“Canon DSLR records RAW video!” An April Fool’s Day FaceBook post I saw in 2012. It was a joke. In 2020, the Canon R5 mirrorless camera can record 8K RAW video, and Canon is not joking.
The Canon R5 is the new flagship mirrorless still/motions camera from the Japanese imaging company. An early marketing push trumpeted the horn over the R5’s 8K Full-Frame raw recording capabilities. Then came the news the R5 could also shoot Full-Frame 4K 120 frames per second with autofocus. In my review, I look into the capabilities of the Canon R5, the 8K raw, 4K 120fps, and some of the more exciting features to see if this new flagship mirrorless is the real deal we all joked about but really wanted on April 1st, 2012.
2019 into 2020 was turning out to be an excellent year at Canon. In order of release came the Canon C500 Mark II, the C300 Mark III, and now the hotly marketed 8K capable R5 and 4K R6 mirrorless cameras; as I write this, news of the new C70 has landed. Years of innovation hit the market. Then as summer heated up, so did the over-heating news following initial R5 testing. It seemed 8K full-frame raw came at a price.
During the initial wave of R5 testing, I received both the R5 and R6 to test and review. Within a couple of weeks, Canon released a “best practices” to reduce over-heating and new firmware to mitigate the heat problem. As Summer falls into Autumn, the heat waves seem to have settled. Make no mistake; posts focusing on over-heating alone do not do justice to the full capabilities of the R5.
As a stills camera, the R5 is top-notch and near perfection in your hand—an extension of the photographer. I found the Canon R5 to be a pleasure to use. With little effort, I was able to capture beautiful still images out of the mundane. Photography with the Canon R5 was fun and creatively fulfilling to me.
The 45 MP sensor delivered incredible detail shot after shot. The 20 frames a second of electronic shutter meant my lens could keep up with my feral toddler as she ran around my backyard. The incredible autofocus, and its speed, kept her in focus. The autofocus is so good I doubt users will ever flip over to manual focus. The raw photos showed great depth and loads of room for finessing the shadows and highlights in post. It felt like extreme pushing and pulling the raw image could be done with ease. The color, oh man, the Canon color, is oh so delicious with the R5.
As I toss praise upon praise on the still photography functionality of the Canon R5, know this: you cannot go wrong with the Canon R5 and still photography; you just can’t. Yet, you likely not looking to buy the Canon R5 just for still photography. Many of us want to try out the 8K raw video too.
Generally, as a video camera, the R5 felt like a solid side-kick. A Chewbacca to my Han Solo. Dependable. Trusted. The R5 always got the job done well. Though, my experiences did cause a bit of frustration, much like Han yelling at Chewie as they try to fix the Millennium Falcon in “Empire Strikes Back.”
Usually, my frustrations bore out of 8K and 4K 120fps limitations within the R5. These frustrations came with an earlier firmware for the R5, media unable to record fast enough, and I hope those problems do not persist. I was pushing the camera’s limit. I knew I’d find the camera’s breaking point and was not surprised to see limitations in 8K raw recording for a $4,000 mirrorless.
In my opinion, If you thought Canon made a $4,000.00 Mirrorless camera to outperform its $10,000.00 C300 Mark III or $15,000.00 C500 Mark II, you are crazy. Then again, I understand the other side of this coin. An 8K Camera should be able to record 8K for as long as you want, right? Except engineering, heat dissipation, and a load of other reasons may get in the way.
The Canon R5 has stellar autofocus capabilities in both stills mode and video mode. In stills mode, the autofocus is just blazing fast and responsive. 5940 AF areas cover virtually the whole frame. These areas can be used together, individually, or in zones. You can use the multi-controller on the back of the R5 or using the touchscreen to select your AF points. Users can set the speed of the R5’s autofocus in the camera’s menu.
Above, you can see the Canon R5 Autofocus catch onto the wasp as I hand-held the camera. Shot in 8K RAW. The R5 comes packed with deep learning AI and subject recognition. What “deep learning AI” means is you can rely on the R5 to lock onto faces and eyes and focus quickly. So quick was eye-autofocus that the Canon R5 could keep up with my wild three-year-old daughter as she ran around the backyard. I found the fastest speed the best option when shooting 4K 120fps and much slower for 24p footage to give the appearance of a manually racked focus shift. I used the “look” of a perfectly executed manual focus pull to reveal scenes in my daily work. A combination of shallow depth of field and a good touchscreen and Canon’s AF lends itself to such shooting. With Video or Still Photography, the R5 autofocus felt like I could “set it and leave it.” For interviews, just be wary of a wandering focus point as subjects turn their heads.
R5 and Lowlight
Shooting in Stills mode, I felt like any ISO was safe from too much noise. Even the highest ISOs bore less noise in the image than I expected and whatever was there was easy to reduce in Adobe Lightroom. Video always has a little bit more limitation with high ISO settings and noise present in the image. The R5 may present some noise in the deep shadows in the upper-mid to high ISO settings. Especially true when shooting CLog and viewing Clog on a monitor. Usually, applying a LUT or dropping the blacks/shadows down to a more acceptable level reduced the shadow noise very well.
8K shooting for 8K delivery? You might stay below 6400 for a clean image and if you do not have a denoiser. If shooting 8K for 4K delivery, you can get away with higher ISOs. Now, know this; for some reason, I did not set up an ISO noise test. I shot with Canon R5 so much I just forgot the actual ISO noise test. This happens to me more than I like to admit. If I’m enjoying a camera, I keep shooting only to realize the review period has ended, and I left a critical test undone. But, I accumulated a ton of experience with the R5, and 8K video really should be recorded 6400 or below or get to know our denoiser for the deep shadows.
Now, this can be a bit wonky. If you were standing still or moving slightly, the internal IBIS smoothed out body movements and jerks. If I wanted to walk and shoot with the IBIS turned on, it could show a little warping like After Effects and warp stabilizer. The more movement IBIS tried to correct, the more warping present. If shooting hand-held for static shots, the IBIS smooths out very well and gives near tripod-like steadiness. This video example below was shot hand-held in 4K.
If you think Canon R5 shooters might not need a gimbal and IBIS will smooth out all unwanted movements, think again. Best hold onto that DJI Ronin S or pick up the new DJI R2, which looks terrific. Below, you can see a news story I mostly shot on the Canon R5. All my footage, except interviews, was shot hand-held. This is a news story to deadlines sometimes get in the way of a complete polish.
Build – button placement – weight
Canon built a solid camera in the R5. It felt good in the hand, balanced on the left/right axis and front/back with the 24-105 attached. The R5 comes weather-sealed in case you need it. The weight in hand felt good. Not too heavy and not feather-light.
R5 EVF and LCD Screen
Nice and bright. Good bounce between EVF and LCD. Both the EVF and LCD looked sharp and full of color. No complaints on either. The flip-out LCD screen is my preferred style, so I enjoyed the one on the Canon R5. Grabbing low shots are much more comfortable with a flip-out. It also meant I didn’t have to lay down to capture this dew in the grass sunrise shot.
This feature alone may be why many pick up and shoot with the Canon R5. I know I dove headfirst into 8K immediately after unboxing the camera. Yes, the Canon R5 shoots 8K raw, and I loved every minute of it until the camera loaned to me with old firmware, over-heated. Since my review, it’s been a super busy year; Canon has improved upon the overheating issue and released guidance on avoiding over-heating. 8K, as an image, is pretty incredible but seems to come at a bit of a cost.
Typically, I shot 8K raw when I wanted a particular “wow” factor in a shot or sequence. Doing so added a “pop” to wide-shots and landscapes. I made this my way of working to avoid any over-heating. Yet, I wanted to shoot continuous 8K all the time, but I couldn’t, whether it be over-heating or media not quite fast enough to handle the data rate. FYI, make sure to invest in the fastest and approved media for the Canon R5.
4K 120 fps
I shot some 4K 120fps, not a ton, but enough to know 120fps on the R5 can be pretty sensational in the right hands. It is impressive to me to have a full-frame camera capable of 4K 120fps, whether it be a Canon R5 or another brand. We live in good times for camera operators. The 4K 120fps did not look softer than the standard frame rate 4K. When I shot 4K 120fps, the camera over-heated right when I got into the groove, which was frustrating. I’m hoping Canon’s latest firmware update fixed this problem.
If you are shooting 8K or 4K 120fps, watch out for a full buffer in the R5. I experienced the camera capable of shooting 8K raw or 4K 120fps only to have the camera’s buffer fill up and cause me to shot shorter clips than I liked. It may take a bit to clear out the buffer too. I’m guessing it’s a buffer/card write problem. My media was just fast enough, and this could have caused this problem. Buy the fastest cards you can.
4K HQ vs. 4K
The Canon R5 is a 4K camera capable of shooting 8K. This is how I think we should approach the Canon R5 instead of the reverse. 4K on the R5 looks great and delivers as expected, if not a bit better than I expected. 4K HQ vs. 4K is a friendly debate for camera users to have with camera users. I write this with the belief most, not all but, most customers may not see a significant difference between the 4K HQ and 4K image.
Color – Clog
The R5 is not a dynamic range beast. The mirrorless camera gets around 11 stops, which is doable for a good colorist to massage the image into something better in DaVinci Resolve. I was able to grab a very contrasty scene, a sun setting behind clouds behind a building, and pull the shadows and mid-tones into a more pleasing image. The 10-bit HEVC source files help to capture just enough color information for this type of work. Yet, convert those H.265 files to an edit-friendly codec like ProRes or whatever you prefer. H.265 files will slow down your computer. I use EditReady to convert my footage.
The Canon R5 is a good camera. As a stills camera, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option. As a video camera, I have a couple of items on my list I wish were in the R5.
- Better video exposure tools in the EVF or LCD Screen
- Full-size HDMI output
- Zero Record Limits
- Zero over-heating (though engineering and realistic expectations may make this impossible)
I used the Canon R5 nearly every day of my camera review period. I preferred the R5 over my very easy to use ENG B4 camera with an incredibly wide to telephoto lens. As a companion camera to a C300 Mark III or C500 Mark II, the R5, or even the R6, are great options to give you a one-two camera punch without the need to buy or rent a second full-blown cinema camera. If I were to travel more for work, the Canon R5 might be my go-to as a “B” camera for news coverage. The ability to shoot photos with the full-frame 45 mega-pixel sensor wouldn’t be a loss for me either. I’d likely place it in my kit for quick and easy access to whip out. What is remarkable is Canon has put an incredible stills camera in an 8K video camera. While not perfect, the R5 is hard to beat as an all-around stills/motion camera.
The most remarkable features on the Canon R5 help users capture the moment and not the different resolutions it can shoot. Incredible autofocus and image stabilization are the two giant features that helped me be better as a shooter, and isn’t this what we want, a tool to help us be better. To capture better images. 8K doesn’t help you capture a sharper looking image; it just helps you capture an image sharper. Take a look at the Canon R5 holistically, and you will look past the headlines and youtube reviews to find an outstanding all-around still photography and motions camera.