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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.

Sony and Photocomment photowalk

Sony Alpha SLT-A77V
Sony Alpha SLT-A77V

On the 31st of August I was at a Photocomment and Sony photowalk in Pretoria, I find these useful and educative with the added bonus of being exposed to new gear, in this case the Sony Alpha SLT-A77V.

This was not my first time in the company of Sony Alpha SLT-A77V but it was my first time with it and very little more. Being forced to use a camera one learns a lot about it’s character, the Alpha 77 is a serious camera that does not get the attention it deserves. With functions like panorama, built in GPS, 12 fps, 3 way tiltable screen, a 24.3MP APS sensor and 19 point of full time continuous focus goodness and every thing else you expect from a modern DSLR, how can it be ignored?

Additionally it is lighter than expected with excellent results in any modes, what could possibly be wrong with it? The Sony SLT software is a bit clunky, the menu could be easier to use, but this applies to the entire range of Sony cameras. The only other issue I have with it is the Electronic Viewfinder, I find it dated, it does not really represent a true refection of the final image, the Sony NEX-6 Electronic Viewfinder is far superior in my opinion.

Short of these minor issues, the camera performed well, it easily competes in the professional space with no shortage of lenses and it is well priced – I found it for about R14 000 with a Sony 16-50mm f/2.8 lens.

I enjoyed my time with it.

Sony Alpha SLT-A77V samples

ISO, under used and misunderstood

Cape Town at night
Hand-held Panoramic of Cape Town at night
Little to no noise at ISO12800 with the Canon EOS 5D MarkIII and a little stitching.

Photography is about compromises and ISO is no different, however the last camera generations have improved the odds in our favour dramatically.

Firstly, what is ISO? In short and without going into the technical details, it is the measurement related to the sensitivity of the sensor to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light the sensor becomes and that is good. However, there is a price, as we raise the ISO, the image gets noisier or, in film terms, grainier and that is not good.

In the film day’s, the baseline ISO is 100 and is generally the accepted best quality image standard, as of ISO 800 many older generation cameras get noisy and rarely usable beyond ISO 1600. This caused people to avoid it, even ignore it as a tool, however the last few years saw leaps and bounces in this department, ISO 12800 is now commonplace and has become usable. This allows us to shoot in darker places with fewer worries about image quality.

The most efficient way to use this is to find out what the maximum acceptable ISO setting is for your camera is, to do that I suggest that you shoot a few photos in a relatively dark place and decide for yourself what is acceptable to you. Once that has been done, as light vanishes you can raise your ISO until you reach your maximum or simply set it to your maximum when you know that you will be in dark places. This will allow you to shoot at faster shutter speed in darker situations, this is important to get sharper images.

Additionally, your camera may have an automatic ISO setting, I set mine to automatic with the maximum limit set to my maximum acceptable ISO, this allows me to focus on the other more important elements of photography such as depth of field, shutter speed and composition. It is also very handy in conditions where the light changes often and without warning, like tracking wildlife in changing ground condition, shade to light and back. It ensures that the photograph is as intended as opposed to photos that are too dark or too light and cannot be corrected.

In tandem with image stabilization, a higher ISO setting may allow you to shot a scene at night without the need of a tripod or a low light shot without the need of a flash. Noise at high ISO is inevitable, however modern software may come to the rescue. Software such as Abobe Camera RAW (ACR), Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and even Canon’s own software will help to reduce the noise without sacrificing image quality.

ISO is no longer something to fear but rather a tool to use and sometimes abuse.

Antique phone
Antique phone
pushing the limits of ISO at 6400 with the Caonn EOS 7D

 

Chandellier, Canon Powershot N
Chandellier, Canon Powershot N.
You can clearly see the noise at ISO1600 on this photograph.

Hands on review: Canon EOS 700D

Canon EOS 700D
Canon EOS 700D

Being the brother of the Canon EOS 100D by sharing much of its components and features the Canon EOS 700D is distinguishing itself by adding features I wish the 100D had. The first of these is a better handle that does not need small hands and the ability to add a battery grip. It is not a heavy or cumbersome camera by any length and feels like it’s solidly made.

It also has a 3 inch touch swivel screen, my biggest problem with swivel as opposed to tilt is the general handling of the camera changes when it is opened, the camera also takes twice the horizontal space. However, it feels solid and has the advantage of being functional in both portrait and landscape shooting and I found the touch screen is as addictive as ever.

My biggest surprise by far was the low light handling, it produced far less noise than I expected in both RAW and JPG. The AUTO mode (Scene Intelligent Auto) seems to select the “right” approach and setting in most conditions making it a perfect occasional and novice camera.

Big pipe organ
Big pipe organ – in low light conditions at ISO3200

The colour reproduction of the 18Mp sensor is surprisingly accurate and is not afraid of high contrast situations.
A lot has to be said of the new kit lens, the Canon EF 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS ST, it keeps surprising me. As seen below, short depth of field with clarity is easily achievable add that to its video prowess and it makes it a very desirable lens that easily competes with it’s own bigger brothers. This zoom lens paired the Canon EOS 700D makes this combination a strong contender in this space.

Spokes
Spokes

I tested the video and as with the 100D the results were very good, I will not post it because, unbeknown to me, it has a lot of copyrighted material. Fell free to have a look at the Canon EOS 100D video test here which yeilded similar results.

As with most kits most people will find the 18-55mm kit lens does not always satisfy zoom needs and I recommend that a 55-250 or a 70-300 be considered as part of the kit. Most retailers will have these in stock.

More photographs from my Canon EOS 700D review.

The Canon EOS 700D is available in South Africa from R7000 for the body, 18-55 kits are from R7800 and 18-55 + 55-250 kits from R9900.
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.