Canon 5D Mark III Review & Wedding Setup

May 01, 2012  •  5 Comments



Canon 5d Mark III Review & Wedding Setup


Everything needs an introduction, right?  This camera definitely does.  I will start off by letting you know that I am a photographer located in northeast Connecticut who specializes in wedding and portrait photography.  I recently made the switch from Nikon to Canon.  I know, isn’t this change usually people coming from Canon to Nikon?  Since I have made the change, I could not be any happier about the decision to do so.  I hope this review and the information I have learned can be of some benefit to someone.  There does not seem to be a lot of information out there about setting up the camera for wedding photography, so here is my attempt to make things understandable. 


I am sporting the following gear in “my bag,” or should I say; my “Pelican 1510 Case.”


Canon 5D Mark III

Canon 7D

Canon BG-E11 Battery Grip

Canon 24-70mm f2.8

Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS Mark II

Two (2) Canon 600EX-RT Speed Lights

Sigma 50mm f1.4

Black Rapid RS-7 Camera Strap

Gary Fong Collapsible Light Sphere


At a wedding, I am at times sporting the 70-200 with a Canon 600 EX-RT speed light and light diffuser on top.  Some people say that this setup is or can be HEAVY.  For me, I like the weight and feel of a substantial camera.  I must admit that after a few hours, it does get heavy.


Focus Setup:

For formal photo settings, one shot is the absolute best option that allows you to lock the focus on a selected point via single point of focus.  If you remain in AI Servo, the camera will hesitate ever so slightly on locking the focus, as it is looking for movement.  The one-shot focus option is for static or stationary subject matter and is truly the best option for portrait work (of stationary subjects).


AF Focus Case Scenario Setting:


Case one is said to be the auto setting for the camera, one that will adjust to your shooting settings.  This is unfortunately not the case.  Case two and three are more appropriate for accurate and swift focus for wedding or portraits.  Case two is meant to consistently track subjects without being distracted by any object/person entering the frame.  Case three is a bit more responsive, but is he exact opposite, in that it will refocus on anything new entering the frame.  Case three is a bit more responsive and is not easily distracted in wedding scenarios.  You can increase the tracking and sensitivity in case two by hitting the info button while selecting one of the six scenarios.


Focus & Shutter Priority:

The camera allows you to select focus or shutter priority on first and second shots, or a balance of the two.  Focus priority is of absolute focus for all of you wedding photographers out there.  I set it to focus priority for both first and second shot for the best accuracy and result. 


Selectable AF Points:


The Mark III has a total of 61 Auto Focus points, 41 of which are cross-type sensors.  Readers digest on this is, the camera is able to recognize vertical and horizontal objects when trying to focus.  A good choice is to go into the Auto Focus Settings and select the 41 cross-type points only as this will give you the greatest accuracy and focus available.  41 points is more than enough to get the job done.


AF Assist Beam Firing:

Its not a fired or visible beam on the camera body like some other models and your typical lower end Nikon models.  When enabled, it works with your on camera flash to assist with low light focus.  I have read that some people have reported poor results when used in conjunction with the 580EXII.  In my experience with the 600EX-RT, the focus is much improved when this option is enabled.  You do at times, have to search for an area of contrast n really low light to achieve full focus lock, but otherwise it works much better than when it is not active.  

Wedding Photographers:  Please note that if you are using on camera flash (480, 580 or 600 series Canon flashes), the assist beam will not fire from the flash if you are in AI Servo.  You have to be in One-Shot focus to get the assist from the beam.  This of course is not the most ideal situation when you have a moving subject.  Hopefully you have enough light where you don't need to rely upon the beam to assist with focus.  It is a draw back of the focus/flash system for Canon. 


Lens Drive When AF Impossible:

Do yourself a favor and turn this OFF.  This will give you a headache and cause you much frustration.  If this is on, your camera will constantly rack your lens back and forth in focus when it is unable to absolutely lock on to a focus point, making your work highly inefficient.  By turning this off, you can back button focus and manual focus (if needed) with the lens focus ring to fine tune when the lens is hunting for exact focus.  Please note, you must enable USM Lens Electronic MF in the focus settings. 


Back Button Focus:

One of the contributing reasons for switching from Nikon to Canon was due to this option.  For the lower to mid level (non professional) cameras, there is no independent rear focus button.  I had been shooting with the Nikon D7000 and it allowed for you to re-program the AE Lock button to engage the focus system, but its position was not convenient and made for difficult right hand operation of the camera’s dials and buttons.   Almost all of the Canon’s have a dedicated rear focus button and separate exposure lock button.  Nikon doesn’t offer this until you step up to the D800 or the upper level D3, D4, etc.  If you are not utilizing this button for your focus trigger, you have to start now...  Disabling the focus from the shutter release is crucial in being able to shoot quickly and accurately.  The camera allows you to set the exposure metering to engage with the release of the shutter or with focus.      


I keep the center most point of focus as my default and use this most of the time.  In portraits, I lock my focus and recompose to frame my shot.  When you are working with moving subjects (wedding ceremony aisle shots), I will shoot with AI Servo in full auto focus.  This allows you to lock your focus on the subject (eye or face) then move and continue to shoot at high frame rates.  The focus system will continue to track and focus the subject (so long as they are within the reach of the 41 points of focus).  This is incredible to use and allows you to obtain focus when a couple is walking toward or away from you while you might have to move yourself.  The focus is accurate and watching the focus points light up and dance across your viewfinder justifies you spending $3000 on a camera.

Important note:  When using the center point and recompose method, please understand this.  When the camera achieves a focus lock with the center most point, it does so at a "flat focus plane."  The best way to explain is the lens hits the subject and extends outward at a 90 degree angle to the left and right  in a straight line.  When recomposing, you often change the angle and distance (ever so slightly), which can make the focus soft and out of focus.  Its difficult at times to have to thumb through the focus points to select a better point of focus, but I have been trying to train myself to do this because I started to notice tht the center point can cause this problem.  Here is a picture to show this phenomenon.  


Lens Aberration Correction:

This is an outstanding in camera correction that is made to all recognized Canon lenses.  The 5D Mark III is the first full frame FX Canon camera to correct for lens color fringes.  It absolutely works and if you have time, try the same shot tripod mounted and compare images with it enabled and not enabled.  You will notice a positive difference.  By default, data for around 25 lenses is stored within EOS cameras, however there is space for up to 40 lenses to be registered. Lens data registration is performed using the USB cable provided and Canon’s EOS Utility software.  

The three most common lens corrections aim to address one of the following:

1.  Vignetting- This appears as a progressive darkening toward the edges of the image

2.  Distortion- This appears as otherwise straight lines bending inwards or outward

3.  Chromatic Aberration- This appears as color fringing along high contract edges



Lens AF Micro Adjustment:

Out of the box, most L series Canon lenses auto focus is spot on.  Personally speaking, my Canon 24-70mm f2.8 and Canon 70-200mm 2.8 Mark II required no micro adjustment, however; my Sigma 50mm f1.4 was a different story.  It required a +15 micro adjustment to make the focus accurate.    I read up on how to make these adjustments and noticed that there are fancy expensive kits available for purchase, which are a total waste of money.      

All you really need to accomplish this adjustment is a tape measure set on a table and your camera tripod mounted at an elevated height, pointed at the tape measure at an approximate angle of 45 degrees.  Focus on a set point (say 18 inch mark).  Snap a shot and zoom in on the image in your LCD.  The image will either show focus in front, back or right on the number 18.  Adjust the settings accordingly until you have the lens set perfectly.  Here is an example of what it will look like  

White Balance:

The auto balance is pretty accurate.  I have found that during indoor shots under incandescent and fluorescent lighting, you do need to select the proper preset balance to achieve the right color.  Auto just doesn’t cut it in these scenarios.  A better option would be to set a custom white balance prior to starting with a gray card.  I have also messed around with custom Kelvin settings and found a sweet spot at temperature 4500, Tint: +22.


ISO Performance:

Set to Auto and forget about it.  Sounds crazy, but this camera has incredible low light performance and has little to no noise at ISO 6400.  If you go into camera settings I would recommend that you set your Auto ISO range from 100 to 6400 ISO.  The camera allows you to set the range that the auto setting will utilize.  If you are comfortable in setting it to 12800, you can capture acceptable images at this level with the use of noise reduction in post processing.  If I am in a pinch, I switch over to manual ISO and will shoot at 12800 if my shutter speeds are dropping to low and my aperture is wide open.  For all of you fellow wedding shooters out there, it is one less thing to worry about when shooting a fast paced wedding.  Adjusting for aperture and shutter speed is enough to keep you busy, so do yourself a favor.

ISO Limitation with Flash:  ISO is limited to 400 when using on camera and off camera flash.  


Depth of Field Button (DOF):

I recommend you set your DOF button to toggle between one shot and what ever focus you are in at the given time.  When I am in AI Servo and want to switch over to one shot, it is great to be able to do it on the fly. 


Auto Lighting Optimizer:

I set it to standard or high.  When shooting a lot of indoor photos, it greatly assists in lighting the shadows without blowing out the well-lit areas.  The key here is to make sure you disable highlight tone priority, otherwise you are defeating the benefit of this in camera option.


Memory Cards:

The camera is a dual slot setup, one being CF format and the second is SD.  I personally love SD cards and had never dealt with CF until purchasing this camera.  I guess my love for the SD card has something to do with me being a MAC guy.  My MacBook Pro and iMac both have a built in SD card slot, making it very convenient for uploading photos for post processing.  I do understand that the CF cards sport faster write speeds, but I hate external card readers.  I am currently using 32 GB Lexar Professional 800X CF cards, which offer 120 MB/s speeds along with 32 GB SanDisc Extreme Pro SDHC cards which run at 95MB/s.  I highly recommend both cards, which are more than capable of running with the 6 frames per second speed.  Both cards do a great job of clearing the buffer, but the Lexar CF card is noticeably quicker.      

SD Card Limitations:

I have read some other reviews that have mentioned that the SD card slot is camera limited in terms of speed.  The Canon 5D Mark III is fortunate to support the newer and very fast UDMA7 protocol, however; the SD slot does NOT support the high speed standard that the CF card does.  The highest speed for an SD card is limited to 133X of (20MB/S).  I had previously purchased and owned high speed SD cards from shooting with my Nikon camera, so it is what I am using now.  This is important to keep in mind when purchasing SD cards for the Mark III.  Also, if you are backing up your CF card with the SD slot, you are limiting the speed of the CF slot due to the slow speed of the SD slot.  I use the SD slot as an overflow, but I try to shot on the CF cards 100% of the time to take advantage of the increased speeds.  This is the reason I shoot with larger cards like the 32GB Lexar.  I try not to place, "Too many eggs in one basket," for a lack of a better analogy.  I preferred the use of smaller cards in case of a card failure, which would allow you to salvage some images if you are using several cards.  

My thoughts are this; buy the best CF cards and do not skimp on memory.  The CF card will support the fastest CF cards made and as of this writing, that title belongs to the Lexar Professional 1000x, which reads at (150MB/s).  It is absolutely crucial that you select ROCK SOLID memory cards.  32GB will hold a little under 1000 RAW files on this camera.  Another option for the SD card slot would be for a Eye-Fi card to wirelessly transmit your images to a electronic tablet or PC.  I have never used these cards so I can not speak to their reliability or usefulness.   

Canon Vs. Nikon- The Comparison:

After using the two, coming from Nikon to Canon; I can honestly say that I prefer Canon.  The Canon feels better in my hand, is more responsive and captures what I think is a better picture.  After reading endless articles, reviews, peaking at hundreds of image comparisons between the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III, the Canon is a better camera.  I considered both cameras and was turned off by the D800’s average RAW file size of 75MB.  That’s a lot of hard drive space when you are shooting 1000+ images at a wedding.  It also does a number on your PC’s processor and RAM.  Needless to say, a 36 MP camera will obviously give you more detail than a 22 MP camera.  Unless you are making billboard sized prints, there is really no need for the massive amount of pixels. 


I am averaging 30MB per raw file with the 5DMIII and find the files to be manageable on my MacBook Pro (I7 processor with 16gb RAM) and iMac (i3 processor with 8gb RAM).  I think the 20-26 MP range is the sweet spot in professional photography and offers plenty of detail for cropping images (if necessary).  This megapixel range seems to be the target of Nikon and Canon in their recent releases of the Canon D6 and Nikon D600 respectively.      


I can only think of one improvement to this camera, besides every wedding photographer always wanting better ISO performance.  The camera would be AMAZING if it had face recognition.  Someday a professional DSLR will have full frame auto focus selection points, all of cross type, with face recognition and clean noise free ISO levels at the 50K to 100K levels.  Until then, enjoy the next best thing….


Please feel free to leave a comment.  Happy Holidays!


Derek Halkett Photography
Thank you for the kind words! It was certainly a difficult decision to make, having invested money into a lot of Nikon gear. I guess my desire to switch to a full frame camera and not having too much money into Nikon glass pushed me over the edge. I can honestly say that I am very happy with my decision to switch. I have the two 600 flash units, but have not experimented that much with them. The wireless capability is spot on and the flash unit/camera combination work very well together. Make the jump and you will not be disappointed.
Derek Halkett
Thanks for the candid review.
I have been a Nikon shooter for over 5 years and I have been seriously looking at the Canon line up. Especially with the release of the D800 and the D600. Neither camera screams wedding photography.
Combined with the new wireless 600 flashes It looks like Canon hit a home run with the MKIII.
Derek Halkett Photography
Graham, great question. I have been using Aperture 3 lately over Lightroom 4, and lens aberration correction is only available through a plug-in, which takes more time in post processing. By having the camera take care of it, it helps greatly with post processing. White balance is an easy change in post processing, especially if you are shooting in RAW. I am not sure, but I would think that if you do not have the lighting optimizer on, you could lose detail in a photo that would be impossible to recover. That is my guess of course :) I wish I had the answer on that one...
Of course, if you're shooting raw, there's no need to set lens aberration correction, white balance or auto lighting optimiser in advance, is there?
Thanks my setiments exactly. I also like the 6D as a back up. Canon is hard to beat and unless you're making bill board sized prints -- like you said.
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