Much like many of you I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Canon 5D Mark II. Many things intrigued me and excited me about the camera, but the points that stood out to me personally were: Higher quality/range ISO, increase of resolution, full 1080p video support.
The first thing I noticed about the 5D Mark II once out of the box was that the camera feels a little more substantial than the original 5D. I believe it's a little more rigid and slightly heavier. I didn't do a crash test or weigh the cameras, but this is my observation of the build quality.
The viewfinder is nice, big, and bright. I do prefer the viewfinder on the 1Ds Mark III because it protrudes further away from the body and helps keep my nose from being smashed into the back of the camera.
In my experience thus far the battery life is impressive. I've been able to shoot about 650 raw files on a single charge without the battery dwindling. On the video side I operated the camera for about an hour shooting just video and the charge on a single battery went down to about 30% or so. I do not intend to get the battery grip for this camera, because I want to keep size down for this particular body. So I am impressed by the performance. As always though, you should carry at least two batteries with you at all times.
Button & Menus
The menu system of the camera is nice and simple and I have no complaints in that regard. I dread the dial that allows you to select between all the shooting modes. Mostly due to the fact that you can accidently nudge it and knock out of Av or Manual without totally being aware of it. On the 1Ds Mark III it's button driven and I've never switched modes on accident. Beyond that personal peeve most of the controls on the camera are logically laid out. The addition of a Live View button is a nice touch considering the new implementation of video. I could mention/beg/pray for a mirror lock up button, but the Canon gods are deaf to that cause. One thing that does bug me (and soon you too!) is the placement of the depth of field preview button. It is placed on the lower portion next to the lens and you'll find more often than not while you press play to review images you will inevitably hit that DOF preview and knock yourself out of review mode. Barring some sort of miracle in technology, this cannot be fixed by firmware.
The LCD screen is nice, bright, and sharp. Canon implemented a new automatic brightness feature that uses a light sensor on the back of the camera to adjust image playback brightness based on the ambient lighting conditions. This is a neat idea, but drives me crazy as the image will literally change before your eyes. For instance, if you are shooting a sunset, the image you look at on the screen will look different if you are facing the sun or facing away from it. I pretty much only use the histogram for image evaluation, but I didn't find the new feature useful and promplty switched it to manual brightness to save what is left of my sanity.
For those of you new to the 20+ megapixel world you'll be interested in investing in some nice 8gb and 16gb Compact Flash Cards. 8gb gets you about 300 images or about 24 minutes of full 1080p video.
New to the 5D is Canon's Sensor Cleaning technology. It seems to be the same system used in the 1Ds Mark III and I can speak from experience that this a welcome and much needed addition.
I shoot almost entirely in Manual or Av. Metering seems to be consistent and accurate. I feel I'm having some issues in shady areas, but it's really hard to tell if it's a me problem or a camera problem. I'll consult a therapist just to make sure.
Compared to the original 5D I feel the 5D Mark II is slightly improved in the auto focus department. Especially the center point. However, I do loathe the spacing of the 9 auto focus points and prefer a wider spread. Compared to the 1Ds Mark III the 5D Mark II doesn't come close in my opinion. I can lock focus in extremely low light situations consistently with the 1Ds Mark III, where as I found with the 5D Mark II the center point was really the only thing grabbing that same point in the same lighting situation. However, for those of you who don't take photos in caves and dimly lit bars you'll find the auto focus works just fine most of the time.
While not a blazing shooting rate, it does appear to work as advertised. I've tested the camera with Lexar 300X and Sandisk Extreme IV cards and have been able to verify that the camera shoots at this rate. I've never been a machine gunner when it comes to taking photographs, even when it comes to sports, and find the shooting speed well within the way I work.
Highlight Tone Priority
I won't go into detail too much on this here because I've covered it before in my review of the 1Ds Mark III. I will say that Highlight Tone Priority for the most part does a good job retaining bright whites at that clipping point. As mentioned by Canon, there may be an increase of noise in the shadows when enabling this feature. After shooting for over a year with the 1Ds Mark III with this feature I find I mostly use it in situations where I'm dealing with shooting people with white garments or landscapes, however, I use it pretty rarely as the 14 bit sensor captures an impressive amount of dynamic range already.
I photographed the above test image with both the Canon 1Ds Mark III and the 5D Mark II using the same 50mm f/1.2L lens. Also, there is a link with both raw images in a zip file for you to play with. The little red squares are just the crop zones I'm about to speak about. Since I am comparing camera raw files of the same resolution and apparently the same sensor I applied the same modest sharpening in ACR 5 for both images.
Very quickly I was able to determine that the image resolution and sharpness was deadly similar between the 5D Mark II and the 1Ds Mark III. This makes sense because they are indeed the same sensor technology. However, I am noticing something that is just very slightly different between the two images. It would appear to me that the 5D Mark II seems to be perceptually brighter than the 1Ds Mark III and for whatever reason the 1Ds Mark III, even with the same lens, holds a slightly bluer look to it. Perhaps it's a new anti-alias filter tint coming into play.
In crop two you can see what I'm talking about in the hammer handle. The 1Ds Mark III image is slightly darker and perhaps bluer. However, the resolution itself seems to be the same.
It's such a slight effect, but it is there. The blue vase is just a slightly richer blue than the 5D Mark II. At this point I was beginning to suspect some sort of curve difference perhaps between the base calibration of the bodies. I tested this a million (or so) times and kept seeing it.
In crop 4 you can pretty clearly see the blacks in the mask are just slightly darker in the 1Ds Mark III shot. You can also notice this in the shadows under the rock. Because this difference in tonal quality is so slight I don't believe it's "bad thing". I just think it "is". I did tests later on utilizing a laser level, protractor, and a frisbee (and I'll save you from those exciting results), but I found that this tonal shift was universal.
Beyond the tonal shift the color calibration between the two cameras is rather interesting to me. The 5D Mark II seems to have a fuller richer red. The dark blue swatch seems to be a little richer for the 1Ds Mark III. It's just a very slight difference and nothing I would be terribly worried about. (Please excuse the well abused MacBeth Chart, I work for a living and am hard on my gear)
Real World Resolution and Image Quality
In this "real world" example you can see that the 5D Mark II does a nice job of capturing detail. I chose a subject that has both subtle colors and lot of highlight, middle, and shadow detail. If you have ever shot with any of the higher end PhaseOne backs you'll notice the still rather strong effect of the anti-alias filter getting in the way of true pixel sharpness on the 5D Mark II, but this is the way of digital SLRs. What I'm saying is the sensor itself and the lens used for this photograph could likely squeeze more detail out of this scene, but the anti-alias filter (which removes moire patterns) is softening up the image a bit. That said, these are amazing results for a camera at this price point.
Okay, so above I have created a test setup with lots of highlight and shadow detail. I've also included a link to a zip file with this same setup from the 5D Mark II from ISO 50-25600. Feel free to download them and see what you can come up with. One warning though, the zip file is 280 mb. So go grab a drink or something while it's downloading.
While using this hammer and painting at some point my fingerprint got stuck in the paint apparently. Again, the 1Ds Mark III seems to have more of a blue tint to it, which is easily correctable (and vice versa for the 5D Mark II). Details are pretty much retained all the way up to ISO 6400, which is pretty awesome in my opinion. I think with more aggressive noise processing you can certainly use the ISO 12800 and 25600 images, if nothing else, for web reproduction. For me I think the highest I'll be going is ISO 6400 to maintain print quality.
In the above crop I would focus more on the gray left side area and not worry about the sharpness here. It was likely an issue caused by misalignment when I set up the test shot, but again lets look at the gray area. The 5D Mark II does indeed seem to have a slight advantage in the noise department around ISO 800-3200. However, in contrast, I am impressed at how well the 1Ds Mark III is doing at ISO 3200. Results, in my opinion, that beg me to ask.... Why was ISO 6400 not included with the 1Ds Mark III? Hmmm.
Here's Devon. She's hosting karaoke and preparing her next track. She's only illuminated by a laptop screen and the ambient house lights which are VERY dim. Let's take a closer look at an unprocessed crop of an ISO 6400 image from the 5D Mark II.
Whoa Nelly! This is the image straight from the camera's belly. An unprocessed, unsharpened, no noise reduction raw file. Now you would never do that because raw files need some sort of tinkering (which is really half the fun of it anyways) to get an exceptable image. Let's do that.
Ah. There we go. Processed in ACR 5, with a little chroma and luminance, a hair of sharpening, eye of newt, and toe of frog and we have an extremely usable image. In fact I could probably go in with Noise Ninja or even just Photoshop itself to clean things up more.
Possibly the most interesting and yet controversial features on the new Canon 5D Mark II is the ability to record full resolution 1080p movies. It's sparked quite a buzz through out the industry. Many photographers apparently don't like the idea of this new breed of combo cameras. However, if you are an independent filmmaker you are likely drooling out of your ears with ideas and possibilities.
If you would like to view more images shot with the 5D Mark II that were not in this review click this link.
These are interesting times for photographers. It wasn't too long ago that cameras of this quality would cost your your soul and your first born. Now it seems the big three camera manufactures are hip to the 20+ megapixel game and I imagine that this is the current sweet spot for digital SLRs in terms of resolution. How does the 5D Mark II fair? I'd say pretty well, especially within Canon's current body line up.
© Phil Holland 2008