Canon posts firmware update to correct 5D Mark II issues. You can download it directly from Canon here.
The point of this article is not to discuss the image quality of the 5D Mark II in depth, but I will make clear right up front that the image quality is quite amazing. What this article is about, specifically, is a general observation as to how the camera handles while shooting in the field with it as opposed to in studio, and corrections that I feel Canon failed to make in the design of their update to the 5D. Remember – image quality alone should not be the reason for purchasing a particular camera.
First, I’d like to make a comment about the firmware upgrade issues:
- Black Dot Phenomenon – Granted, this can be a major concern for those who use this camera for night photography, or even astrophotography. I know I would be disappointed if my star-trail images had a bunch of black dots on the right hand side of the bright light sources, or even street lights in night city-scapes. Here’s the interesting thing, however…the reason it took Canon so long to post this firmware update makes me believe they really couldn’t detect the problem people were indicating. The 5D Mark II was out in field for testing with pros for close to two years before it was put into production. If a working pro felt this issue was cause for concern then I am sure Canon would have fixed it then. I think the people who were concerned about this were the pixel-peeping pencil-pushing desk job photo enthusiasts who view their images @ 200% magnification in order to critique sharpness, noise, etc. This is the only way it could have been found.
- Vertical Banding Noise – The thing that really gets me all riled up about this issue is the narrow parameters under which this phenomenon can even occur: “If the recording format is set to sRAW1, vertical banding noise may become visible depending on the camera settings, subject, and background.” Who shoots in sRAW?? If you do, why? The banding noise does not occur in sRAW2, RAW, or JPG file formats. Again, if this was truly an issue for a working pro, it would have been caught very early on in field testing, but because pros don’t shoot in sRAW1, nobody saw it. People who actually take pictures (pros & consumers) either shoot in RAW or JPG, and that’s all there is to it.
The reason I’m so excited about this is because I have friends in both the Nikon & Canon tech departments – and they have confirmed my feelings on this matter which is why I am sharing it. The Canon tech team REALLY didn’t understand what the big problem was with all of this, which is why it has taken so long for a firmware update. The same was true back in 2005 when the Nikon D200 was reported to have ‘banding in a blue sky at ISO 100 when shooting vertical images.’ This was nonsense. That phenomenon occurred in a handful of the first pre-production units off the factory line – none that consumers ended up getting, but because there was a consumer scare, a firmware update needed to be posted. Oh well.
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With respect to the video capability of the 5D Mark II, I was leary at first due to the absolute flop of the Nikon D90’s video capability. No autofocus, 720p, and had an odd artifacting with motion. Needless to say the 5D Mark II video capability is far better than the D90’s, and I must add it was actually quite fun to use – once you figure out how to enable it, and then you need a large enough memory card to actually make video recording worthwhile. The option for setting up the video is buried in the back and on the bottom of the custom functions menu. Not very intuitive to find at all. I suppose if one were to look in the users manual specifically for ‘HD Video Mode’ it would give you the step-by-step run down of enabling it and shooting video. But who really wastes time reading the manuals anyway…? I appreciated the auto-focusing capability and the ability for depth of field adjustment with video. The only problems with the video files are a) they consume something like 6mb/s of card space and b) the video playback is just not possible on most computers due to the amount of system resources required to render the video. But in terms of the camera, this is neither here nor there….
The 5D now has AUTO-ISO! This is wonderful. The attribute is either ON or OFF. One can designate a maximum ISO choice, but no shutter speed threshold parameter like the Nikons have. However, when shooting, I did notice that the ISO seemed to adjust itself based on the attached lens. If the AUTO-ISO program is reading lens data, then that is pretty smart (adjusting ISO upward as the shutter speed drops below the reciprocal of your focal length). However, I think it is still preferred to choose your own shutter speed threshold – but that’s just me. And that’s kind of my point about what this entire article is saying – the image quality is GREAT. There’s no need to get wrapped up in resolution debates when the things that matter most in a camera is the way the menu operates, how the controls feel, how the camera behaves. If you can’t use the camera, what does the image quality matter?
For $2699 Canon still can’t give us weather sealing. Nikon gives us weather sealing at $2699 and at $1699. Heck, Pentax gives us weather sealing at $999 and $599. I have never understood this point from Canon. More and more people are trying to cut weight when traveling due to airline baggage restrictions, or maybe they don’t want a 3-pound pro body in their backpack when mountain hiking. It seems silly that Canon is overlooking the photo enthusiast market of frequent travelers and hikers who may find themselves in situations where the camera could get rained on, or be in a dusty environment, or be out in the cold. Hello – plastic will crack in the cold weather. Would you want a cracked 5D?? (the body is plastic, by the way).
I love shooting the 5D Mark II tripod mounted in a controlled lighting environment. Anything else would be extremely uncomfortable. Out in the field, on assignment, traveling, or shooting a wedding or event, the camera is just too clumsy to access controls and sit in your hand all day. It is certainly not a camera for shooting action – and I understand that. It is meant to be a studio and landscape camera. Although the high ISO capability of the Mark II proved to be very decent, the camera was not designed with that use in mind. It still does not touch the high-ISO capabilities of the D3 or D700 – and this makes sense because those Nikons are not designed for studio use or landscapes, but rather low-light, available light situations where things are moving, often times moving very quickly.
I recommend the Canon 5D Mark II to anyone who owns a Canon lens system. It is foolish to abandon a Nikon or Pentax system and switch to this camera ‘just because it has 21mp & HD video’. If you have no system investment, what I recommend is for the user to truly evaluate the type of photography you will be doing with the camera. Go see the cameras in person – hold them, look through the viewfinders, look at the screens, use the buttons, navigates the menus. Choose the camera that you feel most comfortable with, not the camera that commercial or magazine advertisement, or even ‘your friend who is a professional photographer’ told you to buy.