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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.

Hands on review: Canon EOS 100D

Canon EOS 100D
Canon EOS 100D

When I saw the announcement a few months back, I asked why we needed another entry DSLR, every body assumed that the small Canon EOS 100D was an attempt at competing with the ever increasing number of mirrorless. I knew this was not the case as soon as I picked it up. It is tiny, for a DSLR, but a far fetch from the mirrorless form factor, admittedly its size could be a problem with bigger hands.

Canon EOS 100D Touch Screen
Canon EOS 100D Touch Screen

The biggest surprise was the touch screen, clear, bright, big and very reactive. I found the tap, focus, trigger useful bordering addictive. The touch screen has also it’s flaws, it does not recognize a finger tap from a palm and that can be a problem if the function is not switch off as the camera will snap away has happily if mishandled. In the final analysis, it comes close to the way we use smart phones and that is a good thing.

Canon EOS 100D - 1x1 crop details
Click to see 1×1 crop details

The 18MP sensor does an amazing job in both bright and low light situations, ISO 6400 being usable to capture priceless memories in low light without the need of a flash. Mixed lighting situations are not has well handled as I expected, since these are rare and often correctable in post-processing I do not think this will be a problem, the colors where relatively accurate in both situations.

The new 16-55mm STM lens is relatively fast whilst paired with the EOS 100D, my only concern with this lens is its short zoom range, 25.6-88mm equivalent or about 0.51 to 1.6 times zoom which most new users will find disappointing. I advise to get the kit that includes the EF 55-250mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II this will overcome the potential frustration with a kit that will be long lasting and not overly priced. The test photographs are a mix of both lenses and I found that both were very acceptable in color rendition and sharpness.

Tangled (Lion cubs)
Tangled (Lion cubs) – Canon EOS 100D with Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM IS

The camera is very capable in all modes but I found the effects function a bit superfluous as these are better achieved with programs such as Instagram. Adding Wi-Fi to the camera using an Eye-Fi card is liberating as the photos can be automatically downloaded to a mobile device, edited and published to your favorite social networking site. The bonus here is that the EOS 100D is fully compatible with Eye-Fi cards, my worry was with the battery as the Eye-Fi card is notorious for draining them, I managed a cool 450 photos over 2 days with a single charge which I find very acceptable.

The video function access is very different to other Canon cameras I have use in the past, it is located on the power button, which I found very unusual. Luckily, most the photography functions are still available. As with most DSLR the video is a bit choppy even with the STM lens image stabilization, be aware that the longer the lens the worst it will become, the 55-250 with a fence between it and the subject did not like to be in video mode and started focus hunting as shown in the video. The quality of the video is very acceptable though.

Finally, this is a great addition to the EOS line aimed at the Instagram generation wanting to get into a different type of photography, a controlled purposeful photography beyond the Point-and-Shoots and smartphones. If I had to fault this camera, I would have to say that the lack of Wi-Fi was a serious oversight from Canon and could be it’s biggest enemy. A tilt – not swivel – screen would also have come in handy for both photography and videography.

Leopard gaze (Through a fence)
Leopard gaze (Through a fence) – Canon EOS 100D with Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS II

Overall the camera performed well but is evidently aimed at smaller hands.

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

Hands on review – E-Mount Lenses for the Sony Alpha NEX

Lens choices are always hard, there is the nagging “what if” in your mind. Sony made the “what if” easier for us with 5 zooms, 4 primes and 1 Zeiss under their brand in the E-Mount range.

Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 Powerzoom OSS
Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 Powerzoom OSS

First comes the 2 “kit” lenses, let’s start with the newer 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 Powerzoom OSS (SELP1650). As I said in my Sony Alpha NEX 5R/6 review, it feels squarely aimed at the video shooter. This lens maybe very compact but it does not feel right, the power zoom reacts oddly and the zoom ring is powered and difficult to control. Bottom line it does not do what I expect of it and that is an issue. It does every other job as intended; it’s just that irritating powerzoom. It also looks like it cannot take a hood which could translate into flare issues.

Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom OSS
Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom OSS

In contrast, the older 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom OSS (SEL1855) feels solid and is more traditional in it’s functionality; it has a zoom and a focus ring, it is slightly heavier and larger than it’s sibling but is comfortable to use and the results are well within expectations.  If I had a choice of kit lens this one would be it. This is also my first choice in the NEX lens trinity.

Sony 55-210mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS
Sony 55-210mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS

In the longer zooms, the 55-210mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS, this is a traditional long zoom lens with built-in image stabilization (OSS) it works brilliantly on the short end. Past 130mm find something to lean on or stabilize the camera. One does no realize how light the camera is and how hard it is to keep it still. This is also the second NEX lens of the trinity. It focuses fast and gives great results; just remember to take of the hood in high wind conditions.

Sony 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 PowerZoom OSS
Sony 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 PowerZoom OSS

The biggest surprise of the lot was the 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 PowerZoom OSS, when I picked it up I thought that this was the lens I was not going to use at all, I even tried to hate it. As it turned out, I was very wrong, this is the lens to rule them all. Like the ring, it comes at a price, it is heavy, really heavy and expensive. On the imaging side it works, maybe a little soft and a bit of fringing but noting that cannot be handled in post with little to no effort. The amazement is when used to capture video, it’s great fun with good results, as with the 16-50 it is bias for video capture. In full manual zoom, it does the trick. I found it hunting on small movement but otherwise will work well in any outdoor conditions. It is the ideal lens to avoid the “what if” feeling. this would easily replace the trinity if it needed.

Sony 10-18mm f/4 Zoom OSS
Sony 10-18mm f/4 Zoom OSS

The last zoom is without a doubt Sony’s crowning achievement to date on the e-mount, the magnificent 10-18mm f/4 Zoom OSS. Of all the Sony lenses this is the one I would want on my camera permanently with the 50mm f/1.8 in the bag, I’d be in street/landscape/cityscape photography heaven. This lens is ultra-sharp, low distortion, very wide and fast focusing, add a luxury feel to it and this makes it a must, petty about the price though. This is the last of my trinity of lenses in my bag and the most likely to stay there for a long time.

Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS
Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS

In the prime lenses the 50mm f/1.8 OSS is a must, that controllable shallow depth of field is irresistible. The lens is also very well built and feels solid; I have not noticed any aberration or distortions after 6 months of use.

Sony 35mm f/3.5 Macro
Sony 35mm f/3.5 Macro

The last of the Sony lenses I want to mention is the 35mm f/3.5 Macro, no image stabilization in this lens but a very easy to use focus ring and an amazingly close focus. Set your camera in a mode – Manual Focus or Direct Manual Focus – because it tends to focus hunt a bit. This did not bother me as I shoot macro in manual focus mode. The sharpness was above my expectation. This is a fun lens to use as are most macros.

The fact is putting your camera in Direct Manual Focus is a good idea as it allows for the camera to focus and you to tweak at any time.

Zeiss Touit
Zeiss Touit

Lastly, I had the opportunity to play with the 2 new ZEISS Touit prime lenses for the E-Mount. The 12mm f/2.8 was a blast to shoot with and it just feel like it belongs on the NEX, the pre-production model had it’s issues mostly around focus hunting but I am sure that the phenomenon will be sorted in the final release version. The 32mm f/1.8 did not blow my socks away but it is a luxurious and performing lens that is light and small. Neither sport optical stabilization but it’s not required for these type of lenses. They are expected to cost R14000 for the 12mm and R10500 for the 32mm not cheap but quality is not cheap either. I was informed last week that they are now available in South Africa.

For photos done with these lenses please go here.

Estimated prices:

  • Sony E-Mount 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 Powerzoom OSS (SELP1650) R4500
  • Sony E-Mount 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom OSS (SEL1855) R3600
  • Sony E-Mount 55-210mm f/3.5-6.3 Zoom OSS (SEL55210) R4100
  • Sony E-Mount 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 PowerZoom OSS (SELP18200) R15000
  • Sony E-Mount 10-18mm f/4 OSS (SEL1018) R 11000
  • Sony E-Mount 35mm f/3.5 Macro (SEL30M35) R3500
  • Sony E-Mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS (SEL30M35) R3500

Equipment for review was kindly supplied by Sony South Africa, MPhoto and The digital Experience

Beginning photography with the Lensbaby system

Lensbaby Composer

I am often asked “What new lens should I buy?” and more often than not I recommend a nifty fifty, an f/1.8 or better. There is another I forget about, a fun and creative lens system that changes the way you see. I am speaking of the Lensbaby system, for beginners I highly recommend the Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 Optic and if the R4200 price is a bit steep, the Composer with the Double Glass Optic is cheaper at about R2300 but a bit harder to use with it’s aperture disks.

Lensbaby Fisheye Optic (f/4)
Lensbaby Fisheye Optic (Canon EOS 5D Mark III)

Why would I recommend a lens system that I dubbed “the purposeful degradation of photographs system”? Simply put it is 100% manual and fits all major camera manufacturers and there is more than one optic – “lens“ – that will fit the “housing”, it is also light and versatile from 12mm Fisheye to 80mm the is something for everyone. Additionally, the Double Glass optic is capable of f/2 and is as sharp as any entry-level 50mm lens when not bent – in fact I find it puzzling that Lensbaby does not supply the Scout with a Double Glass or a Sweet 35 as an option rather than the Composer or Composer Pro which would make it ideal for beginners.

Peaches – Double Glass Optic
Peaches – Lensbaby Double Glass Optic (Canon EOS 7D)

The advantage of the Lensbaby is that it forces you to think about the choices you make and shows you through the lens the outcome of your choices. The aperture disk system will show you the depth of field immediately through the viewfinder showing you exactly how aperture works. Through time, the appropriate speed for the given light and aperture will come to you without thought making you a better photographer. It also creates an environment where experimentation is not an option but rather essential.

Nuts – Single Glass Optics
Nuts – Lensbaby Single Glass Optics (Canon EOS 7D)

What the basic Lensbaby kit does is improve vision through mistakes and the same mistakes will improve your photographic vision through a fun process. I certainly found it beneficial to my photography as I learned how a lens works from the inside out.

Lensbaby Sweet 35 with 8 & 16mm Macro Convertor
Lensbaby Sweet 35 with 8 & 16mm Macro Convertor (Canon EOS 5D Mark III)

The system also has a few other tricks up it sleeves, there is a very efficient macro convertor kit, these are basically extension tubes, once you have the basic kit and extra R700 and the macro world is yours.

One of my favorite is the Sweet 35 Optic simply because there is not need for those pesky aperture disks and the effects are great.

Lensbaby Soft Focus Optic
Lensbaby Soft Focus (Canon EOS 5D Mark III)

The possibilities are endless and the system is growing every year, the Edge 80 being one of the more recent additions allows for pronounced tilt-shift effects and has a macro mode to boot.

The Lensbaby system is a good addition to any photographer’s bag.

Recommended prices (South Africa):

More of my Lensbaby photos here

Lensbaby on television and in the cinema here.
Lensbaby Edge 80 Optic & Macro Converters where kindly supplied by MPhoto.