Canon 5D Mark II Autofocus Sucks? NOT!!!

Posted on 21. Oct, 2009 by in Equipment, Everything, Locations, Photography, Techniques, Wildlife, Wildlife photography

I’ve recently had the opportunity to start going through some of my pictures that I made during my recent Spirit Bear Tour.  While I normally prefer to photograph with my Canon 1Ds Mark II, I decided to take a chance and exclusively use my new Canon 5D Mark II for the majority of the trip.  My original intention in purchasing the camera was the use it primarily for its high-definition video abilities, but I’ve been extremely impressed with the quality of the stills it produces and its high ISO performance is simply amazing.  One of the things you run into on the Internet, is various amounts of hooey being flung around about the autofocus systems in one camera or another.  This article will examine my personal experience with the autofocus in the Canon 5D Mark II.

Near the end of our Spirit Bear trip we were anchored in Bishop Bay along the west coast of Canada.  The eight of us boarded the boat’s Zodiac inflatable to get closer to shore and see if we could find any Grizzly Bears to photograph.  Just as we started away from the main boat in the Zodiac, the skies opened and a torrential downpour began.  I’ve been through a lot of thunderstorm heavy rain here on the prairies, but I’d never before experienced rain with quite the force and velocity as we did that afternoon.  In addition to the torrential rain, the wind picked up with gusts between 40 and 60 kilometres per hour (25 – 40 miles per hour).

We soon found a Grizzly Sow and her cub working their way along the shore looking for food.  As I glanced through my viewfinder I quickly determined that my only practical ISO setting was going to be 3200 ISO and I prepared to try to make some useful shots hand-holding my 5D Mark II along with the Canon 500mm F4L IS super telephoto lens coupled with the 1.4x Extender II (teleconverter).  So, all told, I was photographing at 3200 ISO at 700mm from a Zodiac being bounced around in the wind and waves.  And any time you’re photographing from a boat, you always have the additional problem if your fellow boat-mates moving around as they try to position themselves.  All that gear was protected from the elements by a ThinkTank Hydrophobia which did an amazing job of allowing me to work the camera’s settings while keeping the gear 100% dry.

And the final challenge was for the camera, attempting to focus through the typhoon’ish rain on the eyes of the young Grizzly Cub.  To be honest, I wasn’t expecting great results.  I figured I’d be happy if I got one photo that was “sharp enough”.  But, it wasn’t too cold out and even given the conditions, I was simply having an amazing time.  When we returned to the boat I had a chance to review my images on my HyperDrive Color Space UDMA portable storage devices I use for backing up my images when I’m somewhere remote.  The display on that device is great but it is really hard to evaluate critical sharpness on a small LED screen.

So now, a couple of weeks after returning from the trip I’ve had some time to start reviewing my images.  When I got to the set of Grizzly images, I wasn’t expecting too much.  As I reviewed the images though I started to get excited.  Together with my long-lens skills, the 5D Mark II managed to nail the focus on well over 80% of the shots made through the driving rain.  And I’d say that I, the photographer, was probably directly responsible for at least half of the out-of-focus images dues to movement or some other factor.

Here’s one of the images I’m really happy with.  I love the saturated pastel colours and I really like the way, if you look for it, you can see the rain drops streaking through the sky.  (Remember you can click on the image below to view a larger version.)

Grizzly Sow and her Cub standing in the driving rain

Grizzly Sow and her Cub standing in the driving rain

So, if anyone ever tries to tell you the autofocus on the 5D Mark II is not up to par, send them to me and I’ll try to straighten them out.

If you’re interested in purchasing a Gallery Wrapped canvas print of my image, please check out my image purchasing site.

Gallery Wrapped Canvas Print - Grizzly Sow & Cub in the rain

Gallery Wrapped Canvas Print - Grizzly Sow & Cub in the rain

Have your own stories about autofocus?  We’d love to hear them.

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12 Responses to “Canon 5D Mark II Autofocus Sucks? NOT!!!”

  1. Kerry

    21. Oct, 2009

    Superb image and one you should be doubly proud of considering the conditions in which it was taken.

  2. Terry Peak

    21. Oct, 2009

    I agreee with you . I have been shooting the 5D Mark II for about a year now and I have had NO problems…. Matter of fact I am working on a book right now that I used a 1D on and there is no comparison after today and I am seeing what I am able to do with the images from the 5D I could be a poster child for Canon! and love the grizzly shot, your the best bud. Keep em comin!

  3. Rich C

    22. Oct, 2009

    I’ve been enjoying my 5D Mark II for quite some time now Paul. And I haven’t had many complaints. My only “big” auto focus issues have occurred while shooting fire dancers. Pitch black surroundings and people speeding by with flames. Beyond that, auto focus has been pretty good. And the image quality? I’ve been thrilled. When I do a 32×48″ gallery wrap it is sharp, sharp, sharp.

  4. Chris Moncus

    28. Oct, 2009

    The only times I’ve had AF problems with my 5D MkII is in low-light conditions. It’s not really that bad, but my 40D’s had better AF in the same low-light conditions. Other than that, even in similar situations to what you described, I’ve had nothing but praise for the 5D MkII and it’s AF.

  5. Bob Tower

    08. Nov, 2009

    I think with any relatively stationary subject the 5D Mk II’s AF will work respectably. It’s another story though with say moving children, even in well lit conditions. With my 1D Mk III, we are talking say 99%. With the 5DM2 I get at most 50% with the moving people conditions.

    No arguments with image quality and high iso though!

  6. Mark Avery

    06. Dec, 2009

    I just bought my new 5d mk11 as a second camera for weddings. Being used to the original 5d its took a little getting used to. My first impression. Too sharp and colour is off, too saturated. This camera needs to be tweeked. I tried the Neutral profile and was more happy with colour and sharpness. I doubt anyone that can judge natural colour could be happy with the cameras standard setting unless they like artificially saturated colour. Once tweeked The eyes are so sharp in photos even at 100% image size they show a new class of photo that the 5d mk1 simply cannot keep up with. I shoot Large fine Jpeg to save time. I have no need for Raw as I shoot manually and have no problems with white balance, exposure. This saves time when editing images and helps your workflow. I produce A2 size prints that are beautiful in Jpeg. This camera blows me away.

  7. Gordon

    10. Jan, 2011

    I love my 5Dmkii, but I am going to argue with you… the tracking of faster moving subjects sucks – BIG TIME, even with the 4 L lenses on the front.
    Still subjects or walking… no problem. A child running or a bird flying – hopeless. I go to my 50D for that.
    ISO at 3200 in incredible and IQ is as good as I have seen.


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