To understand why this camera was so significant, you have to understand the camera market in 2008. DSLR hybrids (able to shoot stills and video) hadn’t been fully realised. Back then, cameras tended to either shoot video or photos, but not both. Smartphones were in their infancy with the iPhone 1 being released a year earlier, but it too didn’t offer too much when it came to both video and photography.
In late 2007 Nikon released the D90, an APS-C sensor sized camera and a successor to the popular D80. There was nothing particularly remarkable about this camera until you looked at a single feature, the ability to shoot 5 min 1280×720 video clips. It sold well and won various awards, but it also started to garner the interest of a perhaps previously ignored sub-set of the video community. Indie filmmakers.
Canon announced and released the Canon 5D mk2, the follow up to the popular 5D mk1. Canon had clearly caught on to the whispers within the community and partnered with a photographer by the name of Vincent Laforet to shoot a launch film to showcase the video capabilities of the camera. Okay, so it’s aged quite significantly by today’s standards, but you can still see the potential this camera offered at the time.
The Canon differed from the Nikon in many ways, but most importantly and up to this point, never seen before was the ability to shoot 1920 x 1080 digital video on a full-frame 35mm sensor, giving a very ‘cinematic image’ with a very pronounced and narrow depth of field. This was truly a first. At the time, super 35 was the largest digital format available but was costly. Most indie filmmakers favoured to either shoot film or shoot on a handheld camcorder often sporting a 1 inch or 2/3 sensor. With the 5d mk2 along comes a camera that not only has a bigger sensor and cinematic frame rates but is leaps and bounds cheaper than anything else available at the time.
Over the years various hacks were developed to get the best possible image from the camera, and just a glance at what productions the Canon 5D mk2 has shot on is enough to cement its pedigree. Notable examples included TV show House MD, Spike Jonze’s ‘Scenes from the suburb’ and even Marvels Avengers is rumoured to have several shots using the camera.
So, why the reverence?
The Canon 5D mk2 kicked off a period of true creative freedom for budding cinematographers with a cheap, agile, and capable camera system. It forced the likes of Sony to react, and give the digital film making community more options for those looking to shoot digital cinema on a budget. Canon largely played it safe after the release. In 2009 they developed the popular 7D, and in 2012 launched the EOS Cinema line to cater solely to professional videographers with the super 35 C300. The follow-up 5D mk3 offered little notable spec upgrades beyond 60p video and interlacing options, it was popular but was nothing like the revolution the 5D mk2 became, and the 1DC in 2013 may have offered 4K resolution but was hideously overpriced and under-equipped for a camera retailing at that price point.
Over the intervening years, Sony, Panasonic, Fuji, and Olympus have carved up the small Mirrorless camera market between them, with Nikon recently starting to take video a bit more seriously with their Z-line.
Canon largely fell to the back of the pack, content to cater to the video professionals with the Cinema Eos line, whilst releasing a swathe of DSLR’s and mirrorless cameras that never set the video world on fire. Compared to the competition, they were either overpriced, unashamedly crippled on release or downright bizarre.
Was Canon simply failing to innovate? Possibly. They clearly took their foot off the gas around 2012, and with R&D cycles being a long affair yet technology moving quickly, they fell behind. Others point the finger at Canon being desperate to protect the EOS Cinema cameras and preferring customers to move up to buying more expensive gear rather than offering cheaper and better-equipped alternatives. Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say Canon has been quite happy to rest on their laurels.
That is perhaps, until now.
The Canon R5
Just like in 2008 it looks like Canon is once again set to put a cat amongst the pigeons with the Canon R5. The confirmed specifications are mind-blowing, 8K RAW, 120fps 4K. It looks like it’s going to significantly disrupt the mirrorless camera market for some time. Will it become as iconic as the 5D mk2? Maybe, time will tell. I’m certainly happy that Canon, with the release of the R5, C300 mk3, and C500 mk2 looks to be innovating again, and I can’t wait to get my hands on them. The 5D mk2 then was like the Ford fiesta of cameras. An unrivalled success story and an instant classic. Every filmmaker of a certain age is bound to of had one, and will probably look back in it the same way; with quiet affection and gentle respect to the new horizons, it offered at the time.
You can read all about the R5 here: https://www.canon.co.uk/cameras/eos-r5/