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Home / Photography / DSLR Cameras

Canon Eos 5D Mark II Review

By Mike Perlman, Wednesday 22 July 2009
GALLERY
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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Exceptional 1080p video and professional Full-frame still images together at last? Read the full Canon Eos 5D Mark II review here complete with extensive image and video samples.

Review summary of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II:
Scoreboard »            Gallery »
Canon EOS 5D Mark II There aren't many DSLRs that can compete with the Canon Eos 5D Mark II. This 21-megapixel professional DSLR has burrowed itself into a rather unconventional hole within the pegboard of the advanced DSLR market, courtesy not only of exceptional still image quality, but dynamite 1080p HD video quality. We loved the Canon Eos 5D Mark II's rock solid build and compatibility with the entire Canon EF lens library. Menus were easy to navigate through thanks to an excellent interface, though the camera was not packed to the brim with features. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II is an imaging powerplant, especially when combined with high quality glass—that's its place in the world. If you're a professional photographer looking for a model that won't significantly break the bank the way an Eos 1D or Nikon D3 will, then the Full-frame Canon Eos 5D Mark II is the answer. In terms of versatility, the Canon Eos 5D Mark II cannot be beat. Release: November 2008. Price: $2700.
Pros: Excellent still image and video quality. Solid design and great interface. Accommodates Canon’s best glass, in addition to a variety of other accessories.
Cons: Records to CF cards, which are slowly becoming extinct. Not terribly feature-rich. 21-megapixel RAW images eat memory like it's their Birthday.
Poor
Mediocre
Good
88%
VERY GOOD
Excellent
Full Canon EOS 5D Mark II Review:
Design – Very Good

Aside from an LCD upgrade and a few extra ports and terminals to support the Canon Eos 5D Mark II's 1080p HD video mode, the camera is architecturally unchanged from its first generation predecessor, the Canon Eos 5D. That means we still had the pleasure of shooting with a rock solid magnesium alloy chassis decked out with large rubberized grip panels along the front, back and sides of the body. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II feels like a professional model should feel, and its bulky weight is a direct indication that Canon was not concerned with portability, but rather advanced functionality and durability. We were highly impressed with the build quality of the Canon Eos 5D Mark II, for the camera withstood being stowed inside a motorcycle on a high-speed footpeg-scraping ride throughout Massachusetts.

When we first unsheathed the Canon Eos 5D Mark II from its cardboard dwelling, we knew we were dealing with a model that was a notch above the rest. The Eos 5D Mark II's body weight alone matched that of a typical APS-C intermediate DSLR like the Pentax K2000 or Canon Eos 500D (Rebel T1i). Canon shipped us an Ultrasonic EF 24-105mm f/4.0L lens with a 77mm filter diameter, which is compatible with a number of filters. The EF lens was tough as nails and easy to operate, thanks to the large rubberized focus and zoom rings, and it even offered image stabilization. Furthermore, the quality of the lens was unreal, and shooting with high-end Canon glass rendered us unwilling to travel back to the fixed lenses of consumer and intermediate models.

The Canon Eos 5D Mark II's optical viewfinder features a standard removable rubber gasket for eye comfort and a hot accessory shoe on top for an external flash like a Speedlite. The Eos 5D Mark II did not have a popup flash, which is typical of a DSLR in this price range, as a built-in flash could not match the likes of a decent aftermarket model. We liked the fact that we could add a battery grip to the Eos 5D Mark II, and the camera even supports a Wireless File Transmitter. External controls are fairly limited on the Canon Eos 5D Mark II, but that was not a major issue for us while shooting. The camera itself is powerful enough to function without a plethora of bells and whistles, and the interface functionality was top notch.

Interface – Very Good

In fact, the Canon Eos 5D Mark II had one of the best interfaces we've ever used, which is something we certainly did not see coming. Again, one glance at the Eos 5D Mark II will reveal that the camera is fairly light on external controls, but the hat trick of steering wheels proved a winning combination. We're talking about the front dial, rear-mounted joystick and oversized Set dial. At first, this setup took a while to grow acclimated to, but we were soon jetting through the menu systems with ease. Pressing the center of the joystick initiates the Function menu and we could scroll to each option using its four-way controls. The Set button would select a feature like White Balance or Picture Style and its large dial would rifle through the corresponding options. For a quick fix, we could use the large Set dial directly in the Function menu without having to leap to another screen. The front dial controlled Aperture and Shutter Speed, but it also lent a hand in a few particular menus as well.

Not only were the menus sleek and colorful, but the response was also lightning quick. The only issues we encountered with the Canon Eos 5D Mark II's interface were in Playback mode while zooming in and moving images. This was a very clunky and slow process, and we're wondering if the firmware is simply choking on the 21-megapixels of RAW information. In Playback, the image information was highly adequate, displaying RGB histograms and in-depth EXIF data. There were no ancillary options to gobble up Mode dial real estate either, so we never felt as if we were wasting time with a Scene mode or shifting through too many unnecessary features. The button spread on the Canon Eos 5D Mark II was fine for our standards, but they resided on the small side. At times it was difficult to locate the ISO button, but it was less of an issue the more we shot with the camera.

We do think there should be a separate Video Record button and Video Mode on the Mode dial. There is no indication of anything video-related on the outside of the Canon Eos 5D Mark II, and we had to go into the menu and activate Live View in order for the camera to actually capture clips. The Set button functions as the Video Record button, so there will be certain things that need to be discovered via the manual or personal experience in order to extract the most from the Eos 5D Mark II.

The Canon Eos 5D Mark II's three-inch 920,000-pixel LCD is a welcomed upgrade, and its Live View functionality enabled us to compose our shots before switching over to the 98% field-of-view optical viewfinder for a quick Auto Focus. The viewfinder provides an exceedingly crisp display, thanks in part to the greatness of the EF lens. A small LED panel of image information like Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO and a light meter are located along a panel below the viewfinder frame, like most DSLRs. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II also features an LCD mounted to the top that displays even more in-depth image information and has the ability to light up for viewing at night via the press of a button. All in all, the Canon Eos 5D Mark II's interface is not overkill, and it offers exceptional functionality in the field.

Features – Very Good

Aside from the prodigious megapixel boost, the Canon Eos 5D Mark II did receive a few upgrades at came to our aid in a variety of shooting environments. We'll start with the improved ISO range, which, according to Canon, is the company's highest ISO range to date. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II has an ISO spectrum that spans from 100-6400, and allowed us to shoot at night with quicker shutter speeds and higher apertures. Noise is always a concern when high ISO values are involved, but we experienced minimal amounts of noise in low light, even at ISO 3200. We'll get into specifics in a few sections, but we were very happy with our results.

1080p HD video is probably the most exciting upgrade because it came out of left field and produces stunning HD videos that rival prosumer camcorders. Though video can only be recorded at 30fps, we couldn't believe the quality, and the sound pickup was great as well. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II uses Live View to shoot video, so that means we had to manually focus. This is a difficult task while zooming and panning with the camera, but at least the Eos 5D Mark II offered manual Exposure control in video mode including ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. Uploading to YouTube was not an issue, and the clips displayed minimal compression artifacts when viewed in HD mode. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II was rumored to have been used in a few major motion pictures and commercials, and we believe it after putting it to the true test.

As a professional DSLR, the Canon Eos 5D Mark II performed exceptionally well. It has a Shutter Speed of 30-seconds to 1/8000-seconds and a Bulb mode for longer exposures. Our EF lens had an f/4.0 minimum aperture, so we couldn't get extremely close for Macro shots, but its 24mm wide-angle allowed us to fit more composition into the frame. The White Balance adjustment fell a trifle short of our expectations, especially when compared with the Pentax K-7's fully-adjustable multi-colored Kelvin graph. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II allowed us to set the Kelvin temperature manually, but all adjustments were made via text rather than a visual aid. For pros seasoned in the art of setting a proper White Balance, this is not an issue, but for those who need a little extra boost, the Pentax K-7 is one of the most feature-rich DSLRs on the market.

The Canon Eos 5D Mark II offers several Picture Styles that alter color and sharpness. Presets like Standard, Portrait, Neutral and Faithful were available, and we could manually set the Saturation, Sharpness, Contrast and Color Tone and save them as User Defined presets. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II's AF selection enabled us to manually designate between nine separate points and had four different metering modes for different shooting environments. For beginners, the Canon Eos 5D Mark II offered a Creative Auto mode that simplified options into Focus and Exposure slider bars that specialized in making the background blurred or sharp or the image darker or brighter. We were all about the Custom modes, which allowed us to set three distinct shooting combinations and pull them out for familiar environments like low light, Portrait and heavily contrasted areas. As far as features, the Canon Eos 5D Mark II is stocked with a quality assortment of the bare essentials.

Hardware – Very Good

The Canon Eos 5D Mark II has a 21-megapixel 36.0mm x 24.0mm (35mm Full-frame) high-sensitivity, high-resolution, large single-plate CMOS sensor. Processing is Canon's latest Digic 4. There are many benefits to a full frame sensor, and the most notable is the compatibility with wide-angle lenses without the 1.6x down-conversion factor of APS-C DSLRs. The 24mm wide-angle focal length was 100% accurate, whereas a 1.6x DSLR would treat a 24mm more like a 28mm. Shooting with a Full-frame sensor that is capable of 21-megapixels was a sobering experience, particularly because the file sizes were huge when we shot in RAW + JPEG mode.

The Canon Eos 5D Mark II's 1080p video clips were recorded as .MOV files and chomped a significant amount of space as well. Since the Canon Eos 5D Mark II records solely to Type I and Type II CF cards, we recommend going with 8GB or higher since the nearly antiquated media is dropping in price due to the surge of SDHC. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II runs on a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery back, but a battery grip is a necessity for advanced photographers. Not only does the Canon BG-E6 battery grip house two battery packs, but it includes a separate shutter button along the bottom right hand corner for vertical shots.

One of the greatest things about the Canon Eos 5D Mark II is its compatibility with over 60 Canon EF lenses, from the great white telephotos all the way down to the fixed primes. We strongly recommend investing in some Canon L glass because the quality of our Canon EF 24-105mm Ultrasonic lens was spectacular. The Canon EF 24-105mm lens offered Image Stabilization and Auto/Manual Focus with a visible Focal Length window. Processing our RAW images was not a problem because the Canon Eos 5D Mark II shipped with a slew of image programs including Digital Photo Professional and ZoomBrowser EX for both Macintosh OS X 10.3 and up and Windows XP SP2/Vista.

Image Quality – Very Good

Following the legacy left by the Canon Eos 5D, the Eos 5D Mark II was not only a still frame-capturing champion, but its HD video quality was out of this world. For a 21-megapixel camera, we were surprised with the level of detail exhibited by the Canon Eos 5D Mark II, as well as its ability to make excellent use of available light. Noise was never an issue in nearly every shooting environment and fringing was almost nonexistent. The only time we encountered moderate amounts of noise was at night when we shot with higher ISO levels. However, even our images captured at ISO 3200 exhibited minimal amounts of noise, and the fact that we could size them down from 21-megapixels meant we wouldn't be able to notice the noise anyway.

We did have to dial down the Exposure Compensation in bright light with a lot of glare, but the Eos 5D Mark II found its sweet spot eventually. Colors were fantastic and sharpness out of the box was superb. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II can shoot weddings, but it can also produce professional images for a variety of photographic applications. Furthermore, the HD video quality could definitely be used as B-roll for a feature film. We captured all still images at the highest 21-megapixel RAW resolution and converted them to the highest quality JPEG images using Digital Photo Professional.

Crème of the crop

  • Jamaica Plain Sky


  • Tilly


  • Suzuki TL1000R


  • In Bloom


  • Becky


  • Our top picks are just a miniscule representation of what the Canon Eos 5D Mark II is truly capable of, for with optimal lighting, filters and different lens combinations, we would be able to create professional images. This first batch of images represents the camera's ability to perform without any of the cushy luxuries most professional photographers employ on a daily basis. That's why we were so impressed with the level of detail in Tilly's little face and the stellar dynamic range in the picture of the Suzuki. Up close, the flower buds exhibit exceptional color and detail, and we know a good deal of the image quality stemmed from the EF lens. We didn't encounter any vignetting along the perimeter of the frame, as evidenced in the first image, which is also a study in the Eos 5D Mark II's ability to handle a significantly contrasted sky. Even indoors, the Canon Eos 5D Mark II selected a proper White Balance and was able to hone right in on Becky's napkin face.

    A Few Assorted Tests

  • Alternative for Text


  • Phoenix Color Test – Standard


  • Phoenix Color Test – Saturation and Color Tone Boost


  • For a Good Time Call…


  • We get another dosage of heavy detail in the first image, which was shot through a glass window. We dialed the Exposure Compensation down in order to capture the first image, and found that the Canon Eos 5D Mark II was usually happiest a few steps below 0. We dialed the Exposure Compensation down even further for the last image, which really needed it due to a blazing glare from the sun. Detail in both images is excellent, and they are true representations of what the Eos 5D Mark II can do. We tested color with the middle two images, just to show you that the Eos 5D Mark II's Standard color mode is all that's really needed. The third image is highly oversaturated, so we recommend going one or two notches up in emergency situations.

    Perspectives and Detail

  • Bova's Bakery


  • Yin Yang


  • Bee and Imposter


  • Pricey Butt


  • Perspective angles with a decent depth of field were not a problem with the Canon Eos 5D Mark II, even at lower apertures. The first image is proof, for at an f/5.6 aperture, we were able to adequately focus a majority of the image. The Canon Eos 5D Mark II also plays nicely with shadows, as evidenced in the second image, which also creates a nice little bokeh effect in the blurred background. You'll need to view the third image at full resolution in order to see the awesome detail of the bee and its imposter. Normally, we would crop this image, but we wanted to display the focal range within its surroundings. The final image is just another example of the superb color and detail rendered by the Canon Eos 5D Mark II.

    In the Evening

  • The New East Houston Street Mural


  • Jamaica Plain Night Sky ISO 1600


  • Magic Playground ISO 3200


  • Brooklyn Bridge ISO 3200


  • Brooklyn Bridge ISO 100


  • We spent a good portion of our time shooting at night, attempting to achieve optimal results. We feel that if you have a tripod and the time to spare, shoot with a lower ISO and high shutter speed. If you need to capture action, the Canon Eos 5D Mark II's high ISO performance was very good. At ISO 1600 we encountered a light mist of noise, but it disappeared with an image resize. ISO 3200 brings more noise to the table, but it's not as bas as we had initially feared and would certainly suffice for lower resolution image resizings. We shot the final image at ISO 100 just to compare noise levels and we still encountered a modicum of fuzzy pixels. However, we achieved the best low light shooting quality we've seen to date here at infoSync, and the Canon Eos 5D Mark II is a low light killer.

    Video Quality

    We've heard rave reviews all year about the Canon Eos 5D Mark II's video quality, and we just had to put it to the test ourselves. Well, they were right. This camera produces unbelievably crisp video with an organic color spectrum and tightly rendered motion. Even in low light the Canon Eos 5D Mark II exhibited minimal amounts of noise. Could it be the Full-frame sensor? Nobody had ever tried to pump 1080p video out of a Full-frame sensor on a DSLR before the Canon Eos 5D Mark II, so perhaps Canon has set the new standard. Either way, we recommend watching our samples in HD quality in order to attain the full effect.

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