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Canon releases firmware update for EOS 5D Mark II  
Monday, June 1, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
Canon has released a firmware update for the EOS 5D Mark II that enables manual control of ISO, aperture and shutter speed while the camera is set to capture video. Firmware v1.1.0 also disables the depth of field preview button when playing back photos or accessing the on-screen menus and corrects various bugs.

More information on firmware v1.1.0, as well as links to download it, are here. Two PDFs describe how to use the new features: English/French/Spanish or Japanese/English/Chinese.

With the firmware update installed, the 5D Mark II offers two distinct video exposure modes: fully automatic and fully manual. As before, when configured for automatic exposure, the camera sets the ISO, shutter speed and aperture for you, and provides the user +/- 2 stops of exposure compensation plus exposure lock. New in v1.1.0 is the ability to choose any shutter speed between 1/30 and 1/4000, any ISO between 100 and 12,800 (or 200 to 6400 if Highlight Tone Priority is on) plus Auto and any aperture available on the attached lens.

Screen Test: Screenshots from the Canon EOS 5D Mark II with firmware v1.1.0 loaded (Screenshots by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

All three parameters can be set prior to starting the recording, and can be adjusted during recording too (you have to wait for about one second after starting a recording before the settings can be adjusted).

Pseudo-Automatic Shooting

The new firmware also provides a useful form of semi-automatic exposure. While you can't explicitly choose Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority, you can combine manual exposure with ISO Auto to do much the same thing.

For example, if you want to record video at f/2.8 constantly even as the lighting conditions change, you can dial in that aperture, set the ISO to Auto and voila: something resembling traditional Aperture Priority shooting, though the camera boosts and lowers the ISO, not the shutter speed, to maintain correct video brightness as the light shifts.

Canon's approach is actually better than true Aperture Priority, because constantly changing the shutter speed during video capture could cause sections of the recording to look somewhat choppy and less smooth than others, particularly if the camera ventures into the higher shutter speeds. But, it does mean you need to pay attention to what you set the shutter speed to, prior to starting a pseudo-Aperture Priority recording, so that you won't get caught mid-recording in a situation where the light is either brighter or darker than can be compensated for by ISO alone.

If you instead need to capture video at a specific shutter speed, you can do pseudo-Shutter Priority too. The approach is the same as described above, except that you first pick your shutter speed, then guesstimate what aperture should go along with it such that ISO Auto can manage the range of brightness you'll encounter.

Really, what you're doing is combining the new manual exposure mode with the ISO Auto setting. But this combination can give you most useful element of Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. Namely, the ability to select the aperture or shutter speed you need, while still having the camera automatically compensate for lighting differences.

With manual exposure mode selected and ISO set to Auto, there is one key automatic exposure feature missing, however: exposure compensation. This means you can't, for instance, dial in -1/3 to -2/3 of exposure compensation when working in bright frontlit sun, and this is often mandatory to keep 5D Mark II video from being too light and highlights being blown out.

Therefore, if you need to work at a specific aperture, have the camera automatically adjust video brightness as the light changes and bias the meter using exposure compensation, you'll need to rely on a couple of old workarounds. These workarounds both fall into a category we call brute-force Aperture Priority.

Brute-force Aperture Priority

Here are some quick tips for doing brute-force Aperture Priority with the 5D Mark II, ones that enable the use of exposure compensation and that work the same with firmware v1.1.0 as they did with v1.0.7. They require the lens either be a Canon EF not mounted all the way on, or a non-Canon lens whose aperture is chosen on the lens itself or its lens mount adapter. The camera must be set to Av, Tv or P on the exposure mode dial.

Method 1: Mount a non-Canon lens, one that doesn't have the electronic control features of Canon lenses and has a way to set the lens aperture on the lens itself or the lens mount adapter. This rules out Canon-compatible Sigma, Tamron, and so on, but does allow for older Zeiss, older Nikon and a couple of other brands to be used with a variety of mount adapters. You can also use Nikon G-series lenses with one of these adapters.

The key is to set the aperture on the lens (or adapter) itself, and because of the lack of lens-camera communication, the 5D Mark II neither knows what the aperture is nor can it change it. Autofocus does not function of course, but exposure compensation does (and does exposure lock).

While this method has probably been used most widely to enable wide open aperture shooting by those who want a shallow depth of field look to their video, you can in fact choose any aperture you like on the lens, within the ISO and shutter speed limits of the camera.

Method 2: If you're a particularly brave photographer, one who doesn't mind risking their expensive glass falling off the 5D Mark II, you can force a Canon EF lens to maximum aperture by not twisting it fully into place while mounting it.

Instead, turn it until you reach the point where there is some resistance, then turn it slightly further. When the lens' red mounting dot is just barely past the small screw on the camera's front plate (there's only one screw in the vicinity so you'll know which one to use as the guide), you're there. Apply gaffer tape liberally and firmly between the body and lens, being careful not to cover up anything you need, like the zoom ring. This is a do-at-your-own-risk sort of tip, and we've already seen an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS (not ours!) hit the floor during a training session, but it does work if you're careful.

With the lens mounted in this way, its aperture will be locked fully open, the aperture readout on the camera will say "00" and you're on your own to focus. Exposure compensation and exposure lock both work. If you twist the lens on a bit too far the camera may begin to act strangely: the video can stutter and the camera can become unresponsive. This is probably because certain lens contacts are touching the wrong body contacts. The solution is to remount the lens, taking care to rotate it to the point mentioned above.

Revision History
June 2, 2009: Corrected errors in the description of the new manual exposure mode's semi-automatic exposure capabilities, and removed information about certain exposure workarounds that are no longer necessary with firmware v1.1.0. Thanks to Kevin Horton for spotting the errors.

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