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Canon EOS R5 - review for bird and wildlife photography

(November 2020 & updates up to September 2023)

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 10th). Little was I to know that this slight (less than 24hr) delay meant I would be waiting several weeks 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.

Initial impressions
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 feature
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 substantial distance.  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 and lock onto the bird or its 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 can be played with. After trying a few different combinations, I am currently (August 2021) using Case 1 but with the tracking sensitivity set to -2 and the Acceleration/Deceleration set to +2, having seen this recommended by others for birds in flight.

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 yet.

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.

45Mp Sensor and signal to noise ratio
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 sensor. 

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.

DXoMark have now got round to testing the R5 and I show some comparative signal to noise ratio (SNR) plots at the bottom of this page. Suffice to say, these show the R5's noise performance is excellent - around 1.5 stops better than the 7DII and very similar to the 1DX III (which has larger pixels) and the Sony A7R III.

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 similar quality

Seamless use with AF lenses
Canon's mirrorless 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, provided the battery is an LP-E6NH or an older LP-E6N, and the battery has plenty of charge. This is shown by a green H+ symbol. For older LP-E6 and lower charged LP-E6NH/E6N batteries the green H+ disappears and the rate drops to more like 8-9 frames.  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 the mechanical shutter and the fastest CF Express memory cards. Note I have only achieved about half this number even when using a fast Sony 128 Gb CFx card.

I understand this discrepancy may be due in part at least to the ISO settings used for these tests as the size of the raw files increases with the ISO value. Hence Canon's tests are probably based on the lowest possible ISO, whereas I typically use much higher values which give larger files which fill the buffer quicker.

The electronic shutter gives a remarkable fixed 20 frames/sec, regardless of batter type/charge. For fast moving subjects, the electronic shutter can suffer from rolling shutter effects. For this reason, I was initially very wary about using this mode. However as time has gone on, I find myself using it more often. The only time I have noticed rolling shutter effects was with Little Owl flight shots. Mostly it is not an issue, as others have found. The buffer size is correspondingly reduced when using the shutter option.

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.

There are also limitations to the EVF performance when it comes to tracking fast-moving flying subjects, see below for more information.

Rear LCD screen
The rear screen opens out from the camera body, swivels and importantly allows live viewing. It can even be fully rotated so it is pointing forwards not backwards. More importantly for me, by folding it out and part rotating it, the screen to be viewed from above. Hence the camera can be well below eye level when taking photos.

 I am now (autumn 2021) finding this a real benefit for getting low angle shots, without having to lie prostrate on the ground! It works pretty well as long as I can reach the camera to point it, engage the animal eye detection AF (via the back-focus button) and fire the shutter. Almost invariably the eye AF does it's stuff (although sometimes it is difficult to tell if it has locked on, with my eyes anyway), and the results can be excellent.

The screen is also said to be touch sensitive but I've not really experimented with this much - the buttons and dial wheels are generally more than adequate for me. 

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.

Shutter sound
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 requirement to go through elaborate and time consuming calibration routines, which may change over time, for every lens and extender combination you own!

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.

Focus stacking in the field (for dragonflies) Update 10 April 2023
The R5 can collect a sequence of images for later focus-stacking, using separate software on a computer. This option is enabled by selecting the Focus bracketing option. The user can then select the number of shots to collect and also a focus increment (an integer between 1 and 10). There is no guidance given about what focus increment values to use, which will be specific to the lens focal length and aperture (f number) setting.

When using the Canon EF 100-400 f5.6 II lens @ 400mm/f10, I have found a focus increment of 1 is probably best although an increment of 2 may suffice. 

With the  Canon RF 100-500 lens @ 500mm with an aperture of around f13, an increment of 3 seems OK but perhaps surprisingly with the x1.4TC attached the increment can probably be increased to 4 (it is difficult to be definitive about these values).

The number of shots needed depends on the depth of field needed to cover the whole of the subject. I usually use 30-40 shots for dragonflies. There is nothing more annoying to specify too few shots, and find that the far side of the subject remains out of focus at the end of the sequence! Note that for 40 shots, I have measured the depth of field after stacking to be about 140mm with the RF100-500 lens @ 500mm (increment of 3) but this drops to about 90mm when the x1.4 TC is used, even with a larger increment of 4.

Using the focus bracketing option, I can dispense with the separate Helicon FB tube, fitted between the camera body and lens, that I had to use for collecting focus stacking shots with the 7DII. 

This R5 option automatically engages the electronic shutter which normally gives 20 frames/sec. However for focus stacking this slows down to about 11 frames/sec when using the Canon EF 100-400 f5.6 II lens.  This is then only slightly faster than the speeds I was achieving using the Helicon device on the 7DII. However with the newer native mount Canon RF 100-500 lens, the 20 frames/sec for the electronic shutter is maintained, so the sequence collects about twice as fast as with the EF lens - a significant improvement which helps to improve the chances of getting a sequence without appreciable subject movement.

You need to start with the focus point closer to you than any part of the subject as the incrementing takes the focus point further from you towards infinity. I don't find this a problem - as it is usually possible to auto-focus onto the nearest part of the subject and then move back a little.

As well as the likelihood of subject movement during the sequence acquisition (wind is a killer here!), when hand holding there can be some strange distortion effects on the images collected. Others have mentioned this, although not necessarily in the focus stacking context. It seems to be due to some weird interaction between the camera's IBIS, the IS on the lens and the electronic readout (rolling shutter). This effect is reduced or even absent if using a tripod. It is also surprising how much the image jumps around in the EVF when collecting a hand-held sequence. Maybe this is just the result of my unsteady hands but maybe it is also due to the same effects that can cause the weird wobbling/warping ripple-type distortions in the images. It seems possible that some future firmware update might address this problem. 

All these issues make for a limited success rate when collecting hand-held focus stacking sequences in the field. Use of a tripod definitely improves the likelihood of success but does nothing to prevent subject movement. Nevertheless it is possible to get nice results when using appropriate focus-stacking software.

The Helicon Focus 7 Stacking software is what I use for focus stacking on the computer.  It has the advantage of tolerating significant amounts of movement between images (essential for hand-holding). Fortunately this doesn't seem to be a problem because the focus stacking software is remarkably tolerant of shifts between shots. For an example of a hand-held focus stacked image of a dragonfly obtained with the R5 and the Canon 100-400 f5.6 lens, click here. The ability to re-touch parts of the stacked image, by replacing selected areas with a particular image in the stack is also important. However these corrections do not help much if there are appreciable warping/wobbling effects caused by the rolling shutter (see above)

Disadvantages and Limitations
There are some disadvantages and limitations I have found, as follows:

Rolling shutter effects Update 25 May 2022
Currently my preference is for the electronic shutter mode, mainly because of the high frame rate (20 frames/sec regardless of battery life remaining) and I really like the absence of noise when shooting! However with the electronic shutter, there is always the risk of weird rolling shutter effects when taking action shots (when the high frame rate is most needed).

Panning the camera while tracking a moving bird can lead to the tilting of vertical lines in the background. Also for smaller birds, their fast moving wings can cause very odd distortions. I seem to be experiencing more of these problems currently than in the past, which makes me doubtful of using the electronic shutter in many action situations, to the extent that I should revert to using the mechanical shutter more often going forward.

The newer R3, the Sony A1 and the Nikon Z8 & Z9 all have stacked sensors with much faster sensor readouts and hence greatly diminished rolling shutter effects, as no doubt will the R1 and maybe the R5 Mark II when they eventually appear....

Silent electronic shutter and hitting the buffer Update 4 June 2023
Having had the R5 for the better part of 3 years, I couldn't recall a problem with hitting the butter with the electronic shutter. Hence when this did occur recently, I was unprepared for it!

The problem I encountered was that the electronic shutter is completely silent, so it is not obvious when the buffer limit is hit, and it stops collecting images. Recently while on the famous Mull Charters boat trip off the Isle of Mull, I couldn't understand why I kept missing the crucial few seconds of a White-tailed Eagle hitting the water and catching a fish. It was only after the last dive that I figured it out, by which time it was too late! It turned out I was tracking the bird in flight for much longer than usual, and firing away too soon, before the bird made its dive. By that time, more times than not, the buffer filled at just the wrong moment.

Trying to reproduce this afterwards, I found that a "busy" message appeared very briefly in the EVF when this happened, but it wasn't at all obvious being the same colour as the all the other info. In contrast, with my much cheaper (but newer) R7, filling the buffer is much easier and, with the electronic shutter set to make a soft sound, it is immediately apparent when it occurs. Also the "busy" message flashes up in yellow - so is much more obvious than on the R5.

So be warned! With hindsight, I should have set the file type to cRAW to increase the number of images within the buffer capacity and been more aware of the potential for this issue in advance. Of course, if we ever get back to Mull, I won't make that mistake again!

EVF for flight shots Update 23 June 2022
For perched birds, and other reasonably stationary subjects, the view through the EVF (and the rear screen) is fine. However for flying birds and insects, there are some strange visual effects which can make it difficult to track fast moving subjects (e.g. waders in flight). I understand this is due to the limited EVF update frequency, and hence a slight lag in the displayed image, combined with black frames which occur when shots are being taken. This problem is apparently greatly reduced in other high-end cameras such as the Canon R3, Nikon Z9 and the Sony A1.

Eye detection Auto-focus Update 25 May 2022
When I first got the R5, the animal eye tracking AF seemed fantastic coming from the 7DII. However, as I used it more and more, I found there were some limitations to its robustness and ability to find and stay on the bird's eye, head or even body. For example, it could be confused by other features, such as spots on the bird's plumage, and lock onto those instead. However the latest firmware update (V1.5.2) has definitely improved the R5's AF system. But it is still by no means perfect, especially for fast, erratically moving birds in flight.

Freezing Update 25 May 2022
Having had my R5 for about six months, in February 2021 it developed an annoying habit of occasionally freezing in action. When this happened it just locked up completely, with a frozen image on the EVF and back screen, and power off didn't clear it. However removal of the battery for a few seconds did clear it, and then all was fine (until the next time!). This mostly occurred when 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. After a few freezes in February 2021 it seemed to have gone away but then re-appeared out of the blue in April 2021, again when tracking, not shooting. Since then (February 2022), it continued to be a very rare fault.

As of February 2022, I understand that the latest firmware update (1.5.1) is intended to fix this problem. After installing the update, I have never had the freezing problem, as of September 2023, so I conclude this problem has been fixed.

Lack of firmware updates  Update September 2023
Sometime around the spring of this year, there were rumours of a major firmware update for the R5 that would be coming soon. However when it came, the update was very underwhelming as far as I was concerned and I didn't even bother to install it! There had been suggestions of useful new features such as a sound when using the electronic shutter (see above) and even the pre-capture that is available in the much cheaper R7. But when it came to it, neither of these happened. Now it seems there will be no further substantive updates as the R5 Mark II is on the horizon for sometime in 2024.

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.

Memory cards
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! As stated above, Canon quote the buffer size as allowing up to about 180 full resolution raw images when used with a CF Express memory card.

Initially I was staggered by the cost of the CFx cards from Sony, Sandisk and the likes and went for the cheaper option of a 128Gb PROGRADE CFx  card.  With this card, for which a sustained write speed of "only" 140 MB/sec is quoted, I found the buffer was getting filled after only about 60-80 raws.

This was fine for a few months, but I then started to hit the buffer limit increasingly often, so I decided to fork out on a 128Gb Sony Tough CFx card, which is supposed to be THE one to go for. However, even with this card I find the buffer fills after typically about 100 raws, compared with the 180 figure claimed by Canon. Hopefully I won't start hitting this limit nearly as often as with the slower PROGRADE card! It is possible that the higher capacity CFx cards are even faster, but of course they are also even more expensive.

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 might serve this purpose (but the buffer limit is then substantially reduced and if full the buffer takes ages to clear).

File size
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. 

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?

Battery Life
I am not sure whether to classify this as an advantage or a disadvantage! It is widely known that mirror-less 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 often 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.

But on occasion, I find it very useful to leave the screen on continuously showing the live image for extended periods, e.g. when waiting for fast moving birds such as tits to land momentarily on a perch. In this mode, the battery drains away quite rapidly and the "green" fastest shooting mode can be lost after only about an hour or maybe slightly longer. Having some spares is then essential for a prolonged session.

The special, slightly higher capacity battery that comes with the R5 (LP-E6NH) is very expensive and additional ones were originally 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. Subsequently I've forked out on another LP-E6NH as it is now (August 2021) available ex-stock.

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. Also the battery needs to have a good level of charge in it, to give the "green" H+ shooting symbol, which indicated the full 12 frames/sec. Somewhere just below 50% charge the green changes to black which indicates a slower frame rate of only about 8-9 frames/sec.

The R5 on the Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II

Number of pixels/reach
As remarked earlier, the R5's 45 Mp sensor contains sensor elements (pixels) that are just slightly larger than those in the 7DII. Hence the "reach" of an R5 is very similar to that of the 7DII which has 20Mp on a crop sensor. 

However the newer Canon R7, which I have now purchased, has a 33Mp crop sensor. This gives the R7 about 1.4 times the reach of the R5, which is approximately equivalent to that of x1.4 extender. Hence for situations needing maximum reach, I tend to use the R7 over the R5. I find that even on the 500f4 with the x2 TC, the R7 gives a slight improvement in reach than with the R5. Also the R7 is a little lighter than the R5.

Settings and buttons
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 Wegener and  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.

Button Assignment Reason
Shutter Metering start (only) This stops the shutter button activating the AF - as I am using the back buttons for this.
AF-ON 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!
Multi-controllers Direct AF point selection This allows the "joystick" to be used to move the AF area around the screen.
Multi-function button Dial function settings Probably the default. I don't use this button much.
Set button Set AF point to centre Does what is says!
Mode button Mode 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.

Workflow and processing Update 8 September 2023
Initially, handling the files from the R5 required considerable changes to the workflow I used for those from the 7D II. This was because the software that can read the CR3 format raw files from the R5 was limited, but this is probably less of an issue now.

Since I got the R5, I have tried various different software options and workflows and so I thought it might be of interest to outline my current procedure, as of February 2022:

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 7D II 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 down again. Other options allow multiple images to be viewed at once, but I hardly ever use this.

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 "basic" jpegs from all the raw files in my short list folder. It is amazingly quick at generating these jpegs compared with Canon's DPP4 software - mainly because it is simply extracting the embedded jpeg image from the raw file. For the R5, this jpeg has the full image resolution, unlike with some other cameras, I understand.

2. Photoshop CS - for viewing the short listed files to make my selection
I use Photoshop to critically study the basic 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 described below.

3. Photoshop CS Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) - for raw conversion
Which raw converter to use is a serious decision for all keen photographers. Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop support the CR3 files from the R5, as does Canon's own Digital Photo Professional 4 (DPP4) software - a free download if you have the camera. Many other raw converters now also support CR3 files but I haven't investigated them.

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 but then found that the resulting colours were suspect when using the standard camera profiles provided by Adobe. Hence I switched to using DPP4.

But now I have returned to using ACR in Photoshop since there some alternative camera profiles available which seem to do a better job. These include those from Colour Fidelity and, probably better, the numerous "prosets" available from Jan Wegener. Of all these prosets it is isn't obvious which one to use, but I tend to usually go for "Jack of All Trades" or "Jack of All Trades - Vivid".

4. Noise reduction
For many years, I was a big fan of NeatImage for noise reduction and initially saw no reason to change for the R5, as I often find myself using quite high ISO settings. 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 R5 images taken with different ISO settings and exposure times. Note it is important to use the same raw converter for these calibration images as the photos being processed.

But more recently it became clear that there were newer more effective NR tool available and in late 2022, I purchased Topaz denoise AI, given a discount available as part of the Black Friday sales. I was instantly impressed and purchased a licence which allows me to use it as a plug-in within Photoshop. This is noticeably better than NeatImage in terms of noise reduction (especially in the background of the image). It also has a useful option for sharpening that is quite effective, as long only a moderate amount is needed. Unlike DxO PureRaw (see below), both the amount of noise reduction and sharpening are readily user controllable, and the image preview that shows a slider that be moved to reveal more/less of the processed image is a very effective tool.

However now (September 2023), I have also acquired DxO PureRaw 3 (having earlier had the first vesion DxO PureRaw) which can process files from both my R5 and R7 cameras (the initial version couldn't handle R7 files).  This follows a recent Jan Wegener YouTube video in which he found DxO PureRaw 3 to be the best option for very noisy (i.e. high ISO) images.  DxO PureRaw 3 is less convenient to use as its not a Photoshop plugin, being instead standalone software that outputs the image as a *.dng file. This can then be imported into Photoshop as a raw file. DxO PureRaw 3 has two options, and presumably better to use the more advanced but slower one (DeepPRIME XD). This runs in a reasonable time using my graphics card for the processing.

So now (September 2023) I will probably continue to use the Topaz denoise AI plugin for most images, but for any especially high ISO ones I will use DxO PureRaw 3.

It is also worth mentioning that Photoshop now also has its own AI noise reduction tool available as well. It seems quite effective to me, but is very very slow to run, and has no option to use the computer's graphics card to speed things up. So for that reason alone it isn't really usable.

 5. Photoshop CS - for image editing
In the past, I used to use Photoshop Elements for image editing as I resented the idea of having to pay a monthly fee for the full version of Photoshop. However, I gradually became aware of a number of significant limitations in the cheaper option. Hence I upgraded to the full version a few years ago.

My editing techniques have also evolved rapidly, and are now based on the multi-layer approach as described in Jan Wegener's Master Class video, which I can thoroughly recommend, if you have plenty of time available for post processing! These techniques really do help you get the most out of your image, and opened my eyes to what was relatively easy to do. Not maybe for everybody, especially those looking for a fully "natural" look.

6. Sharpening
At the end of my workflow, I previously used to use a sharpening method that was based on the Smart Sharpen option in Photoshop. However I no longer use this, and now often use the Topaz Sharpen AI software which I run as a plug-in to Photoshop, if the image is noticeably "soft". I find this software can be very good at "rescuing" or noticeably improving images that I might previously have binned. Note that if I think this software will be needed later on, I avoid sharpening the image with the Topaz Noise reduction back at the start of the processing.

However for images that are already fairly sharp, I often find the sharpening available within the Topaz noise reduction software is sufficient, and may even give better results than the dedicated Topaz sharpening software which I apply at the end of the workflow.

Even in the first couple of months of usage I was delighted with the R5. 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 to enlarge)

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 was 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 (but note my comments above about using better camera profiles in ACR).

Distant Kingfisher ISO 4000, f8, 1/1600 sec (click photo to enlarge)

My final example is from a 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. Also since then, a firmware update has noticeably improved the AF's performance in situations like these.

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 enlarge)


Signal-to-noise (SNR) plots from DXOMARK
After some delay, the excellent DXOMARK 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 workflow above).

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 R5.

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 SNR.

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!

It is however perhaps worth adding that my own recent measurements of noise levels on the raw sensor data before de-mosaicing do not confirm the excellent performance of the R5 shown above, and instead give values for the SNR at 18% appreciably less (about 1 stop less) than those derived by DXOMARK.


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