The Canon 5D Mark II update to the original Canon 5D had been long expected and rumored since 2006, just a year after its introduction. However, when Canon finally announced the 5D Mark II about 2.5 months ago, Canon still managed to shock the industry. As we mentioned in Canon Announces 21.1MP 5D Mark II, most expected a solid update to 16MP or so with performance similar the current 5D - updated to include the current sensor cleaning, a larger LCD, dynamic range expansion, and hopefully an even better ISO range.

It was not until just before the announcement when some specs were leaking that everyone realized Canon would use an updated version of the 21.1MP sensor used in their $8000 1Ds Mark III, along with the latest Digic 4 processing and a 10-stop ISO range that extended from ISO 50 to ISO 25600. To both significantly extend the sensor resolution and extend the ISO range to beat the champion 12MP Nikon D3/D700 was something no one really expected.

Since that announcement, we have all been wondering if the full-frame 5D Mark II was for real - and it's been a long wait. Yesterday we finally received a production Canon 5D Mark II and we have been busy since. We couldn't wait to take a closer look at ISO performance and noise, and compare the performance of the 5D2 to the 24.6MP Sony A900, which is the current resolution champ, and the Nikon D700/D3, which are the current ISO champs.  While we were at it we also took a closer look at performance compared to the original Canon 5D, which developed quite a reputation the last three years for color accuracy, high resolution, and low noise.

Many pages could be written on the handling and features of the Canon 5D2, and they will be written by us and others. For now, we are trying to answer the question of whether the 5D2 was worth the wait and the hype. Is performance improved in the update to the 5D? Does the incredible 10-stop ISO range compare favorably to the current Nikon D3/D700 and does the 5D2 become the new ISO champ? Did Canon find a way in the 5D Mark II to simultaneously increase resolution to an impressive 21.1MP and increase the ISO range in a manner that would do the legacy of the 5D proud?

After the somewhat disappointing performance of the Canon 50D skepticism runs high. The 15.1MP 50D was expected to take the resolution crown in the APS-C market, but instead it basically tied with the 12MP D300/D90/Sony A700. This is certainly not a poor performance by any means, but it did not match Canon's marketing claims, and it brought into question Canon's claims about the performance of their new sensors.

We hope in the next few pages to shed some light on the answers to these questions that are on the minds of anyone looking for a full-frame DSLR in the suddenly fully populated $3000 category. Is the Canon 5D2 everything we had hoped it would be?

Full-Frames and APS-C Compared


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  • n4bby - Friday, December 5, 2008 - link

    > I used to trust DPR but they are biased against Canon which I don't like.

    huh? i don't think so at all... i think they are pretty fair. they have always rated Canon products favorably when deserved, but remain critical enough to give relatively impartial opinions. if they say Nikon does some things better, it's because they do - Canon is not perfect, and there are a few things Nikons have always done better. (and no, i am not a Nikon user - i have only Canon gear.)
  • n4bby - Thursday, December 4, 2008 - link


    > It is not the wide ISO wonder of the 5D2 or the D700, but it is definitely the highest resolution image at lower ISO ratings.

    i'm not sure how you came to this conclusion. looking at the ISO100 images, the 5d2 seems to resolve every bit as well the Sony, and with the much lower noise levels i can actually make out a little more detail. in any case, you would need a resolution chart to really determine - did you shoot one?

    > The 5D2 is close in resolution, however - much closer than the D700/D3.

    with half the pixels i wouldn't expect the Nikons to be close.....
  • pinto4402 - Thursday, December 4, 2008 - link

    Wow. I'm in love. After three years, Canon finally produces a camera which is worthy of replacing my beloved 5D. I fear, however, that the images produced by this camera will kill my hard drives for sure. I only photograph in RAW mode, saving the images in TIFF.

    Wesley, I enjoy reading your reviews, but for the love of God, please use something else other than that Nvidia box for your test images. It's time to make a clean break, consistency be damned! The thing with noise I worry about it how it affects key facial features (eyes and lips). Your test setup is not as helpful as could be. A feasible alternative is a good quality mannequin head. I hope you will consider it.

    Also, are you going to be doing any comparisons of the leading noise reduction programs?
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, December 4, 2008 - link

    I will be replacing my test setup with something more useful. However in the interest of bringing you the first real comparison published in just one day after buyers began receiving production 5D2s, I used the setup I already had used for all the compare shots.

    I hope readers will forgive me. Reshooting everything with a new setup would have added several days to the review time and I suspected you wanted this comparison fast.
  • melgross - Thursday, December 4, 2008 - link

    I would like to see the same reduced sized samples when compared to the D3/700 with both the Canon and Sony. I'm also of the opinion that it is more useful in showing a real comparison, print size to print size.

    Also, why were the images of the Canon so much denser? That will also affect the way the noise looks.
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, December 4, 2008 - link

    Our A900 review "Sony A900: A Closer Look at 24.6MP Resolution and Noise" contains image area adjusted A900 images that match the 12 megapixels of the D700 and the 5D. You will find the review by clicking on the Digital Cameras tab above. Reply
  • melgross - Friday, December 5, 2008 - link

    Yes, I read that review when it came out.

    I mean the new 5D mkII compared to the a900, and the Nikon, with all three (or four, if including the 1Ds mkII) shown at the same size.

    What about the exposure?
  • Lord 666 - Thursday, December 4, 2008 - link

    Agreed that this review was a much improved effort and found it informative as well. Reply
  • tonyeck - Thursday, December 4, 2008 - link

    I am very happy with my 5D mkII apart from one thing - a stuck pixel! It's fine for photographs, and it's almost expected with 21 megapixels... However, with video, stuck pixels show up like crazy!

    Have a look at this still from a video I took:">
  • Milleman - Friday, December 5, 2008 - link

    That dead pixel looks not good at all. Can't you have the sensor replaced by warranty? I mean, this is not a El Cheapo camera you just bought! Canon should have a replacement policy for dead pixels. I'm glad you bringning this up, as I'm about to buy a 5D2 myself. I will certainly try the video and look for dead pixels.

    Could be a good point if Anand, Wesley Fink, looks att dead pixels and the manufacturers policy with this issue. The more pixels, the bigger the chance. It's the same problem as the LCD screen buyers have. Would be an interresting article indeed.

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