My favorite vantage point for photography

I was invited by the folks at Light, who are working on some pretty interesting camera technology, to write about my favorite vantage point. I explained to them, as I’m explaining to you now, that I don’t have one. I get bored with shooting the same locations and I’m always on the lookout for new things to shoot.

Then I realized that over the past few years, I’ve been working in the exact same location, putting in lots of time and effort, being happy with the challenges offered by that very same spot and enjoying the beautiful results. But you didn’t know about those photos, because I haven’t published them on my website, and it didn’t occur to me earlier that it was a vantage point. I’m talking about my studio work for my wife’s printed books, in other words, about my food photography.

My favorite vantage point over the past few years has been the whitebox (the official name for it is a seamless tabletop background sweep cyclorama). Here’s what it looks like:

whitebox.jpg

That’s where I’ve been spending my time. Lots of my time. Here’s one example of my work:

RPOP-2015-05-1335.jpg

This is one of my wife’s raw desserts. It’s a raw vegan whipped cream, mint and strawberry cake. You can find the recipe for it in her Raw Desserts book.

And here’s another photo from the same book. I apologize if it leaves you drooling. It’s a raw vegan brownie with a raw chocolate glaze.

RPOP-2015-05-0139.jpg

Here’s how I work. I don’t have a set position for the camera or for the speedlites. I work handheld and I vary my camera position, angle and lens until I find what I think is a good frame for the photo. Then I’ll shoot a few photos to see how the lights fall on the subject and whether I need to vary their positions as well, in order to bring out the colors and sculpt the dimensionality of the photo with lights and shadows.

I use three independent speedlites triggered by the on-camera flash, which I sometimes choose to also fire or to only have it act as a remote for the other speedlites. For this photograph, I worked with my Canon gear: one of my three Canon cameras, an EOS 60D and three Canon speedlites. I love my EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens and I tend to use that a lot for my studio work. I also use ambient light from within the room itself (I turn on wall and ceiling lights) and I use a mix of warm and cold lights. I know most people say you should use the same temperature lights, but I prefer to mix them in order to get a warmer ambient light. The speedlites overwhelm the subject with their cold light, but there’s a hint of warmer light all around the photo, which I like, and this comes out when I edit the photo as well. I suppose I started doing this when I began to shoot video. People leave a lot of work for post-production, but I do like it when I capture the mood light of the video live, as I shoot it, so I fiddle less with it in post.

I’d like to say I’m the set designer as well, but for my food photography, I leave that to my wife. She’s the award-winning raw chef with seven published books and I’m the photographer. Sometimes we’re inspired and we love the results, and sometimes we’re not happy with what we get. So we re-do the photo shoot at another time. There have also been instances where we’ve re-shot certain recipes for later editions of her books, because we weren’t happy with the photographs and as our skills improved, we knew we could do better.

I wish I could be more helpful than this but for me, every studio photo is a new challenge and I vary my angles and lighting in order to get what I think are the best photos of my subjects. My wife and I then cull through them and pick the ones that’ll go into her books. I then edit each one carefully, add it to the collection designated for that book in my Lightroom catalog and carry on doing this until we’re ready to turn things over to the publishing house.

Camera preview: Canon EOS M

As I announced back in June of 2010, Canon has been at work on a mirrorless DSLR and they’ve finally launched it. It’s called the EOS M. It uses a new EF-M lens mount and its specs are pretty much what we expect mirrorless DSLRs to have these days. It ships in four colors: black (see above), white (see below), red and dark silver. Suggested MSRP is $799.

I’m going to be blunt, because the late arrival of this camera is frustrating. The only innovative feature I can see on it is its Hybrid CMOS AF System, which is located right on the sensor. Other than that, this is another mirrorless DSLR in an already mature market, albeit a highly anticipated model from a large manufacturer.

Canon took their time to take the plunge. My guess is they wanted the other manufacturers to “work out the bugs” in terms of the feature set and pricing, then they matched what the market wanted to see. They didn’t stick their neck out there to try something new. They let others do the hard work while they kept fiddling with the EOS Rebel line and tested the waters (partially) with the PowerShot G1 X and its large sensor.

Design-wise, the EOS M is pleasing. It’s thin, it’s got a nice profile, it’s not cluttered and it’s simple to use.

Back to the features:

  • Full HD movie mode with Movie Servo AF: this means accurate and noiseless focus tracking of subjects when using the EF-M lenses with the new STM (Stepping Motor) technology.
  • 18 megapixels: this was predictable given that all of Canon’s lower-priced DSLRs are also at the same resolution.
  • DIGIC 5 image processor
  • ISO 100-6400 in movie mode and 100-12800 in photo mode; they’re both expandable to 12800 and 25600, respectively.
  • Hybrid CMOS AF: innovative, but let’s wait and see how it performs in real world conditions; Canon DSLRs have had plenty of focus issues lately, this being just one example.
  • Compatible with full line of EF and EF-S lenses via adapter which preserves all AF and IS functions.
  • 1,040,000 dot, 3-inch LCD with touch AF
  • Scene Intelligent Auto, Creative Filters, Multi Shot Noise Reduction
  • Stereo microphone, manual audio adjustment, wind noise filter
  • Total recording time per scene goes up to 22 minutes

Watch out for the following:

  • A notable MIA among the accessories is a viewfinder, like on the Olympus OM-D EM-5 or their PEN line of mirrorless DSLRs, like the E-P3. That means using the EOS M in glaring sunlight is going to be somewhat frustrating.
  • Stills frame rate is 4.3 fps.
  • Video frame rate at 1080p goes up to 30 fps. I want to see a Canon camera go up to 1080p/60 fps.
  • Computer connectivity is still USB 2.0. This is one area where Canon could have pulled ahead of the pack and gone with USB 3.0.
  • Battery life is average for a mirrorless (about 230 shots or 1.5 hours of video). Given my experience with Canon HDSLRs, I’d say real world battery life when shooting video is more like 30-45 minutes.

Let’s have a look at the accessories. The camera ships with an EF-M 22m pancake lens.

You can also get an EF-M 18-55mm lens for it.

Here’s the mount adapter I mentioned earlier.

And here’s a diminutive speedlite designed for it, the 90EX.

Here’s how the camera looks with the speedlite mounted in the hotshoe.

So, should you get this camera? If you’re already heavily invested in Canon gear and want a small, easy-to-carry camera, the decision is simple. If you aren’t, then there are many models on the market with various differences in design, feature sets and price that may make them more appealing to you than this particular camera. The decision is yours after you look at all of them, and I do encourage you to look at all of them.

If you do end up getting the camera or some of its accessories, I’d appreciate it if you’d use one of the links below:

Images of EOS M courtesy of Canon. 

It’s time to demand reliability from DSLR manufacturers

When DSLRs (and now HDSLRs) cost thousands of dollars, and the manufacturer makes a promise that the shutter in said DSLR is rated for 100,000 shots or 150,000 shots, I think it should no longer be a promise, but a guarantee, and the manufacturer ought to be responsible for the repair to a DSLR whose shutter failed before its rated number of shots.

Look at cars. Some cars cost little more than a top of the line DSLR, but cars have serious warranties. These days, some cars have 10-year warranties on everything. Historically speaking, even if most cars haven’t had good warranties on everything, they’ve had good warranties on the power train — on the basic stuff that makes them go.

On a DSLR, the shutter is part of the camera’s “powertrain”. Without it, the camera can’t take photographs, and a full-frame DSLR that can’t take photographs is a very expensive paperweight.

It’s high time we demanded that DSLR manufacturers come up with warranties for the more expensive DSLRs, where they’ll guarantee that the shutter and the motherboard (pretty much every part that takes photos and writes those photos to a card) will work for a certain amount of time.

If we don’t, we’ll likely run into the situation I’m in right now, where my Canon EOS 5D’s shutter started to fail at under 50,000 shots. Initially, photos taken at 1/6000 sec or higher (1/8000 sec) would come out black or almost black. Now, months later and at around 52,500 shots, even photos taken at 1/1000 sec are severely underexposed.

Have a look at three photos taken with the 5D. The first two were taken at 1/8000 sec shutter speed a couple of months ago, and the third was taken at 1/1000 sec shutter speed a few days ago.

It’s not right that the shutter has started to fail at half its projected life span of 100,000 shots. And what’s even more improper is Canon USA Support’s reply to me. They told me the shutter’s rated life is not a warranty, not even a promise, but an expectancy (an anticipation if you will).

What that means is they can advertise long shutter lives all they want, but they’re not accountable for actual, real-world results from its customers. It’s irresponsible, and it shouldn’t be allowed. When we pay thousands of dollars for a fancy DSLR, we as customers pay that money with certain expectations in mind. Those expectations entail (among others) a need for durability and reliability.

I propose that a set of benchmarks be set for the entire photography industry, where shutter life is one of the differentiating criteria. Processor and camera motherboard life should be another. Manufacturers would then have to offer warranties on these benchmark criteria. I propose 4 or 5-year warranties on the circuits, and on shutter life, the warranty should go as far as its stated life span. If it’s 100,000 shots, then by Noah, it should be 100,000 shots, end of story.

Is Canon at work on a mirrorless “DSLR”?

Given the popularity of, and interest in mirrorless “DSLRs” like the Sony NEX-5 or NEX-3, Olympus E-P2 or E-PL1, Panasonic GF1 or G2, and the Samsung NX-10, I believe Canon is at work on their version of the “micro-DSLR”, and has been for at least a few months. (Why do I use quotes when I call them DSLRs? See this.)

Another hint of the upcoming launch is the restlessness in the Rebel line of cameras. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen so many new models launched in such a short span of time. It’s probable that Canon wanted to see what features consumers really want in an entry-level DSLR now that video and small size are the new must-haves, what cameras their competitors come up with, then take their time designing an entirely new body for the camera. Keep in mind they’re very entrenched in the classic SLR design, as their EOS line shows. A mirrorless DSLR without a viewfinder, or with a significantly different viewfinder, and a much smaller body, can be a serious challenge for any company.

Here’s what I think (and hope) will be in the new Canon EOS “Elph” (I made the name up, I don’t know what it’ll be called):

A 14 or 16-megapixel APS-C sensor — they’re going to choose less noise at high ISO, and that will mean less resolution, but that’s okay by me. I’m not too happy with the noise levels in the 7D. They might even downgrade the resolution to 12 megapixels, who knows…

High ISO capabilities — up to 12,800 natively, and possibly even up to 102,400 via ISO expansion. They’ll need to do this, because the Sony NEX line has raised the bar.

Fast frame rate — 5 fps, possibly even 7 fps. Again, this is because the NEX cameras have raised the bar. They can go up to 7 fps in burst mode. The mirrorless cameras can do about 3 fps.

14-bit image bit depth — pretty much all DSLRs are either there or going there.

Full HD Video Recording, with AF — it’s going to have to be full 1080p video, because Sony has raised the bar for all cameras in this category. I do hope though that Canon will make it 1080p, not 1080i, at selectable frame rates. AF is going to be tricky but will need to be implemented. Canon will have a choice of using the current USM AF built into its lenses, which can be slow, or build a new line of lenses, like Sony did for its NEX line, with fast, quiet AF that can’t be picked up by the microphone. I do hope we won’t have to invest in new lenses.

New lenses? This is possible, in which case they’ll be smaller and lighter, but my guess is Canon will either modify the mount or put out an adapter that will allow us to fully use existing EF or EF-S lenses.

Same 19-point AF system as in the 7D — I honestly hope it’s not the same old 9-point AF system used in the Rebel line and in my 1st gen 5D and the 5D Mark II, because it seems to be troublesome in cameras with higher resolutions.

In-camera panorama stitching — Canon, please put this in! I was blown away by Sony’s Sweep Panorama feature.

In-camera HDR — yes, HDR is overrated and I can’t stand most HDR photographs, but when used judiciously and for the right scenes, HDR can help you can get a properly exposed photograph without blown areas.

Optical viewfinder — I know I just said a mirrorless DSLR won’t have an optical viewfinder, but think how cool it would be if Canon could somehow fit a great pentaprism inside a mirrorless body!

Better dust reductionsome people seem to be having trouble with the dust reduction system in the 5D Mark II. Perhaps this warrants a closer look from Canon. I’m sure there are ways to improve things, especially in a camera that will have no mirror, and where the sensor will be exposed to the open air during every lens change.

SDHC, not CF cards — I would have loved to see Canon adopt SDHC cards for the 7D. SDHC cards are smaller and less expensive than CF cards, so why keep using CF cards?

Tiltable LCD — the Sony NEX line has them, the Canon G11 has it, so why shouldn’t this new camera have it as well?

External microphone input — this is a must, as the in-camera microphone is never enough for quality video sound.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think? Don’t ask me how it’ll look though. I don’t know, and I’d like to be pleasantly surprised when I see it. I’d like it to be flatter and smaller than a Rebel, but with a good grip, and a good selection of physical controls. It doesn’t have to be too light, but it should be light enough and sturdy enough so that it’s easily carried anywhere.

Camera preview: Canon PowerShot SD780 IS

I had the chance to look at the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS Digital Elph camera recently, and was impressed by the beauty of its design, its diminutive size, and its features. This camera is truly small. Being used to holding DSLRs, holding this camera in my hand was an unusual experience for me. It’s so small, I thought I might drop it or break its buttons when I pressed them. But that’s just an initial illusion. It works fine, it’s sturdy, and its matte, non-slip finish means you won’t easily drop, unless you’re Mr. Butterfingers.

I’ve always liked Canon’s Elph line. I owned their 1st gen Elph camera, which recorded images to APS film, and I still have it, though I don’t use it any more. What I like about this camera is how the Elph legacy, combined with modern technology and design cues, all comes together to create a truly wonderful little camera. This camera is a stunner. The logo, the lettering, the buttons, the lens and all of its other building blocks form a beautiful whole where everything falls into place.

And how could I not be impressed by its features as well?

  • 12.1 Megapixel Resolution
  • 3x Optical Zoom Lens
  • Optical Image Stabilizer Technology
  • DIGIC 4 Processor with iSAPS scene-recognition technology
  • Face Detection Technology
  • Face Self-Timer
  • Advanced Red-eye Correction
  • Intelligent Contrast Correction
  • High ISO Sensitivity (up to 3200 ISO)
  • HD Video Recording (1280 x 720 @ 30 fps) with HD output through mini-HDMI connector
  • 20 Shooting Modes and My Colors Photo Effects
  • Smart Auto Mode
  • High-Resolution 2.5″ PureColor II LCD

The only things that bothered me somewhat were the 3x Zoom and the maximum f/3.3 aperture. While the 3x zoom has been standard on the Elph cameras from the start, I’d like to see a 5x zoom already. It would be a helpful feature for many situations. The aperture could also be f/2.8 or who knows, maybe even f/2.2 or f/2.0. I realize the physics of it might get tricky given the camera’s diminutive size, but I’d like to challenge the Canon engineers to do it. It would help greatly in low light conditions, and would add extra bokeh to portraits and macro photographs.

I’d have loved to test out the camera’s HD video feature, as I’ve been looking for a small HD camera, but I didn’t get the chance. At any rate, I was very impressed to see a camera of that size offer HD video. That in itself is an achievement, given that it’s already got a ton of other circuitry crammed in that very limited space. Ideally, one hopes the quality of the HD video is good, without banding or compression artifacts, like that of the HD video from other digital cameras. If anyone’s used this feature on the SD780, please do let me know how good it is.

The SD780 IS comes with all the accessories you see above. You can get a good idea of how small this camera really is by having a look at the charger for its battery, which is a good deal longer and thicker than the camera itself.

The Canon PowerShot SD780 IS is available for purchase from B&H Photo and Amazon. (Amazon is currently selling it for $199, which is a pretty good deal.)

Photos used courtesy of Canon.

Lens comparison: EF 50mm f/1.4 Prime vs EF 50mm f/1.8 Prime

This is a short, side-by-side video comparison of the two affordable EF 50mm lenses from Canon: the 50mm f/1.4 and f/1.8 lenses. I had them both, set them on a table, and compared them to each other, looking at their weight, size, lenses, and handling. You might find this interesting if you’re into photography. My conclusion was that both are great, but if you haven’t got the money for the f/1.4 lens (and I’m not even going to mention the f/1.2 lens, because that’s out of my budget), then get the f/1.8 lens, it’s a great bargain for the price.

You can see the video on blip.tv or on YouTube. Believe it or not, I shot this review back in November of 2007 and only got around to posting it now. I’ve got quite a backlog in terms of processing and editing some of my media…

I used the 50mm f/1.4 lens extensively. I have almost 11,000 photos in my library taken with it. I used it to take landscapes while in the Austrian Alps, and even though I complained about it afterward, it’s still my go-to lens for lots of tasks such as portraits, still life, night shots and more. Here are just a few photos taken with it.

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These two 50mm lenses are available for purchase from Amazon or B&H Photo:

Camera preview: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV DSLR

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV - 1

The Canon EOS-1D Mark IV pro DSLR was officially announced by Canon today, October 20, 2009. The specs are really good and they show Canon’s been hard at work on a solid response to Nikon’s latest DSLRs.

Many photographers were disappointed with Canon because of their 2008-2009 DSLR product releases, which didn’t seem to keep up with the competition and fell short in many areas of common interest, such as auto-focus, high ISO performance and image quality. I’m glad to see Canon listened to their customers’ concerns and put out a camera that offers what people want to see.

Let’s have a look at what sets this camera apart. The EOS-1D Mark IV has:

  • A 16-megapixel Canon CMOS sensor
  • Dual DIGIC 4 Imaging Processors
  • 14-bit A/D data conversion
  • 10 frames-per-second (fps)
  • The widest ISO range Canon has produced to date (50 to 102,400)
  • 1080p Full High-Definition video capture at selectable frame rates
  • A new 45-point auto-focus system with 39 high-precision cross-type focusing points

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV - 4

New autofocus system

Given the auto-focus problems with the 5D Mark II and other high-end cameras like the 1D Mark III and 1D-s Mark III, I for one am very glad Canon put out a new AF system. The newly redesigned AF system…

  • Can track fast moving subjects, such as athletes or wildlife accurately, even when shooting at full 10 fps bursts
  • Can detect subjects much better than the previous AF system
  • Can focus accurately with the new AI Servo II AF predictive focusing algorithm
  • Has twice as many cross-type focusing points as the EOS-1D Mark III
  • New AF sensor construction that improves performance in low light and with low contrast subjects

Not having used the camera yet, I can’t vouch for the accuracy and speed of the new AF system, but it shouldn’t be long before those who’ve had the chance to use the camera in real-world scenarios chime in with the results.

New 16.1 M CMOS sensor

I like Canon’s new 16.1-Megapixel CMOS sensor. I’m glad to see they focused on image quality and low light performance, not megapixels. Don’t get me wrong, extra resolution is always good, but gratuitous resolution is useless unless the resulting images prove their quality when viewed 1:1.

The sensor has improved photodiode construction to enhance dynamic range, and gapless microlenses that are positioned closer to the photodiodes for improved light gathering efficiency. The transmissive quality of the color filter array has been enhanced to improve sensitivity. Canon has also upgraded the sensor circuitry to improve noise reduction before the image data is exported from the CMOS sensor to the rest of the image processing chain.

In order to process all the extra raw data from the sensor at up to 10 fps, Canon put two Dual DIGIC 4 Image Processors inside. The 1D Mark IV has approximately six times the processing power of DIGIC III, for full 14-bit A/D conversion at 10 fps.

Full HD video capture

I’m also glad to see that Canon has put 1080p HD video on this camera, which means that for them, HD video is here to stay on all their DSLRs. It really is a new era for HD video when it becomes a standard feature on professional DSLRs; wonderful things are in store for those interested in blending photography with videography.

The 1D Mark IV has full HD capture and full manual exposure control, plus selectable frame rates. Its new APS-H image sensor is similar in size to a Super 35mm motion picture film frame. The camera allows for three video recording resolutions…

  • 1080p Full HD, 16:9
  • 720p HD, 16:9
  • 640×480 SD, 4:3

… and multiple selectable frame rates…

  • Full HD at 1920 x 1080 in selectable frame rates of 24p (23.976), 25p, or 30p (29.97)
  • 720p HD or SD video recording at either 50p or 60p (59.94)

SD video can be recorded in either NTSC or PAL standards. Sound is recorded either through the internal monaural microphone or via optional external microphones connected to the stereo microphone input.

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV - 3

Other good features are:

  • Auto Lighting Optimizer (ALO) system. When enabled, Canon’s ALO automatically adjusts the image for optimal brightness and contrast on the fly during in-camera image processing, reducing clipped highlights while keeping shadowed areas as clear and detailed as they actually appear. Canon says that “demanding professional photographers who tested ALO clearly stated that this one feature will reduce their post-production image optimization process by more than 75 percent”. It’ll be interesting to see what others will say about this.
  • Highlight Tone Priority, which takes maximum advantage of the camera’s extensive dynamic range to preserve detail in highlight areas of the image.
  • Improved white balance algorithm making colors more accurate when shooting under low color temperature light sources such as household tungsten lamps.
  • Peripheral Illumination Correction function, which corrects darkening that can occur in the corners of images with most lenses when used at their largest apertures. When activated, it is automatically applied to JPEG images and video clips as they are shot. For RAW images, it can be applied in DPP software. Personally, I like the vignetting effect that occurs with some lenses, so I don’t really plan on using this very much.
  • A large, 3-inch Clear View II LCD screen with 920,000 dot/VGA resolution (finally) with a wide 160-degree viewing angle for enhanced clarity and more precise color when reviewing images and shooting video.
  • In-camera copyright information feature (hooray) helps professionals secure control over images by setting copyright data directly into the camera and appending that information to each image file in the Exif metadata.
  • A fluorine coating on the Low Pass Filter to further repel dust and enhance the EOS Integrated Cleaning System (less dust spots is always a good thing).

Finally, the 1D Mark IV’s body, chassis and lens mount are completely weather-resistant and 76 gaskets and seals surround all buttons and seams. The body covers and internal chassis, including the mirror box, are constructed with magnesium-alloy, and the lens mount is constructed with stainless steel. When used with Canon’s Speedlite 580EX II and/or most current L-series lenses, the entire camera system remains fully weather resistant.

Comparing this camera with the Nikon D3s, which has similar specs but retails for about $100 more, I have to ask, what makes the Nikon DSLR better? Other than niceties like better exposure compensation control (±5 EV vs. ±3 EV) and more physical buttons for manipulating the settings, this Canon matches or bests the Nikon on all major specs, like fps (10 vs. 9), ISO (same), resolution (16 vs. 12) and HD video (1080p vs. 720p).

The new WFT-E2 II A wireless file transmitter, available exclusively for the EOS-1D Mark IV Digital SLR camera, is quite interesting in its capabilities. It offers connectivity through IEEE802.11a/b/g and Ethernet. The new Camera Linking feature allows a single photographer to simultaneously fire up to 10 cameras remotely. The updated WFT Server mode lets you remotely use Live View, control settings, and fire the EOS-1D Mark IV over the internet from anywhere in the world using a standard Web browser or many Web-enabled smart phones. Additionally, geotagging is now possible via Bluetooth, using compatible GPS devices to append coordinate data to the images. Given that the previous wireless transmitter, WFT-E2A, costs $1,200, you can be sure this new one will cost a bundle, but for those who need it and can afford it, I’m pretty sure it’ll do a good job.

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV - 2

The Canon EOS-1D Mark IV Digital SLR camera is scheduled to be delivered to U.S. dealers in late December, and will be sold in a body-only configuration at an estimated retail price of $4,999. Final pricing and availability for the Canon WFT-E2 II A wireless file transmitter will be available later this year.

Full specs for the camera are available here. Demo videos produced by Canon specifically for this camera are available here. There’s a section on the camera, with more information, at the Canon Digital Learning Center.

You can buy the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV from Amazon or B&H Photo.

Images used courtesy of Canon.

Camera preview: Canon PowerShot G11

On August 19, Canon announced the launch of the new flagship PowerShot digital camera, the G11. Having shot extensively with a G10 this summer, I’m ambivalent about upgrading to the G11.

For one thing, I welcome the better low light capabilities. While the G10 showed some noise when shooting in low light, it was acceptable when I compared it with other non-DSLRs on the market. If the G11 improves on that, great.

But the G11 is no different from the G10 when it comes to video recording. It still only shoots SD video (480p, 30fps), when other comparable cameras on the market have long since moved to HD video (720p, 30fps). Even other PowerShot cameras from Canon, like the SX20 and the SD980 and SD940, which cost less than the G11, are able to shoot HD video (720p, 30fps). Why has Canon decided to hamstring the G11, unless perhaps they feel that, with its superior collection of features, it cuts into their HD video camera sales? (If that’s the case, then it’s a sorry excuse, because they’d be putting profits before customers.)

The G11 also has lower resolution than the G10 (10 megapixels instead of 14.7 megapixels). I’m no fan of gratuitous resolution, so I’m reserving my judgment on this until I get my hands on a G11. Canon says they did it to improve low light capabilities, and I believe them — if the low light claims prove to be accurate. There’s only so much resolution you can squeeze out of the same sensor size before noise becomes an issue, even at lower ISOs.

What I’d also like to see from the G11 is a better dpi setting. One of the main differences between DSLRs and consumer-grade digital cameras is the dpi setting of the images they output. A regular digital camera will output its images at 72 dpi, which is the equivalent of screen resolution, while most DSLRs output their images at 240 dpi. That’s why — unless you tinker with the dpi setting in an image editing program — you can get a larger print from a 10 megapixel DSLR image than you can from a 10 megapixel regular digital camera image. The Canon G10 and G11 output their images at 180 dpi. That’s pretty good compared to 72 dpi, but it’s still not 240 or 300 dpi. I would love to see the G11 give me 240 dpi, right out of the camera, without needing to change that setting in post-processing.

The G11 is also slightly more sluggish than the G10 when it comes to shooting speed (1.1 fps vs. 1.3 fps). It’s probably due to the extra computations it performs on each image, but one would think shooting speed would at least stay the same, if not increase, with each camera generation.

The G11 also has a smaller screen than the G10 (2.8 in vs. 3.0 in). I understand this is due to its nature (swivel vs. fixed), but having that larger screen on the G10 was really nice. Still, the swivel screen should allow for more creative angles, so that could count as a plus.

Battery life is also a bit of a downer. On the G10, the specs say the battery lasts for about 400 shots. In real life conditions, it last much less (about 200-300 shots, depending on how sparingly you use the optical zoom). On the G11, the specs say the battery life is about 390 shots, and is likely to be much less than that in real life conditions as well. Couldn’t Canon have used a different battery or done something to improve the battery life? After all, the display is slightly smaller as well, so that should take less juice to power up. Sure, the battery life is said to be markedly better when using the viewfinder, but have you tried using the viewfinder on either the G10 or the G11? It’s more like a fuzzy rangefinder. It’s terrible.

So there you have it. Not much to brag about when it comes to the G11. Nothing revolutionary when it comes to the upgrades, and let’s face it, not even something that I, along with many others, expected, like HD video. The better low light capabilities sound interesting, and if the camera delivers enough on that end to compensate for the decrease in resolution, the G11 may be worth your money. I did like the G10. It’s a great camera with many advanced capabilities. Let’s hope the G11 can live up to its predecessor.

If you’d like to buy the G11, you can do so from Amazon or B&H Photo.

Images used courtesy of Canon.

Checking in with Energizer's Advanced Lithium Batteries

I can finally report on the battery life of the Energizer Advanced Lithium Batteries given to me in late January. I wrote about them on February 4th, and put them in my Canon EOS 5D’s battery grip a week or so after that. They worked until this past Saturday evening, April 25th. When I did the tally, I saw that I’d taken 1,872 photos with them. That’s not a typo. The vertical grip stayed on my 5D all the time, from the time I put the batteries inside it to the time I took them out, and that’s how many photos I got with the batteries.

While that battery life is very impressive, given the 5D’s 500-600 shot battery life with one of its single rechargeable batteries, or 1,000-1,200 shots or so with two rechargeable batteries in its vertical grip, it doesn’t tell the whole story. There are a few things I need to clear up first:

  • During these past few months, I’ve been shooting mostly landscapes. That means I didn’t take lots of photos in one sitting, which would have drained the batteries faster. I would expect that if I shot events, the battery life would have been significantly less.
  • For some reason, and I’m still not sure whether my vertical grip is to blame or the batteries, the battery life sensor kept giving a low battery notice the whole time the batteries stayed on the camera, from the time I put them in to the time I took them out. Sometimes the battery life sensor would even flash the really low battery signal, indicating the batteries only had a few shots left in them. Regardless, they kept on working until Saturday evening. Not sure whether this was because the camera expected 1.5V out of each battery, not 1.2V, or whether my battery grip, which had been sitting in a box, unused, for several months before this, is at fault, but that was my experience.
  • Related to the two bullet points above, the batteries gave out while I was shooting an event. It’s possible that they would have lasted even longer if they hadn’t been put through prolonged, continuous use. It’s also possible that if I stick them back in the camera, they might have enough life in them to let me squeeze off another several shots, but that would go against the conditions of my test, where I wanted to see how long they lasted without taking them out of the camera.

Whatever your mileage may be (and I encourage you to do your own testing), I’m very impressed with the battery life. While it was a hassle to keep the vertical grip on my camera the whole time (I prefer to shoot without it unless I’m doing events), it was an interesting experiment. I would recommend keeping a set of these batteries in your bag as a backup, just in case your regular batteries run out of juice. They have a long shelf life, and they won’t self-discharge like rechargeable batteries.

I also promised in my initial post that I would use them in my 580EX II speedlite. I’m keeping that promise. I’ve been using them in it since February, and they’re still doing fine. Again, I haven’t used the speedlite very much, because I’ve been shooting mostly nature stuff, but I did shoot a wedding recently and it worked flawlessly the whole time. I’ll let you know when those run out and I’ll tally up their shot life, too.

A Canon repair experience

As I mentioned previously, my Canon 580EX II speedlite hadn’t been working properly with my Canon EOS 5D DSLR since March of 2008. I’d set it in the hot shoe on top of the 5D, as usual, but it would cause the camera not to work at all. The 5D would give me a strange error message where it would display some random settings for the aperture and shutter speed, and the shutter button would not fire.

canon-580exii-speedlite

I tried turning the camera and speedlite on and off. I tried disconnecting and reconnecting the battery. I tried resetting the speedlite in the hot shoe, which sometimes did the trick. Finally, I gave in and sent it into Canon for repairs. That repair ended up costing me a little over $100 plus shipping. The Canon technicians wrote back on the receipt that they’d replaced some cracked part inside the speedlite. Since I never dropped the speedlite or banged it against anything, perhaps that part had been cracked from the get-go, who knows…

Once I got the speedlite back and tried it out, I realized the problem not only hadn’t gone away, but had gotten worse. Now my 5D refused to fire with the speedlite in the hot shoe no matter what lens I used. This was not good, but what puzzled me is that the 5D and 580EX II worked just fine when I used them with the Canon STE-2 wireless transmitter, which sits on the hot shoe and sends a radio signal directly to the speedlite. In other words, the speedlite and camera didn’t work when connected directly, but worked if connected through the wireless transmitter.

I contacted Canon a second time, and was transferred through to advanced support on that call. Once the tech asked me a few questions to pinpoint the problem, he told me this was a fairly common occurrence with the 5D and 580EX II. Apparently, the hot shoe insert for the 580EX II was made just a wee bit thinner than normal, and after normal use of the hot shoe on the 5D, the 580EX II will sometimes not make proper contact with the camera, and will cause it not to fire. That’s why the camera worked with the wireless transmitter, which has a thicker hot shoe insert.

He offered to send me a pre-paid shipping label so I could send both the camera and the speedlite in for repairs, which would now be covered under the previous charge for the repair of the speedlite, as a recurring issue. I sent them in, and when they came back, they both worked as they should, thank goodness. My 5D hot shoe wasn’t replaced though — it was likely just taken off the camera and tightened a bit, which means the problem could re-occur at some point in the future.

I have three bones to pick with Canon about this whole thing:

  1. Why didn’t they make the hot shoe insert for the 580EX II speedlite the right size from the get-go? Why do we, as Canon customers, have to go through this whole thing where we send them in for repairs when it’s not really our fault? I don’t think I’m the only one who’s had this problem. Why not issue a recall where either the hot shoe of the 5D is replaced or tightened, or the hot shoe insert of the 580EX II is replaced?
  2. Related to #1 above, why do we have to pay for this? If it’s a known issue, caused by faulty design, and it happens quite often through normal use of the camera and speedlite, why pay at all? I might be willing to put up with a token fee that covers shipping and handling, but I should not have to pay the regular repair fee for something that was designed to go wrong, so to speak.
  3. Why did my 580 EX II come back from the repairs with what looks like Coke stains on the catchlight panel (see photograph below)? I can only assume the tech that worked on it opened his soda can right next to my speedlite, stained it, and didn’t bother to clean it. I thought the conditions were supposed to be kept sterile in the labs. What’s up with that?

580EX II Speedlite with stains on catchlight

Keep this in mind if you have the same issue with your Canon DSLR. It may not be that the speedlite is defective, it could simply be that it’s not making proper contact with the hot shoe, in which case your options are as laid out above.

Canon 5D Mark II soft focus due to camera or lens?

I reviewed the new 5D Mark II back in October of 2008, and my decision back then was to wait until they’ve worked out the bugs. It looks like I did the right thing. I’ve been hearing quite a bit lately about focus issues with the camera. It looks like it can’t focus properly. It’s slow to focus, and when it does focus, the images are soft. See this blog post for an example.

I’m still not sure what lies at the root of the focusing problems. People are comparing photos taken with the 5D Mark II against photos taken with the original 5D, but it’s sort of like comparing apples to oranges. To compare images accurately, you’d need to first downsize the resolution of the images from the 5D Mark II to 12.8 megapixels, to make them equal in pixel depth to those that come out of the original 5D. I have yet to see something like that.

I think what’s going on here is that we’re seeing either the limitations of Canon’s 9-point AF system, or the limitations of their lenses, and this is due to the sensor’s increased megapixel count. In effect, all those extra megapixels have run ahead of the camera’s AF capabilities. It’s like a bodybuilder who’s got huge muscles but hasn’t trained his joints. His tendons have remained weak, and sooner or later he’ll tear something.

The thing is, I’m getting soft images with my original 5D, and I get them quite often. Sure, most of the images I get are in focus, but I bet you that if my 5D were able to output 21 megapixels of resolution, those same seemingly sharp images would be just as soft as those that come out of the 5D Mark II.

It could very well be that the 9-point AF system can’t focus properly. It’s just not that good, and its focusing limitations are seen quite well at higher resolutions. In that case, I have a feeling that the 16 megapixel images that one can get with the EOS 50D would also show some soft focus issues. They wouldn’t be as apparent as those found in the 5D Mark II, since there’s a bit of difference between 16 megapixels and 21 megapixels, but they should be there. It looks like some people are noticing a soft focus with the 50D, so there might be something to my theory.

On the other hand, it could be that my lenses, and the lenses of these people complaining about soft focus with the new 5D, need to be sent in for calibration. There certainly are tons of complains about soft images gotten with Canon lenses of all kinds — that’s nothing new. Who knows, if they and I got to send in our lenses, and they got properly re-calibrated by knowledgeable technicians, the images would be sharper.

So there you have it. I’m not sure what to think. I’m leaning toward the side that says the 9-point AF system needs to grow up, but I’m open to suggestions. Perhaps Canon ought to license the 11-point AF system from Olympus. They put it in their E-3 DSLR, which came out at the end of 2007. It’s supposed to be the fastest and most accurate AF system on the market, and it’s meant to work well even in low light. After all, let’s face it, both Canon and Nikon have borrowed the Live View concept from Olympus — they were the first to come out with it. Why not borrow the AF system as well?

Tempered enthusiasm

After getting all excited about my new 24-105mm zoom, I found a strand of thread sticking resolutely to the interior of the front lens. It was definitely inside, and I couldn’t get it to go away. Even if it came loose, it would still be inside, and would probably stick to one of the other interior lenses. It was a factory defect.

I called B&H Photo, who graciously shipped out another lens to me, free of charge, and also paid for the return shipment of my defective lens. While I may be disappointed in Canon’s quality control process, I have only good things to say about B&H. Incidentally, I waited patiently for them to re-open after the Jewish High Holidays (they were closed for over a week) so I could order the lens. It was worth the wait. Things I order from them get here the very next day, because they ship out of New Jersey and I live in Maryland. I pay for Ground and get what is essentially Overnight shipping. It’s an added advantage to their great prices and customer service.

My 580EX II speedlite is another disappointment. It’s been acting strangely since March of this year. Sometimes it refuses to work with the 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. The aperture and shutter settings get completely messed up and the shutter won’t fire. Until now, I had to take it off the camera, take the batteries out, let it rest for a bit, then put it back together and on my 5D, and sometimes it still wouldn’t work.

Yesterday, I finally decided I’d had enough and shipped it to Canon for repairs. I hope they’ll choose to treat it as still under warranty, because I filed the original repair request back when it still had a couple of months of warranty left. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I got my replacement lens from B&H today, and I have reason to be disappointed with Canon once again. Their QC should be better, especially for L series lenses. This new lens has two tiny specks on the inside of the rear lens. You could almost say they’re not there, except that they are, and it’s really bothering me. Maybe I’m overreacting to this, having been sensitized by the previous defect. I don’t think it’s going to affect the quality of the photos (I hope for that at any rate), but for a lens that costs over $1,000, I expect better build quality.

I leave you with a series of short videos that demonstrate how Canon make their lenses. They’re narrated in Japanese. I saw the English version (in a single video) a while back, but I can’t find it now. For those of you that won’t see the embedded video below (like the feed subscribers), here are the links to each video clip: part 1, part 2, part 3. With all of that emphasis on checking the lenses after they get made, you wouldn’t expect to find strands of thread or specks inside the lenses like I did.