Digital Cameras

The Canon 5D Classic – A Review By Ray Goodwin

Canon 5d Classic

In this world of hundreds of auto focus points, phase detection, high ISO performance, burst rate nonsense; is less really more? Is it possible that the Canon 5D Classic, a decade old full frame DSLR, can hold up to the most modern of cameras? Can a camera that was first introduced when the XBOX 360 was about to be released really hold up today and be a competent shooter? I can probably answer those questions as I’ve been a Canon 5D Classic user for the past two years – I have racked up thousands of photographs and countless hours using one, so I thought I’d put together a bit of a review of this ageing DSLR.

Before I Start

First, some backstory. Although it wasn’t the first full frame DSLR (that honour goes to the Contax N which was released all the way back in 2002) the Canon 5D (or 5D Classic as it’s often called today) was still a fairly early model with it being released back in October of 2005. I was only 10 years old at the time, and totally oblivious to it’s existence.

Short of the fairly expensive Canon 1Ds MKii, most DSLRs of the era had APS-C sensors, which weren’t pushing blistering resolution or ISO performances. So to have a lower cost, full frame, DSLR was a huge leg up for Canon. The 5D ran all the way until 2008 when the MKii was announced and released with a vastly improved sensor, video capabilities and a review screen that actually looks ok with a photo on it.

The MKii also didn’t have the massive issue of the mirror coming off during use… The early 5D’s (serial numbers starting with 0 or 1 made in 2005/2006) had the not insignificant issue of the camera wanting to be a full frame mirrorless camera. Early models were offered a free fix from Canon, but it was fixed in the factory with the later versions (serial numbers starting with 2 or 3 made in 2007/2008).

As mentioned, I’ve had mine for around two years now and it hasn’t skipped a beat. The 5D Classic was made to take a tumble and to be used as a photographic tool. I’ve used it in the rain, dropped it, knocked it and even clipped the mirror with legacy lenses. Mine certainly isn’t the prettiest, and it is usually covered in Gorilla tape to cover logos and the corners of the camera. It’s rugged exterior of magnesium alloy really speaks to you that it was built to last, and built to be used and abused – the 5D Classic wasn’t made to look pretty or to sit on the mantle piece.

Canon 5d Classic well used

It’s well used.

The 5D Classic Specs

What’re the specs? The Canon 5D Classic uses a 12.8mp sensor, which by today’s standards isn’t exactly high, but I’d argue is more than usable. As mentioned, it is encased in a magnesium alloy body which feels sturdy and well built – I think of it as a reassuring heft when using it.

ISO

The ISO range is 100-1600 but can be expanded to 50-3200 in the custom functions. I’ve heard that the ISO 50 contains more noise than ISO 100 due to it being software based, but I haven’t noticed anything in my years of shooting with this camera. Speaking of ISO, it isn’t at all bad for a camera released in 2005. While it isn’t a low light beast, you can easily overcome this by using fast lenses or just reducing the noise in post.

The screen

When you have taken your images with your 5D Classic, you might want to check them out on the preview screen on the back…? I would advise not to, as it’s the main downfall of this camera for me. It’s a 2.5” 230,000 pixel LCD panel which is fairly useless for image viewing, but great for the minimal menu – I would recommend to leave the image preview off.

AF

It features a 9 point AF system, which again in today’s world isn’t great, but if you’re like me and use a centre focus point it’s no issue. Just like every other EOS camera, auto focus is fast, though this does depend on the lens you use. All 9 focus points are chosen with the rear nipple nub protrusion, which acts as a form of multi-direction control. Autofocus is activated as normal by half pressing the shutter button with focus confirmation in the viewfinder and/or with the audible ‘beep’.

The controls and interface

The Canon 5D Classic button layout is highly intuitive and easy to use with each button and dial serving a purpose with nothing in the way or complicating matters. Having the rear command dial is a life saver for one handed use, as you can change aperture on the rear dial, shutter speed on the front dial. You can even change the ISO with the same hand by pressing the button on the top in front of the LCD and operating the rear dial.

Speaking of which, the top LCD tells you all of the info you need: Shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, drive mode, metering, exposure, file type, battery info etc. This means the rear screen is mainly used for menus and looking at your images as a pixelated mess. The video mode offers an amazing resolution of… 0 x 0 pixels! That’s right, it doesn’t feature a video mode, or even live view! Like I said, it’s a photographers camera, it’s extremely minimal, and that’s why I love it so much!

Canon 5d Classic top screen

Top LCD panel.

The Viewfinder

The viewfinder – which is a massive, huge, Brobdingnagian – shows you your shutter speed, aperture and exposure value as well as focus confirmation and ISO when changing it. While it only covers 96% of the frame, the large size and bright pentaprism setup makes composition really easy. The focus screens are also changeable to suit ones needs, but I’ve used the regular screens for AF lenses and MF lenses with no issues.

Speed of use

The 5D Classic offers a 3fps continuous burst which is in no way fast. You aren’t going to be capturing fast paced sports in the same way you might be able to with some modern cameras. Although it will shoot up to 1/8000th, which is nice to have even if it’s rarely utilised.

In the hand 

The grip is comfortable and features lots of room for large handed people. I’m around 190cm or so, and the Canon 5D Classic fits perfectly in my hand, with everything within reach and without the need to become a digit contortionist. In real world use, it’s no different to the countless other Canons and Nikons out there – if anything the Canon 5D Classic set a precedent for the DSLRs to follow. If you’ve used a pro-body Canon in the last 10 years, you’ll feel right at home with the Canon 5D Classic.

Canon 5d Classic screen

Rear button layout & menu

Beware – Opinion Ahead

I feel that modern digital cameras as packed full of features which, in reality, are totally unnecessary. Just think of all the people using film cameras, and for how long they were used perfectly adequately before we had hundreds of focus points or ISOs above 3200-6400.

In my mind, packing more features into cameras doesn’t make for better photographers, in fact, for the most part I feel they just overcomplicate the process for the large majority of users. The Canon 5D Classic was a product of the emerging digital era and the declining film era. While it was packed with a state of the art full frame sensor, it handled and worked more similarly to a film camera than the cameras of today do.

Of course, any modern DSLR will trample over the Canon 5D Classic when it comes to high ISO performance and overall speed of function, but I wouldn’t say that they could trample it with image quality – and how many photographers actually really need all that performance. While you can pull more detail and potentially print bigger with today’s higher megapixel sensors, there is something about the 5D’s superb image quality that they can’t match up to in my opinion.

Many people have come to this conclusion, and I am inclined to agree – the Canon 5D Classic has a certain filmic feel to the images. The colours are so rich and vibrant and there’s a certain organic nature to the images of which the 5D creates.  I’ve always found that the images I get out of the 5D Classic rarely need drastic editing, and are usually perfect out of the camera.

Example Images

Canon 5D – Industar 50-2

Canon 5D – 50mm F1.8 STM – Hoya CPL

Canon 5D – 50mm F1.8 STM

Lens adapting

The Canon 5D Classic utilises the EF mount which has a vast array of lenses available for it. While the EOS lenses are great, some are often expensive or just out of reach. Thankfully, (unlike the Nikon F system) the EOS system is fairly friendly when it comes to using classic lenses.

Classic lenses can have a new lease of life when coupled to a full frame DSLR. I for one have been using M42 thread mount lenses since I’ve used the 5D Classic which I find really adds another level to the already filmic aesthetic of the 5D’s images.

A lot of the older lenses have a certain optical nuance that newer lenses don’t have, and I’m not just saying they can be softer than a pat of butter during mid summer. Some have that ‘3D pop’ that so many rave about and argue over in forums, some produce unique bokeh, and some even blow you away with the sheer optical performance.

Just a word of advice though, if one is interested in tying out classic lens, be careful of what M42 lenses you use as some can clip the mirror. The Helios 44-2 is a good example of a lens that will clip the mirror when you get close to infinity. To use it, you will have to shave the rear of the lens.

To be honest, the 50mm f/1.8 STM is the lens usually coupled to my camera, but I do like to dabble and use legacy lenses when I can. There are so many great lenses out there, that it’s a shame for them not to be experimented with and enjoyed once in a while!

Canon 5d Classic

Mounting the Industar 50-2 is rather comical on the 5D Classic

A Coda

So… is it worth buying the Canon 5D Classic in 2018? There seems to have been a lot of attention given to this ageing digital camera recently, with various Youtube channels explaining the ins and outs of the camera and comparing it to the latest and greatest offerings.

In my opinion, it’s all down to the user. You have to think about if you can live with the creative limitations that the 5D Classic brings to the table, as well as the thought of using a camera that’s ageing day by day. The price has dropped massively over the last few years and it’s now become an absolute steal – I’ve seen the Canon 5D Classic go for under £200 from time to time and I’m now even considered buying a second body in the knowledge that these cameras are ageing, and – despite the incredible build quality – mine won’t last forever.

Ultimately, it’s my view that if you’re looking for a cheap entrance into the world of full frame DSLRs, you can’t beat the Canon 5D Classic in terms of image quality, lens selection, and catching an outright bargain. The mixture of the beautiful sensor and the film-camera-feel makes it a compelling camera to use. It’s served me rather well over the last couple of years, and I intend to use it until it’s dying day; I really feel as it’s in a class of it’s own. Less really is more, the Canon 5D Classic is a perfect example of this!

I hope you enjoyed what I have created, you can find more of my work here – raygoodwinphotos.tumblr.com
You can also find my work on Instagram @raygoodwinphotos

 

 

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Blinx
    September 8, 2018 at 11:05 am

    The 5D is a film era photographer’s idea of the perfect camera. Expectations of camera’s have changed beyond all recognition since then, but that doesn’t mean those attributes are necessary, or in some cases desirable, especially if they clutter the user interface. If they made the 5D with a newer chip and a bigger screen and left everything else intact, I daresay it would fulfil most photographer’s needs even today.

    • Reply
      raygoodwinphotos
      September 8, 2018 at 11:47 am

      Thanks for reading! I totally agree. Like I said, I feel that there are so many features which are unnecessary in cameras. How can people love the simplicity of a film camera, yet want a vast array of useless gimmicks on a digital camera? It would be nice to see a barebones full frame DSLR like the 5D made in current times. But despite it’s “shortfalls”, I feel that the 5D is a perfectly good shooter.

  • Reply
    Reinhold Graf
    September 8, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    It served me well for many years.

    It retired as I wanted something less heavy-weight and something more high-ISO.

    I never complained about it’s image quality.

    When playing with legacy lenses the last years, I nearly ruined the mirror 😉

    So for the moment it rests in peace … but who knows … your post makes me thinking, that this camera would deserve some extended photographic life 😉

    • Reply
      raygoodwinphotos
      September 8, 2018 at 3:41 pm

      Well I’m glad it has possibly inspired you to re-use the 5D and it’s photographic capabilities. I would say that it has many more years of life, despite it’s age. Thanks for reading as it’s well appreciated.

  • Reply
    marzuki stevens
    September 8, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    Great read. Thanks.

    Btw, the Nikon F-mount may be just as friendly (as EOS mount) to other legacy lenses via adapters. I use both Canon and Nikon, film and digital cameras. Most of my lenses are old-school manual focus Nikon AIS , but I do have an adapter for my Canon FD lenses to my Nikon DSLRs. I love the LOMO-like results. A quick search online shows you there are quite a few other mounts that will work with the Nikon F mount.

    • Reply
      raygoodwinphotos
      September 8, 2018 at 8:38 pm

      In my experience they need an adapter with a glass element due to the Nikon’s flange distance, which hampers the optical quality of the lenses making them useless in terms of their original optical design. Personally, I steer clear of the “LOMO” crowd, hence why I don’t them and strive for sharp and detailed images. Nikon F mount has a wealth of good lenses through the mount history, negating the use of other legacy lenses anyway.

  • Reply
    Malcolm Myers
    September 9, 2018 at 7:11 am

    I bought a 5D about three years ago in great condition and for a good price. It’s my favourite digital camera, My main concern is what happens if all my CF cards fail and the camera becomes unusable, because new small CF cards are no longer available. I’ve done a couple of events with it recently and, whilst it performed well, I really could have done with ISO 12,800 or more and face or even eye detection. It’s made me realise that all the tech in new cameras does actually have some uses.

    • Reply
      raygoodwinphotos
      September 9, 2018 at 3:45 pm

      I believe that the 5D is cheap enough to warrant buying another body, if it so happens that one’s current 5D fails. I have used second hand 8gb CF cards for the entire duration of mt 5D’s use and it hasn’t skipped a beat. I do know that it’s an ageing camera, and one day it will one day pack up and not work. I don’t think the ‘modern’ features of DSLRs now are inherently useless, as I know that people out there will still use these features – but as this is a predominantly film based blog, it’s interesting to see how many people would like a newer and 5D like basic DSLR on the market and some enjoy the newer features on the cameras of the zeitgeist.

    • Reply
      Danny
      September 10, 2018 at 10:18 pm

      Regarding your CF card concern, I use a CF adapter and simply slot an SD card into that.

  • Reply
    Neil
    September 9, 2018 at 10:03 am

    Liked reading this thank you. I’ve owned this camera before and am now on my current version which cost me the princely sum of £215! If I look back at my photographs some of my favourites are with the 5D when I used the 85 1.8, 135 f2 L (wonderful) and the 17-40. Not a compact setup by any means. No other digital camera I’ve had has been quite as good as the 5D, the mk2 was technically I guess better but it lost something, I’m not sure why it wasn’t as good for me. I must be the sensor surely? A lot of people talk about the filmic look to the images it produces but rarely what that actually means, so I’d like to understand that in more detail. How much of this is the sensor and how much is the glass? I’d love to see the market changing where you could have a very simple digital camera and a choice of different sensors when you buy it, say one just for black and white, or an older type ccd sensor to give a certain look, and not as expensive as a new Leica.

    • Reply
      raygoodwinphotos
      September 9, 2018 at 3:37 pm

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the article. I think it is something to do with the sensor, and or the processing unit for the camera. The difference is fairly nuanced compared to other EOS cameras but it certainly has a distinctive look that I certainly enjoy. It would be nice to see another barebones DSLR out there with the 5D as the sole ethos of the project. Unfortunately, I am doubtful that it would come to fruition.

      • Reply
        Neil
        September 9, 2018 at 5:43 pm

        Me too. It’ll just be more feature creep. I mean people were complaining about the new Nikon mirrorless … “It’s got no eye-af” seriously? is that a thing??? I have no idea 😀

        • Reply
          raygoodwinphotos
          September 9, 2018 at 5:48 pm

          People also whinged about the single card slot as well. It isn’t a pro setup, so don’t expect pro features! I had no idea that eye af was a thing, seeing as I’m rather ignorant to new features on cameras. There’s always something for people to moan about, and it’s usually rather minor and it creates such an echo chamber of noise…which I gladly avoid. Surely, if one doesn’t like something they should just turn the other way and not continue to moan.

  • Reply
    Mathias
    September 10, 2018 at 11:45 am

    I love my 5D. It’s the camera that effectively stopped my GAS as far as digital is concerned. I went through so many digital cameras and systems, it’s embarassing, but once I tried the 5D classic with the cheap 50mm 1.8 STM I knew I finally had THE camera I was looking for, and all for a great price. The sensor is simply magic, and even ISO 1600 looks great (I use RAW only, never shot a frame in JPG, so couldn’t comment on that). I highyl recommend getting the EE-S screen. It’s fantastic for MF and I wouldn’t want to miss it even with AF lenses. The Display on the back is not godd for checking focus, but with the EE-S screen you can clearly see if focus is where you want it before you take the picture. Center AF is fast and absolutely reliable.

    If you want digital full frame, unless you shoot mostly in the dark, the 5D with the 50 STM is all you really need. No other digital camera has tempted me since I got my 5Dc a few years ago.

    • Reply
      raygoodwinphotos
      September 10, 2018 at 11:56 am

      I completely agree with you, Mathias. Despite it’s age, it can still perform fantastically well even today. Even ISO 3200 is usable within reason – I have used JPGs for shooting events and they’re fantastic straight out of the camera, with very little editing needed. I have a look for that screen, as I have been tempted to find one that is more friendly to the manual focus lenses. I always use a centre focus point, and it’s always reliable but only starts to hunt in dark or low contrast settings; in everyday use, it’s ever reliable.

      I’ll only buy another digital camera once my 5D eventually gives up the ghost, which I’m hoping will be in many years to come. Thanks for reading my article!

  • Reply
    Kamil
    September 18, 2018 at 4:33 am

    Thank you for this article! I bought my 5d classic a couple of days ago with shutter count less than 1500 (yes, fifteen hundred) looks and feels like brand new, condition is fantastic! I had no chance to test it properly yet as I’m still waiting for a set of new batteries for it, old one last for less than 5 mins of work. I red lots of reviews about 5d, its bad and good points and I am a little bit concern about future mirror failure. It was not fixed yet and I am aware of fact canon stopped doing recalls on this issue on September 2015, my body has serial number starts from ”1” so it will happen at some stage, hopefully not to soon.. anyway your article helped me (once more) to understand that I made a right choice for my first FF body. I used so far 450d APSC but thankfully I have 50mm 1.8STM, Sigma 24mm and Helios 44-4 (thanks for an advise on this one!) so I have few lenses to start with. Best regards from Poland! 🙂

    • Reply
      raygoodwinphotos
      September 18, 2018 at 8:53 pm

      Thanks Kamil. I am so touched that I have managed to aid your decision with the 5D. It’s nice to see that the article helped out someone out there in the world, it makes it all worth while in the end. Best regards from South West England.

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