Canon EOS 5D Mk II

Several years ago, Canon brought to the market the EOS 5D. This was a groundbreaking camera within the DSLR marketplace, as, for the first time, we were seeing a full frame (35mm equivalent) digital SLR camera being sold at an almost affordable price.

While the camera proved to be popular, it was never one that I was particularly fond of. It felt plasticky, and I wasn’t a great fan of its ergonomics.

It however reveal a very big hole in the market: users really did want to have full frame DSLR, one on which they could use their legacy full frame lenses to their full extent, and they showed their desire for this style of camera by opening their wallets.

And with the 5D’s superior low-light performance, I also know of many Nikon enthusiasts who sold all of their investment in glass and bodies and switched to the 5D.

So, the original 5D was a genuine success, but not one of my favourites. What of its replacement: the 5D Mk II?

The digital SLR... now with high-definition video.

The digital SLR... now with high-definition video.

From my perspective, this is a very different camera. In fact, I would say that this may well be the best Canon currently on the market, and perhaps the second best Canon ever made, behind the old A1, which I think is amongst the best cameras ever made.

First of all, it’s great to be shooting at full frame. Where men are men, and 24mm is 24mm. The differences in shooting with a crop mode camera, such as the Canon 40D, and a full frame camera, are difficult to explain. You have a bigger viewfinder, and it’s brighter, and gives you a broader field of view. Because I’ve come from a film SLR background, full frame is my more natural environment, and while there are benefits to be derived from the crop format, my preference is towards the larger one.

The camera feels very nice in the hand. Solid, workable, not too small, not too light. The camera was supplied to me with the Canon 24-105 f/4.0 USM IS lens. This is a nice lens, very sharp, and of very good, solid construction.

While the body doesn’t feel fully hardened, the market at which it’s aimed does not dictate that level of build quality. It does feel robust, and comparable to its Nikon competitor, the D700.

For a novice user, it’s all too easy to just leave the camera in one of the program modes, and let the camera do pretty much all of the work. If that’s your bag, you will get some great images.

But as a photographer, I like to have a fair degree over the whole photographic process: exposure, ISO and white balance settings, which focus point is in use, how the focus points are selected, and so on. Switching the camera into modes that permit me the levels of control that I desire is very easy, and then using this camera becomes, for me, a very satisfying experience.

And one of the features I particularly liked was the means by which you are able to select your focus point. One of the choices is to use the control pad on the back of the camera. This is like a mini joystick, and it’s located just above and to the left of the control wheel on the back of the body.

When set to this choice, you simply push this pad in the direction of the focus point you wish to choose (up, down, left, right, etc) and that point is selected. To select the central point, just push the control stick in/down – to its central position.

This method is quick, easy, and logical; well done, Canon.

Canon 5D Mk II

With a magnesium alloy body, microphone input, and a great full-frame sensor, the 5D Mark II is one of the best digital SLR's out on the market today.

The AF functionality is quick. Very bloody quick. I think that Canon’s USM technology is more responsive than Nikon’s AF-S, and focus acquisition was lightning fast. Couple that with the ease of focus point selection, and you have a focusing system that is easy to work with and is very quick and effective.

While one criticism (in the past) that I’ve had of the Canon range has been the need to have to use several fingers in order to make some selections, this has been addressed some time ago: you can (and the 30D works the same way) just press the button representing the function that you want (ISO, AF mode, etc) and then turn either the front or rear control wheel to alter the setting that you are changing.

That said, the basic ergonomics are still, to my hands, not as strong as they are on Nikon bodies. I don’t like the placement of the shutter release button, for instance; it feels as though it’s been placed too far forward, and to me it feels unnatural and uncomfortable. The distance between the shutter release button and the forward control feels too far, but yet, when I look at the physical placement of these two controls, and compare them with the equivalent controls on a D300, the distance appears to be similar.

That one has me puzzled. I’m wondering if it’s something to do with the fact that the control wheel and the shutter release are placed at very different angles to one another? I don’t know, but making changes with that forward control wheel feels like it’s placing a slight strain on my finger, but I don’t feel any similar discomfort when using the equivalent functionality on the Nikon.

On the back of the camera, the menu button feels slightly recessed. To me, this makes it slightly more difficult to press.

Apart from that, the menu is easy to navigate, with options that are well laid out. At the bottom of the screen there’s a small display element that shows you, at a glance, the current status of your settings within the selected group. This is good.

Even at 3200 ISO, the noise is good.

Even at 3200 ISO, the noise is good.

The rear LCD lacks the high resolution that the Nikons have, and that makes focus review a tad more difficult. However, the display is adequate for most functions.

Live view and video modes are easy to engage, and perhaps slightly easier than on the Nikons, with just a single button press engaging LV.

While I am not the greatest fan of automatic white balance, the Mk II’s Auto WB is nice, and seems to work well.

In use, my right hand goes around the right hand side of the body, where the grip is. No surprises there. But within the grip, where the palm of your hand sits, is where the CF card slot is located. Opening the cover entails sliding the cover to the rear of the camera, and then lifting the cover from the slot. It felt to me as if this cover was moving slightly under the palm of my hand, and this felt a little disconcerting.

Image quality was all that I expected from a camera of this calibre. Autofocus speed, as noted above, was surprisingly good. The rate of frames per second is slow, but this is as stated in the camera specifications, and is not an issue given the target market for this type of camera. it would be very at home in a studio or most commercial settings, but for serious sports work you’d probably be looking at the more upmarket, professionally oriented bodies.

The 5D Mk II is a vast improvement on the original 5D, and it is a camera that I could happily live with.

Rating: ★★★★½

Product: Canon EOS 5D Mk II
RRP: $4299