Sunday, December 07, 2008

Canon 5D MkII test day

It came as a bit of a surprise when, as a mildly bigoted Nikonian, I was asked along with a few other photo bloggers to spend the day with the shiny new Canon 5D MkII last week. What follows is a mostly objective review with a few comparisons to my D300 and current baby, the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8.

I'd put the word out I'd be doing this test and got back various requests, mostly amounting to:

  • What's it like in low light?
  • How fast and accurate is the focusing?

Our professional guide was the reknowned if not quite yet legendary photo-journalist Edmond Terakopian, famed not least for his shots of some of the victims of 7/7.

We assembled at Canon's shiny offices on the edges of the City, introduced ourselves and got a first play.

My first impressions:

  • It's heavy! Or at least the configuration they gave us was heavy. It had the Canon 28-70mm f/2.8 which was probably half the weight of the whole kit. I found my wrists aching after a couple of hours, much like my wrists ached after shooting my first couple of gigs with a D70 and the kit lens!

  • The basic grip is good. There are sculpted grooves for the thumb and middle finger to rest in. On a simple ergonomic level, the Canon wins. Just don't go quoting the "Canon wins" out of context.

  • At f/2.8, apprently given the full-frame sensor, depth-of-field effects are enhanced. My pic of the Evian bottles at f/3.2 shows this!

  • I really, really missed the two wheels under the thumb and forefinger. Being able to futz with both aperture and shutter speed independently is a big win for me.

  • I also immediately missed having the focus/exposure point rocker under my thumb. It's something I use a *lot* when shooting to expose exactly on what I want and not let the camera try to do what it thinks. It turns out that the little joystick by the LCD could be repurposed to do that. Shame it doesn't out of the box though.

  • The LCD was dull compared to the D300. Then I found the brightness option and all was well. What effect that would have on battery drain, I have no idea.

We were bombarded with various factoids, some of which even made sense to me:

  • Despite being a "MkII", it's a complete overhaul of the original 5D: the sensor is new and lower-powered, the on-board CPU is newer, being faster and les power-hungry. Certainly after a day of shooting and chimping around 250 pictures, the battery was still full according to the LCD.

  • It's a full-frame sensor with 21 Mega-pixels. This is a Good Thing apparently, although I can imagine disk manufacturers rubbing their hands together with glee. A straw-poll showed the participants had between 2TB and 10TB of disk. Each. And various issues with offsite backup. Business opportunity there methinks.

  • The RAW drivers weren't out yet so we'd be shooting jpeg.

  • There is vignetting correction on board that knows about a selection of lenses. This raises the question about whether to
    trust a poky little on-board CPU with doing stuff, like making colour temperature decisions and compressing to jpeg, or let your mighty dual-core computer do it. This is a pub discusion. However, something like lens-correction done on the camera is certainly convenient and obeys the "don't make me think" principle.

  • The HD video was trumpeted as a major feature. I deliberately ignored it. A major regret now but it's something I'm definitely going to play with on the D300, not sure if that's HD though! As a photo journalist, Edmond was very excited about it and I'm sure his notes of the day will have more on this. It's a major shift in thinking about shooting and one I didn't really want to have to deal with on the day.

So off we went on out walkabout. We started at the British museum, then as dusk fell, moved to around the London eye and then back over the river to Trafalgar Square.

I've dumped some pics here in full resolution so you can zoom right in and check the noise and overall quality.

There seem to be slight chromatic aberrations in sudden light-to-dark transitions however, this is much more likely to be to do with jpeg artifacts than the kit.

Overall, it's an impressive piece of kit. The menu system is slightly better organised that the Nikon's and there are some great
features. The low-light performance is excellent, but as with the D300 sometimes needs some persuasion not to try to capture daylight levels of light from a night scene.

Would I trade that combination for my D300? Well of course. It costs two and a half times as much. Is it worth that premium? Not convinced. It's a serious piece of top-end amateur kit though and if you have the money and will make use of the features, then go for it.


Victor said...

Hi, I'm very interested to know if the 5d MakII AF is fast and accurate. Do you think that is better the D300 AF ?

In this moment I'm thinking to buy a Nikon D700 (same AF than D300) or a Canon 5D MkII for concert photography, and I would like to know your feelings about the speed of 5D MkII.

All the best,


Eric Hamilton said...

A helpful write-up, but can you make sure the settings on the Flickr photos allow us to view all sizes? I'd really like to take a closer look at the high-iso grain.

Anonymous said...

The HD video was trumpeted as a major feature. I deliberately ignored it. A major regret now but it's something I'm definitely going to play with on the D300, not sure if that's HD though!

Errr, the D300 does not have video capabilities. Did you mean the D90? That is HD albeit 720p, and with mono sound. Kind of baffled how you ignored this feature as it is a big achievement for this technology.

Dave Hodgkinson said...

Apologies for the EXTREME delay in reply!

@Victor: It was the same as the D300. Given the glass was probably 3x the cost of my trust Tamron 17-50 f/2. I should hope so! It also failed to focus in about the same level of low light the D300 does

@Eric Hamilton: Friend me on flickr and you'll see the hi-res. I'm sure it'll be pretty good. Even with the D70, I find that printing and knocking off a bit of the LH end of the histogram works wonders.

@Anonymous: Wow! I'd just assumed that since the D300 had live view, it had video! Oh well. Edmond made huge use of video and even had a special microphone that mounted in the flash hit shoe.

Thanks all!

pressure vessels said...

very nice review. but i love its images specially the action shots. what a great camera.