The Canon EOS R5 is making waves thanks to its impressive video specifications. Not since the days of the 5D Mark II has there been this much enthusiasm from videographers around a Canon DSLR or mirrorless camera.

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Canon practically launched the DSLR video revolution. It owned the marketshare and, more importantly, the mindshare, of DSLR video enthusiasts, yet lost that momentum over the next few years. It often seemed as though video simply wasn't a priority, or that Canon's innovation had slowed and it was content to rest on its laurels.

However, there’s a bit more to the story and it may help explain why we didn’t see much progress from Canon for a few years: and why it may finally be back and ready to go big.

Cinema EOS

It turns out Canon was almost as surprised at the 5D II's success as a video tool as everyone else, something confirmed to me by Canon’s Senior Technical Advisor for Film and TV Production, Tim Smith, and that success helped solidify Canon's decision to enter the cinema market.

It turns out Canon was almost as surprised at the 5D II's success as a video tool as everyone else.

Over the next few years Canon took a side trip and developed an entire line of motion picture products, called Cinema EOS, which undoubtedly entailed a lot of risk, investment and innovation.

It even built a technical center in Burbank, CA, in the heart of the Hollywood film industry. As Smith explained to me, that move wasn’t just so that Canon could support its Hollywood customers, but so that it could learn from its customers in Hollywood.

Canon built a facility in Burbank, California, in order to forge relationships within the industry.

Canon cinema products are well regarded and have been used for numerous feature films and TV shows. Strategically, Canon took a long-game approach by targeting up-and-coming filmmakers to build future market share. That strategy seems to have paid off, as evidenced by the cameras used to produce films appearing in prominent festivals like Sundance. It’s an impressive performance considering Canon wasn’t even in the business ten years ago.

During these years, Canon’s seemingly forgotten, and sometimes maligned, DSLRs saw relatively few significant video improvements. Canon was still innovating; it was just innovating elsewhere. Unfortunately, it wasn't sharing that technology and know-how with DSLR users, deciding they didn't need it, didn't want it, or that it might cannibalize Cinema EOS.

Canon's first full-frame mirrorless camera, the EOS R, had lackluster video specs compared to many competitors.

Meanwhile, competitors jumped in. Panasonic, Sony, Nikon, and even Fujifilm – a company whose video once produced moiré so colorful it inspired technicolor fever dreams – all earned significant street cred with videographers.

Headline features

Which brings us back to the EOS R5. With the R5, Canon appears to have pulled out all the stops for video. On paper at least, it sets new class leading standards, something we haven’t said about a Canon's main EOS line in quite some time. It’s difficult to believe that the R5 wasn't heavily influenced by Canon’s experience developing cinema products.

It’s worth emphasizing the ‘on paper’ part; we all know that spec sheets don’t tell the whole story and we haven't tested the camera. We’ll do that, I promise, but assuming there aren’t any serious gotchas, let’s look at how the R5 potentially raises the bar for cameras in its class.

On paper at least, it sets new class leading standards – something we haven’t said about a Canon DSLR or mirrorless camera in quite some time.

The R5’s headline feature is 8K video. You may or may not need 8K video, but let's acknowledge Canon for the technical achievement. After all, if it was easy other manufacturers would have done it already. From a marketing perspective, just having ‘8K’ on the box goes a long way.

However, it looks like Canon is trying to do more than check a box on a marketing punch-list. The camera uses the full width of its sensor to record up to 8K/30p in 4:2:2 10-bit color using the H.265 codec. It will include Canon’s C-Log gamma and, for HDR capture, HDR PQ. Like the recent EOS 1D X III, it will also record Raw video internally.

What’s more, Canon says that dual pixel autofocus works in all 8K modes, unlike some other models that don't support this feature in the best video settings.

The R5's headline feature is 8K video, with dual pixel autofocus available in all 8K modes.

We would be pleased to see these specs on a camera that shoots 4K, but Canon has done it with four times as many pixels. What's possibly more impressive than resolution is what Canon must have done under the hood to pull it off. This level of video processing requires serious bandwidth and computing power.

There are still big unknowns. One would expect a camera with these specs to generate a lot of heat and the R5 doesn't appear to have a fan, something that's common on high end video cameras. Heat, battery or card capacity will put a limit on it, and potentially not a very high one.

4K video is standard at this point, but 4K/120p is notable. It's the first time we've seen it on a mirrorless camera, and even the list of models supporting 4K/60p is relatively short. 4K/120p translates into 5x slow motion on a 24p timeline without dropping down to HD resolution and will be useful to a lot of people. It also raises expectations for other cameras.

Notable callouts

Not everything on the R5 is cutting edge. One notable area where it plays catch up with competitors is 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS).

Canon historically relied on lens-based IS, which isn't surprising considering the EF lens system was originally designed for film cameras. In contrast, the RF-mount is an all-digital system with no film legacy. Even so, IBIS feels like it's overdue. It’s hard to give Canon extra credit for adding it, but we warmly welcome it to the IBIS club.

I’m pleased to see that R5 has dual card slots. It's a pro-level camera and legitimately deserves two card slots. However, by making one of those a UHS-II SD card slot, Canon has essentially made the R5 a single card video camera, an odd choice for a camera with so much emphasis on video.

Finally, let’s not forget that the R5 is also a stills camera, and one that should be competitive in resolution against the Nikon Z7 or Sony a7R III. Given the improvements we’ve seen in Canon’s sensors of late, we expect it will deliver great image quality, particularly when paired with the impressive RF lenses Canon has been turning out.

The wrap

In recent years, Canon has often been criticized for lack of innovation or for holding back video features to protect its Cinema EOS line. There’s some truth to that, and users have rightly challenged Canon to do better. It appears that with the R5 Canon is trying to do just that.

This is the company that owned much of the early mindshare among DSLR video shooters. If Canon's goal is to recapture the magic of the 5D Mark II in the mirrorless camera world, the R5 makes a pretty strong statement.

If Canon's goal is to recapture the magic of the 5D Mark II in the mirrorless camera world, the R5 makes a pretty strong statement.

However, the landscape has changed since 2008. This is a crowded space with solid competition and it may be hard to convince some to return. Additionally, as impressive as 8K is, it's simply not a priority for many. However, Canon has a habit of playing the long game, as evidenced by its Cinema EOS strategy, and it will be interesting to see how it plays this one.

What may be most exciting is that Canon seems to have gotten its mojo back and is beginning to mix things up a bit. Even if you're not a Canon user that should be good news: healthy competition results in better products for all of us.