The Digital Journalist
Canon 5D Review

by James Colburn

May 2006

Wow! Full frame! Blah, blah, blah...12.8 megapixels! Blah, blah, blah...2.5-inch screen at the back! Blah, blah, blah...

Let's get down to it. All the technical BS aside, buying a new camera can be like buying a car, and the question is, "How does it handle?"

I believe that camera design, ergonomically speaking, peaked with the Canon T90 that was introduced in the mid-'80s. The damn thing was not only functional it was, in a word, sensual. It had curves and it felt good in your hands. I wasn't surprised to see that when it was discontinued years later the prices for new "old stock" T90s soared to the $900 range. I had 'em. I loved 'em. I swapped them for the next big thing.

I grew to love the EOS-1. It was a little "chunkier" than the T90 but felt very, very good on a day-to-day basis. I had the attachable motors but usually used my EOS-1s without them. It's a very comfortable camera with controls and such that fall readily to hand.

I've spent my money on Canon's digital range, starting with the D30 (3 megapixels), then the 10D (6 megapixels) and then the 20D (all of 8 megapixels...and just WTF is a "megapixel," anyway?)

I bought and swapped and lost money at every upgrade and now, at last, finally I may have a camera that I can keep for longer than 18 months without worrying about the "next big thing."

The Canon 5D is a beaut. It looks good, it feels good and the images it produces are spectacular. In terms of "feel" it right up there with an EOS-1, a "fuller" feel that fits my hands and just seems to flow into the work stream.

It'll give you a 36Mb TIFF file that will kick the ass of a film scan. Really. Being a hide-bound traditionalist (see: Old Fart) I consider "film quality" to be something on the order of 24mm x 36mm x 2800dpi which, as it turns out, is about 30Mb. The 5D is sharp. Really sharp. You can dial it up to "ISO 1600" with no qualms at all and even at the semi-secret ISO 3200 setting it rocks. Canon gives you some very decent RAW conversion software (Digital Photo Professional) free with the camera that has a batch function for converting RAW files to something a client wants...Like a TIFF or a JPEG.

It's got everything you need as a professional photographer (low noise in the upper ISO range, good ergonomics, smallish size, full-frame sensor) and not a lot of what you don't (a pop-up flash with seams that'll let water get in, lots of do-da settings for "sports" or "portraits" or "flowers"...)

Now granted, it cost around $3,000 per body and after losing around $800 on the D30-to-10D swap, around $1,500 on the 10D-to-20D swap and another $1,500 on the 20D-to-5D swap over the past few years, that hurts, but this (the Canon 5D) just might be a camera that I can use for, oh, 3-5 years making it emotionally (and financially) viable.

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Okay. It's only a 3 frames-per-second kind of camera so it isn't what you need if you're a big sports shooter (that'd be the EOS-1d Mk 2 with 8 "megapixels" and 5 or 6 frames-per-second) but, finally, my 16-35mm zoom is REALLY wide at the wide end, my 24-70mm zoom is darn near the "perfect" lens that I always thought it should be...and my new 24mm/1.4 lens is fast AND WIDE.

It's sort of like coming home. Full frame. No thoughts of "Let's see, the 28mm lens on the 20D will be the equivalent of a 46mm lens on a real 35mm camera…" It pairs up beautifully with Canon's all-those-electronic-flashes-can-be-controlled-from-the-camera-via-some-sort-of-infrared- magic-thingy-even-if-you-bounce-them-into-umbrellas-and-stuff system AND it uses the same batteries (the BP-511) as the D30/10D/20D cameras so you don't have to throw them away!

N.B.: One of the "cool" things about the 1.6 magnification factor of the 20Ds was that you got a "320mm" lens when you put your 200mm lens on. The 5D wins in the wide contest but, seemingly, loses in the telephoto end. Here's the trick. You can program an "action" in Photoshop that'll give you a movable 3504 x 2336-pixels crop box over your 5D image. Position it as you will and voila! Instant "20D" resolution! If your client was happy with it before they'll be happy with it now. If not, you've got to figure out a way to buy that 300mm/2.8 you've been lusting after for so long.

© James Colburn
Contributing Writer