Monday, April 20, 2009

Canon 5D Mark II Redux - Report from a Wedding (Wedding Photography)

I shot my first wedding using a Canon 5D Mark II. I've got it on loan and have nothing invested in having to like it (if I'd bought it, I'd have to rationalize the purchase!). I'm a long-time 5D user and I have also owned and/or used various 1-series Canon DSLRs. I photographed approximately 40 weddings over the past three years.

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 15mm Fisheye lens, 100 ISO,
f/2.8, 1/200 sec, aperture priority

I was interested to see how well the new auto ISO feature worked because it covers almost the entire range I've ever used with the 5D (all except for an ISO of 50). I also wanted to see how well the new auto 1/60 - 1/200 flash sync setting worked for flash photography. But before I report on those, I have a note of warning for Canon 5D users...

New Placement of AF-On Button
If you're a heavy user of the AE-lock button like me (it's the "*" button at the top right rear of the 5D that you use to lock in an exposure settting), beware the new AF-on button on the 5D Mark II that is now located just to the left of the AE-lock button...(!) I couldn't figure out why the AE-lock button wasn't working very well for much of the day, until I realized my thumb was used to reaching for "the far left" button whenever attempting to press the AE-lock button. But on the Mark II, Instead of pressing the AE-lock button, I was pressing the AF-on button, which seemed to be doing absolutely nothing!

So, if you're a heavy user of the AE-lock (*) button on the 5D, be sure to retrain your thumb before shooting an event with the 5D Mark II. Note: I just discovered you can actually swap the functioning of the AF-on and AE-lock buttons in the custom function settings; so you may want to look into that.

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens, 1600 ISO,
f/2.8, 1/10 sec, aperture priority; processed in Lightroom

RAW Image File Sizes
I shoot weddings in Camera Raw (i.e., with the camera set for camera raw image file format) to make image adjustments easier afterward. There was no way I was going to shoot 21 megapixel raw images with the Mark II; image files that large would fill up my 8 GB memory cards too fast! So, I chose the Mark II's new sRAW1 format, which yields 10 megapixel images. According to Canon's EOS 5D Mark II instruction manual, these 10 megapixel images are about 14.8 MB in size. This brings me to two issues...

1) The 5D Mark II is giving you 10 megapixel raw images that each take up 14.8 MB of space on your memory card. Well, it turns out that a full 12.8 megapixel RAW image on the 5D takes up less space on your memory card...about 13 MB! Now, I'm guessing this is because the images have gone from 12-bit to 14-bit. What will make a bigger impact on your client...the color depth in the images or the number of pixels? I guess you'll have to be the judge. In any case, the 12.8 mp RAW 5D images take up less space on a memory card than the 10.0 mp RAW 5D Mark II images.

2) I took a look at the image file sizes for the images I shot at this last wedding. (I was shooting with both a 5D and the 5D Mark II.) The file sizes from the 5D ranged from about 12 MB to 16 MB. The file sizes from the 5D Mark II (sRAW1) ranged from about 10 MB to about 23 MB. So the file size is much more variable on the Mark II and really depends on what you're shooting.

Auto ISO
I was really looking forward to the new 100-3200 Auto ISO feature when I first heard it was going to be included on the 5D Mark II months ago. How many times have you suddenly gone from a low-light situation to a bright-light situation while photographing (e.g., a bridal couple coming out from inside a dark church to the bright sunshine outdoors) and forgot or didn't have a chance to change the ISO from 1600 or 3200 ISO to 200 or 100 ISO??

In a nutshell, this new feature isn't the "silver bullet" I hoped it would be. I didn't have any problems with it outdoors, though I have heard some say it selected a higher ISO than they would have wanted in such situations. My main issue with the auto ISO is when it selects a too-low ISO (especially indoors) and allows the shutter speed to go down to 1/20 second! I've got a number of blurry indoor shots for which I wish the camera would have selected a higher ISO and shutter speed when I was shooting with the lens wide open in aperture priority mode. Maybe auto ISO works better indoors in shutter priority mode?

If you could set a minimum shutter speed in the custom functions, that would be a possible solution; that doesn't seem to be available with the 5D Mark II. Also, be aware that the upper end of the auto ISO changes to 400 instead of 3200 when you have a flash attached and turned on.

One other thing: I was wondering what would happen if you had the camera in manual exposure mode and had the ISO set at auto; would the ISO fluctuate so that your exposure would suddenly be off? Or maybe the ISO would change to accommodate changing lighting conditions, effectively giving you a semi-auto-exposure manual exposure mode! Well, it turns out the ISO simply fixes at 400 ISO regardless of the lighting conditions.

New 1/60 - 1/200 sec Auto Flash Sync
In addition to the 1/200 fixed flash sync speed on the 5D which works in aperture priority mode (I use this a lot because it works much better than Auto when you're shooting in a dark room with a flash in aperture priority mode), the new Mark II also has a variable 1/60 - 1/200 sec auto flash sync for flash photography that works in aperture priority mode. Well, I have to say I didn't notice much of a difference. In fact, when you're trying to catch people moving and dancing around in dark reception halls, you almost always need 1/200 anyway. I still like the idea of it, but it didn't make as much of an impact as I had hoped.

920,000 Deceiving LCD Pixels
The new 3", 920,000 pixel LCD is quite nice; it's certainly much less "pixelly" than the 3" 230,000 pixel LCD I witnessed on the 40D! However, the definition is *so* nice, I think it can actually deceive you into thinking the captured image is actually sharper and better focused than it really was! It misled me more than once. Probably once you get used to the higher definition LCD, you're better able to discriminate between the sharp/in-focus images and the blurry/out-of-focus ones.

Odds and Ends
The auto white balance (AWB) on the 5D was never that good, but my initial experience with the Mark II indicates it's no better. In fact, it seemed ever so slightly worse to me. The autofocusing system on the 5D Mark II is the same as it was on the 5D; this indeed seems to be the case (i.e., it works fine in most cases, but tends not to be very good in low light...especially without a flash attached and the AF Assist turned on).

For some reason, it really stood out to me how well the Mark II performed when I was taking photos of the people in the receiving line just outside the church. It was a bright mostly cloudy afternoon and almost every photo seemed to a have close-to-ideal exposure with the camera set to aperture priority + auto ISO. However, in other cases, with strong backlighting, I was having a heck of time getting the proper exposure...even when I switched to spot metering.

I liked being able to switch the ISO to 6400 on the Mark II to get some important shots in the dark church where the ceremony took place. However, I'd swear there were shots I could get with the 5D at 3200 ISO that required me to switch to 6400 on the Mark II to get. And even though I was using two different lenses on the two camera bodies (70-200 f/2.8 on the 5D and 24-70 f/2.8 on the 5D Mark II), I had them at or near the same maximum f/2.8 aperture on both lenses when I really needed to, and the 5D seemed to need less light for a proper exposure. Not a completely controlled experiment, but...

So, the 5D Mark II was really my "main" camera for this wedding and it did a pretty decent job. However, I really don't feel like it was a significant "step up" from using my good old 5D as my main wedding camera. I said this in a previous blog post and I'll say it again here: I sincerely think a lightly used 5D for around $1300 at eBay may be a better purchase right now than a 5D Mark II for around $2700....*unless* you really want or need the capability of: the extra 8 megapixels per image, high definition video recording, or shooting at 12800 - 25600 ISO even though the camera may not be able to autofocus in such low light conditions.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

1 comment:

  1. The low-light capability of the 5D at a lower ISO setting than its successor, may, if real, be owing to the 5Ds larger pixels.