Thanks for visiting the Art of the Image blog. We've moved over to so this blog is no longer updated, but please feel free to peruse the articles and content here.

When you're finished, please visit us at for all the current blog posts and information. Thanks!!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Canon EOS 5D MkII Autofocus - Unhappy 5D MkII Users Speak Out

It's no secret that Canon has autofocus problems with it's DSLR digital cameras. Whether it's persistent soft focus, out of focus, or back focus, Canon can't seem to get it's autofocus system to work properly in its DSLR lineup.

We all heard about the Canon 1D MkIII autofocus problems. Rob Galbraith blew the lid off that one, and try as they did, Canon couldn't keep denying that the 1D MkIII had autofocus problems when more and more people were able to replicate Rob's findings.

When the Canon 5D MkII came out, a lot of people were singing it's praises from the get go, but there was another chorus that could be heard singing in the background, and the song was all about 5D MkII autofocus problems, questions, issues, and complaints. Those talking about the problems they were having with the 5D MkII autofocus were initially drowned out by the initial 5D MkII praisers and ravers, a lot of which were a direct result of a great marketing campaign and publicity push by Canon, but the tide is turning and the voice of those having issues with their 5D MkII autofocus is starting to drown out the praisers and ravers.

Peter Gregg, inventor of A Better Bounce Card (my favorite flash modifier), was one of the first to write about the 5D MkII autofocus. In his latest article, Can the coming Canon 1D Mark IV win back those who switched to Nikon?, Peter makes a pointed request of Canon. "I say this respectfully, but I want a focus system that works. No more sloppy soft images." Many a Canon shooter nodded their head respectfully when they read that line in Peter's article, some shed a tear, and others felt the resentment and anger begin to rise again as they thought about all the issues they've been having with their $3,000 5D MkII that can't focus properly.

The Fake Chuck Westfall brought up the 5D MkII autofocus problems in his post, F@#$ed, for the foreseeable Future, and many 5D MkII shooters wrote in to comment. Some were relieved to find out they weren't alone in experiencing autofocus problems with their 5D MkII, and some were glad to realize it wasn't anything they were doing... just a problem with the camera. All could agree that a $3000 5D MkII that couldn't focus properly was unacceptable, and Canon should do something to rectify the situation.

While I haven't had the misfortune of owning a 5D MkII, I have owned and shot the original Canon 5D, the 40D, 30D, 20D, and Digital Rebel XTi. While I did get some fantastic shots with each of my Canon DSLRs, I also got a lot of out of focus and soft shots with each one. I shot a lot more photos when I shot Canon DSLRs because I could never be sure if the focus would be good. Now that I'm back to shooting Nikon, I shoot a lot less photos because I'm not having focus issues anymore.

Don't get me wrong, I liked my Canon DSLRs, but once Nikon came out with it's newer generation of DSLRs (D300, D3, D3X, D700, and soon to be D700X), the balance swung in Nikon's favor. The big advantage with Canon had always been it's high ISO quality. When Nikon released its newer generation of DSLRs, Canon's high ISO advantage disappeared. Nikon took the high ISO crown with the D3 and D700, and all of Nikon's DSLR lineup focuses MUCH better than the Canon DSLR lineup.

When the 5D MkII came out, I considered buying one. It had a lot of things going for it, and I was intrigued. I was also wary though, as my past Canon experience had left me once bitten, twice shy, which, as it turns out, was a good thing. The 5D MkII has the usual Canon autofocus problems as many 5D MkII owners have found out. No matter what else a camera has going for it, if it doesn't focus well, I don't want it. You can have all the megapixels in the world, and they don't mean a thing if your photos are out of focus.

Come on Canon! I can't believe you aren't capable of making a DSLR that focuses as good as the Nikon D3, D3X, D700, or my D300. In fact, I don't see why you can't leapfrog Nikon and come out with an even better autofocus system than the Nikons have. In the immortal words of Peter Gregg, "I say this respectfully, but I want a focus system that works. No more sloppy soft images." And while you're at it, how about fixing your quality control problems too!

Feel free to leave a comment if you've had problems with your 5D MkII or any other Canon DSLR for that matter. If we make our voices heard, Canon will have to start listening!

**Update: Canon EOS 7D - Will We Be Seeing a Canon 7D in September? and Why Most Of The Canon 7D Specs Are Wrong**


Joe said...

This is OLD NEWS!!! Been discussed in popular forums such as DP and read the manual on how to focus properly....mine focus very well and have taken more than 3000 plus images with 17-40mm L and 70-200mm L (f4).

G Dan Mitchell said...

I think I'll use your post as a fine example of hyperbole... ;-)

Having used a 5D and a 5D II extensively, it is impossible for me to square the very, very negative opinions about the 5D II AF system with my own experience with the camera.

Please note - this is not because I've been brainwashed by Canon marketing; it is because I've shot tens of thousands of frames with these cameras, most recently the 5D II, and the only time this "poor AF" topic enters my mind is when I read another strange post like this one.

My 5D II AF consistently produces accurate focus with a variety of lenses and in a variety of shooting situations ranging from landscape to action sports.

Matt Ballard said...

Joe and G Dan, it's good to hear your 5D MkII DSLRs are working fine. Unfortunately, that's not the case with many people's 5D MkII cameras.

I personally know more than one photographer who has not been happy with the focus of the 5D MkII.

Having seen the infamous Canon soft focus / backfocus problem over a wide range of my own Canon DSLR's, including my Canon 5D, I'm not surprised that some 5D MkII shooters are having focus issues.

joe said...

I am one of the unfortunate that received one with focus issues. More than half my shots were soft. I happen to live near the Canon factory and took it back there. They didn't acknowledge any issues but said that they would calibrate the lens that I had brought in (one of their L series). This made me wonder how it would work with my other lenses. It seems much better now, so I would encourage others to send it back if it has issues. I've been using Canon cameras for 20 years and am not so sure that my next 3k purchase will be one.

Anonymous said...

I'm also among those nodding my head in agreement about the focusing issues. It drove me CRAZY!!!! Everything was SOFT!!!!

Tested it in every conceivable manner and results SUCKED! Coming from an original 5D, that camera focused fine. Sure I wished for a better focusing system in it, especially after the D3 and D700 came out. But the IQ from the 5D was terrific. I can't say that yet about the 5D Mark II.

I, too, sent mine back to Canon Service and they also did not acknoledge that there was a problem. But must admit, the focusing appears to be far better after coming back from them.

Using the camera in Live View delivers incredible detailed results. Feels like I'm using a modern day view camera. But like those large format cameras, it's a slow methodical process. That's fine when you're doing stills, landscapes, etc, but I shoot people.

I'm frankly disappointed in Canon right now. It bothers me that they always seem to leave out an OBVIOUS KEY FEATURE UPGRADE in everything they seem to introduce. The 5D Mark II-a better AF system. The New Rebel with a useless HD video frame rate mode. Most recently, the new G11 and S90, HD video...come on now!!! Even $200 P/S from Samsung and Casio now have it as standard issue. No I'm not a videographer or aspire to become one but I do have HD Flat Screen TVs at home and 720P video clips look great on it as opposed to the old standard that Canon stuck into the G11 and S90. It's Bulls***T!

I'm strongly considering jumping to Nikon. My issue is that I have soo many lenses and hate to take a hit on them and have to rebuy at higher new prices. Sure I'm also waiting to see what the new 1D IV brings and may go that route but only if they stop playing this ridiculous holding back game of theirs.

Hallie said...

I own both the Canon 5D and the Nikon D300 and the Nikon is a far superior camera in many ways. I still prefer the Canon because of it's color rendering, but it's auto focus issues are horrible, which is precisely why I didn't upgrade to the 5D MKII. I wasn't about to throw money in the wind until Canon fixed the problem and I am still holding my hand on my backside waiting. I hope the next time they get it right. If Nikon can do it, why can't Canon get it right?

J.C. said...

As a long-time 5D user, I've been seeing out-of-focus images for the whole time. Many images from the 5D are stellar in the sharpness and detail departments but many are outright and painfully soft. I've been blaming my heredity that has included hand tremors, my probable bad camera-holding technique or perhaps I bumped the camera enough to cause the focus to be erratic. I bought a high-priced, Canon IS lens in hopes my photos would improve. Guess what? No difference. I've been a photographer for nearly 40 years and have been confused and disappointed with the absence of consistency. This blog is the first I've heard of the Canon focus problems. I, of course, want to know if there is hope for my 'aged' 5D. Can anyone here suggest a sure-fire fix for my situation? Thanks, in advance, for any help. — j.c.

santa said...

I had a MKII on preorder but when I saw the AF system was the same on the FF system as it was on the XXD systems, I cancelled. I was hoping for an improvement. I also held off on the 1DMKIII. I have 4 Canon DSLR's and too many lenses to be able to afford to move to Nikon, but the next Canon I buy will be after I see it has a much improved AF system that works well. My 1DMKII AF is spot on. XXD and XD cameras should not get inferior AF systems.

John - Perth said...

I have the 50D and only a third of my shots are sharp (too many soft focus or back focus shots, even with lens micro adjustments and single focus point). Whether I'm using the 18-200mm IS lens or the 50mm 1.8F the only time I can guarantee sharp shots is with LiveView and manual focus! My next purchase will be the Nikon D700x just to see if the rumours about how good it's AF are true.

Tony C said...

I bought a 5D MK2 and suffered endless problems - including the lens falling off the body owing to a poor mount design. I've since sold the camera on ebay, and bought Nikon; tyhe best decision I've ever made. Life sucks, Canon.

Anonymous said...

It's easy for those of you with cameras that work to say the rest of us dont know what we are talking about. But, I for one will be returning my camera tomorrow. What a disapointment.

Anonymous said...

It's easy for those of you with cameras that work to say the rest of us dont know what we are talking about. But, I for one will be returning my camera tomorrow. What a disapointment.

Michael Willems said...

Thanks for this. My 1D MkIII and 1Ds Mk III also produce many soft images. Yes I know how to focus (I teach cameras and photography, for crying out loud) but the 1D/1Ds, especialy when using wide open lenses like my 35mm f/1.4L and 50mm f/1.4 is ***totally unacceptable***. Canon denies ("we can find nothing wrong", etc). Lost a lot of goodwill.

When doing available light shots I have to basically shoot every shot 5 times to ensure I get one or two crisp sharp ones.

As a working full time proi I cannot afford this. Alas, I also cannot afford to replace my cameras and lenses and speedlites etc...

If I could, I would switch to Nikon this morning.


Anonymous said...

Following a Google search for soft focus / no focus issues with my EOS 5D MK11 I came to your website via Karel Donk site. Reading through the posts I recognised exactly the problems I had been having with my camera – some sharp pictures/ some semi sharp and lots of completely out of focus images. I had the camera for approx 5 months and the problem developed over time. To cut a long story short I have just collected my camera from Fixation in London who have replaced under warranty the AF Sensor and mirror box assembly.

Hopefully this post will help other users pin point problems over sharpness /focus and thanks for your help – I have warned my friends who use the MK11 to watch out for what may be a ongoing problem with this model. ( This would have been an expensive repair if out of warranty – wonder if Canon would have put their hands up to the problem and repaired for free ? )

Like others I am a full time pro photographer and can not afford compromised shoots - hoping the images will be sharp. On big jobs I always use my EOS DS MK3 which so far has been faultless other than slow / poor autofocus tracking.
Also does anyone else find it a bad design that the diopter dial can not be locked off - it easily gets knocked off its normal position / ditto the main control dial to select TV / AV etc - have had several situations where it has rubbed against clothing and moved to a different setting - .

FYI and others I have had numerous ( 3-4 ) Canon and Nikon bodies go out of focus over the last 8 years – I don’t remember this ever happening with film cameras or maybe we just did not spot the problems so easily with a loupe over a neg or print ? Thanks Adrian

Anonymous said...

Who on earth uses 'Autofocus' anyway? On the rare occasion that i have, on both my 5D and 5D mk2 Its worked fine.

Both are awesome cameras. I was testing my 5D mk2 in low light with a fast lens last night and the results simply blew me away! The 5D mk2 is truly a milestone in visual creativity. I cannot say a wrong word against it and i've dug pretty deep into this thing.

Brock said...

Anyone tried AF Microadjustment?

The 5DMKII can profile 20 lenses each with its own adjustment. It profiles them by serial # not by the type of lens either.

Brock said...

Oh yeah I forgot, I've not had an AF issue to date with my MKII either, using junk kit lenses or L lenses alike. Check your AF mode method as well.. AI Survo will refocus as things move which can blow a shot. No one seems to have dug into the technical settings which govern how the focusing patterns work in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Well, when I got my MkII there wasn't an autofocus problem. However, there was a sensor problem with about 6 red "hotspots" appearing on night sky shots.
Camera was sent back (after a few weeks of ownership) and after a 3 week delay it came back. NOW, there's an autofocus problem in that it doesn't work at all except in full-auto mode (which I never use). Not happy with Canon service right now.

sstphoto said...

The Canon auto-focus problems are legion. I send my cameras into Canon repair on average every 6-9 months to tune up the focus. Once Canon determines you are serious in saying you have a lot of out of focus images they will fix the problem. But it does mean you will need to send the cameras back after every 20,000 - 35,000 images to re-adjust the focus. They will slowly get out of focus during use.

The advantage to the newer Canon digital cameras is the ability for the owner to adjust the focus electronically. I have read good things about using with the user adjustable cameras.

I do agree it it just a little moronic that Canon can't get focus right.

Anonymous said...

This and the inferior build quality of the 5DII are something Nikon should have picked up on and stolen the market share from Canon sooner (not to mention the slow 3.9fps). The D700 however still can't quite compete with the 5DII (in my experience anyway), and I won't be able to wait any longer to upgrade. Looks like I'll be focusing myself for a while or using the "LiveView" amatuer thing. Hopefully I'll be able to sell on the Canon when the D700x comes out.

Anonymous said...

Out of the box Canon cameras wont focus as well is Nikon but I would advise anyone who owns a semi-pro or pro camera from Canon (and Nikon) to use the AF Microadjustment features their cameras have to get the best out of their lenses. Once calibrated they get sharper images more consistently and it will also slightly improve the microcontrast.

Tony Fanning said...

I`m in the middle of a war of words with Canon UK at the moment. My 5D2 has focus issues. Not all the time, just more often than not. Try a different lens, turn off the IS, try this, try that. All with the same soft focus, intermittant rubbishness problems.
My 5D1 bodies are all rock solid and focus perfectly. I just wish the mk2 did the same :(
Hoping for a resolution soon though.

Robert Jueneman said...

I'be got a problem I haven't seen mentioned yet. I was trying to photograph balloons at the Taos Balloon festival with my 5D MkII and a Canon 28-300 lens, but at a medium setting, say 200 mm, the focus wouldn't lock in at all. Instead, it would simply hunt back and forth -- not going completely out of focus, but never stopping. The balloon was filling about 1/3 of the frame, and it didn't matter whether I selected a single point AF, or enabled all of them. The light was from over my shoulder, and the balloons were brightly colored against a mostly blue sky. I finally had to switch to manual mode.

Anyone seen this, or have any solutions? I saw the same phenomenon when I was micro-calibrating the AF, but thought it was due to poor light, and a low contrast target.

Bernard said...

Just to add to this and briefly outlining my experience..I had issues like most with my 5D2 for a long time i.e soft images and poor focusing especially in lower light conditions like wedding receptions. I sent the 5D2, 24-70 2.8 and 70-200 2.8 IS USM to cannon and all were found to be faulty in various area - dead pixels, not focusing correctly e.t.c. Canon "fixed" all three and offered to extend warranty. Upon receiving equipment, I found the focusing to be better in well lit conditions but still sub par in slightly lower light environments even when using center focus point. Main negative outcome is that the images look extra weird. I will full agree with one prior comment to the effect that equipment from the factory does not work correctly without calibration. Canon customer relations is TERRIBLE. They claim to execute on deirect behalf of canon president Canon U.S.A., Inc. Mr. Joe Adachi therefore issues cannot be escalated particularly after nightmare and repeat lack of quality lapses by Canon.

Andy said...

I am so pleased I came across this forum. I thought I was going mad. I've just received my 2 5d mk1s and mk11
back from canon for calibration because of my focus problems but alas it has made no difference to the inconstant focus problems. I know it is not me as I have tested the mk11 using a tripod and photographing the same object and out of 5 shots you would get at least one shot very soft, one pin sharp and the others
slightly soft.
Like most I have gone to far down the canon route to change over.
I know a number of pro wedding photographers who have moved to nikon purely for better AF.
Anyone want to buy a 5d mk 11 ?

Norman Guy said...

I was a Canon User for decades. I used nearly every Canon analog and digital camera you can image. As a professional photographer I took hundreds of thousands of photos, for international companies and magazines..... and I stopped using Canon. I can only encourage everyone to switch to another brand. I got severe problems with every I mean EVERY Canon digital camera I bought. From poor focusing to lenses that fell apart after a few weeks. I got a 30D, a 40D, a 50D, a 7D, and two 5D's and 3 of them stopped working for various reasons after less than 200 pictures. I bought heaps of equipment and every time I feared to switch, because it would be so expensive... thanks god I decided to stop that and use another brand.
Not only that the equipment was faulty, no, the worst thing is their support! They are simply not able to repair their own products. It is a complete mess. I have hundreds of emails, fighting with them about errors that suddenly disappeared whenever the camera was at Canon and "oops" where there again whenever the camera came back from what they tell "repair". I found out that they, in some cases, never even looked at the camera, telling me that soft pictures are normal and that the errors didn't show up when they tried the camera. I had to send them videos showing that the camera was faulty and even then they didn't care. Search the internet search youtube and you will find thousands of people having the same problems and discussions. By far more often than with other brands.
And Canon is still acting arrogant.
I decided to stop using Canon for all this reasons. They simply don't deserve our money!

Aleksander Torset Eriksen said...

"This is OLD NEWS!!! Been discussed in popular forums such as DP and read the manual on how to focus properly....mine focus very well and have taken more than 3000 plus images with 17-40mm L and 70-200mm L (f4)."

Yeah, but if you have a F2.8 lens or greater then? Have you read the essentials about DOF? The focal plane can be as shallow as centimeters to broad as kilometers. Fast lenses need good AF, something Canon have forgotten until 5D MkIII was released.. Too bad Im stuck with MkII and focus issues and Canon doesnt bother.. Gah

bill chapman photography said...

I have been a photographer for over 45 yrs using a Blad ( film ) before I bought the 5d mk 2. At first I thought it might be me but after taking the time to set it on a pod and being more than careful I have found the the camera just will not focus the way it should. So in fact I have a $3,000 paper weight. Can this be fixed ?

Anonymous said...

No. You can send in the camera & all of your Canon branded lenses and have Canon repair do the best they can to limit the problem. It also has to do with want lens and how far you are from your subject. My 85m lens when shooting a head shot is great, full length... it is sharp about 50% of the time.

The 5D MKIII is better but not perfect either.