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Canon EOS 5D Mark II Review

by Bob Atkins, January 2009 (updated March 2011)

photography by Bob Atkins and Hannah Thiem


The Canon EOS 5D MkII is Canon’s latest full frame DSLR. Externally it is very similar to the Canon EOS 5D. The only really obvious difference is the larger LCD screen and the chrome plated hotshoe vs. the black painted hotshoe of the 5D.
Internally the EOS 5D MkII shows more differences, with the major hardware change being a 21.1MP sensor which replaces the 12.8MP sensor of the 5D.

Canon says, “The EOS 5D Mark II camera breaks new ground for a full-frame DSLR. It shares 80% of its features with the EOS 5D, and 10% with the flagship Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III…”. I think this may be shortchanging the improvements made over the 5D a little, most of which are listed below:

Where to Buy

Photo.net’s partners have the Canon EOS 5D MkII available for purchase. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

What’s new on the Canon EOS 5D MkII?

  • 21.1MP CMOS sensor (Full-frame, 36mm x 24mm) with improved microlens design
  • 920,000 pixel, 3" high resolution LCD
  • 0.1 sec. startup time
  • New more durable shutter rated to 150,000 shots for professional level usage
  • 14 bits-per-color A/D conversion
  • 0.76x viewfinder magnification, approx. 21mm eyepoint, 98% coverage
  • Viewfinder data includes ISO speed, Highlight Tone Priority indicator (D+), monochrome: B/W, and Battery check indicators
  • Upgraded moisture and dust seals around battery compartment, memory card compartment and multiple buttons
  • Microfocus adjustment on a fixed or lens-by-lens basis
  • Improved long exposure noise reduction, and high ISO noise reduction with four settings
  • 4 levels of auto lighting optimization
  • An ISO range from 100-6400, plus 50 (L) 12800 (H1) and 25600(H2)
  • Auto ISO range 100-1600
  • Contrast detection AF in Live View mode
  • Face detection in Live View mode
  • Recording and playback of 1080p Full HD video (1920 × 1080 pixels per frame at 30 fps) with sound in Live View mode
  • Built-in microphone records in mono; 3.5mm diameter stereo mini jack can be used to record from external source
  • Continuous HD movie recording time up to approximately 12 minutes using a 4GB CF card
  • Approx. 3.9 frames-per-second (fps) continuous shooting at maximum image size with bursts limited only by memory card capacity (JPEG, Large/Fine images in high-speed continuous mode) when using a UDMA CF card or up to 14 in RAW, up to 13 in RAW+JPEG Large/Fine
  • In-camera illumination (vignetting) correction for JPEGs
  • A “creative auto” mode
  • HDMI output
  • A Digic IV processor
  • Faster USB data transfer
  • Compatible with RC-1 Infrared remote control
  • Support for high speed UDMA-compliant CF cards
  • Improved EOS Integrated Sensor Cleaning System
  • New higher capacity intelligent lithium-ion battery (1800mAh)

Camera Controls

The control layout on the EOS 5D MkII will be very familiar to any 5D owner and maybe even more familiar to an EOS 50D owner. It has the standard EOS user interface with the main control dial just behind the shutter release, the mode control dial on the left of the top deck, a monochrome data LCD on the right of the top deck and the main LCD and QCD (Quick Control Dial) on the rear of the camera.

The mode control dial has 10 positions:

  • 3 custom modes (C1, C2, C3)
  • Bulb (B)
  • Manual (M)
  • Aperture Priority (Av)
  • Shutter Priority (Tv)
  • Program AE aka Intelligent Program (P)
  • Creative Auto (CA)
  • Full Auto aka “Point and Shoot” (Green Square)

The custom modes allow the user to register a set of camera conditions, such as ISO setting, shooting mode, white balance etc. These can then be instantly recalled in the C1, C2 and C3 dial positions.

The creative auto mode is based on the Full Auto mode, but allows the user to bias settings for greater or lesser DOF (smaller or wider apertures), change image brightness, set a picture style, set the shooting mode (single shot, continuous) and select the image recording mode (RAW, JPEG etc.). In the real “full auto” (point and shoot) mode, the camera decides all these settings, not the user. In Program AE (P) mode the camera selects shutter speed and aperture, but all other parameters are under the user’s control.

Immediately in front of the top LCD on the right side of the camera are buttons for selecting white balance/metering mode, AF/Drive modes and ISO/flash exposure compensation, as well a a button for top LCD illumination. The functions of these buttons are identical to those on the original 5D, but Canon decided to change their order! The LCD illumination button has moved from the leftmost position on the 5D to the rightmost position on the 5D MkII and the AF/Drive and ISO/FEC buttons have swapped positions. This could cause some initial confusion for 5D owners who are used to the old order of control buttons.

The buttons and dials on the rear of the 5D MkII are again similar to those on the 5D. There are a few small differences though. The direct print button now serves a second function to enable Live View. The image delete button has moved from below the LCD to the left of the LCD and the Jump button on the 5D, which enabled options for the user to browse though stored images, is now replaced with a dedicated Picture Styles button.

There is one new button, AF-on, which can be customized via CF function IV-1 to control whether the shutter release of the AF-on button starts or stops AF. It’s also used for AF in Live View mode.

Parameters such as shooting mode, white balance (WB) mode, ISO setting, shutter speed, aperture, etc. can be displayed either on the top LCD, or via use of the rear Info button on both the top and rear LCDs. Though the top LCD can be illuminated, in dark conditions the operating parameters are more easily read from the rear LCD.

Operational Speed

Using a Sandisk Extreme III CF card (30 MB/s), in JPEG mode with the shutter speed set to 1/500s and focus set to manual, I gave up after shooting continuously for 100 seconds with an average shot to shot spacing of 0.26 seconds (just ober 3.8 frames/second). That’s about 385 frames. Canon quotes a buffer size of 78 frames for a non-UDMA card (though they don’t seem to specify a card speed). The 30MB/s Sandisk extreme III cards are not marked as being UDMA compliant, however it’s my understanding that they are, and the unlimited buffer capacity would seem to confirm this. For all practical purposes this means that you’re not going to fill the buffer under these conditions. In RAW mode, the frame rate was the same 3.8 fps, but the buffer did fill after 16 frames after which the frame to frame spacing increased to 0.76 seconds (1.32 frames/sec),

ISO affects buffer size and frame rate after the buffer fills. At an ISO setting of 25600 (H2), in RAW mode the 5D MkII shot 10 frames in 2.36 seconds, which is an average shot to shot spacing of 0.26 seconds, again corresponding to just over 3.8 frames/sec. After 10 frames, the shot to shot spacing increased to 1.46 seconds or 0.69 frames/sec. When shooting JPEGs with the same CF card and shutter speed, the buffer filled after 24 frames at an average frame spacing of 0.26 seconds (3.8 frames/sec), after which the frame to frame spacing increased to an average of 0.53 seconds (1.9 frames/sec).

Though I didn’t attempt to measure it, Canon quote a “startup” time of 0.1s for the EOS 5D MkII. That’s seems reasonable since there is really no detectable time lag between turning on the camera and it being ready to take a shot.

Resolution

The first thing to note when discussing the resolution of the EOS 5D MkII is that although it has a very high pixel count (21.1MP), that doesn’t mean it has a very high resolution sensor. In fact the native resolution from the sensor in the EOS 5D MkII is lower than that of the EOS 50D, EOS 40D, Digital Rebel XSi and Digital Rebel XS This is something to bear in mind when you see statements that the EOS 5D MkII needs the sharpest lenses to take advantage of the sensor resolution. This may be true, but that applies even more to the EOS 50D, EOS 40D, Digital Rebel XSi, and even the cheapest DSLR that Canon makes—the Digital Rebel XS.

Camera Pixel/mm Approx. Resolution*
Canon EOS 50D 213 96 lp/mm
Rebel XSi 192 87 lp/mm
Rebel XS 175 79 lp/mm
Canon EOS 40D 175 79 lp/mm
Canon EOS 5D MkII 156 70 lp/mm
Canon EOS 5D 121 55 lp/mm

* Approximate resolution estimated as 90% of Nyquist limit for high contrast sine wave target.

The EOS 5D MkII has a full frame sensor, and that means that in the corner of the frame the image is further from the center than with a crop sensor camera (21.5mm vs. 13.5 mm). You may need a “better” lens in order to maintain higher image quality all the way out to the corners of the frame, since most aberrations increase as you move away from the center of the image.

Also, this doesn’t mean that prints made from EOS 50D image will be sharper than those from the EOS 5D MkII, because they have to be enlarged more (1.6x more) than EOS 5D MkII images to reach the same final print size.

One more word of caution: Many people judge image sharpness by looking at 100% crops from their images on a video monitor. If you do this, remember that the size of the image you are cropping from is larger for larger pixel count cameras. If you compare a 100% crop from acamera like the 40D to a 100% crop from a full frame camera like the EOS 5D MkII, you’re not really comparing apples with apples when it comes to evaluating the relative quality of equally sized prints. Since the 5D MkII is 5616 × 3744 pixels and the 40D is 3888 × 2592 pixels, at 100%, if the 40D 100% crop was a section of a 20″ × 30″ image , a 100% crop from the 5D MkII image would be a section of a 29″ × 43″ image.

So having said (and understood) all that, how good is the EOS 5D MkII in terms of resolution and how does it compare in practice to the EOS 5D?

Well, just as you’d expect, the new 21.1 EOS 5D MkII does indeed show higher resolution than the 12.8 MP EOS 5D, though the difference is not as dramatic as the pixel count numbers may suggest to some. You’d expect to see a maximum increase in resolution of around 30% based on the pixel count difference, but in practice you probably won’t see a difference that looks that big on small and medium sized prints. The 5D MkII images are better, but not dramatically so and the difference is most visible in large prints.

There is a bigger difference when comparing prints made from images shot with crop sensor cameras to those made from images shot with a full frame camera. You have to use different lenses (or different zoom settings) or shoot from different distances from the subject in order to get the same angle of view when using cameras with different sensor sizes, so that does complicate the comparison somewhat. Still, it’s pretty evident that for larger print sizes, the EOS 5D MkII image is superior to that of the EOS 40D and EOS 50D.

Image Noise

Image noise is always a matter of concern, especially when an upgrade includes a move to smaller pixels such as upgrading from the 5D 12.8 MP full frame sensor to the 21.1 MP EOS 5D MkII full frame sensor. You might think measuring image noise is easy, but that’s really not the case. For a start, there’s the matter of noise reduction. Canon applies different amounts to 5D and 5D MkII images by default. The 5D has no optional high ISO noise reduction, but the 5D MkII has four levels (Off, Low, Standard and High). However, even with High ISO noise reduction set to Off, and even with the 5D (which has no noise reduction so it’s always “off”), there is some level of noise reduction applied by default. If you shoot in RAW and use Canon’s DPP RAW conversion software, you can set noise reduction to zero. I don’t know if that removes ALL noise reduction, but it should unless Canon is actually modifying the RAW data by some means. The table below shows the noise reduction settings applied by default when high ISO noise reduction is set to Off.

ISO setting EOS 5D MkII* EOS 5D*
100 0/0 2/0
200 0/0 2/0
400 1/1 2/0
800 2/2 2/0
1600 3/3 2/0
3200 (H on 5D) 4/4 2/0
6400 5/9 -
12800 (H1) 6/11 -
25600 (H2) 7/13 -

Noise reduction is given as X/Y where X is luminance noise reduction (LNR)
and Y is chrominance noise reduction (CNR)
.

What all this means is that you have to be quite careful what you compare with what when comparing images from different cameras for noise. Not only that, but as mentioned in the section above on resolution, if you compare 100% crops from cameras with different pixel counts, you’re looking at section of different sized images, so again you have to be pretty careful about what you are comparing.

Perhaps the best way to compare noise is to actually make prints of the same size from both the 5D and 5D MkII and then look at the noise levels. My observations indicate that just as your would expect, the EOS 5D MkII does have more intrinsic noise than the EOS 5D. That’s looking at images converted from RAW with all the noise reduction turned off. The EOS 5D MkII images are nosier, but they also have higher resolution. If the default zero level of noise reduction is allowed for both cameras, then the noise levels become quite similar. The higher noise reduction setting on the EOS 5D MkII does result in slightly more image softening, but the final result is still a higher resolution image than that from the EOS 5D.

Up to ISO 400, noise isn’t an issue with either camera, and even at ISO 800 you’d have to be making a large print for noise to be visible. At ISO 1600 and 3200, you can get a higher resolution and lower noise image out of the 5D MkII than you can from the EOS 5D, and at higher ISO settings there is no contest of course. You can underexpose 5D images shot at ISO 3200 (H) by 1 or 2 stops, then add +1 or +2 stops of exposure compensation during RAW conversion to simulate ISO 6400 and 12800 on the EOS 5D, but the results are significantly inferior to images from the EOS 5D MkII at ISO 6400 and H1 (ISO 12800).

Even with significant amounts of noise reduction, ISO 12800 and 25600 on the EOS 5D MkII are probably best left for emergency use. Noise is high, and if noise reduction is cranked up, the images softens significantly, taking on a “plastic” look. You’ll definitely see some banding or readout noise, dynamic range is reduced and shadows can look pretty bad. Still, if you need ISO 25600, it’s there and if you only make small prints the results can be acceptable, or at least better than no image at all! I wouldn’t go as far as some and describe ISO 12800 and 25600 as useless, but their uses are probably quite limited.

The bottom line on noise is that if you make a print, and you use an appropriate (low) level of noise reduction, an image from the EOS 5D MkII will generally show equal or lower noise than a similar print from an image shot with an EOS 5D, along with equal or higher sharpness.

Black Dots

When the EOS 5D MkII was first released a number of users reported seeing small black dots to the right of small overexposed areas. Since the release date coincided with Christmas 2008, these small overexposed areas were usually Christmas tree lights! Not all such areas showed the dots, some cameras (or users) seemed more troubled with them and they usually appeared at higher ISO settings and were only really visible when viewing the images on a monitor at 100%.

In early January 2009 Canon issued a firmware update (v1.0.7), which seems to have fully mitigated this issue. It also addressed a reported problem of vertical banding in sRAW1 format files. Minor problems after release are fairly common and are usually addressed by firmware updates. I did the 1.0.6 to 1.0.7 firmware update myself on the EOS 5D MkII used for this review. The update went smoothly and the few black dots I was able to see before the update no longer seem to be present in similar images taken using the v1.0.7 firmware. I have not noticed any banding in sRAW1 images

ISO Settings

The EOS 5D MkII has ISO settings of 100 to 6400 which can be set in 1/3 stop steps. Via a custom function this range can be expanded to include an “L” (low) setting equivalent to ISO 50 and two high ISO settings, H1 (ISO 12800) and H2 (ISO 25600). These expanded settings probably represent software manipulation of the standard high and low ISO settings (100 and 6400) rather than true hardware derived values. Dynamic range may be reduced in “L” (ISO 50) and shadow noise (as well as overall noise) may increase in “H1” and “H2”.

In direct comparison to the EOS 5D (i.e. shots taken in the same light with the same lens at the same aperture), I found that the EOS 5D MkII ISO settings were slightly optimistic. At identical exposures, the 5D images were about 1/3 stop brighter than the 5D MkII images.

Viewfinder

The EOS 5D MkII has viewfinder with slightly greater coverage than that of the EOS 5D (98% vs 96%), though in practice that’s a pretty small difference. The magnification is 0.71x (the same as the 5D) and the eyepoint is 21mm (vs. 20mm on the 5D). Unless you compared the 5D and 5D MkII viewfinders side by side, I doubt you’d notice a difference, and even if you did compare them side by side it would still be pretty hard to tell them apart.

The screen pattern of 9 AF zones is the same as that of the EOS 5D. It’s a diamond pattern concentrated in the center of the screen. The same basic pattern is used on the EOS 40D and 50D, but due to the smaller sensor size in those cameras, the AF zones are more widely distributed in the frame.

The 5D MkII adds information to the viewfinder, which is not present on the 5D. There is a battery status indicator, constant readout of the ISO setting, and indicators to show when the Highlight Tone Priority and Monochrome modes have been enabled. The viewfinder also shows the usual data such as shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, flash ready, AF confirmation, etc.

An Eg-A screen is provided as standard and optional Eg-D (precision matte with grid lines) and Eg-S (super precision matte) screens are available.

Viewfinder blackout time is approximately 145ms when the shutter speed is 1/60s or faster. There is a built in diopter correction, which is adjustable between -3.0 and +1.0 diopters.

Autofocus

The EOS 5D MkII inherits the basic AF hardware from the EOS 5D, though Canon states that AF processing is faster and more accurate because of the use of the new Digic IV processor in the MkII. Canon also claims increased AF accuracy by taking into account the lighting source. Apparently earlier AF systems could sometimes be thrown off slightly under fluorescent and some other artificial lighting sources, which can rapidly flicker and sometimes rapidly change color temperature. The 5D MKII is said to be able to rapidly average readings under such lighting (which it can do because of the increased speed of the Digiv IV processor) leading to more accurate AF.

On the 5D MkII, the three points to the left and right of the center are sensitive only to horizontal lines, while the two points above and below the center are sensitive only to vertical lines. The center AF zone is sensitive to both horizontal and vertical lines with a high precision vertical mode with lenses having a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or faster,

There are also 6 “hidden” AF points clustered around the center AF zone. These are used to enhance focus tracking performance in AI Servo AF mode by taking over when a subject moves between the high sensitivity center zone and the 8 outer linear AF sensors.

It’s a pity that Canon hasn’t updated the AF hardware to provide cross sensors at all AF points as they have on the EOS 40D, EOS 50D and EOS 1Ds MkIII,i for example. The AF on the 5D and 5D MkII is good, but the outer points can fail to get a focus lock when their orientation is wrong for the direction of detail in the subject, especially when subject contrast and/or the light level is low.

The 5D MkII also offers AF microadjustment for individual lenses. This works in the same way as on the EOS 50D and EOS 1Ds MkIII and allows fine tuning of the AF system to eliminate front and back focusing with specific lenses. For example, if you find that your Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM, (compare prices) (review), consistently focuses slightly in front of the intended focus point, you can use the AF micro-adjustment to compensate. There are three modes: off that makes no adjustment, a mode that applies the same adjustment to all lenses (which is what would be needed if the AF adjustment of the body was slightly wrong), and a third mode that allows you to set and store adjustment factors for up to twenty different lens types. The camera recognizes the focal length and aperture range of the lens automatically. It can’t tell the difference between two different samples of a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), but it can tell the difference between a Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), and a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), and apply the appropriate stored correction for each. The AF micro-adjustment is accessed through a custom function and covers a range of +20 to -20 “steps”.

Metering

There’s not really a lot to say about the metering on the EOS 5D MkII. It’s pretty much the same as that used on the EOS 5D and includes 35-zone TTL full aperture metering, evaluative metering (linked to all AF points), 8% partial metering, 3.5% spot metering, and center-weighted average metering.

Exposure compensation can be set from -2EV to +2EV. Metering sensitivity is given by Canon as EV 1-20 (at 73°F/23°C with EF50mm f/1.4 USM lens, ISO 100).

In testing it seemed to perform similarly to the metering on other Canon DSLRS I’ve looked at, i.e. it’s very reliable under most circumstances.

Flash

In common with the original EOS 5D and all the EOS 1D series DSLRs, the EOS 5D MkII does not have a built-in flash. An external Speedite or other flash must be used. There is, of course, a hotshoe and a PC flash connector and they are rated for use with flash systems with trigger voltages up to 250v. The maximum flash sync speed is 1/200s with Speedlites, though it may be lower when used with studio flash systems.


No Canon DLSR, including the EOS 5D MkII has wireless control of an external flash without a compatible Speedlite (550EX, 580EX, 580EX II) mounted on the hot shoe and configured as a wireless master controller or a dedicated wireless controller (Canon STE2 Speedlite Transmitter) mounted on the camera.

White Balance

The EOS 5D MkII has the same White Balance (WB) settings as the EOS 5D: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, White Fluorescent Light, Flash, Custom WB Setting and User-Set Color Temperature (2,500~10,000K).

Most of the WB modes do a good job, but images shot under domestic tungsten lighting are noticeably warm, even when using the tungsten setting. This is a common trait of all Canon EOS DLSRs and it’s because Canon uses a color temperature of 3200K for the tungsten setting. This is about right for professional photographic tungsten lighting, but too “hot” for domestic lighting. It’s also the color temperature for which “tungsten” balanced film is designed. A typical 100W domestic tungsten light bulb has a color temperature closer to 2900K and a 40W bulb is usually around 2500K. I’ve found the tungsten WB setting to be about correct for 500W tungsten halogen lights, but they’re typically not what you would use to light your living room. If you want neutral colors under domestic tungsten lighting you need to either do a custom WB, or set a color temperature appropriate to the lighting (typically 2500-2600K).

In general, it’s almost aways better to select your WB for the conditions you are shooting under (sunny, shade, cloudy etc.) than to simply trust “auto” at all times. Auto generally works well in daylight, but in deep shade it can tend a little towards the blue. The best way to ensure you can get a good WB under changing conditions is to shoot RAW files rather than JPEGs, since you can then very easily adjust WB post-exposure using Canon’s DPP software.

LCD

The EOS 5D MkII includes an improved LCD screen, which makes for higher quality playback and easier menu navigation. The large 3-inch high-resolution screen makes it easy to zoom in for examining focus and fine details. The dot count has been increased from 230,000 on the EOS 5D to 920,000—now equal to the LCD used by Nikon on the Nikon D300, (compare prices) (review), and as good as the best available LCD quality for any digital SLR currently on the market. The new LCD has a 160-degree viewing angle triple-layer multicoating (anti-glare, anti-scratch, and anti-reflection), which makes for easier viewing.

Live View

The EOS 5D MkII has Live View with contrast detection and face detection AF, which is basically the same system used on the EOS 50D. Phase contrast AF uses the standard AF sensors and requires that the mirror be lowered (which blanks out the LCD display). Contrast detection AF uses the actual image being recorded by the sensor to set the focus point and so the mirror does not need to be lowered and the LCD image does not black out. Phase detection AF is faster and more accurate, but contrast detection AF is more convenient if somewhat sluggish. Focus can take 2-3 seconds in contrast detection mode. The 5D MkII also has a “face detection” AF mode, which is basically the same as contrast detection AF, but the image is analyzed for faces and focus and exposure is optimized for them.

In contrast detection AF mode, the focus zone can be manually moved around the screen. In face detection mode, if more than one face is detected, the most important one can be selected by using the Quick Control Dial.

The image can be zoomed up to 10x in order to get a closer look at the image for checking focus and for fine focusing in manual focus mode.

Video Recording

One feature that sets the EOS 5D MkII apart from all other full frame DSLRs is its video capability in Live View mode. It’s the only full frame DSLR that offers video. The only other current (01/09) DSLR, which can record video is the Nikon D90, recording up to 5 minute video clips at 24 fps and 1280 × 720 resolution, but the exposure is fixed.

The 5D MkII can record at 30 fps in 1080p HDTV mode (1920 × 1080) pixels, but while in video mode you can also shoot a single still image or even a burst of still images at any time (though that does pause video recording). Not only does the 5D MkII record video, but it has a built in microphone (just below the 5D logo on the front of the camera) to record mono sound and a jack for an optional external stereo microphone. There’s a small speaker on the back of the camera, which allows you to listen to the recorded audio in playback mode.

The sensor of the 5D MkII is much larger than any similar HD video camera, which means you can creatively use (lack of) depth of field effects. However, this is something of a mixed blessing as although the initial frame of a video sequence can be focused using AF, during shooting there is no focus tracking mode. AF is possible in Live Focus mode using contrast detection, but it must be manually initiated and Live Focus AF is slow and prone to hunting and overshooting. Manual focus is available, but if you are shooting a moving subject with a fast lens (like the 85/1.2L for example), tracking focus may not be easy.

In addition to the HD mode, movies can also be made in SD/VGA (640×480) mode. All movies are recorded in Quicktime MOV format.

The EOS 5D Mark II can record up to 4GB per clip or record up to a maximum
continuous video capture time of 29 minutes and 59 seconds, whichever comes first. This means you can get about 12 minutes HD video or 24 minutes of SD video on a 4GB memory card.

Metering in video mode uses a modified evaluative metering mode, which uses the image sensor. Exposure is Program AE and allows both exposure compensation and AE lock. ISO is automatically set by the camera and video shutter speeds range from 1/30 to 1/125th. Shooting video is actually quite easy.

  1. Press the Live View button on the rear of the camera (which doubles as a print button). That brings the camera into Live View mode.
  2. Focus by pressing the AF button.
  3. To start shooting you press the Set button (located in the center of the QCD), and to stop shooting you press the Set button again.

One word about playing back the .MOV files on your computer. You may well have problems with “jerky” motion if you have a Windows PC and use Quicktime to view the movies. I’m told the PC implementation of Quicktime leaves something to be desired and that it works better on a Mac. Since I don’t have a Mac, I can’t test that theory, but I can tell you that despite a dual core processor and no other programs running I got jerky playback on a Windows XP PC under Quicktime, even after tweaking the Quicktime parameters. 1920×1080 at 30 fps is a lot of data to handle!

Using the free “VLC media player” program I did get smooth HD video and audio playback, but you may have to do the following to set it up for HD video playback on a slower system:

  1. Open Tools, go to Preferences
  2. Click Show settings = “All”
  3. Go to "Input/Codecs
  4. Go to “Other codecs/ FFmpeg” subcategory
  5. Set “Skip the loop filter for H.264 decoding” to “ALL
  6. Restart the program

The bottleneck with Quicktime may lay in the video card speed as a number of Windows PC users with fast video cards (and quad core CPUs) report smooth playback with Quicktime.

I strongly suspect that a video mode will from this point on become a standard feature on most new DSLRs, just as Live View has become a standard feature. In future DSLRs, I’d expect to see more control over ISO and aperture settings and some degree of active autofocus. However, for now, the EOS 5D MkII provides higher quality movie images than has ever been seen before from a DSLR, and indeed higher quality images than from most non-professional video cameras.

Peripheral Illumination Correction

While Canon has offered peripheral illumination correction (also known as vignetting correction) in DPP when doing conversions from RAW image files for quite a while, the 5D MkII can now apply the same corrections to in-camera JPEGs when certain Canon lenses are used. The camera has a database of about 20 Canon lenses. The Canon EOS Utility software can be used to check which lenses are in the database and to add others for which the data is available.

Self Cleaning Sensor

The sensor cleaning system of the 5D MkII includes what Canon calls a “fluorine coating” on the low pass filter (I presume this is a fluoride coating, since fluorine is a corrosive gas!). This is said to provide “better dust resistance”. The sensor uses the same ultrasonic shaking mechanism as the EOS 50D to shake any dust particles off the low pass filter when the camera is turned on and off. The position and size of any dust stuck on the sensor can also be saved as reference “dust delete data” and this data can be used for removal of dust spots using post processing with Canon’s DPP software.

It’s hard to evaluate the sensor cleaning system over the course of only a couple of weeks, but I have found the cleaning system on other EOS bodies (such as the EOS 40D) to be reasonably effective. While they can’t always remove every dust particle that finds its way onto the sensor, physical cleaning of the sensor is required far less frequently than in cameras without such a cleaning system.

Highlight Tone Priority

As on the 40D and 50D, the EOS 5D MkII includes a highlight tone priority (HTP) setting. This reduces the clipping of bright highlights. It appears to work by using a nonlinear amplifier gain setting to the sensor data, which effectively could be considered to be the equivalent of shooting the highlights at an ISO setting about one stop slower than the shadows. HTP can be used with ISO settings from 200 to 1600. HTP is quite effective at increasing highlight detail, at the possible cost of slightly noisier shadows.

Note that HTP is applied to the image before the RAW file is saved, so it’s one of the few functions that can’t be applied during RAW conversion. Functions like noise reduction, peripheral illumination correction, white balance etc. are not applied directly to the RAW file (only to JPEG files) and can be performed later in DPP, whether or not they were selected at the time of shooting.

Auto Lighting Optimizer

The Auto Lighting Optimizer function analyzes the image and can optimize the brightness and contrast to improve the image (e.g. it can correct for dark subjects in back light situations). There are 4 levels: off, low, standard, and strong. This function can also be applied to RAW images during post-exposure processing using Canon’s DPP software.

The effect of the auto lighting optimizer is subtle. On some images, it makes no difference at all, while with others the effect is small but noticeable, even on the “strong” setting.

Memory Cards

The Canon EOS 5D MkII uses CompactFlash (CF) memory, as do all Canon EOS DSLRs other than the Digital Rebel series (SD memory). In contrast to the EOS 5D, the 5D MkII can take advantage of the extra speed of UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) enabled cards. The ability to use UDMA as well as the extra speed of the DIGIC IV processor means that the EOS 5D MkII can take better advantage of the fastest CF cards.

Note: any CF memory camera can utilize both UDMA and non-UDMA cards. If you use a non-UDMA card in the 5D MkII it’s just fine, but data transfer to the card will be a little slower. If you use a UDMA card in a camera like the EOS 5D that does not have UDMA support, it will be fine too, but it won’t be able to take advantage of the UDMA transfer protocol.

Given the size of the files generated by the EOS 5D MkII, I’d recommend a 4GB or 8GB card. If you shoot RAW + JPEG (as I often do), the combined file size can be as large as 40MB (depending on the subject and ISO setting), so an 8GB card can store up to about 200 such RAW+JPEG images. Alternatively, you can store around 1200 large/fine JPEGs or around 300 RAW images. I’d look for UDMA cards rated at 30MB/s or more (200x) in order to take advantage of the 5D MkII’s transfer speed.

Battery

The EOS 5D MkII uses a totally new battery, the LP-E6, which Canon says should provide around 850 shots. The new battery design not only provides a higher capacity, but also allows a real time battery display to be provided in the viewfinder, which shows an accurate indication of remaining power. Unfortunately, this means you cannot use any BP-511 or BP-512 batteries in the EOS 5D MkII, so you can’t switch batteries between a 5D or 40D/50D and a 5D MkII.

Each LP-E6 contains a unique serial number, which is read by the camera. The EOS 5D MkII allows you to register multiple batteries and display information about them including the time that a battery was last used and its state of charge at that time.

There is also an optional grip, the BG-E6, which can take two LP-E6 battery packs or 6 NiMH AA cell batteries.

Inputs and Outputs

In addition to the standard PC flash connector, USB connector, analog video/audio output and Wired remote socket found on the EOS 5D, the 5D Mk II adds one new input and one new output. The input is for a stereo microphone for use when recording video and the output is a mini HDMI connector for feeding HD video to a TV with a standard HDMI input. A standard analog A/V cable and a USB cable are provided, but not an HDMI cable. The wired remote socket requires a remote with an N3 type connector. Note that there is also a built in IR remote receiver on the front of the camera, which is compatible with the RC-1 and RC-5 IR remote controllers.

Choosing a Lens

As I pointed out in the section on resolution, the actual sensor resolution of the 5D MkII is lower than that of the 40D and Rebel XSi, so if you’ve read that you have to have only the finest, high resolution lenses to fully utilize the sensor of the 5D MkII, then you’ve been misinformed! Obviously high resolution lenses are nice, but the 5D MkII doesn’t really need then any more than the Rebel XSi does. What the 5D MkII (and any full frame DSLR) needs are lenses, which are still pretty sharp at a point 21.5mm from the center—the position of the corners of a full 36×24mm frame.

The EF 24-105/4L IS USM is available with the 5D MkII as a kit, and you do get a discount on the combined price. It’s a good deal if you need a general purpose lens. The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review) is a pretty decent lens. You will see some vignetting when shooting wide open, especially at 24mm and you will see some distortion, again especially at 24mm, but if you shoot RAW and use Canon’s DPP RAW converter, both vignetting and distortion can be automatically corrected. Vignetting can actually be corrected with in-camera JPEGs via the peripheral illumination control settings of the 5D MkII.

For wide angle lenses, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, (compare prices) and the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, (compare prices) (review)are the premium choices. Which one to get depends on the size of your wallet. Similarly for a telephoto zoom, the EF 70-200 is available in two versions: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), and Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), and also versions without IS (image stabilization). All of the 70-200L lenses are good and which to choose depends again on your budget and how much weight you are prepared to carry. I’d always take IS over non-IS myself.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM, (compare prices) (review), and Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, (compare prices) (review), match well with the 5D MkII, especially for those interested in isolation a subject by using a shallow depth of field. Full frame cameras already give less DOF (more background blur) than crop sensor cameras, and fast lenses like these two can further accentuate the effect.

EOS 5D MkII vs EOS 5D

If you want a full frame DSLR camera capable of taking excellent quality images and capable of making the highest quality prints up to a size of around maybe 20″ × 30″, you don’t need to shoot above ISO 3200 and you don’t want to shoot movies, then the Canon EOS 5D, (compare prices) (review), may be just fine for you. It was a great camera when it was introduced and it’s still a great camera. Where the 5D MkII exceeds the capabilities of the 5D are in its high ISO ability (if you can put up with the noise), its very high quality HD video capability, its ability to go to somewhat larger print sizes and maintain quality and various other useful (though not necessarily essential) features, such as a higher capacity battery, somewhat better weather sealing, microfocus adjustment for lenses, IR remote capability, etc.

There’s no doubt that the MkII is an improvement over the 5D in many ways. The cost is currently about $1000 higher, so those improvements don’t come cheap. However, to many photographers they will be worth it. Some may even buy the 5D MkII just for its (currently unique) HD video capabilities!

EOS 5D MkII vs. EOS 1Ds MkIII

Both of these are full frame cameras with 21.1MP CMOS sensors. The 5D MkII sells for around $2700 and the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, (compare prices) (review), sells for around $6600, so what do you get for the extra $3900? You get a fully weather sealed body, an integral vertical grip, 45 AF zones (19 cross type with 26 assist points), better AF, dual memory card (SD+CF) storage, faster response (dual Digic III processors), 5 fps vs. 3.9 fps, 100% viewfinder coverage (vs. 98%), a 300,000 cycle shutter (vs. 150,000 cycles) and maybe a few other bells and whistles. On the downside, the 1Ds MkIII has no video capability and it’s bigger and heavier than the 5D MkII.

Are the added features worth $3900? They wouldn’t be to me, but I’m not a full time pro who depends on their camera to make a living. I’m sure to some the advantages of the 1Ds MkIII will be worth the extra cost, but I’d guess for most amateurs and even professionals who don’t need “mission critical” images, the 5D MkII is better value. If you’re a sports shooter and your AF is slightly off on the winning touchdown of the Pro Bowl, the fact that you saved $3900 on the camera won’t be of much comfort.

Canon EOS 5D MkII vs Nikon D700

The Nikon D700, (compare prices) (review), is also a full frame DSLR and is priced very similarly to the EOS 5D MkII ($2800 vs. $2700), so it can be seen as a direct competitor. The major difference on paper is that the D700 “only” has 12.1MP (similar to the 12.8 MP pixel count of the 5D), whereas the 5D MkII has 21.1MP. The D700 also lacks any video capability. However, it does have 51 focus zones (15 of which are cross sensors) and a 5 fps frame rate (8 fps with booster) and it also has a pop-up flash, which can be useful at times.

As usual, there is no clear winner here. If you want higher resolution and video, the Canon clearly comes out ahead. If you want a faster shooting rate and a more advanced AF system, the Nikon has a lead. Most people will probably stick with the system they have, if for no other reason than switching systems gets very expensive!

Canon EOS 5D MkII vs Sony A900

The Sony Alpha A900, (compare prices) (review), is the current pixel champion of 35mm DSLRs, with a 24.6MP full frame sensor. However, the difference between 21.1MP and 24MP is very small in percentage terms, so there would not likely be a significant difference in image resolution. I have not personally used the Sony A900, but reports are that the image is somewhat noisier than that of the 5D MkII (see Dxomark.com) by a factor of 0.5-1 stop and a similarly reduced dynamic range (at ISO settings above 200).

On the plus side, the A900 has 5 fps continuous shooting, but on the minus side it has a bit depth of 12-bits (vs. 14 on the 5D MkII) and ISO is limited to 6400 (vs. a rather noisy but still present 25600 on the 5D MkII).

The one very significant feature of the Sony A900, which all Canon and Nikon DSLRs lack, is image stabilization built into the camera body. Nikon and Canon provide stabilization via lenses, but not all lenses. Neither Canon nor Nikon have any fast primes under 200mm with stabilization built in. With the Sony, you get stabilization no matter what lens you mount.

The bottom line is that both cameras are very good indeed at lower ISO setting, but the 5D MkII pulls away a little when you’re shooting at higher settings (say ISO 800 and up).

Canon EOS 5D MkII Key Features

  • 21.1MP full frame (24 × 36mm) CMOS sensor (5616 × 3744 pixels)
  • 98% viewfinder coverage, 0.71x, 21mm eyepoint
  • 9 AF zones with 6 hidden assist points
  • ISO range 100-6400, plus “L” (50), “H1” (12800) and “H2” (25600)
  • Shutter speeds 1/8000s to 30s plus "B". 1/200s flash sync
  • Wired and wireless remote control
  • 3.9 fps continuous shooting. Unlimited JPEG buffer with fast UDMA memory card
  • Live View with phase and contrast detection AF, plus face detection
  • 1920 x1080 HD Movie mode, 30 fps and 640×480 mode at 30 fps. Built-in mono sound, external stereo mic can be used
  • Mini HDMI output
  • High resolution 3" LCD (920,000 dots)
  • 6" x 4.5" x 3", 28.6oz

Conclusion

The Canon EOS 5D MkII is a remarkably capable camera with excellent imaging capability, including the ability to shoot broadcast quality HD video and record sound in stereo. It represents an advance in features over the original EOS 5D and the overall image quality is generally higher—though that higher quality may only be revealed in large prints.

It’s not perfect of course. It still uses linear AF sensors for 8 out of the 9 visible AF zones, it doesn’t track focus or allow control of ISO and aperture when recording video, it’s not fully weather sealed and it doesn’t have a built-in flash or built-in image stabilization, but no camera is perfect and Canon has to save something for the EOS 5D MkIII as well as give users some reasons to choose the 1DS MkIII.
When you consider it’s $300 less expensive than the original EOS 5D was when it was introduced, you can see how far things have come in the last 3 years.

Having shot with the EOS 5D MkII for a few weeks, I can certainly recommend it to anyone who wants a “state of the art” full frame DSLR. If I could afford one and I didn’t already have too many cameras, I’d buy one myself!

Where to Buy

Photo.net’s partners have the Canon EOS 5D MkII available for purchase. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

More

Canon EOS 5D MkII Example Images

Canon EF 500/4.5L USM (now replaced by the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, (compare prices)), 1/200s, f/8, ISO 400. In this image the moon is aproximately 760 pixels in diameter using the full frame sensor. With an EOS 40D it would be around 855 pixels across and with an EOS 50D it would be about 1050 pixels wide due to the smaller pixels used in the crop sensor cameras.
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), on a 25mm extension tube. Lighting was from a 550EX Speedlite on an off camera shoe cord, diffused through a translucent screen. Automatic flash metering. 1/200s, f16, ISO 800
Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 fisheye manual focus lens. This lens gives a diagonal field of view of approximately 180° when used on a full frame camera like the 5D MkII. On a crop sensor camera the fisheye effect is greatly diminished. 1/125s, f8, ISO 100
Peleng 8mm fisheye manual focus lens. This lens is made in Belarus (former USSR). It has a 25mm image circle so you almost get a full circular 180 degree image with a full frame camera like the EOS 5D MkII. The red lines show what you would see with a crop sensor camera like the EOS 50D. 1/100s, f8, ISO 100
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), 24mm focal length, 1/100s, f/9, ISO 6400. This photograph of the interior of the Westin shows very little noise even at high ISO 6400. With such a contrast between the interior and exterior lighting, the Canon 5D MkII did well metering for a balance between the two.
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), 105mm focal length, 1/100s, f/8, ISO 640. For an abstract approach, the Canon 5D Mark II deals well with deep hues that are true to life. Auto White Balance setting.
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), 35mm focal length, 1/60s, f/4, ISO 6400. Using Auto White Balance settings, the Canon 5D is on the warm side when dealing with incandescent lighting. A custom WB would have corrected this issue in camera. Very minimal noise is noticeable, even at ISO 6400.

Original text ©2009 Bob Atkins. Photos ©2009 Bob Atkins and Hannah Thiem.

Article revised March 2011.

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Landrum Kelly , February 04, 2009; 07:34 P.M.

"Full frame cameras already give more DOF than crop sensor cameras,"

Bob, I presume that you meant that FF cameras give more shallow DOF than crop sensor cameras.

--Lannie

Bob Atkins , February 04, 2009; 08:16 P.M.

Yes, what I meant to write (and what is consistant with the surrounding text) was that full frame cameras give more [background] blur via less DOF than crop sensor cameras. I will correct that in the text. Thanks for catching the slip!

The relationship between sensor size and DOF is covered in detail here - http://photo.net/learn/optics/dofdigital/

Timothy Pia , February 05, 2009; 02:51 A.M.

Great review Bob. Sorry for being a proof reader too, but under the "Black Dots" section, I believe there's a typo on the Christmas year listed as 2009.

"Since the release date coincided with Christmas 2009, these small overexposed areas were usually Christmas tree lights!"

David Lau , February 05, 2009; 04:16 A.M.

Thanks for the review. My comments:

"the actual sensor resolution of the 5D MkII is lower than that of the 40D and Rebel XSi"

I fully agree.

"you have to have only the finest, high resolution lenses to fully utilize the sensor of the 5D MkII, then you’ve been misinformed!"

Yes and No.

XSi only uses the sweet spot of the lens but 5D2 uses the full image circle. XSi automatically crops off image quality issues usually found towards the edge of a lens, such as vignetting, distortion, CA, softness etc. But 5D2 will reveal all these.

The image quality differentiation between a good lens and a not so good one is usually their edge/corner performance.

Yereth Jansen , February 05, 2009; 06:17 A.M.

Thanks for the review..

Here's another 2 examples of low-light shots with the 5D mark II:
http://photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=885064

Just for those interested. Noise at 3200 iso is very well controlled! It's been an amazing improvement over the 400D I was using earlier.

David Bowens , February 05, 2009; 10:26 A.M.

The 5D2 is truly a remarkable camera.... It just feels like they struck a perfect balance. It's missing a few of the ultra-high end features of the 1D/1Ds, but it's also substantially cheaper. I've been using my new one parallel to my old 40D for a few weeks now and I can say with confidence that it is truly excellent in every aspect.

For all the video/live view nay-sayers.... I question why you would base your camera choice on features you DON'T use rather than features you DO use. Whether you need video or not, the 5DmkII is truly an excellent piece of photographic ingenuity.

Fernando Pereira , February 05, 2009; 11:15 A.M.

I received 5D2 one month ago and I'm very happy with it.

My copy had 1 hot pixel (a red pixel in the same position, on all pictures) in the sensor, but I used a procedure that I found on a photo.net Canon-EOS thread and It is gone now.

Basically, I placed a lens cap on the lens and used the manual sensor cleaning option from the menu, but did not remove the lens (and cap) to avoid dust. After doing this, the hot-pixel is gone and hasn't appeared on any picture shot since that.

It seems the camera firmware executes some kind of sensor calibration routine when you turn the camera off, after finishing a manual sensor cleaning operation.

Fernando

Bob Atkins , February 05, 2009; 01:03 P.M.

Timothy - thanks for spotting the "2008/2009" switch. I'll correct that.

David (Lau) - I agree that it's in the corner/edge performance that is where the 5D MkII (or any full frame camera) needs "better" lenses. That's what I was getting at when I said:

"...The EOS 5D MkII has a full frame sensor, and that means that in the corner of the frame the image is further from the center than with a crop sensor camera (21.5mm vs. 13.5 mm). You may need a “better” lens in order to maintain higher image quality all the way out to the corners of the frame, since most aberrations increase as you move away from the center of the image..."

Ken Papai , February 05, 2009; 01:40 P.M.

Stunning, comprehensive review Bob. Many thanks. (it's my hope Canon will much further recognize the efforts you do for them in all aspects on P-Net)

jake richardson , February 05, 2009; 02:29 P.M.

Anyone using the video much?

Clarence Clarence , February 05, 2009; 03:20 P.M.

Are the red/blue pixels around the numbers and text of the Timex watch product shot related to the black dot problem?

It's worst at the bottom: 5, 6, 7, Indiglo WR, plus the bottom glass edge of the bezel. But you can also see it in the black texture where the wristband fastens to the watchface and even in the nylon weave.

Bob Atkins , February 05, 2009; 05:09 P.M.


100% crop from converted RAW file

I'm afraid you've caught pixel peeping fever! There could be (and pixel peeped at 300% indeed there are) some artifacts in that image due to JPEG compression and downsizing, plus possibly some uncorrected chromatic aberration.

Here's a 100% crop from the full size image after conversion from the RAW file, after also correcting the image in DPP for chromatic aberration.

The small images that accompany the review are mostly to make it look prettier or illustrate some technical point. They're not intended for critical review at the pixel level. For that you'd need the original RAW files, and in this case it would be a 27MB download for just this one image!

David Bowens , February 05, 2009; 05:50 P.M.

Oh please no pixel peeping.... This is quite honestly one of the best cameras you can buy right now for any price... nit-picking minor itty bitty tiny itsy bitsy quality inconsistencies is really a road to nowhere :)

Borek Lupomesky , February 06, 2009; 03:39 A.M.

The video feature is a bit overhyped. While the quality and characteristics of images shot with large sensor is unique, there are some nasty problems as well. If I leave aside the lack of manual control and 30 fps framerate and focus on image quality, there are some quirks one needs to be aware of. It all stems from the way the video image is made internally. Before a frame of video is recorded, it needs to be scaled from the 21 Mpix (native resolution of 5D Mark II) down to 2 Mpix (1080p resolution). I expected that the full picture will be simply downsampled by some interpolation algorithm (say bilinear interpolation). As it appears, it is not the case. What the camera seems to be actually doing is that instead of resampling full-res picture it takes every third pixel row. The reason to do things this way is quite obvious - resampling 21 Mpix 30 times a seconds would not be possible even with Digic IV -- that's just too much data (630 Mpix per second). Now what this means for real life image quality? This compromise means that in some situations, there are image artifacts. These I have seen in my own footage:

1) aliasing artifacts on horizontal lines; wherever there are densely packed lines parallel to sensor's horizontal axis, you're bound to get nasty aliasing (think of shingle roofs)

2) moiré effects (alternating green/purple areas) on parts of image with fine detail; this one is particularly nasty and it does not require regularity in the detail. I have seen this in shots of asphalt roads, where the fine texture of the asphalt creates irregular blotches of green and purple)

3) flickering point light sources; if a point light source image moves accross the sensor, it alternates between lines being incorporated in final image and those that are discarded. This causes those points of light to actually flicker in regular intervals. This is often seen in head or tail lights of distant cars.

Needless to say, that specialized HD cameras don't exhibit any of these kinds of behaviour. Generally, I consider the image quality from my Canon HV20 (a consumer HDV camera) to be superior to that of 5D Mark II. But then, if you are after the shallow DoF picture, than there's no other choice within reach of mere mortals.

Bob Atkins , February 06, 2009; 02:50 P.M.

Borek - Thanks for your comments on the 5d MkII video. I did not do the equivalent of "pixel peeping" with the video segements I shot with the 5D MkII. I'm no video expert, so I just shot some clips and viewed them either on a PC or an a TV monitor and they looked excellent. However I as viewing them as a typical user, I wan't looking for particular problems (and so I didn't really notice any!).

I was going to post video clips but haven't done so yet because they are so large and there was some concern about slowing down the site performance if many people started downloadind 75MB files. I could downsize the video, but then you're not seeing the original.

It's possible that at a later date we may have more info on the 5D mkII video capabilities, but I'm not sure about that.

My take on the video capability of the 5D MkII is that it's the first step on a long road. It has enough problems to make some dedicated videographers tear out their hair, but it has enough quality to make many still photographers very happy! It certainly doesn't handle well as a video camera when not on a tripod. The lack of control of aperture and ISO will frustrate videopgraphers and the lack of tracking autofocus will be a problem for following action. But we have to start somewhere and this is an interesting start. I suspect that we see more advanced video capability in the EOS 60D or the EOS 1Ds MkIV than we do in the 5D MkII.

The video functions could have been better, and next time I'm sure they will be! However with some skill and effort (and time and experience), you can produce amazing videos with the 5D MkII. If you don't believe me, take a look at this:

http://www.usa.canon.com/dlc/controller?act=GetArticleAct&articleID=2326

Now I don't think any first time video shooters are going to come anywhere close to the video linked to above, but it does show what can be done with the 5D mkII by a professional.

Borek Lupomesky , February 08, 2009; 07:10 A.M.

Thank you for your response, Bob. I might have sounded negative in my comments, but just wanted to tell the other part of the story. Personally, I am very excited with 5D Mark II and its video capability. I am very grateful for Canon taking this step and offering the feature to such wide audience.

Borek - Thanks for your comments on the 5d MkII video. I did not do the equivalent of "pixel peeping" with the video segements I shot with the 5D MkII. I'm no video expert, so I just shot some clips and viewed them either on a PC or an a TV monitor and they looked excellent. However I as viewing them as a typical user, I wan't looking for particular problems (and so I didn't really notice any!).

Well, I haven't done any deep evaluation myself -- and I am no video expert either, for that matter. I just took my 5D for an unsophisticated test shoot (you can see the result here) and when editing the footage I saw all this kind of stuff in it. What surprised me is that I haven't read anything about it in various forums discussions I've been following for months. That's why I have written my comments in your review.

I was going to post video clips but haven't done so yet because they are so large and there was some concern about slowing down the site performance if many people started downloadind 75MB files. I could downsize the video, but then you're not seeing the original.

Have you considered BitTorrent? I always wonder why so many people dismiss BT as a way to distribute massive files, when it's perfectly suited for this task.

My take on the video capability of the 5D MkII is that it's the first step on a long road. It has enough problems to make some dedicated videographers tear out their hair, but it has enough quality to make many still photographers very happy! It certainly doesn't handle well as a video camera when not on a tripod. The lack of control of aperture and ISO will frustrate videopgraphers and the lack of tracking autofocus will be a problem for following action. But we have to start somewhere and this is an interesting start. I suspect that we see more advanced video capability in the EOS 60D or the EOS 1Ds MkIV than we do in the 5D MkII.

I agree with you without reservation. BTW, it's quite ironic, that such a cheap camera like 5D Mark II (in cine world, that is) actually requires it to be used in a way very similar to expensive high-end gear (always on tripod or steadicam, slow smooth motion, with precise manual focus etc.)

I have, of course, have seen Vincent Laforet's video and I have seen some other as good or maybe even better. I like Dan Chung's work posted on Vimeo (http://vimeo.com/user331735). Amazing stuff is certainly possible with the 5D.

Philip Wilson , February 08, 2009; 11:05 P.M.

I did not buy the camera for it's video - indeed i can't remember the last time we used our Sony video camera but I tried it a few times at kids ski races. Even handheld with some practice you can get rather good results but you see some interesting things not visible with a normal video camera. With a skier moving at about 80 - 90 km/h they cover about 85cm per frame - when viewed at slow motion you actually get a very jumpy image compared to a consumer video camera. This is in fact a facet of the high quality of the sensor and lens and is not obvious when played at full speed. To actually see the video quality you need at good digital TV (e.g. 120 Hz LCD with very high contrast - ours looks best one one with a 50,000:1 ratio) and also the Mini HDMI to HDMI cable which you have to buy for about $50. Without using HDMI the quality advanatge is mainly lost. By using a wider aperture and setting the lens at a hyperforcal distance a reasonable video clip can be produced. The quality is much higher than a consumer video recorder but not quite as good as a broadcaster can produce. I don't use the audio but this is a problem as you really need a highly directional remote microphone some distance from the camera (i.e. someone else holding it) otherwise you pick up too much noise from the camera user and not enough from the subject.

Robin Johnston , March 03, 2009; 06:09 A.M.

Thank you!

I am looking to upgrade to a full frame sensor and had this model in mind. This review has been very helpful.

Robin Johnston

Morad Boroomand , March 03, 2009; 11:19 P.M.

I enjoyed reading your reviews but I wished you had included some close up photos of people to see how 5D Mrk2 can render skin tones.

Terence Kearns , March 13, 2009; 10:05 P.M.

Fabulous review

Leon Trimble , March 16, 2009; 03:39 P.M.

Lovely review, Bob.
I wonder if you can tell me how the video mode works with the circular fisheye? i.e. do you get the same amount of full frame circle when in the hd video mode? and if i used a sigma 6mm lens for instance, will i get the proper full circle when shooting video.

Neil D. , March 17, 2009; 09:22 A.M.

Leon, my first thought when I read about the video capabilities was sticking on a circular fisheye! Can anyone give it a try?

James Hilton , March 17, 2009; 06:45 P.M.

In the 5D mk1 vs mk2 section, I think it should be noted the flaw of the mk1 is dust. So many people have cronic problems with dust and zoom lenses, and the fact that the inside of the camea has silicon everywhere so the dust sticks to the sensor, and is hard to get off.

Steve Huff , March 20, 2009; 10:34 A.M.

Thanks for the nice review. Just posted mine here:

http://www.stevehuffphotos.com/Steve_Huff_Photos/CANON_5D_MARKII_REVIEW_AND_SAMPLES.html

Alin Daju , March 31, 2009; 04:00 P.M.

Disgraceful, a movie and still camera in 1?!? i'll keep my 40D thanx

Forest Wander , April 07, 2009; 10:52 A.M.

I just got this camera and am very anxious to try it out.

I hope it was worth the wait and money!

Mark Ci , April 09, 2009; 05:14 P.M.

** Disgraceful, a movie and still camera in 1?!? **

Wow, that's an amazingly dumb comment.

Hannu Soini , April 14, 2009; 07:30 A.M.

Nice review. To make it complete some comparison and words of the Nikon D3 would have been appropriate...don't You think? BR Hannu

Steve Featherstone , April 14, 2009; 05:31 P.M.

Hey Bob,

I've read Phil's review of the 1Ds Mk III and your excellent review of the 5D II, but I can't distinguish the major differences between the two cameras. I have a 1Ds now, so I know all about how heavy they are (and may I say, indestructible. I carried it Afghanistan, in the summer, for a month) and all that. I was wondering if you could sort of highlight the main differences between the two cameras in a few bullet points that might explain the vastly different price points. I don't care about the video feature, so you needn't address that if you do at all.

Thank you! Steve F.

Ray Brown , April 15, 2009; 10:56 P.M.

Hi Bob Atkins-

As for me this is by far the very best unbiased review of the Canon 5D Mk11 that I have ever read to this date, and I do not need to read other reviews anymore..

Scott Kilby writes the best and most understandable photography books, and you are by far the best review writer I have ever read.

THANK YOU, Ray Brown

Darek Danilko , May 05, 2009; 07:35 P.M.

I agree with Ray, you took the review on a higher level. Very readable and detailed analysis. Thanks!

paul murphy , July 19, 2009; 04:01 P.M.

i have a sekonic L 758d and would like to profile the highlights and shadows. My camera is the canon 5d mk2, does any one know could i purchase on even put in manually in the light meter, i know the dynamic range is 11.5 with the highlight optimizer on but in relation to the shadows and highlight i have no idea

I know i could use my histogram but i would like to know i meter please Paul m

Harry Jackson Jr. , August 04, 2009; 04:19 P.M.

You saved me $3,000. Thanks. One of my colleagues bought a 5Dii and keeps teasing me because I own a 5D. The only thing I'd want is the live view, weather seals, 21.1mp and owl-eyed ISO. I have no use for HD video, let alone a computer at home that can handle it. If Canon were kind, they'd put out a version without the video and lower the price. What made me drool was that my colleague says he's getting crisp eyelashes in his photos. I'm obsessive-compulsive about having crisp lines in my shots before I use a digital sharpener, even though I shoot 99 percent documentary and fast-draw photographs. Then he told me the JPG files are big enough that he doesn't have to tolerate RAW. By now, I'm writhing on the floor as he laughs at me. Still, before I go off and spend $2,700 to shoot a hair, I think I want to play around more with my original 5D in vampire ISO; learn how to use and manipulate what I own. The only time I've ever had my camera fail on me, I was in a black tunnel shooting a feature on homeless people who live below the city of St. Louis downtown. It was about 5 degrees and the only light was from campfires. It wouldn't fire a couple of times and the viewfinder went black. I was using a 24-105 L-series zoom at 24 mm wide open. Nothing. But I was able to shoot If we flipped on a flashlight or I shot over the top of the fire. I went out shortly afterwards and bought the 16-35 L. 2.8. it's been a dream in bad light. But I haven' t tested it in the cold. So I think I'll save my money for now and wait until the 5Dii drops after the next generation comes out.

Tom Sheppard , September 17, 2009; 03:49 A.M.

Tom Sheppard, 17 September 2009; 20:15 hrs

Thank you for a really thorough review. I have noticed quite a few AF complaints on some forums and know of others. I had serious AF problems with my first 5D Mk II body, got no help from Canon and eventually part-exchanged it (ie paid for another body with an allowance for the faulty one) despite it being only a month old. That too was off and a 300 mile round trip to a franchised service agent, with all my lenses was necessary to get the body sorted and then small adjustments made to a couple of the lenses. The 5D I had before was superb – using the same L-lenses.

It is as though Canon cut out proper focus calibration at the production stage. What happened to their quality control? Surely the Mk IIs should have been at least as good as the 5D, right out of the box? Had I not done (and had time to do thoroughly) preliminary tests and realised something was amiss I could have spent six weeks in the Sahara getting magnificent 21Mp landscapes – all out of focus. Why is there provision for AF Micro adjustment? It’s almost as if they knew there might be a problem.

How is the remedial work done? Presumably any corrective work of this kind is done by software tweaks modifying the message sent from the body AF sensor to the lens motor. The service agent told me that they do not actually move anything physically; it was ‘all done on the computer’. He could not be any more precise.

When the camera was returned to me the AF micro adjustment controls were still set at zero. What is the service agent’s computer programme actually doing? Is he merely executing, ‘behind the scenes’, what AF micro adjustment function does?

The whole episode, together with Canon UK’s unresponsive, cavalier attitude, has devastated my 30 year faith in their standards. The 5D Mk II is a superlative concept but my confidence is seriously shaken. I would be nervous about buying another lens in case the interface did not work properly. I’ve since bought a second body as part of my whole outfit upgrading and this one seems to be fine. But one out of three is not very impressive.

It is interesting to read that the new 7D has a ‘completely redesigned AF system to include a separate processor to handle AF calculations’.

Tom Sheppard , September 23, 2009; 03:07 A.M.

Tom Sheppard, 17 September 2009; 20:15 hrs

Thank you for a really thorough review. I have noticed quite a few AF complaints on some forums and know of others. I had serious AF problems with my first 5D Mk II body, got no help from Canon and eventually part-exchanged it (ie paid for another body with an allowance for the faulty one) despite it being only a month old. That too was off and a 300 mile round trip to a franchised service agent, with all my lenses was necessary to get the body sorted and then small adjustments made to a couple of the lenses. The 5D I had before was superb – using the same L-lenses.

It is as though Canon cut out proper focus calibration at the production stage. What happened to their quality control? Surely the Mk IIs should have been at least as good as the 5D, right out of the box? Had I not done (and had time to do thoroughly) preliminary tests and realised something was amiss I could have spent six weeks in the Sahara getting magnificent 21Mp landscapes – all out of focus. Why is there provision for AF Micro adjustment? It’s almost as if they knew there might be a problem.

How is the remedial work done? Presumably any corrective work of this kind is done by software tweaks modifying the message sent from the body AF sensor to the lens motor. The service agent told me that they do not actually move anything physically; it was ‘all done on the computer’. He could not be any more precise.

When the camera was returned to me the AF micro adjustment controls were still set at zero. What is the service agent’s computer programme actually doing? Is he merely executing, ‘behind the scenes’, what AF micro adjustment function does?

The whole episode, together with Canon UK’s unresponsive, cavalier attitude, has devastated my 30 year faith in their standards. The 5D Mk II is a superlative concept but my confidence is seriously shaken. I would be nervous about buying another lens in case the interface did not work properly. I’ve since bought a second body as part of my whole outfit upgrading and this one seems to be fine. But one out of three is not very impressive.

It is interesting to read that the new 7D has a ‘completely redesigned AF system to include a separate processor to handle AF calculations’.

Tom Sheppard , September 23, 2009; 03:08 A.M.

Tom Sheppard, 17 September 2009; 20:15 hrs

Thank you for a really thorough review. I have noticed quite a few AF complaints on some forums and know of others. I had serious AF problems with my first 5D Mk II body, got no help from Canon and eventually part-exchanged it (ie paid for another body with an allowance for the faulty one) despite it being only a month old. That too was off and a 300 mile round trip to a franchised service agent, with all my lenses was necessary to get the body sorted and then small adjustments made to a couple of the lenses. The 5D I had before was superb – using the same L-lenses.

It is as though Canon cut out proper focus calibration at the production stage. What happened to their quality control? Surely the Mk IIs should have been at least as good as the 5D, right out of the box? Had I not done (and had time to do thoroughly) preliminary tests and realised something was amiss I could have spent six weeks in the Sahara getting magnificent 21Mp landscapes – all out of focus. Why is there provision for AF Micro adjustment? It’s almost as if they knew there might be a problem.

How is the remedial work done? Presumably any corrective work of this kind is done by software tweaks modifying the message sent from the body AF sensor to the lens motor. The service agent told me that they do not actually move anything physically; it was ‘all done on the computer’. He could not be any more precise.

When the camera was returned to me the AF micro adjustment controls were still set at zero. What is the service agent’s computer programme actually doing? Is he merely executing, ‘behind the scenes’, what AF micro adjustment function does?

The whole episode, together with Canon UK’s unresponsive, cavalier attitude, has devastated my 30 year faith in their standards. The 5D Mk II is a superlative concept but my confidence is seriously shaken. I would be nervous about buying another lens in case the interface did not work properly. I’ve since bought a second body as part of my whole outfit upgrading and this one seems to be fine. But one out of three is not very impressive.

It is interesting to read that the new 7D has a ‘completely redesigned AF system to include a separate processor to handle AF calculations’.

Jonathan Farmer , September 29, 2009; 05:30 P.M.

Previously I used the crop factor cameras for digital use and found them to deliver excellent images both in sharpness and contrast. When I started using the 5D MkII, I found that lenses that I thought were sharp on the crop factor cameras were not as sharp because the image size produced by the 5D MkII would reveal any imperfections of the lens.

My point is “don’t use inferior glass with this camera”.

My Canon 85mm f/1.8 used with this camera produces extremely sharp images; my Canon 17-40 f/4 L is sharp at the wide side but shows some softness between 35-40mm, My Sigma 70mm f/2.8 macro (this is Sigma's finest but has slow focus) is as sharp as any lens can get when used with this camera.

The 5D MkII really shines when used with primes; if you are a zoom user (aren’t we all), then get the “L” glass.

Tom Sheppard , October 21, 2009; 06:47 A.M.

Tom Sheppard, 21 Oct 2009; 1200 hrs

Thank you for a really thorough review. I have noticed quite a few AF complaints on some forums and know of others. I had serious AF problems with my first 5D Mk II body, got no help from Canon and eventually part-exchanged it (ie paid for another body with an allowance for the faulty one) despite it being only a month old. That too was off and a 300 mile round trip to a franchised service agent, with all my lenses was necessary to get the body sorted and then small adjustments made to a couple of the lenses. The 5D I had before was superb – using the same L-lenses.

It is as though Canon cut out proper focus calibration at the production stage. What happened to their quality control? Surely the Mk IIs should have been at least as good as the 5D, right out of the box? Had I not done (and had time to do thoroughly) preliminary tests and realised something was amiss I could have spent six weeks in the Sahara getting magnificent 21Mp landscapes – all out of focus. Why is there provision for AF Micro adjustment? It’s almost as if they knew there might be a problem.

How is the remedial work done? Presumably any corrective work of this kind is done by software tweaks modifying the message sent from the body AF sensor to the lens motor. The service agent told me that they do not actually move anything physically; it was ‘all done on the computer’. He could not be any more precise.

When the camera was returned to me the AF micro adjustment controls were still set at zero. What is the service agent’s computer programme actually doing? Is he merely executing, ‘behind the scenes’, what AF micro adjustment function does?

The whole episode, together with Canon UK’s unresponsive, cavalier attitude, has devastated my 30 year faith in their standards. The 5D Mk II is a superlative concept but my confidence is seriously shaken. I would be nervous about buying another lens in case the interface did not work properly. I’ve since bought a second body as part of my whole outfit upgrading and this one seems to be fine. But one out of three is not very impressive.

It is interesting to read that the new 7D has a ‘completely redesigned AF system to include a separate processor to handle AF calculations’.

Nathaniel Alpert , May 03, 2010; 10:05 P.M.

Having used the mark ii for a while, primarily for landscape, I think you may have missed the point about live view. Live view is what the original 5d lacks for landscape photography. Without live view it is impossible to critically check focus and depth of field, particularly in low light. This should be done with manual focus, with and without the lens stopped down, while moving the focus index from place to palce with the joy stick. Another important point is that live view features an exposure simulation and a real-time histogram. You can check the exposure BEFORE shooting, making expose-to-the-right more practical. Finally, I note that I have seen little-to-no technichal discussion of how the real-time histogram is computed. It seems unlikely that it depends on the jpeg image, as does the post capture histogram, but I don't know for sure. Perhaps it is computed more directly from the raw? In any event, and for what it is worth, my experience is that it is more accurate than the post captuer histogram.

Children Photographs , May 09, 2010; 01:03 P.M.

For commercial/advertising photography, how much is the highest ISO I can go upto with the 5d Mark 2 ?

Randy Schirmer , July 12, 2010; 09:20 A.M.

** Disgraceful, a movie and still camera in 1?!? **

*Wow, that's an amazingly dumb comment.

-------

I wouldn't use the word "disgraceful" but it's not dumb at all. I'd rather my camera dollar be spent on pic quality. If i want video, I use my video recorder. For consumer cameras, I can see a combination but on a "pro" camera? No. I would use video cam to record a shoot. Of course then I'm using my pro cam for photos and not videos. Just buy a dvd cam for $600.

Charlie Cotugno , August 07, 2010; 08:14 P.M.

I was about to upgrade from the original 5D to t the Mark II next week. Not after reading this review, sounds like image quality doesn't really take that big of a leap. Think I'll get the 85 L1.2 lens instead and wait for the Mark III.

 

 

Landrum Kelly , September 25, 2010; 07:50 A.M.

"I was about to upgrade from the original 5D to the Mark II next week. Not after reading this review, sounds like image quality doesn't really take that big of a leap."

Actually, the image quality takes a very substantial leap.  Comments about resolution per pixel or any inference made relating to pixel density have to be offset against the enormous effect of so many pixels--but that is true for all cameras.  The 5D II files downsized to the same size as those of crop sensor cameras will show overall a great advantage for the 5D II.  I have had both cameras and there really is quite a noticeable difference.

In addition, the image quality at high ISO is absolutely remarkable.  The noise that might have been visible at ISO 6400 or 12800 simply is not going to show up in many cases once the large files have been downsized.

All that said, resolution is a linear measure of line pairs per millimeter, and so to get twice the resolution of the 5D you would need four times as many megapixels, not twice as many.   That reality is a simple mathematical reality, however, since resolution is a linear function but total number of pixels is (in some sense) going to be a square function, i.e., a function of surface area. That fact applies to all cameras.

Keep in mind also Bob's caveat about print size: you often won't see the advantage unless you print very large.  Even so, if you do print very large or if you crop a lot, you will see a very substantial improvement.  The performance of the 5D II in low light and high ISO has to be seen to be believed.  Comments about needing high quality lenses also have to be understood in the proper context: you simply will not be able to take advantage of all those great megapixels without high quality glass.  (Comparisons of the advantages or disadvantages of full-frame versus crop sensor cameras raise other questions, but those issues are way beyond the scope of this review.)

The only sure test is to rent one and see for yourself.  As good as the original 5D was (and I owned and used one for almost four years), I have never looked back.  In actual practice, the 5D II is truly an awesome camera, especially for the asking price.  It is as good in image quality as the 1Ds Mark III (which sells these days for between six and seven thousand dollars).  This is not really surprising, since the guts of the two are the same.  Only the build quality and auto-focus of the 1Ds III are better.  Go to dpreview.com and see the comparisons--but, above all, rent a 5D II and see for yourself why this camera is still selling for the same price now at B&H  as it did when it first came out.

If you are going to wait for a 5D III, you could be waiting a very long time.  The 5D II is a remarkable camera and one of the best buys of all time in digital photography.  As much as I loved my original 5D, I love the 5D II even more--much, much more.

--Lannie

Fedil Grogan , September 21, 2011; 03:21 P.M.

When I decided to upgrade cameras from my Canon xTi I decided to go with the Canon 5D Mark II. It was a great decision. I love the quality and it definitely does more than enough to meet my needs. If you want to know more of my personal opinion on the Canon 5D Mark II, I wrote a blog posting about it here: http://www.digitalphotographyreport.com/2011/05/11/personal-review-of-the-canon-eos-5d-mark-ii/

 


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