Camera Review: Canon’s Long-Awaited 5D Mark IV

Camera Review: Canon’s Long-Awaited 5D Mark IV

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There’s no doubt that when the history of digital photography is written, Canon’s 5D series will loom large. The bigger question for many photographers is the camera line’s future. When the original 5D debuted, Canon was ascendant and the photo market was buoyant. The follow-up was a path-breaker, ushering in the era of DSLR filmmaking—even if Nikon could lay claim to having the first HD video-recording DSLR.

But that was then. With the 5D Mark IV, Canon faces a very different world. Smartphones have collapsed the market for almost every form of digital camera, while Canon’s fortress of professional cameras is under siege like never before. It’s fair to say the 5D Mark IV has a lot riding on it.

The Mark IV delivers a few main upgrades from its Mark III predecessor. The first is a new, higher-resolution sensor: It’s a 30.4-megapixel CMOS chip with a native ISO range of 100-32,000 (expandable to 50-102,400).

The AF system has been updated with Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology for improved AF during video recording and live view. The Mark IV has 61 AF points (all effective at f/8 and all user-selectable) including 41 cross points. The camera can meter in low light down to -3EV when using the viewfinder or -4 EV in live view. The camera’s 3.2-inch display is now fully touch-enabled, including for AF point selection.

There’s also a new 153,600-pixel, 252 zone RGB+IR metering sensor to improve face recognition and subject tracking.

Another big upgrade comes on the video front. You’ll be able to record 4K video at 4096 x 2160 at either 30p or 24p in camera with an option to pull 8-megapixel stills from your 4K video files during playback. 4K video will be recorded as a 1.7x crop of the sensor. The video is captured at 4:2:2 with 8-bit color. You can record full HD at 60p or 1280 x 720 footage at 120p.

What’s also notable about the video features on the 5D Mark IV is what Canon did not include. There’s no focus peaking or zebra stripes during video recording. The camera doesn’t offer a Log mode, like rival Sony cameras, or even Canon cinema cameras, for that matter. And, while the 5D Mark IV supports HDMI output, it will only push through a 1080p signal, not 4K. (Update: Since this review was published, Canon has announced plans to offer a Log mode as a paid firmware upgrade for existing 5D Mark IV customers.)

Finally, Canon added Wi-Fi, NFC and GPS to the Mark IV.

Design-wise, the 5D Mark IV is virtually indistinguishable from the Mark III, so experienced 5D owners will be up and running instantly. The camera is rugged, comfortable and familiar. At 31 ounces, the Mark IV is about 2 ounces lighter than its predecessor and on par with Nikon’s full-frame D810.

There have been a few small design upgrades, however. The 3.2-inch display is now a touch screen, though it’s fixed to the camera body and can’t be tilted (darn). There are a pair of memory card slots, one for SD and the other for the aging CompactFlash format. We’d have preferred to see that second slot awarded to CFast 2.0 to support higher frame rate 4K (or a better 4K codec).

The ISO performance delivered surprisingly clean headshot results at ISO 1600, Patiño says, even if the camera’s low-light performance was a bit underwhelming given the long wait between the Mark III and Mark IV. There’s some noise in RAW files at 3200 but they’re still generally clean, without the splotchy color-shift, and easy to remove in Lightroom, Patiño says. JPEG noise is very well contained through ISO 6400 and you can even skate by at 12800 if you’re not afraid of a little grain. On balance, the Mark IV represents a very nice step up from the ISO performance of the Mark III and should be a boon to anyone battling low-light environments.

Color rendition, long a Canon strong suit, is unsurprisingly excellent in the Mark IV and while the company has kept a low-pass filter in place, the 30-megapixel sensor offers plenty of detail for tight cropping. If you’re interested in coaxing a touch more sharpness from the camera, particularly when shooting at wide-open apertures, a new Dual Pixel RAW mode lets you shoot RAW files that can be tweaked using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software. You can sharpen, or adjust the bokeh or ghosting of the image. The effect isn’t that substantial, certainly not on par with the specialized high-resolution modes incorporated into Olympus and Pentax cameras.

On the video front, Patiño says the 4K video quality was excellent though the lack of a Log format was a turn off, he says. “It would be more useful to me if I can have the Canon be as flat as the Sony’s so it would be easier to combine” their footage, he says. Even shooting in the 5D Mark IV’s neutral color profile with saturation and contrast dialed all the way down, it’s still a much more colorful, contrast-y file than Sony’s S-Log. (Update: Since this review was published, Canon has announced plans to offer a Log mode as a paid firmware upgrade for existing 5D Mark IV customers.)

You’ll get a fairly jarring 1.6x crop when shooting 4K video. That’s not unusual—Nikon’s D5 gives you a 1.5x shave—but it’s something to be mindful of.

Like the 1D X Mark II, the 5D Mark IV employs the Motion JPEG codec when recording 4K video so that you can easily pull an 8-megapixel still file from the video footage in camera. It’s an interesting feature but the Motion JPEG codec is much less efficient than H.264 or the newer H.265, which means you’ll be burning through memory cards that much faster (and remember, you can’t use an external recorder for 4K footage).

The 5D Mark IV hits 7 fps with AF fixed at the first frame for up to 170 RAW files or 820 large JPEGs. This makes it one of the speediest full frame cameras at this price point—outpacing Sony’s a7R II, Nikon’s D810 and the (much) less expensive Pentax K-1. Like the 1D X Mark II, the 5D Mark IV offers an extremely extensive array of autofocusing options—while they can take a while to learn and master, they afford an impressive amount of customizing and fine-tuning for any conceivable shooting situation. AF tracking was excellent, particularly in low light. The addition of Dual Pixel CMOS AF with the touch screen enabled very seamless focus point adjustments in live view and smooth AF operation during video recording.

You’ll enjoy about 900 shots on the battery before it taps out. That’s good, but not as impressive as Nikon’s D810, which delivers nearly 1,200 images on a fully charged battery.

The 5D Mark IV is a rather conservative camera, at least on the video side. Where Panasonic and Sony have generously poured cinema-friendly features into their mirrorless cameras from their pro video divisions, Canon seems more interested in keeping those two worlds apart. Given the 5D Mark II’s role in birthing DSLR filmmaking, that’s more than a little ironic.

But if it doesn’t quite check off every video box, the 5D Mark IV is unquestionably a welcome addition to any Canon shooter’s arsenal and is a worthwhile upgrade for still photographers looking to upgrade from a Mark II or III. Had it arrived in tandem with the 5D S, Patiño says he would have bought it instead. It offers improved low light and high ISO performance, vastly better video and live view autofocusing, higher resolution stills and video and better connectivity—all in a design that is as battle-tested and familiar as ever. For still shooters in the Canon camp, it’s a no-brainer.

PROS: Dual Pixel CMOS AF delivers excellent video AF; excellent low-light capability; fast and accurate autofocusing for stills; familiar and comfortable body design. CONS: Lacks Log profile for video (at time of review); no focus peaking or zebra stripes in video; HDMI outputs only 1080p video signal. PRICE: $3,499 Camera Review: Canon’s Long-Awaited 5D Mark IV | PDN Online