Review Canon EOS 5D MK2

Canon 5D MK2 review
Canon 5D MK2 test awaiting a Canon 5D MK3 test

According to many, Canon 5D was the first affordable camera with a full frame sensor. It has been a very popular camera. In 2009, the Canon 5D MK2 was launched as the successor of the 5D. The Canon 5D MK2 is designed for professional photographers, advanced amateur photographers and videographers. And, just like the 5D, the 5D MK2 turned out to be a success.Canon 5D MK2 reviewThe Canon 5D MK2 fits perfectly in the series of Canon SLRs, as far as looks are concerned. The backside is decorated with a 3 “screen with five buttons to its left. On the right of the screen you’ll find the very convenient scroll wheel and some small buttons. On top of the camera there’s a simple LCD screen and a second dial. The camera does not have a pop-up flash.
Competitors with both a similar price-tag and a full frame sensor, are the Nikon D700, Sony 850 and Sony 900. In this review we’ll examine the performance of the Canon 5D MK2. But we’ll also discuss the pros and cons of this camera over its predecessor and over its direct competitors.Canon 5D MK2 review awaiting a Canon 5D MK3 test

Measurements were made using Imatest. For the test method and explanation of terms, see the FAQ section.

Canon 5D MK2 versus Canon 5D

  • Due to its 21 mega pixel sensor, the Canon 5D MK2 has almost twice as many pixels as the Canon 5D (12 mp). The Canon 5D MK2 is, thanks to its new processor, nevertheless faster (3.9 fps) than the 5D (3 fps).
  • The Canon 5D MK2 can be used as a full HD video camera, whereas his predecessor can’t record video at all.
  • The screen of the Canon 5D MK2 (3 inches / 920,000 pixels) is a significant improvement over the 5D screen (2.5 inches / 230,000 pixels).
  • The Canon 5D MK2 has a dust removal system on the sensor, the 5D does not.

Canon 5D MK2 versus the competition: Nikon en Sony

  • Most Nikon or Sony cameras equipped with a full frame sensor, are more expensive, heavier and / or larger than the Canon 5D Mk2.
  • The Nikon D700 has a sensor with 12 mega pixels. That’s almost half of the 21 mega pixels of the Canon 5D MK2.
  • The Nikon D700, Sony 850 and Sony 900 don’t have a full HD movie capability.
  • The D700 has a built-in flash, the Canon 5D MK2 doesn’t.
  • Canon and Nikon over the Sony in terms of benefit lenses: Sony has fewer lenses available, both new and used.

Viewfinder, display and menu

Canon claims a 98% viewfinder coverage and a viewfinder magnification of 0.71 for the Canon 5D MK2. This means that the Canon viewfinder magnification has an overall magnification of 0.7, which is nice to look at. A large and clear viewfinder is one of the advantages of a full-frame camera over an APS-C camera. Although the viewfinder is fairly clear, the small numbers at the bottom of the viewfinder are difficult to read in bright light. The display at the back of the camera is large and easy to read, even in bright conditions. The screen brightness is adjustable, manually or automatically.

The menu is cleverly designed, so you do not have to scroll. It works, for many, more easily than the Nikon menus. The buttons are logically positioned at the back of the camera. Through the menu you can change the function of some of the buttons.

Resolution Canon 5D MK2

Canon 5D MK2 resolution jpgCanon 5D MK2 RAW file resolution
The Canon 5D MK2 delivers, using a good lens like the Canon 70-200/2.8 L IS MK2 , a jpg file with a resolution of 2000 lines per picture height. With a standard editing procedure of RAW files in Lightroom, we obtained a sharper impression of the images, which translates into a resolution of just over 3000 lines per picture height (LW/PH). APS-C camera owners, switching to a full-frame camera, definitely get a higher image quality in return for their investment. Provided you use very high quality lenses. Look for the performance of lenses in our lens review section.

Resolution Canon 5D MK2 in practice

Canon 5D MK2 review, Canon 5D MK2, review Canon 5DMK 3, Canon 5D MK3Canon 5D MK2 review, Canon 5D MK2, review Canon 5DMK 3, Canon 5D MK3
The difference in sharpness between a jpg file, directly from the camera with a 2000 LW/PH resolution (left) and a RAW file with a 3000 LW/PH resolution (right) is not only measurable, but in practice also visible.

Dynamic range of the Canon 5D MK2 sensor

Although the Canon 5D MK2 is 2 years old, this camera performs well for dynamic range. The total dynamic range of RAW files is 12.3 stops on average and remains fairly constant throughout the ISO range. The average total dynamic range for in-camera jpg files is 10.6 stops. High ISO jpgs scoring better here than the lower ISO jpg’s.

Unfortunately, not all stops of the entire dynamic range suitable for a picture. A poor signal to noise ratio (mostly in the shadows) reduces the dynamic range of both RAW and jpg files to a usable dynamic range of just over 6 stops. Which will be sufficient for most images.

Starting at ISO 1600, the usable dynamic range decreases rapidly due to increasing noise. Jpg files, because of in-camera noise reduction, seem to perform better than RAW files from ISO 400 and higher. Yet that is not true. We test the dynamic range of RAW files without using any noise reduction. By doing that, you maintain the highest possible detail in the recordings (3000 LW / PH). The noise, although measurable, will not be visible in print. But if you carefully adjust contrast, sharpening and noise reduction for RAW files, it is possible obtain a usable dynamic range better or equal to that of the jpg files.usabledynamicrange

Dynamic range in practice

The dynamic range of this camera is so good that in practice you’ll seldom observe clipping in both the highlights and the shadows at the same time. In the studio we created a situation with such a large contrast, that either clipping of shadows or clipping of the highlights occurred. We deliberately overexposed the image, so there is almost no clipping in the shadows. As you can see, there’s detail in the black monkey, while in a “well-exposed” shot the monkey turns into a smooth black spot. The white muzzle of the lion is now overexposed. Lightroom marks the overexposed highlights in red. In the histogram the clipping of the highlights can be seen.alt


With its large pixels on the full-frame sensor, noise remains low up to 3200 ISO. Comparison of JPG files with RAW files (without any noise reduction) show that the noise of the jpg files is suppressed even at the lowest ISO levels. From ISO 800, the noise reduction in the jpg files becomes more aggressive.
Even without noise reduction the RAW files can be used up to ISO 1600, before any noise becomes visible. Even in an A3+ print of a 3200 ISO file, noise will not be disturbingly visible. But a large amount of details will be visible, because of the minimal noise reduction applied.

Noise in practice


Landscape Photographers who wish to get the best out of their Canon 5D MK2, should try the 50 ISO setting of this camera. Because of the absence of noise in these images, you can blow the pictures up to enormous sizes, with more visible detail, without encountering problems because of noise.

Canon EOS 5D MK2 + Canon EF 17-40 mm F4 L 17 mm, f10, 1/200sec, ISO 50



A 100% crop from the red rectangle in the ISO 50 image shown above, made with the Canon 5D MK2, shows there’s still no visible noise.

Canon EOS 5D MK2 + Canon EF 17- 40 mm F4 L 17 mm, f10, 1/200sec, 50 ISO

Below are sections of a gray card photographed at different ISO settings. By applying noise reduction to the RAW files even better results would have been achieved.

Daylight color rendering

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The Canon 5D Mk2 delivers RAW files with good color rendering. Saturation lies between 100 and 105%. The color accuracy depends on the camera calibration profile you use in Lightroom. The saturated colors Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow (numbers 13 t / m 18 in the color chart) showed a relatively large color error.

On the right you see a direct comparison of the original color chart (top half) with the same 50 ISO RAW file from the 5D MK2 (lower half). The accuracy of the color of jpg files also depends on the profile you choose on the camera (Neutral, Faithful, standard, etc.), but is always less accurate than the color accuracy of a RAW file. Depending on the ISO setting, the JPEG files (standard) show an average color error (delta E94) between 5 and 11. That is still good, though.

Tungsten color reproduction

minicanon-5d-mk2-kunstlicht-kleur 6851 colorerroralt

Especially in artificial light you can not blindly trust the auto white balance. All of our images shot in tungsten light were too red and too much saturated. In the left image this is clearly shown for an ISO 200 JPG file.

In the gray scale of the color chart (right), the red hue, and the difference in saturation is also evident: the reference colors (upper half) are – compared with a 200 ISO RAW files from the 5D MK2 (lower half) – clearly less red and less saturated. White balance correction afterwards in a photo-editing program, improves the color reproduction of both RAW and JPG files substantially. Nevertheless, the color accuracy of the corrected images is less than the color accuracy of uncorrected footage shot in daylight. The color accuracy of the Canon 5D Mk2 in tungsten light might seem very bad, but that’s not entirely true. Other cameras, including cameras from other brands (as you’ll see the following tests of CameraStuffReview) also have difficulty with the white balance under these (deliberately chosen) extreme conditions.

Color reproduction in practice

This holliday picture confirms the good color rendition of this camera under normal circumstances. This photo has been made at the Waterberg in Namibia.

Canon EOS 5D MK2 + Canon EF 17- 40 mm F4 L 17 mm, f14, 1/125 sec, 400 ISO


Autofocus speed

The shutter lag of the Canon 5D MK2 is very short (0.1 sec). The autofocus speed of the Canon 5D MK2 is also good, but does depend on the lens you use. For example, our review of the Canon L IS 100 mm/2.8 macro, tested with the 5D Mk2, demonstrates that this camera / lens combination focusses from 15 meters to 1.5 meters in just 0.26 seconds. Focusing with a Tokina Macro 100 mm/2.8 takes considerably more time.

Autofocus accuracy

The autofocus of the Canon 5D MK2 is accurate with the Canon EF 100 L IS mm/2.8 Macro. On average AF attempts achieved 95% of the the optimum resolution. Only in one of the 20 test shots, the AF is 20% less accurate. But such a difference is very difficult to determine with the naked eye. Even if you could view them side by side.

Autofocus accuracy in practice

The accuracy and sensitivity of the central AF point is very high when using bright (> f/2.8) lenses. Failures, even in low light, are rare. With sufficient light, the outer AF points is also useful, quite close to the performance of the center AF point.

Autofocus tracking

The Canon 5D MK2 is a more suitable camera for a landscape photographer than for a sports journalist. Our moving train (with a speed of about 1 km / h) shows that the continuous AF of the Canon 5D MK2 is not fast and/or accurate enough to deliver a series of sharp images. A series of photos gives some sharp and some blurry images.


See our list of tested cameras to compare the performance of this camera with other cameras.{insertgrid=381}


  • Very good picture quality: high resolution, high dynamic range and good signal to noise ratio
  • Full HD video camera that dleivers you a shallow depth of field
  • Bright viewfinder and a 920,000 pixels display
  • Accurate and fast AF (especially the center point)


  • Viewfinder information of the Canon 5D MK2 is difficult to read in bright light
  • The AF Canon 5D MK2 lis ess suitable for autofocus tracking
  • Central AF sensor works faster and more reliable than the other AF sensors
  • White balance @ tungsten can be improved

Even two years after its launch, the Canon 5D MK2 is still a very fine camera. Resolution, dynamic range, color reproduction and signal to noise ratio of this camera are all very good, even at today’s standards. You’ll achieve the best performance at ISO 50, though the quality differences with 100 ISO are minimal. For a full-frame camera, the Canon 5D MK2 has a compact and lightweight construction. The menu is userfriendly and the buttons are placed at the right positions.
Owners of an APS-C camera who consider to buy a full frame camera, definitely will get a higher image quality as return on their investment. But only if you also use very high quality lenses! See the lens reviews for APS-C and full frame in our lens review section. Despite our very positive experiences with the Canon 5D MK2, we are very curious about the future Canon 5D MK3.


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