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Review of the Canon 5D Mark II - Overview and Best Taj Shots

by Robert Abrams
April 8, 2011
Taj Restaurant & Lounge
48 W 21st Street
New York, NY 10010
(212) 620-3033
Canon 5D Mark II photographs, with exposure data
Overview and Best Taj Shots
You Should Be Dancing - Best Shots
Alegrias Flamenco at La Nacional
Taj - ISO 25600 Exposure Sequence
Taj - ISO 12800 Exposure Sequence
Taj - ISO 6400 Exposure Sequence
You Should Be Dancing "Latin" Room - ISO 25600 Exposure Sequence
You Should Be Dancing "Latin" Room - ISO 12800 Exposure Sequence
You Should Be Dancing "Latin" Room - ISO 6400 Exposure Sequence
You Should Be Dancing Main Room - ISO 25600 Exposure Sequence
You Should Be Dancing Main Room - ISO 12800 Exposure Sequence
You Should Be Dancing Main Room - ISO 6400 Exposure Sequence
The folks at Canon were kind enough to loan me a Canon 5D Mark II professional digital camera with a 24mm 1.4 lens. I took the camera to the same social dance venues I tested the Canon 1D Mark III: You Should Be Dancing and Taj. Overall, the news is good.

These tests are all of available light dance photography. I prefer available light photography because it more accurately captures the feel of the space, and it does not intrude on people's dancing the way a flash does.

I will start with the most difficult test: Taj. In the better lit side of Taj, the Canon 1D Mark III was able to sometimes take decent shots at its highest ISO setting of 6400 with an exposure of 1/125th of a second and an F stop of 1.4, but only if I also brightened the image about a stop in Photoshop (see 1D Mark III Taj tests and YSBD Latin Room tests). By contrast, the Canon 5D Mark II was able to take roughly equivalent photos at its highest ISO of 25,600 (with roughly equal graininess compared to ISO 6400 using the 1D Mark III) with an exposure of 1/125th of a second and an F stop of 2.2 (and no adjustments in Photoshop). This represents improved performance of about a stop to a stop and a half. Based on these results, I would say that the Canon 5D Mark II passes the low light social dance photography test: I am willing to recommend that you buy it for this purpose, whereas I would not have recommended the Canon 1D Mark III. Considering that the Canon 5D Mark II is also a lighter and less expensive camera than the Canon 1D Mark III was, this is very good progress.

If you detected a note of hesitancy in my recommendation, you are right. The Canon 5D Mark II passes the test, but only barely. It did produce some very nice shots in the better lit part of Taj, but it wasn't consistent. (The better lit side of Taj is still fairly dimly lit for a camera, and nothing I have tested so far can really handle the darker side of Taj - all of the Taj exposure sequences are of the more dimly lit side of the room.) A lot of the shots I took either came out too dim, or were out of focus. For the most part, I was not happy with the Canon 5D Mark II's autofocus in the more dimly lit venues. (The 5D Mark II does not have an autofocus assist feature, but you can add such a feature to the camera by attaching a flash and turning the flash off, or by using a Speedlight Transmitter. Thanks to Michael Grace-Martin for this tip.)

The Canon 5D Mark II did quite well in the You Should Be Dancing "Latin" room, which is a low light space in an absolute sense, but very nicely lit for a social dance venue (frankly, I prefer a better lit room for dancing, independent of photography, but that is just me). Here, the results are bright and not too grainy at ISO 12800, 1/125 and 2.5. There is enough room in the exposure options to give the photographer some choices of how to shoot.

In You Should Be Dancing's main room, which is not as brightly lit, you can still get brightly lit shots, but much closer to the 5D Mark II's extreme end of its capabilities. Also, in these more dimly lit environments, the graininess at ISO 25,600 becomes more apparent, and there is the same issue with the autofocus I mentioned earlier.

When shooting under stage light conditions (the Alegrias set), the Canon 5D Mark II can produce fine photos consistently at ISO 6400 with exposures around 1/125 and 3.5 to 4.5. La Nacional's stage lighting tends to have a yellow cast to it, so these photos are fairly accurate renditions of what the stage looked like to the eye.

I also tested the Canon 5D Mark II in daylight and in brightly lit rooms. The results here were good. The one caveat was that if you are using a 1.4 lens, don't set the camera on automatic exposure, because it will tend to prefer a wider aperture, which at 1.4 doesn't leave much margin for error for the autofocus.

The Canon 5D Mark II produced jpeg files of about 7 to 15 MB each, which is plenty of information for selecting a smaller portion of the image or making large prints.

Most of the files were saved to a Lexar Professional UDMA CompactFlash card (4 GB, 300x speed), and were transferred to the computer using a Lexar Professional UDMA CompactFlash Reader. Both were supplied by Lexar. Lexar now also makes a 600x speed CompactFlash card in 8, 16 and 32 GB capacities. I did not do a formal test of the speed of the Lexar card, but it should make at least some difference when shooting multiple large image files in rapid succession, which can happen on a regular basis in dance photography. Certainly, I found the operation of the Lexar card to be trouble free, and the card reader had much faster transfer times than the regular card reader I had been using previously.

Overall, if you are looking for a camera for low light dance photography without using a flash, the Canon 5D Mark II is a fine choice for the better lit dance venues. It will not handle the more dimly lit dance venues well without a flash, so you are going to want to invest in a good flash. There is a good chance that Canon or other camera manufacturers will come out with newer cameras that handle low light better (another stop or two better would be wonderful) in a year or three. Since the resale value of used digital cameras tends to be poor, you should decide how long you are willing to hold on to a new camera. Then calculate how many shoots you will do in that time. This will give you the cost of the camera per shoot. If you can afford that cost per shoot, you should feel comfortable buying the camera. If the cost per shoot feels high, you might want to wait for the next model to be released. For instance, the Canon 5D Mark II has a list price of $2499. If you were to use it for one year, and do 50 shoots, that translates into a cost per shoot of $49.98 (not including sales tax, and assuming you are upgrading to a camera that can use the same lenses - if you plan on replacing lenses you need to factor those costs in as well - the 24mm 1.4 lens costs $1749).

At a price of $4248 plus tax for a camera and one lens, the Canon 5D Mark II is a serious investment. If you are ready to make a serious investment in dance photography, the Canon 5D Mark II is the first camera to pass the available light, low light, dance photography test.
Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/60, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/60, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/60, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/60, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.2, ISO 6400

Taj
1/125, 2.2, ISO 6400

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.2, ISO 6400

Taj
1/125, 2.2, ISO 6400

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.2, ISO 6400

Taj
1/125, 2.2, ISO 6400

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.2, ISO 6400

Taj
1/125, 2.2, ISO 6400

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.2, ISO 6400

Taj
1/125, 2.2, ISO 6400

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/125, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/125, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/125, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/125, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/125, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/80, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Taj
1/100, 2.2, ISO 25600

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Taj 1/125, 2.5, ISO 6400

Taj
1/125, 2.5, ISO 6400

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams

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