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5Ds or 5Ds R – worth the extra cost?

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Canon EOS 5Ds or 5Ds R

Is it worth the extra cost?

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Back in 2015 Keith Cooper purchased a Canon 5Ds in preference to the more expensive 5Ds R.

Given the kinds of architectural and commercial work we do here at Northlight was this a bad move, or was it a financially savvy one that didn’t buy into the ‘no AA filter superiority’ story?

Are the 5Ds R users getting better photos or just a few hundred quid poorer ;-)

head and camera

Choosing a 5Ds

Ever since I got my 5Ds I’ve had an occasional wonder if I’d missed out on a better camera for the want of spending a few hundred pounds extra.

Don’t get me wrong, from an image quality POV I’ve no problems with the 5Ds and it has given me some superb images, but you do wonder…

What’s (briefly) the difference?

The 5Ds R is sold as effectively having no Anti Aliasing filter  (aka optical low-pass filter (OLPF), blur or AA filter). The AA filter slightly blurs your image to reduce the incidence of false image detail (‘aliasing’) appearing at the finest scale.  The most visible result of aliasing is moire fringing, or false colour seen in areas of fine repetitive detail.

It’s the sort of thing you get with distant roof tiles, wall patterns and fences, and can need extra processing to repair/correct. The AA filter does its job at the cost of softening the image ever so slightly.

The 5Ds R does have an AA filter, it just has an additional special one to mostly cancel the first. It’s this second filter that adds to the cost.

My inclination is to suspect that Canon makes a hefty profit on this…

My own reason for getting the 5Ds was cost and a suspicion that the kind of work I do was likely to introduce moire effects – often in shots I couldn’t repeat.

How the quick test came about

I was discussing some imaging matters with a specialist pro photographer I know, Ian Humes, who specialises in a particular type of survey photography, and has a 5Ds R.

He also wondered if there was much difference beyond price…

In our discussions he noted that he’d only seen serious moire a few times – then again I’ve noticed its appearance in a few images with the 5Ds.

On a visit to Leicester, he stopped off with his 5Ds R and just as importantly, a TS-E50mm lens – one I’ve recently reviewed and can attest to its very good optical qualities

I really should note that this is definitely not meant to be an exhaustive technical test, but a trial in typical usage conditions. To do it ‘properly’ would take a lot of work, patience and equipment – not going to happen ;-)

The view

We went across the street from my house, set up a solid tripod and manually focused the camera on one of my piano music books.

street view

Click on images to see larger versions

One of the cameras viewed at 100%

sr at 100%

The other camera…

Both shots were manually focused at maximum magnification on the rear screen.

The shots are at f/5.6, which I know gives very good results with the TS-E 50mm – needless to say there is no tilt or shift applied to the lens.

Both cameras used mirror lock up, base ISO and around 1/50 second exposure.

The 5Ds R is the first pic BTW


Both RAW images were processed using Adobe Camera RAW with no sharpening.

Here are views at 300% magnification.

5Ds 300

5Ds R 300

OK, if I have to go to a 300% zoom to start seeing a small difference, it’s probably not significant?

What about using a different RAW processor for the files.

I’ve used DxO Optics Pro for many years for finest detail, particularly in my black and white photography.

The latest version is now called DxO PhotoLab (review).

Here’s a comparison at 500% where you can see the effects of the AA filter at a pixel level. I’ve turned off all image sharpening.

(click to see at full size)

Yay, a clear difference…

Some thoughts

I had to go to a significant magnification to see differences clearly. I also had to use a RAW processor that I know handles fine detail particularly well.

Let’s step back to the sorts of work I use the camera for… Industrial photos, interiors, buildings, architecture, big prints.

Do I ever look at any of those images at 500%? no. I sometimes look at 200% on a big screen for cleaning up rubbish or cloning out a waste bin in the distance, but not often.

At 100% I’m really not seeing much of a difference in this simple comparison.

I can see all kinds of ways I could improve the quality of the test, from an analysis POV. Multiple shots at different settings, a big tent to protect us from the wind. I’ve also turned off sharpening in my RAW processing – how does that affect things?

However, am I happy with the results here?

Yes, I now know that you can take slightly sharper photos with the 5Ds R. Actually, knowing the physics and optics, it’s pretty much exactly what I thought the difference would be.

If I’d made 36″ x 24″ prints from the images, would anyone see the difference? Even if upscaling for a huge print, I’m unsure if the differences would be visible.

I suspect not, since I did a comparison of the 1Ds/1Ds mk3/5Ds from a printmaking POV when I first got the 5Ds.

My personal take is that I saved a few hundred quid ;-)

If you feel that the 5Ds R makes a difference, then good, you’re happy with your camera too ;-)

Looking forward

OK, I’m not now regretting my decision to go for the 5Ds. However, what about a future 5Ds mk2 with lots more megapixels?

I suspect that Canon might still do the with/without option for financial reasons.

Ian’s experience with moire on the 5Ds R suggests it’s not the issue I thought it might be, and with a higher pixel count, ‘natural’ anti aliasing from lens limitations and residual camera movement may well reduce its occurrence anyway.

I might be tempted to go for the R version, then again I might be perfectly happy with an AA filter, and spend the difference elsewhere…

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