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Canon 5D Mark IV: The (r)evolution?
Author: Marko Šolić
Canon 5D series has over the years become tested "workhorse" of various kinds of professional photographers, but most adored by wedding photographers. Can Canon keep up with the arrival of increasing competition from Nikon and Sony?

Canon 5D Mark IV is probably the most anticipated camera in the last year or two. The reason is that most professionals, despite increasing competition, still uses Canon cameras and 5D series is designed for the widest range of users. Primarily, this includes wedding photographers, but 5D is used for shooting events, sports, portraits, landscapes... And since of Mark II version it's incredibly popular in video production.

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Brief history

The first Canon 5D series, popularly called classic, was introduced in 2005 and it was the first relatively affordable digital camera with a full frame (35mm) sensor format. 5D became an instant hit among professional photographers, and some professionals still use it as a back-up camera, ten years later. That's how good it is. The screen is criminally bad, so, practically, you can not see what photos do you get, but 12 megapixels on a large full frame sensor still does a decent job, at least in conditions with a lot of light, when you do not have to lift the ISO value.

Canon 5D Mark II brought a great leap in all areas, especially in the resolution that has grown for nearly double, to 21.1 megapixels, and also in the performance in low light conditions. The biggest jump occurred where Canon did not expect - 5D Mark II allowed the capture incredibly high quality Full HD video on a sensor much larger than those used by the top, several times more expensive, camcorders. Canon did not think that the film makers are going to sacrifice camera ergonomics for a bit higher quality video recording, and they were wrong. 5D Mark II was selling like hell, and even the last episode of the globally popular Dr. House series was made with it. After that, Canon, like a real big manufacturer, began with the deliberate maiming of its products to force the customers to pass on much more expensive Cinema series, intended solely for shooting video.

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Canon 5D Mark III has brought only a minor evolution in comparison with the Mark II, but they were made in areas where the photographers wanted. Resolution remained almost the same (22 instead of 21 megapixels), the dynamic range has remained literally the same, and performance in low light conditions have only slightly improved. However, a leap has occurred in the auto-focus system. Instead of the small and problematic system of Mark II, Mark III has brought a modern system with 61 auto-focus point. This were, in addition to other minor changes, enough to pros to partly switch to a new generation, and filmmakers got a rescue again from places that Canon did not expect.

The Magic Lantern team managed to hack Canon DSLR cameras, which enabled recording full frame video in pure RAW format on Canon 5D Mark III. Of course the warranty is lost in that ocassion. The camera sometimes gets overheated so you can not record until it cools down, and sometimes skips the icon in the recording, so you have to shoot again. But with Magic Lantern on the camera you can get the video quality, that is usually paid in between $7500 and $15.000, for just $3000.

Due to all this, Canon 5D Mark III was a hit again, but users remained to be somewhat angry with the only small improvements and conservative approach. Nikon has made huge steps, with the help of Sony's sensor and Sony began to release cameras that intentionally have a bunch of video capabilities, though they produce professional video cameras. More and more, the users began to switch to the competition, and now the pressure is on Canon to answer with one decent improvement. Will Mark IV meet the expectations?

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The resolution

After the lack of changes in the last generation, the resolution of the new sensors jumps to 30.4 megapixels. For most users, this will not be such a significant change. Top-rated and super-expensive 1D X Mark II still retains a relatively low 20-megapixel resolution, to be fast enough for sports photography. The increase from 22 to over 30 megapixel acts as quite a leap in resolution, but it seems a lot smaller when you realize that this means only about 1000 pixels more over the longer side of photos. Meanwhile, file size jumps by a third, and smaller sRAW and mRAW files also become larger. On the other hand, 5D Mark IV is hereby approaching Nikon D810 whic has large 36-megapixel resolution. For studio photographer, 5Ds and 5DS R Canon's remain on the market, with their 50-megapixel resolution, which is still at the level of large, medium format camera.

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The dynamic range

Unlike resolution, dynamic range is the area where the most of customers were really mad at Canon because they're really behind the competition. The dynamic range is determined by how many sound you can get from the scene with a lot of contrast. If you shoot, for example, in bright sunlight with the camera which has a smaller dynamic range, you will have to choose whether you want completely black shadows in which nothing can be seen, or "incinerated" white sky without any details. This is especially a big issue because the dynamic range is an area in which all of today's cameras and camcorders fall behind for the human eye, and they're just starting to catch on what used to be able with a recording on large format analog film large.

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The dynamic range has been the Achilles' heel for Canon so far, because Sony made huge advances with its new sensors. Higher resolution and better performance at high ISO may be difficult to notice when all the cameras are already good at that, but the difference in dynamic range between Canon 5D Mark III and the new Sony, like A7R II or somewhat older Nikon to Sony sensors (D810 or D750) can be noticed indeed.

Therefore, Canon has finally switched analog-to-digital conversion of the sensor itself, which significantly increases the dynamic range. 5D Mark IV is not the first camera that brings it - we've seen the same thing on a smaller 80D and on superior 1D X Mark II. Judging by them, Canon has not yet reached the level of Sony, but it's close enough the fact that the difference is no longer crucial to the users. Along with other news, this could be the main reason for the transition to the new version.

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The auto-focus

Although the 5D Mark III brought a huge leap in auto-focus compared to the 5D Mark II, a lot of users still was not completely satisfied. There should not be reason for dissatisfaction with the new 5D Mark IV, because the auto-focus system comes directly from the top model, 1D X Mark II. This means that it is still working with 61 auto-focus point, but now there is a growing number of "stronger" cross type points, which can work up to negative three shutter when there is no light (-3 EV), are arranged on a large area, and can monitor the moving entity across the frame better. This last part apparently is not at the level of the latest Nikon, but we will be able to discuss it in details when 5D Mark IV arrives on the real test.

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On the other hand, monitoring the entity at the scene works almost like magic, when you move to live view and use Canon's unique dual pixel auto-focus. There are no mistakes in the accuracy or in monitoring. You can adjust the speed of the auto-focus in 10 steps to get beautiful transitions when shooting video, where the focus will be set only by gently tapping the touch screen. If Canon will transfer on mirrorless systems for professional appliances in the future - there should be no fear for auto-focus.

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The video

Because of reasons that we mentioned in the introduction, videographers have a great expectations of Canon 5D Mark IV. The competition made the biggest difference here. Most professional photographers do not even think about getting on Sony only because of the large dynamic range (although certainly there are exceptions), but a bunch of videographers made the move. It is not uncommon to see tiny, humorous Sony A7 series on a huge crane, as the main camera in the system with 5 or 6 "professional" video cameras, even in local venues such as big concert at Madison Square Garden or O2 Arena. The picture quality, with Sony's lack of skimping on video options, have led to that videographers does not bother about overheating, or unprofessional SD cards,or ridiculously small batteries for cameras, that constantly need to be changed. Then why would anyone stayed at Canon to record a video?

Canon has finally decided to answer this question with increasing of the resolution on, today usual, 4K (Ultra HD). Actually, it's not about Ultra HD standard, but on a slightly larger Cinema 4K DCI which has a little more than 4000 pixels along the longer side (Ultra HD has 3840p). We do not doubt that the sharpness and color are going to be superior, although the rumor is that Panasonic may soon jump to the 6K or 8K, which RED already made with the (admittedly, ultra expensive) Helium sensor. Besides that, dual pixel auto-focus works wonders for video recording and violates one of the first rules photographers learn while switching to video - forget about auto-focus. With dual pixel, you can forget the manual focus.

On the other hand, Canon has again, more or less deliberately, screwed up a lot with video shooting. First of all, the recording format is horribly outdated Motion JPEG. That means you can effortlessly draw 8-megapixel JPEG images from the video, but they are huge file sizes. To record an hour of video you will need at least 256GB card, probably a very fast Compact Flash, as no SD will not be fast enough. Secondly, a full range of software options that would mean a lot to videographers Canon deliberately left only for costly Cinema camera, again. There is no log profile (something halfway to RAW) on which you can later adjust the colors as you want. There is no "zebra"which shows when the scene is overexposed,  and no focus peaking (although, it's less necessary with dual pixel). The entire video will be recorded only the central part of the frame, which means that you can't shoot at full frame size, but on APS-C sensor size. Therefore, not only the image quality falls, but it is harder to find wide-angle lenses.

4K video is recording at the maximum of 30 frames per second (fps). If you want a bit faster 60 fps, the resolution falls on Full HD (1080p), and if you want a real 120 fps slow motion you have to shoot in the unimaginable "plain" HD (720p). Cool new feature is HDR video where two Full HD recordings at 30 fps are recorded alternately, which are then automatically combined into a video with an increased dynamic range.

All in all, the new 5D Mark IV delivers much of what we have been waiting for video recording, but leaves a lot of desire. It remains to be seen whether Magic Lantern will save the day once again.

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The revolution we were waiting for: Dual Pixel RAW

How many times happened that you, almost probably not your fault, missed the focus on an otherwise fantastic photo? What would you give to correct it, or you can focus after the shooting? Although 5D Mark IV delivers many improvements exactly where users wanted, a lot of people asked for anything that could be called revolutionary. Dual Pixel RAW could be exactly something like that. Hence, because of dual pixel auto-focus, all pixels are physically divided into two parts, theoretically each can record their information. This is usually experienced with dual pixel auto-focus, and then Canon-camera combined it into a single image. In Dual Pixel RAW shooting mode information from both pixels remain written in the file you save on your computer, which means you get twice as hard files, but also some cool features. If all of this sounds technically too complicated, refer to Canon's video:

As you can see it is possible to focus after the shooting. However in very small amounts, not even close to Lytro cameras, and the results will vary, depending on which lens you use with which shutter, how close you are to the shooting object, and so on. However, remember all those fantastic pictures when the eye just was not in the focus, but the focus is caught someone's nose or ear. With the Dual Pixel RAW it is possible to save such images. Is it worth of twice larger files that take up twice as much space on the cards and discs - it's your choice. We are looking forward, mostly because of this, to arrival 5D Mark IV to the test, to see what it can really make.

Dual Pixel RAW can be used for several other things. It is possible to subsequently adjust the appearance of the area out of focus (bokeh), and it is possible to help to the lenses that have problems with spots of light (ghosts), which usually occur when you have a strong light source, such as the sun, somewhere in the corner of the frame.

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Everything else

The shutter speed rises up to 7 frames per second. Not as fast as at 1D X Mark II, which most of users do not even need, but it's faster than most of the competition.

Wi-Fi finally comes in the "professional" class, which means you can transfer photos to the mobile phone, quickly edit them in, let's say, Photoshop Express, and promptly deliver to customers at a reduced web resolution. So, for those "emergency" photos, you don't need to carry a laptop with you, no longer. You can also connect the camera to a tablet like the iPad Pro, so the clients can promptly, on the beautiful, big screen, watch what you are doing. In addition with Wi-Fi, GPS and NFC are available in a bundle, if this means something to anyone.

ISO range remains at 50 to 102,400, which is almost the same as on its predecessor. In the meantime, the competition has gone ahead, for example, ISO value of the Nikon D5 can be lifted up to over 3 million (!), but, let's be realistic, most people do not need it. Because of the increased resolution, we doubt that performance at high ISO will be any better than on the 5D Mark III, but the majority of users have not complained on that.

The cards remain somewhat obsolete CF and SD types, and the body is so unchanged that just freaks will be able to identify which version of 5D you have. Apparently, the quality of production is slightly improved, with better protection against rain and moisture, but we will see whether our distributor will allow us to test 5D Mark IV in the middle of a rain-shower, as we have no problem with it while testing The Olympus OM-D series.

Among the other innovations there is the anti flicker technology inherited from sports-oriented 7D Mark II, that allows you to always guess the perfect light in the sports hall. Sports photographers will be delighted with sensitivity of auto-focus points to f/8. Such slow lenses do not really exist in practice, but ordinary lenses can reach a maximum of f/8 when combined with Extender.

The 5D Mark IV comes with two new lenses. 24-105 f/4 IS II and 16-35 f/2.8 II. In both cases, they are the successors of already very popular, but outdated optical lenses which necessarily needed an improvement. Judging by the fact that Canon recently worked with lenses, there's no doubt that the new ones will be super-sharp, but relatively expensive.

The price of 5D Mark IV also remains the same as of its predecessor, so count on a little less than $4500 in local stores. If you can't afford it, this camera is probably not for you.

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What the competition will say?

The biggest problem for Nikon and Sony is that they cannot really say much. Canon has a huge user base that will be difficult to lose as long as it yields some bigger or smaller improvements. Nikon has also, albeit much smaller, but the safe user base which wont suddenly switch to Canon just because of 5D Mark IV. Transition from Canon to Nikon and vice versa has been, and still is, usual, especially in the last fifty years, but such transitions usually do not mean much, and photographers who make them lose money at the end, because they sell the entire lens system.

Sony tells another story, especially for video recording. They are relatively small player on the market, which must somehow attract customers, and therefore constantly try out new, "revolutionary" inventions. They miss often, such as eg. SLT mirror, where they have practically abandoned the entire user base Alpha DSLR (or DSLT) system. They gave up from mirrorless APS-C sized sensors, and lately put all the effort into a full frame mirrorless. A7 series is super-famous mostly due to the phenomenal picture quality and plenty of video capabilities. Everything Canon software denies to you (log/gamma profiles, zebras, peaking ...) Sony gives back, and adds another bunch of extra stuff.

The problem with Sony is that small-sized mirrorless mean poorer ergonomics and the biggest problem for pros - a small capacity of battery in combination with electronic viewfinder that consumes them viciously. That could change with the long-awaited mirrorless A9 which should finally bring true, "big pro" body in the Sony's system. Along with the bigger battery life, there are rumors about over 70-megapixel resolution, 6K or 8K video, unlimited buffer when shooting RAW...

Let's not forget that Pentax also has an excellent and relatively inexpensive K-1, but there is a small problem with their customer base and a rather poor video performance. In the video, therefore, a good option could be the upcoming Panasonic GH5, which is rumored that will, despite staying in a small M4/3 sensor, issue 6K, or even 8K video resolution. Olympus is also still there with the OM-D series, but it really isn't any real competition to the Canon 5D Mark IV.

All in all, the Canon 5D Mark IV acts as a pretty solid upgrade of the already tried-and-popular series of professional cameras. The good sale can hardly be doubted, because improvements come right where the most users are looking for. Nikon can produce somewhat better camera, but Canon users are unlikely to buy it.

If Sony wants to change something, it should bring even crazier and more revolutionary innovations than before. In fact, when you thought about it, it does not sound impossible at all...

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