In the digital age, products imbedded with computer chips don’t last longer the 18 months (due to Moore’s Law), and even is there’s a huge demand and fan base for the current model, the manufacturer can offer more. So when Canon decide to revise the EOS 5D with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, they didn’t disappoint.
The 5D MK II is a must-have upgrade… particularly for wedding photographers who used and abused the 5D. Canon uses many of the same imaging components from the 1Ds Mark III on the 5D Mk II, but at a price that’s less than $2,700! This is fairly aggressive pricing for 21-megapixel CMOS camera with a state-of-the-art true HD movie capturing feature.
Canon gives you two options with the 5D – the body-only and a kit version, which comes with a 24-105mm f/4 IS USM lens. Most kit lenses are… let’s be honest, mediocre at best, but this lens is better than expected and I’m sure initial users won’t be disappointed. Yet, to take advantage of the camera’s high resolution, you’ll need the best (i.e. sharpest) lenses that are available.
The 5D weights a little over 2 lbs; the durability and weatherproofing have been improved upon from the 5D. The camera body is steel covered with magnesium alloy, which makes the camera sturdy but not massive like say the Nikon D700. It’s very ergonomic and comfortable to hold and use.
Canon reconfigured the controls slightly from its other cameras. The main control dial in on the top of the body, and there are four dual-purpose buttons for adjusting 1) the metering (a huge 3.5% spot, 8% partial, center-weighted, and evaluative); 2) white balance; 3) autofocus (single AI Servo and AI Focus) and drive modes; and 4) ISO rating and flash compensation. The top LCD displays all the necessary photographic information and the mode dial offers the basics – bulb, PASM, Auto, three custom setting and the newly introduced Creative Auto mode.
The top rear right has buttons to control AF, exposure lock, and focus-point selection. The rear left button has the Live View/PictBridge, Menu, Picture Styles, Info, Playback, and Delete controls. The big drawback with all these control buttons is that there is no tactile differentiation, so they all feel the same. Just like the other Canon bodies, the 5D Mk II uses the joystick multi-controller and Quick Control dial with Set button.
Canon increased the size of the viewfinder on the 5D Mk II, it only covers 98% of the actual sensor. Would it hurt for Canon to increase the coverage to 100%? Probably not, so why not?
What the 5D MK II has that beats out its competitors is the HD movie mode. The camera can capture up to 12 minutes (on a a 4GB memory card) of 1920×1080 progressive scan video at 30fps. The audio is captured with a mono microphone built-in and stereo mic input. While capturing video, you can adjust the exposure and apply Picture Styles, but you can’t use the autofocus. This is a really nifty feature that makes the 5D Mk II a stand-out. If you’re like me, and do work in the commercial and indie film work, this camera is a dream. A 3rd Party company called RedRock Micro has created a camera mount that has a tripod adapter, hand-grips and mimics the follow-focus capabilities of a motion picture camera. This is important, because the camera’s impressive auto-focus system doesn’t work in HD movie mode. Why is this important? Because it enables the camera to be used as an HD-video recorder that rivals some of the most sophisticated HD Camcorders.
The camera has many new feature that cater to the pros, two different low-resolution RAW formats (10 and 5.2 megapixels), more interchangeable focusing-screen options, in-camera peripheral-illumination correction to compensate for brightness irregularities across an image, and a silent Live View mode. Also, in Live View, there’s a Face Detection autofocus setting. The bracketing feature is set up in increments of 1/3, 2/3, 1, 1 1/3, 1 2/3 or 2 full stops. The drawback in that the camera can only take three bracketed exposures, whereas other cameras can do up to seven frames. This is presents a problem if you’re planning on doing any High Dynamic Range (HDR) work, otherwise you’d be okay. Well, more than okay.
What the 5D Mk II doesn’t have is a built-in flash, which Canon doesn’t include with any cameras of this class. Nor is there an in-camera wireless flash controller, a tradition that Canon continues to hold on.
The 5D Mk II feels quicker than its predecessor, and it compares well in a head-to-head battle with the Nikon D700. It turns on as is ready to shoot in 0.3 seconds and takes between 0.3 and 0.6 to shoot and about 0.4 seconds from shot-to-shot; not bad if I must say so myself.
Unfortunately, the 5D’s burst shooting is pretty slow at 3.8fps and its center-intensive 9-point AF system don’t lend themselves to seriously fast, continuous shooting.
Overall, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II produces some impressive photos – color and exposure-wise, as you’ve come to expect from cameras within this price range. Considering the resolution, it’s notable to see that no noise or noise suppression artifacts appear until you’re ISO is set to 1600. And depending on what you’re shooting, your images can be acceptable with the ISO cranked up to 12,800. The one thing that’s perhaps annoying is the overly warm tungsten white balance… but that can be easily corrected in Photoshop.
This is a solid camera that won’t let you down, and it edges out the Nikon D700 – its main competitor — because of its higher resolution and the HD video capture. I can’t say enough about the HD video capture. You need to get your hands on this camera and take it for test drive.
Chris Derrick is a writer, photographer, screenwriter and director living and working in Los Angeles. He studied film production and screenwriting at the University of Southern California, and continued to expand his photographic knowledge through classes at the Art Center College of Design.