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Comments and Opinions on the 5D Mark II


About three and a half years ago, I wrote that I was ready for digital but digital was not ready for me. With the exception of a non-proprietary RAW format, digital has gotten ready for me with the Canon 5D MkII. This article is not a review of that camera, but is instead a random collection of early impressions while using it.

Hands and Harp

The 5D2 uses a 36x24 sensor with 21 megapixels. My scans from 35mm film come from a rectangle of the same size, and yield 24 megapixels. Digital capture is cleaner - cleaner even than Fuji 160C film - and digital acutance is high even with low contrast content.

High speed ISO film suffers more from grain than high ISO digital suffers from noise in the 5D2. This is of particular interest to me when photographing musicians and dancers in low light.

I wanted an affordable digital camera. Well, the 5D2 isn't cheap, but it isn't eight-thousand bucks, either. I let the poker players pay for mine, and that allowed the price to be particularly attractive.

For the above reasons, I determined that, without question, the 5D2 would deliver images superior to what I've been getting from 35mm film. Thus, it seemed the right time to get my first digital camera. So I bought one. I then attended the inaugural Lompoc Renaissance Festival where, as I expected, I spent more time evaluating and learning to use the camera than making photographs.

Formal Battle Attire

It is well built and feels solid, except that the access panel for the memory card does not inspire confidence. It appears to be made of plastic, and might crack if it gets a hard knock against something solid. I also bought the accessory battery grip. It seems a bit over-priced by itself, but I was given good treatment at Samy's Camera in Santa Barbara and got a very competitive price on the grip and a slew of other gear. The grip does not appear to be so solidly constructed as the camera, but with L-series lenses it delivers good handling balance to the camera. To install the grip, remove the battery door, slip it into the door-keeper slot on the grip (well-thought, Canon!), and screw the grip into the camera tripod mount. The grip has its own tripod mount in its base.

I think the menu system is laid out well. You can set six functions to your own personal menu system for quicker access to items that you might change frequently. Common controls are accessible directly from camera buttons. These became intuitive fairly quickly. For me, all controls that I rely on frequently are fast and accommodating. Those that I don't use often require getting into the menu system. Some people might have a gripe if they commonly need a feature that requires menu access to achieve, such as mirror lock-up.

Chain Link and Madrigal

My 35mm film system is rather old, and has no provision for auto flash compensation. As a result, I rarely used flash. So I was eager to see what results I might get with flash compensation on the 5D2. I was less than enchanted. It works, but still requires some fuss (or at least more experience than I have with it so far) to get correct compensation. Although high contrast is mitigated - the "character" of light on the subjects was usually not to my liking and style. The photo at right was made with strong back-light and fill-flash. It's better than no flash, but the light is kind of "flat." And, it's better than not getting that smile!

The Dancers' Tent

The camera appears to use battery power efficiently. I popped six rechargable batteries into the grip, and at the end of the day the battery indicator had not changed. The standard battery pack is rated to about 800 exposures. The data sheet with the grip rates six alkaline batteries at about 200 exposures. Not so great, but it appears that the rechargables will deliver at least 600 if not more. And I've got 24Gb on three memory cards, so power and memory should not be an issue. RAW capture mode crams a 14-bit 21 megapixel image into a 26Mb file. Not bad!

I've not yet used all of the software that comes with the camera, but I have used Canon's Digital Photo Professional to process RAW files. It works, albeit somewhat slowly on my aging computer (I'm using Windows XP and avoiding the horror of Vista). The software manuals come as PDF on disc, but none would open for me. I haven't yet determined if the problem is a corrupt disc, Adobe Reader version incompatibility, or something else. Nevertheless, I've been able to make DPP perform its tricks with my RAW files.

The primary issue is image quality. The 5D2 delivers the goods. Image are clean and crisp. I've not had any problems with auto-focus. Exposures were accurate, except that I encounterd overexposure with some flash-fill images. This was easily compensated. Color is solid and rich, and DPP permits easy and fast adjustment of color balance when necessary. I have not yet used Live View or Video mode, nor have I used motor drive. But I am already quite satisfied with the camera. It is unlikely that I'll be using 35mm film again. Medium format, with the RZII...well, I don't know yet. :)

Images Copyright © Ed E. Powell
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