canon 5d mark 2

Canon 5D Mark II Review

For more information check out the Canon 5D Mark II at B&H Photo

This post was written by Matt Koenig of Matt Koenig Photography and 1YearSabbatical.

The Canon 5D Mark II is the replacement for the ever popular full frame Canon 5D.  This is currently Canon’s least expensive full-frame camera.  I purchased this camera to replace my aging Canon 20D and what an upgrade it has been.  It’s true what they say; once you go full frame you’ll never go back.  The specs on this camera are amazing.

  • True 35mm full frame 21.1 megapixel sensor
  • Digic 4 image processor
  • ISO ranges of 50 – 25600
  • Frame rate of 3.9 fps
  • A big 3 inch LCD
  • 9 AF points plus 6 AF assist points
  • Full HD 1080 video shooting with HDMI output

The 5DII just feel good in your hands.  It’s got a great solid feel to it but yet it’s light which is great when you have to hump it and all your other equipment on location.  Battery life is phenomenal.  I’ve been able to get around 1500 frames on a single charge.  That is some serious shooting on a single battery.

The resolution is incredible and you’ll need good glass to take advantage of it.  I’ve been shooting with the Canon 17-40 F/4L and the Canon 70-200 f/4L and both perform excellent on the 5DII.  At 17mm the Canon 17-40 F/4L is incredibly wide on this full frame camera.

I’ve been very pleased with the ISO performance on the Canon 5DII.  When shooting landscapes I tend to use ISO 50 or ISO 100 which have less noise in the shadow areas but I’ve been impressed with the high ISO performance as well and am not afraid to shoot at ISO 1600 or even ISO 3200, something I would never consider with the Canon 20D.

If I have any complaints it would be the placement of a few buttons.  I’d love to see the power button taken off the lower back of the camera and placed on the shutter button similar to what Nikon does.  Also, the depth of field preview button is difficult to reach and requires you to use a second hand to press it.

So what are some of the features that make the Canon 5D Mark II the perfect tool for HDR photography?

First is auto exposure bracketing which isn’t unique to the 5DII.  The Canon 5D Mark II can bracket exposures up to ± 2 stops in 1/3 – stop increments for 3 successive frames.  But you can extend this even more by shifting the exposure compensation so you can actually shoot a sequence of -4, -2, 0 and another of 0, +2, +4. What this means is that you have a lot of room and options for bracketing images which we all know is what makes HDR possible.  It would have been nice if Canon had been bumped up to 5, 7 or even 9 bracketed frames.

A good tip for shooting brackets is to set the cameras drive mode to continuous shooting.  This way the 3 successive brackets will be taken at once while you hold the shutter button down.  When I shoot brackets I always use a wireless remote and a sturdy tripod to avoid any camera shake.

Another great feature of the Canon 5D Mark II is mirror lockup.  Whenever you take a shot the reflex mirror swings up and can cause a slight bit of vibration under certain shooting conditions.  This can be more noticeable when shooting with a telephoto or macro lens.  When you enable the mirror lockup feature the mirror swings up first when you first press the shutter button.  Pressing the shutter button a second time takes the picture.  This feature is set in Custom Function III -6.

When shooting HDR brackets you’ll want to be using manual focus.  Sometimes looking through that small viewfinder it can be difficult to nail the focus.  This is why I love using Live View to really dial it in.  By switching to Live View you see the image on the 3” LCD screen and can use the zoom-in and zoom-out controls to get in so close that you can really see when your focus is spot on.  Great feature.

Finally, one of the most useful features on the Canon 5D Mark II is the ‘Register Camera User Settings’ feature.  There are 3 total recall settings, C1, C2 and C3 which are located on the Mode Dial.  Basically you set the camera up the way you like, go into the menu, toggle over to the third wrench symbol, toggle down to Camera user setting, select Register and then choose the mode dial (C1, C2, C3) you want those settings saved to and SHAZAM!!!, all the settings are saved.  How does this benefit HDR photography?  Well, you can setup your camera just the way you want it for a shoot (including the auto exposure bracketing) and simply move the Mode Dial to C1 and your camera is now all ready to shoot exposure brackets.  Now that is pretty sweet!

You can also check all your settings using the Quick Control Screen.  From this one screen you can see all the current camera settings and make any changes right there.

I’ve been enjoying this camera for 2 years now and I’ve found it to be an excellent performer in the genre of photography I enjoy, namely landscapes and travel photography.  If you are in the market for a full frame, high megapixel dSLR you won’t find anything much better than the Canon 5D Mark II.  Its image quality and features are well worth the retail price of $2699, and make it a great HDR camera.

For more information check out the Canon 5D Mark II at B&H Photo


There are 4 comments

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  1. Ali

    How do you like the 17-40 for HDR? Do you find the f/4 too limiting and wish you’d gone with the 16-35 2.8? I’m debating which way to go and would love to get some feedback.


  2. Matt

    I love the 17-40 f4 for HDR! It’s probably my favorite lens when coupled with the Canon 5D II. So far I haven’t found the f/4 to be limiting but of course others may differ on that depending on the type of shooting they do. I typically use the 17-40 for landscapes (both HDR and non-HDR) and therefore I’m shooting with a tripod so the f/4 isn’t limiting to me. In other situations it might be. I recently used it for an indoor wedding and had to bump the ISO up considerably at f/4.

    I’ve heard good things about the 16-35 f/2.8 as well and know several people who shoot with it and love it. The extra stops is nice. For me the price differential between the two made the 17-40 a good buy. If I had the money to spend I would definitely consider the 16-35 but for the money you can’t really go wrong with the 17-40. If your shooting absolutely needs the extra stops then go for the 16-35. Hope that offers a bit more insight.

  3. Barb Matchey

    Excellently written précis of the HDR feature on the 5DMkII. I am certainly going to put this into practice when I am on my next landscape hunt. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. bam!

  4. John

    I use the TS-E 24 3.5 II with 5D Mk II and just love it. Great for landscapes, great for architecture, great for interior. Simply put fantastic. If you shoot raw, there is always room for minor cropping.

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