Review of the Canon EOS 5D digital camera.
Copyright © 2007 NK Guy
The EOS 5D is a 12.8 megapixel full-frame digital SLR camera aimed directly at the semi-professional and high-end advanced amateur markets. Combining low-noise, full-frame capture (lenses behave the same way they would on a 35mm film camera) in a relatively compact body, the 5D takes its place between the subframe advanced amateur EOS 30D and the 1D series professional weatherproofed cameras in Canons venerable EOS product line.
Like all previous EOS cameras, the 5D supports the entire range of Canon EF autofocus lenses and many compatible third-party lenses. However, being full-frame it does not support the EF-S range of subframe lenses.
At about US $2900 list, the 5D is not an inexpensive camera. But nonetheless it establishes a price and size breakthrough in the full-frame market. After all, the EOS 1Ds, the first commercially successful full-frame camera, cost over US $7000 when it was introduced in 2002. And the 5D is considerably smaller and almost half the weight.
Full-frame and why it matters.
The single defining feature of the Canon EOS 5D that sets it apart from the crowd is its full-frame sensor. And, while still quite expensive from a mass market point of view, the 5D (shown here with its optional add-on battery grip) is the first, and at time of writing the only, non-pro SLR to support a full 35mm frame in a digital body. Well, almost. Technically the 5Ds sensor is 99.03% the size of a true 35mm frame. But whos complaining?
Until Contax introduced the ill-fated Contax N Digital in around 2002, all digital SLRs had image sensors smaller than a 35mm frames 24x36mm. This is quite simply due to the economics involved: the manufacturing of image sensors this large is very expensive. Even today the vast majority of digital SLRs sold employ subframe sensors relative to 35mm film; typically around 15x22mm in size.
While subframe sensors are affordable, they bring with them three significant issues. First, theres the cropping factor, sometimes confusingly referred to as the focal length multiplier. In effect the small size of the sensor means that using the camera is like taking a photo with a full-frame camera and then cropping off the edges. This considerably limits the wideness of wide-angle lenses designed for 35mm cameras, and also means youre carrying around lenses that are only being used in the centre - the outer areas are being effectively cropped out.
The reason why some people refer to the cropping factor as the focal length multiplier is because lenses on subframe cameras have a field of vision similar to a longer lens on a full-frame camera. However, the term is very inaccurate since the optical properties of the lens dont change at all; just the size of the sensor.
The second limitation is related to the size of the image elements - the individual transistors which record light. As the number of pixels goes up, each pixel must of course have a correspondingly smaller image element. And the smaller the element, the less light lands on it. And the less light thats recorded, the more the signal needs to be amplified electronically. And the more amplification, the more difficult it is to suppress the resultant electrical noise. Though other factors come into play, particularly the efficiency of the cameras noise-reduction circuitry, when all things are equal a larger sensor is likely to have lower noise than a smaller sensor. This noise will manifest itself as random speckles appearing in the final photograph, particularly at high ISO settings.
The third limitation is that a smaller image area cant achieve photos with the same narrow depth of field as a larger sensor. If you want photos where everything is focus youll find this is easier to accomplish with a subframe camera. But if you want razor-thin depth of field for a dramatic portrait, for example, the effect is less pronounced with a small sensor.
Of course, there are arguably advantages to subframe sensors aside from the lower cost. The cropping factor means that long lenses seem to reach further with a subframe camera. And since subframe cameras essentially crop off the outer edges of a lens, they tend to eliminate the lower-performing outer areas of the lens and effectively enlarge the sweet spot, which can make a noticeable difference with less expensive lenses.
About image quality.
Image quality is usually what cameras are all about. In the days of film, cameras were sometimes referred to by photographers as light-tight boxes, meaning that the quality of the camera body itself had relatively little bearing on the final image. The lens and the film used were far more important. As long as the camera had no light leaks and had decent metering then it should have been quite capable of taking a good photo.
However, in the age of digital this is no longer the case. The final picture still depends highly on the optical quality of the lens used, but the camera body itself also plays a huge part, since it takes on the role of the roll of film.
Often the idea of image quality (IQ) is marketed to the general public in terms of the number of dots (pixels) which comprise the image. Hence the megapixel wars between one camera maker and another. Unfortunately, while the number of megapixels does affect the final image, its by no means the only factor.
The quality of those pixels matters a lot as well. Cheap point and shoots, for example, frequently offer terrible image quality. They apply a lot of compression to the image, they suffer from high noise levels because of tiny image sensors and poor noise suppression, they have inexpensive low-quality lenses, and so on. A high-end digital SLR with 6 megapixels and a good lens may well produce far better photos than a point and shoot with 10.
IQ and the 5D.
The 5D has a 12.8 effective megapixel output, which is quite reasonable for 2005. (the image sensor itself actually has 13.3 megapixels, but only 12.8 make it to the final photo - the rest are masked out for setting levels correctly) The 5D, in fact, outputs more pixels than the 1Ds at 11.4, though fewer than the 1Ds mark IIs 16.7 megapixels. And it also offers extremely low noise levels. Accordingly its one of the few non-pro cameras accepted by high-end image library companies.
This excellent noise suppression has two important consequences. First, it means you can shoot at fairly high ISO settings and get results that can be quite acceptable. While I wouldnt want to shoot a landscape at ISO 800 and enlarge it to A1 sizes if I could avoid it, an ISO 800 candid at a wedding might be quite reasonable. Theres some blurring around high-contrast edges, but the images are typically not bad when viewed as prints.
Second, it means that you can shoot long exposure photographs (eg: night photography) with less noise. Some noise is inevitable with current digital sensors at long exposure times, but the 5D is considerably more usable than most DSLRs in this regard. Cameras which use CCDs are particularly problematic when it comes to longer time periods.
In my experience the 5D produces quite smooth, film-like images, completely grain-free. At ISO 100 to 200 theres almost no noise. In fact, until the introduction of the EOS 1D mark III in 2007, the 5D had the lowest noise levels of probably any commercial digital camera.
I have enlarged 5D photos, even shot 8-bit JPEG, up to 20x30 posters and obtained quite reasonable results. Of course, its a subjective matter whether a certain degree of pixelation when viewed up close is acceptable, but even such large prints offer tremendous amounts of detail.
For bandwidth reasons I cant post full-size sample images here, but such 5D files are readily available from other review sites.
The 5Ds Achilles heel: peripheral darkening.
The biggest criticism that has been levelled at the 5D is the problem of light falloff, sometimes referred to as vignetting. Essentially this is a matter of peripheral darkening around the edges of the frame under certain circumstances. And it is a real issue, though perhaps not as catastrophic as a mortal body part on a mythical warrior. Heres a simplified rundown.
Many lenses demonstrate light falloff (darkening in the corners) when used at large apertures. Wide-angle lenses are often vulnerable to an optical issue snappily known as the cos4 problem, which similarly results in darkened edges.
This problem isnt very noticeable on a subframe DSLR, however, since the darkened corners are simply cut off. However, it can be very noticeable on a full-frame camera like the 5D. This issue isnt limited to digital cameras. It was a problem in the past; so much so that some older lenses actually had tinted filters available, darker in the centre and lighter towards the edges, to counteract the effect.
While an old issue, it can be worsened on digital cameras by the fact that, unlike film, most digital sensors arent as sensitive to light striking at oblique angles as they are to light striking at an angle perpendicular to the surface.
The portrait shown here demonstrates the problem to an extreme. It was shot with an EF 28-80 2.8-4L lens, a lens known for peripheral darkening, wide open at around 50mm. The image was then adjusted to increase contrast, which has exacerbated the problem of darkening in the corners.
Fortunately this is a problem which can be compensated for digitally. Adobes Camera Raw software for Photoshop, for example, allows you to correct for peripheral darkening by brightening the edges of a problematic picture at time of import. In this case I chose not to fix the problem, because the darkening does convey a sense of light glowing from behind the face, but obviously under some conditions the darkening can be quite objectionable.
Size and build.
The digital EOS 5D, not to be confused with the film-based EOS 5 from the early 1990s, is medium-large when compared to a typical 35mm film camera. Smaller than an EOS 1D series camera, yet larger than the two-digit cameras such as the 20D and 30D, the 5D has a good heft and feels solid in the hand. The handgrip has a notch for the index finger to rest in and the lines of top case are characterized by sculpted sweeping curves. (exaggerated here very slightly by the wide-angle view) However, the size and weight may be offputting to people used to smaller consumer cameras.
Its body is cast from a magnesium alloy, ensuring reasonable ruggedness. The surface is finished with lightly textured paint, and most of the lower body has an anti-slip rubber surface applied. Like almost all non-consumer Canon EOS cameras, the camera is available only in black. Unlike 1D series cameras it has a steel and plastic internal chassis.
Another difference from the professional 1D series is that the 5D does not have any weatherproofing seals. The joins are tight and snug, but are not equipped with silicone O rings or any other barriers to dust or liquid. In practice, however, Ive never seen this to be an issue. While I havent used the camera unprotected in a torrential downpour, and would advise against it, it can withstand the odd drop of water. Ive used my 5D in a dusty windy desert for a week with no ill effects, though I did tape up the joins with gaffer tape. However, if you plan on using the camera in inclement weather or in windswept conditions on a regular basis, the 5D may not be for you.
The camera is 152 x 113 x 75mm in size, and weighs 810 grams without batteries. The rechargeable battery adds another 75g or so.
By comparison to other EOS digital cameras, its just slightly larger and heavier than the EOS 10D, quite a bit bigger than the EOS 20D and 30D, much larger than the consumer EOS cameras (300D/Digital Rebel, 350D/Rebel XT, 400D/Rebel XTi), and considerably smaller than the 1 series cameras, though the 5D with optional battery grip does get fairly close in size. By comparison to EOS 35mm film cameras, its a little bigger than the EOS 100/Elan and EOS 10/10s, and a little smaller than the EOS 5/A2/A2E and EOS 3 cameras, and weighs more than all of the film cameras.
The bottom of the camera has a metal tripod mount set in-line with the centre of the lens, the serial number sticker and the small door concealing the main battery. The door has a proper hinge, not a flexy bit of plastic like on early 90s EOS cameras. It is, in fact, removable so that the battery grip can be attached. There is also a small notch on the side of the battery bay with a cover so that the optional DC adapter can be used. The camera does not have a rubber base on the bottom.
Performance and responsiveness.
The 5D feels as snappy and responsive as a good film camera. There is essentially no power-on delay at all, eliminating of the major complaints from earlier models such as the 10D. The shutter release lag time is almost imperceptible at 75ms, compared to 55ms on the 1D and 65ms on the 30D. The mirror blackout time is a bit longer at 155ms, compared to 87ms on the 1D and 110ms on the 30D.
The framerate is not quite so impressive - the 5D manages only 3 frames per second. For the average user this is unlikely to be a problem, but does put the 5D at a disadvantage compared to the bodies favoured by professional sports photographers, such as the 1D mark III, which can hit 10 fps.
The 5D has a reasonable maximum burst at 60 frames when shooting JPEG and 17 frames when shooting RAW. Again, the average user is unlikely to find this a problem, but sports photographers may find this a limitation when the camera stops responding while the buffer empties out.
Autofocus performance is similar to its framerate - fast, but not as fast as a 1D series cameras. The camera has 9 autofocus points visible in the viewfinder, and all are individually selectable. In automatic mode the camera may choose more than one autofocus point. The centre point is the most sensitive in low light conditions since its a cross sensor. Its optimized for both f/2.8 and f/5.6 lenses and the remaining 8 sensors are optimized for f/5.6 type lenses.
Interestingly, the camera has an additional 6 invisible autofocus sensors which are not displayed alongside the 9 seen in the viewfinder. These 6 supplemental sensors can be enabled in AI Servo mode, and are said to assist the camera in tracking moving objects. However, I personally have not found the 5Ds AI Servo tracking to be particularly overwhelming.
The camera does not have any form of autofocus assist. It lacks the red LED used by some EOS cameras of the early 90s, and since it has no flash it mercifully does not pulse a built-in flash annoyingly. If you want AF assist you have to add an external Speedlite unit. The 5D also has no redeye reduction facilities, which is not much of a loss since they do little except make the subjects look glazed anyway.
The viewfinders spaciousness and brightness will be a revelation for anyone coming from the tiny and dim viewfinder of one of Canons consumer cameras, but will be a small step down for anyone coming from a 1D series camera. It has a proper pentaprism, rather than the mirror box design used by the Rebel/xx0-series cameras. It doesnt have 100% coverage of the frame, but its 96% coverage is adequate for most purposes. The edges of a photo typically get cropped off when printing anyway, though the inability to display 100% may lead to some surprises with on-screen viewing of images.
The viewfinder is quite clear and bright, though it does suffer from the traditional Canon EOS problem of less than great eye relief at 20mm. What this means is if you wear glasses you may find you need to bob your head a bit to see the green info strip at the bottom. If you dont wear glasses you probably wont find this to be an issue. Magnification is .71x.
The viewfinder data strip runs along the bottom and shows various pieces of information, including AE lock, flash ready, shutter speed, lens aperture and certain warning messages, such as FuLL CF. The display is not as bright as it could be, and is sometimes difficult to read in bright conditions. See the appendix for a full list of the data displayed in the viewfinder.
The finder has a small dial for diopter adjustment, so you can set the screen focus independently. This allows most people who dont have 20/20 vision to look through the viewfinder without wearing glasses. However, it can be inconvenient to remove your glasses every time you want to look through the viewfinder, so not everyone uses this feature. It is however, a popular cause of confusion with novice users - the cry of everythings out of focus when I look through the viewfinder! is a common one indeed.
The viewfinder screen itself is user-replaceable, and Canon ship a fairly standard Ee-A laser matte screen with the body. This screen displays the 9 basic focus points as rectangular outlines, shows the partial metering circle at the centre and nothing else. Its fairly clear and untextured and so is not particularly good for focusing manually.
Canon also sell two optional screens that you can install yourself. One has a grid and the other is textured to give more bite for slightly easier manual focusing at the cost of some brightness. They do not sell a screen with a split-circle manual focus assist or microprisms. For this you need to turn to a third party, such as Brightscreen or Haoda Fu. Ive used the Fu screen, which is basically an Ec-B screen for a 1D series camera, physically cut down to fit the 5Ds smaller size, but rarely use it because it seemed to affect the metering in odd and subtle ways.
The viewfinder does not have a manual shutter for preventing light from entering the camera through the back. This feature, while useful for people who do a lot of timer shots in modes other than manual metering, isnt a really major omission. You can either shoot in manual or, if you really need to cover the viewfinder, you can use the end of the supplied camera strap which is designed to cover the viewfinder eyepiece if you remove the rubber eyecup first. You can even use the grey plastic cap from a Kodak 35mm film canister, since they coincidentally fit.
User interface: traditional controls, top-deck.
If you were to look at just the top deck of the 5D youd have to look for fairly subtle clues to tell if its a film or a digital camera. Canon have deliberately maintained a design continuity with their EOS film series, ensuring that anyone familiar with the millions of film bodies sold in the 90s will be right at home with the new products. For this reason theyve segregated the majority of the digital-only controls on the back panel while keeping the traditional controls on the top.
Interface-wise Canon have followed two basic designs for most of the EOS series since about 1990. The consumer and advanced amateur cameras have typically used a rotating top-deck dial for selection of shooting modes. The 1D series cameras, however, have all used a button-based interface.
The 5D is of the dial design, but with a variation. Its basic layout and design reflect its advanced amateur market, as it has a regular mode dial located on the left top deck. However, only what Canon calls the creative zone modes, identified by letters, are present. The basic zone modes, identified by icons such as portrait and sports on consumer cameras, are notably absent with the sole exception of the green rectangle (point and shoot) mode. Canon clearly assume that 5D users will know how to use a camera and will not be relying on the preset modes. In keeping with recent EOS development, Canon have not included either the DEP and A-DEP (depth of field) auto-exposure modes. I doubt A-DEP will be missed by anybody, but the deletion of DEP mode will sadden some users.
The mode dial has no illumination or raised bumps, so the only way to use it in the dark is to memorize the order of the settings or carry a small flashlight. Next to the mode dial is the image sensor plane mark, indicating the precise position of the image sensor (like the film plane mark in film cameras). This is rarely used but can be useful for some types of macro photography where the exact distance from subject to image plane can be important.
Just to avoid confusion, Ill mention here all the dials built into the EOS 5D, and the names Ill use to refer to them.
Mode dial. This is the dial on the left top deck used for selecting auto-exposure modes.
Main control dial. This is the recessed dial located just behind the shutter release. Canon call this the main dial.
Rear dial. This is the large flat dial on the back of the camera. Canon call this the quick control dial.
Diopter dial. This is the tiny dial located to the right of the viewfinder, used for adjusting the viewfinders optical focus for people who dont have 20/20 vision.
Multicontroller. This isnt a dial as such, but a sort of mini joystick control on the rear panel.
Mode dial settings.
Full auto (green rectangle). This fully automatic mode automates everything, turns off all manual settings and sets all configuration options to their defaults (it differs from P mode in this respect), and turns your super-expensive camera into a glorified point and shoot. It actually has its uses, in that if you hand your camera to your inexperienced friend or relative you might not want to have to explain how the thing works. Putting the camera to green rectangle mode and pointing out the shutter release button is probably adequate. Note that green rectangle mode chooses an ISO setting from 100-400 automatically and, perhaps most importantly, does not let you shoot in RAW mode.
P. Program AE (auto-exposure). In this mode the camera chooses both shutter and aperture settings, but you can manually adjust other settings on the camera, such as white balance, ISO and focus mode. You can use the rear dial to apply exposure compensation by up to plus or minus 2 stops; a setting shown by the match-needle display in the viewfinder and top-deck LCD.
Program AE supports program shift, which allows you to change both shutter speed and aperture while preserving the exposure value (EV). In other words, as you open the aperture up the shutter speed will become shorter and vice-versa, resulting in the same exposure. Program shift is enabled by pressing the shutter release halfway, then rotating the main control dial. Note that using flash disables program shift.
Tv. Time value, more commonly known as shutter speed priority. In this mode you choose the shutter speed by rotating the main control dial and the camera chooses an aperture setting for you. You can use the rear dial to apply exposure compensation; a setting shown by the match-needle display in the viewfinder and top-deck LCD. Nikon and Sony/Minolta abbreviate this mode as S for shutter speed.
Av. Aperture value, more commonly known as aperture priority. In this mode you choose the lens aperture by rotating the main control dial and the camera chooses a shutter speed for you. You can use the rear dial to apply exposure compensation; a setting shown by the match-needle display in the viewfinder and top-deck LCD. Nikon and Sony/Minolta abbreviate this mode as A for aperture priority.
M. Manual exposure. In this mode you choose the shutter speed by rotating the main control dial and the lens aperture by rotating the rear dial. A simulated match-needle display in the viewfinder indicates if youre under or overexposed according to the cameras internal light meter.
B. Bulb. In this mode the camera simply leaves the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter release. You can adjust the lens aperture setting by rotating either main control or rear dial. Conveniently the elapsed time will appear in the top-deck LCD up to 999 seconds. Since holding down the cameras shutter release isnt very inconvenient, and also means you could bump the camera inadvertently, its best to use a remote shutter release (wired or wireless) in this mode. Its also best to activate long exposure noise reduction in this mode.
C. Camera user custom settings. This mode allows you to roll your own icon mode, in effect. Set the camera up to the way you want, then choose the Register camera settings item in the main menu. This records your choices - AF mode, ISO setting, white balance, etc-in the C mode on the mode dial.
The top deck also carries the traditional black and white LCD panel on the right side when viewed from the back. This LCD is used for displaying a variety of pieces of shooting data, such as shutter speed, lens aperture, exposure compensation, battery strength, metering pattern, drive mode, white balance settings, and so on. A full list is included with the appendix.
Above the top-deck LCD is a row of small round buttons. These allow you turn on the top deck LCD backlight, set autofocus, white balance, drive (single/continuous/timer), metering pattern (evaluative, partial, spot, centre-weighted averaging), ISO and flash exposure compensation. The full list of controls is included in the appendix.
Shutter release and main control dial.
The shutter release is located on the top of the handgrip section, and is a standard three-position pushbutton. The positions are off (no pressure), halfway press (activate metering, disable rear LCD) and full press (take a photo if possible). The shutter release takes a reasonably light touch - its fairly sensitive to pressure.
Located in front of the shutter release button is the main control dial, operated by the index finger. This dial is used for program shifting in P mode, adjusting aperture or shutter in the creative modes and navigating menus.
The sole control on the front of the camera is the depth of field preview button, located below the lens mount release button. This button stops down the lens to whatever aperture the camera is set to (EOS cameras meter at full aperture). It doubles as a trigger for the modelling light function with wireless E-TTL flash units.
Also on the front of the camera is a red LED which flashes during self-timer operation. This LED is not an autofocus assist or a redye reduction lamp.
Traditional controls, rear panel.
In common with nearly all other one and two digit EOS cameras, the 5D bears the hallmark of a non-amateur EOS camera: the rear dial, referred to as the quick control dial by Canon. This rear dial, which can be turned on or off by the three-position main power switch (camera off, camera on with rear dial disabled; camera on with rear dial enabled) is a key user interface element.
In P, Tv and Av modes, the rear dial controls exposure compensation. And in manual mode the rear dial and main control dial (located by the shutter release) are used together to control both aperture and shutter speed. This latter is very convenient, since it means that its possible to control both settings while holding the camera with one hand. The rear dial is also used to adjust various settings in other modes, such as ISO, white balance and so on.
The rear dial has at its centre a single SET pushbutton, which can be used for various functions. Custom function 1 allows the user to alter the purpose of this button, with setting 1 probably the most useful - it allows the SET button to change the image quality from RAW to the various JPEG sizes and quality levels. Built into the rear dials frame is a red LED which flashes to indicate data transfer from the camera to the CompactFlash (CF) storage card.
The rear dial does not have the cursor buttons seen on cameras such as the film-based EOS Elan 7/30/33. However, the camera does have a small 9-position (8 directions and downwards press) thumb joystick located above the rear dial. This multicontroller is used for selecting autofocus points, setting white balance correction and moving around in a magnified view. Its not a substitute for ECF (eye control focus), but its fairly quick and easy to use. The main drawback is the 45 degree controller positions (ie: northwest, northeast, southwest, southeast) are sometimes a little fiddly to activate.
Above the rear dial and the joystick, to the top right corner under the photographers thumb, are two pushbutton controls.
* button (AE-L and FEL). The left-hand * button sets both autoexposure lock (AE-L) and flash exposure lock (FEL). That is, when pressed, the camera will lock the current exposure and flash exposure settings for 4 seconds or for as long as the shutter release is half-pressed. It will only lock the flash settings if theres a flash unit plugged in and turned on, and it does so by firing a brief low-power flash burst.
Unfortunately theres no way of setting FEL independently, as is possible on 1D series cameras and the EOS 10D. This is a regrettable limitation of the 5D. Its a shame that some other button, such as the SET or PRINT buttons, couldnt be used optionally for FEL. This button also serves as a zoom out button when viewing images on the rear LCD.
This button can also do other things, depending on the setting of famous custom function 4. The most common alternative setting is to use this button to stop and start autofocus independently of camera exposure metering.
AF point selection button. The right-hand button sets the cameras autofocus points. How this button responds depends on custom function 13. It can display the current AF point and you use the main control dial to cycle through them, or it can set AF point choosing to automatic. If you want to select an AF point manually without the main control dial then you can also use the little multicontroller joystick located above the rear dial. The AF point selection button also serves as a zoom in button when viewing images on the rear LCD.
Power switch. Finally, the camera has its main power switch located below the rear dial. As noted above, this is a three position switch, which can initially be somewhat confusing. Its very easy for a beginner - or an experienced user unfamiliar with the camera - to think that the rear control dial is broken when in fact you just need to move the power switch up one notch.
Like all EOS cameras, the 5D is a shooting priority body. What this means is that a single half-press of the shutter is all thats needed to ready the camera for taking a photo. No need to move it into record mode or anything like that.
User interface: digital controls, LCD, rear panel.
The back of the camera is dominated by a large 2.5 TFT LCD screen to the left of the body. The screen is big enough to see an image with reasonable clarity, and at 230,000 pixels has good resolution. Its hard to go back to a camera with a smaller screen after youve used this one for a little while. The LCD also has decent off-axis viewing at 170° or so. Unfortunately it isnt very bright. Indoors its fine, but when used outdoors it can be nearly impossible to view. Unlike Nikon, Canon do not ship their DSLRs with removable plastic shields for the LCD. And, like all SLRs with rear-panel screens, it has the traditional problem of being marked up with nose grease from use. However, Canon do not apply anti-reflective coatings to the plastic covers of their LCDs.
Surrounding the LCD in a C shape is a group of pushbuttons controlling the bulk of the cameras digital features. From top to bottom these are:
Print (printer icon for PictBridge). This infamous printer icon button is generally derided by most experienced photographers, since all it lets you do is print an image to a supported printed when your camera is connected to the printer via a USB cable. This is clearly a great marketing tool to sell Canon printers, but is completely and utterly useless for the vast majority of the 5Ds target audience. For a consumer camera its a great feature, since it lets you print out, say, birthday photos immediately without a computer as long if theres a compatible printer handy. The modern Polaroid. But the EOS 5D is not your typical consumer camera.
If Canon had made this button reprogrammable then itd be great. For example, if there were a custom function that allowed you to set the button to control something useful, such as mirror lockup or FEL, then I think a lot of people would be very happy with it. But as it is, its of relatively limited utility, since most experienced photographers are going to prefer seeing recently shot images on a proper computer monitor. Particularly since it cant print out RAW images; only JPEG ones. The button even has a blue LED inside it, adding even more cost to a function that most people probably dont use. Since reprogramming this button would be as simple as issuing a firmware update, its safe to say that Canon see this as purely a marketing issue.
The print button is actually a bit fiddly to use for beginners, in fact, since you have to change your cameras Communications setting from PC connect (to a computer) to Print/PTP. This is done by the menu system on the rear LCD. You then have to turn off the camera while connecting the USB cable to the printer, then turn it back on. The camera supports PictBridge, CP Direct and Bubblejet Direct protocols and allows for various cropping, bordering and print selection options.
MENU. This button activates the on-screen menu which allows for the adjustment of a huge range of internal digital functions.
INFO. This button, when displaying a photo in playback mode, cycles through three different display modes. You can view the photo unencumbered by text, you can view the photo with two text overlays which display the image number check, the shutter speed, the aperture and the number of the image on the card, and you can view the photo accompanied by a histogram and a variety of shooting data. When not displaying a photo the INFO button displays a summary of the current camera settings.
JUMP. This button allows you to jump by 10 images forward or back when viewing pictures. It also allows you to switch from one group of settings to another in the cameras menu system.
PLAY. The triangular Play icon displays either the most recently taken or the most recently viewed picture on the rear panel LCD.
DELETE. The garbage can/rubbish bin icon allows you to delete the currently displayed picture or all pictures on the card.
The rear LCD is used for displaying the menu system, which gives you access to a vast range of settings and controls. The menus are structured in three colour-coded groups: red for items related to taking photos (mnemonic: recording), blue for items related to viewing (playing back) images, and yellow for items related to camera settings. The JUMP button can be used to skip quickly between the groups. The menu system uses a fairly ugly monospaced font with no anti-aliasing. It looks sort of like a computer from the late 1980s and takes no advantage of contemporary software or user interface design.
Either the main control dial or the rear dial can be used to scroll through the menu items, though the rear dial is more convenient since the SET button is used to select items in the menu.
The full list of menu options and custom functions is included in the appendix.
Picture Style is a fairly new feature thats supposed to store a series of image colour characteristics which can be applied to a photo. In a sense, its a bit like choosing film stock to achieve certain effects. For example, if you were shooting an urban scene you might use Ilford FP4 black and white film. For a portrait, you might use Kodak Portra NC for natural colour. For a landscape you might choose Fuji Velvia for vivid greens. Each of these film stocks has certain qualities and characteristics.
Likewise Canon have supplied a group of Picture Styles that can be used to alter the colours of an image. Out of the box the 5D ships with Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral and Landscape styles. There is also a black and white mode, which allows you to simulate colour filters (red, yellow, etc) and apply toning effects such as simulated sepia tone. You can also create your own Picture Styles and store them. There are also downloadable Picture Styles which can be used in conjunction with Canons DPP (Digital Photo Professional) software.
Personally I find Picture Styles to be of relatively limited value. I much prefer loading each image into a cataloguing program such as Apples Aperture or image editing application such as Adobe Photoshop and altering the characteristics of the image, if necessary, in there. You have far more control than a simple pre-packaged Picture Style.
Still, some people may find that Picture Styles are handy for rapidly selecting a group of colour characteristics.
Input/output (I/O) connectors.
Most of the I/O is on the right side of the body, looking from the front, concealed beneath two hinged rubber dustflaps. One flap covers the PC socket and an N3 remote socket. The other covers the digital connector and the video out socket. At the bottom of the I/O area is a very small screw (to the lower right of the remote socket) which is used to remove the CR-2016 lithium button cell that powers the date and time clock.
Heres a rundown of the connectors.
The PC socket (lightning bolt icon) is used for triggering non-automated flash in studio or similar settings. The name PC here stands for Prontor/Compur, and does not stand for personal computer. For more information on the PC socket see the flash section.
The N3 remote socket (remote control icon) is a three-pin locking connector, proprietary to Canon, for plugging in a remote control shutter release. The remote does the same things that the cameras shutter release does: half-press to focus and full-press to shoot. Canon and a variety of other makers sell handheld wired remotes that use this socket, but third-party wireless remotes can also be connected here. Unlike some Nikon cameras, Canon cameras do not support serial data on the remote socket.
Sadly the EOS 5D does not support the extremely handy RC-1 wireless infrared remote control. If you want to command the camera wirelessly you have to buy a third-party accessory, or use the ludicrously expensive Canon LC-5 wireless infrared controller.
The DIGITAL connector is a mercifully standard mini-B USB socket rather than some custom proprietary connector for which cables are both hard to find and expensive. Its used for connecting the camera to a Windows or Macintosh personal computer, via an A to mini-B USB cable, so you can export your photographs for cataloguing and editing. The camera supports USB 1.1 and 2.0.
The VIDEO OUT socket is used for connecting the camera to a TV set so you can view the last image youve taken or a little slideshow of images on the card and so on. Its a standard 3.5mm audio jack, and Canon supply a 3.5mm plug to RCA plug cable in the box. The camera outputs analogue composite video only in NTSC (North America, Japan) and PAL (western Europe, much of Asia) formats. It does not support SECAM, so users in France and eastern Europe are out of luck. It does not support video into the camera, nor does it support any higher-resolution forms of video.
On the left (handgrip) side of the body is a hinged door which protects the CompactFlash (CF) storage card slot. The door has a slide-out and hinge mechanism to minimize the risk of accidental opening, but does not have an entirely useful safety interlock with the cameras computer. If you open the CF door while data is being written to the card, then it will finish writing the current image but will subsequently discard any images left in the buffer. There are no audible alarms (ie: it doesnt engage the built-in beeper) to warn you off impending data loss. To eject the card you press the light grey button at the bottom of the slot.
The camera supports both type I (pretty well all flash memory based cards) and thicker type II (mostly MicroDrive mechanical hard drive cards). It supports FAT32 formatting, which means its capable of properly using cards bigger than 2 GB. Canon do not officially say how big a card you can use, though SanDisk claim 8 GB is the limit. Ive used cards from 512 MB through to 4 GB without problems.
Like most digital SLRs, all of Canons EOS cameras support CompactFlash, which is pretty well the oldest of the various flash memory card formats in popular use. (the more recent 1D series cameras also offer support for SD cards in a secondary socket) This offers the advantage of compatibility and continuity. And, since CF cards are physically the largest type of card commonly available - PC or PCMCIA storage cards are rarely seen these days - it also means that the largest memory sizes tend to be available in CF format first.
The drawback is that the CF design is somewhat vulnerable to damage. While the cards themselves are fairly tough as long as you dont squeeze them, the camera connectors are less rugged. CF cards have a double row of tiny holes, and the CF socket in the camera has a double row of tiny metal pins. If any of the pins in the camera become bent or broken then the camera suddenly becomes completely useless until its repaired. So its very wise to take tremendous care when inserting a CF card in a camera. Insert it slowly and gently, and be absolutely sure its going in straight and not at an angle. Also double-check that no foreign material is stuck in the CF cards pinholes, to avoid the risk of expensive damage.
This section refers to flash as a form of artificial lighting, not the confusingly named technology used for recording images to memory cards.
Reflecting Canons decision to position the 5D as a semi-professional camera design, the 5D lacks an internal flash mechanism. There are apparently three main reasons for this. First, the popup flash mechanism increases the cameras vulnerability to water and dirt. Second, omitting the flash allows more room for a larger pentaprism and brighter finder without increasing the size of the pentaprism hump. And third, pro photographers would rarely use an internal flash anyway, relying instead on an external shoe-mount flash like a 580EX or similar.
In a sense, this is a shame, since it is useful from time to time to have cheesy built-in flash, if only to take snapshots of friends in restaurants or whatever. However, its not something I miss that often, and I think Canons reasons for the design compromise are reasonable.
The camera has two interfaces to external flash units, however.
Hotshoe. On the top of the camera, immediately behind the pentaprism housing, is a standard Canon hotshoe for attaching shoe-mounted flash units. Any Canon flash unit with a name ending in EX (eg: 420EX, 580EX) will work on this camera, as will any E-TTL compatible flash unit sold by third party makers, such as Sigma.
The 5D supports only E-TTL flash metering. (technically E-TTL II, which is a superset of E-TTL) The older Canon flash protocols, TTL and A-TTL, are not supported since they are film-only technologies. So if you have a Canon flash unit with a name ending in E or EZ or anything else then it cant work with the cameras flash metering system. It should fire at full power when you take a picture, but thats about it.
Unlike earlier digital EOS cameras which were fairly notorious for flash metering problems caused by excessive sensitivity to specular highlights, the 5D applies either E-TTL II evaluative metering patterns or centre-weighted averaging, depending on the setting of custom function 14. This makes it less vulnerable than cameras which weight flash exposure to the currently selected autofocus point.
The following E-TTL II features are fully supported.
E-TTL automated flash metering. The camera uses a low-power preflash of visible light from the flash tube to meter the scene using the same evaluative metering system (or averaging, if you choose that custom function) as ambient light. It then fires a second burst at whatever strength is needed to illuminate the scene. This dual-burst system can result in a greater percentage of closed eyes in portraits and group shots, however, as the split second between the two pulses of light can be enough to cause people with sensitive eyes to blink. Flash exposure compensation. Up to +2 or -2 stops of compensation, set independently of ambient light metering, when setting FEC in-camera. Flash units which have manual FEC controls can usually handle +/- 3 stops of FEC. FEL (flash exposure lock). Unfortunately FEL is tied to the AEL button and cannot be set independently. FP (high speed sync) flash. Normally the 5D has an X-sync speed of 1/200 sec, which means you cant shoot at any shutter speed higher than that when using flash. This is because of mechanical limitations of the shutter mechanism.
FP flash pulses the flash output to simulate continuous lighting. As a result it allows flash to be used up to the full 1/4000 maximum shutter speed of the 5D. However since it pulses the light it allows higher shutter speeds at the cost of light output and thus distance.
Flash exposure bracketing (FEB). This feature requires a compatible flash unit, such as a 500 series EX Speedlite. Wireless E-TTL flash metering is fully supported. This allows you to trigger multiple external flash units wirelessly through the use of infrared and visible light commands. Wireless E-TTL requires a master flash (an ST-E2, a 500 series Speedlite EX or one of the EX macro units) to control any number of slave flash units. Wireless E-TTL flash metering ratios. You can adjust lighting between two or three groups of flash units, depending on what type of master flash unit youre using. Modelling flash. Press the depth of field button to trigger a burst of light from all available flash units. This feature uses a lot of battery power and heats up the flash head, and so should be used judiciously. E-TTL II distance data when used with compatible ring USM lenses. Employing this distance data can improve flash metering accuracy when using straight-on (not bounce) flash. Disabling flash firing while permitting the autofocus assist light on Speedlite flash units to function. (note: AF assist lights do not work when the cameras in AI Servo mode)
PC socket. As noted in the I/O section, the 5D has a PC socket for connecting to studio flash lighting equipment and the like. Note that the name PC refers to Prontor and Compur, makers of old German camera shutters, reflecting the age of the PC socket design. This socket is sometimes called a German socket for that reason. Most AC-powered studio flash units support PC connectors, sometimes via adapter cables, and some shoe-mounted flash units do as well. Professional wireless flash systems such as the PocketWizard system can also use PC connectors to trigger flash units.
Its important to remember that E-TTL flash metering data is not transmitted by a PC connector - it simply triggers a flash in sync with the shutter opening; nothing more. The camera cannot tell a PC-connected flash how brightly to illuminate. You will have to meter a PC-triggered flash unit by hand or, if its a self-metering autoflash, rely on that. The EOS 5D PC socket can withstand trigger voltages of up to 250 volts, so it will work safely with most flash units. Finally, note that the PC plug is a notoriously unreliable electrical connector.
For more information on this type of manual flash metering I recommend David Hobbys Strobist blog. This site is full of articles, tips and examples to help make manual off-camera flash easier.
Like all products there were both marketing and cost compromises made in the design and construction of the 5D. Here are some limitations to consider.
No weatherproofing. This is an obvious marketing decision to prevent the 5D from cannibalizing 1D series sales. No dust reduction system. Canon first introduced its sensor dust reduction measures (mechanical vibrator which shakes the sensor, sticky material at the bottom of the mirror box, software mapping of dust) with the 400D/Digital Rebel XTi camera, which came after the 5D was released. Youll have to wait until the next iteration for any dust mitigation measures. The only mild step with the 5D is that the body cap is made out of a material that is supposed to reduce the risk of particles wearing off the plastic cap and falling into the lens mount. No optical stabilizing. Pentax and Sony have both introduced camera bodies which move the image sensor to compensate for camera motion, thereby reducing motion blur. Canon, however, do not seem to have any plans to introduce in-body optical image stabilizing. The Canon strategy continues to be to include such optical stabilizing in some of their lenses (the IS series). Critics argue that this decision to avoid in-body stabilizing is to protect the profit margins from the sale of IS lenses. Canon argue that in-lens stabilizing is superior to in-body stabilizing since it's not a one size fits all situation - each lens can have a stabilizer specifically tailored for its focal range. Frame rate at 3 fps is a little on the low side for a semi-professional camera. It does demonstrate significant light falloff in the corners when used with certain lenses, particularly at large aperture settings. The 5D does not have FireWire. Canon is phasing out its use of FireWire (802.11b) in favour of USB 2. Which is understandable, given the market penetration of each of the two technologies. But its a shame, as FireWire is still a bit faster than USB 2 at large continuous transfers. Slow USB 2 implementation. Transfer from the camera to the computer is much slower than from a memory card reader to the computer. Does not support USB mass storage mode. If the camera supported this mode then you could just plug the camera into your computer and have its memory card icon show up on the desktop as if it were a hard drive. Unfortunately this decision means that you have to use software on your Mac or PC which has been written to communicate with the 5D. Fortunately recent versions of Mac OS X and Windows can do this without the custom Canon software, but users of older systems are out of luck. Rear LCD is not very bright and thus hard to read outdoors. No anti-reflective or removable plastic covers. Mirror lockup functionality is buried away in a custom function. You could, I suppose set a C configuration on the mode dial that turned mirror lockup on and use that, but thats not the most satisfactory workaround. The print button is likely to be fairly useless for the majority of the target market. At the very least itd be great if it were programmable. FEL cannot be separated from AEL. ISO values are not visible in the viewfinder. No warning system when the memory door is opened during a write. Theres no separate flash exposure compensation scale in the viewfinder like on 1D series machines.
Basic output specifications.
Megapixels: 12.8 effective (usable), 13.3 total.
Bit depth: 8 bits (JPEG), 12 bits (RAW)
RAW format: Canon proprietary
Output sizes: Large JPEG and RAW: 4368x2912 pixels
Medium JPEG: 3168x2112 pixels
Small JPEG: 2496x1664 pixels
Colour space: sRGB, Adobe RGB (1998)
Chip type: Canon-built CMOS chip
Image processor: Single Canon DIGIC II chip
For complete specifications on this camera, please consult the PhotoNotes lookup table.
All manner of accessories are available for the camera, and of course the 5D ships with some basic ones in the box. Details are listed in the appendix.
The camera includes Canons Digital Photo Professional for Mac OS X and Windows XP and Vista. This application is intended both as an image cataloguing program and a RAW processing program.
Generally the application, while free with the camera, is not overwhelmingly popular with professional users because of its sluggish interface. It does a great job of RAW to TIFF conversions, but just takes a tremendous amount of time to do it. iView Multimedia, Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture, ACDSee, Photo Mechanic, BreezeBrowser, Bibble and so on generally seem more popular applications. I dont review the software in any depth here because I too use another application.
Canon really shook up the advanced amateur market with the introduction of this camera. While expensive, its just within range of a large market of enthusiasts, yet is rugged and feature-complete enough to be used as a professional tool. It offers high quality output, and does not have the cropping limitations of a subframe camera. The fact that, as of mid 2007, there is no replacement for this model yet announced clearly indicates Canons confidence that its an able competitor in the market. Indeed, at present they have the full-frame (35mm sized) digital SLR market sewn up.
In terms of basic technical improvements the obvious main areas Id like to see developed are working dust reduction (right now Olympus seems to be the winner in this field), improved dynamic range and better low-light sensitivity. These arent quite as easy to market to novice photographers, but still make a huge difference.
Right now most digital cameras have a narrow dynamic range similar to slide film. This means high dynamic range situations can be very challenging to photograph. Areas of bright and dark simply cant be recorded at the same time. Right now photographers either have to walk away or resort to shooting multiple frames and combining them algorithmically in a computer. Cameras capable of true high dynamic range (more than 12 stops or so) will completely change the look of millions of holiday snapshots.
Likewise improved low-light sensitivity (ISO 6400 and beyond) will help banish the over-reliance on flash technology for artificial lighting situations.
But if I have any big criticisms at all its that the camera, like all of the digital EOS line to date, has not truly seized upon the flexibility and power of the digital world. It really feels like a digital camera attempting as much as possible to be a film camera. As an example, it wouldnt be difficult to make all the buttons on the camera fully programmable so you could set the camera to do whatever you want. Instead theyre mostly locked down with a few custom functions to alter a handful of features.
While this is great for continuity of user interface, and certainly yields dependable results, it also feels somewhat limited. Nikon have made the first steps in extending the user interface of their cameras with the inclusion of more graphical information (eg: the image depicting aperture settings) with the Nikon D40. But it could go so much further.
Consider early cars. They were all essentially motorized horsedrawn carriages. It took years before the fundamentals of the modern car were established. Likewise most mobile phones today are saddled with clumsy and slow voicemail interfaces. It took an outsider, Apple with their iPhone, to break out of these conventions with the introduction of a touchscreen controlled voicemail list.
The 5D is an excellent camera, and Im enjoying the high quality results Im getting from it. But now that megapixels arent really an issue anymore, camera makers are going to have to find new and compelling reasons for people to buy new cameras. Gimmicks like face recognition are just one thing. More useful technical improvements like better dynamic range and improved low-light performance will be great. But I think an iPhone-like revolution in the basic user interface of the camera should be the next step.
Thanks to Robin Lingwood for letting me photograph his nice shiny new-looking 5D with my weatherbeaten desert-worn 5D.
- NK Guy, PhotoNotes.org.
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