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Canon EOS 5D Mark II: Barely worth it!

Canon has really lost it. It wasn’t so long that I wrote why they have lost it, and it seems that they continue to take hit after hit, not only from the competition, but from their own mistakes as well. It’s one thing to be given a hard time by the competition, but it’s completely different to be screwing up your own products. It appears that Canon simply do not learn from their mistakes.

Take the EOS 50D for example. From the moment they announced that camera, I could immediately see that it would not be succesful. I wrote a lot about it, and you can read the older articles and judge for yourself. How could I have seen all of that coming, and Canon not see it? I would assume Canon’s marketing department knows a lot more about the DSLR market than I do. So howcome I was able to see that the 50D was a mediocre product at best and would barely sell, and they didn’t? Just check out what Canon Rumors had to say about the 50D recently:

The disappointing thing for Canon? The 50D hasn’t been very well received. It’s not moving the units Canon wants. This could partially be because of the economy, but as we’ve seen from the 5D2, people are willing to spend. The xxD line reached its peak with the release of the 20D. It was basically the first truly affordable prosumer camera. Then came the 30D, which was lamented pretty hard for its very conservative improvements over the 20D. The 40D saw a bit of a comeback in the line, the camera was a bargain when it launched and is a super bargain today. I can’t with any honesty recommend the 50D over the 40D based on their current pricing.

Nobody wants the 50D because it’s a worthless upgrade compared to the 40D and too expensive for what you get (although the price has dropped from an absurd $1400 to around $1050 now). It has nothing to do with the economy. Like Fake Chuck Westfall said, Canon simply does not have the products right now to excite users into buying:

I’m not going to deny that the global economic crisis is going to influence our business at Canon, but at a time when we really need to have exceptionally good products to drive sales, we’re here releasing a load of crap on the market. We’re in a period right now when people are going to think twice as much, if not more, before they decide to spend their money. You’re going to have to really have a good product on your hands if you expect people to lay down the cash in this economic situation. And it looks like the market just doesn’t think we have those products at this time. And this is going to hurt us more than the economic crisis itself.

The 50D even has worse image quality compared to the 40D! No wonder the 40D is selling a lot better right now. As an alternative, the Nikon D300 offers A LOT more and it is no surprise that a lot of people are buying the D300 instead, and that Nikon has been taking over the market as a result. The D300 is a more modern camera body, offering a wealth of features that photographers expect today. You’d think that Canon would have noticed and respond with the 50D, but none of that happened.

And then, the 5D Mark II. From the moment it was announced, I immediately pointed out its weaknesses. Now after the fact, it will make me look like some kind of prophet, but the fact is, you don’t have to be a prophet to see these things. Even some basic knowledge about photography and the DSLR market today would have allowed anyone to see that the 5D Mark II would have a hard time competing with other brands. The question is, again, how could Canon think that they would even stand a chance with such a product, at that price, compared to the competition? Reviews of the 5D Mark II are starting to get published, and the same weaknesses I pointed out months ago now, are being discovered by others. For example, check this review by Pop Photo:

The partial metering mode uses the center 8 percent of the viewfinder, and the spot, 3.5 percent, which is larger than the Nikon’s impressive 1.5 percent.

The 5D-era AF, however, is no longer competitive with the blazing speeds we see in most DSLRs these days. At the brightest light level in our tests, the 5D Mark II focused in 0.51 sec, while the Nikon D700 zipped along at 0.35 sec, and the Sony A900 roared to the head of the pack with 0.29 sec.

In low light, the Canon is downright sluggish, and in extremely low light (EV -1 and -2), it’s inconsistent and sometimes fails to focus. But Canon rates the AF system to be effective down to only EV -0.5, about the same as a very poorly lit living room. This limits the utility of the high ISOs. Granted, you can focus manually, but in such low light, that’s no mean feat.

Oddly, some older and newer Canon models have faster AF systems. Just as Nikon trickled down the D3’s AF to the D700, we think Canon should have done this with the 1Ds Mark III and 5D Mark II.

Even with regard to image quality, it appears the 5D Mark II isn’t the best. The Sony A900 beats the 5D Mark II with regard to resolving power, and the Nikon D700 beats the 5D Mark II with regard to low noise performance. In addition, similar to the 50D, Canon has been overhyping the low noise performance of the 5D Mark II. The 5D Mark II noise performance seems to be about the same as the original 5D or worse in some cases when comparing RAW images. The JPEG images from the 5D Mark II are being processed with noise reduction inside the camera and look less noisy, but similar to the 50D, these images look less detailed and blurry too because of the noise reduction.

5D Mark II Noise Reduction causing a blurry and less detailed image.

5D Mark II Noise Reduction causing a blurry and less detailed image. Images taken from the review at The Digital Picture.

In a review on The Digital Picture, you can clearly see the difference when comparing sample images from the 5D Mark II with and without in camera noise reduction. The pictures with in camera noise reduction look blurry and less detailed. And it appears that even as low as ISO 100, the camera still applies a bit of noise reduction, which can’t be turned off apparently (*) (I have yet to confirm this). This is what happens ofcourse, when you try to cram megapixels onto a small sensor instead of giving priority to image quality. Most people would have preferred the same 12MP sensor from the original 5D, with the improvements from the new 21MP sensor (gapless microlenses, etc.), resulting in MUCH better image quality and high ISO performance. But apparently Canon is completely out of touch with the market (no surprise here).

A review at the Online Photographer points out the following:

And here’s where we come to the Canon 5D Mark II. No, the Canon does not have the A900’s ungodly resolving power; but it comes reasonably close. And no, sorry, no matter what you’ve heard here, there, and everywhere, the Canon does not match the Nikon’s (D700) high-ISO performance.

I have to admit I have some mild reservations about the 5D Mark II’s image quality. It’s very good, no question: Canon has hit the “what consumers want” targets on the nose: More Megapixels! Less Noise! (Great Taste, Less Filling). But there’s at least a partial price to pay for all that tasty goodness. It shows up in the form of what I’d group under the heading “artifacts.”

Then there’s the quality of the Canon’s noise. It’s a bit tilted towards the chroma type, and it has a weird, blotchy character. (I don’t read the forums—is the consensus that Canon is applying noise reduction to the raw file?)

Then there’s an entirely new artifact that, as far as I know, is unique to the 5D Mark II: sometimes you’ll see black fringing next to blown highlights, but only on the right-hand side. Weird. This shows up fairly often in the shooting I’ve been doing at night that includes Christmas lights.

Finally, there’s highlight clipping. This is probably my most serious reservation about the Canon because it really does affect the look of pictures. Here I have to go back to the Sony A900, which is particularly good in this respect.

With regard to the black fringing in images from the 5D Mark II, there currently is an even bigger problem refered to as the black dot issue.

5D Mark II Black Dots Issue

5D Mark II Black Dots Issue

The black dots can appear next to highlights in images taken with a 5D Mark II, and even in videos recorded with it, which can result in a post processing nightmare. Just check out this post at Fake Chuck Westfall for more details and sample images. And as if all of this isn’t enough, the 5D Mark II also suffers from banding issues that look ugly in pictures that are affected by this problem.

5D Mark II Banding Issue

5D Mark II Banding Issue

Again, check out this post at Fake Chuck Westfall for details and samples. These are very serious image quality problems, and Canon has announced that they are looking into it and are going to try and fix these issues, but there’s no word on when this will happen and what the fixes will be. Hopefully people won’t have to send their cameras back to Canon like happened during the recent 1D Mark III autofocus fiasco. You would think that Canon would have learned from all the quality control issues they have had the last few years with camera bodies and lenses. But that sure didn’t happen.

And the 5D Mark II would already have a hard time competing with the D700 and A900 if it worked well because of all its shortcomings, but these issues make it a lot worse. So it’s no surprise that there have been reports everywhere of people cancelling their 5D Mark II pre-orders and of demand slowing down:

Hi, I’m currently in Hong Kong and there seems to be quite an abundance of 5Dmk2 in the shops – especially the kit with the 24-105 lens.
It seems with the economic uncertainty, coupled with the blackdot scare, a lot of people have dropped their names from the waiting list. Prices however are still high and most of the reputable stores like Man Shing, Wing Shing and Citi are charging around $20800 HKD ($2683 USD) for the body only and $28000 HDK ($3612 USD) for the kit.

Unfortunately, the same faith of the 50D awaits the 5D Mark II. The 5D Mark II is too little too late. The price of the 5D Mark II will go down as early as next month if Canon wants to be able to continue selling. With the competition offering better options, even at lower prices (the D700), the 5D Mark II can’t possibly sell for $2700 very long. Right now Canon is probably trying to get the money from early buyers, who by the way are discovering they spent their money on a product that has issues. And just think about it, the 5D Mark II is a body similar to the 50D. About the only thing that is different, is that the 5D Mark II has a fullframe sensor inside and has video capabilities. Essentially, compared to the 50D, Canon expects users to pay $1600 more for a fullframe 21MP sensor (5D Mark II price of $2700 minus 50D price of $1100). And the 50D even has a better AF system! I don’t think the $1600 price for the sensor and video capability alone is justified. The 5D Mark II should cost around $1800, especially taking into account that the Nikon D700 currently sells for $2400 and is a fully featured pro body with a 51 point AF system that completely blows away anything Canon has to offer, even in their expensive 1D series bodies. At $1800, I think the price of the 5D Mark II would have been competitive. But not at $2700, so expect the price to significantly drop in the coming months.

Right now the Nikon D700 and the Sony A900 are making short work of the 5D Mark II. The Nikon D700 is currently the world’s best DSLR body on the market, and it even costs cheaper than a 5D Mark II (current price: D700 $2400, 5D Mark II $2700). I expect the D700 to remain the best DSLR on the market for well until early 2010, or when Nikon releases the D700x (or D800). Canon simply won’t be able to respond until October 2009, and even then, we’ll have to see what they come up with. What is certain is that the 5D Mark II will have a short life, as short as one year, and certainly not the 3 years that the 5D had.

(*) What I mean by this, is that even if you turn off the noise reduction on the camera completely, the camera still applies a bit of noise reduction even at lower ISO values which you can’t turn off. I have yet to confirm if this is really the case.

Update 12/28/2008: In a previous post, I had already discussed the poor AF system of the 5D Mark II. In that post, I had warned about its performance, about it being slow and not very accurate. At the end of that post, I discussed how it seemed like even a wedding pro had difficulty getting his POSED shots in focus. And recently, a fashion photographer got a chance to experience first hand just how bad the AF system of the 5D Mark II really is. Check out the post on his website. Here’s a quote:

So this week I got a change to use the 5D2 for a real shoot, using daylight which is my favorite way to shoot. Unfortunately, for full body shots, I got many frames where the model is out of focus. I counted 50% of the shots out-of-focus using the outer AF points and my 85 1.2 on a tripod! A few were due to movement of the model, but mostly just due to misfocus with the outer AF points which were positioned over her face. Fortunately I noticed this fairly early on and switched to the center AF point, which worked fine.

A week prior I found that these outer AF points work like a charm with the 85 1.2 lens in fairly bright light outdoors, but they apparently are not stellar performers when it’s dim. This is very disappointing in a $3000 camera. You will definitely do better with the 1Ds2 or 1Ds3 if you are shooting dim available light as I often do.  However if you are in a situation where you can use the center point 100% of the time the 5D2 AF should work fine.

I saw these issues coming way in advance. Right now forums around the Internet all have similar stories from users who are complaining about the autofocus system of the 5D Mark II. The Pop Photo review which I mentioned above warned about these issues too.

Also, I’m not the only one who thinks Canon is in trouble. Check out this post.

With regard to the color blotches problem which I mentioned in some comments below, check this post on DPReview. Happens even as low as ISO 100.

Update 12/30/2008: The Online Photographer made the 5D Mark II their camera of the year. And that, my friends,  is the joke of the year. Keep in mind that the same people at the Online Photographer were mentioning all the image quality problems with the 5D Mark II. I quoted them above. At PDN, they seem to understand better what a camera of the year is (the Nikon D700).

Some of you might remember that I got banned a while ago from the DPReview forums because of discussing Canon quality control issues. I wrote about that here. The Digital Picture launched their forums today and as a frequent visitor, I registered and posted a link to this post on my blog, requesting feedback from people. I was already getting some responses when a few hours later I get an email from the webmaster, Bryan Carnathan, that he deleted my post:

Your post was deleted by Bryan Carnathan.

Subject: Canon EOS 5D Mark II: Barely worth it!

Reason: Karel,

I welcome you to the community, but would rather you not bring your anti-canon posts here.



Thank you,
Photography Community team

So it looks like only pro-canon posts are allowed there. This is plain censorship, and nothing more. If there is one thing I don’t like on the Internet, and anywhere else for that matter, it’s censorship. If you take a look at the comments below, you’ll see that I allow everyone to post their opinions on my site. Whether they agree with me or not, some of the comments are very harsh sometimes. But even that is tolerated. So I have to wonder why these websites, like DPReview and The Digital Picture feel the need to censor my opinion on Canon. Perhaps the reasons are what I discussed in a previous post about the DPReview case.

Update 01/02/2009: After exchanging some emails with Bryan Carnathan, I was able to explain to him the purpose of my “anti-Canon” posts and he has agreed to restore my original post back on the forum. Basically I told him I am a Canon user and that the purpose of all this is not just to bash Canon, but to make it absolutely clear we’re not very satisfied with how things are going right now and to stimulate Canon to improve in the future. If that happens, it will benefit all of us. It is important to be critical of Canon, otherwise those of us who have invested in Canon gear will be forced to look for alternatives in the future.

Update 01/03/2009: I mentioned already that Canon has been overhyping the high ISO and low noise capability of the 5D Mark II, just like they did with the 50D. And already people are beginning to discover this around the Internet. When comparing RAW files of the 5D Mark II with the older 5D and cameras like the 40D, there’s little improvement with regard to noise. In fact, the 5D Mark II images even contain a good amount of noise as low as ISO 100!!! This can be seen especially in the darker parts of images and out of focus areas (bokeh). I mentioned a while ago in the comments below that I could have seen this in the noise review at Luminous Landscapes. There you can clearly see the noise in the ISO 100 shots of the 5D Mark II. Image quality has sunken to a new low with this. Check this thread on DPReview, here are some quotes:

Despite the hype about the 5DII, it looks like it’s only marginally better, if at all, than the Canon 450D. I did a test against my 40D and it was at most 2/3 of a stop better than my 40D at high ISO, and the 40D is very similar to the 450D

I agree—I’m absolutely in love with the 5D2, but I have to say that it’s low-light performance isn’t mind-blowingly great.

I hope I’m not insane.

cropped this picture, no resize and max quality in DPP

2 problems with it.

1. The dittering in the background. I like taking pictures with blurry background. ISO 100 gives me nice blur… ISO 400 and up.. gives me dithering…. It reminds me of those 8 bit GIF’s from the old days

2. Sharpness no more. My F2.8 lens usually manages to make the subject I take pictures of stand out from the background.. but here is is just flat…. I always get this when I shoot high ISO… ISO 100.. sharp, almost 3D look alike… high ISO.. just a pixel blur.

I certainly don’t need to zoom the picture in anyway to see this “issues”

I don’t deny that in good sun light and you want to shoot 1/4000 of a second.. High ISO is good. But in poor sunlight and 1/40 second.. high ISO doesn’t work for me quality vise.

Sorry I meant noiseless ISO 400 5D2 shot, but now that I think about it, even ISO 100 shots seem to have shadow noise in the shots I’ve seen for the 5D2 🙁

Is there grain? Yes, of course. But .. so? DPP does a really nice job of removing enough chroma noise so that the image looks good (I rarely go over 10 in the chroma reduction level, more like 5-10).

I don’t see why some people are so afraid of some grain, I personally find it kind of pleasing to look at. (Ed: Yeah, tell that to the stock agencies).

ISO 100 shadows are the 5D2’s weak spot. Canon took no care to avoid banding in this camera, especially vertical banding, which is the predominant banding at ISO 100.

Please  note that when comparing it’s important that you compare RAW images. The 5D Mark II JPEG images look cleaner and contain less noise, but that’s because they are being processed in the camera with noise reduction. But as a result of this, these images also look blurry and less detailed, as I discussed above with sample images from The Digital Picture. That’s unacceptable.

Update 01/07/2009: I came across another review of the 5D Mark II. Here are some quotes:

Sample images have shown that the DIGIC IV is doing some skillful noise reduction in-camera. JPEG shooters should seriously rejoice. The RAW files may be somewhat of a disappointment to concert photographers as Canon’s Chuck Westfall was reported to say that the RAW performance of the 5DmarkII sensor as being similar to that of the 1DSmarkIII, which is only spec’d to ISO1600.

Honestly, the focusing specs of the 5D Mark II are the most personally disappointing part of the camera. With only 9 selectable AF points clustered at the center of the viewfinder, the photographer is forced to focus and recompose the image more often than not.

While not horrible on its own, focus and recompose is horrible for tracking a moving subject while maintaining a specific composition. I know a lot of concert photographers who make due with Canon’s 9 point system, but coming from the 1D Mark III, which has 19 selectable points, I have little interest in anything less.

Furthermore, I believe only the center point of the 9 AF sensors present on the 5D Mark II is cross-type and sensitive to f/2.8. This is particularly important to concert photographers who are regularly forced to shoot at f/2.8 or faster. Without getting into the details, the outer 8 AF points on the 5DmkII are several stops less accurate under normal concert conditions than the center point.

My biggest fear is that Canon has put too much energy into the megapixel race and very little energy into improving other features of the camera that really affect the feature set and user experience.

I personally had a lot of hopes for this camera as a smaller FF backup to my 1D Mark III. The specifications of this camera were a significant factor in my recent decision to switch to Nikon.

Especially pay attention to the last sentence above. “Switch to Nikon.” Unfortunately, many are doing so right now, and many are looking to make the switch soon because of the disappointing products from Canon lately.

Update 02/09/2009: In the mean time some more examples have been posted of the 5D Mark II focus issues. The fashion shooter I mentioned above, who had trouble getting his 5D Mark II to focus properly got another 5D Mark II body, and apparently he had the same issues with that one. Now he has decided to NOT use the 5D Mark II AT ALL. Here’s what he had to say:

There are a few issues with this camera which I can not live with. The AF is still pretty bad on this, my second 5D2 body in anything but the brightest of light. (the first one was returned with abysmal focusing and weird image quality issues.)
People right and left are reporting failures in damp conditions/light rain. There were a bunch of 5D2 failures on Michael Reichmann’s Antarctic trip.

I cringe every time I remember this scenario: I was shooting advertising with the 5D2 with models, hair, makeup, stylists, etc waiting on me. As I was shooting tethered, the art director was standing next to me looking at the monitor and saying “they are soft!”, and I was there thinking, yeah, I can see that, but I don’t know what the f*ck to do about it. This is after hours or working with the AF microadjustments, etc., etc.

I cringe when I think about something like that happening to me as well.

And that’s not all. Another photographer compared the old 5D to the new 5D Mark II, doing some tests with both camera’s in the same conditions, and noticed that the 5D Mark II did not focus consistently, and that shots from the 5D Mark II were in fact slightly out of focus often:

I’ve come to the conclusion that the 5Deux has A.D.D. Sometimes it focuses very well. Other times, it’s slightly disappointing compared to results from the old 5D. I know the 5Deux can focus well, because I’ve got proof, it just doesn’t focus well ALL of the time, which is annoying.

I’ve seen other photographers say that they’ve had similar results, so I guess this is pretty common among 5Deux owners.

In conclusion, the 5Deux did not walk away with a clear decisive victory because of the focus issue.

So again, I have to ask, what the FUCK is the use of 21 megapixels when you can’t focus properly?!?! Take a good look at the sample pictures posted in the above mentioned review, and notice how the 5D Mark II images are out of focus compared to the old 5D. All the extra resolution you expect from the 5D Mark II can’t be achieved because of the very poor autofocus system.

And here’s what PDN had to say about the 5D Mark II autofocus capabilities in their review:

A bigger issue is the annoyingly slow speed of the 5D Mark II’s autofocusing in low contrast, low light situations. These are the sorts of situations where the 5D II should really shine especially since the High ISO/low light capabilities of its 24 x 36mm CMOS sensor are so impressive.

Though we didn’t experience problems with the focus while shooting inside the dimly lit subway station and in Grand Central Terminal, when I later went to photograph the park at night, I found that the 5D II would often hunt for focus, racking in and out until it would finally lock in. On occasion, the camera couldn’t find focus at all.

The problem really lies with Canon’s resistance to updating the 5D II to a new autofocus system. The camera uses the same 9-point selectable AF with 6 assist points around the center as its predecessor, a system which clearly is getting a little long in the tooth. While Canon’s resistance might be understandable—after it upgraded its Mark III series pro cameras to a new 19-point/16-assist point autofocus system it faced many complaints from photographers about autofocus misfires—it still doesn’t solve the problem of putting a creaky old autofocus system in a brand new camera.

Yep, I saw this coming way in advance.

Update 04/18/2009: Some more people talking about the issues with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Photographer Zack Arias said the following:

• The AF system sucks in low light situations. Every Nikon I have ever owned from the D100 to the D3 can lock focus faster and more accurately than the 5d does in low light levels.
• Nikon still pwns Canon at ISO 3200 and up.
• It’s slow as Christmas compared to the shooting speed and buffer of the D3.
• The ergonomics. The 5d feels like a brick in my hands even with the grip. The D3 feels like a glove.

He later also says:

I will tell you this though… when it comes time to shoot the reception tomorrow night I bet you the 5d goes back in the bag because the auto focus is useless in low light. You’d think they could do something about that. The D3 can focus in just about any dark environment I find myself in. The 5d requires you to be standing on the surface of the sun to have enough light to focus. Ok, maybe not right on the surface but pretty close. The AF system on the Canon can not even be compared to the Nikon. In this area Canon sucks and Nikon rocks. The rest seems to be up for debate.

Photographer Lloyd Chambers had the following to say:

This latest AF issue follows on the heels of a Live View exposure problem with the Canon 5D Mark II. I think it’s fair so say that with 3 professional camera models with issues, this firmly establishes Canon as having a track record of not testing products adequately. And at the cost of customer time, hassle, and perhaps money.

I couldn’t agree more. I have written a couple of posts about Canon quality control problems. Just search my blog for them.


  1. Canon having bad luck? Disaster with 5D Mark II and 50D. | Photo Skills by Constantin Chirila (29/12/2008)
  2. Karel Donk » Blog Archive » deletes “anti-Canon” post about the EOS 5D Mark II (02/01/2009)
  3. Karel Donk » Blog Archive » Canon EOS 5D Mark II: NOT WORTH IT - Save your money! (09/02/2009)
  4. Karel Donk’s Blog » Blog Archive » Canon EOS 1D Mark IV Reviews & Thoughts (09/02/2010)
  5. Karel Donk's Blog » Blog Archive » Canon EOS 5D Mark II – A Piece of Shit (10/06/2011)
  6. Karel Donk's Blog » Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review (18/07/2012)


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