Getting off Auto - Losing The Mirror

When Canon announced the full-frame R5 mirrorless camera body some time ago, I was interested because it was the first mirrorless that seemed to overcome many of the negatives I’d long been concerned with.  As many of you who’ve followed these Getting off Auto threads over the years will know, I’m less than keen about the small size and dire battery life of these newer bodies, especially when paired with the bigger lenses (the index of all the GoA & other relevant photography threads is here).  However, with the R5, I decided it was time to lose some of my inherent Luddite nature and give it a go.  So, here are my initial thoughts and comparisons.

The R5 uses Canon’s new RF mount and there are various new lenses available (including some interesting f/11 long focal length ones).  There are no “Big White” lenses yet, but that doesn’t really matter as there are a couple of converters available to allow you to continue to use your EF hardware on the new body.  Having tried most of the lenses available to me, there appear to be no issues I can find with doing so – indeed, as the new body has In Body Stabilisation (IBIS), some of the older lenses get a new lease of life.  The 400mm f/5.6L lens has always been a great buy for in-flight stuff especially, but was let down by not having any stabilisation.  With IBIS (which stabilises the sensor rather than the lens itself), you now get some help when handholding whatever the lens you use.  Don’t get too excited – IBIS is less effective the longer the focal length – but it’s noticeably more stable than shooting the lens on one of the DSLRs.

This pic shows the R5 with the 400mm f/5.6L – note the converter between the lens and body.

The Sparrow I took using this setup at 1/400 sec.  I would normally push the shutter speed faster with this lens to minimise camera shake, but it wasn’t an issue here.

The R5 is squarely placed to be the mirrorless version of the 5D DSLRs, so it seems logical to compare it to the 5D4.  These two pics show the size difference – the R5 is smaller (and lighter) but it’s not too bad (roughly the same size as the 80D).  Both cameras have the relevant 24-105 f/4 lens attached (I’ve used the EF24-105 as my general walkabout lens forever, so it seemed logical to get the RF version for the R5).  Nothing particularly surprising between the two, though the RF version (in common with other RF lenses) has an additional control ring (at the front).  This can be configured in the camera to be used for a variety of things – aperture maybe, or exposure compensation.  The converter I am currently using also has the extra control ring, though I have to be honest, I’ve not used it yet.  Coming from a DSLR, I’m used to using the camera without it.

So, what about the camera’s abilities?  A 45MPixel sensor gives plenty of cropability – and you can even set the camera to work in 1.6x crop mode.  This gives you a viewfinder display “zoomed in” and a 17.3Mp (effectively) sensor.  It does have an Anti-aliasing (AA) filter in front of it, but a new design (also seen in the 1DX3) which means the 45MP sensor will out-resolve the 50MP sensor found in the hi-res 5DR.  As such, I would expect a similar benefit to the crop mode (ie more resolution available than the 17.3MP suggests).  Certainly, things like ISO performance, Dynamic Range etc are better than anything else you’ll find in a Canon body.

Large crop detail in this Stonechat

The camera is capable of high frame rates – 12fps with a mechanical shutter, 20fps electronic (it varies a bit depending on lens, state of battery charge etc).  The electronic shutter has the potential for odd “rolling shutter” artefacts (where straight lines show up as bent) if your subject is moving – though it would appear to be much better than other mirrorless bodies available.  In normal use, I’ve not experienced anything odd with my typical photography, but you’d see odd curved propellers if photographing an air display for example.  I’ve stuck with the mechanical shutter for now – the soft clicking helps you realise just how many pics you’re taking.  The totally silent electronic shutter racks up images at a frightening rate – and each RAW file is ~45MB!  Those big files need a big – and fast – card to save them on.  The R5 uses a CFExpress card (and SD).  These cards are EXPENSIVE!

The best thing about this camera however, is the Autofocus.  It is capable of tracking an animal’s (or bird’s) eye around the whole frame.  It is gob-smackingly good.  This Sparrow was hidden in the bush, the camera was set to all-points animal-eye tracking AF. 

It simply locked on to the bird’s eye, it really is that spookily good.  I have told the AF to start in the middle (so it isn’t distracted by other birds around my subject), but this far and away the best AF I have ever seen.  This screenshot of the Stonechat shows you not only the crop (with the earlier pic), but the AF point (red box) the camera chose (remember, it was set to All-Points).

The camera uses an up-rated version of the normal LP-E6 battery, the LP-E6NH.  Older batteries will work, but obviously with fewer shot capability.  So far, the theoretical lower performance than a DSLR hasn’t been an issue to me (we’ll see what happens over time) but the R5 has a trick up its sleeve.  It can be run (or have the battery charged) via USB3.  That means, if I’m sat in a hide, I can plug in a Powerbank and charge the camera.  Brilliant!  Far cheaper doing that than buying a spare Canon battery!

So, any dislikes?  I prefer the DSLR top screen and button layout over the R5’s, though it’s not that bad.  The DSLR is still better for following a bird in flight (the viewfinder on a mirrorless body is a small screen, with noticeable blur when moving, though it’s superb compared to earlier generation models).  It will never be as good as a DSLR’s optical viewfinder (Ye canna change the laws of physics!), but again, it’s OK.  As the AF tracking is so much better, that less than ideal viewfinder is certainly something you can put up with.  When you start taking pics of that in-flight bird, staying on the moving target isn’t as easy as with the DSLR, but again, with better AF tracking and more fps, I can live with that.  It’s a bit annoying having to wake the camera up just to peer through the lens, and I have to turn the camera off if I put on its raincoat (covering the viewfinder makes the camera think you’re looking through it and won’t let it snooze). But these are small niggles rather than big issues.  I’ve not done any serious video as yet – few insects around at the moment!  The camera is capable of 8K – though it will overheat fairly quickly in that situation.  Of interest to the stills photographer is the possibility of lifting a ~35MP frame from the 8K footage – which, as it is filmed at up to 30fps, could be remarkable.

I’ll update this thread with other info as I come across it, but by all means ask away if you have any questions!


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  • I think this will need to be read through multiple times (by me, anyway) before even part of it sinks in.

    The one thing I'm certain of is that's an absolutely beautiful stonechat!

    Our herring gulls are red listed birds.  Think about that the next time you hear some flaming idiot calling for a cull of them.

  • Many thanks for your efforts on both threads WJ, like Clare, I will need to read through them a few times as I'm not at all familiar with what these new mirrorless cameras can do but the result of the Stonechat is stunning. I think Jim (who is on the forum sometimes) is considering the R6 but I don't know anything about that one either ! For now I'll be sticking to my 5Dmkiii and 7Dmkii. Still really interesting to see the results and all the information you have added on the R5, thanks again, it is much appreciated even if I don't understand a fraction of it yet !! my old brain takes time to absorb lol


    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  • In reply to HAZY:

    Lol! Perhaps some basic info might help :-)
    A DSLR has a mirror in it, which reflects the light up to the viewfinder via a prism (in the bulgy bit on top). Thus the viewfinder is referred to as an "Optical" one and it still works even with no battery in the camera (though obviously you lose the overlaid info like shutter speed etc). Being simply glass & mirrors, it doesn't suffer from lag like a Mirrorless body does. Mirrorless simply takes the feed from the sensor and plays it onto a small screen in the viewfinder. Being all electronic, it stops working when the camera is switched off. Moving subjects can show a lag in the display which is disconcerting if too long (it takes time to process each frame before displaying in the viewfinder). That lag has reduced in recent years and high refresh rates (the R5 will do 120fps in the viewfinder) also help give smooth movement. You also get blackout when the image is taken (even when using the electronic shutter) so the image stutters in the viewfinder. You get a similar blackout in the DSLR viewfinder of course (when the mirror flips up) but for some reason that is not as intrusive as on the mirrorless I find.
    In operation, it's pretty well the same as using a DSLR on Liveview (except you can use "Liveview" on the rear screen or viewfinder in the Mirrorless world). As the camera doesn't have to flip a mirror out of the way, you can get faster frames per second (and the shutter will live longer too). The mechanical shutter is basically the same as on a DSLR (ignoring the mirror), the electronic shutter simply leaves the mechanical shutter open and reads the sensor electronically into memory. As it starts with pixel #1 and ends with pixel #45million, there's a time delay between start and finish. No problem with mostly stationary subjects, but it gives you the bent artefacts I mentioned before if something is moving. You often see this issue in video cameras with sloping lamp-posts showing up as you drive past them and similar oddities. These "Rolling Shutters" will eventually be replaced by a "Global Shutter" - which reads all pixels simultaneously. Then there'll be no need for a mechanical shutter at all. Such sensors do exist, but so far they tend to be on specialist high-end video cameras (and don't have the sort of resolution we all like).
    Having a screen as viewfinder has some benefits - it will show you exactly how the image will come out. So if the viewfinder seems a bit bright, giving some negative exposure compensation will darken what you see. This instant ability to see the effect of exposure compensation is very handy obviously.
    Focussing is different on a Mirrorless camera. The focussing is not performed by a separate AF sensor (like on a DSLR) but on the sensor itself. This means you get no issues with body & lens being out of kilter (Micro-Focus-Adjust is built into higher end DSLRs to overcome potential differences in body & lens performance, but can be hassle to set up). So Mirrorless will generally get you consistently more accurate focus.
    Mirrorless bodies tend to be smaller and lighter, but use more power. This does make them more prone to overheating, but that's only really a problem in video modes (such as 8K or 4K120). Canon's approach to overheating is to shut the camera down before it gets too bad - Sony's is to fry the user and internals :-)
    Canon made the decision to change the mount to RF for its Mirrorless R range, but the communication between lens and body is basically still the same, allowing EF lenses to work perfectly well on the RF mount bodies with a simple adapter (good news if you have plenty of decent EF glass!). R bodies to date have been interesting but nothing to set the world on fire - the R5 & R6 (and the R1 that is likely to appear sometime next year) are a different kettle of fish - giving real benefits on their DSLR predecessors (which is why there's been so much interest in them)


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  • I was wondering when someone on the Forum would get their hands on a R5 or R6. I've been following the reviews on YouTube since their launch.
    Most of the reviews have been concentrating on the video capabilities and especially the issues of overheating and somewhat neglecting what a good photography camera it is. The Eye AF as you've highlighted seems incredible as does the IBIS - a first for Canon cameras I believe.
    I think for me the R5 would be overkill quite apart from the premium price. If I were to upgrade to a mirrorless I think I would probably go for the R6.
    Thanks for your initial review WJ, we appreciate how much work you put into keeping us up to speed on camera and photography matters.



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  • In reply to Whistling Joe:

    Whistling Joe said:
    (in the bulgy bit on top)

    Yay! That's a technical term I can understand.

    Our herring gulls are red listed birds.  Think about that the next time you hear some flaming idiot calling for a cull of them.

  • In reply to TeeJay:

    TeeJay said:
    I've been following the reviews on YouTube since their launch

    YouTube's great for finding stuff out, but I've concluded too many reviewers are simply complete idiots (often without even having the camera to play with).  Trouble is, for the professional YouTuber, the aim is NOT to review the product as useful info for people, it's to get as many views and clicks as possible as that is (literally) their bread and butter.  So the more contentious and hysterical they can make their video the better - which then gets amplified by the sounding board of the Internet as they all quote each other in pointless videos made just to get some new content out.  There is no "issue" with overheating at all with the R5 - it behaves as documented in the user guide with limitations on recording length of some video formats (the processor intensive ones).  That makes it a limitation, not a fault, but few YouTubers seem to understand there's a difference.  Interestingly, there are ways to improve these times by using external storage (which Pro videographers would be using anyway), but the simple answer to anyone shooting a lot of video is to buy a proper video camera, not a stills oriented hybrid.  It's like complaining a sheet of plywood won't fit inside your Ferrari when you should have bought a pickup truck!


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  • Thank you for this thread WJ, I have not looked into them only one is cheaper then the other so I am getting the R6.

    While on Facebook I saw a picture of a Chaffinch at distance and sent the chap a PM and asked if he would send the Raw file and he did, I had to update DPP to open it with it being a different file then the 5D4 and I am happy with what I saw I did a 50 and 75% and even the 100% looks good, I will ask him if I can show them I'm sure he will but you never know.


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  • Adam said it was ok to show his picture.

    1st full frame

    2nd 50%

    3rd 75%


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  • That's off an R6 I take it Jim? Good result, especially in that weather. What does DPP show as the focus point out of interest?


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  • I must be loosing it WJ it should say 75% crop :) I will check it out now and see what the exif says.


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