After three years since the launch of the full-frame EOS 5D, Canon has finally set free its replacement, the EOS 5D Mark II. But has it been worth the wait?
Predictably, Canon has gone straight for the 'more pixels' jugular and slapped in a newly designed, 24 x 36mm, full-frame 21.1 million-pixel CMOS sensor with a pixel pitch of 6.4 square µm. That brings the 5D Mark II inline with the current EOS 1Ds Mark III professional DSLR in terms of resolution, and sees it take quite a jump from the 12.8-megapixel full-frame sensor found in the original 5D and the 12.1-megapixel full-frame sensor found in Nikon's D700 and D3 cameras.
The new developments in the sensor include improved coloured filters that, combined with the tighter microlens layer first seen on the EOS 1Ds Mark III and an enhanced signal-to-noise ratio, make for greater sensitivity. Indeed, the 5D Mark II now has an ISO range of 100 to 6400 ISO, together with ISO options for 50, 12,800 and 25,600 - a marked step up over the original 5D, which has a 100 to 1600 ISO range with extended 50 and 3200 ISO options. In addition, the Auto ISO function has been applied to all shooting modes (other than manual) rather than only being available in the Fully Automatic Exposure mode as per the old 5D.
The 5D Mark II also includes Canon's EOS Integrated Cleaning System with a new "non-stick" flourine coating on the outermost low-pass filter to help remove/reduce the potential build-up of dust particles on the sensor.
As for the magnesium alloy body, one could argue that little has changed in terms of looks. Side by side with the 5D, we can see that the 5D Mark II takes on a more angular design, but from the outside, there's essentially little difference between the two so those upgrading from the 5D should feel right at home. Inside, however, the 5D Mark II features environmental seals (something the 5D pretty much lacked) around key areas such as the CompactFlash memory card door, LCD screen, battery compartment, buttons and dials, as well as improved "tongue and groove" interfaces where separate parts of the chassis meet. In the hand, the 5D Mark II feels solid and well balanced.
One thing that struck me instantly was the clarity of the large 3in LCD which now features 920k pixels. Menus were clearly legible even at shallow viewing angles and in bright sunlight. It's a massive improvement over the 5D's 2.5in, 230k pixel LCD. The viewfinder, too, is clear and very bright and its coverage now expands across 98% of the frame. Unlike the Nikon D700, there is no viewfinder shutter.
The 5D Mark II's other key feature is Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) video recording at 30fps, which should no doubt really appeal to those that see the convergence between camcorder and camera as a good thing.
This development is available through Live View (another new addition to the 5D Mark II) and is a first for a Canon DSLR. It follows hot on the heels of Nikon's D90 - the first DSLR to introduce video recording, although the D90 was only capable of 1,280 x 720 (720p). The most tempting aspect of the 5D Mark II's video recording potential is to marry interchangeable high-quality optics with a large low-noise sensor and the possibility to shoot video using extremely shallow depths of field, plus it offers contrast-based AF, too, while recording. The video format is MPEG-4 (.mov) and recording time is variable but is limited either to 30mins of footage or the capacity of a 4GB memory card. Audio is captured in PCM format from either the mono mic built into the 5D Mark II or from an external mic plugged into the camera's 3.5mm jack on the side.
Other features include Canon's new 14-bit DiG!C 4 processor over the 5D's Digic II, along with an increased continuous burst rate of 3.9fps (buffered to 310 jpeg/fine frames with a UDMA card, 78 frames with a typical CF card) compared with its predecessor's 3fps. It has to be said that many of us were expecting a higher rate like Nikon's D700 5fps (8fps with battery grip), or even the 5fps of the EOS 1Ds Mark III.
Another slight disappointment is the 9-point auto focus system, which is more or less the same as the old 5D's. In comparison, the Nikon D700 and older D300 both feature 51 AF points.
That said, image quality is paramount and in that department Canon's 5D Mark II does appear to promise a lot. If the original 5D is anything to go by the Mark II version should be a popular choice for many photographers operating in different fields. As always, though, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating and no doubt we'll have a full review for you in the near future.
The EOS 5D Mark II (body only) is available from end of November 2008 priced at £2299.99 RRP inc. VAT.
New 24mm Lens
Canon also timed the 5D Mark II's launch with a new lens announcement: the EF 24mm f1.4L II USM - a fast L-series lens featuring aspherical and UD lens elements, and Canon's weather and dust sealing.
Price has yet to be confirmed, but expect it to be pricey.