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Review of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-105mm F/4.0 IS Lens

Written by Ron Risman
December, 2008

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Ergonomics and Layout

Despite the fact that I had used the Canon EOS 5D Mark II for a few minutes in October, I was still somewhat surprised at how light and well-balanced the camera felt after taking it out of the box and attaching the included 24-105mm F/4.0 lens. A few years back my camera of choice was the Canon EOS 10D which had almost identical dimensions to the EOS 5D Mark II, so that is most likely the reason it felt comfortable to me. More recently I have been shooting with a Canon EOS Rebel XT and XTi so I was still expecting to feel the weight difference - and while the camera is larger and heavier the extra weight just didn't stand out to me. Another reason I think the camera doesn't feel its weight is because of how well balanced it feels with the 24-105mm IS lens. Smaller and lighter bodies are great until you add a quality lens, then they start to feel a bit too front heavy.

Camera Comparison (Size & Weight)
Canon EOS Rebel XTi3.7" H x 5.0" W x 2.6" D16.8 oz.
Canon EOS 30D3.9" H x 5.6" W x 2.9" D 21.0 oz.
Canon EOS 10D4.2" H x 5.9" W x 3.0" D27.9 oz
Canon EOS 5D Mark II4.4" H x 6.0" x 2.9" D28.6 oz.

The EOS 5D Mark II offers a large and comfortable right-handed grip, your thumb rests comfortably on the back of the camera in a space perfectly mapped out for it. Virtually all important camera settings can be adjusted using your right hand - your index finger able to select metering & white balance, auto focus and motor drive, and ISO and exposure settings, and the adjustments being made to each either using the jog (quick control) dial or the main dial on top. All settings are visible in the viewfinder as well as on the LCD display (when activated).

The back of the camera features a familiar Canon layout with a row of vertical buttons to the left of the 3.0" LCD and a jog dial to the right of the screen. The switch-style power button rests below the jog dial, while a joystick is located above it. The joystick can be used to navigate settings of the camera while viewing them on the large rear mounted LCD or can be used to more quickly select focus points. I found that the position of the joystick a bit awkward to use when looking through the viewfinder, though it is only used in camera mode to change the focus point location or to turn on the LCD display to display settings.

The left side of the camera sports all the necessary terminal jacks protected by two firm rubber covers. There is a PC terminal, remote control terminal, external microphone input, audio/video out, USB 2.0 port, and HDMI out. The right side of the camera features a sliding door that protects the Compactflash card slot.

The top LCD display provides a top-down view of all your current settings and has an optional backlight that can be activated when shooting in darker environments. The 3.0" LCD display on the back of the camera can also be used to view and change important camera settings - great for tripod use.

New 3.0" Live View LCD with 920,000 pixels

The EOS 5D Mark II now incorporates an LCD display with VGA resolution, 4x sharper than on previous models that used a 230k pixel display. The larger 3.0" display makes it easier to see the menu options, while the increased resolution makes the menu fonts more readable and the overall image sharper, especially when zooming in on details during playback or when using the live view zoom feature to pre-focus your shot. Canon has also added a new auto adjust feature that will make sure the LCD is never too bright or too dark for your viewing conditions. This mode can be shut off, though I found that it works very well. There's nothing worse than being blinded by an overly bright screen when shooting long exposures in the dark.

Live View is now pretty much standard on all newly introduced DSLR's, but the EOS 5D Mark II becomes just the second full-frame DSLR to offer Live View in the Canon line. Live View is the ability to view the live scene on the rear LCD instead of having to look through the viewfinder. Live View has always been a common feature in point & shoot cameras, but due to the complexity of the reflex mirror design found in DSLR's it has only become available on digital SLR's in the past couple of years. While there is no substitute for looking through the viewfinder when it comes to critical focus, the LCD does provide the ability to preview a simulated view of the way the camera will actually capture the scene - taking into account the camera's shutter speed, aperture value, exposure override, and white balance settings. Live View also makes tripod shooting easier, as you can easily frame your shot without having to put your eye into the viewfinder.

In order for the camera to provide a live view image it must flip up the mirror that normally directs the image up to the viewfinder, identical to what happens when the shutter button is pressed. When you activate the live view mode, the mirror pivots up to allow the image to pass directly to the image sensor and then through to the LCD screen.

There are two Live View modes on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, "Stills Only" or "Stills + Movie." When either of these categories are selected you will have the option of setting the LCD to "Stills Display," which displays the scene as it seen by the lens before the adjusting for aperture, shutter, ISO, etc) or to "Exposure Simulation" mode, which displays the actual adjusted scene as it would look captured. This mode takes into account the adjusted settings of the camera and thus is a great way to view the effects of an any particular aperture/shutter/ISO/White Balance combination. In this mode, if the scene looks to bright or too dark, you'll know before you take the picture. The same holds true for incorrect white balance settings.

The "Exposure Simulation" mode should not be used in situations where the adjusted 'simulated' view would be too dark to view your subject. For example, when shooting a long exposure at night or a night scene where you plan to use a flash, the simulated view would most likely be too dark to allowing framing your subject since the simulated view would not be able to account for the duration of the set shutter speed or the brightness that the flash would add when you take the picture. In these cases, using the standard through-the-lens (TTL) viewfinder, makes the most sense or using the "Stills Display" mode if you prefer to use "Live View."

Viewfinder with 98% coverage

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II also an improved viewfinder which provides 98% viewfinder coverage, a 33.3° field of view, and a 21mm eyepoint (or eye relief). The 21mm eyepoint is a rating to let you know how far (in millimeters) away your eye can be from the viewfinder while still being able to see the entire viewfinder frame. If you were glasses you'll find that the improved eyepoint on the 5D Mark II should make it easier to see the viewfinder.

Auto focus Performance

If the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is weak in any area it would most likely be in the auto focus department, at least compared to current models from Nikon, Sony, and even Canon itself. The EOS 5D Mark II retains the same 9-point AF system that the original 5D used, along with 6 invisible focus-assist points. The middle AF point is a cross-type sensor which provides the most reliable focus point, whereas the outer focus points are not. In comparison, the new Canon EOS 50D, offers a 9-point AF system but all 9 points are cross-type, which provides more reliable focusing in tougher situations on those outer AF points.

Since my previous experience with DSLR's was with the EOS Rebel XT and XTi I am not a good barometer as to how good or bad the focus system is compared to Nikon's or the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III or even the newer Canon EOS 50D. I will say that I have not been in any situation so far where the Canon EOS 5D Mark II has let me down with regard to focus. I do keep the focus set to the center point virtually all of the time, as I rarely have a need to change it. In testing, I did find that the outer focus points had a problem finding focus when aimed at a dark subject with no contrast - but this is true of virtually all focus systems I have used in the past.

Another issue that can plague all digital SLR's is a problem where the lens and/or body could have a back or front focus problem. This is a condition where the actual focus area is slightly in-front-of or behind the area you pointed the camera at. The Canon EOS 5D Mark II is one of just a few new models that offer an auto focus micro adjustment, which allows users to fine tune Canon lenses for either back or front focus. The camera will then remember these settings for up to 20 different lenses. There is also an option for adjusting all lenses by an equal amount, which essentially helps to adjust for a camera body that might be causing the misaligned focus point.

Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction

Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction is a fancy name for vignetting. Vignetting happens will virtually all lenses, but can be more dramatic with camera's that have a full-frame sensor since the sensor makes use of the entire lens and not a cropped area of it. Vignetting is seen in the corners of an image, where the brightness levels are lower than in the center of the frame. The amount of vignetting will depend on the lens, focal length, and aperture settings. The Canon EOS 5D Mark II features integrated software to compensate for this effect on JPEG images. RAW images can be corrected by using Canon's Digital Photo Professional software included with the camera. The 5D Mark II comes pre-loaded with correction date for 26 Canon lenses and up to 40 lenses can be registered using the Canon's EOS utility software, also included. In total, Canon has available correction data for 82 of their lenses. As a side note, many photographers, especially those that shoot portraits and weddings, often like to add a soft vignette to their photo's to help draw the eye in to the subject.

What! No Integrated Flash?

Like other Canon professionally priced models, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II does not have an integrated flash. When I asked Canon as to why, I was told that it was mainly an issue of weatherproofing and that a pop-up flash could become an area where moisture could get into the body of the camera. Whatever the reasons are I imagine that it would have been possible to add one while still retaining integrity of the weather proofing. I know that most professional photographers could care less about a built-in flash, but I personally find it useful for fill flash when shooting outdoors. The reality is, I don't always walk around with the 550EX Speedlite attached nor do I want too. Despite the lack of an integrated flash, the camera does offer exceptional low-light ability which will make it a breeze to get great natural light photo's even in very dim lighting.

AS you would expect, the 5D Mark II offers full compatibility with Canon Speedlites and offers a flash sync speed of 1/200 and full TTL flash up to 1/8000 when using a compatible EX-series Speedlite set to high speed sync.

Page 1 (Intro) Page 2 (High ISO) Page 3 (ISO Test Images) Page 4 (Sensor)
Page 5 (Features) Page 6 (HD Video) Page 7 (Conclusion) Page 8 (Sample Gallery)

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