Thursday, 31 March 2011

Back-Up body re-think

Ok, so I'm lying in bed last night contemplating my last post on getting a back-up body for my 5D. I'm following a few on-line auctions for camera bodies at the moment - mostly for 40D's, and it seems to me I'll be lucky to get one for less than $750NZ. And then I start thinking about the lenses I want to get for the 5D - not to mention speedlites etc. And my 'budget' starts to skyrocket.

And then it dawns on me. Why am I spending so much on a back-up body!? Since it literally is going to be a back-up to the 5D. I don't shoot with two cameras hung around my neck - that's not my style. I mostly use an assistant on a wedding, and they help me change lenses quickly when and if I need to. The extra body really never sees any action - and I hope that it never does. Yes, I'll take it out occasionally to put some images through it to keep it working - but mostly it will just sit there unused. So why am I considering getting an (arguably) better camera body as a back-up to my 5D that will never get used? Duh!

So I've changed tack slightly - and I'm thinking the 20D. For quite a few reasons.

A peek inside the 20D
First - it's considerably cheaper to buy on the secondhand market. Body only can go for about $200NZ. That's a saving of over $500NZ already. And that's a brand new 430EX II right there.

Second - the layout of the controls, menus, buttons, dials etc on the 20D are exactly identical to the 5D. Exactly. You could almost call it a mini-5D in fact. Which makes a lot of sense if you are going to be moving between the two cameras.

Third - the 20D won't make the 5D look 'inferior' in any way - the 5D is a step up, rather than a step down from the 40D (again, arguably).

Fourth - 8MP is any amount of resolution in a backup camera, as is 5fps if I ever want to take it out for some sports action.

And finally - the 20D uses the same battery, charger, cords etc, etc, than the 5D - so many of the accessories and batteries will be interchangeable between the two. Extra batteries for the 5D means extra batteries for my back-up camera as well.

I'm constantly telling my students not to worry so much about the camera body, and to concentrate on the lenses instead. Might be time I started taking my own advice?

Makes a lot of sense to me.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A Tale of 4 D's

My Nikon gear is starting to sell, so now my thoughts turn to purchasing a back-up body for the 5D.

The 'Rebel' range are out. Don't like the ergonomics and they aren't quite rugged enough. Which is not to say they can't take a lick'n and keep on tick'n - they certainly can. But the more rugged alloy bodies of the '00D' series are designed more along the lines of the 5D - so that's where I'm looking.

Canon's 20D, 30D, 40D and 50D. Pick the odd one out.
Also not interested in paying 'top dollar' for a brand-spanking new one, so that also rules the current 60D out. Which really leaves the above range of Canon 'enthusiast' level camera bodies for consideration.

All the above cameras have enough megapixels for me - from the 8MP 20D to the 15MP 50D. Megapixels aren't a consideration. Neither is Live View, which the 40 & 50D have, but the 20 & 30D don't. Big deal. Don't care.

From the front, at least, they all look alarmingly similar. And in many respects they are. Every addition a little faster, little bigger (megapixels), a little better at low light / high ISO's. So where to jump in for a 'good' secondhand body?

For me, it comes down to what's on the back - the LCD screen. This will govern most (although not all) of my decision on which camera to go for. I think a 3" LCD screen is about right. So this eliminates the 20D and 30D - leaving the 40D and 50D as serious contenders.

This is where it gets a little trickier. The 40D has a 230,000 dot LCD screen, whereas the 50D ups that to 920,000 dots (the same as my D300 had). This makes a huge difference, and is a much nicer screen. In comparison, however, the 5D uses a 2.5" screen with 230,000 dots - smaller than the 40D! So while the 50D screen would be nice - even the 40D's screen is better than the 5D's! And remember, this will be my back-up body.

So based on the LCD, together with the speed ratings of both cameras etc, I've decided to go with the 40D. I'll save myself $100 (or so), and get a 10MP camera that shoots at 6.5fps, with a 3" LCD screen and shooting up to ISO 3200. Ergonomically, it is also practically identical to the 5D, so switching between the two bodies should almost be seamless. Very important in the heat of battle :-)

Now I just have to find one.

Decision made.

From Canon to Nikon and back again.

This blog started as a Nikon owners blog when I was using the Nikon D70 all those years ago - and then switched a couple of years later when I changed to the Canon 30D. This led to the 5D, and then back to Nikon when my 5D stopped working just prior to last years wedding season.

The Canon 5D not working rocked me quite a bit, as only a few months earlier the 'L' lens that came with it (24-105 f4L) also needed to be sent back to Canon for an issue with the lens barrel. Was Canon's quality control going all to heck? Why was this happening to their 'professional' models - and more importantly, why was it happening to me!?

So I jumped ship, sold most of my Canon gear (except the 5D body), and got the Nikon D300. And I've loved it ever since.

But now the Canon 5D is back - repaired, and I can't help myself. I'm a Canon user at heart and always have been. So I'm keeping the 5D - looking for a backup body (probably a 40D), and have started selling my Nikon gear. The SB600 flash and Nikon D300 body have already gone! In fact the D300 body sold about an hour after I put it up for auction online. Now I have all my lenses and other accessories up as well.

Been looking around for a vertical grip for the 5D (BG-E4), but they seem to be rarer than hens teeth! So I've purchased one from Adorama in the USA, from their secondhand dept. Should be here by the end of the week? Maybe in time for my last wedding of the year?

So I've shot my last wedding with the Nikon D300. And yes, I'm sad about that. I still maintain that it's a 'better' camera than the 5D. Only hope the decision doesn't haunt me too much!?

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Tough Decisions...

Last post I talked about my impressions of the 5D, having not used it for over a year - compared to the Nikon D300 that I had been shooting with instead.

I'm not going to sugar coat it - the 5D is sub-par in almost every respect when held up to the D300 - bar two: sensor size, and ergonomics. Not that I think the ergonomics of the D300 are bad, because they certainly aren't. And nor is the sensor 'bad' when compared to the 5D's either. So what am I on about then?

Canon 5D with Canon 28-105mm f3.5/4.5
 Lets take the first point: Ergonomics. Talk to any photographer whose been doing this for a while - who has been exposed to both Canon and Nikon camera systems - and they will tell you there is a Canon way of doing things, and a Nikon way. Neither are necessarily better than the other, they just are.

So if you use any one system for a long period (like I did with Canon), you get used the their way of doing things. Simple things, like which way you twist a lens to mount onto a camera body, arrangement of buttons and dials etc. Heck, even just the jargon they use for a particular function. I've been using the Nikon well over a year now, and I still find myself twisting the lens the wrong way, or reaching for a control dial that just isn't there. I've trained my hands to work the 'Canon' way. While it doesn't stop me using other systems, it just never quite feels 'right'?

Canon 5D with 28-105mm
Second: the Sensor. Now again, let me repeat that the D300 sensor isn't bad. In fact it's fantastic! At 12MP I reckon it's just about the perfect Goldilocks size - not too big, and not too small. Just right. Noise is well handled up to at least 1600, and the images I get off of the D300 are punchy, vibrant and saturated when set to the 'Vivid' colour space. All-in-all, no complaints.

But... (isn't there always a but), the sensor isn't full frame. And yeah, I do sometimes wish it was. Even though I've collected an arsenal of seriously good cropped sensor glass, and I dig that the 50mm f1.4 becomes a 75mm f1.4 portrait lens, I still have this nagging feeling that 'bigger' is better.
If I want a cropped sensor, I'd like it to be for my back-up body, not my main camera. Yes, I know that Nikon does have full frame in the D700, D3x etc - but I don't have them, do I! No, I have the Canon 5D.

Same deal. Canon 5D with 28-105mm lens.
So it's really decision time. And it's not an easy one (for me at least).  In oh-so-many ways the Nikon D300 is a much better camera, and I now have a good supply of lenses and flashes for it.
I could just stick with the Nikon, and forget that I've even got the 5D. Or just use two systems. Or just use the 5D for landscapes and D300 for weddings. All possible options.

But a large part of me thinks I really should concentrate on just the one system. And logically that really should be the system I'm most comfortable with... Canon.

So I find myself in the strange position of seriously considering switching camera systems again - this time back to Canon from Nikon! And keeping a camera that I genuinely consider to be inferior to the one I'm selling! Am I crazy?

Of course 'inferior' is subjective. And let's face it, the 5D is/was an amazing camera as well. It's not like I'm chucking all my digital SLR gear in favor of a cardboard box pinhole camera. That would be crazy.

I was very happy with the 5D (which also has my definition of a 'Goldilocks' sensor at 12.8MP) before it died on me, and now that it's back, I'm sure I'll be very happy with it again. The money I get from the sale of my Nikon gear will get me a backup body (probably the 40D) and a couple of nice lenses to go with the 20-35mm and 28-105mm I already have. And with the ability to 'borrow' some seriously pro Canon glass from friends who trust me with their gear - I'll have a superb system back up and running in no time.

Will be very sad to see the D300 go though. I love that camera.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Tripping with the Canon 20-35mm

Having just received my 5D back from the repairer, and my new 20-35mm lens from Trademe (an internet auction site similar to ebay here in New Zealand), I was keen as mustard to get out and shoot with it. There were a lot of events happening locally this weekend, so we picked one and headed out the door.

We decided as a family to go to the Gypsy Fair. I was keen to go because I knew there would be lots of photo opportunities for bold colour and good wide-angle images - and I wasn't disappointed.

I haven't used the Canon 5D in over a year - shooting with the Nikon D300 instead. I've written about my love for the D300 and initially felt myself really missing some of its features over the 5D. For example, I much prefer the larger, higher resolution LCD screen on the Nikon D300 - it's gorgeous compared to the smaller, lower resolution screen on the Canon.

This may sound like a small thing, but in reality it's huge (no pun intended). Looking on the back of the 5D didn't inspire confidence that I had the image I wanted - even when checking the histogram. The 5D images lacked the punch and pop I am used to seeing on the screen of my D300, although I'm pleased to say this isn't particularly borne out in the final results on the computer.

I was using the 'Portrait' Picture Style on the 5D, whereas with my D300 I'm used to the 'Vivid' colour setting. And I'm pretty sure that therein lies the problem. I've set up my own 'Custom' picture Style on the 5D now - increasing the sharpness, saturation, contrast and colour tone values, and I'm getting much better images on the back of the camera.

Of course I'm shooting RAW on both systems, so these settings aren't of major importance for the final RAW file. But it is better to see a sharp, punchy image on the back of the camera after you've taken a photo. It just inspires more confidence.

I'm also not too inspired by the 9-point focus system on the Canon 5D when compared to the 51 point system on the Nikon. I'm not saying the Canon is bad - and I only tend to use the central focusing point and recompose anyway - but the autofocus system on the Nikon does seem more robust and responsive. Regardless of frames-per-second (which the Nikon also completely hammers the 5D in), I know which camera body I would reach for if the action got really frantic - and it wouldn't be the 5D. Of course for static images - and even for capturing my son on a mini trail bike - the 5D is more than capable (of course).

One of the issues I had with the 5D files when I got them onto the computer was noise. I was shooting at ISO 100, so no, noise isn't that apparent - but surprisingly it is there. Again, I think I've been somewhat spoilt with the D300, which although not the best of the bunch, still handles noise much better than the 5D. I regularly shoot at ISO1600 on the D300, whereas I don't think I'll go much above 800 on the 5D. I also heard recently that Canon sensors perform best at ISO160 and multiples thereof (320, 640 etc). So ISO160 is cleaner than ISO100? Might have to give that a go and see for myself. Place that in the 'strange but true' file.

Anyway, the photo above 'Lucky Star', shot at ISO100, has noise in the dark areas inside the caravan that is simply horrible. Admittedly I underexposed quite a bit to retain detail in the clouds, and then 'opened' the shadows in Photoshop - but even some of the better exposed areas 'cleaned up' noticeably when I put the image through Noise Ninja. Probably a worse case scenario - but the 5D is definitely noisier than the D300 - period.

At this point you may be thinking 'what a dog of a camera'. Surely there must be something he does like? Isn't there? Well I'm glad you asked, because there is indeed. Quite a few things in fact.

First, even though it may exhibit more noise, the sensor on the 5D has to be one of its major selling points - because it's full frame. Yes, I do appreciate that my new Canon 20-35mm is, in fact, a 20 to 35mm optic on the 5D (and not some weird 32-56mm monstrosity). I'm not a super telephoto shooter, so I don't really appreciate the x1.6 crop factor of the ADSC sized sensors. I want a 24-70mm to be exactly that - thank you very much.

Second, I love the ergonomics of the Canon. Using the large scroll wheel on the back of the camera to instantly change EV is inspired bliss. I'm so used to shooting with that big old wheel in the back, I miss it soooooo much when I shoot with my Nikon. 

Otherwise I'm in two minds about the overall simplicity of the Canon compared to the Nikon. I'd like the Canon to have an option to use a two button reformat without having to dig into the menu system a-la the Nikon's, but then again, the Canon 5D seems easier to get familiar with. I can recall it being called a real 'photographers' camera when it was first released, and I must say I agree with that. It's got nothing you don't need (live view, picture modes, video capability etc) and everything that you do to take great images. It's solid, weather sealed, fits my hand perfectly and is part of an incredibly impressive system - especially the Canon lenses.

Which finally brings me to the Canon 20-35mm f3.5/4.5. With the Canon EW-83 lens hood attached it's a bit of a monster lens - not very long, and not very heavy, but man does it have a big front element (77mm)! The ultrasonic motor is lightning quick and whisper quiet, giving the impression of a quality lens. Initial impressions are that the images are plenty sharp enough, especially when stopped down to f5.6 or f8. And so it should be as an ultra-wide optic. 

What I don't like about it is the very short front focus ring. It's too narrow, and too close to the front of that honking great lens hood. The even narrower manual focus ring is better placed and falls more naturally under my fingers when holding the lens. Wish Canon had put the zoom ring there instead. Ah well. 'Pobody's nerfect' as they say :-)

Folks reading this may sense a bit of Canon v Nikon, although that's not my intention at all (really). These are just the differences in the two camera systems that I own, as I see it. And these are also just my initial thoughts, after using the 5D again after over a year. I've already tweaked the cameras picture style to give me a better user experience, and even that little thing has worked wonders.

Ideally I'd meld the two together into one Super-Wayne camera :-)  If only life were that simple. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Canon 20-35mm f3.5/4.5

Hooray! Just received news that my Canon 5D is finally going to be fixed!

I had sent it off to a camera repairer who was initially at a loss for what was causing the fault (top lcd and viewfinder info not showing). He thought it might be a couple of things, but couldn't be sure until he'd had a chance to 'test' his theories out using the parts from a working 5D. But that meant waiting until he got another 5D that he could pull apart and use the bits from!

Well, that day finally arrived, and he was pleased to report back that he has found the cause of the fault (one of the circuit boards), and it is the easier of the two possible fixes. It's still going to cost me $500NZ to have it repaired, but that's only a tenth of what the camera initially cost, so I think it's worth it to get it back up and running again.

So I may soon be using two different systems - both Canon and Nikon - when I shoot a wedding! Cool.

Only slight problem with getting the 5D back is my general lack of lenses for it! That won't be a problem on a wedding, since my assistant Nicky is a Canon shooter and has some amazing glass I can use for the day. How about a 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8? I could easily shoot a whole wedding with just those two lenses right there!

But for my own personal photography, I really only have a 50mm f1.8 (of my daughters) that I can use, so things are looking a little more limited. So I decided to fix that, by adding a wide angle zoom to the 50mm - picking up a Canon 20-35mm f3.5/4.5 off Trademe today!

The 20-35mm is one of the first EF wide angle lenses Canon made for the 'consumer' market, although they didn't skimp on the build quality. It has a superior electronic USM (ultra sonic motor) focusing system with full-time manual override, a large 77mm filter element, metal mount, and solid construction. What it doesn't have are any aspherical or correctional lens elements.

General reports on the internet are positive - stop the lens down to f8 or f11 and it's a very sharp and reasonably well corrected optic. Which, once again, is fine with me. Just like my Tokina 12-24mm f4 for my Nikon D300, the Canon 20-35mm will be a landscape lens (for the most part), so smaller apertures will be the norm when using it - not the exception.

The 5D will take a few weeks to be fixed and sent back to me, whereas I should have the 20-35mm soon. I might get a chance to use the 5D at my last two weddings for the year - at the end of April and beginning of March. Should be interesting to see how I go switching between the two systems at a wedding?