It's your worst nightmare.
You've dragged yourself out of bed and up a hillside for sunrise. You find a pleasing composition. Place the tripod. Get the camera out. Put it onto the tripod. And…nothing. Try again…still nothing. No sign of life.
After almost 5 years of sterling service my Canon 5D Mark II had, to use a technical term, karked it. Subsequent post-mortem at Canon's Repair Centre revealed corrosion of the main circuit board as the probable cause of death. Now, I certainly don't 'baby' my equipment. It's a tool and one to be used. But I'm not stupid either and will take precautions in poor conditions (rain cover, chamois, umbrella, plastic bag as required).
I'm not sure of a specific event that killed it. Perhaps it was an accumulation of wear and tear from years of shooting in poor weather, one of the couple of incidents that required the 'bag of rice' method, that time when I was shooting a blizzard whilst sheltering in a snow 'trench' behind a wall, or the rogue wave that took me and the camera out in Northumberland earlier in the year. Could be any or all of those things!
Despite being 'weather resistant' these things are at the end of the day electronic devices. Water and electronics aren't what you'd call a good mix. So take it from a poor unfortunate soul that it's worth making sure your camera is protected from the worst excesses of the weather, weather sealed or not and that if it does get wet then make sure to dry it out promptly.
Although I've had my 5D2 for a good few years, I fully intended to skip this generation of cameras. I enjoyed using it and felt very at home with it. It gave me picture quality that I was plenty happy with, and perhaps importantly I didn't expect another camera to provide a leap in image quality. I was happy with my 5D2 and intended to use it for many years to come. Alas H2O came between us.
So I was in the market for a new camera. Any thoughts of switching system quickly vanished from my mind when I considered the bag of lenses I have, and I'm familiar with and have no problem with Canon's products for the most part. Though the 1DX is the body that most of us Canon shooters crave, I really don't think it offers anywhere near enough advantages over cheaper rivals to justify its extreme cost for my work. I couldn't afford it anyway, so that was an easy decision.
Reflecting on the demise of my 5D2 perhaps the weather proofing of the 1DX is a price worth paying! :)
I know quite a few people that are picking up the 6D and I can well understand their reasons - smaller, lighter, great low light performance, built-in wifi and GPS. You get a lot for your money IMO. Personally I was inclined to stay with the 5D series, preferring the larger camera which I find more ergonomic and more robust. Though there was no killer feature that compelled me to upgrade whilst I had a working 5D2, the 5D3 does have many incremental improvements improvements that I felt made it "5D2 but better".
A New Camera
I've now had the 5D Mark III for about a month. A few people have been asking me about my experiences as they've been thinking of upgrading, so I thought I'd put a post together to share my thoughts
To my eye the 5D3 is a step up from the 5D2. Certainly the dynamic range seems improved, if only by virtue of the fact that the shadows seem more usable than on the 5D2 (which were often a crosshatched mess if you tried to push them even a little). The images coming out of the camera seem to me slightly more detailed and pleasing to the eye.
I haven't had a chance to experience it yet, but noise is supposed to be less of an issue particularly at high ISO which will definitely benefit some images I like to shoot.
There is almost certainly a case of 'Emperor's New Clothes' here and I haven't conducted side-by-side tests (given I don't have a working 5D2 :() to validate this feeling. In fact, I'd rather not. I try to avoid pixel peeping and obsessing over scientific tests. As I say there are plenty of such tests on the internet but I don't much care for them. To me the image quality is improved, and if the camera is but a placebo effect I don't care. Being happy with our tools lets us get on with picture making!
Size and Weight
Although they look pretty similar, the 5D3 is a little larger and about 100g heavier than the 5D2. I think this additional weight is quite pleasing in the hang with the camera feeling better balanced to me. I'm sure my back and tired legs will no doubt disagree the next time I'm hiking it up a mountain.
The slightly larger body I'm not quite so happy with. It fits in the hand slightly nicer I think which is good, but it does't fit in my bag so well. I have an F-Stop Tilopa BC which has a removable internal camera unit (ICU) that is much like the innards of most camera bags with padded dividers. My 5D2 would fit in the middle of the Medium Pro ICU with two lenses filling the compartments to either side quite nicely.
However the extra height of the 5D3 means that the fit is a bit over-snug and it pushes down on these dividers and means that things have to be placed in the bag with a bit more discipline. The extra width means the grip stands a little proud of the ICU which is then against your back when wearing the bag, though I've not felt it sticking in as yet given the back panel is also padded.
If you don't have an F-Stop you may be thinking 'what they heck is he talking about?!'. My point, more simply put, is that the 5D3 is bigger so if your bag is already a bit squishy with a 5D2 you might need to make allowances. Ultimately my camera is either in my tripod or in my bag 90% of the time, so whilst the extra size and weight make it nicer feeling in the hand I feel that carrying the extra weight and the struggle to fit it in my bag make this a downside on balance.
All of the accessories for the 5D2 fit the 5D3 so my remotes, batteries, memory cards, etc all work fine which is nice.
Disappointingly my 5D2 RRS L-plate doesn't fit the 5D3. It actually screws into position well enough. At first I thought it was fine until I went to plug in my remote release out in the field to find they've moved the socket from the middle to the bottom. The gap on the L-plate for the cable to feed through doesn't marry up and so the remote won't connect. So I needed a new (and relatively expensive) L-bracket to be able to use a remote.
There's a part of me that thinks Canon and accessory makers are in cahoots and that they moved the socket just to force people to buy new stuff, but I'm sure I'm just being paranoid! Instead of importing a new RRS L-plate from the US (with the extortionate delivery and customs charges that entails) I bought the Arca-Swiss L-plate instead which is as good if not slightly better and fits my RRS BH55 ballhead with a lever clamp perfectly.
One reason I wanted to stick with the 5D series was that I liked the control layout of the 5D2 and wanted to retain that familiarity.
The 5D3's layout is at once familiar and totally alien to me. As you'd expect most of the controls are in the same place, but there are a few that have moved that cause me head slapping moments in the field. I did start by listing out all of these control changes and why I don't like them, but I'm not sure that's of wider interest. Given time I'll unlearn some of the habits from the last 5 years and replace them with new 5D3 habits. In the meantime I find it very frustrating having previously being able to use the 5D2 with my eyes closed.
The biggest source of frustration are that they've moved the LV button, the magnify buttons and the depth of field preview buttons as I use these all of the time. They've moved them to the opposite side of the camera and I keep feeling that I'm using the 'wrong hand' to use them.
There are some new controls too. The Q button gives you access to the Quick Menu rather than pressing the joystick. I think that's a good improvement as I always found myself pushing the joystick in one direction or other while trying to push down. There's a multifunction button next to the shutter button that can have various functions assigned though I'm still to work out what I'd prefer to assign to it.
Indeed you can assign different functions to many of the buttons which is useful. I'd prefer if full customisation was available here. Each button has a different subset of functions that can be assigned but I'd like to be able to assign any function to any button! But some customisation is certainly better than none. Oh and there's a new Rate button to the left of the LCD which will certainly become the least used button on the camera giving the long suffering PictBridge button a reprieve from that particular accolade.
One other thing about the controls is that I find the buttons rather 'spongy' and indecisive relative to the 5D2 which seemed firmer. It may be that with use the buttons will feel a little more certain.
The menus have been reordered and rearranged. Instead of having all the menus along the top, there are now two levels of menu. Along the top you have 'categories' (similar to what you had in the 5D2 'shooting', 'playback', etc) but they now have sub-menus (where in the 5D2 you'd have 'recording 1', 'recording 2', etc along the top).
This can be a bit confusing at first as the main dial scrolls through the sub-menus first, only changing the category when moving beyond the last sub-menu. If you consider all of the sub menus across all of the categories then there are quite a number of sub-menus to scroll through to find things. A tip here is that the Q-button scrolls through the categories so you don't have to dial through all of the submenus.
Although they've tried to make it easier to navigate these menus, I feel that the 5D2 required less trawling through options and had a more 'no nonsense' approach.
The button's moved, but LiveView is much the same. One minor improvement is that when you have all of the info displays switched off you still get the bottom bar flashing up when you change the aperture or shutter speed which saves either cycling the info displays or consulting the top LCD.
I most often shoot using the full info display to have the live histogram available. However for some unfathomable reason they've cluttered up this display with so many icons it's almost impossible to see the image you're composing now. I can't quite recall how many of these icons were there on the the 5D2. But now we have the camera mode, AF mode, drive mode, WB setting, 'Picture Style' (argh), Auto Lighting Optimiser (double argh!) and then two massive icons for the dual memory card slots showing what format is being written to each. These last two seem to be the main offenders.
All I really want in this view is my shooting settings and my histogram. That's it. Why we need to be constantly reminded of all the others - especially some that you never use in the first place! - just to use the histogram is beyond me.
They've also introduced an electronic level to the camera which is useful, but annoyingly this is on a separate info display. So if I'm in my histogram display I then press Info once to see the level, and then need to press Info 4 more times to get back to my histogram. Very frustrating. Ideally there would be a toggle (perhaps assigned to the multi-function button) that flips on the level before returning you to your preferred screen.
Ok, I might be sounding like a right moan now but to me these things are important. Adding features is all well and good, but clean user interface and ergonomics requires that they don't get in the way of what you want to do. I shouldn't have to press Info 5 times to see the spirit level and get back to my histogram.
Ideally I'd like to see more customisability (though this is fraught with similar if not worse problems as well as making teaching camera use very difficult!) or a way to 'declutter' the experience by removing things we don't want, or allowing us to toggle things by holding a button rather than needing to cycle through them.
Finally on LiveView I find that the live histogram is less dependable than on the 5D2. Often I've got the histogram just where I want it only to find the captured histogram is falling way off the right hand side. You can't fully rely on the histogram on any camera, but I find myself second guessing the 5D3's more. I need to review my settings and learn to predict the variation.
One of the big downsides with the 5D2 was its pretty poor AF. Most of the time you were stuck on the centre point or it would misfocus, and even then it would still struggle.
One of the most touted features of the 5D3 was an improved AF. It has has many more and much more accurate points and is a totally different experience. Though I rarely use AF, the times I have it's been fast and spot on. This is rightly the headline improvement to the camera and cements its place as one of the best general purpose cameras around. Oh and there are a bewildering array of menu options for the AF showing just how sophisticated it now is.
A Bunch of Other Improvements
Here are a few other things that are worthy of mention:
- the LCD is bigger and brighter, as is the view finder which also has more coverage
- the mode dial has a lock on it which will be a god send. I've had many a shot ruined by the dial turning onto the wrong mode as it brushed something in transit.
- the review histogram has a white border. You can now see more clearly where the left and right edges are, which is pretty handy.
- there are dual card slots. In truth I'm not sure I've found a use for these as a landscape photographer. There's some peace of mind knowing I have a backup but having never had a card failure (yes, I know these do happen!) I'm not sure I could call this a critical feature. Best use so far is being able to plug the SD card into my MacBook when I've forgotten my CF card reader! :)
- exposure compensation (EC) and auto exposure bracketing (AEB) now go from -5 to +5 instead of -2 to +2, and AEB can now bracket 7 shots instead of 3.
- and probably a whole raft of things that I've not yet used that others may find vital!
Multiple Exposure Mode
Although improved AF may be the headline feature for the 5D3, it's the Multiple Exposure Mode that has most interested me.
I've seen others using this feature of the 5D3 with great success and it was something I wanted to explore further in my own work. Recently I've been blending multiple exposures in Photoshop, experimenting with alternative ways of depicting moving water in particular with some success. Although Photoshop gives you ultimate freedom in how and where you blend, this sense of freedom is in some ways stifling. If everything can be done, how do you decide what the right thing to do is?
More than this, I had a feeling that it was creating something in the darkroom rather than capturing something in the field. I'm certainly no purist and love post-processing and the role it has to play. Obviously the exposures have to be taken in the field, but there was quite a gap between capture and the final image that makes the process seem a little fake and disjointed.
With in-camera ME you may be more limited by the options, but this also frees you up to create the image 'there and then'. It enables you to make calculated decisions on changes in exposure settings and approach that otherwise would be deferred to the darkroom when it's too late.
With the 5D3 you get 4 blending modes and can blend together up to 9 images. You can also see the final ME evolve before your eyes, as the current state of the ME is overlaid onto the LiveView display so that you can make conscious decisions about the exposures. This is less relevant for doing MEs of a fixed composition (such as blending exposures of moving water) but does help to inform you if you're on the right path.
You can also save each of the exposures to the memory card as well as the final image, so you can experiment and perfect the final image in Photoshop after the in-camera ME version has indicated there's value in doing so (doing ME can be a bit hit-and-miss!).
It's still early days playing with this new feature but I expect to make much use of it going forward. Indeed, I've already started a project utilising ME which I'll share with you as it matures.
There are some things that they could improve with the usability of ME on the 5D3 in my opinion. The old 'Picture Style' button has been reimpelmented as a 'Creative Photo' button which now also adds options for ME and the new HDR function. However pressing the button takes you to 'Picture Style' first - a function I never ever use - and I have to scroll to get to the ME. I'd love to either make ME the first option, or to remove the Picture Style and HDR options to take me directly to the ME options.
One other annoyance that is doing my shutter no good is that there's relatively little indication that you're shooting an ME sequence and I often miss it. Sometimes I think I have ME switched on, shoot 9 frames to find that ME wasn't enabled when I wonder why I didn't see the final ME image. User error but I'd like to find a way to avoid it - such as when I choose the ME option and select a blending mode, it enables ME automatically at that point.
Still it's in its infancy as a feature and is already a powerful tool. I'm sure it will be much improved in future models.
If you're interested in finding out more about ME and what it can do, Doug Chinnery wrote a great article in this month's On Landscape that may be of further interest. The work he shares of his own and other artists in the article is a little more abstract than perhaps my intended use, but it's very much an eye opener if it's an approach that you're unfamiliar with: https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2013/09/multiple-exposure-photography/ (requires a subscription)
So, where does that leave me. Well I'm still bemoaning the loss of my 5D2. But aside from the hassle and expense I'm pretty happy with the upgrade even if it doesn't sound like it throughout the above. Most of my issues are due to unfamiliarity which will come back through use and perhaps I'll better appreciate some of the other changes when I do. I'm really enjoying the images that I'm getting out of the camera and that's the main thing
Though I use it rarely, the improved AF will make the 5D3 a no brainer upgrade for some. And as I say the inclusion of ME has been the most creatively inspiring feature for me. It has opened my eyes to new possibilities that I'm excited about and would be more difficult to achieve with the 5D2. I expect to experiment and use it a lot going forward.
But to answer the questions of those wondering about the upgrade, so far I'm not 100% convinced. Aside from these features it's sort of 'more of the same but better'. In short the upgrade is pretty much as I expected it would be, nice but not groundbreaking (unless you need the AF, ME or improved high ISO performance). If I had a working 5D2 I'm not sure I'd rush out and buy a 5D3.
One final thought is that throughout I've talked about familiarity. Whenever upgrading gear, there's a period of pain while we adapt to the new kit and become so familiar with it that it becomes an effortless extension of ourselves. I have to think more about using my camera now than I did before and that detracts from making images. I'll get over that and get back into the swing of things soon enough.
I'd urge caution if you are upgrading frequently. You may find that you never get beyond the 'growing pains' and get the most out of what you do have.