The Canon 5D Mark IV was widely criticized right from the get-go because it wasn’t what people wanted it to be. If it didn’t appeal to all still photographers because its on-paper specs were less than dazzling compared to what’s already out there, and it enraged video shooters because it was no longer a particularly good video camera. It is easy to focus on the things that the 5D Mark IV is not, but when looked at as a modern, Swiss Army knife of a working photographer’s camera, there is a lot that the 5D Mark IV gets right. It may not be the body you wanted or dreamed of, but that doesn’t take away from what the camera is: a solid, reliable piece of hardware.
The 5D Mark IV is a 30.4 megapixel camera featuring a brand new sensor on Canon’s part (this is the first 30 megapixel sensor they have made). It balances relatively high resolution with relatively good ISO performance. It’s not market-leading in either of those categories, but it does well-enough in both to be a solid choice for nearly any shooting condition. Thanks to the DIGIC 6+ image processor, the sensor offers a native range of ISO 100-32000, which can be expanded to ISO 50-102400.
By using a 150,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor, you are able to more comfortably trust the camera to capture difficult scenes. This sensor also has face detection as well as flicker detection which can ensure proper exposure in less-than-ideal lighting situations. The 5D Mark IV can also continuously shoot at a rate of 7 frames per second.
Canon also added what they are saying is the same autofocus system that exists in the stellar 1DX Mark II, High Density Reticular AF with 61 phase-detect points, with all points sensitive to f/8 and 41 of which are cross-type. The center point can function down to -3 EV for working in extremely dim lighting. Compared to previous versions, this sensor has expanded vertical coverage of 24% on the peripherals and 8% in the center in order to better track and locate subjects in the frame.
That said, I can’t say I felt like the AF was as responsive or as good as the 1DX Mark II, despite Canon claiming it is the exact same system. Yes, the 5D Mark IV does perform really well in most focusing situations, but it’s not quite as fast, snappy or accurate as the 1DX Mark II. Now, the 1DX did set a very high bar for performance and is a distinctly action-oriented camera (which the 5D Mark IV is not), so this isn’t necessarily saying that the AF is bad in the 5D Mark IV. No, it’s just not quite as good as the 1DX.
To put this in perspective, I rarely missed an focus on an exposure when shooting moving subjects with the 1DX Mark II. I did, however, miss focus on subjects at times with the 5D Mark IV. It was not “common,” but it happened.
As far as body design and features go, the 5D Mark IV has quite a few:
- A 3.2″ 1.62m-dot Clear View II LCD monitor with an anti-reflective design for easy viewing in varied lighting conditions, and its touchscreen interface can be used for intuitive touch-to-focus control (like in the 1DX) but also for general navigation and control of the menus, which is nice.
- A new dedicated AF mode selection button located beneath the rear joystick allows for quick access of commonly changed settings, and is also customizable for other functionality.
- Dual CompactFlash and SD memory card slots
- An Intelligent Viewfinder II uses a pentaprism design and when using the viewfinder, AF points are highlighted in red for greater visibility in low-light conditions, and the finder can also be configured to display a range of other shooting aids, such as an electronic level, grid, flicker detection, white balance, metering mode, AF information, and other settings.
- A Mirror Vibration Control System helps to minimize mechanical vibrations
- A built-in GPS module
- A built-in intervalometer (finally) that supports recording 1-99 consecutive frames in pre-selected intervals from 1 second to 99 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
- Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC
Look, let’s be real here: the way the camera looks, feels and operates is not much different from what you’re used to if you’ve been shooting on a Canon DSLR for the last 10 years. The body is light but not flimsy. The controls are where you’re used to finding them, and there are numerous accessory ports along the sides and front of the body. The most notable change for those who timelapse will be that the intervelometor port is no longer on the side of the camera, but now located on the lower right hand side of the body (when viewed from the front).
Otherwise, this body feels just as good as its predecessors. Consistency is good, and this body is a model of it.
Quality of Images
The Canon 5D Mark IV continues with the impressive image quality I found in the 1DX Mark II. Files are really beautiful, and 30.4 megapixels is a nice upgrade from the 5D Mark III’s 22.3.
As far as dynamic range is concerned, I was really impressed with the 5D Mark IV. Highlight recovery is really good, and shadow recovery is as excellent as ever.
For example, take a look at the blown out highlights of this image:
Now check out how much detail I was able to bring back, and this wasn’t even pushing it to the max. I just wanted to get the highlights to look “good.”
I am extremely happy with how that sky looked after raw adjustment. This is the sky my eyes saw when I took the photo, and I was able to recreate it with just minor adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw. I was honestly really surprised at how good this recovery was. I’m a happy camper.
Shadows are just as impressive. You can go from seeing basically no detail in the shadows:
And turn that into seeing the full stitching on the backpack and pants:
The best part of the dynamic range in these images is that you can get this kind of detail out of both the shadows and highlights without the issue of terrible color noise. Images just look good.
Look, I am going to spend very little time here because this topic has been beat into the ground by many others before me already: the video on the 5D Mark IV sucks. It’s fine for general usage, but anyone who considers themselves a “pro” will be nothing but disappointed. The dynamic range is poor, the crop factor for 4K is an absurd 1.74x, there are no video features like focus peaking, and the bit depth is a measly 8 which, when combined with 4:2:2 at 4K and 4:2:0 in 1080 and no clean HDMI out in 4K, leaves a lot to be desired. Yes it captures video, yes the video looks good if you nail everything in camera and don’t expect to grade in post (but can’t handle much in terms of adjustments after the fact), but it’s not a video camera.
This camera is Canon basically saying that the 5D series is no longer a videographer’s line of cameras, and that’s just something you’ll have to accept, unfortunately. Yes it upsets me, but I’m not going to dwell on it. If this is a still camera first, second, third and fourth and a video camera maybe fifth, well… then that’s how we’re going to have to look at it. That’s how we look at Nikon DSLRs, and now Canon falls into that same boat.
Dual Pixel Raw
One of the main selling features of the new 5D Mark IV is the “Dual Pixel Raw” functionality, which is a Lytro-like refocus system Canon instituted that utilizes their, aptly, Dual Pixel sensor. What it basically does is allow for very, very slight micro-adjustments to an image to fix minor back or front focusing issues. It won’t totally save an out of focus image, or if you dramatically miss focus on a shot, but it can help you dial in sharpness exactly where you want it.
At the time of this review, the ability to do this was only available in Canon’s proprietary Raw processor, Digital Photo Professional 4. This is a very poorly designed application, despite it being likely the best way to get the most out of Canon Raw files. The whole thing is based on a group of floating windows, and the way you adjust your image using the tools is just the worst out of any possible option. This is, of course, my opinion. If you like this platform, then you’re in luck if you want quick and easy access to the Dual Pixel Raw functions. But if you share my sentiments, than you will probably rarely use this function as it is a hassle to get to and then transition from it to Lightroom, Photoshop or Capture One.
At any rate, first you have to enable the camera to do Dual Pixel Raw, which is not a default setting, in the camera’s menu. After taking a Dual Pixel Raw photo, you can access the tool from the menu:
Once in there, you will be greeted with this interface:
In the upper right, you can see an option to select “Image Microadjustment” or “Bokeh Shift.” I was unable to select both at the same time, so I believe you have to do one or the other. The “refocus” feature is the “image microadjustment,” and what it does is indeed very micro. You can see a difference, but with the images I took, you more can see what it’s doing when it removes focus from an area rather than dials more into it. I guess that’s a hat tip to the aforementioned autofocus, because when I did land focus, it was always pretty perfect. Only when my subject was so out of focus that Dual Pixel Raw could not save it did I ever “miss.”
At any rate, here is a pretty clean set of examples of what the back and front options do to the image. Below I took the “Back” and “Front” refocus options to the max at each (which was 5) to compare to the original.
I know it can be hard to see, because the adjustment is so slight, but there is a difference among each of these. To better see that, I encourage you to download the original crops I used in the above example. You an get the original, the back refocus, and the front refocus at those links.
Here are three more, in the order of original, back and front refocus:
The difference is slightly noticeable on his left shoulder, where you can see the focus plane move on the pattern of his coat.
Like I said, this is all extremely slight. This is a tool you should not expect to rely on, but have as a possible option in case of a very unique situation. Even in super shallow depth of field shots, the way the refocusing tool works is so slight, you should not expect huge results.
That said, this is incredibly cool. There is no pixel degradation, no compromises to the image, nothing that would otherwise affect the photo when you use this. If this is the first step to getting some really good focus-in-post functionality, I’m all for it.
The second feature on the tool page is called Bokeh Shift, and this one isn’t there to really “fix” an image, so much as it is there to tune something to your liking. Bokeh Shift moves the perspective point slightly, but enough to adjust how light hits a subject or even how that light affects the color of an image. For example, I slid the bokeh shift all the way to the left on this photo:
And then slid it all the way to the right on this one:
You probably can’t see a huge difference, so this should help:
When looking at the images back and forth (which is what I’m illustrating in the gif above), you can see it is affecting where and how the subject is displayed with regards to his surroundings. Even the light on his chest, arm and the camera in his hand changes slightly. This is absolutely incredible, even if it has limited usage. The camera was able to capture a lot more data than you ever typically see in any photograph, and this is just Canon’s first shot at this.
Now as mentioned, I don’t know how or why I would use this, but the fact that it is there and has that much of an effect on an image is really impressive. It’s certainly worth playing around with when you use the 5D Mark IV, if for no other reason than it’s fun to look at.
Usability, Reliability, Longevity
Eventually a camera is more than its on-paper specs. It’s stuff like finding out battery life and heat dispersion is an issue, or that button placement is cumbersome, or that it has a problem writing quickly to memory cards. Things like that, which are legitimate problems on a host of top-tier camera releases lately, are things you never see written down on the specs sheet. You have to use the camera to really know.
I’ve shot multiple projects with the 5D Mark IV, including a wedding and using it as a photo booth camera. At the wedding it was my primary timelapse camera, and as a photo booth camera it was on all evening while also streaming the images to an iPad for viewing (thanks to the WiFi).
The wedding was a great place to really test how the ISO performed in real world situations. For the below shot, I was at ISO 4000:
Of course this was too dark, so I bumped up the exposure in Lightroom. This is where you can see how higher ISO affects the quality of the shadows. You can most certainly see a lot more noise here than in images taken at lower ISOs:
Another from the same lighting situation:
Now these were single frames taken from a timelapse, but you get the idea. I ran this camera all night and completed eight timelapses in that timeframe. The battery made it through six before I needed to switch it out, which isn’t too bad considering the exposure times on some of these, and the number of frames.
The ISO performance is nothing to get excited about, but it’s not bad either. As mentioned, it’s not market leading, but it’s good enough to do generally anything a working professional is going to find himself up against.
The photo booth setup was a great test of the camera’s ability to handle a stressful situation while transferring files wirelessly to my iPad via WiFi (using the Canon app).
The images all came out tack sharp and in focus, which is as much a testament to the lens as it is to the body. At any rate, the autofocus never had an issue in the booth environment.
What is perhaps the most impressive is how the camera maintained the WiFi singal the entire time, never dropped it and continued to quickly send preview images to my iPad for everyone to see. This while still taking constant images from people in the booth.
There is a lot about this camera to point at and hate on, and Canon is an easy target given their position in the market and the number of people who demand a lot of them. Though the Canon 5D Mark IV isn’t anything over the top special, it is still an excellent camera. The battery life is outstanding, the images are gorgeous, the weight and performance of the body itself are unquestionably a fit for the professional shooter, and the sheer number of things this camera can do compared to the competition is impressive.
This is a landscape, wildlife, event, wedding, concert, and walk-around camera. It can do just about anything you need it to, and handle nearly any situation well.
But there is room for improvement. Quite a lot actually. The autofocus is good, but not amazing (expectations were set very high when Canon said it was the same system that is in the 1DX Mark II). There are a lot of megapixels, but many will want to see at least 35. The video features, or rather lack there of, are incredibly disheartening. The ISO is passable but not anywhere near market-leading.
It might be enough to get Canon shooters to purchase… but it’s not enough of a camera to turn someone away from another brand. It gets enough right to forgive for those aching to upgrade their Mark III bodies, but lacks features and technical specs to impress Sony or Nikon fans (who have become used to seeing really impressive on-paper specs). Dual Pixel Raw is a neat feature, but isn’t strong enough just yet to be the main selling point. It’s cool, don’t get me wrong, and it gets me really excited for future builds of the technology… but it’s not enough yet to make me jump up and down with excitement. It’s not enough to get someone to drop a competitor’s brand.
The 1DX Mark II was the kind of body that could turn heads. The Mark IV? It’s just sitting quietly in the back of the room. It’s not as attractive as the other cameras around it, but it definitely will get the job done.