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Canon 5D Mark III vs 5D Mark IV

Since the year 2005, Canon has maintained a high standard of excellence in their 5D line - and the new Mark IV is no exception. On the surface, the camera feels almost exactly the same as its predecessor; that is, except for the touch screen. Internally though, you will find significant upgrades to old features and a plethora of new ones. 

But with every camera update, the price of last year’s model drops even further on the secondhand and rental markets. Looking at the list price (no discounts applied, no seasonal sales, no retailer markdowns), the 5D Mark IV currently sells for about $1000 more than the Mark III - roughly the cost of a trusty 24-105 f4 lens. That’s your opportunity cost for buying the newest, shiniest camera body. And for a lot of people it makes sense to go big, but not for all of us. So when should you splurge and get the Mark IV, and when should you save your cash and snag a Mark III?

If you shoot video professionally:

If you make your living as a videographer, this is a no-brainer. The 5D Mark IV packs two features that your clients may already see as mandatory: 4K recording and slow-motion at a usable resolution (no, 720p doesn’t cut it anymore). With every passing day 1080p becomes a harder and harder sell. Extrapolate that a couple years into the future, and it is easy to see a world 4K is the new norm and your 5D Mark III is retired on a shelf somewhere. The life expectancy for 30p as a maximum frame rate looks about the same. 

Our article on how to shoot 4K will have you going in no time

But that’s just what the client sees. You will also find that shooting C Log gives you a mountain of flexibility in post-production and helps you achieve that flat, high-DR look that seems to be so trendy these days. Shooting in a log format allows you to tailor the look of your finished product to the specific client much more effectively. We’ll even teach you how to get started 

Let us help you get started with C Log

Also worth savoring? The Dual-Pixel Autofocus. This seriously revolutionary autofocus system will make your work much more manageable in everything from interviews to action scenes. As an independent owner-operator, you probably find yourself short-handed more often than you’d like to admit. The 5D Mark IV will take a little bit of that weight off of your back so you can focus on what matters. 

Dual-Pixel AF isn't just for the 5D - learn how it works on other camera systems!

If you count yourself among the noble videographers of the world, the long story short is that this is a long-term investment that will more than pay for itself in headaches avoided and clients appeased. Your wallet might sting in the short run, but you won’t regret buying a Canon 5D Mark IV or even upgrading from your old Mark III. Besides, you can just rent nice glass if the camera body is all you can afford right now. 

If you shoot photos professionally:

For the professional photographers, this camera seems like less of a slam-dunk. The 5D Mark III knocked it out of the park on must-have features, and professional requirements just haven’t changed that much in the years since. What we have here instead is a series of notable updates and helpful additions, but nothing mind-blowing and certainly no game changers.  

As far as resolution is concerned, the 5D Mark IV bumps us from 22.3 megapixels to a respectable 30.4 megapixels. This makes a world of difference if you have to crop into an image, enlarge it for a print, or - god forbid - you find yourself having to do both. The megapixel war is real, my friend, and it is neither groundless nor unreasonable. Although if resolution is truly a concern, I highly recommend you move along into a 5DS or 5DS R - these are Canon’s high-resolution workhorses and they put the competition to shame. 

Sports and action photographers won’t find much love in this new body. ISO performance is not notably improved from one generation to the next, but the newer Digic 6+ processors make for cleaner, more effective noise-reduction behind the scenes. But they do not, unfortunately, lend the Mark IV any particular advantages in burst shooting. Unless you have been toiling away with 6fps and feel that moving up to 7fps would ease your suffering, I have no real good news for you here.  

The best argument I can think of for choosing the Mark IV is the improved autofocus. The Dual-Pixel AF isn’t just a filmmaker’s trick - it is a fundamental, ground-up redesign of how the autofocus system is integrated into the camera. It is a technology built directly into the imaging sensor and not supplemental to it, which greatly improves consistency and precision by eliminating the extra complications a secondary AF system entails.

 For some, those few features may not be enough to justify the upgrade. Still, for pro photographers that already already own their own lens collection and maybe a 5D Mark III or are coming from something like a 7D, the improved image quality, autofocus, and general future-proofing might be worth the cost. What value that all holds is up to you. 

If you are an advanced hobbyist or student:

You brave souls just entering the field are looking for a strong workhorse camera to last you through the early days of your career. And while both the 5D Mark III and the Mark IV would certainly last you for many years to come, they may not be the best investment this early on. In recent years, Canon has stepped up their double-digit camera line to the point where it has become a very viable (and affordable!) alternative to the multi-thousand dollar cameras you see here. The 80D is a fantastic example - for half the price of a Mark III, you get the same Canon look, same photo burst speed, same video specs, and Dual-Pixel AF to boot. Take that money and invest it in some nice lenses. Sensor technology is out of date the second it hits the shelves, but good glass is forever.