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Happy 10th Birthday to the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800

Happy 10th Birthday to the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800

Ten years ago, this month the Canon 5D Mark III DSLR was released; a month earlier, the Nikon D800 arrived. Their appearance heralded the crash of the camera industry. Were they, in some small way, partly to blame?

The Canon EOS 5D III sported a 22.3-megapixel CMOS sensor and boasted six frames per second shooting and 63 metering zones. Deemed to be the bee’s knees at the time, it’s since become one of the few classic digital cameras. Despite being a bit limited on the shooting speed compared to today’s standards, there are still photographers, especially wedding and portrait photographers, that use it. Why? Because it is still good enough to do the job well.

It had its faults. The light from the LCD panel would affect the exposure in dark environments, but at least its mirror didn’t have the habit of falling out, like its two predecessors. Nor was overheating a problem like its mirrorless successor, the R5. The Mark III had a dynamic range of a then-impressive 11.74 EV. Although far more affordable than its contemporary stablemate, the 18-megapixel 1D X, with a launch price of $3,499, it still wasn’t a cheap camera.

Photographers would have been in the pink owning this super camera. I nearly bought one some years ago. Sadly, it felt uncomfortable in my hands and lacked features I needed, like an articulating rear screen.

Just beating the Canon out of the gates, the Nikon D800 was launched too. That boasted a 36.6-megapixel sensor and had a dynamic range of 14.4 EV. It should have been the clear winner; at $2,999, it was $500 less than the Canon, and DXOMark rated its performance more highly than the 5D III too. Its focusing wasn’t as fast as later models, but it too was a super camera that was also good enough to meet the needs of professional photographers.

Despite their flaws, both these cameras were considered the pinnacle of achievement in the field of more affordable pro-end full-frame DSLRs. However, at the time of their launch, interchangeable lens camera (ILC) sales started to plummet. This was widely blamed on the provision of point-and-shoot cameras in smartphones. That factor impacted the compact market. But was there was more to it than that when it came to ILCs? Was the release of those two cameras a contributing factor to the market’s decline? The reason I ask those rhetorical questions is because of what I said earlier: they were good enough.

Ten years ago, the specs of the Nikon D800 were impressive; I wasn't quite green with envy towards my friend who had one, but was impressed. Are they still good enough for most photographers? I've used one but, like the 5D Mark III, found it cumbersome. The image quality was great, though.

Good Enough: The Reason Why Photographers Stopped Buying New Cameras

In 2012, there were 100 million digital cameras manufactured, already down from the peak of 121.77 million two years earlier. The following year, sales were already at half their peak. By far, the biggest loss was from the fixed lens compact cameras that accounted for most camera sales at the time. The smartphone stole away that section of the market.

Meanwhile, the sales of ILCs increased to around 17 million in 2012. Why was the smartphone not having a detrimental effect on that section of the market? There’s a massive difference between shooting with an ILC and a phone. But by 2019, this figure had just about halved to 8.66 million. Maybe the smartphone wasn’t solely to blame?

Professionals, Enthusiasts, and Beginners No Longer Needed to Upgrade

The Reason Why Pros Upgraded Less Often

Skilled photographers knew there was no need to upgrade when their cameras took superb photos. Nevertheless, most upgrades available made much smaller changes than those that had come earlier in the millennium. Historically, improvements between releases were significant. By the twenty-teens, the differences between models had narrowed.

Furthermore, photographers became wise to the great pixel count lie. Most people no longer print images. Even if they did, then they rarely printed as big as S11R (11” x 17") or A3, which only required around 8 megapixels for photo quality reproduction. Higher pixel counts meant nothing more than larger file sizes. For most of us, all that was achieved was both slower processing and greater storage requirements.

Enthusiasts Stopped Upgrading Too

Then, there were the keen enthusiasts who were previously duped into updating their cameras but discovered it made little difference to their photography. Even those that upgraded from relatively poorly specified crop frame DSLRs to these 35mm models didn’t suddenly become great photographers.

Novices Gave Up on Photography

Before 2012, novices bought DSLRs in their millions, expecting them to deliver on the promise of perfect images. Inevitably, they were disappointed because they did not know how to operate them and they could get as good photos on their smartphones. They bought into the pixel count lie and purchased new entry-level cameras. Consequently, there are many millions of obsolete, low-quality DSLRs abandoned in cupboards, drawers, and landfills with their mode dial still pointing to auto.

The realization that new cameras don’t make better photographers must have hit hardest those who expected fame and fortune to be handed to them on a plate. Talent is earned by hard work. They were unwilling to put in the hard work over many years to achieve success. Perhaps I should be more generous and say that they were unaware that long, hard toil was necessary to become talented.

At the other end of the scale, it must also have been disappointing to those with a desire and drive to do something big with their photography but discovered that they were tiny fish in a huge ocean. Their ambitions were thus quashed, and they too were discouraged from upgrading.

Added to that, people’s incomes fell in real terms, and the wealth gap between the richest and the rest of us grew. Ordinary people who before could afford to buy new cameras can no longer afford to do so.

What Lessons Can Be Learned From the Past?

Have things moved on since 2012? The industry has reached rock bottom. Yet, there are still more people taking photographs than there are playing football or going fishing, and even more, people are taking the art seriously than ever before. This isn’t with any desire to make themselves rich from selling their work, but just enjoying the act of creativity. But does that require a new camera? Aren’t the 5D Mark III and the D800 still good enough?

For photography to survive as a popular art form, it needs camera companies to exist. Putting it bluntly, those companies need to find ways to make money. That means selling more gear.

All is not lost. As I reported in my previous article, the new OM-System OM-1 has just launched, and it has been a massive success with a huge global uptake. Why? Firstly, it’s more affordable. It costs $1,500 less than the Canon 5D Mark III did at launch 10 years ago, more than that in real terms. Moreover, the diminutive OM-1 outperforms most other much larger cameras on the market in many areas of its functionality. Its Micro Four Thirds system ticks all the ergonomics boxes too; it’s not backbreaking like other systems. Most importantly, though, it’s a camera that has lots of new, useful innovative features not available in other cameras, namely the computational photography functions.

The dark horse: The OM System Olympus OM-1

Even the OM-1’s dynamic range at its native ISO 200 is not far off the full frame Canon EOS R5 that costs $1700 more. (Comparatively, the R5 is still a good value compared to the 5D Mark III. The latter’s original selling price is the equivalent of $4284.68 in today’s money.) It’s worth noting that the OM-1 has a slightly lower pixel count than the 5D Mark III from ten years ago; OM System has shunned the pixel count battle, as Olympus did before them.

Of course, there will always be a minority who will want greater resolution. But, resolution is not everything. Fitting more pixels on the sensor means they must be smaller. Consequently, they have less capacity for storing electrons. In turn, this results in a lower dynamic range. Conversely, fewer, larger photosites on the sensor will always result in a better dynamic range. New sensors have greatly improved in this respect, and I believe we have reached the point where contemporary crop sensors are good enough.

There’s one other area where camera manufacturers should take heed, and that is the environmental and moral impact of their products. Evermore, consumers are expecting the things they buy to be made from recycled materials, not be produced in countries run by oppressive regimes, and be carbon-neutral. If you look at the huge success of Urth (formerly Gobe) filters, that is down to them helping rainforest restoration. So far, they have funded the planting of over five million trees. This is surely an example that other photographic businesses must follow. I am certainly swayed to buy quality products where manufacturers go as far as they can to do good in the world, as opposed to paying cheap lip service to widely accepted values.

If manufacturers want to continue selling cameras, then they are going to have to invest in research and development. They must start producing affordable, environmentally friendly cameras with new and useful features that photographers at every level want.  

Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

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Excellent. Glad you like using them still.

I took a long leap from the Nikon D50 to the D700. I upgraded as I had outgrown the D50. I needed the larger pixels as I was shooting more professional work. Then the D800 came out. The D800 after the factory dust fix with a sensor 3x as large as the D700 is now my go-to camera. I can't see going any further at this point. Just need more lenses!

More lenses? I know that feeling. Thanks for the comment.

Hi Lee, thank you for the comment, even if it was slightly barbed,

The point I was making was not about the cameras being repaired - I am fully aware of that - but they should not have been released onto the market without the faults. Both the mark I and the mark II suffered that, and it was a lot more than just a few. Google "mirror fell out of the canon 5d mark ii" and it brings up over a million hits.

Similarly, the fault with the R5 happened because people needed and expected it to work. If it wasn't a realistic expectation then Canon would not have recalled them and fixed the fault. It's a bit like buying a car that can go 0 to 60 in 5 seconds, but being told not to accelerate too hard because the engine will overheat.

When I buy cameras, or any quality product, I have an expectation that it will work properly as advertised. If manufacturers repeatedly send out top-end products that don't work as they should, exhibit common faults, or suffer catastrophic failures, then they lose the confidence of the market.

I'm not saying that nobody prints above A3, but those who do are in a minority. Saying that, I was speaking with a fine art photographer who sells 48" and larger prints, and they use a 20 MP camera.

Enjoy your 5D III. It's still a fine camera.

I upgraded to a second hand D800E from a D700 that I still shoot. If I upgrade again it's going to be solely for low light performance and the option of a silent shutter on mirrorless but that's really only for the few times a year I shoot BTS stills. Other than that, there really aren't any new technologies in mirrorless cameras that I would make use of except maybe the star tracking feature in the new Pentax K3 Mark III which is super awesome. But still in the end I have no reason to upgrade. My D800E and lenses do what I need them too fantastically.

Exactly right. That D800E doesn't suddenly start taking worse pictures because it's been superseded. Thanks for the comment.

Added to that, people’s incomes fell in real terms, and the wealth gap between the richest and the rest of us grew. Ordinary people who before could afford to buy new cameras can no longer afford to do so. (/Quote]
That, I think is a very American point of view. The income in most of the other industrial and non-industrial world, has gone up for most people.

In the first 26 years from 1959 to1885 Nikon produced 22 manual focus cameras, or 0,8 a year.
In the next 18 years from 1986 to 2004 Nikon produced 22 auto focus cameras, or 1,2 a year.
In the 21 years from 1999 to 2020 Nikon produced 57 digital cameras, or 2,7 a year.

If (and I think it is) the same is true for Canon and other manufactories, then they literally overproduced themself to death.

I couldn't agree more about the numbers of cameras that were produced. Thanks for those useful statistics.

You are right about the worldwide wealth, (although I am UK based), and it is in the developed nations where the majority of cameras are sold, and it is there where the wealth gap is increasing, and the ordinary consumer is less well off.

Thanks for the great and interesting comment.

Everyone is familar with the Holy Trinity of lenses. I own and use on a regular basis what I consider to be the Holy Trinity or Trifecta of Nikon full frame bodies The D700, D800 and the D850. Each one groundbreaking and pivotal in it's own right. And no amount of opinion pieces in print or video wondering about their relevance in (pick a year) is going to change that.

Hi Scott, thank you for that super point you make.

I do agree with you. As your comment, and the other comments in this discussion show, there are still plenty of folk happy with their older cameras. You have a valid point about articles not changing anything, but - judging by the large number of readers and comments so far - it's an interesting discussion that people want to engage with nonetheless.

Yeah, the blogs endlessly calling these cameras relics or dinosaurs has become rather tedious.
In this new age of NFT's, I'm sure someone is going to put forth the premise; "The Mona Lisa: Is It Still Relevant In 2022?".

I've just been looking through my catalog for images to illustrate an article, and some I've chosen were shot 15 years ago. Saying that, when I look closely, I can see an image quality difference between what I had then and what I use now. I am sure some of that is down to the improved glass though.

I stumbled upon a channel on YouTube called "Straight Out Of Camera" who makes some real interesting observations about the output from the higher resolution cameras. He talks about the observable esthetics from them and avoids the usual techno-babble other channels flog to death.
Like the sensor in a D700 renders very unique images as if if it were it's own film stock.
Worth a look.

Thank you, Scott. I'll take a look. That's good of you to share that.

I still use a 5D3 for my real estate work. Just enough pixels, two cards, and good IQ. I have other Canon FFs as backup in case of failure, which hasn't happened to it yet.

I hope it doesn't fail at all! Out of interest, what is its shutter count? They were rated at 150,000. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

I got over 400,000 on my 5dii back in the day before I replaced my shutter.

That's pretty good going. Judging by this data around half failed much earlier than that. https://shuttercheck.app/data/canon/eos-5d-mark-iii/ You must be kind to your cameras.

My son is a wedding photographer that moved on from his 5DIIIs and bought 5DIVs. He gave one of his IIIs to his second shooter at 320,000 clicks. As far as I know, it's still going. Certainly well over 400,000 by now.


I ordered a D800 in May of 2012. It was my workhorse until last year when I upgraded to a Z7II. It is completely capable today of taking any photo that I could think of doing. I only upgraded for better video performance (it was bad when my smartphone would take way better video than a $3k camera) and I had some small issues with a couple of focus points (one of those being middle row 2nd from left that was my primary one use for portraits). Do I regret upgrading? Not at all, eye autofocus is amazing and video isn't even comparable - but if you're just talking about photo performance in well lit studio conditions, it's about the same. Used D800s for under $1k should be flying like hotcakes as they can do anything that a still photographer might want in the Nikon system.

Thanks Matt, I agree with everything you say there.

Is anyone still using 35mm film cameras on their job work? I have never heard of 'shutter count' until I switched to digital cameras. My old workhorse back in the film days shooting youth sports was Minolta SRT-101, replaced later when I lost my gear with Minolta XD-11 & XE-7. I miss processing my own B&W film and printing them. Those were the good old days. I think whatever works best with you is what you should use, unless the newer gear will help or better your job. I like that you reply to readers comments, Mr. Rackham.

I remember seeing a while back that there were a couple of niche wedding photographers that still shot on film using f5's and f100's. What I remember seeing of their work was incredible.

Thank you Abel and Chris for your contributions. I do sometimes shoot film, and I am taking a vintage TLR on a wedding shoot later this year. I take digital cameras too, of course.

I guess the reason why shutter count wasn't discussed before digital was that old film cameras didn't have counters Plus the number of photos shot on film was a drop in the ocean compared with today's digital cameras, so it wasn't an issue; shutters didn't wear out. With the move towards electronic shutters, judging a camera's quality by its shutter life will become redundant soon, but it was a useful guide in the past.

I completely agree with the sentiment that what works best for you is most important. Although these were two fine cameras, neither was the right camera for me. Nor would I expect everyone to use what I do.