For some photographers, a sensor the same size as a frame of 35mm film (24mm by 36mm) -- often referred to as full frame -- is the Holy Grail of digital SLR technology. It promises the familiar shooting experience in viewfinder size, in lens angle of view, and in certain aspects of a picture's look. Until now, this object of lust was available only at great expense (£4,000 or more) or in cameras with significant design and performance quirks. But Canon's EOS 5D changes that, combining a 12.8-megapixel, 23.9mm-by-35.8mm CMOS sensor with a competent midsize SLR body for less than half the price of the only full-frame alternative available at this writing, also a Canon, the EOS-1Ds Mark II.
The 5D's design and performance are only fair, and its feature set is unexceptional for the price. But its high-resolution images offer superb detail, rich tonality and incredibly low noise. If image quality is your paramount concern, or you're one of those full-frame nuts -- er, aficionados -- then buy this camera, and you've just saved £2,000.
The Canon EOS 5D has a reasonably handsome version of the Canon family look, with fairly clean styling and a curvy top cover reminiscent of its higher-end EOS 1-series stablemates. The body, which is finished in matte black, is a combination of magnesium alloy and polycarbonate with a rubberised grip. It feels solid and durable, but it's a definite step down from the pro-level build quality and weather resistance you'll find in other digital SLR cameras priced at more than £1,500. We found the camera comfortable to hold and use for long periods, and it weighs a moderate 895g with battery and media installed -- a welcome contrast to those pro-level behemoths.
This camera's control layout and overall user interface are nearly identical to those of Canon's slightly smaller EOS 20D. Most functions are controlled with one of two command wheels (one at your forefinger, one at your thumb) in conjunction with a push-button on the camera body. For example, if you press the ISO/Drive Mode button, you can then change the ISO setting by spinning the thumbwheel or change the drive mode by spinning the forefinger wheel. All the buttons and wheels are within easy reach, and their operating logic is straightforward.