Canon R5, first impressions

As a long-time Canon shooter, I’ve been watching the high-end Sony bodies with some envy and hoping for a similar offering from Canon. I just got the Canon R5 and their new 100-500 and thought I’d start a discussion, FWIW and to invite other observations.

Briefly, the things I have gained over my 1DX2 and 5D4 (much of which is routine for mirrorless bodies):
Autofocus at > f/8, in lower light, and across the entire sensor
A reticulating back screen
A lot of useful information in the viewfinder
A built-in intervalometer
Wi-Fi connection to my iPhone to enable remote control
A little more resolution
What is about the same:
Noise and dynamic range at mid to high ISOs
Flash sync speed is still 1/250 sec.

I’m on a learning curve for muscle memory to make quick adjustments, but buttons and dials feel well placed. Customization is flexible and easy for things like back button focus and a one-button switch to animal eye tracking. The buttons and dials are more closely packed on the body than on my DSLRs. I’m one of those 3/4 scale people, at 5 ft and 120 lbs, and the layout fits my small hands. The rig is almost the same size and weight as the Canon 5D4 with the 100-400 II. The R5 is fully compatible with all my Canon lenses, with an adapter that is no bigger than a short extension tube. I’ve seen no degradation in quality or functionality compared to the lenses on the 5D4 or 1DX2.

The raw files are about 57-62 MB (depending on the image detail) and are noticeably slower for Lightroom to download and create 1:1 previews, compared to the about 40-44 MB files from my 5D4. I have seen criticism of the Adobe color profiles but maybe they have been fixed, as I don’t see any differences in color compared to viewing them in Canon’s DPP converter. An online reviewer says he doesn’t see any image degradation with the largest compressed raw files, which are faster to work with.

There are now three shutters – electronic, electronic first curtain and mechanical. The electronic shutter can shoot up to 20 fps and is completely silent with no flickering in the viewfinder, but you have no indication you are shooting. (At 20 fps that may not be good…) The mechanical shutter gives considerable viewfinder hesitation between frames, even at 12 fps, which makes it very difficult to follow a moving subject. Electronic first curtain is a very good compromise with only a little flicker that is easy to ignore. But there are some strange image artifact variations among the different shutters, mentioned in one of the videos posted below.

The camera comes with a Lexar Professional 128 GB CF Express, and reader. The second slot is an SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS II). I can use my old SD cards, but they are slow. A compatible card whose write speed won’t choke the buffer is the Lexar 128 GB 2000X SD UHS-II at $170. I’m hoping my old Lexar dual-slot CF/SD reader works with it.

IS: The camera has IBIS, but it only works on lenses without IS. IS on the 100-500 does not feel like an improvement over the Canon 100-400 II. With the 1.4X attached, at 700mm, for birds in flight I’ve been needing shutter speeds up to 1/3200 sec. The lens is at f/10 wide open, which often demands an ISO of 6400 or more, and that results in noise.

Noise: Resolution increased from 20 MP on the 1DX2 and 30 MP on the 5D4, to 45 MP and the smaller photosites present issues with noise and dynamic range. Somewhere I saw the claim that noise at ISO 12,800 is lower than that at 3200 on the 5D4. I was very skeptical, so I shot a clear blue sky at ISO 3200, 6400 and 12,800 on both bodies, at middle exposure. Layering them, there was no significant difference except at 3200, where the 5D4 was very slightly better. (The R5 has more megapixels and thus its canvas is larger. I did not normalize the sizes.) That conclusion matches a graph in the article by E.J. Peiker referenced below. Topaz DeNoise AI will deal with it well for everyday subjects without fine detail, but detail on a bird or furry mammal that is small in the frame will easily be swamped by noise.

Dynamic range: A higher value allows more shadow recovery before noise becomes unacceptable, and I have not seen any improvement over the 5D4 or 1DX2 at my normally needed mid to high ISOs. Exposing to the right without blowing out whites and bringing down exposure in raw conversion will minimize the extent to which noise appears, but at high ISOs it will appear quickly.

AF: Focusing directly on the sensor makes autofocus microadjustment a non-issue. Autofocus is very fast and eye detection AF is amazing and can track a small, dark subject across the entire sensor. But if focus is lost it can be a lot of trouble to get it back, just as with my DSLRs. I can now autofocus in lower light than before. The AF sensitivity is 3 stops better than my 5D4, down to -6 EV, compared to -3 for the 5D4. My DSLRs would autofocus below f/8, but only in Live View. I could autofocus with the 600mm f/4 with both the 2X and the 1.4X stacked (with a 12mm extension tube between them). In this arrangement the camera doesn’t see the additional 1.4X and the focal length is reported as 1200mm and the aperture as f/8. The additional stop of the 1.4X would make it f/11. The R5 (at least with my Vello adapter) won’t read the aperture and won’t focus with that arrangement, but I can focus manually. In order to fire the shutter, though, I need to change from Servo AF to One Shot. It will autofocus with the RF 100-500 at 500 + 1.4X, which is f/10. It is said to do so with the 2X, which would be f/14. Beyond that I’m curious how far it will go. I will try stacking extenders when I get RF extension tubes.

Viewfinder and back screen: The high-resolution viewfinder feels close enough to the optical ones I’m used to. There is very useful (and somewhat customizable) Information in the viewfinder and on the back screen, including small icons that show which dials change aperture, exposure compensation and ISO, for which I am grateful as a new user. The live histogram is wonderful, as is focus peaking for manual focus. The reticulating screen is very nice. I can keep it folded in so it’s protected from the sunscreen on my nose, flip it out, turn it and tuck it into its port so it looks like my DSLRs, or even turn it so it’s visible from in front of the camera.

Even without shooting video, battery life is not great, depending on EVF/back screen use, but it will use the batteries from my earlier DSLRs, although they don’t last as long as the new one.

There are a lot of reviews online. One of the most neutral and comprehensive, although preliminary, is by E.J. Peiker, in his newsletter for Autumn 2020, found here: He presents a diagram that shows the dynamic range of the R5 to be a stop better than the 5D4 at ISO 100 and 125, then becoming equal from 160 to 250, then jumping to worse at 320 then jumping to almost a stop better at 400, 500 and 640. Above that the two are almost equal. So I will use 100, 125 and 400 to 640 when possible, and avoid 320. He also discusses issues with full electronic shutter and dynamic range. He speculates that in order to achieve a readout of the sensor at 20 fps the bit depth drops from 14 per channel to 12. His conclusion: It appears Canon has closed much of the gap with Sony, although Sony does it with 61 MP in the a7R IV, compared to 45 MP for the R5.

Here are three videos I found useful:
Birds in flight setup:
Menu setup:
AF menu:

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Thanks for the nice review. I, too, have been eyeing Sony and I may be glad I waited, as I also shoot Canon and will be able to use my lenses with the adaptor.

Thanks Diane for the very good hands on review. I have two excellent cameras now with a 7D2 and 5D4. At times I am missing shots due to slow or missed focus. Flight shots, birds in bushes or birds in cluttered bg situations the focus at times is not what i would like. It could be me or the way i have things set up on the cameras, but I don’t think it is always that. The focus of R5/R6 seems attractive.
It does not seem file or picture quality is a big change from 5D4 . Although bigger files do have advantages.
And thanks for the video links. I am sure they will be helpful as well.

Thank you, Diane. I’ve been on the waiting list (several vendors) for nearly a month now, and still can’t get my hands on one.

I admit I was drawn to this camera not just because of the autofocus improvements, but because some early reviews indicated that the high ISO noise was vastly improved. Lately, I’ve been hearing from friends (and now seeing in your review) that this isn’t the case. Part of me wonders whether to bother with the investment at this point. On the other hand, this is the future, and I don’t mind reducing weight moving forward.

Hopefully I can finally test it some time soon!


I would SO love about a tenfold decrease in noise / increase in DR, but it could be a while… I got one through my local photography store, which also worked with another new release some years back. I was in the queue at B&H with about 10,000 other people when the local store got one in. And by luck they had the 100-500, which I was going to wait on, but it was too good to pass up the chance to get one. (Spending the kids’ inheritance… They figure its a good deal if the mental stimulation helps keep me sane.)

A HH trick I’ve used for a long time – I rotate the tripod collar about 60 deg CW so the edge of the foot rests on the base of my left thumb as my hand is cradled under the lens. It confers a little more stability and microscopic amounts help. I do what ever it takes to keep my hand away from the focus ring.

The R5 still has the same “AF cases” and I was never able to tell much difference between them. I need to try again. The eye AF is amazing, but I’m still struggling with muscle memory. The BBF button is about 1/8" away from where my brain thinks it is and there is a whole new button (next to it) to trigger eye AF. Once triggered it seems to stay on, but for how long I’m not sure. Sadly, the manual seems to have reached a new low…

I just made a correction – I rotate the collar CW, not CCW (as viewed from behind the body).

DPReview just published their review:

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Diane, I can’t thank you enough for the thoughts on your experience with the R5. I am making the switch from having only had 1 series and 5D IV camera’s. My muscle memory is getting cramps! :slight_smile: I am still trying to wrap my head around the three shutter modes and their unique limitations/advantages. At times It feels like I am patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time. EJ’s newsletter was a very interesting read and the golden nugget for me was using electronic 1st curtain shutter mode for best dynamic range vs. full electronic.

I’m loving the camera! With the 100-500 and a 1.4X it’s a great lightweight rig. Carrying a camera and lens by the strap is always clumsy, even with the strap angled across my body over my left shoulder. I sometimes use a SpiderPro Camera Holster but I wanted to find a suitable carrying case, for situations where I want to protect it a little more but have it ready for a quick draw. The Nikon CL-L2 Soft Case proved to be perfect. The camera fits in it perfectly with the lens hood attached (not reversed) on 100-500 + 1.4X, which doesn’t let the lens telescope back to its shortest length, and with a RRS L-bracket moved out to the wider position to give some leverage, like the grip on the old Pentax 6x7. So it’s ready to grab and shoot. The 2X is just a little bigger than the 1.4X but it looks like it would fit too.

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A further addendum: I bought the Vello adapter to be able to use my Canon EF lenses (the Canon brand was way backordered). It didn’t attach well, as the bottom of the camera was not lined up with the bottom of the lens feet (for several lenses), and now I have just discovered that there is a light leak at the top of the frame. I had been mostly shooting birds in flight with ETTR and hadn’t noticed the leak, but it is there with all my EF lenses, with and without extenders. Here is a sample shot with clear sky, taken into PS with no raw adjustments and a curve added with both ends brought straight in to increase the contrast so it shows better. It is very noticeable when a dark bird is near the top of the frame even with no adjustments – it is very washed out. I saw a review on either B&H or Adorama that complained about the same light leak. I don’t know how many copies are faulty.

It’s been too long to send it back to B&H so I have just contacted Vello for a refund or good copy replacement.

That is too bad Diane and a real nuisance. A week or so Adorama had the Canon adapters in. I had tried to buy one but as it is a limited stock item they cannot export.

I am curious about what you have done about CF Express cards and how they have worked out for you. It seems the biggest and fastest are best for video and perhaps not for stills.

@David_Leroy, I’ve decided for now that the 128 GB CF Express that came with the camera is all I need, as I download every day. May add another later. I’m really not sure the minimum speed I could use without problems.

I put in an older SD card and it worked, but it was very write-limiting writing to both cards at once. I’ve had too many card failures to want to risk writing separately and I’ve spent too much time swearing at choked buffers, so I decided to choke down the cost of the Lexar 128 GB 2000X SD UHS-II, $170 from B&H, on this side of the pond.

Probably both cards are more than I need but I’d rather err in that direction.

Diane, I use Canon (5D MKIV), and almost exclusively shoot landscape and macro. I am a hobbyist and don’t print larger than 16 x 24, so the 30 MP of the MKIV is good enough for me. I have learned to use luminosity masks for bracket/blend, so Canon’s lagging behind in dynamic range never bothered me enough to consider jumping to Sony. I also love Canon glass, and the Canon colors (subjective I admit). My game plan is to sit tight for 3 or 4 more years , waiting for Canon to round out their RF lens assortment, and hopefully the next generation of mirrorless bodies.

In your experience with the R5 so far, have you seen anything from a landscape perspective that I should have “Fear of Missing Out” ?. When I read the Peiker review you linked, I was disappointed that low ISO dynamic range suffered with the use of electronic shutter, to the point where it was no better than the MKIV. I am generally pretty good at resisting Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and in this case it sounds like the R5 has some clear advantages for wildlife, but not as much for landscape. Am I missing anything important from a landscape perspective?

@Ed_McGuirk, I don’t shoot a lot of landscape, but I don’t think the R5 would be a significant advantage over the 5D4. For me, the biggest factor for landscapes is lots of megapixels. So when I can, I’ll shoot in portrait orientation and stitch 2+ frames. I imagine someday we can have 100 or more MP at a reasonable price, with good dynamic range and low noise. Worth waiting for! In the meantime, software such as Topaz Denoise, Sharpen and Gigapixel gives us some great tools.

I haven’t found any great need to use full electronic shutter, except to give me some edge in keeping birds in flight in the frame at 1000mm.

Thanks for the reply and information Diane, I appreciate it. You confirm what I already had been thinking. Most of the the reviews of the R5 so far have a wildlife photography orientation due to the new AF capabilities, and rightfully so.

My 5D4’s still meet my needs. I will give Canon 3 or 4 more years to refine their mirrorless offerings, and dive in on the next generation.

Hi Diane, I am curious what software you are using to convert the RAW files. Are you using an Adobe program? Also are you shooting CRAW?
I pick up the R5 complete with Canon adapter today. I am looking forward to it.


@David_Leroy, I shoot raw for the image quality and ability to manipulate tonalities – i.e. bring out detail in darks and lights – and for things like Texture and Clarity, which are basically larger-scale pseudo-sharpening. I use Lightroom’s Develop module, which is the same engine as Adobe Camera Raw, which comes with PS, but with what I find to be a better interface. I never shoot JPEG, but if anyone does I would recommend using the highest quality in the camera menu and only in soft light so the exposure won’t have extreme shadows or highlights that will block up or blow out. I also would never use DPP. I have tried it many times with many bodies and find it worth every penny you pay for it. You might as well shoot JPEG.

Check the videos I listed above for initial setup of the camera. There are several items to avoid – Continuous AF is not what I would have thought, and some of the items only apply to JPEG or to conversion with DPP. In particular, it was claimed some years ago that Highlight Tone Priority causes shadow noise, so I have never used it.

Good luck with the camera! Let us know how you like it!

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I received my R5 last week and have been out once with it. I posted an eagle shot in the Avian Critique forum.
I think I am really going to like the camera. It will take a bit to get used to it.

The camera is smaller than a Canon 7D or 5D camera and it has a few less buttons. It does have a touch sensitive screen which is used for various functions more than I was used to with the 5D4. That is fine except on a cold day, like I was out in right around freezing. Then even with touch sensitive gloves the screen is a bit awkward to use and probably a lot more so in colder weather.

There are lots of options for picking and choosing what you would like the various dials and buttons to do and once set up I think everything will be fine.

The focus seems really good. With the 5D4 or 7D2 if photographing a bird on a perch I would take several photos and then sort out on computer which pose and sharpness I liked best. It seems with the R5 once it is locked on all photos are sharp. And it seems to lock on fast although I need a bit more use to really check that out.

Files look good. There is a lot of talk about Adobe products not handling the RAW files very well. I did not see any issue with the few shots I have taken. I used Craw format, compressed RAW ,and they seem fine. Lots of detail with 45 mp’s.

I do have an issue with some grey banding showing up which I discussed a bit more in the eagle shot in critique forum.

I used a Youtube video by Jan Wegener to help get the initial camera set up.

When shooting a perched bird I always shoot a short burst, and often there is a little variation in sharpness at 100%. Some of it may be the focus jumping around a bit, and often one will show some motion blur, as we can rarely afford a ss fast enough to stop any twitching motion of a perched bird. And occasionally one frame will catch the bird blinking, so plenty of reasons for a short burst. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one under controlled circumstances where focus failed completely, except when I failed to get on the back button.

I’m coming up for air after being too busy for a while, and found time to post a few words about the 100-500 and teleconverters. I’ve had great success with both the 1.4X and 2X. There is a little CA but the correction in LR/ACR usually fixes it. It is worst on the edges of very dark objects.

Whenever I get a chance I grab the camera and shoot any bird I see flying, just for practice. Today it was a TV and very small in the frame. I shot about 15 and the focus held excellently for all. I was using BBF with the “wide” frame for initial acquisition and the * button for eye AF, although that wasn’t useful here. I thought the rear view with the curled primaries was kind of fun, which led to a crop and NR just to see how it would look.

100-500 + 2x at 1000mm, f/14 (wide open), ISO 3200, 1/3200 sec. (Could have cut both of those down but I was set up hoping for something closer and faster-moving.)

Original raw frame, no adjustments:

Crop in LR, no adjustments but CA correction, and that was hardly noticeable:

This is 2% (sic) of the original frame.

And after Topaz Denoise AI at 16, with sharpening slider pulled back to the minimum 1:

Of course not all subjects will be this sharp. The air was apparently clean and calm this morning, and the subject was relatively still in the frame. (I was hand-holding.) But I am delighted to have a 1000mm lens that I can carry around, grab and handhold!

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