Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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The Canon EOS 5D Mark III - Improving the old Winner

Introducing the Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Well here it is in my hands. I have yet to see too many of the other exciting cameras to come out to market yet, but this one I am excited to report is a very nice upgrade.

This review won't focus on the obvious stuff that can be found pretty much everywhere on the net, but more on what improvements such as usability,  physical designs, and how it mostly compares to the 5Dmk2 in the way of improvements.

Image Quality
So lets just get this point out of the way. It is an improvement in many ways over the 5Dmk2. Although the 5Dmk2 was a spectacular performer and considering that many cameras still use that today as the benchmark to beat, this does take the 5D form factor another step ahead. High ISO is pretty clean. The last of the banding at the very upper limits are almost completely gone, and the 5Dmk3 is approximately 1.5 to 2 stops better over the 5Dmk2.

Sunset Gorge by Terrance Lam (TerranceLam) on 500px.comThe biggest improvements I see from a users point of view is the dynamic range. In the above image, this image was a long exposure and black card technique shot. I recovered some of the dramatic contrast in the clouds, but most importantly the buildings and scenery in the dark area. Here's a link to the original image to see how it was recovered.

The amount of time it took me to recover the shadow details and the highlight details took me literally minutes but more importantly, the detail in those areas are pretty impressive in comparison to what I was getting on the 5Dmk2. Sky details are not showing as much clipping or banding, which from a landscape photographer's point of view is very important to control.

Autofocus
The big headline item of this camera is the AF system. The new 61pt AF system is pretty impressive. Taken from the big brother flagship 1DX, this new AF system is rather impressive. But more importantly to many users is the ability to use it in questionable light.

20120327-85167.jpg

Tracking is really easy with the 5Dmk3. The image of the heron was taken with very overcast conditions, early morning, with very little light. Not seen here was the fact that I started to track this bird from it's perch on a tree against a dark background. It maintained lock, but also metereed very well.

So far after 24 hours with this camera, I'm impressed. There's a lot more to learn about it and discover, but here's a list of all the major things I've found, and most of it applies to still photography.


The Improvement List:

  • silent shutter (single and continuous although reduced speed is whisper quiet)
  • larger viewfinder (with 100% view)
  • dual card slots (with a variety of options/configurations including the ability to copy between cards)
  • Eye-fi compatibility
  • m-fn button (plus most of the buttons are configurable to different settings)
  • viewfinder level (OVF and LCD)
  • Gridlines in viewfinder and light sensor detects if you need transmissive display
  • better AWB in low light 
  • better and quicker focus in low light
  • Configurable Auto ISO
  • Auto ISO Manual Mode
  • Configurable Minimum Shutter Speed 
  • Configurable ISO Range
  • 3, 2, 5, 7 Bracket Exposure
  • Auto HDR Mode
  • Separate button/control for Live View (move/still modes)
  • Faster Contrast Detect focus
  • Better ergonomics (new buttons, mode button lock, deeper moulded grip, thumb rest)
  • Multi-exposure (astro-stacking or can be used like Sony's Multi-Frame noise reduction or Exposure fusion or maybe even Black Card Multi-Exposure?)
  • Better organized UI (tabs/groups for common functions - no more C.Fn menus)
  • Info help menu
  • 6 custom configurations for  various AF conditions (configurable too)
  • 61 pt AF, with a multitude of configurations (with servo priorities)
  • Spot AF (This is for fine tuned focusing. Very handy when focusing through branches or tight spaces - crowds of people)
  • Increased dynamic range, lower noise, higher ISO performance
  • Bigger better DoF button (relocated to a more logical place)
  • Better weather sealing (similar to EOS 1N)
  • Smoother, quieter scroll wheels
  • Faster continuous frame rate.
  • Redesigned shutter with 150K life.
  • Transmissive LCD display (does not have ghost AF points)
  • Macro Servo mode (for all macro lenses)
  • in camera RAW editing
  • Compare button and compare images. Allows you a quick way to review and compare one fixed image among the rest of your shots
  • Scene Intelligent Auto (an auto mode that actually allows you some creativity, and smart enough to detect movement and other types of shooting conditions - even allows for half press recompose)
  • aspect ratio overlays/masks in live view (removable on RAW files if you change your mind)
  • Focus position memory points (recalls last focus point in vertical and horizontal positions - great for portrait photographers).
  • AEB ± 8 stops 
  • Exposure Simulation with DoF button pressed (Very handy for those who do live view landscape shooting or use a Tilt-shift lens)
  • Movie mode can have both shutter button and special function button start stop video (Set button is now for centring focus points)
  • Video mode can now be triggered with a standard wired remote (no longer need one of the IR front facing remotes to do it - also means Live View Triggers: http://frontallobbings.blogspot.ca/2011/05/review-pixel-enterprises-pixel-expert.html will work better). 
  • Live View Wake mode (shutter half press) - similar as above, but by using the movie mode and untethering the shutter for movie mode, you can now set up a camera with a live view remote, and wake it with a half press wireless trigger. Very handy if you want to do discrete shooting of wildlife for example for just still photography where you might set up 2 or 3 cameras for remote shooting angles (above a basket or goalie cam). 
  • New flash function menu: Much easier menu to set popular options.
  • Improved and new Tether controls (added levels, overlays, auto rotate,  more responsive, should be great for studio shooters, tethered landscape photographers and astrophotographers)
  • A/V cable now through the mini-usb.
  • HDMI Control (device control through the HDMI port).
  • USM lens Electronic control - for more MF control for lenses that are fly by wire lenses like the 85 F/1.2 and the 300mm F/2.8
  • One button zoom 100% to active AF point. Really quick button check for critical focus. A very welcome feature especially with manual focus lens.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

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Canon 5DmkIII vs Nikon D800 MegaPixel Comparison


So I conducted a brand new comparison test that shouldn't open up any questions/debates that had me retract my previous post.

A new RAW processor has been released by Adobe that allows me to open up the CR2 and NEF files from each of the brands to compare (my previous comparisons were between JPG renditions which seemed to open up so much debate). I chose the Imaging-resource samples of ISO 50 shot with no noise reduction applied to them or any sharpening. The D800 is a production sample, while the 5Dmk3 was still pre-production. Regardless of what production state, this comparison should not be affected by that fact (unless the sensor was further redesigned from the pre-production, which I would not expect to be the case).

In this comparison, it will demonstrate whether the massive increase in resolution in the D800 is truly warranted. An increase that has been much talked about by many photographic circles including the cost of massive 207 MB 16 bit files to work with. The increase is almost three folds more than the previous generation of Nikon cameras, and is almost 1/3 more than the 5Dmk3. However at what cost does the increase of resolution in terms of image quality? The biggest issues here are diffractive limits which is a property of physics that limits high density sensors from using smaller apertures like F/8 and up. The D800 most certainly provides more details with a 36MP sensor, or does it?

Mouse over to compare to the D800 Samples
In the first example, you can see in the 100% crop the differences are very minimal. The images have been normalized in size to compare any advantages that the 36MP image has over the 22MP images. The scaling was done using bicubic smoother in Adobe Photoshop which is the ideal algorithm for enlargements. I was actually surprised by how little difference there was, and in fact it is quite apparent that the reasons why are due to the diffractive limits. Take note on the mouse over sample of the softness or the haze of the black. Now keep in mind that both samples have not been sharpened. Sharpening would certainly help both sample, but the diffractive limits essentially negate any MP benefits you'd expect from a 36MP sample.

Mouse Over to see the D800 400% comparison (Bicubic Linear increase)
In this 400% crop you can see even closer at a pixel level of any difference. The fine hairs on the brush are no more resolved on a 36MP sensor over a 22MP example. Both cameras used the same Sigma 70mm lens shot at F/8 in studio condition lights, so all things are treated pretty equally here.

Some might question whether if the alternate Nikon D800E would give any improvements? A good question, but also something I also questioned last year in my article (click to read article) on replacing the AA filter from your cameras with a neutral piece of glass. In my findings I found very little if no benefit of replacing the AA filter.

Conclusion
I don't know if I can draw any real conclusion here, but if making a choice to pick one over the other based on MP is what you're hoping to find, then I can say that there is no benefit of one over the other. However this does come with a minor but. Diffraction is rearing it's ugly head already on the D800 examples, and no lack of AA filter or any software intervention can correct for that. Is the 5Dmk3 worth paying $500 more than the D800? Only you can make that call, however in this comparison, I would say that the MP advantage in terms of resolution does not give any more details than what they marketed to be so. For landscape photographers that shoot at F/11 or more, I would caution the idea of using a higher MP camera like the Nikon D800 for the idea that you can make larger prints. The diffractive limits will certainly negate any advantage, and as the posted examples will show, there are no net benefits of one over the other.

In terms of medium format cameras which in some circles Nikon users believe will best, this is certainly not true. Medium format film still out resolves this sensor, but it does get closer, at least in terms of the lower 30MP digital sensors of medium format, this is at least an alternative to going to medium format for those studio shooters that are considering that path.

Additional Comments:
I noticed another interesting thing but want to add this as a sidebar comment. It almost looks like the 5Dmk3 images are actually sharper. I would certainly treat this with a grain of salt. This could simply be a focusing error from the initial tests. You can see purple fringing on the Canon samples and Green fringing on the Nikon samples. However it doesn't negate the fact that when the Canon samples were upsampled that there were little if no difference. I did not focus on the sharpness issues in my article as I'm uncertain if this is a slight focusing error. The other thing to note is that the MTF of the Sigma 70 macro is an extremely sharp lens, so this should negate any debate on whether or not this lens can resolve for sensors at this density.

Another question is if there are real benefits to more MP? Well in terms of High ISO it actually is a huge net advantage. Here's where high MP really wins out. Because of the 1/3 more details, noise is actually smaller. Even though the new 5DmkIII has better high ISO performance than the D800, when noise reduction is applied, there is more details in the D800. However who'd benefit from this the most would be very specialized or left to those portrait photographers that produce rather large prints, or maybe those rare cases of those that do astro photography where High ISO and detail is really important. But hitting the ball back into the Canon court, they know full well that when you increase density of a sensor it also means more noise even if the noise is smaller. This also affects the dynamic range where blacks get  lost in all of that noise.

Friday, March 16, 2012

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Canon EOS 5DmkIII vs Nikon D800 (ISO 400)


I've been formally requested to take down my original blog entry.

The tests were too inconclusive and the variables were too mixed at this stage for a fair comparison.

I do suggest going to Imaging-Resource.com to look for updated comparisons when they are finally publishing released versions.

There's a lot of questions about how they tested each camera, which I also find a bit surprising when I did the comparison. One thing is certain and there's no debating this, the diffractive limits on the D800 is very apparent at F/8

To avoid any further debate, I've removed my original commentary and content and here's a link to the images for your own comparisons (remember that even these direct links are still pre-production examples):


The Nikon D800 @ ISO 400

Check out my latest post on resolution comparisons.

Friday, March 9, 2012

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Hipster Pink

Pink 

Although I still love my digital equipment, there's something nice about the patient medium of shooting with film.

Exposure-MatInterestingly enough this was shot without any metering, just using a handy sunny 16 exposure calculator I have in my wallet. Nothing electronic about this shot and although the fashionable thing these days is hipsters using iPhones to get shots like this, nothing beat analogue than shooting with analogue equipment.

It is more than just a filter on a camera phone, but it's about the experience. Looking down the viewfinder, taking the time to compose, and thinking all about my exposure as I snapped off the photo is far more than just hitting a touch screen on a phone.