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DCRP Review: Canon EOS-5D  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 16, 2006
Last Updated: December 30, 2011

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The Canon EOS-5D ($3299) is a full-frame, 12.8 Megapixel camera that fits in between the EOS-20D and EOS-1Ds Mk II cameras. The full-frame term means that there's no focal length conversion (often called a field-of-view crop factor) to worry about. When you put a 50 mm lens on the 20D it has the field-of-view of an 80 mm lens. Not so on the 5D (or 1Ds Mk II for that matter): a 50 mm lens really is 50 mm. That means that won't need to be things like 16 mm lenses in order to take wide-angle photos.

The chart below touches on the major differences between the 20D, 5D, and 1Ds Mk II:

Feature EOS-20D EOS-5D EOS-1Ds Mk II
Street price, body only
(at time of posting)
$1149 $2999 $7199
Resolution 8.2 MP 12.8 MP 16.7 MP
Full Frame? No (1.6x crop factor) Yes Yes
Supports EF-S lenses? Yes No No
LCD size 1.8" 2.5" 2.0"
Built-in flash Yes No No
Flash sync speed 1/250 sec 1/200 sec 1/250 sec
AF points 9 15 45
Viewfinder coverage 95% 96% 100%
Continuous shooting 23 shots @ 5 fps 60 shots @ 3 fps 32 shots @ 4 fps
Interface USB USB USB + Firewire
Battery used BP-511A BP-511A NP-E3
Battery life 650 shots 800 shots 1200 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.8 in. 6.0 x 4.4 x 3.0 in. 6.1 x 6.2 x 3.1 in.
Weight 685 g 810 g 1.22 kg

As you can see, the 5D fits quite well in between the 20D and 1Ds Mk II. Almost too well.

If you're ready to learn more about this high-end D-SLR then I'm ready to tell you. Our review of the EOS-5D starts now!

What's in the Box?

Unlike Canon's lower-end (and I have a hard time using that word) digital SLRs, the EOS-5D is always sold without a lens. The body only kit includes:

  • The 12.8 effective Megapixel Canon EOS-5D camera body
  • BP-511A Li-ion rechargeable battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring EOS Digital Solutions
  • 179 page camera manual (printed)

As is the case with all D-SLRs, Canon does not include a memory card with the 5D, so you'll have to factor that into the total purchase price. Thankfully CompactFlash cards are inexpensive these days, and I'd recommend picking up a 1GB card at the very least if you buy this camera. The 5D supports Type II cards which currently come as large as 8GB I believe. The Microdrive is also supported, though I can't recommend them based on past experiences. The camera definitely takes advantage of high speed memory cards.

Canon doesn't include a lens either, nor would I expect them to. The 5D can use nearly all EF-mount lenses. Do note that the EF-S lenses supported by the two Digital Rebels and the EOS-20D are not compatible with the 5D.

The 5D uses the same BP-511A battery as the 20D, which has an impressive 10.3 Wh of energy. As the chart in the first section of the review shows, the camera can take about 800 shots per charge, which is very good. I don't know if Canon used the CIPA battery life test to come up with this number, though.

The usual caveats about proprietary batteries like the BP-511A apply here. For one, they're expensive -- $50 a pop. Also, if you run out of juice "in the field", you can't just pop in some AAs to finish the day.

For those in need of more power, you'll want the BG-E4 battery grip ($239). This holds two BP-511A or six AA batteries for double the battery life. There is also an extra shutter release, command dial, and AE lock and focus point buttons on the grip.

When it's time to recharge your BP-511A battery, just pop it into the included CG-580 charger. It takes approximately 100 minutes to fully charge the battery.

As far as accessories go, if you can name any one accessory, it exists. Want a different eyecup? Done. How about an angle finder (which are more useful than they may sound)? No problem. External flashes? Take your pick. Filters, remote controls, carrying cases, and more are all available. The 5D also supports the new WTF-E1 Wi-Fi adapter, so you can leave your USB cable at home.

Unlike the 20D, which included Canon's EOS Capture software, the 5D comes with the more pedestrian ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser software for Mac and Windows, respectively.

The "Browser twins" can be used for downloading images from a camera (via the CameraWindow function), viewing and printing your photos, and editing them as well. 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 available.

ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser can also be used to edit your RAW images. This software isn't crippled at all, with control of all major RAW properties, including exposure, white balance, sharpness, contrast, and color, and color space.

While I imagine that most prospective EOS-5D buyers know what the RAW image format is all about, I'll explain anyway. RAW images contain unprocessed image data straight from the CCD. Since the data isn't processed on the camera you must do it yourself on your computer to get it into more usable formats like TIFF or JPEG. Both ImageBrowser and Digital Photo Professional (also included, more below) can edit all the major RAW properties.

Next up we have EOS Capture. This lets you control the 5D over the USB connection. You can't get a "live preview" of the shot before you take it -- you only see it afterwards -- such is the nature of D-SLRs. You can adjust all those settings you see above, including the white balance shift feature (which I will discuss later) at the bottom of the window.

Another piece of software that comes with the 5D is Canon's Digital Photo Professional. Thing of this as ImageBrowser on steroids -- something geared more toward the enthusiast than the beginner.

On the main screen you have your usual thumbnail view, and there are three sizes to choose from.

You can also view the thumbnails with a histogram and shooting info.

The editing window is where you'll spend most of your time in DPP. For regular (non-RAW) images you can adjust the tone curve, luminance, contrast, hue, saturation, and sharpness.

The RAW adjustment options aren't too much different than in ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser. Exposure, white balance, tone curve, and color can all be adjusted here.

One thing DPP can do that the Browser twins cannot is batch processing. Just choose your options and off it goes, converting RAW images to the format of your choice.

A complex camera requires a detailed manual, and Canon delivers in that respect. It's not the most user friendly manual out there, but it is complete. Do note that the software manual is now on CD-ROM -- I could've sworn it used to be printed.

Look and Feel

The EOS-5D is a fairly large digital SLR with strong metal frame inside and solid rubber and plastics on the outside. Build quality is first-rate, and the 5D feels like a $3000+ camera while it's in your hands. The camera has a substantial grip for your right hand, giving the camera a snug fit in your hands.

The EOS-5D looks like a larger version of the 20D, as you can see:

I listed the dimensions and weight of the camera earlier in the review. The 5D is bigger and heavier than any other "normal size" D-SLR, with only "huge" cameras like the EOS-1Ds Mk II and Nikon D2X being larger. Having used the 1Ds, I'd much rather carry around the 5D for the day.

Let's begin our tour of the 5D now, beginning with the front of the camera:

Here you can see the front of the 5D without any lens attached. The mirror is (obviously) quite a bit larger than on the 20D, or any other non-full-frame D-SLR on the market. I already explained why the full-frame sensor is nice earlier in the review. I will point out that this big sensor will point out the flaws in your not-so-great lenses, so this camera really does best with some quality glass mounted on the front of it.

To the right of the EF lens mount is the lens release, with the depth-of-field preview below that.

The red circle on the opposite side is the self-timer lamp.

There's no built-in flash on the 5D, which is how the "big D-SLRs" tend to be. If you want a flash, you'll have to use either the hot shoe or the flash sync port to attach one.

Another missing thing on the 5D is an AF-assist lamp, which is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. If your external flash has one of those, the camera will take advantage of it.

The back of the 5D looks almost exactly like the 20D. The biggest change here is the LCD display, which has gone up in size from 1.8" to 2.5". The LCD has a whopping 230,000 pixels, so everything is nice and sharp. In case you're new to D-SLRs (and I don't know why you would be if you're buying this camera), don't forget that the LCD is for menus and post-shot review only -- you cannot compose photos on it.

Above the LCD is an enormous optical viewfinder, which shows 96% of the frame. Below the field-of-view is a line of data showing things like exposure, shutter speed, aperture, focus lock, and shots remaining. If you don't like the included focusing screen (or eyecup), Canon has several alternatives available. A diopter correction knob will focus what you're looking at.

This is what you'll see if you press the Info button while in record mode

There are four buttons to the left of the LCD:

  • Menu - enters the menu system
  • Info - Shows current settings in record mode (see above), and histogram/exposure data in playback mode (shown later)
  • Jump - quickly move through photos in playback mode
  • Playback mode

The button below the LCD is for deleting photos -- one at a time, or all of them. The next button over is the main power switch, which also turns the Quick Control dial on and off.

Speaking of which, the Quick Control dial is just to the upper-right of that switch. You use this to navigate through the menu system, as well as for adjusting some manual controls.

Above that is the four-way controller, which is used for selecting an AF point, adjusting white balance compensation, and scrolling around when you've enlarged a photo that you've taken.

At the top-right of the above photo are two buttons, which do the following:

  • AE lock + flash exposure lock {record mode} / Thumbnail mode + zoom out {playback mode}
  • Manual focus point selection (choose from nine) {record mode} / Zoom in {playback mode}

While there are a total of fifteen focus points on the EOS-5D, only nine of them can be selected manually. The other six are "invisible".

There's plenty to see here, so I'll work my way from left to right.

Over on the left side is the mode dial, which has just a few options (you can see who this camera is intended for). The options here include:

Option Function
Auto mode Fully automatic, most camera settings locked up; no scene modes on this camera!
Program mode Automatic shooting, but with access to all menu options. Program Shift lets you scroll through several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the main dial.
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/8000 sec
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens used
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself; same ranges as above
Bulb mode Keeps the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is held down; a remote shutter release and AC adapter are strongly recommended
Custom mode Quickly access your favorite camera settings

The next item on the top of the camera is the hot shoe. The 5D uses the same E-TTL II flash metering system as the 20D. Any EX-series Canon flash will work with the E-TTL II system, which opens up some nice features like a high speed flash sync mode that can sync at any shutter speed, or wireless connectivity. If you want to use a non-Canon flash, it'll probably work, but you'll have to set it manually. The camera can sync with compact, non-Canon flashes at 1/200 sec or slower, or 1/125 sec of slower for large studio flashes. I'll show you another way to attach an external flash in a bit.

Continuing to the right, we reach the LCD info display and more buttons. The info display shows just about every setting imaginable, and there's an orange-colored backlight available when you're shooting in the dark.

Now let's talk about those buttons. To change an option with one of these buttons, you press it and then have six seconds to use either the main or quick control dials to choose a setting. The buttons have the following function (from left to right):

Button Main Dial Function Quick Control Dial Function
Backlight LCD backlight - turns on orange backlight on the LCD info display
AF-WB Focus mode (One shot, AF-focus, AI servo) White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash, custom, color temperature)
Drive - ISO

Drive (Single-frame, continuous shooting, self-timer)

ISO (100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - if ISO expansion is turned on, you can do ISO 50 and 3200 as well
Metering - Flash exposure compensation Metering (Evaluative, partial, spot, center-weighted average) Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)

The One shot AF mode is the one you'll use for everyday shooting. AI servo is for action shots, when objects are constantly in motion. The AI focus feature automatically switches between the two depending on the motion of your subject.

White balance controls are basically the same on the 5D as they are on the 20D. You can choose from various presets, use a white or gray card for custom WB, or set the color temperature manually. There's also a nice WB compensation feature that you'll see later in the review.

The continuous shooting mode on the 5D is very impressive. I was able to take a whopping 100 photos in a row at 3 frames/second at the Large/Fine image quality setting. While you can't take nearly as many RAW images as that, the 5D did fire off 18 shots in a row before taking a breather. It's worth pointing out that the EOS-20D shoots quite a bit faster, at 5 frames/second.

At the top-right of the photo, you'll see the main dial, as well as the shutter release button.

On this side of the 5D you'll find the camera's I/O ports, which are protected by a rubber cover. Also seen here is the depth-of-field preview button.

Let's peel back that cover now to get a closer look at the I/O ports:

The ports on the top row are for external flash sync terminal and USB 2.0 High Speed. Below those you'll find ports for a wired (optional) remote control as well as for video out. There's no DC-in port on the camera; instead you'll use a DC coupler, which is like a battery with a power cord attached.

Over on the other side, you'll find the CompactFlash slot, which is behind a reinforced plastic door. This is a Type II slot, so the Microdrive and other high capacity cards are fully supported.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The BP-511A battery is shown at right.

Hidden behind a plastic door on the left side of the photo is a watch battery, which is used to store the date, time, and other important camera settings.

Using the Canon EOS-5D

Record Mode

As you'd expect, the 5D starts up almost instantaneously. As soon as you flip the power switch you're ready to go.

Autofocus speeds will vary a bit depending on your choice of lens, but on the lenses I used the most (16-35 and 50 mm), the camera focused very quickly. Straight out of the box the 5D isn't very good at low light focusing, and that's because there's no AF-assist of any sort (either with the flash or a dedicated lamp). Instead, you'll need to use the AF-assist beam on whatever external flash you're using with the camera. I didn't have a Canon flash to test this with (believe it or not), so I can't say how well the camera performed with one.

Naturally, shutter lag was not an issue on the 5D. Shot-to-shot speeds are also very good, regardless of the image quality setting. This is one of those cameras where you can really shoot as fast as you can compose.

After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.

Now, let's take a look at the many image size and quality choices on the EOS-5D:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 512MB card
4368 x 2912
RAW 12.9 MB 29
4368 x 2912
Fine 4.6 MB 101
Normal 2.3 MB 196
3168 x 2112
Fine 2.7 MB 168
Normal 1.4 MB 319
2496 x 1664
Fine 2.0 MB 233
Normal 1.0 MB 446

Naturally, the 5D can shoot RAW images, either by themselves or along with a JPEG at any of the resolutions above. If you've got the space on your memory card, shooting in RAW+JPEG mode isn't a bad idea. If your image looks good, just use the JPEG... but if you want to tweak it, the RAW image is available. The 5D does not support the TIFF format.

Images are named using the following convention: IMG_####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.

Enough of that, let's move onto menus now.

Like the 20D, the 5D has just one menu which contains all the options for recording, playback, and setup. Each is designated with a color: red, blue, and yellow, respectively. You maneuver through the menus using the Quick Control dial on the back of the camera. The menu choices are:

  • Record menu
    • Quality (see chart above)
    • Beep (on/off)
    • Shoot without card (on/off)
    • Auto exposure bracketing - see below
    • WB shift/bracketing - see below
    • Custom WB - use a white or gray card to set manual white balance
    • Color temperature (2800K - 10,000K, 100K increments) - set the white balance by color temperature
    • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
    • Picture style (Standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, monochrome, user defined 1/2/3) - For each of those items you can set the following properties:
      • Sharpness (0 to 7)
      • Contrast (-4 to +4)
      • Color Saturation (-4 to +4)
      • Color tone (-4 to +4)
      • Filter effects (None, yellow, orange, red, green) - digital color effects; only available in monochrome mode
      • Toning effect (None, sepia, purple, blue, green) - gives a B&W image a tint; only available in monochrome mode
  • Playback menu
    • Protect - prevent images from being deleted
    • Rotate - rotates an image
    • Print Order - DPOF print marking
    • Auto playback - slide show
    • Review time (Off, 2, 4, 8 sec, hold) - post-shot review
    • AF points (Display, don't display)
    • Histogram (Brightness, RGB)

  • Setup
    • Auto power off (Off, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30 mins)
    • Auto rotate (on/off) - automatically rotates images for proper viewing
    • LCD brightness (1-5)
    • Date/time (set)
    • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset, manual reset)
    • Language (English, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean, Japanese)
    • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
    • Communication (Print/PTP, PC Connect)
    • Format - format memory card
    • Custom functions (see below)
    • Clear settings (All, custom only, registered settings)
    • Register camera settings - saves current settings to "C" spot on mode dial
    • Sensor clean
    • Image transfer (LAN) settings - for use with the optional wireless file transmitter
    • Firmware version - shows the current firmware version

Before I talk about the custom functions I want to mention some of the items in the record menu above.

WB Bracketing

WB shift

The EOS-5D has the same advanced white balance bracketing and WB shift features as the 20D. WB bracketing will take 3 shots in a row, each with a different WB setting. The X-axis covers the blue/amber direction, while the Y-axis is for green and magenta. WB shift lets you use the joystick on the back of the camera to choose the exact color shift you desire. You can even do both at the same time!

Gone is the parameters menu that was on the 20D, with a new Picture Styles menu in its place. There are some preset modes (which can be customized), and you can also store three sets of parameters as well. In the monochrome mode you can add tints and color effects by using the toning and filter features.

Now it's time for the lengthy list of custom functions available on the 20D. Take a deep breath, here we go:

01. SET button function when shooting (None, change quality, change picture style, menu display, image replay)

02. Long exposure noise reduction (Off, auto, on) - for exposures longer than 1 second; the auto mode only uses NR when noise is detected

03. Flash sync speed in Av mode (Auto, 1/200 sec) - fixes the shutter speed for flash shots in aperture priority mode

04. Shutter button/AE lock button (AF/AE lock, AE lock/AF, AF/AF lock + no AE lock, AE/AF + no AE lock) - define what these two buttons do

05. AF-assist beam/Flash firing (Emits, Does not emit) - for use with a Canon external flash

06. Exposure level increments (1/3, 1/2-stop) - the setting increment for shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation

07. Flash firing (Fires, does not fire) - for use with an external flash

08. ISO expansion (on/off) - turns on ISO 50 and 3200

09. Bracket sequence/Auto cancel (0/-/+/Enable, 0/-/+/Disable, -/0/+/Enable, -/0/+/Disable) - Choose the order in which exposure and WB bracketing photos are taken, and if it is cancelled when you power off the camera, switch lenses, etc.

10. Superimposed display (on/off) - whether the AF point is shown in the optical viewfinder

11. Menu button display position (Previous [top if powered off] menu, previous menu, top menu) - where the cursor starts when you invoke the menu system

12. Mirror lockup (on/off) - enable it when the vibration of the mirror can blur your photos

13. AF point selection method (Normal, multi-controller direct, quick control dial direct) - how you manually select a focus point

14. E-TTL II (Evaluative, average) - flash metering

15. Shutter curtain sync (1st, 2nd-curtain)

16. Safety shift in Av or Tv (on/off) - if the subject's brightness changes suddenly, the camera can shift the shutter speed or aperture to obtain a proper exposure

17. AF point activation area (Standard, expanded) - adds extra focus points for tracking a moving subject

18. LCD display -> Return to shooting (With shutter button only, with other buttons) - how to get out of image playback or menus and back to shooting

19. Lens AF stop button (AF stop, AF start, AE lock while metering, AF point: M-->Auto/Auto-->Center [for changing the focus point], One Shot <--> AI servo, IS start) - this button is only found on super telephoto lenses

20. Add original decision data (on/off) - adds data that proves image is original; requires Data Verification Kit to be useful

00. Focusing screen (Ee-A, Ee-D, Ee-S) - pick a focusing screen; I have no idea why this one's at the end of the list, but it is.

Well, those are awfully complicated. So enough about that, let's do photo tests now. Do note that I did not do the redeye test (since there's no built-in flash) or the distortion test (since there's no kit lens) in this review.

The EOS-5D did a superb job with our usual macro test subject. The figurine is very sharp, with plenty of detail capture. Most of the colors are spot-on, though the cloak is a little orange for my taste (could be a white balance thing, though).

The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. Canon makes lenses specifically for macro shooting, if you're so inclined. I used the Sigma 50mm F2.8 EX DG lens here, which has as minimum focus distance of 19 cm.

The 5D turned in one of the best night shot performances in some time. The camera took in plenty of light (thanks to the full manual exposure controls), and noise and purple fringing are non-existent. Some may say that things are a little soft here, but that's how things are with digital SLRs. I used the Canon 70-200 F4L lens for this shot.

Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 800
View Full Size Image

ISO 1600
View Full Size Image

First let me apologize for the difference in exposure between the ISO 1600 shots and the rest of them -- sometimes things don't work out as planned. Anyhow, the crops above show just what a low-noise powerhouse the EOS-5D is. You don't really see loss of detail under ISO 1600, and even then, you can get a pretty large print out of that image (especially after a trip through NeatImage). There are also ISO 50 and 3200 settings available, but I did not test them here.

Now, here's a look at how the noise levels look in our studio test scene. Just like with the night shots, you can click on the link to see the full size images, which is the best way to compare things.

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image

ISO 800
View Full Size Image

ISO 1600
View Full Size Image

I have one thing to say about those results: WOW. Noise levels are incredibly low, even at ISO 1600, which is the cleanest image I've seen yet in this test. You should be able to make large prints without any issues on this camera. To see how the EOS-20D did at ISO 1600 (it's quite similar to the 5D), click here.

Overall the EOS-5D's photo quality was excellent. The camera took well-exposed photos with accurate color and low purple fringing levels. As for noise? Well, there isn't much, as you've hopefully seen in these tests. I took many photos at the big SF Auto Show back in November at ISO 1000 and above, and all of the pictures could be printed at 8 x 10 or larger. As is the case with all D-SLRs, Canon has the in-camera sharpening turned way down, and if you want things to be sharper you can either increase that, or just post-process in Photoshop.

The only real issue I noticed is that you need to use really nice lenses with the 5D. The Canon 16-35 leaves something to be desired (despite being an "L" lens), and I still found some blurry corners on the highly regarded Canon F1.4 50mm lens (though overall my photos were sharper with this lens).

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery -- printing the photos if you'd like -- and then decide if the 5D's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

No digital SLRs have movie modes at this time.

Playback Mode

The playback mode on the 5D is pretty simple, but it gets the job done. I've already listed the basic playback features back in the menu section, but here they are again: image protection, thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, image rotation, and slide shows. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to compatible photo printers.

The 5D's zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom in as much as 10X into your photo, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. This is a great way to check the focus on a photo. This feature is nice and snappy, as you'd expect from a camera with Canon's DIGIC II processor.

You can use the jump button to quickly move ahead 10 images (or 9 in thumbnail mode), which is handy when you've got lots of pictures on the memory card.

Deleting photos is easy, as there's a button right on the camera for that purpose. You can delete one or all of the photos on the card.

As you'd expect, the camera tells you plenty about the photos you've taken. A histogram is also shown, and you can have the focus point or overexposed areas displayed as well.

The 5D moves through images very quickly, with maybe a half-second delay between each photo. If you really start cranking that Quick Control dial you can move very quickly through your photos, though only low resolution images are shown while you're doing that.

How Does it Compare?

If you're read this far, you can probably write the conclusion yourself. The Canon EOS-5D is an excellent (albeit expensive) digital SLR that offers great photo quality and performance and a full-frame sensor, all in a normal-sized body.

The EOS-5D is almost a perfect fit between the EOS-20D and EOS-1Ds Mk II, most notably in terms of resolution, size, battery life, and price. And speaking of price, yes, at $3299 for the body the 5D is expensive, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper than the other full-frame camera out there, the $7200 EOS-1Ds Mk II. At the same time, it's more the double the price of the very capable EOS-20D. So what do you get with those extra dollars?

The 5D is larger than the 20D, but it's not nearly as large as the monster known as the 1Ds Mk II. The 5D is built like a tank, and I'm confident that it can handle almost anything you throw at it. The 5D's full-frame sensor means that a 50 mm lens really is 50 mm, and not 80 mm like on the 20D. The camera has a large 2.5" LCD with plenty of resolution, and the optical viewfinder shows 96% of the frame. Two things missing from the body include a built-in flash (you'll need to use the hot shoe or flash sync port for that) and an AF-assist lamp.

The EOS-5D is definitely not a camera designed for point-and-shooters -- there are no scene modes to be found (though there is a fully automatic mode). What you will find are plenty of manual controls, shutter speeds ranging from 30 - 1/8000 sec (plus a bulb mode), white balance fine-tuning and bracketing, and over 20 custom functions. You can also save your favorite settings to the "C" position on the mode dial.

Camera performance is first-rate. The camera starts up instantly, focuses quickly (depending on your lens, of course), and takes pictures without noticeable lag. You can keep shooting until the buffer fills up, which takes quite a while, especially with a high speed memory card. The camera's continuous shooting mode also impressed, with the ability to take 100 JPEG or 18 RAW images in a row at 3 frames/second (which is actually slower than on the 20D). Battery life on the 5D was also very good.

Photo quality was excellent as well. The 5D takes well-exposed, colorful images with nearly no noise or purple fringing. Photos are as smooth as butter, as is the case with Canon's D-SLRs. Even at high ISO sensitivities, noise levels are remarkably low. The only downside here is that you need some nice glass attached to the camera in order to get the most out of it. Even with some pretty nice lenses I still saw some blurry edges and corners here and there.

I snuck most of my negatives in the previous paragraphs, but here's one more for you. Straight out of the box, the 5D's low light focusing was not great -- you really need an external flash with an AF-assist lamp to get decent results.

It's hard not to like the EOS-5D. It offers amazing performance and photo quality and a full-frame sensor in a body that doesn't weigh almost three pounds (like the 1Ds Mk II). If you want a camera that lets your lenses be used as intended (without any crop factors) then it may be worth spending the extra cash on the 5D over the 20D. If all this full-frame isn't too important to you, the 20D will probably satisfy you as well. Whichever one you choose you'll have an excellent digital SLR.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality (with the right lenses)
  • Very low noise, even at high ISOs
  • Full-frame sensor means no more focal length conversion to worry about
  • Built like a tank
  • Large 2.5" LCD display
  • Full manual controls
  • Robust performance, especially in terms of continuous shooting
  • Advanced white balance controls
  • Excellent battery life
  • All the expandability you'd expect from a D-SLR
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support
  • Impressive software bundle; camera can be controlled from Mac or PC

What I didn't care for:

  • Expensive
  • Requires nice lenses for best results; EF-S lenses not supported
  • Slower continuous shooting mode than EOS-20D
  • No built-in flash
  • No AF-assist lamp

Some other D-SLRs worth considering include the Canon EOS-1Ds Mk II and EOS-20D, Fuji FInePix S3 Pro, Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D, Nikon D200, and the Pentax *ist DS2.

As always, I strongly recommend trying the EOS-5D and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a digital SLR!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read more at Digital Photography Review, Steve's Digicams, and CNET.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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