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Sunday
Apr082012

Canon 5D Mark III review

It's been almost three weeks since I've had my Canon 5D Mark III camera, and I'm very pleased with it.

As I mentioned in my last article, the key concern I had with its predecessor, the Canon 5D Mark II was the number of focus points.  With the new system of 61 points, 41 of which are cross-type, there is rarely a time that I cannot place a focus point right on my subject.  Especially since they cover a larger area of the viewfinder than ever before.  Here's an example where the new system worked well where the old one did not. I used spot AF on the Alexandra's eye using one of the focus points at the far left of the viewfinder.

 



The other area of concern with the Canon 5D Mark II and even the Canon 1D Mark IV was the tracking mechanism for subjects that are moving.  The new Canon 5D Mark III has a separate tab in the menu just for Auto Focus (AF), and in the submenus there are lots of options to tailor the AF to the exact scenario you are in.  What's nice is that the first submenus give you case studies of likely situations you might find when trying to track a subject.  You then can pick which seems the most appropriate and go with that.  I found this to be very successful.  But if you really want to fine tune, you can go into the submenu and tweak the system even more.  Rather than get into the details, I'll list several resources from the Canon website later so you can look at these materials yourself.  That said, here are a few examples where I found the tracking to be superior to past cameras.  

 


Someone entering the frame.  The camera tracked from the instant Zach entered and followed him every step of the way.

 


A planned movement where speed and direction where predictable.  Zach started at the waterline, and I tracked him as he walked toward camera.

 

An unplanned movement where someone moved in a erratic way.  Cassie was running along the shore, dodging waves as they crashed on the shore.

What else to say about the camera?  

The camera is beefier.  I have big hands, but I was surprised that the Mark III actually feels large in my hands.  It's not a problem, just something to be aware of.

I like the new Menu arrangement with submenus within each tab.  It feels better organized to me, though it can sometimes take more time than I would like to get from the first Setup tab, through all the submenus in AF tab to get to the Playback tab.

I like the fact that there is a lock on the mode dial now.  When I am shooting on location and moving from place to place, I generally sling the camera over a shoulder for the walk.  With the Canon 5D Mark II, it was pretty much guaranteed  that the mode dial would move away from the setting I wanted.  And in the middle of a shoot, with lots on my mind, I'd sometimes forget to check before starting on the next setup.  No longer something to have to remember.  Thank you, Canon.

I like the fact that I can use the same batteries that I have for my Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 7D in the new camera as well. There are so many little parts and pieces to pack, it's nice not to have separate batteries to add to the clutter.

Overall, I'm extremely happy with this new camera.  So much so, that the older Canon 5D Mark II will probably go up for sale this week.

Description of the Canon 5D Mark III on the Canon website.

Canon has some great information about the Auto Focus system in their Canon 5D Mark III AF guide.

 

Saturday
Mar312012

First impressions of the Canon 5D Mark III

I've had my Canon 5D Mark III for ten days now, and after three large assignments, am able to share my first impressions.

But first, the back story.  Over the last few years, the Canon 5D Mark II has been my primary camera.  It's been a real workhorse, creating lovely images for my commercial clients and for gallery prints up to 30x40 inches. 

The only real issue I had with the camera, though, was the focusing system.  Not that is wasn't accurate, it's just that it did not have enough capability for the lifestyle work I do.   With only 9 AF points, I often found my subject was not being read.  That meant I would have to change to manual focus to get a sharp image.  In addition, with lifestyle there is bound to be a lot of movement.  Tracking was just not something the 5D Mark II was designed to handle well, so I often had to rent a 1D Mark IV to handle those situations.

Enter the new Canon 5D Mark III with lots of important improvements over the Mark II. 

First, the Mark III has 61 focus points compared to 9 of the Mark II.  Of those, 41 are cross point sensors which are able to read both vertical and horizontal contrast and detail for focusing.

61 point AF layout with the 41 cross-type points highlighted 

In addition, the Mark III sports high precision AF points.  By design, each AF point has two sensors. By moving these apart in the high precision AF point, there is 2-3x greater accuracy than that of a normal sensor. 

More great changes.  21 cental AF points are cross-type with lenses f5.6 and faster.  And the central 5 AF points are diagonal cross-type and high precision with lenses f2.8 or faster.

Plus, in the smaller grouping of sensors to the left and right of the central area, there are twenty high precision AF points that work with lenses f4 or faster.  I love this because I use the 70-200 f4L IS for my lifestyle work.  So I get high precision with a lens that is half the size and weight of the 70-200 f2.8L IS. The image above was shot using the high precision AF points in the left side grouping of sensors.  It's something I could not have captured with the Mark II.

Another key improvement in my mind is that the AF points now cover 53% of the viewfinder vs 41% in the Mark II.  What that means is that the AF system covers more area to the sides in a horizontal composition and top to bottom in vertical one.  My fantasy is that at some point cameras will have AF sensors throughout the whole frame, but that is not possible with current camera design.  Increasing the coverage to 53% though is a big help with the subjects I shoot and for the way I like to compose.

There's lots to talk about, and I'll be posting more about the capabilities of the camera as I do more editing from these jobs.  I'm excited to share what I've learned.

Saturday
Mar172012

Best gloves for cold weather photography

Operating cameras in the winter can be challenging.  The controls on digital cameras can be small, so wearing bulky gloves won't work.  Over the last couple of months, I've been testing a number of different options for keeping my hands warm when still having the dexterity and tactile ability to operate the camera.

 Here's what I've found in ascending order of value as the temperature gets colder.

 

Mountain Hardware Power Stretch Gloves. These a basic liners that are thin and have great tactile ability.  The fingertips are seamless for great sensitivity.  Not waterproof or windproof, so best used in situations when it is not that cold, or if you only have to have your hands exposed for a short time.  These can be combined with their gloves and mittens, but I did not test those combinations. 

 

Next up is the Seirus Xtreme All Weather Glove.  These are waterproof gloves with fleece lining, and are a step up from liners alone.  They are a bit stiffer than a liner, but still have good tactile quality because they have a sticky surface on the thumb, index finger and palm.  I definitely could work for a longer time wearing these than a liner alone.

 

In the past, I have combined liners with fingerless fleece gloves.  REI made these for a while, but no longer.  What I found as a great replacement for that is the Swany Toaster, and it's even better than my improvised solution.  The Toaster has two components.  The first is a removable fleece glove liner.  The second is a durable oxford cloth mitten with a waterproof side zipper. What that means is that you can wear the liner at all times, and keep your hands inside the mitten when you are walking around looking for a location, or just standing around waiting for the light.  But when you need to use the camera controls, you can open the side zipper and peel back the mitten so you can work with just the liners.  An elegant and well thought out solution, with cinches at both the wrist and bottom to keep heat in and snow out.

 

Last up is an electric glove, the Venture Battery Heated Glove Liner. These stretchable gloves have good tactile ability and generate heat from batteries that sit in a pouch near the wrist.  For really cold days, these are nice to have because they actively generate heat.  They can even be layered under other gloves for more protection.  I have the model that uses AA batteries, but they now have a model that runs on rechargeable lithium batteries, which would have a longer life than the AA's and be more environmentally friendly.

 

Choosing gloves is a personal odyssey. I've been frostbitten a couple of times, so every year I look for the newest solutions to keep my fingers warm.  This years crop was very good.  From my experience,  the winner is the Swany Toaster.   I really liked the Venture Battery Heated Glove Liner for the super cold days, but the Swany Toaster had the edge in normal cold weather conditions because it combined the functionality of the Mountain Hardware Power Stretch Gloves with a warm mitten.  The name is well deserved, keeping my hands warm, and providing quick access to the camera controls.  And I didn't have to think about carrying spare batteries for long days.

 

I'll do another test next year, and report back again.

Saturday
Mar032012

Great new cameras from Nikon and Canon

It's an exciting times for photographers.  Especially when it comes to cameras.

Like any new technology, it takes a little while to get from the initial concept to a place where advances mature and start to plateau.  Beyond that, there are small changes, but they seem to be the icing in the cake.

It appears that we are approaching that plateau now in digital photography.  Camera manufacturers are starting to settle in on the number of megapixels they offer in a camera, the autofocus abilities and the ability to capture images in low light.

The choices are dazzling.  In the last few months, Nikon and Canon have both introduced new flagship cameras as well as their high end prosumer models.  Each has its target market and unique selling points.  For the professional shooting sports, reportage or lifestyle, both the Nikon D4 and the Canon 1D X offer staggering capabilities.  And for the advanced photo enthusiast, the Nikon D800 and Canon 5DMkIII provide great image quality at a more affordable price.

 I know I'll be digging into the details of all of these over the next few days.  Here are a few links I've already discovered that seem interesting.

Canon 5D MkIII info page at the Canon website.

Canon 1D X info page at the Canon website.

Nikon D4 info page at the Nikon website.

Nikon D800 info page at the Nikon website.

A nice comparison chart of the cameras and their features is at Gizmo

dpreview has a hands-on preview of the D800.

Engadget has a hands-on preview of the D4.

Ronmart has a hands-on preview of the Canon 1D X.

 dpreview has a hands-on preview of the 5D MkIII.

Saturday
Feb182012

Use RAW format to get a better photograph

 

I love using strong sidelight to define form and create a sense of depth to an image.  The problem with doing so is that the contrast pushes the ability of the sensors in digital cameras to capture all the information from highlights to shadows.  That's were shooting in RAW format makes all the difference.

 All DSLR's and a growing number of point and shoot cameras allow you to shoot in RAW format as well as jpg.  Jpg is great because it takes less room on a storage medium, but compromises the amount of information the sensor captures.  RAW holds on to a lot more information, and using a software like Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop Elements or Adobe Photoshop you can retrieve that valuable detail in the highlights and shadows.

 Knowing that I can recover information in post processing, I expose so that I hold most of the detail in the shadows, allowing the highlight to push a bit beyond what the histogram on the back of the camera says is safe.

 Here is what the file looked like in Adobe Lightroom with the highlight warning turned on.  Where you see red, detail has been lost and would show as pure white in the image.

 But by using the Recovery slider, I can pull back in the detail that seemingly was lost (and would have been if I shot in jpg format). Notice how the red is gone on the face now, meaning detail has been retrieved.  I've also salvaged detail in the bevelled window glass on the right, something I think is visually interesting.

So when you have a camera capable of shooting in RAW, make it the normal protocol to shoot in that format.  The argument for shooting jpg because of the cost and size of storage media is long over, so why not give yourself the benefit having more rather than less information to work with to fulfill your creative vision?