Three years is a long time for any product to hang around, especially when the technology changes as rapidly as it does for digital cameras. Although the 's always had a big fan base, users have nonetheless been itching for more.
The successor that Canon has delivered -- the EOS 5D Mark II -- is, in many ways, a must-have upgrade, especially for the wedding-photography crowd, for whom the 5D is a workhorse. And, with many of the imaging components of the EOS- (including a later version of the image-processing engine, Digic 4) for a significantly lower price of around £2,200, it's certainly an attractive alternative. It's also priced fairly aggressively compared with the competition, despite its new 21-megapixel CMOS sensor and ground-breaking movie-capture capability.
The camera comes in two official configurations: the or a with the . Usually we're not fans of the lenses that ship as part of kits like this, but we ended up liking the 24-105mm much more than we expected and think it's a good match for anyone looking for a first lens to pair with the camera. As with all of the high-resolution models, however, it really makes a difference to go for the sharpest lenses in the arsenal.
Slightly heavier than its predecessor, the Mark II weighs just over 907g. Canon says it has beefed up the dust and weather sealing around the card cover and buttons, and improved rated shutter durability for up to 150,000 cycles.
The body itself is a steel chassis covered with magnesium alloy. While it's clearly solidly made, it nevertheless doesn't feel as tank-like as the Nikon D700. Like all of Canon's professional dSLRs, it's very comfortable to grip and shoot. The downside of the updated design is that it takes new accessories, including a new battery and new vertical grip.
Canon has reorganised the controls, as compared to the rest of its models. On the top sits the main dial, plus four dual-purpose buttons that access adjustments for the metering (huge 3.5 per cent spot, eight per cent partial, centre-weighted and evaluative) and white balance; autofocus (single, 'AI Servo' and 'AI Focus') and drive modes; and ISO sensitivity and flash compensation.
Unlike the , the top status LCD displays complete information. You can pull the current settings up on the rear LCD as well, but can't navigate them in the way that you can on the A900. We miss that, as well as the direct-control metering switch on the A900 and . The mode dial on the top left offers just the basics, as it should: bulb, PASM, auto, three custom-settings slots, and the 'Creative Auto' mode that debuted in the
The top rear right has buttons for initiating AF, exposure lock and focus-point selection. At the left rear are the 'Live View'/PictBridge, menu, picture styles, info, playback and delete buttons. Unfortunately, most of the buttons on the body feel identical to their neighbours. The Mark II uses the same joystick multicontroller and quick-control dial with 'set' button as Canon's other recent models. We still like them.
The viewfinder is slightly larger and brighter than the 5D's. While it offers broader coverage than the D700's -- 98 per cent versus 95 per cent -- it falls short of the 100 per cent provided by the A900 and by mid-range models like the . Come on Canon, eke out that last two per cent, please.
The most notable feature advantage that the Mark II has over its competitors is its movie-capture capability. Canon supports 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution at 30 frames per second, and true 1080p high definition, with a mono mic built in and stereo mic input, for clips of up to 12 minutes (on a 4GB card). All things considered, it's a good implementation. Although you can't autofocus, you can adjust exposure while shooting, the optical stabilisation works, and you can apply picture styles.
Many of the new capabilities are definitely aimed at professionals: a pair of low-resolution raw formats (10 and 5.2 megapixels), more interchangeable focusing-screen options, in-camera peripheral-illumination correction to compensate for brightness non-uniformity across the image, and a silent Live View mode. There's also face-detection AF, but it only works in Live View mode.
If you do HDR work, you'll probably find the Mark II's bracketing implementation a mixed bag. It's incredibly flexible compared with most -- in some respects. For instance, you can bracket in any increments of 1/3, 2/3, 1, 1 1/3, 1 2/3 or 2 full stops, centred around any EV up to +/- 4 stops. Unfortunately, it limits you to three exposures where other cameras limit you to five or seven.
The Mark II uses a new battery pack, the , which seems to last a reasonably long time: it's CIPA rated at between 750 and 850 shots, depending upon temperature. It also supports some fairly advanced reporting features. For instance, you can register the packs and then the camera will track the date last used, number of shots you've taken on it since the last recharge, and its ability to hold a charge, in addition to the remaining capacity on a charge status.
However, the camera's still missing some features offered by the competition. Although, as a rule, the on-camera flash is rarely used in this class, it really is good to have in an emergency. Canon also continues its tradition of not including an in-camera wireless flash controller. Some traditions deserve to die. And, if you want on-board image stabilisation, the A900's your only option.
The 5D always felt slightly sluggish to us, despite actual performance numbers indicating the contrary. This camera delivers the same measured performance, but feels much zippier. And, overall, it fares quite well compared to the D700. It wakes up and shoots in 0.3 seconds and takes between 0.3 and 0.6 seconds to shoot, depending upon lighting conditions. It typically runs at about 0.4 seconds from shot to shot.
For burst shooting, however, it's the slowest of all the new models, partly because of Nikon's significantly lower resolution and Sony's doubling up on the processors to maintain burst rates. Neither its 3.8fps burst-shooting speed (unlimited JPEG/14 raw) nor its centre-intensive nine-point AF system really lends itself to seriously fast, continuous shooting of moving subjects. If your shooting style requires numerous AF points beyond the middle quarter of the frame, this probably isn't the camera for you. But, for centre focusers, it works quite well.
We were extremely pleased with the quality of the photos delivered by the Mark II. As you'd expect from a model in its price class, it renders accurate and consistent exposures and colours. Given its resolution, its noise profile is surprisingly good: no noise or noise suppression artefacts until about ISO 1,600, at which point all you see is slight softening. Depending upon subject matter, photos can remain usable as high as ISO 12,800. Our only quibble is with the overly warm tungsten white balance. Even the video looks and sounds good, though the mic could use a wind filter.
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
After shooting with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II for about a month, we have to admit that we're sold. We want this camera. We love the Nikon D700 as well, but, for us, the 5D Mark II's higher resolution and surprisingly good video capture give it the upper hand.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet