Originally Posted: April 17, 2009
Last Updated: December 15, 2009
The EOS-5D Mark II ($2699, body only) is Canon's "budget" full frame digital SLR. It's the long-awaited replacement to the immensely popular EOS-5D, and it offers a higher resolution sensor, live view, Full HD video recording, a larger/sharper LCD, HDMI output, and much more.
There are many differences between the original 5D and the second iteration, and I've highlighted the most important ones in this chart:
As you can see, the 5D Mark II has been improved significantly across the board. The only areas in which it slightly disappoints are in terms of focus points and continuous shooting performance, especially compared to the Nikon D700.
The original EOS-5D was one heck of a camera. Can the Mark II follow in its footsteps? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The EOS-5D Mark II is available in two kits. You can buy just the body alone, or you can get the camera plus a 24 - 105 mm F4L lens. Here's what you'll find in the box for each of these:
- The 21.1 effective Megapixel EOS-5D Mark II camera body
- F4L, 24 - 105 mm IS USM lens [lens kit only]
- LP-E6 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Shoulder strap
- Body cap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring EOS Digital Solution and Software Instruction Manuals
- 227 page camera manual (printed)
I imagine that most EOS-5D Mk II owners will be buying the body only kit, unless they want to get their hands on that 24 - 105 F4L IS lens. The kit lens has a nice range and build quality, though it's not terribly sharp. If you want to use other Canon lenses, you can: the 5D supports all EF mount lenses, with no focal length conversion ratio to deal (this is the beauty of full frame sensors). Those of you upgrading from Digital Rebel or EOS-20D/30D/40D/50D cameras take note: your EF-S lenses will not work on the 5D!
Digital SLRs never come with memory cards, so unless you have a CompactFlash card sitting around, you'll need to buy one right away. The EOS-5D Mark II supports both Type I and II CompactFlash cards, including the ultra fast UDMA-enabled models. I would buy a 4GB card at the very least, as fast as you can afford.
The 5D Mark II uses a different battery than its predecessor. The new LP-E6 battery packs a whopping 13.0 Wh of energy, which is as good as you'll find. If you think that means long battery life, you're right:
While an improvement over the original EOS-5D, the Mark II's battery numbers are the lowest in the group of three "budget" full-frame D-SLRs. If you're using live view, expect much shorter battery life: around 200 shots per charge, to be exact.
If you want to squeeze more juice out of the camera, you'll want to use the...
The 5D Mark II with the optional battery grip
Image courtesy of Canon USA
... optional battery grip! The BG-E6 battery grip ($275) can hold one or two LP-E6 batteries, giving you double the battery life. If you want to use AA batteries with the camera, you can pick up the BGM-E6 battery magazine ($40), which holds six AAs.
When it's time to charge the LP-E6, just pop it into the included charger. The charger plugs right into the wall (my favorite), and it can charge the battery in about 2.5 hours.
Digital SLRs support a load of accessories, and the table below covers just a selection of those available for the EOS-5D Mark II:
And that's just a small selection of the accessories available for the 5D Mark II. Other options include focusing screens and diopter adjustment lenses for the viewfinder, macro lights, car chargers, and lots more.
EOS Utility - Main Screen
Canon includes version 19.1 of their EOS Digital Solutions Disk with the EOS-5D Mark II. The first application that you'll probably bump into is EOS Utility, which is sort of a gateway to all the other software programs. Here you can download photos from your camera, use remote capture, adjust camera settings, or monitor a folder (used with the optional Wireless File Transmitter).
EOS Utility - Selecting Photos to Download
If you choose to select and download images to your computer, you'll get the screen you see above. Once photos are transferred to your computer, you have two ways of viewing and editing them.
ImageBrowser in Mac OS X
The "consumer-friendly" option for image viewing is ImageBrowser (for Mac) and ZoomBrowser (for Windows). On the main screen, you get the usual thumbnail view, with quick access to image e-mailing, printing, editing, and slideshows.
Double-click on a JPEG image and you'll bring up the photo in its own window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment feature, for those who don't mess with all those controls.
The Browser software can be used to view RAW images, but that's about it. You cannot edit or convert the 5D Mark II's RAW files. For that you'll need...
Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X
... Digital Photo Professional 3.5! The main screen isn't too much different from Image/ZoomBrowser, with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail w/shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.
RAW editing in DPP
The RAW editing tools in DPP are quite robust. Basic properties you can edit include exposure, white balance, the tone curve, Picture Style, saturation, and sharpness. In addition to adjusting the basics that I described above, DPP also lets you tweak color tone, saturation, the tone curve, both luminance and chrominance noise, and lens aberration (such as distortion, vignetting, and purple fringing).
I'm sure that most people in the market for a camera like this know what RAW is, but in case you don't, here's a quick explanation. RAW images contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. Thus, you can adjust settings like white balance and exposure without damaging the original image, so it's almost like taking the photo again. The downside is the large file size (compared to JPEG), fewer shots in continuous shooting mode, and the need to post-process each image on your computer before you can turn it into a more common format like JPEG. The EOS-5D Mark II supports three different RAW sizes: full size, 10.0 MP, and 5.2 MP.
Remote camera control, complete with live view
Jumping back to EOS Utility again, I want to mention a really nice feature -- Remote Capture. This lets you control the camera right from your computer, with access to most camera settings. The live view feature is fully supported, complete with a histogram, composition grid, and the ability to enlarge the frame and manually tweak focus. Photos are saved directly to your computer, though they can be stored on the camera too, if you wish.
While you can use the 5D's video recording tool in Remote Capture, the files are saved to the camera's memory card, and must be transferred to your PC manually.
Other things you can do with EOS Utility include customizing the My Menu (more on that later) and uploading Picture Styles that you've created with the software described below.
Picture Style Editor in Mac OS X
The last tool in Canon's software suite is the Picture Styles editor. To use this, you must first open up a RAW image. You can then tweak the tone curve, color settings, contrast, and sharpness, and then save a new Picture Style, which can be used both on the camera and in the Digital Photo Professional software.
The EOS-5D Mark II is one of the most complex cameras you'll ever lay your hands on. Therefore, you'll need an in-depth manual in order to figure it all out. Thankfully, Canon includes a detailed one with the 5D. It's not the most user friendly manual out there, but it will certainly any question you may have about the camera. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your computer.
Look and Feel
The EOS-5D Mark II is a fairly hefty digital SLR. It's not nearly as big as Canon's flagship full-frame camera, the EOS-1Ds Mark III, but at the same time, it makes things like the Rebel XSi look like plastic toys. The camera is built like a tank: it has a stainless steel inner chassis and a magnesium alloy outer shell. In other words, it feels like a $2700 camera should. The various doors, dials, and buttons on the Mark II are sealed against dust and moisture, and Canon says you can use in "light rain" for about three minutes without concern.
The camera is easy to hold, with a substantial grip for your right hand. Since it's a heavy camera, you'll definitely want to support the lens with your other hand. The Mark II does have more than its share of buttons, though figuring out what they all do isn't difficult. If you're moving up from something like a Rebel XSi or an EOS-40D, you'll feel right at home here.
The original 5D (left) and the Mark II; photos not to scale
The 5D Mark Ii shares the basic design of its predecessor, with the most noticeable change being its much larger LCD. There are also some new buttons to be found, while others have been rearranged slightly. And it shouldn't be surprising to hear that the 5D Mark II now has both a microphone and a speaker, which its movie mode takes full advantage of.
Now, here's how the 5D Mark II compares to its small group of competitors in terms of size and weight:
The EOS-5D Mark II is just a bit larger than its predecessor. While it's currently the smallest and lightest full-frame D-SLR on the market, it's still a lot larger than most entry-level and midrange SLRs.
Ready to tour the 5D Mark II now?
Here's the front view of the EOS-5D Mark II, with the lens removed. Undoubtedly, the biggest feature on the camera can be seen at the center of the photo (well, behind the mirror): its full frame, 21.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor. The benefits of full frame sensors include higher resolution and less noise (at least in theory) than their APS-C counterparts, and no focal length conversion ratio.
The lens mount supports all Canon EF lenses, with no focal length conversion ratio to deal with. In other words, a 50 mm lens actually has a 50 mm field-of-view. I said it before and I'll repeat it here: the camera does not support the EF-S lenses that are supported on the EOS-20/30/40/50D and Rebel cameras. You can release the attached lens by pressing the button just to the right of the mount.
Believe it or not, the original EOS-5D did not have any kind of dust reduction system. That feature was in its infancy when the camera was introduced back in 2005, but now it's a requirement. The 5D Mark II has several ways of keeping dust out of your photos. First, the low-pass filter has a fluorine coating on it, which keeps dust from settling on it in the first place. Any dust that does stick will then be subject to ultrasonic vibrations when the camera is turned on and off. If there's still dust left, you can create a "dust map", which allows the bundled Digital Photography Professional software to rid of any dust spots in your photos.
Under the "5D" logo is the camera's microphone, which records mono sound. Over on the opposite side of the camera body is the remote control receiver and the self-timer lamp.
In case you didn't notice, there's no built-in flash on the EOS-5D Mark II. The only camera in its class to offer one is the Nikon D700. The 5D doesn't have an AF-assist lamp -- you'll need to use an external flash for that feature.
And now onto the back of the camera. If you didn't know any better, you'd think that this was the EOS-50D, as the control layout is nearly identical. The main thing to see here is the Mark II's large 3-inch LCD display, up from 2.5" on the original 5D. This screen isn't just bigger -- it's a whole lot sharper, too. The screen has 920,000 pixels (the same as its competitors), so everything is exceptionally sharp, and the menus look great.
Live view, complete with histogram that blocks a good portion of the frame
On the original EOS-5D, the LCD was only used for menus and reviewing photos you've taken. On the Mark II you can also use it for composing still photos and recording movies, just as you'd expect in 2009. The benefits of live view are quite simple. You can see 100% of the frame, white balance and exposure can be previewed, a live histogram is available, and you can use either auto or manual focus. The downsides include slower focusing performance than using the viewfinder (especially if you're using contrast detect AF, described below) and some extra strain on your battery.
Let's talk about the three autofocus modes on the 5D now. Unlike with a compact camera, you don't halfway-press the shutter release to focus. Instead, you press the aptly named "AF-On" button. There are three to choose from: quick, live, and live with face detection. Quick mode uses the camera's main AF sensor for focusing. Thus, it must halt the live view, flip the mirror down, focus, flip the mirror back up, and enable live view. This takes a bit of time, but the camera focuses a lot faster than in the next two modes.
Live mode uses the CMOS sensor itself to focus, using the same contrast detection system as your point-and-shoot camera. Unlike with a compact camera, the 5D Mark II focuses very slowly when using contrast detection. You'll easily wait for one or two seconds for the camera to lock focus, and in some cases it could take upwards of five -- yes, five -- seconds before focus is locked. It's pretty lousy in low light too, and you can't use the AF-assist lamp on your external flash, either.
The camera has detected at least two faces here
You can also enable face detection in the Live AF mode. This feature works a bit differently than on your typical compact camera in that it only highlights one face at a time. If it shows arrows pointing to the sides (see screenshot above) then you can use the joystick to move between the other faces that have been detected.
Checking manual focus in live view mode
Live view is probably most useful when you're manually focusing (and using a tripod). You can enlarge the image on the LCD by 5 or 10 times and then scroll around the image, which makes fine-tuning the focus a snap.
An additional benefit of the live view feature is called silent shooting. Since the camera isn't doing any mirror-flipping (when the photo is actually taken), you can take photos with a lot less noise than if you were using the optical viewfinder. Silent shooting mode 1 is what most people will want to use, with the only caveat being that the burst rate drops a bit, to 3 frames/second. Silent mode 2 will keep the shutter closed until you let go of the shutter release -- so you can get the camera away for your subject before the "click" disturbs it. You cannot shoot continuously using this second mode. You can also turn this feature off entirely, which Canon recommends when using Tilt-Shift lenses.
When the LCD is not being used for live view, you can use it for showing the current camera settings (Canon calls this the Quick Control screen). You can change virtually any of these settings by pressing the joystick inward and then navigating to the option you want to change. A secondary info screen (not pictured) is also available, showing things like the color space, white balance shift/bracketing, color temperature, and more.
Enough about live view -- let's get back to the tour. Above the LCD is the camera's optical viewfinder, which displays 98% of the frame (compare that to 95% on the Nikon D700 and 100% on the Sony A900). The EOS-5D's viewfinder is the smallest in its class, but not by much: its magnification of 0.71X is just below the 0.72X and 0.74X numbers on the D700 and A900, respectively (it's still quite a bit larger than what you'd find on cheaper D-SLRs, though). Below the field-of-view is a line of data showing things such as shutter speed, aperture, focus lock, shots remaining, and much more. You can adjust the viewfinder's focus by using the diopter correction knob to its upper-right.
Direct Transfer menu
To the left of the viewfinder is the button used to activate live view. If you're connected to a Mac or PC, pressing this button (known as Print/Share) will bring up the Direct Transfer menu, which lets you select which photos are transferred to your computer. This button is also used for printing photos when you're connected to a compatible photo printer.
To the lower-left of that button are five more, which do the following:
- Picture Styles - see below
- Info - toggles what's shown on the LCD
- Playback mode
- Delete photo
|Picture Style menu||Editing a Picture Style|
Picture Styles have been on Canon's digital SLRs for a few years now (even the original 5D had them). These are sets of shooting parameters that you can easily adjust and switch between. There are six preset Styles, plus three spots for custom styles, as well. The presets include standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, and monochrome. There are also three spots for custom Styles that you can create on the camera or your computer. Here are the parameters that can be adjusted in a Picture Style:
- Sharpness (0 - 7)
- Contrast (-4 to +4)
- Saturation (-4 to +4)
- Color tone (-4 to +4)
- Filter effect (None, yellow, orange, red, green) - for monochrome styles only
- Toning effect (None, sepia, blue, purple, green) - for monochrome styles only
Now let's jump over to the top-right portion of the 5D Mark II's backside. Here you'll find these three buttons:
- AF-On - activates the autofocus system in live view mode
- AE/FE lock + playback zoom out
- Focus point selection + playback zoom in
The focus point selection button lets you use the joystick or the command dials to select from one of the camera's nine focus points. You can also leave it in auto area mode, which will have the camera pick one for you.
Moving closer to the LCD, we find the camera's joystick (Canon calls it the multi-controller) and speaker. The large dial under those is known as the Quick Control dial, used for adjusting manual settings as well as navigating menus and reviewing photos you've taken. If you've got the camera set up for movie recording, pressing the "set" button in the middle of the dial starts and stops recording. Under that is the power switch, which can also be used to lock out the Quick Control dial, so you don't accidentally change any settings.
Just to the left of the power switch is a light sensor, which allowed the LCD brightness to adjust automatically. And that's it for the back of the EOS-5D Mark II!
There's a lot more to see on the top of the 5D Mark II, and I'll start with the mode dial. The target audience for the camera is made apparent by the mode dial, which doesn't have a single scene mode. Here's what it does have:
You wouldn't expect anything less than full manual controls on this high-end camera, and Canon delivers the goods.
This is how you adjust the aperture in Creative Auto mode
Want something easier to use? There's a point-and-shoot Auto mode, plus a "Creative Auto" option. This lets you adjust the exposure, aperture, and Picture Style using less-scary words like "brightness", "depth-of-field", and "color tone". I have to admit that this mode feels a bit out of place on nearly $3000 digital SLR, but there you go.
Controlling the 430EX II on the 5D
The next item on the top of the EOS-5D Mark II is the hot shoe, one of two ways in which you can connect an external flash to the camera. Canon's own 220EX, 430EX II, and 580EX II Speedlites will work best with the camera, as they integrate with the camera's metering system. The 430EX II and 580 EX II even let you adjust their settings right from the camera's menu system. If you want to use wireless flashes, then you'll need to use either the 580EX II or the ST-E2 as the "master" --- the camera itself cannot do it. The two high end Speedlites also allow you to use high speed FP sync mode, which lets you use any shutter speed that you'd like, no matter how fast. For third party flashes, you'll have to set the exposure manually, and turn off the silent shooting mode if you're using live view. The maximum flash sync speed with a non-Canon flash is 1/200 sec with a regular flash, and 1/60 sec with large studio strobes.
Continuing to the right, we find the camera's LCD info display, which shows every setting you could possibly imagine (I'll spare you by not listing there here). You can turn on a backlight by pressing the small button located to its upper-right.
Above the LCD info display are three buttons (in addition to the one for the backlight). They do the following:
- Metering (Evaluative, partial, spot, center-weighted) + white balance (auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom, color temperature)
- AF mode (One-shot, AI servo, AI focus) + drive (single-shot, continuous, 2 or 10 sec self-timer/remote)
- ISO (Auto, 100 - 6400) + flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV)
There are three AF modes on the 5D Mark II: One-shot AF is for stationary subjects (focus is locked when you halfway press the shutter release), AI servo is for moving subjects (the camera continues to focus, even with the shutter release pressed), and AI focus automatically selects one based on what's going on in the frame.
There are plenty of white balance options to choose from. There's an auto mode, the usual presets, a custom mode, and the ability to manually set the color temperature. I'll have more on this subject later in the review.
Now let's talk about the EOS-5D Mark II's continuous shooting performance. Despite having nearly twice the resolution to deal with, the 5D Mark II still manages to shoot a bit faster than its predecessor. Here's what kind of numbers I was able to get out of the camera:
The first thing to mention is that the camera doesn't stop shooting after the buffer fills up. For example, after the camera takes its 14 RAW photos at 3.9 frames/second, it keeps on shooting, just at roughly 1 frame/second (the sRAW modes will be faster). Overall, the 5D Mark II performed quite well considering the massive amount of data it has to work with, though both the D700 and A900 can shoot at a higher burst rate (5 fps).
The 5D Mark II supports both automatic and manual adjustment of the ISO sensitivity. The auto ISO setting varies depending on what shooting mode you're using. In most of the shooting modes, it'll pick something between ISO 100 and 3200. In manual, bulb, and when using the flash, it'll be fixed at 400. The ISO range can be expanded by adjusting one of the custom settings, allowing for sensitivities as low as 50 or as high as 25,600 (!).
The final items on the top of the camera include the main command dial and the shutter release button.
The first thing to note in this photo are the AF/MF and image stabilization switches on the optional 24 - 105 mm kit lens. On the camera itself you can see the side of the lens release button, with the depth-of-field preview button below that.
Continuing to the right, you'll find the camera's I/O ports, which are kept under rubber covers. Let's take a closer look at them:
The ports here include:
- Flash sync
- Wired remote control
- External microphone
- A/V out
The external mic and HDMI ports are both new to the 5D Mark II. The HDMI port is for connecting to a high definition television, though be sure to buy the cable from someplace cheap -- don't get ripped off spending $100 on one.
As you'd expect, the 5D Mark II supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC.
On the other side of the 5D Mark II you'll find its CompactFlash slot. This supports "regular" Type I as well as thicker Type II cards, including things like the Microdrive (if anyone actually uses those anymore). The camera supports UDMA-enabled CF cards as well, for maximum performance. The plastic door over this compartment is of decent quality.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find the "extension system terminal" (for the wireless file transmitter), a metal tripod mount, and the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is fairly sturdy, and (like the other doors on the camera) is sealed against dust and moisture. The door needs to be removed when you're using the optional battery grip.
The included LP-E6 battery can be seen at right.
Using the Canon EOS-5D Mark II
Flip the power switch and the EOS-5D Mark II is ready to shoot almost immediately. The camera does run a sensor cleaning cycle at startup, though you can interrupt this by pressing the shutter release button.
Autofocus speeds depend not only on what lens you're using, but whether or not you're using live view. If you're shooting with the optical viewfinder, focus times are extremely quick. You'll wait for 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle and 0.4 - 0.6 seconds at telephoto -- at least with the 24 - 105 mm kit lens. The Mark II struggles a bit in low light, since it has no AF-assist lamp. However, if you have an external flash attached, the camera will use its AF-assist lamp, thus keeping focus times fairly snappy.
Focusing speeds are live view are a different story. If you want the best experience, then (please) use the quick mode AF. This mode requires some mirror-flipping (which interrupts the live view) -- which makes it a bit slower than shooting with the viewfinder -- but it's much faster than the "live" AF modes. In the live AF modes, you can expect to wait multiple seconds (sometimes as many as four or five) for the camera to lock focus. And forget about low light -- more often than not, the camera just gives up.
If you're shooting with the optical viewfinder then shutter lag won't be a problem. There's a tiny bit of shutter lag with live view, but it's really not much, as the mirror is already out of the way, and the focus is locked.
As with all digital SLRs, there's no delay between shots, even if you're shooting RAW+JPEG. You can shoot as fast as you can compose the next shot.
You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo button.
Now, here's a look at the numerous image size and quality choices available on the camera:
There are three RAW sizes available on the EOS-5D Mark II. There's your everyday full resolution RAW mode, plus two lower resolution modes (sRAW 1 and 2) which record at 10.0 and 5.2 MB, respectively. You can take a RAW image alone, or along with a JPEG at the size of your choosing (I left those out of the chart to keep things simple). I explained the benefits and drawbacks of the RAW format earlier in the review.
Images are named XXX_YYYY.JPG (or .CR2), where X=100-999 and Y=0001-9999. File numbering is maintained as you swap or erase memory cards.
The EOS-5D Mark II has a detailed, yet easy-to-navigate menu system that looks great on its ultra high resolution LCD. The menu is divided up into several tabs, covering shooting, playback, setup, and custom settings. Here's the full list of menu items:
My Menu settings
I touched on the various live view options earlier in the review, but I want to go over exactly what you can select in the Live View/Movie function settings menu. You can:
- Choose whether live view is active, and whether it's used for movies, or just for stills
- Whether the image on the LCD is optimized for easy viewing, composing movies (a 16:9 overlay is shown), or for exposure preview
- Choose to have a rule-of-thirds or complex grid pattern displayed on the LCD
- Select a silent shooting mode (described earlier)
- Set the metering timer
- Select between Quick AF (highly recommended) or the live / live with face detection AF modes
- Set the movie resolution (1920 x 1080, 640 x 480)
- Select whether sound is recorded with movies
The peripheral illumination correction feature is new to the 5D Mark II, and it aims to reduce vignetting (dark corners) in your photos. The camera has data for 20 lenses built in, and you can add more via the EOS Utility software. I didn't even intend for this next photo to be used as an example. I was taking a photo of our favorite macro test subject after a horrible accident (he's been repaired, don't worry), and it just happened to have some vignetting in it. See?
|Peripheral illum. correction off||Peripheral illum. correction on|
That's a pretty nice improvement, if I do say so myself. By the way, if you take a picture with the RAW format, you can manually tweak how much vignetting correction is applied by using Digital Photo Professional.
As you'd expect, the 5D Mark II features an auto exposure bracketing option. This feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The exposure interval can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, or ±1EV. If you've got a large memory card, this is a good way to ensure properly exposed photos every time.
WB shift and bracketing (at the same time, no less)
The EOS-5D Mark II has plenty of manual white balance adjustments. First, you can use a white or gray card as a reference, for accurate color in mixed or unusual lighting. Another option is to manually set the color temperature, which can be adjusted between 2500K and 10000K, in 100K increments. If either of those are a little off, you can use the white balance shift to move the white balance in the green, blue, magenta, and amber directions (see screenshot). If that's still not enough, you can bracket for white balance, with the camera taking three shots in a row, each with a slightly different WB setting.
There are three items in the custom function menu that I want to mention: highlight tone priority, auto lighting optimizer, and AF micro-adjustment.
Highlight tone priority aims to increase the dynamic range of your photos, by producing more detail in the overexposed areas of a photo. One of the side effects of this feature is that the ISO is increased to a minimum of 200. I took what I thought would be a good photo to test out this feature, but the results are very subtle, as you'll see:
|Highlight tone priority off
View Full Size Image
|Highlight tone priority on
View Full Size Image
The first thing you'll probably notice in this comparison is how much darker the foreground gets when you turn on highlight tone priority. You do, however, get much better detail and contrast in the sky, which is a little blown out in the first shot. This feature certainly doesn't work miracles, but it does help, at least a little bit.
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The auto lighting optimizer attempts to improve overall contrast, though it's almost as subtle as the highlight tone priority feature I just discussed. You can select from low, standard, or strong applications of ALO, or you can turn it off altogether. There isn't much of a difference between low and standard, and you won't really see the feature kick in until you put it on strong. Seeing how the 5D Mark II tends to slightly overexposed, I'd probably keep this setting at its default -- standard.
Fine-tuning focus for a lens
The last menu item to mention is lens micro-adjustment. This allows you to fine-tune the focus for up to 20 lenses, for one lens or for all of them. So, if you own a lens that always back-focuses, this is one way to fix it.
Alright, enough menus -- let's do photo tests now. Since the camera has no built-in flash, I did not perform the redeye test. I'll tell you which lens in the discussion of each of the tests below. Ready?
The macro test shot was taken with my Sigma F2.8 50 mm EX macro lens. As you can see, Mickey had his arms glued back on, though he's scarred for life. The colors on the figurine look good overall, though the background is slightly greenish (this is where white balance fine-tuning comes in). Our subject is on the soft side, which is "normal" for this camera. Forget about looking for noise in the photo -- there isn't any.
The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you have attached to the camera. The Sigma 50 mm macro lens that I used has a minimum focus distance of just under 19 cm.
The night scene (taken with the 70-200 mm F4L IS lens) didn't turn out as originally planned. I usually take this photo using auto white balance, but the 5D did a poor job, giving the scene a brownish cast. Thankfully, I was shooting in RAW+JPEG mode, so I opened up the RAW file, changed the white balance to tungsten, and everything looked great. So, keep in mind that all of the photos of the night scene are RAW conversions (using Photoshop CS4).
That said, the photo (taken at ISO 100) is stunning. The camera captures an unbelievable amount of detail -- you can count the chairs in the office windows, which are miles away from where I stood. Yes. the image is slightly soft, though it sharpens up nicely after a quick trip through the Unsharp Mask filter. There's no noise to be found here, and purple fringing (which is usually a lens issue) is minimal. Something else that's barely noticeable: highlight clipping.
Now, let's use that same scene to see how the Mark II performed at high sensitivities in low light. Remember, these are all RAW conversions!
ISO 50 (L1)
ISO 12,800 (H1)
ISO 25,600 (H2)
You'd be hard-pressed to see a difference between the ISO 50 - 200 shots. At ISO 400 you start to see a teeny-tiny amount of noise reduction, though there's still more than enough detail for a large print. The ISO 800 shot is slightly worse, but still just as usable. Details start to go south at ISO 1600, reducing print sizes to medium (or perhaps larger, if you use noise reduction software). ISO 3200 is probably as high as I'd take the EOS-5D Mark II in these situations, since after that, details get soft and you get some nasty static-like noise. I also spotted some banding at ISO 6400 and above.
We'll see how the Mark II performed in normal lighting in a moment.
There's quite a bit of barrel distortion at the wide end of the 24 - 105 mm kit lens. There's also some vignetting, though the peripheral illumination correction feature is keeping things from looking a lot worse. While this isn't the sharpest lens, I didn't find the corners to be abnormally blurry.
Here is the second of the ISO tests in this review. Since the lighting doesn't change, you can compare it with other cameras I've reviewed over the years (so open up the Nikon D700 review if you'd like). Since the images are so huge, the crops are a lot more zoomed in than you may be used. Thus, it's even more important to view the full size images. Get ready, here they come!
The 5D Mark II produces soft, but noise free images through ISO 1600. It's only at that point, if you look hard enough, that you'll see any evidence of noise or noise reduction artifacting. Things get a little bit worse at ISO 3200, but still, pretty nice. At this point the Nikon D700's images have less noise reduction (but more of a grain-type noise) and better sharpness than the 5D. Noise reduction finally starts to stick out at ISO 6400, though making a midsize or large print is still a good possibility. Next comes ISO 12,800, and I've thrown in a RAW conversion, one untouched and the other retouched. You can see that you do get some detail back by shooting RAW at this point, but the images are still best-suited for small prints. ISO 25,000 has a fair amount of detail loss, but believe it or not, it still makes an "acceptable" 4 x 6 inch print (I tried it myself). Post-processing with noise reduction software helps, but only a little bit. I think the D700 does a slightly better job at the highest sensitivities, but not by a whole lot.
Overall, the EOS-5D Mark II is capable of producing some brilliant photos. The camera has exposure and color down -- with the only niggle being the occasional clipped highlight. My biggest complaint is that the photos are too soft straight out of the camera (though the lens is certainly a factor here, as well). They do sharpen up nicely in Photoshop, but if you want to skip that step, you might want to visit the Picture Styles tool and bump up the sharpness a notch or two. The Mark II isn't really a "noisy" camera; instead, it has some issues with noise reduction, even at low ISOs. As with compact cameras, when you start cramming too many pixels onto the sensor, you need more and more noise reduction to keep things noise-free. You'll spot smudged details in areas of low contrast: in scenes with grass and water, or flower fields. You won't notice the softness or noise reduction unless you're making huge prints, or inspecting the images on your computer screen. The Mark II does let you adjust the amount of noise reduction being applied to images, so it's worth fooling around with that setting to see what you like best. Purple fringing is largely a lens-dependant issue, and I saw it occasionally, but it was never enough to be considered a problem.
Now, I invite you to have a look at our photo gallery. View the photos, maybe print a few if you can, and then decide if the 5D Mark II's image quality meets your expectations.
One of the most talked about features on the EOS-5D Mark II is its ability to record Full HD videos. That means that it's recording movies at 1920 x 1080, at 30 frames/second, with sound. The camera can keep recording until you hit the 4GB file size which, as you might imagine, doesn't take long (12 minutes, to be exact). If you want to record longer movies, you can drop the resolution to a more conventional 640 x 480. At that setting, you can record continuously for 24 minutes.
The Mark II records monaural sound with its movies. If you want stereo sound, you can attach an external microphone to the mic input on the side of the camera. One sound-related feature I wish the camera had is some kind of wind-cut filter.
There are some advantages and disadvantages of shooting movies on a digital SLR. On the plus side, you can use lens you own, from fisheye to super telephoto. You can zoom in and out as you please and if your lens has image stabilization, that's available too. You can fool around with Picture Styles, for unique color effects. There are a few downsides, though. For one, the camera is not focusing continuously while you're recording a movie. You can press the AF-on button to use contrast detect AF, but that results in slow focusing, clicking noises, and other weird effects. That means that if you adjust the focal length or your subject moves out of focus, you need to adjust the focus manually. That's a lot harder than it sounds -- it takes practice, for sure.
|Canon added manual control for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO in movie mode in a recent firmware update|
While the camera is recording, you can press the shutter release button to take a photo. The movie recording will stop briefly while this occurs.
Canon uses the H.264 codec inside a QuickTime wrapper. That means that you'll get high quality with smaller file sizes than M-JPEG (relatively speaking, of course). Even so, a 20 second movie takes up nearly 100MB on your memory card. And speaking of which, you'll need a high sped CompactFlash card to take full advantage of the HD movie mode.
If you want to see a professionally produced video taken with the EOS-5D Mark II, check out this one on Canon's website.
If you want to see the exact opposite, look below. I've downsized this compilation of video clips to 1280 x 720, and posted it on Vimeo to keep bandwidth costs down. Do note that Vimeo is doing some pretty heavy compression here, so it's not representative of the best the camera can do. To view the movie in all its glory, hit the full screen button, and make sure that HD is checked and scaling is off. If you want to download the movie before Vimeo compressed it, you can do so here.
If you absolutely must see the original 1080p video that I created, you can download it here. Be warned, it's a 154MB download!
The EOS-5D Mark II has a pretty basic playback mode, with no retouching features or gimmicks. Features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge your photo (by up to 10X), and then move around in the zoomed-in area -- perfect for checking focus. By using the quick control dial, you can move from one photo to another (maintaining the zoom setting), which is quite handy.
Lots of ways to jump through images
You can "jump" through photos using the main dial on the top of the camera, in groups of 10 or 100 photos, or by thumbnail screen, date, folder, or file type (movie or still).
The only "editing" tool on the camera is for image rotation. There's no way to resize or crop photos on the camera. Despite having a fancy movie mode, the 5D Mark II doesn't let you edit your clips on the camera.
Photos can be deleted one at a time, in a group, or all at once.
By default, the 5D Mark II doesn't tell you much about your photos. However, if you press the Info button, you'll see a lot more, including two different types of histogram.
The camera moves through photos instantly, as you'd expect on a D-SLR.
How Does it Compare?
The EOS-5D Mark II isn't just the original 5D with some new buttons and a larger LCD. Canon also put in a CMOS sensor (with nearly double the resolution), a new image processor, live view support, HD movie recording, HDMI output, dust reduction, and much more. The camera retains the excellent build quality of its predecessor -- the Mark II feels like a $2700 camera should. The camera is easy to hold, with a substantial grip for your right hand. The controls are similar to those on Canon's other midrange D-SLRs, but that doesn't make them any less intimidating to the beginner. The Mark II supports all EF-mount lenses, with no focal length conversion ratio to worry about. In other words, your 50mm lens will actually be 50mm. Those of you upgrading from APS-C Canons should note that your EF-S lenses will not work on the EOS-5D Mark II. As with the original 5D, there's no built-in flash on this camera, so consider an external flash a required purchase.
On the back of the camera is a beautiful 3-inch LCD display with 920,000 pixels. Whether you're reviewing photos or using the menu system, I think you'll agree that the sharpness of this screen is stunning. When the original EOS-5D came out, live view was in an infancy. Now, almost all D-SLRs have it, so you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the Mark II does as well. You can compose your photos on the LCD with composition grids, a histogram (that takes up way too much of the screen), and the ability to zoom in to check focus. The camera offers three AF modes in live view, including contrast detect AF (with or without face detection). Unfortunately, this mode is very slow, with focus times that go on for several seconds, instead of a fraction of one. The quick AF mode is probably the best thing to use in live view mode, even if it does briefly interrupt what you're seeing on the screen. I figure that most people will be shooting with the optical viewfinder most of the time, and the one on the Mark II is a nice one. It's the smallest viewfinder in the group of three "budget" full-frame SLRs, but not by much, with a magnification of 0.71X. It displays 98% of the frame.
The 5D Mark II is strictly a camera for people who know how to operate a complex digital SLR. The closest thing to a scene mode here is the "creative auto mode", which uses friendlier terms for aperture and exposure. In terms of manual controls, take your pick. Of course, there's aperture and shutter speed control (including a bulb mode). You can set white balance in numerous ways, fine-tune it, and even bracket for it, if need be. The camera supports the RAW format at three different resolutions, so if you don't need 26MB RAW files, you can shoot 10 Megapixel images at the sRAW1 setting, which only take up 15MB. The Mark II's Auto Lighting Optimizer does a good job of brightening the dark areas of your photos, while the highlight tone priority feature does an "okay" job at restoring highlight detail. If you've got a lens that always front or back focuses, then you can use the lens micro-adjustment feature to compensate for it. One last cool feature is the ability to control the camera right from your Mac or PC.
One of the biggest features on the Mark II isn't related to still shooting -- it's about movies. The camera has the ability to record Full HD video -- that's 1920 x 1080 -- at 30 frames/second, with sound. You can keep recording until you hit the 4GB file size limit, which takes roughly 12 minutes (a VGA size is also available, with longer recording times). Just like the other D-SLRs that have movie modes (with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 being the exception, and it's not technically an SLR), there's no autofocus once movie recording is underway (well, there is, but it's not very usable). That means that you have to be awfully good with the manual focus ring if you plan on filming a moving subject or using the zoom.
The Mark II is a capable performer. It starts up instantly, though you may want to let it finish its dust reduction cycle before you start snapping away. Autofocus is very quick if you're using the viewfinder, though you'll want to use an external flash and its AF-assist lamp in low light situations. Live view focusing ranges from "a bit slower than regular" if you're using Quick Mode, to "ridiculously slow" with the Live (contrast detect) Mode. Shutter lag isn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays are minimal, regardless of the image quality setting you're using. The 5D Mark II has an impressive amount of buffer memory that allows you to fire off plenty of shots in continuous mode. It is worth pointing out, however, that both of its competitors have a higher burst rate (5.0 vs 3.9 fps). Same goes for battery life: both the Nikon D700 and Sony A900 do a little better in this respect.
I've tested quite a few full-frame D-SLRs by now, and if there's one thing that I've learned, it's that "lenses count". These cameras push your lens to their limits, so if you buy the EOS-5D Mark II or any of its competitors, you'll want to slap on a high quality lens to get the best results. That said, the Mark II produces photos of superb quality, though there are some issues to bring up. The camera handles exposure and color very well. Exposure was almost always accurate, and highlight clipping was uncommon. I was pleased with the accuracy and saturation of the photos the Mark II produced -- most of the time. I did notice that the white balance system struggled in our macro and night test scenes, though you can tweak the white balance to get the color you want.
My biggest complaint about the Mark II's photos is that they're too soft straight out of the camera. High end D-SLRs tend to be this way, so people have the option to sharpen the images to their liking on their computers (since you can't go the other way). If you agree with my assessment, then you can try cranking up the in-camera sharpening using the Picture Styles features. I didn't find noise to be a problem on the Mark II until the very highest ISOs. Want to print a 4 x 6 of a photo taken at ISO 12,800? As long as the lighting was good when you took the photo, it's totally doable. The camera keeps noise in check through ISO 1600 in low light, and ISO 6400 in good light -- very nice. The reason there isn't much noise is because the camera is applying a fair amount of noise reduction to its JPEGs. You will see smudging in low contrast details, even at the lowest ISOs, something I'm used to seeing on high resolution compact cameras. You can adjust how much noise reduction is applied, so at least you have some control over it. Purple fringing has a lot to do with your lens, and with the lenses I used with the Mark II, it wasn't much of a problem.
All things considered, the Canon EOS-5D Mark II is a very impressive digital SLR. For the Canon enthusiast who wants to step up to a full-frame body, it's an excellent choice. I'm not quite sure that it's the ideal camcorder replacement, due to the lack of continuous AF when you're recording a movie. I've spent time with all three of the "budget" full-frame D-SLRs, and I'd place the Mark II second on my list. My favorite camera in this class is the Nikon D700, with its slightly better photo quality, faster continuous shooting, more elaborate autofocus system, and built-in flash (though it lacks a movie mode). But honestly, whichever of these cameras you choose, you can't really go wrong -- they're all excellent.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality, with a good lens (though see below)
- Low noise levels through ISO 1600 in low light, and ISO 6400 in good light
- Exceptionally well built body, with limited weather sealing
- Beautiful 3-inch LCD display, plus a nice, large viewfinder
- Fast startup, focusing (with viewfinder), and shot-to-shot speeds
- Full manual controls, and then some
- Three RAW sizes available; capable editing software included
- Live view with three focus modes, histogram and composition grids, and frame enlargement
- Healthy amount of buffer memory allows you to take 14 RAW and an unlimited number of JPEGs at 3.9 frames/second
- Can shoot HD videos at 1920 x 1080, 30 fps, with sound
- Peripheral illumination correction effectively reduces vignetting
- Auto Lighting Optimizer brightens shadows
- Dust reduction system
- Remote capture software included
- Optional battery grip, which supports AAs
- Available (and very expensive) wireless file transmitter
- HDMI output and external mic input
What I didn't care for:
- Soft images straight out of the camera; requires a good lens for best results
- Some detail smudging from noise reduction, even at low ISOs
- White balance accuracy disappointed in several photo tests
- Very slow contrast detect AF in live view mode; even worse in low light
- No continuous autofocus in movie mode
- Behind the competition in terms of AF system, continuous shooting rate, and battery life
- Built-in flash would've been nice
- No photo or video editing features in playback mode
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the EOS-5D Mark II and its competitors before you buy!
|Conclusion updated 6/6/09|