As many people know, yesterday Canon announced two versions of an exciting new 50.6MP DSLR full frame camera body, dubbed the Canon 5DS and 5DSR, which now boast being the two highest pixel count 35mm DSLR cameras on the planet.
It is a very interesting step for Canon shooters, as it is the first time that Canon has gone above the 25MP threshold on a full frame DSLR body. Price of these two new models is also lower than most people probably would expect, with both versions to be available around June of this year for under the US$4,000 level.
It sounds like it is going to be a fantastic camera in terms of build quality and each one will contain two of Canon’s newest DIGIC 6 processor chips, but this might not actually be just the right camera for everyone wanting a new DSLR with more pixels than in the current 5D Mark III I am afraid.
I am not going to give a full preview of this camera’s specs here though as there are plenty of extensive spec lists out there already on other sites. But I thought I would at least voice some of my initial reactions and concerns.
A 35mm DSLR with 50 million pixels is a major achievement, no doubt, but I have already started hearing talk about how this camera will become the digital medium format camera killer of the future, as this camera will be able to offer the same image file resolution as medium format digital cameras do. The truth is, from a technical standpoint, yes, it will equal medium format in resolution, but not in quality. So you may not see too many commercial photographers making a play for this camera unless they are prepared to sacrifice some quality when compared to a digital medium format setup.
You might wonder how I know this though without the camera having even been released yet. Well, technically it’s impossible for a 35mm DSLR camera, with a sensor that is physically about 1/3 the size of a medium format sensor, to capture pixels of equal quality to medium format when the pixel receptor sites for each pixel on the Canon sensor are physically a lot smaller. Also, there always has been, and always will be the fact that medium format lenses are sharper end to end than 35mm lenses, and for that reason capture a better range of colors and contrast. Plus, Canon lenses themselves would have trouble rivaling the quality of any Zeiss medium format lens. This is not just because of Zeiss lenses being of superior quality, but also because medium format lenses are made with more lines of optical resolution in the glass, and have less perspective distortion than 35mm lenses.
So 35mm DSLR cameras are at an optical disadvantage from the start and I don’t see 35mm DSLR cameras ever being able to overtake digital medium format in terms of capture quality. Even an old Hasselblad 501 film body adapted to digital by employing a medium format digital back will produce sharper images than any 35mm DSLR camera yet to come, simply because of the larger physical size of a digital back’s sensor and the unprecedented sharpness of the Zeiss Hasselblad CF and CFM medium format lenses. In fact, I am concerned about the ability to capture pin sharp images with the 5DS given Canon’s current lens lineup. Perhaps only a couple of Canon’s current lenses like the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L II and the 70-200mm f2.8 L IS USM II can even resolve to a 50MP sensor. Then getting something really sharp with the 5DS shooting handheld at speeds slower than 1/125th of a second could also prove extremely challenging.
Many Nikon shooters who picked up a 36MP D800 often complained about the difficulty in getting consistently sharp images when shooting without a tripod because even the slightest bit of movement with such a high resolution DSLR, and shooting with a 35mm lens, greatly hinders image quality and sharpness. In fact, I personally know two photographers who eventually traded down from the D800 to a lower resolution Nikon DSLR body because of these kinds of issues. So with Canon’s 5DS, 50MP offering, I can only assume the challenge of handheld sharpness will be exacerbated with a resolution far greater than Nikon’s 36MP D800 and newer D810.
Beyond that, there are a few other concerns I have with the 5DS; a relatively slow frame rate of only 5F/S, making the camera fairly useless for sports shooting. Plus its limited high ISO capabilities makes it less useful for news and event photographers too. And because of its massive pixel resolution, the buffer is only capable of capturing 14 RAW files in a burst of shooting. The newer 36MP Nikon D810 is capable of capturing 23 RAW files in a burst, which is nearly double. For me personally, I am quite disappointed about the camera not offering built in Wi-Fi. If you’ve read some of my other posts on this blog you will know I am a big fan of tethered shooting with a tablet, and built in Wi-Fi would finally offer the ability to shoot tethered wirelessly. What is also a bit unsatisfying is that the 5DS will have slightly more noise at high ISO settings than the already previously released 5D Mark III, so no improvement there, in fact a bit of a step back. Nor has there been any advances made on dynamic range to the 5DS above and beyond the dynamic range capability of the existing 5D Mark III. At the moment, Sony is the leader with the highest dynamic range of any sensor manufacturer on their APS-C and full frame sensors. I was hoping the 5DS sensor would at least match up to Sony on dynamic range, but it doesn’t. For those who normally do a lot of video shooting with their DSLR, they might be unhappy to find out that the 5DS lacks a headphone jack and can only capture 30FPS at 1080HD rather than a more desirable 60FPS. But at least a very interesting automated video time lapse feature was added that can combine intervaled still shots to create a time lapse movie.
Those who will use it mainly for studio work, shoot the camera on a tripod, and with Zeiss prime lenses made for Canon 35mm bodies, will probably be quite pleased with the results when needing 50MP resolution for advertising and other forms of commercial work, but just as long as they don’t expect quality comparable to medium format digital. But if one is shooting with the 5DSR model, which has had the low pass filter removed, then it is sure to produce slightly sharper images than the regular 5DS at least. But for the amateur enthusiast, or the semi-professional who buys this camera because they think more pixels will result in better quality, they might find themselves a bit disappointed when they discover most Canon glass can’t keep up with the resolution of the 5DS’ 50MP sensor.
If you are like me though, and are simply looking forward to being able to upgrade from a 5D Mark II or 5D Mark III to something similar, but with slightly more pixels, a better auto-focus system, and possibly built-in Wi-Fi, there is still hope yet. There is talk going around the rumor mill of a 5D Mark IV still to be released around August of this year that offers roughly a 24MP sensor, faster frame rates than the 5DS, higher ISO functionality, 4K video capability, a new, more advanced auto-focus system, and perhaps all at a price handle under US$3,000. Stay tuned…
Hi Marc : Thanks so much for your very resourcefull insight. I was wrestling with more-or-less the same objections your so plainly set out !
Since I have to make the final decisions for my company’s buying (we do corporate head shots and bulk packshots), I wanted to decide on a mirrorless full-frame for the location stuff and a 645Z for the studio work. Other people (other shooter staff here) were pestering me about the new 50MP offerings from Canon.
Your argument is concise and understandable. You don’t mind in I re-iterate it verbatim ?
Thank you once more for the sharing.
Your welcome Stato and I’m glad you found my ramblings useful. Yes, please feel free to reiterate what I wrote to your colleagues.
But with a full frame Mirrorless, like one of the Sony A7 models for example, your issue is going to be Sony’s limited number of lenses for it and/or you are going to have to use other lenses with adapter rings, which is never ideal.
I hate to perhaps rain on your parade even more, but I wrote another article a while ago about “The Mirrorless Digital Camera Revolution” where I go over the concerns there too. The article was written in June of last year, but I don’t think much, if any of what I said has changed yet. Please see here if your interested: http://marcschultz.com/blog/the-mirrorless-digital-camera-revolution/
Thanks, Marc. This is a very interesting article helping to understand that best image results is not only about Megapixels.
I think that if ultimate resolution and size matters (e.g. Top of the End Commercial Productions) Medium Format is and will be the tool of choice.
I wonder which clientel Canon has in mind for this new model?
High-End-Commercial-Photographers? No, they work MF.
Photojournalists? No, they need high ISO and work without Tripods.
Sportsphotographers? No, they need high ISO and high Framerates.
Portraitphotographers with Studio? Maybe but, hey how about the missing WiFi? Resolution of lenses already there? Portraitphotographers rather use Fix instead of 24-70II or 70-200 II in most cases.
BUT maybe with a 5DMk4 some dreams come true? My dream: High ISO usability, high FR, 60fps/1080HD, built in WiFi and Geo-Tagger, Tiltable Display… Anything I forgot?
Thanks for your comments Carina. I think perhaps the 5DS is really for the photographer who is going to be shooting on a tripod most of the time, within a very controlled environment, and who is wanting more pixels and a larger file, but is willing to overlook the other limitations of the camera’s overall capabilities on ISO, frame rates, video, etc and is also willing to accept that they aren’t going to get comparable medium format image quality out of it, but only comparable medium format resolution. But for many people who don’t want to deal with 50MP all the time they will wait for something else with lesser resolution to come along. I think Canon will need to accept, even if people can live with all the shortcomings of this new body, that not everyone was wanting the challenges of working with and storing that many pixels. So they will need to come out with something else for the rest of the photographers who were looking to upgrade to something with more features but not as many pixels. I think they surely know that and why we might still see something else released from them later this year.
There is a video done here by a Canon ambassador who shows shooting the 5DS in a studio under very controlled circumstances, with clean lighting, etc and with the 100mm macro lens and he makes the point that more pixels means more detail for him and thus higher quality results. He is correct, assuming the glass is up to the task, but most people agree that most of the current Canon lens lineup isn’t suitable for the 5DS. I have 10 Canon lenses and I don’t think any of them would be up to the task of resolving all pixels sharply enough with a 50MP sensor. Personally, I think you would get a sharper image from a 30MP sensor given Canon’s current lens lineup than from the 5DS. But if you are of the belief that simply more is better, then maybe the 50MP is the right choice. Also, some people won’t be able to spend US$30,0000 for a medium format setup, even if they are needing that kind of resolution. So I guess this offers a more cost effective alternative for getting comparable resolution at least. Perhaps if Canon can put out 3-4 special new lenses that can truly resolve correctly with this new sensor, then buying the 5DS and a few specialty lenses for it would truly be a good alternative to getting a medium format setup at a lower price point. But perhaps there is also a narrow market for that kind of product. Here is the video I mentioned:
I also agree on your wish list for the 5D Mark IV, except I am not a big fan of tiltable displays. I also would like to see the two memory card slots being switched both to CF rather than having one SDHC and one CF. But it seems Canon isn’t taking that direction so far.