Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the pleasure of shooting with the entire Canon EOS 5D series of DSLRs: the original 5D (often referred to as the 5D Classic), 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III, and now the new Canon 5D Mark IV.
The Canon 5D Mark IV offers some impressive initial specifications, including quite a few new features: a 30.4-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor with a Digic 6+ processor (an improvement over the 22.3 megapixel count of the Mark III); a 3.2-inch touch-screen LCD, Dual Pixel RAW mode for fine-tuning focus in post-production; a burst rate of 7 fps; built-in wifi and GPS plus a lot more. Some of these new features would prove to be valuable to me, others not so much. The improvements in the sensor’s dynamic range and high ISO performance, however, are what really impressed me the most about this camera.
My Canon 5D Mark IV’s maiden voyage was a week I spent shooting autumn color in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee while leading photo workshops and doing some personal shooting as well. Here are some of my initial thoughts and some sample images with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV from the trip. I am offering a subjective, in-the-field, results-oriented evaluation of the Canon 5D Mark IV here in this review. For a comprehensive description, list of features, specifications, and purchasing information on the Canon 5D Mark IV, please visit the Canon USA website.
Digic 6+ processor
Weight: 31.4 ounces
Native ISO: 100 – 32,000
Shutter: 1/8000 – 30 seconds
Sensor Type: CMOS
Frame Rate: 7 fps
61-point AF system
Built-in GPS and WIFI
The Canon 5D Mark IV is Familiar
The looks, handling, and ergonomics of the camera are extremely similar to the Mark III. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t even shoot or practice with the new camera in my office or around my home before traveling to the Smoky Mountains. I just grabbed the camera, inserted a battery and CF card and started shooting. There are no new significant or reconfigured or reassigned buttons to learn and the menu bank is nearly the same as well. I could work the Mark II and Mark III in the dark – without the aid of a light, that’s how familiar the cameras were to me – so now the Mark IV is seamlessly integrated into my field work with nearly a zero learning curve. I’ve always loved the handling of the 5D series of DSLRs so this is a good thing.
One minor but convenient addition that I noticed right away, however, is a small, rectangular-shaped button right below the multi-directional joystick control. Canon calls this the “AF Area Selection Button.” This small customizable control provides a quick-access method of toggling through the camera’s many AF point arrangements. Nice.
Canon also added a touch screen LCD to the 5D Mark IV. To be honest, I’m indifferent about this feature but I’ll give it a couple of months before I decide if this is really useful for me or not. My initial impression is that my fingers are just too big and the menu items are too small, causing me to miss my mark more than a few times. Either way, you can disable the touch screen in the custom menu if it’s not your cup of tea.
There have been some complaints that an articulating LCD was not included with the Canon 5D Mark IV. I often do photography is some pretty rough and difficult conditions and the articulating LCD just looks like something that can be too easily broken. I know I’m in the minority on this one but I’m fine without it.
A Load of Megapixels
Most of the rumors over the summer of 2016 pointed toward 25 to 28 megapixels for the Canon 5D Mark IV so when it was announced that the count was 30.4, it was a nice surprise. 30.4 is still quite a bit less than some of Canon’s competitors (and Canon’s 5Ds and 5Dsr models) but the number of pixels was never the biggest concern for me. I wanted to see improvements in dynamic range and high-ISO performance (more on that later). Still, all things being equal, more is better. I’ll take it.
According to tests conducted by the DXOMark website, the Canon 5D Mark IV sensor was the best they’ve ever tested on any Canon DSLR. Tests at 100 ISO revealed an eye-popping 13.5 EVs of dynamic range and it remained above 10 EVs well past 3200 ISO. My personal, subjective evaluation in the field last week – and the image reviews later – only validated those tests. High-contrast sunrise and sunset situations often needed only a single exposure in order to capture the full range of tones in the scene. Exposure blending and HDR, which were almost always necessary with the Mark III, were not needed. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am with the results. This is what I’ve been waiting for from Canon!
This is another area where I was looking for some significant improvement from Canon with the Canon 5D Mark IV and I was not disappointed. Properly exposed files were perfectly acceptable at 3200 ISO and even 6400. The Mark III topped out at 1600 for my high standards. With the Mark IV, even a few images shot at ISO 12,800, previously unthinkable, look pretty amazing (see below).
Autofocus and Frame Rate
The autofocus system on the Canon 5D Mark IV is very accurate and locks onto any bit of available contrast, even in low light. I purposely used autofocus and its 61 focus points during the low light of dawn and dusk shooting landscapes, just to see how it would perform. I was not at all disappointed.
The Canon 5D Mark IV also features a new technology called Dual Pixel Raw. Here’s a description and excerpt from Canon’s promotion material:
Among other things, you can correct focus issues or shift the focus after the capture – at least a few millimeters. The downside is that you need Canon’s proprietary processing software to take advantage of this feature. I never tried this any of this during my shoot last week in the Smoky Mountains but it sounds intriguing nonetheless.
The Canon 5D Mark IV offers a modest improvement in its frame rate or burst rate, besting the 6 fps in the Mark III with a 7 fps rate in the Mark IV. It would still be difficult to tout this as a serious wildlife or sports camera (currently the Canon 7D Mark II and the 1DX Mark II are much faster) but an improvement is an improvement. On an assignment where I’m traveling light and need a versatile backup to my primary wildlife body, I would have no qualms at all bringing my 5D Mark IV as a viable insurance policy.
WIFI and GPS Enabled
The addition of GPS and WIFI on the Canon 5D Mark IV have made a lot of Mark III users very happy. As a photographer who travels a lot, especially to remote places, I can see tremendous benefits accruing with the GPS feature. During my trial run in the Smoky Mountains last week, I didn’t try it out (in all honestly, I forgot to enable the GPS receiver) but it’s something I will be using in the future. I don’t see me ever needing the WIFI connectivity function for my type of photography work.
A long-awaited feature the Canon 5D Mark IV offers that videographers have been clamoring for is 4K video (DCI 4K, 4096 x 2160), albeit with a 1.64x crop. The camera also offers full audio controls with headphone and mic jacks. My guess, however, is that serious video shooters will continue to gravitate toward the EOS C line, which feature large sensor cameras that shoot true high quality video. This is still a nice added feature to this model, especially for those of us who only casually shoot video from time to time.
The Canon 5D Mark IV is a game changer for me. The improvements are exactly what I had hoped for – better dynamic range and high ISO performance – among many others. The results I was able to see with my own eyes this past week have me super excited about my travel schedule for 2017 and the prospect of taking this camera along with me. I suspect the Canon 5D Mark IV will be my landscape, nature, and travel workhorse DSLR for at least the next two or three years.
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