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Canon 20D versus Canon 5D Mark III

The Canon EOS 20D and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III are two digital cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in August 2004 and March 2012. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are based on an APS-C (20D) and a full frame (5D Mark III) sensor. The 20D has a resolution of 8.2 megapixel, whereas the 5D Mark III provides 22.1 MP. Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their size, their sensors, their features, and their reception by expert reviewers.

Body comparison: Canon 20D vs Canon 5D Mark III

The physical size and weight of the Canon 20D and the Canon 5D Mark III are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All size dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter. You can also use the toggle button to switch to a percentage comparison if you prefer that the measures are being expressed in relative terms (in this case, the camera on the left – the 20D – represents 100 percent across all the size and weight measures).

Compare Canon 20D vs Canon 5D Mark III
Compare 20D versus 5D Mark III top
Compare 20D and 5D Mark III rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Canon 5D Mark III is notably larger (16 percent) than the Canon 20D. Moreover, the 5D Mark III is markedly heavier (23 percent) than the 20D. It is noteworthy in this context that the 5D Mark III is splash and dust-proof, while the 20D does not feature any corresponding weather-sealing.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. A larger imaging sensor (as in the 5D Mark III) will tend to go along with bigger and heavier lenses, while more compact options are available for the smaller-sensor camera (20D). You can find a comprehensive overview of suitable optics in the Canon EF Lens Catalog.

Concerning battery life, the 20D gets 700 shots out of its BP-511A battery, while the 5D Mark III can take 950 images on a single charge of its LP-E6 power pack.

The following table provides a synthesis of the main physical specifications of the two cameras and other similar ones. If you would like to visualize and compare a different camera combination, just use the right or left arrows in the table to switch to the respective camera. Alternatively, you can also navigate to the CAM-parator app and make your selection from the full list of cameras there.

Camera Body Specifications
  Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(yes/no)
Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Camera
Model
Canon 20D» 5.7 in 4.2 in 2.8 in 27.2 oz 700 n Aug 2004 1,499- i Canon 20D
Canon 5D Mark III« 6.0 in 4.6 in 3.0 in 33.5 oz 950 Y Mar 2012 3,499- i Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 5D Mark IV« » 5.9 in 4.6 in 3.0 in 31.4 oz 900 Y Aug 2016 3,499 i i Canon 5D Mark IV
Canon 5DS« » 6.0 in 4.6 in 3.0 in 32.8 oz 700 Y Feb 2015 3,699 i i Canon 5DS
Canon 5DS R« » 6.0 in 4.6 in 3.0 in 32.8 oz 700 Y Feb 2015 3,699 i i Canon 5DS R
Canon 7D II« » 5.9 in 4.4 in 3.1 in 32.1 oz 670 Y Sep 2014 1,799 i i Canon 7D II
Canon 6D« » 5.7 in 4.4 in 2.8 in 27.2 oz 1090 Y Sep 2012 2,099- i Canon 6D
Canon 60D« » 5.7 in 4.2 in 3.1 in 26.6 oz 1100 Y Aug 2010 1,399- i Canon 60D
Canon 7D« » 5.8 in 4.4 in 2.9 in 30.3 oz 800 Y Sep 2009 1,699- i Canon 7D
Canon 5D Mark II« » 6.0 in 4.5 in 3.0 in 30.0 oz 850 Y Sep 2008 3,499- i Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 50D« » 5.7 in 4.3 in 2.9 in 29.0 oz 800 Y Aug 2008 1,299- i Canon 50D
Canon 40D« » 5.7 in 4.3 in 2.9 in 29.0 oz 750 n Aug 2007 1,299- i Canon 40D
Canon 30D« » 5.7 in 4.2 in 2.9 in 27.7 oz 750 n Feb 2006 1,399- i Canon 30D
Canon XT« » 5.0 in 3.7 in 2.5 in 19.0 oz 400 n Feb 2005 899- i Canon XT
Canon 10D« » 5.9 in 4.2 in 3.0 in 30.0 oz 500 n Feb 2003 1,999- i Canon 10D
Canon Rebel« » 5.6 in 3.9 in 2.8 in 22.9 oz 400 n Aug 2003 899- i Canon Rebel
Nikon D200« » 5.8 in 4.4 in 2.9 in 32.5 oz 400 Y Nov 2005 1,699- i Nikon D200

Any camera purchase will naturally be influenced heavily by the price. The retail prices at the time of the camera’s release place the model in the market relative to other models in the producer’s line-up and the competition. The 20D was launched at a markedly lower price (by 57 percent) than the 5D Mark III, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down.

 

Sensor comparison: Canon 20D vs Canon 5D Mark III

The size of the sensor inside a digital camera is one of the key determinants of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Furthermore, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more possibilities to use shallow depth-of-field in order to isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be associated with larger, more expensive camera bodies and lenses.

Of the two cameras under consideration, the Canon 20D features an APS-C sensor and the Canon 5D Mark III a full frame sensor. The sensor area in the 5D Mark III is 156 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.6 and 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.

Technology-wise, the 5D Mark III uses a more advanced image processing engine (DIGIC 5+) than the 20D (DIGIC 2), with benefits for noise reduction, color accuracy, and processing speed.

Canon 20D and Canon 5D Mark III sensor measures

With 22.1MP, the 5D Mark III offers a higher resolution than the 20D (8.2MP), but the 5D Mark III has smaller individual pixels (pixel pitch of 6.25μm versus 6.42μm for the 20D). Yet, the 5D Mark III is a much more recent model (by 7 years and 6 months) than the 20D, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixel-units.

20D versus 5D Mark III MP

Consistent information on actual sensor performance is available from DXO Mark for many cameras. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. Of the two cameras under consideration, the 5D Mark III offers substantially better image quality than the 20D (overall score 19 points higher). The advantage is based on 2.1 bits higher color depth, 0.7 EV in additional dynamic range, and 1.7 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The table below summarizes the physical sensor characteristics and sensor quality findings and compares them across a set of similar cameras.

Sensor Characteristics
  Camera
Model
Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Camera
Model
Canon 20D» APS-C 8.2 3504 2336-21.911.072162Canon 20D
Canon 5D Mark III« Full Frame 22.1 5760 38401080/30p24.011.7229381Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 5D Mark IV« » Full Frame 30.1 6720 44804K/30p24.813.6299591Canon 5D Mark IV
Canon 5DS« » Full Frame 50.3 8688 57921080/60p24.712.4238187Canon 5DS
Canon 5DS R« » Full Frame 50.3 8688 57921080/60p24.612.4230886Canon 5DS R
Canon 7D II« » APS-C 20.0 5472 36481080/60p22.411.8108270Canon 7D II
Canon 6D« » Full Frame 20.0 5472 36481080/30p23.812.1234082Canon 6D
Canon 60D« » APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p22.211.581366Canon 60D
Canon 7D« » APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p22.011.785466Canon 7D
Canon 5D Mark II« » Full Frame 21.0 5616 37441080/30p23.711.9181579Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 50D« » APS-C 15.1 4752 3168-21.811.469663Canon 50D
Canon 40D« » APS-C 10.1 3888 2592-22.111.370364Canon 40D
Canon 30D« » APS-C 8.2 3504 2336-21.510.873659Canon 30D
Canon XT« » APS-C 8.0 3456 2304-21.810.863760Canon XT
Canon 10D« » APS-C 6.3 3072 2048-21.110.957157Canon 10D
Canon Rebel« » APS-C 6.3 3072 2048-21.010.854455Canon Rebel
Nikon D200« » APS-C 10.0 3872 2592-22.311.558364Nikon D200

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. The 5D Mark III indeed provides for movie recording, while the 20D does not. The highest resolution format that the 5D Mark III can use is 1080/30p.

 

Feature comparison: Canon 20D vs Canon 5D Mark III

Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a variety of features. The 20D and the 5D Mark III are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The table below summarizes some of the other core capabilities of the Canon 20D and Canon 5D Mark III in connection with corresponding information for a sample of similar cameras. The full specs-sheets can be found in the camera manual or in the dpreview camera hub.

Core Features
  Camera
Model
Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec)
Build-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Camera
Model
Canon 20D»optical Y 1.8 118 fixed n 8000 5.0 Y n Canon 20D
Canon 5D Mark III«optical Y 3.2 1040 fixed n 8000 6.0 n n Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 5D Mark IV« »optical Y 3.2 1620 fixed Y 8000 7.0 n n Canon 5D Mark IV
Canon 5DS« »optical Y 3.2 1040 fixed n 8000 5.0 n n Canon 5DS
Canon 5DS R« »optical Y 3.2 1040 fixed n 8000 5.0 n n Canon 5DS R
Canon 7D II« »optical Y 3.0 1040 fixed n 8000 10.0 Y n Canon 7D II
Canon 6D« »optical Y 3.0 1040 fixed n 4000 4.5 n n Canon 6D
Canon 60D« »optical Y 3.0 1040 swivel n 8000 5.3 Y n Canon 60D
Canon 7D« »optical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 8000 8.0 Y n Canon 7D
Canon 5D Mark II« »optical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 8000 3.9 n n Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 50D« »optical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 8000 6.3 Y n Canon 50D
Canon 40D« »optical Y 3.0 230 fixed n 8000 6.5 Y n Canon 40D
Canon 30D« »optical Y 2.5 230 fixed n 8000 5.0 Y n Canon 30D
Canon XT« »optical n 1.8 115 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n Canon XT
Canon 10D« »optical Y 1.8 118 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n Canon 10D
Canon Rebel« »optical n 1.8 118 fixed n 4000 2.5 Y n Canon Rebel
Nikon D200« »optical Y 2.5 230 fixed n 8000 5.0 Y n Nikon D200

One difference between the cameras concerns the presence of an on-board flash. The 20D has one, while the 5D Mark III does not. While the build-in flash of the 20D is not very powerful, it can at times be useful as a fill-in light.

Both the 20D and the 5D Mark III have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The 20D was replaced by the Canon 30D, while the 5D Mark III was followed by the Canon 5D Mark IV.

Review summary: Canon 20D vs Canon 5D Mark III

So how do things add up? Is the Canon 20D better than the Canon 5D Mark III or vice versa? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.


Reasons to prefer the Canon EOS 20D:

  • More compact: Is smaller (144x106mm vs 152x116mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
  • Less heavy: Is lighter (by 180g or 19 percent) and hence easier to carry around.
  • Easier fill-in: Is equipped with a small onboard flash to brighten deep shadow areas.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (57 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in August 2004).


Advantages of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III:

  • More detail: Has more megapixels (22.1 vs 8.2MP), which boosts linear resolution by 64%.
  • Better image quality: Scores substantially higher (19 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
  • Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (2.1 bits more color depth).
  • More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (0.7 EV of extra DR).
  • Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (1.7 stops ISO advantage).
  • Better jpgs: Has a more modern image processing engine (DIGIC 5+ vs DIGIC 2).
  • Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 1080/30p video.
  • Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 1.8") for image review and settings control.
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (1040k vs 118k dots).
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (6 vs 5 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Longer lasting: Gets more shots (950 versus 700) out of a single battery charge.
  • Better sealing: Is splash and dust sealed for shooting in inclement weather conditions.
  • More modern: Reflects 7 years and 6 months of technical progress since the 20D launch.

If the number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the 5D Mark III is the clear winner of the contest (13 : 5 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs before making a camera decision.

20D 05:13 5D Mark III

In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras is instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it says nothing about, for example, the handling, responsiveness, and overall imaging quality of the 20D and the 5D Mark III in practical situations. At times, user reviews, such as those published at amazon, address these issues in a useful manner, but such feedback is on many occasions incomplete, inconsistent, and unreliable. This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The adjacent table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, photographyblog). The detailed reviews can be accessed by clicking on the site logo in the table header.

Review Scores
  Camera
Model
cameralabs dpreview ephotozine imaging-resource photographyblog Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Camera
Model
Canon 20D»-HiRec-rev- Aug 2004 1,499- i Canon 20D
Canon 5D Mark III«HiRec82/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Mar 2012 3,499- i Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 5D Mark IV« »HiRec87/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Aug 2016 3,499 i i Canon 5D Mark IV
Canon 5DS« »Rec83/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Feb 2015 3,699 i i Canon 5DS
Canon 5DS R« »Rec83/1005/55/54.5/5 Feb 2015 3,699 i i Canon 5DS R
Canon 7D II« »Rec84/1004/55/54.5/5 Sep 2014 1,799 i i Canon 7D II
Canon 6D« »HiRec83/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Sep 2012 2,099- i Canon 6D
Canon 60D« »Rec79/1004/55/54.5/5 Aug 2010 1,399- i Canon 60D
Canon 7D« »HiRec84/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Sep 2009 1,699- i Canon 7D
Canon 5D Mark II« »91/10079/1004/55/5- Sep 2008 3,499- i Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 50D« »HiRecHiRec4.5/55/54.5/5 Aug 2008 1,299- i Canon 50D
Canon 40D« »HiRecHiRec4.5/5rev4.5/5 Aug 2007 1,299- i Canon 40D
Canon 30D« »HiRecHiRecrevrev- Feb 2006 1,399- i Canon 30D
Canon XT« »80/100HiRecrevrev- Feb 2005 899- i Canon XT
Canon 10D« »-HiRec-rev- Feb 2003 1,999- i Canon 10D
Canon Rebel« »-HiRec-rev- Aug 2003 899- i Canon Rebel
Nikon D200« »HiRecHiRecrev5/5- Nov 2005 1,699- i Nikon D200

The review scores listed above should be treated with care, though. The ratings are only valid when refering to cameras in the same category and of the same age. Thus, a score needs to be put into the context of the launch date and the launch price of the camera, and comparing ratings of very distinct cameras or ones that are far apart in terms of their release date have little meaning. Also, kindly note that some of the listed sites have over time developped their review approaches and their reporting style.

 

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you are interested in seeing how other cameras pair up, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored. If you cannot find the camera you are interested in, please send me an email, and I will try to update the database with the necessary infos.

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