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Canon EOS 5D

Finally, Affordable (Sort of) Full Frame Arrives

August 22, 2005

What would happen if a Canon 1Ds mated with a Canon 20D? You'd end up with either headlines on CNN, or, the just announced Canon 5D.

Following much humorous speculation online, especially after the spec sheet was "leaked" about a week before the official announcement, with many self-proclaimed experts pontificating on how the specs weren't credible and the images had to have been "Photoshopped", the truth is that the spec sheet was real, and so is the camera.

In a nut-shell, the 5D is a 13 Megapixel full-frame DSLR. What sets it apart from any prior full-frame DSLR, such as the 1 Ds Series Canon's or the now-defunct Kodak DCS 14n and Pro n models is that it is about the physical size of the current generation of 6 and 8 Megapixel cameras, as well as current film-based SLRs such as the Canon 1V. It's the first high-resolution full-frame digital SLR that can make this claim.

The price of course is the other differentiator. Though street price isn't yet certain, it will likely be just slightly more than US $3,000, which makes it expensive in many people's books, but a bargain compared to the Canon 1Ds MKII which is US $7,000, and the only other full-frame DSLR currently available. It should be borne in mind that the D30, D60 and 10D each had a US suggested list price of $2,995 when they first came out, so while out of some people's budget range, the 5D is priced right at the traditional spot for new technology DSLRs at the time of their introduction.

The easiest way to visualize a 5D is to imagine a Canon 20D that has a somewhat thicker body and larger prism. Because this is a full-frame camera the mirror box needs to be larger than that in a 1.6X factor body, as does the prism, and so the body is somewhat fatter and slightly taller. Indeed, if you mount the accessory battery grip the 5D and the 1Ds MKII is quite similar in size, if not in weight. Note though that while the 5D is based on the paradigm of the 20D, it is a completely new body size.

But, and it's a big but, unless you want or need the vertical release battery grip, and the 5D is eminently usable without it, the body is much smaller than a 1Ds ever could be.

This will be a HUGE plus for many photographers for whom the bulk of a 1Ds or 1Ds MKII makes it problematic for certain types of shooting. I for one won't carry my 1Ds MKII around all day in an urban environment. It's simply too large and too heavy and too obviously "pro" gear. If I'm going to carry that much mass, and don't need a 1 Series camera's undoubted benefits, I'd rather use medium format.

But traveling and walking about with a 5D will be not much different than with a 20D, or any of the current generation of reduced frame DSLRs.

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Full Frame Good. Full Frame Bad.

Now, I know that the on-line forum natterers and nay-sayers are going to have a field-day debating the pros and cons of full-frame vs reduced frame. Well, all I can say is – walk a mile in the 5D's shoes and we'll see what you really think.

Anyone that shot film with an SLR prior to digital knows how frustrating looking though the smaller and dimmer viewfinders of most 1.5X and 1.6x digital cameras can be. Looking through the viewfinder of a full-frame camera like the 5D, by comparison, is like taking a whiff of pure oxygen. The image will be big, and bright, and yes, did I mention that it's full frame?

Which of course will be the topic de-jour online. Lots of folks will posture about how reduced frame cameras are better because they crop out the soft corners of some lenses. They'll also carry on about how 1.5X and 1.6X cameras give you greater reach with telephoto lenses (ya, right).

But, the reality is that with the exception of a handful of special lenses released over the past year or two that are designed for reduced frame cameras, the millions of lenses out there project a bigger image circle, and being able to use that image circle is a wonderful thing for a great many reasons. True, a high resolution full-frame camera like a 1Ds MKII, or now 5D, will mercilessly expose the true qualities of poorer lenses, but such is life. I don't know a single professional photographer who uses a reduced frame DSLR for any reason other than size and price, or because that's what's available in their preferred camera maker's lens mount. The 5D is going to alter that equation, and the industry is never going to be the same again.

People need to bear in mind the reason that all manufacturers went to APS sized imaging chips in the first place. It wasn't because of any inherent advantage that the smaller sized chips offered, other than that they were significantly less expensive to manufacture. Add to this the ability to use a smaller shutter, smaller prism, and smaller mirror, and the financial advantages to the camera makers were cumulative. The advantages to the photographer were minimal, other than the one big benefit of getting affordable DSLRs. But, because full-frame cameras were either excessively expensive, or nonexistent in an individual maker's lens mount, the emperor's new clothes syndrome came into effect, and some photographers started to believe that there as something inherently advantageous to reduced frame. Other than lower cost, there isn't much advantage, and consequently as chip yields improve and manufacturing technology advances we'll inevitably see the price differential for full-frame over reduced frame diminish. I'll leave it to your imagination what the implications of this might be for camera makers and photographers over the next few years.

There has been much speculation online as to the heritage of the chip in the 5D. Is it derived from the 1D series line? According to Canon, no, rather it is an evolution of the 20D / XT Rebel chip line, and is likely to offer similar ultra-low noise performance.

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Screens and Meters

One other differentiator over the 20D is that the 5D will have interchangeable focusing screens – a real plus for many applications. The camera will also have 3 degree spot metering, both of which features have not been seen previously from Canon in other than 1 Series bodies.

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Who's it For?

When you look at the top of the 5D one of the things that first strikes you is that half the Mode dial is blank. There are the usual Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual modes, but there are none of the so-called "dummy" modes – ones like landscape, fireworks, portraits, etc. This is a clear indication that the price point, at least, of the 5D makes it a Prosumer to Pro level product, at least to the Canon marketing people.

On the other hand, the 5D lacks some of the pro-level niceties such as weather sealing and more sophisticated metering and autofocus systems of the 1D series. The general interface is also pretty much the same as that of Canon's amateur market line, from the Rebel XT to the 20D.

Of course these distinctions are arbitrary. Pros use Rebel XTs and wealthy amateurs buy 1Ds Mark II cameras. But journalists and marketers need to segment buyers, and so these distinctions are made.

The 5D will, I believe, be considered the cross-over camera of the Canon line, appealing equally to those that pursue photography for a hobby or art form, and those that do so to earn a living. It's less than half the price of a 1Ds MKII, but considerably more than double the price of a 20D. You can see Canon's quandary. With digital cameras it's the sensor that largely determines the camera's end price. Prior to digital, the difference in price between a top-of-the-line body and a low end body was rarely more than $1,000. So now that full-frame sensors can be included in a DSLR that retails for less than US $3,500 it would seem that a 1 Series class body incorporating this sensor could likely be marketed for not much more than the price of the 5D plus maybe $750. But to do so would of course threaten 1Ds MKII sales.

All of this is simply speculation though. The important thing is that the 5D is here (or will be in October), and it looks to offer photographers unprecedented capabilities for the money. How well it fulfills these expectations will of course have to await a field test.

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Mirror Lock Up Redux

Every time Canon releases a new camera and doesn't fix the crappy mirror lock-up interface, I complain loudly about it. Consider this loud complaint number 37. What is with that company? Anyone doing exposures in the 3 second to 1/30th of a second range, or who uses long lenses (even Stabilized ones) needs to use mirror lock. Canon buries it several menu screens down in the Custom Function section. This is simply brain-dead design, and every working photographer that I know who shoots with Canon cameras bemoans this flaw. Even though photographers have been complaining loudly about this for years Canon simply refuses to fix it. It almost now seems to be a matter of perverse pride for them not to fix it.

The fix is very easy Canon. Do what many other camera makers have done and implement mirror lock up when the 2 second self-timer is engaged. It's simply a matter of a few lines of code in the camera's firmware. It can be written and tested by one person in a day. Please – do it before the next round of new cameras are introduced, and if possible include it in the next firmware updates for existing cameras. It's simply a scandal that this design error has been allowed to continue for so long.

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Focus Points

One area where the Canon 20D and Rebel XT (and their predecessors) are considered a bit weak compared to the 1 Series cameras is with regard to autofocus capability, particularly focus tracking.

The 5D has just nine focus points, like the 20D, but it also has six additional new invisible focus points. These are clustered around the center of the focusing area, and though there are no markers on the focusing screen to show their location, they are there to contribute to focusing accuracy and speed, especially when in servo autofocusing mode. In other words, when tracking a moving subject. Consider them as creating a big fat center focus point leading to increased accuracy.

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LCD Screen

Canon has adopted a new 2.5" LCD screen for its next cameras. This will appear first in September on the also new 1D MKIIn (see below) and the 5D when it is released on October. This screen is a major improvement over any yet seen on a canon camera.

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Power

The 5D utilizes the same rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries as the 20D, 10D and D60 before it. This will be welcomed by anyone owning one of these previous generation cameras, and also appreciated by those used to the large, heavy, and expensive batteries used in the 1 Series cameras. Real world battery life will have to await field testing, but given how each new generation of Canon digital SLRs becomes more and more power miserly, it's likely that excellent battery life will be forthcoming. There is also a new vertical battery grip, the BG-E4 which will sell for approximately US $250, taking two batteries simultaneously, and also featuring a vertical orientation release as well as controls. This is not the same as the grip for the 20D, due to the larger size of the 5D's body.

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Next?

This is about all that's known about the Canon 5D at the moment. I expect pre-production review samples to become available in the weeks ahead and I will have a hands-on field report as soon as possible.

Other New Canon Products

Somewhat overshadowed by the rather dramatic news of the Canon 5D, are three other new products.

Canon 1D MKII n

The 1D MKIIn is a minor upgrade to this favourite camera of photojournalists. The only significant improvement is the change to Canon's new 2.5" LCD, and improved folder naming ability. The price is expected to be the same as for the outgoing 1D MKII. Availability is said to be September.

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Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS Lens

This is a fascinating new lens, that will appeal to a great many photographers. It covers the range of focal lengths that are most commonly used by many photographers, and includes a moderately fast constant aperture, and Image Stabilization. Price will be about $1,250 and the lens should become available in September.

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Speedlight 430

Looking somewhat like a scaled-down 580, the new 430 flash will provide a smaller and less expensive alternative, and will be especially handy as a secondary unit for those who already have a 550 or 580 speedlight.


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Concepts: Digital single-lens reflex camera, Full-frame digital SLR, Single-lens reflex camera, Camera, Canon EOS DSLR cameras, Canon, Canon EOS, Digital camera

Entities: the Canon 20D, CNN, Kodak, APS, the BG-E4, Michael Reichmann, Mark II, SLRs, SLR

Tags: camera, 1ds mkii, full-frame, reduced frame, Canon 5D, full-frame cameras, canon 1d, camera makers, Canon 20D, full-frame dslr, reduced frame dslr, series cameras, canon 1ds mkii, rebel xt, canon camera, battery grip, mirror lock, image, canon 1d mkii, focus point, megapixel full-frame dslr, Ds Series Canon, prior full-frame dslr, resolution full-frame camera, Full Frame, digital cameras, chip, full-frame digital slr, Other New Canon, 1ds mkii sales, canon digital slrs, Canon marketing people, new cameras, amateurs buy 1Ds, speculation online, spec sheet, current generation, outgoing 1d mkii, Canon line, lens mount