initial impressions: Canon EOS 5D Mark III – high-ISO noise performance

I have to confess something first – whenever an important camera is announced, I have just a cursory interest in the specification sheet. The difference between 40 AF sensors and 70 AF sensors … you know, that’s just a number on the paper. It never really tells you how the camera performs. And with the announcement of the details of the Canon 5D Mark III (vendor), there were a number of websites eager to list the detailed specs. Yay! Well, not really.

There might be some interest in the nomenclature, but what does it really mean that the 5D Mark II has the DIGIC 4 proce­ssor, but there’s a new DIGIC 5+ on the 5D Mark III. Those are just names to me. I can’t get excited about it, or even feign interest in the actual name. I’m much more interested in how the camera will actually perform. You can name it anything you want … but does the camera deliver?

Details for the photo at the top:
camera settings:  1/160 @ f2.8 @ 6400 ISO
Canon 5D Mark III (vendor);  Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II (vendor)  at 170mm

There is real excitement about the Canon 5D Mark III (vendor), since everyone is curious if it is that much of an improvement over the 5D Mark II. I have to say, I really think it is. It’s a massive improvement. The AF is more responsive. The camera *feels* better in my hands. The controls are better laid out … although the right forefinger still does too much work, stretching here and there, all over the top plate.

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Canon wireless e-TTL flash triggers / radio transmitters

A bridal portrait (taken during one of the photo sessions arranged by the Hudson Valley Click), where it is easy to see the advantage of using off-camera lighting.

The strong back-lighting is used as a way to highlight the background and have the rim-lighting etch our model against the background. Of course, having her turn her back to the sun also helps with not having our model squinting in the bright light. We immediately avoid unflattering hard light on her face. But we then do need to add off-camera lighting of some kind to cross-light her.

I used TTL flash here, since I often find this is the fastest and easiest way to get good flash exposure. The flash was diffused with a white shoot-through umbrella, and I used wireless TTL triggers to control my flash.

Let’s have a look at our current options that we have to trigger the off-camera TTL flash …

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Lea – moving portrait – Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS II

Canon just released the Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS II (vendor), an update to an already highly-regarded lens. I tried this lens out during a photo session with a model, Lea Liu. Instead of just photographs, I decided to shoot video and create a “moving portrait” of her.

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review: Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fisheye zoom (lens review)

Venturing out again after posting a few images with the Canon EF 8-15mm f/fL fisheye zoom lens, I tried for a more diverse range of images to show what this lens is capable of … and also compare it with the Canon 15mm f2.8 fish-eye lens to see how the brand-new zoom lens stacks up against the older fixed focal length lens.

I was brave enough to try this lens at 15mm for some funky urban portraits of a model, Kate. Bendy! The trick here is to keep as even as possible and not tilt the lens up or down, or else you risk making your subject look cartoonish. So I crouched down a bit, and worked at belly-button level, keeping the camera as level as possible.

camera settings: 1/250 @ f5.6 @ 320 ISO

I think the image works, but I do believe a fish-eye is a limited lens in terms of portraits. Even full-length portraits. As mentioned in the previous article on this lens, the fish-eye look can quickly feel over-done when there is a great number of images with the same look. The distorted view that a fish-eye gives, tends to pulls too much attention to the lens’ effect itself.

Next up, I photographed dance performers working at a promotional event.
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Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fisheye zoom lens

I got my hands on the brand-new Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fish-eye zoom (Amazon) today, and I just had to try it out. And what better place than Times Square in Manhattan. Enough tall buildings and billboards to fill the frame of a lens that gives a 180 degree view! Now, before I continue, I have to admit that even though I have a fish-eye lens in my bag, (the Nikon 16mm f2.8), I only occasionally use it. I feel that a fish-eye lens can be over-used very quickly when it draws too much attention to the distorted view that the lens gives, rather than the photograph’s content. That said, I haven’t had this much fun with a new lens in a long, long time!

[ updated: review of the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fisheye zoom ]

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review: Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

The Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II (vendor), is touted to have improved optical quality, faster auto-focusing, and much better stabilization than the much-loved previous version of this lens. Using the lens on different shoots and walkabouts and tests, I got a fair idea of how the lens performs.  In short, the lens is all that .. faster, sharper and with better image stabilization.  Noticeably so.

The bokeh of this lens is pleasant.  Easily seen in this portrait of my little model, where she is busy collecting feathers. The image above was shot at f3.2 (And to go off-topic for a moment: shallow depth-of-field is not the same as bokeh.)  Anyway, this lens has fairly pleasant bokeh. Other lenses might render the background even smoother, but the bokeh in this image above isn’t harsh and intrusive.

My main disappointment with the lens is that it looks so much like the previous version.  The focusing grip is slightly different, and the lens is a touch longer by a few millimeters.  They are quite hard to tell apart. The disappointment would come in that no one would really know you had just spent a small truck-load of money on a new lens.  Unless they bothered to read the numerals on the front lens barrel.  At least Nikon had the courtesy to make their new lens look substantially different.  Easier to swagger with the new gear. ;)

But the Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II (vendor), is definitely a good-looking chunk of glass!

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Canon E-TTL flash settings – Average vs Evaluative flash metering

With TTL flash, (or E-TTL, as Canon call their specific flavor), the camera and speedlight working together according to various algorithms to control the flash exposure. The E-TTL flash exposure will therefore depend on various factors – the tonality of the subject and scene; the brightness of the scene; and how the camera interprets the sections of the metering pattern.  Other factors quite possibly also includes data from the lens.   How these factors inter-relate, we can only make educated guesses; and many photographers have taken time and effort to do test shoots to see how the cameras and speedlights work.

To make things even more interesting, Canon offers two modes of E-TTL flash metering: Average and Evaluative. This is set on the camera body via the custom functions.

The way I understand this to work, is that with Evaluative flash metering, the Canon camera takes the ambient light into account when calculating the flash exposure. With Average flash metering, the flash metering would appear to be de-coupled from the ambient metering, and the camera is less biased by the available light.  (I’m quite willing to be corrected on this.)

So which E-TTL flash exposure mode to use? Average or Evaluative?
In the end, I work in a fairly simplistic way …

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hands-on review: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS lens

The specialty of a macro lens is in allowing you much much closer to your subject than a normal optic would .. with the ease of continuous focusing from infinity to the closest distance.  No need to screw in additional rings or lenses or reverse your lens.  A macro lens works as a close-up lens, and as a more usual optic.  And that’s the versatility of it.

The main feature of the new Canon 100 mm f/2.8 IS macro lens (vendor)  is that it offers stabilization.  Now this might not seem such a big deal to photographers who work with a tripod and photograph more static subjects – but the moment you want to shoot on the move, and play around fluently with your composition and angles – then using the lens hand-held becomes a huge advantage.

Instead of photographing the usual macro subjects – flowers and insects – I decided to test the Canon 100 mm f/2.8 IS macro lens (vendor), during a portrait session with a model, Annisa.

In the photo above, my settings were 1/200th @ f3.2 @ 400 ISO.  In testing the lens with and without the IS enabled, there is a clear difference in the crispness of the (handheld) images.  There’s no doubt that the IS works, and is a major improvement on the previous generation of this lens ..

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the Best Camera in the World ..

.. will be the one where the camera manufacturers allow me some input into the matter.  If only Nikon and Canon (and Pentax and Fuji and everyone else) would just gather around a table and listen to me.  If only …

When I get to handle a new camera, I often wonder why the manufacturers designed a camera the specific way they did.  It might be the strange placement of a button or control; or the omission of a feature, or even the deliberate hampering of features in the non-pro bodies.  Sometimes I just wish they would bring in a feature that I love on another camera.

Here are the gear-head musings on what I would insist the Best Camera in the World would be like, if I had any say in it.  (Sorry, but that means this posting will have a lot of words and no images this time around.)

Firstly, the Best Camera in the World would have to be a modern full-frame digital SLR camera (D-SLR)  for the combination of accessibility, versatility and image quality.

I recently moved from using Canon 1D mkIII bodies to using Nikon D3 bodies.  Personally, I think the Nikon D3 is the best camera that has ever been made to date.   But there are a number of pros and cons, and not everything falls in favor of the Nikon D3.  Therefore most of this post is a comparison between these two cameras, and which things from either camera I would want to see in the Best Camera in the World.

But before we even get there, I have to touch on something – Exposure Modes.  Both these cameras fall down sorely when it comes to how the exposure modes are accessed.  Pentax’s ingenuity here towers over them in this regard.

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Canon’s TTL flash vs Nikon’s TTL flash

One of the frequent topics on the various forums is the Canon vs Nikon debate … and one of the usual replies is that Nikon is better in certain ways, and Canon is better in other ways.  And the common wisdom that Nikon’s flash system is superior to Canon.  And this seems to be accepted as one of those general truths.

Now, having shot primarily Nikon for a few years (D100 / D2H / D2x), and then Canon (mk2 / mk2N / 5D / mk3), and now Nikon again (D3) … I have this observation about Canon’s flash system vs Nikon’s flash system … they are different. 

Disregarding wireless TTL flash, where Nikon is ahead in simplicity of operation and how much control you have – if we just look at TTL flash in various situations – I honestly can’t say the one is better than the other.  Just that they are different.  So I have to go against the common wisdom there.

But they are different in ways that aren’t easy to quantify.  Where I’m used to Canon’s TTL flash responding in a certain way during different situations, the Nikon flash needs different flash exposure compensation.  So it responds differently, and I have to get used to it again.

This is going to be a long post and I’m afraid the point of what I am trying to say might get lost along the way.  So here it is right at the start already:  When it comes to any particular TTL flash system, just become familiar with it.  You can then make it work. 
As simple a point as this … get used to how your particular camera and flash respond, and adjust your technique accordingly.

So, down to business …

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