I recently got my hands on the Canon R5 mirrorless camera. I was very excited to be able to test this bad boy out.
There’s been a lot of talk about the R5 and the R6. I’ll talk about the differences between the two (besides the price) and of course, let you know if I would recommend either of them.
Disclosure: I was not paid to write this blog post, and all opinions are my own, but there are affiliate links in this blog post from B & H Photo Video store in New York. Should you purchase any items through my links, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
I used the R5 camera for 3 shoots that are some of the most common ways that professional food photographer’s shoot. These are small sets, no bigger than 4ft x 5ft.
I shot a traditional ¾ view beverage image, an overhead food shoot, and I also tested photographing a person who was moving around, like a chef would, to test the eye tracking focus feature.
Here’s the reality though, food photographers are not really pushing the limits on their cameras like a portrait, fashion, wedding, or sports photographer would so there are a lot of features on many cameras, not just mirrorless cameras that we won’t necessarily use or need all the time. So please keep that in mind when reading this if you are not a food photographer.
Many times, these features that portrait, sports, wedding, and fashion shooters need involve how many frames they can shoot per second and tracking focus. As food photographers, the only time we are concerned about either of those is when we are shooting a chef portrait or doing a pour shot – images that involve something that’s moving.
Many times when food photographers are shooting things that are moving, we are indoors and are more limited by our strobe lighting than how fast our cameras can take pictures, more about this later.
What Did I Test?
I have been considering purchasing this camera for quite some time so here are things I wanted to test with it:
- Quality of image overall compared to the Canon 5D Mark III (hold on before you judge that comparison)
- Quality of image at a high ISO
- When used with the 100mm macro RF lens, how sharp was that compared to the Canon 100mm macro EF lens on the R5 with the Canon EF lens adapter
- Sharpness of the image with the R5 using the RF 100mm macro lens compared to the Canon 5D Mark III using the EF 100mm macro lens.
- Quality of image when using the R5 with the EF lens adaptor using the Canon 24-105mm lens
I’m sure many of you are shocked that I’m testing the R5 against the Canon 5D Mark III – and not the Mark IV. I honestly thought this was going to be a hugely unfair comparison. Read on to see what I discovered, I was really surprised.
¾ View – 45 Degree Angle Shot
This is the first setup I shot with the Canon R5 camera. I set the camera to have a “neutral” picture style. I want to do the editing to an image, not have the camera do any of that.
I was very pleased with the color, saturation, and contrast of the RAW files straight out of the camera.
Above is the most common setup for food photography, the ¾ view, or 45 degree angle (we call it 45 degree angle, but please know many times, that’s not an exact 45 degrees).
Focusing The Canon R5
Mirrorless cameras have what’s called a digital viewfinder. This means that when you look through the viewfinder, you are actually looking at a video image that is representing what you would be seeing through the lens. If you are not used to this, it takes some time to get used to.
I however was used to this because I’ve had a Panasonic OM-D E-M5 Mark II mirrorless camera since 2015, and the digital viewfinder there is very sharp, but is still an adjustment because you are looking at pixels on a very tiny screen instead of looking through the actual lens (please see this post about the difference between DSLR cameras and Mirrorless cameras).
No matter what I did, the image didn’t look tack sharp to me when looking through the viewfinder. Next to the viewfinder on any camera, there is a small tiny wheel called a diopter (this lets you adjust the sharpness of what you see through the viewfinder) and even that didn’t help me. I don’t know if it was just an issue with the particular camera I had, or not. It didn’t matter what lens I put on the camera either.
Other people have not complained of this being an issue, so maybe it was just this particular camera, not sure.
So I always had to shoot using Live View. This is where you press a button on the camera back and your image shows up on the LCD screen, live. That worked very well so I used that for all the images I shot because I couldn’t use the viewfinder at all.
My focusing issues continued though. This camera has an insane amount of focusing points, 1053, which is amazing and means that you can set your focus point almost anywhere on the screen, but, when using live view, and I set the camera for single point focusing, it kept focusing behind the spot I set the point on. This is called back focusing.
There was a fix for this problem, the R5 enables you to zoom into the image while you are looking at it through live view, and then you can set the focus point exactly where you want it – and that worked great. This is fine for food photographers who have our cameras locked down on tripods. Not sure how this would be for hand holding the camera with close up shots.
The R5 is not the only camera that enables you to zoom in during Live View – the Canon 5D Mark IV also has this feature, not the 5D Mark III.
Once I figured this out, then it was smooth sailing with my drink shot. I just kept zooming in to 15X to get my focus right where I wanted it when I changed something in the shot. This is a concern though if you have to shoot quickly on a small set, having to zoom in each time to get focus is not a good thing. It takes time and you could miss a shot by doing this.
For those of you familiar with lens calibration and how all that works, yes, I thought the lens might need calibration so I tried another lens and the identical issue happened with back focus. This is not a lens calibration issue, there’s something with the camera body going on here, not the actual lens itself.
Also, if the lens was out of calibration, zooming in to focus would not work either. Zooming in so the camera can concentrate on a smaller area worked to fix the focus problem. If the lens was out of calibration, zooming in would not work either. It would still back focus.
I was using brand new equipment that had never been used before, except for the tests with my lenses I had that I used with the adapter. AND lens calibration would not change the viewfinder focus issue I had either.
The R5 Compared to the 5D MIII
Above you can see the R5 image and the Mark III image. This is the shocking part – when zoomed into the file at 100%, yes the R5 had a bigger file size but when zooming in at 100% of the file size of each camera, they had the same quality in the image. Not much difference between the two.
The only difference you are seeing is the white balance. Each image above has the exact same picture style, white balance, and the same light on set. The framing is slightly different because the cameras are not the same size so I did my best at lining up the two shots. The light source is a constant light source so we do not have any variations from strobe lights.
I really thought and hoped there would be a huge difference between the two because Canon and all the other manufacturers are so good at making us all feel that the cameras in our hands right now are inferior and that we need the newest ones out on the market. That’s their job. If they don’t make us feel this way, they have failed with their marketing plans.
The 5D Mark III is a very old camera and absolutely does not have all the extra features of the R5, that is for sure, but when it comes down to the images that both cameras take of the same exact scene, there was no difference in quality, just file size and white balance.
I was hoping that the R5 would be sharper with its beautiful RF 100mm macro lens compared to the EF 100mm macro lens, but I didn’t see a difference. Of course the file size was bigger, which is great and an important consideration when creating images for clients that have to be printed.
The Mirrorless Advantage
What is great about the R5 being a mirrorless camera (see this post for more details) is that the notorious blurred image from long exposures with DSLR cameras doesn’t happen with the mirrorless cameras.
The Canon 5D DSLR cameras (the entire 5D line) have an issue where if you have a long exposure (anything over ¼ a second sometimes even faster than that) the action of the mirror flying up to take the picture will create movement (even when on a tripod) just enough give you a blurry image. It’s my biggest issue with the Canons and it is infuriating. I have 5 different Canon DSLR models and they all do it.
The only way around it was to lock the mirror up in the camera every single time you took a picture. Such a waste of time and again, can make you miss a shot.
Mirrorless cameras will not have this problem because the mirror is gone. So that’s fantastic. No more blurred images during a long exposure.
Another advantage of not having a mirror in the camera is how many frames per second you can shoot with a mirrorless camera. Some mirrorless systems, like the R5, can go up to 20 frames per second so if you have enough light on your set, you can shoot through a pour shot and get several more frames of the same action than you could shooting with a DSLR camera.
Yes, Canon’s flagship 1D X Mark III can shoot up to 60 frames per second, but that camera is almost twice the price of the R5 and will no longer be produced.
Overhead / Flat Lay Shooting
This is where I absolutely loved the R5 compared to the Mark III or Mark IV. The R5 has a flip screen AKA an articulating screen. For overhead shots, it just makes life 10 times easier, and will absolutely be a requirement for any 35mm camera I get moving forward because of all the overhead shots I have to do.
This is my overhead rig that is rock solid. None if this C-stand rigging business. My camera is not going anywhere because there are two stands holding this up.
I was annoyed with the tethering cable being right in front of the screen, I do have to say but I was able to work around that. All the cameras that I have with flip screens have this issue BTW, so it’s not just an R5 thing.
It was great to just set the camera to Live View shooting, zoom in on the image on the screen, set my focus point, then turn the autofocus off on the lens after focus was set and never have to touch the focus again during the whole shoot.
I’m not the first photographer to get upset with Canon when they made the Mark IV without a flip screen. That is the only reason why I didn’t buy that camera when it came out. If it had a flip screen, I would have been all over that. Instead I got the 5DS R because of the file size being 50mp (it doesn’t have a flip screen either), my editorial clients love the large file sizes because they can crop into my images with ease.
Photographing A Person Using Eye Tracking
This is another awesome feature of the R5. The eye tracking was excellent. I had Scott stand in and had him move all around as if he was cooking in the kitchen and the eye tracking kept on him the entire time, and the focus was spot on – NO back focusing happening at all.
The spot focus would see his eye even through eye glasses, then when he moved quickly, the focus spot would enlarge just a bit to cover both his eyes and nose (switching over to face tracking), and it still looked nice and sharp.
Granted, the 5D Mark IV also has face detection and tracking autofocus. I did not compare the Mark IV with this test but I am quite sure that the focus tracking has been upgraded with the newer mirrorless cameras and lenses with the new eye tracking feature.
How did the R5 handle high ISO And Chromatic Aberration?
The last thing I tested was how the R5 handled high ISO compared to the Canon 5D Mark III. Again, I was hoping for some improvement compared to the Mark III, but didn’t see a difference. There was digital noise in both cameras that looked the same to me. Again, the file size of the R5 is much bigger but with both files zoomed in to 100% file size, there is digital noise in both of them. I didn’t feel that one was worse than the other.
And both cameras showed green Chromatic Aberration issues on the edge of the gold jigger where there was a hot highlight.
Clean files at a high ISO is the most challenging thing for any camera to do, so I’m not surprised by those results. My $30,000 Phase One digital back has issues at 800 ISO.
Does The Canon Mount EF-EOS R Lens Adaptor Work Well?
I was very happy to discover that the canon lens adapter to put the older EF DSLR lenses onto the new R mirrorless bodies works very well.
This is a major consideration for me because I have 6 Canon lenses that I would not want to replace for obvious reasons.
Knowing that I can use all my current lenses on a newer mirrorless system will keep me in the Canon family when I do upgrade.
Would I Buy The R5 And Should You?
Here’s the deal – the R5 is a great camera – would I buy it? Yes I would, and probably will.
As a food photographer, here are the most important features to me:
- File size (45mp)
- Lenses available that are needed for food shooting (macro lens and a zoom lens)
- Flip screen
- Tons of focusing points (1053 – that’s incredible)
- Eye tracking auto focus (once you use this, you can’t live without)
- Video file size (it shoots 8K video, I mean, come on!)
- Cost ( a bit pricey, BUT I think it’s worth it if it’s in your budget)
The R5 has every featured I listed above to my liking. Yes, I did have issues with the viewfinder focus and I’m really disappointed in that, but as a food shooter, was able to work around it.
The R5 has the biggest file size in the Canon mirrorless lineup so far, has a flip screen, and I can use all my current lenses with the adapter. That’s why I would buy it in spite of the focus issues I had.
Here’s what I will tell you if you are considering the R5: if you are creating images for clients and those images are going to be printed, the large file size will be a great option for you.
If you want a new camera and are creating images for the web, or very small print work, you could consider the R6. It’s $1000 less than the R5 because the sensor size is quite a bit smaller at 20mp, but also has a flip screen so it would be great for food blogging.
Just starting out with food photography? Then you could consider getting a used Canon 5D Mark IV or even the Mark III for budget reasons, unless you want a flip screen. The Mark IV and Mark III has been a favorite for food photographers for many years.
But Isn’t The DSLR System Dead?
You might be surprised that I am suggesting a DSLR camera if you are just starting out.
There’s been a ton of talk about DSLR cameras, and DSLR lenses being phased out, discontinued, or no longer produced. In my last blog post I talked about this in detail along with the main differences between mirrorless and DSLR systems, so make sure to check that out if you are new to this discussion to understand why I still suggest DSLR cameras.
DSLR’s are not dead yet, and will be around for several years to come. Eventually, mirrorless will probably take over though, and until that happens you can get some great used DSLR cameras for a lot less money. This can be great for those of you just starting out.
That wraps us this post. I hope you found this helpful, and please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
I would also like to know if you have had any issues with focusing your mirrorless cameras like I did.
Make sure to check out my recommended gear at B& H Photo Video in New York.