Canon got everyone stirred up late this week with the launch of a new online product teaser. The ad implies that there will be another new EOS camera coming in the near term (presumably for Photokina), and, if I'm reading the visual imagery correctly, it will "eclipse" the competition. To my mind, and the minds of just about everyone following this story, all of this adds up most logically to one thing: the Canon EOS 5D replacement (speculatively, the 7D, the 5D Mark II, and a host of other proposed monikers).
Canon EOS 5D
Even the good folks over at DPReview, who tend to stay out of the fray on such speculation, got into the action on this one – a sign of just how imminent this camera seems to be. "We have no specific information," reads the DPReview write-up on Canon's latest marketing gambit, "but it doesn't require any profound market insight to predict an EOS 5D replacement is coming." Indeed, it seems like we've been talking about this presumed camera forever, but somewhat amazingly, without providing any concrete details Canon has nonetheless succeeded in fanning the flames yet again on a potential 5D replacement with the latest ad campaign.
Since we (like the rest of the photo equipment press, so it seems) haven't been privy to any privileged information about what Canon might be up to as regards a new full-frame, semi-pro model to replace the 5D, here are a few thoughts on what a new camera in this class will probably look like – and perhaps more importantly, what surprises we hope Canon might have in store for a new version. Call it my 5D Mark II wish list. And if even most of the wish list comes true within the next month, it seems like a solid bet that the 5D's replacement will find its way onto lots of wish lists of another kind this holiday season...
Superior sensor specs
The 5D's primary market – portrait photographers, serious amateurs, other Canon pros looking for a lower-cost primary or secondary full-frame body than the 1D models – is one of the few segments in which resolution does matter and is often put to full use. Hence, more resolution (15 megapixels seems reasonable) on Canon's next-generation full-frame sensor is an obvious first step for an upgrade. If we were really into dreaming big, there's always the chance that Canon could equip the next 5D with an updated version of the 21.1 megapixel imager from its current pro studio camera: given the 5D's appeal in the portrait and wedding world, the move would make sense, but at the presumed price point for the new model, I'm not holding my breath.
Of course, it's basically assumed that any increase in resolution in a camera at this level will, at the very least, not negatively impact noise performance. We haven't seen Canon's latest DIGIC IV processor in action, but with this new piece of kit combined with a new sensor (whatever it is, it will be a CMOS for sure), it's probably safe to expect squeaky clean shots throughout the new camera's normal sensitivity range (up to at least ISO 3200), with expanded sensitivity settings to at least ISO 12800. How far beyond this mark the next 5D pushes the envelope will be an indication of just how much Canon's been looking over its shoulder at Nikon's growing presence with the D700.
Monitor and viewfinder madness
Compared to the superb screen on Nikon's new D700, one spec that makes the current 5D look especially long in the tooth is its 2.5-inch, 230,000 dot LCD. It's a safe bet, then, that Canon will meet Nikon's level of performance in this regard as well, offering at least a 3.0-inch high-resolution display. Could the new 5D be the first DSLR to break into 3.5-inch territory? Only an official announcement will tell.
Canon's pentaprism viewfinder on the current 5D is a superior unit, with magnification and coverage numbers that may not demand replacement in a new model. If Canon's truly seeking to eclipse the competition, however, something like the current spec in their 1D cameras – with 100 percent coverage and magnification greater than 0.75x – would certainly do it.
Charge it up and fire away
As it has aged, one of the 5D's primary weaknesses compared to some its rivals has proven to be its 3 fps continuous shooting speed. With new processing technology, improvements here seem likely as well; I'm banking on a 6 fps number for the new model for both a deep queue of JPEGs and a limited number (probably less than 15) of raw shots. Just how much boost we'll see depends on what the final resolution is, but Canon's claimed performance improvements with the 50D and DIGIC IV suggest there's enough horsepower to make doubling the current 5D's continuous drive speeds a reality.
It will also be interesting to see if Canon decides to explore some kind of dual card-slot arrangement with the next 5D. While CF still rules the roost for pro cameras, the general consensus around our office, at least, is that the fact that the rest of the world is basically settled on SDHC will slowly but surely effect change in the top end of the market. Hence, dual slots covering both SDHC and CF Type I seem like a logical direction.
Although our single vague image of a large prism "hump" on the camera in Canon's teaser is perhaps the strongest evidence against it, I'm wondering whether a pop-up flash a la Canon's advanced amateur cameras won't make it back onto the next 5D. It's not a necessity for sure, but having one can be useful for fill in a pinch, for triggering, and so forth. Moreover, the fact that Nikon's done it with the D700 may be reason enough, though if it comes down to on-camera flash or 100-percent viewfinder, I'd certainly take the better prism any day. If Canon doesn't toss a flash onto the next 5D, however, let's hope that they at least do us the honor of adding an AF assist lamp – an irritating absence, given the lack of on-board flash assist either, on the current 5D.
Canon has long been known for superior battery life numbers, and I'm betting that another major piece of the "eclipsing the competition" puzzle may be a battery capable of around 1,000 shots per charge. Again DIGIC IV processing is part of the key to making this within the realm of possibility, at least.
Finally, it may be a long shot, but I'd really like to see some wireless tethering and/or image transfer options with the next generation of Canon pro cameras. Maybe an expansion option via a new radio-equipped battery grip is the route to go. Here's hoping, at least.
The magic number
Ultimately, how impressive a new 5D will seem largely depends on where it hits in terms of price. Nikon has certainly put the screws to Canon in offering a competitive camera with a very high level of specification that retails for just under $3,000. Unless Canon intends to deviate seriously from the specs outlined above (and, in essence, offer up a current-generation 1D camera in next-generation 5D trim), the "magic number" on the sticker is a street price of around $2,500 in my opinion. This will put the new model just above current 5D prices (which will almost certainly fall below $2,000 consistently when in and if a replacement hits store shelves), and successfully undercut Nikon's supply-impinged (if history is any indication...) pricing in the process.