal components being used), AF performance doesn’t disappoint.
The AF is linked to the 5D Mark IV’s metering system, with the latter helping to detect and track not only coloured objects, but perform face recognition as well. In the scenarios we tested it under, the AF tracking performed very well, locking on and following our chosen subject.
We found that Zone AF performed well in our tests – when it’s selected alongside one of the six Case Studies that tailors the AF to take into account the speed, sensitivity and how erratic your subject is moving, you have a formidable combination.
Coverage is good, and better than in the 5D Mark III, but there’s still a noticeable bias towards the centre of the frame. That minor quibble aside though, the AF system performs brilliantly.
Shooting in Live View, the Dual Pixel AF is a huge improvement over the relatively sluggish system on the 5D Mark III, with focusing pretty much instantaneous, making it a much more valuable feature to have than it has been in the past. For those shooting video and wanting to work quickly with autofocus, Movie Servo AF delivers a pleasing transition as you re-focus during recording.
Performance and image quality
The 5D Mark IV gets Canon’s 252-zone RGB+IR metering system with Intelligent Scene Analysis (also seen in the 5DS, but different from that found in the 1D X Mark II), and it’s all the better for it compared to the older iFCL system found in the 5D Mark III.
The system weights the exposure to the active AF point, but compared to the Mark III it does a better job of assessing the entire scene as a whole to deliver an exposure that’s well balanced, with only high-contrast scenarios throwing up issues, which is to be expected.
There are no nasty surprises with the 5D Mark IV’s white balance system either, with the system performing very well. There’s a choice of either Ambience or White priority Auto settings, with the latter delivering neutral images even under tungsten lighting, while Ambience priority has a bias to retain some warmth in the image.
As you’d expect from a full-frame DSLR, the 5D Mark IV features a large and bright viewfinder with 100% coverage. As well as displaying key shooting info along the bottom, it also benefits from what Canon terms Intelligent Viewfinder II technology.
This enables you to display an electronic level, along with grid lines and a host of other key shooting info that you might wish to have fed back to you when you have the camera raised to your eye. You can select what is and isn’t displayed in the set-up menu, with battery level, shooting mode, white balance, drive mode, AF, metering, image quality, Digital Lens Optimizer, Dual Pixel RAW and Flicker detection to choose from.
Moving on to the rear display, thanks to the impressive resolution it has to be one of the sharpest screens out there. It also makes composing shots in Live View a piece of cake – even when we used a very dense 10-stop Lee Filters Big Stopper the display was incredibly clear, with no noticeable signal noise present to make framing-up difficult.
There were times while we were testing the 5D Mark IV when a vari-angle screen would have been welcome, especially when composing low-angle shots, but the clarity and excellent viewing angle of the display makes this omission less of an issue than with some other cameras.
That’s not forgetting the touchscreen interface, which we have to say is a very welcome addition. With touch control over both the main and Quick Menus, it makes the 5D Mark IV’s comprehensive menus much quicker to navigate, while the ability to pinch-to-zoom, as well as swipe through images, makes things that much quicker when using the camera out in the field.
The burst rate is a respectable 7fps – a little notch further to 8fps might have felt like a bit more of a jump from the 5D Mark III’s 6fps, but the Mark IV can now sustain this for a pretty decent 21 raw files before the buffer needs to take a breather (if you’re shooting JPEGs, the capacity is unlimited) – that’s up on the 5D Mark III’s 18 raw files at 6fps (and that was at a lower resolution too).
With the same LP-E6N battery as the 5D Mark III, it’s good for around 900 shots on a single charge. We used the camera heavily, using a range of features and the display quite a bit, and while 900 shots would be a bit optimistic, we’d certainly be happy heading out for the day with a single battery.
It’s no surprise to find that the results from the new 30.4MP sensor display excellent levels of detail – not quite as much as the staggering files from the 5DS, but still very good indeed. You should have no problems producing richly detailed prints at Super A3, while A2 prints and beyond are a realistic proposition – that’s not forgetting the ability to tightly crop images if needed.
With the increase in resolution over the 5D Mark III, there is the worry that results will display more noise, especially in the upper reaches of the sensitivity range, but we’re pleased to report that high ISO performance is very good.
Results at ISO800 still appear noise-free in our sample images, while even at ISO2000 results are very impressive – there are some signs of luminance noise, but it looks very organic, while there’s no evidence of chroma (color) noise.
In our samples shot at ISO10,000 chroma noise is noticeable, along with more pronounced luminance noise, although it was possible to reduce this in raw files using Canon’s DPP software.
This is surely thanks in part to the arrival of on-chip digital-to-analogue conversion, which not only brings an improved noise performance over the 5D Mark III, but also delivers better dynamic range.
Raw files can be pushed further in post-processing, allowing you to intentionally underexpose shots to preserve highlight detail secure in the knowledge that you can recover lost shadow detail later without your shot being ruined by the introduction of image noise.
There are no qualms about colour reproduction either. The JPEG Picture Styles produce pleasing results (Landscape mode delivers particularly punchy blue skies, for example), while skin tones can be faithfully reproduced.
Verdict and competition
While the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV may look underwhelmingly familiar to the model in supersedes at first sight, don’t be fooled – the engineers at Canon haven’t stood still.
Compared to the 5D Mark III, pretty much every element has been tweaked and improved. The 30.4MP sensor might not quite grab the headlines like those of some rivals, but it’s still a welcome boost in resolution compared to the 22.3MP of the 5D Mark III, while the improved noise and dynamic range performance make it an even more tempting proposition for those users thinking of upgrading.
And if you do upgrade, you’ll get a camera that you can feel instantly at home with, while enjoying a number of improvements – the AF system is better for starters, with the Dual Pixel AF in Live View a huge leap forward. The touchscreen functionality improves handling considerably, while performance is also that much better.
It’s certainly no surprise to see DCI 4K video capture, although the 1.64x crop of the sensor does make it hard to get those wide-angle shots; and while there is support for clean HDMI out at 1080p, it’s not supported for 4K.
Those video irritations aside, the only other major stumbling block is the fairly hefty price, especially in the UK. However, if you can justify the outlay, then the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV has to be one of the most well-rounded and complete DSLRs we’ve seen. Suited to a range of subjects, from landscapes to sports and wildlife, it’ll perform superbly in any situation.
Canon EOS 5DS
Proof that more can mean better
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 50.6MP | Autofocus: 61-point AF, 41 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Movies: 1080p
With 50.6 million effective pixels, image quality from the 5DS is simply superb, with fantastic detail, well-controlled noise and good dynamic range. The 5DS is now the benchmark for full-frame image quality, but it might not be quite as well-rounded a DSLR as the 5D Mark IV.
Read the full review: Canon EOS 5DS
Sky-high resolution with solid build and value
Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 36.3MP | Autofocus: 51-point AF, 15 cross-type | Screen type: 3.2-inch, 1,229K dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Movies: 1080p
The Nikon D810 is starting to show its age, but it’s still a great DSLR. The 36.3MP sensor delivers stunning images, and set the benchmark for image quality for a long time. The 51-point AF system is also very good, and a match for the Canon’s 61-point system, but the burst rate of 5fps might be a bit pedestrian for some.
Read the full review: Nikon D810
Sony Alpha A7R II
More pixels, faster performance and enhanced video
Sensor size: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 42.4MP | Autofocus: 399-point AF | Screen: 3-inch vari-angle, 1,229K dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 5fps | Movies: 4K
The A7R II has proved popular thanks to its 42.2MP resolution, generating huge images that have bags of detail, with noise well controlled. What’s more, it can also shoot high-quality 4K footage, and there are lots of professional-level video features to play with. Lens choice is limited, but decent adapters are available for your Canon glass.
Read the full review: Sony Alpha A7R II
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