Photography Magazine Links

The Field Trial

Canon EOS R5

David Noton ventures out into the fields to extensively test the
much-anticipated new Canon EOS R5 pro-level mirrorless camera.

Photo: David BakerPhoto: David BakerFinally, I have in my hand the EOS R5; Canon’s new all-singing, all-dancing, much hyped top-end mirrorless camera that we’ve known was coming for almost a year. It’s the camera, along with its R6 stablemate and raft of new RF lenses, that puts real flesh on the bones of Canon’s increasingly comprehensive mirrorless EOS R system. Its much-anticipated but pandemic-delayed launch earlier this month was, according to Canon, the most significant in decades. Well, aren’t they all? Maybe, but establishing a mirrorless system of such breadth and depth that the opposition will struggle to compete with is clearly Canon’s aim, so much hinges, for now at least, on the success of the EOS R5. It’s a pro-level camera with an impressive specification that can, allegedly, do it all. We have, of course, heard that before. Does then the hype match the camera’s performance out in the field? And is the EOS R5 really that ground-breaking? There’s only one way to find out.

The image quality of the R5 is exceptional. A Great Grey Owl, Pitcombe Rock Falconry, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 105mm, 1/800 sec at f/4, ISO 800The image quality of the R5 is exceptional. A Great Grey Owl, Pitcombe Rock Falconry, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 105mm, 1/800 sec at f/4, ISO 800I’ve been shooting with a pre-production EOS R5 over the last few weeks, tackling a variety of subjects and genres from landscapes to portraits to animals to astronomy, from barley fields to speeding dogs, birds of prey, frolicking infants, streaking comets, flowers in the garden, windblown sisters and cows in the rain. I reckon I know this camera pretty well now, and damned impressive it is too. It’s a camera the tripod and filter manufacturers will hate. But I’m getting ahead of myself already, so let’s start delving into the nuts and bolts of this camera.

I was delighted I have an opportunity to test this camera before it hit the market, though I’m not here to regurgitate gushing superlatives. Any who doubt that should read my searching Field Trials of the Canon EOS R and its predecessors in the f11 Photography Magazine. Canon never exert any pressure to be anything else but frank in my opinions of their products. In fact, quite the reverse. Canon need us to be critical, because only that way will their cameras, lenses and printers continue to evolve for the better. After all, this worthy camera in my hands now is partly the result of feedback received over the years from you and me.  It’s an accomplished, expensive camera that deserves a balanced in-depth appraisal.

Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 43mm, 1/400 sec at f/9, ISO 100Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 43mm, 1/400 sec at f/9, ISO 100Handling and Controls

In terms of size and weight the R5 is unsurprisingly similar to the R. In fact, it’s 2.2 mm wider, 0.8 mm shorter and 3.6 mm thicker, to be precise, while 78 grams heavier. The feel overall is of a slightly chunkier, more robust camera with superior build quality and weather sealing. Gone is the EOS R’s irritating taskbar, back is the rear control wheel and multi-controller (joystick) that Canon users know so well. Also new is the inclusion of two memory card slots (for CFexpress and SD cards), the omission of which on the EOS R made professionals so nervous. Within an hour of unboxing the camera I’d whizzed through the menus and set the camera up to my liking. Familiarity with the EOS R helped, although there were a fair few new options in the menus I’d need to investigate further; like shutter mode, IBIS and AF tracking options. But once I’d set the front wheel for aperture, the top wheel for ISO and the back wheel for exposure compensation I was ready to venture out into the fields around Milborne Port to shoot cows in the rain. What else? 

All my field trials start by shooting cows.  Immediately I was struck by how improved the touch and drag focus point selection was.  Canon EOS R5; RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 32mm, 1/160 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200 All my field trials start by shooting cows. Immediately I was struck by how improved the touch and drag focus point selection was. Canon EOS R5; RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 32mm, 1/160 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200 Instantly I was at one with the R5, in a way I never really have been with the R. The controls just felt more much intuitive. The touch and drag Auto Focus point selection for example was smooth and precise. On the R I always found it skittish and erratic; the AF point would keep scuttling off into a corner, to the point where I usually disabled touch and drag. But the R5’s AF point selection is a joy to use, probably due to the fact that there are now 1053 AF segments, up from 145 on its predecessor. With the positioning method set to Relative (as opposed to Absolute; the difference is night and day!) I’ve been using touch and drag AF selection ever since. Come the winter I’ll be glove-clad and using the joystick. On that important point for we landscapers the controls on the R5 are generally less dependent on touch screen activation, which means this is a much more practical camera to use in the cold, and the dark. 

That overall impression was borne out the next morning on my first landscape shoot with the R5, and then subsequently on two night-sky shoots. The latter really test a camera’s (and a photographer’s) functionality; shooting in complete darkness isn’t easy. Under the night sky I need to operate the camera blind, which means finding the menu or screen magnification button by touch, without the use of a torch. I really don’t want to be scrolling through menus in the pitch black on a hilltop at 1am. Every time I have to switch my headtorch on I lose precious night vision, so just changing the exposure mode and ISO needs to be an instinctive press or twiddle operation. I’m relieved to report these are easy things to do on the R5 in the dark. Adjustments such as drive options and focus mode still need to be selected on screen, but the joystick does make that viable with gloves on. Why though is the Rate button there occupying such a valuable prime position beside the menu button? Does anyone actually ever use it? And here’s a suggestion Canon; could the other buttons be touch-identified with a braille-like texture? 

My first landscape shoot with the R5; immediately I was at home with the camera’s controls. Canon EOS R5; EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens at 18mm, 1/13 sec at f/11, ISO 100My first landscape shoot with the R5; immediately I was at home with the camera’s controls. Canon EOS R5; EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens at 18mm, 1/13 sec at f/11, ISO 100Overall though the R5 is a straight-forward camera to operate; and much less fiddly than the EOS R. I’m pleased to see also the provision of a socket for a timer/remote controller (what we used to call a cable release) on the front of the body. It was missing on the R, (although there is an E3 release socket which uses a little mini jack) necessitating the use of either my phone or the BR-E1 Bluetooth remote release. The latter is a delightfully small appliance, to be sure, but so tiny I kept losing it. The latter is still an option for firing the R5’s shutter remotely of course, and great for family group shots. Actually with the Bulb exposure timer control in camera the remote timer does become redundant, but we now have the choice.

The next morning after my painfully early dawn session I sat in the garden, laboriously going through every option in the menus, trying to understand them all, and deciding what I needed to know, and what I didn’t. Hands up those who use in-camera photobook set up, raw processing or the slide show. Seriously, the R5 is a complex camera, especially when you throw in all the video settings. The instruction manual runs to 919 pages! Now I get that its good to have options for customising the camera exactly to our liking, but on the other hand there is beauty in simplicity. I think Canon does need to keep an eye on that balance. All of which makes using the My Menu folders for quick access to the settings I regularly use so important. Currently in there is stuff like bulb timer, shutter mode, cropping aspect ratio, format card, battery info, image-stabilisation mode, number of bracketed shots, and auto exposure bracketing. 

Considering the high ISOs used to capture the night sky the lack of noise is remarkable. Comet Neowise and The Plough in the northern night sky over Milborne Wick, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens at 16mm, two exposures; 20 sec at 2.8, ISO 6400 with Kase Neutral Night filter for the sky, 30 sec at f/2.8 ISO 12800 for the landscapeConsidering the high ISOs used to capture the night sky the lack of noise is remarkable. Comet Neowise and The Plough in the northern night sky over Milborne Wick, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens at 16mm, two exposures; 20 sec at 2.8, ISO 6400 with Kase Neutral Night filter for the sky, 30 sec at f/2.8 ISO 12800 for the landscapeDisplay

The vari-angle screen is useful when shooting high or lowThe vari-angle screen is useful when shooting high or lowThe R5’s Electronic Viewfinder has improved resolution, up from the R’s 3.69m dots to 5.76, and with a refresh rate increased from 60 to 120 fps, which make it an altogether more satisfying camera to use. Scenes just look so much better in the R5’s EVF, to the point where I’m not really conscious of the difference between an OVF and EVF. The R5 EVF’s tracking of fast-moving subjects is improved also, due to the camera’s bigger buffer. If I’m honest I still prefer an optical viewfinder most of the time, and I still have to remind myself to switch the camera on before squinting through the eyepiece, but that embarrassing faux pas aside

I’m used to using an EVF now, and do recognise their advantages, particularly in low-light. In the near total darkness of an astro-shoot the OVF and Live View display of a DSLR become virtually useless, while I was able to compose and even manually focus (using focus-peaking) my comet shoots using the R5’s EVF.

Meanwhile the vari-angle screen aids shooting at high and low angles. It also makes carefully crafted self-portraits (aka selfies) and vlogging viable, if that’s your bag. I do though have concerns for that vari-angle connection’s durability. But the look of the images on the big screen on the back is great. This has always been one of Canon’s strengths. While the appeal of the beautiful glowing image on the monitor may not affect the finished image it sure enhances the enjoyment of the shoot, and that’s no small matter.

Image Quality

And so, to the crucial question that many will jump straight to. The heart of the Canon EOS R5 is its 45 megapixel Dual Pixel CMOS sensor. Do you remember when top-of-the-range DSLRs had 5 MP sensors? Now here we are 15 years later with 9 times that many pixels, and really, it’s no longer such a big deal. I’ve been shooting for over five years with a camera (the Canon EOS 5DS R) which has more, 50.2 to be precise, and a fair few of the R5’s competitors have similarly high pixel counts. The question of how many pixels we actually need is still a moot point, but surely, other factors aside, the more detail the better, especially when printing big. I have got used to editing the huge files the 5DS R produces, so the detail and clarity of the R5’s 8192 x 5464 pixel images is almost a given. In fact, losing 5 MP, or 10% of the native image size would seem to be a small but faintly regrettable retrograde step. But it’s not all about the pixel count because the technology in the R5’s sensor has now moved on a couple of generations since I was shooting with a pre-production 5DS in South Africa in 2014, making this camera a far more flexible tool. I would never contemplate shooting the Milky Way with the 5DS Rr at ISO 12800, as it’s always been accepted that the price we pay for a high-resolution sensor is speed and sensitivity. But with the R5 I most certainly would, despite its high pixel density.

Which brings us on to the issue of noise, or rather the lack of it. Again, there are few better tests of a camera’s low light capabilities than a night sky shoot, this time prompted by the appearance in our skies of the Comet Neowise. Given that it’s not going to return for another 6800 years or so I was keen to capture it, so I ventured out in the wee small hours two clear nights in a row in mid-July. ISO settings of between 6400 and 12800 are the norm under the stars, but I tested the R5 up to the astronomical (literally!) level of 51200. Up until now ISO 12800 is the maximum I would contemplate using before noise became too unsightly, now with the R5, that upper limit has become ISO 25600. I would, at a push, use 51,200, if it made the difference between capturing an unrepeatable event or not. Put another way, I can continue shooting night skies at ISO 12800 knowing I’m producing cleaner images. And looking now at the results from my night sky shoots I am amazed at the lack of noise. Considering this is a 45 MP camera that kind of high ISO performance is really quite remarkable, exceptionable even. Conclusion: the Canon EOS R5’s combination of sensitivity and resolution destroys the myth that you can have one but not the other. 

The R5 is a functional camera to use in the dark. Comet Neowise over Cadbury Castle, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens at 20mm, two exposures; 15 sec at f/2.8, ISO 6400 with Kase Neutral Night filter for the sky, 240 sec at f4 ISO 6400 for the landscapeThe R5 is a functional camera to use in the dark. Comet Neowise over Cadbury Castle, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens at 20mm, two exposures; 15 sec at f/2.8, ISO 6400 with Kase Neutral Night filter for the sky, 240 sec at f4 ISO 6400 for the landscapeSpeed

Can then we have speed too? Seemingly yes, with a few provisions. The EOS R5 can capture images at up to a blistering 20fps with the electronic shutter or 12fps with the mechanical shutter, all with AF tracking. Somewhat confusingly there are three different shutter settings; electronic, electronic 1st curtain, or mechanical. To know which to use and when we need to understand the pros and cons of each. The maximum speed of 20 fps can only be achieved with the silent electronic shutter. I used it frequently to capture my mate David’s speeding collie Rapha, the ultimate camera-test dog. At first, I wondered why it was taking the camera so long to write my bursts to the memory cards, until I worked out that with my finger pressed on the shutter for the last 3 seconds or so I was asking it to back up some 60+ 45 MP RAWs. It took a few seconds. Beware; at 20 fps it’s easy to expose hundreds of frames in just a handful of seconds. But for capturing fast action it’s brilliant. There are though a few drawbacks; the electronic shutter records 12 bit RAWs, as opposed to 14 bit with the other options, rolling shutter effects can be apparent with fast subjects, and banding can occur under artificial light. My tests didn’t show any of that but discarding any colour information is an anathema to me, so I would recommend using the electronic shutter only when you really need that super-fast speed.

The electronic 1st curtain shutter seems a handy alternative option. It is not silent, but is very quiet, and there’s no mechanical shock. It also (unlike the full electronic shutter mode) works with continuous flash and flicker detection, while it’s less likely to suffer from banding or rolling shutter distortion. But at higher shutter speeds the bokeh shape can be affected. The mechanical shutter suffers none of these drawbacks, but it is slower, noisier, clunkier, and not as fast to react to the press of your finger. In other words; horses for courses! In practice I’ve been using mechanical for landscapes, electronic 1st curtain for portraits and full electronic for birds and dogs. 

Dynamic Range

And so to the issue of exposure latitude, or dynamic range. In fact, the two are related but not quite the same thing. Exposure latitude refers to a camera’s ability to adjust exposure without losing detail, while the Dynamic Range is a numerical value given in stops or EV to the range of tones a camera is capable of recording from the brightest highlight to the darkest shadow. In practice they both determine how much we can expose for screaming highlights while still retaining the detail in seemingly blocked shadows, or vice versa. So, what is the EOS R5’s Dynamic Range?

Grad filters are a thing of the past, as the R5 has more than enough dynamic range. Opium growing in a field near Okeford Fitzpaine, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 24mm, 1/160 sec at f/14, ISO 100. Grad filters are a thing of the past, as the R5 has more than enough dynamic range. Opium growing in a field near Okeford Fitzpaine, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 24mm, 1/160 sec at f/14, ISO 100. At which point forgive me a groan, because as soon as I mentioned on social media that I was testing the R5 I was deluged with the inevitable “what’s the DR” questions. It’s been the same with every camera launch I have been involved in. It seems the DR is the only aspect many are concerned with, despite the fact that it’s not as simple as the higher the better. Yes, highlight and shadow detail retention is important. Yes, exposing for the sky and being able to bring out the detail in the landscape without recourse to a graduated filter is handy. But we also need to bear in mind the wider the DR the flatter the pictures straight out of the camera will look, so it’s always going to be a compromise. Canon never issue figures for their cameras’ dynamic range, as direct comparisons between Canon’s and Sony’s sensors (which are also found in Nikons) are nigh on impossible due to the different way they handle noise. Also bear in mind when reading independent sensor tests on the websites (such as DXO, DPreview and Photon to Photos) that they all test and measure DR in different ways. All of which muddy the waters.

But one thing is clear to me, the tonal range this sensor can record while still producing a punchy image with pleasing contrast is impressive. You’re going to want a figure I can’t give, but I have heard it postulated that this sensor has one extra stop of DR over the EOS R/5D  Mark IV. I have no way of verifying that apart from squinting at the shadows in my RAWs, so all I’ll say is the R5 has plenty of DR, more than I need, to the point where I’d have to screw up royally to under or over-expose a RAW beyond retrieval. Quite frankly if you find yourself needing more DR then the R5 has I really do think you should take a look at your technique. Clearly the sensor evolution that followed on from the 5DS to the 1Dx Mark II in 2016 and the 5D Mark IV in 2017 is continuing. The net result is I can’t remember when I last used a Neutral Density Graduated filter. And the bottom line is I love the look, tonality and colours of the RAWs the R5 produces. 

A solitary tree in a field of golden barley on Bulbarrow Hill, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 278mm, 1/2 sec at f/22, ISO 100A solitary tree in a field of golden barley on Bulbarrow Hill, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 278mm, 1/2 sec at f/22, ISO 100Before we move on, I should mention the R5, R6 and 1D X III can record HEIF files. These are 10 bit files which can be photos or video, and are of much better quality than 8 bit jpegs. (They`re the same size but contain considerably more data, as a 10-bit image can display up to 1.07 billion colours, while an 8-bit can only display 16.7 million, while the new compression method produces fewer artefacts then a jpeg). HEIFs are the next long-term replacement for jpegs and represent a development that will be significant for us all.

Dual Pixel Raw

You may want to skip this bit, as it’s about as exciting as a discussion about colour-management, unless you’re a dedicated techy type, in which case you’ll probably know more about it than me. DP Raw is Canon’s system that allows things like the R5’s AF Focus Tracking to work. But other effects are possible when DP RAW shooting is set as we are in effect taking two photos, both 45 megapixels in size, using the left and right halves of a single pixel. That doubles the already considerable file size, but because the two halves see things a bit differently, we can, using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software, filter that information separately. In a nutshell we can shift the focus of a photograph after it has been taken, change the appearance of a photograph’s out-of-focus regions, and reduce the flare and ghosting from a bright light source in the frame. And now with the EOS R5 there’s a new Dual Pixel Raw function; Portrait Relighting. Over to Mike Burnhill, European Professional Imaging Product Specialist at Canon Europe, who describes it better than I can.

"Dual Pixel RAW images can be edited in-camera," explains Mike. "This feature uses the depth map information stored in the Dual Pixel RAW file to allow a secondary light source to be applied to an image [as the name suggests, it only works with faces].

"The brightness, direction, and degree of coverage can be altered – all on the back of the camera. It's like having a virtual reflector in your camera that enables you to lift or increase the shadows on your subject's face, all after you've shot it."

Got that? I’m not sure I have. But as always with DP Raw there’s one big fly in the ointment with this magic; it requires the use of Canon’s excruciatingly clunky DPP software. No one I know outside of Uxbridge uses it; that’s just a fact of life. I’ve been struggling with DPP over the last couple of weeks because Adobe has yet to update Lightroom to handle the R5’s RAWs. I’m intrigued to try Portrait Relighting, but not enough to change my whole workflow. I don’t think I’m alone in wishing Canon would make these functions available as a plug in to Lightroom, Photoshop and Capture One. 

An abandoned car in Wareham Forest, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 35mm, 1/60 sec at f/8, ISO 1600An abandoned car in Wareham Forest, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 35mm, 1/60 sec at f/8, ISO 1600And there’s another bonus to be gained from DP Raw that intrigues but frustrates me; the potential to use those two photos from the same pixel to extend the dynamic range without flattening the image. Imagine being able to capture a picture of Mount Fuji on a bright day by exposing for the shadows, then using the second DP Raw image which has been exposed for the highlights to pull in the detail in the snow-capped peak. I know this can be done, because I’ve seen it demonstrated. That would really silence the DR Fundamentalists. The trouble is this capability is buried in a DPP Print from Raw utility that no one uses. And who the hell prints from Raw? Please, please Canon; can we have this DPP stuff in Lightroom? It really would be a game-changer.

Wendy Noton, NHS Health Visitor, Milborne Port. The combination of 85mm f1.2 lens and eye-detection AF were formidable. Canon EOS R5; EF 85mm f1.2 L II lens, 1/2000 sec at f1.2, ISO 100Wendy Noton, NHS Health Visitor, Milborne Port. The combination of 85mm f1.2 lens and eye-detection AF were formidable. Canon EOS R5; EF 85mm f1.2 L II lens, 1/2000 sec at f1.2, ISO 100

Focusing

On then to the multitude of options for focusing the camera. Manual focusing with the aid of focus peaking is still my preferred option on night shoots. The super-sensitive AF did lock focus on pin-pricks of distant light, but for piece of mind I always zoomed in on screen to check and fine tune manually.

On normal landscape shoots I’m quite happy to rely on a single tap on the screen to choose my AF point. It does speed up the whole process considerably. But where the R5’s focusing system really excelled was when shooting portraits with people-recognition eye-detection focus-tracking enabled. Unfailingly the system locked onto the nearest eye, even when the camera and subject were moving.

You know of my taste for fast glass for this kind of portrait and travel photography; my EF 35mm f1.4 L II and EF 85mm f1.2 L II prime lenses are indispensable tools that have proved their worth around the globe over many years. I love the look they impart when used at maximum aperture. Bolted onto the R5 with an EF adaptor they really came into their own. The 85 in particular is a tricky lens to focus wide open; the depth of field is so minimal I’m used to a high failure rate. No longer though. With both these lenses I could compose and concentrate on my subject’s expression without ever having to consider focus. I’d go so far as to say the system was near infallible. Exceptionable. Remarkable. And that’s using “old” EF lenses.

With the faster communication between lens and camera the R mount allows the AF performance with the new RF lenses should be even better, if that’s imaginable. I can’t wait to twin the R5 with the RF 85mm f1.2 L I took to Senegal. There’s no doubt about it; with its high ISO capability, impressive image quality and the ability to follow focus a subject anywhere in the frame the Canon EOS R5 is a superb camera for travel, reportage and portraiture. 

One windblown sister on the Mendips. The R5 is a superb camera for portraiture. Canon EOS R5; EF 35mm f1.4L II USM lens, 1/4000 sec at f1.4, ISO 100One windblown sister on the Mendips. The R5 is a superb camera for portraiture. Canon EOS R5; EF 35mm f1.4L II USM lens, 1/4000 sec at f1.4, ISO 100What then of wildlife? As well as human recognition the R5 can track animals, and even spot and lock onto their eyes. Or can it? Enter Rapha, my mate David’s exceptionally well-trained collie, who, on two separate shoots, obediently ran at full kilt all over Wareham Forest. On our first shoot I set the R5 to electronic shutter/20 fps/animal tracking/eye detection focus and blazed away as Rapha leapt over the logs. The results were disappointing, to say the least; not one frame was focused where it needed to be; usually the focus was behind, on Rapha’s haunches rather then face. Was it me? Or was it the fact that I’m using a pre-production camera that awaits firmware updates, or could it be possible animal tracking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

One of the sharp images of Rapha at speed. Not all worked so well. Wareham Forest, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, EF 70-200mm f2.8 L lens at 200mm, 1/8000 sec at f/2.8, ISO 800One of the sharp images of Rapha at speed. Not all worked so well. Wareham Forest, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, EF 70-200mm f2.8 L lens at 200mm, 1/8000 sec at f/2.8, ISO 800

We tried again a few days later, with two different lenses, a higher tracking sensitivity setting and more persistence and concentration on my part. This time I did achieve a good batch of crisp, sharp captures focused on Rapha’s face. But there were plenty of failures where the AF just did not lock on. Careful analysis of the results revealed that hardly ever did the system actually lock onto Rapha’s eyes. I can only conclude that something about Rapha’s markings made eye recognition difficult for the R5. 

Rapha at speed, but questions remain about the animal detection tracking AF. Wareham Forest, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens lens at 105mm, 1/2000 sec at f/4, ISO 640.Rapha at speed, but questions remain about the animal detection tracking AF. Wareham Forest, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens lens at 105mm, 1/2000 sec at f/4, ISO 640.

With the piercing gaze of a hawk owl in my frame the next day at Pitcombe Rock Falconry eye detection was no problem. As a succession of raptors perched on Wendy’s arm, I was able to shoot some wonderful bird portraits up close and personal with the RF 24-105mm f4. When I attempted to capture the birds in flight though it was the same story; too often the camera failed to recognise the bird and lock on focus. Granted, the birds were flying low against a confusing high-contrast backdrop, but even so… Now this all may be rectifiable with the firmware updates coming soon when the finished product starts being delivered. I understand pre-production cameras can be notoriously buggy. I have seen videos demonstrating animal tracking which are extremely impressive. Yet on my evidence I can only conclude that it’s a work in progress; I’m not sure if I was trying to capture an unrepeatable cheetah kill I’d want to rely totally on it. Doubtless the Danny Greens of this world will ascertain when to use this function, and when not. 

Wendy flying a buzzard, Pitcombe Rock Falconry, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 31mm, 1/80 sec at f/4, ISO 100Wendy flying a buzzard, Pitcombe Rock Falconry, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 31mm, 1/80 sec at f/4, ISO 100

Before we move on from focusing however, I should mention a feature that should appeal to macro enthusiasts, maybe even landscapers too; automatic focus bracketing. The R5 has the option to capture as many as 100 focus bracketed exposures with the focus increment of your choice. It’s done using the electronic shutter at high speed so, when twinned with the camera’s impressive Image Stabilisation (which we’re coming onto next), we can shoot pictures with almost infinite depth of field hand-held. Experimentation and practise will be needed to determine how many frames are needed, what focus increment to set and where to focus initially, but suddenly my tilt and shift lenses are looking a little out-dated.

Purple jobbies in our garden, Milborne Port, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 105mm, 1/50 sec at f/11, ISO 400Purple jobbies in our garden, Milborne Port, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 105mm, 1/50 sec at f/11, ISO 400Image Stabilisation

Let’s look now at one feature of this camera which has grabbed the headlines; it’s In Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS). It’s a first for Canon, made possible by the wider mounts of the RF system lenses. Combining the Image Stabilisation efforts of both lens and camera (cooperative IS) allows for some truly glacially slow shutter speeds to be used while hand holding the R5. How slow? Well Canon claim between 6 and 8 stops of leeway, depending on the lens. Now I used to reckon back in the film era I could hand-hold a 24mm lens still at 1/30th of a second, but I’ve now a 45 MP camera in my hands, so to be safe let’s say 1/60th. Applying the 8 stops of cooperative IS that Canon claim for this RF 15-35mm f2.8 L lens to that starting point would, in theory, allow me to use a 4 second exposure and still record a sharp picture. That seems unbelievable. Well, I’ve just tried, and it is. The 4 second exposure shows hand shake, but the 2 second exposure is pin-sharp.

The bottom line is I love the look of the R5’s images. An owl, Pitcombe Rock Falconry, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 105mm, 1/320 sec at f/7.1, ISO 1600.The bottom line is I love the look of the R5’s images. An owl, Pitcombe Rock Falconry, Somerset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 105mm, 1/320 sec at f/7.1, ISO 1600.Two seconds, hand-held; that’s pretty incredible. OK, we may need to take the 8 stops claim with a pinch of salt; there are, of course, many variables, not least the steadiness of the photographer, but 7 stops is impressive. It’s a capability that will have a significant approach on how I approach my travel photography, maybe my landscape work too. I used the RF 15-35mm f2.8 L on the EOS R in Mexico and was quite happily shooting night scenes at ¼ sec hand-held, and that was just relying on the lens’ IS. I took a light-weight tripod but hardly used it. Throw in the IBIS and the high ISO capability of the R5 and I can only conclude I’ll be heading out unencumbered by legs much more often. That in turn isn’t just about convenience; it allows me to pursue a much more spontaneous, reportage approach to my travel photography that I’m enjoying very much. Sure, this capability depends on having the latest RF lenses ( although it works, IBIS only, with EF lenses, providing a few stops of IS leeway), but for travel photographers like me this will be huge, if we can ever travel to the far side of the world again that is. 

Battery Consumption

We’re almost done, just a few of the more humble aspects to consider, such as battery performance. There is no doubt that mirrorless cameras consume batteries faster then DSLRs. Of course they do; they have to be switched on before we can even look through the eyepiece. It’s just something you get used to. It goes without saying I would never venture out without a spare, a couple in the cold. The LP-E6 batteries of the R5’s predecessors going back to the original 5D will all work in the R5, but a newer higher capacity LP-E6NH has been developed for the R5. I’ve been getting about 1200-1400 frames out of a full charge. So much depends on conditions and ways of working, but I reckon that’s a reasonable quota.

Communications

The R5 can connect to other smart devices, such as our phones, via the Bluetooth Low Energy protocol, which provides a constant connection while using minimal battery power, and is the first EOS camera to have 5Ghz Wi-Fi built-in.  Canon service provides unlimited cloud storage, including RAW files, for 30 days. And the Canon EOS R5 is the first camera to allow automatic cloud uploads when connected to the internet. But there’s one omission I miss on this camera; in-camera GPS. It’s a function I got used to on the 1Dx Mark II that I miss on every other camera I use, including the R5. It is so useful when captioning images. Ok, I know GPS tagging can be achieved by pairing the camera to our smartphones (which is, apparently, more accurate in built-up areas), I suppose there’s a limit as to what can be crammed into a small body, and I do know it’s exclusion saves battery power. But I would have appreciated it built in.

Video

Last, but certainly not least; the Canon EOS R5 can shoot full-frame 8K 30p 12-bit RAW and full-frame 4K 120p video footage, internally. I am told that’s awesome. 35 MP stills can even be lifted from the 8K video footage. Clearly the delineation between high-end stills and video that started with the 5D Mark II in 2008 continues. But video is not my area of expertise, and others will assess this camera’s capabilities in that regard far better than I can. 

Price

And now; the bad news. The EOS R5 is an expensive camera, particularly here in the UK. It’s currently available to order at £4199. Just over the Channel, it’s available in the Eurozone for about £300 cheaper, while in the US it’s cheaper in $ then it is in £. Worth it? I reckon so. But in a world and photography profession heading into a post-pandemic recession that’s a tough call. 

 

Testing the impressive EOS R5 has been a joy. Photo: David BakerTesting the impressive EOS R5 has been a joy. Photo: David BakerSummary

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again; individual cameras come and go, but we buy into a camera system first and foremost. For the last two years, there has been and will continue to be a steady stream of new RF lenses coming our way, such as the RF 100-500mm f4.5-7.1 L IS, which has 100mm more reach but is 13% lighter and only 7.5% longer than the EF 100-400mm. The EOS R system is now, with the addition of the R5 and R6, looking pretty comprehensive. Clearly mirrorless is the future for Canon, and for me. I decided to transition to mirrorless en route to Mexico, where the portability of my bag packed with the versatile combination of EOS R, RF 15-35mm f2.8 L, RF 50mm f1.2 L and RF 70-200mm f2.8 L decided the issue. This Field Trial has just confirmed the wisdom of that decision, because the versatility of that set up will be increased significantly with the substitution of the EOS R5 with its image quality, speed, low light performance, image-stabilisation and focusing capabilities. This is a camera that can, after all, do it all. Whether it is ground-breaking only hindsight will determine, but it is an incredibly versatile tool for any kind of photography, and a real joy to use. I have to conclude it’s the best camera I’ve ever used. Yes, I’ve mentioned a few gripes in this review, but they are inconsequential when the exceptional image quality and performance of this functional camera is concerned. 

For the last 10 years or more I’ve chopped and changed between different cameras depending on what I was shooting. But too often I’d end up shooting a beaver in a pond in Algonquin with the 5DS R and a landscape with the 1Dx. The old adage that the best camera is the one in your hands right now is so true, so a versatile camera that can do everything well without compromising on image quality is clearly the way to go. It looks like the R5 is going to be my go-to camera for some years to come, wherever I am, and whatever I’m shooting. What’s more, given the system’s portability, it’s a camera I’m more likely to have with me when I need it.

A tractor in Balmers Coombe Bottom, Bulbarrow Hill, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 79mm, 1/200 sec at f/9, ISO 100A tractor in Balmers Coombe Bottom, Bulbarrow Hill, Dorset. Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens at 79mm, 1/200 sec at f/9, ISO 100I’m going to sign off by mentioning one aspect of photography that rarely gets a mention in camera reviews; enjoyment. I’ve loved shooting with the EOS R5. It’s been a difficult year for all of us in this profession, like so many, but while cameras are but a tool and the joy of photography is really all about the pictures, and the experiences, testing the limits of this impressive tool has put given me great satisfaction. It’s been rewarding, and fun; ‘Nuff said?

Keep exposing!

 

 

David Noton: 27th Jul 2020 09:15:00