The Accidental Upgrade

In my December, 2012, article I wrote about the decision process leading to the purchase of a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, replacing the original 5D I'd used since 2007. I've been very happy with the 5DIII; it handles beautifully, build quality is exceptional, and image quality (IQ) is more than satisfactory. No camera is perfect, and no maker of them includes every feature one might want in any single model. That's certainly true of the 5DIII, but overall I've been very satisfied.

When Canon announced the 5DIII's replacement (creatively named the 5D Mark IV), I read about it, looked at some of the images posted on line, and decided I'd keep my 5DIII and just “keep shooting.” The 5D4 adds some nice, and potentially useful features not found on the Mark III; I'm sure I'd make use of some of those. IQ should be “better” due to increased dynamic range and reduced high-ISO noise, improvements to the auto-focus system, and a nearly 30% increase in pixel count. The new camera has a handful of additional features that would at least be fun to play with, whether or not they positively affect IQ or the shooting experience. All of this is the sort of thing one expects in an evolutionary new model. Still, my 5DIII is paid for, I'm comfortable with it and understand it's limitations, and I've been more than happy with the photos we've made together.

An Unexpected Exchange

At a mid-winter political fundraiser I met a photographer friend and client (for my printing services). I'll call her Annie (not her real name). Annie's not a camera geek, has minimal interest in the technical aspects of the trade, cares little for megapixels, frame rates, MTF charts, and DXOMark scores. She's been in the business for many years, and while she may occasionally struggle with the technology, her work is widely regarded. She gets interesting and challenging assignments, and develops intriguing projects of her own. I always look forward to our conversations.

This one turned to equipment, and with difficulty in the crowded and stunningly noisy room I learned she'd been thinking about replacing her aging Canon EOS 7D. Only half-seriously I said I'd give her a good price on my 5DIII; her enthusiasm for the proposal surprised me. We agreed to talk about it again in a quieter setting. I largely forgot about it as the next couple of months passed, and I suspect so did Annie, who I later learned had started yet another exciting long-term project.

In mid-April (2017) Annie called with a print job for her fledgling project. She had some ideas for presenting this new work and wanted a couple of small prints made to help judge the validity of her approach. She dropped off her files, told me about her plans, and gave me a few days to make the prints. I found some (mostly) correctable issues, chief among them chromatic aberration (fringing) that proved difficult to eliminate in post-processing. When she came to collect the prints we talked about those issues, and she revived the idea of buying my camera. We talked about this a couple of times during the next few days, worked out a deal, and for the first time since the 1970s I found myself without a camera. That's a very odd feeling, like the dream everyone's had of finding oneself in public with no pants.

Unlike the decision-making that led to my purchase of the 5DIII (see the article linked above), I simply ordered the Mark IV. From my earlier research I felt comfortable with the decision; no small part of that is the ease with which the new camera would fit into my workflow. I'd need to change very little. While waiting for the camera to arrive I looked for updated reviews, reports of problems (including recalls, of which there's been none), but I found little new information. I also downloaded and read the manuals. There are two for the hardware: one for the camera itself, and a second for the wi-fi/communication features. The English versions of these two manuals total 856 pages! Just for fun I looked at the English PDF manuals for the older cameras: the original 5D's has 180 pages. The Mark III's has 404. The camera manual alone for the Mark IV has 676 pages, approaching four times the page count of the original 5D's manual. The price of evolving technology. At least there is a printed manual.

Speaking of progress: Since getting a Canon EOS A2e in 1998 I've used Arca-Swiss style quick-release plates on my camera bodies, which fit into the Really Right Stuff clamp on my tripod head. Since 2007 when I got the original 5D I've used right-angle plates. When I got the 5DIII I found the earlier plate from the 5D to be an imperfect fit, requiring the purchase of a new plate. When I got the 5D4, I discovered the Mark III's plate to be an almost, but not quite, perfect fit, requiring the purchase of yet another right-angle plate. I've got quite a collection of these things in my closet of useless camera stuff. One tiny bit of good news is the battery has remained the same since the original 5D. The newer “N” version is physically the same but with a higher amp-hour rating. That's a good thing, as the 5D4 can be quite power hungry if one enables wi-fi, GPS, and other new features, uses live-view shooting, or turns on a lens's image stabilization. I won't be using all of those features at the same time, but I'm glad I have plenty of spare batteries.

Tuning and Tweaking, But No New Photos

The required cat photo

The requisite new-camera first photo of our current idiot cat.

As I type this it's mid-spring, and the weather here in northwestern Montana, after a seemingly endless winter, has been wonderful. But there's much to do “around the house”, I've had a couple of large printing jobs for clients, and there seems always to be something competing for my time. We've been out for only a single camping trip so far, to Glacier National Park, and while the blue-sky days were lovely and the nights clear, high winds and cloudless golden-hour skies made for poor photography conditions. I have no keeper photos yet. I've done little more than photograph the cat (as required with any new camera) and make a few test photos as I've customized the camera's menus and done the micro-focus adjustments (MFA) with my lenses.

Speaking of MFA, for the first time I used the Dot-Tune Method. I'd read about this some time ago, and friend Dean has recommended it after adjusting several Canon bodies and lenses, but I used the tedious “old method” with my 5DIII. The Dot-Tune Method really is a huge time saver, and one of those things that seems so obvious once someone describes it. I set up outdoors using a focus target of my own design. I placed the target in the shade and positioned the camera/lens/tripod at the appropriate distance (50x the focal length) from my target. Dot-Tune really does take only minutes, and the result, based on careful examination of test images, is excellent.

Interesting note: unknown to me, auto-ISO was enabled (the default) when I made the cat photo shown here. I hand-held the camera, with my Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 50mm and F/5.6, 1/40th second shutter speed. The camera set the ISO to 3200. I'm pleased with the noise in the shadows. The crop at 100% below shows the area above the left eye (top right in the portrait photo).

Crop showing detail and low noise

Unsharpened crop, at 100%, showing noise at ISO 3200.

I used my original 5D for almost five years, selling it with a lens for next to nothing. I used the 5DIII for slightly longer than five years. Digital photography is still evolving, and some recent developments are very exciting, with the potential to once again change the game. As always, we'll see, but I look forward to a few years of capturing my vision with the 5D4.

May, 2017

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