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Canon EOS 5D review – long term test


Canon EOS 5D introduction

Canon’s EOS-5D is the first ‘affordable’ digital SLR with a full-frame sensor. Launched in October 2005, it represented a new product category for Canon, delivering 12.8 Megapixel resolution and the full-frame benefits of the high-end EOS-1Ds Mark II, while enjoying a price much closer to the consumer range.

It’s a unique proposition which got many photographers very excited, while causing others to question its relevance in today’s fast-maturing digital SLR market. Whichever category you personally fall into, at Cameralabs we believe it’s a very important product which deserved an extended review period.

So over the last six months we’ve been thoroughly putting the 5D through its paces in our first long-term test, trying it out in a wide variety of environments from hiking through the sunny Canyons of Southwest USA to capturing the Aurora Borealis in the sub-zero temperatures of Northern Norway.

We’ve had a chance to try the 5D with a number of lenses ranging in focal length from 17 to 400mm, and have also spoken to numerous existing owners to learn about their own experiences. Our extended review period has additionally allowed us to compare the 5D against Canon’s latest EOS-30D along with what’s probably its closest rival, the Nikon D200.

But before kicking off, what exactly’s the fuss about? Well it’s all down to the sensor, which by measuring the same shape and area as a frame of 35mm film, allows lenses to deliver exactly the same field-of-view as they would when used with a 35mm SLR. In contrast, traditional digital SLRs with physically smaller APS-sized sensors crop the field of view, effectively multiplying the focal length of all lenses by 1.5 or 1.6 times.

This is a big deal for many photographers, but especially those raised on 35mm SLRs. They often have existing lens collections and understandably want them to perform the same on a digital body. The prospect of effectively multiplying all their lens focal lengths by 1.6 times (in the case of Canon cropped models) has put many of them off digital SLRs so far.

Full-frame sensors deliver the solution, but unfortunately their cost of manufacture is very high and until the 5D came along you were looking at spending a considerable sum on one of Canon’s top-of-the-range 1Ds models. So while the 5D body at a UK RRP of £2539 can hardly be described as cheap, it’s considerably more attainable than the whopping £5000 or so for a 1Ds Mark II. Additionally the 5D’s 12.8 Megapixel resolution matches the theoretical detail of a 3000 dpi 35mm film scan which, coupled with the full-frame coverage, makes it a viable replacement for die-hard 35mm owners.

But while the 5D represents the holy grail for some photographers, other have questioned the relevance of full-frame sensors in today’s market. Full-frame bodies may have been necessary for extreme wide angle coverage a few years ago, but now ultra-short focal length lenses designed specifically for digital SLRs have effectively counteracted the problem of smaller sensors cropping the field-of-view. In this case, why pay through the nose for an unnecessarily large sensor when a cropped body and ultra wide lens can deliver the same field-of-view at a lower price?

It’s certainly a compelling argument and one we’ll fully address in our review. So read on to discover if the 5D’s the holy grail of digital SLRs or the solution to a problem which no longer exists. Note: the body tested was running firmware version 1.0.1.

NEW: Check out our Canon EOS 5D Mark II review

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