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Canon digital SLR upgrade - EOS 350D / XT versus EOS 5D Gordon Laing, November 2006

Canon EOS 350D / XT vs EOS 5D verdict

As the previous pages explain, there are several compelling reasons to upgrade from an earlier Canon EF-S digital SLR to the EOS 5D, although perhaps not as many as you’d think.

Most obviously upgrading to the 5D will get you a higher resolution sensor which resolves comfortably more detail than the 6 and 8 Megapixel Canon digital SLRs. It also gets you a full frame sensor, which allows lenses to perform as they would on a 35mm body, while also delivering lower noise and a large view through the viewfinder.

In terms of build quality and ergonomics, the 5D is also a big step-up from the 350D / XT, although it has to be said no better than the 20D or 30D. It should also be mentioned the 20D and 30D boast much faster 5fps continuous shooting compared to the relatively pedestrian 3fps of the 5D.


Canon EOS 350D / XT and EOS 5D

Comparing the two lenses we tested for each body, the EF 24-105mm unsurprisingly feels better than the EF-S 17-85mm and the constant f4.0 aperture is preferred, but it costs around double the price. This is a really important factor when considering the EOS 5D, as although you effectively have a larger choice of lenses at your disposal, you’ll really have to buy the expensive ones for acceptable results.

Our Vignetting results also show one of the major downsides of full-frame bodies: even coupled with the best optics, they suffer from much greater light fall-off than most cropped digital SLR and lens combinations. Indeed while the EF-S 17-85mm suffers from quite noticeable vignetting especially at wide angle, the much pricier EF 24-105mm model fitted on the 5D is almost twice as bad. The EF-S 17-85mm also delivered a more useful macro result.

So upgrading to the EOS 5D is not all good news. You’ll need to be prepared to spend more on lenses and still expect worse light fall-off in the corners. Lacking a popup flash, you’ll also almost certainly have to buy a flashgun. And if you’re upgrading from the 20D or 30D, you’ll have slower continuous shooting and no improvement in build quality.

But then the 5D’s full frame sensor is very seductive. It delivers a massive amount of detail with very low noise levels even at high sensitivities – a winning combination which continues to delight. And while Canon’s EF-S bodies may also enjoy low noise, remember their lower resolutions mean any artefacts will be larger on prints made the same size. It should also be mentioned while Canon has an excellent reputation for low noise, it can only get higher as the resolutions of its APS-C sensors are inevitably increased in the future.

So as we concluded in our Canon EOS 5D review, it all boils down to how much you want that full frame sensor. The 5D body prices may have fallen considerably since launch, but once you’ve taken pricier lenses (not to mention a Speedlite) into consideration, it’s still a significantly more expensive system than the 350D / XT or 30D with the EF-S 17-85mm lens. It also makes the Nikon D200 look great value.

So the 5D with a decent lens is expensive compared to the next models down in Canon’s range, but those who want high detail with low noise, not to mention one of the best viewfinder experiences in the market will justify the purchase. If it makes it any more palatable, perhaps it’s best to consider the 5D not as expensive compared to the 30D and D200, but a bargain compared to the 1Ds Mark II. It may not have mainstream appeal, but the 5D remains a decent upgrade for many Canon owners and a camera we've greatly enjoyed using since its launch.

Note: Canon always remains tight-lipped about future products, but we'd expect to see a '1Ds Mark III' in early 2007, and if the 5D follows Canon's usual 18 month product cycle for DSLRs, there may be a new model by mid 2007. This is of course pure speculation though.

Canon EOS 5D
Using EF 24-105mm f/4.0L IS USM

Good points

Most affordable full-frame body yet
Very high resolution
Very low noise levels
Good build quality (but no better than 30D)

Bad points
High price premium for full-frame sensor
Full-frame coverage is unforgiving on optics
No voice memo or GPS option
No popup flash


(relative to Canon 350D)

Build quality:
Image quality:


18 / 20
19 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20
15 / 20

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