Canon EOS 5D Mark II review

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the successor to the very popular full-frame 5D, was a long time coming, arriving on the scene about three years after its predecessor, the first (relatively) affordable full-frame DSLR, the 5D. This second iteration brings the EOS line up to date using the 5D as its base, adding new and enhanced features, a little trickle down from the 1Ds Mark III and a couple of additions borrowed from the 50D. A great mixture of features, technology and performance, the 5D Mark II has already made its mark on the photo community.

Features

In addition to a new 21 megapixel CMOS sensor (similar to the one used in the 1Ds Mark III), the 5D Mark II is equipped with a high-resolution 3-inch LCD, a new viewfinder, a DIGIC IV processor, increased ISO to 25,600, and HD video capabilities for recording up to 12 minutes of HD at a clip. The camera has an updated version Canon’s integrated cleaning system, featuring a Fluorine coating on the low pass filter to help repel dust. The cleaning system can also be activated manually via the camera’s menu.

Other notable features include Peripheral Illumination correction, which helps correct vignetting (the camera can store the data of up to 40 Canon lenses), Highlight Tone Priority and interchangeable focusing screens.

The list of additions and improvements is long and impressive but to get a better feel for what the camera does and how it performs, read on.

  • 21 megapixel CMOS sensor (very similar to the sensor in the EOS-1Ds Mark III)
  • Sensor dust reduction by vibration of filter
  • ISO 100 – 6400 calibrated range, ISO 50 – 25600 expansion (1Ds Mark III & 5D max ISO 3200)
  • Auto ISO (100 – 3200) in all modes except manual
  • 3.9 frames per second continuous shooting
  • DIGIC 4 processor, new menus/interface as per the EOS 50D
  • Image processing features:
    • Highlight tone priority
    • Auto lighting optimizer (4 levels)
    • High ISO noise reduction (4 levels)
    • Lens peripheral illumination correction (vignetting correction)
  • RAW and SRAW1 (10 MP) / SRAW2 (5 MP)
  • RAW / JPEG selection made separately
  • Permanent display of ISO on both top plate and viewfinder displays
  • AF micro-adjustment (up to 20 lenses individually)
  • Three custom modes on command dial, Creative Auto mode
  • Image copyright metadata support
  • 98% coverage viewfinder (0.71x magnification)
  • 3.0″ 920,000 dot LCD monitor with ‘Clear View’ cover / coatings, 170° viewing angle
  • Automatic LCD brightness adjustment (ambient light sensor)

Build and Design

Physically, the 5D Mark II is pretty much a clone of its predecessor in terms of design, weight and size. The control layout is almost exactly the same, both weigh about 1.8 pounds (body only without battery) and the 5D Mark II measures only a fraction of an inch larger. The biggest external difference is the larger, higher resolution LCD-a 3.0 inch monitor (vs. the 5D’s 2.75 inch LCD) with about four times the resolution of its predecessor and a wider viewing angle. A new viewfinder, which offers 98% coverage, is also a welcome addition. Other changes include two more Custom settings options on the mode dial, bringing the total to three custom modes, and the inclusion of a Creative Auto mode-a feature borrowed from the 50D. The CA model is, essentially, designed for novice DSLR users or, according to Canon, experienced photographers who want a quick and easy method of adjusting certain settings. Mostly, though, it’s for people who don’t fully understand manual exposure or the relationship between aperture and depth-of-field. One of the CA choices, for example, moving a slider bar to “blur the background” (i.e. limit depth-of-field). It’s one of those take it or leave it features that most encountered photographers will probably ignore.

Upon close inspection, you’ll also notice the add-on of an IrPort remote sensor so you can use one of Canon’s optional remotes. And, of course, since the 5D Mark II is capable of recording HD video, there are connections for an external microphone and for HDMI output.
While the 5D Mark II doesn’t have a built-in flash, among Canon’s Speedlites will fit neatly into the camera’s hotshoe. And if you’re a macro fanatic, be sure to check out Canon’s Macro Ring Lite or Macro Twin Lite flashes. Of course, the full complement of Canon’s EF Lenses is available for the camera as well.

You’ll need a high speed, high capacity CompactFlash card to make the most of this camera and because the 5D Mark II supports UDMA CF cards for increased capacity burst capture (as well as standard CF type 1 and II cards), I tested the camera with a 16GB Lexar UDMA cards and a SanDisk 16GB Extreme IV card. Both cards performed well and having the higher capacity was extremely useful since the 5D Mark II’s files are about twice as large as the 5D’s. For video, keep in mind that about 12 minutes of HD video requires about 4GB of space.
A new battery pack provides between 750-850 shots per charge but that’s not the only benefit of the new battery. You can also track several of the battery’s data points including the remaining number of shots. A fresh battery grip can be available and the camera is compatible with Canon’s WFT-E4A Wireless File Transmitter so that you can transfer images in a number of different ways including wirelessly and directly to USB drives.

Build quality is excellent and, best of all, the 5D Mark II-like the 5D-opens up the world of full-frame DSLRs to those of with smaller hands, less than Hulk Hogan upper body strength and modest bank accounts, and offers the opportunity to shoot comfortably with a full-frame camera. Needless to say, you can always outsize your strength by coupling the 5D Mark II with a huge telephoto lens but that’s where a sturdy tripod comes into play. Bottom line: the 5D Mark II is solidly built, has enough heft to counterbalance long lenses and is equipped with a well-designed grip for stable handholds.

Performance

Thanks to the implementation of Canon’s new DIGIC IV processor, the 5D Mark II has made some gains over the 5D. Burst mode is now at about 3.8 frames per second, versus the 5D’s 3fps, and won’t win the 5D Mark II any awards but given that the new model is pushing almost twice as many pixels, it’s a pretty good improvement. (Sony’s A900 is even more impressive but uses dual processors to push the pixels from its 24-megapixel sensor.).

A larger buffer allows the camera to shoot up to about 13 consecutive RAW files (you can add a few more when using a UDMA card). Use sRAW1 or 2, which are smaller-sized RAW files (10 megapixels and 5.2 megapixels, respectively), new for the 5D Mark II, to pick up some speed and extra shots.

Shutter lag and autofocus times are good, although I found that the 5D Mark II occasionally had to hunt for focus in very low light. I have used the 5D Mark II to shoot fashion shows but probably wouldn’t take it to an air show, sporting event or car race since the autofocus and burst rate may not be up to the challenge. But wedding photographers and photojournalists will be more than happy with its performance.

Check Out: Best Canon EOS 5D Mark II Lenses

Verdict

When the original 5D was introduced, Canon made it possible for photographers with relatively modest budgets to purchase a full-frame DSLR. Now, for about the same price, photographers can easily put their hands on a full-frame, high-resolution camera with HD video.

As appealing as the camera’s HD video feature is (especially for wedding photographers, photojournalists, and underwater shooters), the 5D Mark II is, first and foremost, a digital still camera. Excellent image quality and a full feature set are the camera’s two biggest selling points; HD video is the icing on the cake. Whether you’re stepping up from another Canon DSLR or want a back-up for a higher Canon model, the 5D Mark II is certain to appeal to the most discerning photographer-even those who will never (or almost never) utilize the video feature.

Check Canon EOS 5D Mark II Price

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