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Reader Comment: Canon 5D Mark III

I’m not inclined to disagree here. BTW, the rumor I’m hearing indirectly as word on the street from various dealers is that the Canon to Nikon switch is of tidal proportions, unprecedented.

What’s important here is not whether all the comments are absolutely right (since everyone has preferences), but the reaction from a long-time Canon 5D Mark I user in responding to the new 5D Mark III. New cameras ought to be better in almost every way, especially when Canon wants $1300 more (street) for the 5DM3 over the 5DM2.

Martin D writes:

What a horrible menu system. I have to use no fewer than FOUR separate controls to navigate it. Unbelievable.

On the Mk1, you'd call the settings menu up and then you could operate the entire thing with your right thumb using the rear wheel and the set button. I guess they decided that they had too many options now for a single scrolling list, but what the hell? Obviously they knew they'd failed, so their remedy on the Mk3 was to add the Q button… for a new menu to use so you could avoid the old menu! Genius.

Of course, the Q menu requires a bunch of different controls to navigate, too. Very fiddly. Not as ugly as the Fuji X100, but similarly dysfunctional.

Example: to format the CF card on the Mk3, I need NINE (!) clicks of the multi controller, the rear wheel and the set button just to get to into the format control, which now has extra steps because there are two card slots. Back on the Mk1 all it took was one tiny spin of the control wheel and I was there. Sure, you get used to it, but this is some sad industrial design.

DIGLLOYD: There are ways to shortcut some of the steps like formatting (“My Menu”). But it should not be hard to start with.

I was not exactly taken with the 5D Mark III layout either. In my view, the older 5D Mark II is a screaming value by comparison (about $1300 less is enough to buy a nice lens).

The viewfinder seems about the same as on the Mk1. At least the "eye cup" is bigger on the Mk3, so I can kind of get my eyeball jammed in there better. However, while it seems like I can see clearly, I'm missing a lot of shots due to mis-focus. Some of this is my own rustiness: I've been in rangefinder land for nine months and haven't had regular use of an SLR in eighteen months.

DIGLLOYD: Manual focus I assume? By-eye focus is prone to error due to the focusing screen.

If that's the problem, I'm sunk. 100% S.O.L. If I can't focus without using a tripod and live view, the system is no use to me.

Of a few hundred hand-held eye-focused images I've shot so far, most are way out of focus. A few are in that “usable”-but-whatever gray area. None of them are quite focused where I wanted them. Zero are tack sharp.

DIGLLOYD: The focusing screen is more and more of a problem with autofocus cameras designed to assume that manual focus is a relic. Live View is a substitute in some cases, but not tedious or no solution in others.

Followup by Martin D:

Wrapped up my weekend with the 5DMk3 by photographing all my Canon equipment for eBay. The Zeiss macros are highly satisfactory for that work.

Unfortunately, my weekend was not definitive. I was able to get to the point where I was more or less getting the results I expected from the camera. I don't like the camera. It's harder to use than my 5DMk1. The image quality falls short of what I hoped for although its high ISO performance is certainly a big step up from the 5DMk1. “Ergonomically”, the camera is seriously weak. So disappointing.

On a related note, the diopter was my single most critical problem with the camera.

From the 5Dmk3 manual:

Turn the dioptric adjustment knob.
* Turn the knob left or right so that the AF points in the viewfinder look sharp.
* If the knob is difficult to turn, remove the eyecup.

The first problem with this advice is that there's not much in terms of graphics in this viewfinder to read for sharpness. You can invoke a bunch of overlays, but they're in red and very hard to read. (After a year with the X100, the power and utility of its full LCD viewfinder overlay really stands out in comparison to the old fashioned-feeling overlays of the 5DMk3.)

The second problem is that, in my experience, there's about 5-6 "clicks" on the diopter wheel throughout which the graphics appear exactly the same. Yet it seems that those 5-6 clicks correspond to a rather significant shift in the apparent focus of the scene. In any case, the practical difference across those 5-6 clicks is significant enough to ruin all your manually-focused shots if you don't have the right click set.

So the solution seems to be to use a tripod and live view to perfectly focus the lens on a good target, then carefully twiddle the diopter to get the view to perfectly match what you focused on in live view.

I'd have liked to have tested this further but ran out of time.

Additional, related problems:
1) There is no special marking or detent for "0" on the diopter scale.
2) It's really quite difficult to move the diopter wheel a specific number of clicks. That means repeating the optimal setting is error-prone.
3) The relatively unprotected diopter dial has resistance but not enough to perfectly protect it from getting mis-set during insertion/removal from a camera bag or other friction situation. Consequently, there's some risk of the diopter slipping without you noticing and resulting in shoot-ruining focusing errors. Scary.

DIGLLOYD: Little things count, no matter what the brand.

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