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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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New High-Definition Video Recording

Once camera manufacturer's figured out how to achieve live view on a digital SLR, it wasn't long before video recording would become a standard feature, as it has with point & shoot camera's. As of this writing, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is one of only two digital SLR's with video recording (the other being the Nikon D90), and the only one that can capture in FULL 1080p HD resolution. In addition the the small built-in microphone, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II also features a 3.5mm audio input, allowing the use of external microphones or mixers for higher quality productions.

Video quality recorded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is nothing short of beautiful. Details are sharp, images are smooth, low light recording is amazing, and you can actually achieve shallow focus (depth-of-field) that has never been possible in a video camera at anywhere near this price range. Despite the extremely high video quality the usefulness of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II as an everyday camcorder and as a professional video camera is very limiting. For everyday 'consumer' video, the EOS 5D Mark II falls flat when it comes to continuous auto focus (there is none in video mode, although you can hold down the AF-ON button when in Live or Live "L" mode and the camera will auto focus) ergonomics, and to a lesser-degree, length of recording per clip (12 minutes in HD mode). Yes, you can pause the camera at 12 minutes, then start recording again, but for long events using the 5D Mark II would prove problematic. As a professional camcorder, the 5D Mark II also presents quite a few challenges. While the lack of auto focus isn't one of them, the lack of a good manual focus and smooth zoom is. Even when pre-planning your shot the zoom ring on 35mm camera lenses just don't provide smooth zooming capabilities. Adjusting focus while recording is also a problem since the LCD, even at 3.0", is still too small to judge focus properly for distant subjects or objects. Prior to shooting, the camera allows you to zoom the LCD image 5x or 10x in order to set precise focus, but during recording the zoom feature is unavailable. If it's possible I hope that Canon adds this ability to magnify the viewfinder during recording in a future firmware update.

Despite the drawbacks mentioned, the video capability of the EOS 5D Mark II should not be undersold, as it offers unparalleled video performance for those who's shooting style or shooting requirements match the abilities of the camera. For example, if you have an interest in creating stock video clips, where the camera will sit on a tripod with the focal length fixed during shooting, you'll fall in love with the 5D Mark II. I happen to think the 5D Mark II is ideal for those who would like to get into stock videography, as most stock 'footage' is limited to 10 to 30 seconds. For creating documentaries, demonstrations, video montages, or any controlled video production, you'll find that it isn't too difficult working with and around the limitations of the camera. Personally, I found that shooting video with the 5D Mark II has made me a better videographer. No senseless zooming or wild panning from left to right to left, etc. Most camcorder owners, including myself, tend to record too much of nothing, and then make it painful to watch because of handheld wobble and camera shake as well as overuse of the zoom feature. If you think camera wobble is bothersome on a regular TV, just wait until you watch it on a 50" or larger HDTV. Remember, bigger screens magnify everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Shooting with the 5D Mark II (almost) forces you to use a tripod and to think about how you're going to shoot the upcoming scene. It forces you to pre-focus and to plan out you start and end points. In the end, you'll be able to thank the camera for forcing some boundaries and control upon you when shooting.

When shooting in video mode the 5D Mark II automatically selects ISO, Shutter speed, aperture, and exposure metering is automatically set to "evaluative." Users can tweak the look of their videos with control over Picture Styles, White Balance, AE Lock, Exposure Compensation, Peripheral Illumination Correction, Auto Lighting Optimizer, and Highlight Tone Priority.

I should end this video segment by mentioning some of the specifications and details of the video mode. The Canon EOS 5D Mark II can record video in either 1920x1080 resolution at 30fps or 640x480 at 30fps. When the purpose of the video is mainly just to post online for sharing, shooting at 640x480 is fine, for most anything else, I would recommend sticking with full 1080p resolution. Each scene can be as long as 4GB in length, which at 640x480 equates to about 29 minutes of video or 12 minutes in HD. When shooting video with the EOS 5D Mark II the camera automatically selects the aperture, shutter, and ISO speeds. You can control exposure compensation while recording using the rear dial of the camera. You have a range of +/- 2 stops of exposure which should cover most shooting situations. The camera features a 3.5mm line-in in which you can connect external microphones. I've tested the camera with an Azden SMG-X boom microphone and the Azden wireless microphone and both worked very well. If you plan on recording audio using the built-in microphone or any on-board microphone (attached boom for example), I highly recommend turning off any lens stabilization as the noise is easily picked up by the microphone. An off camera microphone would eliminate this problem.

Transferring video clips to your PC is fast and convenient, but editing the clips will require a fairly powerful computer. Luckily, computers are relatively inexpensive and getting more powerful all the time. I would suggest a computer with a Quad-Core processor running 2.6GHz or faster, 3 or 4GB of memory, 64-bit O/S (Windows Vista 64) if possible as it can address 4GB of memory (or more) and lots of hard drive space, both internally and externally. My setup is a 2.4GHz Quad-Core Processor with 4GB memory, 32-bit O/S (Windows XP Pro), built-in 500GB hard drive (used for software mostly) and an external 1TB dual-drive system that provides 500GB of "mirrored" storage. Mirroring is a "RAID" configuration that creates a duplicate image of each file on a separate drive in order to provide redundancy. I would hate to lose all my hard work if a drive failed. I am able to edit the video footage of the 5D Mark II using Sony's Vegas Movie Studio 9, but a faster processor and a 64-bit architecture would definitely make editing larger HD video smoother and more reliable.

Below is a video I put together to demonstration the quality of the camera's HD video mode. Please keep in mind that this video clip, even when viewed in HD quality online, is still only 720p (1280x720) resolution, whereas the original footage is 1920x1280 resolution.

Winter Sunrise from Ron Risman on Vimeo.

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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