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Canon 5D Mark 2 - First Impressions

As the owner and user of two of the original Canon 5D cameras, I had been following the launch of the long awaited 5D Mk2 with great interest. If Canon had the ability to improve upon the original with upgraded features, I for one was keen to get my hands on one, even more so after reading the initial pre-production model reviews.

Having decided to take the plunge and put my name on a waiting list, my new camera finally arrived last Friday. A week later Iíve had a few opportunities to work with it and test out some of the key features.

Since I know a lot of people out there are desperate to know whether it is worth the hefty £2,300 price tag, here are my first impressions of the 5D Mk2:

Look and feel

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The 5D Mk2 feels more robust than the original, although size and weight are actually very similar, no doubt itís the magnesium alloy coating which gives this feel. One thing I have found strange though has been shooting without a battery grip. I find with the 5D that this gives better balance and flexibility so I am looking forward to receiving this in due course. I am not sure why this, along with spare batteries, could not have been made available at the same time the camera itself was shipped. No doubt Canonís desire to get their camera into the market place before Christmas played a part in this.

The 3Ē display on the back of camera is fantastic, providing crisp bright detailed images & an enhanced selection of information regarding the image. An automatic light meter adjusts the brightness of the display based on the ambient lighting conditions and this is a great help in checking images in bright conditions.

Another noticeable improvement is the brightness of the viewfinder and the inclusion of the battery status and ISO speed within it is a definite plus.

Menuís

Now very much like its bigger brotherís the menu system is easy to navigate and I have very quickly adjusted to the different menu screens and settings.

One addition I personally like is the ability to turn off the 1/3 increments in the ISO settings, allowing me to only use 100, 200, 400 etc, which saves time rather than scrolling through the intermediate ISO settings that I never use.

There are many other custom function enhancements and no doubt I will get a chance to test these in due course.

ISO Settings

Much has been said about the improved ISO settings of the 5D Mk2. Having carried out some initial testing I can say that the noise levels at higher ISO settings are much improved. Without the RAW converter in Lightroom being updated to include the 5D Mk2 Camera RAW files I have so far been limited to looking at the jpeg files but a quick comparison of these in low light conditions have been impressive.

If you look at the sample images, which incidentally have had no form of noise reduction at all, I think you are gaining around two stops. Previously 800 would have been the limit I would use, but now I think 3200 looks like it could be acceptable. Great for shooting without flash inside which I would imagine would be a great benefit to wedding photographers.

Would I use the higher expanded ISO settings? Probably not, although I will have another look at them once the Camera RAW files are updated in Lightroom to include the 5D Mk2 and see what noise reduction software does to them.

The images below show the ISO and noise comparisons between the 5D and the 5D Mk2 between ISO 50 and 6400.

Click on images to enlarge

Image size and quality

This was another of the big selling points for me. A 21mp camera producing files large enough for provision straight to image libraries. This will save the need for any upsizing of images and a quick conversion of some of those taken so far shows that it is giving 60mb tiff files well above 48-50mb required at the moment by image libraries.

As mentioned above, my initial reviews I have been of jpeg images as Canonís Digital Photo Professional software just doesnít do it for me. I am quite happy to wait until Lightroom is upgraded to take a look at the RAW files but a the moment, shooting with no colour, sharpening or contrast adjustments in camera the resulting files look pretty good so far.

A small selection of images captured with the 5D Mk2 can be seen in the slideshow linked below.

5D Mk2 Image Slideshow

Automatic Sensor Cleaning

I thought this was one area that was going to be a vast improvement over the original 5D and it may yet prove to be but, having used the camera for a week, there are already dust spots which are not removed when the automatic sensor cleaning takes place. Maybe I was expecting miracles here and I have to admit to it being rather windy when I was out shooting on a couple of days but as far as I am concerned the jury is definitely still out here.

Remote capture & Live View

I currently do a lot of remote shooting, using the Canon software to capture images directly on to my laptop, usually with the camera sat on top of a 22m mast! Now I know this wonít be relevant to many people but the additional flexibility of the new Canon EOS Utility capture software puts it streets ahead of that provided with the original 5D. Even with the increased file sizes, downloads from camera to computer are fast.

The Live View option is also an interesting addition, not high on my wish list but when it comes to architectural photography and even remote shooting, this could provide additional help in checking the focus of images from front to back. I am certainly looking forward to testing this out in more detail and seeing how this works with Canonís TSE lenses.

Autofocus

I havenít noticed any initial problems with the focusing, although a thorough technical examination hasnít been done yet. I did manage a quick visit to the local railway station and tested it out on a couple of trains approaching at 90mph. The results were good, tracking the approaching train pretty well, as you can see from the examples below.

Click on images to enlarge

Video

I have to admit that I would have bought the 5D Mk2 with or without the HD video capability and up until now havenít really been too bothered about the extra feature. Yes, I have seen the fantastic quality videos produced by Vincent Laforet, amongst others, but I am not a film maker I am a photographer.

Having said that, after having had a very quick dabble using the Live View movie mode, I am actually really excited by this feature, so much so I have already been thinking of ways in which it can be used and canít wait to get out there and test it further.

Issues

Apart from the sensor cleaning mentioned above, only a couple of things and neither relate to the camera itself.

First, the fact that Canon was so desperate to get the camera to market that they did so before any accessories were available. So if you are planning a long shoot or using the Live view mode regularly this could present problems. I am hoping it wonít be long before these are available though.

The second is the fact that Adobe are forcing users of CS3 to upgrade to CS4 by not updating the Camera RAW files in CS3 to include the 5D Mk2 RAW files. Not a problem for me as I process all my images through Lightroom and as I understand it the upgraded version of Lightroom, version 2.2, is due out in December which will include the new 5D Mk2 files. The problem is more for some of my clients who take the straight RAW files and process them in Photoshop. They will be forced into upgrading or will have to accept jpeg files instead which are less flexible.

Conclusion

So would I recommend the camera to those who can afford it? Well the answer is unequivocally yes I would. After my brief period of usage the 5D Mk2 looks like it will take image capture to the next level and personally, I am looking forward to working with it in new and creative ways.

I would say however that the original 5D is still a great camera and I will continue to use mine alongside the new one. No doubt there will be some fantastic deals on new and second hand 5D cameras out there as people trade up and these may well be worth considering.

Barry Mann

Please note all text and images contained within this article are © Copyright Barry Mann Photography 2008 and may only be reproduced with permission.