a (fashion) shooter

Canon 5D2: so long

by on Feb.08, 2009, under cameras

My 5D2 is now gone. I couldn’t take it.
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 am used to the 1-series bodies, which have never given me issues – the AF on the 1Ds3 has been superb. I get nearly 100% in-focus shots on the 1Ds3, as opposed to 50-70% typically in focus with the 5D2. Even my original 5D bodies have more consistent AF. Sheesh. There is also banding in shadow areas, even at 200 ISO and with the firmware update. I do not have any banding issues on my 3 other Canon cameras.
Additionally I still feel the 5D2 files are not as pretty as the 1Ds3 files are. Maybe it’s the new low pass filter, maybe it’s something else…anyway, with the grip and two batteries inside, it’s not noticeably lighter than the 1Ds3. So, I’ll try again with a video/DSLR camera once Canon sorts this thing out, or Nikon comes out with a good one. In the mean time, I’ll be shooting my older 5D bodies which have been bullet proof for years, 1Ds3 (which I LOVE) and perhaps a Nikon D700 just for kicks.
I do not usually shoot in conditions where I need to worry about water resistance in a camera, but lately I have been. Here are a few images of my friend Jenny’s horses (5D2.) I was shooting there because I am planning a fashion shoot this spring which will involve horses. Once again, there were many blurry shots, and what looks like very brittle looking images. Here are a few which turned out ok:
In the end, when the stakes are high (as they are whenever I am shooting a job) using a camera which I am not sure is focusing correctly, or which I am afraid may fail if there is moisture in the air, etc. is not my idea of a good time. There are plenty of things to worry about on a shoot. I don’t think my camera should be one of them.
(*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.)
40 comments for this entry:
  1. stiksandstones

    thats no good. I shot in the rain last week on a mountain bike shoot, I shot with my 1ds2 and 5d2. I babied both cameras because thats what I do, kept them covered, had them wrapped, etc…when I got back to my truck, just let bodies dry and drove home with heater on.
    I had no issues….but the 5d2 AF still sucks bad, just like my 5d.
    If I ever can find a 1ds3 for $4000, I will buy one.

  2. AFS

    Get the 1Ds3. It’s really killer. Doesn’t feel as heavy as the older ones, AF is great, files are gorgeous – they have a rich and deep look. Good luck getting one ;-)

  3. Vadim

    Sigh…. fully agree with you Ron. Did a model shoot this past saturday, the contrast wasn’t ever too high or low… just those outer points can’t lock in for $hit. Center point is alright, but still, accuracy isn’t great. My previous 5D was a little better. I’m lucky I mostly shoot product/jewelry, with the Live View, AF is dead on =) If that was a client job, hell would I been flushing red and would sweat bullets.

    I’m just wondering how wedding photogs can get anything good out of the AF in high key situations…. as this is THE camera for weddings…. err..

    My 1.21 canadian cents…

  4. Peopleshooter

    I bought the 5D Mk II a month ago as a backup cam to my 1DsMkIII, primarily because of its well-reviewed low-light capability and well-reviewed (LaForet) video ability. I am shooting without the battery grip (keeping the weight off) and with a new (for me) Zeiss 1.4 50mm, manual focusing lens. Output is fine, crisp, clear bright. If you put the cam on a tripod, and manually focus with the cam in live view, the focus is tack sharp. So, far, it’s working for me. BTW, I’ve had plenty of trouble focusing my 1Ds MkIII with my 85L on a moving child, I imagine because of the shallow DOF.

  5. Dave Chilvers

    Hiya Ron

    I`m really amazed at the difference between cameras, I`m in the UK and was an early adopter. I don`t use the off centre AF points as much as the centre but in general I use the camera without grip and my initial use was going to be for light trekking etc rather than carry my 1dsmk3 but I can honestly say that my 1dsmk3 has become my back up in the car or just has a manual focus lens on because I have a split screen in it.
    I have found the files to be sharper out of the camera, no dust and superb ability to check for focus etc on the lcd.
    I`m really perplexed at the difference that people are finding with the 5D2. I did say that I reckon they are being made and assembled in more than one factory and maybe that`s causing the problems. What ever probably my biggest judge of my work is my wife (eagle eyed and doesn`t hold back her punches) and she reckons my work has jumped up since using the 5D2 and I must agree.
    Thanks for sharing Ron.


  6. Jose

    Hi Ron,

    Sorry to hear that the 5DMKII did not work for you. I continue to be ecstatic with mine. I even tried mine in sports and the AF performed very well. For me the only weakness of my 5DMKII is—–it won’t AF when the model is extremely backlit. It happened to me twice already, one outdoors and one indoors when there is strong light coming from the window right behind the model. The lenses just kept on ‘hunting’. I think in this regard I better learn how to use Live View.

    Best regards,


  7. Andy

    Hi Ron

    Another UK 5dMII user here, I was quite ballsy with mine and shot a wedding two days after getting it – took plenty just to make sure.

    I’ve had no AF problems at all so far – a million miles from the 5D with 24-105L (infact saold the old 5D to the Groom on the day having used it as backup body) I do have exposure issues from time to time, one complete screw up with people walking in through a door with bright sunlight behind it.

    The camera performed okay indoors – I was supprised how much I needed to adjust the ISO, but the shots were hard work anyway due to the amount of sunlight blasting in. However – I got 70% great shots (not bad for first shoot) making sure that I shot something nearby in each environment to make sure settings wouldn’t let me down.

    My cameras live with me – I don’t wrap them in cotton wool etc, my old 5D just kept going (like my 20D before which my sister now uses), the UK is wet and snowy!!! It is still GREAT!. It has given me more creative options, the firmware made it better – but i didn’t even had the black spot issues in the first place.

    It certainly leaves me with more to learn… and a desire to buy the next 1D when it hits the shops

    Take care


    I’ll get chance to push it much harder soon

  8. AFS

    Hey guys, thanks for all the feedback. It’s an easy camera to love when it’s working as it should. I think it’s the perfect size and shape, good resolution, etc. Though now I am wondering about what looks like a real issue with inconsistency with manufacturing…

    Dave, your work jumped up a notch since getting the camera? Cheer! You had better hold onto it. That’s how I felt when I got the first 5D: “this camera is for me.” And I was really hoping to love the Mark II just as much. Oh well. But for all of you who are loving the camera, that’s great! When you have some nice images to show, post a like here ;-)

  9. Mike Stephen

    Hi Ron,
    Its a funny thing this camera. I havent had any problems with focus issues at all and have used it in a variety of shooting situations although not much in low light. I suspect Ive been really lucky so far. However there are issues and its a shame people dont realize that people reporting problems are the ones who mean that hopefully the next camera improves. Still its pretty dumb that the focus issues of other models wasnt addressed in this camera. Would be interested to know if you have noticed noise and banding in low iso shots? Its clear to me if I shoot saturated skies especially. Shooting at 100 iso I really didnt expect a modern dslr to exhibit this problem.

  10. AFS

    Mike, yes I had banding, even as low ISOs. One shot which was ruined was ISO 200 in the studio with daylight and strobe mixed. There’s no excuse for banding there. The banding did not show up all the time, but it showed up plenty. And it made the Highlight Tone Priority almost useless, whereas HTP works like a charm on the 1Ds3 and produces no banding. Strange. Perhaps another firmware update will address this.

  11. Steve

    That’s pretty bad, I’ve heard of a lot of 5D Mark II failures, enough that when I went to buy a new body a couple of weeks back, it turned me off buying one.

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  13. Simon

    I have upgraded from the 40D expecting to be amazed by the IQ improvement and overall performance of the camera. I’ve had the camera for nearly two weeks and have taken a fair few shots. Initial impressions were good, all the buttons and functions are in the same place as the 40d so getting started was easy.

    But now that I’m processing the images they seem flat an soft. I haven’t changed anything in terms of capturing the shot (mostly manual focus) or post processing. So when I have read of people being bowled over when they have upgraded I’m left wondering how. Does it mean I have a bad copy or am I just not getting the best out of it.

    I can say I am becoming increasingly frustrated with it as it was to form the next step up for me.


  14. AFS

    Simon, are you shooting RAW? If so, which converter? There are many parameters to pay attention to in order to get the best out of the files. Also, the “flatness” that you are seeing is probably due to the fact this camera has quite a bit better dynamic range than yours. Thus it needs different parameters in order to look it’s best. If you like the body and it is focusing correctly, etc. I would keep working at it.

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  16. Pete Tiley

    Hi Ron.

    I concur with some of the points here. It has taken a lot of work to get the 5D2 firing due to the way Canon camera expose and its histogram. I traded back to Canon from Nikon when the 5D2 hit the streets and still mull over my decision. You can read all about it in the December blogging and the subsequent changes in my thoughts over that period.

    I have found that as ever, Lightroom can make RAW files snap into life, which is nice. I have boxing and a table tennis shoot on this week and will make up my mind after the week is up….


  17. Bob

    This is exactly why I am not an early adopter to new technology. It never works right the first year as the consumers are the test pilots–only they’re paying to test the equipment.

  18. FashionBoy

    Ron, thanks for your thoughts and all your efforts trying to figure out this puzzle. I feel much the same as you at this point. Although the “breaking point” for me comes down to image quality. It’s just not there in this camera (or at least my “copy”). IMHO the original 5D has a much more natural and beautiful falloff and image rendition.

    I showed some MkII images to my retoucher who has a great eye and has worked on a lot of MkIII and Phase images. He immediately saw what I have been seeing but which is hard to explain. Certain areas of the image appear overly sharpened and “pushed” in terms of contrast (skin) and other areas appear soft in comparison (eyes). The camera seems to want to exaggerate texture contrast and the look reminds me of a P&S digital. Something is just not right.

    So maybe the early sensors were faulty? Canon might have sorted the problem out with newer cameras, I have not tried to trade this body in yet.

    My retoucher felt as if the camera was cooking the RAW files, doing some kind of oversharpening to certain areas of the image.

    Frankly, after having shot with the 20D, 5D, 1DSMKII, and a bunch of Phase backs, this is the WORST IQ I have seen in my years of shooting digitally (for people at least). Also lacking the dimension and depth and lovely subtle transitions of the MkIII files I have seen.

    Apologies for the long post… right now I am looking at either dumping this piece of junk or getting Canon to give me a new one that has high-level IQ – or replacing it with a tried and tested 1DS MkIII which I have no doubt is outstanding as far as IQ goes (downside is the extra weight which I hate).

    Highly disappointed to say the LEAST.

  19. FashionBoy

    Ron, I was also wondering if you took these MkII issues to someone at Canon to have a look at the cam and see if it was a case of bad QC? I imagine there are a lot of “bad sensors” out there with the production demands of this camera model.

  20. Zlatko

    FashionBoy, can you post some examples of the defects you are seeing? You are describing various image quality problems, and you note that it’s hard to explain them. It’s hard to picture them without … pictures. Perhaps you can post an example or two somewhere. I’ve been very pleased with the 5DII’s image quality so far (though not the autofocus). I’m not doubting people who describe image quality problems. But I just don’t know what to look for when people describe some of these problems. Thanks in advance.

  21. AFS

    I think “lacking the dimension and depth and lovely subtle transitions” is what I am seeing too. What RAW converters are you using? For sure DPP has different amounts of sharpening, saturation, etc. as defaults for this camera as opposed to the 1Ds3. Looks like the saturation and sharpness are pumped way up (among other things,) making the images look cheap. But changing these settings does not do anything to make the files much prettier really. I would post more samples, but I really didn’t start this blog so we we could have yet another pixel peeping web site with complaints about cameras. I meant to have a place where we could discuss things like lighting, composition, vision, etc. Things which can actually make a difference in terms of moving your craft to the next level…

  22. AFS

    P.S. Babar, what I intend to determine this week is how these files look printed. I know how the 1Ds3 files look, and they are really amazing. (Then again, I have some really amazing prints from the original 5D as well.) I am printing some of those horse images large this weekend for an art director friend of mine. I’ll report back once I have looked at them. Thanks all.

  23. Neil Fiertel

    I have shot maybe 4000 images so far on my Canon 5D Mk II. They have been exemplary. I have the settings flat, raw, no compensations whatsoever..RAW means RAW to me as I would much prefer to be able to correct after the fact if necessary. The RAW is then converted to DNG and with RAW plugin, I can adjust as necessary. These files will take a huge amount of sharpening with no ill effects. There is essentially no noise at most ISO settings that I use which tend to be in the low end only as I shoot with electronic flash much of the time in a studio. Skin tones are a wonder, subtle and so very detailed. I actually produced a finished 36 inch print as an experiment from a tiny portion of a file just to prove to myself that what I see on the screen will translate to a print and yes, it has all the resolution and subtlety as I felt it has. I will agree the auto focus wants a faster lens than the 24-104 F4 lens but that lens is so very fine in all other aspects that I just make sure that I have the LEDs set so that I know where it is locking on so that I do not focus on something irrelevant to the subject at hand. I frankly wonder if some of the comments are from people who are so busy getting the shots that they forget that the camera is only a machine and does not know what focus points count! Not to be arrogant but having been brought up with a manual rangefinder and then moved on and on…I just naturally make each shot a focus shot, watching for the blink of the LED and LISTENING for the beep..maybe tacky to some..my pictures are ALWAYS sharp..always…not a single missed shot of the thousands so far. It is by far the best piece of kit I have ever owned. Banding? I suppose that is due to improper exposure which allows the pixel pattern to appear. I get none of it and have never had such with this camera and have only seen it on hugely contrasty scenes in which exposure was determined only for the highlighted areas and thus the dark areas are off by many stops.. For the person who mentioned that he had done micro focus adjustments on his camera…that is likely the cause of his out of focus images..I print nearly all of my work at 34 by 36 inches. They are sharp as broken glass even cropped down to that print size. I am sure I am not alone in this. My suggestion is to return the camera to its default and try again. I cannot vouch for its moisture proof capabilities as I do not need it this way but I do suspect that the IDs series is superior in this regard. I use the camera with a battery grip and if I am using metal hydride batteries, it is quite a shoulder wrenching combo. As back up batteries have been hard to find for this model, this has been a functional alternative and they run the camera a LONG time and with a fifteen minute recharge they are very handy for that but one must be strong to lug the kit that way.

  24. AFS

    Neil, sounds like you got a good one! You should post a link to some of your work.
    Thanks for your comments.

  25. Douglas

    AFS, if you like the smaller camera form factor of the 5Dii, you should try out an A900 with some ZA lenses. It’s wonderful.

  26. FashionBoy

    Zlatko, email me off list and I can send you RAW files or large jpegs. Re RAW conversion I have so far tried RAW developer, DPP, Lightroom, Capture One and Aperture! Bad results in all, Capture One and DPP probably being the best of the bunch.

    In a quandary at this point… need to take the camera to Canon to get it checked out. Can’t wait to end the “peeping” and enjoy shooting again LOL.

    Neil, please do post a link to some images so we can see.

  27. Blue

    My experience with the 5DM2 has been just fantastic. Not that I dont like to talk about something when it does not work – but the important thing here is to use commonsense. Yes, the 5DM2 cannot fly – but the manual does not say that -right! But it does say that this is not weather sealed camera – so why would you want to take this on an ‘antartic expedition’ and throw salt water on it and say it does not work? Autofocus – Yes it has limitations, but if you use a 2.8L and if you know how to work your equipment, (which means you have to read the manual) it’s as good as it gets for the price you pay!

    Point is, its hardware. It has limitations – so does your wallet. The 5DM2 is a very capable camera and in the right hands can make very good pictures. Agreed we are all professionals and we have shot with a Canon all our lives – the fact of the matter is this is a new car. You have to get used to it, the feel, the response, and your bio rhythmn as a photographer has to be in sync with this machine to get the desired results. Try to see what you can do as a Photographer to ‘adapt’ your style to use this equipment effectively. Experiment with patience and try to remember the settings and ‘use’ them when needed.

    There may be genuine cases where the camera is bad. I have had my expereinces and have had to return equipment. One trick I have learnt is to try and be the ‘first’ to get the camera – for the ones that ‘roll’ out first usually tend to go through extensive testing as no Company would like their first batch of products to fail!.

  28. AFS

    Here is a comment which I received from another working pro today:
    Here are my latest “findings” from a recent shoot – fwiw:

    1. perimeter pts only reliable if f/8 or smaller aperture
    2. decent available light or studio lighting is a must
    3. when shooting wide open (especially in dim light) must use center, recompose method – otherwise to much varience in focus.
    4. even mounted my 580 for fill (outdoor shoot-full shade) which I thought would help the focus – didn’t help at all actually

    It’s really frustrating and a shame that the focus mechanism is such an issue on what is otherwise an outstanding camera. Knowing the limitations helps but does not excuse the lack of performance. My plan is to perfect my technique with the camera as it is and what carefully at some of the newer upcoming offerings. If something really stands out, I’ll consider selling the 5dm2 – but I certainly don’t plan on being an early adopter, if you know what I mean.

    Best regards,

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  31. taikonaut

    AFS. I also uses the 5DMk2 and have no problem with the AF using outerpoints. I put this down to technique.
    Even shooting at relatively low light in a studio using the EF 24-105 f4 L lens setting 35mm at f4 using the outer most AF point they are spot on, see example


    at 100% crop


    so it is either you have a bad copy or your technique?

    You said you had problems with AF in low light. Have you tried using AF Assist via a Speedlight with flash disabled? Here Canon AF Assist works on all focus points manually selectable while Nikon only works on centre AF point.

  32. AFS

    Hi taikonaut, thanks for your feedback. (your links are not working though, so I can’t see what it is that you shoot.) I do know that if you are shooting at 35mm and f4 you are not likely to see the AF issues I am talking about. I often shoot at 85mm or longer and at 1.8 or 2.8, which means I am shooting at a MUCH more narrow depth of field than the setup you have described above. Thus even minor misses in AF will show in my shots, and they will not with a 35mm set at f4 or slower.
    Have you used the outer AF points in the dark with an 85mm or 100mm wide open? How about the 70-200 2.8 at the long end wide open? That’s where the problems arise in my experience. (And I have had 3 of these 5D2 bodies by the way, and I still have two of the original 5D bodies, so I am pretty sure I do understand the techniques involved in getting sharp images.)

    Also, the main reason I would choose to use the 5D2 instead of my 1Ds3 is because of the size and weight. Thus I don’t intend to use it with a flash on it all the time just to achieve accurate focus. I’d much sooner just use the 1Ds3 ;-)

  33. taikonaut

    I actually recieved my EF 85 f1.8 yesterday and done a few low ligght test indoors. I havent got the picture but was able to get AF to lock using the outermost AF points boith using focus asssist and without. What I also found was if you play around with microadjustment it upset this lens AF adjustment, you have to switch off the camera and take the battery out or take the lens off the body and put it back onto the body. I notice same with my EF-S lens on my 40D too.
    When using AF the AF light flash with a positive bleep, sometimes a quieter bleep followed which causes focussing to go way off. Do not shoot when the quieter bleep comes on.
    Have you tried AF Assist using a Speedlight?

  34. taikonaut

    I had a chance to test my EF 85 f1.8 lens over the weekend and found AF in low light is not as reliable as my EF 50 f1.4. I have tested both lens on my 5DMk2 and 40D the results were the same on both bodies.
    This may also explains why you are getting AF problem when shooting in low light with this lens and why it is so cheap compared to the 85 f1.2L.

  35. AFS

    Thanks taikonaut , but there are no such focus issues with this 85 1.8 lens when using the 1Ds3 camera. And furthermore the AF inconsistencies in the dark with the 5D2 is across all lenses in my experience. Not just this 85…it also happened with the 85 1.2, 70-200 2.8, 50 1.4, etc., etc.

  36. taikonaut

    Works beautifully and reliably with my EF 50 f1.4 in all AF points in low light wide open.

  37. taikonaut

    This may sound strange but try this. Use the AF ON button to focus. I find it slightly more reliable than the half pressed on the shutter focus when using the EF 85mm f1.8 lens.

  38. Gray

    I am seeking advice, and this seems like the right place for it. A majority of my work is fashion, beauty & still life for advertising and editorial. I shoot mainly with my leaf 22mp back on the Contax 645. I need a camera that is close in quality to my digital back but I do not want to drop another 5k on equipment so the Mark 3 is probably not what i want. I am between a Mark 2 & 5d Mark 2. The fashion work i shoot is similar to photographers on this website http://www.calikartel.com/. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

  39. AFS

    Hey Gray, I would say it comes down to a few important factors (IMO.) The 5D2 has better dynamic range (by a stop or so) but it’s build quality is not as good as the 1Ds2. And the 5D2 is obviously smaller and lighter, smaller batteries, etc.

    On the other hand, the 1Ds2 has far superior AF and weather sealing and the like. If you focus manually a lot of the time, try the 5D2. Otherwise, I would be tempted to get the 1Ds2, which can be had for a little over $2K in minty condition on Craigslist here in NYC – there are tons of them listed.

  40. Taikonaut

    Gray, if your work is mainly fashion and still life I would recommend the 5DMk2 dues to its larger MP, better DR and better quality screen to check focus or use it to manually focus. It is closer in quality IQ wise to your digital back. You won’t need the advance AF of the 1D range which only really benefit if you are shooting continously moving subjects such as sport were the AF need to track.

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