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Part I: Getting Started with Your Canon ... > Canon EOS 5D Mark II Roadmap

3. Canon EOS 5D Mark II Roadmap

Most of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II’s key functions and settings that are changed frequently can be accessed directly using the array of dials and buttons and knobs that populate the camera’s surface. With so many dedicated controls available, you’ll find that the bulk of your shooting won’t be slowed down by a visit to the vast thicket of text options called Menu-land. That’s a distinct paradigm shift from early point-and-shoot cameras, which had only four or five buttons, and relied on menus to control virtually every setting you might want to make. With the 5D Mark II, you can press specific buttons dedicated to image quality, white balance, ISO sensitivity, shooting mode, exposure compensation, and playback options, and then spin a command dial or make adjustments using the multi-controller.

While it might take some time to learn the position and function of each of these controls, once you’ve mastered them the 5D Mark II camera is remarkably easy to use. That’s because dedicated buttons with only one or two functions each are much faster to access than the alternative—a maze of menus that must be navigated every time you want to use a feature. The advantage of menu systems—dating back to early computer user interfaces of the 1980s—is that they are easy to learn. The ironic disadvantage of menus is that they are clumsy to use.

Imagine that you are familiar with digital SLRs in general, but know virtually nothing about the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. You’ve decided that you want to format the memory card. A-ha! There’s a big ‘ol MENU button on the left side of the camera. Press it, and you’ll see a series of different menu icons, which, when you scroll through them, have entries for shooting options, playback, camera set-up, and customized functions.

In the case of the 5D Mark II, none of the menu screens you see scroll; all the choices available for that screen are shown each time the menu tab appears. So, with a couple clicks of the Main Dial, you spy a Set-up menu with the command Format as its third entry. Scroll down to Format using the other dial (the Quick Control Dial), press the SET (“enter”) button, and there you are, looking at the Format screen. A couple more button presses, and you’ve successfully formatted your memory card.

You didn’t really need instructions—the menu system itself led you to the right command. If you don’t format another card for weeks and weeks, you can come back to the menus and discover how to perform the task all over again. The main cost to you was the time required to negotiate through all the menus to carry out the function; while menus are easy to learn, the multiple steps they call for (10 or more dial twirls or button presses may be required) can be cumbersome to use.

Direct access command buttons are the exact opposite: you have to teach yourself how to use them, and then remember what you’ve learned over time, but, once learned, buttons are much faster to use. For example, to change the autofocus mode with the 5D Mark II, all you need to do is press the AF-DRIVE button on top of the camera and rotate the Main Dial until the autofocus mode you want to use is indicated on the top-panel LCD. To switch from single exposure to continuous shooting, self-timer, or other “drive” modes, hold down the same button and rotate the Quick Command Dial. No menus required—but you have to learn the location of the particular button you need to use.

Or, if you need to change the ISO setting on your 5D Mark II, would you rather press the ISO button and spin the Main Dial until the desired value appears on the LCD—or would you prefer tapping a menu button, using cursor keys to locate the ISO setting submenu, pressing a button to select the ISO menu, navigating to the ISO value you want, and then pressing an OK button to confirm your choice? Yet, that’s the procedure mandated by countless point-and-shoot digital cameras and more than a few digital SLRs. The Canon dedicated button approach (also used by other digital SLR vendors) is a much better design.

So, if you want to operate your 5D Mark II efficiently, you’ll need to learn the location, function, and application of all these controls. What you really need is a street-level roadmap that shows where everything is, and how it’s used. But what Canon gives you in the user’s manual is akin to a world globe with an overall view and many cross-references to the pages that will tell you what you really need to know. Check out the Nomenclature pages of the Canon 5D Mark II manual (pages 16 and 17), which offer two tiny black-and-white line drawings of the camera body that show front, back, two sides, and the top and bottom of the 5D Mark II. There are dozens of callouts pointing to various buttons and dials. If you can find the control you want in this cramped layout, you’ll still need to flip back and forth among multiple pages (individual buttons can have several different cross-references!) to locate the information.

Most other third-party books follow this format, featuring black-and-white photos or line drawings of front, back, and top views, and many labels. I originated the up-close-and-personal full-color, street-level roadmap (rather than a satellite view) that I use in this book and my previous camera guidebooks. I provide you with many different views and lots of explanation accompanying each zone of the camera, so that by the time you finish this chapter, you’ll have a basic understanding of every control and what it does. I’m not going to delve into menu functions here—you’ll find a discussion of your Setup, Shooting, and Playback menu options in Chapters 7 and 8. Everything here is devoted to the button pusher and dial twirler in you.

You’ll also find this “roadmap” chapter a good guide to the rest of the book, as well. I’ll try to provide as much detail here about the use of the main controls as I can, but some topics (such as autofocus and exposure) are too complex to address in depth right away. So, I’ll point you to the relevant chapters that discuss things like set-up options, exposure, use of electronic flash, and working with lenses with the occasional cross-reference.

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