I wrote this post quite a while ago, in 2008, and camera tech has improved dramatically. Now I use the 5d Mark III, which is tons better than the Mark II. You can see the inside of my gear bag here. I shoot primarily mountain weddings in Vail, Beaver Creek and Aspen, and I like to do lots of couples portraits outside, at night. When you’re shooting in big cities, it’s not that problematic to have poor autofocus, since there’s a lot more ambient light than there is under the moonlight at 11,000 feet on the side of a mountain. Anyway, the 5d Mark III offers incredible autofocus (yes, it can focus under a full moon) and far superior ISO capabilities.
let me issue a disclaimer: i’m a long-time canon user, but for no particular reason other than i started with canon at a young age. i have no allegiance one way or another to nikon or canon, so this 5d mark ii review isn’t going to be tainted by that.
i had been super excited about the arrival or the 5d mark ii and its much-heralded 2 to 3 stop noise advantage over the original 5d, which i’ve been using professionally since its release 3 years ago (and, by the way, can be had for a song on amazon right now). so naturally the first thing i did last night when it came as to do some high-iso comparisons with my workhorse mark i bodies. and guess what? i was sorely disappointed. this thing does NOT live up to the hype, imho. i will likely be branded a heretic by many, but so what. the 5d mark ii is a marginal improvement *at best* over the original 5d when it comes to high-iso performance. i might go so far as to say its massive file sizes will only serve to clog my workflow and create problems, rather than solve them. but i will hold off on clinging to that statement until i shoot more with this new body.
i shoot RAW only, sort, and then edit in lightroom. i make wedding albums with spreads up to 30″ wide, and i make canvasses up to 40×60. i have done this with spectacular results in all lighting conditions with my original 5d. so the question is: do i need more resolution? doubtful. i was really looking for better AF accuracy and low light iso capabilities.
for this review i decided to upres the 5d files to the same dimensions as the 5d mark II files. this is about noise on the second generation body and if i were to downres the 5d mark ii files, i’d be crunching some of the noise out. and besides, when i do make albums, i often upres the mark i files anyway to make spreads. so i think it’s fair to present the images this way as it’s a close approximation of real world use.
so without any further ado, i present to you my thermostat. this was the first test i did last night. the room was lit with natural window light and i shot at av with a canon 50mm at f/2, raw. one is the 5d at 3200 and the other is the 5d mark ii at 6400. these are center crops from full res images, by the way. they’re about 1600 pixels wide out of a 4200 pixel wide 5d mark i file and a 5600 pixel wide 5d mark ii file. both were processed in lightroom with out any fiddling other than luminance and color noise reduction set at 20. go ahead, open up the file and take a guess which one is which.
i happen to think the bottom one looks better, though it’s ever so slightly less sharp. the top image has some banding in it. tight film-like grain, but an awful lot of it. i choose the lower one.
the top image is the 5d mark ii at 6400. i was expecting its images at 6400 to rival the 5d at iso 1600 or even iso 1000. i didn’t expect them to look worse than the mark i at 3200. i think iso for iso they’re about the same, with the 5d ii having perhaps a 1/3 to 1/2 stop advantage.
sure, it’s 21 mp instead of 13 mp, but we will address that later.
anyway, this morning i decided to do more comparisons. so i present the inside of my closet. iso 800, 1600 and 3200. the fourth image below is iso 6400, H1 and H2 on the mark ii. i shot the following with the canon 50mm f/1.4 at f/8. it’s not an L lens, but stopped down that far it might as well be.
oh, and let me be as explicit as possible: these images are the same pixel dimensions because the mark i images are upscaled to the same size as the mark ii images.
draw whatever conclusions you wish. mine are:
1) the 5d mark II does not live up to its hype
2) at any given ISO the mark ii doesn’t look that much better to me on the screen
3) H1 is silly
4) H2 is stupid
first, i have been reading reports that adobe really screwed up with its 5d mark ii raw module in lightroom and ps. that may be true. it also may be true that canon’s dpp renders a far better jpeg. but switching workflow to the outdated, old school dpp is not feasible, especially when it means losing the localized editing abilities and other huge benefits of lightroom. so if it’s adobe’s fault, i say to adobe: rewrite your raw converter.
second, i have a feeling that a lot of the reviews i’ve seen were done with jpegs and in-camera noise reduction. that’s nice and all, but it’s not how i or many of my colleagues do our work. i shoot in raw and edit in LR like thousands of other people. i do not use in camera noise reduction on jpegs. so that might be why i have been seeing some amazing looking high-iso images elsewhere. if that’s the truth, and if dpp really does a better job compared to acr, then maybe canon has written some excellent hardware and software based noise reduction algorithms. care to share with adobe, canon?
third, i rarely see large crops of high-iso images. i often see small crops (ie, 200px by 200px) and that’s just not a big enough crop to see banding and weird noise patterns. i also wind up seeing high iso images compressed for web use, with an accompanying statement like “omg this camera is soooooo cool.” well, great, that’s just completely unhelpful.
fourth, all this completely ignores what these files will look like spread across a 30″ album spread. that’s my next step. many 5d mark ii users are saying the noise patterns and characteristics look infinitely better in large prints compared to the 5d. so i am going to get a bunch done and report back.
fifth, and last, measuring the usefulness of this camera will also require me to assess the rumored autofocus improvements (the camera does seem more accurate, but i have done nothing to really test this) as well to determine the viability of incorporating its video capabilities into my business.
********** UPDATE *************
i am getting a far nicer noise level from the sraw files. observe the following 100 percent crops. the raw was downsized in these shots. shot at iso 6400 with an 85mm 1.2L II, at 1/80th at f/1.2.
btw, i see the infamous black dot phenomenon in the RAW file but not the sRAW file. hmmm…