Hands-on with the eagerly-awaited Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

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New Atlas goes hands-on with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR(Credit: Simon Crisp/New Atlas)

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Any new 5D camera is going to be a big deal. The Canon series has helped bring full frame shooting to the masses, proved that DSLRs can shoot great video, and has become the camera of choice for countless professionals and enthusiasts alike. We recently got to spend a bit of time with the newly announced 5D Mark IV, to see if it can live up to the expectations set by its predecessors.

Before jumping in and giving you our take on the Canon 5D Mark IV, it's important to note this is a hands-on article and not a full review. We didn't have anywhere near long enough to properly put the camera through its paces and test the vast array of modes and features on offer here.

However, we did have long enough to get a good feel for the camera and what it can do.

By now we've probably all seen the spec sheet for the 5D Mark IV, so already know it packs an upgraded 30.4-megapixel sensor, 4K video recording and an ISO range of 100-32000 (expandable up to 102400). The good, and slightly unexpected, news is that the camera also feels better in the hands than its predecessor.

Admittedly these physical changes are subtle, but they are important. For example, the addition of an AF selector button near the rear joystick (which looks frustratingly like a switch) allows for quicker switching between settings. There's also the slightly bigger deal that the rear monitor is now a touchscreen, which can be handy when reviewing images, navigating menus, and while shooting. Its resolution is boosted to a none-too-shabby 1,620,000 dots, too.

Size and weight-wise, the 5D Mark IV is what you'd expect. It's a big and heavy DSLR. However, it has good ergonomics and balances well when you mount a full frame lens on the front – we tested the camera along with a 24-mm to 70-mm F4. Weather-sealing has been noticeably beefed up with chunkier and more reliable-looking seals on the ports and around the lens, which will give an added sense of security when shooting in the rain.

Upon initially lifting the 5D Mark IV, we were disappointed that the number of AF points hadn't increased from the 61 in the Mark III. But while that number has stayed the same, the points are now spread slightly further apart and cover more of the frame. This wider spread is very welcome, as it will reduce the number of times you need to focus and recompose, and makes tracking moving subjects easier.

As we've come to expect from high-end Canon DSLRs, there are plenty of focus modes and fine tuning options – far too many for us to try during our brief hands-on. We did however get to form an overall impression of the AF system, and it's very positive. Autofocus was able to lock onto subjects remarkably quickly, and accurately. It feels a lot like the 1D X Mark II. It also did a good job of tacking moving subjects traveling both towards the camera, and across the frame.

The slightly increased continuous shooting rate was also a nice bonus. Despite the increase in resolution, the 5D Mark IV is able to shoot at 7 fps (frames per second) compared to the 6 fps of the Mark III. It's not a big increase, but could again make the difference between capturing the moment or not. Unfortunately you only get around 20 shots at that speed before the camera slows down.

The camera shoots to one SD card and one CompactFlash, compared to the CompactFlash and CFast combo of Canon's 1DX Mk II speed demon. You can't help but wonder if the shooting rate, or the number of shots you can fire off in quick succession, could have been improved if the 5D Mark IV had also made this jump rather than keeping current users happy by not forcing them to invest in new memory cards.

The increase in resolution from 22.3 to 30.4 megapixels makes the 5D Mark IV feel more competitive than its four-year-old predecessor, and fits in nicely between the fast-shooting 1DX Mark II and the mega resolution of the 5DS/R. This jump is instantly noticeable when zooming in on images which have more detail than those from previous 5D cameras.

This sort of resolution is beginning to feel about right for current full frame sensors and computers, and isn't the chore it was a couple of years ago. Processing a 30-megapixel image can now be done with ease. We did it on both an iPad and a Macbook Air.

We're not going to go into too much detail here about image quality from the 5D Mark IV. Again, that can wait for a full review where we have time to shoot in a wider range of conditions, and with an array of lenses. That said, our first impressions got us grinning, with the 5D Mark IV turning out some great-looking images.

Given it packs a new full frame sensor, and that wide ISO range, we hoped the low-light performance of the 5D Mark IV would be impressive, and it was. In our tests, images shot at up to ISO 3200 suffered very little noise, and it was only by ISO 12800 that we'd were questioning whether images were usable. You can check out the close crops below. We've not included anything below ISO 800, as there's no noticeable noise to see there.

When playing about with some of our test shots in post processing, it looks like the dynamic range of the 5D Mark IV has received quite a boost too. We were able to recover highlights and shadows which would have been lost to previous 5D cameras.

Unfortunately, despite shooting a number of Dual Pixel RAW files with the 5D Mark IV, where it lets you make micro adjustments to areas of sharpness and shift bokeh, we were unable to test these as Canon hasn't yet got a finalized version of its DPP software we could use, and Adobe Lightroom hasn't yet caught up with the new camera. We'll hopefully get a chance to test this feature during a full review.

The announcement that the 5D Mark IV would shoot 4K video at up to 30 fps was welcomed by videographers who have already embraced the 5D series. However it's worth noting that 4K video will incur a 1.74x crop factor because of sensor resolution. Then again, that's not too far off a Super 35 camera crop. There's also the ability to get reasonably high-res stills from the 4K video, and as the above 8-megapixel still from a 4K scene shows, that's very usable.

Again, the video modes and features of the new camera are so vast that we weren't going to be able to get our teeth into them in out brief hands-on. However, we did shoot a few quick clips and, if our tests are anything to go by, video quality will be more than enough for most users. 4K footage looked simply stunning played back on a 4K TV, and other resolutions looked pretty darn good too. The section of ports, which include a headphone jack as well as microphone input and HDMI output, should also keep video fans happy.

Finally, we get to the Wi-Fi features, which have finally arrived to the 5D series with the Mark IV. Accessed via a communications option in the menu system (we started off by looking for a dedicated button like on the little G7X II) the Wi-Fi of the 5D IV could be enough to convince some users to upgrade.

Once activated, smartphone or tablet users (iOS or Android) can remotely control the camera, or transfer images to the smart device. There are also options for connecting to computers, or printers. We found the implementation slick and easy to use, and can see how for many working pros who need to shift images quickly, this could be a compelling upgrade in itself.

Conclusion…

Our first impression of the 5D IV is that we can't wait to spend longer with it. A quick test is one thing, but it takes living with a camera and using it day in and day you to see what it's really made of. There really are so many features that we've as of yet only skimmed the surface.

While the specification of the 5D IV hasn't been treated with universal excitement, there are a number of users who wanted to see Canon push the series further, and we have no doubt that this camera will go down as another solid instalment in the series. It looks to offer very impressive stills shooting and top quality video options, which together makes it a very versatile camera.

This is a camera which can be different things to different users. Enthusiasts will find it plenty of camera to explore and grow into, while photojournalists will appreciate the top quality stills and the ability to transfer images quickly with Wi-Fi. Meanwhile, wedding photographers will like the low-light performance, wildlife snappers the continuous shooting rate, and there's plenty to keep indie film makers happy too.

The Canon EOS 5D IV is due to be available later this month priced at US$3,500 body-only.

Product page: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

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