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Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review

A Ground-breaking DSLR With Outstanding 21.1mp Image Quality and HD Video

Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review - May 2009

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Overview

I have had this camera for a few weeks now and used it in all manner of situations:

  • Weddings
  • Moto-X in the wet
  • Macro/nature (also in the wet at times)
  • check
    At night and generally messing about

I thought it was time to write a quick user review.

Having owned many of the Canon EOS range including the EOS 5 (1990’s), 10D, 20D, 5D Mark I, 1D Mark II and more recently, the 1D Mark III, I have to say this camera does the EOS heritage proud.

I have used the original 5D for countless weddings over the past 4 years. I was concerned that Canon may have messed with the sensor enough to lose that 5D "magic". The "Je ne sais quoi" that you will know about if you have ever owned one.

Introduction

The first thing I tried were a few shots using my favourite settings whilst incorporating flash and low, natural light shooting. I wasn’t disappointed on either count.

Low light photography with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is amazing. After reading stories on the web about poor focussing in low light, I honestly couldn’t see what the problem was. The camera functioned well and I can’t say I noticed any major drawbacks in this area.

In fact, I had read so many things against the Mark II that I was wondering if it was truly a bad upgrade or just BS from other manufacturer "camps". For example, this shot was taken with bounced flash but the focussing was done in fairly dark conditions. It is absolutely pin sharp…no worries.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review Fig 1

Needless to say I didn’t listen to the negativity and bagged it at a bargain price from www.misco.co.uk who promised next day delivery and kept their word.

Focussing Speed

To me, sharp pictures are critical and I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to detail. I wanted to really test the focussing speed and accuracy with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Shot 1

Weddings happen quickly and for this shot I had to be quick. Using the central focussing point on "one shot" auto focussing, I lifted my camera quickly, aimed the central point on the ring and fired a few shots. All of them were spot on!

Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review Fig 2

Full Image

100% crop of ring…

Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review Fig 3

100% Crop

Shot 2

For this next shot which was taken during our heavily overcast nature course, someone mentioned "bumble bee". I spun around, focussed using the same methods above and had just a split second to focus and shoot as the bee flew away.

I was a fair distance away shooting at:

  • ISO 800
  • 800th/sec
  • F6.3
  • check
    With a 70-200mm lens at 200mm

I only took one shot, this was it.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review Fig.4

Full Image

Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review Fig.5

100% Crop

Haha! Not the best nature shot in the world but having 21 mega-pixels to play with, when zoomed right in at 100%, you can see the camera nailed the focussing perfectly. Happy days so I know the focussing is accurate and no need for any micro adjustments so far.

Finally, I checked the AI Servo focussing on numerous occasions during my recent Enduro bike training week in Wales. Every shot in a whole series came out pin sharp on exactly the point I was aiming at. This happened to be a fast moving target…

Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review Fig.6

Full Image

Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review Fig.7

100% Crop

Lastly, macro. A tough nut to crack and focussing is critical. Especially with the slow focussing Sigma 105mm but once again, during our nature course I was pleasantly surprised at the accuracy. I walked away with a good percentage of sharp keepers and the colours are amazing…

Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review Fig.8

ISO

I wasn't expecting great things from the "super high" ISO's namely 12,800 and 25,600 and wasn't bothered either way, ISO 12,800 could be useable at a pinch and with some “aftercare” to remove noise, but 25,600 is not good. Although I have yet to print any images in this range so I may be wrong!

However, ISO 3200, 4000, 5000 and 6400 are all highly useable and I know these will come in particularly handy at weddings. I have not known many churches darker than what would require a higher ISO than 3200 let alone 6400 and I have shot weddings in a dark cave in Spain with very low light and no flash.

Knowing that 6400 is highly useable is enough for me.

Video

In a word…stunning!

I use a professional video camera namely the Sony PMW EX1 EXCAM for much of the video work I do and the quality from that is absolutely superb. Having been spoilt with this CineAlta "Handycam" I was curious to see what the quality of footage would be like from the Canon EOS 5D Mark II…Wow!

Whether shooting in daylight, late evening dusk or night, the quality is outstanding. The Sony PMW EX-1 uses 3 x 1/2" CMOS sensors, so the 35mm, full frame CMOS sensor on the 5D Mark II was always going to produce high quality video.

Here are a few quick clips that I recently took in Weymouth (I feel I could have rendered slightly better though and make sure you press the HD button after pressing play). Update 2018: Only 720p I'm afraid.

To achieve shallow depth of field during daylight hours can be a pain as the auto aperture sets to about F5.6 most of the time but Canon have now released a firmware update that gives you full manual control of aperture, shutter and ISO. You can get this update here.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a professional video camera though because it has some serious limitations. Sound can be improved by adding an external microphone but you have no control over some things that you need for more professional shooting such as frame rate, slower shutter speeds, gamma etc but all in all it does a mighty fine job for many things.

I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark II for family videos, my trip to Africa and a lot of stock footage which is where it will excel. I can’t even get that kind of shallow depth of field with a £5,000 professional video camera!

Ergonomics

One reason I sold the EOS 1D Mark III was that it was too heavy for prolonged use. I always used a battery grip on the original 5D but have yet to buy one for the 5D Mark II, and maybe I never will.

It is so light and sturdy and the battery lasts forever so I am not sure if I really need a grip, plus it is more inconspicuous without. The only thing I miss without a battery grip is the additional buttons that make it easier for me to shoot portrait orientation, other than that…

The menu system is a breeze and very similar to that of the 50D and 1D Mark III. Easy to navigate and well laid out. It "feels" solid with its new rubber mounting and like its predecessor, the lack of built in flash adds to its robustness (for me anyway).

If you are upgrading from the EOS 10D, 20D, 30D, 40D or 50D, you should feel right at home with the EOS 5D Mark II.

Extras

There are some handy new features in the Canon EOS 5D Mark II that I love and will find very handy.

C1, C2, C3

The three custom settings I know will be good for weddings. During my reccie visit for example, I can set the camera up in the brides house, church and reception venue (as long as the lighting stays the same) and set a custom setting for each place where I lock in all the camera settings that are good for that situation.

Then, on the day I know I just have to switch to the corresponding, preset mode and voila! I am good to go.

Screen

The bigger 3", 920,000 pixel rear LCD screen is a vast improvement not only for checking sharpness on images that have been taken but also for focussing using the live view in still or video mode. The ability to zoom in 5x or 10x means tack sharp focussing should be a breeze.

AF-ON

A handy little additional button placed on the rear of the camera near the exposure lock and focus point setting buttons which is operated by your thumb. As well as being used to accurately focus your subject during stills shooting, this can be also used for focussing video during live shooting (although you will see a fluctuation in exposure as the camera increases contrast for locking on focus).

Also, turn off the beep in the menu as this will also affect the sound recording.

Whilst on the subject of sound, you may want to turn off the Image Stabilisation on your lenses during filming as the noise is unbearable on the final output.

Viewfinder

Simple additions such as the ability to now see not only the ISO setting but also the remaining battery life through the viewfinder are very welcome indeed!

There are a number of other tweaks and additions that I will let you discover for yourself but for me, all of the above are a marked improvement over its predecessor.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Review - Gripes?

Well, I could go on about how the focussing seems slower than the 1D Mark III or that it only has 9 focus point but in all honesty, this is a different camera with a different set of objectives for photography. It’s like buying a family saloon car and wishing it was faster…buy a faster car!

Auto white balance still isn't perfect but a quick custom setting or using a speedy, one click adjustment in RAW processing soon sorts this out.

Weather sealing still doesn't match the 1 series but it isn't a one series camera! It is definitely an improvement over the 5D though…

Overall, I love this camera and am considering buying a second body. I just know that in a few years there will be even more impressive releases from all other brands but for now, this combination of incredible still image quality and high definition video suit me down to the ground.

Update 2018: We still recommend buying the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Try and get a good copy second hand from a reputable eBay seller. ​

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