The EOS R5 is a new and pretty expensive camera from Canon. Starting at $3,899 it’s fair to ask, is the R5 worth the money?
I have been using the EOS R5 for almost exactly a year now, as I’m writing this I actually received my R5 in the mail (after being a on waiting list for 3 months) about 1 year and 2 weeks ago in early November of 2020.
The R5 is my 3rd Canon RF camera. Prior to the R5 the EOS R was my primary camera for over a year and the EOS RP was my backup for most of that time.
Needless to say when I got the R5 I was excited about it. I had been using 77D followed by a 6D II and then the EOS R for the previous 4 years so the R5 was my first camera that was marketed as “professional grade”. At the time Canon said it was their flagship camera!
The 5 series has always been a special camera for all the years its been around and as time has worn on it’s only improved in value. When the original 5 series came out it was notable for producing some of the most natural looking digital pictures too date. Nowadays natural looking photos is a given for digital cameras, the list of things this new 5 series must do is long if Canon wants to maintain the mystique that they’ve enjoyed for decades.
The R5 does a lot of things right and very few things slightly wrong, but on the whole it’s an impressive machine.
First, lets jump into the good.
The image quality is pretty stunning from the R5. Realistically speaking it is one of the best cameras ever made in terms of the image. Is it my be all end all? No. I’ve seen better image quality from medium format cameras, but they all cost a lot more money or are nowhere near as performant.
Just to go slightly off topic here but it’s really not fair to compare say a Fuji GFX 50S II which has insanely clean files to what the R5 can do… why is that? The R5 is quite simply in another league in terms of the other performance specs. The GFX 50S II has fabulous image quality but can only shoot at a meager 3 frames per second for up to 13 frames. It’s honestly not terrible for a big medium format sensor but can’t hold a candle to the R5. The R5 shoots at 12fps with mechanical shutter and 20fps with electronic shutter and will it do it for hundreds of frames in a row. Pretty impressive specifications for a 45 megapixel camera…
In order to achieve all that glorious speed the sensor has to be designed to dump data and cycle itself very quickly, much more quickly than the GFX 50S II sensor is able to.
Now, if Canon wanted to, they could probably change the sensor design, slow it down, and focus the performance purely on the image quality and easily surpass what the GFX 50S II can do. But, they chose to give us end game speed over end game image quality. I’m sure at some point in the future the R5 will get improved upon, but for the time being what we have is basically a FF GFX 50S II that can shoot at 20 frames per second. In many ways you could say that the R5 turns the camera world on its head. The image is very nearly as good as the latest medium format cameras designed purely for image quality, yet it can also shoot as fast or faster than the best professional still image cameras on the market.
The autofocus in the R5 is excellent in my experience. I feel bad for other photographers who don’t have R5’s when the lights dim at a wedding and they’re showing me that their cameras can’t focus. Meanwhile the R5 is still locked on and blazing away with nary a miss focused shot to be seen. Stunning? As far as I know, absolutely. It’s true, the DPAF system in the RF cameras has a couple small weaknesses, but I almost never run into those issues at a live shoot. I can recreate the issues because I know how to do it, but when it comes to shooting people the AF is simply locked in as well as most photographers could possibly imagine. I’ve been putting it through it’s paces at weddings and have found that blazing away at 12fps in low light with nothing but the DJ’s lights flashing, or even just a few dim tungsten lights, or heck, even outdoors in near total darkness, and it still locks people up in tight focus. Frequently I find that in thousands of shots at a wedding every single shot will be in focus. EVERY SINGLE SHOT.
Is it perfect? No, but if you work with it and use the correct focus modes I put 99% of errors in focus on the photographer. It is possible to get every shot at a wedding in focus if you’re just a little careful. It’s nothing like how it was with DSLR’s where if you got 50% of your shots in focus you’d be thrilled. With this camera it’s more like, wait, what? Did it actually miss focus on that shot? And let’s be clear, even when it “misses focus” it’s usually the case that it focused on the wrong object or person… So, technically not a focus miss but an incorrect focus if that makes sense. Once in awhile it will focus through to a bright object or a bright face behind my actual subject… But, the thing is I usually see the focus box in the wrong spot in the viewfinder so it’s possible to correct before pulling the trigger. All in all it is a stunningly accurate and reliable focusing camera.
The R5 is typical Canon, the features it has are implemented properly but it doesn’t go too far beyond the necessities. The R5 does have a few extras that Canon has included for the first time like a basic focus stacking option which racks the focus of your lens for macros or other purposes (Canon provides software to do the stacking in post), and it adds some additional IBIS options that I appreciate such as the ability to dial in the focal length of your lens to tune the stabilization properly even when using an old manual focus lens with no electronics built in. For the most part though it’s pretty standard amongst the pantheon of 5 series cameras. It has the very useful rear wheel which I think pretty much everyone hated wasn’t included on the EOS R. And, it has the joystick for manipulating focus points. The last key feature people will ask about is the dual card slots. Another much talked about missing feature on the EOS R. Thankfully the R5 keeps most of the things that were great about the old 5 series and packages it all up in a far more powerful and compact design. Put the little RF 50mm f/1.8 on it with no battery grip and it almost feels weightless. But add on the battery grip and mount the RF 28-70mm f/2 and there’s no doubt you’re wielding a beast of a camera.
Of course there are loads of other features like face detect AF, eye detect AF, selectable animal & person tracking, 8k RAW video, focus speed adjustments for video, excellent IBIS that makes a noticeable difference for a huge range of lenses, an excellent flip out rear touch screen, the ability to reassign the function of most of the buttons on the camera, DoF preview button, -6ev low light focusing, and the list goes on.
There’s more here to play with than most photo and video people will ever get to but it’s there if you want it!
Speed and Handling
As mentioned earlier in the post the R5 can shoot at a maximum of 12fps using the mechanical shutter and 20fps when using full electronic shutter. If we’re being technical you could say it also shoots at 30fps in 8k RAW video. Just jack up the shutter speed for your 8k video and you’re basically shooting stills. Of course, the shots will be shot in 16×9 but the image quality is very good, (remember that 8k uses the full width of the R5 sensor), and if you’re worried about capturing highlights and shadows you have the option of shooting in Canon Log 1 or 3 which pulls up the shadows and expands the dynamic range a bit. I think it’s fair to say it essentially shoots 30fps stills… Is that fast enough for ya??
In terms of using the camera it is very responsive. It turns on and shuts off quickly enough and the camera always responds instantly to any inputs or settings adjustments.
One thing I like to talk about is accidental inputs. It can take time learning how to handle any camera body so as to avoid accidental inputs but overall the R5 is pretty good in this regard. The buttons are well located and the grip is large enough for my XL glove wearing hands.
Speaking of recording, maybe I am just an amateur at video but I wish it was a little more obvious that the camera was recording when it is recording. As it is there’s basically just a tiny blinking circle on the back of the camera that lets you know it’s currently recording. When you’re looking around trying to follow action it just isn’t obvious enough. I have unfortunately missed some shots due to the combination of the mushy button and the not so obvious recording indicator… If they just put a one or two pixel wide red box around the whole rear screen while actively recording that would be obvious enough for me.
While I’m complaining I might as well add that another minor issue I’ve had is that I often pick up the camera and find that my focus points are moved around. I don’t know what is happening, is it the joystick, the rear screen? I don’t know, but somehow I often move the focus points on accident, a mild annoyance that I haven’t quite figured out yet.
Is it the perfect camera?
With the rave review I’ve given so far you’re probably thinking I’ve been drinking the Canon koolaid. Well, not quite. The camera is amazing but there are a few quibbles I can throw out there.
Well, here we go, you knew it was coming, the great conspiracy of overheating. I actually never had my camera stop working, and I’ve never had it warn me about the heat even shooting RAW stills at 12FPS for hours. But I have seen the overheat icon a couple of times when shooting 4k at an all day wedding. When I was outdoors in the cool weather it was fine, but once we got indoors and I was hand holding the R5 for long periods it started to flash the warning icon. That said, it never actually overheated. So, was I just being warned in an abundance of caution or was the camera actually getting ready to shutdown? I’ll probably never know but it’s safe to say you might want to have 2 R5’s on hand if you’re shooting the 4k HQ. Another option is to shoot with an external recorder. With the external recorder it bypasses the internal recording limit of 30 minutes and doubles the 8k shooting time to 45minutes (continuous). How often does anyone just let a camera run nonstop for 45 minutes in 8k resolution? I dunno, me personally, that sounds like a lot of time wasted handling a huge file for no reason. With 45 minutes of 8k we’re talking well over 1 Terabyte of data!
Electronic Shutter Limitations
The last issues are all related to the electronic shutter. Here is the thing, it doesn’t matter a whole lot. The mechanical shutter is very quiet and the shooting speed of 12fps is plenty for many use cases. BUT, if you’re wanting to explore what the electronic shutter can do there are a few things to be aware of.
The first and most glaring is that there is no flash sync when using electronic shutter. So, if you’re hoping to sneak around at an event using the electronic shutter, and use your flash, sorry, it’s not possible on the R5 (it is possible on the Canon R3 and Sony A1).
Next up is the rolling shutter on the R5 when using the fully electronic shutter.* Yes, it is present still and can be seen pretty easily when panning side to side rapidly, but, the read speed is still relatively fast at only 15 milliseconds. So, relative to all the Canon cameras except the R3 it is substantially better in this regard.
One technique you can use to minimize rolling shutter is to shoot with a slightly slower shutter speed while panning. When you do this the subject becomes static so no rolling shutter will be evident there, and the background will be blurred, which will give you a nice effect like in the photo below:
The last issue with electronic shutter is that you don’t get flicker reduction at all.* This can be an inconvenience at times when shooting with the electronic shutter because most of the time we photographers want to be super quiet we’ll be indoors and most of the time we’re indoors is when we have to deal with the effects of 60hz flicker from indoor lighting. Again, its a minor issue, you have to be within 10ft of the camera to really hear the mechanical shutter so I call it more of a non-issue than anything.
*It should be noted that both flicker and rolling shutter can be fixed easily in post production using software…
So is the R5 worth it? Yes, it is worth it. I’d be crazy to say otherwise. Canon was very smart about how they put this one together. They created a photographic machine that can compete with the best products on the market in just about any scenario that exists for photographers to shoot. There are only a small number of situations where you might want to buy the more expensive R3 instead. But for 100% of non-professionals, and 95% of professionals, I call the R5 an end game camera. Yes, you could make a “better” camera. But what is the point? What do you want to do, shoot at 60 frames per second? How much dynamic range do you want? 20 stops? 50 stops? What are you trying to do with your camera anyway, photograph the cosmic microwave background? Horses for courses. The R5 does the job amazingly well, an experienced professional should have no problem using this camera to create stunning images.
Here are some photos from an actual live wedding where I used the Canon EOS R5 for 90% of the day: