ISO noise test results
have been added to the Canon EOS 5Ds
and 5Ds R review
As the rule goes with today's technology, along with a higher density sensor comes increased noise levels. Design a sensor with a pixel density equal to that of current APS-C sensors and ... one should expect noise levels that are similar to those in APS-C DSLRs. Make no mistake, Canon has not marketed this camera for its clean low light/high ISO performance and that is reflected in the 5Ds' max ISO setting that is lower than what is found even in many current APS-C models. Canon initially indicated that the 5Ds' noise levels would be better than the 5D II and 7D II, but not as good as the 5D III.
My personal expectation was that, when compared at the pixel level, the 5Ds noise levels would be close to those of the not-long-prior released high end EOS 7D II APS-C DSLR and when the 50.6 MP image was scaled down to 5D III pixel dimensions, the 5Ds would have an advantage, producing noise levels similar to or better than the 5D Mark III.
As I was very anxious to see the 5Ds noise test results, this test was a near-first order of business when the cameras arrived and these test results can be found in the noise comparison tool
. Note that the "Standard" results in these tests include no noise reduction. This is not a default setting, but these results show what the camera itself can do. The color blocks, having areas of solid color, make ISO noise very apparent. If you can't see a difference in noise when comparing the color blocks between cameras, you are not likely to see any difference in your images. If the difference is tiny, there are likely other camera features that will be more influential in your decision making process.
Getting an important comparison out of the way: the noise difference between the 5Ds and 5Ds R is indiscernible. Noise is not a decision factor for choosing between these two cameras.
A large number of photographers looking for the resolution offered by this camera will be capturing commercial, studio, portrait, landscape, still life, architecture and a great many other subjects that are most frequently captured at ISO 100 or 200 and those images will be very clean. A very small amount of noise can be seen at ISO 400. Noise levels basically double as full stop ISO range settings are traversed with noise becoming strong but tolerable at 3200. Though this camera's highest ISO setting is 12800 (H), the noise levels are such that ISO 12800 images can be usable for some purposes. That is something I haven't been able to say about the highest ISO settings of any DSLR in a very long time.
Some may be disappointed that the 5Ds only goes to 12800 while cameras such as the 7D II have much higher ISO settings available, but ... bragging right appears to be the only useful value for the 7D II's ISO 51200 setting (or ISO 25600 for that matter). I can't think of a use I have for an image with that much noise.
If you were one of the few that use APS-C ISO 25600 or ISO 51200, simply dial in another stop or two of brightness while post processing. The 5Ds ISO 12800 images can be brightened during post processing to achieve the same 7D II ISO 51200 equivalent with similar amounts of noise. See the "Simulated High ISO" result set in the noise comparison tool for these examples. Brighten 5Ds ISO 12800 images by three stops to get to the 5D Mark III max ISO 102400 equivalent. Then downsize the 5Ds results to the 5D III pixel dimensions and the results are similar (and equally unusable to me). I applaud Canon for designing a realistic max ISO setting into this camera.
After getting over the striking resolution difference between the 7D II and 5Ds, it is apparent that these two bodies have very similar amounts of noise at the pixel level with the 5Ds having a slight advantage at the highest settings. Downsize the 5Ds results to 7D II dimensions and the 5Ds has at least 1 stop of advantage.
When compared at native resolutions, 5Ds images are noisier than 5D III images. The differences, especially at higher ISO settings, are less than 1 stop. Down-sized to 5D III pixel dimension (using DPP, see "Standard Down-Sized to 5D III" in noise tool), 5Ds noise levels are essentially equal to full frame 5D III noise levels and even slightly better at the highest ISO settings. So, while Canon's is not promoting this camera for its low light capabilities, I see it as one of the best options available with output size being comparable.
Additional 5Ds and 5Ds R example sets available in the noise comparison tool include "JPG No NR" (JPG Capture, Standard Picture Style, No Noise Reduction), JPG STD NR (JPG Capture, Standard Picture Style, Standard Noise Reduction), RAW STD NR (RAW Capture, Standard Picture Style, Standard Noise Reduction) and MSNR (Multi-Shot Noise Reduction). All four of these sets utilize Canon's default USM sharpness settings that are too strong for my taste (though the increased default sharpness will make softer lenses appear sharp). Look for the bright borders to the black lines when comparing to the "Standard" results – the color blocks should not have halos around them. On the positive side, this sharpening appears better at higher ISO settings, with image details remaining sharp while noise is significantly removed.
I use the Neutral Picture Style in-camera with RAW capture because it applies a lower contrast tone curve to images, providing a better picture of the camera's available dynamic range on the histogram shown on the LCD. Neutral Picture Style results appear somewhat dull. There is a time for the use of the Neutral Picture Style in production, but I usually change my RAW images to the Standard PS immediately after importing them and then adjust sharpness to a lower level.
The three sets of with-noise reduction samples all utilize Canon's default "Standard" reduction level. The 5Ds offers three levels of in-camera noise reduction and unlimited levels are available in the various post processing options. The RAW vs. in-camera JPG noise reduction samples are not identical, but I don't see a compelling reason to use in-camera JPG noise reduction over having the ability to adjust noise reduction during post-processing. Noise reduction can noticeably eliminate noise, but the collateral damage is elimination of some subject details along with the noise. Sharpness can also be decreased. Ideal is to dial in the right amount of noise reduction for your particular image. I seldom use noise reduction in the lower ISO range.
The Multi-shot Noise Reduction (MSNR) is an additional in-camera option available in many of the latest EOS models including the 5Ds. MSNR merges information from multiple (four) exposures taken in a full-frame-rate burst into a reduced noise image. The concept makes a lot of sense. MSNR provides a remarkable one stop or more of noise reduction, but ... I still have not found a compelling use for this feature.
The downsides to Multi-Shot Noise Reduction include: MSNR is currently available only with JPG output (I would like to see this feature added to Canon's Digital Photo Pro software for RAW capture processing - perhaps as another HDR preset). Multi-Shot Noise Reduction is not so useful with moving subjects (or with a moving camera). Long exposure NR, Dust Delete Data, Multiple Exposure and HDR Mode must be set to off to enable MSNR. The 5Ds reverts back to Standard NR in Auto/Basic zone modes, during video recording, in Bulb mode and when the camera is powered off. Flash is not supported in MSNR mode. After the 4 shot burst is captured, the camera remains "busy" for a noticeable period of time while processing the merged image. So, while this feature is a nice idea, its limitations make it less useful in real-world applications. I am far more likely to use a low ISO setting with a longer exposure when shooting stationary subject from a tripod.
EOS 5Ds ISO settings are available in 1/3 stop settings from 100 through 6400 with extended L (50) and H (12800) settings also available. Canon EOS 5Ds and 5Ds R Noise Performance Summary
In summary, the 5Ds and 5Ds R (equally) deliver very clean, smooth results at low ISO settings despite their incredible resolution. While these cameras are more similar to the latest APS-C models in their pixel-level high ISO noise, downsizing the ultra-high resolution images to match any other class-leading full frame, low noise-level camera shows the 5Ds to be at least an equal in performance. While the 5Ds may not take low light performance to a whole new level, low light performance is not sacrificed and this camera competes strongly with the best available in this regard.