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Canon 5D MK2 versus 5D MK3

Does it pay to switch from a Canon 5D MK2 to a Canon 5D MK3? Alternatively, if you are not the lucky owner of one of these two cameras, which camera is the best buy? Both questions are about whether the substantial additional cost of the Canon 5D MK3 compared to the Canon 5D MK2 is justified.

I have taken photos with the Canon 5D MK2 about 3 years and only 4 months with the Canon 5D MK3. The 5D MK2 has seen many distant places but was also used at studio photography and corporate photography. Once, this camera was used for horse races and a number of times in the reporting of concerts. The 5D MK3 has not traveled much yet and is deployed in the studio, corporate photography and making movies. Only once a concert was photographed. Lenses used on both cameras are a Canon 70-200 mm 2.8 II, Canon 70-200 mm 4.0 IS, a Canon 16-35 mm 2.8 II, a Canon 100 mm 2.8 L IS and a Sigma 150 mm 2.8 Macro.

Central to this story are my experiences, and I highlight the main differences and similarities. At the time of writing, both cameras are still available and the price difference is more than € 1,500; is the extra cost worth it?


Design camera body


At first glance, the two camera bodies look very similar to each other. If you grab both cameras, you will feel a difference immediately. The coating of the 5D MK3 is just a bit rougher and feels much more pleasant as a result. The buttons on the 5D MK3 all feel more solid and the function button on the left is locked against unwanted twisting.


Fortunately, that silly on / off switch of the 5D MK2 is replaced by a more convenient one, surrounding the function button. However, you never have to turn off a Canon, is my experience. Even keeping it switched on for a prolonged time does not reduce the battery capacity. For the switchers from MK2 to MK3 among us, it is useful to know that the same battery is used.


A major improvement is that two memory cards can be used simultaneously now. Canon claims that the 5D MK3 is sealed better against (splash) water. My 5D MK2 has not perished in snow, desert sand and jungle. I cannot mention anything in this area concerning the MK3 5D yet.


 Canon 5D MK2 versus Canon 5D MK3

Canon 5D MK2 versus Canon MK3

More is changed on the camera body than you initially see. Little things are a bit better and due to the other feeling that the grip and buttons give, the Canon 5D MK3 feels more professional. This is reinforced by the possibility of two memory cards.

The back and the menu


At the back of the camera of the 5D MK3, we come across a few important changes. I will not name them all, but it is still quite the list:

Screen. The display of the MK3 5D is 28% larger

Q key. It activates the big screen on which you can see the main settings at once. These can easily be changed. We know this button from many other cameras

Rate key. It allows to rate your files with stars.

Magnifying key. If you press that button, the image is instantly magnified and in the menu, you can set how strong the magnification is. Conveniently, it immediately zooms to the point where you have focused

Picture Style button. With this button, you can view and compare two images on the screen simultaneously. You also use this key for HDR photography

Video button. With this (not with the function button like on the 5D MK2), you activate video mode. With the 5D MK2 I have not made movies, with the MK3 5D I have. Both cameras cannot focus while filming; the Canon 650D does have this possibility


Apart from the buttons, the menu is rearranged; the tabs work very well organized. If you are used to a 30D, a 40D, or 50D, you can quickly cross over to the 5D MK2. You have to get used to some things at the MK3 5D, but the menu will turn out to be clear.

Finally, there is an adjustable grid in the viewfinder, which reminds me of the Nikon F100 of last century.




 Canon 5D MK2 versus Canon 5D MK3


Canon has scrutinized the menu; the MK3 5D’s menu is more accessible and therefore easier to operate than the menu of the 5D MK2. However, speed is gained at another point too. Part of the camera functions has to do with watching and evaluating the digital files. In this area, you can work faster with the MK3 5D than with the 5D MK2. You can decide more quickly whether a file may need to be saved or discarded. In the editing time when many files need to be assessed, think of a wedding coverage, this saves time.

The shutter and the number of frames per second


The Canon 5D MK2 was sold more as a landscape camera and studio camera than as a sports camera. That has to do with the limited maximum number of frames per second and with the autofocus performance.

The Canon 5D MK3 shutter sound has increased slightly compared to the 5D MK2. However, if you put the 5D MK3 in silent mode, the MK3 5D is suddenly turned into a silent camera. The number of frames per second has increased from just 4 to 6. Another improvement is the shutter lag, which has been shortened.




 5D-MK2-versus-MK3 0120-3


The MK3 5D feels very different from the Canon 5D MK2. It seems that the camera is much faster and that the time, in which the viewfinder is dark, is shorter. I have unexpectedly often used the silent mode, not only in concert photography but also in the studio. I find communication with the model important, and so I do not want to have too much noise around my head.



Much has been written about the AF performance of the Canon 5D MK2. Briefly: the 5D MK2 is just a 5D Classic with regard to AF, which on its turn was a somewhat heated and enlarged Canon 30D. I have learned to live with the performance of the Canon 5D MK2. With the Canon 70-200 4.0, I had more failures than with the Canon 70-200 2.8 II. The number of "keepers" went up more when I started to use the central AF field only. Nevertheless, that meant that almost every photo had to be reframed.


 AF fields Canon 5D MK2

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AF fields Canon 5D MK3




The Canon 5D MK3 has no less than 61 AF fields and not 9 AF fields such as in the case of the 5D MK2. Conveniently, those 61 AF fields are spread over the viewfinder much better. During taking the accompanying photo, the AF field is chosen exactly on the plane between the two hands. It is clumsy that the selected AF field is not red-rimmed; visibility could have been better.

Our AF rate measurements show that the Canon 5D MK3 needs 40% less time than the 5D MK2 when focusing from 15 meters to 1.5 meters, using a Canon 70-200 mm 2.8 II as lens.




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This picture is taken with a Canon 5D MK2 combined with a Sigma 85 mm 1.4. It is a studio recording and the camera struggled to focus on the eyelashes. The central AF point was used.

Canon 5D MK2 versus Canon 5D MK3

This picture was taken in the studio too, now taken with a Canon 5D MK3 with a Sigma 150 mm 2.8. lens. There was hardly any hunting of the AF system despite the difference in luminosity of two stops!

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This action photo was taken with the 5D MK2; some bits were cropped in the editing phase. Continuous focus gave no good result, single image; using the center AF field gave sharp images. The lens used was a Canon 70-200 mm 2.8 II.


Canon 5D MK2 versus Canon 5D MK3

The Canon 5D MK3 is capable of following moving objects, in this case cars with a speed of 80 km / h. Here, the central AF field was used and the frame rate was six frames per second. You can see that the camera recovers quickly after another car comes through it. Again, I used Canon’s 70-200 mm.


The AF system of the 5D MK3 is of great class and the number of failures by a malfunctioning AF is very small. Even in low light, think of concert photography, I have very few failures. In addition, it is very handy that you can select one of the many fields AF very precisely and use it. The MK3 5D can be used in many sports, the 5D MK2 only in checkers or chess.

Image quality, our data


Both cameras are tested and the summaries in a score are listed below. Put carefully , upgrading from a 5D MK2 to a 5D MK3 means going from a good to a very good camera.


 Canon 5D MK2

 Canon 5D MK3

Image quality, in practice


To get straight to the point, there are very few pictures of which you can see whether it is taken with a Canon 5D MK2 or a Canon 5D MK3. At higher ISO values, you see less noise at the 5D MK3 and the difference is about one stop. You can now make an A3 + print with a 6,400 or possibly 12,800 ISO file.

The impression I have is that the illumination at high contrasts is easier with the 5D MK3; I need to worry less about clipping the highlights. To find out whether this is due to an improved light measurement system or due to a little higher usable dynamic range, see our measurements results of Imatest, it does not interest me much.

 AH-9999 51-zww

The difference in image quality between these two cameras is small. Only at higher ISO values, you see differences, these amount to about one stop. Practice also shows that you are less bothered by clipping at high contrasts with the MK3 5D, which means you can often blindly rely on the light meter of the MK3 5D.


When you look at the images taken with a Canon 5D MK2, you conclude that the Canon 5D MK2 is a fantastic camera: relatively low noise and you only rarely have to adjust colors while editing. If you often use a camera at higher ISO values, from 1,600 ISO, the Canon 5D MK3 offers benefits; you gain roughly one stop. Perhaps more importantly, the 5D MK3 can deal with high contrasts better than the 5D MK2.

If you have worked with the Canon 5D MK3 some time, the 5D MK2 comes across a bit archaic due to the many extra features and minor enhancements. A grid in your viewfinder is very useful and the choice of 61 well-functioning AF fields ensures that the chance on a sharp picture is greatly increased. Moreover, you save time when viewing files on the Canon 5D MK3 camera.

In short, the gain in image quality is low, the probability of successful shots has increased considerably depending on the type of photography and processing time has decreased. For many people, the substantial additional cost of the Canon 5D MK3 compared to the Canon 5D MK2 can certainly be recouped!

See our list of tested cameras to compare the performance of these cameras with other cameras. For further reading, see our Canon 5D MK2 and Canon 5D MK3 reviews.

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