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The 5DS and 5DSR

A First Look (for us anyway)

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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The recent announcement of the 5DS and the 5DSR have caused quite a kerfuffle, as is to be expected. What is quite surprising though is the number of people either writing the camera off, or announcing it to be the best thing since sliced bread - all on the evidence of a few jpgs and some PR interviews with Canon representatives.

For instance, the specification for the camera shows the highest ISO setting to be 6400. Quite a few people have said that this isn't enough and so the camera is useless. Another passing comment from Canon stated that the dynamic range was "as good as the 5D3" which people quickly interpreted as Canon having failed again.


There are two things that these people don't seem to understand. The first is that we have no information and so everything said is presumptive. The second is that the dynamic range could be that the sensor at least as good as the Canon 5D3 - it might be better.

I had a chance to visit Canon and to get my hands on both the 5DS and the 5DSR on Monday of this week and I was also able to ask a few direct questions, hoping to clear a few things up.

One of the first things to come out of the interview is that we aren't going to see any RAW files yet. In fact noone is going to see any raw files yet. It doesn't matter if you're David Noton or the Canon UK Segment Manager. The RAW converter isn't finished and Canon aren't letting anybody get sneak previews of 'unprocessed' files. This means that every assessment of the camera so far is being done on in camera jpgs. This inevitably means that if the picture isn't as flat as a pancake (which none of the demo photographs have been) then the jpg isn't demonstrating anything to do with dynamic range. It's also very difficult to make any judgements on the acuity of the sensor based on the jpgs, even though they now have custom 'fine detail' sharpening modes that let you set the redius, amount and threshold of the unsharp mask.


So, given all this what conclusions can we draw? Well let's have a few samples of what we discussed.

1) What about dynamic range of the Canon 5DSR?

The direct answer was that Canon aren't targetting dynamic range with this camera. They may well do with another camera in the future but this particular model is about resolution.

2) Is this a Canon designed and manufactured sensor i.e. was it made in a Canon owned fabrication plant?

The answer was yes, this is a 100% Canon sensor.

3) Is it just a 7D2 scaled up? The pixel pitch seems like it?

No! The sensor may be using the same pitch because of fab'ing limits but the actual design of the sensor is different.

4) What steps have Canon made to adapt the 5DSR to the higher resolution?

  • Faster processor
  • Servo damped shutter
  • Reinforced camera base (see pictures)
  • USB3
  • Custom delay on mirror lock up (.125s to 2s).
5D3 left 5DS right (sorry for focus on 5D3)

5D3 left 5DS right (sorry for focus on 5D3)

So how can you get an idea of what 50mp actually looks like? Well Canon have released various images across the internet but the fact is that most of them are either oversharpened, use the wrong or poor versions of lenses or have too much noise reduction (The 17mm examples from David Noton show extreme abberations in the corners and even near the centre sometimes, whilst sharpness and noise reduction have been taken too far).

There are a couple of pictures that really show the image quality off though - these are studio shots, using flash. Here's the best example with a 100% crop and then a 200% crop.





That's pretty impressive stuff. This was taken with the 5DS at f/8 on the 70-200 f/2.8 IS lens. So it's well into diffraction (according to many).

So overall what do I think? Well it's a step up but I think people were expecting all of the advantages of the Sony sensors and the Canon sensors and the 5D3 and the 7D2 but with 50mp and some other stuff for icing on top. In actual fact it's more like a predictable step up from the 5D3 with the latest features thrown in (most of which were on the 7D2). I think it will please a hell of a lot of photographers and disappoint just as many.

What do I think of the dynamic range and low top ISO? Well it's predictable in many ways. Canon can only use their own technology and they've concentrated on things other than DR. To be honest though, if I'm taking a shot on my A7R and it's something I really want as the best file possible, these days I take two shots because the quality in a 'boosted' shadow isn't anywhere near the quality of a well exposed shadow.

Given this, my process wouldn't change on the 5DS - the only difference would be for my 'grab shots'. On the A7R I can take a quick shot hand held and if it turns out to be a stunner I don't have to worry about shadows as much. Yes it would be great to do the same with the 5DS but there are a lot of photographers out there who have been happy with the 5D3 that won't be disappointed.

The top ISO value is something a bit different - the main reason people wanted these crazy top ISOs appears to be for Aurora shots where detail doesn't really matter. Well to be honest if detail doesn't matter for these sorts of shots then you'd be better off with a more sensitive lower resolution camera anyway - I'd rent a 6D and take it with you as your Aurora camera (or an A7S!). Most of my aurora shots were taken at about 800 ISO because I wanted the quality of the rest of the composition as well as the aurora (and if you don't have enough light from the aurora perhaps it isn't worth taking!).

I know there are other uses for high ISO, but fundamentally Canon have started to really segment their camera systems. This is the high resolution fine art camera system for ultimate quality and as such high ISO isn't important.

Many will ask "Do we need more resolution?" - my short answer is to ask "Define need...". My longer answer expanded into a full article which you can read in this issue (here).

Anyway - enough of my opinion. If you've got any questions please fire away and I'll try to answer them or if I can't I'll try to get Canon to answer them (don't expect miracles though - they don't give much away. Also, what do you think about what I've looked at here?

The camera looks like it will be coming out for real at the start of May and we'll hopefully have some more tests before then.

Read our latest review of the Canon 5DSr here.

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