Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Story & Review: Canon 5D Mark II vs Canon 60D & Canon 6D

It's no secret that I switched from my beloved 60D to a 5D Mark II over 8 months ago, it's also no secret that I switched to a 5D Mark III a couple of months ago, in this post I tell you about the whole story, this is not only relevant to Canon users, but to anyone considering the switch from a crop sensor to a full frame. Click through to read the whole story.
It took a lot of effort to switch to full frame, I had a nice collection of lenses that satisfied me on my 60D, the 15-85, 55-250, 35 f2, 50 f1.8, 60 f2.8 macro, & 85 f1.8. In order to sell all of these lenses (except the 35 and 85 since they worked on FF), I made lots of calls, had to wait until I got the money, etc... before I was able to get the 5D Mark II, and I was completely hesitant at what lenses to get, the only thing I knew for sure was that I'd be getting the Canon 50 f1.4, then I decided to get the 5D with the kit lens (24-105 f4 in case you're wondering) because of its reputation and flexibility, later I bought the 200 f2.8 L, the 100 f2.8 L macro and the 40 f2.8 pancake.
The 5D Mark II lasted a mere 6 months in my posession, setting a record among my cameras for the shortest time of ownership. I waited a lot before buying the 5D for Canon's announcement of the 5D Mark III, then once I saw the price announcement, I decided it was out of my reach, and therefore my only FF chance was the Canon 5D Mark II.
It was a step-down from my 60D in a lot of ways:
  • It had dated focusing compared to the 60D, center point focus was good, even for tracking, but outer focus points were not reliable in lower light conditions. The 60D had all cross type focus points.
  • GUI is older than the 60D, changing button assignments was not as easy.
  • Maximum burst rate was slower 4 fps vs 5.3 fps, and shutter sounded much better.
  • Shutter is louder and the viewfinder blackout takes longer.
  • No swivel screen.
  • No lock for the mode dials.
  • Stupid power button that confused me.
  • Exposure meters and exposure compensation only goes to ±2 while the 60D goes to ±3.
  • No 720p 50/60 fps for beautiful slow motion.
  • Battery and memory card doors didn't have springs like the 60D.
  • Heavier and larger.
  • There was this weirdo issue with assigning the AF to the (*) button at the back, where I had to use the AE-L button to zoom out instead.
  • 1/200 sync speed vs 1/250.
  • Rubber smell from the grip stuck to my hand everytime I used the camera.
  • No popup flash, and thus no triggering external speedlites.
  • No electronic level.
  • No in-camera RAW processing.
And despite all that, I fell in love with the 5D Mark II, if I may say, I felt like it had soul, everytime I held it, I felt like we understood each other very well. I never felt that way about any other camera, not even the 5D Mark III, it is very clever and everything, but it doesn't involve me in the taking pictures process like the mark 2.
Below are some of the benefits of the 5D Mark II over the 60D:
  • Much larger sensor with better characteristics (less noise, better skin tones, shallower DoF for those who want it, better dynamic range, better tolerance to highlight and shadow recovery, etc...).
  • Larger and brighter viewfinder (although same 97% coverage), you won't notice the difference clearly unless you use both side by side.
  • More custom modes (3 vs 1).
  • Auto brightness for the back LCD via a light sensor, can't tell you how useful this feature is, it makes a huge difference in usability.
  • Magnesium alloy body, theoritcally stronger and weather proof. If you hold both, the 5D feels more robust and better built.
  • Uses faster CF cards, although I hate the prices, I am impressed with the speed.
  • The joystick is quicker and eaiser to use than the 8-way dial.
  • Dedicated buttons for all the important functions, I was very happy with the WB button, on the 60D I had to set it to the "SET" button.
  • At least one stop better noise performance, I used ISO 3200 all the time without hesitation.
  • Excellent AWB, never failed me except under certain tungsten lighting where I had to change to custom WB (2500K).
  • Skin tones and color tolerance, I can't stress how important this is, I shoot indoors a lot, usually a mix of ambient and bounce flash, in several situations shooting with the 60D didn't produce correct skin color, and I was not able to correct it in RAW, however in the same room with the same flash, the 5D gives me a better skin tone and color, I have no idea why, but things look real, accurate and pleasing.
Checkout the example below, taken with 50 f1.4, available light only, an ugly mix of tungsten and those new CFL lights that cast a green tint, AWB, didn't touch it in post, and it is one of my favorite pictures.

So why did I sell the 5D Mark II if it is that good? Image quality was the best I've ever had, a few reasons actually, the first and the major one was focusing, I got tired of trying to focus with the outer focus points in low light and not being able to, the mark 3 sounded attractive with 41 cross type AF points, and I only had one, ONE! Other reasons were not due to faults in the mark 2, but rather better, luring features in the mark 3, and missing some features from my 60D like the 720p 60 fps, but I will discuss this in future posts.
I did wait for the 6D announcement before I decided to jump the gun on the 5D Mark III, I was disappointed with the 6D's announcement for a lot of reasons, not mainly faults of the camera itself, but becuase the expectations were set quite high, and then there was the Nikon D600.
Rumors said the new FF will be an entry level, affordable camera, prices were expected to be around $1500, it was expected to have the same auto focusing system from the 7D (we're moving forwards in time, aren't we?), and we hoped it might have attractive features like a swivel screen or a popup flash that can act as a wireless trigger. Then Nikon announced the D600, $2099 full frame, 39 AF points with 9 cross types, 100% viewfinder, popup flash, weather sealing, 5.5 fps, dual memory cards which supports UHS, a small body and immediate availability.
Now imagine Canon announcing the 6D a little bit later, asking for $2099 and giving you 11 AF points with ONE cross type, 97% viewfinder, no popup flash, no swivel screen, 4.5 fps, a single SD card, and availability in 4 months. Expectations were really high, and it was a major letdown, especially after Nikon's excellent foray with the D600. Add to that a couple of omissions compared to the 5D Mark II, like the 1/4000 shutter speed and lack of a joystick, and you can see why I quickly went for the 5D Mark III instead.
So does this make the 6D a bad camera? Of course not. Is it as good as Nikon's D600? In my opinion, of course not, I believe if I was just entering the FF world with no investment in lenses or flashes, I would definitely choose the Nikon (provided they solve the oil/dust issues) unless it turns out that Canon's 20 MP sensor produces some legndary image quality, which I doubt it will given that it would not be able to match the 1DX's 18 MP FF sensor's quality.
"But I have Canon lenses and/or want to buy a Canon FF, shall I buy the 5D Mark II or wait for the 6D?" I hear you asking. Given the current prices of the 5D Mark II, I find that it's a real bargain, I'd pick one if I need the money. I see the benefits of the 6D over the older 5D Mark II are the probably better sensor, more sensitive center focus point, smaller size, weight, 720p 60fps video, built-in WiFi and GPS. If you see that you need any of these features then you know where to look.
But if you don't need all of this, you can save yourself time and money (enough to get you a nice prime lens), and get one of the 5D Mark IIs before they go extinct. You'd have the advantages of the 1/8000 shutter speed, 1/200 sync speed, joystick, faster CF card, auto LCD brightness sensor and that's probably it.
I have no doubt the 6D will sell like hot cakes, especially after the 5D Mark II disappears, and the prices for the 6D get lower, this would be the most affordable Canon FF camera, what I really hope for is that the 6D's sensor shows significant image quality gains and that the focusing system turns out to be much better than its older sister. I hope I can find someone with a 6D to review.
Now that I finally got this out of my system, it's time to start talking about the 5D Mark III, it is a phenomenal cameras, soul-less (until now, that is) but phenomenal. It is similar to the McLaren MP4-12C, a brilliant car, but reviewers say that it's like a fax machine, no soul, unlike the Ferrari 458 Italia for exapmle, but the 5D Mark II is no 458 Italia, maybe it's an F355. Below are a few more examples taken with the 5D Mark II before it got sold.
Canon 5D Mark II - First Impressions
FAQ: Full Frame DSLR


  1. Excellent report, from the heart I must say. Also, excellent portrait shots, very natural. Your review has helped me gain more information as I try to make up my mind between the 6D and the Mark II. Thanks again and keep up your artistic impressions behind the camera.

  2. Hi mshafik,
    I am trying to decide the same between a used 6D and a used 5D mark 2...not enough money to buy brand new.. I've been using a EOS 1000D for the past 5 happy years. No complaints there but I know the limits of my 1000D and want to go full frame. Every review I read or people I ask points me towards the 6D, my friends has it and I'm sure its a wonderful camera but there's something about the 5D I find more special, I don't know what it is may be I like the colors 5D mark 2 produce than 6D but it may all be in my head...Then I read your blog and you felt there's a soul for the 5d Mark 2 and I feel, ya!! that could be what I my head 5D M2 has a special place and thanks for writing what you felt shooting the camera rather than how technologically outdated/advanced the camera was interesting that you didn't feel connected to the 5D mark 3...
    Hoping for a reply.

    1. Hi Tom. I'm sure MShafik will reply when he can but just FYI I'm working on a post between full frame vs. smaller sensors. When does it make a difference, etc.

      Best regards,

    2. Hi Tom, I am sorry for the delay in my reply, my life pace these days is just scrambled upside down.

      I am wondering if you've used either the 5DII or the 6D, which one feels better in your hands? If I were to buy a full frame Canon today, on a budget, I would buy the 6D, here's why (please note that I have not used a 6D, just from hearing my friends and others talking about it):

      - Size, the 6D is similar to the 60D in size, which is significantly smaller and lighter than the 5DII. And since you're coming from a 1000D, the 6D would be a large jump in size and weight, not to mention the 5DII. I am used to using micro four thirds now, and I can appreciate the benefits of a smaller, lighter camera.

      - Sensor, the 6D has a more advanced sensor, with better noise performance and better shadow recovery.

      - Tilting screen (if I remember correctly), would be very useful.

      - Newer, better interface.

      - Wifi shooting, extremely useful for selfies, studio shoots, awkward angles, etc...

      - A more sensitive center focus point.

      That just about sums up the main reasons I would prefer a 6D to a 5DII, however, if I was more serious and had the money, I would pick up the 5DIII instead.

      On the other hand, if I didn't have any Canon equipment, I would consider the Nikon D610, it is a better specced camera with a very good sensor and a similar price. I hope that helps you make up your mind.

      By the way, I remember seeing a post today about the 6D costing ~ $14xx on BH.

  3. Great review, I went through the same dilemma recently. Starting from scratch again (was a worldwide published pro throughout 80s 90s & 00s) I would have gone for the Nikon except for those sensor/oil probs, which I believe still arent solved even with the D610. On spec I was very tempted to go with the 6D, that was until a friend bought one. After getting my extremely manly hands on the tiny plasticy with the awkward jutting grip of the 6D body. I knew immediately it had to be the 5D MKii. The image quality/DR may be slighty improved on the 6D but the 5d MKii has been and still is serving pros perfectly well. Decision made. And yep she got soul! :) Love my 5D mkii


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