If you are still reading this I imagine that you want to know what I think about the camera - blow by blow. I'm not going to attempt the forensic level examination that DPReview have done or the technical photojournalist style review that my friend Edmond Terakopian did for the British Journal of Photography. All you are going to get from me is impressions and opinions based on using them for a couple of months.
I also have a Canon EOS50D which is so similar to the 5D MkII in a lot of ways. The menu system, the LCD screen and a lot of the general feel shared by the two cameras means that I have no problem using them side by side and using two different models at the same time is something that I've never really managed before.
General feel - I have reasonably sized bloke hands and the 5D MkII fits into them very well. I have always wanted a professional digital SLR that didn't have a huge battery grip and didn't weigh too much. The 5D MkII is ergonomically right for me and the way that I work. Before Canon announced this camera I had played a lot with both the Nikon D3 and D700 and preferred the D700 in almost every way. I hope that gives you some idea of the kind of camera that I was looking for - especially if you are a Nikon user.
Controls - Each of the buttons is located in a sensible place and I am now starting to get to the "second nature" way of working - simply put, it means I don't have to think about where something is or which direction a wheel or dial turns in. The big concern expressed by friends and colleagues about the original 5D was always that the large mode dial (you know the one, you use it to switch between manual, shutter priority, aperture priority and a few others) could easily be moved when carrying a camera over your shoulder - especially when you carried it with the lens facing down. Canon made the mode dial on the mark two stiffer but I can report that it still moves on it's own when carrying the camera over your shoulder. In my case it seems to end up on "B" bulb mode which is a little inconvenient. Plenty of professionals here in the UK have made Canon aware of the problem and we hope that they find a fix - either a hardware one with a replacement locking button or a software/firmware one which disables the dial and makes mode selection a menu function. Otherwise, I'm really happy with the controls and haven't had to spend much time configuring custom functions.
Live View - I never really gave this much thought before getting a 50D but now I use it on the 5D MkII quite a lot. I often do table top still life images and find it great for that and I am starting to play with video and so will be using it a lot more. Having to focus manually in Live View was initially a bit of a disappointment but I have forgotten why and I'm now merrily focusing using the LCD when I need to.
Focusing - There was a good deal of apprehension on various photographer forums about the number of focusing points, the layout of the points and the similarity between the system employed on the mark one and the mark two. From a personal point of view, I am getting more frames sharp with this camera than I did with the EOS1D MkII bodies. I rarely shift off of single focus and centre focusing area and am getting a very high hit rate for absolute sharpness. I don't shoot too much that's moving at speed but the few jobs that I have done with moving subjects have had a higher than normal ratio of sharp images compared to previous DSLRs that I've used.
Battery life - The question here is "do these batteries ever go flat?" The answer form my point of view is not very often. After the first few charge cycles I have only managed to flatten a battery in a single day once - and that was an all day conference where I did a lot of "boredom chimping" - you know the feeling: nothing is happening, let's have a look at what I've already shot and delete the rubbish. There seems to be a few delivery problems for spare batteries here in the UK - I have two on order and once they arrive I'm pretty sure that battery life will never be an issue whilst shooting stills. I'm told that video does burn them a bit faster, but my video experience is so limited that I cannot answer this one for myself (yet).
Shutter lag - This was one of my worries coming from five solid years shooting on 1 series cameras. I was expecting to have to anticipate the moment a lot more but that doesn't seem to have been the case. I'm getting the shots in exactly the same way that I used to. If I shot sports that might be different but I don't... so it isn't!
Frames per second - Hasn't worried me since I realised that the Olympus auto winder 2 on my original OM1 camera didn't make me a better photographer. I'm a single shot kind of guy and only having 3.5 fps isn't an issue. Most of the time I'm shooting with flash and my Lumedynes take up to 1.5 seconds to recycle - that would give me less than one in three images properly exposed if I were to attempt to shoot continuously.
File size - Shooting RAW means that at 200 ISO you get between 289 and 329 images on an 8 Gb CF card - that's between 36 and 41 images per gigabyte of memory card. In turn, the files take up a great deal of space on your hard drive and require a lot of RAM to work with them. I never thought that I'd think I had enough megapixels, but I do. I'd have been happy with between 16 and 18 megapixels but I'll settle for 21 and the ability to output them in Adobe Camera Raw at 17.5 megapixels which gives a nice round 50 Mb RGB file.
What else - I don't use ETLL flash that much but the combination of the 5D MkII and my new 580exII flash units gives the most reliable results that I've ever had from a Canon camera - film or digital. I'm delighted to have full frame DSLRs that give such great quality and are so easy to work with. I've got to get some discipline when it comes to using 14mm or even 16mm lenses. The distortion is a bit extreme and such wide angles need to be used sparingly. Other lenses that I have used include the 24-70 f2.8L, 70-200 f2.8L IS, 300 f4L IS, 28mm f1.8, 50mm 1.0 and 85mm f1.8 no problems with any of them. There is something about the 5D MII and 24-70 f2.8 combination that works for me and I am currently favouring this body/lens partnership.
Conclusion - Do I like the 5D MkII? Yes I do. They are very useable and very likeable cameras. They don't shout "look at me" when you have them over your shoulders and I like that too. The jury is out on any question of longevity and durability but the track record of the original 5D indicates that there may well be a thumbs up there too. It took me a while to get used to the huge rear LCDs but I'm there now and cannot imagine how I worked without them. Canon have done well to improve on the original 5D and I hope that this is the first of a new generation of cameras that deliver what was expected of them.
© Neil Turner March 2009
If I haven't answered your questions, I apologise. I have got two 5D MkIIs and a 50D that worked straight out of the box - no problems, no issues, no regrets. If your experience is different from mine then I feel sorry for you but the joy of blogging is that you get to say what you think and not have to worry about what others have found to be different!