Canon’s EOS DSLR cameras have long been the go-to for professional photographers the world over, prized for their combination of focus accuracy, image quality, and the company’s legendary lens library and customer service.

One thing that Canon isn’t well-known for is rapid change. In the past decade, Canon has been slow to upgrade its offerings—especially its pro-level full-frame DSLRs. The result? Its cameras often lag behind the pack when it comes to cutting-edge features.

However, this year that all changed. Canon released two full-frame bodies, including the Canon EOS 5DS (MSRP $3,699.99) and the EOS 5DSR, each packing massive 50-megapixel full-frame image sensors. That sounds great on paper, but what does that mean in practice?

For many pros, Canon’s refusal to change is a huge plus: If you know your way around 2012’s 5D Mark III, you know your way around a brand new 5DS. On the back of the camera you’ll find exactly the same controls and layout as the 5D Mark III, including the expected buttons and control wheels.

While the 5DS comes with the usual array of ports, there’s sadly no headphone jack. It’s a baffling omission, especially given Canon’s reputation among filmmakers.

The menu system of the 5DS is very straightforward and easy to use. The biggest advantage here is the superb focus customization menu, which lets you tailor the autofocus system’s tracking speed and sensitivity exactly to your liking.

If you’re looking at the 5DS and hoping for a litany of new features, I’ve got bad news: You won’t find many. That’s because Canon—for better or worse—decided that the 5DS’s main draw was going to be its mammoth 50-megapixel sensor, and not things like 4K video.

Despite the 5D Mark III’s pedigree as a videographer’s tool, the 5DS won’t gain much street cred among cinematic circles. We already mentioned the lack of a headphone jack, but the EOS 5DS limits budding videographers to 1080p/30p video.

Though you can record decent full HD clips in low light with lovely shallow depth of field, the 1080p resolution eliminates the benefit of a high-res sensor and overall the video just isn’t much to write home about.

It’s not all gravy for stills shooters, either. The 5DS’s native ISO range extends from 100-6400, and expands out to 50-12,800. While that’s enough to cover most shooting situations, many competing cameras go well beyond that now and it’s nice to have the flexibility for shooting in low-light scenarios.

Those minor qualms about still shooting aside, with the right glass, this camera hangs with the best of them. It has both absolutely spot-on sharpness and insanely good color accuracy, making it a fantastic studio camera.

If you’re a news photographer contending with moving subjects, the 5DS also offers a respectable burst shooting speed, though its capacity isn’t Earth-shattering. Just be careful when shooting bursts: those 50-megapixel files fill up cards fast, though Canon does include reduced-size RAW options that preserve quality but are saved at a lower resolution.

All in all, the Canon EOS 5DS is a pro-grade camera that lives up to Canon’s esteemed reputation, but only in the right situation. If you’re a portrait, landscape, or studio photographer, the 5DS has almost everything you could ask for: beautiful image quality, stunning resolution, incredible color and white balance accuracy, and the best autofocus system money can buy.

But life might be made a little difficult if you’re a hybrid shooter that takes both stills and video. If video is a part of your workflow, you’ll probably want another camera to handle that. Not only does the 5DS not improve appreciably on the 5D Mark III, it actually loses a few key features.

If you want something that pushes the technical envelope, you have a few options in this price range. Our favorite is definitely the Sony A7R II, which has a 42.4-megapixel sensor, is much more compact, and can record 4K video for about $500 less than the 5DS.

If you want to stick with a brand with a slightly more well-established reputation and lens selection, there’s also the Nikon D810. It can nearly match the 5DS for resolution, has more features for those who care about video, and you still get to enjoy the lens selection and support of a camera industry juggernaut.

But if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool still photographer who just wants to shoot, there simply isn’t anything quite like the Canon EOS 5DS. Its combination of a high-resolution sensor, broad lens library, class-leading autofocus, and well-honed control scheme make it a perfect choice for many photographers. The price is steep, but for the right photographer this is just about as good as it gets

Read or Share this story: