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Canon EOS R vs 5D Mk IV Gear Reviews

Canon EOS R vs. Canon 5D Mk IV | Which One Should You Choose?

By Jay Henington on January 9th 2019

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.

Design

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

Storage

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

Image quality

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.

Canon EOS R

Canon EOS R | RF 50 f/1.2L | SOOC

Canon 5D Mk IV | Sigma 35 f/1.4 | SOOC

Winner: Tie

Auto Focus

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 EOS R | RF 50 1.2L | f/1.8 | 1/1000 | ISO 25,600 | SOOC

Canon EOS R | RF 50 1.2L | f/1.8 | 1/1000 | ISO 25,600 | Cropped

Canon 5D Mk IV

Canon 5D Mk IV | EF 50 1.2L | f/1.8 | 1/640 | ISO 25,600 | SOOC

Canon 5D Mk IV | EF 50 1.2L | f/1.8 | 1/640 | ISO 25,600 | Cropped

Winner: EOS R (by a hair)

LENSES

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

Cost

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

Conclusion

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.

Sample Images

Canon 5D Mk IV

Canon 5D Mk IVCanon 5D Mk IV

 

Canon EOS R

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I’m a Chicago-based photographer and co-owner of Henington Photography. I photograph weddings with my better half, Larissa. When I’m not taking pictures, I’m most likely playing with our two boys, editing, eating chips and salsa, or writing for SLR Lounge.

Website: Henington Photography
Instagram: @heningtonphotography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Amol Sangekar

    Hi Jay, 

    Thanks for your review.

    I’m mainly into shooting wildlife and more so birds in flight.

    I’ve read in few reviews that the EOS R is slower in locking focus in ai servo mode when compared to the 5d mark4. 

    Request you to share your thoughts on this…

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  2. Daniel .

    Regarding your banding shots.. are you sure you did not swap the R and 5D IV image? Everyone else on the internet is saying exactly the opposite to yout finding… namely that 5D is producing clean images whereas the R is more prone to banding when pushing exposures (look for youtube videos from Northrups, Michael the Maven etc)

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  3. Jared Ribic

    Don’t forget the INSANE price of the battery grip for the EOS R.

    I’ll probably pick up Canon’s next EOS R version if it has dual card slots.  A friend of mine has the EOS R and has issues with it locking up from time to time.  He loves his EOS R, but admits it’s not perfect.

    I also wish that the EOS R lenses had their new adjustment ring closer to the body like the EF lens adapter does instead of toward the end of the lens.

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    • Matthew Saville

      For some weird reason, name-brand battery grips have been suffering from this problem more and more often. Some of the latest Nikon battery grips were first announced at an incredibly high price, and I guess Canon wanted to join the party.

      Thankfully, almost immediately after release these accessories drop in price, usually a pretty significant %% within the first year, and by year 3-4 they’re sometimes even offered for free when purchasing the body. 

      It’s a weird market tactic, indeed, and understanding the trends is the best way to avoid spending the wrong amount of money at the wrong time, for your own personal needs.

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  4. Shivani Reddy

    Love the detailed comparison, and such incredible images Jay!! 

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  5. Rodrigo Torii

    Hi! Just a quick question: would you use the EOS R alongside a some DSLRs to shoot a wedding? I do already own two 5D3 and one 5D4 and I was looking to expand my gear. The only thing really stopping me to get the EOS R is the lack of dual card.

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    • Jay Henington

      Hey Rodrigo! So I do shoot two cameras at every wedding. I would do this whether or not I were using the EOS R. And yes, I find it essential to do by using the EOS R. It’s a compromise I’m willing to make to use the EOS R. That said, I use the EOS R about 95% of the time now and only use my 5D Mk IV when necessary. The EOS R is just a better camera in so many ways IMHO and I have both on my all day during a wedding. 

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    • Matthew Saville

      Personally, I sure would! I’d use the EOS R for all of those run-and-gun candid shos where I can just use the 50 RF 1.2, instead of a 24-70, and I’d use the 5D4 for most of the critical formal shots. 

      The single card slot is SD, so a simple SD slotted backup device can resolve our concerns about physical backup by the end of the wedding night, at the very least. Especially if it’s just a 2nd camera.

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  6. Jonathan Brady

    If the lack of dual card slots bothers you & this doesn’t seem cumbersome, you can always record raw images to the memory card and transfer jpeg images to a wireless device like a phone or tablet. This can also be handy if you are one who posts on social media while photographing whatever it is you’re into. The Canon app is easy to use and the process is fairly painless, especially once you get it set up and become used to it.

    If all that’s holding you back is file redundancy, there’s your solution!

    Also, I feel like the article is doing a disservice to the 5D Mark 4 by not mentioning the retail price and instead focusing on the MSRP.

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    • Jay Henington

      I considered doing this Jonathan, but the problem is you have to keep your phone from falling asleep or it stops writing. That’s a huge pain to have to keep checking your phone to make sure it’s still uploading photos. My main work around is I just don’t remove my card from the camera. I use the USB-C cable to transfer files. That greatly reduces the likelihood that the files will get damaged. Also, I shoot with a second camera so worst case scenario I’ll have photos to deliver. 

      As for pricing, I chose to use the MSRP because actual costs are always fluctuating. So when this article is read in two months, the retail price today at say B&H may not be accurate. The MSRP is unlikely to change for a while. 

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    • Matthew Saville

      You can also just shoot RAW+JPG to one card, and the fact that there are two files on the one card usually guarantees that no matter how bad a card fails, if it’s a good quality name-brand card you’ll be able to recover image data off it from at least one of the files, because that’s just how the storage technology works.

      All in all I’m also bummed that Nikon and Canon both decided to omit dual card slots from this first generation, but I understand that they’re just increasing their sales at this point, when they release 2nd-gen cameras with dual card slots, and they need the market flood of cameras one way or another. The ~$2K full-frame market previously had almost zero precedent for dual card slots, BTW, until the A7III came along. Nikon had been doing it since the D600, true, but nobody cared to compete, not the 6D, 6D2, A7, or A7II. The Pentax K-1 was it, haha. So I think the A7III caught Canon and Nikon off-guard a little bit. They could have gotten away with a lot less flak if the A7III had stuck with a single SD slot while the A7RIII had gone dual.  But hey, it’s the underdog’s job to try harder and cram more features in! That’s how the A7III stays competitive against such a polished ergonomic and overall experience as the Canon and Nikon offers.

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    • Jonathan Brady

      Hey Jay, understandable. Interesting thought though… second-hand devices are often CHEAP, cheaper, in fact, than high capacity XQD cards (looking at you, Nikon) so snagging a second-hand phone or tablet (or using your own old one instead of trading it in when you upgrade your phone) and just leaving it on but dimming the screen completely could be a solution as well. Obviously, it’s not ideal, but it works if file redundancy is a necessity. Leaving it plugged into a power pack would likely get you through a long day.
      And Matthew, I know I’m in the minority but I actually prefer the ergonomics of my Sony to anything I’ve used from Canon (practically every DSLR except the 1D line and I’ve also owned a couple of M cameras as well). So, for me, Sony has stolen the show with the 3rd gen mirrorless cameras. And with their latest announced fw updates, they’re taking it a step further!

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