We've managed to get our hands on one of the most eagerly awaited DSLRs this year, the Canon EOS 5D Mk III. Here's what you need to know about Canon's new must-have DSLR...

Both the original 5D and 5D Mk II have been landmark cameras. The 5D was the first DSLR to offer a full-frame sensor at a more affordable price, while the 5D Mk II set the video world alight with its full HD video capture.

At first glance the EOS 5D Mk III might seem a bit of a conservative upgrade, but once you dig a little deeper into the specification, then you start to realise that there’s quite a few differences from the 5D Mk II, which remains in the Canon EOS line-up.

Canon EOS 5D Mk III: Build quality

From a distance the design may look identical to its predecessor, but look a little closer and you’ll discover quite a lot has changed. This is most notable at the rear of the camera, where it has more in common with the 7D. This includes the on/off switch round the collar of the mode dial and a dedicated Live View/video switch next to the viewfinder.

The pentaprism is also more rounded than that of the 5D Mk II and is more in-keeping with that seen on the 1D series of cameras, while the camera also features the same level of environmental sealing as the 7D – a weak area for the 5D Mk II.

Canon EOS 5D Mk III: Image quality and performance

The 22.3MP CMOS sensor in the 5D Mk III is a completely new design, with gapless microlenses for improved light gathering capabilities. There’s a native ISO range of 100-25,600 that’s expandable to 50-102,400, while there’s a maximum frame advance of 6fps (frames per second), compared to 3.9fps of the 5D Mk II.

This is achievable thanks to the 8-channel readout and the DIGIC 5+ image processor – the same image processor used by the EOS 1D X, though the 5D Mk III relies on a single processor compared to the two employed by the EOS 1D X. That said, the processor is three times faster than the DIGIC 5 chip and seventeen times faster than the DIGIC 4 that’s used by the 5D Mk II.

It’s not all about fast frame rates, as you can now shoot in a silent shooting mode. This slows the travel of the mirror when you fire the shutter to reduce noise – great if you’re shooting wildlife or a wedding ceremony. It’s also possible to shoot continuously in this mode, though as you’d expect, the frame rate does decrease to 3fps.

Canon EOS 5D Mk III: AF system

The 5D Mk II used a fairly conservative 9-point AF system, but things have taken a massive jump in this department with the implementation of a 61-point AF taken straight from the EOS 1D X. It’s not exactly the same – the 1D X detects colours and faces, but it promises to be a massive leap forward. 41 AF points are the more sensitive cross-type variant, while 5 of those AF points are dual cross-type.

To help get to grips with this advanced AF system, there’s a dedicated AF area in the menu system with a collection of ‘case studies’ that set-up the AF up for certain types of action, which can then be fine-tuned within the menu. As well as this, it was also suggested when we were chatting over the 5D Mk III with Canon that there would be additional case studies added for other shooting disciplines such as landscapes and portraits.

Canon EOS 5D Mk III: Metering

The metering system has also be overhauled, with the iFCL metering system first seen in the 7D finding its way in to the 5D Mk III. This 63-zone dual layer is linked to each AF point, which is then combined with colour and luminance signals to produce the exposure.

Canon EOS 5D Mk III: HD video

The 5D Mk II has found its way into most videographers kit bags, and the 5D Mk III builds on the features offered by the older model. There’s now a microphone input and headphone output so you can monitor audio and adjust the sound level.

Canon EOS 5D Mk III: Composition

As well as the 100% viewfinder, there’s a 3in, 3:2 aspect ratio screen with a resolution of
 1,040k-dots. There’s a nice touch when you review your images, as you can compare images side-by-side, so you can select one image, split the screen and toggle through before picking another image to compare it too. You can zoom in on both images simultaneously to assess sharpness, while it’s also possible to rate images. Clever stuff.

Canon EOS 5D Mk III: What else is new

When it comes to storage, there’s now the dual card slots – as well as Compact Flash, there’s also an SD card slot as well. Either can be used in tandem, as back-up, overflow or one for Raws while the other can be used for JPEGs.

There’s also a Creative Photo button at the rear of the camera which open access to three modes: Picture Styles, Multi-exposure and a dedicated HDR mode. Images can be captures handheld and then merged together and aligned automatically. There’s an exposure range of up to 3-stops, and while it’s JPEG only, each image can be saved separately along with the merged HDR image.

There’s a new battery grip available alongside the 5D Mk III, with controls to mirror those on the body, but the battery remains the same as the 5D Mk II (and the 7D and 60D), so the good news is you won’t need to carry to types of battery (and chargers) if you’re looking to upgrade or shoot with two bodies.

Canon EOS 5D Mk III: First thoughts

Perhaps the most noticeable area of change is the performance offered by the 5D Mk III. Great camera though the 5D Mk II still is, it was really suited to landscapes and portrait photography, not action. That’s the 7D’s area of expertises. With the 5D Mk III, it looks like you’ve now got the best bits of both cameras – high resolution, full-frame with the AF and performance to match.

Rather than viewing the 5D Mk III as a high-end enthusiast camera, it should really be seen as a baby 1D X, thanks in part to the advanced AF and other technology taken from their flagship camera.

First impressions are very good and it looks to be a very well thought out piece of kit.

Whether that’s enough to justify the £2999 price-tag remains to be seen and we’ll only be able to give you an answer to that once we’ve tested the camera fully. At the moment though, it looks like a very promising way to celebrate 25 years of the EOS system.

We’ll have a full review in the coming weeks so keep checking back to www.whatdigitalcamera.com to see what we think.