Canon 5D Mark II: High ISO Samples

You want full resolution, high ISO files from the Canon 5D Mark II? You got it.

Photographer Damien Lovegrove was at Canon's launch of the new camera representing the wedding industry and had the opportunity to put the camera through its paces. Canon supplied a model and Damien went to work, and has posted full resolution samples from the 5D MarkII at ISO 800 to ISO 6400. One should note that thes full resolution images are posted in Adobe RGB color space and are best viewed in a colorspace-aware application.

In addition, has posted an exclusive set of samples from the new camera, with a variety of scenes and sensitivities put to the test.

If you've been waiting to see what Canon's latest camera can do at high ISO, the above links are some of the first meaningful samples we've seen. Here are a few first impressions on these new 5D Mark II samples.

Very Well Controlled Chroma Noise:

The first thing that grabbed me about both sets of samples is the distinct lack of chroma noise, right up to ISO 6400. It really looks like Canon has taken a page from Nikon's playbook when it comes to this type of noise reduction, especially in contrast to the previous generation of cameras. Whatever Canon is doing with DIGIC 4, it's keeping color noise very well controlled.

This very low level of chroma noise is something many have associated more with Nikon's processing rather than Canon's, most notably with the D3/D700 sensor, so it's interesting that Canon has also adopted this direction.

Noise vs Detail:

For me, the most interesting file from these two new sets of samples is Damien's shot at ISO 800. Above this sensitivity, it's clear that noise reduction is taking precedence over fine detail.

What the bridal shoot at ISO 800 shows, to my eyes, is a fine balance between noise suppression and fulfilling the expectation of detail. Looking at the hair and other areas of detail, which are not free from noise reduction, it's not a perfect balance, but most likely the closest mix from the sensitivities represented.


If it weren't for the Nikon D3 and D700 that preceded it, I think Canon's work with the 5D Mark II's sensor would only mildly short of mindblowing in regard to high ISO performance.

As it stands, I think the processing Canon is achieving with DIGIC 4 is still quite impressive, especially in consideration of the 21 megapixel count.

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D750:
I use two Nikon D750 for my live music photography. Amazing high ISO performance in a compact body with tons of pro features.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
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There are 14 comments

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  1. Harry Simpson

    Thanks for sharing this….yes the 1600 shots seems to “handle” the noise at the expense of the clarity. Short of 100% view it looked great! Only the 800 as you mentioned has the clarity i come to expect from good glass on any Canon DSLR.
    So we need to have someone shooting a D700 or D3 as a second shooter and then we’d have something to really compare eh? ;-)


  2. Todd

    Hey Harry, thanks for the comment. If the bridal shots were the only basis for evaluation, I would find the new image processing very questionable.

    Luckily, the DPR studio samples appear much better in terms of detail retention at high ISO. I don’t think we’ve seen the full story about the camera’s high ISO capabilities.

    I’d be happy to test out the 5D Mark II for concert photography and reportage if Canon wants to throw one or two of them my way. ;)

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  4. TJ McDowell

    I would think that over the time since the Mark II has been released, Canon has probably been working on better noise reduction in camera. Honestly, I’m not sure how that whole thing works for them. Does noise reduction mean a more sensitive sensor or is it mainly done by the in-camera image processing? Either way, I think people are now eager to see what the Mark III will bring to the table. If Canon could step ahead of Nikon’s noise reduction, there would be a lot of people considering the switch. Maybe I’m overestimating the importance of the issue, but I doubt it.

  5. Jackie Garcia

    Hey Todd, I wasn’t really sure where to post this question but it deals with the 5D and nikon flashes.

    I own an amateur Canon rebel xsi camera and often check out gear from my school. I’m still saving up for a nicer camera (possibly a 5d mark ii) and a strobe kit. But in the meantime I think it would be good to invest in some flashes. I really love using strobes but wanted to know your thoughts on the Nikon sb-28 flash. I’ve seen your reviews for the higher end Nikon flashes such as the Nikon sb-900. I want to invest on two of the cheaper sb-28 flashes to start with and to have as backups later on in life when I get strobes.

    Price is what’s really drawing me to that flash. Do you have any experience using the sb-28 and know what quality of light if gives. Also, would using a different brand on a Canon camera cause any damage? I’ve used a nikon flash on canon before but wanted to know if an adapter is recommended. I want to use them for live shows and band portraits, and I plan to get some attachments and make a Chinatown Special Beauty Dish :)

    Thank you!
    -Jackie Garcia

    PS: I took your advice on the 24-70mm F2.8 Canon lens and it’s been a huge leap in quality and range for both my fashion and music photography. It’s my biggest purchase in gear so far and your feedback made me feel secure in buying it.

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