Canon EOS 5DS R Review – Pixels are to photography what horsepower is to motoring. We know there’s really no practical need for a car or bike that will do almost 200mph when the national speed limit is just 70mph, but that doesn’t stop high-performance vehicles being highly desirable.
It’s the same with cameras. Why on earth would anyone want 50 million pixels when they only have an A3 printer, or mainly look at their images on a computer screen? It’s madness. But pixels have a powerful allure. We convince ourselves that having more will make us better photographers, so manufacturers keep cramming them in and we keep spending our money.
I’m as guilty as the next photographer, by the way. So, say hello to my latest love interest – the Canon EOS 5DS R.
Ever since I heard rumours that Canon was going to launch a 50MP full-frame DSLR, almost a year ago, I’ve wanted one. I don’t need one – the 22.4 million pixels my Canon EOS 5D MkIII offers are more than enough. But the pull of pixels is too strong to resist.
There are actually two versions of this camera – the EOS 5DS (£2,999) and the EOS 5DS R (£3,199). They’re identical except that the 5DS has an optical low-pass filter and the 5DS R has a selfcancelling low-pass filter, which means that it should offer slightly better image quality, but may suffer from moiré patterns in areas of high detail. The low-pass filter gets rid of moiré effects.
Having used a Canon EOS 5D MkIII extensively and almost exclusively for the last three years, the 5DS R immediately felt familiar. In many respects, it’s the same camera – same magnesium alloy body, same build quality, control layout and handling, same brilliant 61-point AF system, same exposure modes and so on.
If you’ve never used a 5D MkIII before this won’t mean a great deal, but let’s summarise thus: the EOS 5D MkIII is an accomplished camera; as much, if not more, than you’ll ever need. The EOS 5DS and 5DS R offer all the same benefits, plus a few more added for good measure.
Top of the list is the 50.6MP full-frame sensor. That’s more than double the pixel count of the 5D MkIII. In real terms, this means that while the output size of an image from the 5D MkIII is a very respectable 48.7×32.5cm at 300dpi, from the 5DS and 5DS R it’s almost 75x50cm – that’s 2.3 times bigger! In other words, making prints that are one-metre long from a single frame requires minimal interpolation and therefore minimal loss of quality. I’d buy the camera for that reason alone. And yes, I do make one-metre prints – on a regular basis.
I shot some comparison images using the 5DS R and my 5D MKIII side by side, with the same Canon EF 24-70mm f/4 L IS zoom. Viewing the results at 100% on my computer screen, the difference is visible. It’s not earth-shatteringly huge, but the 5DS R images are sharper, and there’s an obvious difference in image size between the two at 100% due to the increased resolution. The quality is on-par with medium-format digital cameras costing at least twice the price. The images have a wonderful crispness and clarity, and resolution of fine detail is fantastic.
The payback for having over 50 million pixels is that noise is more of an issue as ISO increases, because those pixels are smaller and have to work harder. To that end, Canon has capped the ISO of the 5DS and 5DS R at 6400, expandable to ISO 12800 via the High setting. Again, I compared the 5DS R with the 5D MkIII up to ISO 12800 and the results are every bit as good, so I’d be happy to use the 5DS and 5DS R at 6400 or 12800 when handholding in low light. There is obvious noise at higher ISOs, but that’s unavoidable with any camera. I tend to convert my ‘extreme’ ISO shots to black & white anyway, so the noise just looks like film grain. Try it!
Dynamic range also tends to suffer when pixels are smaller. Sceptics are saying that the dynamic range of the 5DS and 5DS R is lower than the Nikon D810 and the Sony A7r. All I can say is that the dynamic range of the 5DS R in normal use is fantastic, showing a small improvement over the 5D MkIII, and you’d really need to push the camera to its absolute limits to find weakness – such as trying to rescue a shot that has been underexposed by several stops then looking for noise in the shadows. But with its superb 252-zone metering (an improvement over the 5D MkIII) you’re never likely to need to do that unless you make a glaring error!
You do need to use the 5DS and 5DS R with great care because with such high resolution there’s no room for camera shake, focus error or lens softness. Canon recommends using its own EF lenses launched in the last four years, as they boast the latest optical technology. I have the 16-35mm f/4 IS, 24-70mm f/4 IS and 70-300mm f/4-5.6, all of which fall into that category and all of which perform brilliantly with the 5DS R. Use cheaper or older lenses and any fl aws are likely to reveal themselves, which means you won’t be getting the best from the camera’s awesome resolution. The same applies if focusing is out or there’s any camera shake, so impeccable technique is vital, and use a tripod whenever possible.
Other features of note include dual Digic 6 processors to handle the huge files – though with cheaper, slower memory cards it still takes a while when shooting several frames in rapid succession. There are also two crop modes – 30MP APS-H and 19.6MP APS-C – if you don’t need the full resolution.
With over 50 million pixels crammed into its sensor, image quality from the 5DS R is superb, especially at lower ISOs. The camera also handles really well and offers fantastic metering – perhaps the best I’ve ever used. For landscape, architecture, travel and general creative photography, it’s a winner.
Downside? Raw files can be 80MP, which means the buffer fills quickly when shooting sequences and you need big cards plus a fast computer to handle those files. To get the best from the camera you need to use it with great care and with only the best lenses. Will I be upgrading? You bet. Whether I go for the 5DS or 5DS R remains to be seen, as any difference in quality is bound to be small. I’ll still be hanging on to my 5D MkIII, though, for low light/high ISO work.
- Superb image quality
- Great dynamic range at low ISO
- Brilliant metering
- Versatile and fast autofocus
- Mirror lock-up delay options
- Processing can be slow
- Limited ISO range compared to the Canon EOS 5D MKIII
Canon EOS 5DS R Specifications
- Sensor CMOS, 24x36mm full-frame
- Effective resolution 50.6MP
- Maximum resolution 8688 x 5792 pixels
- Image processing Dual ‘DIGIC 6’ processors
- LCD 3.2in Clear View II TFT, approx 1040k dots
- LCD coverage 100%
- Lens mount Canon EF
- Focusing TTL-CT-SIR. 61-point
- Shutter speed range 30sec- 1/8000sec plus bulb
- Flash synch 1/200sec
- Shooting rate 5fps
- Metering EOS iSA system with 252-zone metering
- Metering patterns Evaluative, partial, spot, centre-weighted and average
- EXP modes Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Scene Intelligent Auto
- ISO sensitivity 100-6400 expandable to 50-12800
- File type Raw and JPEG
- Storage Dual slot Compact Flash Type 1, SD, SDHC, SDXC AND FLU SD. UHS-1 supported
- Video capability 1920×1080 25p HD
- Dimensions (wxhxd) 152×116.4×76.4mm
- Weight 845g (body only)