March 2nd, 2012

The 5D Mark III – Canon ditches line skipping, offers a headphone jack, and adds new DIGIC 5+ processor

Posted By Neil Matsumoto

Canon announces the highly anticipated EOS 5D Mark III

Around the world, even people who have no association to the filmmaking community are well aware of the Canon 5D Mark II – a landmark camera that has changed the production industry like no camera before it. Even before Canon knew what they had, professional cinematographers began to flock to the video-enabled DSLR to create cinematic images with the 5D Mark II’s VistaVision-sized sensor. Once the 7D was released, DSLRs began to spread like wildfire creating a filmmaking revolution, led by shooters like Shane Hurlbut, ASC and Vincent Laforet and helped by filmmaking blogs and social media. The question became, why go to an expensive film school when you can create and exhibit professional looking movies for next to no money?

Even though Canon has dominated the indie filmmaker camera space for many years, the marketplace is evolving. Video cameras like the Sony F3 and FS100U, RED Scarlet and Panasonic AF100 were released as a result of the 5D Mark II. Canon recently launched Cinema EOS with the C300 being their first large sensor professional video system. To make things even more interesting, Nikon has announced two DSLRs, the D4 and D800, that I believe will give Canon a run for its money and possibly create a rivalry between the two camera manufacturers once again.

Let’s put it this way: for Canon, the update to the 5D Mark II had to be big. So is it?

The 5D Mark III contains a new 22.3-megapixel full-frame Canon CMOS sensor

The 5D Mark III

After patiently waiting for more than 3 years (the 5D Mark II was released in Sept. of ’08), Canon has finally announced the long awaited successor to the landmark 5D Mark II.  The 5D Mark III contains a 22.3-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and a new high-performance DIGIC 5+ imaging processor.  It’s the 3rd full-frame camera in the EOS line, sandwiched between the 5D Mark II, which will still be available, and their new flagship DSLR, the 1D X. For still photographers, it has a new 61-point AF system, which dwarfs the 5D Mark II’s 9-point, and can capture 6-fps, compared to the Mark II’s 3.9-fps. What’s also impressive is that the ISO ranges from 100-25,600, which is two stops higher than the standard range on the Mark II. In essence, ISO 25,600 on the Mark III will be in the same ballpark as the Mark II’s 6,400. Pretty impressive.

True Motion Pictures

But this is HDVideoPro, so we must talk video. At first glance, the 5D Mark III’s specs do not jump off the page. Breakthrough technology would have been 4K and RAW motion capture but at the moment, no DSLRs have that capability. What I think the 5D Mark III adds are subtle yet significant adjustments and features that experienced DSLR filmmakers will truly appreciate, which include better noise reduction, longer recording times and more audio control. The 5D Mark III has virtually the same motion capture features as the $6,000 1D X. It captures 1080p Full HD at 24p, 25p, and 30p: 720p HD recording at 60 and 50-fps; and even SD recording at 30 and 25-fps. You you can capture up to 30 minutes across multiple 4GB files. In terms of memory, the camera accepts Compact Flash Type 1 and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. So far so good, but you’re probably not blown away yet, right?

The Sensor and DIGIC 5+

So here’s where the “Wow” factors start to happen. The 5D Mark III’s new full-frame CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5+ processor is what experienced 5D Mark II and 7D shooters will really focus on. The sensor has a new gapless microlens design, a new photodiode structure and improved on-chip noise reduction. An eight-channel readout doubles the speed of image datea throughput from the sensor to the DIGIC 5+ processor, which gives you a much cleaner signal for better image quality.

The greatest thing to know about this camera is that line skipping is no longer implemented for video capture. Yes, you heard that right! Nasty color artifacts and moiré patterns, mainly due to line skipping, has been an Achilles’ heel for most cinematographers and filmmakers. On the 5D Mark II, because of the size of the full frame sensor, line skipping was the only way to get a reading off the sensor to downsample to 1920 x 1080. According to Canon’s Technical Advisor/Professional Engineering & Solutions Chuck Westfall, the DIGIC 5+ processor is 17 times faster than the DIGIC 4  so the Mark III doesn’t need to employ line skipping, thus obtaining a much cleaner signal for motion capture. But remember, just because there is no line skipping, it does not mean that the camera will be devoid of all artifacting or moiré. Unlike say, an Canon XF300/305, which has a native 1920×1080 chip, the 5D Mark III still has to downsample down to 1920 x 1080 from it’s 22-megapixel sensor. But still, the removal of line skipping for video capture should be a huge improvement to perhaps the system’s biggest flaw.

For filmmakers, perhaps the best new aspect of the camera is the elimination of line skipping

For most Canon 5D Mark II and 7D users, one aspect of the camera that many of you are aware of are native ISOs. For Canon DSLRs, it’s been determined that the native sensitivity is ISO 160 with the native ISOs being doubled when you apply gain (160, 320, 640, 1280, etc.). What’s most intriguing is that DSLR shooters have observed that the 1/3 stops between the native ISOs appear to perform worse than it’s higher native ISO, i.e., a cleaner picture at ISO 320 than 200 or 250. The camera has a native sensitivity at roughly ISO 160 and the other ISO values that are calculated from that essentially apply a “digital pull” along with the various gains the amplification circuit is producing. According to Westfall, since no full production models were currently available, it’s undetermined whether or not the Mark III has this. We’ll be sure to investigate this as soon as we obtain a review unit.

Sound Control

Along with line skipping, audio has been another workaround for DSLR filmmakers. Like the Nikon D800 and D4, Canon is offering both a stereo mic (mini jack) input and headphone jack. You also have greater manual audio level control with 64 levels, which is very impressive. The latest RØDE Stereo Videomic Pro would be a great solution if you need to capture basic audio on location but if you’re working on a professional production, you’re still going to want to shoot dual system. But I’m still waiting for a DSLR with an XLR input. Although it would up the price because of the added electronics, I’m sure this is a feature most DSLR users would be willing to pay for. Maybe next time.

New Compression Formats

One new key feature for filmmakers is that the 5D Mark III (and 1D X) uses two compression formats: intraframe (ALL-I) and interframe (IPB). Intraframe has less compression and is better for editing because each individual frame is compressed by itself rather than rendering frames like you would from a typical compressed video stream. Since it’s a variable bit rate, the range, according to Westfall, is in the “40s”, which is similar to the bit rate of a 7D. Keep in mind that the file sizes will be much bigger but with the cost of memory cards and storage coming down, intraframe is the format you’ll probably want to use on professional productions.

IPB compression uses algorithms to compare the frame before and after to gather up information. Because it’s looking at essentially three frames at a time, it ups the compression, but enables the file sizes to be smaller. For most users capturing both stills and video, IPB is definitely a great way to go.

The 5D Mark III also lets you capture two SMPTE-compliant timecode embedding – Free Run and Rec Run. Recording hours, minutes, seconds and frames, you’re now able to record much needed timecode for both multicam and single camera shooting. A great added feature for filmmakers.

The 5D Mark III has a new 3.2" LCD screen with 1,040,000 dot resolution

HDMI Features Fall A Little Short

Sounds great so far, right? Indeed. But with improvements in the chip and imaging processor, there’s one feature that may have made the Mark III an absolute must-have camera, which is a clean HDMI output. The Nikon D4 and D800 both feature a clean HDMI feed that enables you to output 8-bit 422 files – although not uncompressed like many have stated – instead of H.264 files. Using a digital recorder in tandem would make the camera more like a professional video system. Yes, you still need to purchase an extra device but a recorder like the Atomos Ninja, which can record ProRes 422 files is selling for only $1,000. And the Ninja can also function as a monitor and playback system as well. (Soon I’ll be doing a comparison between H.264 AVC and ProRes 422 files.)

Speaking of the the HDMI feed, another feature that Canon has not fixed is the ability to view both the LCD screen and an external LCD or EVF when output via the HDMI port. The LCD still gets knocked out when the HDMI is engaged. This makes it touch if you have both a camera operator behind the camera and a focus puller standing next to it.

But one piece of good news is that there are improvements to the 5D Mark III’s LCD screen, which features a new 3.2-inch Clear View II LCD screen with 1,040,000 dot resolution – an improvement over the 5D Mark II’s 3.0-inch, 920,000 dot resolution.

Pricing & Availablity

The 5D Mark III will be available at the end of March and will be priced at $3,499, which is approximately $500 more than the retail price of the D800. The same kit lens is available as the Mark II kit (EF24-105mm f4L IS USM) and the price of that kit is $4,299. When you look at the price of the F3, Scarlet and C300, the 5D Mark III is almost a third of the price. Although it’s still not a video camera per se, $15K-plus prices out most filmmakers in terms of ownership so I’m positive the 5D Mark III will be a huge hit.

Although it’s not a perfect camera system feature-wise (no camera is), it looks like the 5D Mark III is a solid update to the 5D Mark II. The line skipping removal and two stop improvement are terrific new features that will greatly enhance motion picture capture for filmmakers. Look for a future hands-on review of the camera in an upcoming issue of HDVideoPro.

For sound, the 5D Mark III now offers headphone jack, the first EOS DSLR to offer one

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