Canon EOS R5 vs. Canon 5D Mark IV for photography – Part 1

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It is almost exactly four years since I did a 5D Mark IV vs 5D Mark III test and a new camera is here to make a similar comparison once again. I was able to acquire the new Canon R5 – the best Canon offering from the mirrorless world. I am used to work with 5D Mark IV (and III and II before), but for the last years I hoped the DSLR times will be over.

I will not bore you with the technical specs of the R5, I am sure you are already know that. I will point out the differences I find interesting.

Everything was tested with Canon and Sigma lenses for the EF mount using the EF-RF adapter with the Control ring. I don’t have any RF lenses. I have made over 7 000 photos so far – both for for testing purposes and for commercial assignments – and I still haven’t explored all the options and settings.

I have so many notes about various new findings and so many tests and confirmations to do with this camera, that I decided to publish a multi-part article as I will keep recognizing its strengths and weaknesses.

Finally a mirrorless

The differences between a mirrorless and DSLR are well known. Just to reiterate: You now see the actual brightness of the photo before pressing the shutter if Exposure Simulation function is on. You can turn this function off and be able to see the automatic brightness (ignoring your exposure settings). This seems to be working fairly well in the studio, although it sometimes took a second for the camera to adjust itself if you quickly raise your hand with the camera and start pointing at the model instead of the dark floor. This stopped happening lately and the brightness changes seem faster, so it might be related to some settings I changed.

Another benefit of breaking up with the DSLR is that the microfocus adjustment is a thing of the past and the focus points generally „just work“ everywhere across the image. More about focusing in the respective chapter below.

Also, you can now see the actual depth of field with fast lenses. With Canon 5D Mark IV you never really see the effect of f/1.4 lens, you are always on or above f/2.5 if you don’t replace the matte (which I tried, but is close to impossible to do it reliably and not supported by Canon at all). See my other article for details on using the precision matte on a DSLR.

Photo of the viewfinder from 5D Mark IV with 50/1.4 mounted – a bit blurry photo, sorry. But you can still see that there is not much difference in sharpness between „4“ a „5“ on the ruler and it is difficult to tell the real focus.
The actual photo taken and this is also the image you see in the viewfinder of the R5 or in the Live View of the 5D Mark IV.

The display

Articulating display, finally! The last time I had that was in Canon S2 ultrazoom camera camera in 2010… then it took just 40D, 7D, 5D2, 5D3, 5D4 and on the sixth try it is here again!

Compared to the 5D Mark IV the automatic brightness is missing, so the only option is to set the LCD brightness manually. By default it is set in the middle, which is actually really bright. Because of that I kept underexposing photos in most scenarios and have to decrease the viewfinder and the screen brightness.

Image Stabilization

It was about time too. The published CIPA figures („up to 8 stops!“) are overly optimistic. The real world values are lower (for EF lenses at least).

I tested 6 EF lenses, made well over 1 000 photos with various shutter modes (not much difference) and other settings just for this test and according to my non-scientific comparison the improvement of IS over non-IS for my hand-held photography is around 2 EV stops most of the time and sometimes close to 3.

More specifically these are the edge cases that I was able to hold so-so in my hand:

Canon 16-35/2.8L III at 16 mm: 1/13 without IS, 1/4 EV with IS, 2 EV
Sigma 35/1.4 at 35 mm: 1/40 with without IS, 1/10 with IS, 2 EV

The other lenses already contains the IS, so this is the combination of their IS and in-body IS:
Canon 85/1.4L IS at 85 mm: 1/80 without IS, 1/13 with IS, close to 3 EV
Canon 70-200/2.8L IS II at 200 mm: 1/160 without IS, 1/30 with IS, 2 EV
Canon 70-300/4-5.6L IS at 300 mm: 1/320 without IS, 1/80 with IS, 2 EV
Sigma 150-600/5-6.3 Contemporary at 600 mm: 1/400 without IS, 1/60 with IS, close to 3 EV
(with IS mode set to „Dynamic View“ in Sigma Optimization Pro software. It was worse with other settings.)

I also put the old M42-mount Pentacon 135/2.8 lens into test and the effect of the IS is again around 2 EV. You just have to set the focal length manually in the menu before using the IS.

I did some tests with the 5D Mark IV with lenses that have the IS that can be toggled on or off and the improvements were in the similar range. It is difficult to test the R5 and 5D Mark IV against each other in the blurriness as both have different resolutions.

Interesting fact: To check the sharpness with the IS It is not enough to snap a picture and zoom to 100 % in the center, where your autofocus point was. Often it might be perfectly sharp, but you need to inspect the edges, because there might be a visible amount of radial blur. Without looking at the edges I though the IS was effective for additional 1-2 stops and after I found this issue I had to redo some tests. I wonder if there are reviews where people haven’t noticed the difference in edges, so their EV values are higher.

Sharp center, but blurred edges when using the IS. Note that some other pictures were sharp in both places, so it wasn’t affected by using wrong aperture or misfocusing.

Autofocus

For me this was probably the main reason to upgrade. The general autofocus tracking, eye tracking, but even autofocus points that can be positioned anywhere on the screen, all of these work great. Almost a miracle, compared to the 5D Mark IV with comparatively so many misfocused photographs.

Automatically finding an eye somewhere in the scene, even on a distance, is amazing. It took me a while to set it properly though. I had no autofocus on shutter button, as I am used to, so originally I set my primary focusing method to be Spot AF activated by the AF-ON button and the Star button was set to activate the Eye finding focus. Worked reasonably well and I even shot a wedding with these settings and was very happy with the ease of use and accuracy, both compared to the 5D Mark IV.

However, the eye focus sometimes grabs the more distant eye. Usually you can just wait for a second (or two, three) and maybe move the camera a bit and it snaps to the correct one. Sometimes you can stop and start the AF with the focusing point over the desired eye, but with random luck. You can manually force the change of the eyes or faces, but only if you have AF5 „Initial servo AF pt“ set to Auto AND you are using the Eye AF as the main focus mode. So back to the button configuration and after trying a few different options which didn’t work I settled on having the Eye AF as the primary mode, activated by the AF-ON button. If not focusing, it is possible to switch eyes/faces using the joystick. Also, by pressing the center of the joystick in the Eye/Tracking mode the camera starts to track anything that is in the center of the display, but this very often drifts away to another part of the same object. As a quick fallback AF I registered „Shooting func.“ on the Star button, where it is possible to change a huge number of things. I only changed the AF mode (set to Spot) and AF operation (set to On) and now any time I press and hold the Star button it focuses at the center focus point. No way to move the focus point manually around the screen, but for that I can just switch the primary AF mode to Spot (the top-right button on the back and then turn the main dial), which is not an issue.

For some models the Eye AF toggles between one eye and the other at random times. Sometimes you are tracking an eye with the Servo AF and a fraction of second before you press the shutter it switches to the other eye. A bit annoying when taking portraits with 85/1.4 and these changes really matter.

There is one general catch with the AF: The dual pixels work similarly to the horizontal stripes on a DSLR autofocus point. There is a lot of them and they are sensitive, but still: If you try to autofocus on a perfectly horizontal stripes, it fails. The solution is either to move the focus point to another spot or to tilt you camera a bit. A DSLR with its cross-type autofocus points or even dual cross-type points has no problems in the same situation.

Canon R5 failing focus on horizontal stripes (window blinds), the lens went through the whole focusing range. The 5D Mark IV locked on immediately without hesitation.

The touch&drag on the main LCD to set the autofocus while viewing the scene in the viewfinder works. But I cannot use the Absolute mode, because it requires too far a reach, even in the TopRight setting. So I tried Relative mode, in which I needed to touch and drag a certain distance and the focusing starts to work after you have moved a centimeter or so. This alone isn’t the issue, but the fact that then the rectangle on the screen immediately jumps over that distance (1.5x size the rectangle itself). It is not possible to make small adjustments.

But there is always the joystick and it can move the focusing rectangle reliably and very quickly.

I will probably stop using „focus and recompose“ technique and set the focus point properly instead. This has a benefit also in the image review screen: If you use a button to zoom to 100 %, you jump to a precise spot of the actual area in focus. The zoom method was already available on the 5D Mark IV, but on the R5 it makes sense for my kind of work for the first time.

Manual focusing

I am not planning to use it very often 🙂 But there is now focus peaking (not visible very well) and another arrow-type focusing indicators (with great visibility). For AF lenses these only work when the focusing switch on the lens is set to Manual, i.e. it is not enough to just grab the ring of a full-time-manual lens and start rotating. There will be no visual helpers.

From the internet forums it seems that for old M42 lenses the arrows probably only work with chipped adapters. I tested mine with a non-chipped adapter and no arrows was presented.

You can magnify the image directly in the viewfinder to get a super detailed view. The image is also brightened in the dark compared to the real scene, so manual focusing is really easy. Even when using the 35 mm lens the zoom delivered significantly better view than I was able to get with my naked eye without the camera. The image stabilization helps too.

Dynamic range / noise in shadows

I took a picture and brightened up by +5 EV in Lightroom, which is the maximum. I also added +100 Saturation, so some differences are more apparent.

These are the detailed crops from the picture using both cameras:

The R5 is probably less noisy overall, but the gap is narrow, as the files from 5D Mark IV are brighter and more contrasty, at least in Lightroom. By increasing the brightness and contrast on the R5 the noise would be increased as well. But more importantly: There is much lower amount of colored noise. The 5D Mark IV formed green-magenta „rivers“ in the shadows, which got greatly reduced on the R5.

According to the tests of other photographers there is suspected to be a slight noise reduction present even in the RAW files. Anyway, the image is certainly more detailed compared to the 5D Mark IV and possibly a bit less noisy, even if I increase the brightness and contrast.

In case you are interested here is a shot from an even older camera, the Canon 5D Mark III:

Size, shape, grip

The R5 is slightly lighter than the 5D Mark IV, but will need the EF-RF adapter if you are like me and have an arsenal of EF lenses. With the adapter the weights are almost the same:

Canon R5 = 873 g (including the adapter with Control ring that is 126 g alone)
Canon 5D Mark IV = 906 g
(both with two cards and a mount cap)

The size is a bit different. The 5D Mark IV was wider and taller.

Also the left attachment point for the neck strap was protruding outside the camera actual body. I had a habit of placing the camera on its left side on the desk, because there was a sharp tripod plate on the bottom. However the protruding attachment was leaving small dents in the table. The R5 should resolve that inconvenience (better table desk would probably do the job too).

The Canon R5 with the EF-RF adapter is longer however, especially due to the more protruding viewfinder. A combination of the Canon EF 85/1.4 IS lens measures 18 – 18.5 cm on 5D Mark IV (depending on whether you take viewfinder into account) and 19 – 20.5 cm on the R5 with the EF-RF adapter in the middle. Might cause some issues in tighter bags.

The grip size is ok, but could have been a tiny bit larger. But that is just for me and I am 193 cm or 6’4″. For other hands it might be perfect.

The tripod hole is positioned significantly more towards the front side of the camera (as is the sensor itself), so there were no issues with the tripod plate covering the flip-out screen and disabling its movements.

Starting speed

I was worried that I will need to turn the camera off often to save the battery and then suffer booting delay. However, the R5 starts pretty quickly, so no complaints there.

Battery consumption

On my 5D Mark IV, I had the GPS on at all times, which roughly halved the battery capacity for actual photography tasks.

The R5 has no GPS, for which I am not too happy about, but it also means that the power hungry viewfinder will be less an issue.

During a wedding day I was able to get around 4 hour of shooting time and take 900 photos on a single LP-E6NH battery. And then again one more time the similar test with my old LP-E6. The difference between the brand new LP-E6NH and the old LP-E6 was about 20 % (in both time and photos), which is close to the difference in specified capacities (18 %). You can get much more photos on a charge though. During a hockey training I shot 800 photos in 45 minutes and battery still showed 70 % capacity remaining.

On the wedding I was using Power saving mode of the Viewfinder and also the ECO mode, which makes the R5 work almost like a DSLR: If you are looking through a viewfinder, everything is normal. If you move you head away, the image switches automatically to the bigger LCD display – standard behavior so far. But with the ECO mode the display dims (to about 20 %?) after 2 seconds and after another 10 seconds the display turns off. You can avoid the dimming and turning off by holding the shutter in half-pressing state. The ECO mode also isn’t active in the image review screen.

The ECO mode doesn’t work if you are connected using WiFi, even though the camera is not sending any files at the moment. You can still turn the display off manually using a predefined button (I chose the recording button for now).

The problem with the ECO mode is that it is woken up by the proximity detector under the viewfinder. This happens very often negating the advantages. For me it would be better if this was disabled. I could always wake up the camera by half-pressing the shutter or using any other button.

Simply said: The normal DSLR-like behavior would be less energy demanding and easily sufficient. It is almost possible to do that by setting an option to display image in the viewfinder only. Great, but now the menus and pictures to review are ALSO displayed in the viewfinder, which is annoying.

Considering the batteries, the LP-E6 is not sold anymore, but the in-between LP-E6N is almost 50 % cheaper, so you might seriously consider buying that. Both the N and NH can be charged in camera (not the oldest LP-E6). The LP-E6NH might be able to hold 12 fps for longer, but the LP-E6N is able to achieve that speed too if fully charged. On the other hand, my old LP-E6 was stuck at „only“ 7 fps. You are informed about the performance in advance on the LCD by high-speed drive icon (green, white or white blinking). A bit surprisingly, to get the full speed you need not only to be not connected to WiFi, but also explicitly disable the WiFi operations in the menu.

The charger is still the same LC-E6, compatible with all three types of batteries.

Changing the lens

Canon recommends to turn the camera off before removing the lens and there is a reason: If you don’t do that and just casually remove your lens, the camera doesn’t close the shutter. It acts as nothing happened and continues to use the sensor quite happily. By turning the camera off you force it to close the shutter, so changing the lens is then probably a bit less dusty experience.

I am not sure why Canon chose this approach. The 5D Mark IV turns off and close the shutter blades immediately at the moment you start rotating the lens to detach it.

The Fv mode ups and downs

When I read about this new mode I thought what a great idea! One mode to rule them all, so there will be no need to switch them. Moreover, you can have your own Custom mode derived from Fv, so all your other settings – focus mode, white balance, bracketing etc. – remain while you can virtually switch between Av, Tv and M modes just by adjusting the exposure parameters.

I use the EF-RF adapter with a control wheel and the camera itself has three more dials. There are four parameters to control – aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation – that would be a great match for those four dials!

But it works differently: One dial to choose a parameter, another dial to change it. A bit of disappointment, but you need a way to reset any parameter to „Auto“, which is done by selecting the parameter and pressing the Trash button, so I understand. (You could remap all the dials to those four parameters, but it would affect all the other modes as well.)

Ok, after the initial shock, it seemed usable.

But then came a surprise: The Fv mode doesn’t take minimal shutter speed into account (from the ISO speed settings menu). You know, when people are moving and you don’t want to use the default 1/60 s, but 1/125 s instead. Impossible. Or rather, it is doable, but only in dark places, when you explicitly set the speed and aperture and leave ISO on Auto. Not under a bright sky with big aperture lens and ISO Auto calculated to be ISO 100 and no other auto option available.

So close and yet in reality unusable for me.

BTW If you want to use the Fv as a better M mode – not so fast. Unlike the M mode, the Fv mode doesn’t show calculated exposure, so you don’t know how much under-/over- exposed your photo is.

Buttons and dials

The row of buttons near the shutter is missing and the placement of other buttons is a bit different, so I will need a bit of time to re-learn that, but I don’t find it limiting.

I already mentioned my two button configuration for autofocus in the previous chapter.

There are not too many limitations on the functions that can be assigned to various buttons. On the other hand, I am used to use the Set button to zoom images while reviewing them. This can be done, but leaves the original Loupe button with the same function and no way to change it, so there is a button wasted.

The ISO can now be changed with a new dial on the top of the back side. Cool, but it only goes down to ISO 100 and not to Auto, meaning you need the M.Fn too, to activate the ISO settings and rotate to Auto there. Another button wasted.

After pressing the shutter button, the photo is displayed on the back LCD (if you choose so), you can zoom or pan around, but you cannot switch to any other photo, similarly to any other Canon camera. You still need to press the Review/Play button, which presents you with the identical screen with the same functionality, but now with the amazing option to go to the previous photos. No revolution here.

Wi-Fi speeds

The Canon R5 supports 5 GHz connections with greater speeds. I tested both cameras close to my router and R5 was showing 390 – 433 Mbps, while the 5D Mark IV was stuck at 72 Mbps. Timing of transmission of 10 RAW files with different sizes showed 13.5 MB/s for R5 and 3.5 MB/s for 5D Mark IV, so the real-world difference is a bit smaller, but still significant. The files on Canon R5 are bigger though, but I was able to send one RAW file every 4.5 seconds.

Be ready for Part 2

So far I am happy with the new camera, although there are some random limitations that could have been sorted out in the firmware. I have a lot more to test and explore, but it will take some time. I will publish it as a Part 2 on this blog when it will be ready.

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