DigitalCameraReview.com
Out of the shadows: Canon EOS 5D Mark II announced
by David Rasnake -  9/16/2008

Canon has launched its latest semi-pro full frame DSLR, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

The new 21.1 megapixel full frame DSLR continues in the original 5D's footsteps as a lower-cost alternative to Canon's top tier professional models, emphasizing its suitability for shooters in the wedding, studio, and portrait/commercial markets as well as amateurs looking for a camera with serious horsepower at a lower price.

New Sensor Technologies
Building on the technological successes of the original 5D, the second-generation utilizes a very familiar looking 21 megapixel sensor that boasts the same pixel size as the imager used in Canon's 1Ds studio camera. Some slight tweaks to the imager's color filter, however, promise improved light transmission and color fidelity, as well as more responsive high-sensitivity performance.

Fourteen-bit A/D conversion is expected for a high-end professional/semi-pro application, but Canon also claims that simultaneously four-channel data reading with the Mark II provides a 2.2x image processing speed increase when compared to the original 5D.

It's been a race to the top of late in terms of full frame sensor ISO capabilities, and the Mark II joins the fray with an imager capable of a very competitive ISO 100-6400 in normal mode. Two expansion options at the top end also allow for full-resolution shooting at the equivalent of ISO 12,800 (in H1) and ISO 25,600 (in H2), putting the 5D Mark II on equal footing with its new full frame rival from Nikon, the D700.

Finally, recognizing that some shooters - wedding photographers, for instance - tend to prefer raw captures to JPEGs but may not require 20-plus megapixels of resolution, the Mark II is capable of capturing two levels of lower-resolution raw images in addition to the usual array of file types.

DIGIC IV Processing, Nine-Point AF
DIGIC IV processing brings appreciable speed increases and Canon's latest imaging technologies to the new model, and it's interesting to note just how many "advanced amateur" features have made their way up into this space once clearly targeted to professional shooters looking for more cost-effective equipment options. Most notably, the Mark II gets a "Creative Auto" mode similar to the implementation used in the 50D. Built with accessibility in mind, CA mode centralizes basic exposure control and allows the users to select exposure parameters using non-photographic terms (slider style on-screen controls labeled "Background Blurry/Background Sharper" instead of "Aperture", for instance).

Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Creative Auto Mode screen shot, EOS 50D

Pros and advanced amateurs will also appreciate some of the other interface-side benefits of DIGIC IV, including a lens peripheral correction function that automatically corrects vignetting when shooting with one of 26 lenses for which data has been pre-loaded (users can also add correction data for other lenses). Canon's Auto Lighting Optimizer as implemented in the 50D is migrated up to the latest 5D as well, as has a four-step (off, low, normal, and strong) noise reduction system that allows shooters to balance smoothing and noise differently for different shots or situations.

The 5D Mark II's focusing system is similar in setup to the one seen in the 50D, with nine primary focus points and six assist points doing the heavy lifting for AF shooting. Micro-focus correction can be used to fine-tune focusing sharpness on a lens by lens basis.

Shooting speed for the second-generation 5D has improved slightly as well, to a claimed 3.9 fps for unlimited full-res/highest quality JPEGs (or 14 raw captures).

HD Movie Capture
The Mark II's bombshell technology, though, is undoubtedly its ability to record movies in full HD (1920x1080/30 fps), making Canon's latest EOS only the second DSLR with any kind of movie recording functionality and the most high-spec to date in terms of captured resolution.

A sub-function of the 5D Mark II's live view mode, the new 5D's movie recording mode even allows for the use of the live view system's contrast detection auto focus technology while capturing video (though given that all focusing noises will be picked up while recording, Canon still recommends manually focusing instead whenever possible).

Capture length is limited only by a 6 GB file size cap - working out to around 12 minutes of HD video recording with sound, or twice that in standard-definition recording. A "movie snap" function even allows you to record a full-res image while shooting video.

Those looking to do more involved video work with the 5D Mark II's movie capabilities will also be happy to note that the new model sports a jack for adding an external stereo microphone.

High-Res Display, Huge Viewfinder
The 5D Mark II brings a predictably high level of specification to its display as well, sporting a 3.0 inch LCD with 920,000 dots of resolution and triple coatings that protect against scratches, minimize glare, and resist smudging.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

In addition to a live view video capture mode, shooters can also utilize this large screen to capture still images via the Mark II's live view system - which is now accessed through its own dedicated button as on the 50D. Contrast detection auto focus can be employed in live view to allow focusing without a screen blackout period, and the replacement 5D's built-in face detection system recognizes up to 35 faces in a frame.

If live view's not your speed, the Mark II also brings an optical viewfinder that comes stocked with one of the most impressive we've seen outside of a top-tier professional camera: 98 percent coverage. With a 21mm eyepoint, this finder may be poised to take top honors in its class for usability, clarity, and brightness.

In addition to excellent viewfinder and display specs, the Mark II's built-in HDMI port makes it easy to connect the camera to an HDTV for viewing picture and movies.

Rugged Design and Construction
Similar in basic form to the current 5D, the Mark II version provides slightly improved weather sealing, making the new iteration even more attractive for commercial applications. Improved shutter life puts the latest system at a 150,000 click duty cycle, and a sensor dust removal system is now integrated into the 5D.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Canon has also improved battery life numbers and overall performance on the 5D: the Mark II is now able to grab 850 shots on a single charge. A new battery grip doubles the 5D's capacity. Shooters will also appreciate the decision to add detailed battery life information - shown as a percentage of power remaining - to the 5D's interface, with the camera able to accurately report battery life all the way down to one percent.

A single UDMA-compliant CompactFlash slot supports file storage needs.

Overview, Availability, and Pricing
In a trend that we've reported on since the release of the Nikon D700, falling prices and more broadly focused specs are making full frame, semi-pro cameras increasingly attractive to amateur shooters. In the case of the 5D Mark II, Canon has decided to openly target this audience with features like Creative Auto shooting, HD movie capture, and other 50D-derived technologies.

While it may be a little disconcerting for some working pros to learn that their next camera will have a face detection system built in, there's no denying that the 5D packs a fair share of serious technology, too. That said, a side-by-side comparison of the first- and second-generation versions of this camera suggests that many of the upgrades have been squarely aimed a broadening the 5D's appeal.

A few weeks ago, we published an editorial piece outlining improvements we'd like to see in the next 5D. As actually released, the 5D Mark II hit many of those (faster shooting, excellent viewfinder and LCD), but did leave a few crucial points (the desire for a more advanced AF system, primarily) unanswered. In the general consensus around here, however, the most important spec for this camera, given its broad advanced amateur market targeting, is its price.

On this score, the new 5D Mark II hits a home run, with an MSRP of $2699 for the body only, or $3499 with Canon's 24-105mm lens.

If you're a Canon fan, get those checkbooks ready: the 5D Mark II is expected to touch down in stores in November.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Specifications:

Sensor 21.1 megapixel (effective), 36x24mm CMOS
Lens/Zoom Canon EF mount (no EF-S support)
LCD/Viewfinder 3.0", 920K-dot TFT LCD with live view; pentaprism optical viewfinder with diopter adjustment, 98 percent coverage
Sensitivity ISO 100-6400 (50-25,600 expanded)
Shutter Speed 30-1/8000
Shooting Modes Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Auto, Creative Auto, Custom 1/2/3
Scene Presets N/A
White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash, Custom, Kelvin
Metering Modes Evaluative, Partial, Center-Weighted, Spot
Focus Modes AI Focus, AI Servo, One Shot, Manual
Drive Modes Single, Continuous, Self Timer
Flash Modes N/A
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats CF Type I or II, UDMA compatible
Internal Memory
None
File Formats JPEG, RAW, MOV
Max. Image Size 5616x3744
Max. Video Size
1920x1080, 30 fps
Zoom During Video Yes
Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion, 850 shots
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, HDMI mini out, PC sync, microphone in
Additional Features Live View, DIGIC IV Processor, Auto Lighting Optimizer, 9-Point AF System, 3.9 fps continuous shooting, EOS integrated sensor cleaning system, movie capture