Canon EOS 5D Mark II 21.1MP Full Frame CMOS Digital SLR Camera Reviews Video Clip and Buy Product

February 2, 2009

2008 DSLR Review - The Hits and Misses of the Year

2008 was an interesting year for DSLR's and photographers in general, even if you ignore the ultra-high end announcements from Leica, Hassleblad and Red. The three main players in the DSLR space (Nikon and Canon each with around 40% market share, and Sony with around 10%) all launched milestone cameras. Below we'll detail their hits, and misses.
After their groundbreaking releases in 2007 with the Nikon D3 and D300, they set the bar high for 2008, but in general didn't disappoint with four new bodies:
Nikon D60
While not revolutionary, the Nikon D60 replaced the D40x in Nikons consumer lineup, in a smaller, better package, becoming one of the smallest and lightest DSLR's ever made.
Nikon D700
Coming almost as a complete surprise, the Nikon D700 was launched mid summer, containing the 12 megapixel full frame sensor out of the flagship D3, but with a body similar to the D300. At $3,000, this camera showed Nikons commitment to FX, and the camera instantly became the choice for many pros that didn't need the weather sealing or the advanced features of the D3 (for example wedding photographers).
However within months of its release, the Sony A900 came out with a 24 megapixel full frame sensor for the same MSRP, and the Canon 5D Mark II came out with a 21 megapixel full frame sensor and 1080p HD Video, for $2,700.
While the D700 remains the most complete package (best autofocus, arguable the best metering, and for the vast majority 12 megapixels is plenty), it has come under severe pressure from its higher megapixel rivals. Just four months after its release, the street prices have dropped 25%, down to the $2,300 range for a USA model.
Nikon D90
Replacing the D80 in Nikons lineup, the Nikon D90 took the sensor from the respected D300, improved on it slightly, added video, and packaged it in a smaller, lighter body with scene modes and a more basic autofocus and metering.
The Nikon D90 was also the worlds first DSLR to feature HD Video capture, with its 720p/24 f.p.s. mode. However, a few weeks later Canon announced a much more comprehensive video offering with it's Canon 5D Mark II, and video remains the weakest feature on the D90, lacking autofocus and giving very little control over key elements like exposure.
At $999, this helped firm up Nikons consumer lineup, by creating an outstandingly capable advanced consumer DSLR in the Nikon D90.
Nikon D3x
After years of rumor, Nikon finally announced it's high megapixel camera, the 24 megapixel Nikon D3x.
The camera immediately caused a backlash with its $8,000 price point, which at the time of release was about double the street price of the Nikon D3. This the uproar was only fuelled further, when it was revealed the only significant differences between the D3 and the D3x were the sensor and a slightly improved EXPEED processor, combined with the fact Sony can produce a DSLR with the same size/megapixel sensor for a mere $3,000.
This camera is aimed squarely at the studio/landscape photographer, and initial tests have shown that the sensor is cleaner at high ISO's than the Sony (but comparable to the 5D Mark II, which has fewer megapixels). So while it's clearly an impressive camera, it remains to be seen how many photographers can actually justify the price tag.
In addition to some entry level DSLR's, can had two big releases in 2008.
Canon EOS 50D
Replacing the 40D, the Canon 50D featured a 15 megapixel 1.6x crop sensor, making it the highest pixel density available today (equivalent to a 39 megapixel full frame sensor).
However the initial reception hasn't been especially positive. Because of the high pixel density, the camera suffers more from the effects of diffraction, doesn't have the high ISO ability many hoped it would, and shows up issues with lenses more than any previous model. Despite this, it remains a solid camera at its current street price of just over $1,000.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Probably the most significant release of the year, the Canon 5D replacement features a 21 megapixel Full Frame sensor, ISO capabilities similar to the new Nikon D3x, and it became the first DSLR to feature full 1080p HD Video capture. Despite some initial problems (like the infamous "black dot" problem), for $2,700 Canon provides an amazing feature set, and appears to have hit a home run with what is arguably the best prosumer package on the market today.
After solidifying its consumer lineup, Sony went after the prosumer market with the Sony A900 featuring a 24-megapixel full frame sensor for under $3,000.
Sony A900
The camera lacks basic features expected on today's DSLR's like Live View, but the next camera available with 24 megapixels is the $8,000 Nikon D3x. However it's biggest competition comes from the Canon 5D Mark II, which has a slightly lower resolution at 21 megapixels, but more than makes up for it with its lower $2,700 price tag, full 1080p HD Video mode and features like Live View.
While clearly an impressive camera at a solid price point, unless you really need the extra resolution, it would be very hard to pick the Sony over the Canon.
With groundbreaking cameras in the Nikon D3x, Nikon D90, Canon 50D and Canon 5D Mark II, 2008 solidified full frame sensors in the marketplace, witnessed a continued push towards higher megapixels, and saw the introduction of video on DSLR's.
Looking forward, 2009 should be an interesting year. With negative economic conditions and fierce competition for market share, we should see prices drop, and features like video mature making for some interesting, if not groundbreaking cameras in the near future.
Steve Denton has been a Photographer using Nikon equipment for over 20 years, since he bought his first Nikon F Photomic.
He also runs the web site, a web site dedicated to DSLR photography, covering the latest news from the major manufactures including Nikon, Canon, Leica and Hasselblad, as well as equipment reviews, articles, travel and galleries.
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Canon, Nikon & Sony Prosumer Full-Frame DSLR's

The full frame DSLR market is heating up - by the end of the year three major vendors, Nikon, Canon and Sony, will all have Full Frame ProSumer DSLR's in the market place, all at a similar price point.
The 12.1 megapixel Nikon D700, based on proven technology from both the Nikon D3 and Nikon D300, was announced back in July, and is already available. With an original MSRP of $2,999.95, only 3 months after its announcement street prices have already dropped to around the $2,750 mark.
Rumored for months, the 24.6 megapixel Sony Alpha A900 was finally officially announced on September 9th with an MSRP of $2,999.95, and should be shipping within the next few weeks.
A few days later, Canon announced the 21.1 megapixel Canon EOS 5D Mark II, offering a very comprehensive feature set, as well as adding 1080p HD Video, while undercutting both the Nikon and the Sony with its $2,699.99 MSRP. The camera should ship by the end of the year.
Three very different cameras, all at a very similar price point, make for an interesting choice for the consumer or professional with up to $3,000 to spend on a prosumer DSLR.
Nikon D700:
The Nikon D700 has the excellent year old sensor out of the Nikon D3, in a body comparable to the Nikon D300. With the optional MB-D10 battery pack (which also fits the Nikon D300), the D700 can achieve an impressive 8 f.p.s., while capturing 14-bit files, at least until the buffer fills.
High ISO performance on the D700 is outstanding, equal to the Nikon D3. The Nikon D700 is also has proven Autofocus and Metering. However, it is the lowest resolution camera in the group at only 12 megapixels, and that will turn off a lot of potential buyers.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II:
The 21.1 megapixel sensor has a similar resolution to the flagship Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, however it has a much broader ISO range. In fact, its ISO range exceeds even the Nikon D3 and D700 at ISO 50-25,600 (vs. ISO 100-25,600 for the Nikons).
The sensor in 5D Mark II is a year newer than the sensor in the D700, and if the low light capabilities come even close to the Nikon D700's, then Canon have a very compelling camera on its hands with a significantly higher resolution over the Nikon. There are very few sample images floating round from the Canon, so it's too early to be sure, but the Canon has a lot of potential - we'll soon see how much difference an extra year of sensor development makes.
The big new feature on the Canon is the 1080p HD Video mode. For many, this feature is a gimmick at best, but for some this is a very powerful tool - the ability to use a significant range of high quality lenses, and have control over depth of field that just doesn't exist on consumer video cameras today. This will be a major selling point for some, and a nice to have for many.
Sony Alpha A900:
The Sony boasts the highest resolution of the three cameras, but falls short in two major areas: Its ISO performance is significantly narrower than its main rivals, and it only boasts 12 bit A/D conversion. For the vast majority of shooters, the 12-bit A/D won't make much, if any real world difference. The problem is more one of perception, a $3,000 full frame DSLR is almost expected to have 14 bit A/D conversion in today's market.
Comparing the Cameras:
You drive up in your new luxury car, and the first question your neighbor asks: "How much horsepower has that thing got?" With cameras, it's megapixels - right or wrong, that's going to be the major selling point for the average consumer, with ISO capabilities a very close second.
In reality, very few photographers need more than 12 megapixels. If you are publishing to the web, 3 megapixels is usually more than sufficient - my large 1920 by 1200 monitor is approximately 2.3 megapixels. A 1080p HD TV is less than 2.1 megapixels.
Most high quality prints are printed at 300 dpi (dots per inch), 150 dpi prints still look very good. At 300dpi, an 8x10 photo requires just over 7 megapixels. A 16x20 print at 150 dpi also requires 7.2 megapixels. How many people who buy these cameras are going to print beyond that?
The main advantage of more megapixels is the ability to crop. This is especially useful for nature, wildlife and sports photographers that need as much reach as possible. What matters to them is pixel density - the more "pixels on target" you can get with your longest lens, the more you can crop and the more effective reach you have. However none of these cameras have the highest pixel density out there - if you need reach, you'd be better served with a Nikon D300 or the new Canon 50D. To get the same pixel density as the Canon 50D in a full frame sensor, you'd need a full frame camera with almost 40 megapixels.
Whether you like it or not, the attribute of the camera that makes the headlines is the megapixel number. From a marketing perspective, that puts the Nikon D700 at a major disadvantage to the Canon 5D Mark II. On paper the Canon also wins in the ISO race, but only just. Until the camera is out there in the marketplace, we won't know for sure just how good its low ISO performance is. The Canon also has 1080p Video, which as stated before, will be a major selling point for some, and irrelevant for others.
Where the Nikon beats the Canon, is about everywhere else that counts: It has a higher maximum frame rate (especially if you add the MB-D10 grip to get 8fps, which more than doubles the Canons), and on paper it also has a superior AF system and metering system. In the same way that having more horsepower is meaningless if the car can't put that power down on the road (think transmission, suspension, tires, traction control), the Nikon D700 is still a very compelling package, especially for those that shoot sport or action.
The Sony A900 wins the megapixel race, but the Canon is very close behind. However it loses badly when you factor in ISO performance. Canon also has a much wider range of very high quality lenses to back up the camera, and offers 14-bit A/D conversion verses 12-bit on the Sony for those looking for ultimate image quality. It also has video support, and is about 10% cheaper, so the Canon effectively makes the Sony A900 a non-starter for most people.
Then it comes back to Nikon versus Canon. Both companies have a large range of professional quality lenses and other accessories to back up the camera. The Nikon is the clear choice for the sports shooter. The landscape or studio photographer will lean towards the extra resolution offered by the Canon. If the ISO performance turns out to be similar for both the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mark II, then for the wedding photographer and photo-journalist that need the low light capabilities, the Canon's extra resolution will give it the edge. Unless that is, that they specifically don't want to have to deal with larger image files (takes up more room on memory cards, longer to upload, longer to post process etc).
For everyone else, either the Nikon or Canon should meet or more likely exceed their needs, however Canon has the marketing advantage with the headline number. If you've spent a lot of time shooting in public, then you know someone is going to come up to you at some point and say "Nice camera, how many megapixels has that thing got?"
Steve Denton has been a Photographer using Nikon equipment for over 20 years, since he bought his first Nikon F Photomic.
He also runs the web site - a web site dedicated to DSLR photography, covering the latest news from the major manufactures including Nikon, Canon, Leica and Hasselblad, as well as equipment reviews, articles, travel and galleries.
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