For the moment, experts say the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is a fantastic deal: a full-frame, pro digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera for less than $2,000. Newer versions from Canon and Nikon now outshine the venerable Mark II in tests, and it may disappear when Canon launches its new EOS 6D in December. But for now, you get several hundred dollars off last year's Best Reviewed entry-pro DSLR.
Viewfinder and LCD screen are smaller than the Mark III's. Nobody complained about the Canon 5D Mark II's usability when it launched. In fact, it was the runaway favorite of critics.
It's no lightweight, weighing nearly 2 pounds -- just a few ounces shy of the newer EOS 5D Mark III (Est. $3,400 (body only)) and Nikon D800 (Est. $2,800 body only). However, testers find it generally comfortable and well balanced, with buttons where you expect to find them and easy-to-navigate menus. Advanced shooters can customize the Mark II pretty much any way they want, thanks to 71 custom function settings and three user-determined presets on the mode dial to store your favorite settings.
Still, the newer Mark III makes a few improvements. Its LCD screen is 3.2 inches versus the Mark II's 3 inches, and a bigger viewfinder covers 100 percent of the scene versus 98 percent for the Mark II. Jeffrey Kuo at Imaging-Resource.com especially wished for a mode dial lock on the Mark II to prevent an accidental bump from switching his mode, and the Mark III has one.
Trails the new Mark III in most ways. Before the Nikon D800 stormed the market with its behemoth 36-megapixel sensor, critics said the Canon 5D Mark II's 21.1 megapixels looked pretty good. In fact, they still do. "Pixel counts continue to make headlines, but most professionals would probably agree that 20MP is enough," says Rod Lawton at TechRadar.com.
Sensible megapixels help the Mark II shine in low light, but the new Mark III performs even better. A slight boost to 22.3 megapixels picks out finer details like the threads in fabrics, and the Mark III can crank out sharp images in even dimmer light. "The 5D Mark II's images look downright hazy in comparison" at ISO 3,200 in Imaging-Resource.com's tests.
The Mark II never was quick, though, shooting just 3.9 frames per second (fps). The new Mark III boosts that to 6 fps, and adds far more sophisticated metering and autofocus systems -- 61 autofocus points, up from nine on the Mark II. "The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is much better suited to fast action photography than the Canon EOS 5D Mark II ever was," Lawton says.
The Mark II was the first full-frame DSLR to shoot full HD video, but movie autofocus is still so loud that it shows up on your audio, a design flaw that nobody has solved yet. In addition, the Mark II can't continuously autofocus while shooting video; you have to trigger autofocus by pressing a button while you shoot. The Mark III works the same way, but the Nikon D800 can continuously autofocus in movie mode.
Battery life is rated at 850 shots per charge, a little behind the 900-shot Nikon D800 and 950-shot Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Rugged, but not as much as the Mark III and 1D X. Canon didn't skimp on build quality here: The 5D Mark II boasts an all-metal body sealed against rain and dust, although the Mark III gets better weather sealing.
One Mark II owner writes at Amazon.com, "The build quality on this camera is the best. If you happen to drop the 5D Mark II with its magnesium-alloy body, you will likely break whatever you drop the camera on -- including ceramic tile -- instead of breaking the camera (speaking from experience)." This isn't to say it's okay to drop your camera; something could come loose inside and cause problems down the road.
The Mark II's shutter is designed to last for 150,000 shots versus 200,000 for the Mark III and 400,000 for the top-of-the-line Canon EOS-1D X (Est. $2,800 body only). The 1D X gets the tightest weather seals, too.
Lacks some of the latest extras. Some DSLR features that you probably take for granted actually spent their infancy on the Canon 5D Mark II. For example, it was one of the first to let you tweak settings within the Picture Styles presets -- portrait, landscape, etc. -- or create your own and save them straight to the mode dial. This is a "strength for serious shooters," says DigitalCameraInfo.com.
But it lacks some important tools you'll find on the newer Mark III. Most important, the Mark II has only one memory card slot. The Mark III and Nikon D800 each have two, which testers love. The new cameras take both Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) cards while the Mark II is CF-only. In addition, you can set them to save to both cards as full-time backup, set one card as automatic overflow, or save JPEGs to one and raw files to the other.
Unlike the Mark III and Nikon D800, the older Mark II can't shoot High Dynamic Range (HDR). With this feature, the newer cameras can shoot a few different exposures of the same scene and combine them to get better depth and detail.
Finally, the new Canon and Nikon both have a headphone jack, "an essential feature for video pros" who want to monitor audio as they shoot, says TechRadar.com's Lawton. "Professional sound quality will be much easier to achieve" than with the Mark II.
Review Credibility: Very Good The Canon EOS 5D Mark III has replaced the older Mark II on this site's list of favorites, but the Mark II is still highly recommended. Photo and video quality are superb, and the cheaper Mark II "seems like quite a bargain," editors say after testing every facet of the camera.
Review: Canon EOS 5D Mark II In-depth Review, Don Wan and Phil Askey, February 2009
Review Credibility: Very Good After exhaustive testing a few years ago, editors here place the Canon EOS 5D Mark II on their list of recommended DSLRs and it's still there. However, they're in the middle of testing the newer Mark III, and it has already beaten the Mark II in side-by-side image tests.
Review: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Shawn Barnett, Dave Etchells and Zig Weidelich, Jan. 20, 2009
Review Credibility: Very Good When it first hit the market, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II earned 4.5 stars out of 5 in tests at this site. Since then, Lawton has written a separate head-to-head comparison pitting the new Mark III against the Mark II, and concludes that it surpasses the Mark II in most ways.
Review: Canon EOS 5D Mk II Review, Rod Lawton, Jan. 27, 2009
Review Credibility: Very Good Although it costs a lot more than the older Mark II, the new Mark III might be a better buy if you're a sports/news photographer who needs fast shooting and autofocus or if you want the best video shooter, Donegan says. Links lead to the site's full reviews of each camera.
Review: Head to Head: Canon 5D Mark II versus Canon 5D Mark III, TJ Donegan, April 27, 2012
Review Credibility: Fair The Canon 5D Mark II earns an average rating of 4.4 stars out of 5. More than 300 owners review it, some at great length and detail.
Review: Canon EOS 5D Mark II 21.1MP Full Frame CMOS Digital SLR Camera, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of November 2012