Canon EOS 5D Mark II - Camera Review
In a blog post back in November I had written that I wasn’t all that interested in the 5D II and here I am four months later writing about my first impressions of the the camera. The main thing holding me back from getting the 5D II in November was the hope that Canon would have released a 1D Mark IV. This obviously has not happened and I needed a second camera for the summer assignments coming up. I also did not want to get the 5D II right after the release. I wanted to be sure that any early problems had been ironed out. I have now had the camera for about three weeks.
Before getting the 5D II and I had tested the 1D Mark III on a couple of occasions. The 1D III lost out in part because of the price point. A used 1D III costs about the same as a new 5D II. The ever-ongoing auto focus stigma also had me looking away from the 1D III. The day after I ordered the 5D II there was another recall notice for the 1D III.
When coming from the 5D, the 5D II feels familiar but just bit larger and studier than the original. I like the new finishing and the buttons are laid out with just a bit more thought although it is almost the same. I especially like where the ISO button is located. It just seems easier to get to. It feels good in the hands for sure. No creaky CF card door here (update - after two months I do now feel the creaky CF door. It is not that noticeably after I have added the grip). The main dial however has switched on me a few times, more so that I remember it with the original 5D. The LCD: no surprise here but it is really is much better and is a very useful improvement. The pictures look stunning on this display and it is much easier to judge AF, histogram etc. Browsing through menus is improved and it was a breeze to setup “my favorite” menu. I have yet to play with the C1, C2 and C3 custom settings. I shoot almost extensive on the M and AV settings.
The 5D II seems more proned for getting dust on the focusing screen. It’s easy to get off with a swab from Visible Dust but someone explain to me why the difference can be so significant. No deal breaker but slightly annoying. I have had a few dust spots on the sensor which the built in dust shaker/remover has taken care of but this camera seems to like dust every bit as much as the original. I do change lenses often so this of course does not help the matter.
AF seems better to me and is just a tad more consistent. Not a huge improvement and probably not a worthy match for the 1D series. As many before me have wished, having 1D focus in this body would be a fantastic but it is not so. Sport assignments over the summer will really show how it fares.
And now to the most important part, the photos. At 21.1 mega pixels this camera shows resolution unparalleled to most cameras out there and it’s clear to see as soon as you start editing your first files. As this is an unscientific review I will not get into 100% crops or ISO differences from 5D to 5D II. There are plenty of sites doing a good job at this. I can only tell you that I was going over some wedding portraits I took over the past weekend. I thought I had shot these at a much lower ISO. They were indeed taken at ISO 1000 and I thought they looked stunning.
I also shot a rail jam at ISO 12800 and was very impressed with the results.
I did a few soccer shots at an indoor arena and again shooting at 6400 ISO yielded very good/usable results in my opinion, certainly an improvement over the 5D.
Work flow: I was quite worried about the work flow issues prior to getting the camera. My 17” MacBook Pro, 2.5 Ghz, has 4 gigs of RAM, a 7200 rpm 200 gig hard drive and it has handled the transition much better that I had feared. Conversion of the RAW files may take about another second. I am bit impatient when it comes to this but the difference is only very slight. I import photos to iPhoto and then edit in CS4. I did upgrade my card reader to a Lexar firewire UDMA reader in order to get speedier transfer to the computer and this has proved to be a well worth investment. I went CF card shopping and have added one 4 GB UDMA card 300x, and two 8 GB 233x cards. Shooting a wedding on the weekend the cards were certainly needed. Make no mistake about it, the 5D II files are huge.
Video: I did not purchase the 5D II because of the HD video but it’s pretty cool. I have read complaints that you have very little control over the video and no AF. Auto focus certainly would have been nice but I actually enjoy the no fuss approach to this part of the camera. I have shot a few videos, mostly with my 16-35 and I have to say, I am quite pleased with the quality. The files are edited and compressed for web using iMovie.
Conclusion: So far I am very happy with this tool. Going into the 5D II my expectations were actually low. Before getting it I had spent some time with the 1D III so I thought I would miss the 10 fps., the rugged build, AF and more manageable file sizes. I was very happy with my 5D and was not sure that I would be that impressed with the 5D II files. I still like the fact that the 5D II is much more compact than a 1 series camera. If you shoot sports or need more support when shooting with larger lenses you can still put the grip on your 5D II. You cannot remove the grip from a 1D. Last but not least I am still in awe over the quality of the files coming out of the camera. The dynamic range is better, white balance seems to more spot on and I think my post processing time will be shorter in the future.
Update, April 30th 2009)
I have now added the BG-E6 grip to the 5D II. I have had grips for my 20D and 5D in the past so I knew that at some point I would add it to the 5D II also. I especially like to use the grip for shooting soccer with my 300 2.8L. I shoot it mounted on a mono pod and it works great for when shooting in the vertical position. The shot above is actually a good example of what happens without the grip. It is OK for a short period of time but it get awkward when shooting a full game of soccer. I also have a couple of sports assignments this summer where the grip is a must have.
(Update, October 4th 2009) I have now had the 5D II for about 7 months and can report back that the camera still works very well. I have shot several weddings over the summer and the advantages here have been numerous. Better auto focus and better files which are easier to work with in post would be the first things coming to mind. The larger file sizes are a challenge though and the external hard drives are filling up fast. The extra CF cards have come in handy as I can now shoot a full wedding without having to delete cards. Above you will see I mention a problem with dust on the focusing screen. I was driving me nuts so I can tell you that I have found a good solution to this problem in the form an "Artic Butterfly" from Visible Dust. I have shot several sporting event over the summer and the AF has not been a problem. The summer 2009 will mostly be remembered for a couple of great trips I took with the 5D II. Check out the link to my Travel Galleries at SmugMug and check out many 5D II shots.
(Update, July 12th 2010) The 5D II is still my main work horse for the majority of my shooting. Despite my earlier luke warm feelings towards the 1D Mark III, I have now added one to my camera bag. I wanted to write a short update on the focusing advantages with the 1D III. Above I mention that auto focus was fine with the 5D II. This statement still holds truth but it just cannot be compared to the 1D III. The 1D III is far superior and combined with the better AF with 10 fps. I definitely get more keepers with the 1D III when shooting sports or just about anything that moves fast.