The much-awaited high megapixel full-frame Canon has been ‘out’ in the form of a few pictures and specifications for about a week, but now I see there is a review by The Digital Picture.com: Canon EOS 5Ds Review. Well done to them for being so quick off the mark, but is it all good news?
My first impression was very positive: this camera looks just like and is laid out just like the 5D III. This is good news because that camera just works. Nothing is hard to find, it handles beautifully and is smaller and more svelte than the D800/D810. Great. I figured that if Canon were to put a fantastic sensor in the 5D III and add a few new features, they would surely have a winner on their hands. Scratch that: a knockout. But then I came across the following words:
“The 5Ds has the same dynamic range as 5D III…”
[add sound of … no sound… the sound of absolutely befuddled amazement, followed by wind amidst a vast open space and the sort of low, base groan you would expect from a wounded animal drawing its last breath]
If this is true (which it may not be), it will come as a *huge* disappointment to many and I will explain why. Most people do not need or desire 50MP, because there are very few lenses that can lay down sufficient detail to give us a fifty million quality pixels and this will be most apparent in the corners and at the edges with anything but the very best lenses. In the wide and ultra-wide angle realm we will be lucky to find anything that comes close to resolving 30MP in the corners, never mind 50. I then continued reading:
“While some will complain that the closest Nikon-equivalent body has more dynamic range (and more is better), I haven’t had an issue with the 5D II’s DR. When I can’t retain both shadows and highlights in an image, that scene generally needs very significantly more DR and exposure bracketing with HDR handles those instances nicely.”
Seriously? I cannot believe that we are sitting here, two DSLR generations after the emergence of 14 plus stop sensors (courtesy of Sony), glossing over the fact the latest and greatest full-frame Canon has roughly two whole stops less Dynamic Range (DR) than my £400 APS-C point and shoot! Yes, I fully understand that not all photographers will need super-high DR; however, a huge number of Canon users have sat through the D800, the D600, the D610, the D810, the Sony DSLRs, A7/R… countless Pentaxes, Samsungs, and Micro Four Thirds cameras with far more dynamic range and less banding asking Santa for one thing: more DR. Years later, after struggling with banding when low values are raised in post and trying to implement exposure bracketing when the scene is not static, Canon is throwing us lots of pixels we don’t need and not addressing the elephant in the room. As an aside, for anyone struggling with banding with their Canon, I can thoroughly recommend Nik Dfine. It really does help, but requires a little care to get rid of the banding without introducing artifacts. What is clear is that it will save your bacon at times.
I think most Canon users would have been quietly stoked with 30MP and 14 stops of DR. 36 MP and 14 plus stops would have had us swinging from the rafters (even though Nikon has been delivering this for years), but the 5D III has 11.7 stops and it is a royal pain in the ass if you shoot cityscapes at night, high contrast landscapes and with documentary or wedding work (think balancing interior lighting and subjects inside with brightly lit windows. You have to shoot for the retention of highlights and end up with very dark shadows (two to three stops darker than with a Sony sensor) and cannot pull them up sufficiently because banding appears). Just trying implementing exposure bracketing as a workaround when you have people and vehicles moving through scenes, tree branches that you must find gaps in the wind to show still (one gap is easier than three), gently rippling water (to which you can add the wake of passing boats for added complexity, catching lights from lights on the banks). Multiple exposure for blending in post-processing and in camera HDR are not remotely a full solution for limited dynamic range issues and I find it tedious to keep hearing it touted in these terms. Its like saying “hey, I know these walking boots are not really very waterproof (like all the competition) and some people will criticise them for that, but its not a problem for me. I prefer to go walking on sunny days in any case, or I just dodge the puddles and avoid wet ground when I must go out.”
I am shocked that this review is not claiming even a slight increase in dynamic range over the 5D III. This surprises me, because more pixels should yield greater DR ‘for free’ so to speak. I would have respected Canon a whole lot more if they had transparently pursued a Sony sensor and integrated it beautifully into a top notch body. While the cautious optimist in me hopes that the reviewer is horribly mistaken about the DR, the fact that his review has appeared so quickly, along with his acknowledgment that he is using a pre-production sample, suggests he is ‘in’ with Canon and is probably armed with correct information. Heck, my M43 Panasonic GM-1 has 11.7 stops of DR and far cleaner shadows when very low values are raised, due to the absence of pattern noise/banding!
Canon… Canon… this amounts to dropping the ball in truly epic terms. Please also understand I am not a Nikon loving Canon basher. I own six L series lenses, another five or so regular ones, a 5D II and 5D III.
So what is good about the 5DS and 5DS R? Well, everything else actually. Everything else looks fantastic to be honest and this is what makes the DR issue so galling. Here is a quick run down of some of the features that impress me.
- Same great body as 5D III. It will be a seamless transition for existing 5D III and 7D II users.
- Variable RAW file sizes, including 12.4MP and 28MP files.
- AF based on 5D III, but further improved.
- Low vibration mirror and delayed shutter modes (variable) to further reduce vibration.
- 3x and 1.6x crop modes.
- Compatibility with various 5D III accessories.
- Electronic level and face recognition
In overall terms, it looks like a great competitor to the D810. I would expect the live view to be better (Canon does a great job with this), but finding myself not caring very much. DR is absolutely fundamental to one’s ability to reliably fit the range of the scene onto the sensor, after which (and only after which) a suitably fine print can be made. High DR means that there are very few, if any, situations that will outstrip your sensor’s ability to record all the data you need. The lack of DR is an epic fail at core image quality level. The other things are nice to have and were I a studio worker I probably be very happy, but I am not and neither are most of the people who will be looking at this camera. Those tedious people who harp on about how you don’t really need more DR than Canon offers are completely missing the point: they don’t need it (or have convinced themselves that it would be of no benefit), but others do. They really do, either because of the scenes they shoot or because they work under pressure and recognise that sometimes they will get the exposure wrong, or need to bring about a creative change to local exposure values in post processing that they didn’t not envisage at the time of shooting. If you have lots of DR you are covered. Shooting under pressure and making mistakes are part of photography, or we would have very different D-Day landing photos from Robert Capa (if you do not know the story, read to the bottom here). Even Ansel Adams, so far removed from modern digital photography today, recognized that the negative is the score and the print the performance. While they are fundamentally related, they are different acts. The score allows you to interpret and keep reinterpreting the notes into any performance you like… as long as the notes are there in the first place. High DR helps you achieve this, just as film photographers have spent a lot of time pursuing the achievement of a negative with a full range of detail, from shadows to highlight, under all lighting conditions, from which any manner of print could be realised. I don’t recall anyone being critical of aspiring to this in the film-only era…
Alongside the new high resolution monster cams, we have the newly released Canon EF 11-24mm f4 L lens, which looks impressive. Those MTF charts allude to excellent performance a few stops down (at the probable expense of no front filter ring, like the Nikkor 14-24mm). This may just be the landscape zoom lens to really make 36MP sing and to look pretty darned convincing on 50MP, but here is the problem: which serious landscape photographer would want to invest another $3K of lens into a system that STILL doesn’t have a sensor that can produce the same DR as a £400 APS-C camera? You’re going to have to wait another generation for that and then possibly still end up disappointed (besides, the forthcoming 5D IV is rumored to be of modest resolution – circa 28MP- so those wanting the highest resolution and DR will not find their answer there). What worries me is that this release makes me wonder if Canon recognises the importance of improving DR. One would be forgiven for thinking the answer is ‘no’. I can only imagine that the 50.6MP sensor has been in development for years and that integrating it into a 5D III ‘plus’ camera was not as expensive as developing something new from the bottom up.
But it gets worse than this for Canon. This new 5DS and 5DS R are not necessarily competitors for the D810, because Nikon is known to have a 50MP camera not too far out. And it will have a Sony sensor, with 15 stops of DR, with no banding in the shadows when recovered hard in post. Oh dear Canon. You’re producing astonishingly good optics at the moment, but all I can think about is mounting them on other manufacturers’ cameras.
Now that my very personal pre-release response is out of the way, one can only conclude that Canon will sell boat loads of these, just as Sony did with the A7R (compared to the A7). Megapickles sell! They sell to people using 18-200mm ultrazoom kit lenses, which won’t resolve more than 5 MP in the corners, but this is not something to complain about. They are sales and, at a time when the camera industry is losing revenue, I hope this camera is a knockout. Maybe Canon will then be able to give me a camera with more than 12 stops of DR!