Thursday, 6 November 2014

Hang on. That's not a 1D!

Well, what a difference a day makes.

In my last post I wrote excitedly about my purchase of the Canon 1D MkII, gave all my reasons for going that way, and even started forming a lens buying strategy.

But I also mentioned how unsure I was about the fairly high shutter count of the body I had purchased - especially since it turned out to be quite a bit higher than the buyer had originally suggested.

I slept on the decision overnight - tossed and turned a bit - and in the morning, decided that I really wasn't comfortable with the shutter life left, and pulled out of the deal. I'm happy to report that it ended amicably, with both parties in agreement and keen to get on in other directions.

So for me, what direction was there left to take?

My experience at the Street racing recently rekindle my love affair with Canon through the 50D. Even though I was using a very well-used model, it functioned perfectly and was a joy to shoot with. It had everything I wanted (frame rate, weather resistance, solid feel, great autofocus), and nothing that I didn't (movie mode, touch screen, blah, blah, blah).

So yes, a mint condition (low shutter count) Canon EOS 50D is the way I've now gone. And I'm just as excited about it as I was about owning the 1D.

If I'm being perfectly honest, I am bummed that I don't own a pro series 1D. I was really looking forward to it. But I also had several nagging doubts and really do feel that the 50D is the better fit for me personally.

Its 6.3fps was more than enough for the street racing and the autofocus was almost always dead on. The only thing that really let me down were the old batteries, but of course I plan on fixing that with a few new ones.

I have a 50D turning up any day now (hoping that it arrives before the weekend since I have a camera club field trip to go on), and once I've sold my Pentax K10D's, I'll pick up a few more accessories/lenses for it. The first thing I'll probably opt for is the vertical grip. I almost always get one for whatever camera I own, since I shoot a lot in portrait orientation, and enjoy the extra bulk/weight and shooting power they offer.

I already have a (borrowed) Canon EF-S 10-20mm ultra-wide angle, and the EF-S 18-55mm kits lens I picked up for free at our last photography club evening (yay). So I think the next lens I get will actually be the EF-S 60mm f2.8 macro lens. I like the fact that macros do 'double-duty', working as reasonably fast short telephotos as well for portraiture. So you get two lenses in one!

Not sure if I'll pick up a Canon speedlite for it as well, or try out the Yongnuo flash I had with the Pentax (I think it will work with the Canon as well)? If I don't get a flash, I might have enough money to get a Canon E 70-300mm IS USM too? Have to sell my Pentax's first though!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Canon EOS 1D Mk2

Last post I wrote about my experiences shooting a motorcycle street race event with a Canon 50D and Pentax K10D. Not surprisingly, the 50D stomped all over the K10D in terms of focus speed, ISO quality and frames per second, and was a joy to use. It also gave me some fantastic images!

Canon 50D with 400mm f5.6L @ 1/2000th. ISO 800
While I don't do a lot of hi-speed action shooting, I really enjoy it when I do. It's such a buzz, and I definitely want to do more in the future. We actually have quite a few local events like the street racing, surfing, rodeo, motor cross, karting, and even local sports like rugby, league and hockey, that I would like to try and capture a bit more. Sadly, my Pentax K10D (and some may argue the Pentax system in general), isn't really up to the task.

So I am in the process of, somewhat regrettably, selling my existing Pentax kit, and looking at replacing it with something that has a lot more horse power (i.e fps and focus tracking). And I think I've just bought the very thing....

Enter the Canon 1D Mk2, my newest camera acquisition.

I really enjoyed shooting with the 50D, and still have it on 'permanent' loan from a friend. It will now be my 'back-up' for the 1D. But why didn't I just get another 50D and use a matching pair? Great question. Let me answer that by going through my thought process before buying the camera shown here.

Firstly, though, a run-down on the specs for the 1D Mk2. It's an 8.2 megapixel camera shooting at 8.5 frames per second. I know that 8.2 doesn't seem like a lot of megapixels, but it uses a large 28.7 x 19.1mm sensor at 3504 x 2336 pixels, for a large than APS-C 1.3x crop factor. Apparently this sensor was used to give sports shooters a slightly bigger crop than full frame, while still having a larger sensor size that the x1.6 crop on APS-C sized sensors. Call it 'the best of both worlds'. So 8.2 megapixels on a sensor this size is 'more' than enough resolution for detailed A3 prints - and I've argued in the past that between 8 to 12 megapixels is my happy medium. Not too large and not too small. The 'goldilocks' sensor size if you will :-)

The sensor is double the mega pixel size of the original 1D (from 4 to 8), but is also reported to have better noise control. It only shoots natively up to 1600, although this can be expanded to 32,00. For me and my style of shooting, if it's clean at ISO 800 (and from reviews I've read and samples I've seen it is), then I'll be a happy camper.

The 1D Mk2 is also dual format, taking both CF and SD. You can use them at the same time to shoot RAW to one card and a jpeg back-up to the other, or shoot until one is full and then direct the camera to start shooting to the other. That's a feature I've never had in a camera, but something I'm looking forward to using.

The viewfinder is 100%, it has an amazing 45 point autofocus system with incredibly accurate focus tracking (this camera was specifically designed for sports shooters and photo journalists), and as a professional 1 series body, is built like the proverbial brick.... house. The buffer is fantastic, allowing for 40 jpeg or 20 RAW images in a burst before the camera slows somewhat to read to the card. This is miles better than Nikon's equivalent D2x with a buffer of less than half the Canons. So what's not to like?

Well, it is 'older' technology. Things have, not surprisingly, moved on a bit since this camera was first released ten years ago (in 2004).

The lcd screen is only 2" (the Mark2N upped this to 2.5") and it uses the older (and heavier) NP-E3 Ni-MH battery pack, rather than the newer, smaller and lighter Lithium packs introduced with the Mk3. That said, apparently the Ni-MH battery lasts all day, so the slightly extra weight might be worth it for extended battery life? The lcd is also only 230,000 pixels - although again from reviews I've read it is plenty sharp enough (probably because it's only 2"). The 'newer' 2.5" screen on the Mk2N is also only 230,000 pixels, so there's really not much gain to be had there.

Which leads me nicely into the question of why the 1D Mk2 and not something else?

For me, the Canon EOS 1D Mk2 ticked all the right boxes. It has enough megapixels on a nice big sensor. It shoots at a blisteringly fast frame rate and uses an incredible autofocus system. It doesn't have anything I don't want (video, live view, scene modes, art filters), and it does have everything I do want.

The Mk2N is only a minor upgrade, with a 'slightly' larger lcd screen, but with the same processor, sensor, autofocus system and speed as the Mk2, so I didn't really see the need to pay a little more for the 2N.

I did look very seriously at the Nikon equivalent, the D2x, but with a 12MP APS-C sized sensor, lower frame rate (unless you choose the smaller 6MP resolution crop mode) and only single card slot, I felt the 1D Mk2 was the superior product for my needs. That, and the fact that there weren't any really 'clean' D2x's on auction for what I was prepared to pay.

And really, that's also ultimately what it boils down to for most of us in the end - price. I looked for a clean Canon 40D, 50D or 60D, but they were surprisingly all going for as much as - if not more - than the 1D Mk2 I eventually ended up buying. Same with a Nikon D200 or D300. They were more expensive that the 1D, sometimes by a very high margin.

So why are 1D Mark 2's going for such a good price at the moment? I think it's two-fold. First, it is older technology. And older technology is perceived as bad (or worse than, or less than - however you want to put it). Which is why even top end film cameras are now dirt cheap. They are really old technology :-) But they are still damn amazing cameras! Out with the old and in with the new. And the price drops radically.

Second, and perhaps somewhat more importantly, because these are professional cameras, they do get a fair bit of use. And some of them even more than their fair share! Of course they are built to take this abuse (to a certain extent), which is why they are big and heavy. But even they can only take so much punishment before something gives. And that something is usually the shutter. Especially on a camera built for sports shooters to shoot at 8.5fps.

The camera I've purchased has done 142,115 shutter actuations! That sounds like a lot - and it is. Especially when you start using those sorts of figures with a 40D or D200. However, the shutter on the 1D Mk2 is rated for 200,000 actuations - which is its general life expectancy. Sites I've visited in the last day or so would indicate that many can get their cameras to at least 250,000 shutter actuations, and beyond. So I may be able to get another 100,000 out of the camera before the shutter goes - or I might not. That's the gamble. And I think this gamble is reflected somewhat in the lower prices you can find them for. But mostly, I do think it's the perception of 'older' technology.

I must admit to being slightly alarmed when I saw how many shutter actuations the 1D Mk2 I've purchased has done. But for the 'relatively' cheap price I payed for it (cheaper than most 40D's were going for), I think I'll have to live with the fact that these cameras all see a fair bit of use. But that's what they're built for. And many got to 'infinity and beyond' because of it -)

It hasn't arrived yet, but I'm hoping it will get here this week so I can take it with me on a photography field trip my local camera club are doing on the weekend. Unfortunately I don't really have any lenses for it (the two canon lenses I have with the 50D are EF-S lenses which won't work on the 1D). So I may have to 'borrow' another lens for the weekend?

Lenses, and lens choice, is one of the other major reasons why I've decided to go back specifically to Canon. I love their lens range, their lens choices, and their 'L' series lenses in particular. The Canon 'L' lenses ooze quality and that's the way I will go with my first lens purchase for the 1D Mk2.

If I can get enough money together from the sale of both my Pentax K10D's, I'm hoping to find a Canon 24-105mm f4L in good condition. On the Mk2 this will 'roughly' equate to a 30-135mm f4 'walk around' lens that would probably be on the body 90% of the time.

The other option is the Canon 24-70mm f4L which would give a shorter reach, but a newer IS system and perhaps very slightly better image quality? Again, it will depend on what's available - and for what price - when I'm finally in the position of being able to purchase a lens.

Eventually, I would also like to get a Canon 17-40mm f4L, as well as the 70-200mm f4L IS. This would give me a trio of f4 lenses for an ok price. I'd probably try and pick up a fast 50mm f1.4 for low-light if/when it was needed. That would be a pretty cool kit.

Finally, I know this has been a long post, but I want to say one last thing about my 1D Mk2 purchasing decision. The other option, the option that almost every man and his dog is going for nowadays (and perhaps another reason why dinosaurs like the 1D Mk2 are such a reasonable price), the option that I could have gone for but resisted with every fiber in my being, is the smaller, lighter, holy-grail answer to all photographers prayers; the micro four thirds (or similar) system.

So many 'cool-cat' hipster photographers are publicly (and loudly) declaring the death of the SLR camera with a passion and fervor reaching biblical proportions. "Since converting to mirrorless cameras, my poor 1D Mk3 (or D4) has sat on the shelf collecting dust. I don' know what to do with them", they cry. I know what to do with them. Give them to me and I'll actually use them!

I have owned, and used, several mirrorless - micro four thirds cameras over the last few years, and they just don't do anything for me. As much as I try - and believe me, I have tried - I just don't gel with these smaller system cameras. Maybe the image quality is better (maybe). And maybe they are more convenient to carry around. But I just hate using them.

So I have - perhaps even purposefully - gone 180 degrees in the other direction. I've gone for the biggest, heaviest, chunkiest, manliest, beast of a camera I could find and said "yep, that'll do nicely". And I can't wait to have it in my hot little hands. Good times.

P.S. If you do have a Mk4 or D3 floating around gathering dust and you're never going to use it again, then please feel free to send it to me. I'd love to give it a good home :-)

Is Street Racing the death of my Pentax K10D's!?

For the last 10 months I've hosted a new blog dedicated to my Pentax K10D's - cameras that I have really enjoyed using. They are fantastic, solid, dependable cameras that are perfect for travel and general shooting.

But the rubber hit the road recently (almost literally), when I decided to cover the annual motorcycle street racing in my local town.

Speed demons the Pentax K10D's are most definitely NOT. In fact, they struggle to get past 2fps, and ISO 800 is pretty noisy. Fortunately, I also have a beat up Canon 50D on 'permanent' loan from a friend, and she also let me borrow her 400mm f5.6L lens for the weekend to shoot with. Oh Yeah!

Streetrace action 2014. Canon 50D with 400mm f5.6L @ 1/2000th. ISO 800
The 50D has a much more respectable 5fps, and a fairly solid autofocus system for tracking subjects across the frame (something else that Pentax cameras in general struggle with). It was a pretty miserable, overcast (and then very rainy) day, so I cranked the ISO up to 800 on the 50D, set it on Hi-speed continuous autofocus, and mounted the 400mm f5.6L on a monopod for better stability.

No 167. Canon 50D with 400mm f5.6L @ 1/2500th. ISO 800
I was not disappointed with this setup. In fact, I had an absolute blast and the focus was blazingly fast and accurate 9 times out of ten. And I'm pretty sure that the tenth time was probably user error.

There were only two things I struggled with on the day. First, because it's street racing and you can dangerously close to the action, I found that the 400mm was a bit too much reach and I found myself walking back further than I would have liked to get everything framed right. I could have easily gone with a 70 to 200mm instead. Lesson learned for next time.

And second, as noted earlier, the 50D I've borrowed has had a hard life, and although it performed flawlessly, the batteries for it aren't what they used to be. I took four of them - fully charged the night prior to the event - but they only lasted me until lunchtime and then all four were depleted! Bummer!!

Go Kart demonstration. Canon 50D with 400mm f5.6L @ 1/2500th. ISO 800
So that meant that, after lunch, I had to pack away the Canon gear, and reach for the Pentax K10D with Sigma 55-200mm zoom lens. The good news with going for the Pentax was that now the battery was going to last, the focal length of the zoom was about right, and the K10D body is weather sealed for what was now fairly consistent driving rain.

Unfortunately, that's where all the good news ends for the Pentax. After using the Canon 50D all morning, mowing to the K10D was painful. The Sigma hunted continuously in the low light, ISO 800 is pretty noisy, and I could only get off one shot before the action was over as the autofocus system and frame rate tried to cope. In a word, frustrating.

Pentax K10D with Sigma 55-200mm at f5.6 @1/640th. ISO 800
I did manage to get one good shot with the Pentax (see above). And that's it. One good image. Out of probably 200 shots I took before giving up and calling it a day. Whereas, with the Canon 50D I took over 1000 images, with probably at least half of them worth keeping. Easily 100 would be worth putting on a cd and giving to the race committee (who kindly gave me an all access media pass for the day). I had an absolute blast with the Canon 50D. I hated using the Pentax for Street Racing.

I do want to reiterate what I said at the beginning of this post; I really enjoy using the Pentax K10D for general photography. They are solid, dependable, well designed and rugged little cameras, that within their limits, take excellent images.

Notice the caveat 'within their limits' in that last sentence? What are their limits? Well, for me, there are only two. By far the major issue I am finding as I go deeper into the system, is lens selection. In the autofocus lineup, it's fairly limited - and very expensive to buy brand new. If I then go second hand, I run into another problem; there just aren't very many available for sale - at least here in New Zealand on our online auction site Trademe.  At any given time their might be two or three Pentax auto focus lenses worth considering on auction (and then at fairly high prices), whereas if we look at Canon in the second hand department, there might for over two hundred worthy contenders, at better prices! For someone who is constantly on a budget with their photography gear, and who needs 'best bang for the buck', going with a Pentax systems seems now, in hindsight, a rather unwise decision.

And what's the second limiting factor for Pentax? Well, in case you hadn't already guessed, it's the autofocus system. It kinda sucks. And even on the latest K5IIs and K3 it's reportedly still behind the likes of Canon and Nikon. Which admittedly, up until now, wasn't a major concern to me. But now it seems like it is. Especially if I plan on doing more street race shooting (and I do).

Finally, there is the noise 'issue' at ISO 800 and above. The files were a little noisier than I would like, and obviously more noisier that the Canon 50D at ISO 800 (itself known as one of Canon's noisier bodies). That being said, I'm not someone who chases the high ISO settings as a 'must have' for my cameras. I grew up 'old school' shooting film, and ISO 400 still seems like a heck of a lot! In fact, shooting at ISO 800 is as much as I would want to push any camera sensor - so these 25,000 ISO figures are just crazy stupid to me. But a relatively 'clean' ISO 800 would make me a happy photographer.

So what does all this mean? Well, it means that yes, I am going to sell my Pentax K10D's (somewhat reluctantly) and look at getting something else. What else, you may ask? Well, I think I might know the very thing....

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Odd one Out

In my twenty five plus years (yes, I really am that old), of being involved in this passion/hobby/profession of photography, I've used too many cameras to mention.

As a reviewer I was sent most of the newest gear available from the likes of Canon, Nikon and Sony - and I've owned a plethora of cameras throughout the years.

With film, I was a Canon shooter. Starting with the T70 and then on to the T90, EOS10, EOS50 and eventually EOS1. During the end of my run with Canon film cameras I had a brief 'fling' with Minolta - with a 600si (and a friends old X700). When digital starting hitting the scene, I decided to start 'fresh' and not be swayed by Canon simply because that was what I had always (mostly) used.

I tried a Canon 300D, and a Nikon D70 - both on the same day - and, not surprisingly, bought the D70. It was a great camera, full stop - in film or digital. Fortunately, my wife still uses one, so I do get to 'play' with it every now and again.

But since using digital, I've jumped around all over the place. I've used a D70, a Canon 10D, 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, & 5D: a Nikon D200, D90 & D300: a Minolta 7D, and Sony A100 (which I have on 'loan' from a friend at the moment).

And then there's the smaller, compact cameras and micro-four thirds that I've 'briefly' owned - including an Olympus Pen E3, Fuji X10, Panasonic compacts and Canon G3's and G5's!

That's quite an extensive list - even if I do say so myself! But there is one glaringly obvious omission to all these brands of cameras that I have simply never tried. That's right - Pentax.

To be fair, and for full disclosure, I did own and use a Pentax 645 medium format film camera for a while (great camera) - but if we concentrate on digital (and we are), then I've never owned, used, or even touched, a Pentax digital SLR.

Pentax K100D. My first Pentax DSLR!
All that is about to change, because three days ago I won a Pentax K100D on Trademe.

Since I am 'between' cameras at the moment, I had been saving my pennies, selling a few film cameras from my collection, and looking to see what I could get for not much money. This was spurred on by the fact that I've actually been booked to shoot a wedding again - for a family we know, in early 2015.

So I wanted to start putting a system together again, maybe even with a view to shooting a few more weddings, and I wasn't comfortable putting myself out there with 'loaner' gear.

Initially I started looking for Sony cameras second-hand, since I actually own a couple of lenses for them already, and can tap into a pretty impressive arsenal of lenses through a very good friend of mine. But I soon found that the prices for the cameras I wanted were too high, and the one's I could afford I didn't really like.

The same was really true of both Canon and Nikon - although I missed out on getting a Canon 30D really cheap because I forgot the auction closing time! Doh!

So anyway, I kept looking, and eventually came across a couple of auctions for Pentax cameras that were in my price range. I certainly knew of Pentax as a brand name - and the classic K1000 as a film camera, but how good could their DLR's be - right? I mean, you simply don't hear about them. When was the last time you walked into a camera store and saw a Pentax on the shelf next to the Canon's and the Nikon's? it just doesn't happen. At least not to me.

But ever curious (about photography at least), I decided to do a bit of research on Pentax's digital SLR's - and I'm very glad that I did.

In many respects, the K100D is a 'basic' camera - the replacement for Pentax's oddly named *ist line of cameras.

It is, for example 'only' a 6MP camera, that can 'only' shoot at 2.8 frames per second, and then 'only' for five (jpeg) images before the buffer is full, and it has no live view, no articulated rear lcd screen, no video shooting capabilities, no vertical grip option and 'only' a 2.5" lcd screen with 210,000 pixels. That's a lot of 'only's'.

But I guess it all really boils down to what you actually want in a camera - and also what you might really 'need' as well.

Denise and Ashley taken on a Canon 10D
I'll give you an example...

6MP in today's medium-format-like environment of cameras with 36MP sensors may not sound like much, but how many do you really need?

I shoot weddings and landscapes (and family stuff), and have never printed anything bigger than A3. My shots are detailed, crisp, clear and can stand a little cropping - which I seldom ever do because I come from the 'old school' where it was engrained into me to 'crop inside the camera'. To be honest, I really don't understand the 'shoot and crop later' mentality that drives these 36MP arguments of 'pulling' out different details from a scene later. Sounds a bit too much like the old shoot and spray (or should that be pray) technique where quantity somehow equates to quality? Shoot a gazillion shots of a wedding and you're bound to get a few good ones - right? It's the law of averages.

When I first started shooting weddings, I used a Canon 10D (together with a 5D) - and I'm pretty sure the first wedding I shot was with my Nikon D70. Both these cameras are 'only' 6MP, but I have never had a client tell me they didn't like my photos because I hadn't used enough mega pixels. I even recently listened to a podcast with a big event and wedding photographer who said he could probably shoot with a 3MP camera and be fine printing up to A3 for wedding albums. So going to a 6MP camera might sound like a step backwards, but I don't see it as such. Especially when the K100D is what dpreview described as being "as good as six megapixel resolution gets, crisp and detailed".

And as for all that other stuff - I've said before that I don't want (or need) live view, video modes or articulated lcd screens with finger touch technology. And no, I don't want my camera to run the latest google jellybean apps either, thank you very much!

What I want is a well built, well engineered, well thought-out camera to help me create some beautiful images. And from reading the reviews, the Pentax K100D should deliver this in spades!

What it does have that excites me (I'm easily excited), is the ability to shoot in Adobe DNG RAW, SD card storage, 11 focus points (9 of which are cross-type), decent low light performance (for its age), the ability to use every Pentax lens ever made, and an anti-shake system built into the body itself (much like the Sony system). It also has a small lcd on the top for information as well - something sadly lacking on most of the 'budget' digitals on offer nowadays. These are the features I'm after.

So I'm building a Pentax system now. And yes, that means that I will add to it down the track - before I shoot the wedding in 2015. And when I look at adding another body, I will look to pay a little more, and get a 'higher' spec'd body - something like the K10 or K200, with 10MP (which I tend to see as my 'happy' medium for sensor sizes).

I've already added to it, in fact, with an electronic shutter release and a Yongnuo 560EX flashgun - both of which I will write about once I've actually got the K100D and started shooting with it. Can't wait!