Monday, October 13, 2008

Now I have two things to wait for

On the heels of the much-anticipated Android launch is another amazing product launch. This one already had it's press moment, and you probably missed it.

What you missed is Canon's next revision of the 5d, the Mark II. The original 5D (which I have) is a 12 megapixel wonder, with a full frame sensor, allowing you to get the full wide range out of your lenses.

Rewind a bit... Full frame sensor? Why is this important? Well in Canon's (and Nikon's) camera system (known as EOS) the lenses were built with a 35mm piece of film in mind. Since building sensors (which are essentially large slabs of silicon) at the full size of 24×36 mm was impracticable, camera manufacturers would cut some corners (literally!) and use a smaller size. This size is generally known as APS-sized.

What happens is the camera only uses a square in the middle of the available light from the lens. This is known as the cropping factor, and it effectively makes your lenses appear "longer" - that is the field of view is narrower as if the focal length was larger. If you take a film negative and chop off the edges, that is the equivalent effect as demonstrated by this blog post.

So your beautiful 50mm lenses become a less practical 80mm. If you want ultra-wide lenses, well you are out of luck, because an amazing 17mm is actually a boring 27mm lens. Lower numbers mean wider field of view - think those amazing panoramics.

The 5D was one of the first affordable full-frame sensor, allowing you to extract the maximum wide end of your lenses. Due to the large sensor size, the 5D had an amazingly smooth image, with great low light performance. Most digital cameras have a totally unusable 1600 ISO setting (higher settings offer better low light performance at the expense of a noisier photo). The 5D is noisy at 1600 ISO but it is both "good looking" noise and fairly reasonable. The original 5D was a winner.

But the new and improved 5D Mark II is going to be even bigger. Canon has brought it's 21 megapixel full frame sensor from the 1Ds Mark III to the 5D. Hugely expanded ISO range of up to 6400 ISO standard, or up to 25k ISO in "expanded" mode. It remains to be seen how good 25k looks, but if you need it, you'll have it. Live LCD view - yep, finally the 5D gets the feature every cheapo point and shoot has.

Another nice feature is the anti-dust feature. Dedicated 5D shooters know it as a very dusty camera. I have hundreds of photos nearly ruined by endless dust on the sensor. A combination of substandard environmental sealing and frequent in-the-field lens changes really did a number to the internal bits. Well the new revision has a long overdue feature that helps you minimize sensor-dust and lets you measure and compensate for it in-camera.

But what is even more amazing is the 5D's ability to capture 1080p high definition video! A photographer in New York managed to crank out an amazing video in a weekend with a pre-production unit. Sadly due to the FAT32 limitation, video sizes are limited to 4 GB or 12 minutes at the highest resolution. Choose your scenes carefully!

Most point and shoot video cameras have a video mode, but they are usually crippled by an extremely low resolution - you get 640x480 on the top end models. This might be good enough for some vacation videos, but it's nothing ultra impressive.

However, this new video mode of the Canon 5D Mark II is really pushing up against the highest end pro digital video systems. The 5D's sensor has 10x the pixels of 1080p HD video (which is slightly above 2 megapixels) and by downscaling, the quality of the output should improve. Combined with excellent lenses - the 24-105 L zoom is particularly great - a whole new generation of videographers should be kicking out some awesome HD content with a kit priced at under $4,000!

The 5D has a launch date in November sometime, and some online shops are allowing preorders. Canon is probably still tweaking their production line, so I figure we won't hear anything until the end of the month.

In the mean time, the original 5D is no slouch. Here is a spur-of-the-moment photo at Twin Peaks. I didn't have a tripod so the stone ledge was my impromptu tripod.

Downdown from Twin Peaks

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