Equipment

Comparing a Ten-Year-Old Camera to a Modern One

This month marks ten years for the Canon 5D Mark III – a camera once known as the top of the line, now superseded by a couple of different camera generations. With March of 2022 being its ten-year birthday, I thought I’d do a fun little comparison to see how far we’ve come in these ten years, and if having the top-of-the-line camera is as important as many will want you to believe.

What Has Changed In Ten Years?

A lot can happen in the tech industry in ten years, and the photography market is no exception. The biggest change comes in format – DSLR is a dying breed, with mirrorless platforms taking over for all major brands. But format aside, each iteration of new cameras comes with faster shooting speeds, higher resolutions, and chips promising faster and far more accurate focusing. And while these upgrades are universally appreciated, one must ask – Are they really as important as we think they are?

The Competition

To celebrate the ten-year birthday of the Canon 5D Mark III, I decided to put it toe to toe with one of the top of the line cameras today – my beloved Fujifilm GFX 100s. The Fujifilm GFX 100s is a better camera on all accounts – increasing resolution significantly from 22.3mp to 102mp, supplying a much larger sensor, adding built-in image stabilization, and having nearly 7 times as many focus points. And that is just touching on the basics, the Fujifilm has a number of additional features that put it in a class well above what Canon could offer ten years ago – but do those things really add quality to your work or just some conveniences?

To test that, I’ve taken five different photos with the Canon 5d Mark III, and Fujifilm GFX 100s to see if you can pick out which one is which. Sure, there are a million variables added to the equation – from professional lighting to retouching, but the point still stands – Can you really tell the difference between the state of the art camera, to a ten-year-old system?

The Test

Each set of photos was taken on a Canon 5d Mark III with a Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS, as well as a Fujifilm GFX 100s with a Fuji GF 120mm f/4 IS Macro. The images were toned and edited in Capture One Pro and Adobe Photoshop before scaling for the web. I will present all the images below, with the option to click them to display them on a larger scale, followed by a quiz to see if you can guess which one is which.

Studio Test w/ Alexis by Zach Sutton
Natural Light Latte by Zach Sutton
Macro Flower by Zach Sutton
Motorcycle Detail Shot by Zach Sutton
Angel in Natural Light by Zach Sutton

The Quiz

Differences I Noticed

The biggest difference I noticed from new cameras to old ones came with the contrast in the RAW files. The Canon 5D Mark III comes with considerably more contrast and saturation in the files by default when compared to more modern cameras – particularly in studio lighting. This is kind of expected; if you understand the workflow of RAW video processing, you’ll know that you want to work with a flat image prior to adding color grading either manually or through the use of LUTs. The same applies to photography workflows when shooting with RAWs. Starting with a flat image, you can then go into your RAW image processing software and add back your contrast, saturation, and luminosity – allowing you to get the exact look you’re going for. While this process takes more time, it does generally produce better results, and as sensor technology grew, as did the post-production processing capabilities and workflow.

The second thing I noticed between the two images came with just general sharpness and resolution. This is to be expected, as we’re comparing a 35mm 22-megapixel sensor to a considerably larger sensor offering 102-megapixels. But all in all, I found that the Fuji had better sharpness as a whole. This can be because of a myriad of reasons – from better optics to image stabilization, to a variety of other variables – but it is something I noticed throughout all the images – regardless of whether they were in the studio or on location. And while I absolutely love the 102-megapixel resolution, for the ability to crop in my images and print at a large scale, it does beg the question of how important this resolution is when 99% of photography is displayed on web formats only. Instagram downscales your images to 1080px (long edge), Facebook downscales to 1200px long edge, and most websites will function best if the resolution doesn’t exceed 2500px long edge. All of these are considerably smaller than what both of these sensors produce (Canon 5d Mark III defaults to 5760px long edge at 300dpi, whereas the Fuji GFX 100s defaults to 11648px long edge at 300dpi), so each camera is comfortably over the maximums of most social media platforms.

Finally, the last thing I noticed was that the Fuji GFX 100s was about 1/3rd of a stop underexposed when compared to the Canon 5D Mark III. Now this is likely just some variance in the lenses, but something worth noting nonetheless. I won’t dig too far into it, as it’s complicated, but f-stops by design are theoretical (whereas t-stops are a physically measured transmission). So this differing exposure isn’t a fault on the Fuji GFX 100s or Canon 5d Mark III systems, just a variance that I made note of prior to bumping exposure up a tad in post-production.

So Do You Need the State of the Art Camera?

While counterintuitive to a blog that promotes new gear available for rentals, you probably don’t need the latest and greatest camera to create your art. While a little slower to use, and without all the bells and whistles, I found the Canon 5D Mark III to still be an incredibly capable camera – especially if the work is going to be displayed on web format and not printed. Given that 99% of all photography will probably never hit the printers anyway, it doesn’t seem like it’s entirely necessary to have the highest resolving sensor available.

However, this really comes down to the law of diminishing return – which states that once an optimal level is reached, efficiency will reduce over time. Or in laymen’s terms, once all of your necessary needs are met from something, those above and beyond moments become harder to reach. A ten-year-old flagship camera still checks all the boxes a professional photographer needs, and while it may not be as flashy and nice as a modern camera, it still does the intended job. With today’s technology, your camera is most likely not the weakest chain in your workflow and isn’t the limiting factor preventing you to get to the next level with your work.

Example of how the Law of Diminishing Return applies to 3d rendering.

But how did you score on guessing which camera was which? Were there some of the key indicators of the Canon 5D Mark III versus the Fujifilm GFX 100s? Chime in in the comments below.

Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at Lensrentals.com. I’m also a commercial beauty photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.
Posted in Equipment
  • Bear Pat

    Got 3/5 right for the test, just trying to guess by the colour science. Honestly in such small thumbnails and composition, the sensor size and resolution doesn’t matter, 100MP is pure overkill.

  • Nemo Niemann

    Zach, you really must be kidding. This is not even a close nor fair and accurate comparison. This is like comparing your results with Fuji Provia 100 shot with a Canon SLR and the same film with a Mamiya 645, or really an RZ67. Essentially, Apples and oranges. For a true comparison of the state of technology, compare the 5D3 to Canon EOS R3 or perhaps a Sony a7 IV. THEN you would truly be comparing the advances in technology. You can’t just compare a small sensor to a large sensor and say this is 1:1, then-and-now. I say this as someone who has shot professionally, commercially since 1976, with almost every Canon film camera from 1980 on, almost every Canon pro digital camera since 2001, as well as owned Hasselblad 6×6 film cameras, Mamiya 645 and 4×5 view cameras. BTW, got 40% viewing on my phone. I probably would have done better on my computer.

  • Shai Yammanee

    I was shooting professionally with the 5Dmk2 for over a decade. I only had to upgrade when the weather sealing died on location during an unexpected tropical storm.

    The one thing I found is that the image quality improvements have only been incremental over the years. But, the tools to make my shooting faster, more accurate, and more ergonomic, and lighter, have increased dramatically.

    Still….. I wouldn’t say no to any of the MF cameras on the market.
    Even the older models ?

  • sperho

    I only got 40% correct. I’m pretty sure online photography doesn’t benefit significantly from a 100 Mp camera. 🙂 I shoot a lot for a large marching band in the Southeast. Not a paid gig, but a few things I’ve learned after posting thousands of pictures online for friends and family consumption: 1) down to 4 Mp, camera resolution doesn’t matter. 2) Sensor noise is almost completely irrelevant, 3) light and composition rule all. Bonus learning: 90% of the general population looking at pictures online do so with their phones (I learned this through a poll a few years ago. I bet that number has only gone up a bit by now). Probably why points 1 and 2 are the top two learnings.

  • Achim Schäfer

    I fully agree with you!

    The evolution in sensor IQ is coming to an end now due to physical reasons. I did a lot of concert photos for example with a Sony A65 and A77 II and due to knowledge and post processing (RAW!) they were more than sufficient even in really bad lighting situations. The A7 III and the A1 didn’t bring me here really more – but the improvements in e.g. AF did bring a lot!

    But what I still miss is more improvements in UI/UX and the interfaces. For example the WiFi integration is still a mess. Or why did they eliminate GPS? I found it very comfortable to have correct time in the EXIF data without setting it manually. Or 5G (cell phone) integration? Here in Switzerland I can get a SIM card with unlimited data volume for 44 CHF/month (should be around the same in US $) so the cam could send my photos taken on a venue or e.g. demonstration nearly in real time to my office/studio/agency. Cheap smartphones can do this why not professional cameras?

    Or usable tethering: should be no problem to incorporate that – why isn’t it there in all models?

    I see the same problems of usability in a different but somehow related business: modern TVs – they are crowded with all gimmicks but to use them is just a mess even for an IT professional…

  • Theodor of Defeat

    I still own a 5D3 and it is still all the camera I need and then some.

  • Michael Henke

    Didn’t view them at full size, and got all five wrong!

  • Mark Rustad

    4 of 5 correct. I struggled with the last shot Zach as was temped by the eyes on the right for Fuji but when I looked at the fabric crenellations/details plus eyes on the left I thought it had to be the larger sensor res…wrong. Nice work. Great juxtaposition. We can still create great images with older, in spec cameras with great glass–no need to go broke chasing the latestest and purportedly greatest gear!

  • Daniel South

    I owned (and loved) the 5D Mark III and its predecessor, the Mark II. I traveled with them extensively, and to this day, the images that I captured with those cameras are among my favorites. I had two minor complaints, both related to dynamic range. First, it’s easy to blow out the red channel as when photographing a red flower. Second, shadow noise was a common problem. If I photographed someone in bright sunlight, for example, there was a lot of noise in the shadows under their arms, for instance. Otherwise, both bodies were excellent.

    That said, the experience seems so long ago. I’ve used mirrorless cameras for the past five years. I remember how challenging it was to focus in darkness through an optical viewfinder, using mirror lockup, using depth of field preview to position ND grad filters, etc. Mirrorless photography is a different experience.

    I have been using the GFX 100S since it was first released a year ago. Working with is is quite different from the 5D series not just because it has all of the innovations of mirrorless cameras, but because medium format is a different experience altogether. I wouldn’t use the GFX for sports or events; it’s more of a niche camera, whereas the 5D series was a jack of all trades. That said, the first thing that I noticed when I took the GFX out of the box was how much the body reminded me of a Canon DSLR. It has a very similar size and feel, right down to the buttons and the texture.

    The image quality of the GFX is outstanding, leaps and bounds over even 50 and 60 MP cameras, but as your quiz demonstrates, it’s really not a factor when sharing images on social media. But open a raw file from a GFX against any ten-year-old camera – even a Phase One – and the difference is huge. The GFX is inspiring me to revisit the places where I traveled with my beloved Canons. It’s time to fall in love all over again. 🙂

  • I fully agree, who really needs such high resolutions? Very few photographers, really.
    Also, I’d argue the same about sensor size: unless one shoots at very high ISO or needs super extra thin DOF, APS-C or even MFT sensors are more than good enough for most tasks.

    BTW, I just scored 80% (2nd one guessed wrong) but I think it was probably just more luck than anything else 😉

  • Drew Rick

    Yet you keep triumphantly posting stats from your survey (that you’ve designed to yield random results) that you were in fact successful in making the survey yield random results.

  • Drew Rick

    Omg the cluelessness intensifies. You should rename your account to “Alan Smithee”, this can’t be good for your business.

  • Drew Rick

    Lol, downvoted by the author. I have rarely seen anything more pathetic, and I usually try to avoid hash words.
    For the record, cI absolutely agree with Class A.

  • Drew Rick

    Sadly, that statistic is meaningless due to your image choices.

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