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EOS 5D Mark II - problem depending on lens (need help!)


Let me preface with a couple of things (don't hate me):

1. I have inherited a mass of nice Canon camera equipment from my father, but I deeply regret him not showing me how to use this before he died. This includes a Canon 5D Mark II, numerous tripods and monopods, various bags, and three lenses (zoom lens EF 24-70mm, zoom lens EF 100-400mm, and a macro lens EF 100mm)


2. I have great plans to take photography classes this summer, but have only been shooting in complete auto mode thus far as I do not know what I'm doing - nor do I have anyone to ask (hence, summer classes).


Thus far, I've taken some great pictures of my daughter, scenery, etc. in auto mode and gotten some decent (well, to me) shots in the last several months. This weekend, I traveled out of town and took pictures of kiddo's archery tournament. I used the 24-70 lens (my go-to thus far). I packed the camera and lens in the sturdiest case. I uploaded the photos and realized most were blurry - some it had focused on the wrong thing, but many pictures were blurry even when all images were still. Thought this was odd. Then we went sightseeing, and things got worse. I would hold the button to focus/shoot, and the lens would go back and forth, but not ever focus. Looking through the viewfinder, it seems darker than usual (but maybe I'm crazy.)  If I held the button down, it would not even take the picture. Panic has set in.


Fast forward to now. I'm home, and have access to my other two lenses.  I google, but most things are unfortunately still too foreign for me to follow. Thought I would do some troubleshooting and switch out lenses to narrow things down:

1. The 100mm is working as normal - I can hold the button down, it focuses, I see the red boxes light up for the auto focus, it takes the picture. 

2. The 100-400mm lens - ditto #1. This makes me think it is a 24-70 lens issue, not a camera issue. (Right? Or is this still a possibility?)


I put the 24-70 back on. I turn the wheel on the lens to zoom in/out, but it only will go to 28mm (not all the way to 24 - I don't remember this being the case before). I read online that sometimes the gold connecting pieces may get dirty or not have a good connection, so I carefully wipe with a dry cloth. No change. It still won't focus. It acts like it tries (zooming in and out, gets blurrier, then a little clear, but never focuses). The red boxes never light up, and it won't take a picture. 


The lens is also set on AF (not MF). I have not changed the camera settings (to my knowledge?) I keep it on the green square autofocus box (because again, I never learned how to do any of this.) 


Is there anything I am missing? 



Ultimate novice but wannabe photographer



Sorry to hear of our loss.  It sounds like your father had an instinct for quality camera gear.  That is a great kit.  I would recommend adding the budget priced EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens prior to your class.


It sounds like you just need more practice, and a copy of the instruction manual, which can be downloaded from Canon Support.  I suspect the issue with the one lens is related to your camera settings.  Learn how to select just the center AF point, instead of letting the camera pick an AF point for you.


A camera focuses by finding locking on to contrasting edges.  When you allow the camera to select an AF point, it can occasionally take the time to analyze, and re-analyze, what every AF point is covering.  Once it figures out which AF point is covering the closest thing to the camera, it will then use that AF point.  I suspect this is your issue.


Because a camera uses contrasting edges to focus, it needs sufficient light to see those edges.  Many times, indoor lighting is not sufficient for the camera to properly focus.  Different lenses also have different MFD, which is Minimum Focus Distance.  The MFD of a lens is usually printed on the lens somewhere.  The camera will not be able to focus the lens on subjects that are too close, less than the MFD away from the camera.

"The right mouse button is your friend."


It's extremely good equipment.  But it's also a bit technical ... which means often it can do exactly what you want but you do need to learn how to control it.


I'll start by talking about your 24-70mm lens... but then I'll mention a few other things that may be helpful as you get started (how to control the focus system and focus point selection).


So about that lens:


The EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM is a great lens... I still have mine (there's now a version II of this lens but I still own the original -- the same lens you have).


That lens allows for full-time manual focus ... meaning you can control focus EVEN when the auto-focus feature is enabled.


There are two rotating rings on the lens barrel... and a switch.   The switch is labeled "AF/MF" and lets you select either manual-focus or auto-focus modes.  (Normally you'd leave that swtich in the 'AF' position).  But again... even in auto-focus mode, you can still manually rotate the focus ring without damaging the lens.  The reason this is safe to do with this lens is because the focus ring has a clutch which is deliberately designed to slip.  In other words the ring provides a bit of friction so that when you rotate the focus ring, it will move the focusing elements within the lens.  BUT... if the focus motor is trying to move the focus elements AND you are trying to adjust focus at the same time, the focus ring is allowed to slip (because it's a clutch) so that nothing will be damaged.


The focus ring is the one nearest to the front of the lens barrel.  There's a small window indicating the focus distance.  This particular lens model does not require power when manually focusing (not true of all Canon lenses but it is true of this one).  


Rotate the focus ring all the way in one direction while looking through the window and you should see the focus distance moving... rotate it all the way until you see the infinity mark (the sideways '8') and you'll notice that eventually you quietly hear the lens hit the focus limit BUT... you can still continue to rotate the focus ring.  This is the clutch ... so if you hit the limit you can still continue to turn the ring without hurting anything.  


Now rotate the focus ring all the way in the opposite direction.  Make sure you can focus from nearest to farther distance without any problems.  (on one end you'll see the word "Macro" in the window ... on the other end you'll see the infinity mark in the window... that's the full range.)




Now rotate the zoom ring.  The Zoom ring is the one near the back of the lens barrel (closest to the camera body).  At the 70mm end the lens retracts.  At the 24mm end the lens is fully extended.  This is a very unusual lens in that it has a "reverse zoom" (most zoom's are at their longest focal length when the lens is fully extended and at their shortest focal length when retracted... this lens does the opposite.)


You SHOULD be able to zoom from 24 to 70mm smoothly with nothing sticking, jamming, etc.


If you CANNOT use the full-range, something is jammed in the lens and it requires service.  Zoom is always manually controll by you (this isn't an issue with electrical contacts being dirty because electrical contacts aren't used to zoom.)


This us a very nice lens and it would have been rather expensive.  Even a used copy of this lens will sell for between $550 and $1000 depending on it's condition.  


If the lens has a problem, I highly suggest you contact Canon service and follow their guidance.  You may need to send it in for service and once they receive it and inspect it, they can provide a repair quote (they generally wont give you a quote over the phone because they haven't actually seen the lens and have no idea what may be wrong with it until they do.)





When you use it in 'auto' mode, the camera makes nearly all the decisions... you mostly just decide where to point it and when to press the shutter button.


The 5D II has a 9 point auto-focus system when using the viewfinder.  As you look through, you'll see an arrangement of 9 small squares.  One 'center' square and 8 others arranged in a diamond pattern.  Those are the auto-focus points.


In full auto-mode, you can't control these, but it WILL help to understand how the camera plans to use them.


When you begin to take a shot by pressing the shutter button, the camera will check all 9 points for something to focus on.  It can only focus on subjects at these  specific locations.  Also, it can really only select ONE of those 9 points (the lens cannot simultaneously be focused on a nearby subject at one of these points AND a far-away subject at another of these points at the same time.)  This means the camera has to decide which one to use.


The camera assumes that the CLOSEST subject to you is the thing you want to capture.  If you have a person say... 20' away from you (and that's what you want the camera to focus on), but there's a plant located at 5' away AND one of the auto-focus points (one of those 9 points) is on that plant... the camera will ASSUME you wanted the focus on the plant.





So that's the lens... now a bit about the body.


This is a pro quality body... which means there's a way to control just about everything (if only you knew the secret).  It was an extremely popular camera body among wedding photographers, portrait photographers, landscape photographers, etc.  but it was not a popular body among sports/action photographers.


Ultimately taking a class on how to use DSLR cameras is the right thing.  They'll likely teach you about "exposure" and how to manually control your camera.


In the meantime, you can immediatley get some control by moving the mode dial from full 'auto' over to the "program" (P) mode.  Auto and Program are extremely similar (both are fully automatic) EXCEPT that Program mode will let you override settings.  


There are lots of settings you can adjust (and reasons why you would choose to adjust any of them)... we'll ignore all except a few things about focus.


#1  The camera has three different focus modes.  Only two of which are real and third is sort of an auto-decide feature.  


The default mode is called 'One Shot' AF mode.  That mode is meant for use when you aren't shooting action photography (the 5D II isn't really optimized for action photography even though it can be used for it).  


In this mode, when you press (or half press) the shutter button, the focus system will wake-up, look for something to focus on.... and once it locks focus it will shut down and wait for you to take the shot.  If anything moves it WILL NOT update the focus based on the new subject distance.  It's not meant for moving subjects.


But one nuance of this mode is that it also wont want to let you take a shot until at least one of it's AF points can achieve focus on something.  This behavior is called "focus priority" (when you fully press the shutter button, the most important priority is to make sure at least one thing in the scene is focused.)


The other significant focus mode is called 'AI Servo' mode.  This mode is meant for action photography (subjects where the focus distance is continually moving).  I meanted earlier that the 5D II isn't really optimzied for 'action' photography even though you can use it that way.


When you half-press the shutter button in AI Servo mode, the camera's focus system will wake up and look for something to focus on.  But once it does find something to focus on (and achieves focus) it doesn't shut down... it KEEPS MONITORING the focus distance to that subject.  If anything changes, it will update the focus as needed.


One other nuance of this (and you have to be careful with this one) is that instead of 'Focus Priority', it uses 'Release Priority'.  This means that when you fully press the shutter button, the PRIORITY is to activate the shutter release (in simple language that means it will take the shot) and it will prioritize this as more important than achieving focus.  This means if you quickly mash the shutter button without first half-pressing the shutter to achieve focus... the camera WILL take the shot EVEN if it never had a chance to focus (resulting in lots of blurry shots).  


This behavior exists because in photography (especially in sports or action photography) there's a concept called the "decisive moment" ... it's that moment in time when the shot is most compelling... taking a shot any earlier or any later would not be as good.  This "release priority" means the photography gets control over the decisive moment.  But this also means there's a bit of planning needed on the part of the photographer... to anticipate such a moment... and half-press the shutter to pre-lock focus and track the subject until they wait for the right time to fully-press the button.


There's a third behavior called 'AI Focus'.  AI Focus says the camera will start out as if you are in 'One Shot' focus mode but after locking focus it will continue to track the subject to see if detects movement.  If it does, it will shift to 'AI Focus' behavior.  This means that you sort-of get the best of both worlds but the downside is that it takes the camera a moment to figrue out what's going on and how it should behave.  If you already know you are shooting action shots then it's better to use AI Servo mode.  If you already know you are going to be shooting still shots then it's better to use One Shot mode.  Use AI Servo when the shooting is very mixed and you aren't sure what type of shot might be next.



Use the AF-Drive button located on the TOP of the camera body to select this mode.  When you press AF-Drive, the front dial (near the shutter button) will control the focus mode selection.  The rear-dial will control the 'drive' mode (single shot, burst of frames, etc.)  This button wont work in full auto-mode, you must be in one of the 'creative zone' modes such as Program, Manual, Av, or Tv for this button to work.





So that's a bit about focus modes... but what about focus points?


On the back of the camera body... but located in the upper-right corner... you'll find a button next to an icon that looks like a square with a bunch of tiny dots in the shape of a plus sign.  That's the AF point selection button.


Push that button (it wont work if you are in full 'auto' mode, you must be in one of the 'creative zone' modes) then roll the main-dial (the wheel near the shutter button on the top of the camera) and you'll notice that as you do this, the camera highlights a different AF point.  Keep going long enough and eventually you get back to where it lights up all the points.  


You can choose to let the camera auto-decide which AF point it will use (by activating all 9 points) -OR- you can pick THE single point you want to use.    When you pick a point, you restrict the camera.  It now MUST use the point you chose.


What if that point isn't actually located on the subject?


If you use 'One Shot' mode (don't try this in 'AI Servo' mode) then you can use a technique called 'focus & re-compose'.  This means you point the AF point to the intended subject and half-press the shutter button to lock focus.  Don't let go.  Now re-compose your frame to how you want to capture the shot and press the shutter button to take the shot.  As long as you don't let go after focusing, the camera wont update the focus.  It focuses on what you want... and then takes the shot.




If you do this in AI Servo mode, the camera will update the focus.  The 5D II isn't really optimized for action photography but one technique for dealing with that is to configure the camera to use 'back button focus'.  That's probably more than you're ready to deal with right now (basically it means you re-configure the shutter button so that it doesn't focus... it only meters and takes the shot... and you configure a back button (typically the asterisk button) to be the focus button.  This allows you independent control over when the camera focuses.







You may want to invest in a few books that may be helpful.


First... if you still have the owner's manual that came with the camera, you may want to read through it.  You can download the manual from Canon's website.  The manual really is just a reference.  It wont do much to teach you photography... it's really just going to explain what each button, dial, and menu function does.



Second... a couple of books tend to be recommended for beginning photography.  Scott Kelby has a "Digital Photography" series of books (up to 5 volumes I think) but it's the first volume or two where you'll get most of the meat.  Another is Bryan Peterson's book called "Understanding Exposure".  


Both of these will explain some basic concepts using lanaguage you'll understand (they don't assume you understand all the technical terminology ... they introduce you to these ideas as you learn.)



There are a few books that go a bit deeper than the owner's manual.  One is David Busch's 'Canon EOS 5D Mark II Guide to Digital SLR Photography'.  There's a version of that book for nearly every camera model... that specific book is the one for your camera.  It goes into more depth than the owner's manual in that it actually explains a bit more about each feature.


An alternative is "Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital Field Guide" ... like the David Busch book it will go into more depth than the owner's manual.




Ultimately you can do so much more with the camera once you learn to control it and more importantly... how you'd even know that you should change some setting to get a better shot.  You are currently using your camera like a "point & shoot" and it's only going to provide photos that are roughly on par with what a point & shoot can do.  To unlock it's true potential will require a bit of learning and a bit of practice.  


Learning the basics is pretty easy... and you can spend a lifetime learning to master photography.



Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da