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The Canon EOS 5D MkII is Canon’s latest full frame DSLR. Externally it is very similar to the Canon EOS 5D. The only really obvious difference is the larger LCD screen and the chrome plated hotshoe vs. the black painted hotshoe of the 5D.
Internally the EOS 5D MkII shows more differences, with the major hardware change being a 21.1MP sensor which replaces the 12.8MP sensor of the 5D.

Canon says, “The EOS 5D Mark II camera breaks new ground for a full-frame DSLR. It shares 80% of its features with the EOS 5D, and 10% with the flagship Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III…”. I think this may be shortchanging the improvements made over the 5D a little, most of which are listed below:

Where to Buy’s partners have the Canon EOS 5D MkII available for purchase. Their prices are fair and you help to support

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II, (compare prices) Editorial - Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

What’s new on the Canon EOS 5D MkII?

  • 21.1MP CMOS sensor (Full-frame, 36mm x 24mm) with improved microlens design
  • 920,000 pixel, 3" high resolution LCD
  • 0.1 sec. startup time
  • New more durable shutter rated to 150,000 shots for professional level usage
  • 14 bits-per-color A/D conversion
  • 0.76x viewfinder magnification, approx. 21mm eyepoint, 98% coverage
  • Viewfinder data includes ISO speed, Highlight Tone Priority indicator (D+), monochrome: B/W, and Battery check indicators
  • Upgraded moisture and dust seals around battery compartment, memory card compartment and multiple buttons
  • Microfocus adjustment on a fixed or lens-by-lens basis
  • Improved long exposure noise reduction, and high ISO noise reduction with four settings
  • 4 levels of auto lighting optimization
  • An ISO range from 100-6400, plus 50 (L) 12800 (H1) and 25600(H2)
  • Auto ISO range 100-1600
  • Contrast detection AF in Live View mode
  • Face detection in Live View mode
  • Recording and playback of 1080p Full HD video (1920 × 1080 pixels per frame at 30 fps) with sound in Live View mode
  • Built-in microphone records in mono; 3.5mm diameter stereo mini jack can be used to record from external source
  • Continuous HD movie recording time up to approximately 12 minutes using a 4GB CF card
  • Approx. 3.9 frames-per-second (fps) continuous shooting at maximum image size with bursts limited only by memory card capacity (JPEG, Large/Fine images in high-speed continuous mode) when using a UDMA CF card or up to 14 in RAW, up to 13 in RAW+JPEG Large/Fine
  • In-camera illumination (vignetting) correction for JPEGs
  • A “creative auto” mode
  • HDMI output
  • A Digic IV processor
  • Faster USB data transfer
  • Compatible with RC-1 Infrared remote control
  • Support for high speed UDMA-compliant CF cards
  • Improved EOS Integrated Sensor Cleaning System
  • New higher capacity intelligent lithium-ion battery (1800mAh)
Hannah Thiem - Untitled

Hannah Thiem

Camera Controls

The control layout on the EOS 5D MkII will be very familiar to any 5D owner and maybe even more familiar to an EOS 50D owner. It has the standard EOS user interface with the main control dial just behind the shutter release, the mode control dial on the left of the top deck, a monochrome data LCD on the right of the top deck and the main LCD and QCD (Quick Control Dial) on the rear of the camera.

The mode control dial has 10 positions:

  • 3 custom modes (C1, C2, C3)
  • Bulb (B)
  • Manual (M)
  • Aperture Priority (Av)
  • Shutter Priority (Tv)
  • Program AE aka Intelligent Program (P)
  • Creative Auto (CA)
  • Full Auto aka “Point and Shoot” (Green Square)

The custom modes allow the user to register a set of camera conditions, such as ISO setting, shooting mode, white balance etc. These can then be instantly recalled in the C1, C2 and C3 dial positions.

The creative auto mode is based on the Full Auto mode, but allows the user to bias settings for greater or lesser DOF (smaller or wider apertures), change image brightness, set a picture style, set the shooting mode (single shot, continuous) and select the image recording mode (RAW, JPEG etc.). In the real “full auto” (point and shoot) mode, the camera decides all these settings, not the user. In Program AE (P) mode the camera selects shutter speed and aperture, but all other parameters are under the user’s control.

Immediately in front of the top LCD on the right side of the camera are buttons for selecting white balance/metering mode, AF/Drive modes and ISO/flash exposure compensation, as well a a button for top LCD illumination. The functions of these buttons are identical to those on the original 5D, but Canon decided to change their order! The LCD illumination button has moved from the leftmost position on the 5D to the rightmost position on the 5D MkII and the AF/Drive and ISO/FEC buttons have swapped positions. This could cause some initial confusion for 5D owners who are used to the old order of control buttons.

Bob Atkins - Canon EOS 5D MkII

Bob Atkins

The buttons and dials on the rear of the 5D MkII are again similar to those on the 5D. There are a few small differences though. The direct print button now serves a second function to enable Live View. The image delete button has moved from below the LCD to the left of the LCD and the Jump button on the 5D, which enabled options for the user to browse though stored images, is now replaced with a dedicated Picture Styles button.

There is one new button, AF-on, which can be customized via CF function IV-1 to control whether the shutter release of the AF-on button starts or stops AF. It’s also used for AF in Live View mode.

Bob Atkins - Canon EOS 5D MkII - top view

Bob Atkins

Parameters such as shooting mode, white balance (WB) mode, ISO setting, shutter speed, aperture, etc. can be displayed either on the top LCD, or via use of the rear Info button on both the top and rear LCDs. Though the top LCD can be illuminated, in dark conditions the operating parameters are more easily read from the rear LCD.

Operational Speed

Using a Sandisk Extreme III CF card (30 MB/s), in JPEG mode with the shutter speed set to 1/500s and focus set to manual, I gave up after shooting continuously for 100 seconds with an average shot to shot spacing of 0.26 seconds (just ober 3.8 frames/second). That’s about 385 frames. Canon quotes a buffer size of 78 frames for a non-UDMA card (though they don’t seem to specify a card speed). The 30MB/s Sandisk extreme III cards are not marked as being UDMA compliant, however it’s my understanding that they are, and the unlimited buffer capacity would seem to confirm this. For all practical purposes this means that you’re not going to fill the buffer under these conditions. In RAW mode, the frame rate was the same 3.8 fps, but the buffer did fill after 16 frames after which the frame to frame spacing increased to 0.76 seconds (1.32 frames/sec),

ISO affects buffer size and frame rate after the buffer fills. At an ISO setting of 25600 (H2), in RAW mode the 5D MkII shot 10 frames in 2.36 seconds, which is an average shot to shot spacing of 0.26 seconds, again corresponding to just over 3.8 frames/sec. After 10 frames, the shot to shot spacing increased to 1.46 seconds or 0.69 frames/sec. When shooting JPEGs with the same CF card and shutter speed, the buffer filled after 24 frames at an average frame spacing of 0.26 seconds (3.8 frames/sec), after which the frame to frame spacing increased to an average of 0.53 seconds (1.9 frames/sec).

Though I didn’t attempt to measure it, Canon quote a “startup” time of 0.1s for the EOS 5D MkII. That’s seems reasonable since there is really no detectable time lag between turning on the camera and it being ready to take a shot.


The first thing to note when discussing the resolution of the EOS 5D MkII is that although it has a very high pixel count (21.1MP), that doesn’t mean it has a very high resolution sensor. In fact the native resolution from the sensor in the EOS 5D MkII is lower than that of the EOS 50D, EOS 40D, Digital Rebel XSi and Digital Rebel XS This is something to bear in mind when you see statements that the EOS 5D MkII needs the sharpest lenses to take advantage of the sensor resolution. This may be true, but that applies even more to the EOS 50D, EOS 40D, Digital Rebel XSi, and even the cheapest DSLR that Canon makes—the Digital Rebel XS.

Camera Pixel/mm Approx. Resolution
Canon EOS 50D 213 96 lp/mm
Rebel XSi 192 87 lp/mm
Rebel XS 175 79 lp/mm
Canon EOS 40D 175 79 lp/mm
Canon EOS 5D MkII 156 70 lp/mm
Canon EOS 5D 121 55 lp/mm

Approximate resolution estimated as 90% of Nyquist limit for high contrast sine wave target.

The EOS 5D MkII has a full frame sensor, and that means that in the corner of the frame the image is further from the center than with a crop sensor camera (21.5mm vs. 13.5 mm). You may need a “better” lens in order to maintain higher image quality all the way out to the corners of the frame, since most aberrations increase as you move away from the center of the image.

Also, this doesn’t mean that prints made from EOS 50D image will be sharper than those from the EOS 5D MkII, because they have to be enlarged more (1.6x more) than EOS 5D MkII images to reach the same final print size.

One more word of caution: Many people judge image sharpness by looking at 100% crops from their images on a video monitor. If you do this, remember that the size of the image you are cropping from is larger for larger pixel count cameras. If you compare a 100% crop from acamera like the 40D to a 100% crop from a full frame camera like the EOS 5D MkII, you’re not really comparing apples with apples when it comes to evaluating the relative quality of equally sized prints. Since the 5D MkII is 5616 × 3744 pixels and the 40D is 3888 × 2592 pixels, at 100%, if the 40D 100% crop was a section of a 20″ × 30″ image , a 100% crop from the 5D MkII image would be a section of a 29″ × 43″ image.

Bob Atkins - EOS 5D and 5D MkII resolution comparison

Bob Atkins

So having said (and understood) all that, how good is the EOS 5D MkII in terms of resolution and how does it compare in practice to the EOS 5D?

Well, just as you’d expect, the new 21.1 EOS 5D MkII does indeed show higher resolution than the 12.8 MP EOS 5D, though the difference is not as dramatic as the pixel count numbers may suggest to some. You’d expect to see a maximum increase in resolution of around 30% based on the pixel count difference, but in practice you probably won’t see a difference that looks that big on small and medium sized prints. The 5D MkII images are better, but not dramatically so and the difference is most visible in large prints.

Bob Atkins - Comparison of EOS 40D and EOS 5D MkII image crops

Bob Atkins

There is a bigger difference when comparing prints made from images shot with crop sensor cameras to those made from images shot with a full frame camera. You have to use different lenses (or different zoom settings) or shoot from different distances from the subject in order to get the same angle of view when using cameras with different sensor sizes, so that does complicate the comparison somewhat. Still, it’s pretty evident that for larger print sizes, the EOS 5D MkII image is superior to that of the EOS 40D and EOS 50D.

Image Noise

Image noise is always a matter of concern, especially when an upgrade includes a move to smaller pixels such as upgrading from the 5D 12.8 MP full frame sensor to the 21.1 MP EOS 5D MkII full frame sensor. You might think measuring image noise is easy, but that’s really not the case. For a start, there’s the matter of noise reduction. Canon applies different amounts to 5D and 5D MkII images by default. The 5D has no optional high ISO noise reduction, but the 5D MkII has four levels (Off, Low, Standard and High). However, even with High ISO noise reduction set to Off, and even with the 5D (which has no noise reduction so it’s always “off”), there is some level of noise reduction applied by default. If you shoot in RAW and use Canon’s DPP RAW conversion software, you can set noise reduction to zero. I don’t know if that removes ALL noise reduction, but it should unless Canon is actually modifying the RAW data by some means. The table below shows the noise reduction settings applied by default when high ISO noise reduction is set to Off.

ISO setting EOS 5D MkII EOS 5D
100 0/0 2/0
200 0/0 2/0
400 1/1 2/0
800 2/2 2/0
1600 3/3 2/0
3200 (H on 5D) 4/4 2/0
6400 5/9 -
12800 (H1) 6/11 -
25600 (H2) 7/13 -

Noise reduction is given as X/Y where X is luminance noise reduction (LNR)
and Y is chrominance noise reduction (CNR)

What all this means is that you have to be quite careful what you compare with what when comparing images from different cameras for noise. Not only that, but as mentioned in the section above on resolution, if you compare 100% crops from cameras with different pixel counts, you’re looking at section of different sized images, so again you have to be pretty careful about what you are comparing.

Bob Atkins - Comparison of EOS 5D and 5D MkII at ISO 3200, with noise reduction off and with default level of "no...

Bob Atkins

Perhaps the best way to compare noise is to actually make prints of the same size from both the 5D and 5D MkII and then look at the noise levels. My observations indicate that just as your would expect, the EOS 5D MkII does have more intrinsic noise than the EOS 5D. That’s looking at images converted from RAW with all the noise reduction turned off. The EOS 5D MkII images are nosier, but they also have higher resolution. If the default zero level of noise reduction is allowed for both cameras, then the noise levels become quite similar. The higher noise reduction setting on the EOS 5D MkII does result in slightly more image softening, but the final result is still a higher resolution image than that from the EOS 5D.

Up to ISO 400, noise isn’t an issue with either camera, and even at ISO 800 you’d have to be making a large print for noise to be visible. At ISO 1600 and 3200, you can get a higher resolution and lower noise image out of the 5D MkII than you can from the EOS 5D, and at higher ISO settings there is no contest of course. You can underexpose 5D images shot at ISO 3200 (H) by 1 or 2 stops, then add +1 or +2 stops of exposure compensation during RAW conversion to simulate ISO 6400 and 12800 on the EOS 5D, but the results are significantly inferior to images from the EOS 5D MkII at ISO 6400 and H1 (ISO 12800).

Bob Atkins - EOS 5D MkII images taken at ISO 100, 1600, 6400 and 25600. These are RAW images, converted with the...

Bob Atkins

Even with significant amounts of noise reduction, ISO 12800 and 25600 on the EOS 5D MkII are probably best left for emergency use. Noise is high, and if noise reduction is cranked up, the images softens significantly, taking on a “plastic” look. You’ll definitely see some banding or readout noise, dynamic range is reduced and shadows can look pretty bad. Still, if you need ISO 25600, it’s there and if you only make small prints the results can be acceptable, or at least better than no image at all! I wouldn’t go as far as some and describe ISO 12800 and 25600 as useless, but their uses are probably quite limited.

The bottom line on noise is that if you make a print, and you use an appropriate (low) level of noise reduction, an image from the EOS 5D MkII will generally show equal or lower noise than a similar print from an image shot with an EOS 5D, along with equal or higher sharpness.

Black Dots

When the EOS 5D MkII was first released a number of users reported seeing small black dots to the right of small overexposed areas. Since the release date coincided with Christmas 2008, these small overexposed areas were usually Christmas tree lights! Not all such areas showed the dots, some cameras (or users) seemed more troubled with them and they usually appeared at higher ISO settings and were only really visible when viewing the images on a monitor at 100%.

In early January 2009 Canon issued a firmware update (v1.0.7), which seems to have fully mitigated this issue. It also addressed a reported problem of vertical banding in sRAW1 format files. Minor problems after release are fairly common and are usually addressed by firmware updates. I did the 1.0.6 to 1.0.7 firmware update myself on the EOS 5D MkII used for this review. The update went smoothly and the few black dots I was able to see before the update no longer seem to be present in similar images taken using the v1.0.7 firmware. I have not noticed any banding in sRAW1 images

ISO Settings

The EOS 5D MkII has ISO settings of 100 to 6400 which can be set in 1/3 stop steps. Via a custom function this range can be expanded to include an “L” (low) setting equivalent to ISO 50 and two high ISO settings, H1 (ISO 12800) and H2 (ISO 25600). These expanded settings probably represent software manipulation of the standard high and low ISO settings (100 and 6400) rather than true hardware derived values. Dynamic range may be reduced in “L” (ISO 50) and shadow noise (as well as overall noise) may increase in “H1” and “H2”.

In direct comparison to the EOS 5D (i.e. shots taken in the same light with the same lens at the same aperture), I found that the EOS 5D MkII ISO settings were slightly optimistic. At identical exposures, the 5D images were about 1/3 stop brighter than the 5D MkII images.


Bob Atkins - EOS 5D Viewfinder

Bob Atkins

The EOS 5D MkII has viewfinder with slightly greater coverage than that of the EOS 5D (98% vs 96%), though in practice that’s a pretty small difference. The magnification is 0.71x (the same as the 5D) and the eyepoint is 21mm (vs. 20mm on the 5D). Unless you compared the 5D and 5D MkII viewfinders side by side, I doubt you’d notice a difference, and even if you did compare them side by side it would still be pretty hard to tell them apart.

The screen pattern of 9 AF zones is the same as that of the EOS 5D. It’s a diamond pattern concentrated in the center of the screen. The same basic pattern is used on the EOS 40D and 50D, but due to the smaller sensor size in those cameras, the AF zones are more widely distributed in the frame.

The 5D MkII adds information to the viewfinder, which is not present on the 5D. There is a battery status indicator, constant readout of the ISO setting, and indicators to show when the Highlight Tone Priority and Monochrome modes have been enabled. The viewfinder also shows the usual data such as shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, flash ready, AF confirmation, etc.

An Eg-A screen is provided as standard and optional Eg-D (precision matte with grid lines) and Eg-S (super precision matte) screens are available.

Viewfinder blackout time is approximately 145ms when the shutter speed is 1/60s or faster. There is a built in diopter correction, which is adjustable between -3.0 and +1.0 diopters.


Bob Atkins - EOS 5D MkII Viewfinder showing visible and hidden AF zones

Bob Atkins

The EOS 5D MkII inherits the basic AF hardware from the EOS 5D, though Canon states that AF processing is faster and more accurate because of the use of the new Digic IV processor in the MkII. Canon also claims increased AF accuracy by taking into account the lighting source. Apparently earlier AF systems could sometimes be thrown off slightly under fluorescent and some other artificial lighting sources, which can rapidly flicker and sometimes rapidly change color temperature. The 5D MKII is said to be able to rapidly average readings under such lighting (which it can do because of the increased speed of the Digiv IV processor) leading to more accurate AF.

On the 5D MkII, the three points to the left and right of the center are sensitive only to horizontal lines, while the two points above and below the center are sensitive only to vertical lines. The center AF zone is sensitive to both horizontal and vertical lines with a high precision vertical mode with lenses having a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or faster,

There are also 6 “hidden” AF points clustered around the center AF zone. These are used to enhance focus tracking performance in AI Servo AF mode by taking over when a subject moves between the high sensitivity center zone and the 8 outer linear AF sensors.

Bob Atkins - EOS 5D MkII AF sensor response

Bob Atkins

It’s a pity that Canon hasn’t updated the AF hardware to provide cross sensors at all AF points as they have on the EOS 40D, EOS 50D and EOS 1Ds MkIII,i for example. The AF on the 5D and 5D MkII is good, but the outer points can fail to get a focus lock when their orientation is wrong for the direction of detail in the subject, especially when subject contrast and/or the light level is low.

The 5D MkII also offers AF microadjustment for individual lenses. This works in the same way as on the EOS 50D and EOS 1Ds MkIII and allows fine tuning of the AF system to eliminate front and back focusing with specific lenses. For example, if you find that your Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM, (compare prices) (review), consistently focuses slightly in front of the intended focus point, you can use the AF micro-adjustment to compensate. There are three modes: off that makes no adjustment, a mode that applies the same adjustment to all lenses (which is what would be needed if the AF adjustment of the body was slightly wrong), and a third mode that allows you to set and store adjustment factors for up to twenty different lens types. The camera recognizes the focal length and aperture range of the lens automatically. It can’t tell the difference between two different samples of a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), but it can tell the difference between a Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), and a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), and apply the appropriate stored correction for each. The AF micro-adjustment is accessed through a custom function and covers a range of +20 to -20 “steps”.

Hannah Thiem - Untitled

Hannah Thiem


There’s not really a lot to say about the metering on the EOS 5D MkII. It’s pretty much the same as that used on the EOS 5D and includes 35-zone TTL full aperture metering, evaluative metering (linked to all AF points), 8% partial metering, 3.5% spot metering, and center-weighted average metering.

Exposure compensation can be set from -2EV to +2EV. Metering sensitivity is given by Canon as EV 1-20 (at 73°F/23°C with EF50mm f/1.4 USM lens, ISO 100).

In testing it seemed to perform similarly to the metering on other Canon DSLRS I’ve looked at, i.e. it’s very reliable under most circumstances.


In common with the original EOS 5D and all the EOS 1D series DSLRs, the EOS 5D MkII does not have a built-in flash. An external Speedite or other flash must be used. There is, of course, a hotshoe and a PC flash connector and they are rated for use with flash systems with trigger voltages up to 250v. The maximum flash sync speed is 1/200s with Speedlites, though it may be lower when used with studio flash systems.

No Canon DLSR, including the EOS 5D MkII has wireless control of an external flash without a compatible Speedlite (550EX, 580EX, 580EX II) mounted on the hot shoe and configured as a wireless master controller or a dedicated wireless controller (Canon STE2 Speedlite Transmitter) mounted on the camera.

White Balance

The EOS 5D MkII has the same White Balance (WB) settings as the EOS 5D: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, White Fluorescent Light, Flash, Custom WB Setting and User-Set Color Temperature (2,50010,000K).

Bob Atkins - EOS 5D MkII, EF 70-300/4-5.6IS at 190mm

Bob Atkins

Most of the WB modes do a good job, but images shot under domestic tungsten lighting are noticeably warm, even when using the tungsten setting. This is a common trait of all Canon EOS DLSRs and it’s because Canon uses a color temperature of 3200K for the tungsten setting. This is about right for professional photographic tungsten lighting, but too “hot” for domestic lighting. It’s also the color temperature for which “tungsten” balanced film is designed. A typical 100W domestic tungsten light bulb has a color temperature closer to 2900K and a 40W bulb is usually around 2500K. I’ve found the tungsten WB setting to be about correct for 500W tungsten halogen lights, but they’re typically not what you would use to light your living room. If you want neutral colors under domestic tungsten lighting you need to either do a custom WB, or set a color temperature appropriate to the lighting (typically 2500-2600K).

In general, it’s almost aways better to select your WB for the conditions you are shooting under (sunny, shade, cloudy etc.) than to simply trust “auto” at all times. Auto generally works well in daylight, but in deep shade it can tend a little towards the blue. The best way to ensure you can get a good WB under changing conditions is to shoot RAW files rather than JPEGs, since you can then very easily adjust WB post-exposure using Canon’s DPP software.


The EOS 5D MkII includes an improved LCD screen, which makes for higher quality playback and easier menu navigation. The large 3-inch high-resolution screen makes it easy to zoom in for examining focus and fine details. The dot count has been increased from 230,000 on the EOS 5D to 920,000—now equal to the LCD used by Nikon on the Nikon D300, (compare prices) (review), and as good as the best available LCD quality for any digital SLR currently on the market. The new LCD has a 160-degree viewing angle triple-layer multicoating (anti-glare, anti-scratch, and anti-reflection), which makes for easier viewing.

Live View

The EOS 5D MkII has Live View with contrast detection and face detection AF, which is basically the same system used on the EOS 50D. Phase contrast AF uses the standard AF sensors and requires that the mirror be lowered (which blanks out the LCD display). Contrast detection AF uses the actual image being recorded by the sensor to set the focus point and so the mirror does not need to be lowered and the LCD image does not black out. Phase detection AF is faster and more accurate, but contrast detection AF is more convenient if somewhat sluggish. Focus can take 2-3 seconds in contrast detection mode. The 5D MkII also has a “face detection” AF mode, which is basically the same as contrast detection AF, but the image is analyzed for faces and focus and exposure is optimized for them.

In contrast detection AF mode, the focus zone can be manually moved around the screen. In face detection mode, if more than one face is detected, the most important one can be selected by using the Quick Control Dial.

The image can be zoomed up to 10x in order to get a closer look at the image for checking focus and for fine focusing in manual focus mode.

Video Recording

One feature that sets the EOS 5D MkII apart from all other full frame DSLRs is its video capability in Live View mode. It’s the only full frame DSLR that offers video. The only other current (01/09) DSLR, which can record video is the Nikon D90, recording up to 5 minute video clips at 24 fps and 1280 × 720 resolution, but the exposure is fixed.

The 5D MkII can record at 30 fps in 1080p HDTV mode (1920 × 1080) pixels, but while in video mode you can also shoot a single still image or even a burst of still images at any time (though that does pause video recording). Not only does the 5D MkII record video, but it has a built in microphone (just below the 5D logo on the front of the camera) to record mono sound and a jack for an optional external stereo microphone. There’s a small speaker on the back of the camera, which allows you to listen to the recorded audio in playback mode.

Bob Atkins - Video frame from EOS 5D MkII (downsided to fit 1280 pixel screen)

Bob Atkins

The sensor of the 5D MkII is much larger than any similar HD video camera, which means you can creatively use (lack of) depth of field effects. However, this is something of a mixed blessing as although the initial frame of a video sequence can be focused using AF, during shooting there is no focus tracking mode. AF is possible in Live Focus mode using contrast detection, but it must be manually initiated and Live Focus AF is slow and prone to hunting and overshooting. Manual focus is available, but if you are shooting a moving subject with a fast lens (like the 85/1.2L for example), tracking focus may not be easy.

In addition to the HD mode, movies can also be made in SD/VGA (640×480) mode. All movies are recorded in Quicktime MOV format.

The EOS 5D Mark II can record up to 4GB per clip or record up to a maximum
continuous video capture time of 29 minutes and 59 seconds, whichever comes first. This means you can get about 12 minutes HD video or 24 minutes of SD video on a 4GB memory card.

Metering in video mode uses a modified evaluative metering mode, which uses the image sensor. Exposure is Program AE and allows both exposure compensation and AE lock. ISO is automatically set by the camera and video shutter speeds range from 1/30 to 1/125th. Shooting video is actually quite easy.

  1. Press the Live View button on the rear of the camera (which doubles as a print button). That brings the camera into Live View mode.
  2. Focus by pressing the AF button.
  3. To start shooting you press the Set button (located in the center of the QCD), and to stop shooting you press the Set button again.

One word about playing back the .MOV files on your computer. You may well have problems with “jerky” motion if you have a Windows PC and use Quicktime to view the movies. I’m told the PC implementation of Quicktime leaves something to be desired and that it works better on a Mac. Since I don’t have a Mac, I can’t test that theory, but I can tell you that despite a dual core processor and no other programs running I got jerky playback on a Windows XP PC under Quicktime, even after tweaking the Quicktime parameters. 1920×1080 at 30 fps is a lot of data to handle!

Using the free “VLC media player” program I did get smooth HD video and audio playback, but you may have to do the following to set it up for HD video playback on a slower system:

  1. Open Tools, go to Preferences
  2. Click Show settings = “All”
  3. Go to "Input/Codecs
  4. Go to “Other codecs/ FFmpeg” subcategory
  5. Set “Skip the loop filter for H.264 decoding” to “ALL”
  6. Restart the program

The bottleneck with Quicktime may lay in the video card speed as a number of Windows PC users with fast video cards (and quad core CPUs) report smooth playback with Quicktime.

I strongly suspect that a video mode will from this point on become a standard feature on most new DSLRs, just as Live View has become a standard feature. In future DSLRs, I’d expect to see more control over ISO and aperture settings and some degree of active autofocus. However, for now, the EOS 5D MkII provides higher quality movie images than has ever been seen before from a DSLR, and indeed higher quality images than from most non-professional video cameras.

Peripheral Illumination Correction

While Canon has offered peripheral illumination correction (also known as vignetting correction) in DPP when doing conversions from RAW image files for quite a while, the 5D MkII can now apply the same corrections to in-camera JPEGs when certain Canon lenses are used. The camera has a database of about 20 Canon lenses. The Canon EOS Utility software can be used to check which lenses are in the database and to add others for which the data is available.

Self Cleaning Sensor

Bob Atkins - Canon EOS 5D MkII sensor assembly

Bob Atkins

The sensor cleaning system of the 5D MkII includes what Canon calls a “fluorine coating” on the low pass filter (I presume this is a fluoride coating, since fluorine is a corrosive gas!). This is said to provide “better dust resistance”. The sensor uses the same ultrasonic shaking mechanism as the EOS 50D to shake any dust particles off the low pass filter when the camera is turned on and off. The position and size of any dust stuck on the sensor can also be saved as reference “dust delete data” and this data can be used for removal of dust spots using post processing with Canon’s DPP software.

It’s hard to evaluate the sensor cleaning system over the course of only a couple of weeks, but I have found the cleaning system on other EOS bodies (such as the EOS 40D) to be reasonably effective. While they can’t always remove every dust particle that finds its way onto the sensor, physical cleaning of the sensor is required far less frequently than in cameras without such a cleaning system.

Highlight Tone Priority

As on the 40D and 50D, the EOS 5D MkII includes a highlight tone priority (HTP) setting. This reduces the clipping of bright highlights. It appears to work by using a nonlinear amplifier gain setting to the sensor data, which effectively could be considered to be the equivalent of shooting the highlights at an ISO setting about one stop slower than the shadows. HTP can be used with ISO settings from 200 to 1600. HTP is quite effective at increasing highlight detail, at the possible cost of slightly noisier shadows.

Note that HTP is applied to the image before the RAW file is saved, so it’s one of the few functions that can’t be applied during RAW conversion. Functions like noise reduction, peripheral illumination correction, white balance etc. are not applied directly to the RAW file (only to JPEG files) and can be performed later in DPP, whether or not they were selected at the time of shooting.

Auto Lighting Optimizer

The Auto Lighting Optimizer function analyzes the image and can optimize the brightness and contrast to improve the image (e.g. it can correct for dark subjects in back light situations). There are 4 levels: off, low, standard, and strong. This function can also be applied to RAW images during post-exposure processing using Canon’s DPP software.

The effect of the auto lighting optimizer is subtle. On some images, it makes no difference at all, while with others the effect is small but noticeable, even on the “strong” setting.

Hannah Thiem - Untitled

Hannah Thiem

Memory Cards

The Canon EOS 5D MkII uses CompactFlash (CF) memory, as do all Canon EOS DSLRs other than the Digital Rebel series (SD memory). In contrast to the EOS 5D, the 5D MkII can take advantage of the extra speed of UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) enabled cards. The ability to use UDMA as well as the extra speed of the DIGIC IV processor means that the EOS 5D MkII can take better advantage of the fastest CF cards.

Note: any CF memory camera can utilize both UDMA and non-UDMA cards. If you use a non-UDMA card in the 5D MkII it’s just fine, but data transfer to the card will be a little slower. If you use a UDMA card in a camera like the EOS 5D that does not have UDMA support, it will be fine too, but it won’t be able to take advantage of the UDMA transfer protocol.

Given the size of the files generated by the EOS 5D MkII, I’d recommend a 4GB or 8GB card. If you shoot RAW + JPEG (as I often do), the combined file size can be as large as 40MB (depending on the subject and ISO setting), so an 8GB card can store up to about 200 such RAW+JPEG images. Alternatively, you can store around 1200 large/fine JPEGs or around 300 RAW images. I’d look for UDMA cards rated at 30MB/s or more (200x) in order to take advantage of the 5D MkII’s transfer speed.


The EOS 5D MkII uses a totally new battery, the LP-E6, which Canon says should provide around 850 shots. The new battery design not only provides a higher capacity, but also allows a real time battery display to be provided in the viewfinder, which shows an accurate indication of remaining power. Unfortunately, this means you cannot use any BP-511 or BP-512 batteries in the EOS 5D MkII, so you can’t switch batteries between a 5D or 40D/50D and a 5D MkII.

Each LP-E6 contains a unique serial number, which is read by the camera. The EOS 5D MkII allows you to register multiple batteries and display information about them including the time that a battery was last used and its state of charge at that time.

There is also an optional grip, the BG-E6, which can take two LP-E6 battery packs or 6 NiMH AA cell batteries.

Inputs and Outputs

Bob Atkins - EOS 5D MkII Input/output connections

Bob Atkins

In addition to the standard PC flash connector, USB connector, analog video/audio output and Wired remote socket found on the EOS 5D, the 5D Mk II adds one new input and one new output. The input is for a stereo microphone for use when recording video and the output is a mini HDMI connector for feeding HD video to a TV with a standard HDMI input. A standard analog A/V cable and a USB cable are provided, but not an HDMI cable. The wired remote socket requires a remote with an N3 type connector. Note that there is also a built in IR remote receiver on the front of the camera, which is compatible with the RC-1 and RC-5 IR remote controllers.

Choosing a Lens

As I pointed out in the section on resolution, the actual sensor resolution of the 5D MkII is lower than that of the 40D and Rebel XSi, so if you’ve read that you have to have only the finest, high resolution lenses to fully utilize the sensor of the 5D MkII, then you’ve been misinformed! Obviously high resolution lenses are nice, but the 5D MkII doesn’t really need then any more than the Rebel XSi does. What the 5D MkII (and any full frame DSLR) needs are lenses, which are still pretty sharp at a point 21.5mm from the center—the position of the corners of a full 36×24mm frame.

The EF 24-105/4L IS USM is available with the 5D MkII as a kit, and you do get a discount on the combined price. It’s a good deal if you need a general purpose lens. The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review) is a pretty decent lens. You will see some vignetting when shooting wide open, especially at 24mm and you will see some distortion, again especially at 24mm, but if you shoot RAW and use Canon’s DPP RAW converter, both vignetting and distortion can be automatically corrected. Vignetting can actually be corrected with in-camera JPEGs via the peripheral illumination control settings of the 5D MkII.

For wide angle lenses, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, (compare prices) and the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, (compare prices) (review)are the premium choices. Which one to get depends on the size of your wallet. Similarly for a telephoto zoom, the EF 70-200 is available in two versions: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), and Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), and also versions without IS (image stabilization). All of the 70-200L lenses are good and which to choose depends again on your budget and how much weight you are prepared to carry. I’d always take IS over non-IS myself.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM, (compare prices) (review), and Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, (compare prices) (review), match well with the 5D MkII, especially for those interested in isolation a subject by using a shallow depth of field. Full frame cameras already give less DOF (more background blur) than crop sensor cameras, and fast lenses like these two can further accentuate the effect.

Hannah Thiem - Untitled

Hannah Thiem


If you want a full frame DSLR camera capable of taking excellent quality images and capable of making the highest quality prints up to a size of around maybe 20″ × 30″, you don’t need to shoot above ISO 3200 and you don’t want to shoot movies, then the Canon EOS 5D, (compare prices) (review), may be just fine for you. It was a great camera when it was introduced and it’s still a great camera. Where the 5D MkII exceeds the capabilities of the 5D are in its high ISO ability (if you can put up with the noise), its very high quality HD video capability, its ability to go to somewhat larger print sizes and maintain quality and various other useful (though not necessarily essential) features, such as a higher capacity battery, somewhat better weather sealing, microfocus adjustment for lenses, IR remote capability, etc.

There’s no doubt that the MkII is an improvement over the 5D in many ways. The cost is currently about 00 higher, so those improvements don’t come cheap. However, to many photographers they will be worth it. Some may even buy the 5D MkII just for its (currently unique) HD video capabilities!


Both of these are full frame cameras with 21.1MP CMOS sensors. The 5D MkII sells for around 00 and the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, (compare prices) (review), sells for around 00, so what do you get for the extra 00? You get a fully weather sealed body, an integral vertical grip, 45 AF zones (19 cross type with 26 assist points), better AF, dual memory card (SD+CF) storage, faster response (dual Digic III processors), 5 fps vs. 3.9 fps, 100% viewfinder coverage (vs. 98%), a 300,000 cycle shutter (vs. 150,000 cycles) and maybe a few other bells and whistles. On the downside, the 1Ds MkIII has no video capability and it’s bigger and heavier than the 5D MkII.

Are the added features worth 00? They wouldn’t be to me, but I’m not a full time pro who depends on their camera to make a living. I’m sure to some the advantages of the 1Ds MkIII will be worth the extra cost, but I’d guess for most amateurs and even professionals who don’t need “mission critical” images, the 5D MkII is better value. If you’re a sports shooter and your AF is slightly off on the winning touchdown of the Pro Bowl, the fact that you saved 00 on the camera won’t be of much comfort.

Hannah Thiem - Untitled

Hannah Thiem

Canon EOS 5D MkII vs Nikon D700

The Nikon D700, (compare prices) (review), is also a full frame DSLR and is priced very similarly to the EOS 5D MkII (00 vs. 00), so it can be seen as a direct competitor. The major difference on paper is that the D700 “only” has 12.1MP (similar to the 12.8 MP pixel count of the 5D), whereas the 5D MkII has 21.1MP. The D700 also lacks any video capability. However, it does have 51 focus zones (15 of which are cross sensors) and a 5 fps frame rate (8 fps with booster) and it also has a pop-up flash, which can be useful at times.

As usual, there is no clear winner here. If you want higher resolution and video, the Canon clearly comes out ahead. If you want a faster shooting rate and a more advanced AF system, the Nikon has a lead. Most people will probably stick with the system they have, if for no other reason than switching systems gets very expensive!

Canon EOS 5D MkII vs Sony A900

The Sony Alpha A900, (compare prices) (review), is the current pixel champion of 35mm DSLRs, with a 24.6MP full frame sensor. However, the difference between 21.1MP and 24MP is very small in percentage terms, so there would not likely be a significant difference in image resolution. I have not personally used the Sony A900, but reports are that the image is somewhat noisier than that of the 5D MkII (see by a factor of 0.5-1 stop and a similarly reduced dynamic range (at ISO settings above 200).

On the plus side, the A900 has 5 fps continuous shooting, but on the minus side it has a bit depth of 12-bits (vs. 14 on the 5D MkII) and ISO is limited to 6400 (vs. a rather noisy but still present 25600 on the 5D MkII).

The one very significant feature of the Sony A900, which all Canon and Nikon DSLRs lack, is image stabilization built into the camera body. Nikon and Canon provide stabilization via lenses, but not all lenses. Neither Canon nor Nikon have any fast primes under 200mm with stabilization built in. With the Sony, you get stabilization no matter what lens you mount.

The bottom line is that both cameras are very good indeed at lower ISO setting, but the 5D MkII pulls away a little when you’re shooting at higher settings (say ISO 800 and up).

Canon EOS 5D MkII Key Features

  • 21.1MP full frame (24 × 36mm) CMOS sensor (5616 × 3744 pixels)
  • 98% viewfinder coverage, 0.71x, 21mm eyepoint
  • 9 AF zones with 6 hidden assist points
  • ISO range 100-6400, plus “L” (50), “H1” (12800) and “H2” (25600)
  • Shutter speeds 1/8000s to 30s plus "B". 1/200s flash sync
  • Wired and wireless remote control
  • 3.9 fps continuous shooting. Unlimited JPEG buffer with fast UDMA memory card
  • Live View with phase and contrast detection AF, plus face detection
  • 1920 x1080 HD Movie mode, 30 fps and 640×480 mode at 30 fps. Built-in mono sound, external stereo mic can be used
  • Mini HDMI output
  • High resolution 3" LCD (920,000 dots)
  • 6" x 4.5" x 3", 28.6oz


The Canon EOS 5D MkII is a remarkably capable camera with excellent imaging capability, including the ability to shoot broadcast quality HD video and record sound in stereo. It represents an advance in features over the original EOS 5D and the overall image quality is generally higher—though that higher quality may only be revealed in large prints.

Bob Atkins - EOS 5d MkII, EF70-300/4-5.6IS USM @ 70mm

Bob Atkins

It’s not perfect of course. It still uses linear AF sensors for 8 out of the 9 visible AF zones, it doesn’t track focus or allow control of ISO and aperture when recording video, it’s not fully weather sealed and it doesn’t have a built-in flash or built-in image stabilization, but no camera is perfect and Canon has to save something for the EOS 5D MkIII as well as give users some reasons to choose the 1DS MkIII.
When you consider it’s 0 less expensive than the original EOS 5D was when it was introduced, you can see how far things have come in the last 3 years.

Having shot with the EOS 5D MkII for a few weeks, I can certainly recommend it to anyone who wants a “state of the art” full frame DSLR. If I could afford one and I didn’t already have too many cameras, I’d buy one myself!

Where to Buy’s partners have the Canon EOS 5D MkII available for purchase. Their prices are fair and you help to support

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II, (compare prices)


  • Canon EOS discussion forum
  • Canon DSLR System Overview
  • Canon USA web site
  • Factors to Consider when Choosing a Digital SLR

Canon EOS 5D MkII Example Images

Bob Atkins - Full frame, Moon shot with EOS 5D MkII, 500mm lens.

Bob Atkins

Canon EF 500/4.5L USM (now replaced by the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, (compare prices)), 1/200s, f/8, ISO 400. In this image the moon is aproximately 760 pixels in diameter using the full frame sensor. With an EOS 40D it would be around 855 pixels across and with an EOS 50D it would be about 1050 pixels wide due to the smaller pixels used in the crop sensor cameras.
Bob Atkins - Example of semi-macro product shot taken with EOS 5D MkII and 24-105/4L

Bob Atkins

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), on a 25mm extension tube. Lighting was from a 550EX Speedlite on an off camera shoe cord, diffused through a translucent screen. Automatic flash metering. 1/200s, f16, ISO 800
Bob Atkins - 16mm fisheye lens on EOS 5D MkII

Bob Atkins

Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 fisheye manual focus lens. This lens gives a diagonal field of view of approximately 180° when used on a full frame camera like the 5D MkII. On a crop sensor camera the fisheye effect is greatly diminished. 1/125s, f8, ISO 100
Bob Atkins - Fisheye Image from 8mm Peleng lens on an EOS 5D MkII (red lines show APS-C crop).

Bob Atkins

Peleng 8mm fisheye manual focus lens. This lens is made in Belarus (former USSR). It has a 25mm image circle so you almost get a full circular 180 degree image with a full frame camera like the EOS 5D MkII. The red lines show what you would see with a crop sensor camera like the EOS 50D. 1/100s, f8, ISO 100
Hannah Thiem - Untitled

Hannah Thiem

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), 24mm focal length, 1/100s, f/9, ISO 6400. This photograph of the interior of the Westin shows very little noise even at high ISO 6400. With such a contrast between the interior and exterior lighting, the Canon 5D MkII did well metering for a balance between the two.
Hannah Thiem - Untitled

Hannah Thiem

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), 105mm focal length, 1/100s, f/8, ISO 640. For an abstract approach, the Canon 5D Mark II deals well with deep hues that are true to life. Auto White Balance setting.
Hannah Thiem - Untitled

Hannah Thiem

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, (compare prices) (review), 35mm focal length, 1/60s, f/4, ISO 6400. Using Auto White Balance settings, the Canon 5D is on the warm side when dealing with incandescent lighting. A custom WB would have corrected this issue in camera. Very minimal noise is noticeable, even at ISO 6400.

Original text ©2009 Bob Atkins. Photos ©2009 Bob Atkins and Hannah Thiem.

Article revised March 2011.

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