Editor's note, October 9, 2012: In light of changes to the competitive landscape, we've decided to adjust the rating of this camera by dropping the features subrating from 9 to 7. Though it's still an excellent camera, its 3-year-old feature set can't match that of more modern units; the video capabilities which were unique at the time no longer are.
Three years is a long time for any product to hang around, especially when the technology changes as rapidly as it does for digital cameras. Though it's always had a big fan base, Canon EOS 5D users have nonetheless been itching for more. The successor Canon delivers: the EOS 5D Mark II is in many ways a must-have upgrade, especially for the wedding photography crowd for whom the 5D is a workhorse. And with many of the imaging components of the 1Ds Mark III (including a later version of the image-processing engine, Digic 4) for a price tag $5,000 lower, it's certainly an attractive alternative. It's also priced fairly aggressively compared with the competition despite its new 21-megapixel CMOS sensor and groundbreaking movie capture capability.
The camera comes in two official configurations: the body-only or a kit version with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Usually I'm not a fan of the lenses that ship as part of kits like this, but I ended up liking the 24-105mm a lot more than I expected and think it's a good match for anyone looking for a first lens to pair with the camera. As with all of the high-resolution models, however, it really makes a difference to go for the sharpest lenses in the arsenal.
Slightly heavier than its predecessor, the Mark II weighs just over 2 pounds. Canon says it beefed up the dust and weather sealing a bit around the card cover and buttons and improved rated shutter durability for up to 150,000 cycles. The body itself is a steel chassis covered with magnesium alloy. But while it's clearly solidly made, it nevertheless doesn't feel quite as tanklike as the D700. Like all of Canon's pro dSLRs, it's very comfortable to grip and shoot. The downside of the updated design is that it takes new accessories, including a new battery and new vertical grip.
Canon reorganized the controls a bit from the rest of its models. On the top sits the main dial plus four dual-purpose buttons that access adjustments for the metering (huge 3.5 percent spot, 8 percent partial, center-weighted, and evaluative) and white balance; AF (single, AI Servo and AI Focus) and drive modes; and ISO sensitivity and flash compensation. Unlike the Sony Alpha DLSR-A900, the top status LCD displays complete information; you can pull the current settings up on the rear LCD as well, but can't navigate them the way you can on that camera. I miss that, as well as the direct-control metering switch on the A900 and Nikon D700. The mode dial on the top left offers just the basics--as it should: Bulb, PASM, Auto, three custom settings slots, and the Creative Auto mode that debuted in the EOS 50D.
The top rear right has buttons for initiating AF, exposure lock, and focus-point selection; down the left rear are the Live View/PictBridge, Menu, Picture Styles, Info, Playback, and delete buttons. Unfortunately, most of the buttons on the body feel identical to their neighbors. The 5D Mark II uses the same joystick multicontroller and Quick Control dial with Set button as its other recent models. I still like them. (Click through the slide show for more on the camera's design and features.)
The viewfinder is slightly larger and a bit brighter than the 5D's. While it offers broader coverage than the D700's--98 percent versus 95 percent--it falls short of the 100 percent provided by the A900 and by midrange models like the Olympus E-3. C'mon Canon, eke out that last 2 percent, please.
The most notable feature advantage the 5D Mark II has over its competitors is the movie-capture capability. Canon supports 1,920x1,080 at 30fps, true 1080p HD, with a mono mic built in and stereo mic input, with clips of up to 12 minutes (on a 4GB card). All things considered, it's a pretty nice implementation. Though you can't autofocus, you can adjust exposure while shooting; the optical stabilization works; and you can apply Picture Styles.