At last Canon has upgraded the camera that first made full-frame digital photography possible for many enthusiasts. Will it enable the company to regain the top spot in the DSLR market? We review the Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Following Nikon’s introduction of a 51-point AF system and 3D tracking option, I was a little disappointed that Canon has used the original EOS 5D’s AF system in the EOS 5D Mark II. However, this is perhaps a little unfair of me as the Canon system has proved itself on numerous occasions.
On one evening during part of this test, I took the EOS 5D Mark II to the Somerset House outdoor skating rink in London. The light was very poor and of variable colour, but with the central AF point selected, the camera had no problem focusing the mounted 70-200mm f/2.8 optic.
Subjects were pulled quickly into sharp register and they remained so as they glided around, getting first nearer to me then further away again. I found using the AI Focus AF option, in which the camera switches automatically between the One-Shot AF and AI Servo (continuous) AF modes, as successful as when I used the AI Servo AF mode.
There were many occasions when someone skated between me and the subject I was following in the viewfinder, and provided my target was only out of view for a split second, the EOS 5D Mark II kept them in sharp focus. Unlike the higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the EOS 5D Mark II has no option to vary the AF system’s response time when it encounters a sudden change in subject distance. The slight delay in response that the new Canon camera has is the most sensible option in most circumstances, but there may be occasions when action unfolds very quickly and users wish it were shorter.
Although the central cross-hair AF point is very sensitive and the camera was able to focus automatically whenever it was placed over a spot where I was able to discern an area of slight contrast, the other eight visible AF points are a little less reliable. These points are only sensitive to vertical or horizontal lines, not both, and when an f/2.8 optic is mounted, they have about half the sensitivity of the central point. In very low light, using these points makes the AF system slower and less decisive.
There are three AF options when the EOS 5D Mark II is used in Live View mode: Quick Mode, Live Mode and Live Face Detection Mode. In Quick Mode, the Live View is briefly interrupted while the mirror flips down to allow the normal phase detection AF system to do its job. In the Live and Face Detection modes, there are no interruptions as a sensor-based contrast-detection system is employed.
In bright light and with a subject distance of several metres, the contrast-detection AF mechanism works with reasonable speed. But, when light levels fall a little, or the subject is closer to the camera, it becomes more hesitant and takes a couple of seconds to focus the lens. Similarly, when a video is being recorded, the AF system hunts so there isn’t a smooth transition in focus.
Image: Using a sensitivity setting of ISO 25,600 enabled an exposure of 1/160sec (at f/4.5). This was just enough to freeze most of the movement, but red banding is visible in the darker areas. Darkening the shadows helps disguise it, but it cannot be completely eradicated