Category Archives: Equipment

Photographic Myths and Platitudes: The Best Camera! (part 1)

Three manufacturers companies now produce widely available full-frame digital cameras with features that are attractive to folks who photograph landscape subjects, among other things. Two of them recently released new models that are getting a lot of attention, and plenty of photographers are interested in their relative merits and perhaps in choosing among them.

The three I’m thinking of are:

Three Full Frame Digital Cameras
Nikon D810, Sony A7rII, Canon 5Ds R

Here is a statement that a thoughtful, experienced, knowledgable photographer who has looked at the options carefully and selected one of them might make:

I chose this camera because it exemplifies the continuing evolution and improvement of digital cameras. It introduces useful and powerful improvements that offer the potential of a range of image quality improvements. The camera has the ability to produce photographs with outstanding image quality in a wide range of conditions and circumstances, and photographers who use it are going to be very pleased with what it can do. It has its pluses and minuses, and other cameras may be a bit stronger or weaker in various areas, but on balance it is a first-class and powerful tool that works extremely well for the most demanding photographers. I recommend that other photographers take a look at it!

The question: To which of the three (and a half?) above-listed cameras does this statement apply?

If you have paid a lot of attention to the passionate and hyperbole-filled discussions and “tests” that inevitably accompany the release of new cameras, you have read proclamations that any one of those is “the best” or even that it will transform your photography.  And it is possible that “the answer” is already obvious to you, and you are certain that one surpasses the others in obvious ways. You might even have come to the conclusion that a photographer choosing one of the other options is making a mistake, is probably unaware of the significance of the error,  and that his/her photographs are likely to suffer as a consequence of this flawed decision.

With all of that in mind, the answer is… Continue reading Photographic Myths and Platitudes: The Best Camera! (part 1)

Photographic Myths and Platitudes — That Sensor Noise is Awful!

Let’s say you are looking for a new camera. You want to make a smart decision, especially since you are sinking your hard-earned money into the purchase. You sure don’t want to make a mistake and end up with deficient gear. So you do the smart thing — you do some research. You look around on the web, find some articles, and you discover that there is a lot of contradictory information. Some tell you that Product X is wonderful, while others are adamant that Product X is pathetic and that Product Y is far superior. The Product X fans point out that Product Y is deficient in other critical ways by comparison to Product X.

You have some unanswered questions.

I keep hearing that Camera X has terrible noise compared to Camera Y. In fact, I found some photographs that demonstrate how bad this noise is. Why in the world would anyone get Camera X?!

Both sides provide “evidence.” Photographers love evidence, especially evidence of a failure to achieve divine technological perfection, and double-especially when the failure is demonstrated in a brand they don’t own. They get a little testy though, when the “evidence” makes their product look weak! (For a fun detour, look up the term confirmation bias on the web. Also, this is an important time for a reminder that photography is about photographs, not about cameras.)

I want to construct a little story for you based on “evidence.” We’ll start with evidence that makes a particular product (one that I rely on) look particularly bad. But before we start, you need to promise to read the whole thing. I’ll try to make it worthwhile.

OK, I promise to read it all, and with an open mind.

Good. Here we go.

Lots of people are concerned with the related issues of dynamic range (the camera’s ability to record image data from both light and dark sources in a single photograph) and noise (non-image artifacts that are, in a rough sense, sort of like “grain” on film).

I’ll begin with an example of noise in a photograph I made using the the new and very expensive Canon EOS 5Ds R, a 50.6MP full frame DSLR that Canon released recently.

045DsRPushedAbsurdly100PercentCrop
Example #1

Man, that is awful! That 5Ds R obviously produces terrible noise. It is so bad that the photograph is unusable, at least for anything other than an article demonstrating how bad it is! And the color is pathetically bad, too!

Yes. That image looks absolutely horrible!

Astute, critical thinkers are already wondering what went wrong here. Let me explain. Continue reading Photographic Myths and Platitudes — That Sensor Noise is Awful!

DSLR & Mirrorless: Flexibility and Adaptability

(Note: This is one of those occasional posts adapted from something I originally wrote elsewhere. This one came from an online discussion of the relative merits of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras and their abilities to work with various lenses and photographic subjects. I have edited the original slightly for its re-use here.)

With all of the recent (justifiable!) interest in new mirrorless camera developments from Sony, there are factors that may persuade some photographers to go slow on giving up DSLRs for mirrorless. (It may also convince them to do what I did — I augmented my DSLR system with a second mirrorless system.) As good as mirrorless cameras are becoming, in particular the full frame Sony A7r and newer A7rII, they have their pluses and minuses when it comes to real-world photography. They can do some things quite well – there are advantages in some cases to the electronic viewfinders, Sony sensors provide state-of-the-art dynamic range, the bodies are compact, and more. They do some things less well — native lenses are few, other lenses require adapters, the autofocus systems are slower than DSLRs, there are still latency issues with the viewfinders, and so on.)

In this context, I recently realized that one of the nice things about the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens and the newer Canon bodies (like my 5Ds R, which is very similar to the 5Ds)  is that they now autofocus (AF) quite well at f/8. The 100-400 len’s maximum f/5.6 aperture at the long end is no longer a barrier to getting 560mm out of the lens by adding the TC.

I’ve only tried the combination on one occasion so far, when the opportunity to photograph wildlife came up on a recent photography venture along the California coast. I put the 100-400 version II and the Canon 1.4x TC on my 5DsR and photographed two wildlife subjects, elephant seals lounging on a beach and pelicans doing everything from flying past to landing to sitting still. (For those who want more information than I can provide here, I wrote about the initial results in a another article.)

While I do not recommend that people whose primary photographic focus is birds in flight rush out and get a 5Ds or 5Ds R, a 100-400 v2, and a 1.4x TC as their primary setup, it does work decently and in some cases extremely well.  Most importantly, it means that my primary landscape photography setup and can also work very effectively with non-landscape subjects, including wildlife — a task that will severely challenge the best current mirrorless options.

The Landing
A brown pelican joins the flock on a rock along the Pacific coast of California

The combination focuses well and provides good resolution, even with moving subjects — though, obviously, not as well as using something like a 1Dx with a 300mm f/2.8 prime. It is good enough that I can track birds in flight and catch sharp photographs of them in motion. Continue reading DSLR & Mirrorless: Flexibility and Adaptability

The Canon 5Ds R — Autofocus ‘Torture’ Test

OK, “torture test” might be overstating things just a bit, but I’ve been meaning to check out a few things related to the capabilities of the autofocus system of my new Canon EOS 5DS R. A few years ago birds, especially winter migratory birds, became one of my photographic passions. While this camera is not really optimized for this sort of photography, I plan to use it for this purpose, as I did my 5DII.

The Landing
A brown pelican joins the flock on a rock along the Pacific coast of California

Most often when I photograph birds I use the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens. It usually provides enough reach for my purposes, it focuses accurately and quite quickly, it is sharp, and its flexibility fits my style of photography. (I often pause while photographing the birds and use the lens to photograph landscapes.)  It was my understanding that the 5Ds R added the capability to autofocus (AF) at smaller apertures down to f/8. This means that I should be able to add my Canon Extender EF 1.4x III tele-extender to get 560mm at f/8 from this lens.

A few days ago I was doing landscape/seascape photography along the Central California coast between lower Big Sur and San Francisco. On the final afternoon as we drove north we passed a small island where scores of brown pelicans had landed. Continue reading The Canon 5Ds R — Autofocus ‘Torture’ Test

The Canon 5Ds R — Dynamic Range Examples

Updated August 13, 2015 to add a second dynamic range adjustment example.

Ongoing development and refinement of digital camera technology continues to improve cameras and the technical quality of the images they produce. Color accuracy improves, dynamic range expands, sensor resolution increases, AF accuracy gets better, and so on.

The Canon EOS 5Ds and the Canon EOS 5Ds R continue this process. Their most notable feature is the 50.6 megapixel (MP) sensor, currently the highest sensor photo site density available on full frame digital cameras. (Nikon and Sony both produce 36MP sensor cameras using Sony sensors, and Sony has introduced a camera with a 42MP sensor. Note that the differences between 36MP, 42MP, and 50.6MP are less than you might expect.)

When it comes to dynamic range — the ability of the sensor to record a wide range of luminosity levels from very bright to quite dark in a single exposure — Sony is the current champion, and cameras using their sensors have the largest available dynamic range among comparable cameras. (Some MF cameras have more dynamic range capability than any current full frame camera. )

(All current digital cameras capture images with more dynamic range than we can display on monitors or in prints — the display media cannot keep up with the capture technology. Consequently, the primary advantage of greater dynamic range comes in post-production, where the photographer will find more useful scene data in darker areas that can be “pushed” or otherwise recovered while maintaining useful image quality.)

If you can get more dynamic range without giving up anything else, there is no reason not to have it. In marginal situations, that extra bit of dynamic range might enable you to get a bit more image data in a single exposure, while a photographer with a camera providing less dynamic range is a bit more likely to have to use exposure bracketing or HDR techniques (which combine multiple images in post-production), use a graduated neutral density filter, or possibly find ways to suppress noise in shadow areas of scenes with very wide dynamic range. That said, all current high quality digital cameras capture a wide dynamic range — much larger, for example, that was possible with typical film media. (Note, however, that no currently available full frame camera can capture in a single exposure the largest dynamic range scenes that you may encounter.)

With all of that in mind, I thought I’d share a couple examples of files from the Canon 5Ds R that have been pushed quite a bit. Continue reading The Canon 5Ds R — Dynamic Range Examples

The Canon EOS 5Ds R — Resolution Examples

… and the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens.

A few days ago I spent four days in the high Sierra making photographs. At the end of one evening I made a photograph that isn’t intended to have any particular aesthetic value, but which was intended as a test of something about my new camera, a Canon EOS 5Ds R.* So I pointed it up at the top of this nearby granite dome just as the last light washed over its summit.

The technical information about the photograph:

First, the resulting photograph — which is, I will be the first to admit, not a stunning example of photographic art!

Lembert Dome Sunset Watcher
A lone person watches the Sierra sunset from the summit of Lembert Dome

Next a crop from the same photograph showing a little surprise at the edge of the precipice. This is the same photograph, but this time a 100% magnification crop of a 600 x 450 pixel section. (You’ll have to click on the photos to see the 600 x 450 versions, since the design of this website slightly downsizes photos posted at that size.)

Lembert Dome Sunset Watcher (crop)
A lone person watches the Sierra sunset from the summit of Lembert Dome

I’ll share some other examples later that are better optimized to show the resolution potential of this camera — photographs using something closer to the diffraction-limited aperture, focal lengths not at the extreme long end, with a lens that has even better resolution potential, and with a subject that is not so far away. (The distance introduces atmospheric elements that reduce resolution.)

Not bad, I’d say.

Added later:  Someone asked how the 5Ds R handles the fine details of feathers. I’m sorry to say that I have not photographed birds yet — that is more of winter thing for me. However, while making landscape photographs this past week, deer wandered into several of my scenes and I went ahead and photographed them. The following 100% magnification crop (actual pixel size) was also made using the EOS 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II at 400mm, f/5.6, IS and AF on, ISO 100. The critter was in shadow, and exposure has been pushed here roughly a full stop. (Click the image to see the original 600 x 450 pixel image — the version on this page is slightly downsized.)

Deer — 100% magnification crop at 600 x 450
5Ds R, EOS 100-400mm f/4.5-f.5L IS II @ 400mm, f/5.6, 1/200, ISO 100, AF and IS in us

And one more example, also a 100% magnification crop: Canon EOS 5Ds R, ISO 100, 1/13 second, f/8, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II @ 105mm

100% Magnification Crop — 5Ds R & 100-400 v2 lens
Canon EOS 5Ds R, ISO 100, 1/13 second, f/8, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-f5.6L IS II lens @ 105mm

5Ds and 5Ds R Articles:

  • Links to the Canon EOS 5Ds and the Canon EOS 5Ds R in this article go to site-sponsor B&H photography with whom I have an affiliate relationship. When you purchase through these links your price is the same, but a small percentage is returned to help support this website.

Mentioned in this article:

© Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Canon EOS 5DsR Quick Update

If you are a Canon-using photographer you are almost certainly aware that Canon has released two new DSLR cameras in the 5D series, the 5DS and the 5DS R models. Both provide approximately 50 megapixels (MP) of sensor resolution along with some other improvements. The cameras seem to be an excellent next evolutionary step for Canon photographers who can use the additional resolution.

Canon EOS 5Ds DSLR
Canon EOS 5Ds DSLR

I have the 5DS R model and I’ve had the chance to photograph with it twice as of this date. I have been asked to share my thoughts on the camera, but it is still a bit too early for me to write a full report — I want to make more photographs with it and I want to make some very large prints from the files first. Meanwhile I can share a few things: Continue reading Canon EOS 5DsR Quick Update