Canon 5D Mark III

I know that 5Dmk3 reviews have been done to death, so I’ll try to skip over the really obvious stuff.

I have mixed feelings about the Mark 3. I used one on a music video the other day, and I do really like the design. It’s solidly built, the aperture wheel feels nicer than ever before, the LCD screen is huge, high-res and widescreen. It’s the little things that count here, that’s what I’m saying. The camera alerts you if you’re trying to scroll the aperture wheel while it’s locked. The menus have been redesigned, and while they initially seem more complex (there are fewer menu sections, but each section has 4 pages) I think it’s well thought out. Previously, functions such as Highlight Tone Priority needed to be added to the “favourites” menu to be accessed quickly. Now HTP and ALO reside in the same menu section as your picture style settings, which is a lot more logical. It’s also easy to find quite obscure cutomisation functions, such as assigning the shutter button to record video rather than take a still shot. That kind of thing.

Again, I’m not going to talk about image quality in detail here. All I’ll say is I think it’s a real pity about the codec “fizz” that is apparent even at low ISO settings. I really like the fact that you can record all I-frames, that’s a big thing for me. And despite the “fizz”, I’d much rather shoot with the Mark 3’s highest quality video codec than with the old codec on the 5D2 and 7D. The fizz seems most obvious in the mid-shadow tones, and if you’re looking for it, it’s easy to find. Still, I prefer it to the old long-GOP compression which might be cleaner on a static shot, but present much more damage and artefacting on shots with a lot of detail and movement. At least the Mark 3’s fizzing is consistent, like a texture or grain to the image (maybe that’s a stretch).

Is this a revolutionary camera for shooting video? Of course not. Showing other people the footage, you’d most likely have to *tell them* “I shot that on a 5D mark 3” in order for them to see any difference. At the end of the day, shooting on a Mark 3 feels much the same as DSLR shooting always has. But if you need that full-frame sensor look, this is still one of your best options (until “Red Dragon”— or whatever Mr. Jannard decides to call it — comes out). Personally, if the D800 didn’t have moire problems, I’d see it as a winner against the Mark 3. Uncompressed HDMI output (hopefully firmware updates will make it more compatible than it currently seems to be) and a potential extra bit of sharpness compared to the Mark 3 sounds pretty compelling. But you’ve got to weigh that up against better low light performance, greatly reduced moire problems, slightly shallower DOF (the D800 goes to a 1.1x crop for FX video shooting) and Canon lens compatibility on the Mark 3. So it gets a bit murky. For shooting music videos and the like, I don’t really need extreme ISO sensitivity, and moire problems are usually avoidable in most shots — and I just like recording straight to Prores. But for many purposes the Mark 3 beats the living daylights out of the D800.. so go figure.

To be honest, I’m just looking forward to see what the FS700 is like. Debating Mark 3 vs D800 is like arguing about whether to get McDonald’s or KFC for dinner, when there’s an incredible Japanese restaurant across the road. Let’s move on.

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Canon XF305

Another 1/3″ camera? Seriously?

I realise, I’ve promised a blog about “digital cinematography” and so far I’ve only delivered reviews of two “camcorders” that “digital cinematographers” in 2012 wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. I’ve just been covering events recently — hence i’m briefly back to camcorders and fixed lenses and deep focus with noisier images and all that awful stuff. (And while I’m stuck shooting with an XF305, another guy is shooting on a C300, which I might write a post about if I can get to handle it a little more).

Anyway. The XF305 is quite a nice camera. There’s not an awful lot to complain about, and I much prefer it to Sony’s Z5 (not that this is saying much). It’s a larger, heftier camera than I imagined based on the pictures, at least as large as an Ex1 and I feel like it’s heavier as well. For the most part, if you’ve used an Ex1 or a Z7 or any equivalent camera, you’ll have 90% of this camera figured out before you start (which is to be expected on a “camcorder” really).

Now here’s the problem. Everything that I like about this camera is borrowed from other typical camcorders. The button layout, the design and build quality, etc. It’s all good, but it’s all exactly what you’d expect from any of these sorts of cameras. And while the XF305 borrows a lot, there are a few glaring omissions that I find quite problematic. In short, anything that can be considered “unique” to the design of this camera is something that I don’t like, and that I wish they’d just borrowed from an Ex3. For starters, there’s no nib attached to the zoom ring, so say goodbye to your crash zooms. The zoom ring is also (of course) fully electronic — there’s a significant lag to your zoom movements, and the camera constantly attempts to turn your “quick crash zoom to get focus” into a long, graceful zoom shot. Urge to kill. Rising.

Similarly, the aperture ring is electronic with no hard stops, and again this infuriating “smooth effect” creates a delay when changing exposure. There’s probably a way to configure the responsiveness of the electronic zoom and aperture rings, I’ll be using this damned camera for the next week so I’ll see what’s possible there. But even if I can configure these parameters, nothing compares to the responsiveness of fully mechanical lens controls.

My last lens-related complaint: the zoom ring is too stiff. What this means in practice is that when I want to crash zoom and focus, I’ve got to turn, turn, turn the zoom ring and it’s very easy to accidentally brush against the aperture ring and change your exposure inadvertently at the same time. (as you can see in the picture, the zoom and aperture rings are set closely together)

Ok. That might be enough lamenting about electronic lenses for now. My only other problem with this camera (for now at least) is the design of its menu buttons. After years of using Sony Z and Ex cameras, I’ve become very used to the little scroll wheel that you push in to select different items. I think it’s a great system, very intuitive, and once you’ve found the scroll wheel, there’s no reason to take your hand away from it to find other buttons. I have to confess, I’m fairly new to Canon camcorders, so perhaps the design of the XF305 is nothing new. But I don’t like it. You’ve got your scroll wheel, a separate “select” button to the left of it, and a “cancel” button to the left of that. So what you used to do with one button on a  Z1 now requires 3 separate buttons on the 305. I’m sure you get used to it, but it feels so clumsy. And in the dark, trying to keep track of where your hand is on a camera that’s coated in tiny buttons… it’s a pain.

Oh yea. One more problem. (of course there are more!)  You know the handgrip/zoom rocker thing on the right side of the camera? This one can’t rotate at all. It’s fused in position with its zoom controls facing up towards the ceiling. On an Ex1 or whatever, you could rotate the grip forwards, so that the zoom controls faced straight out in the direction of the lens. I found this really convenient for covering runway shows where you’re constantly panning and zooming backwards with each model. With the zoom rocker pointing up to the ceiling your wrist has to bend so that you can reach your fingers up to the controls. Sucks.

So. Remember what I said at the start? “The XF305 is quite a nice camera. There’s not an awful lot to complain about…” Yea. I take that back.