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Anno Huidekoper : February 12th 2009 - 12:00 CET

Canon EOS review : 5D Mark II fieldtest

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CanonField-test Canon EOS 5D Mark 2 : For my trip to a paradise called Bali, the Canon retailer gave me one of the very first Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera models, to take with me on my journey. I went through tropical rain showers, soggy primary forest, smoking craters and burning hot beaches to find out how the Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera performs. Have the good features, such as noise-free images and the wide viewfinder of the primary EOS 5D, been enhanced? And, equally important: have the inferior features, like the insufficient auto focus and dust-prone aspect of the original, been addressed?
Fieldtest Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Going on a journey, packing…
While travelling I tend to pack as few things as possible. In my case, I pack a total of three lenses and, of course; the Canon EOS 5D Mark II body. My ''walk around" lens is an EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM. Second lens is a Canon 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS. It replaces the f/2.8 model because of its low weight and higher sharpness at 200mm. The third lens is a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, a so-called 'spare part'. Looking back I did not use the latter at all. The camera bag is also packed with a grey-card and two memory cards. This will do, my goal is to return home with 20 beautiful pictures. Before using the Mark II camera, you have to adjust the AF per lens to get an optimal result. It's a simple but ever-so- important job! It's unbelievable that the instructions are hidden somewhere inside the user manual.

EOS 5D test photo
Photo 1. 200 ISO, f/10, 1/250 sec., 70-200/4.0 L IS at 135 mm

Canon EOS Auto focus
The Canon 5D Mark II features only 9 AF points and 6 assist AF points. This does not seem like very much compared to the 45 focus points of the Canon 1Ds Mark III and the 51 points of the Nikon D3X. On the other hand, the Sony Alpha 900 has only a few more: 9 points and 10 assist focus points. I don't mind the small amount that much; what does annoy me is the fact they are all grouped closely around the center. And only the center one is a cross type sensor meant for lenses brighter than f/2.8. This is a setback compared to the specifications of the Canon EOS 40D or 50D. Nevertheless, how does it work in practice? With sufficient environmental light, the AF works fast and precisely, and all the AF points can be used. In poorly lit circumstances, (picture 2), it is wise to only use the center sensor. You should be aware of the fact that the picture was taken in candlelight. Picture 3 shows dolphins, shot from a small, narrow boat and, despite the minimal time available to focus, the AF functions well here too. The center sensor was used for this picture. I did not capture moving objects to or from the camera at all.

Canon EOS 5D photo
Photo 2. 3200 ISO, f/4.5, 1/10 sec., 70-200 mm/4.0 L IS at 200 mm

Canon EOS 5D Mark 2 sample photo
Photo 3. 1000 ISO, f/5.6, 1/2700 sec., 70-200 mm/4.0 L IS at 200 mm

Perfect hand-fit and broad viewfinder
The body feels slightly lighter than a 1Ds Mark III or a Nikon D3x. In fact, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is even a tad lighter than the Sony A900 or Nikon D700. If you have to walk around all day while carrying a camera, every ounce counts! Compared to a 40D, the Canon 5D Mark II feels more solid although there is not a vast difference between the two cameras. The material of the housing offers a good grip, even with tropical, clammy hands.

Canon EOS review

Canon EOS review : 5D Mark II field test
One of the advantages of a full frame camera is the large coverage viewfinder. And you benefit from it with every picture taken! The Canon EOS 5D Mark II's large and clear viewfinder adds to the joy of working with this camera. It's convenient to clearly see figures of the ISO, shutter speed, remaining battery life, aperture and exposure compensation in the viewfinder. Canon claims to have improved the dust sealing. The camera also features a dust removal system. This feature is currently found in every newly-introduced camera except for the Nikon D3. During my journey on Bali, I didn't find enough dust to be able to comment on the dust sealing. Drizzly rain and water from a water canon splashed all over me and the camera during an outdoor cremation, and the EOS 5D Mark II handled it gracefully.

Canon EOS 5D sample photo
Photo 4. 400 ISO, f/7.1, 1/250 sec., 16-35 mm/2.8 Mark II at 29 mm

Large monitor and enhanced menu
It's a pleasure to work with the large monitor on the back of the camera! It's hard to imagine that we ever settled for a smaller monitor with lower resolution. The screen features Live View and which will possibly develop into a vary-angle screen on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. The almost perfect screen saves a lot of time and storage capacity since you can basically check the captured picture for sharpness on the large screen. You no longer need to take extra pictures just to be safe! And this also means that there are a lot fewer pictures to upload to your notebook or PC when you get home. I focus solely on the subject and the image while shooting. I don't like the fun features of a camera and I want to be able to adjust settings such as aperture, focus point, ISO and exposure correction, intuitively without having to dive into a menu. In my opinion, as a former Nikon user, the menu is very well-structured and the functions of several buttons can be customized to your preference. This menu is a lot more convenient than, for example, that of the 40D. For instance, the main settings are displayed on the screen upon activating the camera so you can immediately decide which settings you want to change. But I do miss the button which allowed you to fold in the mirror before shooting without having to go into the menu.

Large dynamic range
The light in the tropics is very harsh during the day. This requires precise focusing and a large dynamic range of the camera. Otherwise you get white-washed areas or smudgy dark areas in the picture. I am not keen on Photoshopping, I expect a camera to provide well-exposed files that don’t need more correction than slightly adjusting the curves or levels. Besides that, I'd rather not have to constantly consider if manual adjustment will be required after ever picture I take. This is why you purchase an automatic camera, right? If I review the files made by the Canon 5D Mark II, the large dynamic range is striking. (Picture 5). The light is harsh although the histogram looks perfect. The light areas in the picture are not white-washed and the dark areas still show some detail. Nearly all the files, including this one, need some editing. By using the curve I lightened the pictures a bit. I also corrected the colors that are slightly too bright, with a small adjustment of the color saturation. Only a small number of pictures need exposure correction. I'd be happier to have found the maximum correction possibility of +/- 3 stops instead of the available +/- 2 stops on the Canon 5D Mark II.

Canon 5D Mark 2 sample photo
Photo 5. 200 ISO, f/9.0, 1/500 sec., 16-35 mm/2.8 Mark II at 21 mm

Canon EOS 5D Mark 2 photo gallery

Minimal noise and excellent detail reproduction, "The proof of the picture is in the printing"
What is important to me is the ability to deliver high quality files for printing and billboards to my clients. I also deliver ready-made prints on A2 format, printed with an Epson 4880. That's why I am not interested in 'Pixelpeeping' on the screen. An A3+ or A2 picture size should be free of noise at a normal viewing distance. The viewing distance should be twice the diagonal of the print. Therefore; an A3+ print has a viewing distance of approximately one meter and an A2 print 1.5 meters. The main question is whether pictures made by the 5D Mark II are sufficiently free of noise to work with ISO 1600 and 3200. Take a look at picture 2, a dance performance shot by candlelight. An A3+ sized print shows some noise in certain shadowed areas yet is still easy to remove with the software. Other pictures taken with ISO 3200 with more surrounding light show even less noise. As for picture number 6, ISO 1600, a building lamp was used for exposure and the A2 print looks very impressive! These large prints are proof of Canon's perfect combination of less noise and a lot of details.

EOS 5D sample photo
Photo 6. 1600 ISO, f/5.6, 1/250 sec., 70-200 mm/4.0 L IS at 89 mm

Canon EOS Mark 2 Video function
The past few years I have often worked with a Nikon D200 + Nikkor 12-24 mm f/4.0 and a Canon 40D + Tokina 12-24 mm f/4.0. I have to admit that the pictures made with the full frame combination Canon 5D Mark II and 16-35 f/2.8 L Mark II are much, much better than pictures made with the aforementioned crop combinations! The difference in sharpness and detail reproduction is surprisingly big. And this is the case for the higher as well as the for the lower ISO values. The Canon 5D Mark II may possibly drastically change the world of 'wedding photographers'. Due to lack of time, lack of memory cards and a full schedule, I did not test the video function.

Canon EOS 5D test photo
Photo 7. 400 ISO, f/7.1, 1/1300 sec., 70-200 mm/4.0 L IS at 200 mm

Canon EOS 5D Mark II review rating
My journey to Bali is behind me and has since become a memory. This memory is kept alive in part by the pictures I took. It's a pleasure to work with the Canon 5D Mark II; it is the lightest 20+ camera ever and the buttons are well-placed. The beautiful screen and the clear viewfinder are also a joy with which to work. Equally important are the pictures that are produced with the Canon 5D Mark II. The A3+ and A2 sized prints show an amazing amount of detail. Noise ratio is excellent; ISO 3200 is fine at A3+ format and ISO 1600 is no problem for an A2 sized print. The AF is more than sufficient, at least for my type of photography, in poorly-lit circumstances as well as in situations with excessive light. You should use the center sensor in circumstances with insufficient light. In my opinion there should have been a bigger spread between the focus points. Compared to the Canon 1Dx Mark 3 and the Nikon D3x, the EOS 5D Mark 2 is surprisingly cheap.

EOS 5D photo
Photo 8. 200 ISO, f/6.3, 1/200 sec., 70-200 mm/4.0 L IS at 200 mm

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