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Review Canon 5Ds

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With the introduction of the Canon 5DS and 5DS R, there has been mention of the new norm for resolution of an SLR camera. Even so, the number of megapixels on a sensor is not the only factor that determines the resolution. The presence of an optical low-pass filter (5Ds) or a low-pass cancellation filter (5DsR) causes a (small) decrease in resolution. The quality of the lenses used and the image editing applied (contrast, noise suppression, sharpening) also have a big impact on the impression of sharpness. Finally, it is no longer up-to-date when talking about a new norm for resolution only to look at SLR cameras. Mirrorless system cameras, like the Sony A7R2 or the Samsung NX1, weigh in as well if a resolution norm is to be set.

Of course that takes nothing away from the fact that the Canon 5Ds offers a unique combination of resolution, speed, accuracy, reliability and durability. All lenses with an EF mount that you have now will become visibly better if they are combined with the Canon 5Ds instead of a Canon 5D MK3, Canon 6D or an older Canon SLR camera. The Canon 5Ds is also ideal for landscape, architectural, fashion or commercial portrait photography.

The price of the Canon 5Ds limits the target audience to professional and capital-rich, ambitious amateur photographers (pros and prosumers). What should they expect from the Canon 5Ds? Are extra megapixels still useful?

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If you use a Canon 5Ds in the studio as a replacement for a middle-sized camera, then set it to 50 ISO.

The sensor of the Canon 5Ds offers an ISO sensitivity of 100 – 6,400, and that can be expanded to 50 – 12,800. The 150k pixel RGB+IR measurement sensor with Flicker Detection in the EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R ensures that shots can be taken with consistent and accurate exposure even under fluorescent lighting or the light of a monitor. What is striking is the modest highest ISO setting. For a full-frame SLR camera, a maximum ISO value of a quarter of a million is starting to become the norm; the Canon 5Ds goes no higher than 12,800. Given the high number of pixels on the sensor, I think that it is a good choice by Canon: at higher ISO values, the resolution of a camera drops. And the Canon 5Ds will be chosen, due to its resolution capabilities, for studio and landscape photography, which works from a tripod with the lowest ISO value. The expansion to a lower ISO value is an important plus point, which is relatively unfamiliar to many professional photographers. The combination of high resolution with the good signal-to-noise ratio of at 50 ISO ensures higher-quality, extra-natural images.

High resolution means big files, which places high demands on PC memory and storage space. Depending on the design and ISO value, 14-bit RAW files are (luckily) between 40 and 80 megabytes. For comparison: the 14-bit, 36-megapixel files from the Nikon D810 are 35 to 60 megabytes. Two DIGIC 6 processors in the EOS 5DS ensure that the enormous amount of data from the 50.6-megapixel sensor is processed quickly. That’s why with this camera, even with the big file sizes, you can still photograph at five frames per second (RAW + jpg). Great.

The high resolution of the Canon 5Ds means that even after cropping, you have sufficient resolution left over for a nice enlargement. New in-camera crop programs, with which the crop settings are visible in the viewfinder, deliver enough resolution for a perfect print at A4. With a crop factor of 1.6x, you still always have 19 megapixels available.

Custom Quick Control

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The menu structure of all Canon cameras is clear and well thought-out. With the Custom Quick Control screen on which you can adjust type, dimensions and position of the pictograms yourself, Canon does one better. The configuration of the Custom Quick Control screen is a one-time job, which some photographers will enjoy very much, because you make your own personalized menu screen with it, one with a layout that suits you perfectly. And the more familiar a camera is, the greater the chance that you’ll take great pictures with it. It may be that only a small group of photographers will actually use the Custom Quick Control screen, though, because the standard Quick menu is already very good. Even so, that small group will be extra pleased by this camera, because it suits their way of working perfectly.

Canon 5Ds vs 5DsR

Both cameras have a 50-megapixel sensor and seem in appearance and functionality to be twin brothers. But the Canon 5DsR has a low-pass cancellation filter (analogous to the Nikon D800E), while the Canon 5Ds has a traditional low-pass filter. The chance is good that you will be able to see any quality differences between the two cameras in unsharpened or very carefully edited RAW shots. The Canon EOS 5DS R is designed for photographers who want to achieve the highest possible image quality, since you will have to edit RAW images very carefully in order to reveal any differences in image quality between the Canon 5Ds and the Canon 5DsR. We asked Canon Nederland if we could test the 5Ds and 5DsR simultaneously, but there was not a 5DsR model available for us on short notice. We hope to come back to any quality differences between the 5Ds and the 5DsR when we test the Canon 5DsR.

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Canon 5Ds versus Sony A7r / A7R MK2

With the growth of the mirrorless system cameras, it seems obvious to compare the Canon 5Ds with the Sony A7R (MK2): a full-frame mirrorless system camera with the most pixels on the sensor and the option of using Canon lenses while retaining AF with the help of, for example, a Metabones Speedbooster. 

  • The Canon 5Ds has an optical viewfinder, and the Sony has an electronic viewfinder. Not everyone loves an electronic viewfinder. On the other hand, you can immediately see the effect of over- and under-exposure or the application of a creative filter (WYSIWYG), while with an optical viewfinder you first have to take a picture, and then review it on the screen. In an optical viewfinder, you do not have focus-peaking, and when photographing in the dark, you see more with an electronic viewfinder than with an optical viewfinder.
  • The Canon 5Ds SLR body is significantly larger, and, at 930 grams, nearly twice as heavy as the mirrorless system camera from Sony. The weight difference is not as large in practice, because the lenses for the two cameras will be about the same weight.
  • The Canon 5Ds has more megapixels than the Sony A7R, which in theory produces a difference of 9% in resolution when using the same lens. You do not see that with the naked eye, and any differences in the anti-aliasing applied can make the difference even smaller.
  • There are many more lenses with the Canon EF mount for sale than with the Sony FE mount.
  • The Sony A7R offers in-camera 4K video. The Canon 5Ds does not have 4K. 

Design, build quality and AF

The Canon 5Ds has a heavy, outstandingly durable body made of a high-quality magnesium alloy. The screen is big and bright, but unfortunately cannot tilt or rotate. The camera, according to the specifications, is not extra-well sealed against dust and splashwater. The large viewfinder with 100% coverage makes choosing compositions easy. The large, 8.11 cm (3.2”) Clear View II LCD screen has an anti-reflective layer in order to minimize reflections and flare while viewing pictures. The Canon 5Ds has a 61-point AF with 41 ‘cross-type’ points for reliable and fast AF performance. Moving subjects stay in focus thanks to EOS Intelligent Tracking and Recognition AF (iTR), which follows both faces and color.
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Mirror Vibration Control System for sharper pictures

The high resolution of the sensor means that every focus error is made visible. Canon’s Mirror Vibration Control System reduces blur by achieving a precise up and down motion of the camera mirror with a cam drive in order to avoid sudden stops and to dampen the noise. Focusing with LiveView delivered sharper pictures than focusing with phase-detection AF in our tests. Motion blur, caused by the photographer, is made visible by this camera like no other. When taking pictures without using a tripod, you are certain to lose sharpness if you choose a shutter time of 1/(focal length or longer). In order to be sure that you do not introduce motion blur with these kinds of pixel monsters, you are better off starting with 1/3*(focal length): With a 50 mm lens, choose a shutter time of 1/150 sec or faster.

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Canon 5Ds vs Canon 6D/Canon 5D MK3

If you compare the resolution of a 50-megapixel camera with the resolution of a ~24-megapixel camera (Canon 5D MK3, Canon 6D), fitted with the same low-pass filter, then in theory a resolution increase of 46% can be expected. Our old test set-up was not designed for measuring the resolution of a 50-megapixel camera, so we built a new test set-up. If we compare our Imatest results for the highest center sharpness of the Canon 5Ds with a Canon 24-70 mm f/2.8L II and a Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8L IS II with the highest center sharpness of the same lenses (although different copies) on a Canon 5D MK3, we find on our new test set-up 30% higher resolution for the Canon 5Ds on average. LensRentals also reported a 30% higher center sharpness for the Canon 5Ds in comparison with the Canon 5D MK3. A significant and visible improvement, but a bit less than you would expect.

APS-C or Full-frame? Canon 5Ds vs Samsung NX1

The advantage of a camera with a smaller sensor is that only the center of the image is used. That produces a sharper image in the corners if you compare a shot taken with the same field of view. That certainly applies at full aperture, but often also after stopping down two stops, even if you use very good lenses. At the same time, the difference in sharpness in the center between a camera with a full-frame sensor and a camera with an APS-C sensor is sometimes surprisingly small, despite the higher number of pixels on the full-frame sensor.


To illustrate, there are some shots below made with the 28 -megapixel Samsung NX1 (APS-C sensor) and the 50-megapixel Canon 5Ds (full-frame sensor). Both RAW shots (the sharpest from a series of 5, where we re-focused each time) are sharpened in the same way in Lightroom. The number of pixels, the contrast and the white balance of the Samsung shot (which was originally clearly cooler than the Canon shot) are adjusted to the image style of the Canon.

The shot made with the Samsung NX1, the camera with the smaller sensor and the fewest pixels (but the highest number of pixels per mm) is visibly sharper in the corners. During the test, we did not have a Canon 760D or a 750D available, but the same probably applies.

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Canon 5Ds vs Nikon D810

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The highest center sharpness of unsharpened Canon 5Ds RAW files that we have encountered in our Imatest measurements came from the Canon 5Ds with a Canon EF 70-200 mm f/2.8 USM L II (@ 70mm f/4) at 3150 LP/BH. For comparison: LensRentals found 1375 LP/BH (=2750 LW/BH) as the center resolution of the Canon 300 f/2.8 IS II on the Canon 5Ds. The highest center sharpness that we have measured for the Nikon D810 is, despite the smaller number of megapixels, 10% higher at 3450 LW/PH (D810 + Nikon 58 mm f/1.4G @ f/4). In theory, a resolution difference of about 10% in favor of the Canon 5Ds should be possible if you compare shots that are made with a 36 megapixel or a 50 megapixel sensor. But the loss of sharpness due to the low-pass filter and possible quality differences between the lenses used apparently nullify this theoretical difference if you compare unedited files with each other.

But that is of course not the whole story. A shot made with a sensor + low-pass filter has to be sharpened more than a shot made with a sensor without a low-pass filter. If we compare the sharpened shots (RAW or jpg) with each other (jpg directly from the camera, or RAW files that have been edited in the same way by Adobe Lightroom), then the Canon 5Ds does indeed do a bit better than the Nikon D810. It depends strongly on the subject, since for many shots, the difference cannot be seen.

A new Fine Detail Picture Style, according to Canon, maximizes the level of detail in jpg shots made with the Canon 5Ds sensor, so that advanced adjustment of the focus is possible without using editing software. With a Canon 5DsR test in the future, we will investigate this.

Dynamic range, color reproduction and noise

DThe color reproduction in daylight is good, as we are accustomed to from Canon. Both RAW files developed in Lightroom and the standard image style jpg files give a bit too saturated red colors, which many photographers prefer in skin tones and holiday photos. The Faithful image style produces jpg files with a more neutral color reproduction. The automatic white balance is usually sufficient, but in artificial light you can benefit by adjusting the white balance yourself instead of using the automatic white balance, which produces an orange color wash in artificial light. That does not only apply for the Canon 5Ds, but for practically all other cameras that we have reviewed to date.

 

As far as dynamic range is concerned, the glass is half-full and half-empty. Despite a larger number of pixels on the sensor, the dynamic range of the Canon 5Ds is no worse than that of earlier Canon cameras that we have reviewed. When we made the dark shots lighter, we did not encounter any banding, as with earlier Canon cameras. However, if you compare the dynamic range of the Canon 5Ds with the dynamic range of the top models from other brands, then the Canon 5Ds loses out to full-frame cameras like the Nikon D810, Sony A7R or cameras with an APS-C sensor like the Nikon D7200 or Samsung NX1. At 100 ISO, even the cameras with a relatively small sensor, like the Olympus OM-D E-M1, Panasonic GH4 or Nikon J5, were able to pretty well match the dynamic range of the Canon 5Ds.

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Video

When testing the Canon 5D MK2 for Camera Magazine, I—like many people—was surprised years ago by the video image quality and the video options of the Canon 5D MK2. Thanks to this camera, there are many professionals today who use their camera for both photos and video recordings. For them, it’s great to have just one camera with which you can take both advanced photos and video recordings, depending on the subject and the situation in which you find yourself. It also saves a lot of hassle if you do not have to take along an extra video camera. My expectation at the time was that all professional cameras would become hybrid cameras, like the Panasonic GH4 and the Sony A7r MK2.

Canon chose another path: the Canon 5Ds is a camera that is designed for photographers. Naturally, you can make 60p Full-HD recordings with it, and there is an extra connection on this camera for a microphone, but you are at the wrong place if you are looking for 4K or expanded video options.  

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If you want to get maximum resolution from a 50-megapixel sensor, then you will have to use exceptionally good lenses, like the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L MK2 (shown here) or the Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 IS MK2. We tested the Canon 5Ds with these two lenses. Combined with the Canon 5Ds, these two lenses offer a high-quality, but also big, heavy and expensive, camera set-up that you can get a great deal of enjoyment from.
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Conclusion Canon 5Ds review

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Use the list of reviewed cameras if you want to compare the Canon 5Ds with other cameras

Pro
Year:2015
Overall score:8.3
Resolution:9.9
Dynamic Range:6.9
Noise:7.5
Color:8.3
Whitebalance:6.0
Megapixels:50
Sensor:FF
Sensor magn.:0.70
fps:0
Weight (gram):845
MSRP NL (Euro):3549

Pros

  • High image quality
  • Good buffer: even with RAW + jpg, you can still take five 50-megapixel shots per second
  • Beautiful viewfinder image
  • User friendly (both camera and menu) and fits well in the hand
  • Rock-solid construction
  • Custom Quick Control screen that can be adjusted to the preferences of any photographer

Cons

  • Large files due to high resolution
  • Screen does not tilt or rotate
  • Dynamic range lags behind the competition

Extra megapixels are clearly useful. Thanks to the 50-megapixel sensor, the Canon 5Ds 50 distinguishes itself from a Canon 6D or Canon 5D MK3, which both have 60% fewer pixels available. The benefit in resolution is not only achieved with the most expensive lenses. See for example the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 STM review on a Canon 5Ds. In the center, astronomical resolutions are achieved, even with an inexpensive lens.

If you use the same lens on a Canon 5Ds or on a 6D/5D MK3, then you get an increase in resolution of about 20% in the center of the image. For practically all lenses, as a result of lens aberrations, the sharpness is in the corners is lower than in the center, and the increase there is about 10%. The difference in sharpness in the center will be seen by most photographers if the total picture is enlarged to 40 cm wide or more, but the difference in the corners will probably not be visible at that point. As far as the other image quality properties are concerned, the Canon 5Ds does not stand out relative to older Canon cameras. Nonetheless, in our list of reviews, the Canon 5Ds has the highest score for image quality in comparison with all other Canon cameras reviewed.

When comparing the resolution of the 50-megapixel Canon 5Ds (with low-pass filter) with the 36-megapixel Nikon D810 (without low-pass filter), we saw both in practice and in the Imatest measurements, no differences in resolution when we analyzed unsharpened RAW files. In theory, a resolution difference of about 10% should be possible if you compare a 36-megapixel sensor with a 50-megapixel sensor. If we compare the Canon 5Ds and Nikon D810 standard jpg shots (the factory settings), then for many shots you see no differences in sharpness between the 5Ds and the D810.

It is possible that the loss of sharpness due to the low-pass filter and possible quality differences between the lenses used nullifies this theoretical difference. That the Canon does relatively better for jpg files has to do with the low-pass filter and the sharpening that follows. Images that are captured with a sensor that has a low-pass filter (Canon 5Ds) are sharpened more than images from a camera without such a filter (Nikon D810).

It goes without saying that the Canon 5Ds lands very high in our list of reviews. Even so, the Canon 5Ds does not hold first place in our list when it comes to image quality. Due to a lower dynamic range at low ISO settings in comparison with the top models of other camera brands, the Canon 5Ds, despite the high resolution, ends up lower in our list of reviews than the top models of other brands, like the Sony A7R, Nikon D810 and Samsung NX1.

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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