Banding and Pattern Noise – EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 50D

You know, I don’t know what’s going on with us recently. Not only do our latest products have some rather serious issues, but competitors like Nikon are kicking our asses with their latest products. That new Nikon D5000 is going to make short work of our 1000D and even the 500D/Rebel T1i/Kiss X3 (AKA the EOS Whatever). And if my sources are correct, the Nikon D400 is going to really give us problems. I don’t even want to think about the D800.

You’ll note that I’m late with this month’s Tech Tips at the Digital Journalist, and the reason for that is just that I am not very motivated these days when I look at our current state here at Canon. I sat down last week to think about why this is happening to us. We used to kick so much ass just 2 years ago. And I’ve speculated in the past that perhaps karma was catching up with us now. This is what I said back then:

Later tonight when I head for home, I’m going to stop by the local church first and take a little time for myself, maybe pray for guidance and help in these tough times. It just seems like there’s some kind of curse on Canon right now. I have no other explanation for it. How else can you explain all of these events happening so close to eachother? It’s just not natural. And now, we can’t even seem to be able to do the very thing everyone has come to expect from us: Deliver great image quality. The 50D failed, the G10 failed, and now, our flagship body for image quality is failing. Maybe it’s just Karma. Maybe we’re getting paid for delivering all those backfocusing lenses to people, or the bodies (even the overpriced 1Ds) and L lenses that won’t work out of the box, or for screwing people out of their warranty, or for letting them send in their equipment to service centers countless times without fixing anything and wasting their time. Sigh… I don’t know.

And more and more I’m getting convinced that this is what’s happening to us now. Karma is catching up with us. And the thing is, we’re still going on with misleading people. The latest example is the video feature on the 5D Mark II which I briefly discussed in the previous post. I mentioned a discussion thread there, and really, if you read that whole thread it becomes so obvious how we’ve set ourselves up with all this bad karma as a company over the years, and are now continuing to do so. Have we learned nothing? Are we that blind as a company? Even I get dragged into the whole mess and see myself lying about things trying to bend reality to our advantage. I gotta admit this, because frankly it doesn’t make me sleep at night. Many of our users and customers, fellow photographers, are out there who admire me for all I’ve done for them in the past, and I feel like I am letting them down now. Just look at the following comment:

Chuck, your explanation about the lack of aperture control on the 5D Mk II is total BS and you know it. You might fool a few amateurs with this explanation but everyone else is starting to lose all respect for you. I can understand that in your official capacity you have to make use of lies and deception to avoid a class action lawsuit, but I don’t expect to see it on this blog.

So please just tell us, how did this fuckup happen? Was aperture control originally included? Was it a last minute decision to remove it and you then forgot to update the white paper? Who’s idea was it to cripple the camera even more (beyond what you already did with the outdated AF system)? Please don’t tell me it was Maeda again…

Oh, and your apology for being insulting, is insulting.


This comment alone caused me to isolate myself in my office for 3 days last week so I could think things over. I don’t think I ate much during those days either. But after those 3 days, I knew I had to change the way I handle these problems. The way I’ve been doing it is just making matters worse and setting Canon and even myself up for a lot of bad karma. And the consequences are going to be a lot worse in the future if we don’t do something about it.

So yes, we’ve been putting out a lot of bullshit regarding the lack of aperture control on the 5D Mark II in video mode. I know the white papers also make you reasonably believe this control is there on the camera. We’ve been hyping up the video feature so much it just went out of control. Badly out of control. We should have waited with introducing video and have spent more time improving the sensor in the 5D2 and the AF system. I believe that would have given us a better return on investment, not just financially, but also in terms of customer satisfaction and related areas.

Emails keep pouring in about the pattern noise and banding issues on the 5D Mark II and even the 50D. We’ve just released a new firmware update for the 50D that’s supposed to fix the banding problem there, and are still looking into the problem on the 5D Mark II. This is another area where we’ve failed to deliver. The sensor in the 5D Mark II was supposed to be even better than the one in the 1Ds Mark III according to our marketing, but instead it is failing to deliver with some serious noise even at ISO 50 and ISO 100. Just look at what Lloyd Chambers is saying here:

These examples are from ISO 50, but results are similar at ISO 100/200/400 and beyond. Crops are shown downsampled to Nikon D3 (not D3x) resolution, actual pixels results are even more obvious, but harder to compare directly.

A striking difference in noise is evident in the very dark areas: the 5D Mark II is noisy even at ISO 50. Wedding photographers take note: noise is not an issue in a bride’s white gown, but a groom’s black tuxedo will be much easier to manage with the D3x.

And you just have to see the difference in image quality with the D3x:

5D Mark II Pattern Noise and Banding

5D Mark II Pattern Noise and Banding

Details and more images can be seen on Lloyd Chamber’s site. To be honest, that’s just very bad. I would expect to see this starting at ISO 400 maybe, but ISO 100 should essentially be as clean as on the D3x, as you would reasonably expect. There’s also a thread on DPReview discussing this problem right now.

In addition, it appears the black dot problem on the 5D Mark II isn’t really fixed. I’ve gotten some emails from people claiming that the black dots reappear in the images taken with the 5D Mark II when making HDR images and when stacking images.

I don’t know what they’re doing in Japan, but things have really gotten bad for us when it comes to sensor design. We used to be lightyears ahead of the competition. Now Nikon is beating us where we were the unbeatable champions. I can only explain this as one of the consequences of bad karma which we have accumulated over the years. I know I’m beginning to sound like John Harrington, but I can’t help it. Soon I might even start writing about Getty on this blog.

The thing is, those arrogant fucks in Japan really don’t like to listen. When I give them good feedback to consider and other advice, they end up doing what they want anyway. I told them recently to just put the 1D3 AF system in the 60D, and instead they’re developing a new 11 point AF system. I can’t stand their mentality of holding back features like this. This is one of the reasons why Nikon bodies are so much more advanced compared to ours right now. Nikon put their pro level AF system in lower camera models, so why can’t we do that? Had we put the 1Ds Mark III AF system in the 5D Mark II, instead of lying about why we didn’t, we wouldn’t be having all the shitfuckery with AF issues and soft images on the 5D Mark II right now! Now people are getting 21 megapixels of blur, in addition to the pattern noise. Fucken A.

When I look at the specs of the next 1D camera that we’re going to launch in a few months, I have every reason to be excited. Internally we’re calling this camera “The Terminator.” Those of you who have recently signed our NDA’s know what I’m talking about. But when I look at all the issues we’ve been having, I just can’t be very optimistic. Many of you who have been reading my blog since the beginning know how excited I was when the 5D Mark II was launched. Then the issues started and I got disappointed badly. So now I’m just going have a different approach to things and try to be more realistic.

Anyway, I’m off to work on my tech tips for April.

29 thoughts on “Banding and Pattern Noise – EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 50D

  1. You know, being in a high tech company looking at the list of issues mapped to the “highlight features” of recent products, I’d say that bad karma = marketing. When products are driven by marketing and engineering has to keep up, stuff goes off the rails especially when driven by marketing’s schedules. R&D must be pushed but not to meet specific “sounds good” metrics.

    There must be a tension between marketing/product line management, project management and R&D. If one gets the upper hand, then stuff starts going wrong.

    In addition, it seems like Canon has been in follow/react mode in the last year instead of picking a direction and LEADING.

    I could be seriously wrong since I’m not in Canon. But you’ll never be the king unless you lead. Lead in customer segmentation, markets, technology, quality, service. Pick what you want and don’t think staying still is leading. Staying still is falling behind.

    Anyway, just my thoughts from the side-lines. I could be and am probably wrong.

  2. Thanks Fake Chuck… always informative and entertaining… i’ve been thinking of switching over to Nikon, and if another Canon item in my bag breaks (my G9 and my 70-200mm BOTH died this week!), I just might have to.

  3. Last week I switch from PC to MAC – after 20 years of working on PC.
    My first SLR was Nikon FM 2, later I switch to Canon EOS 5 (film) then
    EOS 3 (film), then EOS 350 (digital), then EOS 400 (digital), then EOS 5 (digital)
    Canon today ????????????????????????????????????????????????????
    King (Canon) is dead – Long live the King (Nikon)
    AMEN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Fake Chuck, now you’re beginning to depress me. I love my Canons, particularly my 5D Mk II. I haven’t seen quite the noise issues Lloyd and others have seen, but I did accidentally do an entire shoot at ISO 3200 and every image was essentially unusable. I thought it was supposed to be better at high ISO.

    Like you, I hope Canon can somehow regain the dominance in image and product quality it had only a few short years ago. I’m getting tired of taking crap from lowly Nikon users. I much prefer dishing it out to taking it, if you know what I mean.

  5. Tony, believe me when I say I know exactly what you’re talking about. In the beginning I was ridiculing Nikon on this blog. Now all I can do is shut up and feel ashamed whenever someone mentions Nikon.
    But it’s not over yet, and that’s why I have this blog. Those fuckwads at Canon Inc. in Japan had better get off of their lazy asses and start working on some incredible new products.

  6. Llyod is of limited technical ability and a Nikon hack from long ago. I actually paid for one of his reports and it was so obviously biased I was embarrased for him.

    Noise is the result of pushing the shadows. Nikon cuts off information in the shadows – that is why they have zero detail and look better. Canon keeps it in and anybody with a tone curve can abuse the image. Most of the critisms of Canon (some justified since it is in the firmware) are the result of being too agressive in the shadows. All is easily fixed with RAW processing by someone who actualy knows what they are doing.

    This is not a critism of Nikon, I suspect they have chosen an approach which will suit most people. It is a critism of reviewers who either deliberately seek to mislead or simply don’t know what they are doing.

    I was on the floor laughing reading about research showing keeping cameras looking so much the same would allow people to buy more because their spouse wouldn’t notice the new camera, but since then this site simply has the been the purveyer of Nikon maketing BS.

    So sad, you had a good start. Perhaps you should change the by-line to Anti-Chuck.

  7. Chuck, I am really, really sorry about my comments making you lose 3 days. But you have to understand that we photographers too are very frustrated. Right now there is not a single Canon camera I can buy that does not have focus issues – never mind the 5DMkII that you deliberately crippled.

    Just to give you an example. Last week I did some photographs for a large car rental company. I used my 5D and 85mm f/1.2L. After the shoot the customer chose the photo they want. And you guessed it, when I opened it on my PC, it was out of focus. I emailed the client, showing them another photo, and asking if they did not rather want that one, because it is err… so much nicer. They were not falling for that, so I had to admit that the picture they chose was also a bit, err… motion blurred. Well, they were not impressed, just told me that there is no time to re-shoot and they have to have that one and they are printing it 3m wide and putting it up in their new conference room where people will walk right up to it and look at it closely.

    So you see Chuck, I am losing customers just as fast as you are. And this week my worst nightmare came true – I found out that my direct competitor just bought a Nikon D700. Do you have any idea how fucked I am now? Sorry, I have to go, I am suddenly not feeling very well…

    • These are tough times Barnett. Hang in there. Stories like these are what we need to talk some sense into the japanese.
      And don’t worry about the 3 days. I lost a few pounds too as a result, so that was positive. Last night I could finally be on top again, if you know what I mean.

      • Glad to hear you can claim to be on top for something ! Good work.
        How far away is a 1ds4 Fake Chuck ?
        I’m thinking about supplementing my 1d3 with a 1ds3 and 200 f2L IS, but don’t want to spend over AUS$10,000 on a body that gets replaced a few months later…. Although all the cameras Canon is releasing now seem to be seriously fucked up so the 1ds3 may be the last one they make that actually works.

      • david, the next 1D should be announced in a few months if everything goes as planned, but i would count on general availability early next year if I were you. We’re going to give priority to the bigger clients like the press agencies first. let us pray that Japan doesn’t screw this one up.

  8. Hey Barnett,

    Sad story indeed, but I am sure you will find some other customer.
    Personally I am slowly closing the door to Canon and I am going back to my first dSLR love (the Konica-Minolta / SONY).

    mr. Fake Westfall is a real honest guy and I am glad he has the courage to say it like it should be said.
    I don’t know if he’ll get fired soon.

  9. Fake Chuck,

    After reading this post, I starting working on images from a shoot I did last week. Lots of images with dark, polarized skies… and they looked stunningly crappy. Blotchy, banded, noisy… and shot at ISO 200 w/ my 5D II.

    Take a look at this photo:

    View it at original size. Notice the blotchiness (looks like the sky has the creeping crud) as well as the banding. If this was ISO 3200 or even 1600 I wouldn’t be so worried. But it was shot at ISO 200!

    So, I went into my yard and did an ISO comparison shoot between my 5D and 5D Mk II:

    View at original size. So, in this shoot they’re pretty similar, though I give the 5D a slight edge. None of the blotching or banding I saw in the shoot.

    I went through a ton of other 5D II photos I’ve taken recently, and the noise levels vary widely from shoot to shoot! Jesus! I can’t have that! What’s up? What’s causing this? The only thing I can think of different about the one shoot was that it was a very warm (90 degree) day. Is the 5D II a noise monster in hot weather?

  10. 1. 15.1 megapixel sensor. Yes, the high megapixel count is impressive, but keep in mind that, as you approach higher resolutions, you need to ensure the lens on the SLR can resolve that much detail. Sadly, the included 18-55mm IS lens is functional, but the high resolution really shows the so-so quality of the lens. Even if taken at the proper focus, pictures can appear soft with this kit lens. Shots I have taken with Canon EF-S 17-85mm and EF 70-200mm L lenses are crisp. I don’t have any gripes on image quality. There are some issues with noise on the higher ISOs that don’t seem to show up on the Nikon digitals, but overall, the quality is amazing for the price. Skin tones, textures, colors are reproduced very accurately.

    2. Digic 4. The Digic 4 processor appears to process/save the 15 megapixel images in the same time (if not faster) than the Digic III processor on the XSi (even in RAW+Jpg mode). I have also noticed that at higher ISOs, the sensor and the Digic 4 produce images with less overall noise compared with its predecessors.

    3. LCD. The 920,000 pixel LCD screen is large (3″), crisp, vibrant and fully visible even in bright sunlight. In comparison, the Canon XSi SLR (which the T1i replaces), also has a 3″ LCD, but with 230,000 pixels. The viewing angle is great as well and the LCD can easily be seen nearly 180 degrees around.

    4. ISO 12800. Canon and Amazon are correctly identifying that the T1i maxes out at ISO 3200. Some less reputable dealers are listing an ISO 12800, which you should disregard. The ISO 6400 and 12800 settings are expanded ISO settings. The pictures taken on these two settings are ISO 3200 images pushed to ISO 6400 or 12800 by the Digic 4 chip before saving to the memory card. These pictures are extremely grainy and contain a lot of noise to the point of only being usable as for snapshots or adding an artistic effect to certain compositions.

    5. Penta-mirror. That Canon is still using one in the T1i is disappointing. The penta-mirror viewfinder image is functional, but still noticeably darker than that of the penta-prism viewfinder in the Nikon D90 (which is the T1i’s main competitor). I really would have preferred if Canon had kept the XSi’s 12.2 megapixel sensor, forgone 1080p video altogether, and maybe upped the cost of the camera slightly to cover the production cost of using a penta-prism in the T1i. Honestly, unless you are massively cropping your images, or creating large photos, the difference between 12.2 and 15.1 megapixels really is negligible.

    6. Size. This is the same body as the XSi, and therefore a bit on the smaller side compared to other digital SLRs. I have small hands, so the T1i is comfortable for me. If you have big hands, I can see this being a very difficult camera to use over an extended period of time. If you haven’t handled a Canon XT, XTi or XSi, I would suggest you go to a store and hold the T1i yourself before purchasing it online. (I will upload a picture of the T1i in my hands to the user gallery for a size reference.)

    7. HD Video. Yes, the Canon marketing department made a horrible marketing decision and pushed the T1i onto shelves limiting the 1080p recording to 20fps (frames per second). Recognize this as a marketing gimmick that allows them put a 1080p sticker on the camera box. The 1080p @ 20fps is fine most times, but seems a choppy if you have a lot of action in the frame or are panning quickly. The T1i’s 720p video is recorded at 30fps and is clean, smooth, and sufficient for all but the most discerning consumers. One major criticism though is that the sound is recorded in mono, AND there is NO input for an external microphone.

    A lot of pre-production reviews of the T1i criticize its inability to automatically autofocus while recording. I wouldn’t put much weight in this criticism, mostly because neither of the other two SLR cameras with HD recording capabilities (Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D90) can automatically autofocus while recording either. What you can do with the T1i is pan/zoom the lens and then press the AE lock (*) button to make the camera autofocus on the new subject (all while recording). A problem with using the AE lock button to have the camera autofocus is that the microphone for the camera is on the front upper left of the body near the lens mount. Therefore, the lens motor noise is picked up just as much as ambient sounds. Even with my quietest Canon USM (ultasonic motor) lenses, this lens motor sound is pretty loud in video playback. Although, remember, you can always manually turn the focusing ring on the lens to get your subject back into focus. It’s not easy, but after a little practice, it’s not all too hard, either.

    Ultimately, you shouldn’t let the HD recording limitations sway you one way or the other. This is an SLR camera — not a video camera. The HD video is a great feature, but if you’re looking for something primarily to take video, look elsewhere. There are much better, cheaper VIDEO cameras out there which can record true 1080p.

    8. Record button. For some reason, the record video button is next to the LCD screen (the same button used for direct printing). The first few times you take video, you’ll intuitively find yourself using the shutter release button used to take pictures. The reason for this switch is that you can take a still picture while recording video, although, doing so will interrupt the recording.

    9. Battery life. My first fully charged battery only lasted about 250 shots (no flash), but all charges since have given me in the range of 500-700 shots per charge. I’m guessing the first charge had such a short life because I spent quite a bit of time learning the camera, its menus, and settings.

    10. Live View. I honestly can’t review this as I haven’t used it too much yet — I prefer using the viewfinder. One feature I can say is nice is that, on the LCD, you can digitally zoom in (up to 10x) on a section of your shot to ensure it is properly focused. This, and the fine focusing, can really help if you’re into macro-photography.

    11. HDMI cable. The T1i has an HDMI Type C output on the body to allow you to directly display pictures and video on an HDTV. A minor criticism is that the HDMI Type C cable is not included in the box. You have to buy it separately. It would have been nice if it were included, as it’s not an expensive cable.

    Conclusion. The T1i is a bit on the light end, yet the construction still feels solid. For the camera’s price point, you’d be hard pressed to find any digital SLR out there which gives you all the capabilities and growth range of the Canon T1i. The camera is intuitive enough for those new to photography to pick and learn easily, yet configurable enough for advanced amateurs. If video is not a big deal for you, then get the Canon XSi. There is very little the T1i has (other than ISO 3200 and a sharper screen) that the XSi doesn’t. Plus, with the release of the T1i, you can probably pick up a used XSi for a great price on eBay. My wife recently gave birth, and I’m not looking to record endless (never to be watched) tapes of video footage of our son, but I do want several minute clips of him as he grows through the years. I’ve always been more inclined towards photography, so this camera gives me a very versatile digital SLR that I need with the wonderful capability of recording HD video that I want.

  11. Pingback: Canon USA Fuckup Notices « Fake Chuck Westfall

  12. I would like to buy a single lens reflex camera.
    I was thinging about an eos 50d.
    Not sure now after reading your comments.
    What can I buy for around $2000 that takes great pictures With
    a great lens.
    All I want is a good picture

  13. Pingback: Fucked, for the foreseeable Future « Fake Chuck Westfall

  14. Dear sir,

    I am from Fail and Fail law firm representing my client Cannon. We demand you take down this blog immediately because we promise we have really big penises and if you don’t we will get them out in front of you. You have 48 hours to comply with this cease and desist or we will get them out in front of you in court, because we are really ghetto and you better be scared of us as we went to law school and you didn’t.

    Yours Faithfully,

    Fail and Fail

    P.S. We are serious. We really do have big penises. And no sense of humor. We also have a stick up our ass but we are not prepared to disclose to you whom placed who’s stick where.

    P.P.S. I mean it! FEAR US!

    (REMOVE BEFORE PRINTING: Do ya tink we sceered him b0ss?)

  15. Finally in December 2008, I sold 10 years worth of EOS gear for the Nikon D700 and Nikon F5 and glass. All because of the Focus issues. I never looked back and I never will.
    Great read.

  16. As I look in my bag and see a Nikon D3, a D2Xs, an F5, and a range of lenses taking me in 2.8 from 17mm through to 35mm, in 1.4 at 50mm and then in 2.8 from 70mm right through to 300mm I am glad I stuck to my guns and did not buy the Big White (Elephant) Lens System!

    My D3 autofocus is awesome – in any light, temperature etc etc. I have 2 CF cards on board, I can shoot at ISO6400 and get useable images.


  17. Whoa, I haven’t been here in ages Fake Chuck. You use to post cute little anti-canon campaigns and now you’re questioning the moon landing.

    Well I’ve got to say, after 15 years of failure after failure from Nikon, they deserved those 2 shining years. You’ll be glad to know Chuck that I was out on Saturday and in a crowd of 15 photographers only 3 were Nikon and it was fun watching them snob their way around with their stock lens.

    Chuck we’ll be ok. D300s/D300 are a thing of the past. The only real Nikon camera that is worth its weight is the D700. And I’m sure you’ve got something up your sleeve right? I hope Canon does the same to the D700 as its done to the D300s.

    I’ve noticed you’ve also got some typical Nikon zealots on this post. Just ignore them. They’re just happy to finally get their time in the sun. Haha his D3 has awesome autofocus and usable ISO6400. I hope he doesn’t sell me an ISO6400 image because I’d have to hurt his feelings.

    Keep up the good fight and tell these Nikon Zealots to take off the kneepads. 😉

  18. Pingback: One Year of Fake Chuck Westfall « Fake Chuck Westfall

  19. I’m not a sports photographer and I don’t photograph kids, animals, or other things that move quickly. I’m primarily a landscape and architecture photographer. I have no focus issues at all with my 5D Mark II. And the only way I can see any banding is to first view at 100%, a size at which I’d never print, then crank up the shadows. If I do that, and if I really study the image hard looking for banding, I think maybe I can kind of sometimes find it. But man, when I have to basically create a problem and still work hard to find it I’m not going to complain too much about it. As for Nikon, I owned Nikon film gear for years so when I bought my first serious digital camera it was a Nikon D100. What a piece of shit that thing was. I sold it, all my lenses, all my accessories, every piece of Nikon gear I had accumulated over many years, and bought a Canon 5D and three L lenses. A very expensive switch but I’ve never regretted it, particularly not with all the improvements and extra features of the 5D Mark II. Maybe Nikon has improved a lot from D100 days. If so that’s a good thing because they had a whole hell of a lot to improve.

    • Smooth move. Replace a digital camera from February 2002 with one from August 2005. So now replace your 5d with a camera from December 2008, say D3X, and tell us which is now a pile of shit..

  20. Pingback: Tech Tips and Emails « Fake Chuck Westfall

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