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Canon EOS 5D MkII, Nikon D700 & Sony Alpha A850 Digital SLR Review

Canon EOS 5D MkII, Nikon D700 & Sony Alpha A850 Digital SLR Review - Moving on up! For the ultimate image quality you should consider going full-frame and here we test three of the very best.

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Canon EOS 5D MkII
Price : £1,764
Rating :
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Features and handling
Performance
Verdict
Specification


Canon EOS 5D MkII, Nikon D700 & Sony Alpha A850 cameras lined up Canon EOS-5D MkII, Nikon D700 & Sony Alpha A850 being held by me
Who better to test three full frame cameras than ePz expert Matt Grayson.

Full frame DSLR group test: Features
There's something very satisfying about holding a full frame digital camera. It's as  though the manufacturers have added a chemical to the body which, each time you hold it, penetrates the skin and transmits a signal to the brain which gives you the warm feeling that you're holding something special. I know that this is not the case, but during this test the more pictures I took the more excited I became.

Take the Canon EOS 5D MkII, for example. Replacing an extremely popular camera such as the Canon EOS 5D can't be easy, so it has to have something else. What Canon managed to do was stuff 21Mp onto the sensor by reducing the size of the circuitry which also allows larger photodiodes for better noise control. The camera also features expandable sensitivity up to ISO25600, a new 3in, 920,000dot screen and a new battery with increased performance in cold conditions and a precise countdown to recharge.

Canon EOS 5D MkII  
Canon EOS 5D MkII held out
It's a nicely balanced camera with controls where you would expect them to be.
Canon EOS 5D MkII inserting the card
The Canon EOS 5D MkII is UDMA compatible for longer continuous bursts.
Canon EOS 5D MkII top view
The exposure mode dial has three custom settings so you can program the camera.
Canon EOS 5D MkII screen
The monitor menu on this Canon is brighter and flashier.

At nearly half the resolution, the Nikon D700 shares the same sensor as its bigger brother, the D3, with gapless microsensors for increased noise control and Nikon's well-known EXPEED processor for faster processing. Other features include a similar size screen with the same resolution as the Canon, 5fps continuous shooting and a human recognition system that detects skin tones in the frame and automatically starts to focus and meter from them.

Nikon D700  
Nikon D700 held out
The prism housing sits slightly higher due to the built-in flash.
Nikon D700 inserting the card
UDMA cards can be accepted in the Nikon for more frmaes at the fastest speed.
Nikon D700 top view
All controls sit near to the fingers and thumb for effective workflow.
Nikon D700 screen
The menu isn't the easiest to use straight off but you get used to it quickly.

Of the three, the newest kid on the block is the Sony Alpha A850 which boasts the highest resolution at 24.6Mp on an EXMOR sensor with image files pushed through two BIONZ processors. On top of that, there's an expanded dynamic range system for better shadow and highlight details and the battery is the well-known InfoLithium type for precise charge condition.

Sony Alpha A850  
Sony Alpha A850 held out
The release button is slightly in the wrong place for me, but the rest is fine.
Sony Alpha A850 inserting the card
The Sony is the only camera in test to offer two card slots for CF and Memorystick.
Sony Alpha A850 top view
Sony three custom functions so you can set up the camera to suit your needs.
Sony Alpha A850 screen
Contrasting colours in the menu are easy to see and there's lots of options.

Of the three cameras on test, the Sony is the only one not to feature Live View, which is unusual. Canon's Live View is the easiest to use as it has a dedicated button on the top left shoulder next to the eyepiece. The D700 has to be put in Live View mode using the dial on the top-plate then depressing the shutter release button. All the cameras have a dust reduction system of some kind such as Canon's fluorine sensor coating and Sony's dual system which incorporates an anti-static coating and sensor shift.

Full frame DSLR group test: Handling
Despite being a high end DSLR, the Canon has a Best Shot command dial that has an auto feature which is unusual but the camera is certainly easy to use. Thanks to this can be given partly to the large thumbwheel which makes scrolling through menus a breeze. All the buttons are laid out plainly so getting used to them is easy enough and that will in turn speed up operation. It feels great to hold, solid and a satisfying weight to let you know how much it cost you!

The Nikon has a similar solid feel to it and the extra 190g in weight doesn't register. It feels well balanced and the buttons are firm and responsive. I'm personally growing less keen on the navigation pad on the back, I think it's too temperamental to use quickly. Because it has no defining edges for left, right, up and down (useful when zooming into a picture you've taken, exploring the image is easier) pressing left could accidentally go up. This happens a lot when reviewing a series of images quickly. I know this is user error, but it happens less on a four-way directional pad.

The camera is made of a magnesium alloy and the same materials are used on the mirror box and prism surround. However, the shutter curtain has been made from a new material which is a mixture of kevlar and carbon fibre. It's tested to 150,000 cycles and has a self diagnostic to check it's all working correctly.

Sony have opted for a simplified command dial with only the manual modes, three custom settings for quick shooting start up and the auto mode. Out of the recent Sony launches, the Alpha A850 is the only camera not to have a complete restyling by the company, so the familiar squared off prism is still present from the A900. Personally, the shutter release button is too far over to the right and I have to bend my finger more than usual to rest it there. It doesn't sound much, but in cold weather or waiting for a long period, this could start to cause problems such as cramp. There's only a small screen on the top to make space for some buttons on the top but they seem overly spaced apart and could be restricted to allow for a larger screen.

Full frame DSLR group test: Performance
All three cameras were put through their paces in a variety of conditions and tests. All pictures were taken at exactly the same time to ensure fairness and were taken in RAW/JPEG where possible.

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

Exposure
The Canon EOS 5D MkII's Evaluative metering system has 35 zones. The great thing about the Evaluative metering system is that it can be assigned to the AF points so if you're taking portraits, the camera will be metering on the face where it also happens to be focusing. Partial metering uses around 8% of the centre of the frame ignoring the rest and spot metering goes one better and only uses 3.5% of the frame at the centre.

Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Canon EOS 5D MkII direct sun
Canon direct sun.
Nikon D700 direct sun
Nikon direct sun.
Sony Alpha A850 direct sun
Sony direct sun.

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

What all this means is that the camera handles varied or difficult lighting very well. I found that if I was shooting in strong directional light, the camera coped well with the contrasty areas by not blowing out the highlights while also retaining detail in the darker areas. If the camera does ever suffer from underexposure of the shadow areas, the EOS 5D MkII has iContrast control in the custom menu which is a dynamic range compensation. It's only subtle, bringing minor amounts of extra detail into the shadows, but it could be make or break and looks really natural. It does little to cap the brightness of highlights, though and I constantly found bleached whites weren't being subdued, which is a shame.

Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Canon EOS 5D MkII strong light
Canon strong light.
Nikon D700 strong light
Nikon strong light.
Sony Alpha A850 strong light
Sony strong light.

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

The D700 has a dedicated 1,005px RGB sensor to take the readings. This allows the camera to take exposure readings from 1,005 segments to correctly identify the exposure. With type D and G lenses, you can use the 3D Color Matrix II meter that the D700 is fitted with and this also accounts for contrast and brightness in a frame, how far away the subject is, what colour the subject is and the RGB values of the scene. It's a complex process but doesn't reduce the handling speed of the camera. I found that despite this, the camera struggled with direct light in the frame and silhouetted the subject, but at other times it coped well. The Nikon sensor has a brilliant dynamic range and I hardly had to use Active D-Lighting, but when I did, it was only a minor improvement on the actual exposure.

Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Canon EOS 5D MkII spot metering
Canon spot metering
Nikon D700 spot metering
Nikon spot metering
Sony Alpha A850 spot metering
Sony spot metering
Canon EOS 5D MkII centre-weighted metering
Canon centre-weighted metering
Nikon D700 centre-weighted metering
Nikon centre-weighted metering
Sony Alpha A850 centre-weighted metering
Sony centre-weighted metering
Canon EOS 5D MkII Evaluative metering
Canon Evaluative metering
Nikon D700 pattern metering
Nikon Matrix metering
Sony Alpha A850 pattern metering
Sony honeycomb metering
Canon EOS 5D MkII partial metering
Canon partial metering
   

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

The Sony uses a 40 segment honeycomb pattern sensor and the broadest dynamic range mode I've seen on a DSLR to date. The D-Range Optimiser not only has auto and advanced, but three extra manual levels of boost to balance the images out if they have harsh lighting conditions. I found that the shadow areas were given lots of extra light and the lighter areas were subdued too, but other areas of the frame sometimes had a problem usually at the edges as though they weren't given as much of a priority. That aside, I think the Sony has a cracking metering system although with the sun in the shot, centre-weighted metering suffers from underexposure. Partial metering works well and constantly gave me similar readings to if I'd used spot. In diverse lighting, the camera blew out the highlights from time to time but maintained detail in the shadow areas at all times.

Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Canon EOS 5D MkII DR off
Canon iContrast off
Nikon D700 DR off
Nikon D-Lighting off
Sony Alpha A850 DR off
Sony DR Optimiser off
Canon EOS 5D MkII DR low
Canon iContrast low
Nikon D700 DR low
Nikon D-lighting low
Sony Alpha A850 DR standard
Sony DR Optimiser standard
Canon EOS 5D MkII DR normal
Canon iContrast normal
Nikon D700 DR normal
Nikon D-lighting Normal
Sony Alpha A850 DR advanced
Sony DR Optimiser advanced
Canon EOS 5D MkII DR strong
Canon iContrast strong
Nikon D700 DR high
Nikon D-lighting high
Sony Alpha A850 DR level 1
Sony DR Optimiser level 1
  Nikon D700 DR auto
Nikon D-lighting auto
Sony Alpha A850 DR level 2
Sony DR Optimiser level 2
    Sony Alpha A850 DR level 3
Sony DR Optimiser level 3

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

Focusing
Sony have included several focusing options on the Alpha A850; it's just finding them that can be an issue. The AF/MF button on the back switches the camera into manual focus mode while it's held down, allowing you to fine tune the focusing before switching back to autofocus. The directional stick also focuses the camera by pressing it in or you could use the old-fashioned way of pressing the shutter release button half way down. The latter is obvious, but the joystick has nothing to indicate its function.

The Alpha A850 uses a TTL phase detection system which incorporates 29 focus points. Ten are assist points and the centre points are dual cross sensor for extra precision. I love the focusing system of the Sony. It's sharp and fast and the individual points can be adjusted using the stick on the back.

Nikon have installed the legendary 51 point AF system onto the D700 that was introduced with the D3. It has 15 cross sensors and uses the MultiCAM 3500Fx focusing module. What I like about the Nikon system is the way the whole screen lights up red while it hunts for a focus lock, then goes back to normal once it's found. This is great for people who may struggle to see the small focus point in the viewfinder. Focusing is fast and in single point mode, the point is moved around using the directional pad on the rear. You can focus on the back using the AF-on button, or by the traditional method of half pressing the shutter release button. Heavy handed people may find using the button on the back more useful as this won't take a picture if you depress it the full way down.

The focusing system on the EOS 5D features nine points with six assist points. On the rear shoulder, you can adjust the focus type from all points to single point and scrolling the finger dial will rotate through the focus points available. Performance is fast and can be sped up even more when using an Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) lens. Focusing uses a TTL-CT-SIR (Through-the-Lens Cross-Type Secondary Image Registration) system. Canon produced sharp images and on shots such as portraits, the eyes were in focus which is exactly where it should be sharp.

I found all three cameras worked well in focusing although I think the Sony produced slightly sharper images than the other two. Nikon are well known for their sharpness and while Canon have had problems with their AF systems in the past, I didn't encounter any trouble with the EOS 5D MkII.

Colour and sharpness
The Canon produces vibrant primary colours with red and blue popping out of the pictures. Depending on the tone of green will depend on the saturation, I found bright greens were punchier than forest greens but the latter tend to be darker anyway, so it's pointless boosting them as the picture wouldn't look true. Skin tones are handled well and come out true to life.

Despite all these primary and strong colours getting priority, subtle colours do still get a look in and record beautifully. Whenever I shot contrasting colours, the camera handled them really well and I like how the camera produces other colours, such as purple, pink and orange. In RAW, colours are still punchy which is great because it means less work to do in editing. The Canon records a good greyscale and is precise in colour rendition.

Canon EOS 5D MkII colour test
Canon EOS 5D MKII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Canon EOS 5D MkII colour
I like the primary colours and also that pastels aren't ignored.
Nikon D700 colour
Some colours look too saturated and need to take a step back.
Sony Alpha A850 colour
Warmer colours are too rich but it does well with skin tones.

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

The Sony handles portraits really well, I loved the warmth is added to the skin tones that it gives without affecting other areas of the picture such as the eyes or clothing. Primary colours are much more saturated with blues coming out really dark on some photos. In fact, I found a lot of colours were a bit too over-saturated, such as yellow and orange.

Greys are handled well, as are subtle pastel tones and I think that overall, the camera produces colour really well. The camera still has a coolness to it that I found on the Alpha A500 in the mid-range comparison test, and this made the sky suffer more than it should coming out paler than I expected. I think underexposing by a third of a stop would solve the problem. In RAW, the colours are paler although still strong. In fact, I think this could be because the camera won't add contrast on the RAW file. Other colours come out nicely and there's still a decent grey scale response.

Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Canon EOS 5D MkII portrait
A bright result from the Canon with good definition and tone.
Nikon D700 portrait
A lovely warmth to the skin tone that doesn't look unnatural.
Sony Alpha A850 portrait
The Sony also gives warmth but not excessively.

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Chloe Bleackley model portfolio


Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

The Nikon also boosts primary colours in the same way that Sony does and gives a very similar result. While it looks pretty impressive, I find it a little over the top although reds are generally pleasing. I think yellows are recorded too bright and a bit gaudy and orange tended to take a darker approach which didn't look right. Browns seemed to take the same approach but I love what the camera does with skin tones and that it doesn't forget pastel tones when the frame is filled with bright colour. In RAW, this isn't so much a problem although yellows seem to still come out pretty bright. Other colours are handled well and despite the flatness of RAW, images with strong colours still came out pleasantly.

Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Canon EOS 5D MkII blue sky
A deep, rich sky contrasts nicely with the subject matter.
Nikon D700 blue sky
The Nikon opt for detail in the shadows, lightening blue skies.
Sony Alpha A850 blue sky
The Sony has tried to give detail and colour.

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

Noise
The Canon EOS 5D MkII has a sensitivity range from ISO100 to ISO6400 with expandable settings of ISO50, 12800 and 25600. I remember the camera having amazing noise control from our original full review and noise doesn't start to show until around ISO1600 and becomes more defined at ISO6400.

At the two highest settings, which aren't controlled by ISO standards, only ISO25,600 shows purple and green colour at a point that it gets annoying. It's still present at ISO12,800 but isn't unpleasant and there's still a decent amount of detail.
Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO50 equivalent
Canon ISO50 equiv. test
   
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO100
Canon ISO100 test
Nikon D700 ISO100 equivalent
Nikon ISO100 equiv. test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO100
Sony ISO100 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO200
Canon ISO200 test
Nikon D700 ISO200
Nikon ISO200 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO200
Sony ISO200 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO400
Canon ISO400 test
Nikon D700 ISO400
Nikon ISO400 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO400
Sony ISO400 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO800
Canon ISO800 test
Nikon D700 ISO800
Nikon ISO800 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO800
Sony ISO800 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO1600
Canon ISO1600 test
Nikon D700 ISO1600
Nikon ISO1600 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO1600
Sony ISO1600 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO3200
Canon ISO3200 test
Nikon D700 ISO3200
Nikon ISO3200 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO3200
Sony ISO3200 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO6400
Canon ISO6400 test
Nikon D700 ISO6400
Nikon ISO6400 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO6400
Sony ISO6400 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO12800 equivalent
Canon ISO12800 equiv. test
Nikon D700 ISO12800 equivalent
Nikon ISO12800 equiv. test
 
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO25600 equivalent
Canon ISO25600 equiv. test
Nikon D700 ISO25600 equivalent
Nikon ISO25600 equiv. test
 

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

Nikon have fitted a similar ISO range on the D700 although this starts at ISO200 with an expandable setting to ISO100. Settings up to and including ISO800 don't change and ISO1600 only sees a minor amount of black noise enter the image which isn't at all unpleasant. The noise gets slightly worse until ISO6400 where blue pixels start to appear in the black areas. The problem is exacerbated through the final two stages and while ISO25600 has detail, the attack of blue pixels has been reinforced by pinky red dots which makes seeing some colour such as purples and browns difficult.

Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO50 equivalent
Canon ISO50 equiv. test
   
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO100
Canon ISO100 test
Nikon D700 ISO100 equivalent
Nikon ISO100 equiv. test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO100
Sony ISO100 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO200
Canon ISO200 test
Nikon D700 ISO200
Nikon ISO200 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO200
Sony ISO200 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO400
Canon ISO400 test
Nikon D700 ISO400
Nikon ISO400 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO400
Sony ISO400 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO800
Canon ISO800 test
Nikon D700 ISO800
Nikon ISO800 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO800
Sony ISO800 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO1600
Canon ISO1600 test
Nikon D700 ISO1600
Nikon ISO1600 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO1600
Sony ISO1600 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO3200
Canon ISO3200 test
Nikon D700 ISO3200
Nikon ISO3200 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO3200
Sony ISO3200 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO6400
Canon ISO6400 test
Nikon D700 ISO6400
Nikon ISO6400 test
Sony Alpha A850 ISO6400
Sony ISO6400 test
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO12800
Canon ISO12800 equiv. test
Nikon D700 ISO12800 equivalent
Nikon ISO12800 equiv. test
 
Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO25600
Canon ISO25600 equiv. test
Nikon D700 ISO25600 equivalent
Nikon ISO25600 equiv. test
 

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

Sony appear to have played it safe, but I actually think they either don't like the idea of expandable ISO, they don't know how to do it (unlikely) or they're not allowed to use it (similarly unlikely). It means that the camera has a true ISO range between ISO100 and ISO6400. ISO100 is lovely and smooth and I'm surprised to see noise coming in at an earlier stage of ISO800. At least, earlier than the Canon and Nikon, and at ISO1600, the sharp edges are starting to break down. It's not until ISO6400 that coloured noise starts to affect the camera, though, so the earlier stages are good for black and whites, as it simulates the effect grain for gritty photos.

White-balance
The Canon's white-balance feature well. It adds the right amount of warmth in the shade mode and cools sunlight down in the sunshine setting. Stronger casts usually present a problem in auto white-balance mode, this is certainly the case when the camera is used in tungsten lighting. However, if you're not used to using the manual white-balance setting, the camera actually does quite well in the preset modes. Sure, it's slightly out but I'd expect that to a degree and it's not so far out that it can't be balanced in editing.

Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Sun    
Canon EOS 5D MkII auto white balance sun
Canon AWB sun
Nikon D700 auto white balance sun
Nikon AWB sun
Sony Alpha A850 auto white balance sun
Sony AWB sun
Canon EOS 5D MkII white balance sun
Canon wb sun
Nikon 700 white balance sun
Nikon wb sun
Sony Alpha A850 white balance sun
Sony wb sun
Shade    
Canon EOS 5D MkII auto white balance shade
Canon AWB shade
Nikon D700 auto white balance shade
Nikon AWB shade
Sony Alpha A850 auto white balance shade
Sony AWB shade
Canon EOS 5D MkII white balance shade
Canon wb shade
Nikon D700 white balance shade
Nikon wb shade
Sony Alpha A850 white balance shade
Sony wb shade
Fluorescent    
Canon EOS 5D MkII auto white balance fluo
Canon AWB fluo
Nikon D700 auto white balance fluo
Nikon AWB fluo
Sony Alpha A850 auto white balance fluo
Sony AWB fluo
Canon EOS 5D MkII  white balance fluo
Canon wb fluo
Nikon D700 white balance fluo
Nikon wb fluo
Sony Alpha A850 white balance fluo
Sony wb fluo
Tungsten/Incandescent    
Canon EOS 5D MkII auto white balance tungsten
Canon AWB tungsten
Nikon D700 auto white balance tungsten
Nikon AWB incandescent
Sony Alpha A850 auto white balance tungsten
Sony AWB tungsten
Canon EOS 5D MkII  white balance tungsten
Canon wb tungsten
Nikon D700 white balance tungsten
Nikon wb incandescent
Sony Alpha A850 white balance tungsten
Sony wb tungsten

Click on any of the thumbnails to open the full size images.

The Nikon gives the same kind of result with the ambient casts but has more trouble under fluorescent lighting. I found that it would give a pinkish cast to the image which is the colour that the camera uses to combat the green colour that fluorescent gives. Under tungsten light, the D700 works well and I like how it has handled white-balance overall.

I like how the Sony has handled white-balance the most. Outdoor casts come out balanced but then so do the indoor casts. It also works well with a mixture of casts and while it has a tendency to prioritise warmer casts making shadows more blue, they weren't over the top.

Read/Write Buffer speed
For this section of the test, I used a Lexar Professional 600x UDMA card. Each camera was set to 1/500sec in shutter-priority with a speed of at least ISO400.

The Canon EOS 5D MkII managed to take 28 RAW images in a ten second period which is pretty good. At the start, it was running at just over 3fps and after six seconds, it started to slow down and after 8 seconds, it slowed for a second time. In JPEG, the camera managed just over 4fps for just about the entire duration. At around five or six seconds, it seemed to pause before picking up again, but I can't see a definite break in the performance which is fine by me.

The Nikon has two continuous shooting settings which are chosen on the top dial on the left shoulder of the camera. Continuous Low (CL) managed just under 4fps in RAW and slowed at around seven seconds to nearer 1.5fps which is significantly slower. Continuous High (CH) ran at a slightly faster 5fps and slowed a second earlier to around 1.5fps again. In JPEG, CH still ran at 5fps but slowed after around three seconds to a more moderate 2fps until the end of the ten second test period. CL mode runs at a constant 3fps for eight seconds, which is good if you need continuous shooting for any duration of time. It then slows to 2fps for the duration.

Running slower than the others, in RAW, the Sony managed 3fps continuous shooting for around five seconds, then the camera slowed to nearer 1fps which is the slowest of the three. Recording in JPEG is a little more impressive in terms of stamina. It still ran at 3fps, but managed to maintain that speed for nine seconds before it slowed to around 1fps again. This isn't a camera for people who need a pro-spec hi-speed drive because they won't get it.

Battery life

Canon released a new battery with the EOS 5D MkII that was much more tolerant to cold weather conditions as well as a more defined discharge display. Sony use InfoLithium technology in all their batteries these days which gives a precise reading in percentage of how much power is left.

At the end of the test, the Sony displayed 80% power remaining. They also place the traditional battery icon next to it and comparing this to the other two cameras, they all used roughly the same amount of power. A good result all round for the three DSLRs showing that they're all capable of holding a lot of power to make sure you don't have to worry too much while out on a day's shoot.

Support
Despite not quite being professional grade cameras in terms of build, processing speed and weather sealing, professionals will most certainly use them, so it's good to know what is available after the camera has been bought and some work has to actually be done.

Canon recently announced the EOS Professional Network which is a network of shops that have specialist staff that are Canon trained. Some branches even have studios to try the equipment which is great if you're considering buying any of the 75 lenses that Canon offer. Of those 75, numerous are duplicates of each other with minor changes, such as a wider aperture, USM or IS being added. The longest telephoto lens from Canon is 800mm while the widest is 14mm and they have four tilt & shift lenses available. Sigma offer 44 lenses in their range that will fit Canon. Canon also run the Canon Professional Service (CPS) which is available to anyone who owns two DSLR bodies and three L lenses. Benefits include a priority repair service, a back-up system if it's a big repair and phone support.

Nikon have two support schemes called NPU and NPS. NPU (Nikon Professional Users) offers UK users with at least two pieces of Nikon equipment from a specified list additional benefits, such as Freephone Technical Support, notice of new products and discount on Nikon training courses. NPS (Nikon professional Service) is for Nikon users with six Nikon items or more. They have access to the same technical support as NPU members but with additional Pro-track Express repair services, NPS support depots and a priority allocation service for new technology.

Nikon have 45 lenses in their range and have fewer variations of the same lens than Canon The top end lens is 600mm while the widest wide-angle is 14mm and there are three tilt & shift lenses available. Sigma offer the same number of lenses in Nikon fit as they do in Canon fit.

As the relative newcomer, Sony don't have as many lenses to offer with their full frame range not quite reaching 20. They have a largest telephoto lens of 500mm and a widest wide-angle lens at 16mm. Sony haven't yet released a tilt & shift lens. Sigma offer 37 lenses in Sony A mount but Sony have a slight upper hand with their alliance to ûber cool lens makers, Carl Zeiss. They have five lenses to fit Sony DSLRs, three of which are zooms and two telephoto lenses.

There are a number of UK companies that hire out Canon and Nikon lenses, but they rarely have the full stock that the manufacturers produce. Sony is another matter with nowhere hiring Sony lenses out in the UK. Photostore UK announced that they were going to start hiring Sony lenses out, but have put this on hold for the time being.

Full frame DSLR group test: Verdict
Canon EOS 5D MkII group winner held by meThis group test has been the most difficult for me in terms of comparing performance alone and that's why I also looked into professional support available. Sony have made an excellent camera in the Alpha A850 but support is practically non-existent which is a shame. There are also only a few lenses compared to the masses from Canon and Nikon.

Canon EOS 5D MkII group winner
Sony actually did the best in most rounds, so if you're an amateur/semi-pro, don't dismiss the camera even though it hasn't won this test. Canon and Nikon have equal wins but in different disciplines.

The Nikon D700 is better with the build quality, drive and professional support while I got the best colour, sharpness and noise results from the Canon. I think it's these areas that are the most important because a camera could take 100fps, but if the image quality isn't as good, there's little point. Add to that the lens range available, a good professional support service and nearly all lens hire companies catering for Canon and you're onto a winner.

Read the full written review of the Canon EOS 5D MkII here:

Canon EOS 5D MkII review

Full frame DSLR group test: Pros
Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Great build quality
Easy to use
Great noise control
Good colours
Fast continuous frame rate
Great build quality
Large number of AF points
Great dynamic range
Built in flash
Great build quality
Great white-balance handling
Infolithium battery
Good white-balance control

Full frame DSLR group test: Cons
Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
DR control doesn't cap burn out
Auto mode is unnecessary
Pesky navigation pad
Too much saturation
Worst noise results in test
Slow continuous rate
Auto mode is unnecessary

  Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
FEATURES
HANDLING
PERFORMANCE
VALUE
OVERALL    


The Nikon D700 costs £1753 body only and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Nikon D700

The Canon EOS 5D MkII costs £1764 body only and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Canon EOS 5D MkII

The Sony Alpha A850 costs £1648 body only and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Sony Alpha A850

Full frame DSLR group test: Specification
  Canon EOS 5D MkII Nikon D700 Sony Alpha A850
Resolution 21.1Mp 12.1Mp 24.6Mp
Image sensor CMOS CMOS Nikon FX Exmor CMOS
Sensor size 36x24mm 36.0x23.9mm 35.9x24mm
Dust reduction Yes Yes Yes
Storage Compactflash, UDMA Compactflash, UDMA Compactflash/Memorystick
File format JPEG, RAW, sRAW1, sRAW2 JPEG, RAW (12, 14bit), TIFF JPEG, RAW, cRAW
Viewfinder Eye level, pentaprism Eye level, pentaprism Eye level, pentaprism
Coverage 98% 95% 98%
Shutter type Vertical travel Vertical travel Vertical travel
Shutter sp. 30sec-1/8000sec 30sec-1/8000sec 30sec-1/8000sec, bulb
Flash sync. 1/200sec 1/250sec 1/250sec
Drive 3.9fps 5fps 3fps
Metering system TTL full aperture TTL full aperture TTL
Metering type 35 zone SPC 3D colour matrix II, 1005px RGB sensor 40 segment honeycomb SPC
Metering modes Evaluative, Partial, centre-weighted, spot Pattern, centre-weighted, spot Multi, centre-weighted, spot
Dynamic range iContrast Active D-Lighting D-Range optimiser
Sensitivity ISO100-6400 (exp. to 50, 12800 & 25600) ISO200-6400 (exp. to 100, 12800 & 25600) ISO100-6400
Focus system TTL CT SIR TTL phase detection TTL phase detection
Focus points 9 (6 assist AF point) 51 (15 cross sensor) 9 (1 dual cross sensor, 10 assist points)
Flash External, E-TTL auto flash Built-in, TTL flash control External, TTL flash control
Live View Yes Yes No
Monitor 3in TFT LCD, 920k (307k pixel) 3in TFT LCD, 920k dot (307k pixel) 3in LCD, 920k dot (307k pixel)
Interface USB 2.0, HDMI USB 2.0, HDMI USB 2.0, HDMI
Battery Li-Ion, LP-E6 Li-Ion, EN-EL3e Li-Ion, NP-FM500H
Size 152x113.5x75mm 147x123x77mm 156.3x116.9x81.9mm
Weight 810g 995g 850g



Explore More

Photographs taken using the Canon EOS 5D MkII

on the slipwayA La RondeRed PeakSaltaireRhododendrons ReflectionsHistory in bronzeCattedrale dei Santi Filippo e GiacomocraggwildlifefreakSearching for foodTemenosFredau HTowards the endCamber Sands - High winds and dark skies.A Devozione Dei Fedeli
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Comments


I love the colourful display you have arranged! Glad to see all 3 camera produced a good purple. There seems to be something extra tricky with purples. They sometimes go blue.

Of the 3 portrait test you’ve produced, I actually preferred the skin tones from the Sony. I prefer the handling of Nikons to Canon but I find the skin tones, as they are out of the box a little too saturated but that can of course be adjusted.

Do you think Nikon will soon produce a D700s?

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User_Removed 10 17.9k 8 Norway
1 Dec 2009 8:14PM

Quote: Too much saturation

(D700)

Turn it down!! Wink
Tcoat 7
3 Dec 2009 2:33AM
"There's something very satisfying about holding a full frame digital camera. It's as though the manufacturers have added a chemical to the body which, each time you hold it, penetrates the skin and transmits a signal to the brain which gives you the warm feeling that you're holding something special."

And I thought the Alpha A850 does not have the "toxic" (by EU standards) grip sensor of the A700. Perhaps there is another source of this chemical release!
tmkirk 8 4 England
4 Dec 2009 10:43AM
Matt it is obvious you're an avid Canon fan, so the winner was always going to be the 5DII from the start...only joking, having read the comments on your mid range cameras' review I couldn't resist, sorry. Thanks for the review and trying to show the differences between these superb cameras as objectively as possible, much appreciated. I use Canon's 40 & 50D and I am very happy with them, but would I be just as happy if I'd got one of the other brands, probably. I would like to get a 5DII at some point if the pennies are available, so to have an idea of its performance is great. Thanks again.
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
4 Dec 2009 10:49AM

Quote: Matt it is obvious you're an avid Canon fan, so the winner was always going to be the 5DII from the start...only joking, having read the comments on your mid range cameras' review I couldn't resist, sorry. Thanks for the review and trying so show the differences between these superb cameras as objectively as possible, much appreciated. I use Canon's 40 & 50D and I am very happy with them, but would I be just as happy if I'd got one of the other brands, probably. I would like to get a 5DII at some point if the pennies are available, so to have an idea of its performance is great. Thanks again.

lol... I have to admit, you got me there for a minute!
It was really close between them but the Canon clinches it in the important areas. If it was down to build quality and handling, the Nikon would be the winner and if it was down to white balance performance and dynamic range, the Sony would have it. All important issues, but colour, noise control and image quality are the priority. Glad you liked the review. Smile

5D MkII is awesome and I think if you can gather the cash, you'll not regret it. Smile
5 Dec 2009 1:39AM
Is it just me or am I right in thinking that the D700 is grossly overpriced compared to the Canon? ( I thinks the D700 should be priced around £1200, D300s around £1000) If I was choosing a system from scratch, and wanted to spend about £1700, (I am a Nikon man) I would not give the D700 any consideration at its current price, in favour of the Canon.
7 Dec 2009 8:01AM
Hi Matt,

Interesting review. I'm a happy owner of an A900, so that covers the burst mode of 5FPS for me. Wink

I do have one question though... The A850 is the only one out of the whole lot to come with built-in image stabilization (thus allowing for image-stabilized, autofocus Carl Zeiss lenses, etc etc) yet it was not listed as a "pro"? I noticed this on the A550 review as well.

You also used the old Minolta 50mm lens, which is a bit soft and "old". Any idea if you would re-test all 3 cameras with, say, a sigma 50mm lens on all 3 to equalize things? Wink
SiPat 5 4 United Kingdom
7 Dec 2009 2:20PM
I'm just wondering whether the D700's 12.1MP sensor went against it?
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
7 Dec 2009 2:44PM
Yes and no. I wouldn't consider a camera worse because it had a lower resolution, unless it was 1.3Mp and had no detail. However, theoretically it should work better with high ISO but didn't. Smile
In camera stabilisation of Sony is clear advantage for people who shot with fast primes in indoor lighting. Images stabilisation gives them ability to use ISO 400 where canon/nikon photograph would use ISO1600.

Thought you didn't know about SSS in A850... LOL!
stve 4
7 Dec 2009 10:50PM
Are you kidding
a plus point for Canon great noise control
& it's not a plus point for the D700
Looking at the noise test charts at the different ISO the Canons colour is all over the place.
As a D700 owner I've never had a problem with highlights burning out the amount of detail you can recover in a raw file is remarkable.
Your testing of the AF on the cameras it sounds like you only tested static subjects , did you test the lowlight AF capabilities of the cameras ? where are the photo's of moving subjects I'd of loved seeing some photo's of a a basketball game in crappy light but as you are obviously a Canon fanboy i can see why you wanted to play safe. The AF on the Nikon would have been a big plus if it had been tested properly
Do you honestly think the build quality of the Canon matches the Nikon D700 ?
There are plenty of good review of these cameras on other sites
To start with I suggest
Link removed by ePz staff
And for info on the build quality of these cameras go-to
Link removed by ePz staff
stve 4
8 Dec 2009 12:33AM
Are you kidding
a plus point for Canon great noise control
& it's not a plus point for the D700
Looking at the noise test charts at the different ISO the Canons colour is all over the place.
As a D700 owner I've never had a problem with highlights burning out the amount of detail you can recover in a raw file is remarkable.
Your testing of the AF on the cameras it sounds like you only tested static subjects , did you test the lowlight AF capabilities of the cameras ? where are the photo's of moving subjects I'd of loved seeing some photo's of a a basketball game in crappy light but as you are obviously a Canon fanboy i can see why you wanted to play safe. The AF on the Nikon would have been a big plus if it had been tested properly
Do you honestly think the build quality of the Canon matches the Nikon D700 ?
There are plenty of good review of these cameras on other sites
To start with I suggest
http://www.dpreview.com/
And for info on the build quality of these cameras go-to
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/antarctica-2009-worked.shtml
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
8 Dec 2009 9:21AM

Quote: Are you kidding
a plus point for Canon great noise control
& it's not a plus point for the D700
Looking at the noise test charts at the different ISO the Canons colour is all over the place.

Nope, no joke. The Canon performed better at high ISO as far as I'm concerned. I don't think there's a problem with colour reproduction from the Canon.


Quote: As a D700 owner

Therein lies the problem. You don't like that the Canon won. That's fair enough, I don't expect everyone to be happy with the results.


Quote: you are obviously a Canon fanboy

Not in the slightest, I have no allegiance to any manufacturer. I use the Olympus E system, so a full frame test is as impartial as it gets.


Quote: Do you honestly think the build quality of the Canon matches the Nikon D700 ?

Yep.

As an avid NIKON fan, you're obviously upset with the outcome, and like i said earlier, that's OK!
When the Sony A700 won a group test earlier in the year, fans of the rival cameras were up in arms but as long as you're happy with your camera, that's what counts. It's just not as good as the Canon. Wink Wink Tongue
heidfirst 5 1 Scotland
8 Dec 2009 12:24PM
you do seem to have ignored that the Sony has image stabilisation in th ebody - even when commented on earlier in this thread you haven't replied to it.

If you include 3rd party lens manufacturers you can get tilt/shift, ultra teles etc. in Minolta AF/Sony Alpha mount.
& whilst both Canon & Nikon may have more lenses overall Sony has more image stabilised lenses available (because they all are).

Oh, & the reason that the buttons on the top plate are widely spaced is that they are designed to be usable when using gloves on those cold days that you mentioned ...
stve 4
8 Dec 2009 6:50PM
I am a Nikon fan no doubt about it but i wouldn't class myself as a fan boy, i happen to think the latest Canon cameras the 7D & the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV are superb cameras & real competition for Nikon at least from what I've seen so far.
But back to the Canon 5D MK 2 it's a great camera very good video,
high resolution great image quality very good high ISO.
For a lot's of people it would be the better camera, Studio work Landscape photographers using a tripod with the best lenses.
However the auto focus does not compare well with the D700 it won't be a problem for anyone who only uses the center point but shooting sports it won't do as well.
The auto focus on the D700 can focus better in low light the range is -1 to +19 EV compared to EV -0.5-18 for the 5D MK2 , if you are at a concert & your Canon can't grab focus the high ISO capabilities won't help much. The D700 also has a better Auto ISO implementation.
Do you do any HDR photography, the 5D MK2 has Exposure bracketing +/- 2.0 EV 0.3 or 0.5 EV increments
The D700 has Exposure Bracketing and/or flash bracketing (2 to 9 exposures in increments of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 or 1 EV)
The built in Flash of the Nikon: the great thing with the flash is the commander mode & the ability to set two banks of flashes from the camera.

ISO quality :
The photos of the test chart, the Canon 5D MK2 looks like it has had noise reduction applied or set in the camera the 1600 ISO photo has a very obvious blue tinge to it yet at ISO 12800 the blue tinge is gone ? & none of the photos even at ISO 25600 show much Chroma noise.
The D700 colours remain vivid & as the ISO climbs so does the noise and it shows more Chroma noise at ISO 12800 on up than the Canon
The outdoor high ISO photos show far more noise in the Canon photos especially the Chroma noise it's not even close. The D700 photo at ISO 25600 is showing very little chroma noise ( it's also suffers much less from burnt out highlights)
The other striking thing about the outdoor high ISO photos is the 5D MK2 shows more vivid colour than the D700 & the colour does not fade as the ISO climbs. ( was the colour mode of the D700 set to portrait ? )
How can the same camera have such wildly differeing results for ISO photos of the test charts & the outdoor photos unless noise reduction was applied in camera for the Canon 5DMK2 photos of the test charts.

Build quality:
The 5DMK 2 body is made of plastic. Screwed onto it are magnesium top and bottom covers. The metal lens mount is also screwed onto a ‘composite mirror box. This makes for a lighter build and it will probably be a tough if dropped (plastics these days can be very tough)
The D700 has a magnesium alloy frame ( That's why it's heavier ) & it also has better weather sealing.

Your review ignored the in Camera stabilization of the Sony
The Canon movie mode
The AF of the Nikon apart from pointing out it had 51 AF points with 15 cross type
and after looking at your high ISO photos i come to the opposite conclusion to you about the high ISO capabilites of the Nikon & Canon

"As an avid NIKON fan, you're obviously upset with the outcome, and like i said earlier, that's OK!"
I don't get upset much these days too old i guess if anything it made me smile.
stve 4
9 Dec 2009 12:22AM
I've just looked at enlargements of the Model the Sony looks great
the Canon poor with burnt out highlights & the Nikon terrible with even worse burnt out highlights & a horrible colour to the skin tones even the Sony photo has problems if you look close on the cheek where the other 2 cameras show burnt out highlights the Sony has a weird wrinkly effect.
I guess you had the D700 picture control settings set on vivid.
It's a pity you don't show the exif data with the photos.
In a studio with controlled lighting it should have been easy to get good results with all 3 cameras I know on the Nikon it's easy to get great jpegs straight out of the camera.

"All three cameras were put through their paces in a variety of conditions and tests. All pictures were taken at exactly the same time to ensure fairness and were taken in RAW/JPEG where possible."
I'm surprised that with the raw photos available you didn't use them it's obvious that something was wrong with with the settings in camera.
ChrisV 7 763 26 United Kingdom
12 Jan 2010 4:41PM

Quote: Yes and no. I wouldn't consider a camera worse because it had a lower resolution, unless it was 1.3Mp and had no detail. However, theoretically it should work better with high ISO but didn't.

Have to confess I'm a long time Nikon user, but for all that I like Canons too. Bang for buck I'd have to say the 5DII looks like one of the best cameras on the market and if I had the cash (and no lens legacy!) I'd be seriously thinking of the Canon as my next camera - it looks like far better value for money.

Having said all that - my expectations in terms of noise control would be similar to yours. The thing is, having looked at your test photos at full size, I'd say those expectations are absolutely confirmed. Looking at the high ISO shots of the ball, I thought the amount of chroma noise on the Nikon at ISO 25600 fairly severe. Fairly severe that is until I looked at the Canon. Seriously - it isn't even close, is it? I'd say the Canon is yielding the same amount of chroma noise as the Nikon way down at iso 6400 - that's a full two stops difference!

I can't comment on the other tests - there isn't conclusive evidence from the sample images, but on this it's fairly clear. I'm honestly completely mystified as to how you've reached the conclusion you have on the noise issue. The laws of physics are always going to dictate, very clever technology aside [and it's unlikely that one of the major manufacturers would be massively more advanced than another] larger photosites are always going to mean less noise. It appears Canon cannae change the laws of physics, Matt...
petemasty 5 155 England
18 Jan 2010 4:45PM
I use none of these manufacturers, being the owner of a Pentax k20d. however , i am considering moving up to a full frame and so this comparison was very interesting and informative. For me, its a toss-up between the sony and the Canon. AP did a comparison between the two, and after reading it, I'm still in a quandary. I like the fact the Sony has IS in the body and that maybe the legacy lenses are cheaper, but i also like the Canon pedigree.

Oh decisions decisions!!
picsfor 4 1 United Kingdom
23 Feb 2010 9:59PM
I think the problem is, as has been stated by Stve in a roundabout way, and in your report, these cameras whilst all full frame - are not all built for the same job.

I am a 5D MkII owner and love it to bits because it does what i need it to do. But if i needed a camera to do what the D700 can do i would have to buy a 7D to fill that gap. As a low light shooter i can comfortably say that the difference between the D700 and 5D MkII is not enough to be a brand chooser. I would give Stve his advantage points but i can assure you that when i download that 21mp Digic IV created image of something as small and intricate as a butterfly shot with a macro lens - then his D700 will not be able to compete with detail capture.

People need to accept, cameras are as personal as cars, TV's, clothes, friends and where we live and work.

My camera suits my need as much as Stve's D700 suits his need. Make no mistake, the D700 is a stunning camera - but so is my 5D MkII - and it suits my purposes better.
Hi Guys as a D700 user I find mixed feelings about the review. If I was starting from new I think it would be the Canon 5d mk2 for me more to do with value for money on the whole system. The extra res of the Canon is a big plus £ for £ but felt the auto focus system wasn't pushed enough as I think we or most know the auto focus on the Nikon is better this isn't a personal point of view but one that's been documented on many sites.

A personal note is that I prefer the ergonomics of the Canon above the Nikon and the user interface. This is all a personal point of view
31 May 2011 10:29AM
Hello !
I own an Alpha 900 since jan 2009, and I must say that your major critics against this series is not valid in my case : I'm happy with the release button ! Maybe because I have larger hands...
And you forgot TWO major advantages of this Sony series :
1. The "SteadyShot inside, which allows ALL the lenses to stabilized, including the older ones (I own a 8/500 AF Reflex lens since 20 years) or a wide angle (for instance in a museum) without extra cost. When you see the price difference between the IS and non-IS lenses in the Canon price list, you understand easily. In addition, the repair service at Canon says the IS system is to be replaced from time to time, as it is wearbale, like tyres or brakes on a car. At about 400 $ for each lens, you can understand the difference when you own 9 lenses like me.
2. No other camera includes a thermocolorimeter giving directly the color temperature in °K on the rear screen, just in aiming a white paper or a gray chart 18% (I always have a plastic one at a credit card format in my bag) after choosing the good menu. So you can perfectly adjust the color correction.

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