The new Canon EOS5D MkIII – to buy or not to buy?

The heart says “YES” but the wallet asks “WILL IT PAY FOR ITSELF?”

One of the worst kept secrets in the photography world over the last few weeks seems to have been the exact specifications list of the new Canon ESO5D MkIII. When an email arrived in my inbox this morning it was headed “We’ve been listening, so now you can too!” An intriguing headline if ever I heard one… but what is it referring to? Could it be the addition of a headphone socket for video shooters? Could it be the vastly improved sound of the shutter over the slightly apologetic click and whirr of the mark 2? Maybe it is the rather good ‘silent’ shutter option? Who knows.

And to some extent, who cares? The decision that working professional photographers now need to make is whether or not buying one or two new camera bodies alone will be justified on purely financial grounds. I have written before about the calculations that you need to make before deciding to invest in new gear. The sums here are pretty easy to do:

  1. List price including VAT £2999.00
  2. Life expectancy of a pro body 36 months
  3. 3 years servicing costs £300

Take 1. and add 3. then divide by 2. = £91.64 which is the cost per month including VAT of owning the camera. Buy two and you double that. You could argue that the kit will have a residual value when you have finished with it and sell it on. I’ve just phoned a couple of dealers to see what my old Mark II bodies will be worth in part exchange. I was honest about their age and condition and was told that I’d be lucky to get £900 each. Factor that into the equation and the cost per month of the new camera would come down to £63.86 a month inc VAT each, which equates to £56.71 excluding VAT.

That’s the health warning over. What does this camera offer me? To start with I keep a Canon EOS7D as a back-up camera as well as for use when I need better auto focus that the 5D MkII can offer. I guess that the improved AF on the 5D MkIII will remove 50% of the need to have that 7D. The new camera also boasts improved low-light performance – which would be more than useful for me too. In fact, every improvement they have made is a definite bonus but exactly how I monetize those bonuses is a tough call. I know that I’d like to replace my three year old cameras with nice shiny new ones, now  all I have to do is to justify the costs. I look forward to the three hundred Canon EOS5D MkII Vs Nikon D800 comparisons. For most professionals swapping systems represents a massive cost and so it would take an awful lot for me to swap to the D800 – even if I thought that I could afford the extra storage space that using a 38 megapixel camera would mean. For me, the more important comparison will between the MkIII and the wonderful, if flawed, MkII.

I haven’t used the camera yet and so I will reserve judgement until I have. I’m not going to bother to cut and paste the whole press release either so if you want the opinion of someone who has handled the camera you can read what Getty Photojournalist Brent Stirton thought about using it on assignment in France or go to wedding photographer Jeff Ascough’s blog about it or if you want an anorak style description of what it does you can go to DP Review. I hope to get to play with it soon as well as the very interesting (if very expensive) new flash system that has also been announced today and when I do, I will be straight onto WordPress to blog about it.

To wrap it up, I just saw a great tweet originating from a user called @PolvoPolvo which said

5D3 could well go down as a gamechanger in the sense that’s its the first major release in memory not being described as a game changer


  1. Hi Neil, I love digital photography and there is no way I would ever want to go back to film, but the thing I do miss is the lack of an upgrade race. When I was working for a photographer in the 80’s I had use of a Hassleblad kit, all old dating back to the 60’s & 70’s but in good condition and regularly serviced. It technically made the same hight quality images as a brand new model and could of course use all the latest film emulsions.

    Jumping forward to my freelance career, I’ve worked the business model of new digital body, renew every 3 years keeping the last model as a back up adding new lenses along the way. From a business point of view I now find myself at the crossroads again, being a Nikon user my next body would be the D800, I need to see one, see what it can do, but those massive RAW files will destroy my workflow, D700 = 12MB RAW, D800 = 70? It looks as though Canon have played a blinder but only time will tell.

    I guess we’ll do what we always do and buy one and hope we continue to get the work to pay for it!

    Cheers Neil


    1. I understand those issues. I suppose we have been spared the angst we used to feel about types of film and even the whole batch problems that I used to get with Ektachrome when I used it. The worst part of shooting film was that my employer used to dictate which film stock we used and they nearly always got it slightly wrong!

      The Nikon D800 is a huge gamble for them. How many Nikon lenses have enough resolving power to handle 38 megapixel files? Quite a few won’t be able to handle it and I predict a rash of complaints about “soft” chips and bad cameras. A 38Mp file will give an open 8 bit JPEG or TIFF of 104Mb. Canon has sRAW modes on their newer DSLRs in case you don’t need/want the huge files but still need a RAW file which is really useful.

      I hate to think how frustrating processing D800 full sized NEF files will be without a super-computer. I already use the 21Mp 5D MkII bodies so the 22Mp 5D MkIII files should be easy to work with if and when I can afford to upgrade.


      1. I think you may be right Neil, hopefully they will add a D800xxy with the D4 chip, But its not really a problem until i’m forced to upgrade.

        Have a good weekend:)

        Cheers Neil


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