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Canon 5DS and 5DS R Initial Resolution Tests

Published June 15, 2015

Like everybody else, we’re pretty excited to get our hands on Canon’s new 5DS and 5DS R. There are already a lot of hands-on articles about the cameras that probably have told you more than you need to know to make your purchase decision. Of course, for most of the Canon shooters who read this blog, the purchase decision was just which place you want to buy it from.

For me, I want some lab data to see just how much of a difference those megapixels make. More particularly, I want to see how much of a difference they make when shot through a reasonably good lens, an excellent lens, and an adequate lens. Some people want to simplify things too much and claim certain lenses are ‘good enough’ for the new cameras and others aren’t. It’s not that simple.

So we begged and threw temper tantrums until Drew agreed to let us have a couple of the new cameras for a couple of days testing in our Imatest lab. That was enough time for us to get a quick overview using several different sample lenses, but it will be months before we have a good database of which lenses are most capable on the new cameras.


Yes, I had to. A cheap cell-phone pick of the highest resolving SLR cameras made just seemed so wrong that it had to be done.


There are several significant differences between the “S” and “R” models and the standard Canon 5D Mark III that these new cameras are not replacing. Lots of real reviews will cover this in detail. Both the new cameras have 50.2 megapixel sensors, compared to the 5D Mk III’s 22.1 megapixels. The 5DS R version has self-canceling low pass filters; effectively eliminating the low-pass filter blur. That should give the 5DS R version a bit higher resolution than the 5DS.

There is one point I want to make early and often, though. Determining how much difference the sensor will make when it is one piece of an imaging system is not a simple thing. Some experts will throw out a calculated number, saying you can see ‘this much’ resolution difference when moving from a 5D III to a 5DS or 5DS R. That number will usually be accurate if you are considering just the center resolution. When using a lens with a long exit-pupil distance, like many telephoto lenses, the calculated number may even be accurate off-axis. On the other hand, some lenses will not show much resolution difference in the edges and corners of the image.

Over time we’ll find which lenses take best advantage of the new, high-resolution sensors, and which don’t. Almost every lens is going to benefit to some degree, of course. The idea that certain lenses are “50 megapixel ready” is kind of silly. The 18-55mm kit lens will still have more resolution on a 5DS than it will on a 5D III.

Testing Methods

We used an ultra-high resolution backlit film chart for the telephoto Imatest images, trying to make certain the chart used didn’t limit the resolution of the final images. Given the very high resolutions these sensors can produce with excellent lenses, I had some concern that a printed paper chart could become the rate limiting factor when testing resolution.  (I expect some test labs that use inkjet printed resolution charts are going to find this to be a problem. Linotype prints probably not so much.)


Telephoto Test: The Canon 300 f/2.8 IS II

The Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II is a really sharp telephoto lens that is still small enough to work with easily in the lab. We shot all 3 cameras through the same copy of the lens. Mirror lock up, 10 second timer, focus bracketing, and all the routine techniques used in all our other Imatest articles were used. The table below shows the resolution differences between the original 5D Mk III and the two newer cameras when shot through the same copy of the lens.

  Center Average Corner Avg.
5D Mk III1050920895
5DS 137511901070
5DS R154513001175

Resolution increased about 30% when moving from the 5D III to the 5DS in the center and for the average of the entire surface of the lens, which was about what we had expected. Resolution in the absolute corners increased about 20%. This isn’t shocking since we would expect the corners of the image to be more limited by the lens (although I had hoped such an excellent telephoto lens might do a bit better).

I was a bit surprised at the difference between the 5DS and the 5DS R in this test. The 5DS R version provided about a 10% increase in resolution over the 5DS.

 Standard Range Test: The Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus

We were wanting to make this test about the cameras more than the lenses so we chose one of the sharpest standard range lenses we could think of, the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus. We repeated the test the same way, shooting at f/2.8 again.

  Center Average Corner Avg.
5D Mk III13001015835
5DS R16601240990

With the Zeiss 85mm Otus things are just a bit different. The improvement between the 5D III and the 5DS is about 20% in the center, slightly less off-axis. The 5DS R version adds about 5% more resolution compared to the 5DS. I was a bit surprised at the result and repeated it several times to confirm the numbers and it was so. The reason I was surprised is the Otus is the highest resolving lens, and my first thought was it therefore would benefit the most from the higher resolution cameras.

Wide-Angle Test: The Zeiss 21mm f/2.8

For this test we moved back to our largest printed paper resolution chart and are shooting even then at a fairly close distance (about 9 feet). The Zeiss 21mm f/2.8, old as the design is, is still on of the sharpest wide-angle lenses in the edges and corners.

  Center Average Corner Avg.
5D Mk III1060800
5DS R14951140690

Again, we see the resolution is greatly improved, with the 5DS MTF50 numbers about 30% higher than the 5D Mk III, even in the corners. Throughout most of the image, the 5DS R MTF50 numbers are about 10% higher than the 5DS. However, in the absolute corners there is only a small difference between the 5DS and 5DS R cameras. From other things we know about this lens, I would assume this is because the corner resolution with this lens is limited by astigmatism.

I want to clarify this just a bit because depending upon how a tester is presenting data, you may see them present this corner data differently. Imatest doesn’t measure astigmatism exactly, but does measure slanted lines that are nearly vertical and nearly horizontal. When I present corner data I average 8 numbers: the horizontal and vertical reading in each corner. Someone else may present only the best corner number, or the median corner number, or just vertical or horizontal numbers. This might have a corner number better or worse than what we are presenting.

The Not So Great Lens Test: Canon 50mm f/1.4

I wanted to add this to make a point. I’m beginning to read people discussing “50-megapixel capable lenses” and I’m afraid it creates some confusion. It’s true, these high-resolution sensors are going to magnify the difference between lenses. But that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit every lens. With this in mind I went and found a battered old copy of the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens. This is a decent, although few would claim fabulous, lens. This particular copy was also very slightly decentered. It wasn’t even the best of the 50mm f/1.4. I test all three cameras with this lens just like I did the others (except this test was done at f/1.4 — I want the lens to be just as weak as it could be).

  Center Average Corner Avg.
5D Mk III660475330
5DS R800570350

Even with a weak copy of an average lens, there’s no question the high resolution sensors improve the resolution, at least in the center. The improvement isn’t as great as it is with the excellent lenses we tested above. The 5DS had about 20% better resolution in the center and as an average compared to the 5D III. Corner resolution, though, changed very little. The difference between the 5DS and 5DS R was also negligible with this lens. But there’s no question even a weak lens shows significantly improved resolution on the new cameras.


Just as it was the Nikon high resolution cameras were released, it will take months of testing and photographer experience to determine which lenses do exactly what with the new cameras. But it’s not a critical thing to know at first. Every lens will have better resolution when shot on the new cameras, at least in the center of the image. How much of a difference will range from noticeably better, to “wow” depending upon the lens, type of photography, and subject matter.
There are many other things that are going to be as, or more, important to the photographer than absolute resolution. But absolute resolution is always a good thing. And these cameras certainly deliver phenomenal resolution.


Roger Cicala


June, 2015

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Lensrentals.com. Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

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  • Roger Cicala

    Derek, no, no chance at all 🙂

  • Anders

    Regarding s vs r: the only reason to choose the 5Dsr instead of s is if you think 50 megapixels is too little and you want to boost it a little bit further at the cost of inaccuracies in terms of moire and false colors. It may also make pixel-peeping more fun.

    However, with proper sharpening workflow the look difference in terms of sharpness will be tiny, and the colors of tiny details will be more accurate with the 5Ds. So if you care about *real* image quality the 5Ds is the better choice.

    I’m still convinced that the 5Dsr will sell more, because people really like to pixel peep. It should also be said that the modern cameras without AA filters have less issues with moire than old-school medium format cameras had, thanks to the gapless microlenses (ie more of the pixel is sampled)

  • JohnL

    Many thanks for this, it’s causing me maybe reverse my s vs. r decision… again…

    Also worth considering is a 5Ds/r moire comparison such as in this video (I’m guessing pretty much worst-case):

    See at 39:00 for moire comparison s/r (BTW Google Translate will translate the subtitles, although it may not help all that much). Note the A7rII is LPF-less so will more like the r.

    I still can’t decide between the s and r, with a minor concern about whether the A7rII really does focus EF lenses okay (the example videos do all seem to stick with wide angles).

    Any chance of some pics showing how much moire you got from the test charts?

  • Jacques Dion

    I will like very much so know the performance of the camera with the canon 8-15mm f4. This is the lens I used the most in my work and I need to be convinced if it will justify the investment

  • GM

    Great…..But more excited about the new Sony sensor to be honest…

  • KimH

    Great and ineresting – somewhat surprising that the R makes this much difference.

    I fumbled around with some math – would it be correct to say that the theoretical maximum LP/IH is 3050 in the 5DS?

  • Tony

    I have a different question.
    How big is the difference between a top lens (such as an Otus) and a “normal” good or even “not-so good” lens at f5.6 or f8 on a Nikon 800/810 or a Canon 5D S ? Center and corners obviously. Most tests are at maximum aperture.

    Thank you for all the work that goes into your blog – it is much appreciated.

  • Carl

    Roger, again I have to say a big bravo !! This little review comparison, is without a doubt the most useful and telling, of all the supposed “reviews” of the 5DS cameras I have seen so far (especially including all those overly glowing appraisals from the “explorers of light”…I recall they had nothing negative to say about the 7D2 before its release, yet it turns out it is not without flaws).

    Regarding your results…As you said, the angle of view is naturally limiting to lenses with shorter focal length, outside the center (vs. longer telephotos). Very telling that the 300 f/2.8 got finer resolution outside the center at wide open aperture, than the mighty Zeiss 85mm Otus achieved at 2 stops from full open aperture !!

    To those above asking to see comparison results from other cameras, or asking why Canon doesn’t make a different camera…you guys seem to be missing out on a lot of points. Please focus on the task at hand, and realize what is relevant and what is not…what Canon’s goals are, and how they approach their camera design, and releases. Study their recent history and do some basic research, ok?

    Roger, to you and (Joey ?) and all the rest of your entire staff, keep up the excellent work! You truly are both a superb rental company AND testers of all things photo !

    We are not worthy !!

  • Ebrahim Saadawi

    Some of you guys are irritating. It’s a simple exaggeration when he mentioned the 18-55mm.

    And by the way I can easily remove the small protective pin on the 18-55mm ef-s mount and use it on a 5D, it’s exact same mount, and the only harm is that the ef-s lens elements sometimes extend farther back interfering with the larger FF-Size mirror. So remove protection pin, engage live-view or mirror lock-up, and shoot the 18-55mm on both the 5DIII & 5DsR and you’ll find it produces higher resolution.

    The point of the article is the foolish DXO-reading people who say the best lens is 26mps (as if a lens has a pixel count) so no point to use it on a 51mp sensor. Simply wrong.

  • Any chance you could test an analogue EOS film camera and compare the resulting line resolution from scanning 35mm film?

  • Tim D

    Roger, isn’t it true that without an AA filter, spatial frequencies above nyquist *must* be captured incorrectly and undecipherable by all downstream interpretation including Imatest MTF measurements? Otherwise if frequencies above nyquist were properly captured and interpreted there would be no need for AA filters in any application. In other words sampling theory tells us that without AA filter, the spatial frequencies above nyquist will *improperly* be captured as lower frequency information, and this lower frequency information may correctly be ‘interpreted’ by Imatest MTF measurements as ‘higher’ contrast or greater resolution? Would love to hear your take on resolution tests with AA-filterless sensors.

  • Hjalmar

    Many thanks Roger,

    Also interesting would be to compare some high-res Sigma Art lenses (e.g. 35mm, 50mm) on these Canon cameras and Nikon 810.
    On the Canon side, it would be nice to see their performance with the most used Canon lenses like the 24-70mm f2.8L II and the 70-200mm f2.8L IS II

  • Marcel

    Makes me glad I held out for the R. I would love to see some 500 mm f4ii comparisons and am curious whether it is a relatively constant percent difference across lenses.

  • And if you have the time, or just need an excuse, I’d like to see resolution tests from a recent standard 7D,5D3,6D,7D2 WITH AND WITHOUT the AA (low-pass) filter as most modern cameras don’t have it.

    I know that there is/was at least one company which can make this modification.

    Thank you.

  • “The 18-55mm kit lens will still have more resolution on a 5DS than it will on a 5D III.”

    [pushes glasses up on nose]

    Um, so, I’m pretty sure an EF-S lens won’t mount on a full-frame body.

  • I’d like to see the results from the Canon 7D mark II as it has a 4.09 microns pixel pitch while the the 5DS has a pixel pitch of 4.14 microns.
    I believe you’ll get similar resolution results from the 7D2. 🙂

    If you need 50 MP, that’s another issue. 😉


    Why dont they make a 5d4 with 50MP and 4k?You have to choose. What a scam.Im going to pass on both these and and wait for a 5D5, or who knows, maybe there will be a 5Dsr MkII in a few years with 4k and 75MP.I bought the 5D, 5D2,5D3,and now I am disgusted with canon. I might not live long enough for the 5D5 to come out.

  • Derek

    Roger, interesting test, thanks for taking the time and effort, suprising to see the 50f1.4 improve much.

    Just for reference the units of “sharpness” are LP/PH?

  • Matthew

    “Highest Resolving 35mm SLR Camera” might be a better statement! Good Job.

  • NancyP

    Thank you, this is very interesting.

  • Curious Roger, will you be doing any comparison between these and the Nikon D810? Clearly it’s a larger sensor, wondering more about “IQ”.
    Thanks for your efforts!

  • Jake

    Thanks for the tests, I appreciate the technical and professional approach. Very good choice of lenses for your first summary. It is just your first right? There will be others right? 🙂 No matter; thanks again for these informative tests.

  • Wolf Altmann

    EFS 18-55 doesn’t fit on full frame lens mount!
    Apart from that, thanks for he tests.

  • David Truland

    “The 18-55mm kit lens will still have more resolution on a 5DS than it will on a 5D III.”

    Not really since you can’t affix that lens to either body.

  • Brandon

    Hi CarVac,

    We have measured the otus and the 21 on the MTF Bench, we would measure a few 300s but their entrance pupil is too large to be saturated by the stock collimator, the best we could do is test them at about f/6 working aperture which is sub ideal. The 21mm is diffaction limited on axis at f/5.6 and very close to it at f/2.8 and f/4. The performance is exceptionally good off-axis in one of the two image planes as well, but the other does not benefit too too much from stopping down due to the relatively strong astigmatism.

    Small focus adjustments will bring the edges of the “bad” plane up to a very good level, so on-camera it is essentially perfect, or very near it, at f/4 and f/5.6.

    The otus 85 is worse at f/1.4 than the ZE21 is at f/2.8 on the MTF bench, but we have not run tests at f/2.8 on the otus to know how that comparison plays out. I would suspect the otus will be very close in the center and surpass it off-axis.

    Regarding the “detail structures” of the two lenses – both are extremely well coated, flocked, baffled, and edge-blackened internally and do not exhibit a large veiling flare (the RokiBowYang 14mm is especially bad in this regard) so on-axis at least, the spherical aberration and coma from mild centering flaws are the only things at play. “Micro” vs “Macro” contrast there depends on the camera sensor *and* the lens.

    Off-axis has a great deal to do with the sensor stack thickness as well and we cannot guarantee that the design for the Zeiss is as well-adapted as one from Canon themselves.


  • Brandon

    Hi James,

    We did the Otus on the D810 and on the 5Ds cameras planning to do a comparison, but the numbers don’t match our expectations and we believe it has to do with a sensor stack thickness interaction issue, so we thought it best to leave that data out.


  • CarVac

    I imagine that you’re bumping into the difference between macro contrast and microcontrast of the lenses.

    The Otus has crazy good microcontrast, so even with the AA filter on the 5Ds it clears the 50% contrast level at a really fine level of detail.

    The Zeiss 21 and Canon 300 probably are less crazy good (especially run at their widest aperture), so the reduced microcontrast from the AA filter harshly cuts the resolution that exceeds the 50% resolution level.

    Or so I suspect.

  • gary samples

    thanks for the tests!
    more please with canon glass

  • James Scholz

    Thanks Roger, I have been very interested in learning about these new Canons compared to the old, and I am sure a lot of other people will be too.

    I am also very curious to learn how they compare to the Nikon
    D810 with the Zeiss lenses, and hope at some point you will have time to get around to testing those.

  • Chris Livsey

    “highest resolving SLR cameras ”
    You are going to upset all the Phase One IQ280 back owners with that one, well the ones not using them on technical cameras!! Not to mention the 50MP but six shot 200MP H5D200MS from Hasselblad.

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