Canon EOS 5D Mark II SLR Review

Steve's Conclusion

After three years, Canon has finally introduced the successor to the ever popular EOS 5D we reviewed back in 2005. The EOS 5D Mark II represents Canon's "compact" full-frame dSLR offering for 2008-2009, and is also the "big brother" to the recently reviewed Canon EOS 50D. There are many features that have been carried over from the 5D, which include the 9-point AF system with 6 AF assist points, 35-zone TTL metering system, hot shoe for Canon EX-series flash units, USB 2.0 connectivity, EOS Integrated cleaning system, 14-bit A/D conversion, sRGB/Adobe RGB color space options, and CF (CompactFlash) Type I and II memory card compatibility. This amazingly powerful camera now boasts a 21-megapixel (full-frame) CMOS image sensor, Canon's new DIGIC 4 image processor, full HD video (1920x1080, 30fps), HDMI video output (with optional cable), a high-resolution (920K pixel) 3.0-inch LCD, Live View, 3.9fps burst rates (JPEG and RAW), wireless remote control compatibility, a more rugged shutter mechanism, etc.

The 5DMk2's design and control layout will be familiar to those who have used an EOS digital SLR in the past. As mentioned earlier, this is Canon's "compact" professional model which offers a high level of features and image quality, all packed in a body that is much smaller and lighter than its brothers, the 1Ds Mark III and 1D Mark III. The 3.0-inch LCD is a great addition to the 5DMk2, providing more than triple the resolution of typical screens of the same size at 920,000 pixels. A bigger display means larger, more legible menu text and a larger image to examine in playback mode. I found this LCD was a pleasure to use, offering a very clear picture. In Live View mode it also does very well, gaining up nicely when shooting in dim lighting, without the graininess you see on most large LCDs in these conditions. Thanks to the dual anti-reflective coating, there were very few angles which reflected the light when shooting outdoors in the bright sunlight.

Unlike the 50D, the 5DMk2 is not equipped with a built-in, pop-up flash unit. Flash photography requires the use of a hot shoe-attached EX-series speedlight, or PC-cord attached flash equipment. The 5DMk2 also offers in-camera external flash control when used with the newer 580 EX II speedlite.

Shooting performance has improved over the 5D, mainly due to the new DIGIC 4 processor, as the cameras share the same AF system. From power-on until the first shot was captured took only 3/10 second!! Waking the camera from Auto power off and capturing the first shot took only 2/10 second. With start-up speeds like this, you should have no excuse for missing a spontaneous photo opportunity. Pre-focused shutter lag is almost non-existent, measuring less than 1/10 second, while autofocus shutter lag averaged just 2/10 second using Auto AF point selection. In single drive mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 4-5/10 of a second between frames continuously without any buffer slowdown; RAW + JPEG images were captured at the same interval to a depth of 15 images, with subsequent RAW + JPEG images coming at 1.2 second intervals.

While the 5DMk2 does not boast burst speeds like the 1D mark III or 1Ds Mark III, it still offers capable continuous capture. With the ISO set to Auto, I was able to capture 109 images in just 29.9 seconds, with No buffer slow down what so ever. Canon claims you can capture up to 78 Large/Fine JPEG images using standard CF cards or up to 310 shots using UDMA compliant CF cards. This is a capture rate of only 3.64fps, falling just short of Canon's claim of 3.9fps. However, when I set the ISO to 6400, the camera then captured 116 images in just 28.9 seconds, about 4.01fps. When shooting using RAW image quality, the continuous capture rates stayed the same, just the depth changed. With a UDMA card, Canon says you can capture up to 14 RAW files or 8 RAW+JPEG (Large/Fine). I was able to capture 15 RAW images and 9 RAW+JPEG files before I saw any slowdown, with subsequent shots at about 7/10 of a second intervals. The capture rate is going to vary depending on the shutter speed being used. This is why raising the ISO to increase the shutter speed allowed me to capture images at the claimed burst rates. When you consider that the the average file size of a JPEG image is 6+ megabytes and 26+ megabytes for RAW files (combine those for RAW+JPEG shooting), these performance findings should start to impress you. All of our tests were done using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens at wide angle, SanDisk Extreme Ducati Edition 4GB CF2 memory card, Program mode, ISO Auto, ONE SHOT AF, Automatic point selection, Evaluative metering, Preview On, with all other settings at default. Times may vary depending on photographer response, lighting, camera settings, media, etc.

Live View is a feature that has become Standard on dSLRs these days, whether a consumer model like the Canon Rebel XS or a professional model like the 5DMk2. As I have mentioned in past reviews, I feel this is a "We've got it" feature that everyone is jumping on board to offer. The usefulness of Live View on several Canon models has not been something I agreed with due to how slow the system is. While Canon has made it easier to engage the feature with the Live View mode button on the back of the camera, there is still at least a three step process to capture a single image. In my opinion, Sony is Still the only manufacturer that has got this Live View concept down. On the Sony DSLR-A350 and DSLR-A300, you simply flip a switch that says Live View, and you're on your way. And because they use a separate CCD imager for the Live image that is displayed on the LCD, you don't have to wait for the mirror to move several times. On top of this, the A350 has an articulating LCD, which makes Live View actually usable for shooting over crowds, from the waist, etc. To use Live View on the 5DMk2, you first enter the setup menu and enable the setting for Stills or Stills+Movie, then you press the Live View button to activate the feature. Once you have framed your shot, next you have to press the AF-ON button, then the camera will start to focus (pressing the shutter release half-way does nothing). Depending on the AF mode chosen via the Live View menu, the screen will go blank as the camera moves the mirror once again to achieve focus. The only exception to this is when using Live Mode AF or the new Live Face Detection Mode AF. So, when using Quick mode AF (which utilizes the 9-point AF system), I counted a total of 3 times that the mirror moved. As I stated earlier, I really don't see a use for this feature on the 5DMk2, other than for Movie capture.

The 5DMk2 continues the use of Picture Styles, which replaced the Parameters and Color Matrix settings of past EOS digital SLRs. Picture Styles are included for a wide variety of requirements, and each can be adjusted in terms of sharpness, contrast, saturation and color tone. I found that the Standard style met the needs of the vast majority of scenes I captured. In addition to the pre-defined Styles, there are 3 user-defined Picture Styles that can be configured in the camera. Overall, the Picture Style functions offer an effective way to control the 5DMk2's image processing.

After reading all of the above, it's time to get to what matters most, image quality. Like its predecessors, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II has the ability to capture amazing photos. With the combined effort of the DIGIC 4 processor and 21-megapixel full-frame CMOS image sensor, I feel the photos produced by this model rival that of any full-frame or APS-sized dSLR on the market. Our sample photos show incredible resolution, accurate exposures, true white balance, and true-to-life colors. While most professionals will more than likely choose to shoot in RAW mode, we amateurs can be confident with the quality of the in-camera processing when using any of the Picture Style settings. Like mentioned above, I found the Standard setting works very well overall for various types of shooting situations. Image noise is a subject we cover with just about ever camera we get our hands on, whether a $250 point-n-shoot, or a $3000 dSLR. I found the 5DMk2 handles noise Very well. We left the High ISO noise reduction setting at standard during our tests. You can see the results for yourself by taking a look at our series of available light M&M man shots on the Samples page. While minute traces of noise can be found in shadow areas at ISO 400, this is under very critical inspection, and these images still look better than most. As the sensitivity is raised, the noise level increases very slowly. The ISO 5000 and 6400 settings look good in my opinion, still very usable for small to mid sized prints. You can also expand the ISO range, adding three settings: L (Low) ISO 50, H1 (High1) ISO 12800, H2 (High2) ISO 25600. The H settings show a great deal of noise, and I don't really see a photographer using them for much of anything. However, it is nice to know that you have the ability to access these settings if they are absolutely needed.

The 5DMk2 is the second moderately-priced dSLR with a full-frame image sensor from Canon, eliminating the crop factor or focal length multiplier that has made wide angle shooting a bit more difficult with dSLR's; the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS zoom lens we used for our testing has an effective focal length range of 24-105mm on the 5DMk2! 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 50D-attached 400mm lens. However, because the 5DMk2 offers over 5 million more pixels of resolution than the 50D, you can take and crop a telephoto image from the 5DMk2 to achieve the same effective focal length as an image shot with the 50D using the same lens, and there will be plenty of resolution left for larger prints.

Full-frame image sensors are more demanding of lens quality than the APS-sized sensors of dSLR's like the 50D, etc.; more of the lens' image circle is captured on the 5DMk2's sensor, including the corners where quality issues like aberrations, softness and vignetting tend to be more noticeable. If you upgrade from a dSLR that uses an APS-sized sensor like the 50D or Digital Rebel XSi, and have an inventory of consumer-quality lenses, you may be disappointed with the quality of the 5DMk2's images at the corners, especially wide angle shots taken at large apertures. Even pro-grade glass like the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens we used can show light fall-off problems. Luckily, Canon has added a new feature on the 5DMk2 called Peripheral illumination correction. This feature corrects JPEG images that are processed in-camera. These occurrences can also be corrected on RAW images using the included Digital Photo Professional software. The camera has light correction data for about 25 lenses pre-loaded. You can see which lenses have their correction data registered in the camera by using the EOS Utility software as well as register the data for unregistered lenses.

Another new improvement over the 5D is the 5DMk2's new battery pack. The LP-E6 is a 7.2v battery pack that boast 1800mAh of power. Canon claims this pack can power the camera for up to 850 frames when using the optical viewfinder under normal temperatures (68�°F/20�°C and above). I was able to capture over 600 samples before the low battery warning appeared. This included a lot of time exploring the menu system, reviewing images, testing the Live View function, recording short 15-second HD video clips, etc. This new pack is charged in the handy LC-E6 AC battery charger. This unit takes about 2.5 hours to charge a fully depleted battery, and features fold-away prongs; perfect for carrying it along while you are out shooting. We highly recommend you purchase at least one extra pack to keep charged and ready.

As mentioned earlier in this review, the Canon 5DMk2 is the first digital SLR I have used that offers a "movie mode" like that of a consumer digicam. At first, I felt this was a ridiculous addition. However, after using the full HD (1920x1080) and SD (640x480) video modes on this camera, I've changed my mind. Because SLRs are larger cameras, they actually are very easy to hold during video capture. Couple that with an IS lens like the one we used and a mono-pod, and you have a great combination system to capture whatever life throws your way. Overall, I feel the 5DMk2 captures very nice video, both in HD or SD. Our movie clips are nice and smooth, and the AF and exposure systems seem to do well with fast moving objects. Just be sure you purchase several CF2 cards if you plan on using the HD function often; the HD mode consumes about 5MB a second!

Bottom line - The long awaited replacement to the Well respected EOS Digital 5D is finally here. Canon's new EOS Digital 5D Mark II builds off of all the features that made the 5D such a remarkable camera, adding the latest in technology that has been perfected over the past 3 years. With superb image quality and performance, the new 5DMk2 can confidently continue to fill the gap between Canon's entry/consumer-level and all out pro dSLR models. Just remember, that the camera body itself is only half of the equation to a great system. You need to make sure you get the best possible lenses you can afford to really appreciate the capabilities of this camera. That said, with an MSRP of US$2699 for the body only or US$3499 when mated with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens we used, I feel the Canon EOS 5DMk2 offers an outstanding value for such a capable photographic tool, and is sure to be a wise investment for the amateur to professional photographer.

Canon has announced an updated firmware for the EOS 5D Mark II

Details - EOS 5D Mark II Firmware Update Version 1.0.7

This firmware update improves and mitigates the following two types of image quality phenomena that occur under certain shooting conditions:

  • 1. "Black dot" phenomenon (the right side of point light sources become black)
  • 2. Vertical banding noise

    To download this new update, visit Canon's USA Support site.

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