Canon EOS 5D SLR Review

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Canon EOS 5D SLR

Steve's Conclusion

With the introduction of the 5D, Canon has established a new category in the digital camera market; the self-styled Premium dSLR. In terms of price, resolution and features, the 5D lives in a zone somewhere between the 20D enthusiast dSLR and the 1DS Mark II professional dSLR. Although it has a new 12.8-megapixel full-frame CMOS image sensor, shutter mechanism and 9-point AF system, much of the 5D is borrowed from existing products; the body, controls and menu system bearing a close resemblance to the 20D, while its 2.5-inch LCD and Picture Style control of image processing were inherited from the recently-reviewed 1D Mark II N.

The 5D's body and controls will be familiar to users of the 20D. Despite its professional level features and image quality, the body is small and light, a benefit to photographers who don't care for the size and weight of Canon's professional 1D series of cameras. The 2 1/2-inch LCD was a welcome addition, providing easier to read menu text and a larger image to examine in review mode; it is 50% larger in area than the 20D's LCD, and the difference is VERY noticeable. The normal LCD brightness setting made it somewhat difficult to view in bright outdoor situations, but its brightest setting overcame all viewing difficulties.

In addition to growing to 2 1/2-inches, the LCD monitor has also received usability enhancements. Its wider 170-degree field of view allows played-back images to be viewed from nearly any angle. Playback zoom has also been improved with the ability to enlarge an image in Quick Review, and the inclusion of image file size in the information display. The large bright viewfinder was a pleasure to use, closer in quality to that of the 1D series than the 20D.

Unlike the 20D, the 5D is not equipped with an internal flash. Flash photography requires the use of a hot shoe-attached EX-series speedlight, or PC-cord attached flash equipment.

The 5D uses the same BP-511A 1390mAh Li-ion as the 20D, but uses it much more efficiently; the 5D captured about 1,000 images before the low battery warning appeared, including a lot of time exploring the menu system on the LCD display, a two second image review and LCD brightness set at maximum.

The 5D's start-up, shutter lag and AF performance were very good. From power-on until the first shot was captured took only 4/10 second, while waking the 5D from auto power off and capturing the first shot took only 3/10 second; you will not miss many unposed spontaneous moments with the 5D in your hands. Pre-focused shutter lag is almost non-existent, measuring less than 1/10 second. Autofocus shutter lag averaged 3/10 second using either auto AF point selection or manually selecting the center AF point. Shot-to-shot performance was good, capturing Large/Fine JPEG images at 4/10 second intervals continuously without buffer slowdown; RAW and RAW + JPEG images were captured at the same interval to a depth of 13 images, with subsequent RAW images coming at 1.9 second intervals and RAW + JPEG (Large/Fine) at 3 second intervals. A Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L lens was used for this test.

While the 5D's continuous capture rate is not up to the standard of sports shooters like the 1D Mark II N, it is quite good considering the enormous size of the JPEG's (average 4.6MB for a Large/Fine) and RAW files (average 13MB) it produces. We measured the 5D's continuous capture interval at 3/10 second, equating to a capture rate of better than 3 frames per second and lagging the professional 1DS Mark II by less than 1 fps. The size of the 5D's Large/Fine JPEG image files varied from just over 3 to nearly 9 megabytes depending on image content; as a result, the depth of continuous JPEG image capture varied between 25 and 72 images at the full 3 fps. With the buffer full, subsequent images were captured in pairs of 1.5 second and .3 second intervals, with buffer clearing taking 53 seconds.

The 5D's capture rate did not slow when shooting RAW images, but its capture depth was reduced. The 5D's CR2 files ranged in size from under 12 to nearly 16 megabytes; its RAW capture depth varied between 13 and 17 images at the full 3 fps, with the full buffer capture rate slowing to 2 second intervals and buffer clearing taking 33 seconds. Depth was further reduced shooting RAW + JPEG L/F, recording between 10 and 12 images at 3 fps with a full buffer capture interval of about 3 seconds and buffer clearing taking 40 seconds. A SanDisk Ultra II 8GB CF card was used for the performance testing.

A significant change in the 5D is its new image processing function called Picture Styles, replacing the Parameters and Color Matrix settings of its predecessors. Picture Styles are included for a wide variety of requirements, and each can be adjusted in terms of sharpness, contrast, saturation and color tone. Please see our sample photos for examples of the results obtained from each of the 5D's Picture Styles. I found that a combination of Standard, Landscape and Portrait styles met the needs of the vast majority of scenes I captured. In addition to the pre-defined Styles, the 5D provides for 3 user-defined Picture Styles that can be configured in the camera or uploaded from the Camera Window software. CameraWindow documentation claims that Picture Styles can be downloaded from Canon's web site, saved on your computer and registered in the camera, although there are none on Canon's site at this time (November 2005). The Picture Style function was an effective way to control the 5D's image processing; I expect Canon's future camera releases to implement this function, now available on the EOS 1D Mark II N as well.

The bottom line is always image quality, and the 5D does not disappoint with its combination of 12.8-megapixel resolution, full-frame image sensor and low image noise. The 5D is capable of producing images rivalling the quality of the professional 1DS Mark II. Most pro's will opt to shoot in RAW mode, using software tools to adjust for the desired degree of sharpness, saturation and contrast. But the 5D also produces high-quality finished JPEG images courtesy of its Picture Styles. While image noise is noticeable in midtone and shadow areas at sensitivities over ISO 800, ISO 1600 and 3200 produce very usable images.

The 5D is the first moderately-priced dSLR with a full-frame image sensor, eliminating the crop factor or focal length multiplier that has made wide angle shooting difficult with dSLR's; the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L has an effective focal length range of 17-40mm on the 5D! While this is great for photographers who rely heavily on wide angle lenses, it will not be welcomed by sports shooters who have enjoyed having an effective focal length of 640mm from their 20D-attached 400mm lens. The 5D's telephoto shots can cropped in an image editor, but to realize the same effective focal length as a 20D, the 5D's cropped image would be left with only about 5-megapixels of resolution.

The full-frame image sensor is more demanding of lens quality than the APS-sized sensors of dSLR's like the 20D; more of the lens' image circle is captured on the 5D's sensor, including the corners where quality issues like aberrations, softness and vignetting tend to be more noticeable. If you upgrade from a 10D/20D/Digital Rebel and have an inventory of consumer-quality lenses, you may be disappointed with the quality of the 5D's images at the corners, especially wide angle shots taken at large apertures. Not even pro-class lenses are immune to quality concerns; our test 17-40mm f/4 L lens produced noticeable vignetting and softness wide open at its minimum 17mm focal length. Please see our sample photos of the kayaks for an example. Corner softness was also an issue with the EF 70-200 f/2.8 L at f/2.8, although vignetting was present to only a limited degree.

With its 12.8-megapixel full-frame imager, accurate autofocus system, precise metering system and responsive performance, the EOS-5D fills a big gap in Canon's dSLR product line between the 20D and 1DS Mark II. To some users of Canons Digital Rebel/10D/20D dSLR's, the 5D's combination of additional resolution, high-ISO image quality and wide angle-friendly full frame image sensor will be very attractive. But the camera body is only part of the system and, depending on your existing inventory of lenses and computer equipment, an upgrade to the 5D may cost far more than its $3300 MSRP would suggest. To realize the best that the 5D is capable of delivering, you'll need Canon's professional L-series lenses, whose total cost may exceed that of the camera body. In addition, the file sizes of the 5D's 12.8-megapixel images are enormous, requiring additional CF memory capacity and placing even more demands on your digital darkroom; additional RAM and hard disk capacity may be required, and a DVD-RW drive would be recommended for archiving your work.

Canon has produced an outstanding addition to its dSLR product line in the 5D, but its total cost of ownership may place it beyond the means of the average enthusiast. As a professional camera, the 5D may be a cost-effective alternative to the 1DS Mark II if you can live without its weather sealing and extra 3.9-megapixels of resolution.

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Sample Photos

Want a second opinion?

LetsGoDigital's 5D review

Luminous Landscape's 5D Field Report

DC Resource's 5D review

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