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As promised, here’s the first installment of my field reports on the gear I took out West last week, and I’m starting with the Canon 5D, which was my primary camera body for the entire trip. (The shot above is from Monument Valley at sunrise–click for a larger view).

As a longtime Nikon shooter, this was my first time out with one of Canon’s higher end digital rigs and Canon L glass, and although it was a bit awkward at first (just figuring out where all the dials and buttons I use most are located on a Canon body), by the second day I was totally comfortable and the transition was easier than I thought.

My field reports are based on my personal impressions (and not loads of lab testing), so I’m going to boil these field tests down to what I liked and didn’t like, so here goes:

What I liked best:

  • The low noise. As a general rule, I don’t shoot at 800 ISO or above unless it is an absolute emergency (and I cringe if I shoot at 400 ISO), but in both of my last shoots with the 5D I’ve shot at 1600 ISO and higher numerous times (even some when I was intending to) and the noise levels are shockingly low. This pretty much blew me away.
  • I fell in love with the scroll wheel on the back of the body. It makes image review so much easier and faster. It’s a little thing, but at this point, they’re all little things (well, except the low noise).
  • The weight: I was really surprised by the light weight of the 5D, and the 70mm-200mm lens. It seemed like half the weight of my regular rig, but not at all cheap or too lightweight.
  • I liked the full frame more than I thought I would, but then again I was shooting landscapes, and that let me really take advantage of the 16mm wide angle lens (which I love).
  • The Canon IS (Image Stabilization) is just outstanding. Better than anything I’ve used on any brand. Period.
  • I like the 9-point AF system quite a bit, and the overall picture quality rocks.

What I didn’t like:

  • The thing that drove me particularly crazy was the fact that you can’t get full-screen Highlight (clipping) warnings. In fact, worse than that, to get them at all, you have to first take the shot, then push a button to switch to the postage-stamp sized view of your shot, and its so small that if something is blinking it’s just about impossible to tell if it’s an area of important detail or not. This drove me nuts. Now, I heard someone say that the new Mark III has full screen clipping warnings, but I haven’t confirmed that (if anyone knows for sure—let me know).
  • The other thing that threw me was the sound and feel of the shutter button. Longtime Canon users look at me like I’m crazy when I mention this, but it just feels kind of “Digital.” It doesn’t feel “real” and even though there’s no shutter lag, it feels like it doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting at 1/60 of a second or 1/8000, the shutter sounds the same. This could just be me, because after a day or so it didn’t bother me as much, but it definitely takes some getting used to.

Other than those two things; I have to say I’m very impressed with the 5D and I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about. I haven’t had a chance to do any serious portrait or studio work, and I’ll be interested to see how it performs there, especially how it captures skintone. I’ll continue my landscape field testing going into Photoshop World next month, where I’ll be shooting out in the desert once again (it’s a great way to lose weight).

More field tests this week, including the new Sigma 300mm zoom, the Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead, the Gizto traveler tripod, and more.

Now, scoll down to the next post for a fresh cup of Monday news (that’s called spin, by the way).