5D mkII - hands on first impressions


Today saw the launch of the Canon 5D mkII. This is something of a landmark camera for Canon as it follows up the massive success of the original 5D, which claims a full 2/3 of Canon's prosumer SLR sales. Big shoes to fill! So how does the new kid on the block stack up? Well here's the tech specs that matter:

Canon Autumn Collection 2008-920821.1 megapixels
full 1080p HD video recording at 30fps
max ISO of 25600 (100-6400 expandable to 12800 and 25600)
Digic 4 processor
larger 3" screen with higher resolution
New menus with quick control system
3.9 fps
£2300 RRP

Aside from the new 21.1MP sensor and the video recording (which I'll come back to later) the new headline feature is the 25600 max ISO. This indicates Canon's intention to tackle head-on the Nikon D3 and it's smooth usable high ISO images. The truth of the matter is, of course that ISO 25600 exhibits considerable noise - just as all the previous canon cameras have at their "extended" ISO settings. But the standard range of 100-6400 are all very usable now, even that top end 6400 ISO. Based on my limited testing at the product launch I'd say Canon are matching Nikon's high ISO performance and they're doing it with a 21.1MP sensor compared to the D3s 12.1MP. This is the news Canon owners wanted to hear. It seems like Canon has closed the technology gap created by Nikon's superb high ISO performance.

Canon Autumn Collection 2008-9206So what about that HD video mode? Has Canon taken their eye off the ball with this feature? Do we really want our SLR cameras to be video cameras too? Well with the D90's 720p HD D-Movie function Nikon threw down the gauntlet and it seems Canon can't help but respond with their own 1080p video recording mode. This is bound to split people's opinions but those of you that do produce video should consider that this means you'll have a full HD camera with interchangeable lenses and far greater control over your depth of field than with a regular camcorder. This could create some very impressive videos in the right hands. There's even a mic input for connecting your shotgun mic.

Most of the other features are "nice to have's". I liked the new menu system very much but the rest of the handling of the camera remains largely identical to the old 5D. The new screen is larger and more beautiful of course. And we have a small boost to the continuous shooting speed - not bad considering there are nearly twice as many pixels in a typical image now.

So do I think this is a suitable successor to the 5D? Will it sell like the 5D did? These are the questions the Canon folks kept asking me at the press launch. I think the answers are yes and yes.

The 5D mkII should be available to buy in November. Pre-orders are being taken now.

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