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The full-frame, 21.1-megapixel Canon 5D Mark II aced our color accuracy and dynamic range tests, and captures 1080p movies with extraordinary quality. But it's not the perfect all-in-one still and video camera: there are still too many quirks.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark II is a substantial piece of equipment to tote around, weighing in at 1.8 pounds (810g) plus battery, and measuring 6.0 x 4.5 x 2.9 inches (152 x 114 x 75mm). For all practical purposes it's the same size and shape as its 5D predecessor, with only a few button changes to distinguish the two. It's a conservative design that conveys the serious nature of the gear, devoid of aesthetic flash or sizzle.
The top, front and rear of the body are constructed of magnesium alloy, the bottom and sides of plastic, all anchored to a stainless steel frame. Weather and dust seals around the battery compartments and memory card doors, along with internal gaskets and sealing materials around the buttons, tripod sockets and the LCD screens combine to offer improved weather resistance.
The shutter is rated at 150,000 shots, putting it on par with the Nikon D700 and ahead of the Sony A900, which promises 100,000 shutter cycles.
**Size Comparisons **
**In the Box **
• Canon EOS 5D Mark II body (with body cap)
• LP-E6 lithium-ion battery (with cover)
• LC-E6 battery charger
• neck strap
• USB cable
• video cable with stereo audio
• Instruction Manual, English
• Instruction Manual, Spanish
• Pocket Guides (English and Spanish)
• Registration card, additional documentation
• EOS Digital Solutions Disk 19.1 (utilities)
• EOS Digital Software Instruction Manual CD (utility documentation)
• Canon Essential Products and Solutions CD (product and accessory info)
**Color Accuracy ***(13.61) *
In our extensive lab tests of five current digital SLRs, the Canon 5D Mark II produced the most accurate color results, with the Sony A900 trailing the rest of the field by a wide margin. The 5D Mark II did exceptionally well capturing the light skin color, orange and the greyscale patches from the chart, but struggled a bit with pure yellow, magenta and cyan. Click here for more on how we test color.
Canon uses Picture Styles to adjust several image parameters including color values, with Landscape mode enhancing blues and greens, for example, and Portrait favoring flesh tones.
As expected (assuming the folks who name Picture Styles at Canon think rationally), the Neutral Picture Style produced the most accurate results, with a very modest color shift of 4.85, and a slight undersaturation at 96.1. In the charts below we can see the relative color accuracy results for the Canon 5D Mark II and four other digital SLRs we tested, each at their most accurate color mode settings.
Here we compare actual pixel-size crops of the 18 colored squares of the X-Rite color chart, taken by each camera in its most accurate mode. The ideal color value is shown in the leftmost column, the cameras' best recreations of that color are arrayed to the right.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
Below you can see our final score for color performance compared across the five camera test group. Higher scores indicate superior performance.
Canon's Picture Styles system combines settings for sharpness, contrast, saturation and color tone in six presets and three user-definable groupings. In a nutshell, think of Picture Styles as different film types, with distinctive image reproduction characteristics. For a full discussion of this feature, read the Picture Effects section below.
The 5D Mark II supports both the default sRGB and Adobe RGB color spaces. Most users will stick with sRGB, but for those shooting for commercial printing and industrial uses, the Adobe option is important.
In the following chart we explore the effect of five different Picture Styles on the color captured by the Canon 5D Mark II, with actual-pixel-size crops of each color in the X-Rite chart. The sixth Picture Style, Monochrome, isn't included.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
In this test combining color accuracy and image noise performance over long exposure times, the 5D Mark II trailed the other cameras in the comparison group. Interestingly, the primary component in the comparatively weak performance of the 5D Mark II was its color accuracy under low light conditions, which consistently trailed the other cameras. Low-light image noise performance, on the other hand, was roughly equivalent to the other cameras, and clearly superior to the Canon 50D. Click here for more on how we test long exposure.
Under low light conditions shutter speeds slow down, image noise inevitably increases and often color accuracy is affected. Above you see the results of our long exposure testing as it affects color accuracy. Below are the results for the same exposure times, detailing the impact on noise performance.
And finally you see the Canon 5D Mark II's final score for this section versus the competition. Higher scores indicate superior performance.
We found that in the battle against image noise, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is a warrior to be reckoned with. Compared to the other tested cameras, the 5D Mark II scored identically with the Nikon D700 and just a hair behind the leader in this category, the 12.3-megapixel Nikon D90. Compared to the other high-megapixel full-frame camera, the Sony A900, the 5D Mark II proved significantly lower in image noise. Click here for more on how we test noise.
We found that, even with the noise reduction system turned off, the 5D Mark II was able to maintain a noise level below 1% up to ISO 800, a very good result. With noise reduction on at the two highest settings, this sub-1 percent performance stretched out to ISO 3200, and even at ISO 6400, the top official setting, never became truly objectionable.
The individual color channels followed the same trend as shown in the chart above. Luma noise is noise in grey areas of the image.
With the noise reduction turned off, the chart above shows that the Canon 5D Mark II is slightly worse than the D700 across the ISO spectrum.
With noise reduction enabled, the Nikon D700 is less noise up to ISO 400, but the 5D Mark II proves superior beyond that point. In the chart below, the close race in overall scores becomes apparent. Higher scores indicate superior performance.
The 5D Mark II offers an official ISO range from 100-6400, and an expanded range from L (roughly ISO 50) through H1 (12800) and H2 (25,600), all at full resolution.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
In our resolution testing, which factors in both sharpness and chromatic aberration, the 5D Mark II comes up only slightly ahead of the far less expensive 50D (proving again that multiple megapixels do not necessarily result in a better image). The 5D Mark II is actually bookended by its two full-frame competitors, beating the Nikon D700 handily and trailing the A900 by a substantial margin. Click here for more on how we test resolution.
With this review we expand our resolution testing procedure to consider not only the sharpness at the center point of the lens, but across the full breadth of the image. We are also considering chromatic aberration in our testing, as defined below. The key concept that remains constant, however, is the fact that a massive number of megapixels is not a good indicator of the resolution you'll see in your actual photos. Sensor performance is a factor, along with compression algorithms and lens optics. To get to the bottom line, we use Imatest software to analyze the camera's resolution performance on a level playing field, regardless of megapixel statistics.
We shoot with the kit lens provided by the manufacturer at three different focal lengths (the minimum and maximum zoom settings and the point in between), and at three aperture settings (minimum, maximum and middle) for each zoom setting. The resulting images are then analyzed using Imatest to determine distortion (measured but not scored), chromatic aberration and sharpness.
Shooting with the kit 24-105mm kit lens at three focal lengths, we found significant barrel distortion at the widest setting and roughly the same degree of pincushioning in the midrange and maximum telephoto. By way of comparison, our 28mm shots using the 28-95mm zoom on the Nikon D700 produced a much smaller degree of barrel distortion (-0.31% versus -3.60% for the Canon), with smaller differences between cameras on the telephoto side.
Chromatic aberration occurs when the lens is unable to focus all the color wavelengths accurately on the same plane. The effect can be visible as color fringing (though fringing can also be caused by inaccuracies in JPEG image compression). Our Imatest procedures differentiate between hardware- and software-based chromatic imperfections.
Chromatic Aberration (8.23)
While the chromatic aberration testing for the 5D Mark II produced an acceptable result, the Nikons were significantly superior. By and large this color anomaly in the 5D Mark II was well controlled at the center and midrange of the lens, but significant problems occurred as we approached the four corners.
When testing for sharpness, Imatest factors out raw megapixel count and instead measures line widths per picture height, a reading of the camera's ability to resolve minute details in a defined area. With this system, a lower-megapixel camera will often outperform a higher-megapixel model, since the larger light receptors of the lower-megapixel sensor can gather light more efficiently and suffer from less interference across cells.
We found the 24-105mm kit lens produced its sharpest results at the widest-angle setting, right in the middle of the lens, with 1482 lw/ph measured horizontally and 1780 lw/ph measured vertically. Moving out from the center of the lens, sharpness drops significantly around the midway point, then picks up again as we reach the outer edges.
Next up is the 60mm zoom setting, right in the middle of the zoom range. There is much less chromatic aberration at this zoom point.
Finally, we have the zoom at 105mm, the longest zoom that the lens we tested can achieve. The chromatic aberration makes a comeback here, and the edges are much softer.
Overall, the 5D Mark II was a strong, but not outstanding performer. It had decent sharpness, but the 28-105mm lens that we tested it with had rather a lot of chromatic aberration at both ends of the zoom range, and the images were also rather soft. Both the Sony A900 and the Nikon D90 performed better, with more consistent sharpness and less aberration. Below is our chart comparing the scores achieved by the 5D Mark II and the four cameras that we compared it with. Higher scores indicate superior performance.
Picture Quality & Size Options*(13.28)*
The EOS 5D Mark II offers an unusual variety of picture size options, with three RAW sizes in addition to three JPEG formats.
Each JPEG file size is available at two compression settings. Each of the RAW settings can be shot as RAW + JPEG, with any of the six available JPEG size/compression combinations attached.
The Canon 5D Mark II proved the top performer in our dynamic range testing, including over a half stop expansion possible by shooting RAW. While dynamic range inevitably falls off as ISO increased, the 5D Mark II starts off quite high at well over seven stops for ISO 100 and 200, and falls off smoothly from there, maintaining over 4 and a half stops all the way to ISO 3200. Click here for more on how we test dynamic range.
At low ISO settings, the Canon 5D Mark II manages a dynamic range of over 7 stops, and maintains over 6 stops through ISO 800.
While the 5D Mark II lead the pack overall, at ISO 200 all the cameras performed similarly, and the Nikon D90 was slightly superior. The chart below visualizes the 5D Mark II's dynamic range score across all ISOs against the competition. Higher scores indicate superior performance.
The in-lens optical image stabilization that the Canon 5D Mark II uses did a decent job of compensating for hand shake, but it is far from perfect; at faster shutter speeds and with particularly bad hand shake, we found that it actually made things worse. Click here for more on how we test image stabilization.
Our first test is for a low level of hand shake, such as when you are trying to hold the camera steady with two hands, or braced against a wall. In this situation, there is only a small amount of movement, but still enough to make a picture blurry, especially with a lower shutter speed. In our tests, we found that turning on the IS feature on the 24-105mm L USM lens that we used in this review made a significant improvement with horizontal motion (such as the camera shaking side to side); with a shutter speed of between 1/250 and 1/30 of a second, the images were much sharper. However, the IS feature had the opposite effect with shutter speeds at the ends of the range. At 1/500, 1/15 and 1/8th of a second, the images were less sharp with IS turned on; the correction that the camera is making is actually making the images a bit less sharp. To be fair, though; if you are shooting at 1/15 or 1/8 of a second hand held, you're asking for trouble. We also found that the IS system had relatively little effect with the vertical shake; when the camera is moving up and down, there was very little difference between IS on and IS off.
Our next test uses a higher level of shake; about the level you would get if you were trying to take a photo while walking, or while taking a candid shot one-handed. This seemed to be a bit too much for the image stabilization system in the lens: in both the horizontal and vertical directions, the images were either less sharp or no better with IS turned on across the entire range of shutter speeds that we test at.
The bottom line here? It is a good idea to turn the IS on if you are shooting at a shutter speed of between 1/250 and 1/15 of a second, but if you are shooting at higher speeds, turn it off. And if you are shooting at speeds of under 1/15 of a second, either increase the ISO to get a faster shutter speed, or use a tripod, as the Image Stabilization won't help much. Plus, the Image Stabilization won't save you if you have really bad handshake or are trying to take photos while running; it did not compensate well for serious hand shake.
When compared with other SLR cameras, the 5D Mark II has middling performance. As the graph above (which shows the low shake, horizontal sharpness improvement for three cameras) shows, both the Sony A900 and Nikon D700 had significantly better performance. Both cameras were more consistent than the 5D Mark II, with improvements in sharpness at all of the shutter speeds we test at. The Canon 5D Mark II only beat the other cameras at 1/250 of a second; at all of the other speeds, the VR (Vibration Reduction) feature of the Nikon D700 and the SteadyShot feature of the Sony A900 did a more effective job in our tests.
Below are stills from some of our test photos taken with the Canon 5D Mark II, showing an average image from the horizontal test. The target is a slanted line.
For our white balance testing, we compare images shot under different lighting conditions against the actual color values of the X-Rite ColorChecker chart. We use a Macbeth Judge II lighting box to maintain precise color temperature control, shooting under daylight, tungsten and compact fluorescent illumination. We test both the performance of the automatic white balance and custom white balance systems. Click here for more on how we test white balance.
Automatic White Balance (13.26)
When set to automatic white balance, the Canon 5D Mark II handled daylight and fluorescent illumination with great skill and dexterity, but faltered when faced with incandescent illumination (the kind produced by common household bulbs).
Shooting in daylight with all five of our test cameras set to auto white balance mode, all produced slightly cool images, though the 5D Mark II was the furthest off the mark.
Incandescent lighting produced problems for the auto white balance systems of all five cameras across the board, with the 5D Mark II slightly less red-tinged than the Nikon D700 and Canon 50D.
The Nikons and the Sony A900 all shot significant too warm under fluorescent lighting when set to auto white balance, while both Canons were very close to the mark, erring only slightly on the cool side.
Custom White Balance (15.28)
The most important lesson to be gleaned from our custom white balance testing is the degree to which it solves the problems inherent in the automatic white balance system. Incandescent lighting in particular created significant difficulty for the 5D Mark II when shooting with automatic white balance. After setting a custom white balance, the measured color error was just 1.6% of the original reading.
This improvement holds true to a greater or lesser degree for all the cameras in our test suite, but the 5D Mark II proved particularly accurate after taking a custom white balance reading, trailing only the Nikon D700 in our scoring.
In our overall white balance scoring, combining the results for both automatic and custom white balance testing, the Canon 5D Mark II comes up in the middle of the pack, trailing its brandmate 50D and the Nikon D700 due in large part to their superior results when using the automatic setting.
White Balance Settings*(8.75)*
The 5D white balance system includes automatic white balance, custom white balance (set by shooting a neutral card under current lighting conditions), direct entry in degrees Kelvin and the following six manual presets:
Canon chose to maintain its clumsy two-step custom white balance shooting procedure with the 5D Mark II. First you shoot a photo of a white or grey card, then you bring up the Custom White Balance utility from the menu system, then you select the reference photo you've just shot, then you press the custom white balance button on top of the camera and select it. Are we having fun yet?
Manual white balance correction, with fine adjustments along the blue-amber and green-magenta axes, is available, though there is no image preview to interactively indicate the effect of changes made. White balance bracketing is also available, along the same two axes. Rather than taking multiple exposures, the same shot is saved with three different white balance settings applied.
Click on any of the full-size photos below to view the original image. However, please note that the image files are extremely large and could take a long time to download. Alongside each large image are four actual-pixel crops.
Still Life Examples
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
During image playback, the photo display can be magnified up to 10x, in 15 steps. When a magnified image appears on screen, turning the Quick Control dial browses your photos one at a time at the same level of magnification and position, a very handy way to compare focus on a set of similar images. Another handy shortcut is the use of the Main Control dial to move rapidly through images. By default, turning this dial jumps 10 images forward or back. Through the second setup menu, this can be changed to move one or 100 images at a time, to browse by date or folder, and to bring up only stills or only movies. The convenience features that are missing are shortcuts to zoom instantly to full magnification, or back to full-screen display from a magnified image.
Zooming out from a full-screen display brings up a display of thumbnail images, first four photos, then nine, navigable using the Quick Command dial and selectable with the Set button.
When viewing movies shot with the camera, both standard-speed and slow-motion playback are available, along with frame-by-frame advance and the option to jump to the beginning or end of the file. Playback volume can also be adjusted, via the Main Control dial. What's strangely missing, though, is fast forward.
The on-screen display in playback mode toggles between four configurations when you press the INFO button. The most basic screen shows a nearly-full-screen image with shutter, aperture and exposure compensation information superimposed in black on the top left, file name on the top right. Pressing INFO adds image number and image size superimposed over the photo in the bottom left. Next up is a thumbnail display of the photo beside a luminance histogram, with full information on shooting mode, ISO, Picture Style, image size, color space and date and time added below. Finally, a fourth press displays both RGB and luminance histograms.
Canon lets you rotate a vertical image. Period.
Well, OK, they'll cut you a little slack if you want to use the 5D Mark II for direct PictBridge printing. The Direct Print section allows the choice of standard, vivid or three flavors of black and white, brightness levels adjustment, backlighting correction and cropping.
Direct Print Options***(5.00)*
The 5D supports both direct output to a PictBridge-compatible printer connected via USB and creation of a DPOF (Direct Print Order Form) file for professional printing services.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark II uses a full-frame CMOS sensor with a gross pixel count of approximately 22.0 megapixels and an effective resolution of approximately 21.10 megapixels. An automatic dust removal system, which vibrates the low-pass filter over the sensor, is triggered by default every time the camera is turned on or off (the automatic cleaning can be turned off, and the system can also be triggered manually). The filter is also coated with fluorine, which helps reduce dust adhesion, according to Canon. In addition, for stubborn dust problems, dust delete data can be recorded and used in conjunction with the provided Digital Photo Professional software to remove those stubborn stains.
The 5D Mark II sensor measures approximately 36 x 24mm—in other words, it matches the size of a 35mm film frame. And the resulting compatibility with lenses designed for 35mm cameras is a key advantage of shooting with a full-frame camera. Ordinarily, only the central portion of the light coming through the lens actually hits the image sensor at all in a typical digital camera, with its smaller sensor size. This leads to an apparent magnification of the image—it's not that it's actually been magnified, but only the middle portion is being captured and turned into the final photo, creating the magnification effect. As shown in the diagram below, the typical APS-C digital camera sensor effectively multiplies the apparent lens size by a factor of 1.6. If you mounted the 24-105mm kit lens we used for our 5D Mark II testing on a Canon Rebel XSi, for example, it would shoot roughly like a 38-168mm lens. You're getting more telephoto zoom power, but sacrificing the important wide-angle characteristics that let you shoot panoramic images and shoot close up in tight spaces (like an indoor group portrait).
The pentaprism viewfinder provides 98% coverage at 0.71x magnification. The diopter adjustment is conveniently located at the right side of the viewfinder, small enough to be unobtrusive but clicky enough to allow precise fine-tuning in the -3.0- +1.0m-1 range.
Closing the viewfinder for tripod shooting requires removing the eyecup.
The eyecup can be removed by pushing upward, but it's a fairly clumsy operation. Why bother? You might buy optional replacement eyecups from Canon, but the more frequent reason is blocking the open viewfinder while shooting with the camera mounted on a tripod—left open, light can stream in from behind and throw off the exposure setting. Both the Nikon D700 and Sony A900 solve this problem elegantly with a built-in shutter that opens or closes with a button push. Given the price of the camera, Canon should do the same.
Interchangeable focus screens are supported. Three compatible Eg-series screens are currently available: Precision Matte (provided with the camera), Precision Matte with grid and Super Precision Matte. They sell for about $45 each.
The viewfinder displays the following information:
Like the Canon EOS 50D, the 5D boasts a handsome 3-inch LCD with 920,000 resolution, with a 170-degree viewing angle. Screen brightness can be manually adjusted in seven steps, or set to one of three Auto levels, with the camera relying on a sensor to keep the screen at that setting.
The monochrome LCD screen on the camera's top right side conveniently displays much of the viewfinder data without the need to squint. The button at the far right illuminates the screen for a few seconds.
*The monochrome LCD provides a wealth of
information at a glance.*
The following diagram shows all the potential bits of info the LCD can display. Of course, since many of the settings shown are contradictory, it would be a very bad thing if they all appeared at once.
In line with the pro photographer image of the camera, the 5D Mark II doesn't have a built-in flash. We're not sure what harm there'd be in providing a pop-up flash for those occasions when you've left your external strobe back at the studio, but less-is-more is apparently the rule when it comes to stroking photo egos. Nikon is more accommodating in this regard, including a pop-up flash on the D700, though Sony also shuns pop-top convenience with the A900. Adding insult to injury, there's no autofocus assist lamp on the camera body either: if you want this very valuable low-light focusing tool, you'll have to affix a Speedlite to your camera.
The camera is fully compatible with Canon's EX-series Speedlites. This includes the ability to take a spot flash exposure meter reading and flash exposure compensation. Maximum X-sync speed is 1/200 second.
Speedlites that aren't part of the EX series will fire, but only at full output power. Non-Canon flash units and studio lights can be connected using the PC terminal.
One feature notably missing from the 5D Mark II is the built-in ability to control wireless off-camera flash units, which is provided in the Nikon D700 and Sony A900.
*With no built-in flash, 5D Mark II owners are likely to make
good use of the hot shoe.*
With its Canon EF-lens mount, the 5D Mark II is compatible with all EF-format lenses except EF-S models, which are designed for smaller-sensor-format cameras. This is bad news for existing Canon SLR owners with a significant lens investment interested in stepping up to a full-frame camera. The Nikon D700 and Sony A900, by contrast, both offer compatibility with lenses designed for their lower-cost SLRs.
The lens mount, shown here with the mirror up and down.
As a full-format camera, what you see printed on the lens attached to your 5D Mark II is what you get when it come to magnification: unlike the typical small-sensor digital camera, the 5D Mark II sensor is the same size as a 35mm film frame, so lenses behave as they were originally designed. This has a distinct advantage when it comes to wide-angle lenses, which ordinarily lose breadth of coverage when the typical digital camera lens multiplier is applied.
An interesting lens-related feature is Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction. Ordinarily, we expect some darkening in the four corners of an image, depending on the characteristics of the particular lens. The 5D can automatically adjust for this light falloff, if a profile of the lens is available and the user chooses to enable the feature. About twenty-five profiles are built into the camera, and others can be loaded using the supplied EOS Utility software. The in-camera correction is available for JPEG images; the same capability is available for RAW files using the Digital Photo Professional software.
Also available, though less frequently useful, is Autofocus Microadjustment. If a particular lens is producing less-than-sharp results, the auto focus system can be tweaked to accommodate this peculiarity by moving the focus point up to 10 steps forward or 10 steps back. These adjustments can be stored for up to 20 lenses at once.
A new battery, the LP-E6, is introduced with the 5D Mark II, with capacity rated at 1800 mAh. Canon promises approximately 830 shots per charge when shooting with the viewfinder, or 200 shots using Live View. Extensive battery status information is available via the third setup menu, including remaining power capacity, shutter count (shots taken with the current battery) and recharge performance. For those who are seriously power-hungry for battery info, you can register up to six batteries within the camera memory (every battery has its own serial number) and keep track of when each was last used, and the remaining charge at the time.
The battery is held in place with a small white clip.
The camera is compatible with Type I and Type II CompactFlash cards, including hard drive versions and the latest high-speed UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) format*. *
There's no latch on the memory card door, but it snaps in place firmly.
Jacks, Ports & Plugs***(5.50)*
There are six I/O ports in all, arrayed in two banks of three, each with its own tight-fitting rubber cover. In the left group is (from top to bottom) the PC terminal for flash unit sync cords, the N3-format remote control terminal and a standard microphone input jack. On the right are three industry standard jacks for stereo AV and mini-USB cables (both included) and mini HDMI for high-def TV output (cable not supplied). On the bottom of the camera is a an extension system terminal to be used for connecting the optional Wireless File Transmitter. There is also an infrared receiver port built into the front of the camera for use with Canon's optional RC-1 and RC-5 remote controls.
*All ports and connectors are well protected against the elements with
tight-fitting rubber covers.*
You get the basics you'd expect in a high-end SLR, including a let-the-camera-do-the-thinking full auto mode for those occasions when you want to hand the 5D to your mom and get a picture of yourself for a change. The Creative Auto mode seems like a potentially good idea poorly executed, since it's too confusing for absolute novices and worthless for veterans. The headline feature here is three Camera User settings on the mode dial, a very valuable way to tailor settings to three of your favorite configurations without even a sidetrip through the menu system.
Live View is easy to access—a single button lights up the high-res LCD with a bright, clear image—and the screen refreshes perfectly as you move the camera, with none of the stuttering or smearing we found with some early Live View implementations. Still, working with Live View mode is not as smooth and troublefree as we'd like. Yes, you can achieve handsome results shooting in Live View, but the cumbersome focusing procedure makes it inappropriate for subjects with the nerve to move when you're trying to take a picture.
By default, Live View is disabled for no apparent reason: you have to go into the third setup menu and enable it, in either stills or stills-plus-movie mode. After that you can enter Live View mode by pressing the top left button on the back of the camera.
Live View mode is used for shooting both stills and movies. We'll concentrate on stills here; the movie shooting procedure is explained in the separate Movies section above.
The Live View display can be set to two still photo modes via the setup menu. Stills Display mode maintains full brightness at all times, to enhance visibility, while Exposure Simulation mode mimics the brightness of the captured photo at current exposure settings.
Pressing the INFO button cycles through three Live View screen displays. The first is an entirely clean screen, the second adds a white-on-black display at the bottom for aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, available shots, ISO and battery status, and the third superimposes information on screen mode, Picture Style, autofocus setting, drive mode, white balance, movie mode and capacity, image size and movie recording capacity. When using Exposure Simulation mode, a fourth press brings up a histogram in the top right quadrant. It's also possible to have a 9- or 20-square grid superimposed over the Live View screen (unfortunately, there's no way to superimpose a grid on the viewfinder display, as you can with the Nikon D700, without swapping focusing screens).
Pressing the top right control buttons while in Live View mode brings up a series of overlay displays showing both the available settings and an icon indicating which control should be used to change these settings. With a single screen dedicated to selecting autofocus mode, focus point and drive mode, those control icons come in mighty handy.
Four focusing modes are available when shooting in Live View. Quick Mode uses the same phase detection focus system used when shooting through the viewfinder, flipping the mirror down briefly to accomplish this and briefly blanking out the Live View display. Alternatively, the system can focus directly off the main sensor using contrast detection autofocus, here called Live Mode. When using Live View focusing, you can move a box that covers 61% of the screen, using the joystick, to focus on the area of greatest interest.
Finally, Face Detection mode uses the same system as Live Mode, but attempts to identify a face in the frame and focus on it. The system can detect up to 35 faces, but focus on only one: it picks the closest or largest face in the frame, but you can move the highlight selection using the joystick if the camera gets it wrong. Overall we were satisfied with the results, if not the speed, of the Live View focusing system. Canon is hedging its bets, though, at least in the user manual, which states 'If you want to achieve precise focusing, set the lens focus mode switch to
A peculiarity of shooting with Live View that threw us for some time is the fact that simply holding the shutter button down halfway has no effect. Instead, you have to mash down the AF-ON button and keep it down until focus has been achieved, which can take several seconds. While in Live View, metering is always done using Evaluative mode, no matter what setting you've specified.
An interesting bonus feature while in Live View mode is Silent Shooting. Since the mirror doesn't have to clack up and down when you press the shutter, you're able to shoot with less noise than you would when using the viewfinder (though 'silent' is certainly an overstatement, since the shutter sound whirr is still quite noticeable). There are two modes for your listening pleasure. The first can be used for either single or burst mode (at a slightly reduced 3 shots per second speed compared to the usual 3.9). The second takes a single shot and then holds off on resetting the shutter until you remove your finger from the button, hence giving you more control over when the inevitable noise will occur.
There are no scene modes on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. When you spend $2700 on a camera body, you're expected to be able to grapple with shutter speeds and aperture settings on your own.
The 5D Mark II offers a Picture Style feature with six presets and three slots for user-defined styles. Each style is a combination of settings for the following four factors.
In addition, specific color ranges can be shifted. We shot our still life in each of the six preset Picture Styles (shown below) to demonstrate their effects. Look closely at the blue and green jellybeans, for example, and you'll see the way the colors are more intense in the Landscape Picture style, and far more subdued in Neutral and Faithful.
The best shorthand way we've found to wrap your head around the Picture Style concept: it's like choosing a particular kind of film for its distinctive reproduction characteristics.
Picture styles are accessed through a dedicated button on the back of the camera, or via the Shooting menu. The provided styles can be customized, or user-defined styles created, in the camera or with more precision using the supplied Picture Style Editor software. Probably more useful for most of us, who may see the Picture Style editing process as a bit daunting, it's also possible to download and install Picture Style files created by others. Several, including Studio Portrait, Nostalgia, Autumn Hues and Twilight versions, are currently available here, at a site maintained by Canon Japan. And these Picture Style files can also be applied to RAW images using the Digital Photo Professional software provided with the camera.
The autofocus system relies on nine primary focus points, including one cross-type point in the center. An additional six focus assist points near the center of the scene are available to help track moving subjects, though the points aren't displayed on-screen.
The six focus assist points are shown in grey in this diagram.
When using one of the two automated shooting modes (Full Auto and Creative Auto), the camera chooses a focus point, which can't be overridden. In any other mode you're on your own, moving the focus point selection with the joystick or by rotating one of the two dials. Instinct would say that using the joystick would be the right call here, since you can point directly to the spot you want instead of running through the focus point range until you land on the right one. In practice, we found that joystick tough to use accurately. With just nine available focus points, the Quick Control Dial was much faster.
Whether you use the automated system or choose your focus point yourself, it lights up bright red in the viewfinder. We found this bold display very useful but, if you disagree, the light can be suppressed through a custom control.
There are three autofocus modes:
Manual focus is straightforward: flip the AF/M switch on the lens to M and turn the focus ring. There is no focus assist indicator in the viewfinder, as found on the Nikon D700.
Live View mode offers both the standard focus system used during viewfinder shooting and contrast-detection auto focus using the image sensor. The system is detailed in the Live View section above.
The 5D Mark II offers two automatic exposure modes (Full Auto and Creative Auto) plus aperture-priority, shutter-priority and full manual exposure control. Exposure compensation can be set ±2 stops, in either 1/3 stop (default) or 1/2 stop increments. Three-shot auto exposure bracketing is also available.*
*There are two features designed to improve results in difficult shooting situations. Auto Lighting Optimizer attempts to compensate for low-contrast and low-light photos, particularly in heavily backlit situations, though Canon warns that image noise may increase. There are three level settings: Standard, Low, Strong and Disable. Auto Lighting Optimizer is on when shooting in Full Auto or Creative Auto mode, and on by default in the other shooting modes.
The other image enhancement option is Highlight Tone Priority, designed to improve highlight detail in high-contrast scenes by expanding dynamic range between gray levels and highlights, without changing the shadow and midtone areas. Here again, Canon cautions that the process may cause an image noise increase. Highlight Tone Priority also limits available ISO settings to the 200-6400 range. There are only two settings, Disable and Enable, and the feature is off by default.
Speed and Timing**
The Canon 5D Mark II gets off to a jackrabbit start from power-up to taking your first shot, but its burst mode performance lags the competition across the board.
Shot to Shot (3.81)
Canon claims the maximum burst mode speed shooting full-resolution JPEGs with the 5D Mark II is 3.9 frames per second. In our lab testing we clocked the camera at 3.81 frames per second, well within the margin of error.
Drive/Burst Mode (5.75)
There is only one burst mode speed, which Canon clocks at approximately 3.9 frames per second at full resolution. Their figure for maximum burst rate duration differs substantially based on the type of CompactFlash card you're using. With a standard CF card, they figure approximately 78 JPEGs, 13 RAW files or 8 RAW+JPEG shots in a row. Move up to a high-speed UDMA card, though, and the JPEG burst capacity is limited only by the capacity of the card, though the switch to UDMA only increases RAW burst capacity to 14 consecutive frames and doesn't change the RAW+JPEG spec.
The Nikon D700 and Sony A900 both offer significantly faster burst modes. The D700 runs at 5 frames per second, which can be boosted to 8 frames per second with an optional battery grip attached, but that's handling 12.1-megapixel images versus the 21.1-megapixel 5D Mark II output. The Sony A900, on the other hand, delivers 24.6-megapixel resolution and still manages a maximum 5 frame per second burst rate.
Depth of Field Preview*(2.00)*
Depth of field preview is available for both viewfinder and Live View shooting. Pressing the DOF Preview button stops down the lens to the current aperture setting, previewing the actual depth of field at current settings but darkening the view at small aperture settings.
The 5D Mark II uses a 35-zone metering system with four available modes:
Available shutter speeds range from 1/8000 second to 30 seconds, plus Bulb.**
The self-timer is accessed through the drive mode controls.
Several forms of remote-controlled shooting are also possible. The optional Remote Switch RS-803N3 or Timer Remote Controller TC-80N3 can be connected to the terminal plug on the side of the camera. There are also two wireless remote controls available, the RC-1 and the RC-5. Most intriguing, though, is the option to connect to your computer with a standard USB cable and shoot stills or video remotely using the included EOS Utility software.
*In a welcome pro-level feature, it's possible to create a copyright notice using the provided EOS Utility software, transfer it to the computer via USB and have the information embedded in the EXIF data of every photo taken. Unlike the Nikon D700, you can't create the copyright message within the camera itself, but since you're only likely to tackle this chore once, this is a minor inconvenience.
Design & Handling
Start out with a hefty camera body, add a 24-105mm zoom that weighs nearly as much as the body does and before you know it you're carrying around three and a quarter pounds of camera. On a practical level, that means one-handed shooting is a dicey proposition; just keeping the camera level with the weight of the lens tugging the left side down is a challenge for more than a shot or two. On the other hand (literally), cradle the lens in your left, thumb and forefinger holding the zoom ring, the other three fingers curled to create a platform for the camera bottom, and you have a secure, solid hold. It's still a substantial handful, but particularly with the 24-105mm kit lens, the weight is perfectly balanced. The righthand camera grip is particularly well designed. The rubber textured covering provides a reliable non-slip hold. There's plenty of depth between the front of the grip and the camera body to curl your fingers around. And the sculptured indent just below the shutter helps maintain a good vertical hold while positioning the hand with the index finger right over the shutter.
The dual-dial control strategy employed here is a mixed blessing. There are two separate dials, the top-mounted semi-circular Main Dial and the round Quick Control Dial on the back. Sometimes turning either dial will have the same effect: moving the sliders in Creative Auto mode, for example, or choosing a menu language. At other times the division of labor between the two is clear and easy to learn. While navigating the menu system, for example, turning the Main Dial moves from menu tab to menu tab, while turning the Quick Control Dial moves the cursor up and down through the individual menu. Elsewhere, though, there's no rhyme or reason to the control division. For example, after pressing the leftmost button on top of the camera, the Main Control Dial changes metering mode, the Quick Control Dial adjusts ISO setting—you get used to it, but there's no underlying logic to it. And while the use of a rear dial can speed movement through a long menu, it also robs us of the dual-purpose function of a traditional four-way controller, which not only navigates through the menu system but also allows quick access to four key settings functions.
The menu system is well designed for navigation purposes. Unlike so many cameras with lengthy lists that scroll off the bottom of the page, requiring lengthy maneuvering and a good memory to reach unseen options, the 5D Mark II menu system is broken up into 9 tabs, each of which fits entirely on a single screen.
Manual & Learning*(6.00)*
Given the complexity of the camera, the instruction manual provided with the 5D Mark II does a nice job both in the initial learning phase and as a continuing reference resource. The show-and-tell balance between text and graphics works well, and the visuals themselves are nicely executed, with clean line drawings, clear screen shots and tables where appropriate. Even the size makes sense: at 5 7/8 x 4 1/8, the manual is easily portable, even in a jacket pocket, yet still large enough to read without squinting at mouse type.
There is also a fold-out 8-panel Pocket Guide which might have some value as a carry-along reference, with its listing of custom functions and menu organization, if it were laminated to take some abuse. As it stands, you can toss it in your camera bag, but it will likely to be crumpled and torn beyond recognition quickly.
Documentation for the software applications provided comes on a single CD, separate from the programs themselves, though there is some mystery involved between installation and utilization of some programs. There are seven programs provided for Windows and six for Macintosh, but only four are apparently documented for each. That's because several applications, including the Photo Stitch panorama-building program, are accessed from within the four documented software apps. A little cheat sheet explaining that fact would have been appreciated.
Video Color & Noise
*Note: This review was updated on July 27, 2009, with additional video testing. This updated review reflects the changes to the 5D Mark II video capabilities enabled by the 1.1.0 firmware update, released June 2, 2009.
The Canon 5D Mark II produced very accurate colors in our testing. The camera measured a color error of 2.76, which is a good deal better than the rest of the video-capable DSLRs we've tested. It also managed a saturation level of 106.6%, so the colors have quite a bit of pop and look rather deep. Note: we did all our video testing on the 5D Mark II using a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens.Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests color performance.
The color error map above shows how well the camera did with each individual color patch in our test. The 5D Mark II did a terrific job with most colors, particularly greens and blues. It only ran into trouble with reds and browns, which is signified by the longer lines between the squares and circles in the color error map above.
The data above comes from our test with the 5D Mark II set to its standard color mode. Using the camera's other color settings will get you different results (as you can see below), and we found the Neutral color mode to produce the most accurate colors (a 2.53 color error according to our image testing software).
As we stated earlier, the 5D Mark II produced more accurate colors than each of the video-DSLRs we've tested so far—the Canon T1i, Panasonic GH1, and Nikon D5000. It also had better color accuracy than the HF S100, a high-end HD camcorder from Canon. In fact, the 5D Mark II's color score is better than most HD camcorders are capable. Only a few models from JVC (the GZ-HD300 and HM200) have done better in our color testing this year.
We like how vivid and deep the colors look on the 5D Mark II. The Canon T1i actually had a slightly higher saturation level (110.3%), however, and you can notice their color differences in the comparisons below (specifically with the green and red patches). Both the Panasonic GH1 and Canon HF S100 had lower saturation levels than the 5D Mark II and their colors were noticeably less vivid in our testing.
The 5D Mark II averaged 0.4775% noise in our testing. This is a very respectable performance even though it's a bit worse than what we saw from the rest of the video-capable DSLRs that went through our labs.Compared to the average consumer HD camcorder, however, the 5D Mark II's results were very good. Out of the video-DSLRs we've tested, the Nikon D5000 measured the lowest amount of noise, with only 0.1925%. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests noise performance.
The crops above do a good job showing off the sharpness capabilities of each camera and camcorder. All the models above have very good sharpness and all of the crops were taken from 1920 x 1080 HD video. The Canon 5D mark II appears a bit crisper than the cheaper Canon T1i, but its image appears slightly less sharp than the HF S100. The GH1 is also very sharp, but its image has some blur and aliasing towards the bottom of the vertical trumpet in the image above. The full data and results from our video sharpness test are available in the next section of this review.
Video Motion & Sharpness
The Canon 5D Mark II records all HD video using a 30p frame rate. There are no alternate frame rate modes or options on the camera. There is a 640 x 480 setting for recording standard definition video, however. We found the motion on the 5D Mark II to be very good. It was smooth, fluid, and had minimal artifacting throughout. Just as we saw on the previous video-DSLRs we've tested, the 5D Mark II produces a significant rolling shutter effect whenever a quick pan is performed with the camera. Of the video-capable DSLRs we've tested, only the Panasonic GH1 didn't have this problem. Keep in mind the YouTube videos below have been heavily compressed during the upload process. Check out the HD links for higher resolution versions. Note: All our video testing on the 5D Mark II was done using a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests motion.
Canon 5D Mark II
*Click Here for large HD Version *
Out of the DSLRs we've tested, the 5D Mark II had the best motion rendering overall. Its image had less artifacting than the Canon T1i and its recorded motion looked a bit smoother as well. The only big issue we noticed on the 5D Mark II was some choppiness, blur and image-doubling on the train as it passed around the front of the track during our testing. We tested the camera using a variety of shutter speed settings (the video above was taken with a 1/100 shutter speed) and noticed a similar effect even at faster shutter speeds. There was also a bit of streaking between the colors on the RGB pinwheel and a slight halo effect on the black and white pinwheel. Additionally, we were a bit disappointed the camera didn't offer any alternate frame rates (like a 24p or 60p mode). Overall, however, the 5D Mark II captured motion very well.
The big problem with the Canon T1i is its use of an abnormal 20p frame rate. Most cameras and camcorders capture video at 24p, 30p, or 60i/60p frame rates, which means 20p is significantly lower than the rest of these rates. The resultant footage is quite choppy and isn't very smooth. We can't imagine anyone preferring the look of the T1i's 20p frame rate, and the fact that the rate is so uncommon doesn't bode well for editing software compatibility. The T1i does have a 30p option, but only when recording at 1280 x 720 resolution.
The Panasonic GH1 captured motion very well in some modes, while the camera had trouble in others. In its 1920 x 1080 Full HD mode, the GH1 uses a 24p frame rate (captured at 60i with the sensor output at 24p) to record video. The resultant footage wasn't very smooth and there was plenty of image blur. In its lower resolution settings the camera can either record using a 60p frame rate (using AVCHD compression) or 30p (using MJPEG compression). The video recorded with these modes looked much smoother and there was far less blur and motion trails. There was, however, more artifacting when using some of the GH1's lower resolution modes.
Canon offers three frame rates on its consumer HD camcorders: 60i, 30p, and 24p. The 30p and 24p modes are recorded at 60i and converted to the alternate rates inside the camcorder for output. It's the HF S100's 60i frame rate that sets it apart from the video-capable DSLRs however. None of the DSLRs offer 60i rates at Full HD (1920 x 1080), which mean none of them can capture the smooth, natural motion that is commonly captured by consumer HD camcorders (most HD camcorders record with a 60i frame rate). This is one of the biggest differences between camcorders and DSLRs that record video.
The 5D Mark II captured decently sharp video. In our testing, the camera measured 700 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) horizontal and 650 lw/ph vertical. This is very close to the results we measured on both the Canon T1i and Panasonic GH1. The Canon HF S100 had the best sharpness of this bunch, coming in with 800 lw/ph horizontal and 650 lw/ph vertical. When testing the vertical sharpness on the 5D Mark II we noticed its image had similar aliasing and blur to the Canon HF S100. All this data is taken from testing the cameras and camcorder in their Full HD (1920 x 1080) modes. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests video sharpness.
Video Low Light
Compared to the competition, the Canon 5D Mark II performed quite well in our low light sensitivity test. The camera needed 13 lux of light to reach 50 IRE on our waveform monitor. This is better than both the Canon T1i and Panasonic GH1, which needed 26 lux and 17 lux respectively. It is also slightly better than the Canon HF S100 camcorder did with this test (needed 16 lux). Note: All our video testing on the 5D Mark II was done using a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests low light sensitivity.
A lot of factors make up a camera's low light sensitivity. The quality and size of the image sensor is one aspect, but the aperture settings of the lens is another big component. Since all the video-capable DSLRs offer removable lenses, it would definitely be possible to achieve better low light sensitivity by using a faster lens (or vice versa). We tested the Canon 5D Mark II in Program mode with ISO set to auto. The settings chosen by the camera were as follows: 1/60 of a second shutter speed, f/4 aperture, 6400 ISO. Using the camera's 12800 high sensitivity setting boosted its low light sensitivity even farther, but the resultant image had quite a bit of noise.
The low light sensitivity of various models are often different when using alternate frame rates. The table above lists the measured sensitivities for each recording mode available on the cameras and camcorder we tested.
The 5D Mark II had excellent color accuracy in low light. In our test, its color error was measured at 2.08, which is significantly better than the competition. The camera's saturation level was 104.1%. The Canon T1i was the next best performer in this set, as it put up a color error of 3.06 and a nearly identical saturation of 104.9%. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests low light color performance.
The 5D Mark II had a rather dark, contrasty image in this test, but its colors were very deep and vivid. The camera also maintained an extremely sharp image in low light and only a minimal amount of noise was present (see the next section for more information about low light noise). Looking at the error map above, you can see the camera still had most of its trouble with reds and browns, while most other colors were very accurately rendered.
In the comparisons above, notice how much darker and washed out the Canon HF S100 looks in low light compared to the DSLR cameras. This washed-out look is a direct result of the HF S100's low saturation level of 58.01%. All the video-capable DSLRs had much higher saturations in low light (the GH1 was the worst of this set, with a very respectable 94.82%). So, with the video DSLRs you're definitely getting much stronger colors in low light when compared to even a high-end consumer HD camcorder.
We always see low noise levels with video-capable DSLRs, so the 5D Mark II's terrific performance in this test is no shocker. The camera averaged just 0.6175% noise in our low light testing. This is far less than the Canon T1i measured, but slightly more than the Panasonic GH1. The Canon HF S100, the only camcorder in this set of comparisons, had the most noise in low light. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests low light noise performance.
The crops above show how well each model was able to maintain a sharp image in low light. The 5D Mark II and Panasonic GH1 both have very strong and sharp images. The Canon T1i's image starts to lose some of its sharpness in the low light condition, as you can see by looking at the bottom of the vertical trumpet above. The noise in the Canon HF S100's image is quite noticeable in the crop above, while the rest of images from the DSLRs look quite clean.
The Canon 5D Mark II uses the H.264 codec to compress video, which is the same system used on the Canon T1i. Files are saved in the MOV format so they're compatible with most editing programs and media players. The H.264 compression used by the camera is similar to AVCHD, although it is not exactly the same and the camera doesn't carry the AVCHD branding that is featured on Canon's HD camcorders. The camcorder uses a 30p frame rate to capture video in both its 1920 x 1080 HD mode and its 640 x 480 standard definition setting. Video will stop recording if a single file size reaches 4GB or if the movie time goes over 29 minutes and 59 seconds.
When the Canon 5D Mark II was first released, the camera offered no manual controls when shooting video. Canon has since released a firmware upgrade to fix this problem. With the new firmware (which was installed on the model we tested), the 5D Mark II offers a decent range of manual controls and using them was quite simple and pleasant.
As far as auto controls go, the 5D Mark II suffers from not having a live autofocus feature. This is a problem with all video-capable DSLRs, with the notable exception of the Panasonic GH1. The GH1 gets around this issue, however, because it isn't really a true DSLR (it uses the Micro Four Thirds lens system) and it offers an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical one.
So, the 5D Mark II cannot keep a consistent autofocus while shooting video like a camcorder can. You must press the autofocus button to change focus, or you can do so manually by rotating the focus ring on the lens. Its probably not a good idea to press the autofocus button while you're shooting video anyway—the autofocus motor is very noisy (the sound will definitely be picked up by the built-in mic) and the exposure levels are altered for a moment while the camera attempts to focus (something you'll probably want to edit out later).
Auto exposure was okay on the camera, but the light levels shifted in a step-like manner as we moved from bright to dark scenes. Again, as with the autofocus motor, this exposure adjustment was quite noisy.
Zoom Controls and Zoom Ratio
Zoom is controlled via the zoom ring on the camera's lens. The amount of optical zoom available depends on what lens is attached to the camera.
Focus can be set manually using the focus ring on the camera's lens. There's also a 5x and 10x digital zoom option that act as a focus assist. Pressing the digital zoom button blows up the image to help you focus. This digital enhancement cannot be used while shooting video (only before you've started recording).
Exposure, Aperture, and Shutter Speed
Exposure, aperture, and shutter speed can all be controlled manually on the 5D Mark II (thanks to the firmware upgrade). Exposure can be adjusted in any mode (except the auto modes) and it is done by rotating the large dial on the back of the camera. Exposure control ranges from -2 to +2 and can be set in 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments (the increments can be changed in the camera's menu). The AF/AE lock feature also works with video and you can use it to lock a certain exposure or focus for the duration of a shot.
Aperture and shutter speed can only be set for video when the camera is in Manual mode (M on the mode dial). Shutter-priority and Aperture-priority modes do not work for shooting video. In Manual mode you can, however, adjust both aperture and shutter speed before or while you are recording video. This means you can actually change aperture during a shot if you want to alter depth of field or adjust exposure levels. Changing both shutter speed and aperture is somewhat noisy—the dials make noise, as do the camera's internal components—so it may be irritating to do so while recording (if the recorded audio is important to you, that is).
ISO*/Gain and Other Controls*
ISO can be set manually on the 5D Mark II and the camera offers a generous range of ISO settings for video recording. ISO can be set from 100 - 6400 (expandable to 12800 in the menu) in video mode. Like aperture, exposure, and shutter speed, ISO settings can even be altered while you are recording. ISO can also be set to automatic even when you're in Manual mode on the camera. This allows you to make adjustments to shutter speed and aperture, while keeping ISO in automated control.
There are also the color modes, which we talked about earlier in the Video: Color section of our review. In addition to the preset color options on the camera, you can make custom settings by manually setting sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone.
The 5D Mark II has a switch in its menu to go between NTSC and PAL output. While this won't change the way the camera captures video, it is a handy feature to have if you're traveling overseas and you want to connect the camera to a PAL television.
DSLRs definitely aren't known for their audio capabilities, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the 5D Mark II is limited in that category. The camera does have one audio feature that sets it apart from the crowd, however—a 3.5mm external mic jack. Connecting a mic via the jack allows you to record stereo audio, as well as place an external microphone farther away from the 5D Mark II's noisy components.
The camera's built-in mic is awful. It's on the front side of the body, right in the way of where you might place your fingers when you hold the camera. It picks up noise when you focus, zoom, or change any of the camera's settings. It also only records monaural audio using the Linear PCM codec. It's basically the same setup featured on the Canon T1i. Other than the Panasonic GH1—which features a built-in, top-mounted, stereo mic—most DSLRs only have the bare bones of built-in audio features. This is an area where camcorders clearly have an edge over the video-capable DSLRs.
All video-DSLRs come with a standard caveat: they don't handle anything like an ordinary camcorder. They are primarily built as cameras after all, which means that video handling isn't their prime objective. If you are accustomed to using DSLRs to take photographs, using the 5D Mark II to capture video will be fairly intuitive, however. Its buttons and dials are well placed, the camera has a nice, strong grip, and it feels quite steady in your hand. The question is, can you hold the bulky camera long enough and steady enough to shoot desirable video? If you're planning on doing any extensive videography with the 5D Mark II, we recommend bringing along a tripod.
When in video mode you can adjust the LCD screen so it will display a transparent mask in the corresponding aspect ratio you're shooting video (16:9 for 1920 x 1080, 4:3 for 640 x 480). This mask allows you to frame your shot correctly without having to guess where the video image will be cut off. One unfortunate 'side-effect' of this mask is that if you shoot a still image while recording (or while the mask is turned on) the photo will capture the entire frame—including the transparent mask. This is really a minor problem, but it seems like it is something Canon could improve on in future models.
According to Canon you can shoot movies for about 90 minutes with a fully charged battery pack (depending on the temperature). Video files are limited to 4GB in size and 29 minutes, 59 seconds in length—at which point video will automatically stop recording. A new clip can be started after the limit is reached.
The 5D Mark II is quite heavy. It isn't the heaviest of DSLRs—in fact, its rather average for a camera of its class—but, compared to the other video-capable DSLRs on the market, it's quite a hefty product. The camera weighs 810g (28.6 ounces) without the lens. This is significantly heavier than the bodies of the Nikon D5000 (560g/19.8 oz.), the Canon T1i (480g/16.9 oz.), and the Panasonic GH1 (385g/13.6 oz.). The Panasonic GH1 feels like a lightweight pocket-cam compared to the hefty 5D Mark II. This, combined with the GH1's more compact body, definitely makes it more versatile for capturing video.
The stationary LCD on the 5D Mark II also makes shooting video more difficult. While the Nikon D5000 and Panasonic GH1 both feature splendid rotatable screens, the two Canon DSLRs have non-moveable ones plastered on the back of their bodies. This means you often must crouch, squat, kneel or contort your body in a variety of ways in order to frame your desired shot. The stationary LCD may be perfectly fine for reviewing still photos, but it's simply awful for capturing video. This issue is coupled with the fact that the camera's optical viewfinder cannot be used in video mode (using the LCD with live view mode is the only option). This is the case with all video-capable DSLRs, except for the Panasonic GH1 as it uses an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical one.
Canon 50D Comparison
Overall the 50D held up very well, considering you'll probably pay $1000 less for it than you will with the 5D Mark II. It's faster to start, and has a better burst speed, and for most of our tests it was only a hair's breadth away from the more expensive unit in terms of performance. Except, of course, it can't record videos.
The biggest component advantage that the 5D Mark II can quote is its full frame sensor, and higher megapixel count (21.1 over 15.1). The 50D has better magnification on the viewfinder and a built-in flash where the 5D Mark II does not.
The two cameras handle quite similarly, due to their shared heritage. The 5D Mark II is slightly larger and heavier, but not in such a way that you'll notice it readily. Both are robust cameras that feel very sturdy.
The controls for the 5D Mark II are almost universally a step beyond those of the 50D. There's a greatly increased ISO range, better autofocus system, a wider variety of image formats, and the much discussed video mode.
Sony A900 Comparison
While a higher megapixel count doesn't necessarily equal superior resolution in our testing, the Sony A900 did outperform the Canon 5D Mark II in this area,, while the Canon delivered far more accurate color when both cameras were set to their most unobtrusive color modes. In our low light testing, the Sony maintained color accuracy far better, though image noise performance here was quite close, and under studio lighting the Canon was marginally superior in our image noise tests. Here again, the 5D Mark II lags the competition in burst mode performance, delivering just 3.81 shots per second to the Sony's 4.44, even though the Sony is shooting even higher-resolution images. The Sony does not provide video recording, where the Canon 5D Mark II does.
Both cameras provide similar 3-inch LCD displays, though the Sony lacks Live View mode entirely. The Sony viewfinder is a strength, though, offering a full 100 percent view, which none of the other cameras in our lineup can match. The Sony also provides in-camera image stabilization, which means any lens attached to the camera benefits from the technology. Both cameras provide HDMI out for connecting to an HDTV, and neither has a built-in flash, though the A900 does include an autofocus illuminator.
Shooting with the 16-35mm lens Sony provided, we found the A900 difficult to maneuver; it has a tendency to tip forward and to the left, where even with a heavy lens, the Canon felt well balanced in our hands. We found the button layout on the Sony significantly more difficult to maneuver than the Canon 5D Mark II, requiring us to look away from the viewfinder and visually hunt for the controls we needed.
The Sony A900 lacks the Canon's extended ISO range (out to ISO 25,600), topping out at 6400. Both cameras provide three custom settings modes available directly via the mode dial. Sony offers a feature called Live Image Preview, which allows the user to take a pre-shot of a subject and interactively experiment with different shooting settings, but this preview can't be saved as an actual file and, given the ease of simply shooting and reviewing, we're not seeing an enormous benefit here.
Nikon D90 Comparison
**Note: The D90 was tested last year, using CamcorderInfo.com's old testing rubric.
Therefore, its scores and data for video are not comprable to the Canon 5D Mark II. *
The hallmark head-to-head feature here is clearly video quality, and on that score the 5D Mark II proved superior in our testing for both resolution and color accuracy—in fact, the experts at our sister site, Camcorderinfo.com, said the results were comparable to a professional Canon camcorder, though some controls are lacking, particularly in maintaining focus on moving subjects. The one area where the Nikon video was superior was capturing high-speed motion, where the Canon suffered from some blurring and imprecision. When it comes to still photography, the test results in color accuracy and image noise were neck and neck, though the D90 outperformed the Canon in our resolution scores, and delivers 4.44 shots per second in burst mode to the Canon's 3.8.
The D90 sensor provides 12.3-megapixel resolution to 21.1 megapixels for the 5D Mark II. For video shooting, the microphone input jack on the Canon is an important feature the Nikon lacks. For stills, the Nikon provides a pop-up flash and autofocus illuminator, which the Canon lacks. Screen quality is on a par for both cameras, and both offer HDMI out for connecting to an HDTV.
With lens attached, the D90 weighs about a pound less than the 5D Mark II, a very substantial portability difference, though we do prefer the deep, rubberized grip on the Canon to the more petite and plastic D90.
When it comes to light sensitivity, the Canon 5D Mark II far surpasses the Nikon; the Canon's highest official ISO is 6400 with an expanded range to 25,600, the Nikon tops out at an official 3200 and an expanded range to 6400. We prefer the easy navigation of the Canon menu system to the comparatively clumsy Nikon approach. Nikon does offer more hand-holding features for less sophisticated SLR users, including a selection of custom scene modes right on the mode dial and a built-in help system that serves as a surprisingly effective substitute for carrying the user manual.
Nikon D700 Comparison
The breakthrough feature of the D700 was extremely low image noise, but the 5D Mark II equaled this performance in our testing, and bested the Nikon significantly in resolution and dynamic range testing. The comparative strengths of the D700 lie in superior long exposure results (thanks to low-light noise superiority), more accurate white balance and faster shot-to-shot timing, with 4.9 frames per second to the Canon's 3.81.
The 5D Mark II's 21.1-megapixel resolution is in a different class from the Nikon's 12.1 megapixels. Both cameras provide similar 3-inch LCD screens with 920,000-dot resolution and offer HDMI output to high-definition TVs. Live View display is smoother on the 5D Mark II, though; we observed some stuttering and slowness in the Nikon implementation. In the viewfinder display, Nikon has two advantages; the option to superimpose grid lines on the display, and a 'virtual horizon' system that helps keep the camera level.
With lenses mounted, the two cameras feel roughly the same in your hand, though we prefer the deeper righthand grip of the 5D.
The level of user customization is similar for the two cameras, though the use of a mode dial on the 5D Mark II makes accessing features and settings a bit faster. Both systems provide dual control dials, making manual exposure settings straightforward, though the front dial on the Nikon is a bit hard to handle. On the other hand, the Canon joystick is quite finicky to control accurately. Both cameras offer built-in lens vignetting correction and autofocus fine-tuning.
Note: This review was updated on July 27, 2009, with additional video testing. This updated review reflects the changes to the 5D Mark II video capabilities enabled by the 1.1.0 firmware update, released June 2, 2009.