Canon 5D Mark III and the Northern Lights
Alaska has had a great winter season of aurora photography opportunities. Due to much of my travel, I have not participated in that winfall. Last week however, I eeked out one last chance to shoot the northern lights before daylight consumes our night skies making that option unreachable until late August/September.
Part of my motivation was to give the new Canon 5D III a little field test, in particular, with the northern lights. As it turned out, I secured only a few photos and circumstances did not permit a more thorough test, but I can offer a photographer’s initial thoughts on this camera.
First of all, if you are not aware, Lightroom 4.1 RC is available and supports the Canon 5D Mark III RAW files.
What I’m happy to see in the 5D Mark III
- The mode control knob has a lock on it, so no more bumping the dial and accidentally switching modes
- The histogram is now framed in a white border, enabling you to see the far right and left sides in bright light (finally!!)
- Slightly better ergonomics when holding the camera, a better overall grip in my opinion
- The quick control button stands on its own now, no need to toggle through modes like before
- The auto focus has been totally revamped to equal the new 1D series cameras – yes!!
- The frame rate has been increased along with the buffer. For me this reaches an acceptable degree although it could be better. But at least it is now in the ball park
- ISO performance is improved (I have not thoroughly tested this in the parameters in which I shoot, but it appears that the equivalent of one full stop at least has been gained in respect to grain and noise.
- You can finally control the first 4 of the 8 characters in the file name, freed from the standard _IMG of previous models.
- The body has a stronger build, and more solid feel, although not as tough as the 1D series cameras.
- It is reported to be a better sealed camera, for dust and water issues.
- A Flash Exposure Lock feature is available through a new M-fn button, which will really help on my upcoming assisgnment where I will be using strobes.
- If you are familiar with the 7D, some of those features were folded into the 5D III, as nice additions in respect to menu and screen options.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with the camera so far, with very little use, at least many of the frustrating aspects of the former 5D series cameras have been addressed. There is more to the camera than I mentioned here, but depending on what and how you shoot, your hit list may differ.
When I shot film (years ago) I used the EOS 3 camera, which was perfect for what I did. It has taken 10 good years for Canon to create that type of camera in the digital SLR field, and at this point, I’m shifting out of the 1D series camera’s and back to the smaller body frame, which suits 90% of what I shoot. I may end up with a 1Dx after all, but time will tell on that.
As for shooting the northern lights: I took a handful of frames (that’s all I was able to get unfortunately-but glad for just a few) at 1600 ISO, and the files look very clean and sharp in Lightroom. My guess is that it may render a 3200 ISO shot quite acceptable. I shot the 5D Mark II at 1600 ISO occasionally also, with good results, but these look better. I was never dissatisfied with the files generated by the 5D II, it was mainly the body design and function that kept it closeted for landscape only photography. Now it has been redesigned and set free to run with the big boys.