Just What the Doctor Ordered

In case you’ve been trapped under an ARRI BL and haven’t gotten the word, the DSLR has utterly and totally transformed the industry landscape, plowing its way like gangbusters through multiple market segments, from education and military to web journalism and entertainment. With hundreds of thousands of Canon 5D Mark IIs in use, one need only cite the blockbuster success of Act of Valor, of which over 75% was captured with the 5D, to understand the true force of the DSLR phenomenon.

The 5D Mark II was never intended, of course, for such high-flying applications. While pricey cine lenses have mitigated many of the operational complexities associated with DSLRs, the cameras’ marginal imaging performance has proven much more difficult to address. Owing mostly to the unsophisticated sampling and high compression the 5D Mark II’s video often exhibits blocky shadows, moiré, and rampant noise particularly in underexposed scenes or those containing fast motion.

Canon’s new 5D Mark III addresses many of the performance liabilities of the previous model. While the Mark III features a higher resolution 22.3 MP sensor (compared to 21.1 MP previously) this is hardly the big news. More to the point, the new model offers a full two-stop improvement in low-light capability; an ISO rating now of 25600 being roughly equal in performance to 6400 in the Mark II. According to Canon, this improvement in absolute performance is attributable to the camera’s much improved sampling and more sophisticated DIGIC 5+ processing, the 17X overall improvement in processing speed eliminating the horrific line-skipping sampling as had previously been the case.

As the native resolution of camera sensors has increased so has the visibility of defects inherent to inexpensive lenses. Indeed, the main reason that cheap lenses look cheap is chromatic aberration, the prismatic dispersion of color around bright highlights especially at longer focal lengths. The Mark III recognizes this unpleasant reality, applying real-time digital compensation from an onboard library of Look-Up Tables for more than 40 different Canon lenses. Wow!

TheMark III’s performance further benefits from Canon’s latest on-chip noise reduction in both still and video modes. At high ISO ratings the noise reduction level may be adjusted; the default rather strong video setting may not be quite as desirable when shooting stills.

Given the occasional contour and gradient artifacts some video professionals may regard Canon’s 50 Mbps long-GOP format as rather anemic. The meager 8-bit MPEG-2 recording system is retained in the MkIII with one notable difference: Shooters may now select intra-frame compression, eliminating the necessity to shoot in artifact-inducing long-GOP. H.264 recording is still possible in the new model, albeit without the intra-frame option. Personally, I’d like to see Canon adopt an AVC-Intra 10-bit format for its DSLR and EOS C300 lines. The time has come. Perhaps that day is not too far away?

The MkIII features a silent control dial borrowed from the Canon 1Dx flagship model. One can adjust audio levels and other parameters while shooting without actually making contact with the camera. Nice!

Recording formats in the new model include 1080p24 (23.976), 25p, and 30p (29.97) fps; 720p60 (59.94) and 50 fps. Embedded time-code includes F-RUN and R-RUN options.


Tough Stuff

While a few manufacturers have notably reduced the build quality of their “pro-line” cameras this is not the case here. The EOS 5D MkIII is extremely rugged with a tank-like magnesium alloy body and a stainless steel lens mount. Canon states that the new camera features enhanced dust and moisture protection with improved gaskets and seals compared to the previous MkII model.