The 5D has been one of Canon's longest-running success stories. Three generations in and it's still top of the class when it comes to that sweet spot of full-frame performance and price.
Now it's time for the next iteration. Can the 5D Mark IV continue the winning streak? I got the chance to play with an early beta camera recently, and it looks like Canon has absolutely knocked it out of the park.
It takes the existing formula, adds a 30.4MP full-frame sensor and 61-point autofocus system, ups the sensitivity to 32000 ISO (102400 in expanded mode) and ratchets up continuous shooting to 7fps (4fps in live view).
The Mark IV is so much more than its headline specs, though. It's the first top-end Canon camera with a touchscreen, which should make tweaking your focus point that little bit easier - even with a camera body that's filled with buttons. A few other excellent additions all add up to make this one drool-worthy digital SLR.
Canon knows better than to mess with a good thing, which is why the Mark IV looks a lot like the last 5D.
The button layout is almost exactly the same, so you won’t spend ages searching for ISO or white balance controls if you’ve used a Canon SLR before.
There are a few small changes to look out for: the front grip is deeper, and the back grip larger, so there’s less chance of dropping it now - handy when you’re lugging round a $3.5k camera.
The one new button is in easy reach above the rear control dial. It’s completely customisable, so you can set it to whatever modes or features you end up using the most.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual - which is no bad thing. I always find Canon cameras that little bit more user-friendly than the competition, even on a full-frame SLR packed with buttons, dials and screens.
It’s still weatherproof, too. Canon has even upgraded the seals for better protection, so a heavy rain shower doesn’t have to mean running for cover.
Ooh baby I like it raw
The Mark IV isn’t just packing a more powerful sensor - it’s also doing smarter things with its pixels. The new Dual Pixel Raw shooting mode might double each photo’s file size, but the trade-off is worth it.
Basically, it grabs more information than a regular snap to improve sharpness and resolution after you’ve pressed the shutter button. Sounds simple, but there’s seriously clever stuff going on behind the scenes.
Being able to make tiny micro adjustments in focus on the fly means you can rescue that otherwise perfect shot that was juuuuust out of focus, or move the bokeh blur slightly for a better composition. It’s an awesome addition that I expect a lot of Mark IV users to turn on and never switch off again.
It also gains flicker detection, a first for a five-series camera, so you don’t have to worry about dodgy overhead lights ruining your shots.
It's not often we get to take away our test shots from a pre-launch hands-on session, but Canon let us do it for the Mark IV. The samples above were taken from a beta version of the firmware, though, and have been shrunk down to 50% of their original size. It's just a taster of what's to come, not an example of final quality.
WIRED FOR WI-FI
The big physical change is the bulge over the viewfinder, which has grown to make room for a whole load of wireless tech.
The 5D mark IV has built-in Wi-Fi, GPS and NFC, which pretty much makes it the most well-connected SLR in Canon’s line-up. These toys used to need their own dongles, so it’s great to see them included as standard here.
You also get USB3 wired transfers, for when you’ve got to get the day’s shots onto your PC for editing as quickly as possible.
The two card slots (one for Compact Flash, the other for SD) mean you shouldn’t be constantly swapping out cards - even if you’re shooting 60MB dual pixel RAW photos all day.
Oh, and it takes the same battery as older 5D models, so you won’t have to ditch any spares if you’re planning on making the upgrade.
The 5D has been the go-to SLR for film makers for what seems like forever. Even Canon didn’t expect it to prove so popular at first, but now movie making is a big part of the Mark IV.
That means 4K recording at 30fps, or Full HD video at 60fps. You can go slo-mo too, with 120fps recording at 720p. Separate headphone and microphone jacks let you record and monitor audio at the same time, and the touchscreen should come in very handy for pulling focus mid-shot.
It’s also got dual pixel CMOS AF in all video modes, which should help keep those tracking shots looking pin-sharp in post-production.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV initial verdict
The 5D Mark IV is a step up over its predecessor in almost every way. Even before seeing final image and video samples, it's clear this is going to be top of a lot of photographers' christmas lists.
A more detailed sensor and a few minor tweaks would probably have kept Canon fans happy, but the 5D Mark IV goes a lot further than a simple upgrade. Additions like Wi-Fi, GPS and NFC are a genuine surprise, and Dual Pixel RAW could be a real game-changer too.
It'll be an expensive upgrade if you're already rocking a 5D Mark II or III, setting you back US$3500 when it lands in September (body only), but the new features might make it worth the jump - especially if you shoot video as well as stills.
We'll wait until a full review to deliver a final verdict, but for everyone else, this might just be the new benchmark for full-frame DSLRs.