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Full frame

By 'full frame' we mean that the EOS 5D's sensor is the same size as a 35 mm negative, this means that lenses used on the camera will produce the exact same field of view as they would on a 35 mm film camera (as they were designed). This is especially advantageous when shooting wide angle as we will get a much wider field of view than we would on a digital SLR which 'crops' (such a the EOS 20D). The diagram below demonstrates the difference in field of view between the EOS 5D and the EOS 20D using the same lens with a focal length of 17 mm. The EOS 20D would only be able to capture a portion of the center of the field of view produced by the lens, the EOS 5D captures the entire view.

Example of an picture taken with a focal length of 17 mm

On the downside a full frame sensor puts a higher requirement on the quality of the lens (as you are now also capture the 'less good' edge and corner of the view), with certain lenses this may lead to softness, chromatic aberrations and light fall-off near the edges of the image. Lastly many current digital photographers who don't shoot wide angle may appreciate the effective 'multiplication factor' produced with telephoto lenses (although obviously you can always crop an EOS 5D image in post processing).

Full frame vs. Cropped sensor

Below is a simplified summary of the pros and cons of Full Frame and Cropped (APS sized) sensors. As you can see it's a bit of a minefield, both formats have their advantages. The biggest thing to take from this is that Full Frame is not the 'answer to everything' that many think, and that thanks to years of development of so called cropped sensors and lenses the advantages of Full Frame aren't as attractive as they may have been.

  Pros Cons
Full frame • FOV matches indicated focal length
• Only way to achieve super-wide angle
• Pixel pitch larger (lower noise)
• Lower lp/mm requirement for lens
• Viewfinder view large and bright
• Matched prime lenses
• Shallower depth of field *1
• Lens-sensitive, requires good lenses
• Edge / corner softness / CA
• Fall-off (vignetting) with some lenses
• Can not use smaller 'digital only' lenses
• Expensive to manufacture
Cropped • Uses best part of the lens (center)
• Not as lens-sensitive
• Advantage for telephoto (FOV crop)
• Compact, light 'digital only' lenses *3
• Increased depth of field *2
• Less expensive
• Wide angle requires even wider lens
• Viewfinder view smaller, darker

*1 Only shallower because for the same field of view you would need to get closer to the subject than with a 'cropped sensor' camera.
*2

Just as a shallower depth of field may be an advantage to one photographer so a slightly larger depth of field may be an advantage to the next. Again this is because of subject distance.

*3 Although as we will demonstrate later in this review these are seldom any better from a performance point of view than a normal 35 mm lens on a FF camera.

Potential optical disadvantages

As you can see from the 'Cons' list above the primary disadvantages of full frame appear to be related to lenses. The simple truth is that most digital photographers who have used cropped sensor cameras (virtually all digital SLR's) have lived with the luxury of always using the best part of their lenses. This means that you are avoiding the corners and edges of the elements of your lens which are more prone to aberrations and softness. A full frame sensor is far less forgiving, in fact it's not forgiving at all, it 'reveals' a lens fully, which means good lenses and good practice (such as stopping down; using a smaller aperture) are important on a full frame camera.

Depth of field differences

Depth of field is the amount of depth in the image that will be 'in focus' (acceptably sharp) as a distance around the focus position, typically more behind the subject than in front. A shallow depth of field can deliver the soft 'bokeh' background that is the signature of SLR photography, by contrast a larger depth of field can be useful for getting more of the image in focus. Depth of field is a function of the absolute focal length, aperture, subject distance and film / sensor format.

Using the same 105 mm focal length on a cropped sensor camera (say 1.6x, the EOS 20D) and a full frame sensor camera we would have to move 1.6x further away (subject distance) with the cropped sensor camera to get the same field of view. Imagine our subject is 1 m away from our EOS 5D and is perfectly framed, we would have to step back 0.6 m (1.6 m subject distance) to get the same framing with an EOS 20D. The depth of field at F4 in the EOS 5D shot would be approximately 2 cm, for the EOS 20D shot it would be 3 cm.

Below is a table demonstrating the difference in depth of field using the same lens / focal length at different apertures. Note that for simplicity we have chosen a subject distance of 1 m to frame the shot perfectly with the full frame camera, hence a 1.6 m subject distance would be required for the same framing (with the same lens / focal length) with the cropped camera. As you can see a cropped sensor does effectively increase depth of field (although we are simplifying what actual happens).

  EOS 5D (1 m subj dist.)
(36 x 24 mm sensor)
EOS 20D (1.6 m subj dist.)
(23 x 15 mm sensor)
24 mm @ F4 42 cm 70 cm
24 mm @ F5.6 63 cm 103 cm
24 mm @ F8 97 cm 161 cm
105 mm @ F4 2 cm 3 cm
105 mm @ F8 4 cm 7 cm

Sensors compared, a microscopic view

We used this diagrammatically view for the first time in our review of the Nikon D2X. It's a useful reference as to the relative pixel pitch of each camera's sensor. These diagrams represent an area of the surface of the sensor measuring just 0.1 x 0.05 mm (1/254 x 1/508 in). Another theoretical advantage of a much large sensor is of course that its pixel pitch can be much larger and hence each photosite capable of capturing more photons, delivering a larger 'signal' which (should) mean lower noise and higher dynamic range.

Canon EOS 5D
CMOS 13.3 MP, 8.2 x 8.2 µm
Canon EOS 20D
CMOS 8.2 MP, 6.4 x 6.4 µm
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II
CMOS 17.2 MP, 7.2 x 7.2 µm
Canon EOS 1D Mark II
CMOS 8.5 MP, 8.2 x 8.2 µm
Nikon D2X
CMOS 12.8 MP, 5.5 x 5.5 µm
Nikon D1X
CCD 5.5 MP, 5.9 x 11.9 µm
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Comments

Total comments: 11
Hai Ching Lee
By Hai Ching Lee (3 months ago)

Hi...!

I bought one last month for Usd500 in super good and working condition but without any lens......
I bought an L Lens 24-105mm f4 for another Usd 500...... a 50mm f1.4 for Usd350.......
After much testings around, I noticed 5D is not good at Indoor unless with the help of a Flash......However , at Outdoor I must say it is a Super duper Good Full Frame machine even though it is around 8 years old........!!!

I still feel it is a Good Investment as far as dollars and cents counts......
An FX cameras from Nikon like the D700 body will cost Usd1.3k in Malaysia......

I also own a Nikon D90 with standard kit lens 18-105mm, 70-300mm Tel lens, a Fx 24-50mm f3.5-4 and 20mm f2.8 and others...
Recently I bought an Adapter for Nikon lens to Eos FX body like 5D..........It WORKS very well but have to Manually focus......So now I can have Nikon lens on 5D body which safe me a lot for a start....!!
Used 5D MK-II is selling here at around Usd1.6k which I am looking forward to...!!

0 upvotes
JSnees
By JSnees (4 months ago)

I am using a nikkon D 5100. Have the opportunity to purchase a cannon eos 5d in excellent condition for $500 with 50mm f1.8 lens. Any advantages to this camera vs what I currently have besides FF? Good investment? I currently do not own any pro lenses from nikkon.

0 upvotes
SculptedPhotography
By SculptedPhotography (9 months ago)

The 5D was and is my first digital camera. It has served me with spectacular results. It's main minus for me has been its inability to use the higher ISO's, as anything higher than 200 produces visible grain in images that I print very large on my epson 24" printer. I almost always shoot with a monopod to assure the results.
Technology has changed and improved and I am searching for a replacement. I am invested in excellent Canon lenses and want to stay with Canon. I also want a camera that is not as heavy as my 5D (I am old and am fatigued by the weight of the 5D which I affectionately call "my brick".) Price is an issue too.
Still casting about trying to find a replacement.

0 upvotes
frosty 7
By frosty 7 (5 months ago)

hi i jus bot a canon eos 5d from a friend am i able to record video with the camera ?
thanks

0 upvotes
Ugo78
By Ugo78 (4 months ago)

No, unfortunately you are not able to shot video, neither by installing Magic Lantern (because the camera is not equipped with live view).

0 upvotes
InfraOptic
By InfraOptic (3 months ago)

Easy answer: Buy a Sony A7 mirrorless and a metabones adapter to use all Canon AF lenses.

0 upvotes
KariIceland
By KariIceland (9 months ago)

I wish you guys would do a new comparison with the 5D, would love to see it vs the newer dslr's

2 upvotes
qianp2k
By qianp2k (9 months ago)

Agreed! In all cameras announced around that time, only EOS 5D still attracts many discussions in DPR forums. How many are still talking Nikon D200 that announced just three months later these days? If you don't print/view in very big size, EOS 5D actually withstands most today's FF cameras very well till ISO 800/1600 in IQ, no mention crop cameras.

0 upvotes
sh10453
By sh10453 (9 months ago)

I love my 5D.
Using the 5D with quality Canon L lenses produces images that I do not see a difference between them and those taken by a newer camera (5D II, 5D III).

If video is not needed or required, then finding a clean 5D would be prudent.
Some very well kept, used lightly by some hobbyists can be found at around a $1,000 or less.

I have no immediate plans to shell out $3,000 or more for a newer model that is not going to give me much over the 5D, in terms of image quality.

But for commercial photographers, that's a different situation.

0 upvotes
Macandts
By Macandts (9 months ago)

Ditto. I could not be happier with my 5D. I'm also disappointed that the set up for image comparison keeps changing. It makes it difficult to compare any older digital camera with anything contemporary.

0 upvotes
MFog
By MFog (3 weeks ago)

I just sold my trusty old 5D. I love the camera but I will not miss cleaning the sensor every other week and fixing dust spots in lightroom! That was always a royal pain in the neck. Still a great camera.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 11