Expert Recommendation

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Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $3000
By Fotoguy
Expert (27 Recommendations and 7 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
March 16, 2009 Updated: March 22, 2009
Overview

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the next incarnation of Canon’s revolutionary full-frame DSLR for the masses, is in a class by itself with its 21 megapixel (effective) self-cleaning CMOS sensor, DIGIC4 image processor, three inch hi-res TFT LCD, Live view, weather seals and 1080p HD video. No other similarly priced full-frame digital camera can match its overall image quality making it my “Best-in-Class” pick.

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My Best In Class Pick
Canon EOS 5D Mark II (Body Only)

In August 2005, Canon wowed the photo world when they introduced a full-frame digital SLR, the EOS 5D, at a price that more than just an elite few could afford. Well, Canon is back with the 5D’s replacement, the even better (and not by a little bit) EOS 5D Mark II. By keeping the basic design of the original 5D, but correcting its shortcomings, and adapting technology from the top-of-the-line 1Ds Mark III, Canon has succeeded in producing a camera that is truly top-notch, while keeping the price, though not inexpensive, generally affordable for those who need a full-frame DSLR.

The new 5D is similar in size, shape and weight to the original, but has a more aesthetic appearance with texturing on the contoured top and bottom plastic pieces, giving it a more elegant feel, and with the exception of a couple of controls and a few menus, the cameras are identical controls-wise. But on the inside …

The most obvious change is the newly designed 21.1 megapixel (effective) full-frame CMOS sensor adapted from and, maybe, even improved a bit from the one in the 1Ds Mark III, also, 21.1 MP. ISOs range from 50 to 25600, but from a practical standpoint 6400 should be considered the maximum. Even at that speed, images are sharp and very usable with only moderate noise overall and just a hint of chroma noise. (You can set how much noise reduction you want or even turn it off entirely, if it suits you.) All told, excellent overall performance.

One feature that was lacking in the old 5D was built-in sensor cleaning. The old 5D’s sensor attracted and held onto dust like a superconducting magnet, and no amount of user or qualified camera tech cleaning would completely remove it. And, then, shortly after cleaning, the dust specks were back! It was a real problem. But with the Mark II, that has all changed. With a newly designed sensor assembly, anti-static coatings and sensor-shake cleaning, dust should be much less of a problem.

Complementing the sensor is the DIGIC4 14-bit A/D image processor adapted from the Canon 50D. With it you’ve got fast enough performance to maintain a 3.9 images per second frame rate, correct image vignetting, and handle 1080p HD video, which is quite an accomplishment considering the huge image files.

Rounding out the major hardware improvements is a new, very viewable (even in bright daylight), 920,000 dot 3.0” TFT LCD. And what a boon it is for Live View and HD video composing, viewing and general proofing. The quality of the images on it must be seen to be appreciated.

Of course, a camera is more than just hardware, and the 5D Mark II has an abundance of settings and configurations like 7 image file formats, 4 focusing modes, 9 white balance settings, including Custom as well as Bracketing and Shift; 6 Picture styles, plus 3 custom settable ones; and, of course, the usual Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation, Tone, etc.

All things considered, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II is one hell of a camera! And if you need more than just the body, it also comes bundled as a kit with an excellent piece of glass, Canon’s EF 24-105 f4L IS USM, at a substantial savings over buying it separately.

Comparison with Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 (Body Only)

The Sony Alpha A900 is the only full-frame DSLR currently available that is equivalent to the Canon 5D Mark II in price, features and performance, but in overall image quality, even with its 24.6 effective MP sensor and excellent dynamic range, it’s lacking as images become overly noisy and soft at ISOs over 400. And image quality is what it’s all about!

Pros
  • +
    21 MP full-frame sensor
  • +
    DIGIC4 image processor
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    Image vignetting compensation
  • +
    920,000 dot Hi-res TFT LCD
  • +
    Pentaprism optical finder
  • +
    Build quality
  • +
    Water resistant
  • +
    Size
Cons
  • -
    Price
  • -
    Doesn't support EF-S lenses
  • -
    Too many features?
Canon EOS 5D Mark II (Body Only) is the Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $3000
Where to buy
Canon EOS 5D Mark II (Body Only)
  • Best Price: $2199
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Resolution: 21.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
Best badge
Canon EOS 5D Mark II (Body Only)
2
Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 (Body Only)
Customer Rating
Price $2199.00 $2699.99
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Sensor Type
CMOS CMOS
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Sensor Size
36.0 x 24.0 mm 35.9 x 24.0 mm
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Effective Sensor Resolution
21.1 megapixels 24.6 megapixel
Anti-Dust Technology Low-pass Filter Vibration Sensor Shake
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes, in lenses only Yes, in body, sensor shift
Weatherproof Yes Yes
Viewfinder Type Optical Pentaprism Optical Pentaprism
Size (W x H x D) 6.0 x 4.5 x 3.0 in. 6.1 x 4.6 x 3.25 in.
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LCD Screen Size
3.0 in. 3.0 in.
LCD Screen Resolution 920000 dots 921600 dots
Weight (without batteries) 28.6 oz 850 grams
Weight (with batteries) 32.5 oz 895 grams (32.0 oz)
2
Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 (Body Only)

The Alpha A900 is a worthy first effort by Sony to enter the full-frame DSLR market. The camera is well built with well laid out controls and menus that delivers sharp, noise free images at ISOs 400 and less. However, above ISO 400 image quality suffers due to excessively increasing noise and the overly aggressive noise reduction in the failing attempt to control it. But this major caveat is more a software than hardware problem. Perhaps, Sony will fix it on the next model.

Pros
  • +
    24.6 effective megapixel CMOS sensor
  • +
    Built-in sensor cleaning (sensor shake)
  • +
    In-camera Image Stabilization (sensor shift)
  • +
    Pentaprism viewfinder
  • +
    5 fps rate
  • +
    Takes Minolta A-type bayonet lenses, too.
  • +
    Excellent build quality
Cons
  • -
    Price
  • -
    Overly noisy and soft images at ISOs >400
  • -
    No in-camera vignetting control
Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 (Body Only) is one of the Best Digital SLR Cameras Overall Under $3000
Where to buy
Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 (Body Only)
  • Best Price: $2699
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Resolution: 24.6MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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