14 Sep 2009 Podcast 208 : Canon EOS 7D & 100mm F2.8L Macro IS Lens Preview
On Saturday the 12th of September, 2009, I visited the Canon S Tower in Shinagawa, Tokyo, to attend the Canon EOS 7D and 100mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens Special Preview event. I’m a member of the Canon Photo Circle, which is basically a club here in Japan that you pay $80 a year for and they send you a magazine each month, and an annual, each year.
You also get cheap services fees etc. and sometimes, you have a chance to see things like the 7D and the 100mm Macro lens before the general public. Today, this helped me to see these two bits of gear approximately 3 hours before the general public. The Canon Photo Circle members were allowed in at 10AM, and the general public from 1PM. I was actually there in the afternoon as well, and I think it was less crowded than the morning, so I’m not sure if this is a privilege or a clever marketing ploy, but I suspect it’s the latter.
So, I called this episode a preview and not a review because I really only had a few minutes here and there with the 7D and 100mm F2.8 L Macro lens, and there are already lots of great technical reviews out there for the 7D, by people that have received early or production versions for long enough to do thorough testing. What I’m going to do today is just relay some of my initial thoughts from the Preview event at Canon’s S Tower. I also made a couple of recordings that although a bit disjointed, will give you an idea of the atmosphere at the event, so I’m going to insert them here. The first recording was while I was actually in the event hall (photo above, right).
I’m at the special preview for the 7D and the new 100mm F2.8 L Macro lens. I just had a play them, and noted that the 7D feels solid. It definitely feels like the next in line in the 50D range, so not big surprise there. There are a couple of cool things that I just found out. I actually found something that the guy that was answering my questions didn’t seem to know yet. There’s a new Dual Axis Electronic Level Display, that looks a bit like the display in a plane’s cockpit, to show you whether you are level or not. It shows this on both the X axis and Z axis, so you can tell if the camera is tilted to the sides, giving you a wonky horizon, and also tilted up or down. Initially though, having just pressed the Info button, the level was just displaying on a black background, and I would really like to see this superimposed over the LiveView, which is what I’d asked the Canon guy if it could do or not. Initially he said no, it was not possible, but then I had a play with it, and you can indeed get the level to display in LiveView. It’s a little bit smaller and indiscrete which is good, but it can be displayed, which is great.
Apart from that, I took a look at the new 100mm F2.8L Macro lens, and took it off the body, to feel the weight. It doesn’t feel quite as heavy as I’d expected but it’s a good weight, and definitely feels like an L lens. From shooting with the lens on the 7D and then looking on the LCD, I can’t really tell if the image quality is perfect, or really check the bokeh etc. It doesn’t really enable you to see that on the LCD, but it was good fun. Without putting my own compact flash card in and taking the image home to look at them on the PC, I can’t really tell if the image quality is what I’m expecting, but it felt good. Easily as good as I was expecting, apart from the weight, but it will also feel heavier once I have the tripod ring that I also have on order fitted. In general it’s pretty much what I was expecting. I just can’t wait to get it on my own camera, shoot some images and then share some with you. At the moment, I intend to keep hold of my old F2.8 Macro lens, the none L version, and do some comparison shots before I sell it on, probably to Pete Leong in Fukushima Prefecture here in Japan. 🙂
That was recorded while I was in the event, and I did record another slot, but there was a presentation by one of the photographer’s that Canon had given a 7D to, to test, that was doing a presentation while I recorded, and you could hear very clearly what he was saying. Although it was all in Japanese, it was almost like a recording of the talk, so it’s probably not the best idea to play that here. I spent the next few hours watching seminars, and I listened to the talks from the R&D heads that were responsible for the 7D and the 100mm L Macro lens development, and I recorded a second 10 minute note after I’d left the event, which I’ll play you now, and then add a few more thoughts after that, before we finish. Here’s a photo of the net enclosure that I mention, with the grass, trees and cosmos flowers that Canon setup to let people have a play with the 100mm F2.8 L lens, on either the new 7D or the 5D Mark II.
So, I just got out of the Canon S Tower, where I attended the Special Preview of the Canon EOS 7D Digital SLR camera and the EF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM lens, and I’ve walked down and am in front of Shinagawa Station in Tokyo right now. The last seminar that I just came from was a talk by the R&D heads that were responsible for the 7D and the 100mm L Macro lens development. Being an engineer myself by trade, I was really impressed as you can tell that they are making these new products from the heart, putting everything that they can into it. The guy that was responsible for the 7D development was talking about there is two mirrors. There’s the main mirror and then a sub-mirror, which I think he said was for the auto-focus mechanism. He said that in the 50D they dampened the action of the main mirror to absorb the vibration from the mirror movement, to enable them to get to the 6.3 frames per second that the 50D has, but for the 7D, they had to dampen the action of the rear sub-mirror as well, to get to 8fps. He seemed annoyed with himself though when he said that they weren’t able to get it to 10 frames per second. So they are obviously trying to get as much as they can into these cameras, from an engineer’s perspective, trying to make them as good as they can be.
On the new Hybrid IS (Image Stabilization) on the new 100mm Macro lens, they were talking about how they had to analyze the types of camera shake that you get when shooting macro images and devise ways to measure the amounts of camera shake and camera movement. They were saying that when using a lens at normal shooting distances, the camera shake is more prominent in the movement of the angle of the camera, but when you get down to 30 centimeters, working in the real Macro range, the up and down movement, or the shift of the lens becomes much more of a problem, which is where the new Hybrid IS comes in. They added speed sensors to detect the up and down movement of the lens, so they now have two kinds of sensors, one that detects the angle or tilt movement and the new one to detect the shift movement, so they had to develop algorithms to merge data from both sensors together, to effectively cancel out the camera shake in the macro range.
As I mentioned earlier, the new Macro lens is a little bit lighter than I expected, and as I think about this, that is of course a good thing, because of course you want your gear to be as light as possible, but with high quality. They also said though, that even while they added the new Hybrid IS functionality, they actually made the whole Image Stabilization unit smaller, which is obviously going to help to make the lens lighter too. It is of course a fully fledged L lens, so it’s weather proof and dust proof, even though they were able to make it lighter, but as I say, that’s a good thing, as you don’t want to lump around a big heavy piece of glass all day if you can help it.
I am really, really impressed with the new auto-focus on the 7D. It looks as though Canon have done an amazing job on this, and it’s really the next generation auto-focus, after a number of years without any major improvements in this area. You can split the 19 focus-points into groups, so down the middle or either side, and you can even split the middle section into the top or bottom four sensors leaving the middle part out. They showed a video of two guys on mountain bikes, and I’m not sure if you actually set a start point as a feature, but they said that they set the start-point for the auto-focus on the guy on the right as you look at the scene, and then the two guys rode towards the camera at different speeds and zigzagged in front of each other, but the auto-focus in AI Servo mode, tracked the guy that they started to focus on perfectly, and didn’t switch to the other guy, and didn’t drop to the background at all. The background was pretty far away and not very contrasty, but still, the way the auto-focus just stuck with the one guy the whole time was really incredible.
So, the 7D is definitely a camera to be thinking about, if you are looking to buy something in this range right now. I don’t think I’m going to get one myself, though I’ve learned to never say never. But if you are a user of the 40D, 50D range, it’s definitely interesting. I think actually the 7D is more than the 50D range. I can see why Canon needed to take this camera out of the two-digit-D line, though I’m not sure single-digit-D was the right place for it. Maybe it should have been a 17D or something like that, but without a doubt, they have taken this camera way past the two-digit-D camera range.
I’m really pleased that I came to the Special Preview event today, though I really came mainly to look at the new 100mm Macro lens, as I already have mine ordered, and I am pretty impressed with it. I guess I’ll just go into something else on the macro lens, sorry for keep switching back and forth, but I’m all excited speaking off the top of my head here. I took the 100mm Macro lens into a big room that they had, which was a big net and I’ll stick a photo into the blog post, but it was like a room with real glass and lots of cosmos flowers, in which you get five minutes with the lens.
I had them put the lens onto the 5D Mark II as opposed to the 7D, because I use the 5D Mark II myself. With the aperture wide open at F2.8 I set the shutter speed at 1/6th of a second, and adjusted the ISO to make this an accurate exposure. I went to 1/6th of a second because this is four steps below 1/100 of a second. Remember that old rule of thumb that you use the focal length that you are shooting at for the shutter speed to avoid camera shake, so a 100mm focal length needs at least 1/100 of a second shutter speed. So starting there, if you half 100 you get 50, which is one stop slower. Half that again to 25, then half that again to 12, then half that again to 6, gives you a four stop slower shutter speed at 1/6 of a second, because I’d heard that this new Hybrid IS gives you four stops slower shutter speed. I then shot one of the cosmos flowers at F2.8 with a 1/6 second shutter speed, and it was a mess, not sharp at all. I then went to 1/12 of a second which was still a mess, and then I took it to 1/20 of a second, which is slightly over two stops down from 1/100 of a second, and I got a sharp image.
I asked one of the guys in the room what this was all about, as I’d heard that the lens had four stops of image stabilization, and he said that it does at a normal shooting range, but in the macro range that decreases to two stops. I thought this was a little disappointing at first, but then I thought about it. You can never really hand hold a 100mm macro lens at 1/100th of a second anyway, at least not when shooting very close or at 1:1 life-size. Once in this range, you really have to have 1/320 or 1/400 of a second anyway, to really be able to hand-hold and still get sharp images when shooting at life-size. So I reckon if you really can use this lens at 1/25 of a second hand-held that’s great, and I’m sure I’ll still be trying to get a shutter speed of around 1/100 of a second anyway, just to be on the safe side. As I say, you usually try to get a much higher shutter speed, and if it’s on the dark side, you just have to crank up the ISO, but this lens will allow us to go slower than we might usually, so it’s pretty cool that Canon have added this Hybrid IS to the 100mm Macro lens, and I did get a sharp shot at 1/20 of a second, and if I was in the field I’d probably secure myself a lot more, I’d get both knees on the ground or lean against something, and generally do stuff to make myself more stable, so I am really impressed. Also, the engineers said that they put multiple aperture rings into the camera. I think the diagram they had showed two aperture rings, to basically give the lens much nice bokeh. They said that only one other lens in the Canon range has had two aperture rings in the past, and that’s no longer in production. They really want this lens to have as sweet a bokeh as they can possibly get, so they’ve gone the extra mile here as well, which is all really good stuff, and I’m really excited that I came by here today.
So, just to fill in a few gaps here, as I listened to what I said, I thought that I should note that even if you can shoot hand-held at 1/20 of a second in the Macro range, you do have to deal with subject movement. If you are shooting outside, even the slightest breeze is going to make your subject move too much to be able to realistically shoot at such low shutter speeds.
The guys at Canon also strongly recommended using AI Servo with this lens when shooting macro, to counter any subject movement or your own movement, because we tend to rock back and forth a little, especially when crouched down shooting. I think I’m going to be changing some of my shooting habits once I get this new Macro lens with the Hybrid IS. I tend to shoot with a tripod for much of my work anyway, especially for macro work. If you are trying to shoot bees flying from flower to flower though, you can’t be setting up a tripod each time. I’ve done it before where I set the camera up, framing the shot on one nice flower, making sure the background is nice etc. and then just wait for the bee to come along, but this is time consuming. Just a week or so ago, I was shooting bees on cosmos flowers hand-held my current macro lens, it does enable you to get shots that you simply can’t get with a tripod. I’ve used the tripod with the legs closed up, like a monopod too, but still, you aren’t as free as you are when shooting hand-held. I’ll probably try shooting in AI Servo, and see how it goes. I’ll report back at some point after getting the lens and let you know how this goes.
By the way, they had a pretty impressive visual test going on with two of these new macro lenses (below). What they’d done is disabled the new shift, or up and down camera shake compensation, that makes this new lens’ image stabilization Hybrid, and set it up next to another camera with the Hybrid IS turned on. They then pumped a video stream from the two cameras to two large displays. The cameras were both on a large platform that was constantly moving up and down, which was the action that they had to compensate for with the new Hybrid system. The results were pretty impressive, with the Hybrid IS almost stopping the image dead, while the one with the shift compensation disabled was jumping up and down pretty badly. I am so looking forward to getting this lens out in the field.
There’re just a couple more things that I wanted to talk about that I was impressed with, with the 7D, before we finish. The 7D has selectable 30, 25 or 24 frames per second when shooting in Full HD mode, which is 1920 x 1080 pixels, and when shooting in HD mode at 1280 x 720 pixels, you can select up to 60 frames per second, giving you the ability to shoot slow motion essentially. I know that video is not for everyone, but it’s good to see Canon raising the bar here as well. There’s also what Canon are calling the Intelligent Viewfinder, with a 100% field of view and a glass pentaprism. Not only is the viewfinder 100%, there’s a new LCD overlay that enables you to display a grid inside the view finder, as well as all the complicated focus point information, and an in-view finder display of the Dual Axis Electronic Level, so you can tell if you have the camera straight without looking at the LCD.
The new 63 zone dual-layer metering sensor also use color information for better metering. The guys at the event showed some example images shot in what looked like pretty challenging lighting conditions with back lighting and high contrast, yet they said that they were in Aperture Priority mode and had used no Exposure Compensation. One photographer went as far as to say that once you have learned how to use the new system, you can pretty much forget about controlling the exposure, because the camera does it so well for you. I’ll believe that when I see it, and probably still grab control even if I believe it, but still, I thought I’d relay this information.
The LCD is the same as the 5D Mark II with 920,000 dots, so it’s sharp enough to check focus, and they also said that it is ever easier to see than the 5D Mark II’s LCD, which is already quite impressive compared to the 1Ds Mark III. We also now finally have ±5 stops manual exposure compensation and ±3 stops selectable in Auto Exposure Bracketing. In Aperture Priority or Program modes, being able to compensate up to ±5 stops will be a huge help. Of course with the new metering system you shouldn’t need this as much, but there are always going to be times when you have to take control, either for artistic reasons or because you still fool the camera. However, good it gets, it’s still a machine.
I also checked the Canon Web site for information on starting the AI Servo with a certain group of focus points, as in the guys on the mountain bike example, and found the following sentence: “For automatic AF point selection, the AF point to start the AI Servo AF operation can be selected.” So I guess what this means is when you’re in AI Servo focusing mode, you select the focus point or group of points that are over the subject that you want to track, but then once you start to track the subject, you don’t necessarily have to keep that group of focus points over the subject. If it moves across the frame to other focus points the Predictive AI Servo will automatically select the correct group of focus points. It was really impressive to watch, for sure.
I can’t wait until this technology is built into the 5D Mark III, or the 1Ds Mark IV over the next year or so. Of course, the 1Ds Mark IV is going to have to come down in price dramatically for me to buy one. The $5,000 price difference between the 5D range and the 1Ds range simply does not seem worth it anymore. Sure, I want the weather proofing and sturdy build of the professional 1Ds, especially when in places like Hokkaido in the grueling winter weather conditions, but as Canon has now shown us that they are happy to put a similar number of pixels in the 5D line, as well as add other features that make it a better camera in many respects, you really have to ask yourself if that extra $5,000 is worth it. I reckon the only way I’ll go for a 1Ds Mark IV at the moment, is if the price comes down to around $5,000, or maybe even less. Of course, like I said earlier, I should never say never, but that’s how I feel right now, having seen the strides the technology is making even in the middle range bodies.
Anyway, that’s another story. For now, I’m going to wrap this episode up saying that it was a great day at the Canon S Tower, and I’m really pleased for those of you that buy into the 1.6X crop factor camera range. You have something to really sink your teeth into here. Congratulations seem to be in order.
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