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Canon EOS-5D

By: Dave Etchells

Slightly smaller and lighter upgrade brings greater speed and ease of use along with higher res and lower image noise.

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Page 13:Guest Review by Sean Reid

Review First Posted: 04/02/2006

Canon 5D, Canon 85/1.8  ISO 1000  F/11@ 1/250
Copyright ©2006 Sean Reid

In many respects, the Canon 5D is exactly the camera that many photographers have been asking for since the Canon D30 was first introduced in 2000. It has a full frame sensor, high resolution and a fairly light/compact body. At a street price of about $3000.00, it's far more affordable than past Canon full-frame cameras and about the same cost as the D30 was when it was first introduced. In many respects, it probably has the best price/performance ratio of any Canon DSLR introduced so far. I've been using Canon DSLRs professionally for the past five years and, to be sure, this is my favorite of those cameras. I'm currently using it primarily for two kinds of professional work, architecture and documentary wedding photography. For architecture, it’s now my primary camera. For weddings, I use it along with two Epson R-D1 digital rangefinder cameras.

In My Hands

I've mentioned in past reviews that DSLR makers such as Canon and Olympus seem to be building their cameras around the shape of the human hand and the reach of human fingers. It's as if the designers squeeze a block of clay, make note of the shape, and design accordingly. I'm six feet tall, medium build and the 5D fits my hands perfectly. Interestingly enough, it also sits well in the hands of my 5'3" wife. I still own a Canon 10D and the 5D feels very similar in my hands, a little thicker and heavier but, overall, much the same. Buttons and controls are in logical positions and owners of previous Canon cameras such as the 10D or 20D will feel at home almost immediately with this camera.

I was so sure that I would want a 5D that I didn't wait for a review copy but instead bought a camera from Peterborough Camera, an excellent camera store in New Hampshire. It was bought to replace my Canon 1Ds and the difference in weight is significant. The 1-series digital bodies are beautifully made but quite heavy. It bothers some photographers and others not at all. Having come back to using rangefinder cameras when the R-D1 was introduced, I was reminded of how much I prefer lighter and smaller, as a general rule, to heavier and larger. The 1Ds with battery weighs 56.4 oz. The 5D with battery weighs 31.2 oz. The difference of 25.2 ounces (more than a pound and a half) is very significant and I really notice it after a long day of shooting hand-held. When I'm shooting a wedding, I normally carry three cameras on my body. Two of them are on my shoulders and one is carried in my right hand with its strap wrapped around my forearm (as a tether in case I'm jostled). Having a camera in my hand with my finger poised over the shutter release allows me to react very quickly to changing events and emotions. I have spent many hours carrying a 1Ds with a 28-70L lens in my right hand and, given the choice, I'd prefer not to. The lighter a camera is, the less desire I feel to put it down.

The 1-series Canon DSLRs are specifically built as professional cameras and they are indeed, very ruggedly constructed. The 5D's build seems to me to be very much like that of the 10D. It's not as substantial as the 1-series but it seems quite solid and adequate for most professional uses. I never experienced a failure with my 10D bodies, including professional use and many miles of transporting cameras in a padded case in the trunk of a motorcycle. I think one would have to be fairly hard on a camera to run into problems with a 5D failing because of its construction. Cameras may be banged around a bit in some professional use but we don't use them to drive nails and the construction quality of the 10D, 20D and 5D is likely to be sufficient for most of us.  

Until it Rains...

Construction quality is one thing but weather-sealing is another. A clear advantage of the 1-series bodies is the presence of weather seals throughout the body. The 5D does not have these and I do miss them. I used my 1Ds (with sealed lenses) in heavy rain and snow without a problem. Doing the same thing with a 5D is like playing Russian Roulette; the camera may survive or it may not. I've heard first-hand reports both ways about the non-sealed 10D and 20D. Many people have used them in the rain without consequence. Some others have inadvertently destroyed their cameras this way. It's not a chance that I particularly want to take with a $3000.00 camera body that I need as a work tool. I don't think that adding weather seals to the 5D would add all that much weight or bulk but it might further muddy the distinction between Canon's professional and non-professional bodies. Until recently, the only lightweight DSLR to have weather seals was the Olympus E-1. Nikon's new D200, however, has them and I hope competitive pressure leads Canon to follow suit. Mechanical cameras using film could get soaked and survive - cameras with computers inside don't necessarily fare as well. 

Canon 5D, Tamron 28 - 75 @ 75mm   ISO 200   F/2.8 @ 1/1600
Copyright ©2006 Sean Reid

Seeing the Subject

The finder is one of the most important components of a camera. All the file quality in the world is of limited use if one can't clearly see his or her subject in detail when working. All the technology inside a camera body is there only to record an image that is usually framed and presented to the eye by the finder. The moment of the picture is also decided by what one sees in that finder. I prefer to work with the simple window of a rangefinder above all else but if I'm using an SLR, I like the finder to be as large, bright and accurate as possible. The best DSLR finder I've used so far was in the Leica R9 with DMR back but the Canon 1Ds series cameras run a close second and the 5D finder is a close third. It's very similar to the finder in the 1Ds except that it shows only 96% of the actual capture. 96% isn't bad but it's not 100%. The first time I used the camera to photograph interiors, I was quickly reminded that a mere 4 percent does indeed change where the edges of one's pictures fall. With the 5D, one is always shooting a little "loose", the very important edges of the picture are always a bit outside of where one planned them to be. It's not the end of the world, but the 100% coverage Canon provides in its pro cameras would be much appreciated on the 5D. Photographers who are precise in their framing will notice a difference between the 5D and the 1Ds or 1Ds MkII. Otherwise, though, I find the large and bright finder view of the 5D to be much better to work with than those found on most other DSLRs. Photographers who've never used a full-frame digital camera are in for a treat when they look into this finder.

Canon 5D, Tamron 28 - 75 @ 28mm   ISO 400 
F/11 @ 1/640
Copyright ©2006 Sean Reid  
     
Seeing the Captured Image

The 2.5" LCD on this camera is an absolute pleasure to use. I spent many years looking at the ground glasses of view cameras and looking at an image in a large LCD is somewhat reminiscent of that experience.  The LCD screen on the 5D is much better, and thus much more useful, than the one on my 1Ds. The 1Ds LCD is small and blurry whereas the 5D screen is not only larger but much sharper. Using the camera for architectural work, I find the 5D's LCD screen to be very useful for reviewing the image after each exposure. When I'm working quickly handheld, I don't look at the LCD very often but, even then, the larger screen makes for a faster read of the histogram. When I'm working slowly on a tripod, I "chimp" constantly and this is a wonderful chimping screen. It's also fairly visible from various viewing angles, so that one doesn't need to be looking at it straight on to see it clearly.  

Shutter Noise

I was very happy to hear (literally) that the 5D is a fairly quiet camera. I've talked in other reviews about why a quiet shutter can be so important for certain kinds of photography and there's no need to make that case again here. The Canon 1-series digital bodies are fairly loud and that can be a distraction for people nearby, can call attention to the camera, etc.. The Canon 10D is very quiet, nearly as quiet as the Olympus E-1. The 20D is much louder, loud enough that I decided not to own one despite that camera's other strengths. The 5D, thankfully, is much quieter than the 20D and nearly as quiet as the 10D. I congratulate Canon on building a quiet camera. I imagine many other wedding and documentary photographers feel the same way each time they use this camera in a setting that they do wish to disturb.  

Speed

I've made just over 6000 pictures with the 5D so far, using Sandisk Ultra II CF cards, and I've never needed to wait for the camera to do anything. It turns on instantly and always seems to be ready. The RAW buffer is a generous 17 frames which is far more than I need for my style of shooting. I almost never make a rapid set of continuous exposures but with a buffer large enough for that many RAW frames, or 60 JPEGs, I can't imagine many photographers will run into buffer delays with this camera. If they do, the 1D Mark II might be a better choice. I tend to photograph in terms of seconds between frames rather than frames per second so the 5D's ability to shoot three frames per second is more than I would ever need. If one does need a machine-gun rate of photography, the 20D or 1D Mark II may be better choices. By the numbers, the 5D has a longer shutter lag than the 1-series cameras but I never notice it. With every camera I use, I develop a rhythm that helps me know when I want to press the shutter. It's been easy to find a rhythm with this camera and the shutter trips when I want it to.

ISO Accuracy

I began testing ISO accuracy in my review of the Leica Digilux 2 for Luminous-Landscape in early 2004 because it's very difficult to talk about the ISO performance of a given camera until one knows if it's actually delivering the sensitivity that it claims to at any given setting. The Canon DSLRs I've tested have been very consistent from model to model with respect to their ISO performance. That's very useful when doing a shoot with multiple bodies, using manual exposure, because one can switch bodies without needing to make exposure changes. In fast paced work, this is very important. It's also impressive that the Canon 5D, like the bodies before it, is about 1/3 stop more sensitive than it's rated ISO. So, not only does this camera perform very well at high ISO levels (as discussed below) but those levels are actually even higher than what is indicated, as seen in the table below. The bottom line is that this is an excellent camera to choose for low-light work.

File Quality

Had I not already become familiar with the look of files from the 1Ds, I would have been astonished when I first opened files made with the 5D. Canon's full-frame cameras have exceptional file quality and a look that is unlike the output from any other DSLRs save perhaps the DMR back on the Leica R9. In an article on my Reid Reviews site, I talk about how the various digital camera formats seem to approximate the look of small, medium and large format film. To my eye, the "drawing" and tonality of files from the 5D look much like medium format film. The rendering is very precise, less sketch-like than the output I see from cameras like the 20D or R-D1. The files seem "sharper" directly from the camera and require minimal amounts of capture sharpening to recover the detail lost to the AA filter. Tonal transitions are subtle and there's little to complain about with the way this camera draws. This is a characteristic that has been shared among all three of the Canon full-frame digital cameras.

Not surprisingly, the 5D files show less noise at all ISOs than those from the 1Ds. The large files this camera produces also have a fortunate indirect affect on noise. The camera produces a 4368 x 2912 pixel file, which naturally prints at about 12" x 18" at 240 ppi.  Any print smaller than that will be made from a down-sampled file and that down-sampling tends to reduce what little noise is present in the file at it's original size. The net result is that output from this camera show less noise, in final prints, than files from any other camera I've tested.  High ISO performance is even better than that of the 1Ds Mark II, according to the results of tests I did for a review of the latter camera. To be specific, those tests (done in my review of the Canon 1Ds MkII) compared converted RAW files that were made using identical workflows in Phase One's C1 DSLR Pro (with both "noise suppression" and "color noise suppression" set to zero).  Even when the 1Ds MkII file was downsampled to match the size of the 5D file, the latter camera had lower levels of chrominance and luminance noise at ISO 1600 and 3200.  Needless to say, both cameras are very capable at high ISO.

In practice, I am willing to use the 5D for handheld work right up to an indicated ISO 3200, which is an actual ISO 4000. Even at ISO 4000, both the chrominance and luminance noise levels are quite moderate. A properly exposed ISO 4000 file from this camera might not need any filtering at all. Opening an ISO 4000 file from the 5D in Photoshop and switching to LAB mode, I can pull most of the chrominance noise out of the A and B channels using the dust and scratches filter set to just 7 pixels and a threshold of 0. That's almost not enough noise to be worth bothering with. If one does bother to filter that chrominance noise, the amount of filtering needed is also so modest that it creates little in the way of color shifting. I rarely filter luminance noise very much from any camera and that, of course, is the type of noise that looks like film grain. Low noise output at ISO 4000 in color....it's quite impressive and we've never had that option with film.

I have gotten reports from photographers, whose judgment I respect, that their copies of the 5D show some banding when used in AI servo mode at high ISO. I don't ever use AI Servo mode myself but I did some informal testing of my camera in that mode, using various lenses and various ISO levels, and did not ever see banding. I tested in both single shot and continuous mode. I don't know if the reported problem is confined to certain bodies only, certain lenses on the 5D or what the situation might be but I have seen no banding at any ISO with my copy of this camera.

Metering

This is the first Canon DSLR I've owned that seems to meter fairly consistently indoors and out. Certain lighting conditions may require an EV correction in one direction or another but the camera then meters quite consistently once that's dialed in. With most previous Canon DSLRs I've need to watch the histogram constantly, with the 5D, it's much less necessary. I'm not sure what they changed but it works. The 1Ds MkII has similarly impressive metering.

Flash

I use the 5D extensively to photograph weddings, using a Canon 430EX bounced off ceilings and walls with aperture and shutter speed set manually.  The exposures were nearly always right on the money; highlights data came right up to the edge of the histogram without going past it.  The performance was outstanding and also very consistent.  My other tests showed similar performance.  At weddings, there's usually lots of bright white fabric that one wants to hold detail in. It's often very difficult for a camera and flash combination to provide as much exposure as possible for the shadows without over-exposing those highlights so I'm quite impressed when a camera/flash setup can make that happen again and again.  Having these two units work so well together is invaluable for weddings and other fast-paced documentary work with flash.

Battery Life

Battery life from the Canon BP511A has been quite good so far. I seem to be able to shoot at least a full day's work without needing to swap batteries (including chimping as needed).  I haven't done any formal measurements but that's quite adequate for my needs. 

Auto-focus

I use auto-focus as a kind of electronic rangefinder system. With all DSLRs, I switch on just the center focus point, locate that on an area with contrast (at the distance I need to focus), half-press the shutter and hold it half-pressed while I recompose and then shoot. With a camera that auto focuses accurately, this ensures that I can specify exactly what the focus distance is going to be. The camera itself does not decide where to focus; I do. With the 1Ds, I had the option of using 45 active focus points and with that option I never could have been certain as to which focus point(s) would decide to dominate and choose the focus distance. In other words, the camera had as many as 44 options for putting the focus somewhere I didn't want it to be. I can't work well when a camera is making decisions like that for me. Using my simple one-point method for auto focus, the 5D focuses accurately with all of my lenses. Reportedly, it also focuses well using multiple AF points. The 5D, like the 1 series, is able to change focus screens and a screen designed specifically for manual focus is available. I haven't tried it yet but reports from other photographers are that it works well. I'm glad to see that Canon decided to provide this option for those of us who still focus manually for some work. Manual focus even with the stock screen is easier than it was on the 10D.

Canon 5D, Tamron 28 - 75 @ 75mm   ISO 1600   F/2.8 @ 1/100
Copyright ©2005 Sean Reid


Black and White

Given a choice, I usually prefer to make pictures in Black and White. It's just my natural medium. It isn't always possible for professional work but I use it as often as I can. When I'm making B&W pictures, I also prefer to work in a purely B&W workflow, as I discussed in my review of the Epson R-D1. I like to see the review image in B&W, do initial editing in B&W, etc. Working in color with a picture that was conceived to be B&W just adds unnecessary distraction. Fortunately, one can use the 5D for BW work exactly as one uses the Epson R-D1. Set the picture style to monochrome and the capture mode to RAW. The camera will then capture a RAW file (which of course contains color information) and a BW JPEG. Opening the folder of files in an image management program such as Breezebrowser Pro, which I use daily, displays the B&W JPEGs which have been paired with the RAW files. These can be used for sorting and initial editing. Then, files that will be worked into final form can be opened in Canon's Digital Photo Professional 2 where they again automatically display in B&W. One can then make adjustments to the files and convert them to B&W JPEGs or TIFFs. Unless the photographer chooses otherwise, the files appear as BW through the whole process. Best of all, perhaps, is the flexibility this way of working creates, in at least two respects. First, the RAW file is always available for a color conversion when and if needed or desired. Second, one can make that color conversion from RAW and then use his or her own favorite method for converting to B&W in Photoshop so that different B&W looks are possible.

I've found that I very much like the BW conversion recipe Canon has come up with for the 5D in DPP 2. It's very handsome and reminds me of more modern BW emulsions such as T-Max 400. The overall look of the B&W files is essentially the same whether they're captured in monochrome JPEG or converted from RAW to JPEG in DPP2. DPP2 also allows one to tweak black and white files using simulated colored filters (green, yellow, orange and red) just as Epson's PhotoRAW program allows for R-D1 files. For a great discussion of how color filters can be used well in BW photography, I highly recommend Ansel Adam's classic book "The Camera". However one might feel about Ansel Adams' work, there's no disputing his superb technical knowledge of B&W photography. DPP2 also allows one to "tone" B&W conversions so they take on a sepia look or an overall color cast. Ironically, after all the years many of us have spent trying to banish color casts from digital B&W prints, Canon has now given us a way to induce them *on purpose*. These same filter and toning options are also available as settings in-camera for those who want to work with JPEG capture. Overall, this is really a great DSLR for BW photography. Canon clearly paid attention to the needs of BW photographers in the design of both the camera and DPP 2. I was pleasantly surprised by these features.


Color Settings

In addition to giving the photographer various options for BW files, the 5D also allows one to choose from a series of "picture styles" that render color differently by varying contrast curves, saturation and other variables. These are available in-camera or during RAW conversion in DPP. I shoot almost exclusively in RAW and if I'm converting in DPP 2, I prefer the "neutral" which renders color and contrast exactly as its name suggests. It's a rendering that's similar to what I was used to with the Canon 1Ds. If you use JPEG capture, note that the picture style settings other than "neutral" and "faithful" boost contrast and can cause the camera to clip highlights, shadows or both. If I were shooting JPEG and wanted to maximize the camera's dynamic range, I'd set it to "neutral" so as to retain as much highlight and shadow detail as possible.

Canon 5D, Canon 50/1.8 MK1    ISO 400   F/4.5 @ 1/200  
Copyright ©2005 Sean Reid   
Using the Camera for Weddings

This is the best DSLR I've ever used for weddings and I know many professionals who concur. The file quality is better than that of the 1Ds while the camera itself is much lighter. The shutter is fairly quiet, AF is accurate, metering is excellent, flash metering/control is excellent, high ISO is clean, color is beautiful, black and white is beautiful, the camera is responsive with no delays. To date, this really is the closest thing I've experienced to a perfect wedding DSLR. The lack of weather seals is a weakness though and it can be a real limitation. I'd like to see a sealed version of the 5D...a 3D?  

Using the Camera for Architecture

Leaving aside digital backs for medium and large format cameras, the dominant digital camera for architectural work was the Canon 1Ds and is now the Canon 1Ds Mark II. I used the 1Ds as my primary camera for this work until recently and was very happy with it overall. Naturally, architectural photography is usually done with the camera on a tripod at low ISO, I normally use 100. The 5D has turned out to be an excellent camera for architecture with even lower noise at ISO 100 and more accurate color than the 1Ds. The extra resolution is just barely noticeable. The large and sharp LCD screen is very noticeable however and it lessens the need to shoot tethered to a lap top (for picture review). As I discussed above, the 1Ds LCD leaves much to be desired. The 5D screen, on the other hand, gives a good sense of how the final picture will look, at least with respect to composition and the general effects of lighting. It's almost like an electronic Polaroid back. In fact, I hope Canon can find a way to bring it to the 1-series bodies as well.

There are three areas, however, where the 5D is lacking compared to the 1Ds for this work. First, the 96% frame coverage means that the picture edges don't quite match what one sees in the finder; that makes precise composition more difficult. Second, the camera lacks an eyepiece shutter. Most of my architectural pictures are long exposures made via a cable release with my eye not up to the finder window. The 5D uses the same system for blocking the finder window as the 10D and it's not a great solution. One removes the eye cup and slides a little plastic cover on over the eyepiece instead. With the eyecup removed, it's harder to compose without being distracted by external lighting (esp. the quite strong quartz lighting I normally use for interiors). My solution is to simply leave the eyecup on and drape a dark cloth over the top of the camera to block most of the light that could come in through the finder window during exposure. It works just fine but the eyepiece shutter on the 1Ds is a lot more convenient.

Unfortunately, as with other EOS DSLRs, mirror lock-up on the 5D requires making a selection in the LCD menu rather than simply pushing a switch on the body. This is somewhat inconvenient. When I'm doing that work, virtually every exposure is made with mirror lock-up. So I just select that setting at the beginning of the shoot and leave the camera set that way for the entire time I'm working. The self-timer also works well with mirror lock up. Select the self-timer mode using the top LCD and press the shutter release. The mirror locks in the up position and two seconds later the shutter trips. It's quite a nice design and can sometimes eliminate the need for a cable release.

The third limitation of the 5D for architectural work came as a surprise to me. The camera's mirror edge comes closer to the lens mount than it does with the 1Ds bodies. Either the mirror is larger or it mounts somewhat closer. This is not a problem for lenses that were designed for the Canon EF mount but it can be a serious problem for those of us who use other lenses on EF bodies via adapters. This requires some explanation. Architectural work places heavy technical demands on cameras and lenses. The standard camera for this work is the 4" x 5" and that sets the picture quality bar quite high, indeed. Photographing interiors requires the use of wide and super-wide angle lenses because of the need to show a given field of view within a relatively small space. Fortunately, Canon makes a very useable 24mm Tilt/Shift lens that is widely used by architectural photographers, myself included. A good copy of this lens is fairly sharp and shows little distortion; there is some CA but it's fairly easily corrected. I'll be discussing this lens in a separate article on Reid Reviews. It's a lens that has been much maligned but I have found it to be a very useful professional tool.  Some photographers are also using the older Olympus 24 Shift lens (via an adapter) as an alternate.  

Canon 5D, Canon 24/3.5 T-SE   ISO 100   F/16 @ 2 seconds
Copyright ©2005 Sean Reid   

Once one goes wider than 24mm, which is often necessary, there aren't many Canon lenses that show the low distortion and the other characteristics needed for a good architectural lens. I've owned both the 16-35L and 17-40L and both show too much distortion at wider focal lengths for me to use for interiors. I was also quite disappointed with the performance of the Canon 14/2.8L I tested earlier this year. An important focal length for this work is about 18-21 mm and Canon doesn't currently make a lens in that range which is well-corrected for distortion. This has lead many photographers, myself included, to experiment with other makers' lenses on the Canon digital bodies (by using adapters such as those sold by CameraQuest). Two favorites are the Contax Zeiss 21/2.8 and the Contax Zeiss 18/4. The 21 is sharper than the 18 but shows slightly more distortion. Up until recently, I did virtually all of my interiors work with the 1Ds using the Canon 24 TS and the Zeiss 18/4 almost exclusively. Unfortunately, the 5D mirror does not clear certain versions of the Zeiss 18/4 (MM and some AE) and the mirror's edge will actually graze the rear element of the lens. Some other lenses have similar problems. That is to say, they will work fine on the Canon 1Ds bodies but not on the 5D. Several of the Leica wide lenses won't clear the mirror in any of the Canon FF bodies without modification to the camera, the lens, or both. A excellent place to learn more about which alternate lenses do and do not fit the EOS bodies, which adapters work best, etc. is a forum recently created at FredMiranda.com called "Alternative Digital Systems and Lenses". Some photographers have gone so far as to physically trim the mirror in their EOS bodies to accommodate alternate lenses. You can read more about the pros and cons of that decision in that same Fred Miranda forum. As a general rule, though, the unmodified 1Ds series bodies can accept more alternative lenses than the unmodified 5D. That's certainly an advantage for architectural photographers and for any other photographers who have an interest in using non-Canon lenses on EOS bodies. Naturally, one certainly can't blame Canon for not designing their cameras to work with non-EF lenses but it would be a good idea for them to introduce some new and better wide angle lenses so the need for alternatives is not so acute. I recently finished an article for Reid Reviews where I specifically tested ultra wide-angle lenses on the1Ds MkII.

While I'm speaking about lenses, I should note that it is certainly is true that the Canon full-frame cameras place higher demands on lenses than cameras with smaller sensors. This reflects no fault in the cameras themselves but instead is simply a reflection of the fact that digital capture quality has become quite high. Some have wondered if this means that one would need to buy very expensive lenses to use with the these cameras.  That's not necessarily the case.  Having working professionally with Canon FF digital cameras since 2002, I can recommend the following lenses that I know, from experience, will perform well on these cameras.  Some are fairly expensive, others are not: 35/1.4L, 50/1.8 (Mark I, metal mount, available only as a used lens but is normally inexpensive), 50/2.5 Macro, 85/1.8, 28 -70/2.8L, 24 - 70L, 70 - 200/2.8L (without or without IS), 70 - 200/4L.  By no means is that a complete list but it reflects my own first-hand experience.  Another lens that, perhaps surprisingly, does quite well on the Canon FF cameras is the fairly inexpensive Tamron 28-75/2.8.  It's lightly built (although also compact and lightweight) but the optical performance of a good copy is quite impressive.  Based on conversations I've had with other professional photographers, this lens (not surprisingly) doesn't hold up as well as Canon L zooms to rugged use but a good example can provide quite high performance for the money. For what it's worth, I spend a good deal of time testing and working with high-end lenses and yet the Tamron 28 - 75 has impressed me enough that I bought one.

Feedback from other Photographers

A review, usually by definition, reflects the observations and experiences of one writer. Beginning with the review of the Olympus E-1 that I wrote for Luminous-Landscape, I have also been including in certain reviews a summary of observations about the camera made by other photographers (usually professionals) so as to provide a broader perspective. As is now the norm, I put forward a simple set of informal survey questions about the 5D to various professional photographers. Eighteen photographers responded and their responses are summarized here:

1. Do you Use the 5D for professional work?

"Yes" from all respondents.

2. What type of work?

Weddings, Portraits, Editorial, Commercial, Advertising, Landscape (for print sale), Theatre, Conventions, Music, Fashion

3. Is it the primary or secondary camera (or both)?

Primary: 93 percent

Secondary: 7 percent

Both (multiple 5D bodies): 33 percent

4. What did it replace?

Canon 20D: 32 percent

Canon 1Ds: 16 percent

Canon 1D MkII: 11 percent

Canon 1Ds MkII: 5 percent

Canon 1D: 5 percent

Canon 10D: 5 percent

Nikon D2X: 5 percent

Mamiya RZ: 5 percent

Didn't replace a camera: 16 percent

5. What are it's strengths, in your experience, as a professional camera and as a system?
Several photographers called the 5D the best DSLR they've ever used, of any brand, and called it price to performance ratio excellent. Virtually everyone praised the camera's file quality, describing it as: “brilliant, excellent, smooth, like medium format, amazing, film-like, low noise, amazing tonal transitions”...the enthusiasm level for this aspect was very high. Color, and specifically the rendering of skin tones, was praised as well and several photographers mentioned that the files, including the in-camera JPEGs, often needed little post-processing to look their best. The monochrome files (made as JPEGs in camera or by conversion in DPP 2) received many enthusiastic comments as well. High ISO performance was widely praised, with many photographers mentioning that they are willing to work at ISO 1600 and 3200 with this camera when needed. The high resolution of the camera and the impression of "sharpness" its files give was often remarked upon. Several also mentioned that the high resolution of the 5D allows for greater cropping flexibility when needed. Well-known celebrity and fashion photographer Chris Fortuna, who replaced a Mamiya RZ with the 5D, commented: "The main strength of 5d is the chip, out of the box it makes amazing images, that look and feel like film. It does not have that digital "look" at all, colors are true to life, crisp, and beautiful. Its also easy to use, very quick, and so far rock solid."

Next, the full-frame aspect of the camera was widely praised, both because it allows lenses to work as they do on 35mm film bodies and also because of the large, bright and very useable finder it's paired with. Boston area wedding photographer Joe Ciarcia said: "I can use my 85mm lens again and benefit from its beautiful bokeh without having to be in the next zip code from my subject."

Most photographers also liked the cameras smaller size, light weight, quiet shutter/mirror return and solid build of the body. Virtually everyone liked the large LCD, the buffer size and camera's speed in all operations. They praised the small battery and long battery life. Several found the camera's metering to be excellent and some preferred the 5D's flash performance to what they were getting from the 1-series cameras. Strong auto focus performance, and, sometimes, manual focus ease, were commented upon as well. The well-known California photojournalist, documentary wedding photographer and author of "Digital Wedding Photography", Paul Gero, summed up the camera this way: "First and foremost: full frame that is affordable. Small profile, lighter, writes quickly to the card...would love it to be just a bit faster in frame rate and just a bit faster in firing...but I could live with this camera for the next 5 years, if I had to. After shooting baseball with the D2000 in 1999, anything seems fast <G>. Since getting this camera I have shot very little film (maybe 5 rolls total)...I have never been truly happy with a digital camera -- until now. The out of camera jpeg files are amazing and the RAW files are astounding. This camera makes it very difficult for me to justifying shooting film for most of my commercial work".

6. What are its weaknesses, in your experience, as a professional camera and as a system?

Interestingly enough, there were some photographers who found that camera to have no weaknesses at all, esp. given the price. Overall, they mentioned many more strengths than weaknesses. Surprisingly, to me, the camera's large file size was listed as a weakness by several photographers. Some would like a FF camera but with *fewer* MP and smaller file sizes. On the other hand, some photographers felt that the camera's resolution was not high enough and wanted resolution closer to that of the 1DsMkII.

The next criticisms centered on frame rates and shutter lag, some saying that the camera has a slow mirror return rate and isn't as good for fast action as the Canon 1D series cameras. Several mentioned wanting weather seals and some want an even more rugged body. One mentioned the lack of an eyepiece shutter (not many architectural photographers in this survey group). One photographer felt the camera's battery life was too short and that sensor dust was a problem. Lastly, there was some criticism that the camera's auto white balance could be more accurate in tungsten and mixed lighting.

7. What ISOs do you normally work at and what do you think of the camera's noise performance at those ISOs?

The 5D's high ISO performance was widely praised, not only because of low noise levels but also because the files still seemed sharp even at high ISO. Almost all of the photographers who responded use the camera at ISO levels up to 800 and all of those were very pleased with the results. Most of them also sometimes use the 5D at ISO 1600 and 3200 and had high praise for the camera at those ISO levels, including some who felt the camera gives the best high ISO performance they've ever seen.

8. Have you encountered any specific bugs, problems or design flaws with the 5D?

Several photographers mentioned a bug with the 5D that sometimes causes it to combine multiple RAW files into one giant file that is well over 1 GB in size. Canon's Chuck Westfall looked into the problem and made the following announcement on a board of professional wedding photographers:"According to Canon Inc., a glitch in the 5D's current firmware (version 1.0.1) causes the camera to write abnormally large RAW files intermittently when the camera is held vertically and the Auto Rotate function is turned On in the camera's LCD menu. New firmware is currently being prepared, but until it is released, the problem can be eliminated by turning the Auto Rotate function Off."  Canon has just released new firmware for the 5D (1.03) that reportedly fixes the large file bug.  I haven't had a chance to test it yet but it can be found here.

Second, several photographers mentioned a bug in the camera's "custom" mode that was discussed by Michael Tapes on Luminous-Landscape. The poor design of the mirror lock-up function that I and several other reviewers have discussed was also mentioned.

Lastly, a couple of the photographers surveyed mentioned the banding problem I discussed above. They've reported it happening when the camera is in either AI Servo mode, continuous mode, or both. It's reportedly happening primarily at high ISOs. As I discussed above, I was not able to reproduce this problem with my own camera and various lenses, using either AI Servo mode, continuous mode, or both.  Chuck Westfall says that Canon is looking into the banding issue.

Conclusion

All things considered, this is the best DSLR, for my own work, that I have ever used.  I do primarily three kinds of photography.  The first is work that I assign myself and this often takes the form of projects that can last for several years.  The best of that work is eventually edited, printed and used for exhibition.  Unless I'm working on something where I want to be very close to the subject (macro) or very far from the subject (telephoto) I usually prefer to work with my R-D1 rangefinders.  That is unless I need the drawing of the pictures to be more like medium format - for that I once used the 1Ds and now use the 5D.  I also now use the 5D for my personal work with subjects that are very close or very far.  If I need a silent camera or want the kind of drawing that only a small-sensor camera can provide, I tend to use a Leica Digilux 2.

The other work I do, professionally, is primarily made up of documentary wedding assignments and architectural photography although I also sometimes do editorial work for magazines. For architecture, if the question of cost is set aside, the 1Ds MkII is likely an even better choice than the 5D.  The only advantage the 5D has over its larger brother for architectural work is that large LCD screen.  Otherwise, the greater resolution, 100 percent finder view, eyepiece shutter and greater lens flexibility of the 1Ds MkII all give it the edge for slow tripod work.  That said, one can produce very satisfying and high quality architectural photography with the 5D - work that requires no apologies or excuses.  For weddings, in my mind, there's no comparison; the quieter shutter/mirror, lighter weight and more compact body of the 5D make it my first choice among DSLRs for fast hand-held work.  I now use it side by side with two R-D1 bodies.

If one works with film, it's not outrageously expensive to own three kinds of photographic tools: a small, a medium and a large format camera.  Film, paper and darkroom supplies are quite pricey but the cameras themselves aren't so expensive in a world where the cost of digital bodies is often measured in the thousands of dollars.  Each one of those cameras could be exactly the right tool for a specific photographic project, depending on how one wants the pictures to look as well as how one wants to see the world and interact with a machine while making them.  In digital photography it's been quite expensive to own a range of formats.  Good small-sensor cameras are fairly affordable and good APS-C sensor DSLRs are fairly affordable, but full frame DSLRs have not been.  The price of entry for a 1Ds in 2002, when I bought mine, was $7200 if one could strike a good deal. Unless one planned to earn money with it (so that it paid for itself), it required a large bank account and an understanding spouse. One can now work with full frame digital, and it's medium-format kind of drawing, for $3000.00. Not cheap, but access to this kind of camera is becoming more democratic. And I'm glad to see it happen. The 5D is a lot of camera, even for $3000.00.

 

From Dave...
Sean Reid publishes the subscription-based site www.reidreviews.com. From time to time, he writes articles for Imaging Resource, but the material on ReidReviews is available only to subscribers. Sean's unique perspective and deep analysis of lenses and cameras is well worth the modest annual fee he charges for access to his work. We here at IR very heartily endorse his work, and highly recommend it to any really serious photographers among our reader base. If you liked this article that you just read, you're sure to love the rest of what Sean has to say on his site. Check out ReidReviews.com, you'll be glad you did!

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