I think that this might be the first product review that I have done on an item that is not really available much any more except in the used category. I get that most photographers are not looking for the Canon 5D Mk3 these days, and more than likely aren’t even looking to buy the Mk4 variant as they are waiting for the next set of releases from Canon to hit the market. However, if you are trying to get quality images on a budget, there is always the previously owned market where you can find excellent gear for great prices. The camera that has been at the backbone of my photography since 2013 (coming up on six years at this point) is available for roughly half of what I paid for it through retailers such as B&H Photo. This kind of brings me to why I am writing this review of an outdated piece of equipment. Well, I say outdated simply because there have been a lot of advancements since this body was new, but that doesn’t mean that it does’t still perform as Canon designed it.
If we are in the market for purchasing cameras, you are probably quite familiar with the various review sources online. This camera has been reviewed countless times when it was released in March 2012, and you can still read those reviews. I’m not going to spend a lot of time going through the basics of the camera because you aren’t here for that. What I am going to talk about is how has this camera held up over the six years of use that I have put it through. Is this still a viable camera for today’s landscape photographer? Does this still deserve a place in your camera bag? Is this camera robust enough to hold value as a used instrument? The type of use that the camera has been through will dictate more than anything, but I can say that my camera has probably been through an average existence for an outdoor photographer.
Quick Review of My 5D Mk3
- Purchased on November 15, 2013, from B&H Photo
- Shutter Count 17,000 frames as of June 2, 2019
- Seen service at the beach
- Spent many a day out in the rain
- Participated in a color run (2015)
- Has been used at temperatures above 90*F
- Has been used at temperatures below 10*F
- Has been stored in trunks during both extremes in temperatures
I was really impressed with this camera after coming from a 5D Mk2 body because Canon really made some great improvements to the platform. One of the biggest changes that they made was to the video capture, and this was one of the first still cameras that captured true high quality video. That will be all I’ll say about that in this review since I have never used it for video, and have no intentions on doing it either. This was purchased as a dedicated image capturing device for still pictures and I have a hard time using it as a video camera. The image quality of the still images was phenomenal for the day with a 22.3MP Full Frame sensor that was capable of ISO’s from 100-25,600, and expandable to 50-102,400 with additional noise. It was not a fast camera with a burst rate of only 6 frames per second with limited buffer room. That wasn’t what I bought it for as landscape photography is a slow discipline and only requires single exposures at a time. I will say that for a landscape photographer, there are very few limitations with this platform with the exception of low light. The newer cameras are much better able to capture noise free images in low light than this body, but this one is really no slouch with the full frame sensor. I have always remained very happy with the image quality in pretty much all conditions with this camera and what noise is introduced is usually controllable through post processing of the image.
How about dynamic range? Well, it took me a while to really unlock the potential of this camera, and the secret is in the RAW capture. That will give you the biggest dynamic range, but to really take advantage of that range, you need to do a little fiddling with the menu. I have mine set to the “Neutral” mode on the picture type selector, and have the contrast and saturation dialed all the way back. This doesn’t affect the RAW capture at all, but it does affect the Live View image as well as the image review after the exposure. What does that matter? Well, it gives you a much more accurate histogram while setting your exposure in live view as well as seeing the final capture on review. You have less spikes and the .jpg representation you are seeing is much more accurately related to the RAW capture. You can see just where the actual tones are being recorded on the histogram which is completely beneficial to the final image.
Let’s talk about image quality with this camera. You see here a barn that I shot recently that represents a very wide dynamic range. In fact, I did a four shot HDR series for this scene in case I needed the extra exposure latitude once I got it home. The image you see here was a single image that was exposed using the tricks I just mentioned. I was able to recover all the detail that I needed in the shadows as well as in the highlights from this one image. There was a bit of noise in the shadows but I was able to deal with that using Lightroom fairly simply. The detail is amazing here and the colors are rich. To be fair, I was using a top tier “L” lens which always has more to do with the image quality than the camera. Dynamic range is all on the camera body though, and for technology that is this old, the camera still holds its own in today’s market. Especially considering that you can get one of these cameras for half of the price of the current competition.
Why did I choose the Canon 5D Mk3 in the first place?
I had been a Canon shooter for years, but had actually sold all of my gear a few years before purchasing a new kit to start out in photography once again. I was in a great situation for building a kit from scratch as I had nothing at all holding me back from choosing any number of options. I looked at the offerings from Nikon, Sony, and of course, Canon. As I did the first time I bought into a line of gear, I looked at the specs. Honestly, at the price point, each of these manufacturers were neck and neck on what they were producing with just little differences in characteristics. I have always told people that when they are looking for a camera, pick your price point that you want to be at, taking into account the lenses that you will want, and hold the different bodies. Once again, the Canon design was better for my hands and the way my mind worked. I really liked the wheel layout for aperture and shutter, as well as how the menus were accessed. The features that I used the most were dedicated buttons that were easy to locate and work without having to open menu items to get to them. I was used to the Canon philosophy with their cameras which had not changed. All of this pushed me to get the 5D Mk3. Functionally, it was almost identical to the Mk2 that I had used prior, which was very similar to the 40D that I had started out with in ’07.
This is not to say that the other offerings were not as good. Like I said, each brand has basically comparable cameras at each price point which makes the decision much harder when getting started. They are all very different in philosophy and that is where the decision needs to be made. Most reviews will have you peeping at pixels which can be rather subjective and will result in stress over things that can’t be seen without a magnifying glass over a wall sized print. Go with what fits your hands and with what you feel most comfortable with using. That is where you will find your joy behind the camera!
How Has it Held Up?
Well, I really can’t tell much difference today than when it was new. There are some scratches on the body from some bumps along the way, but that is really it. The magnesium allow body has remained solid through the years. All of the doors, buttons, joysticks, wheels, and whizbangs still work as the day they were new. The LCD has remained bright and vivid making it easy to see in most lighting conditions. This is something that I am seeing on the newer bodies that I am not as impressed with. The new LCD’s seem very dim in comparison and harder to see in the daylight. This might be owner settings, but I’ve noticed it on Canon, Nikon, Sony, and especially Fuji bodies while I have been conducting workshops here lately. I am always really happy to get back to my camera after seeing the other ones.
There are things that you worry about with cameras in general that I feel need to be mentioned here. The buttons always feel a little delicate because of their size and I’ve seen buttons falling off of cameras before after a lot of use. So far, I have not had any issues with these buttons, and several of them I use regularly such as the zoom and playback buttons. The three buttons at the top right of the body don’t get used much since I deal with manual exposure and manual focus, but they actually get abused by my right thumb as I am pulling the camera from my bag and maneuvering it on my tripod. Those buttons are right at the ridge that I use to grip the camera. This is handy for convenience as these buttons do need to be easily accessed when your eye is in the viewfinder so the placement is fine by me. However, with my use I have always figured that if I were to lose a button, it would be one of these without a doubt. They are still there, and have no signs of wear.
The most flimsy part of this camera in my opinion is the door to the dual memory card slots on the side of the body. To open this door, you slide it back to disengage the lock. It then swings open. There is a push button to release the CF card, and the SD card is released by pushing it in and it springs out. Since I always remove the card that I am recording to download to the desktop these all get used quite a bit. I have been concerned that over time this might wear out, or possibly the mounts for the cards might start giving problems. Everything about this system is still rock solid after six years!
One of the things that I really liked about this camera was the weather sealing that it has. It is by no means waterproof, and I don’t think that anyone should go swimming with it, but I can say that it has been in some pretty heavy rains sitting on a tripod with water pouring over it without issue. Obviously, this is probably not the best thing to do with a camera, but it has taken it in stride. I do wipe it off before putting it back in the bag which has a plethora of silica packets in it to help remove any moisture. Possibly more destructive than rain would be snow which just sits there and will gradually melt and seep into things. I haven’t had any issues with this either. I mentioned that this camera has been to the beach on a number of occasions. The weather sealing has been nice for the sand that blows around as well as the salt spray. Of course, I would highly recommend a quick wipe down after being in this type of environment. Possibly the worst exposure that I have put this camera though was a color run a few years ago. No, I wasn’t the photographer in the middle of the color explosion and I was careful to stay clear of the powder as I didn’t want any of that on the camera. However, even using a 70-200mm lens to get away from the dust, the wind still coated the camera with a lot of the colorful powder that would get into every crevice. I tried to clean this up the best I could, but I think that the general consensus is that once it gets trapped in the grooves, you kind of own it. Well, I can still see evidence from that color run on the camera, but I can say that there has been no issues from this at all.
Speaking of dust and such, how about that sensor? Well, in the last six years, I have had had to clean the sensor exactly once. This is a great testament to the sealing of this camera, especially when matched with the Canon L glass which has a nice rubber gasket at the mount. I do a lot of lens changing, and actually store the body in the bag with no lens attached so every time I bring it out of the bag, I am exposing the sensor. To clean it, I use the Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly which is so simple to use. It has been about a year since I have cleaned it and I am still not seeing any major spots in my images as I review them. I have never needed to send the body in for any service or cleaning which means that I have had no down time due to maintenance with this body. That is very important to me since this is my only body and without it, I have no camera. I trust it that much which I think speaks volumes!
So is the 5D Mk3 a viable option in today’s market?
With all that we have talked about here, I think you can get the idea that I am still very happy with my 5D Mk3 body. I absolutely am. I would like a bigger sensor so I wouldn’t have to enlarge my images as much, but I have successfully printed 30×40″ prints and EIGHT FOOT wide panoramas with this camera. I would like a bit better noise control, but I don’t have major issues with handling the bit that it has in post processing. Will I upgrade? Yes, it is about time to upgrade and I will either go into a pro-level mirrorless Canon if they release one that impresses me, or possibly a 5D Mk5 which is supposed to be released about the same time early next year. There is a slight possibility that I will shift into Medium Format with one of the high end Fuji options, but that will require restructuring my glass which I don’t want to have to do. That being said, I am looking for a huge resolution increase more than anything else because I am having a huge demand for very large prints and I need to be better able to deal with that demand.
Where does that leave you though? Well, if you think about it, this leaves you in a great position if you are an enthusiast with a limited budget. When you are there looking at the entry level bodies and some of the enthusiast offerings from the different companies you are looking at a grand or so for a camera that is using technology that was developed six years ago in the pro lines. For that same money, you can get a pro level camera with the build quality that would cost three to four times that price now. As I have found over the last six years of shooting with this 5D Mk3, that build quality and robust nature that Canon built into the body has protected my investment over the years. Now that I am looking to upgrade, I am still looking at a camera body that is as good today as it was when I bought it at $3500.00. Only now, the prices are around $1,500 for a good used example of this camera and they can be had for even less in fair condition. Think about the possibilities of this for the enthusiast that wants a fantastic body, but only has entry level money for a body. You can get a pro level camera and use the savings on glass down the road which will outlast the body, and have more impact on the image quality overall. This is a great option, and will get you in a position to reap the benefits of the pro level bodies.
Buying used equipment is definitely a viable option for the up and coming photographer. When you add in that so many times people buy cameras because they read articles saying to buy this and that. They don’t actually go out and use the equipment because their hobby is gear collecting. You can get a slightly dusty example of a great camera with only a few hundred shutter releases for a fraction of the cost that it was bought new. Reputable retailers such as B&H Photo do a great job at evaluating the used equipment that they resell and disclose the condition that it is in very well. If you don’t like it, return it, simple as that. Keep them in mind also when it is time to sell your old equipment as there is no hassle to it, and you can turn around and invest the money into new gear.
Thank you for joining me for this long term update. I hope that you have gained a little bit of insight to just how well this Canon was built and how well it has held up. There are multiple links throughout this review that take you to B&H. By clicking on these links and hopefully making a purchase, you are helping me to bring you content on this website and to continue to create the images that I do. It isn’t much, but it does help. Let me know if you like the long term updates as I have a lot of equipment that has gotten a bit of age on it now and I am pretty well versed at how it all works and ages.