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Canon EOS 5D

200511bc_5dfront Sneak Preview: Canon EOS 5D, digital nirvana for $3K?

By Joe Farace

The new EOS 5D fits into the same “good, better, best” strategy that Canon uses with their film-based SLRs. It’s plopped down right in the middle of their product line between the EOS 20D and Canon’s 1D alphabet soup models. Unlike the EOS 3 that looks and feels more like an EOS 1, the 5D’s magnesium-alloy body reminds me more of a chunky20D, but where else are you gonna find an SLR with a “full-size” chip for $3,299.95?

While the original EOS 1Ds had a full-sized chip that was the equivalent of a mounted 35mm slide’s opening, the 5D’s imager is slightly less (23.9x35.8mm) than the revered 24x36mm standard but it's close enough. I asked Canon, "Is this the same chip used in the original 1Ds?" The answer, from a source I trust, was, “nope, it’s not.” But I still wonder...

The EOS 5D is the smallest and lightest full-frame (more or less) digital SLR available, and its 12.8-megapixel CMOS Sensor and DIGIC II Image Processor lets you crank out 3-ps bursts for up to 60 consecutive JPEG or 17 RAW frames. The large 2.5-inch LCD preview screen can be viewed even at angles up to 170 degrees, but can still be tricky to see outdoors in hard, bright sunlight. Still, if they are used well, big screens are better than small ones. In general, the menu style and structure is the best ever from Canon, but there’s still room for improvement. For example, the image histogram doesn’t take advantage of the large LCD. The thumbnail and graph are tiny compared to the space available; it would be more useful to have a histogram that maximizes the LCD display’s potential.


The speed of the 2.5-inch LCD display was impressive but the
histogram doesn't take advantage of the large LCD.  The
thumbnail and graph are tiny compared to the available space. 
It would great to have an optional histogram layout to utilize
more LCD display. ©2005 Joe Farace

Like all the other professional digital SLRs, there’s no pop-up flash on the 5D, although I wish there were for fill. The camera is compatible with all Canon EX-series Speedlites, including the 580EX. Unlike the rest of the pro DSLRs, however, there is a monochrome mode. Here, the 20D’s confusingly named Parameters menu is replaced with a Picture Style function, giving you the best command of in-camera color, contrast and sharpness found in any Canon digital SLR. (OK, the EOS 1D Mark IIN also has the same wonderful capabilities, making it the first real pro-level digital SLR to let you capture monochrome images.) Even better, all of the 20D’s digital filters and monochrome toning features are available in Picture Styles.

Noise? An Auto option for long-exposure noise reduction examines all images made at shutter speeds of one second or longer and applies reduction algorithms when noise is detected. Like any good Canon SLR, the 5D has its share of custom functions that allow you to customize the camera to fit your individual working style.


With the introduction of the 1D Mark II N and 5D, Canon also updates its Digital Photo Professional software for image management and RAW file display. Be sure to get the 2.03 update (or later) because it processes RAW files better than any other software solution—including Adobe Camera Raw—available. ©2005 Joe Farace

The ergonomics of the 5D are excellent, but the camera is slightly larger than a 20D. My guess is that most users will like the feel of the 5D even better when the optional ($239) BG-4 battery grip is attached. It holds two rechargeable battery packs or six AA batteries and is made of the same magnesium alloy as the body. I tested the 5D with lots of lenses, including the Canon 17-40mm L series zoom, which is a great lens for that camera if you need wide-angle capability. Their operation was quiet and fast. In fact, the EOS 5D also may be the quietest SLR—film or digital—that Canon has ever made—a real plus when shooting in situations like movie sets where typically noisy SLRs can create unwanted distractions.

Out here in the real world I found that the 5D’s start time to be fast (0.2 seconds) and autofocus quick with 9-point AF and six additional invisible supplemental points surrounding the center point. I especially liked using the stubby joystick on the camera’s back to manually select focus points.

The viewfinder is bright and clear and uses the new “Ee” series of interchangeable focusing screens that are exclusive to the EOS 5D. Three models are available: Ee-A (matte surface; for general viewing with most lenses), Ee-D (matte surface with architectural grid lines), and Ee-S (special surface for easier manual focus with fast lenses). Unlike the EOS 20D that has no, count ’em, no control of folders and a maximum of 100 images per folder, the 5D, like the EOS-1D Mark II series, lets you create folders and store up to 9,999 images inside a single folder.

Image quality is what you might expect from 12.8-megapixels. Is it 50 percent better than the 20D's 8 megapixels? It don’t work that way, Bunky. Nevertheless the quality of images, especially in RAW format, are drop-dead gorgeous and I loved shooting large JPEGs in monochrome and printing them on Epson’s Stylus Photo R2400.

With the introduction of the EOS 5D, Canon continues to raise the bar for price and performance for digital SLRs.


Ever wonder what happened to Renault's LeCar. Here one of them perched atop a VW bus in a junkyard! Image was captured with a Canon EOS 5D with 28-135mm EF IS lens attached. Exposure, in Program mode, was 1/250th of a second at f/10 at ISO 100. ©2005 Joe Farace


specs: EOS 5D

Resolution: 12.8 million effective pixels

Recording pixels: 4,368 x 2,912

Sensor type: CMOS sensor, with RGB primary color filters

Sensor size: 35.8 x 23.9mm

Lens focal length factor: 1X

Maximum frames per second: 3 fps (at full resolution)

Maximum number of frames in a burst: 60 JPEG, 17 RAW

Shutter speeds: 30 seconds ~ 1/8,000, plus Bulb (1/3 or 1/2-step increments)

Flash sync speed: Up to 1/200, with EX-series Speedlites

Computer Interface USB 2.0

LCD monitor: 2.5-inch; 100% coverage for JPEG images

Number of AF points: 9, and in AI Servo AF mode 6 invisible supplementary AF Assist Points surround center AF point for consistent, smoother focus tracking

AF point selection: Manual via new 9-way multi-controller on camera’s back, automatic

ISO range: 100-1600, in 1/3-step increments

Exposure modes: Manual, Aperture-priority (Av), Shutter-priority (Tv), Program AE. No fully-auto “P.I.C.” modes, such as Portrait, Close-up, Sports, etc.; No Depth-of-field AE mode

Compatible flashes: All Canon EX-series Speedlites, including new Speedlite 580EX;

E-TTL II flash metering, Flash metering not linked to active AF point

Focus screen: Interchangeable “Ee” series focusing screens

Color space: sRGB or Adobe 1998 RGB

White Balance bracketing: Three separate files written with a single click of the shutter

Picture Styles: Six pre-set Picture Style settings on menu, with different basic characteristics: Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful, and Monochrome

Dimensions: 6.0x4.4x3.0 inches—approx. 35-percent smaller than EOS-1Ds Mark II

Weight (without battery or CF card): 28.6 oz.—approx. 33-percent lighter than EOS-1Ds Mark II

Estimated price: $2,995