The Canon 5D MK IV was finally announced yesterday, and the news has been underwhelming for the most part. The vast majority of filmmakers that I’ve spoken have been generally disappointed with the new release, but I’m still on the fence… Despite the fact that I have never been a Canon fan.
I’ve shot extensively with the 5D MK II, and 5D MK III, but the only Canon camera I’ve ever owned was a Canon C100. Well, that’s not true – I also own a 35mm film Canon EOS 3 that I bought for $60, but that’s for a different article.
I really have no reason to love or hate Canon at this point. I’ve never invested heavily in their system (bodies or glass), and it doesn’t personally affect me one way or another if their video offerings stand up to the competition. For that reason, I have a pretty unbiased view of their latest 5D MK IV, and despite it’s obvious shortcomings it does seem to have some advantages too.
There have been many complaints about the MK IV since it was announced yesterday. The three biggest complaints are the camera’s lack of full frame recording in 4K (it crops to just over Super 35mm size), it’s outdated MJPEG codec, and it’s lack of a log picture profile.
There’s no denying that these factors can be seen as negatives, but the 5D MK IV has some advantages in it’s corner too… It really just comes down to your perspective and how you like to work.
Let’s take a look at these complaints below, and why they may not be deal breakers.
4K CROP MODE
The 5D Mark IV does of course have a full frame sensor like every other 5D before it, but when you record in full 4K video mode, there is a crop. I’ve read that the crop is anywhere from 1.64x to 1.74x, which is right in the same ballpark as an APS-C crop (such as the Canon 7D), or more relevantly, a Super 35mm crop.
I may be the odd one out, but I have never been a fan of full frame video.
Many filmmakers that don’t have any background with motion picture film, don’t understand that full frame on stills is different from “full frame” on motion picture film. In fact in the case of the latter, the term full frame would never actually be used. It’s simply Super 35mm film. These are two very different sizes.
In digital terms, full frame sensors are equivalent to 35mm stills film, whereas APS-C sensors are equivalent to Super 35mm motion picture film. This means if you are going to use a cinema lens – let’s say a 50mm Zeiss CP2, it would look relatively the same on a “cropped sensor” APS-C camera as it would on a Super 35mm motion picture film camera.
If you were to use this same 50mm lens on a full frame camera, it would not give you the same field of view.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does call into question your personal preference as a filmmaker. For me, I always prefer a more traditional motion picture look over a stills photography look – which is what you’ll get when you shoot full frame video. Your images will look great, you’ll have excellent shallow DOF, and nice wide angles when you need them, but your field of view will simply be different than if you were actually shooting Super 35mm film. And for me, that’s not how I like to work.
The point of all this is that the 4K crop mode on the 5D MK IV is essentially going to give you a Super 35mm equivalent, as opposed to a full frame image. If you love the full frame look, this will be a deal breaker for you, hands down. But if you’re like me and prefer the S35mm look, not only will this not be a deal breaker, but it will be an advantage. You’ll be able to achieve a more authentic S35mm field of view with your lenses, while also having more lens options available to you. Remember that many lenses will not cover full frame (including the majority of EF cinema lenses), and shooting with this effective S35 crop will allow you to use the lenses you want to, without worrying about vignetting.
Canon have opted to integrate the MJPEG codec into the 5D MK IV which can certainly be seen as old technology by anyone’s standards. The vast majority of DSLRs use H264 compression, and even the 5D MK III utilized H264 as a codec for it’s full 1080p recording mode. On the Mark IV, Canon has opted to use MJPEG which is the same codec they use on their 1D C. It yields great results visually, but has one big draw back: File sizes.
MJPEG is not an “efficient” codec, in the sense that it records at 500/Mbps, which is a very high data rate. It’s about 5 times the data rate that most DSLRs/Mirrorless cameras shoot at, which is commonly 100/Mbps in 4K H264 mode.
There’s no denying that larger file sizes can be a pain, and you certainly need to take this into account when considering the Mark IV. Not just because of the extra cards you’ll need with you on set (you’ll only get about 16 minutes on a 64GB card), but also because of the extra hard drive space needed in post to back up your footage.
That said, whether or not this is a deal breaker for you is simply a matter of preference. If you are used to shooting RAW, this won’t be that big of a big deal to you. You will likely already have a workflow down for transcoding your footage before editing, so doing this same with MJPEG files will be nothing new. On the other hand, if you typically shoot material that needs to be turned around the same day (for news gathering let’s say), you would probably want to stick with H264 as it is easier and faster to work with in post, and doesn’t necessarily require any transcoding.
Personally, all that matters to me is image quality. If I need to wait a few minutes, or a few hours to transcode footage – I will, as long as it’s worth the wait. I would rather wait to transcode footage in post and get better results, than save a few minutes and record a poorer quality image in camera.
That’s not to say that the MJPEG codec is perfect by any means. It is an older codec and less supported by most editing systems, but it’s still a very strong codec from an image quality standpoint. Not to mention it records 4:2:2 as opposed to 4:2:0 which is great, although it is in fact still 8 bit.
LOG PROFILE / COLOR SCIENCE
My biggest personal complaint with the 5D MK IV is it’s lack of a Log picture profile. I’ve grown so accustomed to shooting with Log lately, that it’s definitely something I miss when shooting on cameras that can only record to Rec 709.
The benefit of shooting in Log of course is to maximize your dynamic range by capturing a far flatter image than you would with standard Rec 709. In post, you can simply add a conversion LUT to your footage to bring back the contrast, and you get the best of both worlds – a nice punchy image that still retains the added dynamic range associated with the LOG profile.
I don’t really understand why there isn’t a Log profile in this camera, as I believe Canon could have easily integrated one. They clearly have the technology to do so with their other cameras, so why not the MK IV? I don’t get it… At the same time, this isn’t a deal breaker for me necessarily.
As important as Log is to me, what’s even more important is color reproduction. Canon has always delivered gorgeous and natural colors across their entire product line, and that’s more than could be said for many other companies. Sony for instance, has pretty lackluster color science, at least from where I stand. I purchased the A7S II last fall, and sold it after just a few months as I couldn’t get the colors to look right when shooting in Log, even after extensive color grading.
To me, this goes to show that Log really isn’t everything. Sure, I’d like to have a best of both worlds scenario… A camera that shoots Log and has great color science. But if it’s only one or the other, I’ll choose color science every time.
My last and final point here is that we need to remember that Canon’s specs on paper never tell the full story. The original C300 is a case in point. On paper, people couldn’t get over how bad the C300 specs looked, especially considering the price point Canon had it listed at. But in the end, the C300 went on to be one of the most popular hybrid cameras ever made, and is still used daily for broadcast television, independent film, events, news, and more. Even the Palm D’or winning “Blue Is The Warmest Color” was shot on the C300.
So before we rush to judgement on the MK IV, let’s see how it actually performs in reality. As I said at the top of this article, I am the furthest thing from a die hard Canon fan. I’ve never bought into their eco system, and have owned very few of their cameras over the years. That said, I can’t deny that their cameras (despite their flaws) still have some advantages over the competition – namely color science – and that can be a huge factor for some of us when purchasing the camera.
The MK IV does show some interesting new features too, such as internal HDR recording for (for video and stills) and lytro-style focusing in stills mode, that allows you to change the focus/bokeh in post. As a stills camera, I’m sure it will be one of the best on the market. As a video camera? We’ll see… I need to shoot with it first, but I’m definitely not writing it off just yet.