R5 - initial review for bird and wildlife photography (November
Canon EOS R5 with the Canon EF 500L IS f4 II lens & x2 TC III
Having spent a couple of years digiscoping (starting
with a 3 Mp Nikon 995), my first DSLR was a 7 Mp Canon EOS 350D, purchased
in 2006. There then following a series of upgrades and, by December 2014,
I had a 20 Mp Canon EOS 7D mk II. These upgrades were each essentially incremental with relatively small
improvements each time. The cumulative effect was however pretty
significant and the 7D mk II kept me happy for several years during
which time I racked up a shutter count of over 250,000 - a figure that is approaching
the expected lifetime of the shutter.
From sometime in 2019 I began
to consider options for a better camera as it was clear the technology had moved on
considerably since 2014. There wasn't an obvious replacement in
the APC (1.6 crop) range of Canon cameras. I didn't want to move to a
full frame camera with a similar number of pixels, as I feared I would
miss the extra "reach" provided by the APC crop sensor. I even toyed
with the idea of switching manufacturer to Sony (who appeared to be the
market leader) or the Olympus micro 4/3 sensor cameras. But with a
substantial investment already in Canon lenses I wasn't going to make
such a major change in a hurry.
In early 2020 I became aware of the rumours emerging of a new Canon
"game-changing" full frame mirrorless model. The early specs were sketchy but the
suggestion of a full frame sensor with a large number of pixels (or
sensor elements) attracted my attention, as this would in theory provide
a comparable reach to the APC sensor in the 7DII. As other details
of the spec emerged I got very interested indeed and placed a pre-order
with Wex Photographic on the evening of the day after its launch (June
was I to know that this slight (less than 24hr) delay meant I would be waiting several
longer for it to be delivered!
The first batch of R5's were due for delivery in late July but it was
soon apparent Wex hadn't received a large enough batch to satisfy my
order. And so it proved for the next batch in August. Finally after about 6
weeks of waiting, I got the news from Wex I had been waiting for and a
few days later my R5 arrived! Fortunately I had ordered an ex-stock RF to AF
mount adaptor from Clifton Cameras at the same time as my R5 pre-order as these were also in
very short supply. Even now (mid November 2020) both the R5 and the
mount adaptor are not yet in stock anywhere in the UK, as far as I am
Straight out of the box, the camera was ticking many of
my boxes. It was lighter and smaller than the 7DII despite containing a
full frame sensor (as the mirrorless design does away with the need for
the cumbersome mirror mechanism needed in DSLRs). The design was also very
pleasing with nice rounded/beveled edges to the body. The controls were
familiar to someone long used to Canon cameras and the addition of
extra control wheels allows all the key settings to be adjusted very
quickly (e.g. for Av shooting - aperture, ISO and exposure compensation).
I have now been using this camera for about two months and have found
it lives up to all the hype surrounding its launch. It really does seem
to be the
"game changer" I was hoping for. The step up from the 7DII is not
incremental at all, more like a quantum leap!
Here is a list of the main advantages of this
camera as I see them for bird and wildlife photography, as well as a few disadvantages:
Autofocus - especially the animal eye detection
Of all the benefits of the R5, the animal eye
detection auto focus must be the most important. Its aim is to track a
bird's (or animal's) eye all over the field of view. This is possible
because the R5 has a huge number of AF areas all over the sensor, unlike
the 7DII which has a relatively limited number concentrated towards the centre. When the animal eye detection is working well and locked-on it is
amazing and allows me to forget about the focus area and concentrate on
other things like composition.
My experience to date is that this feature is indeed remarkably
effective on perched birds and slowly moving subjects when it can find and lock-on to eyes even at a
However rapidly and erratically moving targets are clearly more
challenging, especially flying birds. For these the AF often fails to
find the eye but will often correctly locate the head. But it is not
perfect and can sometimes lock-on to the wrong part of the bird (e.g.
rear end or wing tips). There is also a slight lag to it, so that the active AF
area may fail to keep up with a poorly tracked bird that is moving
rapidly across the field of view. There are however some sensitivity and
acceleration parameters that I need to tweak to see if
this can be improved. Others are recommending using -1 values for these
parameters but I'm not sure this is the best for flight shots. Time will
The other key point about the AF is that it is not limited to f5.6
apertures or f8 (central focus point only) as my 7DII is, and as I believe
most (all?) Canon DSLRs are. Hence I can use my 500f4 with my x2
extender (f8) and still get tracking across the whole field of view.
This should also apply to the f11 combination of the f5.6
100-400 zoom lens with a x2 extender added, although I haven't tried it
Given that the animal eye detection AF is good but not infallible
there is a need to be able to quickly switch to the more traditional spot/area
based AF. Fortunately this can be achieved using double back button
focusing, with one button for animal eye and another for spot/area AF.
See below for how I've set this up on my R5.
Autofocus - accuracy
I believe the animal eye
detection AF uses phase sensitive technology which is more accurate than
the contrast sensitive AF in my 7DII. This is giving tangible
benefits in focusing accuracy and consistency. Looking carefully at each
image of a stationary bird in a burst of shots I can still see some small variations in focus
at 1:1 magnification. But these are generally considerably less than with
the 7DII, even when using the x2 extender. Also there is minimal or no "hunting"
with the x2 extender - a problem I often have with the 7DII.
In my view the 45Mp full frame sensor
is another major benefit. It allows huge amounts of cropping of the full
resolution images which are 8218 x 5482 pixels in size! If this is cropped
by 1.6 to the size of
an APC sized sensor, the image still has 5136 x 3426 pixels - only
slightly less my 20Mp 7DII. So as I remarked earlier, the "reach" of the
R5 for distant subjects is very similar to that of my 7DII with its APC
Of course smaller pixels are usually associated with higher image
noise levels, but my own measurements of image noise level
suggest the noise on the R5 is about one stop better than on the 7DII,
when using Adobe Camera Raw for raw conversion.
It will be very interesting to see what
DXoMark find when they
eventually get around to testing the R5.
On my 7DII, I was generally OK with the results up to ISO 3200, after
my post-processing, so in
theory this should mean I can go up to ISO 6400 with the R5 and get
Seamless use with AF lenses
cameras all use a new lens mounting standard - RF instead of the
AF used by their DSLRs. Fortunately, Canon also provide an effective mount adaptor
that allows usage of AF lenses on the R5. In my experience this works
very well. It has no optical components so there is no degradation in
image quality and the AF and other controls etc all seem to work fine. Just as well given my
considerable investment in AF lenses!
Frame rate and buffer size
With the mechanical
shutter the R5 can achieve 12 frames/sec compared with the 10 frames/sec
on my 7DII. The electronic shutter gives a remarkable 20 frames/sec but
I haven't tried that yet as I'm a bit worried about rolling
shutter effects. These high frame rates are combined with a remarkably
large buffer. Canon quote the buffer size as allowing up to about 180
full resolution raw images when used with a CF Express memory card. I
only find about half that with my 128Gb CF Express memory card.
This must be due to the speed of my card being less than that
of the larger capacity CFx cards which are very expensive. In any case I
have to date never hit the limit with a buffer size of 80-90 raws (i.e.
7-8 secs worth of shooting @12 frames/sec). This is a much more common problem with the 7DII which has a buffer
size of only about 30 raws (at most 3 secs worth). If it becomes a problem,
say with the electronic shutter, I will
need to consider whether the financial outlay needed for a 256Gb CFx
card is justified.
Electronic view finder (EVF)
The electronic view
finder takes a little getting used to but on the high refresh rate
setting it is very smooth and works well on moving subjects such as
birds in flight. Its key benefit is that it shows you what you are going
to get. So there is no need to guess what the best exposure compensation
will be. There is
even a real-time histogram in the top right corner of the EVF to help
you (provided you have enabled the right option!).
The other important benefit of the EVF is that you still get a bright
image even in low light conditions with a slow lens (e.g. with a x2
extender on an f4 lens).
The slight downside is that usually the EVF has switched itself off
when I first come to look through it, so that it is showing nothing but
black! This is a bit disconcerting to someone used to a DLSR viewfinder
which is of course always on. However if I remember to half press the
shutter button as I raise the camera to my eye, the EVF will have fired
up by the time I am looking through it.
In-body Image Stabilisation (IBIS)
This is the
first Canon camera to feature IBIS. Under the right conditions with
the shorter focal length RF mount lenses, an incredible 8 stops of stabilisation is claimed with the IBIS working in combination with the
lens' own stabilisation (IS). For lenses with their own IS, the IBIS
works seemlessly with the lens' IS, and the user isn't aware of exactly
what is happening. I am sure that the combined IS with long focal length
lenses is a lot less than 8 stops but to date I can't really comment on
the effectiveness of the IBIS. I suspect its main benefit could be on
lenses which lack their own IS, such as the 180mm macro that I own but
seldom use these days.
The R5's mechanical shutter is much
quieter than the machine gun like clicking of DSLRs! The electronic
shutter is completely silent.
No micro AF adjustments
With a mirrorless camera
the AF sensors are in the same plane as the image sensor and so there
are none of the micro AF adjustments that are needed with a DSLR. So no
go through elaborate and time consuming calibration routines,
which may change over time, for every lens and extender combination you
Size and weight
Compared with Canon
DSLR's, the R5 is appreciably more compact and lighter.
The R5 weighs just 740g, compared with 910g for the 7D II and a hefty
1440g for the full frame 1DX III (battery included in all cases).
The lightness of the R5 compared with the 7DII is a more noticeable benefit with a
lighter lens such as the 100-400 II zoom and less so with the heavier
500mm f4 II prime.
To date there are very few disadvantages I have found, but if I am
being picky, I could mention these:
Having had my R5 for about six months,
it has now (February 2021) developed an annoying habit of occasionally
freezing in action. When this happens it just locks up completely, with
a frozen image on the EVF and back screen, and power off doesn't clear
it. However removal of the battery for a few second does clear it, and
then all is fine (until the next time!). The last time this happened, I
was not shooting, just tracking a bird with animal eye detection AF.
Some Googling quickly revealed that this, or something very similar has
happened to others with R5's. At present I am unsure what to do about
it, as it isn't clear what the remedy is. Maybe this is a software issue
and a firmware update will cure it.
Clearly this is an expensive camera being
about three times more than I paid for the 7DII back in 2014. However the R5
is considerably cheaper than the 1DX Mk III and is a better buy in my opinion.
Much of the relatively high price of the R5 must be caused by all the video
features, which include its ability to record at an amazing 8k
resolution. But at present this is wasted on me - I prefer to
stick to stills.
Clearly a 45Mp sensor with a frame
rate up to 20/sec generates a huge volume of data very rapidly and fast,
high capacity memory cards are needed to store it all. The R5 is one of the first
cameras to use the new CF express cards that are indeed very fast but
also very expensive! Also their speed appears to depends on their capacity and my
relatively modest 128GB card seems substantially slower than the 256 GB and
higher capacity cards. This means the buffer size I get is about a
factor two less than Canon's quoted figure but for the time being I can live with
being able to acquire up to 80-90 raws before the buffer is filled! The
R5 also has a slot for SD cards and is compatible with the latest
UHS-II cards as well as all the older standards SD, SDHC and SDXC UHS-I.
Even the UHS-II SD cards are slower than the fastest CFx cards but are
more economical! Of course it is perfectly possible to use the the SD
card slot as a backup for when the CFx card becomes full. In this case,
even use of a standard very inexpensive SD card with high capacity would
serve this purpose well.
A 45Mp sensor generates large files. A
typical raw file from the R5 is about 60Mb and when this is converted
into a 16-bit tiff, the files size is a staggering 260 Mb or more!
Fortunately modern hard disk capacities and speeds mean these this is not a major
problem. Also I have no need to retain the 16-bit tiff after finishing
the processing. After reducing to 8-bits it is then about the same size
as a raw file, i.e. much more reasonable.
I haven't tried the Canon CRAW (compressed raw) format yet as
this involves a lossy compression which apparently reduces the file size
by about a factor 2. I reckon if I can cope with the full raw files, why
bother with the possible loss of quality that CRAW involves?
I am not sure whether to classify
this as an advantage or a disadvantage! It is widely known that
mirrorless cameras are more power hungry than DSLRs. For the R5, the
EVF, particularly on its smooth setting, is said to be particularly
battery draining. However I have my R5 set on the maximum power saving
settings, so that the EVF and the rear screen automatically shutdown
very soon after each usage. During wait times to the next shots very
little power is then consumed. Canon quote the battery life at only
200-300 shots, but I am happy to report, in common with many others,
that this seems a very pessimistic estimate. For example, in a prolonged all day session in a hide photographing
Kestrels, that appeared every hour or two through the day, I took over
1300 shots. It was only towards the end of the day that I needed to
change to my second battery.
The special, slightly higher capacity battery that comes with the
R5 (LP-E6NH) is very expensive and additional ones are currently unobtainable. Fortunately the R5 is
also compatible with the older batteries that my 7DII uses (LP6-E6N). So
to get a new spare I purchased
another new Canon LP6-E6N, which are pretty pricey for a battery.
Note that the full 12 frames/sec with the mechanical shutter is only
obtainable using the R5 battery (LP-E6NH) or the older LP-E6N 7DII
battery. Generic third party batteries are mostly the even older LP-E6
type which don't give this highest frame rate.
The R5 on the Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II
There are plenty of YouTube videos that cover the best
settings for the R5 for bird and animal photography. The two best I
found were from Jan
Whistling Wings Photography.
As these videos cover the R5 settings in great detail, I'm not going
to repeat those I use here because I largely followed their
recommendations (which reassuringly generally agreed well with one another).
One of the many advantages of the R5 is that it allows a lot of
flexibility on how the various dials and buttons can be configured. After a
bit of trial and error, I'm now using a combination which I find works
well for me, and isn't exactly the same as the suggestions on either of
the above videos. So I thought it might be of interest to give the
button configuration I use here.
||Metering start (only)
||This stops the shutter button activating
the AF - as I am using the back buttons for this.
||Metering and AF start
||Pressing this button then activates the
selected conventional AF mode (i.e. spot or area).
|AE Lock button
||Eye Detection AF
||Pressing this button activates the
animal eye detection AF.
|AF point button
||Eye Detection AF
||Pressing this button also activates the
animal eye detection AF. I found it best having this key option on
both these buttons as they are close together and it is
difficult to be sure which I am touching at any one time!
||Direct AF point selection
||This allows the "joystick" to be used to
move the AF area around the screen.
||Dial function settings
||Probably the default. I don't use this
||Set AF point to centre
||Does what is says!
||Default. Changes the shooting mode e.g.
Av, M, Tv....
|DOF preview button
||Direct AF method selection
||Change AF area type - cycles through the
enabled AF methods such as spot, area. The most effective way I
have found of doing this.
Handling the files from the R5 has required considerable
changes to the workflow I used for those from the 7DII. This is because
the software that
can read the CR3 format raw files from the R5 is limited.
This is an outline of the main stages I go through for files from the R5:
1. FastStone Image Viewer - for short listing files
This is a free download and a brilliant
replacement to the Canon ZoomBrowser software that I used for many years
for sorting through 7DII files to find the interesting ones
worthy of closer attention. FastStone excels at this task as it is
possible to quickly scroll through all the images in one folder (right
arrow) and one key press Q is sufficient to tag any worthy of short
listing. To help, clicking on the image blows it up to 1:1 and another
click takes the magnification back
After running through all the files from a session, I can then view
just the tagged images and then drag them into a new "Short list"
folder. Given the number of files generated by the R5, a fast an easy to
use tool like this is really important. And its free!
I then use FastStone to create jpegs from all the raw files in my
short list folder. It is amazingly quick at generating these jpegs
compared with DPP4 below!
2. Photoshop - for viewing the short listed files to make my
I use Photoshop to critically study the jpegs in
my short list folder at 1:1 magnification to make a final selection of
the generally small number of images I want to process fully, as
3. Digital Photo Professional 4 - for raw conversion of
Which raw converter to use is a
serious decision for all keen photographers. Adobe's Lightroom and
Photoshop now support the CR3 files from the R5, as does Canon's own
Digital Photo Professional 4
(DPP4) - a free download if you have the camera.
My measurements of the R5 image noise level
suggested that Adobe
Camera Raw (ACR), as in Lightroom and Photoshop, gave slightly lower
noise levels than the present version of DPP4. Hence I started by using
ACR as my raw converter of choice for the R5.
However very recently I watched another of the impressive
Wegener videos in which he says he is unhappy with the colours
obtained using ACR. As a result he has now switched to DPP4 which, in
his view, gives much better and brighter colours. I hadn't noticed this
until I watched the video but almost simultaneously I was processing a
photo of a Crossbill with bright blue sky behind, and didn't like what I
was getting with ACR. On the default colour settings it seemed to be
giving a nasty greenish tinge to the photo, whereas DPP4 gave a much
better blue for the sky and red/orange for the bird.
So it looks like I will also be using DPP4 from now on as my raw
converter of choice for the R5. I always save my files as 16-bit
tiffs to avoid any lossy compression and reduction in dynamic range
(with the mechanical shutter, the R5 has 14-bit dynamic image).
Because I use NeatImage for noise reduction immediately after the raw
converter (see below), I avoid making any changes to the image in DPP4
that might affect the performance of the noise reduction. So the options
I use in DPP4 are limited to exposure, white balance and optical
corrections. I avoid any changes to highlights, shadows, noise reduction
or sharpening, leaving these to later in Photoshop.
4. NeatImage - for noise reduction
I have been a big fan of NeatImage for noise
reduction for many years and see no reason to change for the R5, as I
often find myself using quite high ISO settings given typical English
weather conditions! To apply NeatImage optimally, I have first generated
a set of noise profiles. A print-out of the NeatImage calibration target
is needed for this, which must then be used to create images taken with different ISO settings and
Note it is important to use the same raw converter for these calibration
images as the photos being processed. So the move from ACR to DPP4 has
just caused me to generate a completely new set of noise profiles!
Fortunately I still had the original raws to go back to.
Note that I seem to be able to use Neatimage more effectively to
compensate for any slight increase in image noise level in DPP4 compared
with ACR, than use of the noise reduction parameters in DPP4. This
re-affirms my admiration for NeatImage! See
here for more details.
5. Photoshop - for image editing, cropping etc
For many years I had used various
versions of Photoshop Elements, but more recently I decided to switch to
the latest (now 2021) subscription version of Photoshop and Lightroom
(which I don't use). The full Photoshop has many advantages over
Elements and I think it is well worth the cost of the subscription to
have access to this wealth of options. However from this
Jan Weneger video it
is clear I still have a huge amount to learn!
The final stage of my processing
almost invariably uses a sharpening method that is based on the
combination of an image sharpened in Photoshop using the Smart Sharpen
option and the same image without sharpening. For this combination I use
my own software to combine the sharpened and
unsharpened images. I find this stage useful to give the final image
that extra level of detail without introducing any appreciable noise.
It is early days yet, as currently I've only had two
months to play with this new "toy". Already however I am delighted with
it. As I said earlier this camera is no mere incremental change from the
7DII. It is more a huge quantum leap up! The 45Mp sensor and the game changing
animal eye detection auto focus are really impressive, as are all the
other advantages listed above. Its ergonomics
and general ease of handling and operation are also notably good.
The R5 has performed well virtually every time I've used it so far, and has
been particularly impressive when stretching the "reach" to its limits
when my targets have been a fair way off.
The animal eye detection AF is well illustrated by this photo of two
Kestrels. This was taken with the 500mm f4 II lens with a x1.4TC (mark
III) at a pay hide, so distance wasn't the issue but this pose was only
held for a fraction a second after I got onto the birds. The animal eye
AF went straight to the immature's eye and I got two frames before the
pose changed. Of these this is second which is slightly sharper than the first.
Two Kestrels posed together for a fraction of a second. ISO 1600,
f5.6, 1/1000 sec (click photo
My second example is from a local site without a hide. For this photo
I was using the 500f4 II with the x2 TC (mark III) and this Kingfisher
was a considerable distance off. As the light wasn't brilliant I was
using ISO 4000 and the aperture wide open at f8. Viewing the image
at 1:1 magnification the image sharpness is very good even with the use
of the x2 extender. Given the crop used, combined with the 1000 mm focal
length lens and extender combination, the effective focal length of this
photo is over 3000mm! It is also worth mentioning that the colours on
this photo look considerably better on this DPP4 converted image than on
the ACR processed one I originally generated.
Distant Kingfisher ISO 4000, f8, 1/1600 sec (click photo to enlarge)
My final example is from a few days ago at another local site
where there was a small flock of Crossbills feeding in the top of a tall
conifer. I was well back from the tree, so the distance to the bird must
have been tens of metres. Again I was using the 500f4 II with the x2 TC
(mark III) but this time it was mounted on a tripod. The full frame shot
straight out of the camera below shows how small the bird is in the
field of view.
The result after processing using my workflow detailed above is given
below. This is close to a 1:1 crop and again shows impressive levels of
detail considering the distance to the bird and the use of the x2
extender. Again the colours on this photo look considerably better on
this DPP4 converted image than when using ACR.
Even more distant Crossbill. ISO 1600, f10, 1/2000 sec
The example below of a flying Red Kite was obtained using the 100-400
II zoom lens. These rapidly moving and changing targets presented much
more of a challenge for the animal eye detection AF and in this early
session with the R5 it generally failed to find the eye. I think the
overall shape of a flying bird is much more variable than one perched
and this is sufficient to confuse the AF. It generally tracked the bird
as a whole well but sometimes locked onto the wrong part such as the
wing tips or tail. It is possible with tweaks to the AF settings it
would be more effective in these circumstances.
But some shots were pretty sharp as this crop illustrates below.
Cropped Red Kite photo. ISO 800, f5.6, 1/2000 sec (click photo to
Signal-to-noise (SNR) plots from
After some delay, the excellent
website is now showing a review of the R5's sensor and quantitative
measurements of its performance. For what it is worth, DXOMARK give the
R5's sensor an overall rating of 95, which the highest of all Canon's
current (Jan 2021) models, including the EOS 1DX III (score = 91). This
rating of 95 is however someway short of the highest given which is 102
for a Hasselblad X1D-50c medium format camera. It is hardly surprising
that a medium format sensor has a higher performance, but it is also less than the
rating of 100 given to the Nikon D850 and the Sony A7R III. But it is not
clear to me where this overall score comes from, and Canon sensors tend
never to be rated highly by DXOMARK!
Of more interest to me are
their signal-to-noise ratio measurements, which are derived from the raw
sensor data, before demosaicing, and hence are not subject to the
vagaries of the raw converter.
The plot below shows the DXOMARK measurements of SNR 18% as a
function of ISO setting for my three most recent Canon cameras - the R5,
7D mk II and the 7D.
The DXOMARK results given above show that the R5 has more
than 1 stop better SNR than the 7D Mk II, and almost two stops better
SNR than the 7D. These findings are broadly in-line with my
own measurements of image noise level,
although I have found the raw converter used can also have a significant
effect. This is the confirmation I was hoping for that the R5 should
significantly out perform the 7D Mk II, allowing me to use higher ISO
values (e.g. ISO 6400 instead of ISO 3200) without too much degradation
from noise (after noise reduction using Neatimage, that is - see my
Also of interest is the next plot below that shows the R5's SNR
compared with two other notable full frame Canon DSLRs - the top of the
range 1DX Mk III and the 5DS, which has a similar number of pixels to
The above plot shows that, apart from ISO settings below about 200
(which are of little relevance to me as I never use them!), the R5 gives
very similar SNR values to the 1DX Mk III and the 5DS. This is despite
the larger sensor element (pixel) size of the 1DX Mk III. This shows the
R5 is performing very similarly to the latest Canon DSLRs in terms of
Until the release of the R5, I think it was widely accepted that Sony
was the market leader for full frame mirrorless cameras, and many keen
bird photographers had switched, at considerable expense, from Canon
(and Nikon?) to Sony. Hence I thought it would be very interesting to
see how the R5 compared to the leading Sony models, according to
DXOMARK's SNR measurements.
The plot above shows the SNR for the R5 compared with two leading Sony full
frame mirrorless cameras - the A7R III which has a similar number of
sensor elements to the R5 and the A9 II which has fewer (larger) sensor elements
- similar to the Canon 1DX III. Somewhat to my surprise these
measurements show the R5 is very close to both these Sony cameras, apart
from the small fall off below ISO 200. This is despite the smaller
sensor elements in the R5 compared with the A9 II. Hence
it does seem that in this respect at least, Canon has indeed caught up with Sony
in the mirrorless market. This is reassuring
and seems to vindicate my decision to stick with Canon!