We look back at the iconic Canon EOS 5D – a camera that transformed full-frame DSLR photography

Canon EOS 5D gold

Canon’s EOS 5D series began in 2005 and has proven to be hugely successful over the years

When it was introduced in 2005, the Canon EOS 5D was priced above the EOS 20D, but below the EOS-1D Mark II and EOS-1Ds in Canon’s DSLR line-up. Compared to professional full-frame DSLRs at the time, the EOS 5D housed its12.8MP full-frame CMOS sensor in a smaller, more conveniently sized body and offered good value at £2,539 (body only). Headline features included nine AF points, 3fps continuous shooting with a 17-frame buffer depth shooting in raw, a 2.5in 230k-dot screen, an ISO range of 100-1600 (expandable to 50-3200) and a shutter life of100,000 actuations. Today it’s known as the 5D Classic.


Canon EOS 5D at a glance

  • £314 body only (via MPB.com)
  • 2.8MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • ISO 50-3200 (extended)
  • 96% viewfinder coverage
  • 2.5in, 230k-dot LCD screen
  • 810g

Canon EOS 5D top

The layout of the buttons and dials shares a resemblance with modern-day examples such as the EOS 5D Mark IV

For and against

+ The first ‘affordable’ full-frame DSLR

+ Robust, hard-wearing body

+ Excellent image quality at low ISO

– No weather-sealing

– Basic 9-point AF system

– No live view, video, Wi-Fi or GPS


What we said

  • ‘The Canon EOS 5D is the first camera to make full-frame photography possible for many enthusiast photographers.’
  • ‘To offer a full-frame sensor in a body of this size should be looked at as a real achievement by Canon and its team of technical engineers.’
  • ‘It’ll be the camera of choice for numerous photographers, from the passionate enthusiast to the professional who wants a practical all-rounder.’

Canon EOS 5D back


What to pay

At the time of writing, MPB.com has over 15 examples of the EOS 5D for sale, all in good condition with varying shutter counts. You can expect to pick up a ‘good’ condition example from £314 with a sensor clear and free of scratches, but with some cosmetic signs of use such as a few marks and scuffs to the paintwork and/or LCD screen. Along with the camera body you get a charger, battery, strap and front body cap.


How it fares today

A resolution of 12.8-megapixels is low by today’s standards, but unless you want to make big prints or need to crop tightly into your images, it’s still adequate and remains a good entry point into full-frame photography at low cost. The EOS 5D’s weak point is its low-light capability, with newer cameras capable of much higher sensitivities and far superior noise control. It doesn’t shoot any form of video either.


New alternatives

The EOS 5D is now four generations old, having been replaced by the EOS 5D Mark II in 2008, the EOS 5D Mark III in 2012 and the EOS 5D Mark IV in 2016. The latter features a 30.1MP sensor, 7fps burst shooting, 61-point AF system, ISO range of 100-32,000 (expandable to ISO 50- 102,400), 4K 30p video (1.74x crop) and a 3.2in, 1.62-million- dot touchscreen at the rear.


What the owners think

Three Canon EOS 5D users give their verdict

Canon EOS 5D classic locomotives

A pair of steam locomotives cross Ribblehead Viaduct in Yorkshire on a special steam excursion. Canon EOS 5D, EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, 1/250sec at f/16, ISO 400. Credit: Michael Topham

Michael Topham

‘The Canon EOS 5D has served me extremely well over the years and is a camera I still take pride in owning today. When I purchased it in 2006, I loved the idea of being able to shoot full frame without the weight and added bulk that came with using Canon’s pro-spec DSLRs. I knew I just had to have one. It has received a battering over the years and has the scars to prove it, but it has never failed on me during a shoot in my ownership. There was a time when some of the Compact Flash card pins got damaged, but this was a result of using a faulty CF card and was quickly put right by Canon’s Elstree service centre.

Despite the well-known issue of the mirror falling out, this hasn’t happened on my example and other than cleaning the sensor a few times, it has provided wonderful service and still gets an outing when I don’t dare risk using more-expensive cameras or when I need a trusty backup. It has been a true workhorse for me in every sense of the word and brings a smile to my face when I use it, as I’m instantly reminded of how far full-frame cameras have come in regard to autofocus and low-light performance. The resolution of the screen and quality of the rubber handgrip languish a long way behind modern examples too.’

For and against

+ Supported by a huge range of Canon EF and third-party lenses

+ Solid and robust build quality survives the test of time

– Resolution is more restrictive than today’s cameras

– Hesitation to push higher than ISO 800


Canon EOS 5D chair lift

The 5D is still capable of good results today provided you don’t ask too much of the sensor at high-sensitivity settings. Canon EOS 5D, EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM, 1/250sec at f/16, ISO 200. Credit: Peter Coles

Peter Coles

‘I found the EOS 5D a revelation. Its images displayed a distinct finesse; a depth and range of colour with a 12MP sensor resolution large enough to allow close cropping and still produce a very decent A3 print.

Although a relatively bulky camera today, I don’t find it unwieldy. The controls are well laid out and the menu system is simple to follow. Although now technically surpassed in almost every respect, it laid the foundation for my photography and I really enjoyed using it.’

For and against

+ Intuitive control layout

+ Simple-to-follow menu system

– Noise response at high ISO

– Viewfinder coverage doesn’t offer 100%


Canon EOS 5D classic boat

A boat rests on the shore of Paul’s home town of Appledore in North Devon. Canon EOS 5D, Yongnuo EF 35mm f/2, 1/200sec at f/11, ISO 100. Credit: Paul Robins

Paul Robins

‘I picked up a 5D body on eBay for £230 about a year ago. I normally shoot film and the 5D seems closest to the film experience. The images seem to have an almost Kodachrome-like quality to them and I find it particularly good for monochrome. I don’t do much post-processing so I like to have a JPEG output that suits my taste. The camera is particularly strong for portraiture and renders excellent skin tones, plus I like the lack of functions, since the profusion of choices on modern cameras simply distracts and confuses me.

For my sort of photography I don’t see why anyone would pay hundreds more for a modern camera. The drawbacks are that the autofocus can be slow, but I’m not an action photographer, and the rear screen is poor – but that doesn’t bother me either as a film photographer.

For and against

+ Very affordable second-hand camera

+ Excellent for monochrome images

– Autofocus speed and selection

– Resolution of the rear screen is poor


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