The long-awaited successor to the EOS 5D has arrived in the guise of the 5D Mark II. Naturally the most curious feature on this camera, and the one that has caused the most controversy, uproar and extreme interest, is the high-definition movie functionality on the camera. Setting that aside for just a moment, we have to remember this is still just a camera — after all, the Nikon D90 was the first to introduce movie recording (albeit at 720p).
From the outside nothing has changed too much from the old 5D, apart from some streamlined areas and slight textural differences. The look and feel is quite similar to the standard Canon configuration, with buttons having the same feel and layout to the older 30D, 40D and 50D models. It tips the scales at just under a kilogram as body only, which is relatively lightweight for a camera of its class.
Inside the 5D Mark II though, things certainly are different when compared to its predecessor, with a 21.1-megapixel CMOS sensor that apes the 5D's resolution considerably. The auto focus system remains the same as the 5D, at 11 points, and somewhat pales in comparison with fellow competitors from Nikon such as the D700 with 51 points and D3/D3X.
There's also a new battery supplied with the camera (LP-E6) which is purported to be around 30 per cent more powerful than the previous battery and is rated at 850 shots in normal usage conditions, 200 shots with live view activated, or for two hours in movie mode.
The camera is water resistant to an extent, meaning light splashes and small amounts of rain won't hurt the camera body too much. As is starting to become standard on many Canon dSLRs is the 3-inch LCD screen, with a 920,000-dot resolution. It's a considerable improvement on its predecessor's. The viewfinder covers a 98 per cent field of view and is lovely and bright.
As for the video functionality, it's full 1080p (1920x1080) and the camera has a built-in microphone as well as a microphone input. HDMI output is also standard, though note there is no cable supplied.
The 5D Mark II has a quoted burst rate of 3.9 frames a second, which is definitely not a speedy performer compared to some of the competition and it's a fair bit slower than the 1Ds Mark III. With continuous shooting activated, we managed to squeeze out around 3.5 frames per second shooting on full quality, and with JPEG shooting rather than RAW, the camera performed admirably in terms of buffer usage.
Even after a whopping 1400 shots, the battery still had life in it. (Credit: CBSi)
Remember how we said the battery was tested by Canon to last 850 shots in normal usage conditions? Well, on a full charge we managed to squeeze out over 1460 shots during a photo shoot, involving the use of a speedlite and continual use of the LCD screen in reviewing photos. Even then there was still a fair amount of battery life left as you can see from the status screen to the right.
Canon supplies the 5D Mark II as body only or in a kit with an EF 24-105mm L IS USM lens. With this sensor it would really be a shame (and somewhat of a waste) to use anything but the nicest quality lenses, and for the most part the 24-105mm is a good, though not perfect, match. Note that lenses denoted with "L" are Canon's premium models. The 24-105mm displays a moderate amount of barrel distortion at its widest end and does exhibit a slight amount of vignetting and light fallout at the corners of the frame though this is mostly negated when the peripheral illumination correction is turned on.
As expected, overall image quality is incredibly impressive. We expected to see Canon's typical punchy hues as well as accurate and smooth tonality, and the camera doesn't fail to deliver. There is, however, some aggressive noise reduction that comes into play at ISO 3200 and above, though it does appear at lower levels too, blurring detail and smoothing out a lot of sharpness. For most purposes it's not noticeable until you start observing the 100 per cent magnification, and the camera performs admirably in low light situations with the help of an IS lens.
As you can see from the chart below, Canon's picture styles, which have appeared in its other dSLRs, are available on the 5D Mark II. Most styles are usable, with the most interesting option to us being portrait style which generally lightens the frame and adjusts for a more pleasing skin tone.
The 5D Mark II's picture styles (Credit: CBSi)
Automatic white balance lets the 5D Mark II down a little bit, following the lead from other Canon dSLRs by being off under artificial light and tingeing the scene a yellowish hue a lot of the time.
To begin shooting your first cinematic epic, you'll need to enter into movie mode. Essentially, you can access the function from any of the mode settings by entering live view (press the live view button at the top of the camera) and then, to begin recording, hit the set button in the middle of the control wheel. One of the most contentious aspects of this camera, at least to many videographers, is the lack of manual control afforded to the user whilst shooting video.
You forego all control over exposure (apart from exposure compensation), including aperture and shutter, and the 5D Mark II takes over, adjusting as necessary according to light conditions. While this might be expected from a consumer camera, the 5D Mark II's appeal ranges beyond a standard user interested in dabbling in video and extends to film-makers and video creators alike. The lack of manual control is therefore disappointing, in particular regards to achieving that shallow depth-of-field effect that many users will want to do. There are a few methods to override the restrictions (including using non-Canon branded lenses, which we're sure Canon will love), though these go beyond the scope of this review — we suggest checking out the forums at cinema5d.com as a good starting point.
The internal microphone picks up all noises made by the camera, including the image stabilisation mechanism of the lens. It's a grinding noise that is particularly disorienting at first until you realise where it comes from. So for the best results when using the in-built microphone, turn image stabilisation off on your lens and, of course, try not to press too many buttons or let the neck strap touch the casing otherwise they will wind up in your audio. The sound of the lens changing aperture on the fly will be recorded as well. Also it's worth noting that the longest clip you can take in video mode is 12 minutes for full high definition, and you are limited to 4GB as the maximum file size.
The 5D Mark II is an astounding camera for most uses, and the added bonus of high-definition recording is most welcomed. It does have its limitations as stated, but for the most part this camera is worth the money and really does deliver a satisfying photography experience for the advanced photographer and semi-professional alike.