Is the new Canon 5D-III a Good Action Sports Camera?

April 15, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Canon recently announced the release of the long-awaited replacement for its very successful and well-regarded full-frame 5D Mark II.  While the 5D Mark II was by all measures an excellent pro-level camera for event, portrait and landscape photography, it fell well-short of the mark (no pun intended) for professional sports shooters.

Prior to this week's announcement of the 5D-III, the Canon cameras most widely used for sports photography were the 1D series (Mark IV and older Mark III) and the 7D.  The full-framed sensor 1DS and 5D Mark II lacked both the high frame rate shooting capacity of the 1D-IV and 7D (10 fps and 8 fps, respectively) and also lacked the advanced autofocus tracking capability found in the 1D-IV and 7D.  The ability to shoot multiple frames per second at a high rate and to set the camera's autofocus to incorporate single focus point expansion, to set the autofocus system's priority on tracking an object, and to set the autofocus tracking sensitivity to ignore objects crossing in front of the initial object upon which the autofocus had locked are all extremely important to sports shooters (see article in JPG magazine: http://jpgmag.com/stories/18391).

Given these requirements for serious sports shooting and the limitations of the 5D-II, how does the new Canon 5D-III stack up?  Consider it a given that the 22.3 MP full-frame sensor with the inclusion of gapless microlens overlayment will provide excellent resolution and low-light sensitivity on par with the 1D-IV and superior to the 7D. Initial tests and reviews on sites such a DP-Review are already bearing this out. The expanded ISO and Digic 5+ image processing chip with 14 bit A-D conversion  will provide an extremely valuable high ISO sensitivity for capturing fast action in those low-light high school and college gyms and for poorly-lighted night games outdoors. The magnesium alloy frame and improved weather sealing help make this camera rugged enough to withstand outdoor weather conditions and the occasional bumping and trampling sports photographers may encounter on the football sidelines or the basketball court baseline.

The only deficit the 5D-III still suffers from is the limited maxium shooting rate of 6 frames per second.  Compared with the 8 fps of the 7D, the 10 fps of the 1D-IV and the 12 fps of the recently announced 1D-X, the 5D-III leaves a lot to be desired.  Now, admittedly, there is not a great difference between the 7D's rate of 8 fps and the 5D-III's rate of 6 fps. The 2 fps deficit of the 5D-III is not likely to be noticeable in most shooting situations and, as with most professional sports photographers, if you know your sport well-enough to anticipate the action and appropriately time your shutter release, a 2 fps deficit is not going to make much of a difference at all.  For those who shoot indoor sports professionally and use a venue's overhead strobe light system with wireless triggers, the refresh rate of the strobes already limits your high speed frame advance rate.

To sum it all up, the 5D-III is likely to find a to 7D and at a price about $2,500 - $3,000 less than the 1D-X.  The question that remains to be answered, and one that I will personally await prior to picking up a 1D-III, is what will Canon release as the replacement for the current 7D.  If 7D line is dropped, then I'll be looking for either a new 5D-III or a used 1D-IV.  If the 7D successor maintains the current camera's construction quality, advanced autofocus system and high frame rate along with a sensor upgrade improving its low-light capabilities, then I'll probably opt of the 7D-II - or whatever its called.

My bottom line:  I'll sit on the sidelines and wait to see what Canon does next.


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