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Canon EOS 5D Mark II



NEW: Updated results and video with firmware 1.1.0.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II is the successor to the EOS 5D, the World’s first ‘affordable’ full-frame DSLR. Announced in September 2008, the EOS 5D Mark II comes almost three years after its predecessor, during which time the DSLR market has moved-on considerably. Unlike the EOS 5D which initially enjoyed no competition, the new EOS 5D Mark II finds itself launched against two key rivals: Nikon’s D700 and Sony’s Alpha DSLR A900. So the new 5D Mark II is in a much tougher position than its predecessor and Canon had to make some significant improvements.

The EOS 5D Mark II of course features a full-frame sensor, but the resolution enjoys a considerable boost from the 12.8 Megapixels of its predecessor to 21.1 Megapixels. This in fact matches the resolution of Canon’s current flagship, the 1Ds Mark III, but it’s not the same sensor. The EOS 5D Mark II features a new CMOS sensor which employs an improved output amplifier, a more advanced colour filter with superior light transmission, and other enhancements also seen in the recently announced EOS 50D. Canon claims the result is the highest quality seen from any EOS DSLR to date.

Like the recent EOS 50D, the new EOS 5D Mark II also enjoys a significant boost in its maximum sensitivity from a top speed of 3200 ISO on the original 5D to a considerable 25600 ISO on the Mark II – the highest sensitivity seen on a Canon DSLR so far.

The Megapixel count may have almost doubled and the tonal depth increased to 14-bit, but Canon’s latest DIGIC 4 processor can work sufficiently quickly to offer a small boost in continuous shooting from 3 to 3.9fps. Support for UDMA CF cards ensures the buffer is flushed quickly.

The 5D Mark II is also equipped with a bigger and more detailed 3in VGA screen than its predecessor, which can of course also be used for Live View. It isn’t just for capturing stills though – the 5D Mark II becomes Canon’s first DSLR to feature video recording, which also makes it the second ever DSLR to offer the facility after the Nikon D90.

Both models can record video in HD, but where the D90 offers 720p, the 5D Mark II boasts nothing less than Full HD in 1080p at 30fps. Audio is captured with a built-in microphone, and Canon even offers a stereo microphone socket for better quality results. And to exploit the quality of both stills and video, the Mark II is also equipped with an HDMI port for connecting to HDTVs.

So in the three years since the original 5D, the new EOS 5D Mark II almost doubles the Megapixels, extends the tonal depth to 14-bits, accelerates continuous shooting by a third, increases the sensitivity by three stops, greatly improves the screen, adds Live View, broadens the coverage of the viewfinder, adds environmental sealing, includes AF micro-adjustment, vignette correction and anti-dust facilities, supports UDMA cards, and of course throws in HD movie recording with HDMI output.

Click here for the Canon EOS 5D Mark II video tour

Some may have wished the continuous shooting rate was faster still and the viewfinder coverage was 100%, while others may lament the continued absence of a popup flash, but there’s no denying it’s a significant upgrade in almost every respect over the original 5D.

But as we said at the start, the EOS 5D Mark II enters a marketplace with two highly regarded rivals from Sony and Nikon. Each offers compelling advantages over the Canon, so the big question is how do the quality and features compare? Find out in our Canon EOS 5D Mark II review where we’ll examine all the new features, along with comparing the image quality against its predecessor and key rivals; we will of course also discuss the now infamous ‘black dot’ issue, and as always, you can also see a demonstration of the camera’s key features in our Canon EOS 5D Mark II video tour.

Testing notes

We performed our original tests using a final production Canon EOS 5D Mark II running the initial firmware version 1.0.6, although updated our video and black-dot tests with the 1.1.0 revision released in June 2009.

Following our convention of testing cameras using their factory default settings unless otherwise stated, the EOS 5D Mark II was set to Large Fine JPEG quality, Auto White Balance, Evaluative metering and the Standard Picture Style; High ISO Noise Reduction and the Auto Lighting Optimiser were set to their default Standard settings, while Highlight Tone Priority was disabled. Note: we disabled Auto Lighting Optimizer for our high ISO noise tests, and also have samples comparing the different noise reduction settings. Lens-based Image Stabilisation was enabled for all handheld shots and disabled for tripod-based tests.

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