Canon’s New 5DS Beasts — If the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going

Right after announcement with a flood of emails arriving I was quite excited. Amazing stuff. Full-frame Canon 5D siblings with an astonishing 50.6MP sensor. On second thought though the enthusiasm vanished. Not because the new Canon 5DS and 5DS R are no astonishing cameras — the latter has a “self-canceling” AA filter. Sounds Nikon D800Eish? But I am neither a landscaper nor a pixel peeper. Maximum ISO 6,400 (extendable to 12,800) is a bit underwhelming these days, but more interestingly Canon announces two high-end cameras that only become available mid-June. Sounds a bit like Leica. Don’t think though it’s a question of capacity constraints to announce the cameras that long before availability. It’s more likely caused by the increasing pressure of the competition. Canon had to produce something. And show it. Or is this just the prelude to… something really exciting?

Canon EOS 5DS (R) -- the new king of resolution.
Canon EOS 5DS (R) — the new king of resolution.

With the two 50MP beasts, Canon presents old wine in new skins. Or new wine in old skins? No doubt the cameras will be stellar performers, betting on proven looks and ergonomics with quite some innovation under the hood. A built-in intervalometer is a time-lapse photographer’s wet dream come true. The interval timer takes from 1 to 99 shots at pre-selected intervals (from 1 second to 99 hours 59 minutes 59 seconds, or unlimited), ideal for shooting flowers as they bloom or clouds drifting through the sky. What camera can do that.

I bet autofocus will be snappy, but no Dual Pixel AF. You’ll say these two 5DS cameras are at least something new on the Canon front, but they’re really for croppers, stock, studio and landscape photographers who enjoy lots of predictable light and appreciate a camera with about the same dynamic range as the aging D Mark II — and don’t mind about the same or worse ISO performance as predecessors.

Writes DP Review about the world’s highest resolution full-frame DSLRs:

As far as dynamic range is concerned, we’re told that the new 5DS and 5DS R should give the same performance as the current EOS 5D Mark III. If true, this means that the new cameras won’t be able to offer the same industry-leading dynamic range of Sony’s current APS-C and full-frame sensors, but at least it isn’t a step backwards.

Old wine in new skins? Same same but different, I'd say.
Old wine in new skins? Same same but different, I’d say.

I’m impressed that Canon manages to produce a 50MP full-frame camera for roughly the same price a much less pixelated high-end camera costs. But more pixels a.k.a resolution-lead will hardly translate into better performance if you’re not printing gigantic sizes or if you’re not too much concerned about absolute picture-perfect detail. Furthermore, these 4th generation 5D cameras may well make many lenses redundant. Only the best glass will do. Using the 5DS with kit zoom? You’re joking.

So… why this camera… and why this article’s “going get tough” title? Canon had to produce something new. They’re not an adventurous company. But they see that today’s premium cameras capabilities already surpass most photographers’ skills. Or need 300 focus points and 30 fps? That wouldn’t be photography anymore, that would be industrial snapping. So they revive the megapixel race. By kind of sacrificing performance. Zero sum game.

So here comes great resolution at the likely expense of moiré patterning in areas of especially high-frequency detail. The pixel pitch of 4.14 microns is similar to the 7D Mark II’s, so expect a similar albeit full-frame reach minus Dual Pixel AF — and, how sad, Canon caps ISO at 6,400. The 2nd generation 7D extends to 51,200. And who would need 4K video performance.

So no, not a camera to lure me into the Canon camp. Instead I’d be tempted by the (not available in the U.S. folks!) M3, a fine sturdy little performer not to be worried about heavy duty use and abuse. Or maybe I got it all wrong and Canon’s on track to develop the holy grail. Or maybe not.

Same same, but different. Oh, and they’re only shipping this summer. This will give Sony & Co. quite some time. But… wait:

None of these new Canons have, again, Dual Pixel. What if the market leader is working on that full-frame mirrorless Dual Pixel camera, a camera fully compatible with EF glass. Could explain why no M3 for the U.S., certainly one of Canon’s more important markets.

  • Omer

    “…develop the holy grail.” I hope not. We wouldn’t have anything to daydream for.

  • Bengt Nyman

    Canon admits that the new 50MP cameras are not for everyone. A Swedish interview with Canons Mike Burnhill confirms that the cameras aim at economy studios and landscape photographers who want to travel light, yet packing 50 MP. In summary, Canon sounds like a tired company trying to go another round without expending too much energy. In another sigh Canon claims that all their lenses designed after 2010 are designed for 50 MP sensors.
    I applaud Canon’s determination to stand for another round but my money this time is on Nikon/Sony.

    • Omer

      I’ve been messing a bit with the sample 5Ds jpgs Canon has provided and have been impressed. While Nikon knows how to get superb image quality from Sony sensors, I am nevertheless comforted by the presence of other brands, including and especially Canon. Sony is condescending towards their customers (lossy ARW compression,) and Nikon is curiously nonchalant about quality control. Is there really a new camera system we would ALL go out to buy? There is alot of variety in camera design now but success seems elusive.

      • The king is dead, long live the king.

        Canon might have the longer breath and deeper pockets, not least due to its diversification which, on Sony’s part, is rather a burden.

        Read somewhere Canon wants to dominate mirrorless by 2016. That’s where most see success and the future. They better have a strategy.

        • Omer

          Well, Canon leaped everyone when they switched from the mechanical FD mount to the fully electronic EOS version. Yes, their daring seems stalled and they are now a larger corporation, but digital has ushered in an uncertain and moving paradigm that when combined with the present economic uncertainty is keeping us all guessing. And emptying my bank account :-)

          Now, about that Nikon Df…

          • Bengt Nyman

            … Nikon Df …
            I would put it in the category of Sony briefly exciting new cameras.

      • Bengt Nyman

        Canon’s cool might be right after all.

        The opposite is represented by a misleading and trashy rumor site which claims that Sony is aiming to become the king of cameras.
        Sony’s ambition is to remain the world leading supplier of image sensors, not including cameras or lenses.

        Sonyalpharumors has in its ambition the earn provision on Sony sales misled the public to believe something else. The result is a large number of disappointed buyers with excellent but short run, experimental Sony cameras and unrealistic expectations.

        The delay of the final, ultimate, mirrorless FF camera is caused by three factors:
        1. Many photographers still prefer the clear, live view offered by an optical view finder.
        2. Ultra fast PD auto focus also benefits from the above.
        3. The ultimate mirrorless FF camera will have a flange distance between 22 and 26 mm which requires a full range of new, high resolution lenses and new lens mounts.

        The emergence of a professional, FF, mirrorless camera system will consequently take some time, giving both Canon and Nikon plenty of time to adjust to the shrinking reality of the dedicated, single purpose camera industry.

        • Dave

          I am not sure if I am really waiting for a pro mirrorless system by CaNikon. While the described advantages of mirrorless cameras, eg. weight, size and EVF show as true, I doubt that they are relevant in a general meaning. I own and compare FF DSLR with a MFT mirrorless system and find to use the DSLR more and more again after clearly preferring the MFT mirrorless camera for the sake of new fascinating tech. The EVF shows its advantages in precision focusing, especially with macro. On the other hand I do not believe that EVFs are synchronized well enough to the output that there would be a clear advantage over DSLR, where exposure can be precise enough from the exposure indicator and experience alone. Does focus peaking and magnification mode help? Yes it does but makes the process too slow and is not more precise than the focus confirmation in the OVF. Battery life? My 6D lasts one week for a holiday, while my E-M1 really is a pain in the neck in that regard: small system but four batteries to survive a couple of days out without a plug socket. Mirrorless cameras will find its users, I see applications furthermost in macro photography. A refined DSLR, maybe a bit smaller, will not disappear soon since a DSLR is more practical and omits the irrelevant tech load of the mirrorless systems. I therefore welcome the new 5Dsr, not because of the 50MPs, but because of the new shutter mechanism. And I see more potential to bring DSLRs forward. Until then I will certainly keep my ol’6D and a small manual lens, while the mirrorless cam might suffer from some love deprivation.

          • Bengt Nyman

            Well put Dave,
            Under the cover of new technology enthusiasm, I have had a brief, similar experience.