Will the Canon R5 Improve My Photography?

After capturing the majority of my portfolio with the Canon 5D Mark IV over the last four years, it was time for a change. So, why did I choose the Canon R5, and what do I expect it to do for my photography?

Now that you have navigated to the article, I'll spoil the entire thing by telling you right off the bat that the Canon R5 does not improve my photography. A camera is just a tool to help capture a moment and provide creative expression in the form of a photograph. Upgrading my camera isn't going to make me a better photographer. Recently, I had a reader tell me they were tired of hearing "gear doesn't matter" from people like myself. Gear absolutely matters, but not in the many ways we as a community talk about it. If you try to compare something like an iPhone to a Sony a7R IV or a Canon R5, it should be clear which device will take a higher-resolution image with wider dynamic range.

However, the intention and message that comes from the saying "gear doesn't matter" is to be the antithesis of the constant chatter about new cameras, to not get caught up in what camera is better than the other and to simply focus on improving your craft rather than pixel-peeping different brands' raw files.

Look, I totally understand. As a recovering gear head, I fell into the same hole myself many years ago. To this day, I still enjoy the improvements that come from updated pieces of tech and read about them often, especially when making a decision on what to buy. You just have to keep in mind that regardless of what you buy next, it's likely not going to magically change the content you're producing. 

What Matters to Me

Sometimes, you find yourself shooting in very precarious situations.

The feature I'm looking forward to the most on the Canon R5 is the articulating screen. It isn't the 8K video, 45 megapixels, or 20 frames per second (that one is a little unfair considering I am a landscape photographer). The ability to have the camera low to the ground when I'm in precarious positions will be an absolute game-changer for me out in the field. That brings up something you should be asking yourself when thinking about a new camera: what matters to you?

We all want different things in a camera, and what matters to you might be completely different than what matters to me. Here is a quick rundown of things that matter to me about the Canon R5:

  • Articulating screen to help for all those times the camera isn't easily accessible.
  • Can I open said screen with gloves on?
  • High-quality weather-sealing for the times I'm quite literally under a waterfall.
  • 4K C-log video quality to replace my Canon C100.
Weather-sealing on the 5D Mark IV is no joke.

I could continue, but I just want a camera that's reliable and easy to use while also taking high-quality images. The reality is there are a lot of cameras out there for taking high-quality images, and it just comes down to what matters to you. I put a high emphasis on weather-sealing that pushes me into higher-tier cameras, a necessity I realized when my Canon 6D got water in its set dial and stopped functioning correctly even though I was only in some light rain.

When people ask me what camera they should buy to start out, I just tell them to try to find a store to hold each of the cameras within their budget, use it without setting off those pesky alarms, and find which one they like using the most. 

Why the Canon R5?

The absolute truth is I did not plan on getting rid of my Canon 5D Mark IV. Even though there is a four-year difference between the two cameras, I didn't feel like the change was warranted from an image quality standpoint. This is unlike when I upgraded from a Canon 6D to the 5D Mark IV, where there was a significant improvement in image quality, specifically in shadow recovery, which is quite important for landscape photography. 

I wanted to minimize and replace my aging Canon C100 Mark I that I use to film the talking head portion of my YouTube videos. It absolutely still does the job, but if I could get away with getting rid of it and use the 5D to replace it with a single device, that would have been ideal. While the 5D Mark IV's video is fully capable, its bitrate simply just doesn't hold up, and I could never get my image quality to look quite as clean as the super 35 sensor on the C100.

Even though this isn't a review, I wanted to compare the image quality and shadow recovery of my old 5D and the new R5. My goal is to really understand and know the limits of the camera I'm shooting on so I know how to shoot out in the field. For example, I knew the limitations of my Canon 6D quite well, and I needed to bracket my shots pretty often. When I upgraded to the 5D Mark IV, I found I didn't need to shoot multiple exposures nearly as much because of the increased dynamic range and shadow recovery. So, what did I find this time?

The above is a straight out of camera comparison. I tried to take these as quickly as possible, but the light still changed enough to affect my exposure. The settings for both are ISO 100, f/2.8, a shutter speed of 1/1,000s  for the R5, and 1/1,250s for the 5D Mark IV. The only setting I changed before export was exposure on the 5D shot to match the slight change in light. Something to note is I didn't match the white balance here and left what each camera metered itself at. 

Here is the same comparison zoomed in, but I doubt you'll see much of a difference between the two after compression and resizing. Truth be told, even looking at the raw files, there is very little difference.

Lastly, I raised the shadows to +100 for each photo just to get an idea of the shadow recovery, and from this very nonscientific comparison, it does appear the R5 has cleaner shadows, but it's nothing to write home about.

Overall, the results are what I expected, with very minimal differences in image quality. If you read the section above, though, you know that wasn't my main concern when investing in a new camera. 

Mirrorless 

I wanted to quickly address my thoughts on the switch to mirrorless. By using an adapter for old EF lenses, there are really only two big changes you go through when switching: the viewfinder and a sensor cover when you're changing lenses. Considering in the nearly four years I have been shooting with the 5D, I have never had to clean the sensor for dust, I knew how much the mirror being locked down helps in keeping it clean when switching lenses. Watching numerous videos on past cameras, I was concerned about having to deal with this, but thankfully, on the R5, the shutter closes anytime you turn the camera off, which helps immensely for keeping the sensor clean in lens transitions.

As for the switch to an EVF, I'm still undecided. I have been using a Fujifilm XT-4 for over six months, so it's not an entirely new feature for me, but that camera is shooting video 99% of the time, and I rarely need the EVF. When I went out on my first shoot with the R5, at least twice, I tried to gauge a composition with the camera off by looking through the viewfinder to a black screen. I think this will just take time to adapt to and is overall not something I'm too concerned about. To reiterate what I've already said, I use the back screen when taking landscape shots most of the time anyway, and my eye is rarely behind the viewfinder. I wouldn't say the same if I were shooting sports or weddings.

Regardless of all of these changes, the hard truth is almost every manufacturer is either already all mirrorless, or that is where their future cameras are headed. There isn't much left up for debate unless you just want to hold out shooting old glass and technology for the next five years.

Conclusion

Three-shot panorama taken the first night with the Canon R5.

To me, there are far more important things than stat sheets and big numbers. I realize for many of you out there, some of those stats might matter a considerable amount more. Regardless of how important the specs are to your work, remember to not get lost in it all. For every feature of one brand's camera, there is probably something great about another brand's. At the end of the day, you're going to capture amazing photos because you're a good photographer and not because you have the latest camera in your hands.

The best thing the Canon R5 has done for me so far is getting me to drive up a mountain and get out shooting. Will it change my photography forever? Absolutely not. Will it spoil me with a few new creature comforts to make fieldwork a bit more enjoyable? Yes, and for that, I am grateful. Thanks for reading, and I'd love to know what your thoughts on this topic are in the comments below!

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19 Comments

Bill Christian's picture

Your missing the best reasons to get a R5. Photographing tiny birds hiding in trees, getting the most shots per second of your BMW on a country road, eye focused shots of shaggy dogs, and so on. You might as well get a Fuji GFX100s if your subjects don't move or have eyes.

Alex Armitage's picture

I did consider the gfx100s heavily but couldn't justify the extra cost and the lack of lens options, specifically a wide zoom.

Bill Christian's picture

You can adapt some Canon wide zooms to the GFX. The Canon has great wide zoom options.

Alex Armitage's picture

How well do they resolve images on the sensor?

Bill Christian's picture

I haven't bought a GFX yet. I was reading that Canon wide tilt shift lenses are pretty sharp with big image circles.

Mark B's picture

“There isn't much left up for debate unless you just want to hold out shooting old glass and technology for the next five years.“

Even people who buy mirrorless today will still be using old glass for many years. That’s why Canon makes the adapters. It will take them more than 5 years to replace the current EF lineup.

Alex Armitage's picture

I'm using the adapter and shooting on old glass so I would certainly agree, however when it comes to buying a new camera how would you debate non-mirrorless at this point?

davidlovephotog's picture

I think the debate is throwing out a perfectly good DSLR to go buy a trendy mirrorless because it has cat eye AF and IBIS. I don't take sport pics or work as a dog park photographer so here in my studio, the 5d mark 3 and 4 still do the work. And the click bait 8k doesn't sit well with me the same way the 4k click bait on the 5d mark 4 did (mjpeg, 4gb per one min of video).

Mark B's picture

There’s nothing to argue. You buy the tool that works for you. For now, I choose to stick with DSLR. For what I do, the $4k Canon R5 doesn’t have much to offer over a used 5DSR for $1100. I would not rule out a new DSLR over mirrorless if Canon was still making them.

Alex Armitage's picture

I considered a used camera but really wanted (not necessarily needed) the video bitrate on the R5. Absolutely would not have exchanged the 5Dm4 just for photos, not worth it at all IMO.

Adam Rubinstein's picture

As I stare at a couple of 48”x24” prints of landscape images taken on my 5dmkiv, I am reminded of what an amazing camera it is. Yes, the R5 is much better in many respects and in addition to those you mentioned, having live view off of the sensor all of the time in a functional evf is one not easily dismissed as is the smaller size and weight. For those of us who shoot wildlife, sports, portraits, etc. the af and fps are game changers. While the 5dmkiv is still more than a capable landscape camera, the R5 is simply much better.

Alex Armitage's picture

I would hope it's better!

Paul Scharff's picture

To me, the three advantages are better AF, better IQ at high ISOs, and the goose in resolution.

Alex Armitage's picture

You mean in comparison to the 5D?

A M's picture

Thanks for the review/update. It's good to hear you're pleased with the R5. It seems Sony has been good for Canon, given the motivation to innovate even faster.

The exciting news is this: if the R5 is such a good product, will it not be a good product 1-2 years from now when it is heavily discounted ? For the non-professional, it seems it will be worth the wait.

In the meantime, the 5D is doing a great job, a it's all about the results anyway..
Though Alex is right - an articulating screen does come in handy quite often.

I look forward to hearing more of your experiences using the R5.

Alex Armitage's picture

Like I said in the article, if it wasn't for other circumstances, I would have not felt the need to switch from the 5Dm4. The R5 is an all around amazing camera but at nearly 4k I wouldn't suggest it to anyone who either doesn't do this professionally or have a lot of disposable income. I think you can get away with a less expensive camera with similar results, like an R

Christian Fiore's picture

The R is seriously limited compared to the R5 and R6. It's obvious it was only a stopgap measure to counter the new Nikon's Zs and Sony. AF, fps, and IQ were all behind all competitors. Even midrange APS-C mirrorless (not Canon's) matched/exceeded it in many ways, despite the R being priced on the high end of entry level FF mirrorless.

Alex Armitage's picture

I think it really depends on what you're shooting. You can get a used R for pretty good price, Image quality is basically the same as the 5D4 if I'm not mistaken.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Sure. At least by 20%.