Canon EOS 5D Mark III – first impressions

Canon EOS 5D3+24-105

I went to one of my favourite local places to shoot on Sunday to test the Canon EOS 5D Mark III (from now on I will call this the 5D3 to save space) in one of the typical environments that I like to photograph in – Hartsholme Park. Half-way through the shoot I was joined by my good friend Richard Brown who has posted some of his images on his blog already, you can see them by clicking here.

I have to say that his images are very good (better than mine); this is partly due to the fact that I am way out of practice (it’s been almost a year since I did this last) and partly due to my limited focal length (105mm max), Richard had 147 to 420mm available to him (this was achieved by using his Nikon D200 with a 1.5x crop factor, a 70-200 f2.8 Mk1 VR Lens and a 1.4 Teleconverter). Richard also brought along his film Leica M4.

As usual I went early morning (around 07:45) and although the sun was up it wasn’t very bright. So I retrieved my trusty Gitzo tripod out of the boot and took this with me to the usual starting point that gives a good view of the island in the middle of Hartsholme Lake. I usually extend the tripod legs and affix the camera to the RRS ball head before I venture into the park but as the only arca-swiss plate I had was a universal one I wasn’t convinced that it was secure enough; so I assembled the tripod and camera at the lake edge. Sure enough many times during the shoot I had to (re)tighten the plate; when I returned home the first thing I did was order a dedicated one for the 5D3+grip!

As mentioned earlier the light wasn’t good, it was a cold dingy dark day and there wasn’t a whole lot of wildlife. The main purpose of the visit was to get myself somewhere to take pictures and learn better how to utilise the features available on the 5D3 beyond what I could glean from the manual. If I managed to get any usable shots this would be a bonus. As I was out of practice my hit rate was poor and as new as the camera is the exposure was thrown off by the snow (in Lightroom I need to add between 1 and 2 stops of positive exposure compensation to most of the pictures). It would have been better to do this in camera whilst at the location, I put this down to being out of practice as I should have been checking the histogram and/or looking at the “blinkies” too.

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One of the main reasons for purchasing the 5D3 was due to the Autofocus features; this camera has a number of menus dedicated to the AF systems within the camera. The first menu has a number of modes called “cases” and there are 6 of these. These are like pre-sets for the actual settings of the AF system in the 5D3. The cases that can be used are as follows:

  • Case 1: Versatile multi-purpose setting
  • Case 2: continue to focus track even when the subject momentarily moves from the AF points
  • Case 3: Focus instantly on subjects that move into the AF points
  • Case 4: Focus track subjects that accelerate or decelerate quickly
  • Case 5: Focus on subjects with erratic movement
  • Case 6: Focus on subjects with erratic movement and changes in speed

5d3-AFCases

I see Case 6 as the “birds in flight” setting and when I switched to this mode there was an improvement in the auto-focus. I have to say that it was like a breath of fresh air coming from the focusing system of mirror-less cameras to the excellent AF system in the 5D3 DSLR.

The continuous shooting speed of the 5D3 was more than satisfactory, I never once hit the limit of the buffer and the images wrote to the CF card very quickly too. I was worried that I might have to invest in some 90MBs CF cards but the 60MBs cards I have seem to be fine. I haven’t yet had to use the SD card as I only took enough shots for the CF card (there wasn’t much space left though).

In a one of those “why don’t they all do it this way?” moments, when I switched from one exposure mode such as TV to AV and back the camera remembers what Aperture or shutter speed you had set when last in that mode. Apparently this is a standard Canon DSLR feature according to Lee at LCE, I’m sure that the older models didn’t do it so maybe its only applicable for the newer cameras.

Whilst at Hartsholme when I was speaking to Richard about various types of camera and their suitability to different genres. We agreed that a quiet shutter was a key requirement for wedding shots, so I thought that I would try out the Quiet modes (single-shot and continuous). The normal sound is a definite “clack” and was just a bit louder than Richard’s D200. When the Quiet mode single-shot was enabled the shutter sound was barely audible and rivalled some of the mirror-less cameras out there; the same was true for the continuous mode too. On the subject of the shutter release button, this is the first camera I have found where I can leave it in continuous drive and get single shots when I want and continuous when I want reliably.

Enough about the camera, did I get any good shots? When I first viewed these on Sunday I was a little disappointed, reviewing them today I am much happier. There are a number of photographers out there that say you should always wait a few days before reviewing the images (within in reason especially if you have deadlines to meet).

Even in this cold weather there is a varied selection of wildlife (mostly birds) at Hartsholme Park. Most of the birds are the black-headed gulls sporting their winter plumage whereby most of the black on the head turns white. I managed to capture a few in flight as follows:

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This gull is was flying around with some food in its mouth, dropped it mid flight and then caught it again. The above pictures were quite small and cropped some-what, the following image was much closer to me so is a better photo:

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Whilst I was taking pictures, I noticed some of the grey squirrels behind me:
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I moved around to another part of the park and noticed that the Mallard ducks were congregating here:
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There was also some fighting going on:
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Once dominance was gained, things returned to normal:
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Whilst here I tried out the video feature of the 5D3 and captured this video showing the Mallards all coming to the same location, they were a noisy bunch:

At this point I noticed that the bridge had gone, with only the support poles remaining. Just as a dog-walker was reading the notice about the bridge I captured this image:
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Soon after this I went back to the main area to see Richard taking some photos, after a quick chat we both resumed taking photographs. We both noticed that around 4 or 5 Herons had taken their annual residency of the island in the middle of the lake. They were collecting twigs and other items for their nests. Unfortunately all of my shots were in vain as the Herons were too far away and the resulting images of poor quality (even with a 24MP full-frame sensor).

However the black-head gulls were a constant source of enjoyment and these weren’t too far away allowing me to capture the following images:
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Finally, I took a shot of a hole in the ice that didn’t come to much until I played with it in Lightroom to obtain the following image:
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All in all, apart from being quite cold (frozen toes and fingers) I had a enjoyable time at Hartsholme Park and lake. The tranquillity of the lake in the morning (save the noise form the birds) is a marvellous thing. Even when I am not photographing the wildlife and just enjoying what I see is something I had forgotten how much I enjoy.

The 5D3 performed very well and confirmed that I had made the right choice, all that is needed is to understand and learn the abilities of the camera and once funds allow, obtain a lens with a longer focal length. Richard has suggested hiring one of the large telephoto lenses such as an f4 600mm lens for a week.

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