Canon EOS 5D Mark II Review

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The Canon EOS 5D Mark II makes me think one thing – low light, low light, low light. Yes, the 1080p HD video is cool, but that’s not enough to get me to buy it. I’m a photographer not a filmmaker. I’d buy the 5D Mark II to shoot sunset and post-sunset action photos. I’d buy it so I never have to use a flash. I’d buy it so I can shoot at ISO 800 and make prints with no noise. And I’d buy it to make huge prints with tons of detail.

But as much as I love the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, I don’t think it’s the right camera for me and it might not be the right camera for you. I encourage people who are considering it to slow down, step back and really ponder the pros and cons. There’s a lot of hype about full-frame sensor cameras but full frame doesn’t automatically mean better. The 5D Mark II’s image quality is really wonderful and if you like to shoot handheld in low light, it’s truly a great camera. But you pay for that quality with weight, huge files, a slow frame rate and lots of money. The truth is most photographers will be better served with a camera a step or two below the 5D Mark II. If you have $2,700 burning a hole in your pocket, the 40D or 50D and a pro lens are probably a better way to spend your money. If you’re a professional sports photographer the EOS-1D Mark III is still the best Canon has to offer when it comes to speed and auto focus performance. However, for working commercial photographers who need a camera that can deliver awesome high-resolution images in all conditions, the 5D Mark II is a great investment.

Who Should Buy It
The Canon EOS 5D Mark II is an excellent choice for:

  • Professional portrait, wedding, and commercial photographers who need maximum image quality
  • Landscape and other photographers who want tons of detail
  • Photographers or videographers who want one device for high-quality video and still photos

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II is not the best choice for:

  • Consumers looking for a user-friendly video camera
  • Sports photographers who need a fast frame rate and perfect auto focus
  • People who want a light, compact camera
  • Beginning photographers or first-time DSLR owners who want a user-friendly camera with lots of auto mode options

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Canon EOS 5D Mark II box contents

Contents of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II Kit Box

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II Body
  • Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS Zoom Lens
  • Eyecup
  • Wide Neck Strap
  • Stereo Video Cable
  • USB Interface Cable
  • Battery Charger
  • Battery Pack
  • EOS Digital Solution Disk
  • Software Instruction Manual

Other Resources:
Canon EOS 5D Mark II Announcement >>
Compare Prices For Canon EOS 5D Mark II >>
Canon EOS 5D Mark II User Reviews >>
Write a Canon EOS 5D Mark II Review >>
Canon EOS 5D Mark II Camera Specs >>
Canon EOS 5D Mark II Sample Gallery >>
Canon Web site >>
Download Canon EOS 5D Mark II Camera Manual >>
All Digital Camera Pro Reviews >>
Digital Camera Buyer’s Guide >>
All Digital Camera Studio Sample Photos >>

All photos copyright John Shafer and/or

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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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