Somehow it’s started feeling like we live in an 8k world now. I thought 6k was pushing it when I showed off the newest Blackmagic Pocket in September 2019, but things began to settle into 8k about a year after that. Sharp never delivered on their Micro Four Thirds prototype, but Android phones began shooting 8k video, and then this Canon EOS R5 dropped. Dropped is a good word for it, because the release got dogged by scarcity, silent recalls, and suspicious outrage by that usual tribe of sponsored bloggers who never quite seem to have any public body of creative work to show for themselves. Years prior, some had argued hard for Sony’s overheating 4k cameras. Others pontificated that no “professional” would ever want to run a movie camera for half an hour anyway — so when the R5 couldn’t make it past ten minutes or so, Canon got canceled at the gate. Folks also freaked at the R5’s price tag at just under four grand. But fast forward to a couple weeks ago, when Sony had played their usual long game, getting their bought-off army behind a new “flagship” 8k Alpha One, at almost double the cost of the R5.
So am I late to the party? Well, maybe we weren’t ready for the R5 when it arrived last year — and then it wasn’t ready for us either. But just like the “old” 4k revolution, it took that second and third camera to shake us into realizing: damn, I’m gonna start needing more hard drive space. The R5 is finally shipping (in limited quantities but faster than ever), and it doesn’t overheat any significantly worse than Sony’s flagship at 8k. By the end of last year, Canon changed how it regulates overheating, and the operating times dramatically improved. So in most ways actually, it’s the better camera, for just over half the cost. And here (tracking the video embedded here), I won’t only go down its list of specs, like some kind of advertisement. Yet it can’t hurt to quickly brush up on the features with some commentary:
- One of the first things you see that sets the R5 apart, is its top-panel display — a Canon tradition, and something that Sony and other cameras skimp on. It helps to have more at-a-glance options. I also really like the placement of the record button, and the center-press MODE button on the dial.
- The ON/OFF button has a nice, solid, firm click to it that can’t accidentally go one way or the other.
- The back panel is what you typically get on Canons. The only thing I hated was the way you have to simultaneously press two distant buttons, just to switch into video mode.
- Something that the Sony 8k camera lacks, is a fully articulating screen. This one flips out, and can pivot up and down, off to the side, avoiding glare. And while you can leave it pointing backward, you can also face it forward which might come in handy. People yammer that it’s only for Instagrammers who wouldn’t buy an 8k camera anyway, but that’s a dumb argument because having the additional option doesn’t hurt at all.
- The ports are just as you expect: simple headphone and microphone ports, USB-C and micro-HDMI (sadly not full-sized), along with flash photography stuff that I’ll never use because…well, it’s the 21st Century?
- You get a CFexpress slot alongside an SD card slot, the latter and much cheaper of which can handle most of the shooting modes, which I’ll get to later.
- The battery is a clever upgrade to the classic LP-E6, adding an “NH” suffix for more capacity but keeping the same form factor so that you can use older batteries in the R5 too. Just one of these new battery types lasted me this entire day’s shoot.
One last thing to show you is inside the RF lens mount. True to Canon tradition, the sensor stays shuttered for protection while the camera’s off. This is another great feature that Sony and others could have easily enabled on their cameras prior to the new 8k Alpha One, but hadn’t for mysterious reasons. Maybe it’s part of that whole game they play for enticing you to buy fake upgrades…
Now that we’ve skimmed the camera, we could ask, “why bother with 8k?” But the density of Manhattan’s skyline answers right back! I shot the video embedded here from the R5 in DCI-aspect 8k at 29.97 frames per second in 10-bit 4:2:2 compressed, and you can watch and pause at this resolution, if you choose it from the YouTube gear icon. You’ll still be watching on a 4k monitor or probably less, but one of the main reasons to shoot 8k is for latitude in post. This hand-held excursion I took, walking from my new downtown studio, across the Manhattan Bridge, then back across the Brooklyn Bridge, is a great example why. Without a tripod, I can use the extra resolution to apply stabilization without loss in post, like Adobe Warp. I can also adjust my horizon by punching in a little and rotating, since it’s tough to judge in the field with so many lines of convergence between bridges and shores and skyscrapers. And of course, I can punch in to simulate a closer focal length to begin with, with less perceptible loss.
Speaking of focal lengths, this entire shoot used the stock 24-105mm continuous f/4 RF-mount zoom lens, which performs surprisingly tack-sharp, and adds in-lens image stabilization. That’s important, because it’s always better than sensor stabilization, something Sony refuses to admit as it keeps skimping out on lenses. And when you combine this stock lens’ stabilization with the R5’s best-in-class sensor stabilization, it beats the Sony Alpha cameras by a long shot (or at least a few stops).
But there are some things that stabilization can’t fix, and one of the big ones is rolling shutter. Since this is a full-frame sensor, that can be a problem. Above you can see a freeze frame from the train that shares space on the Manhattan Bridge. I find this result to be better than full-frame Sony Alpha cameras up to the a7S III, and on par with the Blackmagic Pocket’s smaller sensor readouts. It’s not something you’d notice in typical usage.
Another reason Manhattan is a great test subject, is all the moire patterns from fences and lines and grids that push sensors and compression to the limits. The R5 does have a low-pass filter and it works; likewise the compressed video format holds together well. Speaking of which, I’m using a UHS-II SD card at a V90 speed rating, which let me shoot internally on the cheap, at the 680 megabits per second bitrate you’re seeing here. Between frames, it’s compressed at IPB, rather than ALL-I, but I found the difference imperceptible.
I didn’t have a CFexpress card handy, so I didn’t test RAW format, but I’m saving my RAW shoots for my Blackmagic cameras, since BRAW has game-changing efficiency. Even so, the internal RAW recording capability on the R5 gives it a major leg up over the new Sony Alpha One, which is limited with severe H.265 compression. And you don’t want to add an external recorder that magnifies the Sony’s weight and cost. Meanwhile, internal recording on Sony’s 8k competitor is 10-bit 4:2:0, compared to the R5’s 10-bit 4:2:2.
All of these specs relate to dynamic range, so an outdoor shooting excursion is also an ideal way to test the sensor’s limits. There’s never a choice but to only shoot in LOG, if we do ignore grumpy old-skool videographers (and Sony’s ballyhooed S-Cinetone is a distraction from that principle). But Canon has left out its latest-generation color profiles, so we’re stuck with using what could be called “C-LOG 1.” (Oddly, Canon’s official downloads for the R5 include C-LOG2 and C-LOG3 but not the original LUT; you can get the proper conversion at this Canon Japan link for now.) It’s still better than the S-Logs and V-Logs, and Canon’s color rendering is simply better than Sony’s, and we’ve been living with that fact for a very long time. (UPDATE on March 29, 2021: Canon has now added C-LOG2 and C-LOG3 in a firmware update.)
But when using C-LOG 1 to match the sensor’s dynamic range (limited because of the resolution density), it’s decent but not exceptional. If looking into the sun, the shadows suffer (as seen in the above 8k still frame). Or I can expose for the shadows, but I lose details in the highlights. At dusk, the R5 performs reasonably well in lower light — it’s a full-frame sensor, after all. Once the sun’s fully set, I see very low noise at f/4 while still obeying always the 180-degree shutter rule at 1/60 for 30 frames per second.
In the remainder of the associated video, I try out another location for testing auto-focus and audio, then wrap up by going through each of the camera’s menu pages, with commentary. As the R5 continues living on, there is a user group dedicated to it, with frequent news updates, and promotion of your work if you end up using the R5. Please follow and share at: facebook.com/r5user & twitter.com/r5user & reddit.com/r/CanonR5, while properly tagging your videos and adding them to the Vimeo Group via vimeo.com/groups/r5user.