I have always thought of my myself as a bird photographer. It is one of the most popular genres of photography and one that best utilises the advanced features such as fast focusing and high burst rate of action cameras. In 2008 I was using a Canon 1D Mark III for my bird photography and I loved it. It was a great machine and one of my favourite cameras that I had used. Back then, I was at the early stages of my career as a specialist wildlife photographic guide, and found myself in the bush doing less bird photography and more general wildlife photography. In addition, on the odd occasion I would take a few wide angle photos that I considered to be landscape photography.
When the Canon 5D Mark II was released in 2008 it was not only revolutionary for its DSLR video capabilities but also because it was the first affordable high resolution camera, at 21 megapixels. I bought myself one and knew that with the slower focus system and low burst rate it was not designed for action photography. My aim was to use it for animal and bird portraits, and for all my landscape photography work. I took it with me on safari and immediately fell in love with the superb high resolution. It really stood out as a landscape and wildlife portrait camera and as a result, I used that camera to take some of my favourite wildlife photos at that stage. For me, it really worked well to use both a top action camera and a high resolution camera when I was on safari.
In later years as the other camera bodies were upgraded, it trimmed away the advantage and niche of the Canon 5D Mark II. The Canon 1Dx, for example, is almost on par with the 5D Mark II’s resolution at 18 megapixels, but of course the 1Dx is so much better in the focus and ISO performance departments. When I bought my 1Dx there was no real need for me to keep my 5D Mark II, which I subsequently sold. For 18 months thereafter, I then missed having a higher resolution camera for the portrait photos.
In June 2015 a new revolution started. The Canon 5DS was released with a whopping 50 megapixels. That is more than double the resolution of Canon’s flagship action camera, and 14 megapixels more than other high resolution cameras in the market. Canon hit a home run with another affordable high resolution camera. The term “high resolution” is of course relative to the average resolution of top-end cameras on the market. I don’t know why it took me so long to get myself one, but in March 2016 I took the 5DS on safari for the first time.
I felt a hint of nostalgia as I was again blown away by the quality of images that this camera produced, and I immediately fell in love with it. I first tried it as a landscape camera on a Namibia landscape photo workshop that I hosted. In landscape photography where you use tripod support and photograph at the lowest ISO values, good quality is expected, but the level of detail I captured was so invigorating. In a normal view I could see what appeared to be a spec in the frame, until I zoomed in to 100% where the spec became a clearly defined tree in the background.
After the landscape workshop in Namibia, I went to the Skeleton Coast in Namibia, in search of desert lions and desert elephants. This is where I used the 5DS for the first time to photograph animal and bird portraits, with occasional action photos in between. It was an eye-opener for the level of detail I could capture. I used it with the Canon 600mmf/4 and 100-400mmf/5.6 Mark II lenses, and would capture detail like trees in the background and veins in the animals’ eyes that I could not see through the viewfinder when I took the photos.
As it would typically happen, when you’re setup to photograph a bird portrait with the high-resolution camera, it would fly off but then come back to land on the same perch again. Without changing cameras I would use the 5DS to photograph birds in flight and found the camera to be performing very well. The auto focus system, burst rate, buffer and high ISO capabilities were more than sufficient to capture action sequences that I thought would require an action camera.
Each of the following photos includes a cropped frame below it for you to evaluate the quality at 100% pixel view
What I realised though, is that such a high-resolution camera is unforgiving. To make the most of the resolution, you have to be spot on with good technique and use good lenses. It can accentuate the flaws in your photography. For example, with slight camera shake on a long lens and low resolution camera you might not have noticed the blur at a 100% view, but with the 5DS you will see it very clearly. I also found the new Canon series of lenses like the 100-400mmf/5.6 Mark II and 11-24mmf/4 lenses to be incredibly sharp.
If you zoom in to a 100% on your images and some look slightly soft or grainy, don’t be too disappointed. What you have to remember is that with such high resolution, even if you crop a little afterwards, or scale your image down to half the size, you will still end up with perfect quality and sharpness in a 25 megapixel file. For that reason, it is hands-down one of the best camera’s I’ve ever used if you do a comparison based on image quality.
Other features I love about the 5DS is the light weight and the fact that it uses the same batteries as the other 5D’s and 7D’s. As with all Canon cameras, the menus are simple and efficient and just generally easy to use. When I was photographing in Namibia, bouncing around in the game-viewing vehicle, in the dust, the build quality and robustness of the camera meant that it handled the conditions perfectly.
My recommendation for wildlife photographers specifically would be that if you plan to use only one camera body, rather make it a fast camera like a 1Dx Mark II or 7D Mark II. The 5DS, like I explained above, is a fantastic high resolution camera that is perfectly suited as a second camera body.
Post the Namibia trip I used the 5DS on photo workshops I hosted in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia and Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. The Canon 5DS has found a permanent place in my camera bag. I’m very happy to have found my groove again, in terms of a camera setup. It’s a setup that works well for me and I can’t imagine anything better. Eight years after the 1D Mark III and 5D Mark II were the tools of my craft, I’m looking forward to years of using the upgraded dynamic combo of a 1Dx Mark II as the action and low-light camera, and the 5DS as the wildlife portrait and landscape camera!