Navigate / search

Hands on review: Canon EOS 70D

Canon EOS 70D
Canon EOS 70D

I had high expectations for the new Canon EOS 70D, when I received it I could barely contain myself, here was a camera that could make the fusion between photo and video a reality, a machine close to the professional class of the Canon EOS 7D, I even dared to label it a replacement of the former from the specification on paper, it was close enough to call, was I right?

It is not a replacement to the 7D, it has serious limitations that the 7D overcomes easily, the frame rate of 7 fps makes it tantalizing. However, the where the 7D can continue forever at rates above that, the 70D will stall relatively quickly in RAW, in fact, after 7 frames… Disappointing.

That was where the disappointment ended; the body felt rubbery but that was not unexpected, it feels far more robust than the Canon EOS 100D or 700D. The camera was a lot heavier that I expected, not that it was a hindrance. The choice of standard lens surprised me, fitted on my sample was the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM IS lens. I expected a higher quality non-L lens, but the STM easily made the cut again. It is a great and versatile lens that feels at home everywhere and in any mode, photography now, video next. This kit lens cannot be compared to it’s predecessor as they have little in common.

The button layout of the camera is classic Canon EOS with the addictive addition of a swivel touch screen, which reacts as fast and accurately as any modern smartphones, making the switch to it from any other EOS simple.

The new style menu is still a little convoluted, since it is not a place you will spend a lot of time this is not an issue besides there is a favourite menu that can be customized. There is also a full custom setting on the dial so you can set your camera to your style and make it accessible at a twist of a dial; the dial has also got a welcomed locking mechanism found on the 5D MkIII and some 7D.

The biggest news and feature on the Canon EOS 70D is it’s live view and video capabilities and in this regard, it did not disappoint, the focusing in live view and video is nothing short of surprising, not other DSLR (I am excluding SLT technology) has ever come as close to being a video camera. The 70D paired with the STM lens is a true hybrid that is very comfortable shooting video or being used with live view.

Video sample will follow, I have issues uploading it.

On the photography front, the 19 focus points 20.1Mp sensor does a very reasonable work at up to ISO6400, I would not push further, this will allow most people to shoot in low light circumstances without the need of a flash getting very usable images without post-processing. The point is that post processing the 70D’s images will not be necessary in most cases as it does a good job of colour reproduction and image quality without interference.

Lastly, the “connectivity”, the Canon EOS 70D has Wi-Fi like it’s bigger brother the 6D. Much like expected, it works well, and downloads are reasonably fast and easily configured. I found that the remote on the iPhone lagged a little; the only problem I found was that the remote app is only built for the iPhone, though it works on the iPad it is not as elegant, Canon should really look into this unfortunate issue.

All in all, it is a fantastic replacement to the Canon EOS 60D and brings new functionality to the table, it might not be a 7D replacement, however it is a strong contender in it’s segment. I enjoyed it a lot.

Test and product photographs can be found here.
Test camera kindly supplied by Canon South Africa.

Hands on review: Canon EF 500mm f/4 L II USM

Canon EF 500mm f/4 L II USM
Canon EF 500mm f/4 L II USM

The photographer makes the photographs in accordance to his or her vision, not the camera or the lens, the later are tools to enable translating the vision into art. The previous statement is very true, to “make” better photos you will also need to know your equipment’s capability and “understand” that light is moody bordering psychotic, just when you think you figured it out you are thrown you a curve ball.

So how do you level the playing field? Learn more, practice and again, fail and fail again until you get it. But then you are given 3 days in the African bush, with 1 lens for review, a lens you know nothing about. The lens is the 3.2kg monster Canon EF 500mm f/4 L II USM , the camera paired with it was a Canon EOS 5D MkIII, making mistakes is not an option! The pressure is on.

The Canon EF 500mm f/4 L II USM is heavy, cumbersome and a burden, it’s price tag alone makes you sweat, it even come with its own padded case. Once you dismiss all that, you decide to do the insane and put a 2x tele-convertor on it, pair it with a Canon EOS 7D and shoot the moon, handheld. You expect that it will be a total catastrophe. In short, you do not shoot the moon with a 1600mm (35mm equivalent) handheld, it will be blurred!!! But no, it was perfectly sharp, so what happened? The IS (Image stabilization) did it’s job, it is so good that it compensated for my movement whilst shooting the moon. From that moment on, I had nothing but respect for the Canon EF 500mm f/4 L II USM.

Moon @ 35mm equivalent of 1600mm, shot handheld.
Moon @ 35mm equivalent of 1600mm, shot handheld, unedited.

You are asking at this point how did it fair in the bush? First, I need to set the scene for you, I was in an open 4×4 with other tourists, open 4x4s are notoriously susceptible to people moving in them, creating a difficult environment to use any long lenses. Add the fact this is no short lens, you could easily knock somebody with it, I highly recommend using the 1st row. The 2nd issue is that in private game reserves, rangers are allowed off-road and get rather close to the animals, the 500mm becomes useless or so you might think.

Tusks up close and personal
Tusks up close and personal, no crop.

During the test I left my camera settings as follows, aperture priority at f/4, ISO in automatic up to 12.800, AI focus, exposure compensation at +1. My first few photos where a little out with the exposure hence the compensation. I would like to also point out that every photo that are on this page were edited, as I would any other photos when not testing a camera – I do not edit any camera review images, it would unethical. Why? The final image is what maters, I will tell you that I never exited Lighroom and that I spent 2 minutes editing per image on average.

Insane! - Bateleur vs. Martial Eagle (15% of original image)
Insane! – Bateleur vs. Martial Eagle (15% of original image)

The lens has various functions that allows it to work better in certain circumstances, it has various IS modes and has a focus distance limiter, all good things that I would not generally use in the bush, however I may very well use them on rugby or soccer field since I know the maximum distances and will pan often. There is also programmable focus distances, again these are not very useful in the bush, but may very well be in sport. All of these functions allow the lens to be faster to focus or have other specific uses whilst on a tripod or monopod. In my case I was using it handheld, there is however a very useful programmable button that is very well thought out, it is located exactly where your index finger falls when hand holding the lens, right after the focus ring. I used it as an auto focus button.

Lioness of Timbavati (No Crop)
Lioness of Timbavati (No Crop)

The lens maybe heavy but I found it comforting as it made me lock in place for the shot, resting my elbow somewhere and allowing for clearer, sharper images. The AI focus worked exceptionally well with this lens, getting crisp results in about 80% of the photos,. Combining the Canon EOS 5D MkIII and this lens was very natural and did not feel at odds with each other. In fact, it allowed me to shot well after sunset with nothing more but a spotlight.

The eye of the lioness (Cropped from the Lioness of Timbavati)
The eye of the lioness (Cropped from the Lioness of Timbavati above)

All in all this was a great experience with a great lens that flattened the playing field with ease. At about R110.000 ($11000), I would never buy one but there is always the rental option and I would not hesitate to go back to the bush with a great white again. In the final analysis, it is not that heavy or cumbersome or a burden.

Here are a few more images shot with the Canon EF 500mm f/4 L II USM

Frantic dinner table (Shot after sunset with only a spotlight, cropped)
Frantic dinner table (Shot after sunset with only a spotlight, cropped)
Impala bush (No Crop)
Impala bush (No Crop)
Dig, dig, sniff, dig, dig, sniff... (Cropped)
Dig, dig, sniff, dig, dig, sniff… (Cropped)
Hmmm. I smell it! (No crop)
Hmmm. I smell it! (No crop)
African Hawk Eagle (Cropped)
African Hawk Eagle (Cropped)
White backed vulture (Cropped)
White backed vulture (Cropped)
Blue eyes (Cropped)
Blue eyes (Cropped)
Buffalo (No crop)
Buffalo (No crop)

Lens kindly supplied by Canon South Africa’s CPS program with the co-operation of CameraTek in Johannesburg.
Foto Rental  – friends of the reviews – will have this lens shortly in stock for you to rent from branches in Johannesburg, Cape town and Durban.

Macro Photography – Part 1: The gear

I have been doing macro photography to find inspiration for a long time. The advantages of macro photography are simple, you do not have to leave the confines of your home to discover the macro world, it’s all around you, in your house and in your garden.

There are a few requirements to get started, for example a lens that is capable of handling the macro world… Or maybe not. Either way, some investment will be required if you do not have a macro capable lens.

Here are some options:

Lens Reversal Ring
Lens Reversal Ring
Budget: R 200 ($20) +

Lens reversal ring camera
This little device allows you to mount your lens backwards and suddenly your 18-55mm kit lens is a macro lens. Though in this case I would advise a 50mm prime. This is the cheapest way to start with macro photography. Be careful when you buy these, make sure that you are getting the right size for your lens and check the compatibility with your camera. Also remember that everything becomes manual.


Macro extension tubes
Macro extension tubes
Budget: R300 ($30) +

Macro extension tubes
These are tubes that offset the lens to allow for shorter focus. Any lenses can be used with these tubes though I would recommend 100mm and above. Many, but not all, allow for pass-through commands to the lens for aperture and sometimes even auto focus. This is my recommended budget method because it does not affect the optics by adding glass in front of the lens and is highly portable. I also found that it’s easier to use the zoom ring, if you are using a zoom lens, to focus as opposed to the focus ring.


Folding Macro Bellows
Folding Macro Bellows
Budget: R 900 ($100) +

Folding Macro Bellows
This works on the same principle as macro extension tubes, though more bulky and adjustable. This is however the least portable solution.


Macro close up filters
Macro close up filters
Budget: R 1000 ($100) +

Macro close up filters
These screw into the front of your lens and they can be stacked. This option is the lightest and smallest of the lot, however you will notice image degradation as you stack these filters. There are other issues with these, the screw in method  means that the filter size is important, if you change lenses later the size may vary, I would advice buying a larger diameter and a step-down ring.


Macro zoom lenses
Macro zoom lenses
Budget: R2000 ($200) +

Macro zoom lenses
These are specialized zoom lenses that come in different length and from a variety of manufacturers, your existing zoom lens may even support macro, check. Most macro zoom lenses are also good standard zoom lenses, they are special because they can focus at shorter distances making them ideal for capturing the macro world. 


Macro prime lenses
Macro prime lenses
Budget: R4000 ($400) +

Macro prime lenses
Finally, we have arrived at the favored method of capturing the macro world, the prime or fixed macro lens. These come in various flavors, much as the macro zoom does, and they also make amazingly good portrait lenses, but they have a serious downfall, they are usually prohibitively priced.


Whatever method you choose, the entry into the macro world is a fascinating one that I will be diving into in future articles.

Recommended Gear
Ring flash
Ring flash
RayFlash
RayFlash

Additionally to your choice of macro gear I would add one more piece or equipment, a ring flash. Here there are also relatively cheap solutions as well as more expensive ones. I tried a RayFlash type solution, it is the cheap way out but I was never quiet impressed with it. It attaches to your external flash and runs the light into a ring flash (see right product photo). Though it makes full use of TTL, the problem with it in macro photography it sits behind the front of the lens, sometimes creating a shadow in the center of the frame. The more expensive way is a lens mounted solution such as the METZ Mecablitz 15 MS-1 which is a little difficult to set up the 1st time you use it but it is a set up and forget. Obviously there are other solutions with multiple flashes or even constant LED.

Originally posted on LivDigital Independent on the 07 May 2013, see http://www.livdigital.co.za/macro-photography

Social media fatigue and misgivings

We live in the golden age of social media thanks to Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn, 500px, Flickr and Twitter.
All these social platforms, I use to various degrees but I am having doubts and misgivings about its true usefulness or rather it’s usage by its users.

I use social media to gauge my work and try to improve on it but also to advertise my site and my work, in return I do the same for others. Let me elaborate on that last point as I think it has merit, then I will come back to the former.

When it comes to photography, as well as other entries, but mostly photography this is my rules on all platforms:

  1. Open – The photograph peaked my interest, therefore I opened it, you get a view.
  2. Like (or equivalent)  – The photograph intrigued me, it has a quality or effort I wish to recognize, you get a like.
  3. Comment –  The photograph is worth more than a “Like” it is worth an extra mention.
  4. Share (or equivalent) – My ultimate compliment to the photograph.
  5. Follow (or equivalent) – I like the photographer’s work it inspires me.

You’ll notice that I talk of the photograph as opposed to the photographer, this is because I feel that each photograph should be criticized blindly I do nor read others comments or look at the photographer at that time. If I hit like I often also look at the photographers other work, particularly on 500px and Flickr. I feel this is the best way to encourage and recognize the work done.

Onto what I see being done, Facebook has become a dumping ground, There is still a lot of good and inspiring work but it is also full of nonsensical comments, I have no interest in you going to shower, seriously. What I am interested in is your works what ever it may be. Google +, I cannot figure out, worst yet, it does not play nice with others. LinkedIn, great platform concept, completely misused, apparently I am a SQL guru, with 18 endorsement including from some people who would not know my skill set, I am good but no guru. The problem with LinkedIn is that it give the wrong idea. Twitter is a broadcasting platform nothing more, nothing less and there lies it’s strength and future weakness.

Lastly the 2 others, specialized platforms. Firstly, 500px, probably my favorite of the lot, it’s an equal opportunity platform by nature, unfortunately also getting crowded and expensive. That is also where I apply my 1 to 5 the most. The problem with both 500px and Flickr is the opportunists that leave messages like “…come an see my work…”, well just because you did, I wont. I would have if you had not. I actually rather be able to delete such comment and not have any.

In short, it’s not the platforms that are wrong but rather how we use them.

Originally posted on LivDigital Independent on the 07 May 2013, see  http://www.livdigital.co.za/1140469/

Canon confuses me

Disclosure: I am a Canon shooter and I am highly invested in their equipment.

I expect a brand like Canon to listen to their clients and thus have a line of product that makes sense, I do not see it anymore.

Their pricing and product release are erratic at best and this do not give me confidence. Understand me, the equipment is very good and I am not jumping ship just yet but being confused is uncomfortable at best.

Cameras

The release of the magnificent Canon EOS 5D Mark III was great even if the camera’s price was a little high, it is worth every penny. It has been very good to me and I will not be shopping for another DSLR for a while.  But , then, came the announcement of the Canon EOS 6D, which is really a replacement for the Canon EOS 5D Mark II as I see it. It’s also far cheaper than the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. What made the Canon EOS 6D odd to me was the introduction of built-in GPS and Wi-Fi, both are welcomed but I would have liked it on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EOS 1DX too, both options are available for these cameras at exorbitant prices but the Canon EOS 6D comes stock with it? Sorry I don’t see the logic.

Further to this, the Canon 7D’s firmware update, where did that come from? The Camera is due for replacement. We will not add the features added over time to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III through firmware as due next year. It feel a bit like after thoughts even if I think that it’s great that they are updating them.

There is also the Canon EOS 60D and  Canon EOS 650D, these two machine are too close to call, they are too similar in all the ways that matter.

I would add the Canon EOS M to the list but I have no experience with this format. 

Lenses

I think that one of the greatest lens release by Canon this year is the mystical Canon EF 200-400 f/4L IS 1.4x. The Olympic games proved that to us. Unfortunately, it is not available yet. With the new Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 L II,  I think Canon has missed the target. For three reason, the filter size has changed, this may be inconsequential to most  but I have, as many do, invested in the common 77mm diameter filter size. The second is worrying me even more, the price and finally the lack of an Image Stabilization.

The new Canon EF 24-70mm f/4 IS L is baffling me to no end, is it replacing the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS L?  But then why not a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 IS L? I hear many reason none that make sense.

I must say that on the prime lens front I like what I see.

What I would like to see come out of Canon

There is nothing wrong with having a wish list, these are the item I would like to see and would consider buying:

  1. A light weight, 77mm diameter Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 L IS USM
  2. A Canon 600 Mirror lens – Used the Sigma for many years and love the effect, weight and sharpness.
  3. Canon EOS 7D Mark II with higher ISO, 10 fps, 18MP cropped sensor, Wi-Fi, GPS, Dual slot (CF+SD), Flash IR controller, up to7 exposure brackets and call it a EOS 70D if you want.

It feels like Canon’s marketing department has lost the plot.