Canon 5d Mark IV - Preview and Thoughts

Canon 5d IV - New and Improved?

The much anticipated new camera in Canon's most popular line of full frame DSLR's is finally here, with a lot of expected upgrades as well as a few surprises. Read below for an overview and my thoughts. 

Canon 5D IV

Canon 5D IV

Reliable Workhorse

The 5D IV is an evolution of the line, not a revolution. It has marginal increases across the board, improving on an already deep and solid foundation. Offering an improved auto-focus system, much higher native ISO capabilities, and 4k video, there's a lot of improvements to the tried and true 5d III. There's also a lot of reasons to be disappointed, depending on what you were hoping for in the new body.

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Specs

  • 30.4MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
  • DIGIC 6+ Image Processor
  • 3.2" 1.62m-Dot Touchscreen LCD Monitor
  • DCI 4K Video at 30 fps; 8.8MP Still Grab
  • 61-Point High Density Reticular AF
  • Native ISO 32000, Expanded to ISO 102400
  • Dual Pixel RAW; AF Area Select Button
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF and Movie Servo AF
  • 7 fps Shooting; CF & SD Card Slots
  • Built-In GPS and Wi-Fi with NFC

Pros

61 point autofocus with vertical focus on 41 points. This is a noticeable upgrade that will be extremely valuable to wedding or sports photographers, who need the ability to focus fast all over the frame.

Native 32,000 ISO is amazing. The low light performance should be much better, hopefully with a lot less color banding than previous bodies. A lot of people hated pushing the 5d III past 3200 because of this issue, which shouldn't be a problem with the IV. 

Touchscreen LCD. I don't personally like them, but a lot of people do, and it should enable a lot of on the fly settings adjustments and customization of the functions you use most often. 

Dual pixel RAW is a promising new technology that will be able to greatly improve live-view and video autofocus, and even allow micro adjusting of focus in post processing. 

1080P video capabilities are improved, including an HDR raw format to drastically increase dynamic range in high contrast scenes. 

Cons

4k video is extremely limited. Motion-JPEG codec, 30 FPS ,and a 1.75 crop is a joke, flat out. Noone will be buying this body for it's 4k capabilities, because they're not much more than a byline on the marketing material. 

No swivel screen. This is a completely superfluous feature to many, but an absolute requirement to others. I never thought I needed one until I started using it, now I can't imagine not having it. It is the one feature that made live-view shooting usable for me, and for certain situations it's invaluable.

Dual pixel RAW has a lot of downsides. File sizes are doubled, buffer size is single digits (bad news for sports photographers, especially), and the benefit is very minor. People are thinking it will let you fix an out of focus shot, but that's not what it enables (at least yet, give it a few generations maybe). It is a very minor micro-adjustment, useful for extreme close-ups and macro photography, not so much portraits or landscapes. It's much more useful for focusing than fixing focus in post.

History of the 5D Line

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Canon 5D Classic

Canon pioneered the full frame DSLR with the original 5D. Released in 2005, it was the first proof that digital sensors could compete with film. Canon had a knockout hit with the 5D, it captured the hearts of professional photographers across the industry in every genre. Featuring unheard of ISO 3200 performance, amazing color, and the ability to use EF lenses with no crop factor was a recipe for huge success. 

Indeed, to this day, the 5D Classic is my favorite camera from Canon ever. The 5D classic just oozes character, and no other camera produces images like it. It's not a low light monster, it's auto-focus is slow and out of date at this point, and it has no video capabilities, but in good light it still captures amazing images that have that special something about them. After the 5D II was released, I continued using the 5D as my main body and designated the 5D II as a backup and low light camera because the images just didn't look as good. The 5D II was better in every way on paper, but the photos just looked better from the Classic. There are even many dedicated professionals that still shoot exclusively on the 5D Classic and scour eBay looking to pick up any in good condition while they're still available. THAT is a legacy that is unequal in the world of digital cameras.

Canon 5D II

Canon continued their strong legacy with the 5D II. This camera single handedly revolutionized video production, from small indie films all the way to Hollywood. Bringing 1080p to the masses was a game-changer. 

The 5D II also improved every aspect of the photo capabilities, with improved auto-focus and much greater ISO capabilities. Unfortunately, some of the magic was lost with all the new technical improvements, and as I mentioned above, the 5D Classic was still my choice for stills in all but the most difficult shooting settings that demanded better low-light performance.

Canon 5D III

The 5D III seems to be where Canon really drew a line in the sand for many photographers and videographers. The release of their EOS Cinema line seemed to be a signal that that was where they were putting the focus for videographers and the features they really craved, which was disappointing for a lot of hybrid shooters. 

On the photo side, a lot of small incremental improvements didn't add up to very much excitement either, and with the release of some fantastic cameras like the D750 a lot of people started losing faith in Canon or being frustrated and decided to make the switch to competitors brands. 

On the other hand, a lot of great photographers loved their 5D III's and have been making fantastic images with them for the last 5 years. Canon still has their signature color profiles that can't be beat as well as the best lens lineup in history. The 5D IV will be a great upgrade for anyone in this camp, a solid upgrade to the features that the line was built on. 

Final Thoughts

The 5D IV is in an awkward spot, in both the market as a whole and Canon's own line of cameras. it doesn't bring much new to the table to justify the $3,400 in my opinion. It won't do anything poorly (except 4k), but it doesn't seem to be a great choice for any specific task either. Uninspired innovation in an era that demands it might legitimately hurt Canon at this point. A lot of people have been jumping ship to Sony, Nikon (myself included), and Fuji, depending on what they're looking for. All three companies seem to be pushing different boundaries and exciting both consumers and professionals while Canon seems to have lost touch. They can't afford to play it safe at this point, but the 5D IV couldn't be more safe (read: stale). If you are looking for a solid camera that is a jack of all trades but master of none, the 5D IV will probably be a great choice for you. If you're already shooting on the 5D III or thinking of jumping to Canon from another brand for the 5D IV I say wait and try it out before making the leap. Rent one or wait for more impressions to get an idea before making a commitment. 

sample image and product images provided by Canon Japan and Canon USA