Canon 5D mark IV - Not The Obvious Choice

I’ve owned my 5D mark III (5D3) for about 4 years now. I adore this camera. So when Canon announced its successor, the 5D mark IV (5D4), you can imagine how excited I was to see if it’s worth the upgrade. Now that I’ve done the research and tested it out thanks to my buddy Lance, I can say that its a lot more complicated than than “yes” or “no.”

Im not going to go into specs. There are a million review sites that will lay it out for you. What Im going to discuss here is why you would and why you wouldn't buy the new Canon 5D mark IV. While the specs play a small role in this, the greater factors are beyond that. To see why, we have to go back quite a few years. 

In 2009, Canon released the 5D mark II, which marked a huge milestone for prosumer photography/videography. It was the first full-frame DSLR to offer high quality 1080p video recording. Not only that, it was compact and affordable. When the 5D mark III was released with upgraded specs in 2012, they added a few more features for videographers. Things like a headphone jack for monitoring and upgraded specs. By then, Canon was the first name in DSLR video. Whether you were looking to upgrade or buy your first camera, that was the one you went with. The point I'm trying to make is that these cameras, in their time, were the overwhelming obvious choice for prosumer creatives who shot video as well as photos. 

With he Canon 5D mark IV, this is no longer the case I'm afraid. One of the big improvement over the 5D3 is that it shoots 4K video. Thats a fine and dandy, but in my eyes, is worthless. The 4K video uses a 1.6x cropped portion of the sensor. That basically eliminates the whole appeal of full frame video because your not shooting on a full frame. In fact, your shooting on a portion of the sensor that smaller than the sensor on a Rebel t5i. Admittedly, most cameras out right now shoot 4K at a crop, but most of them aren't as drastic. In fact my Sony A7s mark II shoots 4K with no crop at all. In addition to that you’re restricted to recording 4K in a motion-jpeg format. These videos files write up to 500 mbps/sec. To put it into perspective, my Sony writes up to 100 mpbs/sec making a 30 second 4K clip about 400MB. If I recorded that same clip on the 5D4, it would be over 2GB. 

So if you’re just looking for a 4K camera, the 5D4 isn't the best option. In the video below I’ve made a 1080p comparison and slow motion comparison of the 5D4 to the 5D3. You can deduce what will from it. 

Testing the new Canon 5D mark IV against the Canon 5D mark III

Test 1 - Detail Test at 1080 23.98p

Test 2 - Slow Motion Test played back at 40%

Everything shot in default neutral picture profile

Up until now, it might seem like the 5D4 is obviously not the best choice, but this is where it gets complicated. Years ago, the Canon would have been the obvious choice solely based on specs. Now that’s clearly not the case. There are factors beyond specs that myself and other videographers come to value over specs. 

For our studio at least, its the color and ease of use. The color science that Canon cameras have is, in a word, special. That’s really the best way to describe it. Some call it warm, but its more than that. Skin tones come through beautifully and just have more life when rendered though a canon sensor. Its hard to describe. Ive shot with several cameras from different manufacturers and none of them quite capture colors like the Canon. The term “The Canon Look” is even thrown around in the filmmaking world. Its a thing. Then there’s the ease of use. The menu system is simple and intuitive, its now even easier with a touch screen. The button layout and ergonomics are intuitive and logical. The 5D3 is still the most solid and comfortable camera I've held to date and the 5D4 continues with the same form factor. 

At the studio, we shoot primarily with the Canon Cinema cameras, but we do have a 5D3 that we will probably replace with a 5D4. It will be our compact camera to fit in tight spots and we can fly it on the glide-cam, Ronin gimbal, and the slider. It gives us a little better image quality and the option to shoot 60p. Yes, I have my Sony A7s mark II which shoots full frame 4K, 1080 120p, and has way more dynamic range. Its such a pain in the but though, and in every area that I love the 5D line, I hate the Sony, but we have the luxury of having different cameras for different purposes, so other than the money, theres no downside for us to upgrade. Especially since were so heavily invested in Canon glass. For most people, thats not the case. 

I cant honestly recommend the 5D4 to anyone who wants a hybrid camera for photography and video. The Sony A7r mark II is probably a good compromise. Epic specs, but sometimes frustrating ease of use. If you're primarily doing photography, maybe weddings or sports, then yes, the 5D4 would be a decent upgrade from a 5D3. Its a great photo camera and has a great ecosystem. If you're into landscape, and travel photography, its still behind the likes of Sony and Nikon as far as dynamic range and resolution, but thats sort of a toss up depending on how much time you typically spend setting up a shot. I’d run and gun with the Canon over the others.