Live View

The 5D Mark II builds on the live view capabilities of the recently introduced 50D. The most obvious change is the addition of a movie mode that can shoot at 1080p HD quality. Canon's DSLR live view implementation is becoming more sophisticated with each iteration and the result is an ever-larger number of options and settings that need to be adjusted, depending on your reasons for using the system.

Live View function settings

All the key parameters controlling the behavior of live view have been brought together in the Live View/Movie func. set. menu, which is part of the camera's Setup menu, rather than being hidden in the custom function menu as they were on the 40D. There are three live view options: disabled, stills only or stills+movie. Depending on which mode you engage, you are presented with an increasing number of display types, with stills+movie mode allowing the use of 'stills display,' 'exposure simulation' or 'movie display' modes.

In an interesting quirk, movies can be shot from any display mode, as long as the camera is in stills+movie mode. Pressing the SET button starts recording and switches to the movie display. There is also a custom function setting (C.Fn IV-3) allowing the use of the SET button to enter live view and start recording a movie. The live view function setting must be set to stills+movie for this to work, however.

The main menu screen lets you select grid type, AF mode and Movie recording setting but defaults to live view being disabled. On the Mark II, the choice is no longer simply between disabled and enabled, but between disabled, stills or stills+movie mode.
Stills+movie mode allows access to the three types of display - the stills and exposure simulation display modes available for stills shooting, plus the movie display.  

Live view display modes

Pressing the INFO button while in Live View toggles between the four different amounts of on-screen information. These are taken in the 'exposure simulation' display mode but are available in any of the three display modes. The final two views shown below include the optional gridlines.

1: Live view with magnification area indicated + status line showing shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, frames remaining, ISO sensitivity and battery status. 2: Live view with magnification area + status line + brief overlay (Picture Style, AF mode, drive mode, white balance, image quality)

3: Live view with magnification area + status line+ overlay + live histogram (histogram is of the type selected in the playback menu)

4: Live view with magnification area (and nothing else)
Optional gridlines overlay type I Optional gridlines overlay type II

Live view magnification

Just as in playback mode you can magnify live view by pressing the enlarge button (or back out again with reduce). While magnified you can use the multi-controller to move around the live image.

Live view AF modes

As on the 50D, 450D and 1000D, the 5D Mark II offers a choice of autofocus type - using either the dedicated phase-detect AF sensor, or the main imaging sensor for contrast-detection AF. Phase-detection AF (Quick mode), requires the reflex mirror to drop back into the image path when attaining focus, so the screen blacks-out while the mirror is down. It is also tied to the camera's 9 AF points, which are represented in the live view display.

The contrast-detect method doesn't require the camera's mirror to flip down during focusing and allows much more freedom in terms of placing the AF point, but is considerably slower. Using the imaging sensor also allows for more complex focusing operations, such as Face Detection, which is offered as another option.

  Quick AF mode (Phase-detect)
Live AF mode (Contrast-detect) Face Detect AF (Contrast-detect)

Live view movie mode

The 5D Mark II allows movies to be shot by selecting the movie display and pressing the 'SET' button to start shooting. Still images can be grabbed at any point during movie recording by pressing the shutter button, though doing so creates a one second gap in the video for each still taken. Contrast-detect AF is available during video capture, however it's pretty slow.

Movie mode masks off the unused area of the screen, in 16:9 ratio for 1920x1080... ...or 4:3 for 640x480 video. Both shown here with the Quick AF points overlaid.

Live view Depth-of-Field preview, reaching the limit

One very useful feature in Live View is of course depth-of-field (DOF) preview, when the DOF preview button is pressed the camera stops the lens down to the selected (or metered) aperture which provides you with an accurate representation of the depth-of-field of the final image. Unlike using a traditional optical viewfinder depth-of-field preview, the live view version is able to brighten the screen despite the aperture being stopped-down. Beyond F22 or in low light, the system struggles to brighten the screen enough to simulate the final exposure but this is to be expected, really.

Normal Live View DOF preview button held at F22

Live view "silent shooting"

Like the 40D and 50D, the EOS 5D Mark II features "silent shooting" in live view. The Mark II locks its mirror up when in live view mode (unless you use Quick AF mode), so is always fairly quiet, but there are two additional 'silent' shooting modes as well. These are set via the 'Silent Shoot.' option in the 'Live View/Movie func. set.' menu, and the choices available are as follows:

Disable This is the default shooting mode for live view. When the shutter button is pressed the shutter initially closes and the sensor is reset. The shutter then opens again, the image is taken, and the shutter closes. Finally the shutter is 're-cocked' and the camera returns to live view mode.
Mode 1 This mode makes things quieter by using an electronic shutter for the first curtain, eliminating the initial shutter close / open steps in the sequence above.
Mode 2 This is quieter still as the shutter does not 're-cock' itself until the shutter release button is released (hence continuous shooting is not available in mode 2).

A useful side-effect of these "silent" modes is low vibration - and with live view assigned to the previously near-pointless Print button, this offers a useful workaround to one of Canon's longest-running interface annoyances, the inconvenient access to mirror lock-up. You can now simply press the Live View button to flip up the mirror, then release the shutter when ready. We'd still like Canon to get MLU right though.

Below are 4 recordings to demonstrate the effect of silent shooting mode on the noise levels output by the camera. The first is the camera shooting normally:

Next is normal Live view mode (i.e. silent shooting disabled).

Next is silent shooting mode 1 in live view mode.

Finally is silent shooting mode 2 in live view mode.

HDMI output / contrast detect AF

The EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 50D are the first two Canon digital SLRs to feature HDMI output. Both deliver 1080i video via their mini-HDMI socket. To demonstrate how good this output can look we've recorded two short videos of the Mark II focusing (contrast detect AF) and capturing an image in Live View and another showing playback in use. There are also some HDMI still captures below the videos.

Live View capture recorded over HDMI (click for 1080 video, Quicktime MOV format)
Playback recorded over HDMI (click for 1080 video, Quicktime MOV format)

HDMI stills (playback mode)