Another DSLR Showdown: The Canon 5D Mark III vs. the Canon 5D Mark IV

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Canon’s 5D series of full frame cameras has been a very popular line for Canon almost 12 years now.   The original 5D was first introduced in 2005 and in the years that have followed, Canon has offered a series of incremental upgrades to the line making today’s 5D Mark III and 5D Mark IV very different cameras than the original 5D.  The 5D Mark III was first introduced in 2012 as the replacement to the 5D Mark II, while the 5D Mark III, which was introduced in 2016, is both a replacement to the 5D Mark III and an alternate to the very high-resolution Canon 5DS and 5DS R that was introduced in 2015.   Let’s take a look at the cameras and see which is the better camera, the 5D Mark III or the 5D Mark IV!

The Similarities

The 5D Mark III and 5D Mark IV are very similar cameras in many ways sharing many of the same features beginning with both cameras featuring a full frame CMOS sensor, which measures 35.0 mm x 24.0 mm.  The sensors in both cameras, although they have different resolutions, produce excellent image quality even in low light and high ISO settings.

Images are processed in both cameras with a DIGIC 5+ processor, which writes the JPEG or RAW files to one of the two memory slots found on both cameras.  Video images are captured as either .MOV or MP4 files.  One of the unique features of both cameras is that one slot is configured for CF cards, while the second slot accommodates SD, SDHC or SDXC cards.  In both camera, the two memory cards can be configured in multiple fashions, including one card backing up the other card or still images to one card and video to the other or with the second card handling overflow once the first card is full.

Viewfinders: The Mark II and the Mark IV both have excellent viewfinders, which are bright and provide 100% coverage, meaning that the image as seen in the viewfinder is exactly the same as the image captured on the sensor.  Inside the viewfinder, the photographer will find up to 61 autofocus points, including up to 41 cross type points.  The autofocus points are well distributed in the viewfinder, which also displays information on the camera’s settings along the bottom of the viewfinder.  The autofocus systems in both cameras are excellent and very accurate in their ability to find and hold focus, even on fast moving subjects, making the 5D Mark III and 5D Mark IV suitable for sports.

Other similarities include a shutter speed range of 1/8,000 to 30 seconds, as well as a rear LCD display that measures 3.2”.  The rear LCD screens are fixed on both cameras and are not touch screens.  Here the photographer can compose images using “Live View”, as well as preview still and video images, as well as navigate both camera’s extensive menu systems.

While neither camera has a built-in flash, they do feature the ability to store three of the photographer’s favorite settings using the C1, C2 and C3 settings on the top dial.  This allows the photographer to instantly recall these settings by simply turning the dial.  This feature is very useful and is a real time saver in the field.  In addition, the 5D Mark IIIand 5D mark IV both have the standard exposure settings including Aperture Priority AE, Manual, Program AE, Shutter Priority AE, Scene Intelligent Auto.  Both cameras feature a magnesium allow shell, as well as moisture and dust seals, making both cameras suitable for constant use in the filed by professional photographers.

The Differences

While similar in many ways the 5D Mark III and 5D Mark IV have a number of significant differences beginning with the resolution of the cameras.  In the case of the 5D Mark III, the CMOS sensor has a resolution of 22.3 megapixels, compared to the 30.4 megapixels of the 5D Mark IV.  While the difference in megapixels is significant, photographers would be hard pressed to notice any difference in the image quality.

Frame Rate: Another difference is the speed of the two cameras as measured in frame rate.  In the case of the 5D Mark III, the cameras is capable of capturing 6 frames per second, while the 5D mark IV is slightly faster at 7 frames per second.  Both cameras are capable sports cameras with only the Canon 1DX series and 7D Mark II being faster.  In the case of the 1DX series and 7D Mark II, these cameras are primarily designed for sports photography, while the 5D Mark III and Mark IV are designed as all around cameras.

The native ISO range of the two cameras is also different with the 5D Mark III having a range of 100 -25,600, while the 5D Mark IV has a native ISO range of 100 – 32,000.  In both cameras, the ISO range can be expanded downward to ISO 50 at the Lo-1 setting and upward to ISO 51,200 at the Hi-1 setting, as well as ISO 102,400 at the Hi-2 setting.  Both cameras have excellent low light capabilities even when the native ISO settings are pushed.

Video Capabilities: While both cameras have video capabilities, the 5D Mark IV features 4K video, as well as other formats, including HD.  The 5D Mark III is limited to HD video, as well as other formats.  The difference in the video quality is significant as 4k has a frame size of 4,096 x 2,160 compared to a frame size of 1,920 x 1,080 found in standard HD video.  4K video shot with the 5D Mark IV has a speed of 30 or 24 frames per second compared to 24.30 or 60 frames per second in standard HD video.  While the video image quality is very good in both cameras, the 4K video shot with the 5D Mark IV is exceptional!

Another difference between the two cameras includes the built-in WIFI and GPS capabilities of the 5D Mark IV, which are not found on the 5D Mark III.  The ability to upload images via WIFI, as well as the ability to geo-tag photos is a great feature and is a big plus for the 5D Mark IV!

As far as size and weight are concerned, the 5D Mark III and the 5D Mark IV are virtually identical in size with the Mark III measuring 6.0” x 4.6” x 3.0”, compared to the 5.93” x 4.58” x 2.99” of the Mark IV.  The Mark IV is slightly lighter weighing 31.39 ounces compared to 33.5 ounces for the 5D Mark III.

The Pros and Cons

The Canon 5D Mark III and 5D Mark IV are both excellent cameras offering excellent image quality and advanced features, but like all cameras, both cameras have a number of strengths and weaknesses.  The significance of these “pros” and “cons” will depend upon the type of photography that the photographer engages in and their personal preferences.

Overall Value: The biggest “pro” of the Canon 5d Mark III is the overall value and performance that the camera offers.  It is a unique combination of an advanced “professional” grade camera that delvers excellent image quality, without completely breaking the bank.  While the 5D Mark III may not have many of the advanced features of the 5D Mark IV, those features do not result in a loss of image quality, which at the end of the day, the most important aspect of any camera.

As far as negative features are concerned, the biggest “con” of the 5D Mark III is the age of the camera, which was introduced almost three years ago.  Digital camera technology is changing fast, especially when it comes to high-resolution full frame sensors.  As a result, it can be argued that while the 5D Mark III is still a great camera, it is getting close to being obsolete when compared to cameras such as the 5D Mark IV.

Fast Frame Rate: The 5D Mark IV has a number of “pros” including the high resolution of the camera, while still offering a fast frame rate.  While the Canon 5DS and 5DS R have higher megapixels and cost about the same as the 5D Mark IV, they are also significantly slower than the 5D Mark IV.  Canon hit a sweet spot with the 5D Mark IV offering a high-resolution camera with WIFI and GPS, without loosing speed as measured in frame rate.

Cost: The biggest negative feature of the 5D Mark IVis the cost, which will put this camera out of the reach of many photographers.  At $3,499 for a body only, it is a significant amount of money, especially for a body that will more than likely be technologically obsolete in 3-4 years.  With camera bodies changing almost yearly now, it is not feasible for many photographers to upgrade every product cycle due to the cost of the new bodies.

Just the Facts, A side-By-Side Comparison

While most serious photographers look at image quality over technical specifications, many feel that the specifications are equally important.  The Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 5D Mark IV both have excellent image quality, as well as technical specifications, which are shown in the table below.

Item Canon 5D Mark III Canon 5D Mark IV
Year Introduced 2012 2016
Format Full Frame Full Frame
Megapixels 22.3 30.4
Sensor Type CMOS CMOS
Processor DIGIC 5+ DIGIC 5+
Image Format RAW or JPEG RAW or JPG
Sensor Size 36.0 mm x 24.0 mm 36.0 mm x 24.0 mm
Sensor Cleaner Yes Yes
Auto-focus Points 61, Including 41 Cross-Type Points 61, Including 41 Cross-Type Points
Modes Aperture Priority AE, Manual (M), Program AE, Shutter Priority AE, Scene Intelligent Auto Aperture Priority AE, Manual (M), Program AE, Shutter Priority AE, Scene Intelligent Auto
Metering TTL Metering With 63 Zone SPC EOS iSA System With 252 Zones
View Finder Coverage 100% 100%
Live View Yes Yes
Frames Per Second 6 7
ISO 100 – 25,600 100 – 32,000
Lowest Expandable ISO Lo-1 (50) Lo-1 (50)
Highest Expandable ISO H1 (51,200)

H2 (102,400)

H1 (51,200)

H2 (102,400)

Shutter Speed Range 1/8,000 – 30 Seconds 1/8,000 – 30 Seconds
Built In Flash No No
Card Slots 2 2
Card Type SD, SDHC, SDXC and CF SD, SDHC, SDXC and CF
LCD Size 3.2” 3.2”
LCD Fixed or Swivel Fixed Fixed
Video Yes, Full HD Yes, 4K
Video Type / Speed 1,920 x 1,080 at 25.0 – 29.97 FPS; Other Types As Well 4K At 30 & 24 FPS; Other Formats As Well Including 1,280 x
Video Format .MOV & MP4 .MOV & MP4
Internal Autofocus Motor No No
GPS No Yes
Wireless Optional Yes
WIFI No Yes
Battery LP-E6 LP-E6N
Unique Features C1, C2 and C3 Settings, Magnesium Alloy Body C1, C2 and C3 Settings, Magnesium Alloy Body, High Resolution, Fast Frame Rate, WIFI, GPS
Size Without Lens 6.0” x 4.6” x 3.0” 5.93” x 4.58” x 2.99”
Weight Without Lens 33.5 Ounces 31.39 Ounces
Manufactured In Japan Japan
Body Only or with Kit Lens Both Options Available Both Options Available
Included Accessories LP-E6 Battery, LC-E6 Battery Charger, Eyecup, AVC DC400ST Stereo AV Cable, IFC-200U USB Interface Cable, EW EOS 5D Mark III Wide Neck Strap, Software Disk, Software Instruction Manual LP-E6N Battery, LP-E6 Battery Charger, Eg Eyecup, IFC-2150U II Interface Cable, Wide Neck Strap, Software Disk, Software Instruction Manual
Cost, Body Only $2,499.00

Check out the latest discounts and prices.
$3,499.00

Check out the latest discounts and prices.
Cost With Kit Lens (Various Lens Options Available) Varies Depending On Lens Varies Depending On Lens

*Information from the Canon USA website, including pricing.

The Final Frame: My Overall Recommendation

The Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 5D Mark IV are both excellent cameras offering exceptional image quality in a rugged “professional” grade body.   While I really liked the significant upgrades found in the 5D Mark IV, especially the WIFI and GPS capabilities as well as the 4K video, I actually prefer the 5D Mark III.

The main reason for this preference is due to the great value the 5D Mark III represents, which is mainly due to the camera being close to 3 years older than the 5D Mark IV.  While older, I found that my style of photography was not limited by the reduced resolution, as well as the lack of WIFI and GPS.  I rarely shoot video, but when I do the HD video in the 5D Mark III was completely acceptable.  I also really liked the fact that the 5D Mark III, which has a suggested retail price of $2,499, is $1,000 cheaper than the 5D Mark IV.  Personally, I would prefer to put those savings to additional lenses instead of the newest camera body.

At the end of the day, each photographer will need to determine for themselves if the upgrades in the 5D Mark IV are worth the extra investment, but for me it was not worth it.  That being said, you cannot go wrong with either camera as they are both great!

Robert Alexander
 

A camera geek and freelance photographer, Robert (Aka "Rob" or "Bob") spends way too much time examining the finer points of cameras.

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