This is an in depth review of the Canon 5DSR for landscape photography with a focus on image quality. I’ve decided to write the review as a series of questions that people might have so that I can really get into the nitty gritty of what the camera can do. There are several comparisons with the Canon 6D. The image quality of the 6D is as good as or *slightly* better than the 5DmkIII, so the comparisons are directly analogous.
Just how much better is the resolution of the 5DSR compared to the 5DmkIII or 6D? Is the resolution too much for Canon’s lenses?
Going from 20mp to 50mp is a significant jump and the difference in resolving power is vast. There is quite simply no contest between any of Canon’s full frame cameras and the 5DS when it comes to resolution. For making big prints this is a revelation, but if like me you just like capturing the most richly detailed images possible, Canon is now the class leader. Here are 3 examples shot with the 16-35 f4L IS, 50mm 1.8 STM and 70-200 f4L IS. Hopefully this answers the question as to whether the lenses are now the limiting factor….they aren’t.
What if we downsize the 5DSR files? Is there still an advantage?
This question popped up when I posted this review to a forum. I’d have to say that I don’t agree with the idea of crippling the 5DSR by downsizing. If you are going to downsize then why buy the camera? Nevertheless what this does show is the kind of difference you might expect in smaller print sizes in the 18-24″ range. The difference is still clear to see. I should point out that I sharpened both crops to what I consider optimal, since the sharpening was different it could be argued that the comparison is still unfair, but I did my best!
What is the diffraction limited aperture on the 5DSR?
I’ve done a few aperture tests to determine which is the ‘sharpest’ aperture and whether a smaller aperture is justifiable for increased depth of field. Obviously the conclusion is subjective, but my thoughts are as follows:
- f/8 no visible diffraction – this will be the aperture I choose when I don’t need a big depth of field.
- f/9.5 looks ever so slightly softer – the difference is almost impossible to spot, no practical difference
- f/11 ever so slightly softer still, little practical difference – this will be the aperture I choose when a large depth of field is required
- f/13 visibly softer than f11, easy to tell apart from f8
- f/16 soft at 100% – I would only use this aperture if I had to for a long shutter speed
Does the extra pixel density of the 5DSR act as a focal length multiplier?
One of the dilemmas I have when backpacking is which lenses to bring. I like to cut weight where I can and lenses are heavy! My current choice is the Canon 16-35 f4L IS the 70-200 f4L IS and the new 50mm 1.8 STM. Occasionally I’d wished that I had a longer focal length or a 24-70 to plug the gap between my two zoom lenses.
The 5DSR allows heavy cropping and you can use a tight crop to effectively extend the focal length. So a 20 megapixel crop from a shot at 200mm should give an image very similar to a 6D/5DmkIII image shot at 320mm (roughly). Below is a comparison showing this concept. As you can see, if you only need a 20mp output, the added pixel density of the 5DSR gives you greater reach.
Am I now limited to f/8? Isnt that going to affect depth of field? What if I have a close foreground?
The extra resolution is ALWAYS a good thing. Having 50mp as opposed to 20mp can only make your images more detailed, not less. Importantly, you can shoot at the same apertures as you were previously and still get a massive resolution benefit, it just won’t be the absolute maximum possible. One thing I wouldn’t do is shoot at f/16 or smaller, you really are butchering the camera’s capability to resolve.
Below is a comparison of the 5DSR with 50mm at f13 and the 6D with 50mm at f8. You can see that the 5DSR is still far superior.
Has the Dynamic Range improved and does it matter?
Canon has come under a lot of flak since the Nikon D800 appeared for failing to keep up with the Sony sensors, particularly regarding dynamic range. People then make outlandish statements that ‘Canon sensors are terrible’ and then an internet argument ensues. It’s important to remember that whilst Dynamic Range is great, it’s not the be all and end all. For a landscape photographer the difference on a pixel level at low ISOs between the Sony sensors and Canon sensors is invisible without big pushes of shadows and highlights. In general that means a high contrast scene shot into the light. For example sunset images that include the sun would greatly benefit from increased dynamic range to avoid the necessity of bracketing. I shoot these scenes a lot, perhaps to a fault, and I can honestly say that I have never thought “I wish I had more dynamic range”. Besides, whenever I have been on a shoot with a D800/D810 owner they have always bracketed those scenes anyway, just to be sure!
Canon doesn’t seem to have made any real world improvement over the previous generation.
What about image noise at low and high ISO?
It’s pretty difficult to make a realistic assessment on image noise without complex analysis, but subjectively it appears like the 5DS produces slightly more noise ON A PIXEL LEVEL than the 6D. When the 6D is upsized or the 5D downsized you see parity but with the 5DS withholding more detail. I’d have to say that I am very happy with the noise performance at ISO3200 and wouldn’t hesitate to use it for astro work.
Aren’t vibrations going to make the resolution useless? What about hand holding?
No. In fact you can hand-hold the 5DSR very effectively and still resolve 50mp. The logic for this is actually very simple. The pixels are 1.6x smaller (across) than the previous generation of Canon cameras. If you use a shutter speed that is 1.6x faster than you previous hand-holding limit then you will get the same level of sharpness on the pixel level. If you are shooting on a tripod in the wind then the vibrations need to be 1.6x less. Or looking at it another way you need to use a focal length that is 1.6x wider! So it will get technically more challenging to resolve all those pixels, but most of the time good technique will ensure the best possible image quality.
Do you see Moire/aliasing?
I eventually managed to induce moire after photographing my suit at at various distances (I tried all manner of other fabrics without success before a friend suggested trying a suit). There was only one image that absolutely nailed the correct weave pitch to get bad moire but still, its going to be a problem if you shoot fashion. As for achitecture…I tried and I tried and I just could not cause any moire.
Will processing the files kill my computer?
Probably, yes…..My computer was built to deal with large amounts of data as fast as possible. I spent over £1000 on the internal components alone just 4 months ago. I’m running an i7-4790K @ 4.0GHz with 32GB of high speed RAM and 3 Samsung Pro SSDs. My hard drives and scratch disks are set up to help Photoshop and Lightroom (and After Effects) run as smoothly as possible. But at times I find processing the 5DSR files a bit sluggish. This is particularly true when using Lightroom’s new ‘Merge to HDR’ or ‘Merge to Panorama’ functions. Essentially things run at half the speed I am used to with the 6D and 5DIII. At least the Lightroom sliders are still smooth!
What about ergonomics and usability?
Canon have always been leaders in menus, button placement, ergonomics, speed and usability. The 5DS incorporates all of the best features of the line with a menu that is heavily customisable and easy to use. Having used the 6D for 2 years there was next to no learning curve with this camera. I love the fact that it has 3 custom modes on the dial (C1,C2,C3) I use these modes heavily and to my knowledge no other maker implements customisation this well.
The 5DS is brilliantly thought out, responsive and generally a joy to use. It’s all to easy to overlook just how important these aspects are, particularly in light of people obsessing over dynamic range, but when it comes to ‘getting the shot’ these are the things that matter.
Canon have produced an outstanding camera for landscape photography capable of out resolving every other camera on the market. Whilst users will have to accept what I consider to be minor dynamic range short comings vs Sony sensor cameras, the resolution is beyond question. This camera now sets the Digital SLR standard for landscape photography in all but the very highest contrast scenarios. The ergonomics and ease of use of the 5DS are class leading and it is hard for me to think of any practical changes I might make to the camera. This is the camera a lot of Canon users have been waiting for and I can’t wait to get out to the mountains with it.