Unlike the Best Reviewed Nikon D800 (*Est. $3,000 body only) with its flashy 36.3 megapixels, the rival Canon EOS 5D Mark III boasts no show-stopping feature. Instead, this entry-pro digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera quietly delivers a stellar performance, and experts unanimously agree that the Canon works better for sports/action and low-light shooters.
The race between the EOS 5D Mark III and its main Nikon rival is extremely close. In fact, our top experts recommend both of these entry-pro DSLRs equally. Thanks to its astounding 36.3 megapixels and awesome level of detail, the Nikon D800 just edges out the Canon for our Best Reviewed award.
"A joy to use." Perfectly intuitive ease of use is a major strength of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. "About the best thing I can say about the 5D Mark III is I haven't felt as free to shoot and create in a long time," Shawn Barnett sums up at Imaging-Resource.com. Although it allows deep, complex levels of control, "once it's all set, it just gets out of your way and lets you work. When a camera manufacturer achieves that, it's harder to say much in a review."
DPReview.com agrees: "Overall, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III handles really nicely and is a joy to use in most shooting situations." Testers especially appreciate the bigger buttons, which are easier to operate with gloves or icy fingers than the older 5D Mark II's (*Est. $1,900 body only).
On paper, the Mark III is pretty comparable to the Nikon D800 in terms of handling. Both cameras are about the same size and weight -- not small, mind you, but well balanced -- and comfortable for most testers. Both have viewfinders that show 100 percent of the scene, and big 3.2-inch LCD screens. Both are instinctive to use straight out of the box, or you can customize each one's buttons "in almost every imaginable way," DPReview.com says.
However, testers tend to rave about the Canon's handling a little bit more. Nicely placed buttons are one reason -- including a video-mode button that's on the back with the LCD screen, not oddly placed on top like the Nikon's -- and "User" preset modes right on the mode dial instead of buried in menus. Not only that, but the Canon's lower-resolution files don't eat memory cards and hard drives for breakfast like the Nikon D800's.
Detail, speed and low-light prowess, all in balance. The Canon EOS 5D Mark III lacks the daunting megapixel count of the Nikon D800, but experts point out that its 22.3 megapixels are nothing to sneeze at.
In fact, since it doesn't have all those megapixels slowing things down, the Canon actually strikes a better balance, reviewers say. It shoots faster than the Nikon D800 -- 6 frames per second (fps) vs, 4 fps -- and in dimmer light, too. Both churn out a nice 8-by-10 print at a whopping ISO 25,600 in Imaging-Resource.com's test, but if you really need to shoot in the dark, go with the Mark III. It expands all the way up to an impressive ISO 102,400, and the site gets a usable 4-by-6 out of it.
HD video doesn't look quite as sharp as the D800's, and the Canon requires you to trigger autofocus manually whereas the Nikon autofocuses continuously. However, "we still think the Mark III is slightly better for serious videographers," says TJ Donegan at DigitalCameraInfo.com. Both cameras' footage suffers from moiré and rolling-shutter defects, but it's less of a problem on the Canon, which also shoots clearer low-light video.
Autofocus is one area where the Canon beats the Nikon. Reviewers are crazy about the Mark III's sophisticated 61-point system: "It slathers your subject with autofocus points," Barnett raves at Imaging-Resource.com. Donegan finds it "more flexible and accurate" than the Nikon D800's 39-point system, which has been dogged by a left-side autofocus defect on early-run models.
Battery life is rated at 950 shots per charge, on par with the 900-shot Nikon D800.
Built tough, but not quite as tough as the flagship 1D X. "Built like a tank," DPReview.com says of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Its body is all metal, and sealed against rain and dust. In the Canon lineup, only the top-of-the-line EOS-1D X (*Est. $6,780 body only) is more rugged. It's more tightly weather-sealed than the Mark III, Imaging-Resource.com says, with a shutter that's designed to withstand 400,000 shots versus the Mark III's 200,000.
Canon says the Mark III's weather sealing is better than the older Mark II's. For overall toughness, the Mark III runs neck and neck with the rival Nikon D800. "Both cameras are built to a high standard, and are designed to cope with use in environments that would prove too hostile for an entry-level camera," TechRadar.com says.
Handy dual memory-card slots, just like Nikon. Dual memory card slots make a photographer's life a lot easier, reviewers say, and you'll find them on both the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and its Nikon D800 counterpart. Both cameras also provide one Compact Flash (CF) slot and one Secure Digital (SD) slot. You can set one card as automatic overflow, save everything to both cards simultaneously for full-time backup, or save raw files to one and JPEGs to the other.
Both can shoot High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos, overlaying several slightly different exposures to create a single image with greater depth. But Canon's version of HDR is "the best on the market," TechRadar.com's Angela Nicholson says. It does a fantastic job aligning the various shots perfectly -- "provided you keep the camera reasonably still" -- and you can use it in both raw and JPEG mode; Nikon's is JPEG-only. Plus, it saves all of the single shots used as well as the final HDR image. All in all, Canon's version of HDR "is much more useful for serious photographers."
Unlike the Nikon D800, the Canon Mark III lacks a pop-up flash. Wireless flash command is built into the Nikon's flash, but an external Speedlite flash handles that job with the Canon.
Review Credibility: Very Good DPReview.com tests every aspect of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and compares it directly against the Nikon D800. Both cameras win a rare Gold Award. Reviewers say studio photographers and those who require maximum detail may prefer the high-megapixel Nikon, while those who shoot action/sports and in low light will do better with the faster, high-ISO Canon.
Review: Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review, Lars Rehm, March 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good TechRadar.com recommends both the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 just as highly. Each camera's unique strengths become apparent in tests here, and in the in-depth comparison that the site publishes separately.
Review: Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review, Angela Nicholson, April 6, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Miles better than the old Mark II, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III justifies its hefty price premium, Donegan says after a thorough test. This review does a great job comparing the two Canons, and Donegan writes a separate head-to-head comparison of the Mark III and rival Nikon D800.
Review: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, TJ Donegan, March 7, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good In another incredibly detailed review, testers evaluate every aspect of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Videos show the Mark III in action, studio and field tests are conducted by three different photographers, and side-by-side lab shots illustrate how the Mark III stacks up against the older Mark II, Nikon's flagship D4 and other DSLRs. These reviewers aren't finished grilling the Mark III and haven't yet drawn their ultimate conclusion, but everyone's impressed so far.
Review: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Shawn Barnett, Mike Tomkins and Zig Weidelich, July 9, 2012
Review Credibility: Fair This camera gets glowing reviews from owners posting feedback at Amazon.com. Out of more than 100 reviews, nearly 90 percent give it 4 stars out of 5 or a perfect 5 stars. Some comments are very lengthy and detailed.
Review: Canon EOS 5D Mark III 22.3 MP Full Frame CMOS with 1080p Full-HD Video Mode Digital SLR Camera, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of November 2012