When the Canon 5D digital single lens reflex debuted in August 2005 it introduced a new camera type to the catalogue and defined a new category of photographer. The 5D was the first full frame DSLR in a conventional form, smaller and lighter than the professional 1D series. It was aimed at professionals who didn’t need the functions and bulk of the 1D which was intended for photo journalists and sports photographers, and it was also intended for well-heeled amateurs who wanted the better image quality from a full 35mm frame sensor, even if it did top out at a miserly 12.8 megapixels. At least they were fat pixels with good signal to noise.
In 2008 Canon launched the MkII with a 21 megapixel sensor and the ability to record high definition video and a classic was born. The 5D MkII became an incredibly popular camera with both stills and video photographers. It was the first stills camera to give broadcast quality video and was used in production in the US and Britain.
An episode of House, “Help Me”, was shot entirely on the Canon 5D Mark II, replacing the drama’s usual 35mm film format. In this episode a building collapses, trapping a woman under the fallen masonry, and House is forced to operate in a dimly lit confined space. The director chose to recreate the space to actual size and took advantage of the smaller Canon cameras to add realism to the episode.
One of the earliest and most spectacular applications of the 5D MkII for video is a travel documentary shot by Michael Fletcher in the north-west of WA and available on Vimeo …
The 5D MkII was followed by the MkIII, with some improvements but probably not enough to make happy MkII owners trade in their treasured cameras. And now comes the MkIV, this time with significant advances over the predecessors.
Resolution is increased to 30.4 megapixels and 4K video has been added. The autofocus system has been borrowed from the 1D X, meaning that it has the tracking abilities of the top sports camera. One nice touch in the auto focus settings in the menu is that each function is described in plain English. For instance what Canon call “Case 4” is a setting “For subjects that accelerate or decelerate quickly.” Knowing which setting is best for tracking a moving subject is helpful when shooting video or, in stills, fast moving birds or footballers.
The large optical viewfinder is a thing of beauty but the LCD screen is fixed, which is not so sweet. Canon claim that this is to improve weather sealing, but other companies manage to fit a moveable LCD and still claim good environmental sealing.
The so-called Liveview still leaves a lot to be desired. When switched to Liveview for either video or stills the mirror is raised and the viewfinder is blacked out. In this day and age when mirrorless cameras can give a simultaneous view on the LCD and in the eye level viewfinder the DSLR approach seems pre-historic. And what Canon calls “silent shooting” with this camera is more clackety clack than truly silent, as can be done with a mirrorless camera.
Still image quality is simply superb. JPEG processing is very good but the RAW files have the little extra zing and detail that justify any extra work in post-camera processing. Auto exposure, focus and white balance are all spot on. In many respects the Canon 5D MkIV is the true and worthy successor to the MkII. Built-in WiFi and NFC connectivity have arrived at last, bringing a conservative camera range within cooee of 2016.
At $5100 street price for the body alone this will not be on everyone’s Christmas wish list. The Nikon D810 at $3500 is serious competition, but without 4K video, and the Sony a7R MkII at $4100 is a more modern, mirrorless camera that does do 4K. But for Canon owners with a bag of lenses and accessories the 5D MkIV will still be the way to go and they won’t be disappointed..
Be warned: the printed user manual is 660 pages, every one stuffed with essential information.