Thursday, February 5, 2009

Living with the 5D Mark II

So yes. It is all that. Quite simply the most capable, best camera I have ever used. The files are as close to perfection as I have seen from a digital camera that was less than $ 40,000. I tested it against the 28 MP Leaf back and preferred the Canon images (which I think had more to do with the Canon lenses vs. the Mamiya lenses).

So should everyone run out and buy one?

Sorry, but if you are not paying your rent as a photographer it is complete overkill. The fact is that I've only had one job in the past three years that required this kind of resolution ( I rented a 1Ds Mark III). It's better than medium format 6 X 7, not quite 4 X 5, but I'm not selling my view cameras or my Mamiya 7. Film still rules on many levels.

The best part of the new 5D is not the resolution, or the video, it's the lack of digital noise. Visible noise levels at ISO 800 are about the same as my 40D at 100! When you combine it with the advanced noise controls of Lightroom 2 you have a camera that changes all your thoughts about shooting in available light. Absolutely stunning. I do get a teeny bit of pixelation if my exposure isn't perfect at ISO's over 1200. As always, it's best to expose a bit to the right (ETR), especially in low light conditions. In my casual photography I set the camera to sRAW (10MP) to take advantage of the reduced noise, but save the space on my card and hard drives.

The new 50D has the same Digic 4 processor as the 5D Mark II, it has 15 MP native resolution with a smaller APS sized chip. so the noise levels should be very similar, if not identical to the 5D Mark II. It's also almost half the money for a camera that should be capable of producing a spectacular 30 X 40 print (assuming careful processing of RAW files). Remember that resolution is measured linearly, so the jump from 15 to 21 Mp is only about 12 percent. If you aren't a working pro, then save the cash and buy an L series lens with the savings. Every time I test a new camera system the lens quality is always the single most important item in the equation, with noise running a close second. Given the choice to shoot a 10 MP 40D with a primo lens or a 5D mark II with a sub par lens I 'd actually take the smaller camera with the better lens.

But wait! What about HD video on a full chip camera? Hasn't that been the Holy Grail for videographers? Beautiful bokeh that takes advantage of longer focal lengths and bigger lens openings; HD that looks like it has the production value of a Hollywood feature?

The 5D Mark II delivers as promised, but here's the fine print: You have to shoot it like you are a professional cinematographer. That means tripods and fluid heads, assistants to pull focus, dollies or steadycam for tracking shots. If you aren't using an IS lens there is no steady shot to help you, and the camera won't auto focus when shooting video (actually it will, if you press the AF button, but the aperture opens up to admit more light and will ruin a shot with a few seconds of overexposure). Pulling focus smoothly on a tripod is tough, and almost impossible on a small handheld camera without a brace. Besides, the video only works in Live View so you are pulling focus while looking at a small video
screen; not optimal.

In order to get the most out of it you need to treat like its' a 16 mm Arriflex. Here's rig from Redrock that does exactly that. Yes, that's a Canon 5D on the back end.

Then there's the sound issue. Forget the built in mike, it's right next to the lens and picks up all the noise your hands make while working the controls. My solution was to adapt a Stroboframe flash bracket so I could mount a shotgun mike. Finally, there is no output jack to monitor the sound while you're shooting. If I were shooting something that was really dependent on great sound I'd probably add a separate wave recorder and a boom mike into the equation, Again, just like a real film maker.

For all of you who were blown away by Vincent Laforet's "Reverie" (shot on a 5D mkII), look at that film again and you will realize that while it looks great, it is also shot in a style that maximizes the good qualities of the camera and minimizes the problems. It's essentially a series of still photographs. This isn't a camera for shooting documentaries.

So yes, am I happy, but given my immediate needs, I might have been better off with a 50D and an $ 800 Vixia HD camera. For the average student, photojournalist, or prosumer this would probably be the better option. The 5D will be perfect for a short film I'm going to make in a few months for the same motorcycle I shot in this post. It excels at MOS beauty shots, so as long as I add a cute little Vixia for pickup shots I should be in great shape.

The thing that's interesting is that the 5D has been banned from Formula 1 racing events and World Cup Soccer. Why? Because TV and film producers pay for the rights to shoot at those events. The 5 D Mark II enables anyone to produce broadcast quality video. I will be really bummed if I am banned from shooting stills at motorcycle races this season because I am working with a hybrid camera.

This is what I see on the horizon, (imagine a future 1Ds Mark IV): In my camera collection I have a very unique camera from the 70's made by Canon, the Canon Pellix. It was a specialty camera for sports photographers with semi-silvered (pellicle)mirror that didn't move. The light was transmitted through the mirror so there was no blackout at the moment of exposure. Why not incorporate a pellicle mirror into a digital camera? That way you could still use the cameras finder instead of the screen on the back. Add a couple of zoom lenses with power zoom capability, a headphone jack, 24 FPS capture rate, and you would truly have a hybrid video/DSLR!

1 comment:

katherinespencer said...

Mark -

Have you seen this site?

Found out about it last week, its an interesting image resource, they post new photographs from 1 photographer every day. Eventually I'll send some stuff in and hope to have it posted.

- K.carey