As a filmmaker, it’s tricky to keep track of all versions of camera models out there. Look at the famous Canon EOS 5D: there have been 4 iterations of this trusty DSLR camera, from the Canon 5D original to the Canon 5D Mark iv. While each change has definitely improved the model, there are still plenty of older models like the Canon 5d Mark iii in circulation, that could work for your needs and your budget. We previously did a review of all Canon Cameras and now we’re taking a deep dive into the world of the Canon 5D.

When the Canon 5D Mark II was released in the fall of 2008, it remade the camera equipment landscape for filmmakers. Vincent LaForet’s masterful use of the 5D  in his online short film “Reverie” sent shockwaves through the Los Angeles and New York camera rental markets.  While it was the Mark II, and thus a revision of the 5D and not even in the first in that line, most filmmaker think of this camera as the “original’ that launched the DSLR revolution for creating cinematic images with cameras that many of us could afford to rent.  It’s been a long time since the initial 5D release, with two major revisions having come out. It’s important to know which refresh you might want to rent when browsing on Kitsplit.

We’re currently up to Mark iv of this flagship camera, but the Mark iii is still commonly in use throughout the industry, and it’s good to have a handle on the history and features of these editions when making the choice of which camera rental (or purchase).


Why Did the Canon 5D Series Make a Splash?

Why did the 5D make such an impact? Because of its ability to generate 1080p HD video from it’s full frame sensor, which is 35.8 x 23.9 mm. Most video cameras before this worked with 2/3” or smaller sensors, which ended up creating a larger depth of field.  That depth of field was useful for sports and documentary work, but didn’t create the shallow depth of field imagery that filmmakers felt looked “cinematic.” The larger sensor gave filmmakers that smaller depth of field look they wanted (without resorting to complicated, hiccup prone, and price depth of field adapters).  The camera exploded into the marketplace taking over the independent film scene. It was even used early on to shoot an entire episode of HOUSE and the feature film ACT OF VALOR.

Within a few years, after witnessing the success of the still camera with filmmakers, Canon released their own “cinema line” of cameras built around larger sensors (though closer to the filmmaking size Super35mm).  They started with the Canon C100, Canon C300 and Canon C500. Because the price point of even the entry level C100 was much higher than the Canon 5D, the 5D has remained popular with filmmakers. It also maintained it’s larger sensor, giving exceptionally shallow depth of field.

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That larger sensor lead to better low light sensitivity. Larger sensors mean larger photosites. And larger photosites are capable of creating an image from smaller amounts of source photons.

As the market has changed, Canon has made it clear that they are focusing on the Cinema Line for most of their cinema features. But the revisions of the 5D have had some filmmaker friendly features that help the cameras remain popular, especially since Canon is only just recently bringing full frame to the cinema line with the C700FF, which costs north of $20,000.

The Canon 5D Mark iii Review

The second revision, the Canon EOS 5D Mark iii, rolled out in 2012 and was a huge success with filmmakers, showing up on projects like CALL ME LUCKY and KUNG FURY.  With higher ISO settings, and a new button to lock the camera into stills or movie mode, the Mark III quickly took off as the default Canon DSLR for filmmakers.  At the same ISO, Canon worked hard to reduce noise.  Even before the Mark iii, noise levels of the Canon 5D Mark ii would deliver at 800 ISO what users previously wouldn’t see until 1600. This allowed filmmakers to work in lower light situations on set without as much post noise processing.

The Mark III also added the ability to shoot slow motion at 60fps in 720p.  While 720p is considered pretty low resolution at the moment, for web video, with proper processing in post, it’s still a viable option for capturing slow motion, just don’t expect it to scale well for a cinema presentation or even HD broadcast.

The Mark III also changed the settings wheel to have touch functionality, which allowed for filmmakers to change settings mid shot without generating noise. For additional convenience, it added a new headphone port. Overall, the Mark III had enough improvements, and is now common enough and affordable enough to rent, to mostly have made the original Mark II obsolete.

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The Canon 5D Mark iv Review

In 2016, Canon rolled out the Mark IV, with a host of updates that filmmakers initially found frustrating.  To understand why, it’s important to look at the landscape and how that changed in the intervening years. Most work is still being delivered in 1920 x 1080p HD. But in the years between 2012-2016, 4k/UHD capture became more common, and the use of external monitor recorders like the Pix and the Atomos expanded greatly.

While the 5D EOS Mark iv did offer 4K DCI internal recording, it only output 1080P over the HDMI. This was a disappointment to filmmakers who had gotten used to working with their cameras tethered to something like a Shogun Inferno.  Shooting an external monocorder allows for the direct creation of ProRes files, which can create higher quality video (if the camera will put it out). But more importantly, it can save a tremendous amount of time in post production.

Over time filmmakers have come around on the 5D Mark iv.  The camera has a touch screen that allows for touch autofocus even in the middle of a shot, which can be useful when shooting solo. Canon released a firmware upgrade that allows for getting UHD out over the HDMI port, though it does cost an upgrade fee.  And even better low light performance is reported.

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Choosing between the Canon 5D iv and the Canon 5D iii

When choosing the 5D Mark iii vs. the 5D Mark iv for an upcoming project, aside from budget, your main factor will be delivery format. If you are delivering 1080p, and you aren’t going to need room to reframe in post, the Mark III can still be the right camera, especially on a multi camera or long shoot where the camera rental or purchase budget really ads up.  If you want to reframe shots in post, either for image stabilization or just to get a slightly different shot, or you are required to deliver UHD/4K, going for the Mark IV is your best choice.

There is one other major factor to think about with the Canon DSLR line, and that’s a little group called Magic Lantern.  They release firmware that allows for a camera to have more ability, and with the Canon line, they have firmware that allows for capturing raw video, which is very popular with some filmmakers. Magic Lantern breaks the warranty of your camera, so we wouldn’t recommend it, but you might see it listed in some camera rentals.  It could be something that is worth testing to see if the benefits of raw serve your needs for your project.

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