The incorporation of HD video in DSLRs was a game-changing event in 2008. Suddenly, still photographers were reimagining what it was possible to do with their cameras. It seemed like a door that no one had ever seen before had suddenly been thrown open to reveal a completely unexplored facet of image-making. The Nikon D90, closely followed by the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, were the cameras that heralded a new way for photographers to think about their medium.
What was completely unexpected was the rapid, widespread adoption of the 5D Mark II by pro video shooters. The 5D Mark II's big sensor yielded high-ISO image quality not seen before in video, plus beautiful narrow depth of field to isolate subjects in a cinematic manner. It was compact and far less costly than pro HD camcorders, and it could do 1080p full HD video with the entire range of Canon EF lenses and TS-E tilt-shift optics.
So began the video DSLR era. Photojournalists could shoot video clips to expand on their still coverage, wedding photographers could add motion and sound to their coverage, and both student and pro moviemakers could turn out excellent footage with gear that cost a fraction of high-end, dedicated movie cameras.
Today, nearly all DSLRs can shoot video, as well as quality stills, but full-frame still rules the pro market, largely because of the extensive control over depth of field it offers. The two most recent DSLR introductions are full-frame models with excellent video capabilities: the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, which is the much anticipated successor to the 5D Mark II, and the Nikon D800, which is Nikon's much anticipated, sub-$3,000, full-frame, full HD DSLR. Both cameras have a lot in common, but what's equally interesting is looking at where they diverge in features, specs, and both still and motion capabilities.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III As Still Camera
As popular as the EOS 5D Mark II has been, the 5D Mark III is a better camera in almost every respect—image quality, ISO range, shooting speed, autofocusing, metering, ruggedness and weatherproofing, viewing and even battery life.
Auto Focus. The 5D Mark II used an AF system similar to the one introduced in the original EOS 5D in 2005. The new 5D Mark III features a high-performance 61-point High Density Reticular AF system similar to the one in the pro EOS-1D X, including the same high-performance AI Servo III AF tracking algorithm and the ability to function in light levels as dim as EV -2. There are six AF point selection modes: spot, single-point (you can select any of the 61 AF points manually), single-point with surrounding four points, single-point with surrounding eight points, zone selection and automatic. The central 21 AF points, the center AF point, plus two above and two below it, are ultra-high-precision cross-types at ƒ/2.8 and faster; the 21 central points are standard precision cross-types with apertures of at least ƒ/5.6, and the 10 outer points on each side are high-precision cross-types at ƒ/4 or faster. All 61 AF points are sensitive to horizontal contrast with lenses of ƒ/5.6 and faster. In Live View (and video) mode, you can choose phase-detection AF (with the live view briefly disrupted when the mirror flips up for focusing) or contrast-based AF with no disruption of the live image.
Viewing. Where the 5D Mark II had a 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitor, the Mark III has a 3.2-inch monitor, with 1,040,000-dot resolution, just like the one in the new flagship pro EOS-1D X. And where the Mark II has an eye-level viewfinder that shows 98% of the actual image area, the Mark III's new finder shows 100%. And the Mark III's finder features the ability to activate a superimposed display of shooting data like the EOS 7D. You can activate gridlines or a dual-axis electronic level in the LCD monitor and viewfinder.
Rugged Body. More rugged and weather-resistant than the 5D Mark II, the Mark III features magnesium-alloy body covers, a stainless-steel lens mount, and improved gaskets and seals against weather and dust. The newly developed shutter has a reduced lag time of just 59 milliseconds and is tested to 150,000 cycles. The mode dial now has a lock, and a custom function allows users to disable other dials to prevent unintended resetting.
Battery.The EOS 5D Mark III uses the same LP-E6 lithium-ion battery as its predecessor (and the EOS 7D and 60D), but it's good for more shots: an estimated 950 vs. 850 for the Mark II. The new Battery Grip BG-E11 accepts one or two LP-E6 batteries or six AA types, with a full set of controls for shooting vertical-format images. Made of rugged magnesium alloy, the battery grip has the same degree of weather resistance as the Mark III body.
Quicker Shooting. The Mark III improves on the Mark II's 3.9 fps maximum shooting rate, upping it to a quick 6 fps. There's also a silent shooting mode for single shots and slower continuous shooting.
Auto HDR. Canon has added in-camera Auto HDR capability—you can set the Mark III to make three bracketed shots and merge them into a single image with expanded detail in shadows and highlights. The brackets can be set to cover a range of +/-3 stops.
Exposure Compensation.You can set exposure compensation up to +/-5 EV and shoot up to seven frames in Auto Exposure Bracketing mode.
New Sensor And Processor. While not a quantum leap in pixel count from its predecessor's 21.1-megapixel count, the 5D Mark III's new 22.3-megapixel Canon CMOS full-frame sensor combines with the new DIGIC 5+ image processor to provide significantly improved performance. The 5D Mark III has a normal ISO range of 100-25,600 (expandable to 50-102,400) vs. a normal range of 1000-6400 and a top expanded setting of 25,600 for the Mark II. The new sensor features a new photodiode structure and gapless microlenses, while the DIGIC 5+ processor is 17 times faster than the Mark II's DIGIC 4.
Dual Memory Card Slots. The EOS 5D Mark II saves images on CompactFlash cards. The new Mark III can do that or use SD/SDHC/SDXC media. You can record the same image to each card, record different file types or sizes to each card, or automatically switch to the second card once the first one is filled. While the Mark II could use Type I or II CF cards, the Mark III can use only the thinner Type I.
63-Zone iFCL Metering. The 5D Mark III features a flexible and accurate metering system based on the one introduced in the EOS 7D. The 63-zone iFCL (Focus, Color, Luminance) dual-layer system takes into consideration brightness (luminance), but also color and subject data from the AF system to optimize exposures. You can choose 63-zone evaluative, center-weighted, partial (which reads the central 7.2% of the image area) or 1.5% spot metering.