Color reproduction

Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.

As we've noted in most recent reviews there is now a fairly consistent response across all competing models and the 5D Mark II is no exception. Canon has now standardized the output of the entire EOS range using Picture Styles, and as you can see by choosing any recent model from the Compared to drop-down menu below, the results are remarkably similar from the top to the bottom of the range.

Canon EOS 5D MK2 Compare to:  

Artificial light White Balance

The EOS 5D Mark II's automatic white balance performance is fairly similar to that of its predecessor (and basically every other current EOS DSLR). It is very good in natural light, almost acceptable in fluorescent light, and rather poor in incandescent light. Even using the incandescent light preset does not help much. It is worth carrying a gray card around for those times when tungsten lights are around.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 13.5%, Blue: -17.3%

Incandescent - Incandescent Preset WB
Red:8.0%, Blue: -12.4%
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 5.4%, Blue: -8.2%
Fluorescent - Fluo Preset WB
Red: 4.7%, Blue: -4.2%

Long Exposure noise reduction

The EOS 5D Mark II has the usual 'dark frame subtraction' noise reduction for exposures of one second or longer, enabled or disabled via C. Fn II-1. Dark frame subtraction NR works by taking a second equal exposure immediately after the first but with the shutter closed, any hot pixel noise in this second exposure can then be subtracted from the first to produce a cleaner image. Our 30 second exposure in this test produced no visible hot pixels.

Noise reduction Off Noise reduction On
ISO 100, 30 sec, F14 ISO 100, 30 sec, F14
(Brightness boosted by 50% in these crops)

Auto Lighting Optimizer

The 5D Mark II has the Auto Lighting Optimizer feature that is present in virtually all current Canon cameras. In real use and in the studio this feature is very hard to provoke into doing anything worth commenting on. Here is an example of a very high dynamic range situation, and the effect of having ALO off and switched on to 'strong'. Looking at the detail inside the tunnel, there is a difference, but it is subtle. We have only included the off and strong settings here, as the standard and low settings have such a subtle difference that they are almost indistinguishable from off.

Auto Lighting Optimizer Off Auto Lighting Optimizer Strong
ISO 200, 1/60, F8 ISO 200, 1/60, F8
50% crop 50% crop

Highlight tone priority

The EOS 5D Mark II features the same 'Highlight tone priority' option that's found all current generation EOS cameras. It is activated by C.Fn II-3 and according to the user manual "Improves the highlight detail." The measured effect on dynamic range (in our studio) is about 2/3 to 1 stop. In the real world it produced a subtle improvement, allowing the user to retain some detail in highlight areas where they would otherwise have been lost.

Highlight tone priority off Highlight tone priority on
ISO 200, 1/25 sec, F4 ISO 200, 1/25 sec, F4 (Highlight tone priority)

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

The 5D Mark II has the same pixel count and the same sensor size as the flagship 1Ds Mark III. While it lacks some of the more robust professional features from the 1Ds, such as weather sealing and the more advanced AF system, it gives up little in terms of image quality. Images up to ISO 3200 retain plenty of fine detail and the high ISO performance is actually slightly better than the older 1Ds Mark III. With so much resolution to play with, it's quite easy to get usable images even at the higher ISO settings, as long as you're not looking to produce poster prints.

Images at lower ISO settings are typical Canon; punchy, and very clean, and the increase in resolution over the original 5D is obvious once you start to enlarge the output. There's no doubt that 5D upgraders will be more than happy with the improvement in image quality. Viewed at 100% the images are a little soft, and you may be surprised how much sharpening raw files need, but there's plenty of detail in there if you use a good enough lens.

The matrix metering on the 5D Mark II gets it right most of the time, but in bright backlit situations it can have problems, with clipped highlights not unusual. Here is an example where the highlights in the hair and some of the stone in the background are completely overexposed. In this case, even when working from the RAW file it was not able to recover the lost detail.

In other conditions the matrix metering behaves much like any other camera, requiring positive compensation in mostly white conditions, and negative compensation if mostly black subject matter is being photographed. In low light and indoor situations, the 5D Mark II tends to underexpose slightly, which is the same as the original 5D. In challenging lighting situations, the use of spot metering would be the best solution, as the spot meter is very accurate.

The weather sealing in the 5D Mark II, while not as good as some other cameras in its class (the Nikon D700 is better, for example), never presented a problem in use. We used the 5D Mark II in moderate rain and for 3 hours with snow falling continuously, and while the photographer was pretty miserable, the camera did not miss a beat. The biggest problem in adverse conditions is keeping the snow and rain out of the viewfinder and the front of the lens. In daily use, it is unlikely that the 5D Mark II will have problems due to its lack of true weather sealing.

This image illustrates the kind of snow conditions the 5D Mark II survived without any problems.

We did not get an opportunity to shoot any sports or fast moving action with the 5D Mark II, but it seemed to have the same issues as the original camera, in that it was more accurate and faster using the center focus point than the other non-cross type ones. In low light conditions, with any lens F2.8 or slower, the camera had difficulty focusing with anything but the center focus point. But overall the focus system felt the same as it did in the original 5D - hardly surprising since it is, as far as we know, unchanged in this model.

We did spot a touch of mild banding at ISO 25,600 (and only at that setting), though it was neither prevelant nor strong enough to be considered an issue (and you can more or less get rid of it entirely using chroma noise reduction when working from raw. The examples below show the extent of the problem (you'll need to download the full res files to see it):

ISO 25,600, 1/30 sec ISO 25,600, 1/80 sec

Only the best glass will do

Full frame cameras (or more accurately, lenses) tend to have more problems with edge sharpness and chromatic aberration towards the edges of the frame than crop sensor cameras, something that becomes more and more of a problem as the resolution of sensors increases. The 5D Mark II is no worse than the 1Ds Mark III in this regard, but if you want to get the most of the sensor, you'll need to use high quality primes, or 'L' Zooms.

Canon has wisely continued to offer the 5D Mark II in a kit with the EF 24-105mm F4.0 L IS USM (introduced with the original 5D). This lens does suffer from distortion at both the wide end and the long end, but resolution and sharpness-wise it is very well matched to the 21 Mp sensor (not to mention that it has a good range and is perfect as a everyday standard lens). Canon has in the past had problems with wide angle lenses on full frame cameras, but have addressed the situation in the last couple of years with the introduction of the EF 16-35mm F2.8 L II USM, the EF 14mm F2.8 L II USM and the EF 24mm F1.4 L II USM. One of the strengths of the 5D Mark II is the wide range of both high quality (and expensive) 'L' lenses, and of more moderately priced and lighter lenses that cover most applications.