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Shadow noise

To illustrate how much dynamic range you can pull out of the shadows in RAW conversion with the Canon EOS Mark III's images we have taken the base ISO RAW shots of our studio test scene and developed them in Adobe Camera RAW with a +3.0EV digital exposure compensation to lift the shadows. We've then taken crops in the darkest areas of our scene to compare the level of shadow noise on the EOS 5D Mark III, its predecessor, the Mark II, and its arguably closest rival, the Nikon D800. Applying the digital exposure compensation makes shadow noise more visible and at 100% magnification it becomes clear that the Nikon D800 produces noticeably less shadow noise than the two Canons which are on a similar level.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III 100% crop
Canon EOS 5D Mark II 100% crop
Nikon D800 100% crop

Take a look at the real-life sample below to see what the test above means in day-to-day shooting. The image below was taken on a sunny day against a bright sky without any exposure compensation which resulted in a nicely exposed blue sky but an underexposed subject. The hull of the plane is very dark with very little visible shadow detail. Converting the raw file in ACR 6.7 and applying some 'Fill light' brightens up the subject, bringing out color and detail, but there is also a lot of chroma noise in the affected image areas.

JPEG - default ACR 6.7 - Fill Light 60, NR default
JPEG - NR Off / Sharpness 5 100% crop

Low contrast detail at low sensitivities

Unfortunately, at a pixel level the 5D Mark III's low ISO JPEG output looks a little soft and mushy with poorly rendered low-contrast detail. For example the camera's JPEG engine seems incapable of of rendering the subtle contrast required to represent the texture of distant foliage. We suspect this is mainly due to the application of luminance noise reduction (even with noise reduction switched to 'Off') at base ISO. The results you can achieve from the same image files in raw conversion (see below) would support this suspicion.

JPEG - default (NR Standard / Sharpness 3) 100% crop
JPEG - NR Off / Sharpness 5 100% crop
ACR conversion - custom sharpening 100% crop

The sample above was taken with the 28-70mm L-lens at F10 and default JPEG settings (NR Standard, Sharpness 3). We then re-processed the raw file in-camera with noise reduction switched off and the sharpness increased to level 5. Despite Canon saying in the manual that noise reduction is applied at all sensitivity levels the former has, at base ISO, no visible impact on the rendition of low-contrast detail or other aspects of image quality.

Increasing the sharpness gets you a little more 'crispness' in the image but no additional detail is revealed. You also get a quite unpleasant 'digital' look with visible sharpening halos in some image areas (look of the white flowers of the tree in the center of the frame). Overall playing with the camera's JPEG parameters can help tuning the JPEG output toward your personal taste but none of the settings are capable to reveal the sensor's true potential.

This can only be done by processing your images in a raw converter. The last image above was processed in Adobe Camera Raw with custom sharpness settings (amount 33, radius 0.5, detail 81) and the difference to the out-of-camera JPEGs is staggering. The fine sharpening reduces artifacts and squeezes a significant amount of additional low-contrast detail out of the camera's raw files. In the 100% crop above the individual needles of the tree have become visible and the rendition of other fine detail such as the grass in the foreground has visibly improved.

Admittedly you only need to be concerned about pixel-level detail if you want to display your images at large sizes or crop them significantly, but in any case, if you want the best possible image quality out of your 5D Mark III you will have to add an extra step to your workflow and process your files in a raw converter.

Overall Image Quality

When talking about the Canon EOS 5D Mark III's image quality you have to distinguish between the camera's JPEG output and the raw data it captures.

With its 22MP sensor the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is capable of capturing large amounts of detail but when examining the Canon's out-of-camera JPEGs at a pixel level it becomes clear that the JPEG engine isn't making full use of the sensor's potential. Even at base ISO some visibly destructive noise reduction is applied which results in a slightly mushy appearance of the image and a loss of fine low-contrast detail. Combined with a fairly aggressive default sharpening this means the Canon JPEGs can look a little over-processed up-close. At base ISO turning off the noise reduction does not make any difference and the in-camera sharpening parameter does not give you any control over the sharpening radius which means it's pretty much impossible to squeeze any additional detail out of the camera's JPEGs by modifying the image parameters.

Processing the camera's raw files however makes a big difference. Reducing the noise reduction and applying some customized, small-radius sharpening reveals unexpected levels of detail and shows what the 5D Mark III's sensor, in combination with a good quality lens, is really capable of. We've printed some ouf our sample images and in low-contrast detail the difference between a converted raw and out-of-camera JPEGs becomes visible in prints larger than 8x12in.

At higher ISOs the Canon EOS 5D Mark III continues to apply strong noise reduction which results in comparatively clean images but also a loss of fine detail. When shooting at ISOs lower than 25600 we would recommend to disable the in-camera noise reduction. This doesn't actually mean that no noise reduction is applied (even with NR disabled there is a base level that cannot be switched off) but it gets you some additional low-contrast detail. Only at the very highest sensitivities does the chroma noise become sufficiently intrusive to make the 'Standard' noise reduction setting the better option. Like at base ISO processing raw files can get you better results than the out-of-camera JPEGs. The 5D Mark III's raw noise levels are comparable to other cameras in this class and if you have the time, a customized mix of chroma and luminance noise reduction in post-processing gets you high ISO images with better detail and a more pleasant 'grain' than Canon's JPEG engine can manage.

Overall the Canon EOS 5D Mark III's JPEG output across the ISO range offers good colors, tonality and dynamic range with a very smooth highlight roll-off. Both metering and auto white balance are consistently reliable. However, if you want the maximum detail at a pixel level you have no other choice but to shoot in RAW mode and spend a little time processing the files. Ultimately we would expect a large proportion of the EOS 5D Mark III's 'target audience' to shoot and process raw anyway, not only to get maximum detail out of the images but also for the added flexibility that raw files offer when making more 'in-depth' tonal adjustments on a computer.

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Comments

Total comments: 9
Vmo9
By Vmo9 (4 months ago)

I have used the 5D Mark III for over a year and have just finished selling my Nikon gear (sad day after being a Nikon enthusiast for 30 plus years). From auto-focus to camera build to overall quality, this camera can do it all! Even with the slow burst rate, it works well for sports and nature shooting! I can't recommend this camera enough. I have found the auto-focus system to be quick enough for Equestrian events with long lenses, such as Canons 400mm f2.8 or new 200-560mm.

2 upvotes
Rob728
By Rob728 (5 months ago)

I have just bought a 5d mkii, and when doing a comparison test (nothing scientific) against my 50d I find that the 5d3 seems to under expose by upto 1stop, is this normal?

0 upvotes
schutzaphoto
By schutzaphoto (6 months ago)

I work in Nyc as a fashion photographer and I have to say the the 5d series are the most used cameras out side of medium format cameras .Ive been shooting with the mark 3 for over a year after shooting with the mark 2 for 2 years great both great cameras. You can see the shots I've taken with it on my website www.brianschutzaphotography.com hope it helps!!

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
1 upvote
VABMAN
By VABMAN (3 months ago)

Nice shots,...I've always dreamed to be a fashion photographer.

0 upvotes
Cyrus the Great
By Cyrus the Great (7 months ago)

Nikon D800 is clear winer over 5D iii in every things. Nikon has much sharper lens.
don't know why some people buy Canon???!!!!!

1 upvote
R D Carver
By R D Carver (7 months ago)

'Some people' buy Canon because they earn their living using a camera. Oh man, you should see those forests of white and red-ringed lenses in the pro pit at every major sporting, media and news event! 'Some people' are winning the major competitions, filling the fashion and nature magazines and filming box office busting movies with Canon. "Nikon has much sharper lens" Which lens exactly? Give a photographer a Canon 5D MKIII and an EF 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS II USM Lens and he can take on the world. Nikon is good, Canon is good why get tribal? it is so petty and amateur. At work I can pick up a Nikon/Sony D800 body or a Cannon 5D MKIII. I prefer the Cannon because I don't like the white balance on the Nikon. Others are happy to use the Nikon, but the die hard Nikon enthusiasts are disappointed that Sony make the sensors for Nikon. In comes Sony in comes the green tinged white balance.

5 upvotes
WillieG
By WillieG (6 months ago)

No cameras white balance is perfectly neutral. That's why we have the ability to manually change it on the camera and even fine tune on some of the higher end models. Nikon cameras do run slightly toward the cool side, but they can always be fine-tuned to be neutral in-camera. Canon cameras have always leaned towards the orange color tint. Luckily for Canon the end result is a slightly warmer image that many photographers like the looks of. Few pros would buy a camera that couldn't be made to produce true colors. And that forest of white lenses has been thinning out quite a bit since the advent of the Nikon D3. I'm one die-hard Nikon enthusiast who's ecstatic with Sony sensors. No other brand can even match their dynamic range.

Comment edited 6 minutes after posting
1 upvote
solomonshv
By solomonshv (2 months ago)

why is the D800 is the clear winner? because of a few test charts? which camera do you own? the 5DM3 or the D800? i switched from nikon to canon because i liked canon's lenses better.

ever been to a major sporting event or a press conference? if you did you'd notice an abundance of off-white telephoto lenses with red rings on them. saying that "some people buy Canon" is misleading because pretty much everyone who makes a living off their camera gear uses Canon. and believe me, there are very good reasons for that. if you don't know what they are then it will be a waste of time trying to explain them to you. you still wont get it because you are too busy looking at test charts.

0 upvotes
mufflon
By mufflon (8 months ago)

thx for putting the Shadow noise test in your review. it was time to show that quite big difference.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 9