I am intermediate student on photography. I am intending to buy a full format Canon camera and I am between Canon 5D mark III and mark II. I would like to be able using ISO numbers of 800 or 1600 or even more with less noise. I chose full frame, because I am pursuing better image quality of what my current Canon 550D offers. For this reason bigger sensor would be excellent. Finally I chose Canon as a brand, as it is financial wise to go on using Canon cameras, and because I got used to Canon.

I have made a research on the internet about some specifications I would like my camera to have:

High ISO performance: Canon 5D mark III is better at high ISO numbers. Why is that though, since its pixel size is slightly smaller than the pixel size of the mark II? Have the manufacturers made some other improvements on that?

AF-points: Canon 5D mark III has 61, whereas mark II only 9. I only want this for tracking objects or when I do not want to focus and recompose.

HDR: Mark III has this option I would like to try.

Pixel size: As I mentioned, mark 2 has slightly bigger pixels, but there is very little difference between the two cameras.

Do you know any other specifications of the two cameras, that can somehow help me decide eventually?

What do you think about either cameras? What would you choose if you want to go more professionally, gaining more image quality over your images?

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    @drfrogsplat I think this is one of those cases where the later question is the better one. Unlike the "what's the difference?" question, it shows basic research. And the price difference one is inherently opinion-based. – mattdm Mar 31 '14 at 2:06
  • As a 5D Mark iii owner, it really is a completely different camera than the 5D Mark ii. The ii has more in common with the 6D while the iii is more a cheaper version of the 1Dx. The weather proofing, build quality and AF are all major steps up from the 5D Mark ii. – AJ Henderson Mar 31 '14 at 3:56
  • @AJHenderson How long did you own a 5DII? The 5DIII focus system is significantly improved over the 5DII, the low light performance is marginally improved, but there is little if no difference in the build quality, weather proofing, etc. – Michael C Apr 2 '14 at 0:07
  • @MichaelClark - I never owned a mark ii, but all the reading I did when I was looking at comparing them said the weather sealing on the 5D Mark iii was much closer to the 1D series than the Mark ii. – AJ Henderson Apr 2 '14 at 1:54

The 5D mk2 was released in 2008, the mk3 in 2012, 4 years is a long time in technology.

The mk3 is much better, it is better because of 4 years of sensor technology research, the pixel size makes a difference only if everything else is the same - and when you compare a models that have a 4 years difference everything isn't even close to the same.

If you are not a pro you should probably look into the 6D, according to what I heard (don't have a 6D or a 5Dmk2 to compare myself) it has better high ISO performance than the mk2, it has a similar auto focus as the mk2, it's smaller and lighter than than both the 5D models and it has WiFi - and you get a new one for somewhere in the neighborhood of a used 5Dmk2.

For an hobbyist the 6D is probably a better deal than the 5Dmk2 (not surprising, this is the market this camera was created for), the 5Dmk3 is without a doubt a superior camera but it's also more expensive.

Just a few examples of the differences between the mk2 and mk3:

  1. The mk3 is much better in high ISO (because of the newer sensor technology, that has nothing to do with the pixel size)

  2. The mk3 has what is probably the best auto focus system in the industry at the moment (except for the 1Dx that has a better version of the same system), the mk2 has a below average auto focus, very similar to the 550D

  • Thank you, Nir! I appreciate the time you devoted to share with me all this information. I'm not a hobbyist. So I probably go for the mark 3 :) – Morpho Mar 30 '14 at 23:47
  • The High ISO/low light performance difference between the 5DII and 5DIII is just under one stop. Significant, yes. But not to the degree your answer makes it sound. The major difference is the consistency of the 5DIII focus system compared to the 5DII focus system when using top tier lenses produced since about 2010 that provide more accurate feedback to the camera about how far the focus elements actually moved during PDAF. – Michael C Mar 31 '14 at 0:52
  • Michael, what do you mean by consistency of the focus system? You mean that it is faster on mark 3? – Morpho Mar 31 '14 at 10:01
  • @Morpho - phase detect auto focus systema traditionally trade accuracy for speed - the new system in the 5Dmk3 and the 1Dx is very fast but it's also much more accurate than older systems, older systems has a lot of variation and often miss by a bit and focus just to the front or back of the subject - the new system has a lot less variation and has way less focusing errors. – Nir Mar 31 '14 at 10:06
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    The focus system of the camera, though, has to do with the focus system of high quality lenses, right? – Morpho Mar 31 '14 at 10:11

The resolution difference is so small that it is irrelevant. Technological improvements on the other hand deliver a much better performance from the Mark III version with almost 2 full stops of improvements in terms of image-noise at high-ISO.

In terms of photography though, the most significant difference between the two is that the Mark III has a 100% coverage viewfinder while the Mark II does not. You cannot compose your shots perfectly with the Mark II and that is enough to discount it for any serious photography.

The continuous drive, if you're into that sort of thing, is much faster on the Mark III. 6 FPS compared to 4 is 50% better and the buffer-depth has also increased. In the same situation you would use continuous drive, more AF-points become even more useful. If you shoot mostly static scenes though, these do not matter much.

  • Thank you, Itai! I do shoot mostly static scenes, but sometimes a few more AF-points really matter. However, I would like to try more action shots, so I am considering the 61-points of mark 3. I made a research on the ISO performance of both models and mark 3 appeared to be much better in most situations with ISO 3200 and even 6400, which brings me to the idea that mark 3 is an improved version of mark 2, at least in the terms of low noise. – Morpho Mar 30 '14 at 23:51
  • @Morpho - Yes. That is what the first paragraph means. 2 stops means that you can better results at ISO 6400 on the Mark III than you get at ISO 1600 on the Mark II and so on. – Itai Mar 31 '14 at 0:24
  • Where are you seeing a two stop difference between the two when .cr2 files from both cameras are processed using the most current RAW convertors on both cameras? – Michael C Mar 31 '14 at 0:57
  • Interesting point, It is possible that improvements in software narrow the gap. I do not know for sure though as it would require going back and re-processing images each time new software is released. My references are - for now - with respect to the software version available at the time the camera was in my hand, which is usually within the year of release. – Itai Mar 31 '14 at 2:41

I would recommend the 5d mark III without a doubt. Yes it's more, but the mark II has an antiquated AF system with a 9-point diamond. It's fine for most things but if you want to track objects such as aircraft, sports players, etc. the 61-pt AF system in the mark III is much better. Zone mode, expansion mode, spot too, all help get that shot!

Also the low-light performance is awesome and long exposure noise is well controlled. Features like HDR mode I've never used but I hear are good. I prefer to use bracketing, which on the mark III you can set up to 7 shots in AEB.

  • Thank you, Mike! I appreciate your comment! I will go for a mark 3! Thanks :) – Morpho Mar 31 '14 at 9:11

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