Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent resolution, a real upgrade for eight megapixel Canon owners (EOS 20D)
- Full frame 35 mm size sensor delivers film-like shooting experience, real wide angle
- Very large, bright viewfinder really fills your vision
- Very low noise even at higher sensitivities
- About a third of a stop more sensitive than indicated
- Very well implemented large buffer supported by fast CF throughput
- Very well built, more robust feeling than the EOS 20D (closer to 1D build)
- Very fast in use, short shutter lag, instant startup
- Spot metering (wasn't available on the EOS 20D)
- New Picture Styles make it easier to get 'ready to use' results straight from the camera
- Wide range of image parameter adjustment (-4 to +4 for most)
- Wide range of ISO sensitivities, ISO 50 - 3200 (with 'ISO Expansion' enabled)
- Huge LCD monitor with great resolution, dimmer than some smaller screens
- Soft touch shutter release
- Proper RAW+JPEG with immediately selectable JPEG image size
- Interchangeable focus screen
- Remote tethered capture software for studio work (included)
- Orientation sensor
- Optional WFT-E1 wireless transmitter (802.11 b/g)
- Supplied software bundle very good; ZoomBrowser EX and DPP both matured now
Conclusion - Cons
- Edge softness / falloff / chromatic aberrations, needs good lenses
- AI Servo (continuous AF) interference banding issue (certain lenses, high sensitivities)
- Same old 'CF compartment door shuts camera down' issue
- Picture Style differences between RAW Image Task/Camera and DPP
- Picture Style tone curve not indicated in camera menu (contrast is an offset, not absolute)
- Pretty average automatic white balance in artificial light
- Mirror lock-up still buried in menus (should be a continuous shooting mode option)
- No mass storage device USB mode, limited throughput (just 2.5 MB/sec)
- No anti-reflective coating on LCD monitor
- No GPS support
- No built-in flash, no built-in AF assist lamp
- Price premium over cropped sensor cameras
A lower-priced full-frame digital SLR was a logical step for Canon, the only thing we weren't sure of was how that camera would look when it arrived. Up until now if you wanted a Canon mount full frame camera you would go for the EOS-1Ds / Mark II or the now discontinued Kodak Pro SLR/c. Since the advent of the digital SLR many photographers have been looking forward to the day they could (afford to) buy a body with a full frame sensor which would mark the 'complete transition' of 35 mm photography into digital.
The EOS 5D with its sub-$4,000 price tag was introduced to a fairly rapturous reception among existing Canon owners here on dpreview as well as the two ends of the spectrum from other brand owners; everything from jealousy and incredulous dismissal. It's pretty clear that two camps have now established themselves, quite a few people have nailed their preference to the wall, being in the "Full Frame or nothing" group or the "Cropped is better" group.
The task for us in this review was an interesting one, first of all we had to review the camera in the same way we would any other digital SLR but also to explore many of the assumed advantages and disadvantages, myths and facts around full-frame. The results of our 'extended test suite' were a confirmation of what we expected (and knew), that a full frame camera fully exposes the limits of the lens used and that simply because the pixel pitch is larger we aren't automatically going to get more dynamic range and lower noise. (Remember the EOS 5Ds pixel pitch is the same as the EOS-1D Mark II).
The EOS 5D is a fantastic photographic tool which is capable of producing really excellent results. The caveat is that it takes a little more care and understanding of your equipment (especially lenses). We found resolution to be absolutely excellent with crisp detailed results straight from the camera (JPEG) and even more detail available if you shoot RAW. Different 'looks' can be easily achieved via Picture Styles (almost like changing film) and the range of in-camera image parameters has been expanded. Noise levels are essentially identical to the EOS 20D as is dynamic range, this is neither a surprise or a disappointment, it simply means consistency and the maintaining of an expectation built by Canon in the performance of its CMOS sensor.
If you want a (new) Canon full frame digital SLR the choice now is between the $3,299 EOS 5D or the $7,999 EOS-1Ds Mark II. As we have demonstrated the EOS-1Ds Mark II does deliver more detail and resolution but to the majority of photographers this advantage will be wasted (although this is unlikely to be a deciding factor for decided EOS-1Ds Mark II buyers, its advantages over the 5D are far more wide ranging). Thus to anyone looking for the 'purity' of full frame (and a Canon mount) the EOS 5D would be absolutely Highly Recommended.
For everyone else however it's a hard decision. If the EOS 5D had been introduced a couple of years ago before the availability of designed-for-digital ultra-wide angle zoom lenses it could easily have walked away with a clear lead against 'cropped sensor' models. However there are many photographers quite happy with the results they get from their current cameras, only history will tell if the EOS 5D is the start of a full frame revolution or simply the first of a new niche format.