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Canon EOS 5D Mark II exits stage left, leaves a stamp on digital filmmaking history

According to unconfirmed reports, Canon has just retired its full-frame EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera, allowing its newer, more powerful sibling, the 5D Mark III, to continue the legacy. For most of us, the news of this pricey pro camera’s exit will pass without much fanfare. But if you are a big fan of recent films like “The Avengers,” “Captain America,” “Act of Valor,” “Iron Man 2,” and “ParaNorman,” as well as television shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “House,” then you may be unaware of the contributions this camera has made to filmmaking.

While it wasn’t the first DSLR with the ability to record 1080p video, the 5D Mark II can be credited as the first game-changing DSLR camera to be successfully incorporated into all aspects of digital video production, everything from films to commercials to TV shows. While expensive for the regular consumer, the 5D Mark II was considered cheap by filmmaking standards, yet it captured excellent 1080p video quality and had great low-light capability.

Alex Buono, director of photography for “SNL,” used the 5D Mark II to capture the opening credits, which involved shooting in New York City after dark. The camera filmed the season finale of “House,” where director Greg Yaitanes said the camera provided the shallow depth of field and “richer look,” adding that he “feels it’s the future” in film production.

It’s the flexibility due to its size, availability of lenses, and price point that made the 5D Mark II an attractive tool.

The EOS 5D Mark II was used to capture scenes in tough terrain on the set of the film “Act of Valor.” “Because (it) is so light weight, we were able to defy conventional motion picture camera physics and capture a high-quality cinematic image, which ultimately looked incredible on a 100-foot theatrical screen,” said co-director Scott Waugh.

“I’m always looking to get the camera into impossible to reach places because those kinds of shots make action sequences much more exciting,” said Jonathan Taylor, who used the 5D Mark II to capture some of the stunts in “Captain America.” “Most 35mm motion-picture cameras and even the leading digital cinematography cameras are just too big to get into interesting positions.”

It was also the success of the 5D Mark II in film production that led Canon to not only incorporate more movie-production capabilities into its other cameras, but also to create a new category of cameras and lenses designed specifically for filmmaking, called Cinema EOS. While the 5D Mark II may be making its final bow, its mark left on the history of digital filmmaking has been sealed forever.