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|| News Item: Posted 2005-12-22

Canon 5D Users Report
By Dan MacMedan, Contract Photographer for USA Today

Photo by Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY

Photo by Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY

TOP: Sarah Jessica Parker, EOS-1D Mark II; 58mm, 1/4@f14; 100 asa; BOTTOM: Sarah Jessica Parker, EOS-5D; 70mm, 1/4 sec @f14, 100 asa (Note: Bottom image shot with the 5D is about 1/2 stop darker.)
Let me begin by announcing this right from the top: This is not going to be an objective review. When I was approached by Sports Shooter to test-drive the new Canon 5D, I was initially excited. But then I thought to myself, "Who am I to do a review?? I have nothing to compare this to! I shoot MKII's and film with Mamiya RZ67! Am I really the best person to give a critical review? Shouldn't somebody who shoots a 20D be better?"

I made a quick phone call to Brad Mangin, who reviewed the new Canon EOS Mark IIn last month. He assured me that we're just "a couple of morons who get to play with some cool new cameras" and to write a little thing on what we think. If you want to read about how many photons land on each pixel on the sensor?? Go right now over to Rob Galbraith's site. You want to hear about what a regular Joe Photog thought after a month with it?? Read on!!

The 5D arrives from Canon and is brand spankin' new!…new battery, new strap, new 1 gig CF card (came separately, not included with the camera), it was like Christmas was early…so let's see what all the fuss is about!

Since I am a Mark II guy, the first thing you notice is how light it is…I'm sure all the 20D users out there will think nothing of it, but for someone who lugs MKII's and sometimes a Mamiya 67, this is a big difference. It actually feels so light you might think it's flimsy…it's not really, but you might think it at first..

The next big surprise is the full frame sensor. I haven't shot on a 35mm film camera in some time, and have completely forgotten what it looks like to view an image that big. It really brings back "ahh the good 'old days" feeling from those big viewfinder's we had in our EOS 1N's.

One drawback I had early on was that you have to learn the new controls, you 20D folks can skip over this, it should be mostly the same. However, if you come from the MKII side of things or have a Mark II as your main camera, you'll soon see how this can get complicated bouncing back and forth between the two. Which is exactly how I decided to test these cameras against each other.

I take it to my first assignment, a portrait session with actress Sarah Jessica Parker. I do all my set up and testing on the Mark II because that's my reliable default. Then I set up the 5D with the exact same settings and at the beginning of the session, before I even have tweaked my lights to exactly where I want them, I bust off a few frames from each camera and notice something very interesting. The 5D is about 1/2 stop darker than the Mark II.

The 5D also happens to be about where my Mamiya RZ's exposure on transparency film also falls. Now I've become accustomed to digital chips being "hot" and this is almost always a good thing, especially when shooting sports. (When is being able to shoot 500 at 2.8 not better than 250 @ 2.8?) But here with the 5D, Canon seems to be trying to bring digital exposure more into line with their film counterparts and converting those remaining die hards who shoot film into the digital world.

One of the real benefits of the digital over film now is how good the digital is at high ISO settings. Recently on a set visit to the show "My Name is Earl" I had been following around the cast during taping for most of the day using my Mark II with a sound blimp on it.

Photo by Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY

Photo by Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY

Set visit with NBC's hit sitcom "My Name is Earl," Starring Jason Lee who plays Earl, Jamie Pressly who plays Joy, and Eddie Steeples who plays Darnell. Canon EOS 5D; 29mm, 1/50@f3.5; 800 asa.
I really hadn't gotten a nice lead shot for the story with that day's cast, but then there was about five minutes of down time and I could have three of the members pose for a quick portrait. I didn't have any of my usual Dyna-Light set up, so I asked a couple of the lighting techs if they could spare me a couple of Kino Flo's and quickly threw up some light.

Now TV lighting these days is really low compared to what we need, so 800 ISO was a must, even in a portrait set up. But the 5D's chip held up really nice, just about as nice as if it had been shot on a lower ISO. Can you imagine this shot on 800-speed film? Or even 800 speed digital five years ago?

I also used the 5D as a third camera around my neck during a recent Oregon State - UCLA football game. It was homecoming and somewhere around the end of the third quarter I recognized a friend of mine on the sideline who was a UCLA cheerleader when I went to that school in the mid 1980's (they invite past cheerleaders and such back to participate in the homecoming festivities) of course I offered to take some shots of her and her friend.

I was not only impressed by how good my friend still looked in her outfit, (let's see, college in the mid 80's - you do the math), but the shots taken at ISO 1250 also seemed to hold up really nice. Even in the awful end zone light of the Rose Bowl, the whites are white, the blacks are pretty deep with some noise, but really nothing compared to how the old 1D's would fall off at high ISO.

I had already decided that if I were to buy a 5D, it would be in lieu of a Mark IIs, not that I can justify one yet, but that's where the competition is. Right from the start I didn't feel that the 5D was in any way going to replace my Mark II for a variety of reasons.

The frame rate, shutter release, etc, make it inferior to the Mark II as a sporting event camera. You really get the feeling this is a camera more meant for work at a deliberate pace, something to use when doing documentary work, portraits, landscapes. With that in mind I decided to enlist the opinion of a friend of mine, David Butow, who is a contract photographer with US News & World Report. Here's a guy who still shoots film, likes small cameras, does involved feature work.

When I showed him the camera and let him use it for a couple of days, he was very impressed. Where I didn't like the feel of the camera so small compared to my MKII, he really liked it and was used to it because of his film cameras. It was such a problem for me while using long lenses that I actually contacted Canon and had them send out the battery grip. I felt the grip with the extra batteries made the camera a better platform. I was able to grip it tighter and hold it steadier when shooting with longer lenses like a 70-200 2.8 zoom. Butow thought the opposite, he liked it without the grip. He felt it was less intrusive when using small lenses and trying to be inconspicuous in foreign countries.

Another factor is that he almost always uses short focal length, small, prime lenses. "This is the camera I've been waiting for, a full-frame digital SLR that's the same size as a film camera," he said, "The full frame aspect is important to me because I like the larger focusing area and the ability to use fast prime lenses like the 35mm 1.4 at the perspective they were designed for.

Photo by Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY

Photo by Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY

The UCLA Bruins play against the Oregon State Beavers at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. Canon EOS 5D; 16mm, 1/500@f2.8; 1250 asa.
"I like the ability to set color balance and to use the camera in black and white mode and the large review screen is great." The only real complaint he had was something that is more of a personal preference, it doesn't bother me, but was very important to him. "I wish you could use the top dial to set aperture like you can on the old EOS 1's and 3's with the custom function. I really hate using that rear wheel."

To bring it down into a nutshell, whether you should buy this camera, yes or no, I can break it down like this:

If you have a 20D and are looking for your next camera, want a second body, etc. Run don't walk to your camera store, or click the shopping cart button, call the 800 number whatever it takes to get this. You won't be disappointed in any way. You'll get all the benefits of this great new full frame sensor and more. You'll be able to cover just about any assignment and the 5D will get you all that extra wide angle stuff while the 20D will let you use moderate telephoto lenses at the increased capability due to the 1.6 magnification.

If you're just starting out? Yes, this is a great camera, but it won't be your primary sports camera. It's just too slow.

Now here's the tricky part, and where I'm at a dilemma. I already have Mark II bodies so do I get this 5D??? Do I deal with the different batteries, different function controls, and other little things that come with using two different systems?

For example: The 5D doesn't show the ISO number all the time. You have to push a button to show you what it is. I got used to the Mark II showing that and I got caught on the wrong ISO at a shoot once because I mistook the shutter speed as the ISO. Not a really big deal, but it costs a lot of money to go with the Mark IIs to get all that back.

On the other hand if you've got 2-5 minutes for a shoot and you're bouncing back and forth between cameras, familiarity with a single system is worth its weight in gold.

Choices choices.

(Dan MacMedan is contract photographer with USA TODAY based in Southern California. You can check out Dan's member gallery at:

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