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Initial notes on the 5D Mark II

We’ve upgraded from the Rebel XTi to the 5D Mark II. We decided to skip the 20/30/40/50D series and wait until we could go to full-frame. Here’s how the transition is going on day one:

It didn’t take very long to get accustomed to the controls, which are very different from the Rebel series, but generally in good ways.

The viewfinder is much larger and brighter.

The screen is much larger and brighter. Photo review is much nicer.

The shutter is much quieter and (subjectively) sounds more professional.

We haven’t seemed to reach a consensus on how to quickly abbreviate the model name in speech or writing. I’m going with “5D2” for now.

Auto-ISO is very useful. I think I’ll be able to use Tv mode (shutter-speed priority) more.

The high-ISO noise levels are so low, and the photos so usable, that very-wide-aperture lenses aren’t as necessary for a lot of low-light uses.

I’ve always heard this old rule that a hand-holdable shutter speed for X mm should be 1/X. The 5D2 has such high resolution that I’m not always happy with the sharpness at 1/X, so I have to go a bit faster.

Video recording is very impressive, but the reality of it (autofocus limitations, image-stabilizer noise, 12-minute limit per clip) will prevent it from replacing a camcorder for most people who need a camcorder. That said, most people don’t need a camcorder. The 5D2’s video capability is exactly what I wanted: the ability for photographers to occasionally dabble in video with their existing lenses. But this isn’t something you can record your kid’s musical with.

Live View has one unexpectedly useful benefit for still photos: you can zoom way in for manual focus adjustments. The process of actually doing this is too time-consuming for quick candid shooting, but it’s probably very convenient for setups and tripods.

This move to full-frame has shuffled up the usefulness of our lenses quite a bit, some in unexpected ways. The biggest difference, of course, is that the full-frame sensor now makes every lens look about 60% wider, as illustrated here (almost every SLR on the market is that inner 1.6x rectangle, while the 5D2 is the outer 1.0x).

When using the XTi in low light, we’d have to use very long shutter speeds, relying heavily on image stabilization, and hope nobody moved. Or we’d have to rely on the 50’s sub-f/2 apertures, which aren’t very sharp even if you nail the focus (which isn’t easy).

With the 5D2’s noise performance, we can actually take usable shots at ISO 3200, and image stabilization is far less necessary until you reach the telephoto range. The lack of IS was what was holding me back from using primes more. So now, I think we’ll use zoom lenses far less frequently than before.

Overall: It’s a completely different world from the XT series. We have a lot to relearn. But so far, I like it a lot.