The Canon R5's High ISO Performance is Staggeringly Good

The new flagship Canon mirrorless has an impressive spec sheet, even if some questions have been raised over its performance in some of the more cutting edge capacities. The question is, how is the ISO performance when put into testing environments?

The Canon EOS R5 is an impressive piece of kit, there's no doubt about it. One area of its spec that has thoroughly blown me away in the tests I've seen, however, is the ISO performance. In this video, Lindsay Adler goes through a fashion shoot on the streets, at night, and using high ISO to test the noise.

It may be singular to me, but the improvement of ISO performance has been continually outrunning my perceived performance of it. That is, I always expect it to be worse than it is, and I very rarely venture north of 2,000 ISO. I did have to recently and it was a powerful reminder that even cameras a few years old can easily handle that sort of ISO without much of a downside. The new Canon R5 is pushing that even further and I'm honestly stunned at the results in this video. The difference between 8,000 ISO and 2,000 ISO is — for all intents and purposes — non-existent. 12,800 ISO starts to see a softening of details with noise, but it is a long way from unusable and for almost every application, I would be comfortable with that sort of image quality. What really threw me was 20,000 ISO though. That is a number I have never shot at and imagined it would be unusable even in the R5, but it appears to have almost no difference in noise to the 12,800. It wasn't until Adler got to 32,000 ISO that I would consider the image unsuitable for some higher-end uses of it.

What do you make of the ISO performance of the R5?

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35 Comments

Robert Nurse's picture

I was just experimenting with ISO 6400: just seeing what it could do. I'm as giddy as a school boy!

Paul Scharff's picture

It's very impressive but in my view it simply (and finally!) puts Canon on par with Sony and Nikon. So it's a huge leap for Canon but not for the industry.

That doesn't mean it's not a game changer for Canon. I was thinking about switching brands simply because of high-ISO IQ which so lagged behind the others, and now I don't have to. That's a big deal and a big relief for me.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

You took the words right out of my mouth...

This is not some "revolutionary" high ISO performance we have never seen before, as the headline subconsciously eludes to, since the Nikon D850, and more so the Sony A7RIII have been enjoying this performance for years now.

Good on Canon they FINALLY caught up with the rest of the industry, as it should lend itself as a good upgrade to those in the Canon system, but honestly, as a Sony A7RIII user, this is a "meh, whatever" article...

g coll's picture

"as the headline subconsciously eludes to" - does it?
And it is not a competition. "..as a Sony user, this is meh..." - people need to stop obsessing over who is the best. Grow up.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Oh, that was a real mature comment... I never implied this was a competition, you made that insinuation. And telling someone to grow up for a legitimate, valid post? Someone else needs to do just that...

g coll's picture

Ok fair enough I retract my ‘grow up’ comment. But all too frequently I see these days is people trying to prove that their choice of camera brand is superior. It’s the same with phones. Maybe it’s a symptom of the YouTube tech review generation we are in. I’m not against comparison of cameras as one needs to in order to make an informed decision before purchase. But often it goes beyond this into staunch defense without rationale.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

I totally agree that these days people take the camera brand flame wars way too far, and it’s, frankly, gotten retarded. However I also see many people invoke the smartphone analogy, and unfortunately this is a very bad one to use, as cameras are quite different devices from a smartphone, and this isn’t an apples to apples comparison.

And as for the YouTubers, good god, there are SO MANY BAD actors out there, and by that I mean they conduct “reviews” that really they have no business conducting, and sadly, MANY people end up following their advice. Many of them end up making the brand war flames even bigger as a result. Which also holds true for many of the articles posted here to Fstoppers, makes me shake my head in disbelief!

Like you said, at the end of the day, use what fits your needs and your style best. I chose Sony because of their image quality, low light performance and, ironically, the menu system and functions. Whilst very complex and expansive, this offered me the feature set and flexibility I’d always sought in a camera, so I could customize it exactly to taste and need. And this is definitely not for everyone, and in fact on many occasions people have come to me asking for a recommendation, and I’ve often steered them AWAY from Sony for that very reason, instead recommending a Fuji, Canon or Nikon.

Ian Cuthbert's picture

This is true for a few years, but Canon was the class leader not so long ago. The 5Dii was at the top of the list for high ISO noise control when it came out, and for some time to come.

Dan Jefferies's picture

True. My 6D mk1 has served me well and still does. Never used flash inside and don't need to. The R6 doubles+ the iso available but I'll keep using the 6D as a beater nighttime camera.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

True, but that hasn't been the case for MANY years, up until the release of the R5. And people who shot/shoot Nikon back then would've disagreed with you, myself included (used to shoot Nikon), and I always found Nikon colour science better than Canon's almost sterile feel, not to mention back then, Canon's camera UI was BAD; people complain about current Sony Alpha cameras, they should take the way back machine and have a look :)

Paul Scharff's picture

Actually for me I put up with Canon's bad high-ISO IQ simply because I LOVE their interface. Not only is it great, they never changed it. I have a 7D2 and a 5DS and from the outside they are essentially identical. I really appreciate their "if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it" approach to design.

Still, I'm very happy Canon has caught up because it was waaaay back during the 5D2 that Canon last had the Oh-Wow camera in the industry. Once that honeymoon ended the other manufacturers caught up and leap-frogged over them. With the R5, they've now caught back up and in many ways, back on top.

Ian Cuthbert's picture

I've moved from Canon to Nikon to Sony, mostly following camera models with the best high ISO noise control. When I had my 5Dii, there was simply no other camera that did as well in low light.

There's a lot said about the so-called colour science of different brands of camera. I have to say, in my experience - which is perhaps not so colour critical as it is for some (events, photojournalism, documentary, performing arts, some on-location portraiture) - I've never really had an issue with any of those three big hitter brands. I set up a custom import profile for my RAW files and am always happy with how colour is reproduced.

I've also had Fuji cameras over the years, often touted as the best for getting colour 'right' (whatever that means) and have seen no great advantage when using RAW files.

There will always be some chopping and changing on noise performance. Right now I'd say Sony still have the edge, especially since the release of the A7Siii.

Juan Isaias Perez's picture

With the R5 image quality plus DenoiseAI the results are extremely good. I have also set a max ISO to 12,800. With this setup and software I no longer worry about ISO levels. I have shot a lot of birds at f/8.0 and the ISO is always in the middle of my allowed range. The absolutely noiseless results and great feather detail is just fantastic.

Bernie Retallack's picture

I guess the real question is, why are you shooting at f8?

Rhonald Rose's picture

Not that easy to focus a moving animal on anything less than f8 and get it sharp. Perhaps thanks to the AF improvements and animal detection tech, it may not be necessary anymore. If it's f8 and narrower, at least bulk of the moving bird will be in focus.

Dan Jefferies's picture

We use f/7.1 to f/11.... depends on the bird... f/13 isn't unheard of for kingfishers...

Adam Rubinstein's picture

Precisely, unless one is using a slower lens with a TC. For BIF one should be shooting at nearly the widest aperture, or perhaps stopped down 1/3rd stop or so for distant subjects where the DoF is more than adequate. For other circumstances it depends on DoF considerations, bokeh, etc.

Logan V's picture

Lifelong Canon user who bought (and returned) an early R5 but had shot with a friend's Sony A7R3 for landscape photography prior to purchasing and compared the raw files side-by-side. The ocean brine had effectively eliminated a pretty reasonable part of my Canon hardware so I was relatively close to starting from scratch :( I realized the noise of R5 is more coarse than the A7R3 especially in the shadows. The video quality of the R5 blew the A7R3 out of the water. The autofocus of the R5 was also amazing (although A7R3 was also good).

The highlight recovery of the R5 was inferior to the Sony, and although the DR was pretty equivalent the highlight rolloff of the R5 left something to be desired. The noise of boosted shadows on the R5 was also unacceptable for time lapse. To be fair, I was using DNG conversion and Lightroom for processing. I don't know if that affected my analysis. I did enjoy that R5 uncompressed raw files were ~30 mb vs A7R3 uncompressed was ~80 mb with nonappreciable differences between them.

Regardless, the kicker for me was realizing that the R5 is years behind Sony (but has finally caught up), and I could literally save well over a thousand dollars to purchase an equivalent product for my uses (primarily landscape and time lapse).

My first love will always be Canon. Adapted EF lenses are working great on Sony. It has been fun seeing the RF lenses in development, very cool stuff.

Adam Rubinstein's picture

The noise and DR of the R5 is very similar to the a7riv and inferior to the a7riii. Remember, she is a Canon “explorer of light” rep. Yes the Sony’s preserve highlights better. Full disclosure, I shoot both the R5, Sony a9, and a7riv.

Logan V's picture

Hi Adam, thanks for confirming my tests and impressions, as I wondered if I just had a poor copy of the R5 because everyone raved about how excellent it was. Which, to be honest, it is. Now Canon has an excellent camera that can actually compete with the competition. I remember telling my wife, "The R5 just SHOOTS" meaning it was so darn easy to autofocus, set up camera settings, stabilization etc.

Another thing I noted with the R5 was that while the stabilization was about 1-2 stops superior to the Sony (especially at long focal lengths), there was an occasional "jello-like" effect at wide focal lengths that looked like the Adobe Warp Stabilizer, with in-body and optical stabilization on and digital stabilization off. Just a minor thing but limited my use to lose the tripod entirely for video.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Been a while since I looked at those comparisons, but it's amazing that the A7RIII, a 3 year old camera, is still pulling ahead of the latest and greatest, a testament to how well it was designed.

The R5 is even noisier than the higher-density A7RIV, which is a shock! I had the option to purchase the A7RIV instead of the III, but once I saw the noise results, I knew it wasn't the camera for me.

Frankly, that chart shows the R5 STILL hasn't "caught up" to the competition, whose bar is set by the likes of the A7RIII and IV in the 40-60MP range, and is still lagging, despite all the frothing-at-the-mouth vloggers claiming otherwise.

Ken Yee's picture

Good to see canon in the game again instead of failing behind for so long (last decent release was the canon 5Dii)... Competition is good for consumers 🙂

Vito Valenzi's picture

A7iii still is king of low light tests already prove it but at least canon is getting closer

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Well the A7III isn't a fair comparison to the R5, it's more fair to compare that model to the R6; A7RIII is the fair comparison, and that camera still bests the R5.

And even the A7III can't be called the king of low light anymore, that now goes to the A7SIII :)

Vito Valenzi's picture

Haha true it's still a Sony though! :)

Joseph Smokowski's picture

I am on a steep learning curve. When shooting raw isn't high iso performance a function of the sensor and far more so than the camera body? I’d like to see a chart of sensor and dynamic range making it easier to decide my next and last camera system..

At the time the sensor in the D600 was highly rated when purchased. Doing so again makes sense to me.

Adam Rubinstein's picture

Well it’s a combination of sensor technology, amplifiers, etc. check out this site for the information you requested. https://www.photonstophotos.net/Charts/PDR.htm

Rhonald Rose's picture

I am glad Canon is on par with other manufacturers now. R5 is a very good equipment for photography and if I am in the market for a FF, it's gonna be R5.

Dan Jefferies's picture

Our Canon R6 is putting out images at iso 25,600 that are completely usable, even better than the 80D at iso 3,200 and matching the Canon 6D at iso 3200. That's impressive....

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