Field Test: One Week in the Lofoten Islands with the Canon EOS R5

Photography Gear

I was one of the lucky ones who got their hands on the Canon EOS R5 early in August of 2020. The camera arrived in the morning, just before my flight to the Lofoten Islands. Here’s a summary of my experience climbing to 7 summits in 7 days with Canon’s new flagship mirrorless camera.

It’s a Fragile Body

This one hurts…. After a few hours climbing, I already had multiple scratches on the camera. That was hard to swallow.

The great thing about the 5D series was that I never had to care too much about scratching it. Over the past 4 years, I’ve hiked in Patagonia, did via ferrate in the Dolomites, and visited many other places with my 5D Mark IV, all while keeping it in really good condition. It was, for the most part, a “worry-free” camera.

With the R5, Canon is clearly using different material, and it’s a lot less resistant. There’s no case currently available for the R5 so if you want to keep the camera intact, it’ll have to stay in your bag. That sucks, Canon.

Based on my experience, the R5 is not the companion you want on an adventure. It follows that trend of small and not-so-resistant mirrorless cameras, which doesn’t really work for any photographer who wants to shoot outdoors in sometimes-terrible conditions. Personally, I did not want a smaller camera. I loved the form factor of the 5D series — it was robust and looked (a lot) better.

I won’t show you what my R5 now looks like, but trust me, it’s bad.

My first hike in the Lofoten islands to the Himmeltindan Summit. Don’t leave the R5 on these rocks.

Battery Life is Poor

The new Canon LP-E6NH boasts 20% more battery life than the previous Canon LP-E6N, but it also costs a real fortune (about £115 at the time of writing here in the UK). Unfortunately, if you’re out on location shooting, you’ll likely need to buy 2 more… at least. With no GPS, WiFi, AF tracking or dual pixel, I was struggling to get to 400 shots on a charge.

My new habit is to turn off the camera as often as possible, something I’d never do with my 5DIV.

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking “I can still use my LP-E6N batteries, so that’s fine.” But if you’ve used them in your previous body for the past few years, it’s likely their capacity is nowhere near what it used to be. In my case, my LP-E6N batteries would get me about 250 shots. Yes, you read that right, 250. I was getting over twice as many during regular use with my 5DIV.

It makes very little sense to me to release a camera with a smaller body and terrible battery life. Keeping a similar body to the 5D series and making larger batteries would have been a much smarter move IMO.

Of course, some people will disagree, but it’s a big deal for me. If you’re a photographer who goes on trips where you might not be able to charge your batteries every day you’ll have to bring 3 or 4 of those batteries, and you’ll get quite worried as you see battery bars quickly disappear throughout the day.

The only solution I see right now is to buy the additional grip and bring a total of 4 batteries with me on every trip. I might do that but that’s roughly another £700 to spend, on top of an already expensive camera.

It forced me to use Canon’s Digital Photo Professional

I really didn’t want to install yet another program on my computer, but a few weeks ago DPP was the only viable option available for working on the RAW files out of the EOS R5. Now that Camera RAW 12.4 has been released, I have been able to compare RAW processing in both pieces of software, and the results blew my mind.

While being painfully slow, DPP does a much better job at processing RAW files from the R5. In fact, it’s night and day!

The export to Photoshop feature, key here, was also extremely slow (my high-end 16-inch MacBook Pro was boiling hot), but the quality of the exported file was truly amazing. I had very little to do once in the file was exported and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

The Sensor is Amazing

I won’t be able to compare with Sony or Nikon, but the R5’s sensor is a huge step up from the Mark IV. Seeing the images on my computer would kind of make me forget about all the negative things I listed above (almost).

The images out of the R5’s sensor are extremely sharp, dynamic range is incredible, colors are beautiful, and white balance is decent. There’s no other sensor I’d want to use… extra batteries be damned.

Shooting mirrorless is a completely different experience

Mirrorless has always been unattractive to me — I enjoy looking through an optical viewfinder, and I wasn’t excited about putting yet another screen in front of my eye all day. When I take photos I’m in my own world, with my thoughts, doing my thing. Looking at a screen kills that experience by reminding me that it’s 2020 and that technology is everywhere.

In other words: I did not want that soulless “shooting Sony” experience.

While shooting with the R5 still doesn’t make me like mirrorless, the benefits are clear. In particular, I’m able to set up my camera much quicker — I now adjust exposure and focus point properly from the first shot, which was harder in a DSLR.

Final Thoughts

It took Canon a long time to release the R5 and I think they nailed most aspects. However, they clearly forgot photographers who are outside shooting in rough conditions without a gazillion batteries on hand. I feel like the R5 Mark II will be a killer, but it’s another 3 or 4 years wait until we get there.

Of course, photos speak louder than words, so if you’d like to see more images from my trip, I’ve uploaded an album on my website that includes information about the hikes I took.

About the author: Emmanuel Nataf is a photographer who’s traveled through Europe, South America and South East Asia in search of all things strange and beautiful. He’s also the co-founder of Reedsy, a marketplace where authors can connect with the world’s best freelance editors, designers, and marketers.

You can see more of his photography on his website or by following him on Instagram.

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