Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Review

Scenes from the Pacific Northwest expose the versatility of the latest Canon EOS 5D series DSLR
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Review - Bandon Beach
Stars and early morning light on Bandon Beach, Oregon. In extremely low-light situations, the 5D Mark IV’s ISO capabilities expanded my photographic options, as demonstrated in a pre-dawn image using a 30-second exposure at ƒ/5.6, ISO 6400. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens at 24mm.

Before a new camera is announced by Canon, it is quietly vetted by a few photographers—typically among the group known as Canon Explorers of Light—whose work is particularly relevant to its capabilities. This period of intense field testing by the professionals allows for late-production tweaks. Next, a few pre-production cameras are assigned to some of the Explorers so that they can capture a variety of images for the camera’s initial promotion. And that’s where the fun starts.

In the months preceding the release of Canon’s new full-frame DSLR, the EOS 5D Mark IV, I was fortunate to be involved in both aspects, evaluating the initial configuration and producing marketing images from the perspective of an outdoor and nature photographer. In a very short time, I needed to master and test all the new features offered by the 5D Mark IV and capture images that demonstrated their application. It was a busy few weeks!

I’m fortunate to have many outdoor subjects available to me here in central Oregon, but to expand the possibilities, we headed first to the southern Oregon coast and then to the premiere landscape locations in Canada’s Banff and Jasper National Parks. My early take on the 5D Mark IV was that it would be an excellent “utility” camera with significant improvements over its predecessor, the 5D Mark III, and with additional features that bring it close to the high-resolution landscape capabilities of the more expensive EOS 5DS and 5DS R, and the wildlife capturing abilities of the flagship EOS-1D X Mark II. Now that I’ve spent several weeks with it, here are my observations.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Review - Full Frame Sensor
The 30MP full-frame sensor in the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV features improved dynamic range.

Full-Frame Sensor

The 30MP full-frame sensor really shows its worth in both landscape and macro applications. Scenic photography locations in both Oregon and in the Canadian Rockies afforded excellent opportunities to test the higher-resolution captures, leading to cropping options and larger prints. Increased resolution also improved the sharpness of macro captures. But note that achieving the full potential of all those pixels depends on employing quality lenses at their optimum settings and mitigating camera movement by using a tripod. A feature that helps in this regard is a new shutter mechanism that reduces mirror bounce and is quieter than previous shutters.

I’m pleased with the improved dynamic range of the sensor in the 5D Mark IV; it’s evident in an image of a small waterfall located near the Oregon coast. The sunlit bubbles are very bright, and to keep from blowing them out, I had to underexpose much of the rest of the image, so the original RAW capture doesn’t accurately convey the tonal range of the scene. But the information is there, and it was revealed by two post-processing shadow-opening applications, once in the initial Camera RAW process, and then again in Camera RAW as accessed through the Filter menu in Photoshop CC 2015.5.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Review - Waterfall Unprocessed
The exposure of the original capture of a small waterfall as shown in this RAW file accurately rendered the white bubbles at the base but left the rest of the scene in shadow. Canon 5D Mark IV (pre-production model) with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 100mm. Exposure was 1/1500 sec., ƒ/13, ISO 800.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Review - RAW Processed
After two passes through Camera RAW, shadows are opened and colors revealed, demonstrating the excellent dynamic range of the 5D Mark IV’s full-frame sensor.

ISO Capabilities

Each new camera brings us improved low-light capability, and the 5D Mark IV’s performance in this area rivals that of Canon’s best, the EOS-1D X Mark II. In addition, I can reliably use ISO 1600 as a standard setting when I need faster shutter speeds and/or more depth of field. That’s not to say that I don’t use lower ISOs for optimum quality when possible, but having these options is liberating when it comes to capturing the image that I want. The 5D Mark IV has an ISO range of 50 to 102,400, but in reality we seldom go beyond ISO 6400 in day-to-day photography.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Review - ISO Capabilities
Two different renditions of the same composition demonstrate the creative uses of expanded ISO capability. The image on the left is a long exposure, emphasizing the flow of the water and highlighting trails. An exposure of 1/15 sec. at ƒ/16 was possible at ISO 100. The image on the right is a very short exposure, intended to freeze the water’s action with maximum depth of field. The necessary exposure of 1/8000 sec. at ƒ/16 was achieved at ISO 3200 without sacrificing image quality. Both examples were captured with Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM.

Autofocus

The quality components of autofocus include how quickly it works, how well it works in low light, and, more recently, autofocus capability in video capture. The Canon 5D Mark IV has the same autofocus working parts as Canon’s top-of-the-line action camera, the EOS-1D X Mark II, so its autofocus speed and sensitivity down to -3 EV are as good as any Canon camera made. Sixty-one AF points cover a large part of the sensor area (slightly more than the 5D Mark III’s), and the information displayed in the viewfinder is extensive, customizable and easy to read. The 5D Mark IV also allows full AF with most lenses to ƒ/8. This is very important to those of us who occasionally employ a tele-extender that limits us to a maximum aperture of ƒ/8. I often use the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens with the Canon Extender EF 1.4x III (140-560mm at ƒ/8).

There are some interesting autofocus features in the 5D Mark IV that are shared with the 1D X Mark II. One of these is the ability in Live View to touch an area of the image on the rear LCD to focus to that point. It can be programmed so that the touch of the LCD screen actually takes the picture. The rear LCD on the 5D Mark IV is an improved 1.62 million-dot 3.2-inch screen (the 5D MK III has a 1.04 million-dot LCD) that helps to check focus, edit images and, in video, monitor what the camera is capturing.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Review - AF Performance
Canada geese rise from a lake in Alberta’s Jasper National Park. These were captured using the 5D Mark IV and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens with the Canon Extender EF 1.4x III at 420mm. Even with the tele-extender added, the 5D Mark IV’s full AF operating system was in play. An exposure of 1/750 sec. at ƒ/13 was employed at 1600 ISO.

Speed

The 5D Mark IV has a maximum capture rate of 7 fps, one better than the 5D Mark III, and clearly sufficient for most wildlife photography. It’s also important to note that 21 RAW frames can be captured before the buffer fills and the camera comes to a halt. That’s pretty good considering each RAW frame is from a 30MP sensor. If you switch the capture format to large JPEGs, the duration is limited only by the space available on the recording media. There are slots for one CF card and one SD card.

Video

The 5D Mark IV builds on the video prowess that began with the 5D Mark II by now adding 4K video (4096 x 2160) and excellent Dual Pixel CMOS AF video autofocus. Following a subject, such as fast-moving kayakers or whitewater rafters, is very easy, and attention can be paid to the composition of the capture instead of where the focus is. I have used this feature extensively on the EOS 70D and 80D with great results, and it’s even better on the 5D Mark IV and the 1D X Mark II. Full HD video (1920x1080) is available at frame rates from 23.98 fps to 59.94 fps, and if you’re looking for slow motion, 120 fps at 1280x720 is possible. Both MOV and MP4 video formats are supported.

When capturing 4K video, there’s a 1.74x crop factor as compared to the still format. This can be helpful or not, depending on your subject selection. If you need wide-angle for landscape it’s a hindrance, but if you’re after wildlife, it’s a bonus, because it gives a 400mm lens the angle of view of a 696mm lens. I will be using this to my advantage next spring when I take up the bald eagle nest video project once again. A 1600mm lens (EF 800mm with a 2x Mark III extender) becomes a 2,784mm ultra-sharp optic to capture the small eaglets from 200 feet!

Note that recording 4K video is possible only if you use a fast enough CF card (UMDA 7-compliant with sustained write speed of 100MB or faster) or an SD card UHS 1 (speed class U3 or higher). Unlike the EOS-1D X Mark II, the inability to use a CFast 2.0 card limits the 4K video capture in the 5D Mark IV to 30 frames per second.

4K Video Frame Grabs

As with the EOS-1D X Mark II, individual 4K frames can be isolated (grabbed) and used as still images on the web or printed page. An 8.8MP file of excellent quality can be selected in-camera from a video clip and saved as a JPEG file, or the selection can be performed in post-capture software. The reason this capability is so revolutionary is that it is similar to having a motor drive capturing at 30 frames per second!

If generating frame grabs is a likely purpose of your video capture, it’s important to use a fast shutter speed to make sure that every frame is sharp. Going to a smaller aperture and higher ISO will also ensure sharper results with additional depth of field. I usually take short clips with frame grabs in mind and then use these as potential stills, because the settings that yield sharp stills are not conducive to quality video. Normally a shutter speed of 1/60 sec. is used for video capture; when we use a fast shutter speed, such as 1/500 sec. or even the top shutter speed for video of 1/4000 sec., the result is choppy video.

For detailed information about the 4K frame grab process, see my illustrated tutorial at the Canon Digital Learning Center: learn.usa.canon.com/resources/articles/2016/lepp-4k-frame-grabs.shtml.

Built-In WiFi

This feature wasn’t on my wish list before I started using the 5D Mark IV, but now that I have the camera I think it’s useful. It’s not that I want to send photos from my camera to social media, because I don’t. It’s the ability to use the Camera Connect app on my smartphone. The well-thought-out app allows you to view images from the camera, see what the camera is seeing in Live View, and control the camera without touching it. The camera can be fired remotely from a distance of up to 100 feet or more in my field tests. This eliminates the need to purchase a remote cable or other wireless transmitter, which could cost over $100.

GPS

This is another feature that I didn’t know I needed. I have the camera set to record GPS locations whenever it is turned on (Mode 2). You can set it to be on all the time (Mode 1) to record the track of the camera as it moves, but the battery drain is just too much. I used this feature during two intensive days of photographing many waterfalls along the Banff/Jasper Ice Fields Parkway. Using the GPS info, I was later able to properly identify every location. This is a feature I will definitely put to use in the future.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Review - Touchscreen LCD
The LCD on the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is a touchscreen, allowing you to more easily navigate menu items, review images and zoom in to details with intuitive gestures.

Touchscreen LCD

Generally considered to be a feature for amateur photographers, the touchscreen hasn’t been included on cameras intended for advanced users until the 5D Mark IV. In fact, the touchscreen can be very useful and makes it faster to change the camera’s settings when in the field or studio. Hopefully the folks at Canon now know we all like it!

Built-Ins

The 5D Mark IV has a useful movie time-lapse mode, an intervalometer, HDR and multiple exposure capabilities built in. Someone was listening.

Size Matters

Lastly I’ll mention weight. The 5D Mark IV weighs 31.39 ounces with cards and battery. This is actually 2 ounces less than the 5D Mark III and 22.58 ounces less than the EOS-1D X Mark II. When you consider working outdoors, in the field all day with a camera hanging on your neck, 1.4 pounds is a difference that matters.

It’s A Keeper

These are some of things I found worthy of note in the new EOS 5D Mark IV while using it intensively and almost exclusively for Canon and in preparation for this article. It’s a welcome addition to the 5D line of Canon DSLRs. So just how important is it for nature and wildlife photographers? Well, my very own 5D Mark IV arrived last week, and I’ll be going forward with it as my general-use camera, while looking to my EOS-1D X Mark II and 5DS R to address more specific applications where speed, or resolution, are the most critical factors. The 5D Mark IV’s quality, versatility, utility and ease of handling all add up to a valuable asset for outdoor photographers, and the additional capability of 4K video frame grabs is a major game changer.

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.

3 Comments

    I am curious: RE the Bandon Beach shot: I have visited Bandon, Oregon about 4 times at different times of the year over the past 15 years, and just want to know in which direction the camera shot is directed? west, north, east or south. Because this shot feels a bit wrong for morning with lights in the far horizon! unless you are on a boat, but naw the shore is in the pic? Were you on an small island off shore? Or the lights seen on the horizon from the north Bandon Beach almost near the spit to Coos Bay? Can anybody clue me in please?

    Kelly: Here’s my best guess. George took the image when there was barely any light showing in the morning sky and got some definition in the clouds. He shot from land and the primary light is a strong onshore light, say from a nearby motel. He is looking west out over the pacific and caught small light domes from ships at sea. The overall sky was dark enough for the stars to show clearly. Charles

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