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06-19-2010, 10:55 PM - 1 Like   #1
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The grass isn't always greener next door.

I've been considering moving to the 5D Mk II for its video capabilities for quite a while. I should've made the move some days ago, actually.

But two of the three video projects in developpement I was working on just went dead within the last 3 months.

So instead of selling all my Pentax gear and switching to the 5DII, I decided to either rent the body or have it lend to me a few times more before I made my move.

I already had the chance to work with it one time (in the studio only, though, but with awesome results), and I wanted to know more about the camera before committing into a full brand switch.

So a few days ago, I went on an event photography assignement with one of my friend's EOS 5DII with the 24-105mm F/4 IS L and the 580EX II.

The experience on photojournos-style event photography was quite different from the studio use. And a rather mixed one...

The image quality is just incredible. We're talking leagues ahead of my K10D and K-7: much, much more dynamic range, much less noise and much better color accuracy. But this was quite expected from a FF sensor... a 21 Mpix FF sensor.

For instance, I used ISO 3200 for almost all of the interior photos, and the noise in these pictures is not more of a problem than with my K-7 at ISO 800-1600. That's a huge difference. By the way, all the photos were taken in RAW with high ISO noise reduction turned off, just like I do with my K-7, since I apply my own noise reduction "solution" in Capture One.

The colors also look very natural, with no tendency to emphasize the saturation of certain colors vs. others, and with just the right amount of saturation (the K-7 could use some improvement, here).

The dynamic range is also much more impressive, as expected. There is almost a full 2 stops of highlight information that can be recovered in the 5DII RAW files at times!

The viewfinder was also a joy to use, but I was expecting this from camera with a FF sensor. Nevermind, it was brighter and easier to use, and this put less strain on my eyes.

The flash system was also excellent and, most important, fast. The 580EXII was recycling faster, was going from its pre-flash to its main flash faster and it was more accurate. Too bad there's no pop-up flash on the 5DII: that's not a simple oversight, but rather a cheap mercantile process.

Overall metering is also quite reliable in all modes (spot, center-weighted and multi-segment), with a slight tendency to overexpose bright areas in certain situations (like most DSLRs anyways).

Also, the IS was at least as efficient as with my K-7 at equivalent ISO and focal length, if not better. Even better, the efficiency of the IS can be visualized in real time and before pressing the shutter release.

The lens was also excellent on most aspects, very sharp wide open, even at wide angle and with little to no CAs.

Finally, the AF was excellent in daylight.

But unfortunately for the 5D2, the list of pros ends here.

The AF performance in low light was... worse than the K-7 and probably a bit worse than the K10D!

Except for the center AF-point, all other AF-points wouldn't focus properly, resulting in AF hunting and lost opportunities. Again, I was expecting this, having heard about how the 5DII had a downgraded AF system to keep it well appart from the 1D series.

Well, Canon managed to do this just right... the 5DII AF performance is one of the worse I've experienced in the last 5 years (and I have used or tried the K10D, K100D and K-7, but also the D3X, D700, EOS 30D and EOS 7D during that period).

The body and lens combo is also quite heavy (especially with the 580EXII mounted on the body), but I guess it would just take some time for me to get used to it. The 5DII being a full frame, I was also expecting this, although I found the whole package a bit heavier than what I wished for.

The grip is a bit clumsy as well. I would really need the battery grip attached in order to have a comfortable hand position on this body, making the camera even heavier.

Although very sharp and quite useful with its wide-angle to moderate telephoto zoom range, the EF 24-105 IS has also cons. Distortion at the wide end is huge and the light fall-off is even worse. But many FF cameras have issues with WA lenses, so again, I was expecting this.

But the worse problem of the 5DII were the bad ergonomics and the lack of proper customization possibilities. Except for the AF-ON button which sits right in the good place, most buttons are difficult to reach and changing the settings can become difficult in certain situations, like changing the WB settings, for instance, which requires to move the index finger close to the viewfinder housing, making the grip uncomfortable at best, if not unsafe.

Changing the AF-point was less than intuitive, with all 3 customs selections resulting in the EV adjustment being disabled on the e-dials in Av mode, which I use 95% of the time in event photography. Canon should follow Pentax and Nikon's example here.

The e-dials are also not too well located on the body, the front one forcing me to remove the index finger from the shutter release (unlike with Nikon and Pentax bodies, again ), and the back one being too low to use efficiently while holding the camera.

All this would probably improve over time as I would get used to the camera a bit more, but I found all the Nikon and Pentax DSLRs to be very ergonomic from the first moment I grabbed them, something I was never able to feel with any single Canon DSLR (although I could be luckier with the Rebel series).

And ergonomics are only a part of the issue. The custom menu is very short (read: limited) on the 5DII, something I was not expecting from a $2500 camera.

If Pentax can allow the user to program the function of e-dials in up to 5 different ways on each one of the 5 semi-automatic exposure modes (P, Av, Tv, Sv, TAv) on a $800 camera (K-7), why can't Canon offer at least half of that customization potential on a $2500 camera? I'm sure the K-x has more custom functions than the 5DII!

After spending half an hour changing the custom setting on the 5DII, I still I couldn't find a way to taylor the camera to my needs, something I can do easily on the K-7 (and that I could do almost as easily on the Nikon D300, D700 and D3X).

The Canon EOS 5DII is an excellent camera with pristine image quality. Its video quality and controls rivals most prosumer vidcams at a fraction of the price, and with the bonus of interchangeable lens and shallow DOF possibilities on top of that, although at the cost of AF and form factor.

But although excellent in the studio where it shines like a shooting star (thanks in part to tethered shooting possibilities), the 5DII is not much of an action camera. With the exception of image quality, my K-7 suits that role much better.

Too bad, because the high ISO performance of the 5DII, its dynamic range and its color accuracy beat those of the K-7 hands down. But all these are the result of the excellent full frame sensor and Digic processor used in the 5DII, which push the camera ahead of any other APS-C sensor DSLR, including the K-7.

If I could put the Canon 21 Mpix FF CMOS sensor into my K-7, I'd do it anytime! I'd also switch the flash system to Nikon's excellent i-TTL as well. With the lenses and ergonomics of the K-7, the image quality of a 5DII and the flash accuracy of a Nikon DSLR, I'd have the best camera out there!

The end result is that I've decided to put a halt on my project to replace my K-7 by a 5DII. With many new Canon, Nikon and Pentax DSLRs on their way, I'll wait by the end of 2010 before committing more money into a new body. Until then, I'll invest into new battery-powered studio strobes instead.

If it wasn't for the 5DII excellent video quality (and more important: full manual controls), I wouldn't never have thought about switching to Canon. (I'd rather switch to Nikon anyways, since they make better wide and ultrawide-angle zoom lenses than Canon, IMHO.)

But for now, I'm sticking to my K-7.

The moral of the story: the grass isn't always greener next door.

06-19-2010, 11:17 PM   #2
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And imagine how many custom functions Pentax would pack into an FF body if they ever made one
06-19-2010, 11:47 PM   #3
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Original Poster
QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Quote
And imagine how many custom functions Pentax would pack into an FF body if they ever made one
I could never count up to such a number. Not without a calculator!
06-19-2010, 11:56 PM   #4
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The way I see it in my opinion is that the 5D Mark II is an exceptional camera but extremely overrated in terms of it's capabilities, function, user-friendly design, etc. Not hating or Canon or anything.

06-20-2010, 01:05 AM   #5

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Where I live I can buy almost exactly three K-7 bodies for every 5D2 body.
Or buy exactly five K-x bodies for one 5D2

Given that: (a) most people can't pick any quality difference between 720p and 1080p video , and (b) the resolution difference between 21MP and 14 or even 12 MP static images is barely apprarent in typical print sizes like 8x10 or even A4....I am more than willing to believe that the grass is NOT greeener on the other side of the fence.
06-20-2010, 01:42 AM   #6

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Nice review. Any IQ & dynamic range comparison between 5DII with K-x. As per DXOmark, DR of k-x is even better than 5DII (or even D700) but it will be very interesting to know the real world experience.


Last edited by yusuf; 06-20-2010 at 02:30 AM.
06-20-2010, 01:48 AM   #7
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not a big fan of the layout of the buttons on the 5D Mark II, still thinking about if I should get the 5D Mark II upgrade when it comes out; it's going to have the 7D buttons layout, definitely better, I think.

Between 5D Mark II and Nikon D700 upgrade, might be picking the D700 upgrade if there is the 1080P video
06-20-2010, 08:36 AM   #8
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Thanx for the post. I think about switching from time to time and you've put it out of my mind for at least 6 months with your review. This put it in perspective for what I do. K7 meets my basic needs and will wait to see the next incarnation before making any switch.


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