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Canon EOS 5D MkII - Canon EOS 5D MkII

By Cliff Smith



Our Score:


In terms of performance the EOS 5D Mk2 is, as you might expect, enormously impressive, but it is not without its faults. Start-up time is very quick even by DSLR standards, with a delay of less than half a second between switching the camera on and it being able to focus and take a picture. The main nine-point AF system is so quick in good light that it is virtually instant, however it is considerably slower in lower light and I did find it hunting around a bit from time to time in late evening light conditions.

In single-shot mode the shot-to-shot time approximately 0.4 seconds, but in practice it can take pictures just as fast as you can press the shutter button, although if you're shooting in maximum-size Raw+JPEG the it is possible to fill up the image buffer after 17 shots if you can press the button fast enough. In continuous mode it can hit the advertised 3.9 frames per second, but only in JPEG mode, however switching to Raw+JPEG mode barely slowed it down at all, managing approximately 3.6 frames per second with a 2GB SanDisk Extreme IV CF card. The number of shots that can be taken in a burst depends on the recording mode. The EOS 5D Mk2 has three different Raw file settings; a standard full-size 21-megapixel mode and two smaller modes shooting 9.9MP and 5.2MP Raw files respectively. In JPEG-only mode the burst size is limited only by the memory card capacity, while in all Raw+JPEG modes it is limited to nine frames before the frame rate drops to approximately 1.5fps, while shooting in Raw only the buffer is large enough for 17 shots before the frame rate drops.

One aspect of the camera's performance that may be a cause for concern is its appetite for memory cards. In full-size Raw+JPEG mode the combined file size is around 30MB, with the two smaller modes clocking in at 17MB and 13.5MB respectively, with the JPEG-only file size averaging between 5 and 10MB. This means that in the maximum quality mode, which of course most photographers will prefer, a 1GB memory card is only enough for 26 shots.

There is so much to talk about with this camera that I could probably fill another couple of pages and still miss something, but time and space require that I wrap things up, which brings us finally to the vital subject of image quality. As potential buyers (hi Riyad!) will be delighted to hear, the 5D Mk2 performs brilliantly. It has essentially the same sensor as the £5,800 EOS 1Ds Mk3, but the 5D Mk2 pairs it with the more advanced DIGIC 4 processor. From what I've seen of the output of the 1Ds, the 5D actually seems to have marginally superior image quality, particularly in the area of image noise control. I won't beat around the bush with superfluous details when you can look at the following sample images for yourself, but suffice to say that the EOS 5D Mk2 has by far the best image quality of any digital SLR I've ever used, and makes APS-C DSLRs look like compact cameras by comparison. The tonal range, depth of colour and the sheer level of fine detail are simply amazing, and the noise control is better than I would have believed possible. There is a faint hint of noise visible at 800 ISO, but images as high as 3200 ISO are perfectly printable, and even the 12,800 ISO extended setting there is still a surprising amount of detail visible.

I'm looking forward to testing a Sony Alpha A900 very soon. I've heard very good things about it, but it's going to have to go some if it's going to beat the EOS 5D Mk2.


The Canon EOS 5D Mk2 represents the state of the art of current digital SLR design. Its combination of professional-level build quality, superb handling, high-speed performance, class-leading image quality and the added bonus of HD video recording and its other advanced features will be more than enough to satisfy even the most demanding photographer, and it is sure to match the popularity of its illustrious predecessor.

Rok Krznar

February 28, 2009, 12:17 pm

This is undoubtedly my dream camera!

By the way, it says 1920x180 Video recording in your specification table.


February 28, 2009, 7:04 pm

I really think Canon missed a trick installing the same old 9 point autofocus system (which I hate!) in the new 5DMK2...that and the 3.9 FPS are my only gripes in an otherwise brilliant camera. Even the price is acceptable.

I have been shooting Pro Canon for 8 years now and have always found the locations of the AF points pretty useless, especially when shooting sports subjects, with the centre focus point being the only point with reliable sensetivity, especially in low light. If only they could have spread them out further (rules of thirds anyone?) so that focusing and recomposing wasn't always necessary.

I already have a 1D MK3 and 2 x 40D's (the best value all round performing DSLR IMO) and a 5D, and am inches away from pulling the trigger on this one, again....I did have 2 pre-orders on this body 4 months back - and none of them came up with the stock when I had the cash. Stock levels still seem to be very low in the UK and they are very hard to come by sans kit lenses.

We'll see how long I can resist!


March 1, 2009, 12:33 am

I have had the 5DmkII for just over a month now and i must say it is a superb bit of kit.

I would buy this camera just for its high ISO noise capabilities, even if the rest of the package was not as good as it is( yes i know the d700 is /slightely/ better at high ISO, but the canon range of pro lenses is more diverse if you don't want to shoot primarily wide angle).

I agree with you lifethroughalens, that the 9 point autofocus is a slight disappointment, but it really isn't the end of the world. The 6 additional (invisible) assist points really do help the AF when tracking moving subjects allot and it will do fine with action/sports as long as this is not your primary concern. Focusing is accurate & fast in all but but very low light.If you want to shoot sports, the 1DIII is still the way to go. Moving the points further out would be ALLOT better i agree.

I have a few examples of moving subjects here


This dog is running extremely fast and i had no problems tracking him.

I also have a few, non-center, panning shots that i have not yet uploaded which focused equally accurately.

I would not buy the 5DmkII as a sports body, your 1DMKII is already the best you can get for this, but i would buy it in a heartbeat to replace your existing 5D or 40D bodies.It really is allot better at high ISO and considering that the 5D Classic was great, this is a very bold statement!

If you like strobist work, having the ability to comfortably use these high ISO's without the fear of shed loads of PP to remove noise, you can use much lower speedlight power levels so you can keep up very high refresh rates.

Personally i cant wait for the 1DIV - if it has these ISO capabilities along with 10fps shutters speeds, it could possibly be the perfect camera, but that is pure speculation obviously.

red hot sheep

March 1, 2009, 1:13 pm

"The only other full-frame DSLRs available at the time were its big brothers the EOS 1D Mk2 and EOS 1Ds Mk2"

Theh 1D series is not full-frame!

Dave Deacon

March 1, 2009, 9:09 pm

Life is so damned cruel. Commiserations. Mind, this was about the cost of my Canon D60 when it first came out. It seems, in many ways, to be the ideal camera suiting most users needs - including 1080p video. Spring is here, March 1st and just saw a bee at my window! Great time to have a good camera. Me, I am now using a Samsung GX20. I wanted something different from Canon and it IS very different. LOL! Nah, it is a great camera. For 𧺫 from Amazon you get a camera better than a Canon 50D and access to all those old and new Pentax lenses. Maybe a Canon 5DMkII next year...


March 2, 2009, 2:28 pm


Another example of video. Not recorded by me unfortunately!


March 2, 2009, 8:53 pm

@ Kaben

Thanks for the info & opinion on the 5D MK2, love the shots of your 'flying' dog :)

Would like to see a 100% crop of one of those just to see if the sharpness is there. I'm sure it is, but I like pixel peaking. I've always had issues with the AI tracking on anything other than the 1D series bodies, certainly the 40D's and the 5D are way, way to slow to track fast cars and wildlife reliably...even if there just coming directly to camera.


Jay Werfalli

March 5, 2009, 3:56 pm

@red hot sheep. Error fixed. Thanks! My last camera was a 1D Mark II and it is indeed not a full-frame camera - the sensor in that measured 28.7 x 19.1mm and it had a 1.3x focal length multiplier just like the 1D Mark III, the 1D Mark II N, and the original 1D.


March 8, 2009, 12:20 am

The 5d MkII is the Obama of cameras: All the fawning is a bit unseemly. Yes, it's a great camera, but how much of the greatness is actually the 5D it updates? There is really nothing innovative about the MkII. It has basically the same sensor, tricked out with more pixels, i.e. more pixel density, with processing for the added noise. The cumbersome video is tacked on -- glorified live view output -- as a marketing gimmick, plus a few peripheral improvements. A 1.x but certainly not a 2.0.

As the long-awaited update of the 5D, the MkII a fiasco, a hasty attempt by Canon to catch up after being stirred from their complacency by the Nikon D700. And now there's Panasonic's GH1, a true innovation and a potential Canon-killer.


March 10, 2009, 5:05 am

"And now there's Panasonic's GH1, a true innovation and a potential Canon-killer"

I think the key word there is 'potential', because panasonic are a *long* way off Canon in the development cycle. The GH1 may well be a good system, but who would want to invest in a camera system from panasonic instead of canon or nikon - if you were serious about photography?

Peter King

April 19, 2009, 3:38 pm

I have read on the dpreview forum of a number of problems with the Video mode of the 5D MkII, including the following.

Stuttering of the video recording is said to happen with changes in brightness of the scene during shooting. Seems to be a result of the auto-focus system altering the aperture of the lens, and interrupting the recording stream. Locking the aperture does not seem to work. Even if it did, I cannot see how this would be of use on a video camera. It will encounter variations in brightness during shooting a scene, and exposure must be continuously variable.

The built-in mike picks up the sound of the autofocus mechanism.

The Quick-Time MOV recording file format is also roundly condemned by non Mac users.

I wonder if 5D Mk II users could comment on just how serious they have found these and other shortcomings with the Video mode.

Martin Capenhurst

July 20, 2009, 6:28 pm

I agree the camera is a perfect piece of kit i am a pro of 28 years and have used teh iDS MK11 for years, i am very dissapointed with the video capture as i thought it would be good when the family wanted to take some video but the focus is useless, who wants video without real time autofocus, the only good video i have taken is when i did not move, whats the point !!!

Cliff Smith

August 16, 2009, 3:41 am

I borrowed an EOS 5D MkII with the 24-105 f/4 and the Speedlite 580EX II flashgun to shoot a friend's wedding last weekend, and I couldn't possibly have chosen a better kit for the job. I kind of wish I hadn't though, because now I have got to get one myself by any means necessary. Anyone want to buy a kidney?


August 19, 2009, 3:06 am

Well that's a co-incidence as I was shooting a friend's wedding with the 5D2 that weekend too.

I agree, it's a great camera. Full frame is something I've craved for so long and it's just beautiful - suddenly my 24-70mm lens becomes pretty much the only lens I need for most situations.

Got some nice shots of the occasion despite the locations, a dingy registry room, basement restaurant and the total cloud cover (nebulous). I was using a Metz 45CL4 digital flash (or trying to) and tried to keep ISO at a maximum of 1600, which is definitely still very good. 3200 is acceptable for some shots but beyond that, you'd be hard pushed to salvage a decent colour shot I think.

I find its frame rate plenty good enough and have the 40D as a back up. The 9-point AF worked well in group situations, allowing me to just concentrate on getting a decent shot so no complaints about that. Also took a little video, using an external Rhode shotgun mic, but that was pretty awful really. All that kit weighed a tonne so things were very shaky! Didn't have opportunity to set up a tripod despite having one with me. Looked the part (a prat) at least.

Don't know anyone needing a kidney right now, Cliff. If I find someone I'll let you know. I wasn't paid for the day and it'll be a long while yet before I can afford any more tasty camera or a/v gear, or even beer come to think of it. Yup, plenty of sacrifices made in the pursuit of photography, taking it and viewing the work of others (mostly motion-photography of course). So, I hope you find the funds soon or otherwise get hold of one without needing to sell body parts first!

Alex Wonner

August 23, 2009, 2:43 am

I would like to know why Canon is trying to combine an HD video in this outstanding piece of equipment! Either you shoot photos and it's already hard enough to get the right one or you concentrate on making a movie. It is absurd to combine both. Maybe for the low entry level but not at this level which is a professional level. That's why I won't buy this camera to replace my aging EOS. I have got a fantastic SONY HD camera. Why must I pay 2000 odds pound for a camera who is not going to help me shooting movie.

It's ridiculous and Canon should NOT mix pleasure and professionalism. Great great mistake from Canon.


August 25, 2009, 6:57 pm

Alex, many professionals are using this camera to take video, be it wedding or more theatrical. With the wide range of professional lenses available and (almost) full manual control of depth of field etc, they're getting very good results which far exceed anything but dedicated professional video-cameras that you'll really only see very serious video-photographers use.

Canon were mostly just responding to the competition in providing video and live-mode shooting but there is a great deal of sense in keeping up with consumer demands even on a more professionally featured camera like this. Photo-journalists, capturing news reportage or sporting events can also process high quality (2 megapixel) stills from a video sequence, this resolution (1920x1080) being more than high enough for web usage and good enough for most typical print mediums.

The limitations of using an SLR is again in having the right accessories - a better professional grade microphone (on shoe or off) and something to support such a heavy piece of equipment since you can't just rest it on your shoulder. Something like the fig-rig (from Manfrotto) would really help stabilise shots. My own limited experience shooting video has been mostly candid. I did however take some macro-video of a tiny garden spider and I can see, if you're determined and good at it, a proliferation of genuine creative uses for DSLR captured video - tilt and shift, fish-eye, lens-baby etc which you can already find on such sites as Vimeo and YouTube.

Until Canon catch up with the makers of such unoffical firmware as the Magic Lantern team and provide additional much-needed features for this camera such as gain control and timestamping, then the camera will still best serve for stills use. The video function doesn't interfere or diminish the rest of the camera's functions or performance and so I myself am very glad it's included though I don't see myself ever using it for creating any serious video.


October 27, 2010, 10:29 pm

As of 2010, just ordered mine via Digital River and staff sales. On backorder as ever it has been wherever you order it from. Come on Canon I have just sold my 5d Classic and don't want to feel I have shot myself in the foot.

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