I’ll begin this review by saying I’ve generally disliked Canon’s ethics which range from forcing professional photographers covering NFL games to wear a Canon vest to protecting higher priced existing Canon camera models when releasing a new one by limiting the features of the new camera. Nikon, on the other hand, always seemed to punch above its weight, readily sacrificing existing higher-spec’d Nikon models when releasing new cameras and for a while Nikon’s flash system was unbeatable. I also appreciated Nikon’s durability, ergonomics and the quality of its glass.
But Nikon kept slipping up in releasing new equipment before thoroughly testing it, perhaps a consequence of its relatively small financial resources. The first nail in the coffin was the SB900 flash which overheated far too readily. The second nail was the D750 camera which was recalled and my shutter replaced. The third nail was the hideous new control system of the SB 5000 flash. The fourth nail was the recall of the D810 camera. The fifth nail was the 70-200 f2.8 Z series zoom lens that was as heavy and large as its DSLR equivalent.
Despite my misgivings about Nikon I was in awe of cameras like the Nikon D850; the perfect workhorse in my mind so I immediately bought the Nikon Z7 on its release and compared to the clunky and unergonomic but awesome eye-control focussing of the Sony A7Riii or the limited Canon R (no IBIS for example), I was happy since it was a beautifully designed camera with an incredibly sharp 24-70mm f4 kit lens to boot and being able to customise the focus dial on the lens to become an exposure compensation dial meant every image was perfectly exposed. But even though I never removed the lens, sensor dust appeared. Then the body rubber started to disintegrate. And as for focussing in dim light, I never quite knew which image would be in focus. Nikon updated the firmware to provide for eye control focus but it was useless. Then there was the sensor near the viewfinder which detected whether or not you were looking through the viewfinder. Invariably an eyelash/crumb would block the sensor and that created chaos – think a dead viewfinder when you most needed one.
When the Canon R5 came out I was surprised. I hadn’t tracked its release. Why would I as it was in the Canon World? But I read a review which mentioned it had IBIS, two card slots, unbelievable eye control focus, an excellent menu system and more. That review made me realise that the Goliath of the camera world, Canon, had just taken on Sony and Nikon was about to become collateral damage. In short, Canon left nothing on the table with the launch of this camera. When I found out that Canon’s R series 70-200 2F.8 zoom lens only weighed 1kg and was 15cm shorter than the Nikon equivalent, I decided to move on from my Nikon D850 and Nikon Z7 and buy two Canon R5 bodies. A huge decision with consequences. All six of my flashes become redundant as did my many Nikkor lenses.
But I don’t regret my decision for a bit. The 24-70 F2.8 R series lens is stunning. As sharp as the Nikon but faster and its relative bulk isn’t overwhelming; it balances nicely with the R5. The 70-200 F2.8 lens focusses incredibly quickly.
The Canon R5 is completely customisable so I have turned into a Nikon when it comes to dials which meant the transition from Nikon to Canon was painless and took about a week.
My file sizes are smaller since I use Canon’s losslessly compressed CRAW format.
The ability to use the rear display to assist focus is brilliant. I have programmed the bottom left corner of the rear display to be used to select the initial focus point.
And every person photographed is in focus. Not most of the time. All of the time.
I only shoot using the manual mode and I have set up three custom modes I will describe later.
Camera in studio settings (C3)
The file is much better when manipulating tones than Nikon’s which surprised me.
Being able to use eye-tracking focus means I can spend all of my energy on composition.
I have an Elinchrom ELB 500 flash system and when using it with either the Nikon Z7 or Nikon D850 and the Elinchrom Skyport Pro trigger (Nikon specific), the flash trigger failure rate was about 8% ; with the Canon and the same trigger, the flash trigger failure rate is about 2%.
The Canon R5 is as least as good as the Nikon D850 (which I preferred to the Nikon Z7). More extensive testing will reveal if it is better.
Speed of focussing
The Canon R5 is as good as the Nikon D850 when photographing sports; a mirrorless camera is no longer at a disadvantage.
My Nikon goto camera kit was:
- Nikon Z7 with f4 24-70mm attached
- Nikon D850 with f2.8 70-200 mm zoom lens attached
- SB 910 Flash.
It was always a jostle to get this kit into a smallish Lowe ProTactic 350AW backpack. The flash had to float in the backpack or be placed on the barrel of the 70-200 Zoom lens. Not ideal.
As you can see in the image below my Canon goto kit is:
- Canon R5 body with f2.8 24-70mm R Series zoom attached
- Canon R5 body with f2.8 70-200mm R Series zoom attached
- Profoto A1 Flash
It fits perfectly and so gives me comfort knowing the gear is very unlikely to be damaged in transit.
How to easily transition from Nikon to Canon
Before I purchased the Canon R5 I worried that I wouldn’t be able to use it intuitively for quite a while. However, my transition has been painless as I have set up the camera as follows in effect making it a Nikon:
I use custom settings extensively. I love how quickly they can be set: I push the Mode button (on top of the camera) and the settings then appear on the rear display which I then touch to select.
I have three custom settings:
Since I only shoot in manual, I have universally restricted the shooting mode to M, C1, C2 and C3. I also limit the AF methods available to single point and eye/face tracking switching between them when necessary (I use eye tracking focus 90% of the time).
C1 – portraits in natural light
Aperture is initially set to f5.6, shutter speed to 1/250th and ISO is automatic.
I use the first electronic shutter, servo focussing and the drive is set to multiple slow.
I have disabled anti-flicker.
I enable exposure simulation of the EVF.
C2- on-camera flash
Aperture is initially set to f5.6, shutter speed to 1/60th and ISO is 1600.
I use the first electronic shutter, servo focussing and the drive is set to single shot.
I have disabled anti-flicker.
I disable exposure simulation of the EVF.
C3 – Studio Photography
I limit aperture to between f8 and f16, shutter speed from 1/60th to 1/250th.
ISO is not automatic but cannot be restricted to a range.
I use the mechanical shutter, servo focussing and the drive is set to single shot.
I have enabled anti-flicker.
I disable exposure simulation of the EVF.
I found the display screen and viewfinder to be deceptively bright so I have set both at 2 (the default is 3) and now images on my desktop are very similar to those shown on the Canon.
The Canon LP-E6NH battery. It ain’t good. Even though I use the Eco Mode, dim the rear display automatically and don’t allow for smoothing of fast moving subjects, I get approximate 350 shots per battery when I would easily get 1200 images when using my Nikon D850 or 800 with my Nikon Z7. And why does a battery offering a 15% improvement on its predecessor cost $170 instead on $95? I am also holding off purchasing the CF Express card as it costs $360 for 128Gb when I paid $120 for a Sandisk Extreme Pro 128Gb card and never shoot video.
The IBIS switch on the 24-70mm lens is easily inadvertently switched off. Perhaps Canon knows this as it displays a IBIS lens status symbol in the viewfinder.
The customisable dial on the lens is too far away to be a useful exposure compensation dial; somehow my hands have to do too much when it is that much further away. The dial isn’t as useful as the Nikon Z7 anyway as it won’t activate the exposure by turning it.
The flagship flash, the Canon Speedlite 600EX II -RT Flash was last updated in 2012 and that, in my mind, is too long ago. I opted instead to buy a Profoto A1 flash which has the best controls of any flash I have used (and its light ain’t bad either).
I have customised the Quick Control Dial (which is near the rear display) to adjust ISO but it is easy to inadvertently change the ISO so when I am in a studio and using C3, once I have the exposure set correctly, I press the ‘Lock’ button top of the camera to lock my settings.
Why does the Canon professional membership cost anything and restrict sensor cleans to three annually? The Nikon Professional Services membership was free and offered unlimited sensor cleans.