Underwater Photography

Six Months with the Canon R5

I’ve been using the Canon R5, above and below water, for the past six months. Here at Mozaik, we thought it was about time for an update on what we like, what we love, and what drives us crazy about this camera.

Overview: the Good, the Not-So-Good, and Everything In-Between

In April 2021, I picked up an R5 body, an RF 70-200 2.8 (which I have since put a nice little scratch into the front element of – nice!), an RF 15-35 2.8, and an EF 8-15 4.0 fisheye.

This, plus the RF 100 2.8 macro, completes my current kit for underwater and ocean-related work, plus Nauticam housings and accessories, further described below.

Shooting this camera is a blast! (R5 and Canon EF 8-15 FE, Nauticam housing).

This exciting little bundle was essentially a replacement for the Canon 5D IV kit I had been using for work previously, and, after leaving the happy life of using gear paid for by someone else behind, it was time for a new kit of my own.

I chose the R5 because I already owned a few Canon lenses, and the ergonomics felt right.

The Canon R5 also fixed the few minor gripes I had with the 5DIV, namely, the lack of articulating screen, body image stabilization, and high frame rates.

Since then, I’ve been shooting the R5 pretty much nonstop, both above and below water – we posted an initial review with some topside macro shots, here, but this article will focus more on the camera body, unlike the aforementioned review, which was mostly focused on the RF 100 2.8 lens.

In summary, and if you’re going to stop right here – I love this camera, and I think it is an exceptional performer for the vast majority of shooters. Stills shooters will love it. Hybrid shooters will love it. But, video-oriented folks may run into some annoying quirks, described more in depth below.

Here are some of my rambling musings at about the six month mark of using this camera – hope you find it useful!

My Underwater Kit

Before I go on, here is a full list of the equipment I’m using, for some context. This also is available as Morgan’s Kit at housingcamera.com!

  • -Canon R5
  • -Nauticam NA-R5 Housing
  • -2x Sea and Sea YSD3 Lightning strobes
  • -2x Keldan 18000 Video Lights
  • -SmallHD monitor and Nauticam SmallHD housing
  • -Nauticam 230mm glass dome port with either the Canon EF 8-15 F4 Fisheye or Canon RF 15-35 2.8 lens (each requires a different port extension)
  • -Nauticam N94 Macro Port and Canon RF 100 2.8 Macro Lens
  • -Nauticam SMC-1 Diopter and Flip holder.

The Very, Very Good

There is a LOT to love about this camera.

1. The Image Quality.

The details you can capture with this camera are amazing. Canon R5 and RF 15-35 2.8.

Big, beefy files come out of this machine, and they are generally a delight to edit in post.

Depending on your workflow, you can shoot detail-rich RAW files at about 50mb each, capitalizing on the full potential of the ~46 megapixel sensor.

Alternatively, there are various crop or compressed modes that can make file sizes a little bit more manageable, although I personally only shoot full-resolution RAW.

I do think the Canon 5DIV had better colors straight out of camera (SOOC), and I noticed that pretty quickly.

But, since I can’t really imagine a scenario where my workflow wouldn’t go through color correction in post, this is pretty inconsequential to me.

Photographers on assignment with different workflows needing immediate upload/submissions may feel differently.

In general, this camera produces the best image quality I have used, to date. I prefer it, all things considered, to the 5D series and other cameras I have used.

Canon R5 and RF 100 2.8 Macro, Nauticam housing.

2. The Autofocus.

Underwater, autofocus remains excellent. Tracking works well, but I use single point  in most cases. R5 and RF 15-35 2.8, Nauticam housing.

We’re reaching a point with every new high end camera where it feels like autofocus just has nowhere left to go in terms of improvement – the R5, frankly, focuses where it’s supposed to focus.

I alternate between single point and tracking, and establishing a custom button shortcut to toggle between single point and tracking AF modes is very useful. The camera does a superb job tracking humans and animals.

Underwater, although I have yet to really put this to the test in any quantitative way, tracking also works pretty well with fish and other animals – including eye detection on fish. Not every time, but a lot of the time, which was a pleasant surprise.

I also exclusively use back-button autofocus, and I think that’s a game-changer underwater with a dedicated autofocus lever on the Nauticam housing.

Instead of “feeling out a half-press” with a shutter auto focus, I rip down on that back button lever and know I’ve locked on. This is important if you’re diving in cold water with gloves and have less feel for the controls!

3. The Fully-Articulating Screen!

OK, I think I have a bit of an obsession with this one. It is also entirely irrelevant for underwater photography, since the screen is locked away in the housing…

But I will go on anyways, since you didn’t ask. I use the articulating screen CONSTANTLY above water, and cannot imagine not having one.

This drove me a little crazy about the 5DIV. Having the articulating screen on the R5 is immensely satisfying above water, and lets me shoot all those weird low/high angles I couldn’t before.

Last week, I had the camera way up on a pole over my head, and could only see what I was doing because the screen was extended out to the side and angled down. Moving on…

4. The Image Stabilization.

It took Canon a LONG time, but they finally caught up and implemented in-body image stabilization. Good news: it works. And, it works well.

The potential for slower shutter speeds in lower-light situations is a strength of the R5.

In conjunction with image-stabilized lenses, including two that I use underwater – the RF 100 2.8 macro and the RF 15-35 2.8 rectilinear wide angle – you’re free to explore slower shutter speeds than Canon bodies of the past.

I also find this improvement particularly noticeable while shooting video; hand-held shots are less shaky, even in currents, etc.

The difference between the 5DIV and EF lenses and the R5 with RF lenses in terms of stability is pronounced. Check out the video below for an example of image stabilization in action.

 

The Pretty Good

There are some things about this camera that are so close to being perfect, but fall short in my use cases.

1. The Size.

The R5 is part of the high performance mirrorless wave that promises uncompromised imaging in a smaller form factor.

This is true, but only to an extent. I used an Olympus OMD EM1 II in a Nauticam housing for several years, and, at the time, I thought that setup was fairly large. Wow, has my perspective changed.

With a large glass dome port and the 15-35 or 8-15 lenses, this is not a small setup. And, I wouldn’t consider the R5 body particularly small, either.

Compared to a body with a built-in grip, sure, but otherwise this body + lens combination is not really “small” by any means.

That being said, it is very comfortable to hold, and I prefer the beefier grip of this model than to something smaller and more boxy (cough, Sony A7RIV, cough).

Once you put together this rig with the Nauticam housing, ports, strobes, arms, etc., it is a large, cumbersome package. Not necessarily larger than other similar-classed rigs, probably just about the same.

Getting a top rope to carry it is a good idea!

2. The Color Science

This is a personal take, and is largely my own opinion. But, in general, I find the SOOC colors to be a little less Canon-y than what I was used to with the 5D series.

The R5 files don’t quite have that same Canon feel, those iconic warm tones. This really is just an interesting observation, for me, and has no real bearing on my workflow or anything like that – I have the luxury of the time and capacity to post-process any meaningful image that I produce.

But, as I mentioned earlier in this article, this could be a consideration for someone uploading directly to editors, etc., with no time to process images etc. The files are great, but I think the 5DIV felt more like a traditional classic Canon machine.

3. The Video Performance **

**This is a really tough one for me to evaluate, for a number of reasons, which I will discuss more down below. It’s important to understand the whole picture – the video performance, for many, can be outstanding. For others with demanding workflows, it can be a challenge that requires planning.

Let’s begin by saying I think the video quality is excellent, and a massive improvement from the 5DIV. If you’re coming from that camera, with an interest in video, this will be a tremendous improvement.

You get the full width of the sensor, and the autofocus points cover pretty much the entire field – another huge improvement from the 5DIV.

The camera shoots 8K30 Raw, 4K 120, 4K60, and more – all fantastic specs.

And, when conditions are right, this is fantastic. I love the 4K120 mode, but most often shoot in 4k60 for workflow reasons. The video autofocus, especially with wide angle RF lenses, is phenomenal.

I shoot Clog sometimes, and find that it works well, including underwater, but is a HUGE burden on your editing machine. 4k60 CLog chokes my top-end 2019 MacBook Pro with upgraded graphics cards, 32GB of RAM, and 2tb of SSD. That being said, I really like the dynamic range.

So, why “Pretty Good?”

The key here is, “when conditions are right.”

Check out the last section for more thoughts on this.

The Bad

The mode switching between photo and video modes.

I’m not sure why Canon chose to do this, but the default mode switching between photo and video is painful.

First, you have to hit the top mode button, which opens up the various modes (AV, TV, M, etc). Then, you have to hit the info button, below on the body, immediately after hitting the top mode button. This switches you from the photo mode options to the video mode options, or vice versa. Then you can select the mode within that you want.

This sounds minor, but it can be pretty frustrating once you’re working with the camera inside the housing. This is because these controls are even further apart on the housing than on the camera, and if you fumble around and hit the wrong sequence, or wait too long to hit the info button, you fail to switch to video modes.

Imagine a manta ray swimming at you, and you need to switch to video very quickly, and you miss it because of this!

Fortunately, is is possible to assign a custom button for this switch – I highly recommend doing so. 

What Drives me Crazy

The potential for overheating.

Ah yes, we’ve come to the point in any R5 review that we must acknowledge that big giant elephant – the overheating of the R5.

I’ll tell you my own pretty specific, niche experience in this area, and let you make your own conclusions.

For the first several months, I never even came close to the infamous overheating issues. I was shooting away, stills, video, 4k, 8K, 4k120…never had a problem.

Once, after 20 mins of 4k120 in Alaska, I got the heating warning, but that was it (first, the camera gives you a little temperature icon warning, and then a countdown, and then eventually prevents you from recording).

Ha! They’ve all grossly exaggerated this overheating business, I thought.

Then, I started diving with this setup, in one of the hottest regions of the world.

For context, I’m currently in coastal Saudi Arabia, in the Red Sea, filming a lot of content on assignment. This means that I am relying, heavily, on this camera performing when it needs to.

It is very, very hot here.

I have found that in the extremely warm Saudi Red Sea waters (30C + in the water, often much much hotter and humid above water), with a 2tb Delkin CFExpress card as the primary recording card, this camera overheats quickly in 4k120 or 8k30 modes.

Like, really quickly. I can have the camera off on the boat all the way to the site, jump in the water, and get a few minutes of 4k120. That’s pretty much it.

This isn’t a death blow to me, because, after overheating prevention kicks in in these modes, I can switch to 4k60 and not have many issues for the rest of the dive. And, 4k60 is pretty much good enough for most things I’m doing.

It’s also critical to note, if you’re a hybrid shooter, that at no point does this ever compromise your ability to shoot stills. You can always shoot stills, overheating has no impact on this. 

I have taken the same configuration that overheats here into the very cold waters of Monterey Bay, CA, and not had overheating issues, but also with a different CFExpress card.

I have two hypotheses for these issues: one, my Delkin card (which gets ridiculously hot) runs even hotter than other “already hot” CFExpress cards. Two, it’s just so freaking hot here that the camera, at a baseline, is approaching overheating temps just because of the ambient conditions. 

It could also be a combination of these two points. In any event, it drives me crazy.

Conclusions

The discussion in the section above is purely relevant to people shooting a lot of video content, and further only relevant to those mainly relying on the intensive video modes (8K, 4K120) of the R5.

If you’re a stills shooter, completely disregard the entire above section, and know that this camera is FANTASTIC.

If you’re a casual video shooter/hybrid shooter, pretty much disregard the section above, as well, and know you’ll love this machine.

If you’re a primarily video-heavy shooter, but shoot mostly in 4k60 or less – be aware of the above section, and then know that it likely will not be much of a problem for you.

If you’re a video shooter relying heavily on 8K or 4K120 – carefully consider the overheating section, and plan accordingly.

Thanks for taking the time to read this review, hope it helped in some way!

Morgan Bennett-Smith
Latest posts by Morgan Bennett-Smith (see all)

2 comments

  1. Bruce Carlson October 19, 2021

    Have you tried using the Atomos Ninja V+ to record 8K video and if so does this get around the overheating issue?

  2. Morgan Bennett-Smith October 31, 2021

    Hi Bruce, great question! I haven’t yet, but it’s something I’d like to test very soon. My understanding is that it would get around the overheating, but it may compromise some ability to adjust settings in-camera while recording through the monitor – I’m still doing some research on this. The 5k60 fps out of the V+ also is really appealing, even more so than the 8k – but there’s a crop factor. If Canon / Atomos update the firmware so that the Ninja V+ can record 4k120, I may really be sold.

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