At the Family Christmas dinner, I used my Canon Speedlite 580EX MKII. This unit is the best mobile flash I have ever used. It uses intelligent TTL metering and has a full range of manual settings as well. I used a Diffuser Cup over the flash to soften the light or simply bounced it into a white ceiling and with the 5D MKII’s Speedlite settings, I was able to shoot some fantastic pics! Being able to quickly dial up exposure compensation on the back of the speedlite was also incredible handy for adjusting the foreground exposure.
Later, We travelled to Daylesford Victoria for the annual New Years Eve parade and various family activities at the Farm and the Town House. Both these places have served as my testing location for many different camera systems over the years because they are a rich hunting ground for Texture, Antiques and incredible vistas. For any photographer, they provide real world conditions to many common photographic situations. The Australian Harsh Sun can truly test any camera for it’s dynamic range capabilities as an example.
It’s here I really found that the 5D MKII has some amazing attributes over the original 5D (which I also own). The shear resolution of the camera is impressive. Generally I use to leave my 24-105mm Canon zoom on the 5D. On the new 5D MKII, I found that the resolution of this lens has been superseded by the capabilities of the sensor. To the ordinary lay person, it’s probably not noticeable, however I found the images with this lens were softer in nature and the Vignetting I used to find attractive on the Original 5D now appears too much on the New version. To clarify, I’m subjectively comparing both the 24-105 zoom lens on both cameras as well as comparing the sharpness taken on my 100-400mm Canon L Series Zoom Lens. I also have a 15mm semi fisheye Canon fixed lens. This also appears to be softer in nature but that is to be expected from a really wide angle lens. My point is that both 24-104 and the 15mm lenses on the new 5D MKII show their respective flaws much quicker and in a more obvious way then they ever did on the lesser sensor of the original 5D camera.
For me, it points out the importance of choosing the best glass possible when buying lenses. Testing the quality of lenses is quite a science whether it’s on a Stills Camera or on Motion Picture Camera’s. However there are a few things you should always do before buying. Physically test the lens for yourself and Read as many reviews as you can - Most likely others have already performed all the scientific tests for you, however pay attention to any bias towards brand names etc. Not everyone has an agnostic opinion when it comes to choice of manufacturer. There does appear to be quite a war between Canon and Nikon users which is a shame. Both are great Camera Manufacturers however there are others rising fast in the background. Sony, RED and Panasonic are all new names entering into the market with some pretty interesting gear! Third party manufacturers of Lenses also exist and Sigma for instance have some pretty nice lenses with Canon mounts.
Lastly, when reading up on reviews from others about lenses, It pays to understand some of the science they used to test with. For me, this breaks down to 3 major factors – The lenses light gathering ability (T stop/ F stop), Resolving power (sharpness and detail), and Distortion amount (vignetting and lens aberration particularly at the edges). There are other factors but these are my main concern. Understanding how these three are tested is useful in decided the quality of the review. If a reviewer fails to explain his or her testing procedure, then you should treat the review as someone’s opinion only. I’m not going to go into the details of how to test a Lens here however googling around reveals plenty of great resources available on the Net. Here’s a good site on Lens Testing with some downloadable test targets.
As for my testing of the 5D MKII, I was particularly impressed with the camera’s ability when I had a very good lens onboard. The 100 – 400mm L series Canon Zoom I own is amazing. It’s very clean and sharp and although the lens is a f4.5-5.6, the 5D MKII’s higher ISO with no perceptible noise increase (up to ISO 1600) makes this point mute! When I controlled the light by using the sun as a backlight or using a scrim, the picture looks very natural and smooth in the colour transitions. I deliberately setup a few different scenarios that pushed the dynamic range of the camera. That is, the camera’s capability to record the detail in the Whitest and Blackest sections of the image. I photographed my sisters new puppy “Gypsy” with a roll of white toilet paper. The scene was shot at sunset with the sun heavily backlighting the scene. I was amazed at how well information in the shadows was recorded while still retaining a good amount in the highlights. The highlights did blow out and ultimately I would still like to see a firmware upgrade to the camera that provides even more latitude in the highlights sometime soon. However, overall the colour handling was impressive. The transition from one colour to the next was smooth despite whichever RAW processor I used (I used both Apples Aperture and Adobes Camera Raw to process the RAW images). Other scenarios placed subjects in fields of Lavender, Grass and in partly shaded forests where again both the Colour handling and dynamic range can be seen. As far as erganomics of the camera are concered. There aren’t too many physical differences between the Original 5D and the new version. Differences can be found however within the menu structure. Everything is much faster to get to know, and sensibly categorised.
To end my ramblings, I was glad I took the time to really play with the camera before the New Year jobs roll on in. One thing I didn’t fully test was the 5D’s video capabilities. I have recorded some clips, but I find the process of shooting video on the 5D MKII quite difficult. Ergonomically it’s awkward. I would almost prefer to be able to look down the viewfinder while shooting video and not have to always use the “Live-view” mode. I simply can’t see focus on such a small screen on the back of the 5D as well as crane myself into an uncomfortable position to be able to see it! The lack of 24/25P recording is also a major factor. As a result I think the best approach at the moment is to shoot video that is static (no panning and tilting) in nature. Those tests look great but can only be described as “Photographs in motion”! Here again I hope Canon will post a firmware upgrade for the Camera soon. The Ergonomic issues could be solved with the use of an external monitor.