When the Canon 5D Mk IV was initially announced, I was disappointed. While it promised improvements over the 5D Mk III in auto focus, resolution, and dynamic range, it wasn’t the revolutionary leap forward many Canon users were hoping for. It still didn’t have the industry-leading dynamic range or ISO capabilities of the newest Sony and Nikon cameras. It didn’t have a flip screen. And it wasn’t mirrorless.
Once I got my hands on one though, I realized it was a much better camera than the 5D Mk III in every way. The dual-pixel auto focus was amazing. The touch screen was extremely responsive, and I found myself rarely using the viewfinder anymore. It was a great camera, but it still left me considering jumping ship for the greener pastures of Nikon or Sony. If it weren’t for all my Canon glass, I probably would have.
Then the Canon EOS R was announced in fall 2018. I was likewise underwhelmed. When it became clear that it would only have one SD card slot, I was resigned to waiting for the “pro” version of the camera to come out in 2019. But then I decided to give it a try, mainly because I couldn’t stand not having a flip screen anymore. And it was a revelation for me. The auto focus was even better than the Mk IV with nearly 100% coverage. The flip screen allowed me to get angles I hadn’t ever considered. The EVF was quicker than I had imagined and I loved being able to see what my exposure looked like while looking through the viewfinder. But, it only had one card slot. And no joystick.
So, I decided to shoot both side by side for a couple months to see which one I used more. In what follows, I’ll break down what I love and don’t love about each and give my honest assessment after having used both cameras side by side for three months.
The Canon EOS R is the most beautifully designed mirrorless camera I’ve seen, aside from a Leica. It’s small, but not too small. It fits nicely in the hand. It has a comfortable grip and is very solidly built. It looks and feels like a modern camera. The button placement is a bit flawed as I still have a tendency to hit the AF-ON button constantly when just resting my thumb on the back and I almost never use the touch thing. I’ve tried to find a use for it, but haven’t found one yet that I use regularly. I’d also prefer a flip screen that only flipped up and down instead the the fully articulating screen as I’m afraid I’m going to rip it off one of these days.
On the other hand, the 5D Mk IV looks and feels like a 5D Mk III, and a 5D Mk II, and a 5D. Seriously, Canon basically kept the same design throughout the 5D series since 2005. Can you imagine if Apple had released an iPhone in 2016 that looked and felt identical to the original iPhone? It goes without saying that the Canon lineup was in desperate need of a refresh. Even with its quirks, the EOS R is a superior camera to the 5D Mk IV in terms of design.
Winner: EOS R
I can hear the chorus of readers right now saying: “Yes it’s pretty! But what about the single card slot?” To that I reply, it is egregious that in this era Canon did not provide two card slots in the EOS R. They had to know people would want it, and it’s unacceptable for them to dismiss complaints about it by claiming this isn’t their “pro” version. The only thing that makes the EOS R not a pro camera is the lack of two card slots. Canon constantly handicaps their cameras so that you’ll buy something else. It’s unacceptable and has caused me to flirt with leaving Canon for Sony for many years.
The 5D Mk IV obviously has two card slots (one CF and one SD). It is wonderful as a wedding photographer to know that even if one card fails, you’ve got a backup. Again, two card slots should just be included in all cameras over $2000. There are no excuses.
Winner: 5D Mk IV
The image quality of both of these cameras is great. They both share the same (or nearly identical) sensor with 30.1 megapixels. The color rendering is typical Canon perfection. The EOS R sports a newer Digic 8 processor, which helps with everything from quicker auto focus to better ISO performance. In the end though, the images that both cameras produce are nearly identical.
Both the 5D Mk IV and the EOS R are equipped with Canon’s Dual Pixel autofocus system. This means that each pixel on the sensor has two light sensing photodiodes. Simply stated, the camera has more information to use when focusing resulting in much more accurate AF. Better AF means fewer missed shots. On the 5D Mk IV, however, when looking through the viewfinder, you still only have the 61 auto focus points clustered in the middle of the viewfinder. On the EOS R, you have access to 5,655 points. In practice, of course, this doesn’t mean you select individual points but rather, basically anywhere you touch on the screen is a focus point.
The EOS R and 5D Mk IV also have face tracking AF while only the EOS R has eye focus. In normal use for portraits or when chasing around my kids trying to get an in-focus image, it’s awesome. And while it’s not currently available in servo mode on the EOS R, it should be coming in a future firmware update.
Winner: EOS R
Low light performance
Dynamic range and high ISO performance are both much improved over the 5D Mk III, and while not quite as good as some of the better Nikon and Sony offerings perhaps, both the 5D Mk IV and EOS R perform about as well as you’ll ever need for real world use.
In the images below, I shot 5-stops underexposed, at the same settings, and recovered 5-stops, you can see that the EOS R image is fairly clean with some slight hints of banding while the 5D IV shows very severe banding. I’m not sure why there’s such a dramatic difference between the two cameras, but the EOS R definitely comes out on top here.
Canon EOS R | RF 50 1.2L | f/1.2 | 1/200 | SOOC
Canon 5D Mk IV | EF 50 1.2L | f/1.2 | 1/200 | SOOC
Both of these cameras have great high ISO performance. They both produce perfectly usable images up to 25,600 ISO. While images shot at 6400 and below are clean with very little noise. I couldn’t see a discernible difference between the ISO performance of either camera.
Canon EOS R
Canon 5D Mk IV
Winner: EOS R (by a hair)
When Canon announced the EOS R, they also unveiled a new lens mount which they promised would be a revolution for lens development allowing sharper, faster, and more innovative lenses. Their first RF mount offerings didn’t disappoint. The RF 50 1.2L, which I previously reviewed, is the new champion of the 50mm focal length. It’s far sharper than its predecessor, the EF 50 1.2L, while it also does not sacrifice the things that make the EF 50 such a beloved lens. The RF 28-70 2.0L (review coming soon) changes the game for wide-medium zoom lenses with its f/2.0 aperture. While the new RF L lenses are enormous, they are incredible and worth the extra size and weight. Whether they are worth the extra price is another question.
In addition to Canon’s new RF lenses, you also have access to all of Canon’s legacy lenses with a $100 adapter. With the adapter attached to the EOS R, all EF lenses function exactly as they would on a native camera. I’ve actually noticed that the auto focus is more accurate for my Sigma and Canon EF lenses on the EOS R.
The 5D Mk IV uses all of the incredible EF lenses, but can’t take advantage of the new advances in lens design that the RF mount will usher in. In fact, it appears that Canon is poised to shift their focus entirely toward their mirrorless lenses in 2019, so I don’t expect much news from Canon on the EF front. That’s good news for innovation, and bad news for Canon DSLR users who are resistant to change.
Winner: EOS R
The 5D Mk IV currently retails for $3,299 while the EOS R retails for $2,299. The EOS R is $1000 less, with the same sensor and better AF. Is $1000 worth giving up the joystick for a touch screen, and one card slot?
Winner: EOS R
The Canon 5D Mk IV and the EOS R are both fantastic cameras. They’re both capable of producing amazing images, and both have great high ISO performance and dynamic range. But they are not equivalent cameras, and how you judge them will have a lot to do with what you prioritize. If you must have two card slots, then the EOS R is a non-starter. If a joystick for changing focus points is essential to you, then this is not the camera for you. However, if you want a lighter camera with better AF, slightly better dynamic range, a flip screen, with the same image quality and color science of the Mk IV all for $1000 less, I’d recommend the Canon EOS R.
Canon 5D Mk IV
Canon EOS R