Full-frame mirrorless vs. full-frame DSLR: what's best?

Action photographer Richard Walch compares the features of Canon's flagship full-frame cameras – the EOS R5 and the EOS-1D X Mark III.
A black and white shot of a boxer throwing a punch.

German boxer Alem Begic throws a punch during training. The Canon EOS R5 combines the high-resolution capture of the EOS 5DS with the high-speed shooting of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, making it a true heavyweight for action sports – and earning it a regular place in Richard Walch's kitbag. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 135mm, 1/800 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1000. © Richard Walch

Which is better, a traditional full-frame DSLR or the mirrorless full-frame Canon EOS R System? We asked leading extreme sports photographer and Canon Ambassador Richard Walch for his Canon full-frame comparison.

Richard Walch is one of the world's most experienced action photographers. He has been using Canon cameras professionally for more than 25 years. Best known for his snow sports and sailing images, Richard works in the most extreme environments on fast-moving shoots where failing to get the shot is not an option. That's why he chooses the right camera for each job.

"Before I go on each job, I work out which is the perfect system for me to take," he explains. "For full-frame DSLR, Canon has a huge range of bodies and lenses to choose from. I love the rugged quality and the great battery life."

Action photographer Richard Walch photographs skiers from a helicopter.

Richard has progressed from an EOS-1D X to an EOS-1D X Mark II and now an EOS-1D X Mark III and says that a key strength of the DSLR is its familiarity – a crucial factor when working on fast-paced action shoots.

A Canon EOS-1D X Mark III perched on top of a rucksack. A helicopter can be seen on the snow-covered ground behind.

Having tested the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III in the most challenging of conditions, Richard makes space for it in his kitbag on expedition-style assignments. © Richard Walch

But Richard is at the top of his game because he is always looking for the edge to take his images to the next level. And right now, for many assignments, that edge is the new technology in the Canon EOS R System and its groundbreaking RF lenses.

"I depend on technology – I see it as supporting what I'm trying to do with my images. The Canon EOS R5 has definitely earned a place in my kitbag and is exciting to work with," Richard says. "Once you get past just checking the spec sheets and start to use the camera, you realise it has features that can move your creativity forward.

"For me, the best images are spontaneous, and the EOS R5 gives you stunning full-frame quality in a package that's super portable. But you can't forget Canon has worked on the EOS DSLR range for 30 years. They are super reliable and built tough. So now I have a choice."

So how does he choose? What's the difference between full-frame DSLRs and the mirrorless full-frame EOS R System? From his expert perspective, what benefits does each offer, and when would he use one rather than the other?

How do you choose what kit to take on a shoot?

"The most important consideration is how much space I have and how much I want to carry. If you compare the Canon EOS R5 and the EOS-1D X Mark III, the biggest difference is the size and the weight – the EOS R5 is considerably smaller and substantially lighter.

"For a professional photographer, the EOS-1D X Mark III's greatest strength is its familiarity. Moving from an EOS-1D X to an EOS-1D X Mark II, and now to an EOS-1D X Mark III, is a walk in the park. All the controls are at your fingertips. And working with an optical viewfinder gives you a pure and natural way to connect with the subject. You feel the moment; you see the shot and take the image. It's the way we've shot for decades.

Do you own Canon kit?

Do you own Canon kit?

Register your kit to access free expert advice, equipment servicing, inspirational events and exclusive special offers with Canon Professional Services.

"The EOS-1D X Mark III is the most durable camera in the Canon EOS line-up, and its long battery life means you can shoot for days, so if I'm on an expedition-style shoot, or shooting in extreme climates, the EOS-1D X Mark III is still my number one choice.

"If the shoot is not too remote and the conditions not too demanding, I will choose the EOS R5 because of its superior performance overall. It's a very powerful camera. Both cameras can shoot at 20fps, but that's only with the electronic shutter on the EOS R5, so if you want to record a high-speed sequence using flash, you can only do that with the EOS-1D X Mark III."

A multiple-exposure view of a skier executing a jump from a ramp, viewed from above.

A striking multiple-exposure image of a skier executing a jump. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 1/2000 sec, f/7.1 and ISO200. © Richard Walch

A slackline walker holds a blazing torch overhead with both hands.

The EOS R System demonstrates its exceptional low-light capabilities in this photo of a slackline walker lit only by the torch he is carrying. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at 24mm, 1/500 sec, f/3.5 and ISO1000. © Richard Walch

What are the biggest advantages you have found in EOS R System cameras compared to full-frame DSLRs such as the EOS 5D Mark IV?

"The low-light performance of the EOS R5, EOS R6 and EOS R is phenomenal. They can see in the dark! That's thanks to the electronic viewfinder [EVF] and LCD screen, as well as low-light autofocus, which means you can keep shooting when the light has long gone.

"Also, the controls can be almost endlessly customised, which means you can shoot how you want, very quickly. The RF Lens Control Ring can be mapped to almost whatever you want, such as exposure compensation or ISO.

"Shooting with an EVF has been a revelation – you really get to appreciate 'What You See Is What You Get' when it comes to exposure and depth of field. There is certainly far less looking at the back of the camera to check focus and exposure. It makes shooting so much quicker, and you can stay really focused on your subject as nothing gets in the way.

"Because it's mirrorless, an EOS R System camera has a totally silent shutter mode, which will get you taking pictures in previously tricky situations.

"When you change the lens with the camera off, the EOS R5, EOS R6 and EOS R automatically close a shutter to protect the sensor. For shooting action where there is dust or snow, that's ideal."

The rear wheel of a bright green speedway bike mid-race.

A striking high-speed close-up of a speedway bike at the AMC Haunstetten track in Augsburg, Germany. On some assignments, Richard finds that the light weight and compact size of the Canon EOS R6 is definitely an advantage. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM lens at 500mm, 1/160 sec, f/7.1 and ISO100. © Richard Walch

Are there any disadvantages of shooting with an EOS R System camera?

"Of course, if you upgrade from a Canon DSLR to a new Canon DSLR, you don't have to learn anything new. On an EOS R System camera, some things are different, and you have to get used to it. But if you are willing to go to the next level, you should give it some time.

"Mirrorless cameras in general require more battery power, so if shooting time is important, you either take more batteries to be safe or you choose a classic DSLR.

"Another thing to consider is the EVF of a mirrorless camera. If you shoot very fast action such as motorsport and you're panning the camera sideways, the EVF has a little bit of lag, even with the EOS R5 and EOS R6. That's an issue some photographers might be really fussy about, but others not so much."

What about lens choice?

"Canon has a huge range of EF and EF-S lenses for DSLRs. But you can use them on the EOS R System cameras with a range of smart EF-EOS R Mount Adapters. They are not adapters that take light away or change the focal length like a teleconverter. The same engineers that designed EF and RF lenses designed these adapters, so they really made sure the experience is seamless, and there's no loss of quality or functionality.

"In fact they made it even smarter, because there is an adapter with a Control Ring, which brings a new interface to EF and EF-S lenses. There is also an adapter that has a drop-in filter mount, so you can use variable neutral density or circular polarising filters, for example. I have used the EOS R with long lenses such as the EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM and the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x on a safari, and it was perfect. You have to trust the adapter."

Action photographer Richard Walch photographs a seated boxer.

With its 5-axis in-body Image Stabilizer, the EOS R5 can stabilise lenses that don't feature IS, such as the Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens shown here. © Elias Maria

How have you found the new RF lenses?

"The Canon EOS R System has a larger RF Mount that allows lens design that's never been possible before. And the lens quality is a real standout.

"I've had a chance to shoot with quite a few of the RF lenses, and my favourite is the Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM zoom. It's an L-series lens with fantastic quality made possible by the RF mount design. I like the flexibility and the shallow depth of field you get from opening the aperture all the way to f/2. It's just magic.

Wakesurfer Andy Schmahl rides a wave, illuminated by the the glow of an orange flare he is holding.

Wakesurfing with flares: testing the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

Low light, fast action and lots of water… Extreme sports photographer Richard Walch takes the EOS-1D X Mark III on its toughest challenge yet.

"It is reasonably heavy, but it can replace three prime lenses. If you usually have a 28mm, a 50mm and an 85mm lens, you could leave these three lenses at home and just take this one zoom.

"For a wedding photographer, for example, they can take one camera and one zoom. They'll be faster and can work completely silently.

"If you're looking for small and affordable, the combination of the compact and lightweight Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM and the RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM is unbeatable. Then, of course, there's the trinity of professional zooms – the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM, RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM – which can be complemented with specialist lenses, including the extremely versatile Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM.

"The range of fast RF lenses, such as the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM, backs up the fact that the EOS R System is so good at low light. You can really work with the shallow depth of field. And the optical design is so good you can really use them wide open. You don't have to stop down to get sharp images. Of course, wide open the depth of field is so small, you need accurate autofocus."

A view from some distance of a slackline walker on a line between rocky cliffs over swirling water.

Richard used an EOS R to photograph German slackline athletes One Inch Dreams on the north-west coast of Ireland. With every manoeuvre a death-defying challenge, there were no retakes, so Richard had to get the shot first time, relying on the EOS R's autofocus in low light such as this. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens at 1/640 sec, f/5.6 and ISO640. © Richard Walch

How does the autofocus compare?

"The EOS-1D X Mark III has an incredible autofocus system which is great for sport and action, but when the engineers designed the EOS R5 and EOS R6, they wanted to push the autofocus performance even further. And the magic in these two cameras is actually the eye detection that works for both humans and animals. It's incredible.

"All three cameras benefit from integrated Deep Learning AF, which analyses thousands upon thousands of different pictures. So if the camera sees a snowboarder, for example, it understands that they would probably be wearing a helmet and goggles, and it knows how to deal with that and where it should be focusing. It still works, even if the eyes are hidden by the goggles. If the athlete turns their head, the focus stays locked on to the helmet. That's incredible progress."

A tightly-packed group of racehorses thunder around a track in snowy conditions.

Richard is famed for capturing the action in all conditions, as he did in this photograph of horse racing in very unusual circumstances. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II at 1/2500 sec, f/4 and ISO250. © Richard Walch

Which type of camera is better for video?

"That's a difficult question to answer, because each camera has its own advantages. It's incredible that a camera the size of the EOS R5 can record 8K 12-bit RAW or 10-bit 4:2:2 internally – that's never been possible before. But the EOS-1D X Mark III is a bigger, more solid camera. And its battery life should enable you to shoot longer takes in 4K RAW or 8-bit 4:2:2.

"If you need to shoot 4K at 120fps, then the only camera to do this is the EOS R5 – whereas the EOS-1D X Mark III and EOS R6 only do 4K at up to 60fps, while the EOS R and EOS 5D Mark IV only do 4K at up to 30fps."

"The differences aren't a matter of whether a camera is mirrorless or a DSLR. Compared to the EOS-1D X Mark III, the EOS R5, EOS R6 and the EOS R make it very easy to shoot at different angles thanks to their vari-angle touchscreens. They all benefit from Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which enables smooth and precise pull focus when recording video, but the touch autofocus is easier to operate on the EOS R's tilting screen.

"I can tell you that the EOS R5, EOS R6 and EOS-1D X Mark III are very powerful video cameras because of their advanced autofocus system and touchscreen displays. Being able to tap on the rear screen and have the camera automatically focus on that subject is incredibly helpful when you're a one-person production."

What's your ideal set-up now?

"Before the launch of the EOS R5, it used to be an EOS-1D X Mark II for high-speed sports and an EOS R for the after-parties, when you want to be fast and discreet and you're shooting in low light.

"Now, when I'm in the mountains and weight is a critical consideration, my ideal set-up is an EOS R5 with an extra battery grip so I can take a little more power, along with the trinity of professional f/2.8 RF zooms. If I'm on a portrait shoot, I will definitely take the Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM, and if I really want to go crazy, I'll add the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM and RF 85mm F1.2L USM, which are stunning lenses in the line-up.

"If durability and battery life are my number one priorities, then the EOS-1D X Mark III is my first choice. But the EOS R5 and EOS R6 are very powerful cameras, especially taking into account the form factor and the weight. So if that's really beneficial, and if you're trying to be at the forefront of technology, choosing one of those two cameras is your best option."

Adam Duckworth

Richard Walch's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs


Canon EOS R5

A full-frame mirrorless camera that opens up new creative opportunities for photographers and filmmakers. "It gives you stunning full-frame quality in a package that's super portable, and it has features that can move your creativity forward," says Richard.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

With its high-sensitivity 20.1MP full-frame CMOS sensor, deep learning AF algorithms and 5.5K RAW video capture, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III delivers class-leading performance. "When it comes to high-speed action, it's hard to beat," says Richard. "It shoots at 20fps with lightning-speed autofocus, so you're never going to miss a shot."


Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM

A 28-70mm f/2 lens delivering image quality expected of prime lenses. With a super-fast, bright f/2 aperture right across the zoom range it gives stunning results in low light. "An L-series lens with fantastic quality made possible by the new RF mount design," says Richard.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

With its constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, double-surface Glass Moulded (GMo) lenses and Advanced Air Sphere and SubWavelength coating, this premium ultra-wide zoom offers exceptional image quality even in low light conditions.

Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM

This ultra-wide angle rectilinear zoom lens has minimal distortion throughout its ultra-wide zoom range, and enables extraordinary views of the world to be captured. L Series build quality means you can continue to do this in tough weather conditions too.


Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

The EOS R System adapters offer full compatibility with Canon EF and EF-S lenses, giving Canon EOS R5, EOS R6 and EOS R owners who also own an EOS DSLR camera complete integration with their existing lenses. Richard says: "EOS R System cameras natively speak the protocol of EF lenses as well as RF lenses, so both types of lenses work just fine."

Related articles

Get the newsletter

Click here to get inspiring stories and exciting news from Canon Europe Pro