Best Camera on Earth
By Sahid Limon
2 Jul 2009
Once in a while, a product will hit the market that is so extraordinary, that revolutionizes the industry. The product not only defines a category, but changes the game all together. In 2005, Canon had accomplished this by introducing the original EOS 5D. It was the smallest and lightest camera to incorporate Full Frame technology. It not only revolutionized the camera market, but it did it without breaking the bank.
Canon had produced one of the most popular (and sought after) digital cameras that suited both pros and amateurs alike. It was small, light, easy to control, and had full frame like older 35mm film SLR cameras. It was particularly popular among Landscape, Portrait, and Wedding Photographers for the low noise levels in high ISO's, the flattering depth of field, and the extremely clean files. An upgrade to the body was expected, but everyone was curious to see what changes Canon would implement on the new body. Many had speculated wild rumors and names for the new upgrade, but all were eager to see what new changes would come. After years of anticipation, Canon had announced in 2008 that the new replacement would soon hit the market, and it would be called Canon 5D mark 2.
Now I am not one of those people who just has to have the newest toy on the market. Sure I desire them like anyone else... but as most photographers know, camera gear can get very expensive. This is why whatever equipment I purchase, I make sure that it's an worthy upgrade, or something I truly need. I had the original Canon 5D, and I was very happy with my purchase. It was one of my favorite cameras, and I was very pleased with it's performance. So now the question that most people may ask is... how does the 5D mark 2 compare, and is it a worthy upgrade?
When I first read everything on paper about the new mark 2, I thought it was really cool. However, I didn't think they were cool enough to fork over almost $3k for just the body alone. This was until I got a chance to see and test the camera out in person. A good photography buddy of mine from TN (Evan Baines) had brought his newly purchased camera to a meeting, and he gave it to me to try it out. After 3 minutes, I was instantly sold. Matter of fact, within a month, I had traded in my old body and bought a new 5D mark 2. So why is it so special that I would trade in my beloved 5D and upgrade to this so quickly? That question is hard to answer in just one paragraph, so I will share my full evaluation below:
After evaluating the camera, I noticed that the new 5D mark II had everything the old mk I version had. However, Canon went above & beyond and had improved every single aspect/function of the camera.
Look and Feel:
As the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The old body looked great, and the ergonomics made it feel great, even after using it for hours. Canon pretty much kept everything the same, and just changed the buttons around a bit. They actually shrunk it slightly, but not so much that it's noticeably different. In hand, it feels very comfortable, and the buttons seem to be just where you would want them. It has just the right amount of weight, so it doesn't feel heavy like a 1Ds mk II, or too light like a Rebel Xt.
This tiny camera packs quite the punch as well. The Full Frame Sensor now has a whopping 21 Megapixels. Only other Canon camera to have this (as of July 2009) is a Canon 1Ds MK III, which runs about double the cost. The Digic 4 sensor is able to capture an incredible amount of detail that is hard to match by other camera in it's field. Infact, It's so good, that it actually provides a good alternative to medium format camera. Now I will admit that the resolution is not as great as most modern medium formats, but it is still quite comparable under the right conditions and lighting. The image files are extremely clean due to the increased resolution, and it really shows when you compare to older models. The 21 mp files also makes it very easy to crop a picture significantly, and still retain a massive amount of detail. Only downside is that the RAW files take up quite a lot of space with 21 megabytes per image file. Canon really stepped up in improving the resolution in this camera, and it really shows when you compare it to other cameras.
As a wedding photographer, I am often forced to photograph events where there is very little (if any) ambient light. Venues are often created with dimly lit candles or lights to depict the mood and create a romantic atmosphere. As most photographers know, photographing in low light can be a real pain. This is why high ISO and fast glass are a wedding photographers friend. The original 5D was raved for having low noise at high ISO, even as high as 1600. This was my number one reason to buy the old body, and also to upgrade to the new mark 2. The 5D mark 2 body not only matches the old mark I, but it actually surpasses every aspect of it. Where the old mark I files at 1600 had slight noise to the photos, the image at 1600 ISO on the new camera doesn't even have any noise... and feels like it was shot at ISO200. I've shot at 6400 ISO, and noise is apparent only slightly. The noise control in this camera is among the best I've ever seen in any camera. On top of that, it can boost it's ISO range all the way up to 256,000. At the extreme range, noise will be more apparent, however, you can shoot a scene with almost no light present at all.
The 5D mark II has one of the best screens I've seen not only on a camera, but anywhere in general. Truth be told, it's actually a bit scary. My images actually look dull on my calibrated Dell WFP2408 monitor compared to the camera LCD screen. The 3' LCD screen has an immense 920,000 dots, and is 170° viewing angle. Basically, they took an incredible high resolution monitor, and stuck it behind this camera. The screen is definitely one of the aspects that you just have to see to believe. The resolution is incredible, and the colors are bright and vibrant. The screen is also much brighter than the predecessor which is a plus when upgrading. Another useful feature of the screen is the automatic brightness adjustment. The camera can sense the amount of ambient light surrounding you, and it will adjust the brightness automatically so you can view the image. You no longer have to shade your LCD to view an image on a bright sunny day.
Live view was introduced in Canon with the 1D mk 3 body. For me personally, I didn't think it would be useful for my line of work. However, I was very impressed at how much easier things were after using it a few times. The best use of liveview for me is critical focusing. After pressing the live view button, you can press a button to zoom at 100%, and press it again to zoom to 200%. You can then manually adjust the focus ring and nail a perfect focus without having to second guess yourself. This is very useful for a lot of portraits. Liveview is also very helpful if you ever shoot anything from above you, or ground level. Makes it very easy to actually see what you are photographing without having to use the viewfinder. However, the best use of liveview is with Canon's newest feature to be implemented into a dSLR.
Remember how I stated that the 5D mark II revolutionized the industry? Well, this is the featured that did that. This camera is the first camera that implemented full 1080p HD video mode in a dSLR camera body. At first, you may think that this is just a crazy marketing ploy for Canon and video just has no place for an SLR. Though this may be somewhat true, the video feature in the 5D mk 2 just makes sense, not to mention it's really cool too. You can implement professional quality lenses to the camera, and have some incredible footage in glorious 1080p resolution. This is not some shrunk down version, or lower quality HD version... it's full 1920x1080 resolution at 30fps. Only downside with this is the large file size it produces. A 2 and a half minute clip created a file larger than 1 Gigabytes! However, you can also shoot it in 640x480 mode, and it looks just as great without taking up all that space on the memory card. With the recent firmware upgrade, you can fully control exposure, ISO, and even the aperture values of your lens for the video. Using real lenses, you can get an incredible range of dept of field in your videos. Just imagine shooting a scene with an 85mm lens, and shooting it at f/1.2! How about implementing filters for those lens that video cameras often lack? These things open up all sorts of creative aspects for anyone who likes to shoot videos, but are somewhat limited with larger cameras. Many video professionals have since switched over from traditional standard video to 5D mark 2's for their work. With the price, controls and lens integrations, who could blame them.
After using the Canon 5D mark II for over 4 months, I can safely say that it is the best camera I have ever used. As I mentioned before, I am a wedding photographer, so certain things like fast frames per second, multiple focus points, ect, are not as important to me. The resolution, noise control, and battery life are very important to me... and this camera goes above and beyond, and delivers on every aspect of it. Only thing I wish they could have improved was implementing a better weather sealing system on the body. Then again, I guess they have to leave some selling points for the 1Ds mk3. The camera not only matches all the best features of it's predecessor, but it improves every aspect of it. If you need a solid camera that can do just about everything, then look no further than 5D mark 2. I'm so impressed by this camera, that I'm thinking of picking up a second one as well. I don't know what the new Canon 5D mark 3 will bring to the market, but I don't think Canon has to worry about introducing it anytime soon.
To see my video review of the 5D mark II, and pretty much everything I wrote, please visit my blog at: http://www.limonphotography.com/blog/?p=109