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Canon 5D Mark IV Review: Keeping the Dream Alive

Does the new 4K DSLR live up to its trailblazing predecessors?

The new Canon 5D Mark IV is the latest update to this influential DSLR. It was the 5D Mark II that gave us a high quality stills camera that could also do HD video. Videographers who couldn’t afford a full-frame sensor camera (with interchangeable lenses) suddenly had the chance to make the video they had dreamed of, with the shallowest depth of field possible.

So, is the Mark IV still the dream camera? Well, there are quite a few improvements, but there are still a few things missing.

The full-frame sensor has 30 megapixels and offers 4K video recording at 24p, 25p and 29.97p using Motion JPEG. While at Full HD (1920×1080) 24p, 25p 29.97p, 50p and 59.94p are all available, and recorded using ALL-I or IPB compression. Those MJPG files are big (almost 500Mbps) and fill a 32Gb card with eight minutes of video. 

The camera can also do high frame rates of 100 frames per second and 120fps, but at 720p. Color sampling at 4K is YCbCr 4:2:2 (8-bit) and? HD is YCbCr 4:2:0 (8bit).

The camera’s 4K capture uses a 4096×2160 pixel region of the sensor, which is about the size of an APS-C or Super 35mm sensor. The result is a crop factor of 1.64x – so choose your lenses carefully.

The camera does offer high dynamic range recording, but only in 25p or 29.97p (IPB) HD recording. However, this is not the usual flavor of HDR with log gammas and flat images requiring work in post.

It does this by recording two interleaved videos, one optimized for highlights and the other for shadows. Then, similar to how HDR is achieved in stills photography, the images are combined, in camera, to give the best of both. For those who can’t afford to grade, this is an interesting way to get HDR. However, the manual warns that: “Since multiple frames are merged to create an HDR movie, certain parts of the movie may look distorted. During handheld shooting, camera shake may make the distortion look more noticeable. Using a tripod is recommended.”

In photo mode the camera can record three Raw and eight JPEG quality settings, which can be recorded on one or both cards separately or simultaneously. In photo mode it can shoot 7fps, which should cover most action shots except for the faster sports.

The camera takes CF CompactFlash and SD/SDHC/SDXC cards and thankfully the same batteries as its predecessor – but if you need more shooting time the camera can be used with Canon’s BG-E20 battery grip.

Focus overload

There are a bewildering number of ways to configure the autofocus. In fact AF takes up 59 pages in the manual. The camera has iTR AF (intelligent tracking and information Auto Focus), which makes following faces and getting them in focus nice and easy. Not only does it look at the face it looks at its color too – using both to hold focus, so you can keep your shallow depth of field while following a moving face. Plus, there is touch screen focusing – making focus pulling as simple as pointing.

One novel feature is the Dual Pixel Raw photo shooting. If you shoot in the highest quality Raw setting and use Canon’s Digital Photo Professional EOS software, you can access the dual pixel data and make micro-adjustment of the focus using the depth information contained within the file. It effectively allows you to slightly shift the focus on a still image. I’m sure this will help a few desperate photographers salvage an almost-there image that would have been unusable. 

Keep in touch

The touch-sensitive live view screen gives an alternative way to move around the menu and other onscreen options. It was also nice to be able to swipe and pinch your way through recorded images and video just like on a smart phone.

The quick control menu (accessible via the Q button), together with the touch screen, made changing settings simple. I could quickly change frame rates, white balance, audio volume, swap cards and focusing modes.

Atomos fans will be pleased to see the Mark IV is on its compatibility list. It is possible to simultaneously see the camera’s output on a monitor (via HDMI) and the camera’s screen (which wasn’t possible with older models). The camera’s screen will show recording settings, while your monitor will only show a clean image – perfect for recording to a remote drive. However, do note that 4K images are not available via HDMI. So 4K recording will be on the internal cards only.

And, there is no doubt that if you are using this camera primarily for video you will still want to use a monitor. Canon still has not given us peaking to help with focusing or zebras (and waveforms) to help with exposure. The Mark IV version really should have these by now – its competitors do.

Also, an articulated screen would have been helpful for those low/high angle shots. However, I gather this could have made the camera less weatherproof. Canon does boast it has a tough magnesium alloy body and improved weatherproofing. The downside is that it is a heavy camera (75g lighter than its predecessors), but it will survive physical and environmental abuse. However, internal heat from processing overload can cause these cameras to overheat and stop recording.

Stay connected

It has built-in wifi and NFC to connect to your smartphone or laptop. With Canon’s app you can remotely control the camera’s features and controls, including focus, using a touch screen phone or tablet. For those that prefer to be wired, there is a USB 3.0 socket. There is also FTP/FTPS support and GPS for geotagging your shots.

The cameras start/stop recording can be synced with an external recorder using the HDMI and enabling in the menus.

There is now an in-built intervalometer for timelapse fans, and it is good to see that rec run and free run timecodes are available.

The ISO has a good range from 100-25,600, but going into the menus you can extend the range to 102,400 or you can limit the auto ISO to keep within your preferred quality threshold.

There’s not much to say about the audio features of the camera. It does have a 3.5mm microphone socket for recording scratch audio, plus a headphone socket. But, anyone doing any serious shooting with this camera will, I hope, be using a separate audio recorder.


There is no doubting that the Canon 5D Mark IV is a great camera, and if you already have invested in Canon lenses, batteries and accessories it may be a no brainer if you are looking to upgrade. The 4K pictures look great and the 30 megapixels will keep photographers happy too.

But, if you are starting from scratch it is an expensive option for a low-budget videographer, at $3,499. The lack of zebras or waveforms and no log gamma profiles is an oversight not made by its rivals. The crop factor in 4K shooting will cause some frustration.

If video is your primary reason for buying a new camera…then the Sony A7S is smaller, lighter and great for low light shooting ($1,999.99) while the new Panasonic GH5 (with XLR audio adapter) should also be on your watch list ($1,999.99) – although the GH5 does have a smaller (Micro Four Thirds sensor – 2x crop).

The 5D Mark II could be said to have created the whole low-cost market for high-quality video shooting using a DSLR. However, rivals have now caught up, and in some respects now exceed the Mark IV.

However, if photography is your primary need for the camera and video secondary you should take it for a test drive and experiment with grabbing stills from the 4K video. You may find that this could be the camera for you.