Disclaimer: The following review of the Canon EOS R5 mirrorless camera and Canon EOS RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 telephoto lens is not a technical review, it is a hands-on “here’s how it feels, shoots and performs” kind of review with lots of sample images. I am sponsored by Canon and am a Canon Ambassador, so I was fortunate enough to get to field test the R5 with the 100-500 and with an adapter and all of my regular EF lenses for a week in early June 2020. This review is based on those field tests, which were more me taking the gear and using it in real wildlife photography situations than actually doing any kind of technical testing.
All images shot on pre-production models of the Canon EOS R5 and the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1. Note that I was not able to import these RAW files into Lightroom as part of my normal workflow, so post-processing was limited.
The Bottom Line: Worth the Money or Not?
If all you really want to do is find out if you should be buying either the R5 or the 100-500mm, or both, then I’ll cut right to the chase and give you my two cents and you can move on without reading any further or looking at all of the images.
The bottom line is that when I had to send this R5 and 100-500 combo back to Canon on June 16th, I felt a tremendous pang of disappointment that I was going to have to wait a month or two to get them back in my hands again. I LOVED shooting mirrorless on such a beautiful, little, light camera and combined with the incredibly balanced, ridiculously light and small 100-500, I found myself using that combo way more than I thought I would going in. I thought I was going to have issues with only being able to shoot at F7.1 wide open and that the R5 would not be that great at high ISOs and that I’d miss my good old 1DX2 and my 500mm F4. And yes, I DO wish that the 100-500 was an F5.6 lens, but in the end, I just didn’t find myself missing shots because it was 7.1 and I certainly didn’t find myself missing my bulky, workhorse 1DX2, or even my 5DIV, for that matter.
So the bottom line is that I’m moving over to mirrorless completely. The R5 is a gorgeous, sexy beast and I will have two of them in my bag within the month (Canon actually just sent me one this week), and I will be selling my 100-400 F4.5-5.6 and getting the superbly sharp RF 100-500 F4.5-7.1 (along with the RF 70-200 F2.8) to compliment my EF 500mm F4. Read on if you want to find out why…
The First Few Days
I received the R5 and the 100-500 while I was still up at the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter volunteering with my family in early June. The package arrived including the R5 body, the 100–500mm lens, cards, card readers, extra batteries, an RF 70-200mm F2.8, an EF adapter, and both the 1.4x and 2x RF teleconverters. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty damn excited to open the box and felt like a kid at Christmas ooh-ing and aah-ing at all of the pretty boxes and gear!
First impressions of the new gear were all centered around one key concept: I could not believe how light and small everything was. For a wildlife photographer that spends a lot of my time tracking wildlife in the woods and wishing that I had lighter, more manageable gear to take with me on these treks in search of wolves, cougars and other hard-to-find predators, I was blown away by the weight and size of the new camera and lenses. The R5 and 100-500 together in particular felt just spectacular in my hands and I’m pretty sure I was already dreamily envisioning following beasts in the bush with the lightweight combo.
I immediately set out and did some test shooting at the Shelter that evening, before heading out for a day on a wild goose chase after a Kermode bear cub I’d heard had been sighted near Terrace, BC (I discovered that the cub had been sighted five years previously, not in 2020, so it really was a wild goose chase).
The R5 performed very well on both the RF 70-200, the RF 100-500 and my EF 500mm. It produces files with just superb clarity on any of these lenses, such that you can take an image like the bighorn sheep lamb above, crop it 30% and STILL end up with an incredibly sharp, rich, vibrant 14″ x 21″ 300 dpi file that could easily be printed sharply up to 40″ x 60″, as an example.
Testing the R5 in Low Light
One of my biggest questions heading in to trying out the R5 was wondering how it would perform at high ISOs. After all, it’s a 45MP sensor, more than double the pixel count of the 1DX II, which I’ve found I can reliably shoot up to ISO 5000 provided I do some noise reduction on the files. For me, a good, usable file is always one that I can submit to a magazine and know instantly that it can be printed for a cover or a double page spread and not worry at all about sharpness or noise: so a 12″ x 18″ 300 dpi .tif file, the industry standard for stock photography for the past decade.
Now given that I was a bit limited in how I could process these files (I had to do a round-about conversion from Canon’s Digital Photo Professional – DPP software, which is slow and clunky, to a .tif file and then import that .tif into Lightroom, and even then, I was more limited than if I was working directly on a RAW file in LR), I was really happy with how a few of my tests went.
The following image is of a grizzly bear family in Jasper shot with the R5 and the 100-500mm AND the 1.4x TC at ISO 6400. So basically pushing the crap out of the camera and lens combo to see if I could get something usable and actually good out of the end result. Note that this would have been way beyond the capabilities of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with the 100-400 and a 1.4x TC at ISO 6400, and it would be right at the absolute upper limits for my 1DX II with the 100-400 and a 1.4x TC — I probably wouldn’t have been able to get anything solid that would give me a good, usable 12″ x 18″ 300 dpi file, but it might have been possible.
At full size (which is an 18″ x 27″ 350 dpi file), even with some noise reduction, the file was noisy and not as sharp as I’d like. But when it’s downsized to 12″ x 18″ (which is basically the native resolution of the 1DX II) at 300 dpi, all of a sudden you have a very nice file, not perfect, but more than usable.
R5 Autofocus, Battery Life & More
I found battery life to be very good for the R5, though of course I didn’t get to test it in cold conditions. Like most of you will be doing, I mostly stuck to using the R5 as a stills camera, though I did also mix in a little 4K video. I did not have any issues with over-heating or with battery life and don’t really expect to moving forward.
I also tried both the electronic and the mechanical shutter and there are a few things here worth mentioning. First, the electronic shutter is completely silent and shoots at 20 frames per second (fps). This is monstrous for wildlife photography at den sites and things like that where being as quiet as possible is one of the keys to having animals act naturally. The 20 fps is the same fps rate as the top end of the 1DX III. However, the one caveat in this for wildlife photography is that with moving subjects you do sometimes see the effects of rolling shutter (tilting parts of the image). I didn’t actually get to see this in any of my images, but it is something to be aware of (and this is not unique to Canon, all mirrorless cameras with electronic shutters do this).
I actually shot much more frequently with the mechanical shutter, which is still 12 fps and still very quiet (though not silent). This eliminates any concerns over the effects from a rolling shutter and worked wonderfully well.
The RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1
A few notes about the 100-500. As I’ve already said repeatedly, it’s sharp throughout its range, it’s incredibly light and it’s very, very well-balanced to hand-hold when paired with the R5 or R6 (or R, for that matter). I did try it with the teleconverter quite a bit (though only the 1.4x, I just don’t feel the 2x is all that usable with an F7.1 lens at 500mm — you’d be shooting at F14 all the time), and was pleasantly surprised with some of the shots, but it definitely was not as sharp as the lens on its own. But really, when this goes in my bag, I’m never using it with a teleconverter, because if I need lots of reach, I’m going to be putting my TC on my big prime lens, not on this telephoto zoom. It’s the same principle I currently use with my 100-400mm lens, which never ever sees a TC on it. With that said, for those of you that will purchase this lens as your big lens, it works just fine with a teleconverter.
There’s not a lot of negative things to say about the Canon EOS R5 mirrorless and the RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 lens combo. These new releases have me incredibly excited to see what’s coming down the pipe in terms of future cameras and in particular, future lenses. But for now, I’m going to be picking up two R5’s and a 100-500 to compliment my 500mm F4 prime and will be selling off my 1DX II, my 5D IV and my 100-400. And I think that sentence says it all — I’m a full-time pro, I make my living off of my photography, and I’m switching fully to mirrorless and never looking back.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to put them in the Comments below and I’ll do my best to get back to everyone.