Canon EOS-5D Mark II Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

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:

Feature EOS-5D EOS-5D Mark II
Sensor size 35.8 x 23.9 mm 36.0 x 24.0 mm
Sensor resolution (effective) 12.8 MP 21.1 MP
Processor DIGIC II DIGIC 4
LCD size / resolution 2.5" / 230,000 pixels 3.0" / 920,000 pixels
Viewfinder size / coverage 0.71x / 96% 0.71x / 98%
AF system 9-point w/six assist points and cross-type center point 9-point w/six assist points and cross-type center point
Dust reduction system No Yes
Live view No Yes
ISO range (fully expanded) 50 - 3200 50 - 25,600
RAW sizes available 1 3
Continuous shooting rate 3.0 frames/sec 3.9 frames/second
Continuous shooting buffer size 17 RAW, 60 JPEG 13 RAW, 78 JPEG *
Video recording No Yes, Full HD
Peripheral illumination correction No Yes
Support for UDMA CompactFlash cards No Yes
Shutter durability 100,000 cycles 150,000 cycles
HDMI output No Yes
Battery life (CIPA standard) 800 shots 850 shots
* Can take 14 RAW and 310 JPEGs with UDMA-enabled CF card

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:

Camera Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS-5D 800 shots BP-511A
Canon EOS-5D Mark II 850 shots LP-E6
Nikon D700 1000 shots EN-EL3e
Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 880 shots NP-FM500H

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

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...

EOS-5D Mark II with optional battery grip
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:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The 5D supports all EF-mount lenses with no conversion ratio
External flash

430EX II
580EX II

From $269
From $399
Seeing how the camera lacks an onboard flash, you're going to need one of these
Speedlite transmitter ST-E2 From $200 Allows you to control multiple wireless flashes
Right angle finder Angle finder C From $180 For looking into the optical viewfinder from above
Wired remote control RS-80N3
From $49
From $129
Basically a shutter release button on a 2.6 foot-long cable. The RS model is a shutter release only, while the TC model has a self-timer
Wireless remote control RC-1
From $21
From $18
Two infrared remotes
Wireless controller LC-5 From $430 A pricey, long range (330 ft) wireless remote with self-timer function; attaches to the hot shoe
Battery grip BG-E6 From $250 Get double the battery life and extra controls for shooting portraits
Battery magazine BGM-E6 From $39 Allows you to use AA batteries with the battery grip
Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E4A $930 Transfer images to your computer via Wi-Fi or Ethernet; allows you to connect a GPS unit for geotagging, as well. Insanely expensive.
AC adapter ACK-E6 From $130 Power your camera without draining your batteries
HDMI cable HTC-100 From $38 You can get generic cables for a lot less elsewhere
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

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.