Canon EOS 5D Mark II Launch Preview

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR

Another morning, another train to London for another Canon camera launch. This is becoming something of a habit. Still, at least this one is late enough in the day that I can avoid the early morning commuter crush. A country boy I may be, but that doesn't mean I enjoy feeling like livestock on the way to market. Indeed, this morning's voyage has been rather pleasant.

It started off, as many do, with a taxi to the train station. We've all been there; sat in the front passenger seat next to a complete stranger. You don't want to appear rude and spend the entire journey in resolute silence, but you know nothing about this person next to you, so how do you commence conversation? Inevitably, the same old chestnuts flow; “Are you just starting or just finishing your shift?”, or “Busy at the moment?”, or that all-time favourite failsafe of the British travelling public “Isn't this weather terrible?”

This morning, however, the conversation was free-flowing from the moment the driver asked where I was going. After I explained the reason for my trip to London, a lengthy discussion ensued regarding the status of the camera market at present. My chauffeur was obviously well informed. He enquired as to whether the increasing popularity and quality of camera-phones was having an effect on camera sales, so we talked about compact cameras versus camera-phones, SLRs versus compact cameras, stills photography versus video, DVD versus hard-drive recording and even Betamax versus VHS. The conclusion we came to was that the most successful players in any of the electronics markets today were the ones who had been able to adapt; those manufacturers who, rather than burying their heads in the sand and hoping that the latest developments in the hi-tech world will pass them by and leave their little corner untouched, embrace the new technologies on offer and incorporate them into their portfolio of products. It is this thought that I currently have in my head as the Suffolk countryside passes by outside the train window.

There's no denying it; Canon are a success story. Along with other brands, they not only excelled in the traditional film based photography of past, but have adapted to, and in many cases led, the change over to a now almost entirely digital industry. However, it's also fair to say that it's been a while since Canon launched an SLR camera that has forced photographers to sit up and take notice of what they are doing. This launch could therefore be very important for them. I, like many people, have my suspicions as to what this new model might be, and if it is what we think it is, then it's a model that has been anticipated for some time by existing Canon SLR users and those looking to invest in an EOS system alike. So, will it be what we think it is and, perhaps more importantly, will it demonstrate Canon's ability to evolve with the ever-changing world of digital photography?

If their HQ at Woodhatch is anything to go by, Canon are evolving just fine, thank you very much. The building, which seems to be made almost entirely out of glass and timber, is itself awash with technological advances. Solar panels on the roof can produce enough electricity to light 50 homes and the computer controlled window shutters open and close to maintain the internal temperature. The lighting adjusts itself depending on the ambient light levels and turns off automatically if there's no one in the area. In short, Canon's UK home is a technological masterpiece. What better environment to launch their latest hi-tech offering?

After the prerequisite coffee and nibbles, it's time to meet the newcomer. It is of course Canon's replacement for the now somewhat long-in-the-tooth EOS 5D. Despite the rumours, it is not the EOS 7D, but rather the more straightforwardly named Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

With a staggering 21.1 mega pixels, the resolution of the 5D Mk II is a whopping 65% more than its predecessor. 21.1 million pixels. That's nearly 1 pixel for every person in Australia. Other marked improvements include a 3.0” display screen, 3.9 frames per second shooting, improved self-cleaning system, Live View and increased ISO range (ISO100-6400; expandable to ISO 50-25,600). In addition, the new Canon EOS 5D Mk II contains Canon's latest DiG!C 4 processor; the original 5D uses the DiG!C 2.

It's hardly surprising that there are so many advances; the Canon EOS 5D Mark II has been a long time coming! Bear in mind that at the time of its launch, the original 5D was the next model up from the EOS 20D. Since then we've had the 30D, then the 40D, and most recently the 50D, which the Canon EOS 5D Mk II now sits above.

However, without a doubt one of Canon's bravest moves with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is the inclusion of a full HD 1920x1080p 30 frame per second video capture. If this performs as well in real life as it does on paper (we weren't allowed to try it at the launch), then it's an incredible addition to a remarkable machine. The movie mode is activated by pressing the “set” button in the centre of the rear control wheel. Press it once to record and again to stop; dead simple. But to avoid the movie mode being activated accidentally, it is necessary to turn it on in the menu and it can only be used with Live View.

Damien lovegrove

Damien Lovegrove demonstrating the 5D Mark II

When playing with, sorry, testing Canon's new toy, it becomes apparent that the Canon 5D Mark II is probably the most appropriate title for this new EOS. So similar is it to the original model that using it will be second nature to any 5D owner. Sure, there have been some minor tweaks in the layout of the function buttons, mainly to accommodate some new ones, and the Canon Mark II has had the same weatherproofing upgrade the 50D was given, but it still looks and feels like the original 5D. So much so in fact, that the people at Canon were keen to point out to me that the new version is exactly the same size and weight as the old model. I would have anticipated that 8,300,000 extra pixels would have added something, but no, not a sausage.

Following hot on the heels of the Canon EOS 50D as it does, it comes as no great shock to find that the Canon 5D Mark II shares many of that camera's advances. The weatherproofing and Live View have already been mentioned, but the Canon EOS 5D Mark II also has the quick start menu found on the 50D which enables the user to change shooting settings with ease. Bearing in mind the pro/semi-pro market that this camera is aimed at, this facility is possibly even more useful on the Canon 5D Mark II than on the 50D.

It's something I rated the EOS 50D highly for, so it's only fair that I mention it as a slight negative for the Canon 5D Mark II, but unlike it's lower spec stable-mate, the new EOS does not share its predecessor's range of accessories. Whereas the 50D shares batteries and battery grip with the 40D, owners of the original 5D will find themselves having to replace existing batteries and grips as the EOS 5D Mk II takes the new LP-E6 battery and BG-E6 grip.

I would very much have liked to have taken some images with Canon's new baby to include on this article, but unfortunately this was a definite impossibility. No sooner had I taken the Compact Flash card from my pocket than I was practically jumped on by several burly looking Canon people and their Pro guy Mike gave me a look usually only seen on Victorian headmistresses and pre-menstrual traffic wardens. I put the card back into my pocket and backed slowly away.

However, Canon had enlisted the services of professional photographer and writer, Damien Lovegrove. Weddings are one of Damien's specialities and via a studio shoot with an obliging model in a wedding dress, Damien was able to showcase the performance EOS 5D MkII. One of the things that he was clearly taken by was the low image noise levels, something he was able to demonstrate superbly by shooting his model at ISO 6,400 in a dimly lit corridor. The level of detail and lack of noise in the shadow areas was superb, but until I'm allowed to shoot some images myself to show you, you'll have to take my word for it.

Perhaps the most telling statement about this camera is this; when the demonstration was over I approached Damien and put a few questions to him. Amongst other things relating to the Canon EOS 5D Mark II's suitability for his area of photography (the answer was “very”), I asked Damien if the new Canon EOS 5D Mark II would be a good back-up camera for pro photographers using Canon's 1D and 1Ds range of cameras.

“No.” he replied, “It's better than that.”

High praise indeed.

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