Canon 5DS Review: Big sensor, Bigger Photos

Introduction

When Nikon’s D810 stormed on to the market and sold in thousands, people thought that Canon’s days of innovation were gone and it would not go beyond its average 22 Megapixel sensor. Then one day Canon decided to surprise us all and add to its EOS 5D product line one beast of a camera – the EOS 5DS – with a mammoth 50 Megapixel full-frame sensor. Aimed at professional photographers who need to crop in and extract details from a tree on a mountain behind a range of other hills and then print a mural sized image, the Canon 5DS leaps ahead many other cameras in almost every way.

What’s in the Canon 5DS?

At the heart of the Canon 5DS is its 50.6 Megapixel, full-frame sensor and Dual Digic 6 processor, which takes images with astonishing details and excellent dynamic range. The sheer quality, even at this resolution, is exceptional assuming you don’t experience the “low shutter speeds softness” issue. With a sensor this huge, you will have to up the shutter speed even for static objects. You will also have to be careful of the noise levels from 1600 ISO onwards, as a bigger sensor is more vulnerable to noise. Perhaps this is why the native ISO only extends up to 6400, a level which most portrait and studio photographers won’t go up to anyway. But don’t worry, it is only the very alert pixel-peepers who will notice any significant noise.

Because of the huge sensor and the advanced Digic 6 processor, the battery life and the Compact Flash card of the camera have a big burden to bear. The battery life of the Canon 5DS is rated to last around 800 shots, which is a bit below average for a pro DSLR. Also, because the file size of images are around 50 Mbs in RAW format, a couple of burst shoots may end up filling your CF card. We recommend getting a larger CF card such as the Lexar 64GB Compact Flash Card. You will also have to wait for a few seconds while gigabytes worth of image data are being written on the card. Also, a speed of 5 FPS is not something you expect from a pro camera. The message is quite clear: The Canon 5DS is not made for action shots. It is best used in studios and for portraits, and landscapes, where you don’t need speed.

Many of the big new features on the high-res Canon 5DS are about ensuring that you will be able to get the best of the camera’s extra resolution. To actually bring out the details and fully use the 50 MPs of the 5DS, Canon has made two important new changes:
The first is the mirror mechanism has been modified as to allow the mirror to slow down before actually getting into its position while a photo is being taken. Secondly, the body has been redesigned such that the tripod socket has been reinforced to be more stable when a tripod is attached. All these small changes mean a tack sharp image with lots of details when this specialized camera is used rightly.

Autofocus module of the 5DS is one of the best systems available for a DSLR camera. It even edges out the Nikon D810 and D750 by a few points. The 5DS has 61 points, out of which 41 are cross type, and 5 are dual-cross type. They can easily focus down to -3 EV. One thing that may come in the way of even more detail and sharpness is the presence of an optical low pass filter (the filter worked by softening and blurring the image a bit, reducing the effect of the moiré). If no OLPF is important to you, you can go for the Canon 5DS R, which is the twin of 5DS. The only difference is that the ‘R’ version has a self-cancelling filter, which removes all effects of the OLPF filter.

From a stills point of view, the 5DS has everything. Outstanding details, excellent dynamic range and a quick and precise autofocus system. The only places where you can find a fault is battery life, shooting speed and a few video functions. Although the S and the SR can both shoot movies with the same choice of frame rates and compression as the 5D Mark III, they don’t offer clean HDMI output or headphone sockets. Also, no focus peaking or even Zebra warnings (those striped patterns that overlay overexposed areas to help you correct them). So, serious videographers will have to look for something else.

What can the Canon 5DS do?

Body and Design

As you would expect from a flagship camera of Canon, the 5DS is built like a tank. Completely weather sealed with a hefty but balanced weight, the Canon feels comfortable in hands. The grip is deep and reassuring to hold, more so because of the ‘sculpted’ ridge at the back, which provides a firm support for your thumb.

The consistency with the 5D Mark III is almost absolute: the Canon 5DS has the same buttons in exactly the same positions. This will make for a seamless experience if you’re already used to shooting with other Canon cameras, especially the 5D series.

The top right side of the body is where most of the highly useful buttons reside, with 3 customizable buttons, the LCD panel and its illumination button and the M-Fn button right next to the shutter button. The 5DS also has two dials, one at the top right and the other on the back, beside the live view screen. The rotating wheel at the back is simply a joy to use and makes things a lot simpler.
Apart from the standard set of buttons, there is also a joystick at the back which thankfully can be reassigned to serve as the AF point selector (although this is not the by-default role of the toggle).

Performance

The new 5DS inherits the 7D Mark II’s 150,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor, which not only enables a whopping 252-zone metering system, but also potentially aids the AF system by ‘seeing’ the scene and analyzing it.
This ensures perfect lighting and accurate colors straight out of the camera. Canon’s skin tones are famous and the 5DS does not disappoint. Autofocus is not a problem, though you may notice some front and back focusing by the points the edges relative to the dual cross-type point in the center. Low light performance is very good, but not exactly the same as in Nikon D810A and Sony a7R II.

You should definitely use only the best glass available with a sturdy tripod to make sure that you are squeezing out every ounce of detail available to the sensor.
To complement the excellent resolution and sharpness of the camera, there are a few other features the 5DS provides. There is an in-built interval meter which can be easily used for 1080p/24 fps time lapses. HDR and multi-exposure modes, electronic level with dedicated viewfinder display are a few other tricks the camera has. All in all, the Canon 5DS is an excellent full frame package for those who work in good light and need details and good colours rather than speed and super-clean images straight out of the camera.

Pros

1. The highest resolution full-frame sensor with 50 Mps and Dual Digic 6 processor.
2. Very thoughtfully placed buttons with a good degree of customizability.
3. Top-of-the-class 61 point autofocus system.
4. Excellent colours even in JPEGs and good dynamic range in RAW.
5. 100% viewfinder display with electronic levels.
6. Weather sealed magnesium alloy body with a comfortable grip.

Cons

1. Average battery life.
2. Low light performance not very good, though better than most cameras.
3. Not suitable for serious videographers with missing features like Flat profile and Zebra warnings.

Verdict

The Canon EOS 5DS R is Canon’s highest-resolution camera, building a 50MP sensor into a body that will be immediately familiar to existing Canon users. The camera’s autofocus has been upgraded and is very quick, though it still doesn’t beat the best of its competitors for close-up work. Its video features and quality are also a touch disappointing, but more than enough for the average shooter. Everything is nice, and the features missing will be noticed by professional photographers only. Canon 5DS is best suited for landscape and fashion photographers who do not need the fastest DSLR but need accurate colours and lots and lots of details.

SCORE: 8.5/10

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