Canon EOS 5D Mark II Review

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Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR Camera
The Canon EOS 5D Mark II is a 21.1-megapixel, full frame, professional-level digital SLR with 1080p HD video capture. It has pretty much all the bells and whistles you’d expect of a professional camera that sells for over $2,500, including a high-resolution 3-inch LCD display, Live View, and full manual exposure controls. For this review, Canon loaned us the EOS 5D Mark II kit, which includes the EF 24-105mm f/4L zoom lens as well as the camera body, cables, etc.

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Canon EOS 5D Mark II Studio Test Images
studio_icon.jpg ISO 100 Sample >>
ISO 200 Sample >>
ISO 400 Sample >>
ISO 800 Sample >>
ISO 1600 Sample >>
ISO 3200 Sample >>
ISO 6400 Sample >>
ISO 12,800 Sample >>
ISO 25,600 Sample >>

Canon EOS 5D Mark II - Moon Over Zion

    Canon EOS 5D Mark II Pros

  • Awesome image quality
  • Excellent low-light shooting performance
  • Full-frame sensor offers shallow depth-of-field control for portrait shooters
  • Beautiful 1080p HD video
  • Stereo sound for movies with optional external stereo microphone
    Canon EOS 5D Mark II Cons

  • No auto focus in movie mode
  • Bigger and heavier than APS-C sensor Canon DSLRs
  • .MOV video files are difficult to edit with Windows PCs
  • 3.9 frames-per-second high-speed capture is a little slow
Canon EOS 5D Mark II - front and back

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II may have been one of the most anxiously awaited digital SLRs in Canon’s history. The original 5D was getting long in the tooth and there was much restlessness in the ranks of 5D users. Many Canon pro shooters were eyeing the new batch of Nikon bodies and their excellent low-light performance with obvious envy. So the 5D Mark II’s 21-megapixel sensor and ISO 6400 sensitivity were a relief to Canon owners on the verge of trading thousands of dollars of Canon gear for a new Nikon system.

The new 5D Mark II body delivered the goods in terms of image quality but the professional level 1080p HD video caught most photographers by surprise. Following shortly after the Nikon D90, the 5D Mark II’s video mode wasn’t a complete surprise. But the quality and commitment to serious video-making was a surprise. While the Nikon D90 made it possible to capture video with a digital SLR, the EOS 5D Mark II’s 1080p HD video and stereo mic input meant it could be used for professional-level video and even moviemaking. The new 5D Mark II won’t replace dedicated video or motion picture film cameras. But the extent to which the 5D Mark II was able to catch the attention of the movie and video industry and make photographers think seriously about video caught everyone by surprise.

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About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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  • Amedi says:

    A few remarks about your review. You say it is possible to shoot in the dark with the Mark II and a 24-105 f4 at ISO 3200. That may be true but people should consider that f4 is three stops slower than 1.4 wich means you can shoot using the same shutter speed at ISO 400. You can do that with any camera.
    And it depends on your subjects of course but flash (or extra lights) will always be needed. Maybe not to light the whole picture but certainly to change the light balance within the picture.
    Finally, you may think it is heavy but it is actually 20% lighter than the D700. So you can also say it is relatively light.

  • Photo-John says:

    Thanks for commenting. Very true that the 5D Mk II is lighter than some other pro cameras. That’s a good perspective to add. It’s definitely lighter than the Canon EOS-1D cameras. Personally, I am always trying to go as light as possible when I’m in the backcountry. And that’s why I said the 5D Mk II is heavy. It’s also a much coveted camera for people just starting to work as pro photographers. And some of those people will be surprised at the weight. But if you’re workiing in the studio or on the street the weight shouldn’t be an issue. It’s only an issue for me when I’m on my mountain bike.

    Regarding “shooting in the dark” – I may have been a little overexuberant there :-)

    It’s true that a faster lens will always offer better image quality because it collects more light. But the flexibility of the 24-10f f/4L zoom is really, really nice. You can do almost anything with it. And the high ISO performance of the 5D Mk II is so good that I don’t think it’s a big deal to shoot at ISO 800 or even 1600. So you’re absolutely right about faster lenses. You’ll get better image quality if you use an f/1.4 prime. But it’s not going to be nearly as versatile as the 24-105mm f/4L or another reasonably fast zoom.

  • Oleg says:

    Amedi – shooting with f1.4 – good luck! Depth of field is limited to the extend of sharp eyes/blurry nose or the opposite, if shooting a portrait, and forget about group of people. Unless you really need a very special – featured picture, I can’t imagine using 1.4 for practical purposes.
    Photo-John – sorry, faster lens does not offer a better image quality, it’s always much softer at the wide end (maximum aperture), but what it can do is to allow faster autofocus, brighter viewfinder and sometimes can “save the day” in a really dark environment, at the price of shallow depth of field, unless this is an intended effect. 1.4 prime and 24-105 have very similar image quality at 5.6 and higher (resolution wise). I do have some primes, but unless I need it for really close micro, zooms are much more practical…

  • Photo-John says:

    Canon just announced the EOS 7D, an APS-C brother to the EOS 5D Mk II. Note that I didn’t say “little” brother. That’s because the EOS 7D offers a lot of benefits over the 5D Mk II, including faster frame rate, better AF and more video options. Learn more in our preview article:

    Canon EOS 7D Digital SLR Preview >>

  • Aubrey says:

    Shooting at 1.4 is seldom practical, unless you a quite a distance from the subject. Forget about shooting this wide for any wide subject capturing needs. The 24-105L is an exceptional lens, no question. Coupled with the 5DMarkII’s excellent ISO performance, you have an excellent general purpose combination.

    The assertion that 2.8 glass yields better image quality is fundamentally untrue. Wider glass is faster, and capable of gathering more light, but this often comes at the penalty agianst image quality. It is the higher class zooms(L glass) and primes that are engineered better to deal with the inherent challenges of wide aperture glass. There are plenty of vendors that offer 2.8 glass that is clearly inferior to Canon L 2.8 glass.

    The Canon 7D is excellent, but comes up short in comparison to the 5D MarkII where it is most important; Image quality and high iso performance. So it just depends on what features are most important to you. I own a 17-40 f4L, and would want to give up my true wide focal length for the sake of a much smaller 1.6 crop. But that’s just me.

  • jenkins says:

    I have an eos 5d mk 1 and have decided to wait for a 5d mk3 before I upgrade, due to the dated 9 point focus layout of the 5d mk11. To get my tech fix, I have purchased the eos 7d as my second camera which should keep me going in the meantime. Canon – please upgrade the old 9 point focus system on the 5d mk2 and I’ll buy one at once… honest!

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