Canon EOS 5D


I have now used the Canon EOS 5D for several weeks and have enjoyed my time with it. As always these are my findings working with it in the field so I have only highlighted the practical side of using the Canon EOS 5D.

Performance

Two Polar Bears

The new buffer performance was impressive, with 17 RAWs taken before lockout occurs. The 3fps motordrive is adequate when you consider the size of file that is being shipped around but of course it will be too slow for action photographers. This is no problem as the 5D is being marketed squarely at the landscape and studio photographers of the world, where motordrive speed is of little relevance. Buffer lockout was managed as I’d expect, with the first shot being available less than 2 seconds after lockout occurred.

One issue to be very aware of when using the buffer is custom function 20 (preserve original decision data). I found out that it had been set on my Canon EOS 5D, and as a result the buffer performance slowed to a crawl; it pays to always ensure that this is switched off unless you are desperate to use it, which few of us ever will be.

Autofocus

I didn’t really put the autofocus to the full test with anything running fast but it coped with all the situations that I threw at it in my everyday work. I really liked the small navigation dial on the back of the camera, it was responsive and seemed to get the position right (most of the time anyway); a single “click” of this button selected the centre focussing point whilst a “double click” selected all the points. I liked this a lot, it shows that the camera has been well thought out.

Three Polar Bears

Image Quality

A lot has been written about the Canon EOS 5D full frame sensor and certainly having this, as opposed to a crop sensor has several pros and cons. On the positive side a cropped sensor has “higher quality” pixels (for want of a better term) and reflects the exact focal length of the lens. On then negative side a cropped sensor allows you to shoot through the sweet spot of the lens (thus getting the best quality) and also allows certain areas of photography (like wildlife, sports and commercial) to benefit from the increased focal length. In my humble opinion Canon have opted for the right choice here as the 5D is aimed squarely at those photographers who need the maximum image quality without any change to the effective focal length of their lenses.

So how good is the 5D image? Amazing, that is how good it is. There is something about the images straight from the camera that sets them apart from anything else, they just look better. Of course there are many technical reasons for this, notably the increased dynamic range and superior noise performance, but one thing is for sure the 5D produces great looking files. For those JPEG photographers who want a better looking image straight from the 5D, several picture styles are included with options for sharpening, saturation and contrast. The first time I shot with the 5D I used the default picture style and was dismayed to find that the images from the camera were, in my opinion, over sharpened. Looking at the default mode in detail I found that indeed the sharpening level was set quite high; from that moment on I always shot in “Faithful” mode which basically switched everything off. If you are shooting in RAW then this will probably be your mode of choice, for JPEG shooters I would just be careful to choose a mode that doesn’t sharpen too much.

The 5D produces a 36MB 8-bit Tiff file, which equates to nearly a default A3 print size. This is a significant improvement over the file sizes of its predecessors (the 10D and 20D) and this, coupled with the image quality, make this an obvious choice for upgraders.

The proof of the quality of the 5D images is that agencies like Getty have now accepted 5D files from their photographers, the first time a non 1D camera has been officially accepted. I have also had several Canon EOS 5D files published in various magazines and newspapers, all look cracking and so I can say that the 5D image quality is equal to any of the higher priced 1Ds cameras that I own.

Fox

Software

Canon’s supplied DPP software is actually getting better and the 5D supplied software is useable. By far a better workflow option, with great editing and corrections tools and full 5D support, is Pixmantec’s RawShooter.

Accessories

The only accessory that I tested was the standard grip. The Canon EOS 5D felt much better in the hand with the grip attached, and having two batteries is always a better idea that just one. The main reason that I wanted to test the grip is that, for the first time, you can put AA batteries into it with the aid of a special holder. As a wildlife photographer that works in some of the remotest wilderness areas of the world, the ability to power a DSLR on batteries is a real bonus. Unfortunately when I tested it, with brand new batteries, the camera’s battery status indicator started flashing within a few minutes of use. Perhaps it would be much improved with some powerful re-chargeable batteries and certainly it would be a useful facility to have as a backup.

Conclusion

The Canon EOS 5D lives up to all the hype and claims that have been made about it. Top of the list is the image quality, which is simply amazing for a sub 2K camera. The new look body is pretty tough and feels good in the hand, although I would always have the extra grip with it. Of course the motordrive speed of 3fps is lacking a little for some photographers, but I suspect that for most it will be perfectly adequate. Therefore I would recommend the Canon 5D to any Nikon D60 / Canon EOS 10D or 20D users that are looking to upgrade, plus any first timers who are making the switch from film. It’s a great camera, period.