I recently returned from a short trip to Europe where I spent two days at Photokina, the large photography trade fair, scouting out the new products that are coming our way over the next few months.
While I have attended dozens (maybe hundreds) of trade shows over the years, this was my first visit to the Cologne extravaganza. I was quite impressed with the excellent organization of the fair (thanks Germany) - including the great sushi bar in one of the main corridors. To get to the point of this article, I found my way to Hall 3 where Canon was exhibiting their wares. When I arrived I couldn’t help but notice the 5-deep photographers crowding around the stand featuring the newly announced Canon 5D Mk II.
The stand had about eight positions - each with a new 5D Mark II. I queued up behind several other interested photogs and waited in line for my turn. Looking over shoulders, I could see anxious users checking out the 5D MK II as the Canon reps explained its most salient features. As those ahead of me decided that they had their fill of playing with the new camera, I slowly inched my way forward.
Finally, I reached the front of the stand and got my hands on one of the new models - one with a 24-105mm L lens attached. The new camera feels like the original 5D, both its weight and its bulk. I spent a minute or two looking at it from all sides and noticed a few new items. On the rear panel: a new 3″ high resolution LCD; the Print button now does double-duty as a Live View button; the Trash button is relocated; a new AF-On button that activates autofocus independently of the half shutter release. On the top panel: the functions of the three buttons have been reorganized; the Command dial has two additional Custom settings and a new Creative Automatic setting.
The first thing I did was to set the ISO to 100 and take a few shots; then I dialed it up to 6400 and a few more shots. Like the original 5D, Auto Focus is fast and the shutter is very responsive. Now it was time to review these shots. Pressing the review button displayed my shots on the large 3″ high res LCD - new to the Canon line. As a user of the Nikon D700 and D90 both of which have a similar LCD screen, I’m spoiled and expect this to be the new standard. If you’re new to this larger LCD, you’ll really appreciate its crispness and amount of detail. While the large LCD shows much more than it’s 240KB predecessor, it wasn’t possible for me to say that the noise level or sharpness of the 5D Mk II is better than the original 5D from merely reviewing the capture in camera. Comparing shots at ISO 100 and 6400, I could see some noise in the shadow of the ISO 6400 shots, but then I can also see the same with the competitive Nikon D700. Since the show I’ve seen some full-sized comparisons on other website and believe that its low-light performance is at least as good as the D700. That said, the Mk II’s 21MP images will shine in larger blowups compared to the 12MP of the original 5D.
For video, the ISO settings are active and provide for low-light movies. To shoot video, first get into Live View mode, get to the desired zoom (if applicable), focus the lens and press the SET button on the rear navigation wheel to record. Press it again to stop recording.
For me, the big surprise is that the Auto-Focus button works while the camera is in Live View mode. So you’ll be able to take advantage of the AF lenses while shooting video. I shot three or four short clips - a few minutes worth at ISO 800. My simple videos worked like a charm even in the low-lit hall at the Messe (Fair). I shot video using both the 24-105mm L and 85mm f/1.2 lenses. Still photographers using this camera will also have a great tool to use when their interests turn to video considering the expansive selection of available EF lenses.
I’ve had a Nikon D90 for a few weeks which also sports a video mode (1280 x 720 at 24 frames per second). The 5D Mk II has higher resolution (1920 x 1080 at 30 frames per second). Additionally, autofocus on the 5D Mk II continues to function during video. For the D90, autofocus is disabled requiring you to focus manually focus using the LCD screen. However, when shooting in bright light it isn’t easy to see the screen. I’m thinking that it will equally hard to see the screen in bright light with the 5D Mk II also, but at least you can use the autofocus button to help you out. In Live View, you move a focus square around on the LCD to clearly see what the camera is deciding to use as the focus point.
I watched a Canon-produced video of Yellowstone National Park made with the new 5D Mk II several times. This video was as smooth, sharp and vivid as any other professional quality videos that I’ve seen. Considering that most Canon shooters were asking for an improved still camera with increased low-light performance and higher resolution, the video will be a tremendous bonus. Based on my short time with the Nikon D90 video and my short experience at Photokina, I think that the 5D Mk II is going to be a sensation for video.
I’ll continue to use the Nikon D90 to improve my video skills in preparation for the 5D Mk II. I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on the new model when it makes it way to my camera dealer in November. Canon has put a $2699 price tag on it. I’m growing very excited of having video built into a DSLR.