Canon’s 5D Mark II

This is what happens when I don’t follow camera news every day, apparently.

I’ve been ogling the Nikon D3 (and its smaller sibling, the D700) for a long time. They have lots of neat features, but the big one for me? ISO 25,600. That’s off the charts.

Canon finally did what I hoped they’d do, and matched it with the newly-introduced Canon EOS 5D Mark II. ISO 100 to 3200 “standard,” but you can unlock an extended range of 50-25,600, matching Nikon’s. (And Nikon’s is similar: 25,600 is a mode you can unlock, but that isn’t there standard, since it’s not perfect.) I’m yet to see any sample shots from it, so I don’t know how “usable” it is: my camera will go to ISO 1600, but it’s a little too grainy for my liking, so I consider ISO 800 to be the upper limit, with ISO 1600 as a last resort.

It’s also a full-frame sensor: most digital SLRs have a smaller-than-normal sensor, so they can only “see” the center of the image, which has the effect of cropping the image. (This is a nice “bonus” if you’re working with telephoto lenses, perhaps, but it’s annoying with wide-angle lenses.)

It’s got an absurd 21 megapixel resolution. I keep my 10-megapixel camera set to shoot at 5 megapixels, which is plenty big for me. Perhaps more interestingly, after adding Live View functionality (the ability to view a ‘preview’ of the image on the camera’s LCD, something normally impossible on an SLR), Canon joined Nikon in going for the next step: adding video capability. And this is no “consumer” point-and-shoot in terms of video: as you might hope a $2,800, 21-megapixel camera would provide, the 5D Mark II can record MPEG videos in full 1080p, 1920×1080 resolution, at 30 frames per second. (You may want to pick up some of SanDisk’s news 32GB CF cards before trying this.)

In addition to those major new features, the camera’s been cleaned up around the edges, introducing several features that I think will make a big difference. For some reason, Canon is notorious for putting crappy LCDs on their SLRs. The LCD on my camera is a huge step up from previous ones, and it makes me laugh to think about the postage stamp of an LCD on my old 10D. And yet it’s still not that great of a screen, given that I’m using it to try to judge minor details. (Is the whole subject in focus? Is the focus just right? Is it overexposed slightly?) Nikon’s been whooping Canon here for a long time, and, perhaps most irritating to professionals using Canon SLRs, Canon’s lower-tier point-and-shoot digicams have used nicer LCDs than their SLRs. Not anymore. The 5D Mark II comes with a 3″, 640×480 LCD. They’ve also apparently used some sort of anti-glare coating so that the LCD is finally useful outdoors. And they went a step further, and set the LCD’s brightness to match ambient lighting, so that it will automatically dim in dark rooms and brighten outdoors.

They also introduced Auto ISO. This is a neat feature to me, as it works in all modes except full manual. In general, I don’t care much about ISO. I want it as low as possible (to minimize noise), but I really couldn’t care less whether I shoot at ISO 400 or ISO 200. I care a lot about aperture, as it influences depth of field, and I also care a lot about shutter speed, which determines exactly what the scene will look like. So I usually shoot in aperture priority, where I set the aperture, and the camera chooses the optimal shutter speed. And all the time, I’ll adjust the ISO to suit, but it requires going into a menu to change. In its full-auto modes, the XTi has Auto ISO, but it’s not terribly useful. (ISO 100-400, and no one uses the full-auto modes anyway.) Now, it seems you can let the camera worry about ISO; it sounds like it’ll automatically set it as low as reasonable, abiding by the 1/focal-length rule. (The current ISO setting is also shown in the viewfinder; helpful for anyone who’s ever fired off a burst of shots only to realize that you’d forgotten to change ISO earlier, leaving you with a batch of horribly mis-exposed shots.)

“Lens peripheral illumination correction” was a term I had to look up. It’s an in-camera option to correct for vignetting. Neat!

One final thing I find interesting: the “Live View” mode already lifts the mirror, so they were able to take that a step further and introduce a “quiet” mode. With current SLRs, when you press the shutter, the mirror flips up, and then the shutter opens and closes, then the mirror goes back down. While there’s something satisfying about the tactile feedback, it can be a nuisance, especially if you’re trying to take photos in a really quiet place.

Overall, I’m quite impressed! I’m eager to see some sample shots at higher ISOs, and I’m also eager to be able to afford a $2,800 camera. 😉

3 thoughts on “Canon’s 5D Mark II

  1. Since the Nikon introduced the D90 with 720p video capture, I was anxiously awaiting Canon’s DSLR with video, as I’ve been very intrigued by ‘DoF adapters’ (adapters to attach 35mm lenses to camcorders) and such. Having the same DoF control in video that you do in stills would be great.

    However, I’m a bit disappointed, mainly because I wasn’t prepared for it to cost almost three thousand dollars. (Although, in retrospect, I’m not sure what I was thinking: Canon had already announced the 50D, 450D, and 1000D this year; a 5D replacement was really the only thing left.) However, it also has a hard cap of 30 minutes on the video (although the D90 has a cap of 5 minutes — so 30 minutes is quite a bit better).

    I am interested in the quiet modes, though — more proof that the shutter is just a film holdover? 🙂

  2. A few preview images up on Flickr. This set goes from ISO200 to ISO25600 — I can definitely see the grain, but I’d definitely shoot through 12,800 without hesitation based on those shots! (It’s worth noting, though, that high ISO won’t look as bad in bright daylight, though, so this doesn’t mean that ISO25600 is entirely usable.)

    It’s somewhat amusing to me, though, that he took the picture at ISO25600 and f/1.4. Poor camera hit its 1/8,000-second shutter speed limit. 😉

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