Thursday, January 24, 2008

What's RIGHT with the Canon EOS 5D?

A few months back I wrote my second experience report after having shot the Canon EOS 5D for a few months. That blog article was entitled "What's Wrong With The EOS 5D". I pointed out the various weaknesses of the camera. But in all fairness, I think it's only fair to take a look at what's "right" with the EOS 5D. Let me right off the bat, summarize what the EOS 5D has gotten "right". Size. It's almost the same size and proportions as the Nikon D70, but with a grip that's a little bit clubbier-feeling than the D70's grip. Simply stated,the 5D is compact, and *if* one wants or needs a bigger camera, then the accessory grip can be added. Picture quality is excellent at the lowest ISO's of 100 to 400. At 800 and 1600 the image quality is very good. At Hi-1, the image quality is pretty good. And, to boot, the ISO ratings are very,very conservative. Put it this way, the 5D shoots a bit "hot" to my taste, and dialing in negative EV compensation is no problem whatsoever with the 5D. And finally, with the 580 EX-II flash unit, the 5D can shoot beautiful, rich flash shots at up to ISO 640 indoors. The 580 EX-II is a well-designed speedlight. For documentary-style bounced flash pictures, there's no need to shy away from using the 5D at 500 or 640 or even ISO 800 with flash to cut down on flash power needs and to fill-in shadows.

The 5D's sensor performance is pretty good in relation to overexposure. The ability to recover "lost" highlights, or just "kinda' hot highlights" from the CR2 raw files is an area where the 5D really beats the D2x. Actually, the look can be quite, quite good with the 5D on generously-exposed images, where D2x files' highlight tones would be hopelessly unrecoverable. To me, the workability, the malleability, of the 5D's raw CR2 files is one of the absolute strengths of the 5D camera. The 5D gives you a BETTER RAW file to start with than the D2x does, in many conditions, at many light levels, at more ISO settings,and across a broader range of over- or under-exposures. Especially over-exposure. Again, as I wrote the other day, if the D2x had the sensor capabilities of the EOS 5D, there wouldn't be a damned thing wrong to complain about in the D2x. As Evan Effa wrote in a comment to me on my pBase site, the 5D's sensor is the one Nikon ought to have put into the D2x two years ago. How true.

Overall, the 5D offers an excellent value proposition to my way of thinking. Full frame digital SLR's have tended to be priced at $4500 to $8000, from Kodak and Canon. Nikon's first full frame d-slr,the D3, is selling as fast as Nikon can make and ship them, and they cost $5,000.The Canon EOS 5D began its life on the market in the mid-$3000 range, but has for the past 18 months or so, been available at a little over $2,000 to $2199,depending on Canon rebates/printer bundles/e-Bay ridding one's self of said printer,etc,etc. Canon's body and lens rebate programs and special promotions have at various times, allowed many Canon 5D buyers to get their 12.8 MP full frame image sensor camera for a little over two grand. That's a good value, I think.

The 5D is compact,portable,and comfortable to use. The body itself is smallish but not small, and it uses an accessory grip with dual battery capability and an added set of controls for vertical format shooting if you need that added grip,or the added battery capacity. While some prefer the large size of the 1-series Canons and the D1-D2-D3 Nikons, there is something to be said for a camera that allows half-height use and carry AND which can accept an add-on dual battery pack-control wheel-handgrip accessory. The mono-body construction of the 1-series and the pro-series Nikons gives them increased weather resistance, but it drives up the size and weight tremendously, and always saddles you with that Big Brick camera, even if all you want to carry is a light-tight box fitted with a 10-ounce 35mm f/2 or a featherweight 50mm lens. The 5D has the body size, and weight, and versatility advantages of a half-height camera, combined with a BIG VIEWFINDER image.

While the 5D's finder does allow a lot of dust inside, the camera offers a BIG VIEWFINDER. The image you see through the viewfinder is LARGE. And easy to SEE. It's got a nicely-padded eyepiece that does not scratch your eyeglasses. The viewfinder is transparent. It just works. There's absolutely no tunnel vision feeling and no cropped-down viewfinder effect. The view through the 5D's finder is excellent. It's easy to frame and compose and to actually SEE what you're getting, as you look through the camera in actual use.

With the 5D, you can shoot at ISO 400,and ISO 500,and ISO 640 and get images which do not suffer from obvious image quality compromises, such as the D2x suffers from at those three ISO values. With the 5D, ISO 800 can be used without the clear, significant, and very real IQ hit that the D2x takes at ISO 800. The 5D is good when you need to shoot without flash, and WITH flash added for shadow fill-in indoors, the 5D is a very capable camera. Under studio electronic flash with umbrella or softbox lighting, the 5D and Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS lens offers beautiful quality images, especially at lower ISO settings like 100 to 200. The degree of fine detail the 5D can reveal under studio lighting is stunning.

The 5D adapts extremely well to Nikon manual focus and autofocus lenses. The 5D allows Manual match-LED metering with Nikon lenses, and also allows aperture-priority automatic shutter speed setting with Nikon lenses. Pretty impressive. With top-quality Nikon optics, the 5D does pretty good light metering, and makes pretty good images; the better the lens, the better the image quality. The Nikon autofocus 85/1.4 and 105/2 Defocus Control lenses perform very,very well on the 5D,as does the 300 f/4 AF-S. Telephoto lenses focus the easiest by hand and eye, and all of the mentioned lenses perform quite well as manual focusers in their optimum aperture ranges. Canon's 85mm f/1.8 EF lens is a very NICE imager for very little money. Canon's 135mm f/2 L is a very good telephoto lens. The 5D's sensor makes great images with both Canon autofocus lenses, and with many, but not "all" Nikon lenses, using F-to EF mount lens adapter rings that cost me $17.99 each in a 10-pack carton from a USA eBay importer.

The 5D's small size, reasonable weight, big viewfinder, half-height body form factor, well-designed 580 EX-II flash unit accessory, excellent adaptability to Nikon lenses, and its excellent, large sensor with its wide useful ISO range all combine to make the 5D a very,very good value at the $2199 price point it's at right now, in late January of 2008.

[Addendum March 4,2008: The EOS 5D also works very well with Pentax thread mount lenses, yielding full infinity focusing with my Asahai Optical Co. 135mm f/3.5 and 200mm f/4 Super-Takumar lenses ,as well as the nifty 1970's-early 80's era Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Auto Macro in thread mount.


Anonymous said...

Hi Derrell,

Could you please tell us more about the adapter are you using to mount Nikkors on your 5D?

Derrel said...

The adapters I am using are made in China or Taiwan,and cost about $17 or so from numerous eBay vendors. These might be termed "generic" rings,yet they work quite well. These adapters are simple devices,and allow stopped-down light metering and stopped down shooting using Nikon pre-Ai,Ai,AiS,and AF-D lenses. ONLY Nikkors with lens aperture control rings will work well: G-series lenses will shoot ONLY at their smallest aperture,such as f/16 or f/22.