This is a real world review for the Canon 5D Mark IV. Not an “I’ve been shooting it for a week and here are my impressions” piece or an unboxing or anything like that. A full on “I’ve been using this camera since before Lightroom even supported the RAW files which meant at some point early on, I attempted to find a way to edit the files before it was possible it a la a 90s-hackers-in-a-montage” kind of review. I’ve had it for over 3 months now and I’ve shot 13 weddings, 14 sessions, and over 70,000 photos with it (check your judgement at the door, son.). Some of us are unnecessarily early adopters, but if you’re one of the far more reasonable people who will wait until something expensive has been out for a while and then decide to upgrade (I’m assuming you, if you’re reading this), then this review is for you.
For the purposes of this review, I’ll mostly be comparing the 5D Mark IV to my experience shooting extensively with the Canon 5D Mark III and I also bring up the Nikon D750 a bit for those who don’t bask in the glory of L series lens god (praise be). I also shot with the D700 full time before switching to Canon in 2012, but I won’t be talking about that at all. Except for that part. But that’s it!
THE CAMERA, THE LEGEND
The Canon 5D Mark IV and the III look almost identical. If you felt at home with the 5D Mark III, this will be like your home in a parallel universe where everything is exactly the same except for a few extra ports and a new custom button above the wheel that I never knew what to do with so I ignored it. Also, in this universe, everyone eats lasers and there are pudding seas.
Most of the changes have happened inside the camera, though. Higher ISO capability with less noise, 4K video (kind of), Dual Pixel RAW, 7 frames per second vs the 6 FPS the III had, GPS tracking, a phoenix feather core (which is a great improvement over the dragon heartstring), etc. You can look it up. It’s a long list of tiny technical changes and I won’t be going into most of it.
Yes. Just yes. This camera is phenomenal. I don’t know if Canon will ever bless us with the same 3-D style tracking that you can get on the more advanced Nikon cameras, but if you’ve been suffering from autofocus woes where culling your photos kind of means picking the ones that are actually in focus, then this will be your godsend.
Poor autofocus has been my complaint with Canon since switching over from the D700 four years ago. The AF on the 5D Mark III just isn’t great. It’s usable, but not great. Last year, I was getting so annoying with my miss/hit ratio at receptions (yes, even with the AF assist beam in AI focus) that I began shooting dual bodies with the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D750. The D750 autofocus is definitely better than the 5D Mark III in low light, but still not as reliable as I know the 5D Mark IV to be now. The 5D Mark IV autofocus has improved so much that I legitimately couldn’t criticize it if I tried. Soon my auto focus woes will be a distant memory. Like the plot of all Brendan Fraser movies and my recollection of the state capitals.
A rebuttal for the inevitable comment of “MY Canon has never given me any problems with autofocus.” Short story time – in high school, my first car was an 88 dodge caravan with a crappy engine and I knew how to make it run; “to get up this hill, just turn off the AC and floor it” OBVIOUSLY. But driving a normal car that functioned like cars should made me realize what a dangerous crap-on-wheels I owned. And THAT’S kind of what it’s like to shoot Nikon vs. Canon. I said it. As a Canon lover, I feel like I can say that, right? But it’s true. Once you’ve shot an a camera that is ungodly reliable and as quick to focus as Nikon, it’s not easy to accept the focus lag we’ve been dealing with all these years. And it makes the upgrade to the auotofocus system in the 5D Mark IV that much better.
Most importantly, the Mark IV camera has made me unafraid of having people running at me. While this is normally a legitimate concern, outside of taking photographs, as a photographer the fear was rooted in my inability to get photos in focus when they were coming at me. Shooting in AI Servo on the Mark IV is inspired. The focus tracking is awesome enough that while I run backwards with my knees inches away from the ground, I’m able to get cute little kids running at me in focus. That, and regular exercise, is all I need for family work and it makes procession/recessionals, and wedding exits so much easier to photograph.
THE CRAP FEATURES
To match the technical upgrades that actually do make shooting better, the menus have been updated to include some new special features, some of which will never be used (there’s a “photo book set-up” option that feels embarrassing to scroll past). The ones I was excited about that turned out to be a bust were Dual Pixel RAW and GPS. Dual Pixel RAW was a magical feature that was supposed to let us refocus photos in post production and make everything taste like peanut butter M&Ms. BUT you have to use specialized software to access this function and even then, it only micro adjusts within a half inch or so. Also, the files are so huge they aren’t usable at all for wedding shooting. And the GPS feature was cool in theory for it’s Lightroom map integration, but I habitually turn my camera off and on, which triggered the GPS function and was making the start up time lag so I’m not going near it again. Both features are useless for my purposes.
The autofocus upgrade alone was enough for me to shove all of my money at Canon like they had the last seat on a lifeboat being hoisted down from the Titanic, but there’s other stuff they added, too. And those are probably fun to read about. I bet you can probably Google a chart or a graph or an overlapping circle thing to show you all of the features and how they differ from the 5D Mark III, but I’m going to touch on the ones I found most helpful for real world shooting.
Theoretically, the ability to transfer photos to my phone is kind of cool, but unless I’m transported to yet another universe where I have the work ethic to share images on Instagram from my DSLR immediately, that’s probably not going to happen. But you could do it. Totally.
However, the WiFi functions that allow you to remotely control your camera with the Canon iPhone app function is really cool and definitely usable in a real shooting situation. I recently was shooting tight space during the getting ready portion of the wedding day and I needed to put the camera on a shelf to get a wide shot and was easily able to connect to my iPhone to focus, adjust my settings, and take the photo without seeing the back of the screen. It would also be helpful to do wide room shots at receptions if you had a tripod that could get some height to it.
The Live View function alone deserves it’s own chaise where we feed it grapes like a Roman emperor (especially now that it’s equipped with super fast motion tracking in AI Servo) but the touch screen is kind of life saving. It isn’t literally. Not yet anyway, but it is radical. Though I would’ve *loved* to see a tilt screen on this camera because I’m a whopping 5 feet nothing tall. While shooting way overhead is flattering, I’m essentially shooting blind, so the touch screen is still an awesome new addition. It will not only focus wherever you tap on the screen, but the touch screen can trigger the shutter as a function, too. Since I’m incredibly picky about head placement in environments, being able to quickly take a photo with the camera hovering over my head like a brick ready to fall to the ground at any moment, is wonderful. I appreciate a feature that allows me to take a photo even a little easier, even though I’ve heard this feature touted as frivolous. It’s useful and I like it.
However! The touch screen shutter release doesn’t work with back button focus. RIGHT? I know, I know. It’s lame and I don’t get it. I’ve switched to shooting with the shutter activating my focus since and I’m really happy to be back. I really don’t miss back-button focus at all now.
AUTO WHITE BALANCE TWEAKS
It’s a little thing, but it’s saved me so much time in post production. I used to shoot with y White Balance set to Cloudy all day (up until the reception, really!) and now I only use auto white balance because it’s been severely improved.
You can now tweak your auto white balance settings to be more cool toned, warm toned, more magenta and more green. You can also choose between AutoWB with “ambience priority” or “white priority.” It’s amazing. I can’t tell the difference during the daylight as much, but White Priority is essential when shooting ambient light in warmer rooms that tend to go orange. If you find that when you shoot AutoWB you’re constantly adding the same amount of temperature or tint to your photos, this is your saving grace. Someday, the part of my brain that could tell you what the best Kelvin setting in a room is will just be mush (probably replaced with lyrics I wish I didn’t know from reception songs).
I heard a cry from all corners of the land from videographers everywhere when Canon’s much awaited 4K video upgrade came with a 1.7x crop factor. I’m not talking about that, though. You can probably find that elsewhere. I’m a photographer who dabbles in video so I’m totally happy with it.
It’s like this; the 5D Mark III didn’t have auto focus in recording mode at all. The d750 has autofocus during filming, but it was loud and did a ton of quick, jerky searching. The 5D Mark IV’s autofocus while recording video is reliable and even has face tracking, but when it loses focus on a face or subject, it quietly glides to another focus point smoothly. Also the connect-to-iPhone remote function I mentioned before is also perfect for vlogging with this camera and want to double check you haven’t gone through the embarrassment of talking to yourself for 10 minutes straight with the wrong settings on your camera. For the videos I do, it’s a dream.
I’m not sure if it’s my increased use of the live view or just the camera itself, but the battery life isn’t as great as it was with previous iterations. I usually use at least 2 full batteries to get through an 8 hour wedding where I’m shooting something like 4500 photos (shhhh. I know. It’s a lot). I only shoot dual bodies during the ceremony so if you’re using two bodies, you may not see such a quick drain. I really don’t find this to be a problem because batteries are about $50 each and I own a ton anyway because I’m a battery hoarder. It’s a thing.
Shooting with both the III and the IV isn’t terrible as far as processing goes, either. For the first month of shooting, I was using both cameras and I found the Mark III files to have slightly more saturation, but I was easily able to tweak my preset to make them match enough. The incredibly deep greens and blues were always slightly off to me, but then I threw caution to the wind and used the same preset on both cameras’ files and it was fine. Totally fine. I do have two Mark IV bodies, though, because I loved the AF so much and the cameras are so similar, I wanted to make sure whichever one I grabbed was just as reliable.
I wanted to share some lower ISO files to show the flexibility you have if you under expose (intentionally, to retain the sky, or accidentally because we’re humans and not robots. YET.). The details in the shadows it pulled back were impressive. Even pushing the photo below in the tunnel at ISO 800 almost 4.5 stops retained a crazy amount of information when I was sure that I would just end up with a silhouette. That file was the exposure version of the nerdy girl who takes off her glasses and ponytail and is suddenly beautiful.
A significant portion of the improvement I saw was in the higher ISOs. While the ISO 32000 definitely exists on this camera (I’ve seen it), a legitimate review of my real use of this camera hasn’t caused me to need to go quite that high at a wedding. Really, ISO 10,000 is my comfort zone on the 5D Mark IV. I feel like that’s the highest ISO that I’ve seen the most flexibility, since tend to under expose at night. If you get it right in camera, much higher ISOs are beautiful. For instance, I wouldn’t complain about any noise at ISO 10,000 at all when I’ve properly exposed. But I’m a monster and I under expose regularly so I’ve included some examples of under exposed images so you could see the SOOC (straight out of camera) files and the delivered versions, including how much the files have been pushed in Lightroom.
My exposure was nearly perfect for this shot. It was definitely not as bright as it looks and I was amazed that my camera could focus in the low light and that my ISO and shutter speed were high enough that I could stop motion without this photo ending up grainy/noisy.
Holy lack-of-grain-at-high-ISOs Batman! Are impressed? Just me? Anyway, above ISO 10,000 and I started to see a lot of noise when I had to push the files, but, as you’ll see, I was also under exposing by almost 2 stops.
AND some awesome news is, if you’re shooting with crazy high ISOs and you can bring yourself to do it, Canon saves more information in their highlights than in their shadows, in my experience. So overexpose a little or expose properly in camera and you’re gravy.
Overall, I love working with the files. I haven’t seen an issue with the colors that I’ve read about from a few people. I did tweak my preset after I had to bodies, but the skin tones are lovely, the files are malleable, and I’m incredibly happy that I upgraded both cameras!
TL;DR? Well, mostly you missed all of my wit (jokes in a technical review can only get so funny, though, so I get it). AF good. GPS bad. ISO good. Battery life bad. Touch Screen good. No flip out LCD screen bad. Editing good. FIRE BAD!
But mostly, I wanted to say this – upgrade if you shoot Canon if you have the budget and don’t own it yet if you think it’s worth it for the flexibility of shooting at higher ISOs and the faster autofocus.
It’s heaps better than the 5D Mark II and a significant improvement from the Mark III. The Nikon D750 It’s a decent camera if that’s where you are, and honestly, the Mark IV body alone isn’t worth switching brands for (the L series glass is, however). There are some shiny new features, but a better camera won’t make you a better photographer or anything, so don’t be too bummed if you can’t upgrade at this moment. Thanks for reading & happy shooting! <3