review: Canon 5D mark IV – high-ISO performance
The Canon 5D mark IV (B&H) offers a bunch of new features which are exciting: higher resolution than the previous incarnation of the 5D series. It now offers 4K video. The autofocus has also been improved – a weak point of the previous 5D bodies. There is also new features such as Dual Pixel RAW – a way for fine adjustments to be made after the image is taken, to make slight adjustments to the focus point to improve the fine details recorded. The 4K video capability also allows you to grab 8.8MP still frames during playback, via the touch-sensitive LCD screen.
A lot of magic happening there. More than I feel I can do justice in a single review. Therefore I will concentrate on a few features in a series of mini-reviews of this camera. This time, the high-ISO noise performance.
Not all the features will seem compelling to every photographer – our needs vary. Whether you’d want to upgrade from a 5D mark II or III (or the 6D) would depend on the subjects you shoot. I know that wedding photographers, amongst others, have a real need for superb high-ISO noise performance. So this review will concentrate on comparing these cameras:
Canon 6D — (20 megapixels)
Canon 5D mark II — (21 megapixels)
Canon 5D mark III — (22 megapixels)
Canon 5D mark IV — 30 megapixels)
The one thing which makes a direct comparison difficult, is that their resolution differ. The 5D mk2 and mk3 and 6D have approximately the same resolution, but there is a distinct jump with the Canon 5D mk4, to 30 megapixels. So simply viewing the images at 100% might not give you the best idea of how the 5D mk IV compares to the others.
Therefore I have done two things:
- You can download a sample RAW file for each camera, ranging from 800 ISO to 12,800 ISO. (The 5D mk2 is the exception, with the files only going to 6,400 ISO.) So now you can play with these files, and change the noise reduction, etc, and see how you like the high-ISO files from different cameras. The naming convention for those files should be obvious.
- I show comparison images here for all four cameras at 6400 ISO, but I have equalized the images for 20 megapixel resolution. So we see the same size image, and that in a way equalizes the comparison of the high-ISO noise between the cameras.
See what I did there? I neatly side-stepped to-and-fro arguments about which method is the more valid way of appraising the images. You decide!
To make the test as even as possible, I had to make sure the lighting didn’t vary. This is tougher to do with flash, where the WB might shift as you change the power … which you have to do when you run out of shutter speeds around maximum flash sync speed. So I opted for continuous lighting. Here’s the setup:
The lighting and setup for this test
To be able to use soft, flattering light, which is also a continuous liught source, I bounced two Litepanels Astra EP 1×1 LED Panels (affiliate) into a white V-flat. The other V-flat helps as fill, but was mostly there to block any light that still sneaked in from the curtained windows. I wanted to have the light on Sara as uncontaminated as possible, so she was just lit by the Litepanel LED lights. What made these Litepanels Astra LED lights (affiliate) ideal for this kind of test, is that they have a High color rendition (CRI) – in other words, they have a full spectrum for the light they emit. They make it much easier to get pleasant skin tones from these lights.
I used the Litepanels Astras in a similar way with these two shoots:
The camera settings for the images were based around: 1/60 @ f/4 @ 1600 ISO
I used a tripod to avoid camera shake at the slower shutter speeds.
The lens I used was the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (affiliate), which is my go-to lens when I shoot with Canon bodies.
You might notice the composition for these images have a lot of headroom – I wanted to keep the composition and point of focus the same between every image, and it was simpler to keep to a central AF point between all the cameras, since they have different layouts for their AF sensors.
As an aside, our model here is a make-up artist in New Jersey, Sara Hayton, who I frequently use when a client needs hair and make-up done before a photo session. When the model I was going to photograph flaked out on me, Sara kindly stepped in. I might just be happier for how things worked out.
You can see Sara’s work on her website; or Instagram account, or follow her on Facebook.
Comparing the 5D2, 5D3, 6D and 5D4
As mentioned above, since the 5D mark IV has higher resolution than the other three cameras, I scaled the processed JPGs down to 20 megapixels, and created these 100% crops. I took it from the shadow side of our subject where high-ISO noise might be more visible.
Remember, you can download a sample RAW file for each camera, ranging from 800 ISO to 12,800 ISO. Play with these and see what you think.
Looking at these and images at other ISO settings, the pattern is expected and obvious: The 6D and 5D mk3 improved on the 5D mk2. The 6D and the 5D mark3, appear to be very similar. In turn, the 5D mk4 (in the images which are equalized), appear to be a touch better again than the 5D mk3 and 6D. Thist then gives an obvious jump from the mk2 to the mk4. Nothing surprising there. How much of a difference this is, and how important this is to you, you have to decide.
Is the Canon 5D mark IV (B&H) worth the upgrade from the 6D and the 5D mark III, purely based on this? I can’t tell you – it will depend on what you need from the camera in terms of the high-ISO noise performance and any other features which are useful to you in your photography. We have options! It’s a good time to be a photographer. We’ve never had it so good in terms of gear which enable us.
- review: Canon EOS 5D Mark III – high-ISO noise performance
- ISO comparison – various Canon and Nikon cameras
19 Comments, Add Your Own
2Jason Guy says
Thanks for the review Neil! I briefly played with a student’s MK IV playing with lower iso’s the other day. Nothing long enough to develop an opinion of substance. I did immediately notice that the autofocus felt snappier and the overall body felt lighter. Nothing immediately jumped out at me that made me lust after one, but then again I could be missing a lot that would be revealed after shooting with one for a bit.
3Mike Zawadzki says
Good write up Neil. I never had an issue with the mk3 noise, but shadow and highlight recovery was subpar. I would like to see a clinical/controlled test like this done to show how the mk4 RAW files handle pushing/pulling exposure. I have my own impressions, but would like to see why you think.
Hi Neil, I think there is a typo in your summary “The 5D mk3 (in the images which are equalized), appear to be a touch better again than the 5D mk3 and 6D”.
Assuming you mean the mk4 is better, how much would you gauge it to be? Half a stop?
5Neil vN says
Hi there Steve, I corrected the typo. It should make more sense now. And yes, the mk4 is better.
Best thing is to take the RAW files and play with them and gauge for yourself. What throws things off, is the jump in resolution – this makes a direct comparison slightly more difficult. But have a look at the files.
6Stephen Cotterell says
My copy of the 5D mkIV has only been in my hands for four days (and only using it to shoot twice) so this is not a scientific comment! What I have noticed is there is a significant difference over my mkIII during use. It is easier, more responsive and more fluid to use. I particularly like the autofocus improvements, the extra button on the back (which I have programmed to change ISO) and the useful additional information in the viewfinder. Setting the shooting mode to H and holding the shutter down seems faster than 7 frames a second too (although it’s not).
In terms of image quality, dynamic range, ISO and shadow recovery I see big gains compared to the mkIII. This means that my shooting style in non-studio situations might become more relaxed because I can trust the camera to record more information and the chances of any single shot becoming a “keeper” increases.
That’s exactly how I feel too after 3 weeks of use. It is just more relaxing to take the pics. I could not describe it better.
7Andrew Miller says
Great to see (finally) side by side comparison’s Neil, so thank you for that.
As you say the files for the Mk3 and Mk4 are only marginally better, so for me it’s not worth the cost of upgrading four Mk3’s. Probably not even for one Mk4 to be brutal.
However, if you have the Mk2 then yes, it’s a no brainer.
Now, if Canon drop the Mk4 price by a few hundred $ or £ it may be a different ball game!
8jason Rodgers says
One thing you haven’t mentioned Neil is the price! wow, how canon justify a massive price hike is beyond me (and my bank balance) For a struggling photographer (aren’t we all?) it’s quite a leap from a 6D to the 5D mkIV, do I need to make that leap, probably not yet, will it improve my photography, probably not. I imagine prices will plummet in the January sales but there are Nikon contenders out there at half the price. Canon have got a good following and people will buy purely because it’s a canon, I have been using canon for a long long time now but I have a feeling I want to move over to the dark side to get more bang for my buck.
* Oh by the way I’m talking UK prices here not US.
9Dean Osborne says
Hi Neil, Another great impartial review
I’ve been reading tangents for years and think its fantastic I don’t know how you find time to fit everything in!
I love your tutorials on bounce flash
I’m a Nikon user but love to keep up to date on other developments from Canon and the other players
Very interested to see your thoughts on this dual pixel af fine tune feature
Keep up the great work
Thankyou from the UK
10Ed Shum says
Not really worth the upgrade from a MK3, I’m happy with mine, it’s doing the job I want it to do. But once the MK4 drops in price, then it’ll be worth a look, although it’s a ‘nice to have’ upgrade! :D
11Andrew Chan says
I own the Canon 6D. I will definitely not upgrade after seeing Neil’s comparison test and other reviews.
To me, the noise difference at ISO6400 for the 5D Mk IV and 6D is too insignificant. Remember, all such tests involved blowing up the images. In most cases, we don’t do that. Nobody’s going to pixel peep every image you take and say “Ah ha! I see you used the new 5D Mk IV there.”
Unless you are shooting in very specific situations often, it’s not always that you will shoot at ISO 6400 anyway.
If we do a blind test to identify 10 sets of images shot with the 5D Mk III, 5D Mk IV, and 6D at ISO1600 or ISO3200, I think most will be hard pressed to get it right perfectly.
Ok, admittedly, I shoot lots of landscapes. I’m usually at ISO100 most of the time! I also don’t fancy 6, 16, or 61 focusing points. They are meaningless to me. The 6D’s nine focusing points have so far done the job well for me.
I would consider “upgrading” to the 5D Mk IV only if the price were attractive. But it’s not. I don’t see why we should pay much more for better technology along the years. Would you pay more for a 4TB hard drive today compared to a 1 TB one bought 5 years ago? Of course not. The 4TB hard drive should cost less.
So I think Canon got it wrong with the marketing. This Mk IV costs a lot more than the 5D Mark II when it was newly released. The Dual Pixel gimmick and large file size 4K video feature are a disappointment.
I think I will wait for the Canon 6D Mk II. But I’d also like to end my comments by saying it is not surprising that many photographers have made the switch from Canon DSLRs to Fuji and Sony mirrorless cameras. The latter are lighter and smaller than DSLRs yet produce almost equally good image quality. Moreover, Sony’s dynamic range have been well known to surpass that of Canon.
11.1Glenn Curley says
I own 6D, 5D Mkiii, 80D and 5D Mkiv.
I love the 6D. It has the simplicity of the earlier systems in terms of the diamond 9 focusing etc. but has excellent high ISO capabilities. A very very good all-rounder.
The 80D is a great addition to the family but lacks the punch of the full frame sensor.
My 5D Mkiii has been my go-to for the last three years and is certainly a beast to beat. Having said that, the 6D sometimes out-performs in low light. Especially when it comes to locking focus in dim conditions.
Now, the 5D Mkiv. It knocks your socks off. I’ve taken over 250,000 photos on the 5D Mkiii & 6D. They come nowhere near the 5D Mkiv. Extremely good focusing under almost all conditions, especially when you use the little push switch on the back to switch focus modes. Hi ISO is fantastic. If you already have the Mkiii, you know how good it is. If you have the 6D, you’ve got an extremely good piece of kit, especially at the price. I have to say that the 5D Mkiv is in my humble opinion, well worth saving your hard earned cash for.
12Dustin Hoang says
It’s a good comparison review. Obviously, the choice is yours, upgrade or no upgrade or change to difference vendor. I chose the 3rd option. I dumped all of my Canon gear: 6D, 5DMKIII, 24-70MKII, 70-200MKII, 85mm MKII Zeiss21, 50, 100 Canon mount, bunch of Canon 600EX-RT flashes, etc… and now I’m shooting micro4/3 and Leica/Panasonic glasses and Leica SL body and Leica S,SL, M glasses. I’m a happy camper in both still and motion arenas !!! :)
13Roy Barnes says
I love my 5D MK III, Neil. Love it even more because you took a picture on it!
We often talk about upgrade in this business and, in some ways, I think we’ve clouded our understanding of the term. Minor differences and small add-ons don’t necessarily merit being rated as an upgrade. If we continually follow the consumerist drive to always have something better, all we do is ‘degrade’ our bank balances.
Bottom line: if the camera(s) that you have now do the job entirely to your liking and needs – stick with it (them). If not – then pursue the purchase of something that does.
14Nick C says
Thanks for the review – I also appreciate seeing you taking the time to assess both Nikon and Canon (and your periodic forays with Sony and Fuji and….) I know it isn’t your intent to say “A” is better than “B”, but it is nice to get a feel for how equipment stacks up in a general sense.
Off topic here, but as an established photographer, how often do you encounter models that don’t show or are otherwise not prepared for a shoot. Not interested in knowing the specifics of what took place in this instance. I have followed tangents for years and perhaps the one constant has been your dedication to professionalism and being well prepared. I’m guessing there will always be some element of unforeseen problems and I’m wondering if “no shows” represent something that rises above that and what steps are taken to mitigate (beyond not using a particular model in future). Thanks!
great review there!
i’m on the fence myself whether to upgrade my mk3 or not. after reading the comments posted, considering mostly the technical aspect vs price, i wonder if you guys hv any concern on depreciation of SLR body resale value when considering upgrades. in the past, i used to keep my old slr body when upgrading to 5D line (20D to 5D, 1Ds3 to 5D2). but when upgrading from 5D2 to 5D3 i sold the 5D2 to make up for the difference which then becoming my main reason to upgrade now. here’s some comparison :
i got 5D3 at $2800ish and sold my 5D2 for $1500ish in 2012 (was 3years old then)
i got 5D4 at $3200ish and sold my 5D3 for $1600ish (2016) already 4 years after.
in those 2 chances i only hv to make up for half the price of the new body that makes upgrading a no brainer.
i didnt sell my 1Ds3 in 2012 because the price drop was huge. it was only worth $3500ish then (2012) after 3 years and i bought it for $6300ish in 2009.. so sad with the price drop, but now that its worth i dunno, maybe less than $1000ish?, i was thinking that i should just sell it altogether then…
when you think frim this point of view that slr bodies will depreciate over time and that there’s no other alternative than to sell it the moment new bodies become available, it makes more sense to upgrade, investment wise.
maybe some of the you still use 5D2 now, but that body will no longer relevant in a few years. i know that because i wont use my 1Ds3 anymore now that i already own 6d as a backup body. the 1Ds3 became an antique which i find inadequate now that my 6d can outperform it in every way. for consideration, my job consists mostly of candid events documentations so mobility is crucial. lugging around 1Ds3 with its outdated sensor and tech just doesnt seem like a good idea anymore.
i dont know if you guys miss this or already think from my perspective but this is the main reason for my upgrade now. so its not because i’m a tech crazy or a canon fanboy, its just that i hate to keep more and more obsolete slr bodies in years to come.
i still use 1ds3 mainly for some studio portraits and product shoots, btw, just to warm it up.
16Noel Del Pilar says
Hola! Nice comparison… looking for that. I already have my two new Canon 5D MK IV! Wohoo!
17Stephen T says
Hi, just wanted to say a big thank you for the CR2 files that you have posted.
I have a 5D II and 1Dx and just bought a 5D mk IV only to be underwhelmed by the noise performance at ISO 3200 compared to the 1Dx. So much so that I thought I had a “bad” camera. Looking at your and my images in Camera raw the mk iv is a bit of a shocker compared to the 1Dx which surprised me given the 4 year technological difference.
Have to decide whether to send the Mk 1V back now, hmm!!