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

February 2, 2009

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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