I still frequently use a Canon 5D Classic or “Mark I” – the first affordable full-frame DSLR released almost 10 years ago. This might be a point of contention with other photographers, but I think it is still a relevant camera.
For people looking for an affordable full-frame DSLR, I can’t think of a better, less expensive option than pairing a used 5D Mark I with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 II prime lens. Together, this outfit is an image quality bargain.
There are many advantages to shooting full-frame DSLRs. Larger image sensors improve image quality, even if the resolution is lower. They also tend to produce less noise at high ISOs and capture color better. There is a specific quality to full-frame images that is hard to explain. Increased sensor size is especially helpful while shooting landscapes. Canon APS-C sensors have a 1.6x crop factor that magnifies the focal length of your lens. Full-frame image sensors are vital for creating wide-angle shots.
Still Acceptable Professional Results
Unfortunately, the latest full-frame DSLRs are expensive. They are made for professional shooters with professional-size budgets. Used full-frame digital cameras are much less expensive, particularly something like the 5d that was retired from Canon’s lineup in 2008. Consider this: the 5d produced acceptable professional results in 2007. What are the reasons it can’t still perform?
While shooting an event, I do not hesitate about using the 5d classic as a second body. I am sure there are other photographers who continue to do the same. There are downsides. Image quality is excellent, but not as brilliant as the latest 5D Mark III. Low light performance isn’t spectacular and you are limited to 3200ISO – although, because of the full-frame sensor it beats the 7D at 1600ISO and below. The autofocus isn’t awesome and doesn’t have enough points. It only shoots 3fps. The DIGIC image processor is old.
You also get a small low resolution LCD screen, limited menu functions compared to advanced DSLRs, and a 12.8MP sensor. Honestly, you won’t notice many of the 5d classic’s shortcomings unless you are a professional wedding photography or a sports shooter. This is particularly true is you are looking for an affordable way to upgrade to full-frame image quality. 12.8MP resolution is only a major shortcoming if you plan to make large poster-sized prints. The difference in image quality will be hard to notice in online publication.
Regardless of all the downsides, I am still happy to shoot with the 5D Mark I. The images have a unique “feel” that remind me of film. When autofocus matters and in low-light situations I am always going to turn to a more advanced camera. But for most everyday applications, the original 5D still shines.
For professional quality results, your best bet it to pair the camera with professional quality glass. Canon L Series lenses are your best bet for high image quality. You aren’t going to be able to use Canon EF-S lenses on a full-frame DSLR. EF-S lenses are designed for cropped frame image sensors with a 1.6x field of view crop factor. You will need to invest in Canon EF lenses.
Fortunately, one of the best lenses—the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II – is also one of the cheapest. There isn’t a better lens for under $400. On a full-frame DSLR it is a “normal” focal length. It’s good for just about everything. It focuses fast. The image quality is excellent—it almost feels like it shouldn’t be as good as it actually is. You can get it new for around $100. Couple it with a 5D Mark I and you can produce some excellent images. Even if you don’t have a full-frame DSLR and you use a Canon body, you should consider purchasing a 50mm f/1.8.
The used market price of a Canon 5d Mark I is around $400-600 depending on where you look. Many of these cameras were used by professionals and some of them have high shutter counts; condition varies. Pair it with the 50mm f/1.8 and you can have professional image quality—still professional in my opinion and professional by the standards of six years ago.
New cameras are always released and by nature consumers crave the latest and the greatest product. The Canon 5D Mark I is probably one of the best deals in photography. You aren’t going to be able to buy one and start a professional business, but you can take images with it that surpass anything that a Canon APS-C sensor camera can offer.