Sensor Cleaning – No Single Solution (Podcast 98)

Sensor Cleaning – No Single Solution (Podcast 98)

Last Saturday I finally tried using the sensor swabs that have been sitting in their little sterile bags for the last few years, along with a bottle of cleaning fluid. To cut a long story short, I used up $80 worth of swabs, and still had a dirty sensor, so I took a trip to the camera shop, and they let me try a few solutions, and made some recommendations. I took their advice and now have a nice clean sensor. Today we’ll take a look at what I settle on. Before we move on, once again, I’d like to say again a huge thank you to all of you that nominated the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast in the 2007 Podcast Awards. Thanks to you we made it to the final list of nominees in the Education category, and voting is in progress until August 11th. During this time please vote every 24 hours at www.podcastawards.com. You’ll find the Podcast listed under the Education section. You need to provide your name and a valid email address, as many of the votes will be validated by clicking a link on an email you’ll receive after voting. There’s some pretty tough competition, but if you think this is the best Educational Podcast you listen to, please do support the MBP Podcast by voting as often as you can during this next week. And if you know of anyone else that probably would like to vote but may not be listening right now, do drop them a line and remind them to support us too. Thanks again for getting us this far, now let’s see if we can’t make a dent in the final voting.


Those of you that listen to the Focus Ring podcast will have heard me say recently that I really don’t need to clean my sensor because I blow the dust off regularly. I also mentioned recently on the MBP Forum that because I shoot with wide apertures quite a lot, dust is really not a problem for me. As we saw last week though, when shooting macro shots, even to get an acceptable depth of field, I have to stop down to f11 or smaller, and when I looked at these shots, I realized that my 5D’s digital sensor was actually pretty dirty. I had to do a fair amount of spotting just to get these shots clean. So, I decided that it was time to give the sensor swabs and cleaning fluid that I bought a few years ago a try. With many people using this method I figured it couldn’t be that scary, so I sat down and re-read the instructions, and set about cleaning the sensor.

Before actually cleaning the first, I took at a shot of a white piece of paper with the aperture stopped down to f16 which, when viewed at 100%, confirmed that there were a large number of very small pieces of dust on the sensor. So, I took off the lens and used my larger blower to blow out the chamber with the mirror and everything while holding the camera upside down to make sure that any dust I loosen drops out of the chamber and doesn’t make its way further in. Then I selected the Sensor Cleaning option from the camera’s menu to flip the mirror up and reveal the sensor below, and gave it a good squirt with the blower as well, to get as much dust off as possible before I proceeded to the swabs. Some people are using a statically charged brush at this point to get what other dust off they can before using a swab, but I don’t have one of these. I can’t rule it out as an option though and I have heard some good things about them. The Eclipse swabs and cleaning fluid I bought are from a US company called Photographic Solutions, who you can find them at www.photosol.com. Each sensor swab is individually wrapped in a clean room, so there’s no dust on them to start with. You take out a swab just before you’re going to use it and drop a couple of drops of the liquid onto the tip. It’s really easy to see how much you need as the swab becomes wet. Be careful with the cleaning fluid by the way as it’s highly flammable, so make sure there are no naked flames or cigarettes around if you smoke.

You then take the swab and slowly put it into the front of the camera so that it touches the sensor at the very edge, at an angle, and then draw it across the front of the sensor until you get to the other side. As the swabs I bought were smaller than the sensor in the 5D, only actually covering about two thirds of the area in this first pass, when I turned the swab around and put it on the opposite side of the sensor to the side I did first, I made sure I was covering the bottom third that I’d not yet done, and then drew it back across the sensor the other way. It seems that Photographic Solutions do make different sized swabs, so make sure you get the ones that match your sensor size, unlike me. I wasn’t even aware that they made different sizes until way after I bought mine, as the size I bought was the only ones they had in the shop then. Remember never to touch the sensor twice with the same side of the swab, as you’ll be drawing dust across the sensor again and could scratch it. Actually, I know that most of you already know this, but when I say sensor, you’re actually touching an incredibly thin glass wafer over the sensor, not the sensor itself, but still, it is subject to scratches that you want to avoid.

Having done my first ever sensor swabbing, I excitedly shot another test at f16, and transferred it to my PC, only to find that although most of the speckles of dust that I’d seen were no longer there, there was still some left, and some of these spots seems larger than before I swabbed the sensor, probably because some smaller dust had now stuck together. What’s worse, around the edges, where I’d stopped the action of drawing the swab across the sensor, there were a couple of distinct large groups of dust. I’d obviously moved it from the centre of the sensor to the edges, but this was pretty ugly, as the dust when grouped together like this was much more prominent. So, I repeated the process, as stated in the instructions, and took another test shot, to find there were still some large areas of dust, and even now some larger bits of dust. I paid the equivalent of around $80 for my box of 12 swabs, and to cut a long story short, used them all in an attempt to get my sensor clean, but failed miserably. It was definitely getting better, but there were still some spots and groups of dust left, that I was not happy about.

It was at this time that I decided to jump in the car and go to Ginichi, the shop where I bought the swabs, and one of my favourite small camera shops in Tokyo, and see what advice they could give me. If they had no other ideas, I was going to buy another box of swabs. Hopefully they’d have some that fit my 5D’s sensor. When I got there, I found that they had the static brushes, and a few other things, including a Delkin Devices SensorScope. Now a few weeks back, one of the members of the MBP forum, Gribbo, or Steve Gribbin from NSW, Australia had kindly mentioned the SensorScope and I said that although I thought it looks interesting, I would probably not buy one myself, as I can tell where my sensor dust is and remove it with the swabs and reshoot a test shot to make sure I’d gotten it off. So I really couldn’t see the usefulness of the tool. I really have to say Sorry to Steve here and eat my words on this one. Let me explain why.

When I got to Ginichi and explained my predicament to the guys in the shop, and being incredibly helpful as ever, they gave me the advice I needed to get sorted out, and let me have a play with a few solutions in the store. They suggested that I use the swabs to do the majority of the cleaning, but then use an Imagesensor Cleaning Kit from Pentax to remove any stubborn dust like the ones I had left on my sensor, and to see that, I’d need the SensorScope. They got a Canon 30D out and the Pentax Image Sensor Cleaning Kit, and I placed the SensorScope onto the lens mount with the camera facing up, as it’s designed to be used, and looked at the sensor while holding the power button of the SensorScope to turn on the lights to illuminate the inside of the camera, and I could see about five specs of dust very easily. I couldn’t find an official page for the Pentax Cleaning Kit in English by the way, but so you can see what it looks like I’ll put a link to the Japanese product page in the show notes. I’ll also include a link to the SensorScope as well, to save you searching for it.

Now, I have to say, the Pentax Cleaning Kit was not a magic bullet either. I was able to remove three of the five specs of dust quite easily and the guy in the shop removed one more. They agreed that the swabs were the way to go to remove the last. How the Pentax kit works by the way is by pressing a piece of very soft sticky rubber onto the sensor where you see the dust, and the dust sticks to the rubber. You then press the rubber against a sticky peice of paper that comes in the kit. As the paper get’s dust on it, you peel off a sheet and start again. At around $40 this is not such an expensive option, and you can keep using it until all of the sheets are used.

I found it really useful to be able to see the dust though using the SensorScope. The beauty of this is that you have instant feedback as to whether or not the dust is gone. Without it, the whole process just takes too long in my opinion. Anyway, I was sold, literally. I bought the SensorScope, even though it’s around $150 here in Japan. I usually find ways to buy direct from overseas, as shops in Japan add a ridiculous amount for going to the trouble to import products like this. The SensorScope alone is marked up at just $89.99 on the Delkin Web site. I was stuck though. I needed the Scope now so that I could get my sensor clean, so I paid the premium. I also bought the Pentax Cleaning Kit, and headed back home to give it a try. I should note here that I did not buy the full Delkin Kit as they were charging $250 for it, which is a hundred dollar mark up over the list price, and they really didn’t seem that keen on the whole thing. I was happy with the Pentax kit too, so I just went for the SensorScope. It’s pretty cool that it comes in a case that not only holds the Scope but also has a second removable case that allows you to put your swabs or cleaning liquid etc in as well so that you can carry it all around with you, which would be great for extended shoots when you can’t get back home for a while, and you might want to clean your sensor.

When I got back, I opened up the camera body again, and looked in at all of that nasty dust that was left. I successfully removed all but one speck, and was really happy with the results, and then I went to remove that last speck with the Pentax rubber cleaning kit, and at this point, somehow squished something back onto the sensor. It was pretty tiny, but looked almost like a tiny fly. I pressed the rubber onto the paper again to clean it, as I’d done after each press, and tried again to remove the new speck, and it wouldn’t budge. Having tried four or five times it became clear that I wasn’t going to get this off with the Pentax rubber. Luckily the Eclipse cleaning fluid comes with 10 sheets of lint-free cleaning paper, so I cut a piece in half and folded it around one of the swabs that I’d used earlier, put a few drops of fluid onto it, and swabbed the sensor again. When I looked through the SensorScope again, I could see just three tiny specs, but the larger fly shaped mark was now gone. I went back to the Pentax Image Sensor Cleaning Kit, pressing it only over the three specs, and they all came off with one go. I finally had a clean sensor again, and a final test shot proved it.

I found that neither cleaning product was able get the sensor clean alone. Even if I had the correct size Sensor Swabs, I’m sure it wouldn’t have worked alone, just because of the way the dust was left around the edges, and the Pentax cleaning kit was not able to clean all the specs without going back to the Swabs. I could have done this without the SensorScope I guess, but I would not like to do so again. It’s just such a pain looking at something that seems to be clean, only to find that it isn’t when you take a test shot. It takes way too much time in my opinion. It was just so much easier to be able to peer into the mirror chamber and see where the dust is, and then target it with the Pentax kit for the final touches, repeating the swabbing as necessary.

Also remember that I really bought what was available to me here. It works, so I’m happy for now, but also bear in mind that other solutions are available such as the statically charged brushes that I mentioned earlier. If I had one of these, I dare say I could have removed most of the dust leaving only the most stubborn that needed to be removed by the swabs or the Pentax Image Sensor Cleaning Kit, so if you are thinking of options all of this should be worth keeping in mind. And of course there are new methods and products to aid in sensor cleaning being released all the time. Chris Marquardt of the Tips from the Top Floor Podcast mentioned SensorFilm in recent Focus Ring Podcasts, which is probably well worth a look at too. Having now become sold on the SensorScope though, I’d say that no matter what solution you use, being able to really see what’s left on your sensor will help you, so keep it in mind as you select your cleaning system. Also remember that the not leaving your lens off for longer than necessary between lens changes and blowing out the dust with a good sized blower while holding the camera upside down will also help to stop dust getting in there in the first place. I’m not as scared about cleaning my sensor now I’ve figured out what’s necessary, but I’d prefer not to have to do it in the first place.


Show Notes

My Eclipse Sensor Swabs and cleaning fluid can be found here: http://www.photosol.com/

Here is the Delkin Devices SensorScope System Web page: http://www.delkin.com/products/sensorscope/sensorsystem

Here is just the SensorScope, that comes in a handy case with room for your own cleaning fluid and swabs etc: http://www.delkin.com/products/sensorscope/sensoronly

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


Audio

Subscribe in iTunesSubscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Michael Rammell

Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.

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Things I’d Not Like to be Without! (Podcast 84)

Things I’d Not Like to be Without! (Podcast 84)

For the last month or so I’ve been saying I’ll do an episode on the equipment other than the main stuff, like bodies and lenses etc. that I’d hate to be without. I thought I’d better get that out, so I spent a few hours this weekend photographing all but one of the things I’m going to talk about and uploaded them to my Web site. Today we’ll go through and talk about 11 things that I use quite a lot, if not all the time, in my photography. I’ll try and interweave a few tips as we go along too, but the main tip for each is probably going to be using the item or similar equipment yourself if you think it might help you out.

As with last week we’re going to look at 12 images today to talk about the 11 items, so I’m not going to spend too much time on each one. Let’s first look at image number 1407 in which we can see the first two items. On the right is the Angle Finder C from Canon. This does exactly what you’d expect. It allows you to view the image through the lens at an angle. It rotates 360 degrees, so you can look into it from literally any angle, though it’s a little bit awkward to view from the bottom of the camera if you use a battery grip like I do. I use this most for low angle work, such as macro photography when the camera, is low to the ground. The Angle Finder also has a switch on the side as we can see in the photo that switches its magnification from 1.25X to 2.5X. This is really helpful when fine tuning the focus for macro shots, as it really zooms in on the subject. Of course, the most important part of the shot is not always in the center, but when it is, this really helps. Also, the barrel of the finder rotates to focus the angle finder itself, which I forget every so often and having rotated it slightly while handling or fitting it to the camera, and then I wonder for a moment why everything is blurred. I also use this sometimes even when I’m standing up or sitting, but want the camera to be lower than my eye level. It just helps to keep from straining the old back as I might while stooping if I didn’t use the angle finder.

Angle Finder C + Spirit Level

Angle Finder C + Spirit Level

The other thing in this first photo that I wanted to mention is the spirit level. This fits into my flashes shoe on top of the camera, and is literally just a spirit level to make sure that the camera is horizontal, or vertical, depending on whether I’m shooting in either portrait or landscape positions. The clear plastic level contains two spirit levels for this, and can be fitted to the camera in two ways too, to suit your needs. In the next image, number 1408, you can see the level sitting in the flash shoe of my Canon EOS 5D.

Spirit Level on 5D

Spirit Level on 5D

The next thing I wanted to talk about but have not taken a photo of is the Focusing Screen Ee-D. Canon makes interchangeable focusing screens for many of their film cameras, and for the 1D, 1Ds and the 5D DSLRs. The one I bought gives me a grid inside across the scene when I look through the viewfinder, and like the spirit level, this gives me a visible indicator of whether or not the camera is level or my verticals and horizontals are actually vertical or horizontal. Of course, sometimes a scene or subject looks more natural off level, but when I want things straight, this and the spirit level help.

As usual, most things I use come into my workflow for a reason, and the next one I bought after dropping my memory case on a snowy beach in Hokkaido and having to go back in a taxi with Japanese photographer Yoshiaki Kobayashi to look for it by torch light. I thought it would have been so much easier to find in the dark if it was a bright colour, so when I saw the yellow case in image number 1417, I thought it would be a good addition to my kit. These are Gepe Card Safe Extreme memory cases. You can see from the grey one on the left that they fit many different types of memory in the same case. I’ll put a link to the Web site for many of the things we’ll look at today, so you can check if this company has something to suite you too. I not only went for this case for the bright colour, but also for the fact that they are incredibly strong, and also waterproof. If I was to drop this into the sea while shooting eagles from a boat for example, it would not only be waterproof, but it would float, so I could hopefully fish it back out without losing the images saved in the cards. Of course, there’s nothing better than being careful so as not to drop the case, but in the cold, and with the excitement of the moment sometimes, things can slip our minds, and out of our hands. One piece of advice related to memory card holders is that when I’ve filled a card, but before I’ve made at least one backup, I put the card back in the case with the front label facing down. This way if I get carried away shooting and come to change the card again later I can easily see which cards are full and which I can use. I also usually write my name and email address and sometimes phone number on the back of my cards. I actually found a card case a few years ago full of memory which I handed in at the police station, but never found out if the owner got the cards back. If they’d had an email address or phone number I could have contacted the owner and sent them the cards back myself directly, and I’d hope that someone finding mine, if they understood the pain of losing these things, would do me the same favour.

Gepe Card Safe Extreme

Gepe Card Safe Extreme

In image number 1418, we can see my filter removers. A few times I’ve found I could not remove my filters in the field, and either wasted time trying until I could, or had to leave them on until I got home. Fortunately, I’ve never gotten one stuck that stops me from getting a shot, but if I was to get a polarizer or ND filter stuck on a lens it would increase my shutter speed and possibly I’d lose shots. For this, I found these light plastic filter removers, and drop them into the front pocket of my camera bag whenever I go out. You basically just have to grip the front of the lens with one and the filter with the other grip, and turn this in opposite directions. I’ve only had to use them twice, but they are quick and easy to use, saving me time, and possibly shots. One tip would be though, that filters usually won’t budge when you apply too much pressure in just two or three places. When filters get stuck, people tend to wrap their hands around the filter and apply a lot of force while trying to rotate the filter. This causes the filter to become temporarily misshaped, making it wider in some places than other, making it even more difficult to rotate. You’ll finder that holding it evenly with four or all five fingers and turning lightly will often get it off much quicker than putting all your strength into it. Still, when that doesn’t work, these come in handy.

Filter Removers

Filter Removers

The next gadget I’d hate to be without is the STO-FEN Omni Bounce diffuser that we can see in image number 1416. I know that some people don’t like these very much, and I know that there are other solutions to diffuse flash light, but I personally find the Omni Bounce diffuser to be fine for most of the flash work I do, and it’s nice and light. This really helps to remove the harsh shadows that direct flash light can cause. Of course, you can bounce the light to soften it, but I actually bounce the light with this diffuser attached, which I also find gives a nice soft light. But when the ceiling is too high or none-existent, you can point your flash straight at the subject with this diffuser attached and still get nice soft light. It doesn’t work well in portrait mode though, if there’s a wall or something too close to your subject, as you’ll still get a shadow on the opposite side of the subject than to the flash.

STO-FEN Omni Bounce

STO-FEN Omni Bounce

In image number 1415 we can see the next item that usually makes it into my bag when I’m going to be out shooting landscapes, and that a compass. Especially when you’re trying to get into position for a sun or moonrise, it’s necessary to know where the sun or moon is actually going to peep over the horizon. If you use a tool to find out the exact location, a compass can really help to get yourself in the right position and set up for the moment.

Compass

Compass

The next thing I’d say no one can be without is a good big blower, like the one we can see in image number 1413. This is actually the one that I leave at home, and use for blowing the dust of the front and rear elements of my lenses before trips, but I also have a small one that I carry with me on trips that I use for this. The main reason I use this big one is to blow the dust off my camera’s sensor. I find that holding the camera upside down and blowing the dust from inside the camera and then selecting “Sensor Cleaning” from the camera’s menu and again, holiding the camera upside down and giving the sensor a really good blow with this, keeps most dust away. Sometimes it gets a bit stubborn, so I take my camera to the service center for a more thorough clean. This is only every so often though. I think it’s been more than a year since I had my 5D’s sensor cleaned. I know that there are lots of other ways to clean the sensor yourself, but I just haven’t found it that necessary yet.

Blower

Blower

Wimberley Plamp

Wimberley Plamp

In image number 1414 we can see one of my Wimberley Plamps. Plamp stands for Plant Clamp I believe, and basically that’s what I use it for most of the time. When shooting flowers close-up on breezy days, they can sway around quite a lot, making it difficult to get your shot. If you clamp the Plamp to your tripod leg and then grab the stalk of the plant with the grip that is blue in my shot here, though the colours vary, then you can keep the flower or plant still while you shoot it. You can of course hold other things with the Plamp. I actually carry two around with me when shooting flowers, so I can use one to hold the plant if it’s breezy, and the other to hold a reflector in position, or a piece of semi-transparent white plastic over the subject to cut out some of the light to either increase or level out the contrast between the flower and the surroundings. I’m sure there are lots of other ways in which to use the Plamp, but these are just a few of the ways I use mine.

Let’s move on to image number 1412, in which you can see Really Right Stuff Focusing Rail. I mentioned both the Plamp and this in one of my Macro episodes, but just to recap, as I’d really not like to be without either of these tools, when shooting macro at life-size or higher magnification, to get a little bit closer, or further away, or even for moving slightly to the left or right, it can be a real pain to actually start moving your camera on the tripod itself. With focusing rings you can move back and forwards by rotating the screws at the front and back, or for left and right movement, slacken the quick release and slide the top rail around, then retighten the quick release. More importantly I’d say, is that the forward and back movement is so precise, that it helps to fine tune focusing, especially when using a lens like the 65mm 1-5X magnification lens, which doesn’t have any focusing mechanism. If you want more details on this lens though, please listen to episode 43, in which I talked about shooting in life-size are larger. I’ll put a link to the Really Right Stuff Web site page where you can see the focusing rails into the show notes as well. You have to click on the B150-B Package link to the right though to see this particular model. This is to allow you to use the rails with lenses on tripod ring mounts. If you would use the rail by mounting your camera directly rather than the lens, then you would not need the rail that allows you to move left to right.

Really Right Stuff Focusing Rail

Really Right Stuff Focusing Rail

Walkstool Closed

Walkstool Closed

Finally, one of the newest additions to my kit is a Walkstool, that we’ll look at in the next three photos. First, in image number 1411, we can see my Walkstool in its fully wrapped up state. Having tried a few for height, I decided on the Walkstool Basic 50cm / 20 inch model. This is actually the second to shortest of the models available right now. There are a fair few taller ones as well, but as you might imagine, the taller they get the heavier they get. The one I have is 65 grams, or 23 ounces. The other important thing is though, that I’m not carrying this thing around with me to give me something to sit down and eat lunch on. It’s basically to allow me to get down low for macro or other low-level work, without starting to get all uncomfortable when shooting in that position for a long time.

Walkstool Low Level

Walkstool Low Level

The 50cm stool I found was perfect for medium height shooting, and the wonder of this stool, as we can see in image number 1410, you can actually just undo the strap and open the stool up and use it without extending the legs, for an even lower support of 30 cm or 12 inches. If you are not familiar with these stools, you might be thinking right now that they may not support your weight, if like me you’re carry a pound or to excess baggage, but unless you are a Sumo Wrestler in your prime, even these smaller Walkstools should be fine. The one I use supports up to 150kg or 330lbs, so I can have a few more pints of Guinness yet before I have to worry about this.

Walkstool Fully Extended

Walkstool Fully Extended

In the last of the three images, number, we can see the Walkstool fully extended. Although I would not suggest sitting on the Standard model for a whole day, they’re definitely great for an hour or so while waiting for some action to unfurl, or while shooting some macro shots. They are even remarkably comfortable when using for a reasonable length of time without the legs extended as in the last shot. If you really want a comfortable sit though, as opposed to the Basic model, they also do a Comfort model, which has a larger sitting area. This would probably have been better for me when you consider the size of my jacksie, but as the comfort increases, so does the weight, so I decided to give weight preference over comfort. As it is, I can just attach this Walkstool to the back of my rucksack style camera bag, and forget about it until I need it.

So that’s almost it. I haven’t talked about my WhiBal today, which is a type of grey card that you shoot to either set your custom white balance while shooting or to set the White Balance later in post processing. I’d like to say that this is because I’ve covered this in other Podcasts, but, if I admit to myself and to you that the real reason is because I simply forgot to take a photo of it, I’d better just say that this is still one item that I use pretty regularly, especially when the light is a little challenging. I will add a link to the WhiBal Web site to the show notes in case you are interested.

There are probably a few other things that I’ve forgotten to mention, and as usual, if you have something that you just can’t live without, please do come by the forum at martinbaileyphotography.com and let us know about it. There is actually one other item that I’m seriously thinking about adding to my kit right now, and that is a pair of knee pads. Now, I know I’m going to look really silly walking around parks with knee pads on and will probably end up putting them on only when necessary, but when you weigh as much as I do, kneeling down on gravel or uneven surfaces can pretty soon become a painful deal. Ginichi, a photography store in Ginza here in Tokyo has started to stock a pair of quick release knee pads that I have my eye on, and will probably be picking up soon. I gave up trying to look cool while out photographing a long while ago, and would much prefer to get a few extra low angle shots now. I usually get the shot anyway, but find that I stand up, while grimacing with pain, a little sooner than I would if my knees weren’t being mashed up by the uneven surface.

So, just a couple of pieces of housekeeping before we finish. Firstly, remember that the Simplicity Assignment is now closed and I’ve turned on the voting system. Please do come by to the mbpgalleries.com Web site and take a look at the album half way down the top page, and please do take a moment to register if you are not already a member and vote for your favourite image. There are some really amazing shots in there, and I’m really looking forward to see what you guys choose. Thanks again to all those that took part. I’ve also noticed that some people that took part have not registered on the martinbaileyphotography.com Web site in addition to the mbpgalleries.com Web site. Whether you are registering just to vote or to upload your entry, please do also sign up at the main martinbaileyphotography.com Web site with the same user name and email address so that I can keep tabs on who’s who when I eventually get around to linking these two sites. Voting will continue until the end of Sunday the 29th of April when we’ll find out who the winner of an original print of one of my photos is, and more importantly, who will take the annual grand prize based on all of the accumulated votes, which this year is going to be an amazing Lowepro Stealth Reporter D650 AW camera bag.

One other thing is a few weeks ago I requested people to mail me if you know of any good lens review or lens comparison sites. Thanks very much to all those that have mailed, but if you have time, please do check the Podcasts forum at my Web site before mailing me. I’ve received quite a fair amount of mail with the same Web site that is already in the main post, so it would save me a little time if you could check first. If it’s a toss-up between mailing and not mailing though, just go ahead and send me the details and I’ll check myself. Anyway, with that, I’ll sign-off for today. Thanks for listening, and have a great week, whatever you have planned. Bye-bye.


Show Notes

Gepe Card Safe Memory Card case: http://www.gepecardsafe.com/eng/index.asp?mainID=50

STO-FEN Omni Bounce: http://www.stofen.com/

Wimberley’s Plamp can be seen here: http://www.tripodhead.com/products/plamp-main.cfm

To see the same Really Right Stuff focusing rail that I have, click on “B150-B Package” on this page: http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/specialty/index.html

Here’s a link to the Walkstool Web site: http://www.walkstool.com

And last but not least, here’s a link to the WhiBal Web site: http://www.whibal.com/products/whibal/index.html

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


Audio

Subscribe in iTunesSubscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Michael Rammell

Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.

Blog Google Plus Twitter Facebook 500px


Q&A #6 – How to Choose Lenses to Buy? (Podcast 82)

Q&A #6 – How to Choose Lenses to Buy? (Podcast 82)

Today I’m going to answer another listener’s question about how to figure out which lenses to buy, that I received as a text message. In fact I had pretty much the same question from Eric Wikander and Jared Fein, and I’ve been asked this a number of times from others too, so hopefully this will be of some help to a number of people. So first off let me paraphrase a little on what Eric and Jared mailed me. Eric’s question was “What made you decide on the gear you use specifically lenses?”

Similarly, Jared wrote “For a while I have been meaning to write to you with a suggestion for a podcast topic – call it DSLR lenses 101 or “Primer on how to choose your next camera lens. It is easy to superficially understand that Image quality and price go hand in hand. However, it is not really easy for an amateur like me to know how much one needs to spend in order to take decent images (photographer aside). For a serious amateur, how does one go about determining cost:benefit.” Jared goes on to compare a few lenses from a newspaper add and asks “how much better does the image get, in relation to the increasing price” when going for better quality lenses. Well, I’m not going to go into these specific lenses, as I don’t have any experience with them, but as we’ll hear, there is a quality trade-off, but it is marginal in most cases.

Jared also asks if I know of any web site that does lens comparisons like DPReview does for camera bodies. Well, once again before I go on, I’ll just say that I have in the past looked for this type of site, but unfortunately to date could not find anything. If anyone does know of a lens comparison Web site, please do let us know. The MBP Forum would be a good place for this, but you can also mail me on info@martinbaileyphotography.com if you’d prefer and I’ll pass that on the rest of the listeners.

So thanks very much to both Jared and Eric for the great questions. So where shall I start. I’ve actually already done an episode on considerations when buying a Digital SLR body in episode 64, and I’ve covered tripods and macro gear, extension tubes and tele-converters, and filters and other stuff at some point too, so I’m going to skip stuff other than lenses from Eric’s question. What I will do in the near future, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, is an episode on “things I’d hate to be without”, as kind of a catch-all for the remaining bits of gear that I use. Today I’m going to concentrate on the main common theme here, which is what to keep in mind when buying lenses.

When I sat down to plan this, the first thing that came to mind was what John Arnold of the PhotoWalkthrough Podcast mentioned in episode 2 of the Focus Ring podcast. I’m recalling this from memory so it’s not word-for-word, but basically John said something like “Most people get all excited on getting a new camera, and want to buy some new lenses straight away, but if you don’t know what you want to do, then hold off until you have a clearer picture”. So the first thing I want to say is that I totally agree with John. It’s easy to get caught up in the gear game. I’m probably guilty of giving many of you gear envy talking about the arsenal of lenses that I’ve built up over the years. The thing is though, I have really spent years building up my collection of lenses and each and every one has its place in my photography workflow. I’ll get on to that more in a moment, but the first piece of advice is don’t run out and buy a bunch of lenses just because someone else has got one and you’d like one too. Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here in agreeing with John’s statement, or indeed, please don’t misunderstand the original statement. It is great that you are asking the questions. Just asking the questions is often not just the excitement of an unknowing beginner, but it’s quite often a sign that you are getting to the point where you have a problem that needs fixing but you don’t quite know how to fix it. Being inquisitive is one of the most important things in learning, so please understand that we’re not just suggesting that you simply put up with your kit lens until you have some kind of epiphany and no exactly, irrefutably what you need. Once you start asking the questions, hopefully the rest of what I have to say today will be of some help.

So let’s get into it. Now, unless you have a truck load of disposable cash to spend, which I would think rules out pretty much all of us, everything you buy should have a purpose. You will have a real problem to solve, and adding the lens to your kit will help you to solve that problem. To explain, I’m going to talk first about the first three SLR lenses I ever bought, which was back in 1991 and 92, when I first started using an SLR camera body. The first and only lens I bought at the very start was a nice cheap 35-105mm F4.5-5.6 USM lens. Looking back, this was not a great lens, but it was acceptable, and this was to be my main lens for the next ten years. I used it with my EOS 100 film camera, right up to and for a while after I bought my first Digital SLR, the D30, not to be confused with the more recent 30D.

This was not actually a kit lens. I bought the body really cheaply at a discount shop, and picked up the lens at a local camera shop when I was living in Fukushima in Northern Japan, but I’m sure the quality of the lens is pretty much what you’d have expected from a kit lens of that time. I think John actually went on to say something very similar to this actually, but really, the kit lens that comes with most consumer bodies at the moment will at the very least do a fine job, while you’re getting to know the gear, and many will do much better. For example, I don’t know if this was the case worldwide, but in Japan you could buy the 20D with the 17-85mm EF-S lens, as a kit, and that is an amazing piece of glass. Very sharp, nice range, and has image stabilization. This lens knocks the hell out of my first lens, and has a similar range with the crop factor calculated in, so I’d have been very happy with that as my first lens. I hear that the 18-55mm, pretty much the standard Canon kit lens is not brilliant, but it is probably still as good if not better than my first lens, so I know that you should still be able to get some great shots with it.

The important thing to note here is that back in the film days, unless you were blowing your work up pretty large, it was not easy to see the shortcomings of cheaper lenses. Once we entered the digital age, and started to be able to blow our images up to 100% on screen and examine the shot at the pixel level, it becomes much easier to see if you’re lens is not quite as good as you thought it was. Now, we are rarely actually going to create prints that allow us to easily see that much detail, so it’s very debateable how closely you inspect your shots, but the fact remains that it’s much easier to do so now.

Anyway, getting back to my first three lenses, the next step in my decision making was based on the fact that I soon realized that the widest focal length I had of 35mm was not wide enough for some of the landscape work I wanted to do. So now, unlike the first lens purchase which was really based on nothing more than I needed something to cover everyday shooting, I now had a problem to solve, and this was the driving force behind buying my second lens which was 24mm F2.8 prime lens. This lens too was in my camera bag for ten years, until I got my first DSLR. I actually really regretted selling this beautiful lens to put the money towards a new lens, as it was a really nice lens. This was more luck than judgement though, as I still didn’t really know all that much about photography and equipment. I just thought that 24mm was going to be wide enough, and it was, and F2.8 was wider than my current lens, which I thought would be cool to have, but most importantly though, it was a nice affordable lens. I think I only paid a few hundred dollars for it at today’s exchange rate.

The next step was going the other way. I was finding that I wanted to get closer on the telephoto range, than my 105mm was allowing me to get. The next lens I added, and the last lens purchase for ten years, was a 100-300mm F4.5-5.6 USM lens. This was really not a great lens at all. It produced very flat, low contrast images, that in hind-sight, I’m amazed I was every really happy with, but that was my skill level, and so it stayed in my kit bag. Now, when I say that was my skill level, I’m not talking about compositional or artistic skills, I’m talking about technical skill. More specifically, the ability to look at my results, and see what is wrong with them. I would see some shots that looked great, due to conditions that matched the lens, and others, the results would be really not great, and I’d put it down to simply being how it is. I’d not really looked into buying any more expensive lenses, and I recall thinking why I would need anything more expensive in the same zoom range.

So that was my kit for the first ten years I was shooting with an SLR body. Now, when I ask myself why I was OK with that kit, I have to be honest, that to a certain extent this contented state could also be called the bliss that is ignorance. I didn’t know any better. Nowadays though, you have any number of magazines thrusting the biggest and best down your throat and the Internet to read reviews, and there’re even portable devices that play radio programs on demand from Podcasters like me, telling you about my newest lens and how cool it is. With the knowledge of what is available comes the temptation to blow all your income on new kit. But again, when you think about it, when that knowledge wasn’t there, I was fine with just these three lenses for ten years, and only bought new ones when there was a problem to solve.

One problem that needed solving after I bought my first DSLR was that due to the 1.6X crop factor, I needed something wider than my 24mm prime lens to get anything reasonably wide. This was about five years ago, and there were no EF-S lenses specifically for digital then and the bodies didn’t support them even if there was, so the only choice I had was a 17-35mm F2.8 L lens. This was my first L lens, and then what happened? I realised just how crap my 35-105mm and even more so, my 100-300mm lenses were. And even though the images I was producing with my D30 were only 3 mega pixels, I could examine the photos much more closely as I said earlier. I was no longer ignorant to the reality that more expensive glass makes better photos. This though doesn’t change the fact that I had a whole bunch of decent photos shot with my old lenses, and some that are still my favourites today, so it really is a catch 22 situation, but it brings me back to what John said. If you don’t know what you want, wait until you do.

The problem with this is though, that there are so many ways now to learn what you want, so I’ll say again, that you really should wait until you have a problem to solve, and this will more than likely be related to focal length to begin with, but then there are a number of options within the focal length of the lens you are considering that must be considered before parting with your hard-earned, and this is where Jared is right now. It’s not so much which lens to buy, but whether or not it makes sense to go for the expensive glass, or buy something of a similar focal length, but much cheaper. Before we can talk about that, let’s look at some of the differences between cheaper and more expensive lenses. What do you get for your extra money?

OK, so typically, the first thing is going to be wider apertures, or what are sometimes called brighter lenses. The more expensive lenses are generally better engineered, so you’re going to get more dust and weather proofing etc, and it’s usually more expensive to get a lens with Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction. So once you’ve identified a focal length or a range of a focal length that you need, and you are online or in a store looking at the options, you can start to ask yourself if you need an extra stop or two of brightness that a wider aperture will give you, so that you can shoot in darker conditions and still have autofocus. Or you might want just a little extra bokeh, that’s the out of focus area of a shot, also from a wider aperture. Or do you usually shoot with the aperture closed down to F8 or so anyway? You can also ask yourself whether or not your shooting will benefit from Image Stabilization. Not wanting to sway your decisions at all here, but I can say for sure that until you have image stabilization you might not understand what all the fuss is about, but once you have it, most people start wondering how they did without it for so long. Anyway, these are all questions that you can start to ask yourself with regards to these sorts of options.

Unfortunately, there’s more to think about, once you’re in the know. Now I know that some people are going to pull me up on this, but having worked through various lenses over the years, and now having some of the best lenses available for comparison, I can tell you without a doubt that in most cases you are going to get better quality with the higher end, i.e. more expensive lenses, that’s why they’re more expensive. Depending on what you are comparing the difference in image quality is going to be marginal, but you really do get what you pay for. Generally you’ll get crisper images with better contrast, resolution and depth. The reason for this is because the manufactures often add more elements or elements of a shape that’s more expensive to reproduce which helps the lens to bend the light in a more pleasing way to reduce distortion. Many more expensive lenses have UD elements to reduce refraction and dispersion of the light passing through the lens. UD stands for Ultra Low Dispersion, and these elements are a very close substitute for fluorite elements, which are incredibly expensive. Some lenses actually do use fluorite, which bumps the cost up quite considerably. Ones I can think of off-hand from the Canon range are the 300mm and longer telephoto prime lenses. These are all extremely good quality lenses, and produce superb images, but because of the size and cost of the lens elements including a few fluorite and UD elements, they cost an arm and leg. Because of this these really aren’t the sort of lens that we run out and buy very often, and for most, not at all.

In the digital age, and an age where advertising is everywhere, keeping check of temptation is more difficult than ever, but I still tell myself every so often that I shot with the same three lenses for ten years, and I try to hold off on purchases until I really can’t reasonably work around not having a particular lens any more. Now that I’ve told you what you most feared though, that you can get better image quality with more expensive lenses, do you need to take out a second mortgage to fully equip yourself with top quality lenses? Of course you don’t. In addition to continuing to ask yourself questions on your planned additions, take stock of where you are in your learning of photography. I’ve heard people griping on a number of occasions that they bought a nice new L lens that cost them a fortune, but the image quality is really not what they expected. When you really look into it though, the lens is fine, but the photographer is at fault. For example, some people get all carried away at their first F2.8 aperture lens, and shoot a load of shots and then scream that everything is out of focus! What’s really happening is that this person has never had to really focus very precisely because they’ve been using a F4.5-5.6 until now, and these smaller aperture cameras have a much deeper depth-of-field even when used wide open, so a certain amount of focusing error doesn’t make much difference. When you focus on someone’s fact though, with an F2.8 aperture lens wide open, if you are focussed on the nose say, the eyes are going to be out of focus, because they’re out of the depth of field. It’s amazing how many people focus on the nose though, either on purpose or just because it’s the closest thing to the camera and the camera automatically focuses on it. When shooting with a wide aperture, you have to get used to focusing on the eyes, and then recomposing the shot as necessary. You’ll also find that many people tend to subconsciously rock back and forwards as you breathe. If you move after focusing but before you release the shutter, you’ll again lose focus on the eyes unless you learn techniques to overcome this.

Another problem I’ve noticed is people who first buy long zoom lenses, like up to 300mm or longer often complain that their shots are blurred, and this time, rather than focus errors its camera shake. They don’t realize that the longer focal length intensifies any movement in the camera during the exposure, and continue to shoot at F8 for 1/60th of a second, despite now shooting with a 300mm lens on a crop factor camera. Even with image stabilization you’re going to get a lot of failures shooting at these shutter speeds at an equivalent of 480mm. Now, I’m not going to go into detail of techniques to overcome these issues today, as I’ve covered most of this in previous episodes and after all, they are just examples of the problems people go through when getting new gear. The important thing to understand here is that no matter how much money you spend on your equipment, you’re only going to be able to use it to the best of your current and near future ability.

One of the things you can try to give yourself a realistic feel of whether or not something is out of your current ability range, is if you have a rental store that is not too far away from you, you can try renting the lens you are thinking of for a few days to take it for a test run. This will be throw-away money if you go ahead and buy the lens, but you might find it helps to put your mind at rest before the purchase, or proves to you that you are not yet ready for that particular piece of kit. It’s not usually all that expensive to rent lenses, and whether you decide to buy one or not, I’m sure you’ll have fun trying out the new lens. Make sure you push yourself technically though while you have it, so that you can really understand where you might need to improve once you buy the lens.

One other piece of advice that has been mentioned a number of times in one form or another, and was also brought up I think by Jeff Curto in the same Focus Ring podcast I mentioned earlier, is if you are considering buying a prime lens, before you take the jump, you can try taking one of your current lenses if you have one that covers the same focal length of the lens you’re thinking of buying and tape the zoom ring to that focal length for a day to see how it feels. Of course, you’re not going to be able to check the additional image quality that most prime lenses will provide by doing this, but prime lenses often limit people more than they first think, and forcing yourself to use just that focal length can help to make the decision as to whether or not that particular focal lens, or even prime lenses in general, are for you.

If you can’t try the lens out in one way or another before buying it, and you have all the information to make a decision on a new focal length or zoom range to enable you to shoot images that you cannot shoot right now but would like to or may even need to be able to shoot for some reason, and the only decision left is whether or not to go for the best of class lens, or a cheap alternative, here’s my advice. If your budget will stretch to the best of class lens and you are ambitious and able to spend the time to learn any techniques that might be necessary to be able to bring that lens to life, then go for it. If however, you don’t want to or simply can’t afford to go for the more expensive lens, then don’t sweat it. Stick with your kit lens, or a few cheaper lenses to cover your working range, until your skill level demands that you upgrade.

The dilemma is that with all this information you’ll now know that if you go for the cheap lens at this point, then in a few years time, when you find that you want to upgrade, you might think that you’ve wasted the cost of the cheaper lens. This is only partially true though. Firstly, like a car or washing machine or any other piece of equipment that we buy for use in everyday life, as we use it, we’re getting something back for our investment. It might be much easier to talk your other half into letting you buy a new washing machine or a new car, but putting that aside, every time we use things like this, we’re getting a return. So if you spend say $400 on a relatively nice, but not top of the range zoom lens, and use it for just two years, that’s only actually costing you $17 a month, and that’s if you don’t sell the lens to put the money towards your new one later on, so don’t think of the cost of your starter lenses as a throw-away expense.

Selling your old gear and putting the money you get towards the new gear is something you might want to consider. I pretty much always do this. I have actually just upgraded my 16-35mm F2.8 lens, for the new version released at the end of March 2007. The reason for the upgrade was because although I was always happy with the old version, the edges of the lens were a little soft and overly distorted. I have a few great shots of trees that I have never been able to use because the detail wasn’t there around the edges, to the point that I’ve stopped even shooting them sometimes, to stop myself from getting disappointed. Canon has redesigned this lens with less distortion and sharper edges. I justified, probably more to myself than anything, but I justified the decision with the fact that if I sell my old version now, I’ll get more money for it than in a month or two when the second hand market is flooded with the previous version. I took my old lens to a local store that buys second hand lenses, and they gave me just under a thousand dollars for my old one, and they had the new version for just under $1,500, which means I could upgrade for less than $500. I’d say in a few months that will go up to $700 or higher, which makes making the switch a little less attractive. I got such a good price for my old lens by the way, because it was in pristine condition. I always keep the boxes, cases and manuals for my lenses, and I probably use my gear with kid-gloves most of the time. I’m not too worried about getting things wet or dirty, but when that happens, I always wipe them down thoroughly before putting them away, and I rarely allow my kit to sort of clang together as I see some people doing, so the exterior is usually pretty free of scratches. The exception is my 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 L lens, which I have given a bit of a beating over the years, putting it onto the stone bag of my tripod while using it with a second body shooting wildlife. Usually the pace of shooting is so fast that I don’t have time to treat it the way I’d like. I’m going to justify this sloppiness by saying that I really don’t think I’ll ever be replacing this lens, but if Canon turns out an updated version that’s perhaps just a little bit sharper at any time, I’d probably consider it. I’d say that goes for almost any of my gear though.

Having gotten to this point, I realize that before we finish I still have to answer Eric’s question which “What made you decide on the gear you use specifically lenses?” With the number of lenses I’ve owned over the years, I’m not going to go into full details about my old ones, but here’s a quick rundown of my current inventory with some thoughts on why I bought them in addition to the advice I’ve given already. I mentioned earlier about why I originally bought a super wide angle lens, originally the 17-35mm, then the 16-35mm, and now the 16-35mm version 2. Well the original reason was because I was using a crop factor camera, but that might lead you to ask why I still have a super wide angle zoom now that I’m using a full frame, 35mm digital SLR body, especially as I also own a 24-105mm F4 lens, which goes as wide as my original 24mm F2.8 lens. Well, this is really because my photography has progressed to the point where I really still want to be able to shoot the really wide vista. I also find these super wide angle lenses great for shooting up at a tree or between buildings, and using the perspective to make it look like the trees or buildings are falling in on you. Another thing I do more now is get in really close to the primary subject, as these lenses focus at under a foot, but when I use a very wide angle, it again throws a very strange perspective over the rest of the scene. In short, it’s another artistic option for making photos.

I bought the 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 L lens before my first trip to Hokkaido. I was hoping to shoot both landscapes and wildlife, and this was really the lens that enabled me to get serious about wildlife photography. Until then, I was using the 100-300mm lens, and this was really not a good lens at all. Newer versions and the 70-300mm IS lenses are now great by comparison, and if you don’t want to splash out for the more expensive 100-400mm or don’t want the additional weight, I believe these newer lenses are close enough in image quality to be a valid alternative.

I use the 24-105mm F4 lens as a general catch-all lens. I keep this on my camera when I’m just out and about, and as it’s an L lens, it’s sharp enough for just about anything I want to do within that focal length range. I bought the 50mm F1.4 a few years ago, for the excellent bokeh that this lens has. It’s a little soft when used wide open, but incredibly fast, and the out of focus areas are really sweet. There’s the speciality lenses like the 24mm TS-E or Tilt-Shift lens, which I bought again for artistic reasons. I often take this lens out with me when I’m just going on a shopping trip or something, and use it to throw a totally surreal angle on the world. In fact, I shot a reasonable image of the main street in Harajuku here in Tokyo on Saturday under just such conditions, and as I haven’t included any images today, I’ll throw this one in just as an example. This is image number 1370, just a little eye-fodder.

Harajuku Omotesandou

Harajuku Omotesandou

Macro lenses again are a little specialist. The MP-E 65mm 1-5X F2.8 lens much more so than the 100mm F2.8. The 100mm is relatively inexpensive but incredibly sharp. I can recommend it to anyone thinking of trying macro photography but who’s realized that when it say Macro in the name of a standard zoom, it doesn’t really mean macro. Macro photography though is one of those areas that people can quickly get discouraged in, as there’s a pretty steep learning curve. Still, once you’ve gotten the hang of a few things, it opens up a whole new world that is not accessible without a Macro lens.

The 70-200mm F2.8 lens was one that I found it very hard to justify for so long. I had the range covered, and was managing without the additional stop of aperture, but so many people swore by this lens that I really just couldn’t keep myself from buying one any longer. I had a few old camera bodies, namely the 10D and the 20D, and the 17-85mm EF-S lens that I would no longer be able to use without the 20D, so I decided it was time to take the plunge, and I have never looked back. I’ve owned this lens for about nine months now, but I’m using it more than any other still. I’d heard so many people call this lens their work-horse, and it really is. Incredibly bright and sharp, and has great image stabilization. Not a huge zoom range, but being able to get out to 200mm and staying at F2.8 it has really opened up a lot of artistic areas to me that I simply didn’t have before.

Finally, the 600mm F4 – this behemoth of a lens took a lot of thinking about. Not only because of the ridiculously, but I believe justifiable high price tag, but because of the size and weight. I was really torn between this lens and the 500mm F4. The 500mm is a few grand cheaper, and a little lighter too, so I was very tempted, but I figured if I was going to go that far, I might as well get the extra 100mm to enable me to fill the screen with smaller wildlife or even the Red-Crowned Cranes I shoot, when they’re further away. I was basing my decision on fact at hand. I’d shot the cranes with the 100-400mm lens at full extent with my 10D and 20D, which with the crop factor means I’d been shooting at 640mm. The thing is I know that this is still not as close as I’d like to be sometimes and didn’t want to go any shorter than that. The 500mm F4 with a 1.4X extender was also an option, and I already owned the extender, but that combination still only got me to 700mm on a full frame camera, and I knew I’d want to get closer still. With the 600mm F4 and the 1.4X extender, I was talking 840mm. This was just 50mm less than the 100-400mm with the 1.4X extender at full extent on a crop factor camera, but I’d have autofocus, which you lose with the 100-400mm and any extender, and it was going to be much, much sharper, because of the high quality of the 600mm prime with its UD and fluorite lens elements. The deal was done. I sold my soul to the missus until I got our savings back topped up, and the rest is history.

Again, I hope that has been of some help. Thanks again to Eric and Jared for your great questions. Before we finish, I just wanted to share some kind words from these guys before we close. In addition to his question, Eric also wrote “I too shoot and enjoy Nature Photography. There is just something about getting out there and taking pictures. I have really enjoyed your shows so far. You give education and share your knowledge with your audience. This is something many others forget to do. Thanks for taking your time to do these podcasts although I have no idea where you find the time.” To be honest Eric, I don’t know how I make the time either, but most of us can make the time to do the things we enjoy or feel important, and doing this Podcast has become an important part of my life, and I do enjoy it. I not only have come into contact with a great bunch of people in you listeners through this, but it also helps me to add structure to my knowledge of photography by planning what to say each week, so it is definitely not a one way relationship.

By the way, Eric also included a link to some of his images on PBase, and there are some really good shots, so I’ll drop the link into the show notes in case you want to take a look yourself.

Jared also went on to say “I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for the fantastic job you do with your podcasts and with your web sites. You stimulated my interest improving and growing my photography which resulted in my purchase earlier this year of my first DSLR, a D70S, for which I am most grateful. I try to post photos weekly on the members’ gallery, as I know this will force me to work harder on them.” Thanks for these kinds work Jared and Eric. I really appreciate it.

Remember that there is now just one week left for the Simplicity assignment. If you haven’t got your entry in yet, please do upload it to the Simplicity album on mbpgalleries.com no later than the end of your Sunday, the 15th of April. Voting will start from Monday the 16th for two weeks to find out who the winner of one of my original prints will be, and this is the big one, in which we’ll find out who will scoop the amazing Lowepro Stealth Reporter D650 AW camera bag that Lowepro have been kind enough to offer us as a prize.

And with that, I guess all that remains to be said is thanks for listening, and have a great week, whatever you have planned. Bye-bye.


Show Notes

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/

Here’s the link to listener Eric Wikander’s photos as mentioned: http://www.pbase.com/reewik

 


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Canon EOS 5D Camera Review (Podcast 5)

Canon EOS 5D Camera Review (Podcast 5)

Having spent a few days with my new Canon EOS 5D, here’s a first impressions based review, in which I explain the merits and demerits of the 5D, plus give you some examples shots from the field.

Welcome to Episode 5, which couldn’t be more appropriate for a first impressions review of the Canon EOS 5D, digital SLR released last week. I received my 5D on September 28, the day of its release having ordered a month previous, following its announcement. I’ve been waiting for a full sized sensor digital SLR from Canon that are more affordable than the 1Ds series. I remember even predicting that it would be called either a 3D or a 5D a few years ago, when the 10D was released, but then lost confidence in that statement when Canon backpedaled by calling the 10D successor 20D.

I also recall saying in a Canon Japan survey that if they released a full size sensor camera below $4,000 I would buy it. I couldn’t go back on my word now could I? Seriously though, I was actually saving for a 1Ds professional DSLR but was probably going to have just about enough money to buy it by the time the Mark III or whatever the Mark II’s successor will be called. Although I would still love to own a 1Ds, I’d saved just enough to buy the 5D and the 24 – 105mm F4L IS USM lens that what released simultaneously with the 5D, and due to a few other factors that I’ll get to shortly, I simply couldn’t resist the 5D.

Before I start really getting into this, I should say that this will not be a full technical review of the EOS 5D. This is going to be my first impressions of the 5D having used it for a few days, with what I consider good, and what I consider not so good about this new offering from Canon. If you would like to see some technical reviews, and also other interesting articles, take a look at the Podcast notes. I’ll include there a link to a review on DPReview.com and another to Michael Reichmann’s excellent site, the Luminous-Landscape, where you’ll find some excellent reviews and other very interesting articles.

Merits:

So first, let me explain what I consider the merits of the 5D.

Firstly, I feel I must state the obvious, that the 5D has a 12.8 million pixel full sized sensor. Full size means that there is no crop factor or Focal Length Multiplier to calculate when shooting. That is, if you use a 50mm lens you’ll get a 50mm focal length. There’s no need to multiply by 1.6 or 1.5 or 1.3. You get the full angle of the lens. This is of course excellent news for wide angle shots, but not so good for telephoto, but I’ll get to that in the demerits section. And, at 12.8 million pixels, the image sensor developed especially for the 5D produces amazingly high quality images. The resolution, clarity and contrast in the shots are absolutely amazing!

If you are listening to this Podcast in iTunes, you will be able to click through all the attached photographs, to the seventh and eighth shot. The seventh shot is of a white Cosmos flower at F2.8, which is photo number 711 on my Web site, and the eighth shot is the center of the same shot, cropped to show you the very center of the photograph at 100%. I have done no post processing on this shot whatsoever, apart from adding a frame and a copyright notice. There is also a very week Digimarc digital watermark added so those of you with sharp eyesight might just be able to make out some added grain, but I can assure you that is exactly as the camera rendered the shot. Most importantly I have done no sharpening at all. I shot in RAW and used the Standard Picture Style, which I’ll get to later. If you don’t use iTunes, but would like to see the100% shot, I’ve uploaded it to my Podcasts forum at martinbaileyphotography.com and I’ll add the link to the Podcast notes.

So, putting the excellent image quality aside, another thing I like, is that the battery grip is a separate module, as with the 20D, 10D etc. before it. It is not included with the camera body, so if you want one, you’ll need to pick it up separately. I always, buy a battery grip for my DSLR as it not only gives you extended battery life, it also gives you the shutter button and other controls for use when holding the camera vertically. I find this incredibly useful, as it helps to keep the camera steady while shooting in portrait format, and also stops you from having to stick your elbows out, which is useful if you’re working in a crowd. Now although the 1D and 1Ds range also have these controls, they are an integral part of the camera and not removable, so you are stuck with the big camera no matter where you go. With the 5D though, I will have the luxury of the full size sensor, but with the option to take the battery grip off and have essentially what looks like any other SLR camera. This is useful for when you are just going on a day out but think there might be some photographic opportunities, but also in some urban situations you don’t really want to be carrying around a camera that screams expensive! Being able to play down the camera a little should prove useful.

The other thing I like about the 5D is the sound of the shutter. I know this sounds petty, but the 20D’s shutter unit was a noisy piece of machinery. I didn’t like it from the day I bought it. And not only that, wildlife wasn’t too keen on it either. I would often be shooting a bird when it would, as soon as I started to shoot, turn to look at me, and sometimes even fly away. It was also restricting when shooting environmental portraits. I tend to take environmental portraits from time to time. By this I mean portraits of people in their environment, and not posed shots. This basically means that the subject cannot be aware of me, and that was difficult with the 20D, because similar to wildlife, as soon as I start clicking away, the subject would look up and the shot would be lost, unless I got it in the first frame of course.

I should also say that probably due to the 5D being a full sized sensor, the shutter sound is quite nostalgic. It reminds me very much of my old Canon A1, which is a classic film camera. It almost has a sloppy sound, but is very relaxing while shooting. It almost puts you into a relaxed shooting mode that I didn’t get when using the 20D.

Another interesting feature is the RGB histogram. You can now choose either the standard single histogram or to show an RGB histogram. Although I didn’t really have much idea about the practical use of this until I got the camera in the field, this really is useful. For example, I took one practice shot with some red flowers in the foreground, some green grass and trees in the center and a clear blue sky in the background. From the RGB histogram I could check that the flowers and the grass and trees were just about perfect, but the blue sky was blowing out slightly. I could see this by the small spike to the very right of the blue histogram. I then tried the same shot with minus 1/3 exposure compensation and although the green and the red also got a little darker, they were still as good as perfect and the sky was no longer blowing out. Some of the photos attached to this Podcast also contain a lot of red and green, and I used the RGB histogram in a similar way while shooting these.

The 5D has spot metering, which uses the center 3.5% of the frame to meter the light. I found this very useful yesterday when taking high contrast shots of for example a brightly lit Equinox Flower against a dark background. In fact, that shot is the first shot attached to this Podcast. To get this shot I switched to spot metering and took a reading of the flower itself. There was no exposure compensation needed. This is exactly as the 5D metered the shot. I found this pretty impressive.

Equinox_Flower_cluster_amaryllis_0287

Picture Style is new method of choosing how the photograph will be processed within the camera, kind of like selecting particular film for a specific type of scene, such as choosing Fujichrome Velvia for landscape shots for it’s vivid colours. I have seen magazine articles in Japan where Canon deny the direct link to a type of film, but the idea is the same. Canon has also announced the intent to make additional styles available for download from their Web site very soon. The three I see right now are Nostalgia, Clear and Twilight. The colour reproduction for the Landscape Picture Style in my mind though is way to gaudy. It might be OK if only paler colours that could use a boost will be included in your shot, but strong colours, particularly red get blown out very easily. I would recommend if you use JPEG, and therefore burn the effect into the image, you should experiment a lot before taking shots you may not be able to reproduce, or shoot in RAW. If you shoot in RAW, you can select the Picture Style in post-processing and experiment as much as you like. I am setting my Picture Style to Standard, which give very pleasing results, but I always shoot in RAW, so I can change it later to get different results. One other good thing about this is that you can also use Digital Photo Professional to apply Picture Style effects to any older Canon DSLR RAW files, so you can have plenty of fun there if you have some RAW files from a previous camera.

Other improvements in Digital Photo Professional which is a piece of software that ships with the camera are the addition of a ranking system. You can now select rank 1, 2 or 3, instead of the simple flag in the last version. This is useful when selecting your shots after a shoot. Yesterday I took 437 photos, and whereas in the past I would do one full run through my photos initially just to select the one’s I’d delete, and then do another full run to flag possible winners, before narrowing down to find the best shots, I can now combine my two full runs into one. Basically I will now do one full run marking anything I want to delete with a 1 and anything I like with a 2. Then I can select all the 1’s and delete them, then select all the 2’s and start to look through them for the best shots. I start by making anything I really like a 3, then select only the threes and narrow the list down further.

Another nice new feature is actually pretty much essential now that the RAW files are much larger and so take much more time to display in DPP is the Quick Check Tool. Basically this allows you to scroll through your shots in a window or full screen, either fitting the screen or at 50%. For navigation you can use your mouse to click through the shots, or the arrow keys on your keyboard. You can also assign the ranking with the keyboard numbers. From navigating to a photo to it becoming sharp on your screen takes under a second using the Quick Check Tool. In DPP it takes around 8 seconds. 8 seconds might not sound that long, but when you are waiting for each shot to res-in while reviewing them it soon becomes a stressful process. The Quick Check Tool is going to be very useful. Also, at this size image, 50% is plenty to see if the shot is sharp or not, but I found myself going to 100% for some of my final selection, just to be sure they were really sharp, but this is probably not necessary.

Demerits:

OK, so now that I’ve sung the 5D’s praises, let’s talk about the demerits, or at least the things I consider not so good. If you are border-line with regards to buying this camera you might want to consider these things before taking the plunge.

So, back onto the subject of this being a full size sensor camera. As I mentioned earlier, this is great news when using wide angle and mid-range lenses, but for telephoto and macro shots, you might be disappointed. It really does go without saying, but having used my 100 – 400mm lens with a 1.6 Focal Length Multiplier for the last few years, I’ve kind of gotten used to it being a 160 – 640mm lens. With macro shots too, the subject is all of a sudden 1/3 smaller in my finder at the same distance. I new this was going to be the case, and I decided that was OK, so I should not really be calling this a demerit, but it is a little disappointing if you are coming from a DSLR background. If however, you are coming from a 35mm film background, being able to use the 5D with exactly the same lenses at the same focal length will make the transition painless.

This too really should be a neutral thing and not a demerit, but the shutter button has become a lot easier to press. Which is great as it reduces camera shake, but I found that about 4 times during one afternoon I actually took the shot, when I only meant to be half-pressing the shutter. This is something that happens a lot when changing cameras though, and will not be a problem.

I should really mention here again under the demerits though, that the new Picture Style feature can render your photos in a very loud and gaudy way. I really don’t like what the Landscape mode does to shots that contain lots of bright colours. If you intend to use JPEG, where the Picture Style gets literally burned into the image, I would be very careful with this. Shooting in Standard I found produces nice effects for most scenes, and if you would prefer to tweak the shot a little in post-processing, you might also want to consider the neutral mode. Other than this, I would recommend shooting RAW as you can change it as much as you like in post-processing then. I would recommend shooting in RAW pretty much all the time anyway, but there’s probably a whole different Podcast right there.

One final thing to consider, but so obvious it should not really be classed as a demerit, rather another thing to consider, is that the image file sizes are much larger than lower resolution cameras. Therefore, you are going to need plenty of Compact Flash memory and probably a portable storage unit to backup your images while away from home for more than a day or so. Having used the 5D for a few days I’m finding I get around 84 RAW shots on a 1GB card. Just yesterday afternoon I filled two 2GB cards, one 1GB card and almost filled a 512MB card as well. I don’t know about other countries, but Canon is running a campaign in Japan where if you buy a lens after the release of the 5D up to the end of this year they’ll give you a 1GB CF card. If you buy an L lens, they’ll give you two 1GB cards. I actually bought the EF24 – 105mm F4L IS USM lens release at the same time as the 5D, so I’ll get two 1GB cards, and I can tell you, they are definitely going to come in handy.

Lens Review:

So, that’s all I can think of on the not so good side. Now a quick word on the EF24 – 105mm F4L IS USM lens before I wrap up for this week. This lens is said to be the best match for the 5D, and having used the 5D with both the 28-135mm IS USM lens, and the new 24 – 105mm lens, I can say that the image quality from the latter is definitely much, much better. This really goes without saying as the lenses are in different classes, but I can assure you the 24 – 105mm creates a very sharp image with very nice boke. Boke is a word that I’ve heard used in photography circles outside of Japan too, but basically it’s a Japanese word used to describe the blurred areas of a photo outside of the area of sharp focus. One of the reasons for the nice boke is that the lens apparently has a true circular aperture, with no angles as do many other lenses. The second and third photos attached to this Podcast, which are numbers 705 and 707 respectively, were taken with the EF24 – 105mm F4L IS USM lens.

Equinox_Flower_0271
Equinox_Flower_with_Crape_Myrtle_0335

Incidentally, the fourth and fifth shots, which are 708 and 709, were taken with a Lensbaby 2.0 at F4 and F5.6 respectively.

Equinox_Flower_with_Crape_Myrtle_LB2F4_0337
Equinox_Flower_with_Crape_Myrtle_LB2F5_6_0347

I’m not going to go into this today, but lens babies are amazing fun and version 2.0 is now much sharper than the first version and also offers an F2 aperture. All of the photos attached to today’s Podcast or linked to Episode 5 on the Podcast page at martinbaileyphotography.com were taken with the 5D. Also note that you can search on any lens or camera body in my Gallery by clicking the search link from the top tool bar and then clicking on the link in the equipment list. Note also that the search link takes you to different pages depending on whether you’re in the Main Gallery, the Forum or the Portfolio Gallery. The equipment link is only available when you click Search from the Main Gallery. Anyway, you can take a look at the 5D photos for yourself either in iTunes or on my Web site. Remember to decrease the photo to actual size by clicking the center button on the image viewer window in iTunes if it looks a little grainy. iTunes will try to make the shot pretty much fill your screen by default until you toggle back to actual size.

Summary:

Anyway, I’m not going to go into detail about how I got these shots today, as they were not technically difficult, even if the Lensbaby shots are a bit wacky.

I’m sure I’ll think of more stuff to say as soon as I’ve published this Podcast, but if I do, and it’s important, I’ll drop it into future episodes. The bottom line is on the 5D, if asked would I recommend this camera to somebody, the answer is yes, absolutely! It’s not cheap, so please do read other reviews and compare specs with other contenders, and make sure this is the camera you want before taking the plunge, but if you can get the money together and you can warrant the purchase, then go for it. I don’t think you’ll regret it. Of course, if you do, I don’t want to know. Please don’t mail me saying I recommended the 5D but you hate it. This review is my personal opinion and nothing more. Take it as is.

Here are the other photos from the original Podcast.

Enough_Pink_Cosmos_0525
White_Cosmos_0579
White_Cosmos_0601
Equinox_Flower_at_Dusk_0664

Show Notes

There are a number of interesting articles and reviews on Michael Reichmann’s excellent site, the Luminous Landscape: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/

Take a look too at Lensbabies.com for more info on this amazingly fun twist on photography: http://www.lensbabies.com/

Music by William Cushman © 2005, used with kind permission.


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