Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s

5D Mark II (2009) vs. Chinon CM4s (1980) or "How to Waste 2 Days of Your Life"

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s

Just for fun I thought I would revert back to my childhood days and run a roll of Fujichrome Velvia through my first ever SLR, the "oh-so-basic" Chinon CM4s. This camera has just an aperture dial, a shutter speed dial, self timer, manual focussing and a shutter button.

That is it in terms of creative controls!

Exposure with the Chinon is made using three LED lights on the back of the camera…top red = overexposed, bottom red = underexposed and middle green = correct exposure…simples!

The idea was to compare my first ever SLR with my current DSLR. I wanted to compare the quality of images taken with both cameras using the same ISO and the same exposure and lens focal length.

All images below were taken at exactly the same time. That was mostly using exposure values taken from the Canon 5D Mark II and setting the Chinon to the same exposure. The first thing I noticed when shooting film for the first time in nearly 10 years was how conscious I was of the cost every time I pressed the shutter (as at 2016):

  • One roll of 36 exposure Velvia 50 = £6.79 ($10.50)
  • Processing and postage = £12 ($18.60)

Which gives a "cost per click" of £0.52p or $0.81 cents. Would you think more about each shot if each digital photo you took cost this much? This really hit home and made me realise how many photos I take in this digital age. Far too many.

Wedding Photography

For weddings in the 1990's, I used to shoot around 8 rolls of 36 exposure 35mm film and about 3-4 rolls of 120 film. That’s about 320 exposures in total for the entire day. The couple would end up with 40 in an album and that was it!

Nowadays it is fairly common for a wedding photographer to fire off well over 1000 images in a day. Some even reach the dizzy realms of 3-4 thousand images. Most shoot this many in the knowledge that they are bound to end up with a good proportion of acceptable "keepers".

By shooting film again, I realised how much longer I was taking to shoot a single image. I would think about what I was shooting, how the light would affect the shot, what the best settings would be and so on. To be honest, I do this with digital when I can, but for the most part, I enjoy the speed and instantaneous results that digital gives us. I am quite impatient to say the least but I know I need to slow down more in everything I do.

The funniest thing that happened was that on almost every shot taken with the Chinon CM4s, I would instantly look at the back of the camera only to notice a hard, black plastic casing where the LCD screen "should" be!

Focussing was fun as I actually enjoy manual focussing when I have time. When I am shooting video for example, I shoot manual focus 99% of the time so I feel quite adept at this.

So Let's Have a Look at Some Photos

I must admit, I didn't look so much for interesting subjects. I just wanted to find situations that differed in each shot to make a wide range of comparisons. Plus I wanted to make the most of the nice weather break we were having.

There are about 15 shots that I haven't included as I made a lot of schoolboy errors. Errors such as forgetting that I had changed the settings on the 5D Mark II in between shoots. Also, I foolishly used the 5D Mark II with a polariser filter for some shots. This reduced the light giving a slower shutter speed. When I used these same settings on the Chinon, they were wildly overexposed…doh!

It proved to me the importance of checking your camera and always being aware of what settings you have. The Canon was set to ISO 50, Neutral picture style and RAW for all shots below. Another thing I noticed which is hugely relevant was that the quality of the 5D Mark II files when viewed up close was so much better than the slide film shot with the Chinon and processed at a lab.

I am not sure if this was due to the processing technique, the conversion to JPEG or just the poor quality of the camera. However, the difference was massive. As for the way each camera dealt with the lighting…

Image 1 - Subject in shade with bright sky behind - 60th/sec, f6.3, 28mm Tokina lens and 24-70mm Canon lens @28mm
Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 1

Chinon CM4s                                                                                Canon 5D Mark II                                        

The shot on the left is the Chinon with the Canon on the right. There isn’t an amazing amount of difference overall but the colours are warmer and more pleasing on the Canon. Neither camera dealt with the bright clouds in the background or highlights in the face very well.

Image 2 - Lighting from behind camera with blue sky - 200th/sec, f8, 28mm Tokina lens and 24-70mm Canon lens @28mm
Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 2

Chinon CM4s

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 3

Canon 5D Mark II

The left image is the Chinon and you can see immediately how much more saturated the sky is. These were taken with no filters on. There is more tonal range in the Canon image to the right and the Chinon has produced a clearly higher contrast (and a slight vignette).

Sharpness and depth of field was fairly similar.

Image 3 - Natural light, wide aperture - 60th/sec, f2.8, 50mm lens (Please excuse the bird mess on the window ; )
Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 4

Chinon CM4s

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 5

Canon 5D Mark II

Again, the Canon image on the right has a much wider tonal range. It has also dealt with the bright areas well whereas the Chinon has given a much higher contrast image. I also missed the focus on the Chinon. This reminds me how tough it is to hand hold a shot with a wide aperture and manually focus to get a sharp image. That is the beauty of instant, digital results. Miss it and you can try again.

Image 4 - Bright sun, blue skies - 250th/sec, f8, 28mm Tokina lens and 24-70mm Canon lens @28mm
Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 6

Chinon CM4s

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 7

Canon 5D Mark II

I was shocked when I saw this image from Chinon. It was taken with an old Tokina (Pentax K Mount) 28mm f2.8 lens and I couldn’t believe how well the Chinon had done. The image was clear, sharp with excellent detail and depth of field front to back. I much preferred the colours from the Velvia film. I may well even try to upload this as stock to see if anyone accepts it, although I fear the quality of the JPEG may let it down.

Image 5 - Shade - 60th/sec, f4, 28mm Tokina lens and 24-70mm Canon lens @28mm
Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 8

Chinon CM4s

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 9

Canon 5D Mark II

Again, the Chinon produced a higher contrast image (left). I was also quite impressed with the edge to edge sharpness of the Tokina lens. Although the quality deteriorated in the corners a little and there is visible vignetting for some strange reason.

Image 6 - Landscape, early evening - 125th/sec, f9, 28mm Tokina lens, 24-70mm Canon lens @ 28mm
Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 10

Chinon CM4s

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 11

Canon 5D Mark II

Looking at the Canon image (right) close up, I realise why I love this camera so much. The detail throughout the entire image is exceptional and the dynamic range is spot on. The image is pin sharp from edge to edge and from the ripples of water at the front right through to the hills in the distance.

However, the Chinon has also produced a nice image with excellent depth of field and sharpness. It is quite contrasty again but I like the "richness" of it, especially in the water reflections. There is slight vignetting again too which to me looks quite good.

The next image is a 100% crop to show you the difference in quality. You can clearly see the grain in the Chinon image on the top and there are some overly bright highlights but overall, not as bad as I thought it would be.

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 12

Chinon CM4s

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 13

Canon 5D Mark II

Image 7 - Harsh natural light - 500th/sec, f4.5, 50mm Chinon lens, 50mm Canon lens
Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 14

Chinon CM4s

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 15

Canon 5D Mark II

No doubt about it, the Canon has excelled here and again, the Chinon has produced a high contrast image with blown highlights. Maybe the Chinon results would have been different if I had used the in camera meter as opposed to the Canon's metering. However, for the sake of this test, I kept the exposures consistent. The same as if I had used an external light meter.

The problems I found in the past (1980's) were how do you deal with situations like this when you have no instant feedback?

  • Bracketing?
  • Filters?
  • Reflectors?
  • Light meters?

You only knew if you had nailed it a week or two later when you got the film back. Then you could try again which is one reason I built my own black and white darkroom. I impatiently wanted results THAT DAY!

I hope you are seeing just how lucky you are to be "into" photography in the digital age ; )

Image 8 - Night exposure, tripod - 20 Seconds, f8, 50mm Chinon lens, 50mm Canon lens
Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 16

Chinon CM4s

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 17

Canon 5D Mark II

The Canon image at 100% is . Incredibly sharp, with great dynamic range and beautiful colours. The Chinon is awful…way too contrasty!

…nuff said!

Image 9 - Studio shot - 60th/sec, f10, 50mm Chinon lens, 50mm Canon
Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 18

Chinon CM4s

Canon 5D Mark II vs Chinon CM4s Shot 19

Canon 5D Mark II

Even though I used the same settings and the same trigger for the studio lights, it is clear that the "intelligence" on the Canon has clearly shone through here. Not being able to see the results from the Chinon immediately highlighted the problems and disappointments I had as a child trying to understand photography and lighting!

Light/flash meter needed for film/studio photography…


I loved doing this altogether pointless test. For one it got me out of the office and actually taking photos for fun for a change. I loved having the time to think about what I was doing. Also, I loved having that "long forgotten" feeling of anticipation as I waited for the photos to arrive through the post.

I guess the best thing I got out of this was "closure"!

Closure and a long awaited reason (excuse) for taking so many poor photos as a child! If I got one good shot out of 36 exposures I was happy. I also learned from each shot and moved on back then but I never gave up despite the endless disappointments.

I must have spent 100's of £'s in my teens only to throw most of my work in a big box marked "crap". However, I finally realised that it wasn’t just me…it WAS the kit a lot of the time. Plus the fact that I was born 30 years too early ; )

For You

If you are just getting into photography, I hope you find this article of some use. At the very least I hope it motivates you and makes you realise that we live in an exciting time for imaging and that taking great photos takes a lot of time, practice and determination.

Simply buying an expensive camera will NOT make you a good photographer. Understanding light, techniques, timing, composition, your kit and how it works all go a long way to getting more "keepers".

You can buy old film SLR's dirt cheap on eBay these days so why not get one and give this a go yourself. Being accountable when taking into account the cost of each shot will slow you down. It will really make you think about each photo you take, I guarantee it. Your photography can only improve.

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