Whenever a new piece of gear comes along we seem to be very quickly woo’ed and enamoured by the “key” feature of said gear. In the case of the 1DX MKII its the impressive 16 frames per second and, in the 5DS R and 5DS its unquestionably the whopping 50 megapixel image resolution.
Often the hype around these headline features detract from the actual value they hold and how the features can be used by photographers in the various genres. Personally, after having used the 5DS, not the 5DS R, for the first time in June last year during a private guided safari through Botswana, I think that many photographers may have dismissed this beast without thinking a bit more about what the 50 megapixel resolution means.
Before you ask, the only difference between the 5DS and 5DS R is that the ‘S’ has an optical low-pass filter, while the ‘S R’ has a self-cancelling filter (the same relationship as Nikon’s D800 and D800E models shared). In english, the “R” version “cancels” the effect of the anti-alias filter used in the normal 5DS and most other DSLRs to get slightly higher sharpness at the risk of moiré on very fine repeating patterns – not an issue for wildlife photographers.
So, what exactly do 50 Megapixels look like in a frame?
Here you go!
Magnificent aren’t they?
Well no, not at 1080px on the longest edge they’re not. They’re indiscernible from images captured on any other camera body when presented in blogs, Facebook or Instagram for example.
So what exactly would the benefit of the 5DS R’s 50 megapixels be then?
As with most technical pieces of equipment in wildlife photography, its not about the gear but more about how you use it. This couldn’t be more true for the 5DS R.
With 50 megapixels the most obvious benefit comes from one’s ability to crop to the optimum composition without loosing any real resolution. Canon have recognised this and have included a built in 1.3 x and 1.6x crop modes which, when activated through the M-FN button, black out the cropped parts of the viewfinder.
Another little gem is the fact that the camera doesn’t just capture the 30.5 MP at 1.3 x crop or just the 19.6 MP at 1.6x crop, it keeps the full 50MP. Essentially the in camera cropping overlay is there to assist you with your final composition – something we stress to our guests on all of our safaris. You need to resist the temptation to just shoot and crop later – thats not what its about however tempting it may be!
When you import your files into Lightroom, the software automatically registers the crop factor and displays the cropped version as a thumbnail. Hitting “R” to “recompose” opens up the cropping tool and displays the full 50 megapixels in all their glory.
Lets take this one step further.
Weight is an issue for you and you prefer to travel light. You have either a 300mm f2.8 or 400mm f2.8 with you.
1 Camera body and 1 lens combination providing you with 3 different focal lengths through cropping, the most aggressive of which still results in a 20 megapixel file equivalent to that of the 5D MKIII. For me, this is an incredible revolution and negates needing to travel with multiple prime lenses.
“Yeah but I have a 1.4 and 2 x converter already so I’m covered.”
Yes and No.
Ever noticed how your primes lenses seem to loose a hint of autofocus speed and accuracy when paired with converters? Thats because autofocus is achieve at the lens’ maximum aperture as this allows the maximum amount of light for AF. Slap on a 1.4 x or 2 x converter and you are significantly reducing the maximum aperture and available light for the AF sensors to achieve and maintain focus.
With in camera cropping however yo are working the three focal lengths without changing the maximum aperture of F2.8 which means there is no loss in AF accuracy what so ever.
I’ve always enjoyed showcasing a bit more of the environment in my images and in order to do so often find myself using the AF points located at the extreme edges and then having to recompose. This, coupled with subtle distortion and vignetting of a lens, the potential for a even the slightest change in angle and focal distance (more so when working in close proximity to your subject) and the fact that the subject is often only made up of a minuscule number of pixels, makes these kinds of images a lot more difficult to nail than one might think.
With the in camera crop overlay one gets a much better AF point coverage at 1.3x and pretty much edge to edge AF point coverage at a 1.6x crop.
The 50 megapixels allow me to compose with my subject on one of the most extreme cross-type AF points and then crop to the final frame after the fact. Typically these types of images are composed with subjects in the extreme bottom left or right and include a lot more space towards the top of frame resulting in an image which will probably end up in the 30 megapixel plus range once cropped for optimum composition, a resolution probably twice that of what I would have been able to achieve on something like the Canon 5D MKIII.
These two aspects of what 50 megapixels allows one to do in the field of wildlife photography is why the 5DS R has a permanent place in my camera bag.
I started off by saying that its not just about the technical specs but more about how you use them. Whilst 50 megapixels are great, they can be very unforgiving – especially if you have not yet established a solid photographic foundation when it comes to technique and the technical aspects of aperture shutter speed and ISO.
Picture, if you wil,l a slight bit of camera shake detected at a 1:1 preview on a 20 megapixel image. That slight bit of camera shake at more than twice the resolution on the 5DS R becomes glaringly obvious. Although you can downscale the image and regain some sort of result this just doesn’t sit well with me as I place an emphasis on getting things right in camera.
Any error in AF point placement also becomes obvious at 50 MP, particularly when shooting at greater focal lengths, large apertures (small F numbers) and close proximity to your subject.
This camera is very unforgiving in these situations but believe me, when you pull yourself together and really pay attention to your settings (as one always should) there will be moments where angels begin to sing.
So, what should you consider changing in terms of your photographic style when shooting with this beast?
I’ve learnt a couple of tricks which help in ensuring an increased hit rate when it comes to shooting with the Canon 5DS R.
The 5DS R has some nifty technology to reduce even the slightest of camera shake caused by the movement of the mirror. Here;s what they have to say bout this:
“The camera shake that occurs from the impact of an SLR’s mirror can leave blurred details in the recorded image. This effect is magnified when working with a super high-resolution sensor like the one found in the EOS 5DS R camera. To counter the effects of conventional, spring-driven SLR mirrors, the EOS 5DS R features a newly developed Mirror Vibration Control system. The camera’s mirror is not controlled by springs but instead is driven by a small motor and cams. This system suppresses the impact typical of the camera’s mirror, significantly reducing impact and its effects on the image.”
So, you’ll want to eliminate ANY chance of camera shake and, whilst the new shutter mechanism has a technology to prevent in camera vibrations , you’ll need to consider shooting at faster shutter speeds than you’re used to. This may mean increasing your ISO (the 5DS R’s ISO is limited to 6400 but more on this later) or underexposing to gain an extra couple of stops on your shutter speed f you’re shooting in AV mode. Its all worth it though!
You’ll also want to be critically aware of where you place your focal point and use the cross-type or preferably dual-cross type AF points whenever possible. Following on from this, you will also want to think carefully about your aperture values and resultant depth of field as even the slightest error can result in a soft image.
At 5 FPS the 5DS R can’t compete with the likes of the 7D MKII or the 1DX or even the 1DX MKII but then again its not meant to. The mere fact that its only capable of 5 FPS doesn’t mean that it has no place in the wildlife arena.
Sure there will be times when you may need an extra burst of speed to capture a specific moment in time but for the most part its about knowing your subject, anticipating action and movement, and tripping that shutter at the right time. That for me is part of the challenge of wildlife photography and I would hate to see the art descend into a space where 80 frames are captured in 5 seconds with a winning frame being chosen later.
Thats a personal thing though I guess.
So, are 5 frames per second enough?
For the most part, yes…
If you know what you’re doing…
Even then, you’ll be challenged from time to time, and thats a good thing as far as I am concerned.
Is the 5DS R going to be your primary camera for wildlife photography?
Probably not unless, like me, you’re leaning towards a specific style and form in your photography and happy to forgo the odd shot where you may have wanted one or two frames more in a burst. A trade off I am quite happy with.
Should the 5DS R feature as at least a second body for wildlife photography?