The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the successor to the enormously popular EOS 5D Mark II, and builds on the success of this full-frame DSLR. When the original EOS 5D was launched in October 2005, it represented the first 'affordable' full-frame DSLR. Three and a half years later, the Mark II almost doubled the resolution from 12 to 21 Megapixels and became the first DSLR to really embrace the potential of video recording, a feature which saw it adopted by most independent film makers, many TV productions and even larger studios wanting cheap B-cameras. Now three and a half years on from the Mark II in March 2012, we have the Mark III, arguably one of the most highly-anticipated DSLRs for years.
The headline specifications are a new 22.3 Megapixel full-frame sensor with 100-25600 ISO sensitivity (expandable to 102,400 ISO), 1080p video at 24, 25 or 30fps and 720p at 50 or 60fps, a 61-point AF system (with 41 cross-type sensors), 6fps continuous shooting, a viewfinder with 100% coverage, 3.2in screen with 1040k resolution, 63-zone iCFL metering, three, five or seven frame bracketing, a new three-frame HDR mode, microphone and headphone jacks and twin memory card slots, one for Compact Flash, the other for SD; the control layout has also been adjusted and the build slightly improved. So while the resolution and video specs remain similar to its predecessor, the continuous shooting speed, AF system, viewfinder, screen and build are all improved, and again there's the bonus of twin card slots.
As is often the case, many of the enhancements have filtered down from other models. The 61-point AF system, headphone jack and 3.2in screen are inherited from the flagship EOS 1D X, while the metering along with much of the control layout and build come from the EOS 7D; meanwhile the 100% viewfinder is borrowed from both models. Indeed at first glance the 5D Mark III could be described as the love-child of the 5D Mark II and 7D with some parental input from the 1D X.
To be fair, this is what a lot of people wanted: the speed, AF, ergonomics, viewfinder coverage and increased toughness of the 7D but with a full-frame sensor. The 5D Mark III's continuous shooting speed may not quite match the 7D, but 6fps is noticeably quicker than the 3.9fps of the Mark II, while the 61-point AF system far surpasses the 9 and 19-point systems of the Mark II and 7D respectively. It's also nice to see Canon sufficiently influenced by Nikon to equip a non-pro body with twin memory card slots. In my full review I'll delve into the new features and test-out the performance in practice, comparing it closely with its predecessor, the 5D Mark II, and its arch-rival, the Nikon D800. So if you're thinking of buying a new full-frame DSLR, you've come to the right place!
(Many thanks to Queenstown Cameras in New Zealand for the loan of a 5D Mark III body for my initial tests, and Canon New Zealand for their continued support.)
Canon EOS 5D Mark III design and controls
Viewed from the front, the EOS 5D Mark III looks pretty similar to its predecessor, apart from a slightly different shaped head and the sensible relocation of the depth-of-field preview button to the grip side of the lens mount. Measuring 152x116x76mm it's virtually the same width and depth as the Mark II, and only 2.5mm taller. At 950g for the body with battery, it's only a little heavier than the 900g weight of the 5D Mark II.
Measuring 145x122x81mm, the Nikon D800 is 7mm narrower from the front, but 5mm taller and 5mm thicker, and a little heavier at 1000g including battery. Handle both bodies in person though and it's fair to say their size and weight are roughly the same. Once a lens is mounted it'll have a much greater influence on the overall size and weight.
Canon describes the 5D Mark III as being tougher and better weather-proofed than the Mark II, but not to the same degree as the 1D series. This somewhat wishy-washy statement implies it's similar in toughness to the 7D, so while you shouldn't expect water-proofing, it is at least an improvement over the Mark II which proved surprisingly vulnerable at times.
But pick up the Mark III and its improved build and ergonomics over its predecessor become immediately apparent. It shares the EOS 7D's solidity, lending it an air of greater confidence. The sculpted grip and more pronounced bulge on the rear for your thumb also provide a more comfortable and secure hold, while the rubber coating feels stickier - in a good way. Ergonomics are very much a personal thing, but in my view the Mark III represents a significant improvement over its predecessor in this regard; indeed it makes the Mark II feel quite basic in comparison.
In terms of build, I'd say it's equivalent to the Nikon D800, and while I really like the hooked inner area of the Nikon DSLR grips for your fingertips, I personally felt the Mark III felt better in my hands overall due mostly to its more pronounced thumb rest. Again it's a personal choice, but it's great to see Canon really taking build and ergonomics as seriously as Nikon on non-pro models.
Like its predecessors there's still no built-in flash, and this continues to be an aspect which differentiates Canon and Nikon's 'budget' full-framers. The D800 does have a built-in popup flash which recharges quickly and is useful as a fill-in or controller, but the Mark III requires a separate Speedlite or transmitter. Canon would argue having a popup flash would compromise the build quality of the head and that typical 5D owners would demand something more powerful than a popup model anyway, but I still find a built-in flash very useful and its absence remains a disappointment on the Mark III.
The Mark III doesn't have any built-in wireless capabilities either, although to be fair neither does the Nikon D800. So if you were holding out for built-in GPS and or Wifi, you'll be disappointed. Both companies cite metal bodies along with global regulations over wireless channels as preventing them from integrating GPS or Wifi into bodies like the Mark III and D800, but it remains disappointing when (admittedly plastic) smartphones feature both. As it stands, GPS and Wifi capabilities are provided by optional accessories on both the Mark III and D800. For Wifi on the Mark III, you'll need the WFT-E7A (costing a not inconsiderable $849 USD) while for GPS you'll need the GP-E2. The Mark III alternatively supports much cheaper Eye-Fi SD cards, although Canon won't guarantee their level of performance.
Moving onto power, the Mark III is powered by the same LP-E6 Lithium Ion pack as its predecessor, but Canon claims longer life of up to 950 shots under CIPA conditions compared to 850; clearly the new sensor and image processor are lower power consumers than their predecessors. For the record, the Nikon D800's EN-EL15 battery should be good for up to 900 shots per charge.
The battery pack may be the same as the Mark II, but the Mark III demands a new optional battery grip: the BG-E11 can accommodate a pair of LP-E6 packs, six AAs or the optional AC adapter kit. It also duplicates a selection of controls for the portrait orientation, including the new multi-function button, more of which in a moment.
While the Mark III resembles the Mark II from the front, there are a number of differences on the top and a significant redesign on the rear. But first I'd like to mention the small, but considerate relocation of the depth-of-field preview button to the grip side of the lens mount, which means you can now press it with your third finger, while your index finger remains on the shutter release.
On the top you'll notice the mode dial is lacking the Creative Auto mode of the Mark II but now features an enhanced Auto+ option along with a very welcome locking button in the middle. Like the EOS 7D, the chunky power switch is now found around the mode dial, another small but welcome improvement.
There's still a detailed LCD information panel on the upper right side flanked by the same buttons as before, but there's now a new customisable M-Fn button by the shutter release. This works similarly to the M-Fn button on the 7D and by default is used on the Mark III to switch between the various AF modes, more of which in the focusing section later.
The upper information screen is packed with details including the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, AF mode, quality settings for each card, shots remaining, drive mode and exposure compensation scale between +/-3EV (although you can select +/-5EV via the main screen on the rear). In a first for a Canon DSLR of this class, the shots remaining aren't truncated to 999, but a maximum of 1999. The Nikon D800 also features a detailed upper LCD screen, but strangely you still can't see ISO and shots remaining at the same time. To be fair though the D800's top screen also has to accommodate flash settings for its popup unit, and still shows the shots remaining even when powered-off - a classy touch Nikon owners have enjoyed from film SLR days.
A quick note on the shutter release: it's the usual sprung soft-touch (ie, no click) release as found on previous 5D generations, but it feels a lot more sensitive. It requires a much lighter pressure to trigger the shutter than before, which can catch you out if you're used to earlier Canon DSLRs - indeed for your first few hours with the Mark III, you'll almost certainly be mistakenly taking pictures when you only meant to half-press the shutter. But before long you get used to the required pressure and what started as a surprise becomes a non-issue.
Most of the Mark III's exterior changes take place on the rear, where it's heavily influenced by the EOS 7D. So along with the new chunky power switch in the upper left corner, the Mark III gains the 7D's useful Live View / Movie switch and button to the right of the viewfinder window. It also gets a new Q button near the joystick, a new Rate button to score images (from one to five stars), and a new magnify button which works in conjunction with the wheel to zoom in and out; the labelling is also now on the buttons rather than under them. If you're used to earlier Canon DSLRs, you may find the change in magnification control a little unsettling at first as your thumbs will naturally head to the top right corner controls. But before long, the relocation feels natural and keeps the AF area and AE lock buttons as clean single-purpose controls.
You can't tell from the photos, but the Mark III also inherits the neat touch-sensitive control of the 1D X which allows silent adjustments in the movie mode. Once enabled, you can tap up, down, left or right on the inside edge of the rear wheel to make adjustments, and I'll discuss this in greater detail in the movie mode section.
In terms of connectivity, the Mark III shares the same ports as its predecessor (PC Sync, Mini HDMI, USB-2, Video, E3-remote and stereo microphone), but adds a new headphone jack for monitoring audio when filming movies - a very welcome addition, see later. Note Nikon's D800 also sports microphone and headphone jacks, but its USB port exploits the speed of USB-3 and its HDMI port can deliver a clean signal to external recorders.
In another welcome move, Canon has equipped the Mark III with twin memory card slots, one for Compact Flash as before, and a second for SD cards, bringing it in line with the D800, and like that model you can configure the slots to record different image formats simultaneously if desired. The Mark III will exploit the speed of UDMA-7 CF cards, but disappointingly it won't exploit the speed of UHS-1 SD cards. Canon is quick to point out it'll still work with UHS-1 cards and of course a compatible card reader will be able to copy images from it quicker onto your computer, but it still feels like a strange omission on a new camera of its class. Revealingly the Nikon D800 supports the extra speed of both UDMA CF and UHS-1 SD cards. I'll let you know if it makes any difference in my continuous shooting section later in the review. Even if the Mark III won't exploit the fastest SD cards though, it's still nice to have support for the format as SD cards are typically cheaper than CF at the same capacity - it also gives the Mark III a more affordable Wifi option in the form of Eye-Fi SD cards.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III viewfinder
The EOS 5D Mark III receives an important upgrade to its viewfinder, which now enjoys full 100% coverage compared to 98% on the Mark II, and usefully offers similar on-demand LCD guides and AF-point indicators as the 7D. Thank goodness the removable focusing screens are now finally put to rest.
Hold both the Mark II and Mark III to your eye and you'll notice the view from the latter is a little larger, but more importantly, more accurate thanks to its 100% coverage. Now there's no surprises when you're framing with the viewfinder on the Mark III as what you see really is what you'll get. It's also nice to see the complete imaging circle from lenses like the EF 8-15mm Fisheye Zoom through the viewfinder, when previously it was cropped a little at the top and bottom. Of course the final image always had 100% coverage, but it's nice to finally confirm it through the viewfinder too.
In this respect, the Mark III is identical to the Nikon D800, and switching between both bodies reveals they share essentially the same viewfinder coverage and magnification - in short, big, bright, beautiful and a joy to compose with.
The 5D Mark III also becomes Canon's third DSLR, after the 7D and 1D X, to feature on-demand LCD graphics in the viewfinder. These replace the interchangeable focusing screens of earlier models and I much prefer this approach as the options are much richer and more dynamic, not to mention eliminating the need for an optional and fiddly accessory; you can also simply turn them off for a completely clean view. To be fair, Nikon has implemented on-demand LCD viewfinder graphics for many years now, but it's still nice to see Canon gradually deploying them across more models.
The 5D Mark III can switch an alignment grid on or off, along with displaying any number of its 61 AF points with outlines indicating their coverage in certain modes or with certain lenses. Meanwhile a faint dotted circle indicates the spot-metering area. If the VF electronic level option is enabled, the AF markers can also act as a dual-axis levelling gauge.
The D800's viewfinder graphics are superficially similar, again with an optional grid and little rectangles indicating each of the 51 AF points along with outlines for their coverage on the frame. Where the D800's viewfinder graphics differ though are lines marking the optional crop modes (such as 5:4 and DX format), and a pair of scales along the bottom and right side which provide virtual horizon facilities.
Running along the bottom of both viewfinders is a wealth of information including the aperture, shutter, ISO and remaining shots at all times, along with an exposure compensation scale and focus indicator. The Nikon D800 also displays the metering mode, while the Mark III shows battery life.
One final point, the D800, like earlier high-end Nikon DSLRs, features a small lever by the viewfinder which closes a built-in blind to prevent stray light from entering, whereas the Canon requires you to clip a cover over. It's a classy touch on the D800.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III screen
The EOS 5D Mark III enjoys an upgraded screen inherited from the EOS 1D X. It's bigger than the Mark II at 3.2 vs 3in, more detailed with 1040k vs 920k dots, and perhaps most importantly of all, wider with a 3:2 shape vs 4:3.
These numbers may not sound significantly different from the Mark II, but don't be fooled. The Mark III's 3:2 shaped screen means images now fill it as oppose to being displayed (or framed in Live View) with a thick black bar below them. This means the displayed image is larger than before and also exploits all of the available pixels for a more detailed image. The benefit of a wider shape was clear on the 3in 3:2 screens of models like the T3i / 600D, but it's even better here at 3.2in.
16:9 video is still shown with letterboxed bars above and below, but again now occupies a larger percentage of the screen than before for a bigger and more detailed view, which is not only nice to look at but easier to focus.
Meanwhile, Nikon's D800 also enjoys a new 3.2in screen, but like all Nikon DSLRs to date it remains 4:3 in shape and also has the same 920k pixels as its predecessor. As such images in the native 3:2 FX or DX formats are displayed with a thick black bar below them in playback and live view. This means they measure 3in on their diagonal as oppose to 3.2in on the Mark III, and also measure 640x426 pixels as oppose to 720x480 pixels. These numbers may seem minor, but believe me when both cameras are side by side, the displayed images from the Mark III are a little larger and more detailed, and it certainly allowed me to confirm Live View or Movie focus more easily without magnification.
Overall the larger, wider and more detailed screen of the Mark III is a really nice upgrade - not to mention superior to that on the D800 - but I can't be the only one who's disappointed not to find the articulated mounting of the T3i / 600D and 60D here. I know there's subsequent compromises in ultimate toughness, but I know videographers, not to mention Live View shooters would greatly value the facility. I assume this will be one of the differences between the Mark III and the proposed video concept DSLR teased in 2011.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III Live View
The EOS 5D Mark III shares similar Live View facilities to the EOS 7D, and as such represents a significant upgrade over the Mark II in operation.
Unlike the Mark II which featured a button to the left of its viewfinder to enter Live View, the Mark III now features a small dial to the right with a Start / Stop button in the middle. With the dial pointing upwards at the Live View icon, just press the Start / Stop button to enter Live View and again to exit. And unlike the older model, there’s no need to enable Live View first from a menu – it’s already enabled by default.
Like other recent models, the Mark III also lets you autofocus in Live View by simply half-pressing the shutter release. This is much more intuitive than pressing the AF-ON button on the back, although you can still do this if you prefer. These changes of enabling Live View by default, providing an obvious control for entering and exiting the mode, and auto-focusing with the shutter release may be simple modifications, but they greatly improve the overall user experience.
The small dial’s second position switches the Mark III straight into its Movie Mode, after which the Start / Stop button begins and ends filming. With the Mark III set to Movie Mode, you'll also notice some changes to the first set of menus to include movie-related options. So if you were wondering where the video quality settings were, you’ll need to enter Movie Mode first. Again this is much more intuitive than having pages of often confusing options for both Live View and Movies as found on the EOS 5D Mark II. A big improvement all round.
Once Live View is active, the presentation and options are essentially the same as the EOS 7DI, with a few minor changes. Live View on the Mark III offers 100% coverage and exploits the full resolution of the screen, with a smooth refresh. The effect of different apertures can be previewed by pressing the depth-of-field preview button. The camera will temporarily increase the screen brightness to maintain a consistent image; this may result in greater on-screen noise, but it won’t appear in the final image.
Pressing the Info button cycles between a clean view, one with shooting information running beneath the frame and a third view which superimposes additional information over the image. If Exposure simulation is enabled in the Live View menu, a Live Histogram is added to the frame, which looks very detailed thanks to the display resolution.
An additional page view super-imposes a small dual-axis levelling gauge in the middle of the screen. The gauge is also available outside of Live View, again by pressing the Info button – see Menus section below. Note the D800 also offers a dual-axis levelling gauge in Live View.
There’s also the option to superimpose one of three alignment grids on-screen, although these are still enabled from the Live View menu, when it would surely be quicker and more intuitive to have them appear while pressing the Info button. The Nikon D800 toggles its grid in Live View using the Info button which is much easier, and hallelujah, it finally breaks Nikon's tradition of not including a live histogram on a non-pro body - in short, a live histogram is available on the D800.
Like the Mark II before it, the Mark III offers the choice of three AF modes in Live View, although they’ve had a minor reshuffle: the default option is now Live Mode which employs a silent and uninterrupted contrast-based system. The second option sticks with contrast-based focusing, but adds face detection. Finally, the Quick Mode flips the mirror down to take a reading from the traditional 61-point phase-change AF system. Once again I'm pleased to report an intuitive half-press of the shutter release can be used to trigger the autofocus in any mode, although pressing the AF-ON button on the rear has the same effect if preferred.
With the Mark III set to Live mode, you’ll see a single large white frame which can be moved around the screen using the joystick. Half-press the shutter release and the Mark III will focus on whatever’s in the frame. At best this will take just under two seconds before the frame turns green with a double-beep to confirm, but with trickier subjects the process can take closer to four seconds. There isn’t any interruption to the display though, nor the sound of the mirror flipping.
The Live mode with face detection (indicated by a smiley icon) uses the same contrast-based system as normal Live Mode, but if it recognises a human face, it’ll frame it with a box and focus on that when you half-press the shutter release; if there’s more than one face in the scene, you can use the joystick to select the one to focus on. As you might expect, the Mark III has no problem tracking faces around the frame, but the actual focusing process itself can still be slow, and if the face isn't already sufficiently sharp to start with, the system won't even recognise it. If you’re lucky, the camera will lock on and confirm within a couple of seconds, but if it ends up being longer, it’s easier to exit Live View and frame portraits through the viewfinder instead.
In Quick mode you'll see a graphical representation of the active AF points on-screen. Half-press the shutter release and the mirror briefly flips down to take a reading, indicates the active AF points in green with a double beep if sounds are enabled, then flips back up again to continue the view. There’s obviously some noise and an interruption to the image, but it remains the quickest of the three AF modes in Live View – indeed, if the AF system locks onto the subject without a problem, the entire process can take less than a second.
At any time during the Quick or Live AF modes, you can press the new magnify button to show a 5x view, then a 10x view. The Mark III will zoom-in on wherever the white frame is positioned on screen, which can be moved before or during using the joystick.
The Mark III also inherits the silent shooting options of its predecessor. Mode 1, the default, is quieter than normal shooting and also supports continuous shooting at around 6fps, although you’ll be shooting blind with both the screen and viewfinder blanking out while you keep the shutter release pressed.
Mode 2 is quieter still by employing an electronic first curtain shutter to actually take the picture, but delaying the noisier re-cocking of the physical shutter so long as you keep the shutter release held. The idea is to press the shutter release button to take the photo (with a very faint click), but keep it held until you’re out of ear shot, after which you can let go, allowing the Mark III to audibly re-cock the physical shutter. You may only be able to take one photo with this technique, but it could be useful in certain situations.
Note there’s also an option to disable Silent Shooting altogether, which sounds like the camera’s taken two shots; Canon only recommends using this to avoid exposure issues with extension tubes or Tilt and Shift lenses.
Finally, Live View on the Mark IIIis also available at a higher resolution when the camera’s connected to an HDTV using the HDMI port, or connected to a PC or Mac and using the supplied EOS Utility. Note, the image seen on the live HDMI output will reduce in resolution if you start filming video in the HD mode, although to a lesser extent than the Mark II and again it won't affect the quality of the recording.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III shooting information and menus
Like the Mark II before it, the Mark III can show a wealth of shooting information on its main colour monitor. To view any shooting information, you’ll need to press the Info button, which cycles through up to three pages of details before then switching the screen back off again; there’s no eye sensors below the viewfinder to automatically switch the screen off. Like the 7D you can view shooting settings, camera settings or an electronic two-axis levelling gauge, as seen below.
The main Shooting Settings page shows all the really important stuff like the aperture, shutter, sensitivity, exposure compensation, and works with Canon’s Quick menu system which allows you to highlight and adjust many of the settings on-screen. This works similarly to the Mark II, although Canon’s managed to squeeze in a couple more options here.
In the bottom left corner of the screen you’ll see a letter Q, representing the Quick Control system, although unlike its predecessor, you now activate it by pressing the new Q button. You can then move a blue / green highlighter over the desired setting using the joystick and then either turn the thumb wheel or finger dial to directly adjust it, or press the SET button to view a dedicated menu for that item. These dedicated menus also appear when you press the Metering / WB, AF / Drive or ISO / flash compensation buttons alongside the upper screen.
It’s similar in practice to other on-screen adjustment systems like those pioneered on Olympus and Sony DSLRs, and offers quick access to numerous settings. Unfortunately Canon’s still resisted the temptation to rotate the characters to remain upright when shooting in the portrait orientation though.
Pressing the Menu button enters the main menu system which has been revamped with a dedicated tab housing five pages just for AF alone - see below for details. The page transitions have also been enhanced. As before you can exclusively use the joystick for navigation, or use the finger dial to switch pages and the thumb wheel to scroll through the options on each.
In playback mode, pressing the Info button cycles between a clean image, one overlaid with a little shooting information, then a thumbnail with extended shooting information and a brightness histogram, and finally a thumbnail with less shooting information, but both brightness and RGB histograms. The page with just the brightness histogram and extended shooting information can be switched to display RGB histograms instead if preferred. New to the Mark III is the ability to give an image a star rating from one to five using the new RATE button.
You can of course magnify the image for a closer look, although as explained above, this is now done using the new magnify button in conjunction with the finger dial - this change of control will have owners of earlier Canon DSLRs scratching their heads for a while. It's also possible to develop RAW files in-camera with a broad selection of parameters to adjust.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III Autofocus
In arguably the biggest upgrade over its predecessor, the Mark III inherits the same 61-point AF system as the EOS 1D X - a significant boost over the earlier 9-point system. And like the 1D X, it's not just about playing a numbers game on total points either, as a considerable 41 of them are cross-type sensors, while five boast dual cross-points.
It also represents an important milestone for Canon which has traditionally been out-numbered by Nikon on AF specifications in most DSLR categories. The D800 also inherits the AF system of a higher-end full-frame pro body, in this case the D4, but in terms of numbers these feature 51 points, 15 of which are cross-type sensors. It's a nice numerical win for Canon, but as always these are just the specifications and it's important to put them through their paces.
The Mark III's AF system is highly configurable across no fewer than five new dedicated menu pages; indeed Canon has produced a 47 page guide (for the 1D X which also applies to the Mark III) just to explain all the features. This guide and the Mark III manual also explain which lenses can exploit which AF points in the system, as the most sensitive dual-cross type sensors in the middle only work with lenses at f2.8 or faster, while others are limited to f4 or faster. But even in the worse-case scenario with ageing, slow or obscure lenses you'll still have 33 AF points / 15 cross-type sensors to work with.
The AF system is broken down into three main aspects: first is the actual AF mode, from which you have the usual One Shot, AI Focus and AI Servo options, second is the choice of the AF point or grouping, and third is an expanded set of options to describe the motion and therefore the tracking.
The choice of AF point will be familiar to anyone who's used the EOS 7D. You can choose from Single Point or Single Point Spot (the latter being a smaller area), AF Point Expansion (which also takes four points above, below, left and right into consideration), AF Point Expansion (which also takes eight points around the manually selected area into account), Zone AF (which divides the full area into nine smaller groups of AF points), and finally 61-point Automatic Selection. To switch between these modes, simply press the AF area button on the back of the camera, then use the M-Fn button by the shutter release to cycle through them. In the case of the manual point selection you can either use the rear joystick or a combination of the finger dial and thumb wheel to make your choice.
So far so similar to what's come before, but what makes the Mark III and 1D X stand out is the third set of options which let you describe the motion of the subject for more successful tracking. Canon offers three parameters to describe the motion: Tracking Sensitivity, Acceleration / Deceleration Tracking and AF point Auto Switching. While some of these have been seen in Custom functions of on earlier models and can still be manually tweaked, Canon now provides six 'Case' presets for specific styles of sports and with the Summer Olympics surely in mind, uses immediately recognisable icons to identify each. It's almost like the graphics of TV coverage.
Case 1 is a general-purpose tracking option for predictable motion - think of it as the standard option. Case 2 attempts to track the subject while ignoring obstacles and is described as being ideal for tennis, butterfly swimmers and skiers. Case 3 instantly focuses on subjects suddenly appearing over AF points and could be useful for the start of bike races or during alpine skiing, skateboarding or freestyle events where a subject could quickly move into the frame. Case 4 is for subjects which accelerate or decelerate quickly, such as football, basketball or motor sports. Case 5 is designed for erratic motion moving quickly in any direction like figure skaters, while Case 6 covers subjects which change speed and move erratically, like rhythm gymnastics.
I'm no sports photographer so I'll leave detailed analysis of the different cases to those who do it for a living. I do hope to include some comments from some pro sports photographers in the near future though. I did however explore the different AF point and zoning options for shooting a variety of subjects in motion including mountain biking, jet-boating, cars and kids running around.
Like the 7D before it, I enjoyed a high degree of success with the various expansion options which concentrate on a single manually-selected AF point, but also consider those immediately around it providing a bit of breathing space. These proved very useful for tracking kids running around the frame. I also found the spot AF useful for precisely targeting a subject, such as a person's eye when they're wearing a hat or helmet with a wide brim. Meanwhile the zone AF was a handy way of just leaving the camera to work out everything, but giving it the guidance that the subject was in a specific section of the frame.
I also appreciated the option for Orientation Linked AF Points, where the point, area or zone could automatically adjust depending on portrait or landscape shooting. So if you'd preset the area to the top left in the landscape orientation, it could automatically reposition itself to the top left when turned to portrait. This sounds a bit obscure when written-down, but in practice I used it frequently.
In each situation I put it into the Mark III returned a high ratio of hits and felt responsive and very confident. It really feels a world-apart from its predecessor. As for its big rival, the D800, it too performed very well in my AF tests and also enjoys the benefit of supporting AF on lenses with apertures between f5.6 and f8, albeit with a reduced number of points. Once both cameras have been literally out in the field for some time with pro sports photographers, I'll come back with further reports and analysis.
Just before wrapping-up this section I'll mention a useful update to the AF Micro-Adjustment options, which now let you enter different values for both ends of a zoom range rather than just one.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III metering and exposures
The EOS 5D Mark III inherits the 63-zone iCFL metering system of the EOS 7D and the latest lower-end models. It may not come anywhere near the sophistication of the 100,000 pixel metering sensor of the EOS 1D X, but it remains an improvement over the ageing 35-zone TTL metering of the Mark II. The Mark III also shares the Partial, Centre-weighted and Spot metering options of the Mark II, but the Partial and Spot sizes have reduced from 8 to 6.2% and 3.5 to 1.5% respectively.
Shutter speeds remain between 1/8000 and 30 seconds with a Bulb option and a fastest flash-sync speed of 1/200, and the shutter block is still rated to 150,000 actuations; note Canon claims the block has been improved, but as I recall, the Mark II was rated to 150k too. Note Nikon's D800 boasts a flash sync speed of 1/250 and a shutter block rated to 200,000 shots.
However in a surprise and very welcome move, Canon has finally equipped a non-1D series camera with decent exposure bracketing, so it's out with the (frankly insulting) three-frame options of earlier models and in with three, five and seven frame exposure bracketing. This may still not match the nine-frame bracketing of the D800, but it's still an important upgrade which will have HDR fanatics rejoicing. And speaking of HDR, there's also a new HDR mode which captures and combines three frames (at 1, 2 or 3EV increments) using a choice of five tone-mapped presets, while also considerately recording each frame separately in case you prefer to do your own processing later. Here's an example comparing a single exposure shot against a 3EV HDR using the Natural tone-mapping.