Cameras are not my usual coverage — I tend to leave the topic to my colleague and professional photographer David Cardinal — but recent news from Canon camera testing caught my eye. It seems the recently released Canon EOS R5 and R6 both have a tendency to overheat when used in their highest-fidelity modes. The impact of this problem differs between the R5 and R6, but it hits both in a meaningful fashion.
According to DPreview, the problem isn’t that Canon failed to communicate the limitations of either camera. Press materials distributed for the launch directly discuss the limited amount of shooting time the R5 and R6 offer and stress that neither camera is intended for commercial use. The following table was published by Canon a few days after reviews of both cameras went up:
The problem, as DPReview writes, is: “[T]here is an important caveat that Canon’s figures don’t address: although the cameras can repeatedly deliver the amount of video promised, they may not always do so in real-world usage.” (Emphasis original)
DPReview’s tests found that any usage of the camera before you intend to start shooting, including time spent warming up a shot, setting the white balance, setting focus, shooting stills, or just waiting on a subject to get ready all cut into your total recording time. The longer you spend carrying out these activities, the less time you’ll have to shoot.
The difference between how the two units perform under testing can be summarized as follows: The R5 will only give you (most) of its full recording time if you start with a cold camera. Any other use of the device for any purpose will cut into your total. Leaving it on will cut into the total. When shooting with the R5 in 4K/30 HQ mode, you can expect ~25 minutes before an overheat warning, and no more than 30 minutes of footage at a time in that mode, tops. Leave the R5 to cool for 30 minutes, and you’ll recover most of this — between 22 – 25 minutes.
In the R6’s case, the initial film time is larger, with the device not giving overheat warnings until the 38 minute mark, and not overheating until nearly 40 minutes had passed. What’s different, in this case, is what happens when you give the device 30 minutes to cool. The R5 recovered virtually all of its performance, offering 22-25 minutes (down from 29 ), while the R6 only managed 19-22 minutes of footage after the same 30-minute period. Whatever it is that gives the R6 additional recording time on the front end, it doesn’t help the device recover once it hits the thermal trip point.
The R5’s thermal problems can create trouble if you intend to shoot video after taking a bunch of still photos, one DPReview editor noted that after he took the camera out and shot 164 images in just under two hours, the amount of time it could provide 4K HQ footage capture was just four minutes, despite having plenty of storage capacity. You also can’t leave the camera in the sun while you’re cooling it off (or allow it to sit in the sun before you shoot) — allowing any additional heat to build up in the unit will cause a reduction in shooting time. Trying to charge the camera will also reduce its photography time.
Unfortunately, DPReview is not a PC hardware tech website, and I can find no discussion of their efforts to swap internal cooling components, bolt on a fan, or re-grease the internals. This is probably all to the good, as I’m deeply uncertain as to whether or not you can upgrade a camera with liquid metal thermal paste. Nonetheless, the takeaway from DPReview is less that Canon is struggling with problems other companies have solved, and more that the company has done a poor job explaining to its users what the real-world experience of buying the camera is like or what modifications they may need to make to how they approach a shoot. Recording 4K and above at high frame rates is still incredibly difficult for most cameras in terms of dealing with the related heat and energy requirements, and this definitely isn’t a solved problem in the consumer market yet.