Canon EOS 5D Mark II - Canon EOS 5D Mark II design, controls, screen and live view

Canon EOS 5D Mark II design, controls, screen and live view

Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II is based on the same body as the original EOS 5D, and shares the same dimensions, although a newly-styled upper section and surround to the lens mounting gives it a noticeably different appearance. We’ve pictured the new EOS 5D Mark II alongside the EOS 5D below. Viewed face-on, the new EOS 5D Mark II has a more angular head section, compared to the rounded shape of its predecessor, along with a defined line under the Canon logo – although this doesn’t hide a popup flash as some hoped. You’ll also notice a separate self-timer lamp and IR remote control sensor between the grip and lens mount, along with three tiny holes below the 5D logo to accommodate the built-in microphone.


Viewed from above, the grip and main control positions are clearly unchanged, but the cosmetic differences in styling become more obvious. There’s quite defined lines along the top of the head of the 5D Mark II, which are missing from the original, along with a newly-styled Command dial and a silver flash hotshoe with a plastic surround to provide a weatherproofed seal with models like the Speedlite 580EX II.

The most important difference when viewed from above though is the larger status screen, along with a rearrangement of the upper right buttons and new protruding surrounds which makes it easier to find them with your eye up to the viewfinder. We’ll detail the screen and controls in a moment. So while the 5D Mark II shares essentially the same body as its predecessor, the cosmetic changes give it a different look.



Both bodies do however feel pretty much identical in your hands though. The body weight is identical at 810g, and despite a new battery on the Mark II, there’s only a few grams difference with them fitted. The grip remains the same size and shape, delivering a good fit for larger hands with the textured rubber coating providing a secure hold, although the hooked inner areas of Nikon’s grips still feel ergonomically superior.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - mode dial

The build quality is essentially the same as its predecessor, although Canon has upgraded the environmental sealing with strips and ridges around the various doors, flaps and compartments, along with the plastic surround on the hotshoe. There’s no specific mention of the degree of weatherproofing, but these seals are certainly a step-up from the original EOS 5D.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - creative auto mode

As mentioned above, the EOS 5D Mark II’s controls are virtually identical to its predecessor, which will allow owners of the previous model to get up and running without delay, although there are a handful of differences worth noting. First, the restyled Command dial adds two more Custom positions along with a new CA mode squeezed between Program and green square auto that was first seen on the EOS 50D. CA stands for Creative Auto and is essentially a beginner-friendly version of Aperture Priority. So instead of dialling-in an f-number, the CA mode presents an on-screen slider to adjust the background sharpness. A second slider is used to adjust the exposure compensation. It’s a friendly approach to controlling depth-of-field, but arguably better-suited to entry-level models than the 5D Mark II.

Joining the CA, green square Auto and three Custom modes are the usual PASM modes, although like the 5D before it, you won’t find any scene presets. This is Canon’s way of saying the 5D Mark II is a more serious camera, although again the presence of the new Creative Auto mode is a slight contradiction.

Like its predecessor, the upper right surface is dominated by an LCD information screen, although it’s now larger and more detailed, including a new four-segment battery indicator, an icon to indicate Highlight Tone Priority, and the ISO value displayed at all times, in addition to all the details previously shown. The actual characters indicating the aperture and shutter speed are also larger than before and much easier to read. It’s an unexpected and decent upgrade over its predecessor.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - top right

As before, three dual-function buttons run along the top side of the screen, which are now easier to find without looking thanks to protruding surrounds. While the six total functions offered by these buttons are the same as the 5D, Canon’s rearranged them to match the EOS 50D – so there may be a little confusion for 5D owners upgrading.

The first button on the left adjusts the metering and white balance modes, the second adjusts the AF and drive modes, while the third adjusts the sensitivity and flash compensation. While each button can be pressed and held like a shift key as you turn either the finger dial or thumb wheel, it’s also possible to adjust the settings by pressing the button once, then moving your finger or thumb to the appropriate dial within a few seconds. This allows you to easily make the required adjustments without removing your right hand from the main grip.

Turning to the rear of the camera you’ll find Canon’s large thumb wheel, a standard fixture on all but its entry-level DSLRs. In Program, Shutter and Aperture priority, the wheel is used to adjust the exposure compensation, while in full Manual it controls the Aperture value. As mentioned above, it also adjusts the White Balance, Drive mode and Flash compensation when these respective buttons are pressed first. In the 5D Mark II’s menus, it’s used to scroll up and down options on a page, and in playback it’ll scroll between images.

It’s a very tactile control that allows quick adjustments, with a satisfyingly large SET button in the middle to confirm options; the SET button can also be configured to directly enter the Image Quality or Picture Style menus, start Image Replay, view the Quick Control screen, start recording Movies, or present the main menu system.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - rear controls

Above the thumb wheel is an eight-way joystick which can be used for operating the new Quick Control menu first seen on the EOS 50D (see screen section below), scrolling round magnified images during playback or as an alternative to the thumb and finger dials when navigating menus and other options. Like earlier EOS DSLRs though, it requires a little practice to avoid pressing it, say, upwards, when you meant to push it in to confirm a setting. You’ll also notice four tiny dots to the upper left of the joystick for the loudspeaker.

Concentrated above the ridge for the thumb rest are three buttons: the usual focus point selection and AE lock buttons which double-up for zooming in or out on images, alongside a new AF-ON button which is used to autofocus during Live View, or simply start the AF process independently of the shutter release.

Like the earlier 5D, a number of buttons can be found on the left side of the screen, although there’s been a few changes. Menu, Info and Play are still present, but Jump has been removed and in its place are new buttons to directly access the Picture Styles menu or delete files.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - set button

In the top left corner to the side of the viewfinder, you’ll find the Direct print button, although this now doubles-up for entering Live View – so the 5D Mark II skips the SET button to activate Live View on the 40D and goes straight for the more sensible approach of the 50D, although as we’ll explain below, you’ll still have to enable the facility in a menu.

You’ll also notice while the 5D Mark II sports buttons for direct access to almost every major shooting setting, it still doesn’t have a button dedicated to adjusting the image quality. The new Quick Control system on the 5D Mark II does however provide an alternative to entering the main menu system, and you can also configure the SET button to take you directly to the Image Quality menu if desired.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II flash

Like its predecessor, the EOS 5D Mark II does not feature a built-in flash, so anyone hoping the newly designed head section was hiding something will be disappointed. Actually it is a disappointment, because while a popup flash will potentially compromise the build and integrity of a DSLR head and may not be taken seriously by pros, they do provide useful fill-in capabilities along with wireless control of external flashguns. As it stands though, owners of the 5D Mark II, like the original 5D will need to lug an external flashgun around. In this respect, it’s the same as the Sony Alpha A900, although Nikon’s D700 is fairly unique in offering a popup flash.

Support this site by
shopping below

On the upside, the 5D Mark II inherits the raised plastic surround to its hotshoe from recent EOS models which mates with higher-end Speedlites like the 580EX II to provide environmental sealing. Behind one of the side flaps there’s also a PC Sync port for connecting to studio lighting – see port section at the bottom of this page.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - flash function Canon EOS 5D Mk II - flash custom

Like recent Canon DSLRs, the EOS 5D Mark II also offers options to configure compatible external flashguns. These are now split over two menu pages (see above), one adjusting flash function settings like flash compensation, curtain sync, and E-TTL II mode, while the second page is dedicated to custom flash options. External Speedlites which support camera-control include the 580EX II, 430EX II, and the compact 270EX; the latter is an ideal option for anyone who wants a portable flash option for the Mark II.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II viewfinder

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - viewfinder

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II offers a penta-prism viewfinder with 98% coverage and 0.71x magnification. The magnification remains the same as its predecessor, but Canon’s squeezed 2% extra coverage from it. As you might expect, both viewfinders appear very similar in size in practice, although the focusing screen on the new 5D Mark II looked brighter and more neutral in colour compared to slightly warm, yellowy appearance of the 5D – although of course ageing could be a factor here. This brighter, more neutral appearance made the new 5D Mark II more preferable in use.

Compared to its ‘affordable’ full-frame rivals, the Nikon D700 features a viewfinder with 95% coverage and 0.72x magnification, while Sony’s Alpha A900 boasts nothing less than 100% coverage with 0.74x magnification. Compare the Sony directly against the others and its viewfinder does indeed appear larger, so it wins this particular battle, although again there’s nothing wrong with the 5D Mark II’s viewfinder, and anyone upgrading from an APS-C model will revel in its large view.

Look through the 5D Mark II’s viewfinder and you’ll see the same nine AF points as its predecessor, arranged in a diamond pattern, with a circle in the middle indicating the spot-metering area. As before, the AF points are indicated by rectangular outlines which illuminate red when active.

Canon 5D Mark II - grid focusing screen

Below the frame you’ll find the shutter speed, aperture, an exposure compensation scale, the ISO value and shots remaining, along with various icons to indicate AE lock, flash ready, high-speed flash sync, flash bracketing, flash compensation, white balance correction, black and white mode, focus conformation and whether Highlight Tone Priority is enabled or not. The 5D Mark II also features a new battery icon on the far left side. So existing 5D owners will be pleased to find indication of not only their battery life, but also the current ISO value at all times, along with a number of new icons.

The EOS 5D Mark II also supports three new interchangeable focusing screens: along with the standard Eg-A Precision Matte, you have the choice of fitting the optional Eg-D Matte with an alignment grid (pictured) or the Eg-S Super-Precision Matte for easier manual focusing with lenses sporting apertures faster than f2.8. Note these are different models than the screens for the 5D. It’s also a shame Canon continues to not implement the LCD on-demand grid lines seen on all but the cheapest Nikon DSLRs, but at least there’s the option to swap focusing screens if desired.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Screen and Live View

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - rear view

The EOS 5D Mark II is equipped with the same 3in 920k VGA screen as the EOS 50D. This is a major upgrade over the 2.5in 230k QVGA screen of the earlier EOS 5D, and brings the Mark II in line with its major rivals from Sony and Nikon.

Like other VGA screens, the 5D Mark II’s monitor looks incredibly detailed, whether you’re playing images, composing in Live View or simply navigating the newly designed menu system. It’s not just larger and more detailed than its predecessor’s screen though, it’s also brighter and easier to view. Admittedly, like the 50D, the Mark II’s screen can become harder to view with bright Sunlight shining directly on it, but take out the 5D under the same conditions and you’ll notice a big improvement with the new model.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LCD brightness

The Mark II also boasts a new feature over the 50D: a sensor to the lower right corner of the screen which can detect the ambient surroundings and adjust the screen brightness to match. In use this certainly helps in bright conditions, while equally dimming the screen when it’s dark so not to blind you.

Beware though as it can sometimes give a skewed representation over the brightness of the image you’ve just captured, especially under very Sunny conditions when it’s at its maximum brightness, or when the conditions are changing quickly. We’d recommend anyone shooting with this auto brightness setting check their histograms in playback for a more accurate representation, or switch the screen brightness to manual so there’s fewer surprises.

In another upgrade over the original 5D, the Mark II features Live View facilities – which are a joy to use with the new, improved screen. The implementation is similar to the EOS 50D, although with some new features to support the Mark II’s unique video recording capabilities.

Despite Live View now being a mainstream feature which many buyers seek out, Canon continues to disable it as standard on the EOS 5D Mark II. So like the EOS models before it which feature Live View, you’ll first need to enable it in the dedicated Live View / Movie Function menu.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV menu Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV function settings Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV display option

Unlike previous EOS models though, you’ll find two different Live View function settings for Stills alone, or Stills and Movie recording. After selecting the desired option, you’ll then be presented with the choice of three viewing modes for Stills display, Exposure Simulation and a new Movie display option. Like earlier EOS DSLRs with Live View, Exposure simulation simply adds the option to view a Live Histogram. The new Movie display viewing mode previews the exposure settings that will specifically be used for video recording (plus still recording while filming), along with a transparent mask indicating the 16:9 area if you’re shooting in the Mark II’s HD mode. For full details of the Movie mode, see the Feature section; for now we’ll concentrate on using Live View for recording still images.

With Live View set to Stills or Stills and Movie, you can start the system by pressing the Direct Print / Live View button to the left of the viewfinder; you’ll hear the mirror flip open and about two seconds later the live image will appear on the screen. To stop Live View, press this button again; note the mirror won’t flip down if you’re in Live View and decide to enter the menu system.

Live View on the EOS 5D Mark II offers 100% coverage and exploits the full VGA resolution of the screen, refreshed at a smooth 30fps. In the stills viewing modes, the effect of different apertures can be previewed by pressing the depth-of-field preview button below the lens release. The camera will temporarily increase the screen brightness to maintain a consistent image; this may result in greater on-screen noise, but it won’t appear in the final image.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV record Canon EOS 5D Mk II - live histogram Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV grid

Pressing the Info button cycles between a clean view, one with shooting information running beneath the frame and a third view which superimposes additional information over the image. If Exposure simulation is enabled in the Live View menu, a fourth view adds a Live Histogram to the frame, which looks very detailed thanks to the VGA resolution. The Live View menu page also offers a choice of two superimposed alignment grids, which goes some way to making up for the separate viewfinder screen accessories. Note: Live Histograms are not available on any Nikon DSLR other than the flagship D3(x), although the D700 does inherit its neat Virtual Horizon feature.

Like the EOS 50D before it, the 5D Mark II ofers the choice of three AF modes in Live View: the default Quick mode flips the mirror down to take a reading from the traditional 9-point phase-change AF system, Live Mode employs a slower, but silent contrast-based system with an adjustable focusing area, while Live Mode with Face Detection will track and focus on human subjects like a compact. To autofocus using any of the three Live View modes on the 5D Mark II, you’ll need to press the AF-ON button.

In Quick mode you’ll see a graphical representation of the nine AF points on-screen. Press the AF-ON button and the mirror briefly flips down to take a reading, indicates the active AF points in red with a double beep if sounds are enabled, then flips back up again to continue the view. There’s obviously some noise and an interruption to the image, but it remains the quickest of the three AF modes in Live View – indeed, if the AF system locks onto the subject without a problem, the entire process can take less than a second.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV AF mode Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV quick AF Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV live AF

Support this site by price checking below


With the EOS 5D Mark II set to Live mode, the nine small AF squares are replaced by a single larger white frame which can be moved around the screen using the joystick. Press the AF-ON button and the Mark II will focus on whatever’s in the frame. At best this will take just under two seconds before the frame turns green with a double-beep to confirm, but with trickier subjects the process can take closer to four seconds. There isn’t any interruption to the display though, nor the sound of the mirror flipping.

The Live mode with face detection (indicated by a smiley icon) uses the same contrast-based system as normal Live Mode, but if it recognises a human face, it’ll frame it with a box and focus on that when you press the AF-ON button; if there’s more than one face in the scene, you can use the joystick to select the one to focus on. As you might expect, the 5D Mark II’s DIGIC 4 processor can certainly track faces around the frame with ease, but the actual focusing process itself can still be slow, and if the face isn’t already sufficiently sharp to start with, the system won’t even recognise it. It can also be tricky to frame a portrait at longer focal lengths and press the AF-ON button to focus. If you’re lucky, the camera will lock on and confirm within a couple of seconds, but if it ends up being longer, it’s easier to exit Live View and frame through the viewfinder instead.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV 5x magnify Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV 10x magnify

At any time during the Quick or Live AF modes, you can press the magnify button to show a 5x view, then a 10x view. The 5D Mark II will zoom-in on wherever the white frame is positioned on screen, which can be moved before or during using the joystick. At 10x, the Mark II shows an area that’s one tenth the width of the full image as you’d expect, but then scales this 561 pixel wide crop to fill the 640 pixel width of the monitor. So the 10x mode actually appears to be operating at slightly greater than 1:1 magnification.

Purists may have preferred an exact pixel-mapped 1:1 viewing mode, but at 10x there’s little evidence of scaling or fuzziness; indeed the image looks pin-sharp and allows you to make very precise focus adjustments. The 30fps frame rate is also smoother for motion than the 15fps of the Nikon D700’s Live View.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - LV silent shoot

The EOS 5D Mark II also inherits the silent shooting options of the 50D. Mode 1, the default, is quieter than normal shooting and also supports continuous shooting at around 3fps. Mode 2 is quieter still by employing an electronic first curtain shutter to actually take the picture, but delaying the noisier re-cocking of the physical shutter so long as you keep the shutter release held.

The idea is to press the shutter release button to take the photo (with a very faint click), but keep it held until you’re out of ear shot, after which you can let go, allowing the Mark II to audibly re-cock the physical shutter. You may only be able to take one photo with this technique, but it could be useful in certain situations. Note there’s also an option to disable Silent Shooting altogether, which sounds like the camera’s taken two shots; Canon only recommends using this to avoid exposure issues with extension tubes or Tilt and Shift lenses. You can hear an example of Mode 1 and Mode 2 Silent Shooting in our EOS 40D Silent Shoot video.

Finally, Live View on the EOS 5D Mark II is also available at a higher resolution when the camera’s connected to an HDTV using the HDMI port, or connected to a PC or Mac and using the supplied EOS Utility – see our Features page for more details on the latter. Note, the image seen on the live HDMI output will however shrink if you start filming video in the HD mode, although this won’t affect the quality of the recording; this will however be annoying for videophiles wanting to use HDMI to drive an HD display while filming.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II shooting information and menus

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - shooting info Canon EOS 5D Mk II - Q menu

Half-press the shutter release button and the main shooting settings are shown on both the rear monitor and upper screen. The 5D Mark II formats the details on the rear screen in the same way as the 50D, and offers the same means to adjust them.

So the fonts and layout are still quite chunky, but the Mark II shows the shutter speed and aperture, sensitivity, whether Highlight Tone Priority is active, the shooting mode, an exposure compensation scale, flash compensation expressed numerically, the selected AF point, Picture Style, White Balance and Metering mode, the image quality, AF mode and drive mode. The battery life, white balance correction, maximum burst and shots remaining are also shown.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - shooting info

In the bottom left corner of the screen you’ll see a letter Q next to an icon surrounded by arrows. This represents the 5D Mark II’s Quick Control option, inherited from the 50D and activated by pushing the joystick in. You can then move a blue highlighter over the desired setting using the joystick and then either turn the thumb or finger dials to directly adjust it, or press the SET button to view a dedicated menu for that item. It’s similar in practice to other on-screen adjustment systems like those pioneered on Olympus DSLRs, and a welcome addition to the Mark II over its predecessor. Like the 50D though, there’s no opportunity to change the colour scheme, nor for the characters to rotate and remain upright when shooting in the portrait orientation like Sony’s DSLRs.

Pressing the Info button switches to a page with details of further settings (albeit not adjustable with the joystick). Press the Info button again and the screen can be forced off – unlike the budget Canon DSLRs which feature proximity sensors to switch the screen off when you bring your eye to the viewfinder.

The EOS 5D Mark II also inherits the 50D’s redesigned menu style which exploits the VGA monitor and the additional processing muscle of the DIGIC 4. So unlike the single long scrolling list of options on the original 5D, you’ll find nine tabbed pages with no more than seven items on each, and like the 50D, the fonts are smoother, the icons more colourful and there’s also fading transitions as you switch between pages; it’s a good-looking redesign over the original 5D and easier to navigate too. Like the 50D, you can exclusively use the joystick for navigation, or use the finger dial to switch pages and the thumb wheel to scroll through the options on each.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - record menu 1 Canon EOS 5D Mk II - setup menu Canon EOS 5D Mk II - custom functions

In terms of the actual sections, there’s two for recording, two for playback, three for setup, and one each for custom functions and My menu settings. The Custom Function section is split into four sub-sections for Exposure, Image, Autofocus / Drive and Operation / Others; there’s 25 Custom Functions in total and throughout the review we’ll highlight some of the options.

In playback mode, pressing the Info button cycles between a clean image, one overlaid with a little shooting information, then a thumbnail with extended shooting information and a brightness histogram, and finally a thumbnail with less shooting information, but both brightness and RGB histograms. The page with just the brightness histogram and extended shooting information can be switched to display RGB histograms instead if preferred.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - play info Canon EOS 5D Mk II - play histogram Canon EOS 5D Mk II - play RGB histogram

You can also use the magnify buttons to zoom-in on an image or zoom out to display either four or nine thumbnail views. If you’re directly connected to a PictBridge-compatible printer, the 5D Mark II also allows you to perform a number of manipulations including trimming and fine rotation, along with manual Levels adjustments.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Battery and connectivity

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - battery

After using the BP-511A across a number of EOS DSLRs, including the original 5D and the recent 50D, Canon’s developed a new battery pack for the 5D Mark II: the LP-E6 is the same width, thickness and only a fraction longer, but packs in 1800mAh to its predecessor’s 1390mAh. Canon claims this is good for around 860 still shots under CIPA conditions, compared to 800 for the original 5D, or up to 90 minutes of video recording alone. Clearly the new camera is hungrier than the old one, only managing a few extra shots despite a significant boost in battery power.

We first tried firing a series of continuous sequences using the viewfinder, a non-stabilised lens and with minimal reviewing; under these conditions the battery expired after around 800 shots. Of course the situation changes when you’re using Live View, recording movies or shooting with Image Stabilised lenses. Under more typical general use, we found each charge was good for closer to 250 stills and seven or eight minutes worth of HD movie recording all with an IS lens, along with fairly generous use of Live View and playback on the beautiful screen.

The battery is also Canon’s first to offer accurate feedback on the exact charge remaining. Like Nikon, it inexplicably hides the percentage figure in a menu, but at least it’s there and the main icons indicating battery life on the main screen, upper panel and in the viewfinder feature more segments than before.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - battery info Canon EOS 5D Mk II - battery registration

The new Battery Info menu page shows the exact percentage of charge remaining, along with the number of shots fired during this charge so far, and an indication of the recharge performance using three squares. With all three lit green, the battery recharging performance is in good condition. Two lit squares indicate the recharging performance is reduced, while a single red square means it’s time to buy a new battery. The Mark II can also remember the condition of any spares and list them all on a registration page.

Support this site by shopping below

If you’d like extended battery life, you can fit the optional BG-E6 Battery grip which takes two LP-E6 while additionally providing a portrait grip and controls. Sadly the grip for the existing 5D is not compatible due to the new battery type. Canon also offers a new WFT-E4(A) wireless transmitter which equips the Mark II with Wifi, wired networking, GPS connectivity and the option to connect external USB storage devices, along with a portrait grip and controls. This shares essentially the same feature-set as the WFT-E3(A) for the 40D and 50D, so check out our Canon WFT-E3(A) review for an idea of what’s possible.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II - ports

Like its predecessor, the Mark II has two large rubber flaps on its left side covering the ports. It shares the same PC Sync for external lighting, N3-type remote and USB ports as its predecessor, but the TV output now includes stereo sound and is joined by a mini HDMI port and a stereo microphone input for the movie mode.

Interestingly unlike Nikon’s DSLRs with HDMI, there’s no option to force different resolutions over HDMI; instead Canon says the 5D Mark II will display images at the TVs optimum resolution. Note the Mark II can output its Live View over HDMI in 1920×1080 pixel resolution, but if you’re recording a movie, the HDMI output will temporarily reduce in quality.

In terms of memory, the EOS 5D Mark II unsurprisingly sticks with Compact Flash, and can accommodate Type I or Type II cards. The Mark II can exploit the extra speed of UDMA cards (indeed it’s advisable for the movie mode) and its interface also supports future Class 6 UDMA cards which we understand should allow larger bursts in continuous shooting. So existing 5D owners can reuse their memory and cabled remotes, but not any spare batteries or battery grip.

Now let’s check out the Features section which includes details on the sensor, autofocus, drive modes, image processing and of course the Mark II’s new Movie mode.

Buy Gordon a coffee to support cameralabs!

Like my reviews? Buy me a coffee!

Follow Gordon Laing

All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2018 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

Website design by Coolgrey