History of the Canon 5D: It Arrived in 2005

Rumors of the original Canon 5D started circulating in early August of 2005. A few other full-frame digital cameras existed at the time, but their large physical size and hefty price tags were deal breakers for the majority of photographers. It seemed like everyone wanted the same thing—a DSLR with a full-frame sensor that didn't have a crop factor, in a body size that was reminiscent of a 35mm film SLR, and at a price that was more within reach. On August 22, 2005, the 5D delivered.

Most photographers in the mid 2000's had developed their eye using 35mm film cameras. When they attached a 50mm lens and looked through the viewfinder, they expected to see a 50mm focal range. However, nearly all the DSLR cameras available at the time were using APS-C-sized sensors, which introduce a significant amount of crop factor. The classic nifty fifty is cropped to 80mm. This compromise threw many people off, and proved to be a persistent nuisance.

In order to appreciate fully the importance of the original 5D, you need to understand the landscape of cameras that existed at that time. Introduced in the year 2000 and not available for purchase until the spring of 2002, the Contax N Digital was the first digital camera to feature a full-frame sensor.

While the Contax N Digital was nicely built, and featured an appealing selection of compatible Zeiss lenses, it was only really usable at 100 ISO, and it had a reputation for burning through batteries quickly (it ran on four rechargeable AA's). It had auto focus; however, it was too slow for sports and other types of professional uses. The resolution it provided looked nice, but many didn't find it to be significantly better than the APS-C cameras of the day, especially considering its hefty price tag.

The second full-frame DSLR to hit the market was the Canon EOS-1Ds. Unlike the Contax N Digital which fell short of most people's expectations, and was ultimately discontinued after only one year, the EOS-1Ds struck a nerve with professional photographers. Its higher-resolution 11-megapixel CMOS sensor (the Contax N Digital had a CCD sensor) and its ability to work with a wide range of lenses, was enough to lure a large number of film shooters to the digital realm. However, its price was prohibitively expensive, and it weighed 3.49 lbs.

The third full-frame DSLR to come along was the Kodak Professional DCS Pro 14n. This camera was officially announced one day before EOS-1Ds, but took longer to ship. The DCS Pro 14n had a competitive price, and touted a 14-megapixel sensor; however, it proved to be slow to power up, slow to write files, and the images often suffered from noise and moiré. It also didn't help that it was large, heavy, and fairly awkward to handle. It failed to quell the collective desire for truly functional full-frame camera, as did the two other iterations of this camera—the DCS Pro SLR/n (which featured a Nikon F-mount), and the DCS Pro SLR/c (with a Canon EF-mount).

It's important to keep in mind that even though digital cameras were a big deal at this time, traditional 35mm film cameras were still extremely popular. The majority of photographers were not swayed by the digital offerings that had found their way into the marketplace. It took a few more years, but the tipping point finally came in late August 2005.

While the Canon EOS-1Ds supplied photographers with a highly-functional full-frame digital camera, it was also somewhat large and expensive. Two of the most striking attributes of the original 5D were that it was half the price and half the weight of the 1Ds. The lower cost opened the door to a much larger pool of customers, and the dramatically decreased size and weight made it very attractive to current owners of the 1Ds.

A higher-resolution 12.8-megapixel CMOS sensor made the 5D even more attractive, and its LCD screen, which by today's standards seems small, came in a larger size, at 2.5". Further tempting dyed-in-the-wool film shooters was the fact that the 5D was compatible with nearly every Canon lens produced in the past 18 years, reaching as far back as 1987 (with the exception of EF-S lenses). Finally, the field-of-view of Canon's EF-mount lenses would be equivalent to that of 35mm film SLRs, in a similar, single-grip body size.

Unlike earlier attempts from other manufacturers, the 5D offered a workable ISO range, which was a welcome companion to the low-light benefits afforded by its large sensor. It featured a nine-point AF system with six assist points, and a magnesium-alloy construction. It was a joy for photographers to gain the wide-angle and shallow-depth-of-field capabilities that a full-frame camera provides, along with the enormous advantages of shooting digitally.  

Obviously, not everything was perfect in the original 5D. The viewfinder offered only 96% coverage, and compared to contemporary APS-C cameras like the Canon 20D, the 5D was noticeably more sluggish. These shortcomings were completely forgivable, however, considering how many profound advancements it provided. Plus, unbeknownst to users at the time, the Canon 5D line would go on to become a force that would disrupt entire creative industries, redefining what's possible with an unassuming, relatively small camera body.

In the summer of 2008, rumors started spreading that something big from Canon was on the horizon...

Many thanks to Zevi Slotkin, Ken Rockwell and Tyler Stableford for contributing to this article.

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I've heard the 5D referred to as 'the camera that killed film'.  Probably one of the greatest 'disruptor' cameras to date.

Interesting. You make it sound like the 5D is so old that it's not being used anymore. Although I'd love to jump on one of the newer FF cameras, I'm still shooting with my good old 5D Mark I and print out until 30x40 cm.

I bought my 5D used a few years ago, after the Craigslist price dropped to an affordable $1250 in my area.  I had a love/hate relationship with this camera.

I loved the smooth image quality and I desperately wanted to take lots of shallow DOF photos.  Unfortunately, the autofocus system was inconsistent and imprecise, with no micro focus adjustment.  I had it adjusted by Canon, which helped a front focus issue, but it was still not what I wanted.  Not many keepers when used wider than F/2.8, unfortunately.

About a year ago I upgraded to the Mark 3 and all is well.  It's the camera I wanted three years ago!

One of the best cameras I used. Its lot better than many nikon cameras till date.
I used both nikon and canon by the way.

a landmark camera and a real game changer.

i use mine to this day and love the skin tones it reproduces.

understand its limitations and it will serve you well!


I bought mine in 2008 when the price was around $2,100. new, I still use it often and with only about 2000 clicks on the shudder I have no interest in giving it up for anything  newer, though I keep looking at the Mark 3 and am tempted to buy, i'll wait just a bit longer. I love the whole 5D experience and with several "L" and prime lenses I will be with Canon full frame for the foreseeable future. My first one was an AE-1 bought in 1980, still have it too and it still works.

I still have my original Canon 5D that I bought from B&H in July 2006. It was my first, and only, digital SLR and has now taken about 60 000 or so photographs for me. The mirror fell off under guarantee, which wasn't honoured by the Canon service centre in Hong Kong, who fitted, and charged me for, a new shutter box assembly. Later, the focussing screen fell out and had to be replaced (in the UK).

It is still in service on a day to day basis - although I'm not a professional photographer, and have no wish to become one. I use a set of 'L' seried lenses which are far superior to the 'normal' range of lenses, albeit over-priced.

Every time a new version of the 5D appears, my wife asks me if I'm going to replace my 'old faithful' with a new model. I always say 'No' as my original 5D does all I want it to - including having large prints made (up to 1.5 metres wide, so far), so why do I need to change it?

This was the camera I'd been waiting for and I see no reason to change it. The SLR cameras I used before this were film cameras, going back to the Pentacon Pentaflex SL, Exa 500, Pentax S1a and original Spotmatic (still in use), followed by Mamiya 645, Canon A1, then my first EOS (which was stolen) and a wait  until I could afford a Canon EOS 5. The EOS 5D surpasses them all. It has travelled the world with me and been a wonderful companion. This was the king of cameras in it's day - and still is for me.

Long may it continue to function - it may outlive me!

I could have read a longer story.

I still use 5D. The pictures are as good now as they were then, of course. The paint has flaked in places and batteries are getting old, but it works.

When the 5D was announced, it was obvious that, barring major warts, it would be a watershed camera. I ordered mine within a day or so of the announcement date, and I received it on September 28, 2005. I am still shooting with it. It has never needed repair. Workhorse.

I remember the June day in 2006 when I bought my 5D, and the first shots I took with it.  I still use the camera, even though I use a 5D MK III today.   I go back and look at some of the shots I got back then with the 5D and remember the joy I felt when it was new.  A camera that truly changed the game.

"The 5D then brought amazing image quality in a package so much smaller and lighter--and less expensive." 

Well I guess that means the Sony A7/A7r is now the new 5D....

I bought a 5D (classic) in 2006 and added another a couple of years later.  Today they are still the only cameras I will use for portraits.  I love the people images the 5D produces.

For me another reason to keep using them until they fall apart is their simplicity.  They  have the basic feature set I need, and an uncomplicated menu system.  This is ideal when a shoot gets busy.  Less to get wrong, less to go wrong. 

So many photographers seem to believe that photography is mainly about equipment.  To me it's the opposite.  Photography is about images.  The less equipment I have to put in the process the better.  The 5D (classic) is ideal for me.

The 5d was a mile stone regarding price and  picture quality.I had two in my work

I was offered at the Photokina to buy  a Kodak 24x36mm  camera which  cost about 250000SEK = 38500USD at that time for around 24600USD, I declined to buy the camera.

Canon has unfortunately failed to complete the development of theirs sensors and currently lagging behind in development in terms of resolution, color depth, dynamic range.

Neverless,  5d was a great camera years ago

Even if I love my 6d I'll never sell my old 5D....its a magic and unique camera! Great image quality and build, still impressed when I shoot and review 5d's pictures.

My production rigs are all 1DX's and they are bread and butter tools.

BUT..for everything else including Happy Snappng with very satifactory results worthy of printing and distribution...it's still my trusty 5DC. Light and small by comparison and it always just works. It earned me lot's of other toys and it will be in one of my hands in a death grip when I croak.

I had two 5d and the camera is a mile stone, today Canon is lagging after with their sensors in terms of dynamic range, color depth, resolution etc, etc 

I love mine with the 50/1.2. Even today I can sometimes tell when something has been shot with the mk1. There's something very different about the mk1 sensor, that the mk2 can't capture. I use the mk2 more, but if I'm going to use the heavy fifty, I'll use it with the old 5D. Maybe 12MP and FF is a magical combo.

I loved my 5Dc - I have recently moved to a 6d and flogged the 5Dc because it wasn't getting used.  Last thing I did with it was shoot my neice's wedding.  It was in the depth of winter, rained all day and the light in the hotel was horrific.  My neice cried when she saw the images of her special day.  They were tears of joy -  the 5Dc did a brilliant job.

Last week I went into my local school for a shoot - there are images all over the walls that I shot on my 5Dc at A1 size and they are amazing.

Fond memories of a brilliant camera.

I bought the 5D from the B&H Store In May 2006 when I worked in Lower Manhattan... I only had one issue with it, the mirror came loose, but was fixed for free by Canon.  Love this camera still and use it all the time.  A truly well built camera for the ages.

Thanks Canon for making a truly great product.

Scott Bohlen

3 Sons Photo

York PA

when I got my 5Dc, her successor was already out... but I never missed any of the newer features. (I had liveview on the 40D before) the 5Dc's output was sharper and I loved every picture that came out of it. This camera changed everything for me. It somehow took my photography further... and I won my first photo contest with a picture I shot with it...  

Even though I upgraded to the Mark II two years ago, I still miss the Classic. It was... and it IS a true gem in the big camera-world.

(If I had the money left now, I'd probably buy one just for the showcase.)

I had the origional 5d. Cant say i miss the thing one bit since the mk3. the 5dmk3 is the camera that killed DSLRS.

Undoubtedly the best DSLR on the market at the time. While I have moved on to the Mark III, I still have fond memories of the times I had with my 5D. I still have one A1 size print of Seattle at my place, along with a multi-image panorama of San Francisco from the 5D. They still look just as gorgeous as the day I had them printed 5-6 years ago.

I purchased my Mk I in 2008.  It is in my bag today.  Oh, I've had the privilege of shooting with a Mk II even considered an upgrade.

As a student I simply cannot afford the newer FF DSLR's.  Besides, I would not stop using my Mk I - I respect it's limitations and it's a great camera, gets the job done and I have published prints in the 24x36 range with ease.  I do not consider the Mk I a dinosaur either, it's big, it's bulky, but does the job quite well.  Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory lane.

I bought my 5D in 2006 for about 3'300 CHF (about the same amount in Dollars) new imported from Japan. I did not know it was full frame at the time, I did not even know that something like crop and full frame existed, I just wanted more resolution than my previous Sony R1 with ten Megepixels...Well, I used the camera to shoot a concert of Tokio Hotel in Germany and even though I had to set the camera to 1'600 and 3'200 ISO as the light was bad, the images came out great. Still use it today. I just got the mirror fixed that fell off for free, as it is a common failure of this model that is fixed at no cost since somewhere 2009. I love the camera, as I know so well how to handle it, and 12.8 Megapixels are more than enough. Todays cameras have great video and great ISO performance, but I still keep to the good ol' 5D.

I bought a used 1Ds Mark III some time ago, for less than what the 5D once cost (2'320 CHF) but I still use them both.

I bought mine in 2007.  Once I bought it, I only used digital.  I am still using it.  Hope to buy a new one soon.  

I've got the 5D Mark III and still absolutely loving it!!! 

Love Canon glass, (primes only) and it's a match made in heaven. In MHO it doesn't get any better!

Low light bliss!

I Love my 5d  mark 2

I still own and use a pair of 5D's on a regular basis...no need to upgrade...+This camera is still great for people shots as well...

Purchased my 5Dc used about 5 years ago. Arguably, one of the best wedding and portrait cameras ever made. Tried to stretch it's capability by using it for low light sporting events (MMA, Muay Thai, boxing, etc). Also tried it with the trusty 50/1.8 lens for a really low light hip-hop showcase at a local pub. Still not sure if it is the 3200 max ISO that is the issue or my lack of technique for this particular purpose. I can live nicely with the 3 FPS, but the ISO can be a killer. Even with a 1.8 lens, it is marginal at best. For all other uses, it remains superb.