Monday, April 9, 2012

Canon 5D Mark II vs Mark III–Image Quality Comparison

I’ve been seeing other reviews making the claim that the image quality between the 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III is the same, but my anecdotal results made this claim seem absurd. As a result, I thought I’d do a more controlled test to separate fact from fiction to see how much the quality differential between the Mark II and Mark III really is.

How I Tested

The only thing that changed between the test were the camera bodies

I set up my GT1541 tripod with my Really Right Stuff head and mounted the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM set to 200mm. Doing it this way would give me a super sharp lens, but also remove a lot of variables as I could change bodies without changing anything on the lens.

For my first test I turned off IS, manually focused using Live View on the Lord of the Rings book and then tested both cameras using a +0EV exposure in manual mode with manual ISO. I did not adjust the focus or any variables during the entire test.

When I saw the results, I re-shot the 5D Mark II again this time by refocusing using Live View to make sure the focus wasn’t off. It didn’t appear to be, so when I did the test again I got identical results. I even tried again using auto focus with the AF point on the same spot, the results were worse.

I had reset both cameras back to factory defaults and shot in manual, so the only variable was Auto White Balance (AWB) which I used for both. I also used a bubble level on both cameras hot shoe to make sure that they were set the same and I took care to make sure the ball head didn’t move during the testing.

When taking the shots I used mirror lockup and a 2 second timer exposure to avoid any issues with vibration.

The net result is that I think this is as controlled as is needed to draw valid conclusions about the results.

UPDATE: I shot with JPEG Fine + Full RAW, but this article only compares the in-camera JPEG results. To see RAW results, visit Canon 5D Mark II vs Mark III–Image Quality Comparison Part II–RAW Conversion.

The Results

You can find the full gallery of results at, but very quickly I found the results I needed to prove my gut feeling. If you look below, you’ll see a comparison of ISO 100 and 6400 between the two cameras using the same identical lens and settings, and it is clear that the 5D Mark III is significantly sharper!

At ISO 100 I expected them to be close, but the results were staggering. I knew the 5D Mark III was better, but this blew me away:

5D Mark II - ISO 100

5D Mark III - ISO 100

At ISO 6400 I expected the Mark III to have an edge, but I felt the difference was huge in favor of the Mark III:

5D Mark II - ISO 6400

5D Mark III - ISO 6400

At ISO 25,600 the Mark III shows a bit more noise than the 5D Mark II at 6400, but the Mark III has the edge in detail and sharpness.  When you apply the Landscape preset of Noiseware then you end up with an image that is quite usable.

5D Mark II - ISO 6400

5D Mark III - ISO 25600 After Noiseware

5D Mark III - ISO 25600 Before Noiseware

I think this clearly demonstrates that the in-camera JPEG quality of the 5D Mark III is significantly sharper and has more detail. Everything else from the Auto White Balance (AWB) to exposure seems to be the same, but there’s slightly more dynamic range in the Mark III images.


Other reviewers may have focused heavily on the RAW comparisons which I’ve done here, but these are the images you’ll see when you look on the back of your camera and do a 100% zoom to see if you’ve got the shot. They are also what you’ll see on your videos unless you change  the picture style to faithful.

I think this proves that the in-camera results are significantly better. I observed this level of improvement without doing actual measurements with my 5D Mark II vs the new 5D Mark III, and now with another camera loaned to me for this article. Assuming there were no mechanical issues with either 5D Mark II tested, I think the only real complaint one could leverage against the 5D Mark III is that it’s too darn expensive. Beyond that it’s the best Canon camera I’ve ever used, and certainly worth the upgrade in my book.

Order yours today from Amazon, Adorama or B&H.

Related Articles

I’ve got more to come on the 5D Mark III including a big article just for parents. Check back to learn more!


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Phil Connor said...

Fascinating comparison .. I have the mkII .. when I look at the photo comparison 2 thoughts come to mind almost immediately ... 1) the mkII is not focsing properly .. although you addressed that and 2) the mkIII photos appear to be 'over sharp' .. I mean to the point where softening within LR/PS might be required ... I know you shoot RAW .. but I find myself thinking that something in the mkII other than an improved sensor is at work here ... interesting indeed .. many thanks for posting ...

Jason said...

Thanks for the write up. Were you shooting in RAW or JPEG? said...

JPEG - See here for RAW results said...

Actually RAW plus JPEG but these were the in-camera JPEG compared. Again see the other article for RAW results