Photography: Back to Mirrorless – Canon R5

Canon R5

In August of 2015, I shared here that it was time to sell my Olympus E-M1. I owned that camera for almost 2 years after really loving the M43 format on my Olympus PEN E-PL2. It was a great format because the camera was so small, light and unassuming. You could walk around with a 200MM zoom and no one paid you any mind because the small size looked like a tourist rig. I was convinced Full Frame is where I needed to end up after my 2011 India Trip and it just became a matter of financial security that helped me achieve that dream with the 5D Mark III purchase in 2016. 3 years later, in 2019 I sold that camera and purchased a 5D Mark IV. I started to acquire a few lenses and the Mark IV’s biggest advance was built in GPS among a lot of other really great features.

I purchased that 5D Mark IV for a total steal. Due to an online issue, Canon accidentally discounted it to $1500 right after Christmas in 2019. It hasn’t been that low since. Guess what I sold it for last week? $1600. Not bad :)

Just over 3 years later and I’m upgrading again. This time to the Canon R5, their full frame mirrorless camera. Digital SLRs are dead and the EF lens mount is also dead. You can still buy DSLRs and EF lenses but Canon is not making new ones. They’re all in on mirrorless. That’s a good thing because if Canon can bring features that allow them to compete with smartphones, improve connectivity, introduce smart artificial intelligence and do it in a body that pros can use to shoot photos that make them money, they should. The Canon RF mount is the future and it’s quite astonishing. These new cameras and lenses are, on average, 50% smaller than their predecessors. As someone whose travel photography is almost entirely done atop a motorcycle, size matters.

Speaking of size, I can fit a Canon R5, a 70-200 RF lens and a 24-70 RF lens in my tank bag that is on my dirt bike. That’s how small this system is compared to DSLRs where it was Camera + 24-70 and just enough room for my wallet. That’s progress! Oh and the new R5 (5D’s replacement body) has over a thousand autofocus points, shoots at 20FPS in full 40 megapixel RAW format, has an electronic view finder that runs at 120FPS, an articulating display that has a touch screen, can shoot 8K video, is full frame and works with every single EF lens and flash I already have via an adapter. The only thing I’m losing with this upgrade is built in GPS for adding EXIF data to every photo, something that has kept me from upgrading for 2 years but rumors say that the next R5 Mark II won’t have GPS either since the GPS connectivity achieved by pairing your smartphone with the camera via Bluetooth is so reliable and auto-connects when the camera turns on, most people feel this is a good enough compromise in favor of battery life on the R5.

About battery life, it’s bad. My Canon 5D…900 shots was no problem and 350 is about average for the R5. But there’s good news to that, on long motorcycle trips, I used to have to carry my Canon 5D battery charger because after 3 days, I’d need to charge the battery. The R5 charges via USB-C so long as your power adapter supports PowerDelivery so now I can forgo the battery pack and just plug in my R5 every night to one of my 20,000 MaH Anker batteries with PD and charge it without removing the battery. That’s pretty swell and 350 shots a day is roughly average. If it isn’t, I can always carry a spare battery.

Another fairly substantial negative on this new RF format is the prices are astronomical! The 50mm F/1.2 EF lens was $1000 in 2016. It’s $2299 in RF format. The 70-200 F/2.8 was $1899 when I bought one in 2018. It’s $2799 now. Essentially, every RF lens is $1000 more than its predecessor. The memory (CFExpress Type B) is twice as expensive as Compact Flash, the batteries are $80 instead of $50 for my 5D and luckily, Canon’s 4-year warranty only went up by $100. I’ve received some questions about Canon’s CarePAK being worth it and if you leave your house with the camera, it is. 

Quick digression but here’s what CarePAK gets you for about $300 on top of your $3800 camera:

  • 4 year warranty (versus 1)
  • Annual inspection & cleaning at Canon in Virginia and they pay shipping both ways
  • Full coverage against accidental damage. I broke my rear screen, I broke some buttons, I wore off some of the lettering, they replaced it no questions asked
  • If you drop your camera down a cliff and can retrieve it, CarePAK will refurbish or replace your camera
  • I’ve mailed my camera in every single year and their inspection & cleaning alone more than pays for the CarePAK but you need to set a calendar reminder so you don’t forget

It’s been mentioned already but I am blown away by now small the R5 body is. It still feels professional but as someone with big hands who actually had a battery grip on his 5D, this thing feels like holding a toy until you start to shoot with it and realize it’s incredibly well built.

About the EF to RF lens conversion. Canon blew this out of the park. They knew professionals would reject a platform where they had to purchase all new lenses. Some pros have $50,000 invested in lenses and flashes. Canon gave us a very low cost ($99) EF to RF adapter and you lose nothing when using this. You aren’t losing stabilization, aperture, focus distance or even speed. You’re getting an EF experience on your new RF with the added advantage that the R5 has in body stabilization which also works with the old EF lenses. 

Why would anyone upgrade if lenses are all $1000 more and the EF lenses have zero compromises? Well, like I said RF lenses are 50% smaller and often much lighter. The RF version of one of my favorite lenses (70-200 f/2.8) is 30% lighter (1.07KG versus 1.48KG) and it’s much shorter. I can tell you even if it wasn’t Canon’s intention that affixing that EF lens + RF adapter to my R5 feels comical. It’s like attaching a huge scope to a little bb-gun. It looks dumb and you feel dumb. I guess it reminds me a lot of when I let a friend who had a Canon Ti of some sort (their entry level $499 DSLR) affix the 70-200 and the lens was 90% of the mass on that tiny SLR.

As soon as I got home, i started seeing just what it would cost me to convert to RF. I’ll have to pace myself because to replace every lens would be a 5-year plan spending about $2K a year to make it possible…a bit less if I sell my current lenses at the same time for example my 70-200 goes for about $1500 and I can buy the new one for $2200 used. I know for a fact that if I am taking a big cross-country trip, replacing my 24-70 and 70-200 are at the top of my list because fitting the camera + those 2 lenses in a tank bag sounds like heaven. I never get to go on motorcycle trips with my 70-200 due to its size. Now I can put it in my tank bag!

I sold my Canon 5D for $1600 and this new camera cost me $2950 (Sale + Refurb + Upgrade pricing) and I’ll have another $200 coming back to me from a credit card perk so $2750 and with what I sold the 5D for, that puts me at an upgrade cost of $1150. Not bad!

There is another Canon R5 coming likely this year. But this has been my process for a long time with cameras. It’s odd for me to buy the outgoing model but as a non-professional, this strategy has worked really well for me. Buy a camera that’s 3 years old and in 3 years, sell it and buy the next one that’s already 3 years old. I should apply this same logic to cars and computers but for some reason, those just feel different.

Anyway, new camera and I’m super stoked!

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