3 years is an eternity in digital cameras today, but that’s just how long Canon users have waited for theÂ successor to the Canon 5D. After months of rumors, tons of hype and a clever ad campaign that implied that the camera would eclipse the competition, Canon has finally released official images and a lengthy list of specifications.
UPDATES – I had a chance to play around with the the 5D Mark II recently and now that the camera has officially hit stores, I’ve updated this post with additional thoughts.
As a concert photographer, the only question on my mind is:
“How well will the 5D Mark II perform in the pit?”
The following is my initial opinion of the camera as it relates to concert photography beginning with a list of the relevant specifications.
Canon 5D Mark II Specifications:
Full frame 21.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor
ISO 100-6400 (expansion from 50 up to 25,600)
9 AF points + 6 Assist AF points (Center point is cross-type and f/2.8 sensitive)
3.0â€ VGA (920k dots) LCD
New DIGIC IV image processor
UDMA compact flash support
3.9 frames per second continuous shooting
Optional Battery Grip BG-E6
73ms shutter lag time
145ms viewfinder blackout time
98% Viewfinder Coverage
Canon has always made great sensors. There’s no arguing with the amazing enlargement potential of a native 5616 x 3744 pixel image.
Even though I haven’t field tested the camera yet, I think it’s fairly safe to say that with a default ISO range of 100 – 6400, the image quality of the 5D Mark II will be good. Canon’s standard sensitivity ranges are usually spot-on and there’s no reason to think that they’ve lowered their standards now.
There are however a few things to consider.
1) The 21MP Monster
Nevermind the marketing babble, cramming more megapixels into the same real estate results in more noise. Canon’s flagship 1DS Mark III, powered by the DIGIC III processor, is also 21MP and tops out at ISO1600 by default. Even at 1600, the image quality isn’t great.
Do the DIGIC IV processor and new sensor design of the 5D Mark II really improve performance two full stops without turning your image into an impressionist painting?
That a 21MP sensor can go up to an astounding ISO 25,600 is mind blowing. If the DIGIC IV processor can go to eleven and still produce a sharp image with good color and contrast I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I would be more excited to see a lower MP count with correspondingly higher ISO potential.
UPDATE – Sample images have shown that the DIGIC IV is doing some skillful noise reduction in-camera. JPEG shooters should seriously rejoice. The RAW files may be somewhat of a disappointment to concert photographers as Canon’s Chuck Westfall was reported to say that the RAW performance of the 5DmarkII sensor as being similar to that of the 1DSmarkIII, which is only spec’d to ISO1600.
2) Pixel Binning?
Since the 1D Mark III, Canon cameras have been able to record images in sRAW format. Unlike Nikon’s DX mode that crops the active area of the sensor to produce a smaller image, sRAW uses the entire sensor. The advantage of a Nikon’s DX crop mode is that it trades megapixels for effective zoom reach. The possible advantage of sRAW for concert photography is far more intriguing.
Through a process referred to as pixel binning, whereby the data load of each pixel is compare to the pixels around it to achieve an average signal to noise reading, the 5D Mark II in sRAW could use the entire 21MP sensor to create a 10MP image with extremely low noise. Let’s see what DIGIC IV can really do.
UPDATE – The DIGIC IV does not employ pixel binning. 5DmarkII owners can expect a small improvement in noise when using sRAW.
There are a lot of factors that add up to a good concert photography camera. Among them, focusing characteristics, FPS, battery life, shutter characteristics and user interface are key.
UPDATE – After handling the 5D Mark II, my initial feeling is that the build quality is better than the original. Specifically, the finish feels nicer and the shut lines feel tighter. The high resolution LCD is a monumental improvement.
1) Focusing Characteristics
Honestly, the focusing specs of the 5D Mark II are the most personally disappointing part of the camera. With only 9 selectable AF points clustered at the center of the viewfinder, the photographer is forced to focus and recompose the image more often than not.
While not horrible on its own, focus and recompose is horrible for tracking a moving subject while maintaining a specific composition. I know a lot of concert photographers who make due with Canon’s 9 point system, but coming from the 1D Mark III, which has 19 selectable points, I have little interest in anything less.
Furthermore, I believe only the center point of the 9 AF sensors present on the 5D Mark II is cross-type and sensitive to f/2.8. This is particularly important to concert photographers who are regularly forced to shoot at f/2.8 or faster. Without getting into the details, the outer 8 AF points on the 5DmkII are several stops less accurate under normal concert conditions than the center point.
UPDATE – It’s been confirmed that the 5D Mark II shares the same AF module of the original 5D. In a recent interview with dpreview.com Canon’s Director and Chief Executive of Image Communication Products Operations, Masaya Maeda had the following to say:
“Firstly the market’s evaluation of the 5D’s AF system has been very positive; there have been no complaints from users, with everyone saying it’s very good. Given that, to a certain extent, we think we shouldn’t change it. And also there’s some limitation with size; the AF sensor in the 50D is very big; the one in the 5D is much smaller. If we wanted to have all cross-sensors in the 5D Mark II, it would mean we might have to sacrifice the compactness of the body. It’s all a question of balance of features and benefits.”
“No complaints from users” and “compactness of the body”?
My own impression of the 5D Mark II auto focus was that under normal conditions, it’s totally fine. It feels slower than that of the 1DmarkIII when used with a Canon L lens, but no so slow as to be a problem at all. That being said, would definitely stick to using Canon glass on the new 5D as third party lenses tend to focus more slowly – not to mention that the 21mp sensor will totally spank crappy lenses.
Canon 5D Mark II – 9 AF points (Center point is cross-type and f/2.8 sensitive)
Canon 1D Mark III – 45 AF points (19 selectable, 19 cross-type and f/2.8 sensitive)
Nikon D3/D700 – 51 points, 15 cross-type and f/2.8 sensitive)
With both the 1D Mark III and 1DS Mark III released with less than perfect auto focus performance, I know a lot of people were hoping for a more aggressive AF specification on the 5D Mark II. I personally would have paid an additional $500 for more pro-spec AF.
2) FPS (Frames Per Second)
The 5D Mark II shoots at a conservatively stated 3.9 FPS. This is fine for day to day shooting but may fall short of capturing the subtle changes of expression present in a lot of live performances.
I find that shooting in bursts of three shots produces the best yield when focusing on facial expressions and arm movements. My personal sweet spot for the three shot burst is 6-7 FPS. Again, I would trade a few megapixels to get to 5FPS.
UPDATE – My impression of the 5DmkII frame rate is similar to that of the AF in that 3.9FPS is neither fast or slow and how well it suites any specific photographer will depend highly on what she/he is used to. Coming from the 10FPS of the 1DmarkIII, it’s slow.
3) Battery Life
The 5D did not have stellar battery life. It wasn’t as horrible as the Nikon D200, but you’d still need a couple of spares to get your through an entire day of shooting. I hope new 1800 mAh battery is more than enough to compensate for the more powerful processor and heavier sensor load. It would be nice to see Canon take a hint from Nikon an allow the use of the 1-Series batteries via the optional grip.
One of the best things about using a 1-Series camera is not having to worry about battery life when shooting all-day festivals or events.
4) Shutter Characteristics
With a 73ms shutter release and a 145ms viewfinder blackout, the 5D Mark II isn’t exactly quick to take a photo. Although 73ms doesn’t seem like a long wait from the time the shutter is depressed to the actual exposure, I’m of the opinion that every millisecond counts when it comes to capturing the decisive moment.
The slower the shutter release time, the longer it takes for the camera to fire. The longer viewfinder blackout the longer it takes for the mirror to return to the angle necessary to see what you’re shooting. Obviously both of these things have a pretty big bearing on the handling of the camera even if they don’t impact image quality at all.
Canon 5D Mark II – 73ms shutter release and a 145ms viewfinder blackout
Canon 1D Mark III – 55ms shutter release and 80ms viewfinder blackout
Nikon D3/D700 – 41ms shutter release and 74ms viewfinder blackout
Even though it’s not at all related to performance, photographers often overlook the amount of noise the shutter makes when firing. The recent crop of Nikon cameras have really violent shutter actuations that might be a problem when shooting quieter performance like classical music, theater or dance. Although there are plenty of after market camera covers designed to muffle the shutter, who wants to put a sweaty oven mitt on their hand for two hours?
Let’s hope the 5D Mark II is quiet.
UPDATE – It’s quiet. Not as quiet as an APS-C camera, but not as loud as say, a Nikon. You’d still need a blimp to shoot dance or classical music . The silent shooting mode of the 1-Series bodies is still king in terms of mirror slap.
5) User Interface
Canon has made huge steps forward in terms of the user interface as of the 1D Mark III but it wasn’t perfect. One of the main complaints was the quality of the LCD. Specifically, it’s fuzzy enough to make critical focus confirmation almost impossible.
Canon users suffer no more.
The high resolution LCD screen added to the 5D Mark II promises beautiful image previews with excellent focus confirmation. Canon has also added a passive light sensor that automatically adjusts the brightness of the LCD to make it more readable outdoors. Huzzah.
UPDATE – The LCD is a massive massive improvement over the screens on the current 1-Series bodies and it totally spanks the crappy little thing on the original 5D.
The camera also sports a huge and bright viewfinder with 98% frame coverage. It goes without saying that a having bright viewfinder when shooting dimly lit shows is a huge aid to composition.
UPDATE – Yup, it’s big and bright.
The 5D Mark II looks like an amazing studio and landscape camera for photographers on a budget. However, after these comments, it’s no surprise that I question the suitability of the Canon 5D Mark II for concert photography.
(To be fair, I question the suitability of most cameras in this regard but I was hoping that the successor to the 5D would be specified in more equal terms with the Nikon D700.)
The fact of the matter is that the 5D Mark II surpasses the Nikon D700 and even the Nikon D3 in a number of areas, megapixels and HD video among them. It’s too bad that the strongest features of the camera have almost nothing to do with shooting rock shows.
My biggest fear is that Canon has put too much energy into the megapixel race and very little energy into improving other features of the camera that really affect the feature set and user experience.
Ultimately, my final judgment on the 5D Mark II will have much more to do with the feeling of camera in-use (and the image quality) than any spec sheet or Canon white paper. I plan on taking the camera for a lengthy field test as soon as it is available. Until then, we all have to wait to see what other new toys PMA has in store.
Feedback and comments are welcome.
UPDATE – The results are in and the facts don’t stack up well for the 5D Mark II as a concert camera. This doesn’t mean that amazing concert photos won’t be made with it – it just means that there are better tools for the job.
I personally had a lot of hopes for this camera as a smaller FF backup to my 1D Mark III. The specifications of this camera were a significant factor in my recent decision to switch to Nikon.