Canon Inc.’s introduction of the EOS 5D in 2005 truly met its marketing claims of giving a revolutionary digital camera experience. This full frame DSLR sought to gain a market share among photo hobbyists, and with the subsequent releases of the Mark II and III models, it certainly has. Looking at all three versions of the Canon EOS 5D, it is easy to see how this camera came to enjoy a spot at the top of the consumer market.
The original Canon EOS 5D
When the first EOS 5D hit the market in 2005, it barely made the cut for non-professional photographers. The starting price of $2,950 for the camera body exceeded the budget of most consumers. Nonetheless, photography enthusiasts often prepare to spend more to receive quality equipment, and the 5D was one of such which was met with high expectations. The 5D’s high pixel count (12.8 megapixels) offers incredible versatility with the ability to shoot, crop and print large size images with minimal image degradation. The 5D’s full frame sensor maximizes the potential of wide-angle lenses, making true of the modified cliché, ‘what you see is what you shoot.’ As many DSLR enthusiasts know, the major cost involved in owning a DSLR camera is not in the camera body, but rather from the investment in an assortment of lenses and accessories.
Furthermore, the Canon 5D is a smart DSLR choice as it is compatible with both EF full-frame lenses and the more limited EF-S lenses.
There are a few negatives to discuss with regard to the original EOS 5D. Image quality is not always the best when shooting at the extremes of lens capacity. In fact, this particular camera requires the use of more expensive lenses to get high quality images. Actually, using similar lenses with the EOS 7D provides better results, and the higher pixel density of the Nikon D200 (the closest competitor for the EOS 5D) offers better quality for images shot at maximum zoom. The price for the Nikon D200 is substantially lower, starting at only $1,700 for the camera body, and it also offers better weather-stripping and a higher frame per second (fps) rate.
The first edition of the EOS 5D series is best used for shooting portraits, landscapes and other stills, while the Nikon has the edge for shooting long-range and moving targets. Neither price tag is intended for an entry level user. Instead, their primary market includes experienced camera users who require more advanced ISO and AF systems.
The EOS 5D Mark II
In 2008, Canon released the EOS 5D Mark II which addressed particular issues of the original 5D, but the need for expensive lenses still remained. The 5D Mark II in comparison with the 5D, has a higher maximum resolution, a slightly faster frame rate and the added feature of high definition (HD) video recording (in full 1080p) — the first in its class to offer. Moreover, the 5D Mark II has more viewfinder coverage showing an impressive 98 percent. The prior version tops out at 12.8 MP, while the newer version offers a staggering 21.1 MP — the best resolution in its class at the time. Settings are easy to change with the Canon 5D Mark II, (unlike the Nikon D700) which offers three user-defined program settings making it possible for a photographer to quickly switch modes to capture different subjects. On the other hand, the D700 requires several button pushes, making it difficult to instantly switch among presets.
As phenomenal as the 5D Mark II is, it is not perfect as it has challenges focusing in low-light, and shows shadow noise in regular light levels. It also has an ergonomic flaw, as it is next to impossible to shoot one-handed while using the custom settings option.
Nonetheless, the ease of use, lighter weight and higher resolution make the Mark II an ideal camera for the active photographer. Semi-professional photographers often choose the Nikon D700 because of its more rugged build, faster frame rate and ability to flawlessly capture sporting events. These DSLRs have a similar price of around $2,400, which may narrow down a purchasing decision to purely the intended form of photography. For shooting landscapes, nature or fine art, the EOS 5D Mark II blows away the competition. For action shots, sporting events and varying light-levels, the Nikon D700 is the better option. But, for any video filming, the Mark II has better features.
Technological advances from Mark I to Mark III
While all three EOS 5D cameras offer incredible resolution and phenomenal settings to capture pictures, the added features of the newest version, the Mark III, make it a very attractive DSLR choice. The EOS 5D Mark II and III cameras offer smooth and full HD video recording that rivals the much more expensive professional video recording equipment. The addition of earphone jacks and silent adjustments to the Mark III give even greater leverage to a user. The video recording feature alone has caused many professionals to add these DSLRs to their collections.
The 5D Mark III features some significant improvements that will benefit every photographer. The greatest improvement of the 5D Mark II is the ability to automatically correct lens flaws, including lateral color fringe. This allows photographers to use older and less expensive lenses while getting better results than with the 5D Mark II. To allow for a higher volume of images during shoots and the extra protection of live back-ups, Canon has included two memory card slots on the 5D Mark III. On the body, Canon has moved the depth-of-field preview button, making it easier to use while shooting. The power button has also been re-designed, making it less likely that photographers will accidently turn the camera off while shooting.
How well does the EOS 5D Mark III stand up to its competition?
This latest edition in the EOS 5D line was well worth the wait — improved frame rate, larger viewfinder with expanded coverage, twin card slots, and a 61 point AF system are just some of the added features. This version offers a significant increase in frame rate — 6 fps compared to the prior version which only offered 3.9 fps. This was an important upgrade since Nikon alternatives routinely offer 5 fps. The viewfinder is not only larger at 3.2 inches, but it also offers 100 percent coverage.
Nikon has recently released the D800, the 5D Mark III’s closest competitor. Nikon designed the D800 with photographers and videographers in mind. The D800 offers many of the same features as the Canon 5D Mark III, but with a slightly less advanced AF system at 51 points, even though its prior versions had better AF systems and frame rates. The EOS 5D Mark III video feature offers smoother recording in all light levels with minimal noise. The Nikon offers superior image quality to still shots, with a 36.2 MP resolution. The Nikon’s video recording AF functions are more user-friendly, but the Mark III’s higher frame rate in continuous shooting (6fps versus.4fps) along with an ISO advantage — maximum of 102,400 (compared to the D800’s 25,600) — produces better results. Both cameras offer superior functionality and are within a similar price range, with the Mark III starting around $3,499 while the D800 starts at around $3,000.
Where Canon EOS 5D models fit in today’s market
The original 5D still has a place among consumers who want polished and professional looking pictures without the price tag of full professional grade cameras such as the 1Ds and Mark III. As a full frame option, it offers much higher quality images than point and shoot cameras — but it’s not without its flaws. Experienced DSLR enthusiasts may choose the newer Mark II version, because it doesn’t have some of the problems that the original model does, plus it offers more media flexibility with the addition of video recording. Professional photographers may look at the Mark III as a good field camera. It doesn’t have the power of the 1Ds for in-studio work, but its well-designed frame and light-weight make it ideal for on-location photoshoots.