Canon EOS 5D £1445.85

5th Dec 2005 | 00:00

Canon EOS 5D

Looks set to redefine the D-SLR market

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

It's not cheap, but the fullframe EOS 5D delivers consistently fantastic images, even in poor lighting

Like:

<p>Full-frame view (incompatible with EF-S)</p><p>Great image quality</p><p>Good low-light performance</p>

Dislike:

<p>Heavy Some handling niggles</p><p>Bit pricey</p>

The new Canon EOS 5D could, in many ways, be the first true 'dream' SLR. It doesn't have the highest resolution - Canon's own EOS 1Ds Mk II beats it at 16 million pixels - but the flagship Canon is so far out of most users' price range that it hardly counts.

The 5D, though, is a bit more affordable. At £2,300 for the body it's the same price as a Leica M7 or a bare-bones Hasselblad system - two 'dream' cameras of yesteryear that were within the price range of amateurs and not just well-heeled pros. But the 5D's only going to achieve this status if it can deliver the kind of image quality its 12.8-megapixel resolution and fullframe sensor promise.

The 5D sensor has two advantages. The first is the resolution and the second is the fact that it matches the dimensions of the 35mm frame, which is about twice the area of the APS-sized sensors used in most other digital SLRs. That alone gives it a head-start.

We won't keep you waiting: the definition levels produced by this camera are clearly superior to those from a 6-megapixel or an 8-megapixel D-SLR. The difference isn't subtle and subjective - it's immediately obvious. After the 5D, any lesser D-SLR is a compromise. But life is full of compromises, many of them worth making. And detail rendition alone isn't the whole story. Canon's entry-level 350D is inclined towards high-contrast images that often contain blown highlight detail, and the 5D is the same.

It's got the look

Its default image processing parameters (they're called 'Picture Styles' in the 5D) are certainly on the contrasty side, and if you shoot in bright sunlight with this camera you can expect to have to choose between shadow or highlight detail, because you probably won't be able to get both.

The default multi-pattern metering system may actually make this decision for you. It favours shadowed areas so that you can shoot backlit portraits with impunity. However, if you want a silhouette you're going to have to switch either to centre-weighted or spot modes or else the camera will simply increase the exposure to lighten the foreground shadows and correct your 'mistake'.

This won't trouble serious users, who'll take the time to learn the camera's foibles and work around them. You'll probably get more exposure latitude out of RAW files, though we weren't supplied the software CD to test this.

If the exposure system and dynamic range can cause a few hiccoughs, the same can't be said for the 5D's colour. Saturation is excellent, as is the colour fidelity. In deep shade things can turn slightly cool, while under artificial light colours go yellow/orange, but for the most part colours look intense and natural. Many cameras can do one or other of those things, but not many can manage both.

Because the 5D uses a full-frame sensor, there's no 'focal multiplier' effect. A 28mm lens, for example, gives the same angle of view on this camera as it would on a 35mm film camera. This means that all your existing Canon EF lenses will work on this camera as they would on your film bodies; except that sensors behave slightly differently to film.

'Film' lenses can produce diverging light rays which aren't a problem with film but can fail to strike the light 'wells' of sensors at a sufficiently straight angle. This can lead to corner shading or a degree of colour fringing.

This happens far less when you fit a 'film' lens to a camera with an APS sensor because you're only using the centre imaging circle - the 'sweet' spot of the lens. With a full frame sensor, it's possible (though by no means certain) that you'll start to see the limitations of your lenses, at least as far as digital sensors are concerned.

Having said that, if you're spending over £2,000 on a digital body you're going to want lenses which do it justice. You might want to opt for Canon's 24-105mm USM IS L-series lens, which is the closest thing to a 'kit' lens for this camera. This lens, with its constant maximum aperture of f4 throughout the zoom range, is a monster, both physically and financially.

It adds around £700-800 to the price, and practically doubles its weight. What you get, though, is a wider-than-usual zoom (24mm rather than 28mm), an excellent maximum aperture that's sustained even at the long end of the zoom range, image stabilisation, USM focusing motors and Canon's renowned L series glassware. This lens is one of the factors, no doubt, behind the 5D's excellent resolution in our test shots, though there is just a little colour fringing towards the edge of the frame.

Built to last?

There are complications, though - not with this camera or lens, but Canon's digital range as a whole. For a start, there are three different sensor sizes. You've got the APS sized sensors of the 350D and the 20D, the full-frame sensors of the 1Ds Mk II and now the 5D, and the sensor in the 1D Mk II, which is somewhere in between. You might have one lens, then, that has three different effective focal lengths depending on which body you fit it to.

There's more. Canon's EF-S lenses will only fit the 350D or the 20D. They won't go on the 1D Mk II, the 5D or the 1Ds because the rear elements protrude too far into the body. In this respect, the EF-S is an evolutionary cul-de-sac that ends with the 20D.

If you decide to 'upgrade' to the 5D, those EF-S optics will no longer be of any use to you. Nikon doesn't have any full-frame D-SLRs, which appears to put it at a disadvantage compared to Canon, but it does have a consistent sensor size - and hence lens range. Any photographer looking to invest long-term in a single camera marqué has got to take that into account.

It seems the 5D doesn't have the same level of 'environmental protection' (seals) of the high-end EOS models, but it seems to have similar levels of robustness and finish. The magnesium alloy body feels tough, and the major controls are solid and positive. The buttons have a 'dead' feel typical of electrical rather than mechanical linkages, but they're no doubt extremely reliable and durable.

The whole camera has a very 'clean' look that's been achieved partly by doubling up on button functions. Three buttons on the top between them control the AF mode, white balance setting, drive mode, ISO, metering mode and flash compensation.

There are two control wheels on this camera - one on top of the handgrip, another on the back of the camera. You hold down the relevant button and turn the appropriate control wheel to adjust one or other of its functions. The knack lies in remembering which wheel you need for which job, and that's not necessarily something you're going to pick up overnight.

The LCD quality is extremely good. It's a larger-than-usual 2.5-inch display that's also got an unusually wide viewing angle. This means you don't get brightness variations as you change the angle at which you view the display.

This in turn means the menus are easier to see at different shooting angles, and it's easier to assess images during playback. The menus are unusual in that they're not split into tabs such as shooting mode, playback, setup etc). Instead, they form a continuous menu. You can scroll through this using the rear control wheel, and it's actually a pretty fast system.

The 5D is built for quality as much as speed, so you shouldn't be surprised that it can't match the 8fps frame rate of the 1D Mk II or even the 5fps of the 20D. Even so, 3 frames per second isn't bad, and it can keep it up for 60 JPEG frames.

All the details

The AF is fast and accurate, and the big, bright viewfinder makes manual focusing easy. You can even change the focusing screens, swapping the standard Precision Matte screen for a Grid or Easy Manual Focus screen. The 5D is clearly aimed at professionals, then. Other optional accessories include a magnesium alloy battery grip and Canon's range of dedicated Speedlite flashguns.

Canon's also managed to clear up a lot of confusion about image-processing 'parameters' and how they tie in with manual saturation, sharpness and contrast adjustments. They're two sides of the same coin, of course - image 'parameter's are just packaged sets of saturation, sharpness and contrast values. In the 5D, though, it's at last obvious how this works. The Picture Style name is shown alongside a matrix indicating what these values are.

You're arguably more likely to shoot RAW files with a camera like this and that makes Picture Styles irrelevant since you'll now apply those settings during the RAW conversion process. The 12.8-megapixel sensor of the 5D does produce much larger RAW files than the average D-SLR, of course, but at around 12Mb, they're still reasonably manageable.

The 5D's resolution, build quality and features make it a camera to lust after. The reality, though, may not be all you expect. This is a big camera and it takes some learning (see our remarks about the dual-function buttons, for example).

It's much heavier than the average D-SLR, and vastly more expensive. It's bad enough taking a £600 camera into a hostile or hazardous environment, but when you quadruple that figure it's enough to make you think twice. A professional photographer will accept that equipment is expensive and requires insurance, will quite possibly get damaged and will almost certainly be superseded in a couple of years.

Digital cameras aren't like the 'classic' cameras of yesteryear. You might treat yourself to a Leica or a Hasselblad as a once-in-a- lifetime purchase which will actually last you a lifetime. The 5D, excellent though it is, doesn't fall into this august category. After all, it's just a camera. Rod Lawton

Digital camerasCanon
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