Canon 5D Mark II Review
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II Exposure
The Canon 5D Mark II provides more control functionality than you may expect from a professional model, leaving you the choice of going on fully automatic settings, or making fine-tuned adjustments as desired. Standard exposure modes include the usual Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority, and full Manual modes, as well as three Custom modes, which users can program for quick access to their favorite functions. Unlike Canon's consumer and prosumer SLR modes, there are no "Image Zone" exposure modes such as Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait, etc. These modes preset a variety of camera parameters to make it easier for non-expert photographers to achieve good exposures in a variety of standard shooting situations, but are rarely used by the pros. The 5D Mark II does however offer full Auto mode, turning the Canon 5D Mark II into a very easy to use point-and-shoot camera, albeit a very capable one.
Added to the 5D Mark II is Canon's new "Creative Auto" mode, which attempts to make complex photographic functions like depth-of-field easier to use. The camera controls focus and general exposure, but leaves it up to the user to adjust the level to which background elements are in focus, and whether to freeze or blur motion.
The Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes work much the same as on any other camera, allowing you to adjust one exposure variable while the Canon 5D Mark II selects the other for the best exposure. Program mode keeps both variables under automatic control, while Manual mode gives you full control over everything. There is also a Bulb mode for manually controlled long exposures. The Automatic Depth-of-Field mode (A-DEP) found on the 50D is not provided; it was also excluded on the original Canon 5D.
The Canon 5D Mark II has also inherited some new exposure and image quality features found on other late-model Canon prosumer SLRs. They include: Highlight Tone Priority mode (on/off), which helps to preserve highlights in high-contrast scenes, Auto Lighting Optimization (4 levels), which performs contrast and brightness adjustments automatically, user adjustable High ISO Noise Reduction (4 levels), user adjustable Long Exposure Noise Reduction (on/auto/off), and Peripheral Illumination Correction (on/off), which compensates for corner shading/vignetting caused by the lens. The face detection Live View mode also optimizes exposure (and focus) for human faces detected within a scene. See the test results section of this review to see how effective these new features are.
Exposure metering options include 35-zone Evaluative, Partial (8% of viewfinder at center), Spot (3.5% of viewfinder at center), and Center-weighted options.
Here you can see the concentrations of three of the four meter settings. Center weighted is on the left (which also shows the evaluative metering coverage), Partial in the center, and Spot on the right. (Images courtesy of Canon USA.)
The Canon 5D Mark II's Exposure Compensation setting allows the user to increase or decrease the metered exposure by up to two stops positively or negatively, in one-third or one-half EV increments. Flash exposure can be adjusted independently also between +/- 2 stops.
White Balance Options
The Canon 5D Mark II offers a full range of White Balance settings, including six presets, an Auto setting, a Custom setting, and a Kelvin temperature setting. The six presets include Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Flash. The Custom setting bases color balance on a previous exposure, meaning you can snap an image of a white card and then base the color temperature on that image. The temperature setting ranges from 2,500 to 10,000 Kelvin. A White Balance bracketing option snaps only one image, then writes three successive files from that single image. Bracketing steps are from -/+ 3 stops in whole-stop increments. (Each stop corresponds to five mireds of a color conversion filter, for a total range of +/- 15 mireds. This corresponds to about a +/- 500K shift at a normal daylight color temperature of 5,500K.)
The WB Bracketing is set on the same grid as the White Balance correction grid. Fairly sophisticated, the white balance correction tool lets you shift the color balance toward more or less green, amber, magenta, or blue, using a +/-9 step grid format. You move a highlighted square through the grid to adjust the color balance. It's a useful interface design that greatly extends the camera's color corrective abilities.
The Canon 5D Mark II also offers a Picture Style option through the LCD menu, which lets you select from Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful, Monochrome, or three User Defined settings. In each of the preset modes, the contrast, saturation, sharpness, and tone are set for specific conditions. The three User Defined options let you manually adjust each variable, then save it as a custom parameter. Finally, you can set the camera's color space to sRGB or Adobe RGB.
ISO Sensitivity Options
The Canon 5D Mark II offers regular ISO equivalents of 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400 with the option to use fractional settings in 1/3-EV increments (100, 125, 160...). The 5D Mark II also offers two additional expanded range ISO settings: "H1" is equivalent to ISO 12,800 and "H2" takes the camera to 25,600. A "L" setting is provided for ISO 50 equivalent. An Auto setting is also provided, which can range from 100-3,200 in most exposure modes, but is fixed to ISO 400 in M and B modes.
An automatic exposure bracketing (AEB) feature lets you set the total exposure variation (across three shots) at anywhere from +/- one-third or one-half EV, all the way up to +/- 2 EV. The nice part is that the automatic variation is centered around whatever level of manual exposure compensation you have dialed in. Thus, you could manually set a positive exposure compensation of 0.7 EV, and then have the camera give you a variation of +/- 2/3 EV around that point.
AE/FE Lock (" * " button)
The Canon 5D Mark II has the same simplified AE Lock button as the 50D, which unbundled the AF Lock feature from the old button on the older EOS cameras like the 20D and 30D. Marked with an asterisk (*) symbol, the AE Lock button simply holds the exposure at one setting while you recompose the image. It's very useful when spot metering, but also when dealing with subjects where you want to draw your exposure from one place, while autofocusing on another. Pressing the button with an external flash mounted activates the FE Lock (Flash Exposure) function, which fires the flash and locks the proper exposure for the following frame.
The AF-ON button allows you to set focus before depressing the shutter button. With Custom Functions, you can reprogram the behavior of the AF-ON button, as well as swap functions with the AE/FE Lock button. Autofocus action can either replicate that of the standard half-press of the shutter button, or be transferred completely to the AF-ON button, making the shutter button responsible for controlling AE lock only.
The AF-ON button also controls autofocus operations in Live View mode. The Canon 5D Mark II now has two styles of autofocus operation in Live View mode: the standard phase detection method, which requires the reflex mirror to be briefly swung back into the optical path, thus disrupting the live view briefly, or a contrast detection method which does not. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but the contrast-detect method offers an uninterrupted user experience. A third method incorporates a face detection into the contrast detection method, offering the face-detecting mode of autofocus now commonly seen on consumer point-and-shoot cameras.
Continuous Shooting Mode and Self-Timer
The Canon 5D Mark II's Continuous Shooting mode is rated by Canon at 3.9 frames per second in continuous mode, for a total of 78 Large/Fine JPEG, 13 RAW or 8 RAW + Large/Fine JPEG shots before the buffer fills. These results come when using a regular CompactFlash card; the 5D Mark II is capable of using UDMA CompactFlash cards, and doing so improves the buffer throughput of the camera. With a UDMA card, the Canon 5D Mark II can shoot up to 310 Large/Fine JPEG shots before the buffer fills; the number of RAW images increases slightly to 14 while RAW + Large/Fine JPEG remains unchanged at 8 frames. The number of consecutive shots could be limited by CompactFlash space, if your memory card is nearly full. Also, when shooting JPEGs of a very complex scene with a lot of sharp, fine detail may also compress less and result in lower buffer capacities.
The camera's Drive setting also accesses two Self-Timer modes, which open the shutter 10 or 2 seconds after the Shutter button is pressed, giving you time to dash around in front of the camera. A Remote Control mode works with wired and wireless remote units as well.
Silent Shooting Mode
Canon has added two optional modes to reduce noise in Live View mode. Called "Silent Modes," the first leaves the first shutter curtain open while you shoot up to the maximum 3.8 frames per second. The second mode is a single shot mode which spreads the sounds out, not re-opening the shutter until you release the shutter button.
First a little explanation. Regardless of the camera, at high speeds, a mechanical shutter never fully exposes the sensor. On the 5D Mark II, in order to get a fast exposure above 1/200 second (the X-sync on the 5D Mark II), the second curtain has to follow right behind the first, creating a slit that moves across the sensor. Well, it turns out that the 5D Mark II's sensor can simulate the first part of this mechanical slit by starting to scanning the pixels in a line from top to bottom. Then the second curtain does have to come into play to close off the slit and finish the exposure. That means you can open both mirror and shutter once to enter Live View mode, then fire off 3.8 frames with only the sound of the second shutter, because the mirror and first curtain don't move.
Mode 1 is quite fast, with less noise and vibration, both because the mirror's not flapping around (it's locked up in Live View mode, and because of the electronic first curtain trick.
The other quiet mode, Mode 2, is more about spreading the sounds out. It's a single-shot mode, regardless of what Drive mode you have set before you enter Live View. Just press and hold the shutter down. All you hear is a quick "tick." That's the second curtain shutting. The image appears onscreen for two seconds, and then the screen goes black, because the second curtain is still closed. Hold the shutter for as long as you like. When you decide to release it, the rest of the camera functions will run, resetting for the next shot, and Live View will return to the LCD. These reset sounds are also pretty quiet, so I'm sure Mode 2 would be helpful when photographing wildlife.
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Canon EOS 5D Mark II Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
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Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon EOS 5D Mark II with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.