The 5D Mark IV May Well Make or Break Canon

The 5D Mark IV May Well Make or Break Canon

Since 2012, many have considered the Canon 5D Mark III to be the proverbial workhorse of the photography industry. It's a great all-around camera. It's not perfect, though. It's also three-and-a-half years old. In the meantime, manufacturers like Sony and Fujifilm have vaulted ahead in the innovation game. This is Canon's chance to take back the spotlight.

Well, that's nice, but where's the Mark IV?

The Canon 5DS and 5DS R are fine and capable cameras; however, they're niche cameras, as evidenced by their naming convention that leaves the 5D Mark IV slot open. With a pixel pitch of 4.14 microns (versus 6.25 in the 5D Mark III), they top out at ISO 6,400, making them questionable for low light applications. But hey, this clearly isn't what they were designed for, so I don't fault them for that. They shoot gorgeous, detail-rich 50.6 megapixel images that will certainly make most any photographer who is in the Canon system and looking for ultra-fine detail quite happy.

Nonetheless, the 5DS is not and was not meant to be a replacement for the 5D Mark III. Photographers purchased the 5D Mark III because it could step into almost any genre and excel. With great (stellar at its release) low light performance, a just-fast-enough-for-most-action continuous rate, and an AF system that made the 5D Mark II look positively primitive, the 5D Mark III was that camera that you could take into any situation and trust, which is a lot to say of any camera, even nowadays. It fit perfectly in-between Canon's budget full-frame, the 6D, and the flagship 1D X

The Time Is Now

Now, all three cameras are coming due for an upgrade; thus, you might ask why I'm emphasizing the middle child. The 6D is a wonderful camera, but it's intentionally hobbled in several ways to distinguish it from the 5D Mark III, most notably in its AF system. You can expect the same sort of distinctions between the 6D Mark II and the 5D Mark IV, thus rendering it out of the running for many professionals. On the other hand, the 1D X, with its stratospheric price of admission, is both too expensive and really, too much camera for all but the most demanding pros in the most demanding situations. The 5D series strikes the balance of capability and price that suits 90 percent of pros.

Nonetheless, in the intervening years since its release, many have claimed a stagnation of innovation on the part of Canon, claiming the 5DS to be an upscaled 7D Mark II, while many have begun to switch to other manufacturers, lured by some rather novel advancements. Canon has always had a more methodical, evolution-based reputation versus the frequently updated, revolutionary approach of a manufacturer such as Sony. While many appreciate the former approach, some have grown impatient, particularly now, as this week marks three years since any announcement of a full-frame DSLR, save for the 5DS series, which we'll disregard for the purposes of this discussion, as it fits in separately from the budget, professional, and flagship tiers. Lately, I've seen more and more comments along the lines of: "If Canon doesn't have this and this in the 5D Mark IV, I'm jumping ship!"

Oh, shiny!

I have to admit that I've been having more and more thoughts along these lines lately. With Sony making full-frame mirrorless technology advances on a seemingly weekly basis, Pentax bringing medium format to the masses, and Fujifilm closing the gap between APS-C and full-frame in many ways, it seems that the traditional full-frame DSLR model is under assault from all sides. As many of my talented Fstoppers colleagues can attest to, I've asked a lot about the user experience in these other realms. With each day, my reasons for not making the switch are further diminished: mirrorless AF is evolving and the lens systems of other manufacturers are burgeoning. Really, I only have one reason left (as do many others): I want to see what Canon will produce.

What I Would Like to See

So, let's talk about some things the 5D Mark IV not only should have when it's likely introduced in 2016, but really needs to have to keep pace and to quiet the dull roar of the oncoming mirrorless offerings.

1.) True Dual Card Slots

The 5D Mark III has both a CF card slot and an SD slot. Unfortunately, while the CF slot is fast, the SD slot maxes out at 133x, meaning that if I'm shooting a lot of shots in a short amount of time, I frequently run into buffer blackout. This means I frequently have to choose between having an in-camera backup or being able to shoot freely. Whether the 5D Mark IV has two CF slots (highly unlikely), two SD slots (more likely), or one of each (most likely), the speeds on both need to be up to par.

2.) Variable Drive Rate

The 5D Mark III has a 6 FPS continuous rate. It's not unreasonable to expect the Mark IV to max out at 7 or 8 FPS. However, there are situations in which I don't need a full 8 FPS. The Mark III has a high speed mode (6 FPS) and a low speed mode (3 FPS), but often, I find 3 FPS to be a bit too slow for things like the first kiss, while 6 FPS fills the buffer a little too quickly. It would be great if I could dial in the speed setting that best suited my needs, especially if the Mark IV sees a bump in its maximum rate. 

3.) Buffer

While we're on the topic of the buffer, we need more. Every photographer in the world would appreciate buffers large enough to obviate worrying about filling them in all but the most challenging situations. With the quantum leaps achieved in both memory and processing capability in the past four years, Canon could make this a killer feature. 

4.) ISO Knob

The Fujifilm X-T1 is one of my favorite cameras in terms of control. All three exposure parameters are readily available at the fingertips. On the 5D Mark III, it's possible to use a custom function to set up a button/dial combination that allows changing the ISO on the fly, but given the myriad of custom functions available, it would be great if such a fundamental setting had a dedicated control and I could assign that slot to something more specialized. 

5.) Sync Speed

Did you know the original 1D had a sync speed of 1/500 s? I know a lot of strobists who shoot with the 5D Mark III and are continually frustrated by its sync speed of 1/200 s. Sure, there's high-speed sync, but right now, in the eyes of many pros, Canon is in a position of needing to reestablish itself as an innovator. An ultra-fast sync speed would be a great distinguishing feature. 

6.) Built-In Wireless Transmission 

I love the Canon RT flash system. I don't love having to pay almost $300 for the transmitter (or use another 600EX-RT). I generally believe that after a certain price point, certain features that professionals frequently use should be included in a professional system.

7.) Long Exposures

The fact that in 2015, I can't input an arbitrary exposure time without resorting to bulb mode and a trigger is a little bewildering and frankly, makes me think it's a way to push me toward buying accessories. This should be a no-brainer.

8. Intervalometer 

Similarly, this is a basic and highly useful feature that I shouldn't need an extra accessory to take advantage of. If my phone can do this, it should be a foregone conclusion that a high-end DSLR can.

9.) Lighted AF Points

The 5D Mark III has a stellar AF system that performs admirably in low light. There's only one problem: I can't see my AF points in low light. For some reason, when shooting in Servo mode, the black AF points do not illuminate, meaning in a dark reception hall, I have to try to follow dimly lit subjects with, you guessed it, a black AF point. The best AF system in the world doesn't mean much to me if I don't know what I'm focusing on.

Those AF points work wonderfully... when I can see where they are.

10.) AF Point Coverage

While we're on the subject, one thing mirrorless cameras do really well and DSLRs do really poorly is spread AF points across the frame. It would be great if I could compose a shot without having to also think about if I can get an AF point on the subject. This would also be tremendously beneficial to those who photograph erratic subjects, such as wildlife photographers, and have to not only keep the subject in frame, but within the confines of AF coverage. Of course, this should not mean the same number of points spread wider, but rather, the same density, with more points added to extend the coverage. I frequently shoot at or near maximum aperture, so the focus and recompose method is not always a viable option.

Doesn't that make you feel a bit compositionally restricted?

11.) Spot Metering Linked to AF Point

This is a feature I highly suspect Canon left out of the 5D Mark III to distinguish it from the 1D X, but I really think this is a mistake. Top level cameras should be distinguished not only by their build, but by state of the art and innovative features exclusive to that echelon by virtue of their newness and novelty. Purposely excluding a highly useful and sensible feature that even a camera released in 1998 possessed from your second best camera seems to be a bit of a snub to working professionals.

12.) More Frames Per Second

The 5D Mark III's maximum continuous rate of 6 FPS is just barely adequate for me to feel comfortable in most any situation. I would really feel better if that number was bumped to 8 FPS. Really, with the 1D X Mark II likely to top out at at least 14 FPS, there will still be plenty of room to distinguish it for those who want ultimate speed.

13.) Dynamic Range and File Latitude

This is a big one. With Sony and Nikon's cameras consistently possessing around 14 stops of dynamic range, the 11.7 stops of the 5D Mark III are starting to feel a bit antiquated. Coupled with its poor shadow recovery, I frequently feel a bit restricted when shooting scenes with a large dynamic range. 

14.) Release Date

Every day, I read of more photographers jumping ship to the likes of Sony, Fujifilm, Pentax, or Nikon. In all likelihood, there will be at least a four-year gap between the 5D Mark III and the Mark IV. In my humble opinion, that's just too long. At the very least, I long for an announcement, so that I might at least be able to know what's on the horizon. 

Now, I'm not saying that if the Mark IV doesn't live up to expectations that Canon is going bankrupt. I am saying, however, that if it doesn't inject some innovation and dare I say, excitement into the market, we might see a shift in the paradigm among working professionals. Many people counter this by saying that the brands like Sony and Fujifilm are too toy-like, too in the realm of consumer electronics to ever dislodge the mighty two brands, but for those who think that, I direct your attention to the ever-burgeoning market share held by Sigma and Tamron's lens divisions. Who's to say such a shift isn't possible with camera bodies too?

What do you need or want in the 5D Mark IV?

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Previous comments

Although the Canon 5D models (I, II and III) have interchangeable viewing screens, the microprism one is not suitable for centre spot metering, which is why they probably don't sell many. Bunch of info here if you are interested Jeff......check out the paragraph on exposure and compatibility issues..............

Agree with wifi and gps built in.

But i would really like to see true 1080p in video along with 60fps.

But na why should canon hurt the pro line.. i think ill be moving onto mirror less cameras which vive me these at half the price

michael andrew's picture

I shot with a sony a7s video project this week. It was great. The cameras noise performance is the most amazing bit of advancement I have seen.

As a a result I will phase out all Canon bodies except the 1 series as the autofocus and reliability is amazing.

Video: a7sii
Photos: a7rii and 1D.

5D has no place for me anymore. Sony and Metabones has made slow methodical shooting obsolete for me and Canon bodies.

Please, oh please, build in infra-red focus assist. It would probably add only a dollar or two to the overall cost of manufacturing the camera. Handling high ISOs means nothing if you can't focus in the dark!

Percy Ortiz's picture

The last Canon i purchased brand new was my trusty 1Ds mk III but my ever so trusty Canon these days is being left in the bag more often that not. My new system covers everything I wanted that Canon was lacking as technology advanced. when the 5D mk II hit the market, good ISO wasn't enough of an incentive for me to rekindle my love with all things Canon.
So what would I like in an ideal 5D mk IV? These days i shoot in manual focus (it took me a while to adjust to not depend on technology and trust my eyes) so AF don't bother me. I have a sync speed of up to 800th so that is covered. 14 stops dynamic range would be nice but what i have now perfectly suits my needs. Buffer and speed? I find myself shooting more quality than quantity so pass. So what do I really want and miss from my old Canon days? An integrated vertical grip. My 1Ds was king of the hill in terms of comfort and handling and having to buy a vertical grip everytime i change/upgrade cameras is simply ridiculous. Not to mention pricey. 1Dx was simply too overpriced for what it offered. Give me a 5D with the same quality body as the 1D generations used to have and I may consider rekindling my love with Canon... where once there was fire ashes remain... ashes and lenses...

Antonios Printezis's picture

Wish list: At least 36MP, Dual Pixel AF, 65 All Cross-Type, Headphone jack, Wifi/GPS/NFC (get with the program, this is 2016 almost), Dual SD card, 1080 at 60fps or better, Intervalometer, Variable fps burst rate, Better dynamic range, Less noise / higher ISO than the 5Ds, User replaceable focus screen (why not?). Ok, this is already too much, i will stop here and wait (hopefully not for tooooooo long). Come on Canon ... you can do this !!

Jonathan Reid's picture

I've been asking for this feature for 10 years. It seems easy to implement and would be very useful: Min ISO lower than 100. ISO 25 or less would be brilliant for video and for long exposures without ND filters. I care more about this than the ridiculously high ISO options.

Tony Northrup's picture

4k video, touchscreen, an e-ink display to replace the LCD display up top, and... I know this is a stretch... but the option to switch the optical viewfinder to an electronic viewfinder. EVFs are just incredibly useful for preventing exposure problems without chimping.

4k video, better dynamic range and an EVF would pretty much be the best real upgrades Canon can bestow upon us and would possibly be the most substantial upgrades in a long long time. But then as I'm sitting here watching the rugby world cup, I'm reminded again we are talking about Canon so the marketing department is the only one that does their job right.

Juan Osorio's picture

I agree with Tony Northrup. If Canon really wants to leave everybody behind, they should have 4K, touchscreen and something that hasn't been mentioned before, USB C. USB 3.0 would be just the same old ways, trying to catch up with computer technology. Why not to run parallel with it? Finally a serious wireless system that allows photographers to do wireless tethering. When I speak about serious I mean, surpassing Cam Ranger. What about the fastest Gigabit ac dual band standard? That would kill any Sony or Nikon camera out there. Finally, what about a 40 megapixels back-illuminated sensor, intervalometer and of course having at least 14 stops of dynamic range?

dale clark's picture

I think if more people, especially manual focus users, tried EVF for a period of time, I think, like myself, it would be hard to go back. I almost purchased an a7rii this week, however I think I'll just hold out for the next Canon.

Alex Cooke's picture

While I don't see us getting the EVF, I completely agree about its usefulness. That could be something that really pushes Canon back ahead of the mirrorless crowd as well. I absolutely love the hybrid viewfinder in my X100S and to have that on a full frame DSLR would be a dream come true.

Holy SHIT, Tony Northrup! Wow I'm starstruck! (don't screw this up, don't screw this up, don't screw this up) Man, I love your videos, they're so awesome. What do I have to do to make my hair as flawlessly grey as yours? (SHIT, that's a weird question! Well, you blew it, Sam.) Anyways love you and Chelsea's opinions. Best available anywhere on the web.

Tony Northrup got it already figured, EVF, touch screen, focus peaking and 4k, wireless controls, GPS and 10fps and video frame rate 120p in HD for slow motion. Hey Tony can you review the Sigma 500mm f4.5 prime??

Geez, how would any of you manage without digital? You'd be lost with film.

Reginald Walton's picture

Well, probably the same way you'd manage without a computer (probably be lost). We are out of the film days (mostly), so we're talking digital now. LOL

Spot Metering Linked to AF Point <-- only in 1D series no any other canon digital has it ... all the nikons can do it ...
its software thingy canon always suck with these things just look at 7D2 the fucked up lightmeter ( no lightmetering on the up status lcd nobody knows why)

GPS and wifi is for beginners , wifi is slow for live view professional hdmi transponders works muchmuch better.

I didn't think much of GPS or Wi-Fi until I got into wildlife photography. Being able to tag the exact location where I spot a moose is kinda handy. And being able to pull images off my camera and onto my phone so I can share them with my wife, or post online, before I get home, that's kinda nice. Something I can't do from the top of a mountain, even if I brought my laptop.

Red Kamatis's picture

I'd thank the camera gods if the 5dm4 would be at par with all the a7rii features plus the dual card slots and weather sealing.

Daniel Lee's picture

Great article and I do partially agree with you saying the 5D4 will make or break Canon. I personally think this only really applies to the Prosumer and Pro markets as general consumers that buy the XXXD and XXD lines just to take better quality photos of their food and family wouldn't care about the the same things photographers care about.

Ethan May's picture

#7 and programmable exposure length, too.

Rachael Muller's picture

Wifi + swivel screen should be on this list...

Regardless of the specification that people want, canon are not immune to market changes.
Look at
nokia apple
Ibm windows
Windows android
Webos android

Jeff Colburn's picture

Back in February, a photographer I know, Bret Edge, sold all of his Canon gear and went to Sony. I get the Sony magalogs, and Sony is more tempting every day. If Canon wants to stay in the running, they better get their tail in gear.

Have Fun,

dale clark's picture

I agree. Institutional arrogance can kill a company (remember General Motors). Hopefully, this is not the case with Canon. However, with Sony (and soon maybe Pentax) making noise in the full frame market, Canon will get things rolling again. One side note. P&S sales across the board are dismal due to better smartphone cameras. I believe Canon has over 49 current production P&S cameras listed on their current (and boring looking ) website.

Turns out, none of this proposed crap can make a decent picture

Lighted AF points. Shame Canon doesn't have them. I've been enjoying that momentary red light-up of my AF points on my 7 year old Nikon D90. Helps a lot in low-light.

Dave Kavanagh's picture

Its interesting to see the dynamic range issue only rank at 13. I switched from Canon to Nikon last year with this as the biggest factor. I'm sure it very much depends on what you shoot but for darker moody scenes where I deliberately want an underexposed background, the ability to claw back some of that detail back in post is a massive factor for me. The shadow recovery in Canon's raw files is just plain ugly. I'm now using a combination of a Nikon D750 and D810 and they both do an amazing job of this. While I'm totally happy with my current setup I would rather have spent that money investing further in Canon's system since thats what I was already heavily invested in. Unfortunately Canon didn't have a single camera on the market that offered me the editing latitude that their competitors had so my money went to Nikon instead.

Where is it? Hopefully on hold until Canon pull their finger out of a certain orifice and create a sensor on par with Nikon's (ok, Sony's). End of.

Kyle Ford's picture

Damn right! I'm bailing to Sony if they don't get their shit together on the mark IV and I never thought I'd say that.

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