The Canon EOS R5 has surpassed the entire DSLR market by combining ultra-high resolution with high framerates, and autofocus that supports these.
The R5 promises not only to finally give Canon shooters a professional mirrorless option but to give the entire market a powerful push forward. In today’s review, I’ll take a look at just how much the hype is true, and how usable this camera is in real life.
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Overview of the Canon EOS R5
The Canon EOS R5 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera released in 2020. It has a newly developed 45-megapixel full-frame sensor and features that put it above many of the rivals in on their own, let alone combined. The R5 made headlines with its groundbreaking feature of shooting 8K RAW video and subsequently its overheating problem.
But this camera is so much more than that. Its key features beyond the slightly infamous recording capability include 20 fps (full-resolution) burst, fantastic autofocus, outstanding stabilisation, a durable, environmentally sealed design, and dual card slots. It is aimed to be a continuation of the 5D series, which, for generations, have been the workhorses of professional photographers in a range of industry niches.
Canon has been building the R system for a couple of years now, releasing several exceptional lenses. Until now, high-quality camera bodies have been missing from the palette. Neither the EOS R nor the RP has been market-dominating cameras. This is the first time since the introduction of the system that a fully professional model has entered the lineup. This opens up the system to new possibilities for Canon mirrorless users.
I received this camera for a testing period of three weeks from Canon UK, along with the prior lenses. (Editor’s note: This article wasn’t sponsored by Canon.)
The reviewed unit had firmware version 1.1.1 installed.
Who Is the Canon EOS R5 for?
This camera, without a doubt, is targeted towards professionals earning money from photography, as well as keen amateurs willing to invest a very high sum in their passion to take it to the next level.
Keep in mind that to fully appreciate the Canon EOS R5, you not only need to spend on the camera itself but also on a collection of new RF or high-quality EF lenses that fully utilise what this camera is capable of. The new CFExpress memory cards are also not cheap, especially the 512GB/1TB versions optimal for 8K video file sizes.
There are ranges of genres in which the EOS R5 can highly benefit its users. These include event and wedding photography, portrait, landscape, documentary photography, photojournalism, and general-purpose photography. But the Canon R5 also opens up completely new possibilities in photography for capturing high-speed, high-resolution imagery. Soon enough, we’ll see 45-megapixel shots of sports events.
Obviously, the R5 is most appealing to users who are already invested in Canon gear and used to the system. EF lenses can be used without a loss in functionality. Its menu system, interfaces, buttons and general layout are retained from Canon EOS DSLRs and EOS R models. But, I can absolutely imagine that this camera will attract new users to the platform because of its revolutionary feature set. For the first time in several years, Canon is again showing hints of their former pioneer status.
I don’t recommend this camera if you’re just starting out in photography. It will simply be too overwhelming and it’ll probably put you off. Also, the notion of buying glass first still stands. However attractive the R5 might be, it still can’t achieve much without the proper lenses. If you have a limited budget, invest in great lenses first, body(s) second.
Mount and Compatibility
The Canon EOS R5 is built around Canon’s full-frame mirrorless mount, the RF mount. This was introduced a few years ago with the EOS R and a few L-series lenses. Since then, a number of new L-lenses have been released (as well as several cheaper ones). Professional lens options for the system include the 15-35mm f/2.8L, the 24-70mm f/2.8L, and the 70-200mm f/2.8L for journalistic work, the ridiculous 28-70mm f/2L, and a few amazing primes, such as the 50mm f/1.2L and 85mm f/1.2L.
The RF mount is one of the most technologically advanced. It has a short flange distance of 20mm, a diameter of 54mm (same as EF), and high-bandwidth electronic connection for smooth autofocus, detailed metadata and the function ring.
You can adapt Canon EF (made for DSLRs) lenses with relative ease. The EF communication protocol is natively supported by R cameras. The EF-RF adaptors are simple, pin-to-pin constructions for the most part.
This means there is no loss in autofocus speed or accuracy compared to EF-mount cameras with EF lenses. This is backed up by my real-life experiences, especially the 24mm f/1.4L II, which is the newest of my own EF lenses. It has a ring-type ultrasonic autofocus motor optimised for tracking autofocus. Nearly all EF lenses released since 2008 have such motors, so these will perform best with the R5 in continuous autofocus. Still, even the 200mm f/1.8L, an ‘80s design, functioned reasonably well during my testing. It was a much better focusing experience than with the EOS R and EOS RP.
Adapting non-Canon lenses is also possible due to the short flange distance. However, due to a smaller user base, adaptors are less widely available than for Sony’s E-mount. The same is true for native third-party lenses. While there are excellent mirrorless-only lenses by Sigma and Tamron (among others), these are only available for Sony E yet.
You can adapt old manual lenses too. Manual lens operation is made easier with EVF magnification and focus peaking.
Sensor and Image Quality
The Canon EOS R5’s 45-megapixel full-frame sensor is the steepest step-up in almost a decade for Canon. Canon has been criticised for the inclusion of their own, subpar sensors in new models. These performed worse in low-light conditions and provided a tighter dynamic range than direct competitors. The new sensor has almost entirely caught up.
The R5’s sensor is an excellent performer in low light and gives almost 14-stops of real dynamic range at base ISO, which is retained very well until around ISO 6400. It includes a not too harsh low-pass filter, so the images you get are sharp. The portrait below was shot at ISO 8000 in near pitch black, close to the -6EV limit of the AF system.
Helped by the in-body stabilisation and a fast 50mm lens, this camera is basically capable of night vision, and it looks great. Oh, and did I mention that the autofocus picked up and tracked her eye?
The full-size image files are 8192 x 5464 pixels. This specific resolution allows the camera for uncropped DCI 8K recording, which is 8192 x 4320 pixels.
In either RAW or JPEG shooting, the R5 files are exceptional. In JPEG, the default colours look natural and rich, somewhat warm, as usual for Canon. In RAW, the files allow for a previously not seen exposure recovery extent, or very detailed shadows.
Canon has included the new HEIF format first introduced in the new 1DX. This is a web-friendly compressed 10-bit format, optimized for the high dynamic range screens found in some new laptops, smartphones, and smart TVs.
For shooting RAW, you can choose between lossless compressed CR3 (about 50MB each) and compressed CR3 (around 25MB, varies more) files. The latter seems to preserve all information even in areas of extreme tonality – the only difference I could find is a very slight increase in colour noise in shadows.
Not only does this sensor give surprisingly great image quality – but it is also stabilised. Canon claims that on its own, the system is capable of up to 7-stops of stabilisation with select unstabilised RF lenses, and up to 8 stops with stabilised RF lenses.
My experiences confirm this. I did rough calculations based on my own results, which I usually find to be generalisable. The RF 70-200 f/2.8L IS does indeed give you the promised 8-stops, and the RF 50mm f/1.2L 6.5 stops. I got around 4.5 stops with my 24mm f/1.4L II, and 3-3.5 stops with the EF 40mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.2L, 85mm f/1.8, and 200mm f/1.8L lenses. These differences can be explained by the variation of the sizes of their respective image circles, and that the camera takes this info into consideration.
There is an interesting phenomenon with wide-angle lenses, which gets stronger the wider you go. At very slow shutter speeds (over 0.5 sec), it sometimes happens that the image centre is tack-sharp, while the edges have motion blur. This because while the sensor is doing its job and manoeuvring around to stabilise, it cannot counteract the changes in perspective as the camera shakes.
Still, this performance is, frankly, jaw-dropping. It places Canon’s sensor stabilisation up on the very top of the market. Previously, Micro Four Thirds cameras have been capable only slightly worse results.
Focusing and Continuous Shooting
The Canon EOS R5 benefits from a revamped Dual Pixel autofocus system. This is an on-sensor phase-detection system, and it’s extremely powerful. It is the same algorithm as the one used in the 1DX Mark III’s Live View mode, but here it works with twice the information because of the higher-res sensor.
The R5 is the first camera I’ve ever used which I could just keep on continuous tracking mode and not miss a single shot. I only switched to single-point one-shot to confirm that the former is indeed equally precise – it is. Subject recognition is accurate and reliable, especially with human and animal faces and eyes, but also with ordinary subjects. I used centre-point initiated tracking in 80% of the time. The camera would lock on to literally anything and keep it in focus for as long as I wanted. Even in low light, even with fast-moving subjects. It is also very sensitive – rated at -6 EV, the R5 catches firm focus in the darkest of environments.
The system starts to track eyes instead of the face when the face occupies roughly 20% of the frame vertically. This is slightly better than Sony’s performance in the A7R IV, and way better than any Canon camera before.
You can configure the autofocus to specific situations, but there are built-in presets optimised for different types of movements.
As in almost all mirrorless cameras, the Canon R5 focuses with the aperture stopped down.
All in all, this is the best autofocus system I have ever tested.
In terms of continuous shooting, the R5’s performance is also impressive. It is capable of 12fps with mechanical and 20fps with electronic shutter, both with the tracking autofocus fully engaged. This peak performance can only be achieved when the battery is close to fully charged, though, and closing down the lens also slows it down. Still, this is nothing short of extraordinary in a 45-megapixel camera.
I’ve found the electronic shutter mode to be fine in terms of rolling shutter artefacts. Although I managed to make it quite visibly show up on video, you’re unlikely to pan so quickly during photography that it would become an issue. DPReview’s test measured a readout rate of about 16ms, which is standard for much lower-resolution cameras.
To fully utilise these framerates for longer than about two seconds, though, you’ll need to use a CFExpress card in the primary slot. You’re asking the camera to transport twenty 50MB files every second – that’s not something SD cards can handle.
When rumours first started spreading about the Canon EOS R5, one of the first signs that something serious is happening was the 8K RAW video feature. Ironically, this has since become one of the most infamous capabilities of the camera. As soon as the first production models hit the shelves, reports started to come in that it overheats quickly. Canon was forced to release official estimates on overheating and recovery times. It was also circulated that the whole thing is just a marketing stunt, and Canon wants to preserve usable 8K features for the cinema camera lineup.
The truth is probably not so blunt: before the R5, nothing even came close to this performance in the mirrorless world. What the R5 is now capable of will serve as a starting point for further Canon cameras and as a kick forward for the competition, ultimately benefiting us, customers the most.
The EOS R5 gives you a range of impressive video features. Beyond 12-bit 8K/30p raw, its 10-bit 40k/30p footage is possibly the best I’ve seen. It is capable of shooting 10-bit 4K and 1080p in up to 120fps. In 4K, there is an HQ mode available, which is directly downsampled from the 8K signal, resulting in the sharpest 4K footage I’ve seen to date.
Of these, 8K/30p, 4K/120p, 4K/60p, and 4K HQ are to different degrees limited by overheating. In 8K and 4K/120p, it’s around 20 mins and around 30 mins for 4K/60p and HQ. You can find the official numbers here. Recording and recovery times have been improved with firmware updates since I conducted this review. The firmware version at the time of testing was 1.1.1.
Autofocus works beautifully with each of these modes. While no match for a professional focus puller, the EOS R5’s smoothness (and obviously accuracy) is pleasantly surprising.
When switching modes, there are conveniently separate M, Tv, Fv, and Av modes for video. By default, you store different settings in these than in stills modes, but you can change this behaviour in the menu.
As I mentioned, the rolling shutter is visible in all of the video modes, but it’s decently well controlled, not an issue in general use.
The camera can output clean footage in any of the recording options to external recorders via a micro-HDMI port. There are headphone and microphone 3.5mm jack ports.
Body and Handling
As a successor to the famously well-built 5D series, there is some pressure on the R5 to be similarly comfortable and durable. It seems to do a great job, though.
The body is built on a magnesium-alloy frame, with the usual rubber-like coating. It is fully weather-sealed, with the bottom inch reinforced. It doesn’t feel to be as tough as my 5D Mark III, but I attribute this to its smaller size and my own lighter touch (I don’t tend to abuse test samples as much as my own gear).
It measures 138 x 98 x 88 mm and weighs 738g, which is slightly larger than the original EOS R but still way smaller than the 5D series – more in line with the EOS 90D.
In terms of ergonomics, the R5 shares first place with Panasonic’s larger mirrorlesses. Everything about the design is laboriously thought-out, well-placed, and comfortable.
The grip is beefy and allows for firm holding, with the shutter button placed perfectly.
There are three (finally!) fully customisable dials, so you can map all three exposure parameters to a separate dial. The on/off switch got a bulge that makes it much easier to flick. The joystick is right where the thumb naturally sits, although it hasn’t seen nearly the usual activity because of the incredible tracking focus. There are enough function buttons to get one for all the adjustments you usually make, plus at least one. I ended up not using two.
One of my favourite buttons on professional Canon cameras is the Rate button. This enables you to rate your shots (1-5 stars) in-camera so that you can already start selection before importing.
It is joined by the Voice Memo feature on the R5, with which you can add your on-the-spot notes to images and videos. This is incredibly useful in many situations from journalistic work to portrait sessions.
A large, flip-out touchscreen LCD occupies a significant part on the back. Canon has perfectly integrated the touchscreen into the operations of this camera, as in many others before. Everything is intuitive and straightforward.
The electronic viewfinder is among the best I’ve used. With a resolution of 5.76M dots (roughly Full HD), a refresh rate of 120fps, and 0.76x magnification, this is a very usable option. Although still no match for the optical experience, it doesn’t really have practical issues. It does actually have advantages over that, including blackout-free shooting and live exposure preview. It’s on par with the best in class, Panasonic’s S1 series.
There is a secondary LCD on top of the camera showing the current exposure settings and other parameters. These have largely gone extinct with the advent of mirrorless cameras, so I’m relieved Canon has kept it from the 5Ds and the R.
There is a new battery introduced wit the Canon EOS R5. The LP-E6NH is backwards compatible with the LP-E6 batteries used in nearly all pro cameras by Canon. It allows for 300-500 shots in one go, depending on the type of use. This is one of the major disadvantages of using a mirrorless – no manufacturer except Sony has figured out how to make a long-lasting battery for a mirrorless.
Still, in the weight saving compared to a DSLR you can fit a few extra batteries. Also, the R5 allows you to charge your battery in-camera, and this feature works with older LP-E6 and LP-E6N units as well.
The EOS R5 offers dual card slots, a CFExpress and a UHS-II SD. CFExpress cards are new and expensive but are necessary to take full advantage of the high-resolution burst and video capabilities of this camera. They also feel much durable and harder to break than SDs.
The camera is very well connected. It offers smartphone control and image transfer via AC Wi-Fi and geotagging via continuous Bluetooth LE connection.
There is no real alternative on the market for the Canon EOS R5 as of January 2021. If you’re looking for this feature set in one camera, you have no other choice.
With that said, there are cameras that come close in one aspect or another.
The Sony A7R IV is perhaps the closest. This is a 61MP full-frame mirrorless camera, which overtakes the R5 in sheer image quality, particularly dynamic range. Its autofocus is also close, though not on par. However, it doesn’t come close to the burst performance of the R5. Also, Canon’s recently released high-quality lens collection is arguably better than Sony’s. It’s possible that the marginal difference in pixel count is in fact offset by the razor-sharpness of some new RF lenses, such as the RF 50mm f/1.2L.
If you’re looking for a Canon experience and similarly powerful features, but don’t need the high resolution, the Canon EOS R6 might be a perfect choice for you. For over a thousand dollars less, it retains all the class-leading features of the R5 except for the lower resolution and resulting lack of 8K video. There are also minor changes, such as dual UHS-II SD slots, the genuinely annoying removal of the top LCD, a different mode selection method, and slightly different build materials.
If you’re a Nikon shooter, the closest you’ll get to the EOS R5 in performance is with the Nikon Z7 II. This camera gives a slightly better dynamic range in a very similar 45.7MP resolution. Its ergonomics and controls, although different from Canon’s, are well thought-through. Its autofocus system is reported to have been vastly improved compared to its predecessor. The Z7 II doesn’t shoot 8K and 4K/120p, but it does shoot 4K RAW video. That’s arguably more practical than 8K RAW, and can’t be (yet?) found on the EOS R5. At the moment, Nikon’s Z mount has more budget-friendly optics available than Canon’s RF.
The Canon EOS R5 finally places Canon back to the market, providing an edge that will take some time to catch up to. It is quite possibly the best overall camera package for stills photography. Its resolution, autofocus, stabilisation, lens options, and burst capabilities form a feature set that is, in combination, unsurpassed.
It’s also excellent for hybrid, stills/video use. Despite the somewhat harsh criticism, it does everything in terms of video features that the competition can do, without considerable flaws. The features criticised are new additions rarely found in mirrorless cameras.
Clearly, Canon has aimed to set the bar very high this time, and I believe successfully.
|Value For Money (20)||17|
|Handling and Ergonomics (15)||15|
|Construction and Durability (15)||15|