The Mighty Canon 5D from Mark 1 to IV by Steve Huff

The Mighty Canon 5D from Mark 1 to IV

By Steve Huff

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 11.53.32 AM

The new full frame Canon camera, the Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR is announced and up for pre order…so why am I not posting about it? Well, I am right here..sort a way. πŸ˜‰

Many here know me as a “Mirrorless” guy who shys away from big bulky DSLR’s, but that has not always been the case, and may not always remain the case. I found 6 old external hard drives I had in storage and when I plugged them in to my iMac I found thousands and thousands of old photos, from almost every early digital camera ever made. The Canon D30, 10D, Nikon D100, D200 and D300. The Olympus E1 and many more. The images to me that stood out from the rest were shot back then on the Canon 5D original. A camera that I feel is an important part of Digital Camera history.

It’s true, As I get older…and older..and older…the less I am interested in DSLR’s. My interest in them started fading quite a few years ago, when the first mirrorless bodies were produced. The Olympus PEN, the Panasonic GF1 and others in the early mirrorless “revolution” were slow, clunky, awful in low light, had no built in EVF’s and while offering good IQ, they suffered GREATLY from the well loved and mighty DSLR.

For years and years Canon ruled the roost and rightly so as they were the ones who started the digital DSLR craze with the very 1st consumer/prosumer digital DSLR that was priced within reach at $3500 (now available used for $80 or $100 with a lens). That camera was the D30 and it was a powerhouse 3 Megapixel cropped sensor DSLR with awful low light abilities, slow AF and the earliest of digital camera tech (awful LCD, etc). But hey, at the time I LOVED IT. I ADORED IT. It was the early days of serious digital and there was nothing quite like it.

The Canon D30 when I owned it. A shot of my then VERY young 6 Year old Son Brandon..The year? 2002. Brandon is now 20 going on 21.Β 


I bought that D30 a few weeks after it was announced, with a slew of Canon glass. I loved it, though my bank account suffered a $6k hit after the glass was bought. Back then we did not have options of Micro 4/3, APS-C, Full Frame or other sensor sizes when it came to digital. In fact, what came before the Canon D30 were a slew of small sensor and floppy disk cameras from Sony, Fuji and others that were not very good…but it was all we had if we wanted to go digital.

D30, 2002. My buddy Mike who still appears in my reviews today!


TRUTH: I loved my D30 THEN but would hate it NOW.

It’s performance TODAY can not even get close to something like a new Canon 5D Mark IV, the latest offering from Canon. Canon has continued on their path since that original D30 DSLR. They went from D30 to cameras like the 10D, 20D and 30D and kept it up through the 5D series and others like the 6 and 7D. They have released so many DSLR’s that look similar over the years but each one took up the performance another notch. Wether that was in the form of faster AF, better low light or Dynamic Range or a more friendly quicker user experience.


But today is not like yesterday. We are in a different time, and world with blistering new tech in mirrorless that is bringing in serious competition from the likes of Sony and Nikon (whose 1st DSLR, the D100 I also owned and used for a year or so) ramping up from year to year, it seems like I am seeing less and less large DSLR’s around when I am out and about. Even with the 5D series being almost legendary for Canon these days, less and less are buying DSLR’s today than they were just a few years ago. Each year Mirrorless takes a slice of the DSLR pie, and every year Smart Phones take a slice of the mirrorless pie. Funny huh?

But DSLR’s are still very very good and many rely on them day after day. They are polished, they are fast, they have been around and evolved more than any other type of digital camera made today. They are what the pros gravitate towards and if you want sports, action or wildlife the DSLR has the advantage, even today when mirrorless is catching up FAST (but not 100% there yet).

The original 5D with a shot of my Β dog Winnie.Β 


The 5DII, years later…


As good as these modern day digital imaging solutions are, more and more are using smart phones today for their image duties. Five years ago a regular hobbyist Joe or Jane may have bought a Canon, Nikon or Sony or even a point and shoot. Today, more and more are perfectly content with their phone for taking images, even those who in the past were 100% into great cameras and lenses. Some are thinking that today, the camera game is a losing game. We buy, we spend, we sell, we lose. We repeat the cycle. I do it, many of you do it, and that is how the camera industry has grown so quickly and offered so much to us over the years…with fast repeated upgrades.

BUT I do not want to get off track here. Going over these old shots of mine has given me the warm and fuzzies, and I vividly remember those old days with my Canon 5D…snapping away. I would go out and work on my Homeless Project or take photos of my family and son growing up. I just can not believe Β that it has been so many years that have gone by so fast! I remember shooting that D30 in 2002 and being so happy with it. It ignited my passion for sure.


Over the years I went from 5D Β to 5DII and by the time the 5DIII came around I was 100% locked into mirrorless. So I skipped the III and now we have the IV. Does it intrigue me? Well, only a little. Today I do not shoot things that require a DSLR. I do not shoot sports (if I did I would be an oddball and use a Leica). I do not shoot wildlife (though if I did, my A7RII would get the job, or Oly Pen-F) and I do not need, personally, what a DSLR offers. With that said, there are MANY..thousands and thousands who LOVE DSLRS and dislike Mirrorless. I get it, as the DSLR does offer things most mirrorless cameras have not been able to (again, speed, lenses, etc)

So what has changed since the 5D Mark 1 to t he 5D Mark IV? A TON. But looking back at my old 5D images, I see that this was a fantastic camera, even for the time. The IQ is even today, stunning as the sensor in that 5D had some special MoJo with it that I feel they lost a little in the Mark II.

All from the original Canon 5D years ago…




Canon is a GIANT. They have been around and will be around forever. When I talk to those on the street or strangers, 90% of the time they ask me if the best cameras are made by Canon. It’s just a thing most think as Canon is the most recognized name in Digital imaging to those OUTSIDE the circle of forums, reviews, etc. Most go by what they see at Best Buy, Target, and retail shops. Most see the #1 sellers on Amazon, and usually a Canon Rebel is up in that list. Photo students today almost always go with a Canon Rebel over a Nikon or Mirrorless. It’s a funny thing as you would think DSLR’s would still rule the roost in sales.

Unpublished from my Homeless Project many years ago…




The Canon 5D is a legend in the digital world. No question. While I am out of my DSLR Phase, for now, I understand that if it were not for that original Canon 5D we may not be where we are today in digital imaging. That 5D ignited so much excitement for being full frame, offering gorgeous IQ and with a great piece of L glass on it, it delivered magic. It was even great in low light for the time, and even today can do quite well. I feel we owe a lot to the original 5D from Canon. It was a game changer then, and Canon are still updating and improving on it here in 2016 and beyond.

I may have a 5DIV sent to me to check out with a couple of good L lenses. I may go out and give it a go to see how I like shooting a full fledged Canon DSLR for a week or two. Going by my memories of the times I had shooting that original, I may surprise myself. It’s been a while and while I have cameras here to shoot from Leica, Sony, Olympus and others…it may be time to shake my head up with a DSLR πŸ˜‰


Until then, check out the new Canon 5D Mark IV HERE to see specs and details and watch this site for a possible review of the new Canon πŸ˜‰




  1. Yesterday, 23/05/2017, I bought a Canon 5D with 28-135mm lenses. The images are really impressive. I am searching lenses now. And I am in Brazil friends. πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜€

  2. I mostly shoot Leica M (M-E and M Monochrom), but the DSLR definitely has a place. My Canon 5D3 is my primary event camera and also for travel to wet places or when I expect harsh conditions.

    Mirrorless for me is just not enough of a wight savings due to the lenses being no smaller or lighter than DSLR lenses and AF isn’t quite at the same level yet.

    • Use 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 with 5D Classic and enjoy fantastic results. The EF 28-135mm is also great as a walk-around lens with this great camera. I use this combo and the 50mm 1.8, couldn’t be happier.

  3. I like your comments on the 5D series and acknowledgment for it’s place in camera (image capturing history). I would be very interested to read your real world review of this new mark 4.

    I am a canon (and nikon and olympus and…) shooter and have an investment in L glass. By the specs, the new 5D 4 does not look to be worth its asking price, but I suspect the output and overall package may be more that we currently expect.

    Isn’t it interesting to look back and see the moments you captured with less-capable machinery? I too had the original digital rebel and loved it to pieces. Now its seems like a toy. On the flip side, I just picked up a Nikon 700D, barley used, and I am having more fun shooting it than my newer cameras. It seems to create images that remind me a little more of the film I’ve been shooting again the last several years.

    I am starting to wonder if I “need” cropped 4K, touch screens, and even more AF points!

    Thanks again for the nostalgic post!

  4. I loved my 5d until the shutter started to create problems.. But already then I started to look at something lighter and moved to a 550d with the 17-55 2.8 IS. But that only lasted until nex7 was released, got tired to wait for enough good lenses and bought into micro 4/3.
    My most used combination today is the GM1 with the oly 17mm 1.8. Quite a difference from the 5d with 24-105 L IS. πŸ™‚

  5. My primary camera is a 5DMkII, and it still is an awesome camera. Together with a Ricoh GR, and a Minolta film camera, I have a kit that does pretty much everything I need it to do. I’ll probably move to a mirrorless camera one day, but I feel that they still need a generation or two to reach the refinement of a DSLR.

  6. With many, fast or long lenses, or with lens needs not covered by E-mount, the A7’s glorious merits fade. When you mainly shoot in a crowd of other paparazzi, you may not need them, anyway. Or the total cost of a system change are not worth it.

  7. Hi Steve. That post left a little tear in my eye and encouraged me to look over past photos. I started digital with a Canon 10D and had mad some great memories with it. It has also made me look at myself and my photography again, and re-appraise my philosophy as to the emotion engendered by my photos such as the reasons for taking the shot, time, place, the connection between me and my gear etc. After reading your post, I went to pick up my old Canon 1D Mark II. It was heavy, big, with a crappy LCD but it felt great and I immediately felt a bond between it and me (probably why it’s still around). Perhaps the my reasons for going mirrorless have been too polarised. Oh, Damn and blast it!

  8. I do a lot of traveling throughout Europe, and I can tell you other than seeing mostly mobile phones (Android/IOS), there are are a surprising number of folks/families toting DSLRs around. the are definitely not dead.

    • No they are not dead, as that would mean they would be in no more of them. They still sell, but NOTHING like they did just 4-5 years ago. Not even close.

  9. Steve nice post. I think you will be surprised on how much you enjoy shooting with the Canon. Personally i think a two camera system is best. I shoot Leica most the time, but if i need flash or shooting pictures of the kids playing sports i just grab my D700. You could buy a M6 and a D700 for way less then any new camera and you would have everything covered.

  10. I’ve been an Olympus/m43 shooter for 3-4 years after selling off my Canon APS system. I’ve also been interested in a FF system for the past year and have been following Sony’s products. The release of the 5D mark4 has made be rethink DSLR. Considering the new Sony lenses contributing to the size and weight of systems, and SLR body doesn’t not seem as so unreasonable. While I can’t stomach the 5D iv price, the 6D is on my radar as a more affordable, faster option to the overpriced and underperforming (IMO) a7ii.

    There’s a lot of value in DSLR, and the takeaway is if you are going to shoot with fast standard zooms, the size factor is not there anymore, so it’s down to performance. And for me, unless Sony makes strides in value and performance Canon will likely get my money this year from the purchase of a discounted 6D kit.

  11. I’m an SLR guy, that chose for Nikon a long long time ago, and never saw a compelling reason to switch brands.

    Went through the whole D200, D700, D800, D800E and now, since a year, D810 cycle. Sticking with that last one for a long time I hope. It’s a;ways more about the images than about the gear, as long as you can woprk wioth it and as long as you like using it.

    Then there’s my six “old” Nikon SLR’s: F Apollo, F2AS, FM2n, FM2/T, FE2, FM3a…

    The collecting has stopped, the using never does.

    • Some additional comments:

      1 That 5D (and the 5DII) is really an iconic camera; a solid tool that will never disappoint, particularly with L primes.

      2 As for the eternal “lugging” argument: I’ll give you two examples. Early August we went on a family holiday to Mallorca. I took the D810, 35 and 85/1.4G in the Domke bag which did double duty carrying passports, travel documents, airborne bought presents for the kids etc.
      I mostly carried and used just the 35 on the D810, which I have on a Gordy’s wrist strap. Same thing when we took the kids, grandparents etc to a zoo last Sunday. Great afternoon, just the D810 and the 35. No bag, just the camera on the wriststrap, no lugging involved. It’s (with that 35) 1.6 kgs of solid dependable tool, that carries comfortably and hardly ever gets in the way.

      Image quality not so bad either…

  12. this was a great post. I loved the 5d and its sensor. Some of my best portraits were done with it and the 24-105mm. These days I’m shooting with a GX8 for most smaller jobs. The simplicity of its OS and image quality is tops. My d800 rests. You have always banged the nail on the head. Thanks
    Peter Nash

  13. Don’t forget Nikon’s D700 some time after. I went from 5D to D700 and it was a big leap for build quality and low light, high ISO IQ.

    Today I use an iPhone and Sony RX100…


  14. This is my first post here, so hello from Serbia. πŸ™‚ Let me say that I greatly enjoy your site, Steve-one of the rare sites where you can read a real life experience of the cameras and lenses, and maybe the only one that gives you the feeling that the author truly loves photography and enjoyes the gear for the purpose it’s made for-creating photos. Now, this article reminded me of where I am today. Being a long time (ab)user of the D300s which I recently gave to my older daughter with a keen interest in photography, I am at the crossroads. I totally agree with the mirrorless philosophy of being lighter, more portable – being 44, my muscles are not so keen anymore on carrying around a heavy camera like the D300s coupled with the 17-55 or 70-200 2.8…I-ve played with a bunch of mirrorless, Fujis, Olys, Panas, and they are all fantastic cameras that deliver more than I will ever be able to use. Geez, even the old 5D delivers more and then some. Still, as a few friends of mine who are also photographers, I share the concern of mirrorless not being the all-round, swiss-army knife types of cameras, as DSLRs are. Meaning, if the situation arises, the X-Pro 1 will not be able to fast focus, but an average DSLR will. I couldn’t focus on my younger daughter blazing through the yard with the PEN-F, but the D300s/17-55 2.8 combo nailed it every time. Also I’m used to the big bulky size of the D300, not as much as my joints though. πŸ™‚ Now, I did not try the new Fuji X-T2, and the EM-1 MkII looks promising when I read the specs, we’ll see. A battery-sized camera with a 5-1000mm 0.95 zoom would be nice, but that’s not coming for the foreseeable future. πŸ™‚

  15. Nice article Steve that 5D was awesome hmmm canon certainly renders nicely for portraits that’s why I still have an m9 and wish I still had my d700 and didn’t go through this mad cycle except for the beautiful lenses I’ve acquired and will never sell

  16. Great to see you consider this! It would be really interesting to see crazy comparisons between Sony, maybe Fuji, m4/3 and the new 5D (like the ones I remember you did years ago with the EP-1 vs Nikon DSLR).
    Coming from film, I started shooting digital with mirrorless (bought the EP-1 when it came out in Japan, then X-Pro with primes, then went back to the EP-5). Though for years I thought I never could live with the bulk of a (FF) DSLR and believed in mirrorless, I recently invested in a Canon 6D, mainly because the Fuji system was a disappointing, unreliable and fiddly nightmare in use and I just wanted a camera that I could trust. Despite all the benefits of mirrorless (weight, fun, discreetness, size), I am happy with my choice, as even an old sensor like the 6D’s renders wonderful colors and files. I can just travel 3 days with one battery, shoot in any conditions and no longer think of a need to constantly upgrade.
    While m4/3 offers a real advantage in size and weight that makes the compromise worth it, I don’t see this advantage with APS-C sensor mirrorless systems. Some (XT-2 with grip, e.g. or A7 with premium primes) become as bulky, “ugly” and heavy as DSLR’s (and often more expensive). Mirrorless went a long way since the first m4/3 came out, but so did DSLRs and dedicated glass. It would be great to see how you feel about them all 7 years later.

    • Hello, may I ask how you are liking the 6D compared to m43? I am interested in the 6D and debating whether to sell my m43 gear to finance the purchase or to keep my E-m5ii pro kit as a second system.

      • This review was a long time ago. I was in NYC with it and a couple of great lenses though they were heavy as can be and by the end of the night my shoulder killed (but it was due to the L glass not the 6D). In fact, the 6D was amazing I thought. GREAT IQ and usability. I really enjoyed it.

      • Marty, other than size, m4/3 has imo two real advantages: you can shoot at lower speed and still get sharp images (I miss the IBIS), and it’s more discreet than a DSLR with L primes. With the 6D (dspecially with heavy lenses) I need much higher speeds to get a sharp handheld image.
        Other than that, the IQ of the 6D is amazing, in good or low light. I did evening shots in Northern Europe and NY and the sensor of the 6D rendered this in a wonderful way. Something m4/3 did not do well. The 6D has not the best/fastest AF, but I also had issues with accuracy on the m4/3 I used.
        As Steve mentioned above, the weight is mainly due to the L lenses. If you add a Canon pancake or standard prime, the 6D is a light camera with a good grip, and you still will get better DOF control. That said, I kept my Pen with one prime for casual shooting, as it is a great camera. The IQ of the 6D is just wonderful and makes me accept the sore shoulder on trips. I don’t feel any need to upgrade for the next years.

  17. Glad to see a post about Canon DSLRs. Most if not all of my photo buddies use them.
    The street shooters use them with pancake primes. The 5D is the most popular.
    Many use a small mirrorless cameras like the Olympus and Lumix as well. Some even use old versions with the 12MP sensor.
    Looking forward to some posts about all those L lenses !

  18. Thanks for this post. Good and true thoughts. The 5D is an important piece of camera history but I have the feeling that Canon should have developped something like a mirrorless 5D already when they launched the 5DIII. They would maybe leading the mirrorless market today…

  19. Steve,
    As a Army civilian photographer I’ve had the privilege to shoot with many of the early Nikon, Fujitsu and Kodak pro cameras. I bought a used Fuji S1 to start but the day the original 5D was announced I called my supplier and reserved one. With the full frame and beautiful IQ I still use it today for full length portraits. I backed it up with a Rebel which I also enjoy due to small size and cropped sensor stretching my glass a bit.

  20. I feel your “pain” but for me it was first losing faith in Nikon (after decades!) when they were glacial in their conversion to full frame and by then we’d gone full Canon. And have 5D Mk IVs coming next week.
    That said the Hasselblads are the serious client breadwinners and for me personally I love the Oly EM1. And the new Oly is the only camera I’m personally even looking forward to playing with.
    Oh. And I likely shoot more images on this my 7th or 8th iPhone then any other present day “camera”…
    Good read. Carry on. Etc.

  21. Good article Steve. Talking about mojo, I read a guy who said that 12mp cameras (like the 5D, D700, A7s)have something special that he missed in his modern cameras.

  22. I completely agree about the magic of a 5D classic. I shot with it for a few years then upgraded to the Mark 3. The Mark 3 obviously was more impressive in terms of technical specs, but when I look back at my 5D classic photos… there is just something subtle about the way it captured light that my Mark 3 didn’t have. I can’t quite put my finger on it. But I’m happy I hung onto it.

  23. It would be hard for me to live without the silent shutter and tilt screen on the A7R2 for events where silence is required.
    I would enjoy trying the 5Dmk4 since I shot the Mk3 quite a bit before moving to Sony. I’m hoping the next generation Sony has great autofocus that can compete with Canon and Nikon.

  24. I’m with you in having put the DSLR phase behind me too. Admittedly, though, it may all depend on the kind of photography people are doing these days and whether they absolutely need the 200mm and above lenses as “must have.” No question where the future lies when you look at smartphone photography, action cams, and drones. Miniaturization and mobility is where the excitement is, not in lugging around the same old bricks for old times sake.

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