5D mk II vs mk III real world comparison: portraits, wildlife, landscapes, night

Started Apr 6, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Tony Northrup
Tony Northrup Regular Member • Posts: 114
5D mk II vs mk III real world comparison: portraits, wildlife, landscapes, night

I spent the last couple of days documenting a rather exhausting comparison of the 5D2 and 5D3. Here's the pixel-peeping video:


That page has links to the JPG and RAW files (in a Lightroom catalog) so you can compare them yourself.

In a nutshell:

  • Low-light Portraits: The 5D3's AF helps a bit, but even at ISO 25,600, the 5D2's image quality is at least as good as the 5D3's.

  • Walking, running, and flying subjects: The 5D3 has much improved AF and a faster shutter, doubling or better the number of in-focus shots of moving subjects.

  • Still wildlife: The AF and faster shutter produce a higher ratio of usable shots. No improvement in actual image quality.

  • Night photography: Live View sensitivity is better, making it easier to frame pictures. AF is good enough to focus in dark situations where you'd have to manually focus with the 5D2. No improvement in image quality.

  • Landscapes: The electronic level is nice, but if you're a landscape photographer, just buy a bubble level and save your money for a nice lens, because there's no improvement in image quality.

  • Studio: No improvement in image quality, but small touches improve workflow: the RATE button, easier image deletion, easier AF selection, quicker image review.

  • HDR: Expanded bracketing is important, but I'd just recommend getting a 5D2 and installing Magic Lantern. I can't imagine wanting to use the in-camera HDR feature.

The biggest shocker: No noticeable improvement in raw image quality, even at high ISOs. It's baffling to me considering how Canon (and just about every review I've seen) is bragging about the new sensor. The video walks you through my testing and analysis, and while it's non-scientific, I found the same results in every scenario.

Here are tight crops from the studio pictures (the second pictures are from the 5D3). In the video I zoom into 8:1 and find them both equally noisy. I've spent many hours fixing noisy 5D2 pictures that got rejected by the stock sites, and later accepted after I manually reduced the noise, so I'm rather good at spotting noise:

I think ISO/noise wars are the new megapixel wars, and Canon couldn't manage to produce a better sensor than the 5D2's. Yet, they knew that image quality is the #1 selling point, so they couldn't market it with, "Same image quality with better AF and lots of tweaks." Instead of making improvements to the sensor hardware, they increased the noise reduction in JPEG processing and allowed two stops higher ISO--equivalent to pushing a 5D2's "H2". And software changes don't show up in raw files, and don't matter to those of us shooting raw (and at this price point, nobody should shoot JPG).

Based on my results, this statement (attributed to a Canon tech) seems to be a lie: "The 5D Mark III has a 22.3-megapixel sensor, redesigned for dramatically improved low-light performance".

Thoughts? What's your interpretation?

Canon EOS 5D Canon EOS 5D Mark II Canon EOS 5D Mark III
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