Canon EOS 5D Mark II: Amateurs Need Not Apply

Video Magic: Worth the Hassle?

For several years, many digital cameras have featured a "movie" setting to allow the user to capture video with a still camera. Usually, there are limitations that accompany this feature, such as a short-duration of movie clips (30 seconds to one minute) or a video file type that does not take advantage of the full size of the camera's sensor. Such is not the case with the EOS 5D Mark II. This camera can create excellent video that takes advantage of the full size of the camera's sensor. It can capture video in one of two resolutions: 1920 x 1080 and 640 x 480. Full resolution can be saved in 1080i or 1080p configurations. If you have a 4 GB CF card in the camera, you can fill the card up with about 12 minutes of video. A file size of 4 GB is the maximum you can generate.

While the video feature is not weakened in typical ways with the EOS 5D Mark II, our testing experience convinced us that in order to work the camera’s complicated video features, a user would benefit from professional video experience.

Here’s the main complication (or limitation, depending on how you see it): the camera lacks the ability to auto focus and track at the same time during video recording. With the camera set to either of the two "live" modes, your initial focus will be retained until you refocus by hitting the "AF-ON" button, which will refocus the camera to the subject you are recording at that moment. But, in that moment of re-focusing, the camera will cycle the focusing mechanism until it has determined the proper focus to the new subject matter. We also saw the video image flair out to white during this process. The camera opens the aperture to its widest to ensure that it is properly focusing on the subject, then closes the aperture down again. Probably, a professional would know to expect the camera to flare out, and would take into account that this would have to be edited out in post-production and shoot the subject accordingly.

Additionally, you cannot see the subject being recorded through the viewfinder, while the 3" LCD monitor is your viewing guide. Since the camera does not have an eyepiece cup around the LCD, you cannot get close enough to the image to ensure you are actually in focus. Maybe a professional could just go with his or her gut on this, but we couldn’t.

The EOS 5D Mark II does not have a standard video camera configuration that lends itself easily to balancing from the shoulder or holding the camera above or below your head. This will likely limit the camera to being used on a tripod only. Further, the controls for manually focusing the camera or starting and stopping the action are not conveniently placed as they otherwise would be with a dedicated video camera. This caused us no end of difficulties while trying to hand-hold the camera. In fact, it was at this point that we determined that hand-holding the EOS 5D Mark II was not a good idea.

Battery consumption is a minor concern, but it remains a concern, nonetheless. In capturing a mere 20 minutes of video, we went through half of a fully-charged battery. If you use this camera to shoot video for any meaningful length of time, have several batteries in your tote or know what you want to capture in one shot.

While we did try many different video capture scenarios with the EOS 5D Mark II, our results were less than stellar. That doesn’t mean beautiful video can’t be captured with it. We’ve seen some, but experienced professionals generated it. As an example of what is possible, see this video, created by Bob Davis.

Here are two still images captured from video we filmed with the EOS 5D Mark II:

  • GeoMan
    Must say I’m a little disappointed with this so called review. First and foremost this is a still camera aimed at the advanced armature/professional photographer with the added feature of being able to take HD video. That target market already knows a fair deal about photography and using cameras so why spend half the review bashing the camera on a feature that isn’t its primary function (video)? No quantification of noise at increasing ISO, in camera noise reduction, RAW versus JPG performance, dynamic range, bundled software and no comparison to its competition (Nikon D700, Sony Alpha A900)? If you want high resolution and excellent low light performance for static subjects go for the Cannon, if you want something that’s better at action/sports photography go for the Nikon.
  • one-shot
    For computers, I go to Tomshardware/Anandtech/Tech Report. For cameras, I go to This "review" was lacking in so many ways compared to a more in depth review, which this camera does deserve. No ISO comparisons, no CA comparison, no falloff comparisons for different apertures etc. Tomshardware, please spend more time on camera reviews because not spending enough time is an injustice to the manufacturer's respective products and the reader.
  • theuerkorn
    I agree with previous comments. A bit basic and and comparisons are a bit out of place. I think an actual user report (rather than repeat specs) would have been better.
  • theuerkorn
    I agree with previous comments. I think a better format (than just repeating specs) would have been to put out some actual user experience. This is not the site for in-depth reviews anyway a la, but plain repeats of info that can be had from a spec sheet isn't useful either.
  • Shadow703793
    +1 for dpreviews. Agree with above that this was a cr@ppy review. This is a high end pro CAMERA, not a HD VIDEO RECORDER.
  • zodiacfml
    we already know and read dpreview and clearly this review is for amateurs done by an amateur. the review still had its purpose to amateurs like me and shows that it can't do video like a normal video camera and i agree those above that user experience format is a good idea.
    though i want to add that the problem with the video focusing can be minimized if we planned the shot by limiting the length of a shot to the focused subject, around 5 seconds per shot/clip.
  • michaelahess
    I'll stick with my D300. It cost less, probably has very equal quality, and video is just a gimmick on these things anyway. And 21mp? At that res, focus will limit the actual quality when you get to the pixel level anyway.

    Now as soon as they make a viable full frame focus lens, this will be awesome. Ya know, where the focal point is optimized for every pixel, not just your "subject".
  • I agree, I have a 5D and I upgraded to the Mk II and am quite happy with it. I like the tonal compression and the fact that it can fix the vignetting effect of some lenses. It store the vignette information of each lens and applies it to the image.
    I also like the way the ISO can auto adjust to keep the shutter speed to 1/30s in low level light.
    However I don't have a video camera and I didn't buy it to use the video mode. However it's there if I want to use it.
    Also the focus can be done manually and I read that focus is very important in video and pros use a focus puller to focus for them.
    That is, another person who focuses for the photographer. Therefore, an auto focus wouldn't be very useful.
    Also the ISO can't be changed in video mode. But you can't change it in a film camera either.
    In my view, if you take movies, then you use a specialist movie camera, like a RED One which does the job more effectively. The RED is probably not a good still camera either.
  • marokero
    A lot of my co-workers are adding this Mk II to their repertoire. Unfortunately one thing this camera carries from the original 5D is the same autofocus system, which isn't great for tracking action. Canon should've improved the autofocus in this new iteration, especially for low light scenes - pity, since the image quality is really good at the high ISOs these low light scenes require (as in weddings and other event photography).
  • ohim

    HD movie shot with Canon EOS 5D Mark III