Canon 5D Mark II Review by Ken Rockwell

EOS 5D Mark II

Ken Rockwell has posted his review of the Canon 5D Mark II. Whether you think Ken’s posts are useful or useless, you can’t deny that he does have a review of the 5DMkII on his website.

And, being Ken, he starts right off with some… let’s say… odd statements:

Now that I’ve had my 5D Mark II for the past ten days, it’s easy to proclaim it as Canon’s best digital camera ever, along with the SD880. Since the 5D Mark II has the same or better image quality, the old $8,000 1Ds Mark III can be tossed out, saying sayonara to its hideous little LCD and too much weight. (Of course if your a sports or bird pro, you’ll live with it for the frame rate.)

I’m not sure if he really means to say that the compact Canon SD880 point and shoot digicam is better than every Canon DSLR besides the 5D Mark II or not. It probably doesn’t matter, I’m sure somewhere on the Internet someone has already flamed him for that, as well as his 1DsMkIII sayonara remark. As well as every other thing he wrote in his review.

As for the meat of the review, he says:

  • The battery life is phenomenal
  • The resolution is so high that you need the best lenses you can get, and Canon doesn’t make any wide zooms that are good enough for the 5DMkII yet
  • Huge improvement in LCD over the original 5D
  • Excellent auto ISO, better than Nikon’s, except that you can’t adjust it: if it’s on, it’s on the way it wants to be on. But it’s definitely smart, automatically choosing a decent shutter speed based on the current focal length, which Nikon’s auto ISO doesn’t do (you need to manually adjust the minimum shutter speed you’ll accept in the auto ISO menu as you adjust focal length.) Canon’s isn’t great for moving subjects, though, since the minimum shutter speed it picks will get rid of blurring from your hands moving, but can still easily blur the subject if its moving. I’m tempted to consider a 5DMkII just for this feature, which has always been sorely lacking in Canon DSLRs.
  • The rear info panel is excellent, and the easiest way to change settings.

One of Ken’s complaints is that the 5DMkII’s menus have some fading transition effect as you switch between menus, which annoys him and which sounds ridiculous and annoying to me as well. Who wants to wait for some graphic effect transition between menus? I don’t know anyone who’d choose that over instantly moving from one menu to another, like every other camera out there. Hopefully that can be turned off and he just didn’t notice where that’s done. Anyone who owns the camera want to comment on that? Seems like a very stupid design decision to me.

He actually has a list of 20 things he doesn’t like about the 5DMkII, which should at least be considered by anyone who’s thinking of buying one. Or maybe you can just grab Ken’s old 5D when he throws it away:

The original 5D now tops the pile in the digital dumpster of history. I won’t shed any tears when mine drops into the blue collection bin at my local Goodwill. The images from the original 5D are extraordinary, especially for color, cleanliness and detail, but the old LCD was atrocious. Shooting the old 5D was like shooting film: the results are awesome, but you can’t use the LCD to help see what you got before you get home.

I can’t believe the 5D’s LCD was any worse than other DSLRs that came out around the same time, and surely much better than the kinds of poor LCDs we got on the earliest digital cameras. Clearly, calling it atrocious and completely unusable are hyperbole to get the flames coming in from the Internets. I’d be tempted to join in, but he can’t trick me. Unless this paragraph was enough time wasted on it to count as trickery. In that case, curses! Foiled again.

Ken gives an interesting lens quality summary in the middle of the Canon 5DMkII review, which, while slightly out of place, is still interesting and helpful:

For instance, with the sharpest zoom I’ve ever used, the 70-200 f/4 IS L, it’s obvious, shooting at infinity, that the optimum aperture is f/8 at al focal lengths. Use a so-so lens, like the plastic EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 III, and you’d better stop it down to f/8 ~ 11 and not use it at longer than 135mm.

The 50 1.4 USM is great, but again, optimum at f/8 and f/11.

The 28-135mm IS is OK at 50mm at f/8-f/11. At 28mm you have a lot of lateral color fringes, and it gets softer much longer than 70mm.

The original EF 14mm f/2.8 L has loads of lateral color, and is optimum at f/11. This will be greatly improved if DxO makes a module for it. Don’t buy a 5D Mark II for the original 14mm; it’s not sharp enough to make it worth your while.

The excellent 15mm fisheye is very good. It has some lateral color, and is optimum at f/8.

The 16-35mm II can look awful, since it, like the 14mm lens, has never been as sharp as normal and long lenses. It’s best at f/11. I discovered that I get much better results using just the one center AF sensor, since using all the AF sensors at the same time giver poorer results. This had me chasing the forbidden AF tweak controls, until I realized that I probably was chasing a field curvature issue instead.

The 17-40mm is as good as the 16-35mm II. It’s not pretty if you’re looking too close. Best aperture is f/8~11.

It just might be time to shoot Nikon (or Zeiss) manual focus lenses on the 5D Mark II if you’re a tweaker. I popped on a Nikon 105mm f/4 AI-s Micro-NIKKOR with a kludge adapter, and it worked great, without any of the alignment issues of AF lenses caused by mechanical slop.

So, there you go. A Canon 5D Mark II DSLR review. Read it, enjoy it. Buy me one so I can give you my own unbiased opinion. Thanks in advance!

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TOP Compares the Sony A900, Nikon D700, Canon 5D Mark II

Alpha A900, D700, EOS 5D Mark II

The Online Photographer has a very interesting post up comparing the Sony A900, the Nikon D3 and D700, and the Canon 5D Mark II. TOP usually doesn’t get into such potentially controversial territory — at least as far as camera brand loyalists are concerned — and it’s a very interesting post.

Luckily, to avoid pissing off any one faction on the Internet too much, Mike is able to recommend each of the cameras in one way or another. He says the Sony A900 wins for “the ultimate in image quality,” although he says that it’s not perfect for every kind of photography.

But between its staggering resolution and very good dynamic range, its willing response to the Exposure and Recovery sliders, and its more “photographic” image quality and lack of digital artifacts—and despite its less-than-accurate color—it’s the IQ emperor for now, among these four (i.e., the three under discussion and the D3).

But he also mentions that if you don’t need the A900′s whopping megapixel count, then it shouldn’t really be in the running.

Up next is the “most recommendable” camera, which he says is the Nikon D700.

Given its sensible size compared to the D3, robust build, fast autofocus, overall responsiveness, superior ergonomics, unmatched high-ISO performance, and perfectly sensible file size, it’s going to be the most bang for the buck for more photographers than either of the others. The Nikon is flat-out a better camera than the Canon, a point exemplified by its clearly superior autofocus performance…. my feeling is that it would help more photographers take better pictures in more situations than either of the other two.

That leaves the Canon 5D Mark II as the “best compromise” between the A900 and D700. The 5DMkII doesn’t have the almost-ridiculous resolution and detail of the A900, but it’s up there. It also doesn’t have the high ISO noise performance of the D700, but it’s good. And, while it isn’t as good as the two leaders in those categories (in this comparison) it’s overall much better balanced:

And here’s the thing: [the 5D Mark II] has much more resolution than the Nikon, and much better high-ISO capability than the Sony. So its win over the Nikon where resolution is concerned is bigger than the margin by which it loses to the Sony in the same department, and its win over the Sony in high-ISO performance is much more decisive than the margin by which it loses to the Nikon on that score.

So if you giving each camera a score in both image quality/detail and high ISO capabilities, the 5D Mark II wouldn’t win either of those categories, but if you add them up to give you a total overall score, it would win. He makes sure to point out that he’s ignoring the strong video capabilities of the Canon 5D Mark II, so if you have a use for HD video in your DSLR, this becomes a much easier decision to make.

Then come the image quality issues with the 5D Mark II, which include some unusual chromatic aberration results that I haven’t seen mentioned in other reviews so far:

It’s been eight or 10 years since “purple fringing” (also called “CA,” not entirely accurately) first heaved into our collective consciousness as a peculiarly digital anomaly, and since then, other artifacts have been dealt with in their turn. I don’t see much in the way of purple fringing at all from the 5D Mark II, but there’s what Carl Weese calls “blue replacement,” by which narrow objects imaged against a brighter background change from their own color into a darkish pastel hue. You see it most often in twigs and telephone lines. The 5D Mark II isn’t particularly bad, but it shows up a lot more than it does from the D700. And its susceptibility to blue replacement makes it a candidate for a lovely lens aberration that I’d never actually seen before in a picture I’ve taken myself—longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA), which shifts objects in front of the plane of best focus to magenta and those in back of the plane to green.

There’s a sample photo from the 5DMkII showing all sorts of ugly purple and green branches, which makes me feel a little bit ill inside. I’ll try not to lose my lunch all over your shiny new cameras.

Mike also feels that Canon’s noise is blotchier than other cameras, and says that the highlight clipping is harsher and “less fixable” on the 5DMkII than on other recent cameras, and describes it as the kind of thing we would have seen a few years back. And, of course, the much-discussed black dot problem to the right of blown highlights. Mike somehow manages not to turn into a raving photography forum inhabitant with his reasonable downplaying of the black dot issue:

This doesn’t bother me at all—you’d never see it in prints and you probably wouldn’t notice it if it were visible—but hey, I’m just a reporter, I gotta report what I see.

I think we can be reasonably certain that Canon will fix this in a future firmware update.

Overall, a very interesting comparison between three excellent cameras, and I recommend everyone go visit the site and read the full review.

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The Online Photographer Excited By the Crappiness of the Nikon 24-120mm VR Lens

Lenses, Nikon

Yes, that’s a little weird, but it’s true. Michael Johnston of The Online Photographer used to be a big lens connoisseur. However, then they became so consistently good and less unique and interesting, and he lost some of that interest. Luckily — for him, not so much for everyone else — Nikon sent him the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 24–120mm f/3.5–5.6G IF-ED lens when they shipped him a Nikon D700 to review. And he sure has some choice words about the quality of the lens. Check out his post, or just enjoy these highlights:

  • It’s a piece of shit.
  • Despite its fancy specs, this is for all intents and purposes a perfect throwback to the days when even good zooms couldn’t aspire to the performance of ordinary garden-variety primes. Its performance is for all the world like an early-’80s mid-level zoom—smack dab in the middle of the era in which zooms earned—and deserved—their still-lingering bad reputation.
  • It has flagrant amounts of linear distortion not only at its wide setting but well into the middle range, and apparent perspective distortion even near the middle of the frame(!).
  • The D700 could hardly focus the thing—I got more out-of-focus shots than I have with any AF lens in years
  • Its sharpness is lackluster. At 120mm, I don’t think the thing gets sharp. At least, not without stopping down further than I was able to.
  • The deterioration in performance toward the corners is often marked—and not just at the extreme corners, either.
  • Color transmission borders on sucky (I know this from having recently used the 24–70mm f/2.8 on the D3).
  • This is a very inexpensive lens that is not worth half of what it costs.
  • If you innocently purchased one of these and are not lucky enough to be using it on a DX sensor, try to get your money back if you possibly can. Otherwise, stop down and avoid the extremes of the zoom range, even though they’re probably why you bought the thing in the first place.
  • The VR doesn’t even work very well. It works, but it’s the least effective image stabilizing I’ve yet experienced.

So, there you go. Avoid the lens like something super scary that you should run away from, and be happy that Mike has renewed his interest in lens quality!

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Canon 5D Mark II Review by Phil Holland

EOS 5D Mark II

Phil Holland has posted a nice, in-depth review of the Canon 5D Mark II DSLR, including a number of RAW files for people who want to do at-home pixel peeping and comparisons. Phil is a longtime 1DsMkIII user, and recently replaced his backup 1Ds with a 5DMkII.

He likes the viewfinder from the 1Ds Mark III better — for usability issues more than image quality or anything like that — but says the 5D Mark II does have a nice viewfinder. I’m sure anyone upgrading from an APS-C sensor camera to the 5D would be much more blown away by the viewfinder than he was.

Phil says that Canon’s new automatic brightness feature for the rear LCD display drove him nuts, and he quickly turned it off:

Canon implemented a new automatic brightness feature that uses a light sensor on the back of the camera to adjust image playback brightness based on the ambient lighting conditions. This is a neat idea, but drives me crazy as the image will literally change before your eyes. For instance, if you are shooting a sunset, the image you look at on the screen will look different if you are facing the sun or facing away from it.

With auto focus, Phil says the 5D Mark II is an improvement over the original 5D, but finds that the 1Ds Mark III is leaps and bounds ahead of either of them. He does mention that this will probably only matter to you if you do a lot of photography in very low-light situations, since there’s not much to distinguish them in well-lit autofocus performance.

As far as image quality goes, Phil finds that images from the two cameras are pretty much indistinguishable, as would be expected from the same sensor. He does note that images from the 5D Mark II were very slightly brighter and with deeper reds, and images from the 1Ds Mark III very slightly bluer, when compared. It’s a teeny tiny little difference, though, which you can see if you look at the sample photos he posted in his review, but otherwise doesn’t really seem worth mentioning (other than to point out that it’s there and then forget about it.)

Phil does seem to confuse a Bayer filter with an antialiasing filter, based on this paragraph:

In this “real world” example you can see that the 5D Mark II does a nice job of capturing detail. I chose a subject that has both subtle colors and lot of highlight, middle, and shadow detail. If you have ever shot with any of the higher end PhaseOne backs you’ll notice the still rather strong effect of the bayer filter getting in the way of true pixel sharpness on the 5D Mark II, but this is the way of digital SLRs. What I’m saying is the sensor itself and the lens used for this photograph could likely squeeze more detail out of this scene, but the bayer filter (which removes moire patterns) is softening up the image a bit. That said, these are amazing results for a camera at this price point.

I read through that paragraph a few times, and the only way it makes sense is if you assume Phil is talking about the antialias filter. The Bayer filter will get in the way of true pixel sharpness, but that’s because it’s averaging the brightnesses detected at neighboring photosites to determine the correct color, it doesn’t affect moire patterns. I’m also pretty sure that the Phase One backs use a Bayer filter as well, although I could be wrong — some Googling didn’t turn up anything definitive. The only cameras that wouldn’t use a Bayer filter are the Foveon sensor cameras and the early digital backs that did three separate passes — in a long, slow process — one for each color they were scanning. The antialias filter prevents moire patterns, but that’s separate from the Bayer filter.

As far as high ISO noise, it looks just a touch better than the Canon 1DsMkIII based on the samples he provides, and is one of the few reviews to admit that there’d be a use for the highest and noisiest ISO setting:

I think with more aggressive noise processing you can certainly use the ISO 12800 and 25600 images, if nothing else, for web reproduction. For me I think the highest I’ll be going is ISO 6400 to maintain print quality.

I’m always surprised by reviews that talk about how useless the highest ISO settings are and why would the manufacturers even include them. Why wouldn’t you want the option available, just in case you need it? I’d much rather have the option of shooting at ISO 61,200 and get something with a minuscule signal-to-noise ratio, than to wind up with no image at all (or, at least, a blurry image because I was forced to use a longer shutter speed than I should have.)

He spends several paragraphs discussing the 5D Mark II’s very interesting HD video capabilities, which are very cool and also have some severe drawbacks. There’s the 30 fps limitation that we heard about early on, but there are some other ones that are even odder. Apparently you’re limited to using the camera’s automatic exposure mode when you’re in video mode. Really? Huh? Canon is trying to turn their $3000 5DMkII into a point and shoot digicam? You can try to trick the camera and work around the limits (apparently a common way is to use an old manual Nikon lens with a mount adapter so that you at least get manual aperture control on the lens itself) but it doesn’t seem like there’s any technical reason why Canon couldn’t let you do video in manual exposure mode. It just doesn’t make sense. You do get two stops of exposure compensation in automatic mode, and exposure lock still works, so you might be able to trick it into the settings you want that way, but it’s still a very weird limitation on such a groundbreaking feature.

You’re also limited to 12 minutes of video per file, which shouldn’t be a big deal for most people. You’ll also get that CMOS “jello” effect, although that’s something you’re just stuck with if you’re doing video with a CMOS camera.

That said, he does offer this bit of awesomeness about the 5D’s video:

In reality though at this price point, even with the limitations of the HD video mode, it’s still an amazing deal. I’ve already shot footage that I could not shoot with rigs that cost me 3x the price of this camera and in higher quality no less.

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