Category Archives: Reviews

Looking at Canon 5Ds Raw Files: Noise and Dynamic Range

(Note: The images were not included in the original post, which instead included text links only. The images are now part of the post.)

I just took a break and had time to play with a Canon 5Ds raw file that I found on the web. (Anyone wanting to look at files from the 5Ds should head on over to that link right now — there are something like 90+ files to look at.) It was made with the 5Ds at ISO 100, f/8, 1/400 second. It isn’t clear what lens was used, but it appears that it could have been either the 50mm f/1.8 STM lens or the 24-70mm f/2.8 II.

I opened the file in ACR. I made no adjustments to curves, color, etc. I let ACR automatically correct for CA. Default ACR sharpening used at 15 with masking at 50.

I brought the converted file into Photoshop as a smart object to allow for non-destructive re-editing in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). I confirmed that shadow areas along the waterline of the boats have luminosity values of 0 — I did this by checking the Lab color representation and watching the L value, which hits 0 in several spots. The general area is shown by the rectangle in the following image: Continue reading Looking at Canon 5Ds Raw Files: Noise and Dynamic Range

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens — A First Look

(Note: Updated 12/24/14 to add thoughts about “who should buy” this lens.)

Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS IICanon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II

Canon recently released the successor to their venerable 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens, the new EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens. I have relied on the older model for some time now… but my copy of the new lens arrived a few days ago. Now that I have used it for a day of wildlife and landscape photography I would like to share some first impressions

Four Sandhill Cranes
Four Sandhill Cranes

Four Sandhill Cranes. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 22, 2014.
© Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell — all rights reserved.

First, a few technical details. The new lens covers essentially the same range as the older model — a focal length range of 100mm to 400mm and a variable aperture range of f/4.5 (at 100mm) to f/5.6 (at 400mm). Both lenses use a zoom mechanism that extends at longer focal lengths. However, there are some technical differences:

Continue reading Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens — A First Look

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS: First Thoughts

(This article has been slightly updated since it was originally posted.)

Canon has released a new ultra-wide zoom lens, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS lens.*  There has been a lot of excitement about the lens among Canon shooters since it addresses some weaknesses in their previous lenses of this type, including the EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II and the venerable EF 17-40mm f/4 L. Each of those can produce fine photographs, but each also has its “issues,” mostly related to corner resolution. Early tests of the new 16-35mm f/4 L IS suggest that it performs much better in the corners. It also adds the “IS” (image-stabiliztion) feature, which is useful if you use it for handheld photography the

With this in mind, I did something I rarely do, and I purchased a newly-released lens right when it came out. Mine arrived last week, but I did not have a good opportunity to put it to real photography use until several days later when I took it out for a morning of redwood forest photography at the Muir Woods National Monument. (I did snap a few promising handheld shots right after I unpacked it, but such things rarely tell the whole story.) I did something else that is a bit unusual for me — I stuck the ultra-wide zoom on the camera at Muir Woods and shot with only that lens instead of the longer focal lengths that I more typically use.

Ocean View Trail
Ocean View Trail

Corner performance has been one of the main issues with the older Canon ultra-wide zoom lenses. The 17-40mm f/4 is known for soft corners at the largest apertures. It is always sharp in the center, but I most often shot mine stopped down, typically at f/16 for landscape photography. At smaller apertures the corners improve a lot, but they are never as good as what we see on more recent lenses with short focal lengths.  Canon’s f/2.8 16-35 L II starts out fairly well at f/2.8 — in fact, its performance at f/2.8 is arguably its chief virtue — but performance stopped down isn’t any better than that of the less expensive 17-40. The promise of the new 16-35 f/4 lens, and the assessment in many early articles about it, is that it offers significantly better corner performance. Many who used early copies reported that it provides good resolution all the way into the corners, even wide open at f/4 and at all focal lengths. So I wanted to try it out in real-world shooting of the sort I’m most likely to do with such a lens, and see how it stacks up against my 17-40 lens on my full frame camera. Continue reading Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS: First Thoughts

Taking Stock of the Fujifilm X-E1, X-E2, X-T1 Mirrorless Cameras

Turret Skylight, SFMOMA
Turret Skylight, SFMOMA (San Francisco) – X-E1 with 14mm f/2.8 lens

NOTE: Since I first wrote this article, Fujifilm has released additional X-trans sensor camera bodies and more lenses. Fujifilm has been very aggressive about continuously improving the line as reflected in the release schedule and their frequent firmware updates to add and improve camera functions. From time to time I will add updates to the beginning of this article to incorporate information about the newer equipment. The main original article continues below the “updates.”

If this article helps you make a purchase decision, I would be grateful if you would use the links found here to make your purchase. Doing so help support this website and it does not increase your costs at all. Thanks!

Update 2/23/14

During the time that I’ve used a Fujifilm X-trans sensor camera, I’ve wondered about what level of print quality I might get – in particular, I’ve wondered how large I could print and still obtain excellent results. I have made some prints at 12″ x 18″ size, which is my usual size for proof prints, and they look great. A while ago I printed the “Spring Trees, Waterfall Mist” photograph (seen below in this article) at 15″ x 20″ with very good results. This past week I made an 18″ x 24″ print of a busy Manhattan “urban landscape” – and it really looks great! Detail is excellent, tonal quality is beautiful, noise is a non-existent issue, and the 16MP files, carefully post-processed, produce wonderful quality.

While there is no question in my mind that prints from full frame cameras can, all else being equal, be successful at larger sizes than those made from cropped sensor originals, there is also no question in my mind that the Fujifilm system can produce prints that are as good or better than those from any other cropped sensor system. (Unfortunately, there is no way to show you an actual print in an article on the web… ;-)

Update 1/28/14

Fujifilm has announced their new X-T1 Mirrorless Camera. (It is available now, but I’ll leave the original wording here.) The rumors regarding this new camera have been rampant for the past few weeks, and here is what we now know:

  • 16.3 MP X-trans 1.5X cropped sensor
  • ISO 100-51200
  • 8fps continuous shooting
  • Improved hybrid AF system incorporating contrast- and phase detection methods
  • Improved manual focus with digital split image and focus peaking
  • Faster, higher density, and larger electronic viewfinder
  • 1080p HD Video
  • WiFi
  • Expanded manual control dials for shutter speed, +/- 3 EV exposure compensation, ISO,  aperture (on many lenses), and more.

A number of features get my attention. My Fujifilm X-E1 works well at high ISO values, but this camera appears to take the much farther extending the lowest ISO from 200 to 100 and the highest all the way to 51600. The specifications and early reports on the web suggest that the AF system has been significantly improved, even beyond those improvements on the X-E2. The added manual controls are going to help a lot for the sorts of photography that many of us do with this sort of camera, where we need to change settings quickly and without going through menus. There are lots of other improvements, large and small, too numerous to mention here.

I’m very interested in this camera. My X-E1 is a wonderful little picture-making tool that complements my larger DSLR system – and the X-T1 sounds like it has been designed to significantly improve on this effective concept. (There is a very good chance that I’m going to get one.)

The camera is available at site sponsor B&H:

Update 10/22/13

In October 2013 Fujifilm announced an updated version of the X-E1, the X-E2, with availability scheduled for sometime in the second half of November 2013. (You may pre-order the new camera using links near the end of this page. Update on 11/21/13: Some versions of the camera are now shipping. Check the links for more details.) I have not had a chance to use the new body as of this writing, but here is some information about the new x-E2, along with some thoughts about it relative to the prior X-E1.

 There is a perception that some camera manufacturers are slow to incorporate new technologies into their cameras or to make updates to improve the functionality of existing models. Fujifilm, on the other hand, seems to take a very different approach. They have frequently improved and updated the earlier X-series bodies by way of firmware updates that have offered significant improvements and added new features. This seems to carry over into the introduction of new models as well, and the X-E2 appears to incorporate a number of useful and important updates. Much of what follows is, as alluded to above, based on specification sheets and other writing about the camera since I have not used it as of this date.

  • The camera’s physical design appears to be very similar to that of the X-E1 – a casual observer might not notice the differences. A few control buttons have been moved, and there are now separate AF and AE buttons. The display is a bit wider.
  • The camera continues to use a 16MP 1.5x cropped format X-trans sensor, which I find to be a fine performer – the marketing material now refers to the “16.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor,” but time will tell whether the fundamental image quality is significantly different. Fujifilm says that image processing has been improved to include a Lens Modulation Optimizer function that compensates for image issues such as diffraction blur at smaller apertures along with other sorts of image aberrations. It will be interesting to see how the diffraction blur reduction software performs, as this becomes more of an issue with cameras with small sensors.
  • An improved (e.g. faster) “EXR Processor II” is said to improve camera performance in many ways – quicker startup, shorter shutter lag, burst mode shooting, and more.
  • The video performance has been improved. Video was not a strong point of the X-E1, but the X-E2 supports higher frame rates and more formats including 1080p video.
  • Fujifilm reports that the AF system has been significantly updated. It is said to use both contrast-detection and phase-detection systems (each of which has advantages in various situations) to improve AF performance  – this is said to help with both low light  conditions and moving subjects. This is an important area since mirrorless camera AF systems generally do not perform as well with moving subjects. 
  • The camera incorporates a “digital split image” system for manual focus, which seems to recall the old split-image systems of film cameras, along with a focus peaking – both of which can assist with accurate manual focus.
  • The camera has built-in wifi connectivity. Fujifilm says this will allow connectivity to “Android or iOS mobile device[s]” to browse images remotely and to transfer images. It is unclear whether this works with other devices such as laptops.
  • The X-E2 uses the same battery as the X-E1, which might be an important issue for anyone considering an upgrade or using the X-E2 along with other X-series cameras.

What does this all mean? Should you sell your X-E1 and get an X-E2? Should you pre-order an X-E2 or wait and see? What else might Fujifilm have up their collective sleeves? The answers are not all clear, but some initial conclusions might be drawn.

  • The X-E2 appears to be a solid update to the X-E1, addressing a list of specific areas for improvement identified by users of the X-E1: improvements to both automatic and manual focusing, updating the video performance, upgrading the processor, tweaking the physical interface. 
  • For many users, the introduction of the X-E2 provides an excellent window of opportunity to save money on the X-E1. Currently the X-E1 body is available for $799 (the X-E2 is $200 more and not available yet) and the X-E1/18-55mm lens bundle is only $999 ($400 less than the same bundle with the X-E2). 
  • If you are considering your first camera of this type and cost isn’t a constraint, the X-E2 seems well worth it. If you want to make sure you get one soon, I recommend pre-ordering now, since the initial deliveries are likely to sell quickly.
  • If you already have a X-E1, the answer to the question of whether you should update to the X-E1 is probably, “It depends.” If video  is important to you or if you need improved focus performance performance, upgrading from the X-E1 to the X-E2 may be worthwhile. On the other hand, if you mostly do still photography and you are happy with the X-E1, it probably makes sense to continue to use it for now.
  • (If you are considering a new camera or an upgrade, please see the links near the end of this page.)

What am I going to do? My situation is perhaps unique. I’m quite happy with the X-E1, which I use in conjunction with a Canon DSLR system. Given the way I use it, I would probably not update for the improvements in still-photogaphy. However… I am also working on a project right now that involves video, and it may end up making more sense for me to move to a X-E2 as a way to get better video performance with the Fujifilm lenses that I already own. The improved AF performance – and early reports indicate the improvement is real and significant – also encourages me to consider the upgrade.

And now, back to the original article about the X-E1, much of which is still very relevant whether you are looking at the X-E1 or the X-E2… especially the extensive discussions of lenses for the X-series system, functional aspects of the smaller camera as a general concept, and more. Enjoy!

Taking Stock of the Fujifilm X-E1 Mirrorless Camera

Until recently I have photographed almost exclusively with DSLR gear – full frame for perhaps eight years, cropped sensor before that, and 35mm film back in the prehistoric era – with a varying set of lenses, a large tripod, and others bits and pieces of support gear. This gear works very well for me, but it is not small or light. With the prospect of a three-week overseas trip ahead of me, earlier this year I decided to look at smaller and lighter options that might work for the specific purposes I had in mind. My basic criteria included:

  • Excellent image quality. While I was willing to consider some of the excellent four thirds systems, I was more inclined to get an APS-C cropped sensor format body. In addition, I needed a system that would provide excellent lens quality across a range of focal lengths.
  • Small size and light weight. Because our intention was to limit ourselves to carry-on luggage, weight and size of body, lenses, and associated gear were an issue. My goal was to be able to carry my entire kit in a small messenger bag with room left over for other equipment such as a small laptop, a small hard drive, chargers and adapters, and other gear.
  • Good functionality and reliability. The camera and lenses needed to be of high quality and to cover the range of needs that I might have in terms of focal lengths and apertures. Interchangeable lenses would be necessary. The gear needed to be reliable and relatively quick and easy to use. Since I would be shooting almost exclusively handheld, something with the responsiveness and simplicity of a street photography camera would make sense.

The options

Fortunately, we seem to be at a point in the development of digital photography equipment where the manufacturers are starting to move beyond the two primary choices of either DSLR or point and shoot (albeit “glorified” point and shoot in some cases). Recently quite a number of small and high quality digital cameras have become available from a variety of manufacturers. They range from so-called mirror-less systems with electronic viewfinders (EVF) to small DSLR-style cameras, with a bunch of interesting variations in between. Some use the smaller four thirds sensors, some use the APS-C “cropped sensor” system, and we are starting to see some (very expensive!) with full frame sensors.

(Some might wonder why I didn’t just look at the smallest Canon – since that’s the DSLR brand I use – APS-C DSLR cameras such as the t-series bodies or the newer Canon EOS Rebel SL1. These could be fine options, but they are still larger than the mirrorless options, and they would require me to use my rather large DSLR lenses. Even the smaller DSLRs plus their larger lenses are heavier and bulkier than the alternatives.)

In the end, I probably looked most seriously at systems from Olympus, Sony, and Fujifilm. To make a set of broad generalizations – the Olympus system may have initially been the best designed (I held an OMD and was very impressed with the feel of the thing), Sony may the most innovative, and Fujifilm seems to take a sort of “retro” approach that ties more closely to the old-school film rangefinder cameras. Any of the three could have been fine options, I think. In the end, I decided against the Olympus because I prefer the larger APS-C sensor, and against the Sony because I wasn’t as comfortable with the quality of the then-available lenses, and for the Fujifilm system on account of the larger sensor, the high quality lenses, and the comfortable old-school design.

The choice

This meant that my remaining choice was between the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and the X-E1. (There is also a fixed-focal-lenght X100s, but that wasn’t on my list since I want to use interchangeable lenses. Fujifilm has now also released the smaller X-M1, a camera targeting the “consumer” market and selling at a lower price.) The “X” in the names of these cameras refers to the so-called “X-trans” sensor design. While most sensors on current digital cameras use a repeating matrix of four photo sites (in groups containing one blue, one red, and two green sensors), the X-trans sensors use a different layout that covers a large area before repeating. Although it is been erroneously said to be “random” and more like “film grain,” this isn’t really the case, though it is true that the inevitable repeating photo site pattern has a more complex pattern. Continue reading Taking Stock of the Fujifilm X-E1, X-E2, X-T1 Mirrorless Cameras

More Thoughts About the Fujifilm X-E1

(Note: Chuq von Rospach recently tried out a Fujifilm X-Pro1 and wrote about shoot he did with the camera, musing about whether or not it would work for him as a landscape photography camera. I wrote a lengthy comment in reply and since I think it might be useful to others considering these interesting Fujifilm mirrorless cameras, I have decided to share the comment again here, with a few edits. Do note that the X-Pro1 that he used is not the same camera as the X-E1 that I use.)

I’ve been using the Fujifilm X-E1 Digital Camera quite a bit for the past few months. This camera is a mirrorless “rangefinder style” body with an electronic viewfinder. There is also a model with a hybrid electronic and optical viewfinder, the Fujifilm X-Pro1. A decent set of Fujinon lenses is now available with more on the way – see a list at the end of this post. (There’s an earlier report here at my blog – see Fujifilm X-E1: From DSLR to Mirrorless – that article gives a bit more background about these cameras and their unique X-trans sensor.  It needs updating now that I have a lot more usage of the camera under my belt, and I plan to write this real review soon.)

I think that the main issue with trying to use the X-Pro1 or the X-E1 as a landscape/nature camera is that this is not really what it is best suited to doing. That said, it could make an excellent lightweight and small backpacker’s or hiker’s camera for those who aren’t trying to do in their photography what I’m trying to do, but who want the potential of very good image quality. The image quality from this camera is quite good considering its diminutive size and weight, but not what you’ll get from a full frame DSLR for sure.

I find that this camera is great for street shooting and other sorts of “on the go” photography done without the tripod, where small size/weight is critical, and where you might want to work somewhat quickly. (Although the AF system is not well suited to shooting particularly active subjects, though there are ways to make it more effective.)

I’m just back from four days in Portland, Oregon, where I used it to shoot urban subjects (mostly) and was grateful for its small size, which allowed me to carry it , along with other non-camera stuff, in a small messenger bag – which, not incidentally, works much better as carry-on luggage that what I must take when I shoot my DSLR. My full frame DSLR would have made for such a large bundle on this trip that the messenger bag wouldn’t have worked, but I could carry this camera (with the 35mm f/1.4 and the 14mm f/2.8) and my small laptop plus all of those other assorted things that typically come along on such a jaunt. Continue reading More Thoughts About the Fujifilm X-E1

Updates – Expiring Deals at B&H and Updated Lens Article

I have two gear-related updates at the blog today:

  1. A number of special deals at B&H expire tomorrow, Saturday, January 5, 2013. These include specials on Nikon, Canon, and Olympus cameras and lenses and kits, along with a Canon ‘Instant Savings’ promotion on a large selection of all kinds of lenses, teleconverters and electronic flashes. See the Deals Page for updated information. (Note that B&H is closed until 6:00 p.m. EST Saturday, so return to the deals page then to place your orders.)
  2. Canon has updated and added new models to their line-up of L “normal zooms” including the 24-70mm f/2.8 L II and the new 24-70mm f/4L IS, which join the 24-105mm f/4L Is. I have updated an older article here at the blog that discusses some of these options so that it now includes the new lenses: Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II vs. 24-70mm f/4L IS vs. 24-105mm f/4 L IS

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

In Praise of the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS

Sometimes it seems like the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS lens just doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It probably doesn’t help that it is often described as a “kit lens” because Canon bundles it with some of their full frame DSLRs. Having a maximum aperture of only f/4, it lacks the f/2.8 aperture found on some of  the other Canon L zooms. It uses the zoom design that extends the front element when the focal length changes, and some mistakenly associate that design with lower quality lenses. It certainly doesn’t have the panache of the high-end, large-aperture primes, with their big  f/1.4 or f/1.2 maximum apertures, the big and impressive f/2.8 L zooms, or the exotic and equally expensive tilt/shift lenses——nor does it have their equivalently large selling price. Continue reading In Praise of the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS