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Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution, very close to Sony Alpha 900 (and essentially the same as EOS-1Ds Mark III)
  • Very good High ISO performance, almost as good as Nikon D700 / D3
  • Wide range of ISO settings from 50 to 25600 (with 'ISO Expansion' enabled) and useful auto ISO setting
  • Finally offers selectable levels of high ISO noise reduction
  • ISO setting now visible in view finder (finally!)
  • 1080p 30 fps video usable in low light conditions, with very good quality and full manual control over exposure (with firmware version 1.10)
  • External microphone socket for use with movie recording
  • Improved large, bright viewfinder (98% coverage)
  • Large high-resolution LCD screen with anti-glare coating for better contrast and wider viewing angles
  • Live view functionality brings it in line with other cameras in 2009 - indeed better than most (no mirror flip, live histogram, exposure simulation options) - although contrast detect AF still slow
  • Integrated sensor cleaning system
  • New Digic IV processing engine with 14bit A/D converter updates performance and menu interface to current standards
  • sRAW1 and sRAW2 modes for smaller file sizes without losing the benefits of RAW; RAW and JPEG sizes selectable independently
  • Built-in peripheral illumination correction to deal with vignetting
  • Very well built, better than the original 5D especially around mirror box and lens mount
  • Wide range of image parameter adjustments (-4 to +4 for most)
  • Continues to write to CF card even when card door is open (finally)
  • Much improved USB transfer speed
  • Control layout almost the same as original 5D
  • Optional WFT-E4 wireless transfer grip
  • Optional wireless IR remote option
  • Extensive and mature software package included (everything you need to process images)
  • Picture styles editor allows user to create custom picture styles and load them into camera


Conclusion - Cons

  • AI Servo (continuous AF) not as good as EOS-1 series or Nikon D700
  • Default noise reduction quite heavy at anything over ISO 400 (can be turned down though)
  • JPEG output a bit soft when viewed at 100%
  • Still pretty average automatic white balance in artificial light
  • No mass storage device USB mode
  • Built in microphone not great, and not usable for audio notes (EOS-1 series feature)
  • Auto LCD brightness control can mean preview image doesn't match recorded image
  • Even with My Menu system, mirror lockup not as easy to use as other brands
  • No selectable lower and upper limit for auto ISO
  • No built-in flash (would be useful, if not essential)
  • Weather sealing not as good as some competitors
  • Continuous shooting speed slowest of any current full frame DSLR
  • Doesn't have quite as much highlight dynamic range 'headroom' (in RAW) as the D700 or Alpha 900


Overall conclusion

How do you follow a classic? That's the question Canon faced when it got to work producing a successor to the EOS 5D. The original 5D was the first 'affordable' and lightweight (in relative terms) full frame camera, and set a standard for low noise at high ISO settings that remains competitive three years later. The EOS 5D attained almost cult status amongst Canon users (selling surprisingly well for a $3000 camera), and paved the way for Nikon (with the D700) and Sony (with the Alpha 900) to launch their own 'compact' full frame semi-pro bodies.

This means the 5D Mark II, unlike its predecessor, is entering a marketplace where it has several strong competitors. The D700 set the benchmark for high ISO performance (along with overall shooting performance at this price level), and the A900 set a new benchmark for ultimate resolution. The 5D Mark II offers similar resolution to the Alpha 900, increases the sensitivity range to ISO 25,600, and offers high ISO/noise performance that gets close to the Nikon D700/D3. In short it - almost - offers the best of both worlds without costing the earth.

So while the 5D Mark II would never be mistaken as a camera aimed at sports or action photographers (thanks to its rather pedestrian AF performance and overall shooting performance), it balances resolution and high ISO performance very well. And let's not forget its party trick of being able to shoot 1080p HD video with full manual control of exposure (following the release of firmware version 1.10). While it may not be the first DSLR on the market to be able to feature HD movie capture (the Nikon D90 grabbed that honor), it is the first full frame camera to do so. This means that all the benefits of its full frame sensor, plus the ability to use the vast range of EF lenses, can be translated directly to movie recording. For some users this feature alone will put the EOS 5D Mark II ahead of its competitors.

Canon hasn't just taken the 5D Mark I and put a new sensor in it. There are many little improvements that make this camera more than just an updated EOS 5D. There is the new menu system, the implementation of Live View, the sensor shake anti-dust system, the larger and higher resolution screen, a higher capacity battery, and extra customizability. The little details have been refined; for example the new ports cover is much improved, making the ports easier to use, and it's now easier to change the ISO with the camera to your eye. All of these things will have an impact in actual use that 5D users will notice and appreciate.

While there are still other cameras in its class with marginally higher resolution, marginally better high ISO performance, more advanced AF, faster performance, better weather sealing and more solid build quality - and the Sony A900's built-in anti-shake remains unique in the full frame arena - the 5D Mark II is certainly one of the best value for money propositions on the market for image quality - especially in RAW, where you really can see the benefit of all 21 million pixels. Canon has also wisely made only minor tweaks to the external interface, so that 5D users can jump right in and feel at home. Looking at the package as a whole the EOS 5D Mark II seems hard to beat.

We have always placed a heavy emphasis on image quality, and all other things aside this means the 5D Mark II has to receive our highest rating. When you consider the price of the EOS-1Ds Mark III, the 5D Mark II seems like quite a bargain. In our review of the original 5D we said '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'. Now we have to wait to see if the 5D Mark II (and the Nikon D90) are the start of the convergence of high end video and still photography cameras. But even if you never shoot video, and consider Live View to be a pointless novelty, the EOS 5D Mark II has an awful lot to recommend it to the serious photographer.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Category: Semi-professional Full Frame Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Studio, landscape and low light photographers wanting full frame and the best possible image quality. HD Movies.
Not so good for
Action / sports / wildlife
Overall score
79%
Although some aspects of the spec (AF, metering) are looking a little long in the tooth, the superb image quality and class-leading movie output should ensure the Mark II is as popular as its predecessor. The numerous smaller improvements are welcome, and if you want full frame (without going to an even more expensive pro body) the 5D Mark II is about as good as it gets right now.

Original Rating (Feb 2009): Highly Recommended
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean

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