I just wrapped up the end of my first full week of shooting with a Canon 5D Mark II in my bag.
Why is this interesting to anyone? I shoot Nikon. I’ve always shot Nikon. I recently needed to add a third body as a back up to my D800E and D800 combo, and rather than going with another Nikon body, I gave into temptation. I broke the sanctity of manufacturer loyalty and went with a slightly used Canon 5D MarkII. Why did I do it? Well, let me explain.
To give a brief history of my Nikon career, I purchased my first DSLR only three years ago, and started my photography business just a little over a year ago. I’m not your typical Nikon fanboy, even though I do love the gear that I shoot with. I never chose to shoot Nikon because I felt it was better than Canon. I started with Nikon and stayed with it because that’s what I knew. My first body was the D60, quickly followed by the D90. Then came the transition to fullframe a year later to the popular D700, the main competitor to the Canon 5D Mark II.
Many Nikon shooters, as well as Canon shooters, have put down the D800 and D800E as wedding cameras. But I absolutely love them as my primary bodies. The colors and skin tones are much more pleasing over my previous D700, and with the necessary memory upgrades, file size isn’t an issue.
Why I Tried Canon
As weddings picked up and business continued to grow, the addition of a third body was needed. I’ve always liked the colors and skin tones produced by the Canon bodies, and have always been a big fan of the awesome landscape images they’ve produced over the years.
The need for a third body came up, and I had about $2000 to spend. Rather than add a used D700 or new D600 into the mix, I found a good deal on a Canon 5D Mark II and went with it. Staying in my price range, I was able to pick up a new 50mm f/1.4 to use temporarily until I could afford one of the F/1.2 L series lenses I had always been intrigued by.
My decision to go with a used 4-year-old 5D Mark II over the similarly priced newer 6D was strictly based on the reviews I had read stating that the 5D Mark II was a more professionally built body. Its popularity with wedding photographers shooting Canon over the past 4 years also helped its case.
After picking up the Canon 5D Mark II and the 50mm F/1.4, I immediately started going through the menu in the camera, setting everything up to be similar to the settings I’m accustomed to with my Nikons. Fast forward a full week of shooting, which included a large wedding, two maternity shoots, two baby shoots, and here we are…
Now remember, I purchased this body to serve as a back-up or third body, but I shot with it a lot this week to get used to the Canon system. At each shoot, I brought along my D800E and my new Mark II, alternating the two of them, except for the wedding which I rotated in the D800 body. Remember that I was not comparing the Mark II head-to-head with my D800s. Instead, I was strictly trying out one of Canon’s all-time great DSLRs, with a complete understanding that I was shooting an older system that had been replaced with the new 5D Mark 3.
Things I like
Colors and skin tones – Just like I had thought by looking at other photographers’ images shot by Canon, the colors are different when compared to Nikon’s colors. I prefer the Canon colors over the Nikon colors. Yes, I know you can adjust the HSL in post, but I’m strictly talking about RAW files straight out of the camera.
Build – While Nikon cameras are built like tanks, there’s also a nice benefit to having a lighter camera when being on your feet all day at an event. While it’s not a huge difference, the 5D MarkII feels much lighter than both my D800s and my old D700, with a weight of 850g compared to 1000g. I know the MarkIII is a bit heavier though.
Does it feel good in my hands? Yes, but not as good as my Nikon bodies. I know the MkIII is built a little better, but overall I enjoy shooting with the MarkII when its in my hands. Its comfortable to hold as well as being lighter.
Total Recall Modes – This is huge, and although I haven’t had the chance to take full advantage of this, I’ve set them up. This is a huge benefit to someone like myself that can shoot a wedding and a meteor shower in the same weekend. Being able to save ALL your settings is an awesome AWESOME feature that Nikon doesn’t offer. Yes, you can save most of your settings with Nikon bodies, but not like this. This is the way to go.
Lens Selection – Nikon doesnt offer a F1.2 lens besides their older manual focus versions. I’m looking forward to trying out the 50mm F/1.2 and 85mm f/1.2 L series lenses.
Image Quality – I can’t make a fair comparison between the 36mp D800 and the Canon 5D MarkII, but to be honest, I was pretty impressed for a 4 year old sensor.
Something Simple – Lenses mount the right way, by tightening them to the right. It’s always annoyed me that Nikon lenses mount on by turning them to the left, ass backwards from the way we mount and dismount, just about everything else in life.
Things I don’t like
Auto ISO – When initially setting up the Canon 5D MarkII, I went to set the Auto ISO and was surprised to find that theres nothing more to it than just turning it on or off. With my Nikon bodies, I like having the ability to set the thresholds. This isn’t that big of a deal, just something I was surprised to find. I shoot mostly in Manual Mode and set my ISO manually, but there are times that I like to switch it to Auto and make life a little easier.
Auto Focus – I had always heard that Nikon’s AF was better, but I never really understood exactly how, so this was something I was eager to test out. The first thing I noticed was the focus area was much smaller and condensed towards the center of the frame. There was also only has 9 focus points, which is a lot less than what I’m used to with my Nikon bodies, but to be honest the joystick control makes it easier to navigate. I don’t have to click twice to get to the outer points with the Canon, like I do with the Nikon. So, while the AF area was a little smaller, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. To be honest, it just made me more frustrated that neither manufacturer has released a fullframe AF, besides in Live View, with focus points out to the edges of frame.
It wasn’t until I started shooting that I began to realize the MkII’s AF struggles. At the first shoot I used it on, I setup a shot with my subject at the far left. Using the outer focus point in somewhat bright sunlight it struggled to lock on. I quickly tried the far right focus point instead and same thing. The middle point was fine. Now I’m not saying it wouldn’t lock on at all, it just wasn’t as fast as Im used to with my Nikon bodies. After a few shots I got frustrated and grabbed my D800. My main complaint with the AF after my first week of use isn’t so much the lack of focus points or smaller area, its the struggles with locking on, especially when using the outer AF points, no matter the light conditions. The good thing is I’ve heard that the MkIII has made great improvements in this area though.
Banding – This is a new word to me, and I only learned of it after searching on different words that I could think of that described what I seen on my images that I had never seen before. Once I found it, read about it, and now know that it’s a common problem with the Canon sensors, I gotta say…I don’t like it. I could see if it happened at extremely high ISO, but I had it appear with images at low ISO, such as 200. This is something that really shocked me, as it is something that I never seen from my Nikon images, and I still haven’t found a good way to hide it. I read that this is something that still occurs with the MkIII, which I’m surprised to hear.
Something Simple – The On/Off switch, I still can’t used to it’s placing. I prefer the location of the on/off switch on the Nikon bodies, as I still can’t quite learn how to switch it without using both hands.
The true Canon competitor to my D800 and D800E is the 5D MarkIII, but I wasn’t looking for the best that Canon had to offer. I was simply looking to add a third body while getting a taste of the popular and reliable 5D series camera bodies.
The 5D line is one that is ranked at the top among wedding and portrait photographers and has been extremely popular since the release of the 5D Classic in 2005, and now I can see why. After I purchased my first fullframe DSLR, the Nikon D700, I became a fan of the images that it’s main competitor the 5D MarkII was putting out. I could see the differences in the images, especially when it came to colors, and was always impressed with the resolution it put out.
Since I’m also a big landscape and nightscape junkie, the D700 never impressed me with its resolution when compared to the MarkII, and I had often been envious of the detail it produced it’s images. When both manufacturers upgraded their popular full-frame DSLR bodies, I was impressed with the newer Nikon models immediately purchasing the D800, but I was also happy to see the price of the MkII drop down. With everyone looking to ditch their MkIIs for the new and improved MkIIIs, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I broke down and picked one up. So when the need for a third body came up and I could justify it financially…I jumped on it.
Yes, there were things I didn’t like about the MarkII in the first week, but there was also a lot that I did like. Where the MkII fell short, such as in dynamic range and in low light performance, it made up for in other areas such as color and skin tones as well as it’s total recall modes. Would it have made more sense for me to stick with Nikon for a third body along with all of my Nikon glass? Probably. Do I think the decision to add a 4 year old Canon 5D MarkII to my bag was a good one? Absolutely. It’s an awesome camera, and after a week I feel really comfortable and confident shooting with it. Has the Canon 5D MarkII earned a permanent spot in my previously all Nikon camera bag? Yes it has, and I have a feeling it will see a lot more use then originally thought. Now the question is…how long will I go before wanting to upgrade to the MarkIII?