Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My 5D Mark II impression

I was lucky enough to get my hands on the Canon 5D Mark II for a few weeks recently. Toward the end of that time my daughter was born, so I've been pleasantly distracted from writing down my thoughts on this camera.

I am not a camera reviewer, I am an amateur photographer. You can read detailed reviews at dpreview that go into a lot of the technical stuff. I figure I was lucky enough to borrow one for a little while, so I'll just tell you what I thought about it.

Here are some basic stats, which you probably already know: 21.1 megapixel, full-frame sensor, ISO 100-6400 (expandable to 50-25,600), 3.9 fps, shoots 1080p movies in Live View mode. The latter has been made famous by commercial photographer Vincent Laforet's "Reverie" video. And while I couldn't resist playing with video a bit, this is a stills camera first and foremost, and that's how I was using it.

I'm no fan of posting "gear lists" whenever I prattle on about cameras and photography online, but in this case it's worth mentioning. I read a lot of articles about the 5D Mark II saying that the sensor would outresolve all but the best lenses, or that any inherent flaw in a lens would be exploited to the hilt. So here's what lenses I'm packing these days:
  • Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM
  • Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
  • Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8
  • SMC Takumar 55mm f/2 M42 lens
  • Jupiter 37A 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens
  • Tamron 28mm f/2.8 M42 lens
So as you can see, I have no professional lenses. Generally speaking, I use the 28/1.8 indoors and the 28-135mm outdoors. My primary camera is a Canon 40D. The M42 lenses are available cheap and are manual-focus only with an adapter.

The 28/1.8 was the first lens I screwed on the 5D Mark II. The first thing I noticed was a much brighter viewfinder than I'm used to on my 40D. It's nice! And the so-called "full frame" thing is really cool, because you're looking at the whole image circle, not just the center. I really like the 28mm focal length, I've decided (it looks like 45mm on the 40D). I've read that 28mm is the most common focal length for journalists. Journalists, is that true?

You mean 28mm is wide? Cool!

I really dig available-light photography and hate to use a flash, so naturally my first snaps with the 5D Mark II were indoors, wide open, at higher ISOs (alright, I'm starting to agree with Ken Rockwell here. Why couldn't Canon call it the 6D or something? It's a pain to write. From now on I'm calling it the 5Dmk2).

Moon shot taken with Canon 100-300mm USM lens and a
Quantaray 2x teleconverter. Total lens cost: $250. Live view
and the 5Dmk2's nice screen were a big help.

Noise alone shouldn't be your only criteria for a good low-light photo. Detail must be retained. Contrast needs to be sufficient. A little noise (formerly "grain") has always been fine with me...it even enhances some photos, in my opinion. I'm used to my 40D, which has very little noise until you get to ISO 1000, and ISO 1600 is very useable. ISO 3200 is ok in a pinch, but pushing it.

The 5Dmk2 supresses noise amazingly well. Eyeballing it, I'd say ISO 1600 shots on the 5Dmk2 look like ISO 400 on the 40D. That's a two-stop advantage, so on the 5Dmk2 ISO 6400 is very useable, and I wouldn't hesitate to shoot a wedding at ISO 3200. How incredible is that? Imagine, you can use your slow zooms indoors, sans flash, without any problem. Or, instead of missing focus at f/1.8 because you didn't want to push ISO past 800, you could stop down to f/4 at ISO 3200 and get the same shot. Wedding photographers, rejoice!

ISO 3200, f/4, 28mm

100% crop of above photo, ISO 3200.

According to spec-heads, the autofocus was unchanged from the 5D to the 5Dmk2. The stated number of autofocus points remained unchanged for sure. But let me say this: the autofocus on the 5Dmk2 is fine. And you know what else? Most of the time I only use the center point, anyway. I never felt, after hundreds and hundreds of frames shot with the 5Dmk2 and my non-professional lens arsenal, that I missed focus and it was the fault of the camera. Not once. It's a non-issue.

And the "black dots"...I never could reproduce that. I even tried a few times. Every time I've seen an example of that, it's been at least a 100% crop. Considering how far into your pictures you must delve to even see the alleged problem, I'd consider that a non-issue also. Especially considering Canon has promised a fix.

Backlit leaves, 300mm.

Tight crop of above photo. Shouldn't I see black dots?

My other 5Dmk2 posts cover my experience with the camera pretty well, so I may as well cut to the chase: the Canon 5Dmk2 is an outstanding photographic tool. Full-frame digital is really where it's at, and if you're a landscape, wedding, studio, parent of small children, motivated hobbyist, or fine art photographer, you'll never have a thing to complain about with this camera. It's a high-resolution beast with a sharp, accurate screen that can shoot in near darkness.

If you're a journalist or shoot sports, obviously it's going to fall short. One thing I love on my 40D is the machine-gun burst I can dial up on occasion. It's one thing the 5Dmk2 can't do.

But I really can't imagine anyone who has actually shot with this camera saying it's junk — that's best left up to those comparing spec sheets and lamenting that this thing lacks this or that feature they felt Canon owed to them. Get real, this is an amazing camera. Go get one today and don't look back.

No comments:

Post a Comment