The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, initially released fall 2016, marks the latest installment into the highly popular and acclaimed 5D series of full-frame SLRs. Canon’s EOS 5D series is among the most sought for and respected digital SLR cameras to date. The previously released 5D Mark II created a highpoint for the series and kickstarted the digital SLR video revolution.
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Any camera following suit that bears this name will have a particularly tricky reputation to uphold. The 5D line is geared primarily at the multimedia shooter who desires a fully-featured photography camera that can also be sufficient as a video camera if need be.
Nonetheless, previous Canon users will feel right at home with this camera, especially those who have used mid-tier or higher Canon SLRs. At first glance, it looks identical to the previous 5D iterations. It’s improvements come primarily in software and performance, rather than physical form. It has a 30.4-megapixel CMOS sensor, providing a dramatic increase in resolution over the 22.3-megapixels found in the predecessor.
The updated sensor combined with the DIGIC 6+ image processor on board results in a camera whose performance is better across all measurements. Undoubtedly, this is the best the 5D series has to offer. However, quite some time has passed since its original release, which sparked quite a bit of controversy as well.
Is it the evolutionary step from the previously released Mark III? Does Canon still have a stranglehold on the small form factor video market, years and years later? The marketplace has changed since this cameras original release, can Canon hold steadfast and remain dominant in such a vastly different market? Many have touted this particular lineup is Canon’s digital photography dynasty but is this still a dynasty in 2019 however? Let’s find out.
What are some of the goods, bads, and the uglies of the Canon 5D Mark IV?
Both image quality and dynamic range, particularly in the shadows, have improved over the predecessor. The 30.4-megapixel sensor found in this camera is one of Canon’s finest, outside of the 1DX lineup. No questions, image sharpness, color rendition, and dynamic range are still unwavering strengths of this camera.
It supplies 4K video at 24/30 fps, 1080p at 24/30/60 fps and 720 at 120 fps.
Video quality in 1080p across all frame rates is sharp. 4K video quality is also sharp, though with a few accompanying caveats mentioned in the con’s section below.
Recording time is limited to 29.59, industry standard.
Low Light Performance
It delivers improved low light performance over the predecessor, nearly by one stop. It has a native ISO range from ISO 100 to ISO 32,000 which delivers usable images with minimal softness and color distortion up to ISO 12,800. Low light performance and noise levels are on par with the Sony A7R II.
This camera inherits much of the focusing system from the Canon 1DX Mark II. It is the first 5D series camera to inherit an updated phase-detection AF system. Not only that, but it also inherits Canon’s renowned Dual Pixel CMOS AF (DPAF) and Face Detection AF.
The result is improved, focusing accuracy and performance over the predecessor. It houses a further refined 61-point AF system, where 41 of its points are cross-type. While the total number of points remains unchanged, these AF points have been spread out to now cover approximately 80% of the image plane. Not only that, but the camera can now focus down to EV -3 at its centermost point.
The result is a fantastic low light AF performance. Outside of that, the addition of DPAF and Face Detection supply superior focusing and subject tracking, even at shallow apertures (i.e., f/1.8 or below). In all, this is a system users can have full assurance in and can trust. This camera rarely, if ever, hunts for focus, especially in Live View.
Battery life is rated at 900 shots on a single charge when using the optical viewfinder alone. Longevity in battery life is what users expect from a professional-grade Canon SLR, and this camera surely doesn’t disappoint in this regard.
Display & Viewfinder
As with all professional-level Canon SLRs, the optical viewfinder is fantastic. In this case, it has a 100% viewfinder coverage as well. Canon has also opted to include Clear View II with this model, which provides brighter and sharper displays in a variety of lighting conditions, especially outdoors during direct sunlight.
This implementation also offers more on-screen information for users when viewing through the viewfinder, further reducing the need to look at the primary LCD for critical data.
It features a 1.62 million dot 3.2-inch touchscreen LCD. The addition of a touchscreen supplies users with the ability to both touch to focus and thoroughly navigate the menus via touch alone. With time, adjusting settings becomes second nature with touch and is a massive improvement over the predecessor. Not only that, but this display also supports pinch to zoom and swiping during playback, significantly speeding up image review.
The user’s menus and overall interface are fantastic. The addition of a touch LCD results in navigation that is not only incredibly intuitive but also easily mastered, even for absolute beginners foreign to digital SLRs. Overall, navigating via touch removes the pain that occurs when digging through -on-screen menus via d-pad alone.
Painful indeed. The menus here are, well organized, and have a hierarchy that makes sense, something lacking in the competition. Great user interfaces and menus are what we expect on Canon cameras. This camera surely delivers on this front as well.
- It has three custom modes, (C1, C2, and C3) on the Mode Dial which provide custom shooting presets.
- It has five My Menu tabs that provide users custom menu’s layouts for better system navigation.
Physical layout and ergonomics
- It has an excellent comfortable grip, something expected in this range of full-frame cameras.
- It has dual card cards, one SD and one CF. The buffer has improved over the predecessor, now providing more shots before filling and faster clearing.
- Has a dedicated AF selector joystick, providing fast AF point selection when composing via the viewfinder. This joystick is multi-directional as well and supports diagonal movements.
- Like the Mark III before it, it too has a robust magnesium alloy body, but its weight has been reduced slightly by 0.1 lbs.
Niche features offered/Extras
It has built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, and GPS. These additions mean that users can now geotag images, helpful for sending photographs of a scouted location to potential clients or recalling highlights from an area. It also means that users can now remotely operate the camera from a connected smartphone via the Camera Remote app.
Users have complete control over exposure, focusing, and video recording. As with previous cameras that have included this particular feature, it is also well implemented and integrated into this camera and provides a low latency connection for fantastic remote capture. Lastly, images are also transferable to both paired smartphones and other Canon cameras via LAN.
It has HDR video recording, provided at 1080p @ 30 fps. HDR video merges two separate exposures in-camera to create a 30-second clip that provides better dynamic range and reduces bright or clipping highlights. In all, it provides more detail when filming in highly contrasts situations, especially outdoors in direct sunlight.
It has a built-in anti-flicker function which detects the frequency of the light source and matches the camera’s shutter to adjust for when the lights are at their peak brightness. This feature eliminates the odd shifts in colors that occur when shooting under fluorescent lights.
It has an in-camera rating system, which is also customizable. Users can rate images taken on the camera, then transfer these ratings directly to applicable post-production applications with ratings along with them. Overall, this makes culling faster, as you can cull directly during the shoot to reduce time in front of a computer.
- It has a headphone input port.
- It’s weather and dust sealed.
- It has built-in Timelapse, which creates an in-camera video file from the resulting lapse. However, users are limited to 2-minute recordings.
- It has a continuous burst rate of up to 7.0 fps, a significant increase over the predecessor considering its sensor size. It doesn’t let file size comprise the speed of which images are captured and still manages to provide studio-level resolution with sports demanding performance.
- It has a USB 3.0 port for fast tethering and file transfer.
- It has a microphone input port.
Image quality is fantastic, but this camera does have an anti-aliasing filter which means the competition still has the advantage here. Namely, the Nikon D810 and Sony A7R Mark II. Fine resolution is lacking, though very minutiae. If you want the absolute best image quality possible, an alternative camera will be needed. However, in real-world shooting, the differences between all of these cameras are incredibly negligible. The average user will never see the minute differences in resolution.
Dynamic range, while improved over the predecessor, still lags behind the competition. Yes, there’s a decent amount of recoverability possible in this camera, upwards of two stops in fact. Considering its price-point and our expectations, this isn’t good enough.
It has a 1.7x crop when filming in 4K, which is a more severe crop factor than APS-C sized camera. This crop is more comparable to that of a micro four-third camera, which means users are taking advantage of less than ½ of their sensor in this mode. Not only is resolution decreased, but so does low light performance and field of view as well. In all this alters framing and makes it challenging to compose wide-angle shots. The way to overcome this is to use APS-C sized lenses, which makes the crop factor negligible in most circumstances.
Video formats available on this camera are limited. It lacks 4K video at 60 fps and only has 120 FPS at 720p. Full HD at 120 FPS would have been an enormous help on this camera, considering the video quality is excellent.
It experiences rolling shutter when filming during 4K. Thankfully, both 1080p and 720p lack this problem.
Low light performance in 4K is weak and only supplies usable footage up to ISO 3,200 before reductions in both sharpness and color occur.
It uses motion JPEG (MJPEG), an older video codec. Problematic because this codec has a significantly larger bitrate, upwards of 500 MBs/second. Large bitrates increase both storage demand on the internal cards and processing loads during post-production. Sadly, this large of a bitrate also limits the amount of 4K video recording on a 64 GB card to only 15 minutes, instead of 90 minutes if using the XAVC codec for example.
It only outputs 1080p via HDMI out and not 4K. Users requiring this feature should look at Canon’s cinema line of cameras instead.
It lacks a built-in log profiles. Thank god Canon introduced this feature shortly after release as a firmware update, with the addition of C-log. Without log profiles, users filming have limited dynamic range, especially during daylight conditions where high areas of contrasts in the frame are commonplace.
Low Light Performance
Low light performance still lags behind the competition in both RAW and JPEG formats, namely when compared to the Nikon D810. The camera does provide nearly a one-stop improvement over the predecessor in this regard.
However, like its predecessors, it too still experiences softness at higher ISO’s along with noise and color distortion above ISO 12,800. We expect noise and color distortion in low light at higher ISOs, but not a direct reduction in sharpness.
Layout and ergonomics
It lacks a vari-angle display, which becomes problematic when shooting in Live View with touch AF. We realize there was a stigma to include a swivel display on the full-frame professional level body, but come on. The practically of this feature far outweighs the flack previously faced by die-hard viewfinder users.
The only means to overcome this is by shooting remotely via the Camera Connect app and using your connected device as a secondary screen.
- The HDMI output only supplies 1080p and lacks 4k.
- It has a Mini HDMI out, requiring users to purchase adapters which make outputting from this port cumbersome.
- It lacks in-camera stabilization.
- It lacks the following video assist tools: peaking, zebras, and audio levels.
While it has dual card slots, they’re both older generation formats. The SD slot is UHS-1, and the other is a compact flash. Depending on how you shoot, you may find these cards sufficient for stills. However, UHS-I reduces buffer performance, and it also means the buffer fills after 21 RAW photos which can easily be problematic.
Is the Canon 5D Mark IV a good starting camera?
Yes. However, considering the price point of this camera, it’s best suited as an upgrade for existing serious enthusiasts or working professionals. In most circumstances, beginning photographers will not have the budget to justify this level of camera, and, quite frankly, they don’t need this camera either.
If you are a beginner, consider the Canon 80D instead. It will be more than sufficient for your needs. However, if you’re in the rare bunch who can fully afford this camera, then this is undoubtedly one to consider. It delivers compelling improvements over all other 5D cameras in this lineup, and, in all, it’s a jack of all trades optimized explicitly for the multimedia shooter.
Best bundles for the Canon 5D Mark IV
Is the Canon 5D Mark IV a good camera for you?
Yes, possibly, but it will be dependent on your specific needs. The Mark IV is not the camera for those of you desiring robust 4K abilities, as both its feature set and quality lack. Unless you are willing to compromise with its shortcomings and 4K is not a deal-breaker for you.
In all, this camera holds steadfast to Canon’s original vision with the 5D series, which was to deliver competitive, well-rounded cameras to serve a wide array of photographic needs. For beginnings, as mentioned previously, this may not be the best choice strictly based on price alone.
Even now in 2019 the camera holds its value and remains incredibly expensive. However, this is an excellent all-round camera and one that would still make a fantastic choice if budget is not an issue. Overall, this is a camera aimed at serious enthusiasts and working professionals with a firm understanding of digital photography. Not only that, but it’s also a photography centric tool that places only a slight emphasis on its video prowess.
If video is crucial to you and an essential component of your creative process, we encourage looking elsewhere. You can get far more value in cameras that are a fraction of the cost. Canon has made it clear they want professional videographers using their EOS Cinema line, nothing else, and we agree.
If you’re a current 5D owner looking to upgrade, should you? Yes. Not only will you feel right at home with this camera straight out of the box. Canon has also made worthwhile improvements to this camera that do justify upgrading. The advances in image quality, DPAF, low light performance, and the inclusion of a touchscreen make this a compelling upgrade.
The Mark IV also makes an excellent choice for the first time 5D buyer, as this is still currently the best camera in this line to date. There’s some incredibly fierce competition at this price point in 2019. Moreover, while the Mark IV is a fantastic workhorse camera and all-in-one system for day to day shooting. It still will be lacking in many regards when compared to today’s standards. Both Nikon and Sony are still leading the pack in overall performance. Unfortunately, Canon’s reign with the 5D series is coming to a close.
Last Updated on September 11, 2023 by Photography PX Published September 21, 2019
The Canon 5D Mark IV holds steadfast to Canon’s original vision with the 5D series, which was to deliver competitive, well-rounded cameras to serve a wide array of photographic needs. Its a camera aimed at serious enthusiasts and working professionals with a firm understanding of digital photography. However, it could be a viable option for the beginner with the budget. As with previous 5D releases, it too is a photography centric tool that places only a slight emphasis on its video prowess. Canon has made worthwhile improvements, and advances in image quality, DPAF, low light performance, and the inclusion of a touchscreen make this a compelling upgrade. The Mark IV makes an excellent choice for the first time 5D buyer and is bar none the best camera in this line to date. The Mark IV remains a fantastic workhorse camera that delivers dynamic performance-optimized explicitly for the multimedia shooter needing an all-in-one system; it remains one to watch.