Autofocus with Extenders on Mirrorless Cameras (Podcast 674)

Autofocus with Extenders on Mirrorless Cameras (Podcast 674)

This week I answer a question from listener Derek Bezuidenhout, who recently asked what happens with mirrorless cameras when we add an Extender or Teleconverter, so I’m dedicating this week’s episode to answering that Derek’s excellent question, which I’ll read out to you now.

As we know, when using an extender we typically lose 1 stop of light for a 1.4X extender or 2 stops of light through the lens for a 2X extender.  And when using an extender on a DSLR, because of the way the focusing mechanism works, either the camera won’t be able to focus at all, or it will only be able to use the centre focus point.
With mirrorless cameras, the focusing mechanism is completely different – it uses the main sensor instead of dedicated focus points. So does that mean that with an extender on a mirrorless body we would be able to reliably use all (or most of) the available AF points, rather than just the middle one?

Derek Bezuidenhout

I can’t believe I didn’t think to mention this in my EOS R reviews, but I didn’t, so I really appreciate this question. Thanks, Derek! I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear that you surmised exactly what happens as you posed your question.

DSLRs Today

The camera manufacturers have made strides in their recent years, enabling most modern DSLR cameras to focus with extenders down to an aperture of f/8. What this means, is if you are using an f/4 lens, and put on a 2X Extender, which reduces your aperture by two stops, your camera’s widest aperture changes from f/4 to f/8, and you maintain autofocus on at least the center focus point, sometimes more, depending on the camera.

If however, the minimum aperture of your lens is smaller than f/4, for example like my 100-400mm lens, with its widest aperture of f/4.5 at 100mm or f/5.6 when zoomed in to 400mm, on a DSLR that only focusses down to f/8, because I would be forced down to f/11 at 400mm when adding two stops, the autofocus stops working.

The Mirrorless Advantage

Because Mirrorless cameras focus differently, as Derek pointed out, at least as far as my Canon EOS R goes, it will continue to focus down to f/11 and what’s more, according to Canon’s website, you can continue to use autofocus across the full range of 88% x 100% on the image frame if you are using Mark III Extenders, which I am. This is the same as when you are using no extenders. Apparently with Mark I or Mark II Extenders that is reduced slightly to 80% x 80% of the total image frame, which is still very good in my opinion.

When we consider that many DSLR cameras bunch the autofocus points up towards the center of the frame, it becomes quite limiting to where you can place your subject in the frame, especially when photographing something like birds in flight, when you actually might want to place the subject much closer to the edges sometimes.

Demo Video

I tried to think of a way to show you the speed of the autofocusing system and how wide an area the camera will focus across, and figured it was probably best to just show you in a video, so I hooked my EOS R up to a video capture box and recorded my screen as I switched between my 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 Mark II Lens with no Extender fitted, to using it with the 1.4X Extender, and then the 2X Extender. I also show the 200-400mm with its built-in 1.4X Extender engaged, and a 2X Extender fitted, so both are focussing at f/11 with the 200-400mm lens at a focal length of 1120mm.

Extender Demo Setup
Using LED video lighting to demonstrate the EOS R autofocusing with Extenders fitted

Finally, I disengage the built-in 1.4X Extender to show you the effects of just having the external 2X Extender fitted. For all of these demonstrations, I was using the Canon Control Ring Mount Adapter to fit these EF lenses to the RF Mount of the EOS R.

Things to note are that autofocus does slow down very slightly, especially when using the 1.4X and 2X Extenders together. Also note that I did these demonstrations in my studio with bird ornaments, so in reality, when the autofocus has further to physically travel, it can be a little bit slower than you’ll see in the video as well. Anyway, here is the video, so please take a look.

I hope you found that interesting or at least useful to see. I find it amazing that we can now use autofocus at this level, down to f/11 apertures.

Upcoming Autofocus Improvements via Firmware Update

I noticed too that Canon have just announced a firmware update to improve autofocus further. On the US website it just says coming soon, but in Japan it is slated for the end of September. Here is what Canon are saying:

AF function improvement for EOS R and EOS RP Cameras

A new firmware update for Autofocus (AF) with the EOS R and EOS RP cameras will soon be available. This exciting new update will offer enhanced AF functions to help you better view, track and capture subjects. The three main components are:

  • Eye Detection AF will be improved so you can better focus on a moving subject’s eye even if it is far away or when the face appears small in the viewfinder. 
  • AF frame tracking is improved so there is virtually no delay between the actual focusing and when it’s displayed in the AF frame, helping you continuously track the subject and shoot comfortably.
  • The AF function works faster overall so even at a distance, you can capture the subject quickly.

This firmware will be available via a free download in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

I look forward to seeing how these changes affect autofocusing, and I can’t wait to see where the autofocus on mirrorless cameras leads us next. I honestly did not expect autofocus on these cameras to be anywhere near as good as it’s proven to be. Being able to focus on a sea eagle a split-second before it snatches a fish from the sea, as in this photograph from this years Japan Wildlife Tours, I had no complaints, but improvements are always welcome.

Steller's Sea Eagle Snatches Fish from Sea
Steller’s Sea Eagle Snatches Fish from Sea

Anyway, we’ll wrap it up there for this week. Thanks once again to Derek for the great question! Also, note that I’m running behind on the development of my new Mentorship system. Various things and other commitments have kept me a little too busy lately, but I am working on it and hope to release something very soon.

Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


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Final Verdict Review of the Canon EOS 7D Mark II (Podcast 464)

Final Verdict Review of the Canon EOS 7D Mark II (Podcast 464)

Following on from my First Impressions review of the Canon EOS 7D Mark II, today we’re going to dive in a little deeper, and see how this new offering faired during my Winter Wonderland Tours here in Japan over the last few months.

Although I’ll touch on some of these areas again today, I ran through many of the great new features in that earlier First Impressions review, which was episode 453, so check that out as well to hear more about what’s new. One of my main objectives while shooting through January and February was to really try to pull the most out of the autofocus, because as we heard in my first review, I was not really impressed with how well the camera handles subjects coming towards the camera.

Another thing we’d not looked at yet was the ISO Performance of the 7D Mark II, so I’ve done some more tests and have got information regarding that to share with you as well today.

Am I Happy with the 7D Mark II?

OK, so the first thing that I’d like to get to, is really somewhat subjective, but very important, as I know that some people have not been happy with the 7D Mark II, especially because of the autofocus capabilities in certain situations. Well, if you ask me if I’m in general happy with this new camera, the answer is a resounding “YES”! It’s not perfect, and we’ll get to that shortly, but I am absolutely happy with my 7D Mark II. It’s a very worthwhile addition to my kit.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

I mentioned in that first review that I might even consider selling my 1D X. Is that still the case? Well, no, not really. Why? Because the 7D Mark II starts to get a little noisy as you push up the ISO, and I have some images that I simply could not have got without the 1D X, so it stays, for now. However, I have to say that I’ll probably be revisiting this decision as I actually work through the rest of this year, based on just how much I really use the 1D X now that I have the 7D Mark II.

During my Winter Wonderland Tours & Workshops, I was using the 1D X basically as my second camera most of the time. After deletions during my initial run through my images, I see that from January 26 to February 26, I shot 18,931 images with the 7D Mark II, and I shot just 1,565 with my 1D X, which is less than 10% of my images for this time period.

Part of this was because I really wanted to see how well the 7D Mark II performed, and sometimes, even though I would have preferred to not have the crop factor for a wider field of view, I stuck with the 7D Mark II for test purposes. Most of the time though, I just loved having that crop factor for my wildlife work, and the extra 2 megapixels from the 7D Mark II are very welcome as well.

Intelligent Viewfinder II

I found the new Intelligent Viewfinder II a pleasure to work with, and although the 1D X is still a great camera, I just found things like having the digital level right there in the viewfinder all the time very useful. It’s also great to be able to see at a glance what shooting mode I’m in as well as other information that you can now display right there in the viewfinder.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Intelligent Viewfinder II

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Intelligent Viewfinder II

AF Point Coverage

Another thing that I really like is the wider autofocus point coverage. The 1D X seems to have all of it’s 61 AF points scrunched up in the middle of the frame, whereas the 7D Mark II’s AF points almost fill the frame! Especially for birds in flight, this gives us much more freedom as to where in the frame we can place the subject and still be able to track it with our autofocus.

Autofocus Performance

Although the 7D Mark II does have AF points across such a wide area of the frame, it did take me quite some time to really get the most out of the AI Servo tracking capability, and I mentioned the problems I was having in my earlier First Impressions review. As I’ve shot more with this camera and continued to tweak my settings, I have greatly increased my success to fail ratio for subjects moving towards the camera, which were initially the most problematic.

Although I tried lots of combinations as I tested this camera, my Tracking Sensivity, Accel./decel. tracking and AF pt auto switching settings ended up going back to pretty much what I’ve always used with the 1D X. As you can see in this photograph of my settings (below), I add these three settings to the My Menu on the camera for easy access, and I changed these a lot over the two tours trying to find my optimal settings.

7D Mark II AI Servo Settings

7D Mark II AI Servo Settings

For both the snow monkeys running towards me, and birds in flight, both subjects moving erratically, I found these settings to work the best. I have Tracking sensitivity set to -2, Accel./decel. tracking set to 1 and for AF pt auto switching I’ve been moving between 0 and 1 depending on the subject, depending on how accurately it’s working in a given situation.

With erratically moving subjects it’s important for the AF points to switch around quickly, so it’s tempting to increase the AF pt auto switching sensitivity, but as you increase the sensitivity, the focus often switches to an unwanted part of the scene too readily, so I found myself with AF pt auto switching set to zero most of the time.

This as I say is pretty much how I use my 1D X. As you can see in this stitch of six frames of a snow monkey coming down a snow bank towards me, screen-captured in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional with the AF Points displayed, the autofocus stayed with the face of the monkey for five of the six frames. Click on this to view larger so that you can see the active focus points, but you’ll see that the focus stays pretty much with his face for five of the six frames.

AI Servo Tracking Success (click to view larger)

AI Servo Tracking Success (click to view larger)

This level of accuracy is what I was hoping for, and was finally able to draw from the 7D Mark II. I still get the feeling that the overall success rate for this kind of AI Servo shooting isn’t quite up to the levels that I get with the 1D X, but without shooting exactly the same subject at exactly the same moment with both cameras simultaneously, it’s hard to quantify that.

ISO Performance

OK, so let’s move on and take a look at the image quality and ISO performance. As I’ve done in previous reviews of the 1D X and 5D Mark III, for these ISO performance tests, I simply set up a shot, with some light and shade areas, and shot a series of images going through the entire ISO range of the 7D Mark II in full stops and I’ve compared that with the 1D X. There is no ISO 50 on the 7D Mark II, so I started at ISO 100 on both cameras. The maximum ISO you can set on the 7D Mark II is 51200, but the 1D X goes up to 204800, so I included these last two ISOs for the 1D X as well, for comparison.

I used a 100mm macro lens for the tests, and set the camera’s aperture to f/10. Note that because of the 7D Mark II crop factor I did have to move the camera to try to frame both sets of images similarly, but they are not identical, and don’t really need to be to be able to appreciate the results.

First up, here is a gallery of 22 images resized to 1440 pixels wide, just so that you can get a feel for the downsized image quality at the entire ISO range. The labels below each image tell you which camera the image was shot with, and at what ISO. Don’t forget to open your browser up wide enough to see the images at their full size, or you’ll be looking at a browser generated smaller version.

Looking at these results, I’m sure you’ll agree that if you are shooting for Web or relatively low resolution presentation, then up to 12800 ISO is perfectly acceptable, and if you are OK with a bit of noise, even up to 51200 is pretty good still.

Here is another gallery of images, this time, 100% crops of the black cat with the shadow from the zebra. This gives us a good comparison of the noise levels in both the lighter areas and the shadows, where noise is generally more obvious. Click on the images and take a look at the noise in each as you click through them, and do take a moment to compare even the first pair of images at ISO 100.

Image Quality Trade-Off

The first thing that I noticed confirmed what I had started to think about the images from the 7D Mark II based on my shooting in the field over the last few months. Basically, the 7D Mark II produces lower quality images than the 1D X, even at the lowest ISO settings. From ISO 100 you can see grain in the 7D Mark II images, although this doesn’t really start to become visible in images from the 1D X until you hit around ISO 400.

Now, let’s not take this information out of context here. We have to keep in mind that the older brother 1D X is 3.5 times the price, and is a full-frame sensor camera. Because of the crop factor and higher resolution, the 7D Mark II’s pixels are smaller at 4.1 µm (micrometer) compared to the almost 1.7 times larger 6.95 µm pixels in the 1D X. (As pointed out below, we probably should have used the area of the photosites here, so the 1D X photosites are 2.87 larger than the 7D Mark II, not 1.7 – thanks Thomas!) There’s no getting around this, as you simply have to cram more pixels onto the sensor to achieve the resolution of the 7D Mark II.

Like everything, it’s a trade-off. Two reasons I’ve been using the 7D Mark II over the 1D X is because of the crop factor which works in our favour for some wildlife photography, and the higher resolution, which is always nice to have if it doesn’t come at too much of a drop in image quality.

And that, is the most important thing to bear in mind here. Yes, the 7D Mark II produces lower quality images than the 1D X, but do I consider that to be a problem? Absolutely not. I’ll continue to use the 7D Mark II for the benefits that it brings to my photography, and at the end of the day, the image quality is still off the charts if you don’t compare it to a much more expensive full frame sensor counterpart. (See some images from the field to back this up in last week’s 100-400mm Mark II lens review.)

ISO Performance Drops Two Stops

Now, back to the ISO performance comparison. To me, it looks like the two stops of performance that starts right down at ISO 100, compared to ISO 400 on the 1D X, holds pretty much through the entire ISO range. Here are the same images as above, but this time I’ve ordered them with ISO 100 on the 7D Mark II next to two stops higher ISO from the 1D X, so we start at ISO 100 vs. 400, then 200 vs. 800 and so on. As we get into the higher ISOs, the shadow noise from the 1D X increases compared to two stops lower ISO on the 7D Mark II, but the brighter areas such as the cat’s face hold out much better on the 1D X.

If we bear this all in mind, as I say, I’m thinking that the 1D X has about two stops better ISO performance than the 7D Mark II. If you recall back to my 5D Mark III review, I found that the 5D Mark III had about one stop lower ISO performance than the 1D X, so it’s right in the middle of these two cameras.

My 7D Mark II ISO Ceiling

With all of my cameras, I like to decide on a ceiling to which I’ll take the ISO, based on tests like these and real-world use cases in the field. With my 1D X, this has in practice been ISO 12800. I have images from the field at this ISO that I am very happy to have been able to shoot, and the image quality is there. With the 7D Mark II, I’ve happily gone up to ISO 3200, and based on these tests will probably go up to 6400 if I need to.

ETTR for Best ISO Performance

Before you jump on your keyboard and start to write me that I’m crazy, or that you don’t see this level of performance from your camera, take a moment to consider that I always Expose to the Right, a technique known as ETTR. I’m not going to delve into this today, but basically, because I expose my images so that the information on the histogram is just about touching the right shoulder, I get better ISO performance from my camera than you will say, if you trust the camera’s meter, and you have a large gap on the right side of your histogram. There’s simply less noise if you expose to the right, even if that means increasing your ISO by a few stops to achieve the brighter exposure. See episode 381 if you’d like to learn more about this.

The Final Verdict

OK, so let’s wrap this up now, with my final verdict on the Canon EOS 7D Mark II. The autofocus doesn’t feel quite as snappy as the 1D X for subjects advancing towards me, although it’s now very acceptable, and the image quality is not quite as good by comparison, but still exceptionally good. These two things are the only even slightly negative aspects. When you consider all the great points about this camera, that we’ve covered in this and my First Impressions review, and then think of the price, at almost a quarter of the cost of the 1D X, I think Canon are on to a winner here.

For many, the 1D X is out of reach, but I honestly don’t think you need to be too concerned about that if this is the case for you. If you need a wildlife or sports camera, don’t want to break the bank, you won’t go far wrong with the 7D Mark II. I have both but I’m sure I’ll continue to reach for the 7D Mark II over the 1D X moving forward, unless I need to literally be able to shoot in the dark, which is where the 1D X still has the ultimate edge. Honestly, the extra reach you get from the crop factor and the higher resolution among other things all make the 7D Mark II in many ways, the better camera.

Either way, I hope you found these reviews useful, and remember, if you buy from our friends at B&H, you can help to support our Podcast and Blog by buying with our links below. And if you feel like splurging, I also mentioned in last week’s podcast, the 7D Mark II and Canon’s new 100-400mm lens are a match made in heaven, so I’ll just go ahead and reuse last week’s widget just in case.

New Fine Art Print Giveaway!

Before we finish, I also wanted to let you know that we have started a new fine art print giveaway draw to win a print of a photo from January’s Hokkaido Landscape Photography tour. Just visit the page and enter your name and email address to subscribe to our newsletter, and enter for a chance to win. I’ll be drawing the winner on June 14, 2015, and remember that you can enter this draw even if you’ve entered previous draws.

Boat Graveyard #2

Boat Graveyard #2

Show Notes

Canon EOS 7D Mark II on B&H: Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Music by Martin Bailey


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Podcast 328 : Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital SLR Review

Podcast 328 : Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital SLR Review

Last week I picked up my Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital SLR camera on the day of the launch, and I took some lenses, a fully charged battery and a CF card with me to Shinjuku, so that I could start using the camera right away. A Starbucks lunch with a table gave me enough time and a place to set up the camera and take a quick run through the menus, making sure I was shooting RAW etc, and I was ready to go.

I went to the Shinjuku Gyoen Park, where I knew the Kanzakura, a type of early flowering cherry blossom, were in bloom, and this always attracts some birds which would be a good test of the new Auto-Focus, as well as high ISO capabilities, as it wasn’t a particularly bright day. I’d been hoping for White Eyes, but when I got there I found a flock of Brown-eared Bulbuls at the main Kanzakura tree, so I set in to see how the 5D Mark III handled.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

I posted the first couple of shots that we’ll look at today on my blog last week, so you may have already seen them, but lets take a look at these first, so show you how sharp the sensor is, and at high ISO’s too. Ensure that you have your browser window nice and wide, and click on the the images to view them at the full size that I posted them in, to really see the full detail.

First, here’s one of my favorite shots from the day, of the Bulbul just taking off, with a couple of blossom petals falling. This is straight out of the camera, shot handheld with a 300mm F2.8 lens and the 1.4X Extender III fitted, and using ISO 400 for 1/1000 of a second at f/5.6. Note too that this was the second of the only two shots that I was able to get as I saw the bird start to spread its wings. Had it not been for the faster frame rate of six frames per second, I’d have missed this shot.

Brown-Eared Bulbul Takes Flight

Shot with the new Canon EOS 5D Mark III – There’s about a 3% crop on the top and right side of this, for artistic reasons, but that’s all I’ve done to this image.

Here though, is a 100% crop (if viewed with the browser window wide enough) showing just the birds head and some of the blossom. You can see that the focus is spot on, right over the head, beak and extending down to the eyes, which is exactly what I wanted. And the sharpness is amazing. Of course, that was always a given but it’s nice to see such great image quality.

Browned-Eared Bulbul Takes Flight 100% Crop

Browned-Eared Bulbul Takes Flight 100% Crop

Just to be sure you know what I mean by straight out of camera here, for these first few images I had downloaded the Release Candidate of Adobe Camera RAW 6.7 which has support for the 5D Mark III and 1D X already. So basically these photos do have the default settings for the latest Adobe Camera RAW applied, but I have not applied any noise reduction at all. Also note that I cropped the full version of this image by about 3% along the top and right side, to clean up the right edge a bit, but that’s all I did.

5D Mark III Support in Lightroom

I did try to use Digital Photo Professional and ImageBrowser EX, that come with the camera, but that just confirmed my belief that Canon should stick to making great cameras. After confirming that Adobe’s Bridge and Photoshop combination is only slightly less painful, I found that if I convert my RAW files to DNG using the ACR 6.7 DNG Converter (also still Release Candidate as of March 27, 2012) I can then import and edit my images in Lightroom 4, which was such a relief.

Camera Controlled Exposure

Anyway, let’s get back to my first day’s photos. Although you probably know I shoot pretty much exclusively in Manual exposure mode, I was moving from shooting the birds on the outside of the tree, to going under the tree and shooting up at the birds, and there was much less light under the tree than on the top. This did of course mean that I had more backlight when under the tree, but I found it easier to deal with that with Exposure Compensation than a Manual Exposure adjustment. I know this is very different to my shooting techniques so far, but I was also trying to get a feel for the new brain in this camera, and it worked out pretty well.

For the last shot, I’d already started to try Aperture Priority, but I found myself constantly checking to ensure that I was getting a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the birds motion. Although I like a bit of wing movement in my bird shots, these Bulbuls move so fast that to keep their heads sharp too I needed to keep my shutter speed at 1/1000 of a second. Because of that though, I decided to also try Shutter Priority, setting the shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second, but I also took another leap of faith at this point, which was Auto ISO.

Although some of my recent cameras have had Auto ISO, I’ve didn’t feel comfortable using it because I otherwise shot in Manual, and allowing the camera to make decisions about the exposure would have taken control out of my hands. Now though, using Aperture and Shutter Priority, I figured I might as well take another leap of faith, and give the camera maximum flexibility in exposure, beyond changing the aperture or shutter speed, so I flicked the camera into Auto ISO mode too.

This resulted in the next image being shot at ISO 2000 with a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second at f/4.5, and I have to tell you, I was very impressed. Although I couldn’t reproduce the high grain on my 1Ds Mark III in my tests over the last few days, at least from my experience in the field, this images seems about as clean as ISO 400 on my 1Ds Mark III, and probably comparable to ISO 640-ish, on my old 5D Mark II.

Brown-eared Bulbul at ISO 2000

Brown-eared Bulbul at ISO 2000

And here’s a 100% crop of the bird’s face. You can see that I nailed the focus on the bird’s eye again, and that was hand-held, at 420mm, with an aperture of f/4.5, so incredibly shallow depth of field.

Brown-eared Bulbul at ISO 2000 - 100% Crop

Brown-eared Bulbul at ISO 2000 – 100% Crop

I used a mix of AI Servo and One Shot auto-focus, but because I was shooting under a tree with lots of branches everywhere, it was mostly One Shot on this day, but I’ve got to tell you, I really believe that the new auto-focus system on the 5D is worth the cost of the upgrade all by itself. Almost all of the 500+ frames I shot of these birds on my first day were tack sharp, right where I wanted the focus to be. The hit ratio over the 5D Mark II is greatly improved, and it’s even better so far compared to the 1D Mark IV, which was a huge improvement over previous cameras at the time too.

Before we move on though, just to reiterate, this image (above) was shot at ISO 2000, and just look how clean it is.

How High Can You Go?

So, over the last few days, I’ve been testing the 5D Mark III in my studio, to see just how high you can safely go with the ISO before you have to start to worry about the grain. I’ll show you some example photos right after this, but to cut to the chase, I’m thinking that I can use as high as ISO 12800 without thinking about the noise at all. ISO 1600 is the new ISO 400, and ISO 6400 is the new ISO 800, of course this depends on what camera you’ve been shooting with so far, but this is how I’ve mentally remapped the new ISO to Image Quality.

With the 5D Mark II and 1D Mark IV, in low light, I would go down to ISO 1600 without worrying too much, although I’d go further if necessary. My mental limit though was 1600, but now with the 5D Mark III that point where you think for a moment, will probably be when I go past ISO 12800. When I really need to push it, I’ll still go to 25600, which is where Canon set the defaults for this camera, and depending on how I intend to use the image, I’d even 51200 if necessary.

Expanded ISO

If you want to, you can set the camera to allow you to select two Expanded ISOs, H1 and H2, which are equivalent to ISOs 51200 and 102400. I think the point that Canon set the defaults is spot on, because the image degrades quite a lot at these ISOs, but still, if you are really in need of an extra stop, H1, ISO 51200 is just about usable, especially if you are shooting for the Web or printing relatively small.  ISO 102400 is probably to be avoided, but again, if a UFO lands on your lawn, and they don’t light everything up for you, then use it, and try to clean the image up later in Lightroom.

ISO Examples

OK, so let’s take a look at some photos shot through the entire ISO range. First, here are twelve shots in one stop increments from ISO 50 to ISO 102400. These have been reduced to a height of 853px for the Web, but this shows that for Web use, you can really tell no difference in the quality of the image until you reach into the Expanded ISO Range, with the two images at 51200 and 102400 at the end. Click on the first thumbnail to view the image larger, and then click the right of the image or use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move through the images.

ISO 50

ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 12800

ISO 25600

ISO 25600

ISO 51200

ISO 51200

ISO 102400

ISO 102400

Pretty impressive huh!? Let’s take a look a 100% crop from the above images to see how the grain really looks.

ISO 50 - 100% Crop

ISO 50 – 100%

ISO 100 - 100% Crop

ISO 100 – 100%

ISO 200 - 100% Crop

ISO 200 – 100%

ISO 400 - 100% Crop

ISO 400 – 100%

ISO 800 - 100% Crop

ISO 800 – 100%

ISO 1600 - 100% Crop

ISO 1600 – 100%

ISO 3200 - 100% Crop

ISO 3200 – 100%

ISO 6400 - 100% Crop

ISO 6400 – 100%

ISO 12800 - 100% Crop

ISO 12800 – 100%

ISO 25600 - 100% Crop

ISO 25600 – 100%

ISO 51200 - 100% Crop

ISO 51200 – 100%

ISO 102400 - 100% Crop

ISO 102400 – 100%

Following on from the Web sized images, these do show more grain than you might have hoped in the higher ISOs, but realistically, I still think this is pretty impressive, especially when you consider just high these ISOs are. I think you’ll agree that 12800 is almost a no-brainer, with 25600 still really quite usable and even 51200 still in the running at a push.

More on Auto ISO

So, as I said, although I know people have been using this for a while, I believe this now makes Auto ISO something that I myself will be using more moving forward, so I just wanted to note a few things with regards to the Auto ISO settings.

You might be wondering how the camera makes a decision to increase the ISO over reducing shutter speed, but you’ll be pleased to know that this is quite intelligent, and you have some control over the decision too. Firstly, you’re able to set the minimum shutter speed that you’ll go to before the camera starts to crank the ISO.

If you are in Manual mode, where you set the aperture and shutter speed, Auto ISO will adjust itself to put exposure at where the camera thinks it should be with the exposure compensation caret at zero. In Aperture Priority, or Shutter Priority, you can use Exposure Compensation as well, to increase or decrease the Exposure.

If you’ve set the Minimum Shutter Speed to Auto, the camera cleverly uses the focal length of the lens fitted, including zoom lenses, as the minimum shutter speed. This is of course automating use of the popular rule of thumb regarding shutter speeds, which makes this really quite a useful setting. For example when I have my 50mm lens fitted, shooting in low light, the camera will drop down to 1/50 and sometimes 1/40 of a second, and increase the ISO rather than going slower, until I hit the maximum ISO that I specified in the Auto ISO Range. Once I hit the maximum ISO, the shutter speed will start to drop below 1/40 of a second, as a last resort. When I use my 70-200mm lens though, the automatic minimum shutter speed increases to match the focal length I am shooting at.

If you select something other than Auto for your Minimum Shutter Speed, the camera will start to crank the ISO higher when you reach that shutter speed, but again once the ISO reaches the maximum set in the Auto ISO Range, it will start to increase the shutter past the minimum you selected. In Manual mode using Auto ISO means that you do of course lose control of the exposure, but if maintaining an absolute slowest shutter speed is more important than under-exposing your images, then it’s still useful. You can set both your Shutter Speed and Aperture, and have the Auto ISO expose you’re shots to what the camera thinks is the correct exposure, but then if it gets too dark, you’ll just get dark shots, rather than slower shutter speeds.

5D Mark III - Top View

5D Mark III – Top View

Gapless Microlenses and Larger Pixels

Although we gained a slight resolution boost, jumping from 21 megapixels to 22 megapixels, apparently now there are now no gaps between the microlenses that sit above the photodiodes, and larger 6.25 µm (micrometer) pixels which in turn means improved signal to noise ratio, higher dynamic range, and of course this is partly what’s behind the incredible new ISO capabilities. Basically the camera is gathering almost every bit of light that hits the sensor, which along with the new DIGIC 5+ image processor has resulted in better image quality in every way. I haven’t had time to search around to see if anyone else is talking about this, but I generally find the quality of the images coming out of this camera to be richer, deeper and simply more pleasing to look at.

Greatly Improved Auto-Focus System

I mentioned briefly earlier that the new Autofocus is deftly accurate, but let’s take a little bit more in-depth look at what’s changed.

One of the only things that I was unhappy with on the 5D Mark II was the autofocus system. My other cameras are a 1Ds Mark III and a 1D Mark IV, both with 45 point AF, and especially the 1D Mark IV, had much better AI Servo for tracking moving subjects like birds in flight. Spoilt by that somewhat, I was always disappointed by the 5D Mark II’s ability to track birds in flight, and didn’t like having to select just one of eight other AF points when I moved away from the center point, but that’s changed.

Although I haven’t shot birds in flight yet, from my tests on my first day, it’s easy to see that the new 61 Point AF system is worlds ahead of the 5D Mark II and even the 1D Mark IV with regards to accuracy. It just nailed the focus so much more often than I’ve seen until now. I always felt that AI Servo wasn’t as accurate as One Shot for focusing on even a stationary bird, but having used AI Servo for the relatively fast moving Bulbuls in the tree last week, I found it to be as accurate at nailing sharp focus than One Shot focussing.

Also, low light focusing seems greatly improved. I haven’t had an opportunity yet to do any tests in the field, but just focusing in my studio towards the end of the day, in light that would require around a two second shutter speed at ISO 100, both AI Servo and One Shot seem to be focusing very well. It’s snappy and accurate.

5D Mark III - Autofocus Menu

5D Mark III – Autofocus Menu

You can see (above) that Canon were serious about the Autofocus on this camera, because they gave autofocus a whole menu to itself.

Selecting AI Servo AF Characteristics

The AF Menu starts off with six presets or Cases for various types of subject, with varying Tracking Sensitivity, Acceleration and Deceleration tracking and AF point Auto Switching sensitivity.

All of the modes are based on a sport, and may not immediately seem to apply to what you are shooting, but I’m sure as we use the system it will become easy to know which to use for any given situation. I imagine for example that when shooting the Eagles in Hokkaido, that switch direction and speed very erratically, Case 5 for figure skaters might work well, or even Case 6 for rhythm gymnasts. For birds in flight without so much erratic movement, might be better with Case 4 though, for soccer and motor sports. I’m sure someone’s already posted this stuff on the Web as well, but I haven’t checked. Either way, I’ll be doing some trial and error tests myself to get a feel for each mode. All of these Case presets are customizable by the way, so you aren’t restricted to what Canon has provided us.

Also, in the other AF Menu screens, you can fine tune things like how much priority the camera should give to obtaining accurate focus before you are able to release the shutter for the first frame, and you can set a different priority for the second frame onwards in continuous shooting.

Basically this means that you can say to the camera, I’m not really worried about accurate focus for the first frame, just let me start shooting, but the after that slow down the frame rate if necessary to obtain a better focus. Or conversely you could say don’t let me start shooting until you have focus, but then shoot away regardless from the second frame onwards. These are three value sliders though, so the reality is you’d probably choose somewhere in between and try to get the best of both worlds, as you test to see what works best for you.

By the way, I set mine to prioritize focus for the first frame, and then equal priority from the second frame onwards. I’ll let you know how I get on with this later, especially if I start to make changes.

AF Area Selection Modes

There are six  AF Area Selection Modes, including Single-point Spot AF for pinpoint focusing. This is was I used the most for the Bulbul shots last week, so that I could focus on the birds eyes even through small gaps in the cherry blossom petals.

Single-Point AF is also just one AF point, but it doesn’t have the dot in the middle of the square that represents the Spot AF in the last option I mentioned. AF Point Expansion enables the four AF point above, below and left and right of the selected AF point to also become active. You can also expand this selection to include all eight AF points surrounding the selected point.

Zone AF is where a block of focus points are selected, and can be moved around nine zones using all of the 61 AF points, and finally, there’s 61-point Automatic Selection AF mode, where you leave selection of the AF point entirely up to the system.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III AF Area Selection Modes

Canon EOS 5D Mark III AF Area Selection Modes

Orientation Linked AF Mode and Point Selection

Another nice touch, and something that I’ve had on my 1 Series bodies for a while, is Orientation Linked AF Points. You can now select an Auto-focus mode and manually selected  AF points for each orientation, so if you have one mode and AF Point selected with the camera in Landscape mode, then switch to Portrait mode, and select another AF Point or AF area selection mode, it will remember the difference, and toggle between the two sets of settings as you change the camera’s orientation.

No Auto-Focus at F8

Unfortunately, even with such a vastly improved autofocus system, and despite the fact that it’s been ported almost exactly as is from the 1D X, the 5D Mark III will not allow auto-focus at f8, which means you can’t use a 2X Extender on the f4 super-telephoto lenses, or any combination of lens and extender that takes your lenses widest aperture to f8.

This was always possible in previous 1 Series bodies, but even the 1D X might not have this when it finally hits the streets, which has the birding community up in arms. I’ve heard that this is because the physical sensors in the 1D X and 5D Mark III system are only rated down to f5.6, so there may be a physical restriction. People tape up the connectors on the back of the lenses though, and also use teleconverters that don’t relay the aperture information to the camera to overcome this, and it seems to work on most occasions.

I’ve also heard that Canon are talking about making a firmware change to allow you to turn on f8 auto-focus on the 1D X, albeit a little slower than f5.6 auto-focus, and if they do that, it would be nice to see this change made for the 5D Mark III too. As it is right now, I’ve confirmed that my 600mm f4 lens doesn’t have autofocus with the 2X Extender fitted.

63 Zone iFCL Metering

Before we move on from the Autofocus system, I wanted to briefly mention that the 5D Mark III also incorporates dual layer 63 zone iFCL or intelligent Focus Color Luminance metering. Basically the system takes color and luminosity readings from around the selected focus points to increase metering accuracy.

Ergonomics, Buttons and Dials

A lot has been redesigned in the 5D Mark III and one thing that the people at Canon said they put a lot of time and effort into was the sound of the shutter mechanism. I wasn’t surprised to hear that, because I’d heard the shutter during the launch event, and found it very pleasing. Let me shoot a few frames here, and show you what I mean (listen to the audio).

Also, there’s a Silent mode, that slows down the frame rate, but does make the shutter mechanism really quiet, if you find yourself in a situation where that’s important. Here’s how it sounds… (Again, listen to the audio, it’s at about 31 mins.) Both of these were recorded with the camera about 15cm from the mic, so you can tell that the Silent mode is much quieter.

Both sound great, but I really like the standard shutter sound myself. I think it’s the best sounding shutter mechanism of any Canon camera so far. Great work here.

The camera itself actually now feels much better to handle. It was never a bad camera line, but the grip now feels more substantial, and the addition of the M-Fn, Multifunction button aids operation greatly. In fact, there’s a new Custom Controls menu that we see in this image, from which you can customize many of the buttons on the camera.

For example as you can see in this image (below) I have set my camera so that the new electronic level is displayed in the view finder when I press the M-Fn button, located just above and to the left of the Shutter button. This is also where you can remove auto-focus from the shutter button, so now my shutter button only meters, and then of course releases the shutter. To focus I press the AF-ON button on the back of the camera.

5D Mark III - Custom Controls Menu

5D Mark III – Custom Controls Menu

There is also a Live View and Movie START/STOP button to the right of the viewfinder, which will be easier to use when shooting movies, but I haven’t yet had a chance to shoot any video. Other new buttons include a Quick Control button just above the Quick Control Dial, for easy access to the camera controls on the LCD. The Quick Control Dial is also now touch sensitive when shooting movies, so that you don’t hear the clicking sound of the dial if you change settings while you’re recording.

I found myself instinctively using the new RATE button to give stars to a few of the better images from my shoot last week, and although I didn’t check this myself, I believe these star ratings are universal, and available in Lightroom and Bridge etc.

There is also a new Multifunction Lock switch which can be programmed to lock the Quick Control Dial, the Multi-Controller and the Main Dial individually, or none at all, which will be useful if you sometimes catch these dials while shooting.

Mode Dial Lock Release

I’m also pleased to see that there’s now a button in the center of the Mode Dial, so that you can’t accidentally switch between shooting modes, such as Aperture Priority and Manual etc. With my old 5D Mark II, especially when using the Black Rapid straps, the camera would rub against my leg and change the dial quite often, which used to drive me crazy.

Zooming Blues

One change that I’m having a really hard time getting use to is that Canon decided to take the preview image magnification away from the buttons on the top right on the back of the body. Pretty much every time I go to look at an image I’ve shot, I hit the AF Point Selection button to zoom in, and nothing happens. There’s now a dedicated button in the middle of the five buttons that run along the left side of the back. It was really easy to just hit that AF-Point Selection button before, and it’s become muscle memory for most people I’m sure, so it would have been nice to have left that alone.

Note that you can, and I did change the custom controls so that the Set Button in the middle of the Quick Control Dial displays the image preview and zooms in as well. You can also set a custom function to zoom to a predetermined magnification, or remember the amount of magnification last used, which is also nice.

View Finder Improvements

We now also have almost 100% field of view in the viewfinder, which is great, and really helps to keep the edges of the frame clean when shooting with the viewfinder. The new Intelligent Viewfinder with Superimposed LCD also allows for lots of information to be displayed right there in the Viewfinder. I really like for example how the focus points and grid illuminate in low light, or just show up as a black squares and grid when it’s light enough to see them. Also the viewfinder flashes red when you achieve focus too when it’s dark, so there’s no ambiguity.

What you see in the Viewfinder is fully customizable too. You can turn the grid on or off, and how the Focus points are displayed is fully customizable as well. I can’t imagine anyone not being able to find a way that really suits there shooting style, including just turning it all off if necessary, and it’s all customizable really quickly, so you can change it for any particular type of shooting too.

Multiple Exposure Example

Multiple Exposure Example (Click for Larger View)

Multiple Exposure

One other feature that I was looking forward to is Multiple Exposure. I used to have this on my old Canon SLR film camera, and Nikon users have had this for a while, but now we have it on the 5D Mark III and the 1D X will have Multiple Exposure too, and I had a lot of fun playing with it over the last few days.

This shot is a two frame multiple exposure. For the first frame, I went to f2.8 and focussed on the Calla Lily, to send the background elements out of focus. Then for the second shot, I stopped down to f11, to bring the background into focus, and I used the Dark (comparative) control mode, which basically gives preference to darker tones over lighter ones. All the modes are useful, and you can create a nice painterly feel quite easily with a bit of experimentation.

I really was like a kid in a candy store playing with this feature over the last few days, but I soon learned that it’s very easy to overdo it. For example, you can shoot your first image totally out of focus, then overlay one that’s nice and sharp, and at first, it looks quite nice, but the more you look at the resulting images, they just look like badly done HDR images, so care is needed here.

Also, you can of course do shots of moving subjects, shooting more than two frames, up to nine I believe, and have them appear at multiple points in the frame, which is fun. The cool thing about this too is that unlike with the old film cameras, you actually get an overlay on your LCD and can line up your shots with what you will overlay them on, so it’s quite easy to get good results too. The most time consuming part was getting use to the different modes, like Additive, Average, Bright and Dark, but the creative options are huge with this, and like I say, it’s a lot of fun.

HDR Mode

I guess I should have spent more time testing the HDR mode, but at the moment I just don’t do that much HDR, and so it fell by the wayside as I tried to find out as much as I could about the 5D Mark III over the past four days as I prepared for this review. I did do a few handheld shots with the natural mode selected, and they looked incredibly good. As I try this in the field I’ll report back with my findings, but I’m sure there’ll be plenty of others covering this in their reviews soon anyway.

5D Mark III - Rear View

5D Mark III – Rear View


Need That Battery Grip!

Apart from not getting used to the repositioned Zoom button yet, the only other thing that I have found awkward, especially while shooting the birds on my first day with the camera, is the lack of vertical shooting controls. Of course, these will come with the Battery Grip BG-E11 that is scheduled for release towards the end of April. I didn’t think I’d miss that grip so much, but I’m really looking forward to that release.

GPS Receiver GP-E2

With Lightroom 4 now having GPS support, I’m also looking forward to the new GPS Receiver, GP-E2 that fits into the flash shoe, and will work with the 1D X when I get that too, which saves me having to buy a dedicated GPS unit for the 1D X. These units record the direction that the camera is pointing when you take a photo as well, which will be useful.


Well, following that review, it’s probably a foregone conclusion, but I have to finish by saying that I give the Canon EOS 5D Mark III a huge thumbs up. You might think that I want to give this camera a good review because I just spent $3,500 on it, but really, I’d tell you if I didn’t like it, and honestly, it has far exceeded my expectations. I was really looking forward to the new Autofocus and ISO capabilities, and the Multiple Exposure. I have 10 frames per second on my 1D Mark IV, but it’s still nice to be able to shoot higher resolution images six frames per second too. It’s not lightening fast, but it was enough to get some tricky action shots with the Bulbuls, and I’m looking forward to really giving the AI Servo focusing a run for its money too.

I know there’s been a lot of fuss about the raised prices for the 5D Mark III, but I tell, from what I’ve seen, there’s easily that amount of R&D gone into this camera, and I don’t regret paying the extra and picking up my copy of this great new edition to the Canon line up. The new ISO capabilities and Autofocus open up doors to us in the Canon camp, and as I say, the images seem to have a depth and richness that I was not expecting, and I’m looking forward to hearing what others think about this. I hope it’s not just me, coming from my infatuation with my new baby.

If you are planning to buy a 5D Mark III, please support this blog buy using our B&H affiliate links…


Podcast End Notes

Aurora Expeditions

Before we finish, firstly, I’d like to mention that I’ve hooked up with Aurora Expeditions putting me on these eight voyages as resident photographer. We’ll be visiting Antarctica and South Georgia, the European Arctic, including Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland, and the Russian Coast including Kamchatka, the Kuril Islands, Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya.

Information on these amazing photography adventures is on my Tours & Workshops page, with links to full details of each voyage on Aurora Expeditions Web site. Do check that out if you are interested in joining me on one of these amazing photography adventures.

Partnered with Stitcher Smart Radio

Also, we’ve recently joined forces with Stitcher Smart Radio, to enable you to listen to the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast using Stitcher on your iPhone, Android Phone and Kindle Fire, as well as in GM and Ford cars that support Stitcher Radio. I’ve put a graphic tile in the sidebar on the blog and Podcasts page, if you need the app, but if you already use Stitcher, just search for Martin Bailey Photography and you’ll be hooked up in seconds.

Show Notes

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