After capturing the majority of my portfolio with the Canon 5D Mark IV over the last four years, it was time for a change. So, why did I choose the Canon R5, and what do I expect it to do for my photography?
Now that you have navigated to the article, I'll spoil the entire thing by telling you right off the bat that the Canon R5 does not improve my photography. A camera is just a tool to help capture a moment and provide creative expression in the form of a photograph. Upgrading my camera isn't going to make me a better photographer. Recently, I had a reader tell me they were tired of hearing "gear doesn't matter" from people like myself. Gear absolutely matters, but not in the many ways we as a community talk about it. If you try to compare something like an iPhone to a Sony a7R IV or a Canon R5, it should be clear which device will take a higher-resolution image with wider dynamic range.
However, the intention and message that comes from the saying "gear doesn't matter" is to be the antithesis of the constant chatter about new cameras, to not get caught up in what camera is better than the other and to simply focus on improving your craft rather than pixel-peeping different brands' raw files.
Look, I totally understand. As a recovering gear head, I fell into the same hole myself many years ago. To this day, I still enjoy the improvements that come from updated pieces of tech and read about them often, especially when making a decision on what to buy. You just have to keep in mind that regardless of what you buy next, it's likely not going to magically change the content you're producing.
What Matters to Me
The feature I'm looking forward to the most on the Canon R5 is the articulating screen. It isn't the 8K video, 45 megapixels, or 20 frames per second (that one is a little unfair considering I am a landscape photographer). The ability to have the camera low to the ground when I'm in precarious positions will be an absolute game-changer for me out in the field. That brings up something you should be asking yourself when thinking about a new camera: what matters to you?
We all want different things in a camera, and what matters to you might be completely different than what matters to me. Here is a quick rundown of things that matter to me about the Canon R5:
- Articulating screen to help for all those times the camera isn't easily accessible.
- Can I open said screen with gloves on?
- High-quality weather-sealing for the times I'm quite literally under a waterfall.
- 4K C-log video quality to replace my Canon C100.
I could continue, but I just want a camera that's reliable and easy to use while also taking high-quality images. The reality is there are a lot of cameras out there for taking high-quality images, and it just comes down to what matters to you. I put a high emphasis on weather-sealing that pushes me into higher-tier cameras, a necessity I realized when my Canon 6D got water in its set dial and stopped functioning correctly even though I was only in some light rain.
When people ask me what camera they should buy to start out, I just tell them to try to find a store to hold each of the cameras within their budget, use it without setting off those pesky alarms, and find which one they like using the most.
Why the Canon R5?
The absolute truth is I did not plan on getting rid of my Canon 5D Mark IV. Even though there is a four-year difference between the two cameras, I didn't feel like the change was warranted from an image quality standpoint. This is unlike when I upgraded from a Canon 6D to the 5D Mark IV, where there was a significant improvement in image quality, specifically in shadow recovery, which is quite important for landscape photography.
I wanted to minimize and replace my aging Canon C100 Mark I that I use to film the talking head portion of my YouTube videos. It absolutely still does the job, but if I could get away with getting rid of it and use the 5D to replace it with a single device, that would have been ideal. While the 5D Mark IV's video is fully capable, its bitrate simply just doesn't hold up, and I could never get my image quality to look quite as clean as the super 35 sensor on the C100.
Even though this isn't a review, I wanted to compare the image quality and shadow recovery of my old 5D and the new R5. My goal is to really understand and know the limits of the camera I'm shooting on so I know how to shoot out in the field. For example, I knew the limitations of my Canon 6D quite well, and I needed to bracket my shots pretty often. When I upgraded to the 5D Mark IV, I found I didn't need to shoot multiple exposures nearly as much because of the increased dynamic range and shadow recovery. So, what did I find this time?
The above is a straight out of camera comparison. I tried to take these as quickly as possible, but the light still changed enough to affect my exposure. The settings for both are ISO 100, f/2.8, a shutter speed of 1/1,000s for the R5, and 1/1,250s for the 5D Mark IV. The only setting I changed before export was exposure on the 5D shot to match the slight change in light. Something to note is I didn't match the white balance here and left what each camera metered itself at.
Here is the same comparison zoomed in, but I doubt you'll see much of a difference between the two after compression and resizing. Truth be told, even looking at the raw files, there is very little difference.
Lastly, I raised the shadows to +100 for each photo just to get an idea of the shadow recovery, and from this very nonscientific comparison, it does appear the R5 has cleaner shadows, but it's nothing to write home about.
Overall, the results are what I expected, with very minimal differences in image quality. If you read the section above, though, you know that wasn't my main concern when investing in a new camera.
I wanted to quickly address my thoughts on the switch to mirrorless. By using an adapter for old EF lenses, there are really only two big changes you go through when switching: the viewfinder and a sensor cover when you're changing lenses. Considering in the nearly four years I have been shooting with the 5D, I have never had to clean the sensor for dust, I knew how much the mirror being locked down helps in keeping it clean when switching lenses. Watching numerous videos on past cameras, I was concerned about having to deal with this, but thankfully, on the R5, the shutter closes anytime you turn the camera off, which helps immensely for keeping the sensor clean in lens transitions.
As for the switch to an EVF, I'm still undecided. I have been using a Fujifilm XT-4 for over six months, so it's not an entirely new feature for me, but that camera is shooting video 99% of the time, and I rarely need the EVF. When I went out on my first shoot with the R5, at least twice, I tried to gauge a composition with the camera off by looking through the viewfinder to a black screen. I think this will just take time to adapt to and is overall not something I'm too concerned about. To reiterate what I've already said, I use the back screen when taking landscape shots most of the time anyway, and my eye is rarely behind the viewfinder. I wouldn't say the same if I were shooting sports or weddings.
Regardless of all of these changes, the hard truth is almost every manufacturer is either already all mirrorless, or that is where their future cameras are headed. There isn't much left up for debate unless you just want to hold out shooting old glass and technology for the next five years.
To me, there are far more important things than stat sheets and big numbers. I realize for many of you out there, some of those stats might matter a considerable amount more. Regardless of how important the specs are to your work, remember to not get lost in it all. For every feature of one brand's camera, there is probably something great about another brand's. At the end of the day, you're going to capture amazing photos because you're a good photographer and not because you have the latest camera in your hands.
The best thing the Canon R5 has done for me so far is getting me to drive up a mountain and get out shooting. Will it change my photography forever? Absolutely not. Will it spoil me with a few new creature comforts to make fieldwork a bit more enjoyable? Yes, and for that, I am grateful. Thanks for reading, and I'd love to know what your thoughts on this topic are in the comments below!