Canon's New EOS 5D DSLR ($3,300 street, body only) is a study in the yin and yang of camera design. On the one hand, its 12.8MP full-frame CMOS sensor eliminates the 35mm lens factor found on all lower-priced DSLRs and gives it a potential image-quality edge. On the other hand, it costs more than twice as much as the 8.2MP EOS 20D ($1,300 street) from which it was cloned, and it's missing a few of the 20D's features. So you might ask, if the EOS 5D takes a picture in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a sound purchase? Put simply, yes. Which is why we made it our 2005 Camera of the Year.
Last month, we gave you an overview of the EOS 5D's features (see "Answered Prayers," November 2005). Here's a closer look at the 5D's top features, image quality and performance results from tests we ran on a production model. We'll let you decide if the camera deserves Zen Master status.
Those who already shoot with an EOS 20D will immediately understand the logic behind the EOS 5D's copycat construction and controls. Canon started with a great camera body and made a few modifications (and omissions) to fit in the extra features of the 5D. Like the 20D, its stainless steel and molded magnesium-alloy body make it tough enough to handle most of the abuse it's likely to run into when used by pro news, sports, or wedding photographers. At 1 lb, 13 oz (body only) it weighs four ounces more than the EOS 20D, due primarily to the larger mirror and prism assembly for the larger sensor. Canon also expanded the left side of the camera to make room for additional processing circuits, RAM for the capture buffer, and a beefed-up main mode dial. Finally, the solid metal top plate covering the prism (where once sat a plastic pop-up flash) increased the weight slightly.
Will pros miss the built-in flash? Not likely, as the advantages of shoe-mount units far outweigh those of a pop-up system. Like the 20D, the 5D supports multiple flash arrangements, and it also supports E-TTL II capabilities found on the latest flash units such as the Canon Speedlite 430EX ($300 street). High-speed flash sync (FP flash) is also possible with some units up to the camera's maximum 1/8000-sec shutter speed, but standard flash sync has dropped to 1/200 sec from the 1/250 sec of the EOS 20D.
The next, most obvious physical difference between the two cameras is the 5D's gorgeous 2.5-inch TFT LCD monitor (compared to the 1.8-inch LCD found on the EOS 20D). With approximately 230,000-pixel resolution, its played-back images look sharper, and exposure data and menu controls can be read at arm's length. The viewing angle is also extraordinary (nearly 170 degrees off-axis), and this LCD is extremely accurate, showing nearly 100% of the image as shot. As with the 20D, you can view exposure information, highlight and shadow warnings, and luminance histograms, but the 5D also includes RGB histograms.
The optical viewfinder also shows excellent image accuracy--rating 95% in our tests. Image magnification, on the other hand, isn't as good as the 0.94X of the EOS 20D. But it's on par with the EOS-1Ds Mark II ($7,395 street) at 0.76X, a Good rating. Higher magnification viewfinders are easier to design when working with a smaller sensor, which explains why few full-frame SLRs have ever achieved an Excellent magnification rating.