Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Canon 5D mark II (update 3)

Canon has announced the successor to the "venerable" (at three years, that's like 21 years in digital time) 5D. They are continuing the tradition they started in the seventies with the Canon F1, to not update the name of the camera, but instead add a Mark number. (Apple started a similar practice, so you had the silly situation of owning a "Powerbook G3 (Bronze Keyboard)" or a "PowerMac G4 (Mirrored Drive Doors)" (wow, that was a lot of "quotes" and (brackets) in one sentence).) So it's the 5D mark II. It has HD video and is priced at around $2,700.

They've also gone with the big megapixel numbers, it's 21MP. I'd have counceled agin that, but they also have ISO settings up to 6400 plus two levels of boost, so it seems they are confident it can deliver despite the tightly packed pixels. We'll see how that turns out.
"It was described to us as offering the highest image quality of any EOS DSLR to date, with noise levels significantly lower than the original 5D."
(news item.)

I've gone with the Nikon D90 for now, due to good performance and compact size, but it's good to know that if and when I want higher rez, I have a reasonably priced and sized option. I'm still concerned about lenses though. It seems to me that if most available lenses are out-resolved by a 12MP camera, then a 21MP camera needs really friggin' good lenses to be worthwhile. And that means buying new lenses, and big/heavy ones and expensive ones. The lenses designed up until a few years ago were designed for 35mm film, and that resolution is nowhere near these levels.

And it seems both Canon and Nikon are realizing this, both are slowly releasing new high-performance lenses to match the new big cameras. Like the newly announced Canon 24mm F:1.4. Thirteen elements including two aspherical ones in a prime lens! Impressive I'm sure, but I'd rather have a smaller and cheaper, but equally sharp F:2.0 lens. But nobody seems interested in 2.0 lenses these days, sadly.

By the way, I'm not sure why everybody and his dog is so excited about the convergence of still cameras and video cameras. If you need professional quality of either, you'll always need a dedicated camera. And if you don't, then either camera will fit in your breast pocket and can be bought for peanuts now, so what's the bother of carrying one of each?

Update: Dave of Imaging-Resource tells me:

Thanks for the link! We just (finally) got a mess of images and illustrations from Canon, we'll be updating our 5D Mark II page for the next day or two.

I think the video feature of this and the D90 are really intended just to let people take "video snapshots" without having to bring a second camera along, rather than being aimed at any sort of professional use. (Although I could imagine (for instance) a wedding photoographer using the 5DmkII's video with sound to record short clips of things like "the kiss", guests wishing the bride and groom well, etc). I know the idea of video snapshots is certainly the reason I'm attracted to the D90. (My own kit is Nikon, else I'd go for the 5DmkII because of its audio input.) Currently, I have to drag a digicam in addition to my D80 along on trips, just so I'll be able to grab the occasional "snapshot" of something involving motion. I think both the D90 and 5DmkII will sell like hotcakes, in many cases pulling people upmarket to buy them rather than cheaper SLRs in each mfr's line, just for the video feature.

You're right about the lenses too, though: A year and a half or so ago, when I asked a senior Canon technical rep what he thought would be the main focus of Canon's technology, or the biggest technical task they had ahead of them, he immediately replied that it was lenses. He made the same point that even then-current DSLRs were out-resolving the current lenses, and future generations would only make matters "worse". From what we've seen so far in our testing, Nikon has a bit of a lead in updating its lens lineup - The 14-24 f/2.8 and 24-70mm f/2.8 are just amazingly good, literally better than most primes falling within their focal length range. Canon has made good progress too, though, a case in point being how dramatically better the 16-35mm II is than the lens it replaces. I think we're going to see a lot of exciting lens releases over the next few years.

The situation with the lenses and resolving power is also confirmed by what I reported maybe two years ago, before the Canon 1Ds model jumped from 16MP to 21MP: that a Canon "underground" representative had visited Annie Leibovitz' studio and demoed a prototype of the 21MP model, and talked about how Canon was "scrambling" to develop lenses which can actually utilize such resolution.

I think we need to face that a 21MP full frame camera (with a top lens) is not like a 35mm camera, it's more like a 6x7 centimeter camera, at least.
I think a Four Thirds camera is the new 35mm quality, and an APS-C camera (most DSLRs) is in between... like a 645 camera, I guess. (Of course the depth of field is different though.)

Update: there's no doubt this will be a very, very hot camera for for art photographers and various kinds of pros and high-end amateurs, who cares about big prints. Like Mike Johnston says about the predecessor: "Virtually everywhere you look you can find good and great photographers using the 5D, and the percentage of the best work that it has been responsible for far outstrips its market share."
I'll bet dollars to donuts that it has much better high-ISO performance than the Sony A900, and in other ways too (except in-body stabilization) is a very tough competitor for this Sony camera, which enjoyed a very brief stint as record holder for cheapest camera over 20 megapixels.
Update: here is an early image sample at 6400 ISO. Looks good. Sadly it's not well exposed, it's very dark which exaggerates the visible noise. But after noise reduction in Photoshop, it looks very promising.
And here is a sample after Noise Ninja, at 12.800 ISO! Very impressive considering the resolution. Imagine what they could do with a 12MP camera! :-)

He was blindfolded going into Canon to see the camera?? What is this, MI5?


BlankPhotog said...

I downloaded the larger of the two MOV video files from and it appeared jerky and full of artifacts. I am not sure if it's my machine or the result of some kind of stitching problem in-camera, but given they're allowing 4 GB video files, and this was under 300 MB, I'm a bit worried. The D90 files I've seen look better. On the other hand I saw a short 5DII flash video that didn't look bad. Weird seeing bokeh move.

ttl said...

Is the dslruser guy being paid by the word or what. I don't utter that many words in months. Nice review, though, if you are a fast listener. He knows his Canons.

Neutralday said...

Good points on the lenses. Full frame pricing may be going down, but premium glass isn't. Still I think the 5D MK2 is perfectly positioned to steal sales from nikon and sony. It's quite the middle finger to those guys.

eolake said...

I still wish they'd make a 5D2b with 12MP. Imagine the performance.
Yes, the video guy has quite a yap on him! I was just thinking that if any of the Japanese were listening in on him, they'd not understand a word he was saying. :-)