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Canon EOS 5D Digital SLR Review

The full frame Canon EOS 5D Digital SLR is reviewed - the first full-frame digital SLR to be released with an affordable price tag.

|  Canon EOS 5D in Digital SLRs
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Canon Eos 5d Mark1
Ever since digital cameras were first introduced, many photographers have hankered after the large viewfinder and depth-of-field they were used to with their 35mm SLR. The Canon EOS 5D is the first full-frame digital SLR to be released with an affordable price tag. In this review Gary Wolstenholme takes a look at whether Canon's full-frame revolution is all it's cracked up to be.

Canon EOS 5DSpecifications
  • 12.8 megapixel
  • 35.8 x 23.9mm CMOS sensor (same area as 35mm film)
  • 3 fps 60 Jpeg image burst
  • 9-point AF with 6 Assist AF points
  • 2.5" LCD
  • Picture Style image processing
  • DIGIC II image processor
  • Records RAW/JPEG images
  • Compact magnesium alloy body
Build and handling
Canon EOS 5DThe EOS 5D feels solid and purposeful, with most of the body made of cast magnesium and grips are covered in a soft textured rubber material. Build quality wise, there are a few weak points which stand out, including the battery compartment door, compact flash door and, surprisingly, the base of the camera, which are all made of plastic.
Weight is distributed fairly evenly throughout the body which gives a well-balanced feel. This, coupled with the deep finger grip and soft rubber coating, makes the camera very easy to hold. I could quite happily use the camera all day without my hands feeling too worse for wear.
Display screens and viewfinder
Canon EOS 5DI was really looking forward to experiencing the viewfinder on the EOS 5D. Being a full frame camera (which means that the sensor is the same size as 35mm film) I was expecting a nice bright, big viewfinder.
The viewfinder is pleasantly big, especially compared to many APS-C digital SLRs, and it is certainly brighter than most.
The positioning of the autofocus points across the viewfinder could be better. All the points are clustered around the centre-weighted metering circle in the middle. The furthest points horizontally from the centre only just reach where the 'rule-of-thirds' area of the frame is, which may limit easy composition for many.
The 2.5inch LCD screen is clear and bright, but I have seen better. Useful additions have been made to the amount of exposure information displayed, including an RGB histogram mode. This is handy when shooting in challenging lighting conditions where it may be possible to burn-out one colour channel independent of the others. For example, when taking sunset images the red channel will be over-exposed before green and blue. A standard luminance histogram would not give you this information.
Menu and controls
Canon EOS 5DUsers of previous EOS SLRs will feel right at home with the control layout on the EOS 5D, in fact, if you owned an EOS 20D you will have no trouble adjusting as the controls are virtually identical in layout and operation.
The camera menu system is arranged as one long list which can be scrolled through quickly using the rear jog dial. Different areas of the menu are colour coded, red, blue and orange so you know roughly where you are when scrolling through the menu.
Just like on the EOS 20D, there are two ways to select autofocus points: A small joystick style controller on the rear near the viewfinder, by holding the AF selector button and rotating the dial on the rear. I would love the direct control of the joystick controller if it wasn't so fiddly to use. Cycling through the autofocus points with the dial quickly became my favoured method because of this.
Power for the EOS 5D is supplied by the same BP-511A battery that has been used throughout the range of digital EOS cameras ever since the EOS D30 which was announced in spring 2000.

This is good news as supplies of the batteries are already well established, plus if you were thinking of upgrading from an earlier model you may already have a supply of spares to get you going.
Canon EOS 5D

Lens system

Canon's range of EF lenses is one of the most comprehensive available. With over 60 compatible lenses to choose from, you are bound to find a lens that meets your requirements.

However, because of the 35mm sized sensor in the EOS 5D, the camera is not compatible with any of Canon's EF-S lenses, which are designed for their 1.6x crop sensor cameras.
This is not a problem as their are plenty of wide-angle optics currently available in the standard EF system, unless you already own a selection of EF-S lenses.
As Canon continue to release more full-frame models in the future, the resale value of these EF-S lenses will plummet, making them a poor investment.
Canon EOS 5D

Flash system
There is no built-in flash on the EOS 5D. Instead if you require a flash for fill-in, or if light levels drop too much, you will need to use an external flashgun.

Prices range from £113 for the diminutive 220EX speedlite, to £289 for the powerful 580EX. Please take a look at the ePHOTOzine shop to check the latest prices.
Canon EOS 5D

Memory card
The EOS 5D uses a CompactFlash memory card which fits into the slot on the side. The following are write speeds for various quality settings using a Sandisk Extreme III card.

Quality setting Time taken to write to card
12.8 megapixel RAW 4.9secs
12.8 megapixel Jpeg fine 2.6secs
12.8 megapixel Jpeg normal 1.8secs

I also timed the delay between shots for this camera in the single shot mode.

Quality setting Shot-to-shot delay
12.8 megapixel RAW 0.36secs
12.8 megapixel Jpeg fine 0.36secs
12.8 megapixel Jpeg normal 0.36secs

The large buffer in the EOS 5D does a great job of soaking up the information gathered, which is illustrated by the identical shot-to-shot times across all three quality settings. The time taken to get the image written to the card is also good, although I found that when shooting RAW there is a three to four second delay before the image is displayed on-screen. I found this frustrating as many other cameras currently available don't suffer from delays like this.

Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
The evaluative metering system coped very well with this difficult scene, although reducing the exposure by two-thirds of a stop helps to retain details in the highlights.

Image quality
All images for this review were taken at maximum resolution using the fine Jpeg compression setting, and using either an EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens or an EF 50mm f/1.8 MkII. There are several different compression levels and resolution settings including RAW to choose from allowing you to select the setting most appropriate for your needs. Canon EOS 5D
The full frame Canon sensor excels in the area of dynamic range, with plenty of detail kept in both shadows and highlights.

Canon EOS 5D
Colours are very true to life, never being too saturated.

Canon EOS 5D
The auto white-balance is difficult to trick, producing natural-looking results in most conditions

Canon EOS 5D

The image on the left was taken with the 24-85mm lens set at 24mm with the aperture opened to its brightest value of f/3.5 on a flat grey Sheffield day.

It has been noted that full-frame sensors such as that used in the EOS 5D may suffer from vignetting (dark corners) when used with wide-angle lenses, especially when the lens isn't stopped down.

The darker corners can clearly be seen in this photo, whether this is a problem or not for you is entirely subjective. If you shoot wide-angle lenses at bright apertures and don't wish for dark corners, then this could be a serious issue.

Digital noise
The following images illustrate the amount of digital noise apparent at each ISO setting.
The image to the right is the full image. The crops below are taken from where the green square is.
The EOS 5D has a standard range of ISO100 to ISO1600, but ISO expansion can be enabled giving you and extra stop at each end.
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
ISO3200 (HIGH)
Digital noise performance is excellent, with sensitivities up to ISO200 being virtually noise free. ISO400 and ISO800 are still clean enough to produce high quality large prints and noise at higher sensitivities is very well controlled, even up to ISO3200.

Canon EOS 5D
The image shows where the image on the right has been cropped from.
The EOS 5D produces highly detailed images that are both clean and sharp. It's worth noting that a high resolution camera like this really benefits from using quality lenses.
Canon EOS 5D

Detail comparison
Here I have compared the EOS 5D to the similarly specified ten megapixel Nikon D200. Both crops are from the full resolution image, displayed at 100% Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D set at ISO100 using a Canon EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens set at 24mm and f/8
Canon EOS 5D
Nikon D200 set at ISO100 using a Sigma EX 15-30mm f/3.5-4.5 DG lens set at 16mm and f/8

The image produced by the Canon is slightly bigger than that of the D200 and it's also softer. My conclusion is that this must be due to the lens supplied by Canon for testing the camera, at the time they did not have any of their pro quality L-series lenses available for loan. I decided to make the comparison fair, I needed to use lenses of equal quality.

For a second comparison I used Canon's EF 50mm f/1.8 MkII on the EOS 5D and Nikon's 50mm f/1.4 AF-D on the D200. According to, which had both these lenses MTF tested independently by Hasselblad, both these lenses have an MTF score of 4.2 out of five. This means both lenses should exhibit equal sharpness.

The image on the left shows the scene I used to compare the two cameras. 100% crops taken from where the green square is.
The image with the Nikon was taken from further back to counter the effect of the 1.5x crop factor caused by its smaller sensor.
Images from both cameras were taken in RAW and processed using Capture One Pro using identical settings.
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D set at ISO100 for 1/125sec using a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 MkII lens set at f/8
Canon EOS 5D
Nikon D200 set at ISO100 for 1/125sec using a Nikon 50mm f1.4 AF-D lens set at f/8

Viewing the images side-by-side, it is still incredibly difficult to tell them apart. The amount of detail resolved is virtually equal even though the Canon image is larger due to the extra number of pixels.

The Canon EOS 5D is a very capable camera, which produces silky smooth images right up to ISO400 and beyond that, noise levels are still very well controlled thanks in part to the full frame sensor. Sensor size is also to blame for another trait, vignetting with wide angle lenses is a real problem if you like to shoot wide open.

Value for money is the EOS 5D's weakest point. With an RRP of £2540, that makes this camera cost £1240 more than the rival Nikon D200 (based on RRP's), with what appears to be only a marginal gain in image quality. Of course this only applies with the right lenses, which are also costly.

If the idea of having a camera with a sensor the same size as 35mm film is just too much for you to resist, at any price, then the Canon EOS 5D is clearly for you. If, on the other hand, other factors such as speed when shooting RAW, being able to shoot wide-angle lenses wide open without dark corners, or value for money appeal to you, then it may be worth thinking long and hard about whether this camera is really for you.

In summary the positive points of the Canon EOS 5D are:
Canon EOS 5DExcellent performance across all ISO sensitivities.
Canon EOS 5DBuild quality (although there is still room for improvement in some areas).
Canon EOS 5DSeparate Red, Green and Blue histogram display.
Canon EOS 5DViewfinder is bright and clear.

The negative points:
Canon EOS 5DTime taken to display RAW images.
Canon EOS 5DVignetting at wide angles.
Canon EOS 5DValue for money.
Canon EOS 5DAutofocus points are not spread as far across the frame as I would like.

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View images taken by ePHOTOzine members with this camera here

Discuss this review and other digital SLRs here.

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Photographs taken using the Canon EOS 5D

DrifterHighland DriftA winters walkPeacockDrying FishConversation on the bridge top lock Wombourne StaffordshireInto the LightLight Through the MistWalking the lineLuderitzEye catching AimeeThe CrowKalkbay Harbour

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The image with the Nikon was taken from further back to counter the effect of the 1.5x crop factor caused by its smaller sensor.

Crop Factor = the camera crops the central part of the lens image circle. By moving the camera back you are nullifying the comparison.

If you take both pictures at 50mm f/8.0 with similar lenses; you take them at the same distance. It doesn't matter if you have a wider field of view on the 5D's full frame; that's because the circle is not cropped. You are only interested in a 100% crop comparison anyway so that extra part of the image circle is not even kept. And you're not even comparing the whole surface of either sensors.

That crop factor is a pain for comparisons; it was already hard to compare APS-C sensors to film; but now Full frame vs APS-C is not much easier; sensor size influences depth of field; distance as well... they're different formats; and not comparable.

You don't compare a 50mm lens at f8 on a 6x6 camera to a 50mm at f8 on a 35mm camera. The exact same reasons you don't apply here as well. You can't have an accurate mathematical comparison by only multiplying distance.
elowes 18 2.8k United Kingdom
The review does not match my experience of use. If flawed in one area as commented on by 'hivewasp' it can't be trusted overall.

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