Travis Isaacs

Father of two. Fitness & food junkie. Co-founder of Front Desk. Creator of Keynote Kung-Fu. Grapevine, TX.

Canon 5D Mark II: After the Honeymoon

20 Sep 2009

This post is ancient history. My apologies for any dead links or broken images.

I’ve already clicked away nearly 5,000 photos (4,525 as of this post) with my Canon 5D Mark II (5D MKII) since June. Is the honeymoon between the 5D MKII and this amateur photographer (okay, serious hobbyist) over? Read on.

My perspective:

My new camera!

My 40D, just after it arrived

My love for photography really didn’t start until November of 2007 when I bought a my first DSLR: the Canon 40D (blame Stephen and Jeremy for getting me hooked). The 40D was a lot of camera for a beginner, but I quickly grew into it.

I loved the 40D, so much so that I even swayed Alex, a long time Nikon user, to make the switch to Canon. I loved the 40D’s build quality, high-speed burst (6.5FPS), and overall responsiveness (especially with fast glass).

My go-to lens was the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS. I can’t say enough good things about this lens. It combined a fast f/2.8 aperture with built-in image stabilization (IS), making it damn near perfect in most occasions. I really, really miss this lens.

The did 40D had a few shortcomings, namely sensor resolution (10MP), ho-hum LCD screen, and OK, but not great ISO performance. However, my upgrade to the 5DMKII was less about the 40D’s short-comings, and more about the allure of a full-frame sensor, HD 1080P video, and a (more) pro body.

What I still love:

Full-frame, 21MP sensor Going from a crop sensor to full-frame is a bit of a double-edged sword. The 1.6x crop factor is great when shooting with a long telephoto. You get extra reach, for “free.”

I really like full-frame sensors.

Full-frame depth-of-field, at f/4

On the other hand, that crop factor makes your “standard” focal-length 50mm lens more like 80mm, which was a bummer in close quarters.

So, I gave up some reach. But the full-frame 5DMKII gave me something better (in my opinion): shallower depth-of-field. Since the 5DMKII’s sensor is nearly twice the size of the 40D, f/4 really looks like f/2.8 used to, and so on.

21MP also gives me a lot of room for cropping. I could literally throw half an image away and still be at the 40D’s resolution.

ISO/noise performance

Hi.

ISO1600

Due to it’s physically larger sensor size (and technology improvements, of course) the ISO performance is easily a stop (sometimes two) better than the 40D. ISO800 on the 5DMKII looked a lot like ISO400 on my 40D, and I’m not at all afraid to push to ISO1600 when needed.

When paired with a fast prime like the 50mm 1.4 and you can just about see in the dark. Literally.

LCD screen The 5DMKII’s LCD is big and bright, and actually has enough resolution to be useful for checking focus, especially when shooting in situations when the depth-of-field is very shallow.

Not so much anymore

Dated auto-focus mechanism The 5DMKII’s auto-focus mechanism is pretty much a hold over from the original 5D (introduced in 2005). The biggest hinderance is that the 9 auto-focus points are very tightly-grouped to the center of the 5D’s enormous full-frame. There just isn’t enough frame coverage. (BTW, I know that Alex is saying “I told you so” right now).

5D Mark II view finder40D view finder

5D Mark II viewfinder 40D viewfinder

The lack of frame coverage isn’t a problem for me in terms of framing (or getting) a shot. I’ve adjusted to that. The bigger issue for me is metering. The 40D and 5DMKII have pretty much the same physical arrangement of auto-focus points, giving the 40D the edge on frame coverage when it comes to metering.

Because of the dispersal of auto-focus points, using “evaluative” metering on the 40D takes into account a majority of the frame, while the 5DMII only covers a small amount. This causes the 5DMKII to meter very differently from the 40D. Out of the box I was getting shots that were consistently 1/3 – 2/3 stops underexposed, especially when shooting with my 580EX II.

My complaints about the AF also extend to the HD video operations of the camera. There is no continuous AF, a feature that every other video camera sold in the last 15 years (or more) has. It does have slick features like face detection, but you still have to press the AF-ON button to grab focus, which will you’ll hear in your video.

Sluggish operation and response The 40D is like a Ferrari when compared to the 5DMKII. There was almost no shutter-release lag in the 40D, and the frame blackout was very short. The 40D was also seriously fast in high-speed mode.

The 5DMKII’s shutter release feels very “squishy” to me (as did the original 5D). I suspect that it’s due to the large shutter/mirror assembly of the the 5DMKII, more than electronics and processing power.

Verdict?

Do I regret buying the 5DMKII? No freaking way.

It’s awesome, amazing, and astonishing. My complaints about the AF layout and sluggishness aren’t deal breakers, and aren’t issues in may day to day use of the camera. The quality of the images it produces continually put a smile on my face. You’ll have to drop $6,500 on a 1D Mark III to get (marginally) better image quality.

I do wonder why Canon made the decision not to overhaul the AF system on the 5DMKII, especially when considering it’s closest competitor, the Nikon D700 is superior in just about every way (there, I said it). I spent a few minutes with Will’s D700 a few months back and was blown away by it’s build quality, view finder, AF performance, and built-in wireless flash system (of which, Nikon’s have had for years). I know Canon is paying attention, just look at the new 7D.

5D Mark II samples