Search This Site
Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
Support This Site
If you found this page interesting, please consider clicking through this ad and buying something.
If you do, Amazon will pay me a small percentage of the price. You don't spend any more on the item, and the money helps pay for the site and the more people who do this the more time I'll be able to spend on the site improving it and adding content.
More to Read
- Some Thoughts on Lightroom Keywords
- How not to be a doofus with a camera
- Beyond 'Vacation Snaps'
- A teachable moment (or why I love birding, even when I make a fool of myself)
- Sherman, set the wayback machine to…
- An audience of one....
- Talking about 'Stuff'
- What I do for a living…
- 50 reasons Why I Haven’t Been Blogging
Want more? Try this list...
New on the Blog
- The Raffi Torres Hit
- Back from Yosemite
- 2013 playoffs, round 2
- Fuji X100s Review – Fallin’in Love All Over Again
- If you give them an easy out, they’ll take it.
- Another reason Don Cherry should retire (or be retired…)
- Yosemite Bird Photography Workshop openings
- 30 Days Of Sexism
- 2013 playoff predictions
- Calaveras Eagles Nest 2013
Rent Gear at Borrowlenses
Don't buy that gear before trying it out! Renting a lens you're considering buying is a great investment in saving yourself from buyer's remorse!
And if it's a piece or gear you aren't going to use constantly, renting it when you need it is a great way to save money, and I highly recommend Borrowlenses as a place to rent high quality, well-maintained gear.
Category Archives: Photography – Tools and Toys
So this is where the haters will get all worked up. Manual focus is how artists work. Real Photographers focus their own cameras. Zone focusing is key to successful street shooting. Blah, blah, blah. Bullshit, I say. Focusing is not a sport, or a hobby or a religion. It’s a necessary evil. And machines now do it better than humans. Way better, way faster, way more accurately than we do. I say this as someone who shot NHL hockey with manual focus 80-200mms and 300mms, and as someone who will be buried with my Mamiya 6. But I am also someone who wants my camera to become one with me as much as possible and who has seen the results of less than absolutely precise focusing with current digital sensors. A truly modern camera focuses quickly, accurately, often with little light, and at the spot in the frame where the photographer wants it to. The X100s does that. Case closed.
This is one thing that the photography enthusiast population has in common with computer nerds that makes me crazy: this willingness to argue about technique and technology to the point where you start to think it’s more important than the final product, which in this case is the photo.
And I guess for some people it is more important that you do things the “right” way than whether it’s a good photo.
What should matter is the image. What seems to matter in far too many discussions is the technology. Technology and process enables creation of the image, folks.
This is one reason why I don’t post exif data on my images as a general rule. Because what matters is whether the image works, not what work went into making the image.
Since I was (finally) unpacking and cleaning up from my Elephant seal trip so I could repack to be ready for my upcoming trip, I did a quick inventory of what I’m carrying in my camera bag, and I thought it might be fun to share it.
The bag is a think tank airport accelerator, and I absolutely love it. it’s replacing my old Lowepro backpack that finally wore out, and this puppy carries a huge amount of gear and is comfortable. When I want to carry less gear I’ll use my Think Tank Retrospect 30, which is good for one body and two lenses + flash (or less). When I go one-body+one-lens as a street kit, I’ll typically just put it in my computer messenger bag as a passenger.
One good reason to post this now is that I’ve just gone through and removed the stuff that I’m finding I never use, and added in a few things that should have been in here all along. I think right now this is a good, efficient bag for me.
The “ground floor”, so to speak. The main camera is my Canon 7D attached to the 2.0x III teleconverter and the 70-200F2.8L IS II. Since that’s what I do most of my shooting with, it’s set up ready to go, with a formatted memory card and a fresh battery.
To the right of it is my audio gear. I’m starting to seriously experiment with capturing audio, video and doing some time lapsing so I can tell a more complicated story about a place than “just” images. right now, I’m trying to figure out capturing and processing audio. In that pocket is a Zoom H4N and a couple of light stand connectors. When I hook them together, it allows me to attach the Zoom and a shotgun mike to a light stand, so I can set it up to capture audio and set it up away from where I’m working so I don’t overlay the audio with me. I’m still debugging the setup, to be honest, but this seems to be working out. More on this when I have it working to my satisfaction.
Next to the 7d Body is my card wallet, a Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket. In it is a collection of memory cards and my business cards. Currently I’m using a variety of cards, primarily Lexar and Transcend, generally in 16 or 32 gigabyte sizes, in both compact flash and SD. I seem to be carrying between 3000 and 4000 images worth of memory these days…
And next to that is my spare batteries, one each for each body, in a Think Tank DLSR Battery Holder. Below that is my 2nd body, a Canon T3i, which I use for my 2nd lens, or to capture time lapses or video. If I’m shooting both the big lens and wide angle, the 24-105 lives on this body most of the time.
To the right of that is the utility drawer. In it you see a winter wool cap, a package of DEET application wipes, and chemical hand warmers. It’s only the last trip or two that I’ve started putting these in the camera bag instead of keeping the stashed in the car, because I never remembered to grab them out of the car and so they were never handy when I needed them. If you’ve never used these chemical hand warmers, well, my god, they completely change how uncomfortable you are on a cold, damp morning shooting — but only if you remember to haul them out and use them. If they’re in the bag, they take up no space and weigh almost nothing, and so when the cold starts seeping in, you can haul a set out.
The next pockets contain the flash, a 580 EXII and the 24-105F4L, my wide angle (which I love). There’s also a glucerna bar or two for when I need a quick nosh. I’m just starting to try them, and so far, they seem to be quite edible. I have nut allergies which limit what I can pack, and I find a number of brands of bar about as edible as sawdust. Typically my other bar is one of the un-nutted varieties of Clif like the Mint Chocolate, but the Clif bars are higher carb than I’d prefer and do, in fact, taste like edible sawdust (as opposed to inedible sawdust). The Glucernas are more expensive, but lower carb and frankly, tastier, at least this first batch. Time will tell.
The last two pockets contain my 1.4x teleconverter and a 12mm extender tube for macro, and my Sigma 180 F2.8 macro lens, which I really like but never really use. I need to push myself to work more with it.
On top of the t3i is a lens cloth. To the right of it, I added another packing cube (I love those beasts) with the cables and remotes and other random tiny pieces of gear for the audio setup. Also in that pocket is the rain cover for the camera bag, white balance card, a rain shield for the camera, and a small gold/white 12″ folding reflector.
Added above the flash is my filter pack, which is currently a 77mm Polarizer and a 77mm 4x ND. And sitting above the 1.4x teleconverter is a pair of gloves.
At some point I expect to add an even wider lens (“Must… Go…. Wider! MUST!”) like the sigma 10-20 or something like that. At that point I’ll probably remove the flash from the bag, since I frankly rarely use it, especially in the field. I’ve experimented with flash enhanced wildlife work, and I simply like being a natural light kinda guy. If I do remove it, it’ll live in a fallback bag in the truck.
The bag has three inside pockets. Currently living in there are:
A Leatherman multi-tool. My bubble level that attaches to the hot flash on the camera body, since I seem to live about 3% off the horizon, even when I think I’ve got the lean fixed. A flash extender cable, a lens pen, and 90 different cable releases. I have the standard dumb Canon release that only works with the 7D, I use the Photix Aion system, which give me a wireless release if I want it, or a wired release, with cables that hook to either the 7D or the T3i (oh, thank you SO much canon for using incompatible connectors, batteries and memory card types across your different camera bodies. I can’t thank you enough for complicating my life). I also have a set of cables for Triggertrap, which is an iPhone app. you plug the cable into the phone and the camera, and control it that way, and of course, I have cable for both bodies. (thank you Canon, for…) — the trigger trap stuff is brand new and I am just starting to experiment with it, so I don’t know if it’s a keeper or not, and whether it’ll replace the Photix or not. I’m thinking for extended time lapsing I’ll keep using the Photix since I don’t want to lose usage of the phone while shooting. Maybe. Even though I find the UI of the photix somewhat — complicated.
Not kept in the bag: chargers. I have a set that live in the truck emergency kit that work with both AC and 12V, so I have chargers when I forget to pack my main ones. and I have my main chargers that get packed in my clothing bag when I travel (except when I forget).
I also keep a set of gear for cleaning lens glass and sensors that lives in my house, my truck, or my clothing bag depending on the length of the outing. And when I travel, I travel with a 500GB mirrored raid drive to store images on, and a backup drive for the laptop so that when I’m on the road, images get backed up onto a couple of drives when imported. And a card reader, except when I forget to pack it and have to borrow laurie’s…
About this time last year I made a significant upgrade to my camera bag, retiring my trusty 100-400 and switching to a 300F4+1.4x teleconverter as my go-to birding lens, while upgrading my other lenses to “L” class glass with a 24-105F4 and a 70-200F2.8 IS. I decided at that time to buy the older IS instead of the newer, sharper 70-200F2.8L IS II. My testing showed that the 70-200 IS with the 2.0x teleconverter (the Canon II model) wasn’t sharp enough to use together to replace the 100-400, but I was quite happy with the 300F4+1.4x combo.
Over this past year, I decided I’d made a mistake in choosing this lens combo. The 70-200IS is a great lens, don’t get me wrong. But by not picking up the IS II, I was forcing myself to carry three lenses — 24x105F4, 70-200F2.8, and the 300F4, plus a 1.4x teleconverter. The problem: these are NOT small lenses. That’s a fair hunk of bulk and weight to schlep around. In case you’re curious, that’s 1.5 pounds, 3 and 2.6 pounds respectively.
I had an opportunity to fix this in the last few weeks and did, picking up the 70-200F2.8L ISII and a new 2.0x III teleconverter. While down in SoCal for Christmas, laurie and I went out for a bit and I used it as an excuse to do some quick field tests to compare the sharpness of the two lenses.
All images shows are 100% blowups grabbed out off the screen while displayed in Lightroom. All have had zero (none!) processing. no sharpening, no adjustments of any kind. These are straight out of the camera as raw images, loaded into Lightroom and zoomed 1:1 so we can pixel peep a bit. All were taken under the same conditions on a 7D with the same camera settings in Aperture mode.
This first image is from the 300F4+1.4x combo, to give you an idea of what my existing lens produced. You can see some detail in the feathering of the green-winged teal to the right, and the water isn’t showing any nasty artifacts or noise.
First test: seagull portrait
A nearby seagull sat and modeled for me. The first image is the IS plus 2.0x. The second image is the ISII.
There is a lot more detail in the new image. That, in a microcosm, is why the ISII is worth the extra money over the older model. And remember, we’re looking at a 100% pixel peep here. Overall, I’d say the ISII is showing itself a bit warmer of a lens. The noise in the sky is about the same if you ask me.
Second test: looking at textures
A second comparison. Look at the american wigeon (on the left, partially off-screen in the second image) and the cinnamon teal (the red bird, of course). Compare the sharpness of the eye on the wigeon in the first image to the eye of the teal in the second. take a look at the relative lack of texture on the bird’s bodies with the older lens, and how much more you see with the second. Again, the IS II seems to be a touch warmer.
There’s a very distinct difference in clarity between the two lenses. What isn’t here is that my tests a year ago were done with the 2X teleconverter model II, and this year I’m using the model III. I’m working from memory on this, but the IS+2.0xIII is a lot sharper than the IS+2.0xII was, enough so that I have to suggest that anyone using the older teleconverter consider renting the newer model and running a test — you may well find it a worthy upgrade.
If you want to see this lens in action, my first “real” shots with it were when Laurie and I went down and visited the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery a few days ago near Hearst Castle.
What does this change mean? It means I can remove two and a half pounds out of my camera bag (my back thanks me). It also means I’m going back to using a zoom for my wildlife/bird lens instead of fixed prime. While working with far-off critters a prime combo is fine 90% of the time, that other 10% of the time you end up scrambling to not clip a wing or to keep the animal in the frame, or just to find a way to take a wider angle shot. Because of that, the reality I found was that I was doing a lot more two-body shooting, putting the 70-200 on my T3i to cover the need for those wider angles; and when you do that, and you want to get really wide for environmental shots, you find yourself juggling that third lens again. Unless the weather is bad or it’s dusty and windy and you say bugger it, because you don’t want to contaminate your sensor…
Which is why I like the 2 body, two lens approach. And in my case, what I end up with is the 24-105 on one body (usually my T3i unless I’m primarily shooting landscapes instead of critters), and the 70-200+2.0x on the 7d for an effective range of 140-400. I can live with a gap between 105 and 140 happily.
By the way, I now have a 70-200F2.8L IS USM in really good shape available, if someone wants to make an offer. drop me a note.
Bonus: 600mm f8 tests
Of course, as a bird and critter photographer, the answer to “how long a lens do you need?” is always “dammit, I need more!” — sometimes. Enough that I don’t know of a bird photographer who can say “my lenses are just perfect” with a straight face. Art Morris had done a blog posting about how you can get past the “autofocus only goes to F5.6 on canon bodies” limit — if you use the Kenko teleconverters. For some technical reason, they go to F8 with autofocus.
I couldn’t help myself. I’ve been really, really trying to convince myself I could buy a 500mm lens (and failing, at least for now), because sometimes, 400mm just isn’t enough. So I grabbed myself the Kenko 2.0x teleconverter and slapped it on the 300F4 and decided to see what happened.
What happened was I was now the owner of a 600mm F8 prime lens that you can buy new on Amazon for under $1500.
And it autofocuses.
Back to the pixel peeping.
I’m actually rather impressed with the sharpness of those images, to be honest. I didn’t expect that. All of those images are hand-held, by the way, including that gull flight shot which was point-focus-click-pray. NOT bad.
In admittedly limited testing, the combo has some challenges. The autofocus works. Except when it doesn’t. It will at times seek and fail. It does seem to AF poorly in poor light or with subjects without good contrast. The AF is butt slow. None of this surprised me.
But when the Autofocus works? it’s spot on, and you get a very good picture. But is the autofocus reliable enough that I want to depend on it in the field?
I don’t know yet. That will require more testing, to get a feel just when it’s usable and when it isn’t. I’d rather crop a 400mm image and know I’ll have it than shoot with the 600mm and end up with a blurry mess.
Also, look closely at those images compared to the above tests. This lens combo is coming in hot — exposure is about 2/3 to a full stop faster than the other lens, and that’s using the same body set with the same settings. That implies that if I want to use this lens I’m going to need to do some in camera exposure compensation or images are going to blow out. Not a huge deal — unless you’re in the field in a hurry and swapping lenses in a rush and forget, and… And while the above images are fixable in Lightroom, will that be true all of the time?
This combo requires a lot more testing before I decide whether I’ll trust it. And decide whether it deserves to add 3 freaking pounds to my camera bag. For now, it’ll go into a lens bad and live in the car, and I’ll pull it out on a situational basis. I think it has potential, and since a 600mm USABLE lens combo with autofocus for $1500 is going to be of interest to some folks, I thought I’d post some initial notes on it. It might be something you want to explore as well.
If I were going to be carrying the 300mm around anyway, adding the kenko 2.0x to the bag would be a no-brainer. But since the 70-200 IS II is replacing that lens, it’s not as easy a decision. And if you don’t already have the 300mm lens handy, honestly, for that money you’re probably better off with the Sigma 50-500 and a bit of a crop in post-processing. And don’t forget you could also slap a Kenko 1.4x on a 400mmF5.6 and get close to that 600mmF8 as well.
But heck, it never hurts to explore your options. Hopefully, this helps you see whether these options might work for you…
When I did my last redesign of the blog, I made a decision to base it on the Photocrati theme. As you might guess from the name, it’s a photography-centric WordPress theme. I’ve used a number of themes from Themeforest in the last few redesigns (I seem to go through a theme every 18 months or so). Photocratic is about double the price of a typical Themeforest theme, but at $89, I felt it had enough flexibility and power to meet my needs for multiple re-designs.
Having lived with it and spent some time underneath the hood, I am happy to say I’m right, and that I really like the Photocrati theme. It’s been stable and worked reliably, which not all theme forest themes were. My current look and feel on the blog is pretty much built out of the box, I haven’t done much in the way of “serious” design or customization, yet I think it’s a pretty nice, if not stunning, look — you can install the theme and get something that works well and looks nice out of the box by pushing buttons and without any under the hood geeking.
The work I’ve done on the blog this last few months have mostly been research into projects I might want to do and building out the back end and making sure the under the hood stuff was set up the way I wanted — I’m now starting to gear up the project for my branding, designing and theming. I’ll be basing this next set of upgrades on Photocrati, and as far as I can tell, it’s more than capable of handling some of the things I plan.
That said, nothing is ever perfect or “finished”. There are still some things I’d love to see Photocrati support that I am either going to have to defer or hack in myself. Here’s my current wish list of things I hope to see added to the theme’s capabilities in the next year or so.
- Fully responsive layouts to support mobile devices
- Support of high-density (aka retina) screens: to be honest, if these two items aren’t fully supported by Photocrati when I do my next redesign, I’ll switch out to a theme that does. Having some way to auto-manage loading in higher res images for high-density pixel devices is increasingly becoming a necessary function, and I think responsive designs to support tablets and mobile devices is going to be crucial down the road. I expect both of these to be the focus of the design of my site after the one I’m starting now (and may well move forward that next redesign significantly)
- “Daring fireball links” article as a custom page type: I’ve experimented with some of the wordpress plugins and haven’t found one that I like and that works well with the theme. I think this kind of link capability is becoming a defacto-standard on blogs, so all themes need to support it in some way, either directly or by formally supporting one of the plug-ins that implement it.
- Extended web font support (typekit, google web fonts, etc): the current font support for Photocrati is probably the weakest part of the setup. The list of fonts is limited and the choice is, well, uninspiring. The number of fonts available for use on blogs has exploded, and the theme needs to support them properly.
- Standard support for social icons similar to the “social” plug-in, or formal an acknowledgment of which plug-ins are supported. The way I’d handle this is to document list of tested and approved plug-ins for wordpress that Photocrati will support their theme with if you use them.
- I’d actually generalize that idea: I want to know what plug-ins they’ve tested against and will say work with the theme, and which ones they know have problems and shouldn’t be used with the theme. Their support team run into these issues, it wouldn’t be too hard to build an online database showing what plugins (and which releases) are known to work and which ones are broken.
- Documentation/support for (and best practices docs) on how to create child themes with Photocrati as the base. Photocrati’s documentation on how to use the theme is pretty good. It’s documentation on customization and extending the theme would be useful.
- Improved support for custom CSS and CSS processors like LESS (I want to be able to child-theme Photocrati and override EVERYTHING….)
- Support optional image lazy-loading
- Google+ author support (see here)
Overall, I’d say most of this is support for emerging tools and functionality, not mistakes or missing features — but I also think it’s important that a theme like Photocrati innovate quickly on things like this if it wants to remain one of the “thought leader” themes for photographers to use.
LAKE SUCCESS, N.Y., September 17, 2012 – Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions, today introduced the EOS 6D Digital SLR Camera, a versatile mid-range full-frame camera with the durability and performance professionals require and the creative imaging options serious photographers crave. Canon has coupled the incredible image quality of a newly designed 20.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5+ Image Processor with the creative potential of built-in Wireless and GPS features. The camera also includes an 11-point AF array and 63-zone dual-layer iFCL metering sensor together with 1080p Full HD video capabilities, in an affordable camera body. Building upon the qualities that made the EOS 5D Mark II camera so successful, the EOS 6D bridges the gap for budget-minded photographers, videographers and cinematographers who are eager to step up into the world of full-frame imaging.
I’ve been trying to decide what I think about the Canon 6d today. I’m probably the target audience for this body; I love my 7d, I’m clearly in the advanced-amateur or prosumer bucket as far as gear and attitude, and I’ve been thinking that at some point, I’m going to want (“need”) to add a full-frame body to the mix. I’ve thought for a while that going with a 7D for my bird/critter work and a moderately priced full-frame for landscapes, time lapses and video would be a sweet spot for me.
And yet, at first glance, I’m not sure about the 6D. Two things bother me. First, I don’t see the autofocus system as any kind of improvement over the 7D, and perhaps even a bit of a regression. It certainly isn’t the big step forward I was expecting. Second, there have been some significant changes to the how the camera is managed, with fewer buttons on the back and a different set of operations to make the camera behave from the 7D. Both of these seem to be “simplifications” of the unit to help squeeze it into the price point they were aiming for.
I can live with different bodies needing different operational habits (mostly), but I wish camera manufacturers were farther down the path of standardizing this by now. I realize each body has its own quirks and features to support, but when things are in a crunch, having to think through which body requires what button pushing to do whatever can cost you a shot. The AF changes bother me more. That may be a killer for me.
I’m going to wait until the body hits the field and see what folks I trust say about the body overall and the AF response, but right now, I find myself thinking about a 2nd 7d instead of 6d, or biting the bullet and buying a 5dM3.
I guess my reaction is that they more or less hit the price point, but that the feature set just doesn’t impress me. The tradeoffs they made to the rest of the setup to fit in the cost of the full frame sensor just doesn’t seem to create a body I want. Maybe once people start shooting with it and I can rent a body and try it out I might change my mind, but right now, I’m just not sold.
The Stream and Pool image I posted last night was shot at ISO 1600. I would have never considered this high an ISO in the past but my new 5D3 handles it with aplomb and 17X22 prints should not be a problem. I did it because I could see that on the LCD screen, the ISO 100 pictures had very blurred out water totally devoid of the lovely reflections I was seeing. Even 800 didn’t help but ISO 1600 and 1/8 of a second at f11 solved my problem.
This thought triggered something that came to mind over the weekend while out and realizing I’d forgotten my filter pack.
A couple of weeks ago a friend brought over his new Canon DX1 and I got to actually touch it. We spent an afternoon calibrating the micro focus for all of his lenses, and then after dinner, spent some time experimenting with the ISO to get a sense of how high he could crank it before noise became a problem.
My feeling was that the noise level of the DX1 at ISO 16000 was very close the noise I see on my 7D at ISO 1600 — in other words, something that I’d deal with as part of a normal workflow in my images without thinking about it at all. Starting with ISO 32000, we saw enough visible noise that I’d want to do more to the image, but I found that Nik’s Dfine plug-in cleaned it up using default settings without any noticeable loss of sharpness or any problem with image quality.
Just thinking about those ISO numbers kinda makes my head hurt. Having the ability to crank a camera to ISO 8000 without thinking changes the ballgame in so many ways it’s scary, especially for someone who still vaguely remembers shooting high school football under the lights with Tri-X. I know my “real film” days still impact my thinking in terms of ISO usage, and I’m still retraining myself to see ISO as a strategic choice, not a “you have to keep it as low as possible or the noise will kill you” of the elder days; I’ve finally gotten comfortable going out and shooting in the ISO 400 range without twitching.
Forgetting my filters this weekend got me thinking, though. Why haven’t camera manufacturers gone the other way?
What are the most common filters we still carry with a digital camera these days? The polarizer, and ND filters. I’ll save the debate on Grad-ND filters for some other blog post, but it’s “generally” understood that the two filters you can’t simulate/fix in Photoshop or via HDR are polarizers and using ND’s to slow shutter speed to smooth water flow and other similar uses.
The question for ND filters is, why don’t cameras do this? When we can take a sensor and make it work from ISO 50 to ISO 32000 without breaking a sweat, shouldn’t the sensor geeks be able to find a way to turn the ISO sensitivity off in the other direction? Give me ISO 25? ISO 12? ISO 0.000032? (we’d have to figure out what to call this: what is 10 stops below ISO 50, anyway?). If raising ISO to these levels is figuring out how to make sensors more sensitive without destroying the image with noise, why can’t we reduce sensor sensitivity and allow photographers to replace those ND filters with an in-camera setting?
Seems to me this should be possible. Perhaps it’s because we (as photographers) haven’t been asking for it?
So — I’m asking!
What would it take to make the ND filter obsolete and support it in camera?
G. Dan Mitchell: Thoughts About the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS Lens:
I’ve used the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS lens for a lot – for things as varied as handheld shooting of bicycle races and tripod-based shooting of landscapes. Over time I’ve developed a few thoughts about the performance of this lens and some of the comments that I frequently hear and read about it.
The performance at the long end is also an interesting topic about which experience has taught me a bit more. We often hear that the lens is “soft at 400mm.” However, when I shoot the lens in good conditions and am careful about what I do, it performs very well at 400mm. (I think that a very, very careful inspection at 400mm might reveal that 400mm is not the focal length at which its performance reaches its optimum level, but that is most certainly not to say that it is”soft” at 400mm or otherwise poor.)
So, what could explain the reports of poor or soft performance at 400mm? I suppose it is possible that I have a miraculous copy of the lens that doesn’t exhibit a problem that really does afflict lots of other users, but I’m convinced there are other explanations in at least quite a few cases. From using long focal lengths for critical work – again, I do a lot of landscape shooting – I have learned that there are a number of issues that become more acute when shooting at 400mm and which make it much harder to get a “sharp” image than might be the case with other lenses.
Like Dan, the 100-400 was my go to lens for a long time. It has had a lot of supporters over time as well as a lot of critics. It was the go-to lens of Art Morris for many years and he’s someone who won’t tolerate a lens that won’t hold up in the image quality department.
That said, I ultimately decided to retire it out of my kit (as did Art Morris) in favor of carrying other lenses.
In my tests, my 100-400 was acceptably sharp at 400mm. If you’re doing nature/wildlife type work or looking to start doing it at a reasonable cost, there aren’t many options in the Canon family that let you grow your lens capabilities out to 400mm at a reasonable cost. You can start out with a T4i body and kit lens and add the 100-400 and have a very powerful and flexible camera kit with full overage from wide angle to 400mm for $2600. That’s not cheap, but you aren’t going to get many useful pictures of birds if your camera kit stops at 200mm unless you visit a zoo.
Why did I retire my 100-400?
My last visit to Yosemite, it got dropped. Twice. Oops. But that trip wasn’t my most successful ever in many ways. The lens, however, ended up having to go in for repair with Canon twice. When I got it back the first time, it clearly was soft and not functioning right, and they found further problems with the zoom on the second repair.
When I got it back the second time, I did more tests with it, and found that it was — okay — but not as sharp as it was before I dropped it, but in discussion with Canon, it was clear that the repaired lens was within specs for sharpness.
While it was out for repair, I started shooting with the 300F4+1.4x teleconverter and found I really, really liked that combo. When I went and did pixel peeping sharpness tests against my 100-400 (using pre-breakage photos) I found the 300F4 setup to be noticeably sharper than the 100-400 at 400mm. Not too surprising, all things considered. I was considering upgrading my lenses anyway, and I ultimately decided to push the button on a couple of lens upgrades, the 24-105F5 and the 70-200F2.8IS.
So I now had a sharper lens in the 100-200 range, and I had a sharper lens that covered 300mm (at F4) and 420mm (at F5.6). And my lens kit was already really, really heavy — none of these lenses are small and light. I just didn’t see a reason to carry the 100-400, so I sold it off.
Going through this process taught me a lot about the 100-400 and I think that might explain some of the “softness” complaints about it. First, at 400mm it is softer than a dedicated 400mm prime (duh!) or the 300mmF4+1.4x. This should not surprising anyone that a $1500 zoom is softer than a $7000 prime, or the $1500 400mmF5.6 prime, yet putting the 100-400 against the F400F5.6 and declaring it not so sharp seems to be some of the source of this “softness” claim from my research.
This is a lens that can handle some abuse, but it is susceptible to being dropped (trust me), and being whacked out of alignment, and that alignment loss may not be obvious. In my case, the lens seemed to work fine, but beyond 340mm, I couldn’t get any sharpness. It’s likely there are lenses out there that need repair that users grumble at but haven’t figured out they’re off.
And, this is a lens that has been manufactured for a long time by Canon — it’s about a ten year old technology. In my experience with getting mine repaired, I think that Canon has gotten very good at building this lens to a consistent sharpness well beyond “the spec” — that our view of “acceptable sharpness” has changed during the lifetime of the product. Older and “well loved” versions of the lens are probably not as sharp as newer ones, but still might be within the specs. It wouldn’t surprise me if you grabbed half a dozen lenses built in the last 3-4 years and compared them in sharpness to lenses from the first 2-3 years of manufacturing that we’d see a statistically significant increase in sharpness with this lens. that’d explain a lot about some of the controversy over it’s sharpness, especially given the very good results many of us have seen with it.
(for an interesting take on this issue of product variability, check out Ctein on TOP).
So my take is that this “softness” criticism is a combination of unrealistic expectations (compare a 100-400 zoom against a 400mmF4DO and declare it not worthy? okay…), some of it is tied to this lens having been in production a long time, and the quality of this lens today is probably higher than when it was first released, and some of it is likely because this is a lens that I believe is susceptible to damage from rough handling that isn’t necessarily noticeable.
If you’re considering this lens, should you get it?
I think it’s an awesome lens. Almost everyone I know who’ve used it likes it (or loves it). There’s no reason not to buy this lens, but if you do, I’d be careful (and do sharpness testing) if it’s a used lens, just to make sure you know what you’re getting. It’s a lens that you should treat with respect (but you don’t need to treat it gingerly — mine took 5+ years of being slogged about before it got dropped enough to cause problems) especially when fully extended.
But before you buy it, there are other options to consider. If you already have lens coverage in the moderate telephoto range (say a 70-200), then this lens may not be the best choice. A great combo is the 24-105 and the 100-400. A not so great combo is 24-105, 70-200, 100-400. That’s a lot of glass to carry around with overlapping ranges.
So if you’re happy in the 100-200 range, Consider the 300F4+1.4x combo. That gets you 300F4 and 420F5.6, for about the same cost as the 100-400, and you’l find it’s sharper at 300 and 400mm. the 400F5.6 is cheaper than either the 100-400 or the 300+1.4x, but you lose the 300mm range. If you’re seriously looking at bird photography, though, you won’t need the 300mm range very often.
If you don’t mind spending somewhat more money, another option is what Art Morris is using instead of the 100-400: the 70-200F2.8ISII and a 2x tele. That combo will cost you around $2600 new (and probably $2300 used). Note that the 70-200F2.8IS isn’t sharp enough to do this, it has to be the ISII.
With all of these combos, realize these are big (and heavy) lenses. There are three disadvantages to my decision to carry the 70-200IS and 300F4 instead of the 100-400:
- The net cost of the lenses is about $1000 more than the 100-400.
- I’m carrying three lenses instead of two (including the 24-105), and they are not small lenses. that implies bigger bags and sagging shoulders at the end of a long day.
- You’ll spend more time swapping lenses, or going with a two-body camera kit. This is the essential advantage of zooms, and it’s the tradeoff we always have to make: convenience of a zoom vs. sharpness of a prime. That’s not going to go away any time soon.
I made a decision that the sharpness of the 300F4+1.4x was more important to me than the the convenience of the zoom. I don’t regret that one bit. But I also recognize it complicates my life and shooting a bit, and so I want to make sure you understand the tradeoff before you make that decision.
And at some point, I expect I’ll make the decision to upgrade to that 70-200ISII and retire the 300mm — but when I do, I expect I’ll also be seeing what I can do to stretch me gear out to 500mm or beyond, too. Just because when you do that kind of photography, whatever lens you have isn’t big enough…
Ask Me Anything About Photography • Canon 70 – 200 IS or no IS? Is it worth the difference in price?:
Canon 70 – 200 IS or no IS? Is it worth the difference in price? If I was a full time wedding shooter then I think the IS would be worth the difference simply for the ceremony shots in bad light where the 200 is an important focal length for those conditions. You can live without it though. I have the non-IS version to save the money. I barely use it. Been thinking of selling it.
Going to add another question to this to make it one post… Anonymous asked…
Are there times when you do not use the image stabilizer function on image stabilized lenses?
I only have one IS lens and that’s mainly bolted onto a 5d2 on a product set. I take it out on occasion and have yet to get used to the IS function. I feel the lens vibrating and my image in my viewfinder is moving around and it’s, initially, a pain. I don’t like it because it feels different.
I think the rule of thumb on IS lenses is to not use them when you have the camera on a tripod. When I have used this IS lens I’ve turned it off because I wasn’t shooting at shutter speeds where I needed it. I guess it would be helpful around the 30th of a second mark or below. I don’t know.
As you can see… IS (or VR for Nikon heads) isn’t that big of a deal for me.
Been really enjoying Zack’s tumblr blog as he does a Q&A with the greater world around him.
I did want to take on this question for him from the view of someone who’s both a nature photographer and an owner of various IS lenses.
Whether it makes sense to buy an IS lens or not depends on what you’re doing. To the degree that you’re in control of the shot and the environment the shot is being taken in, you’ll find IS doesn’t matter much, and I’d spend my money elsewhere. A simplistic way to think about it is this: the more your shooting is:
- In a Studio
- Surrounded by lighting gear
- On a tripod
The less you need IS. If you’re building the light for the shot with gear, then IS will rarely make a difference for you.
Where IS shines is where you’re reacting to a situation and making a shot rather than creating a situation for the shot to be made. To that degree, the more you are
- Hand-holding your gear
- Dealing with whatever light life brings you
- Not in control of your models (or your models are actively running/flying away from you)
you want IS if it’s available. A bird that is flying between sun and shade and back to sun — as the sun goes down — and refuses to stand still or let you get close enough for that 85mm lens to be useful; those are the times you’ll appreciate having IS, because it can mean the difference between getting the shot and showing off pictures of fuzzy blurs. There is a very fine line between this:
So there are times where every edge comes in handy.
Nine months ago I did a significant upgrade to my lenses, going to the 24-105f4IS and the 70-200f2.8IS, along with my trusty 300F4IS. I upgraded from a Tamron super zoom (nice, but effectively a kit lens quality) and the 100-400F5.6IS. (Look here if you want to understand why I made these choices. )
Having lived with these lenses for the better part of a year, you’ll tear the 24-105 out of my cold, dead hands. I fell in love with that lens quickly, it’s got a look that I think is awesome, and it’s just a great lens. My 300F4 (usually paired with a 1.4x tele as a very cost effective birding/wildlife lens) continues to create really nice, sharp images, even if there are days when I want more reach (but price out that combo and then a 500mm lens…. yeah…)
The 70-200F2.8IS? It’s a great lens, but honestly I still struggle to take advantage of it. In practice, I can only think of two outings where the combination of it being F2.8 fast and the IS made a significant difference in my getting some shots or not. The IS is not a huge benefit for me right now, and honestly, neither is the speed of it being F2.8. And it’s big, it’s hefty, and you notice it when you carry it around. It saves me neither size nor weight off my former friend, the 100-400.
So if I had to do this again, I would EITHER upgrade to the 70-200F2.8ISII (IS II vs. IS), which would have cost me another thousand dollars or so, or I’d have gone with the 70-200F4IS, which would have saved me a few hundred dollars, but it’s a lot smaller, a lot lighter, and the quality of the glass is right up there. The primary reason for considering the shift from the IS to the IS II is that it would allow me to use a 2x tele on the lens (the Art Morris birding combo), allowing me to sell the 300F4 and take that weight out of the camera bag. The thought of carrying two hefty lenses and two teles instead of three hefty lenses and one tele makes me smile. I may still do that one of these days.
But for most people who aren’t chasing small flying things through cold damp marshes? I think the 70-200F4 is an awesome choice. Think long and hard whether you need the cost (and weight) of F2.8. You probably don’t.
Heck, I have — I’m not joking — seriously considered buying the 70-200F4 non IS ($700 at amazon) just to have the option of leaving the heavy artillery at home. At that price, it can almost make sense to own both for the situations they work best for.
So really, this is two questions if you’re looking to buy the 70-200 for a Canon: F2.8 or F4? and IS or non-IS? Canon has made variations for all comers, just to make life a bit more complicated for us all. And my answer is: for most people, the F4 should be fine. Given what I shoot, I will typically buy the IS version. If you’re someone working under lights or in a controlled environment? don’t bother. Can you put the camera on a tripod? don’t bother with IS: spend the money (about $600 difference between the IS and non-IS lenses) on a better tripod.
Words like street? hand-held? walking around? dark shadows? Wildlife? late-night paparazzi? Then IS is probably a good investment.
Otherwise? I’d recommend spending your money elsewhere.
Canon has (finally) announced the EOS M system, it’s first mirrorless style camera body. Canon rumors has a good overview of the announcement and the product stats (for geeky goodness, try DPreview.com).
I’ve been looking at the various sites and taking in the overall reaction, which is mostly positive, although there are the usual suspects in the usual blog comment areas with the usual babble, which all boils down to variations of “haven’t touched it, haven’t used it, just read the press release (maybe), and here’s why it sucks and won’t replace my brand new [name your favorite camera]“. All great reminders why I try not to read comment sections on most of the popular blogs.
One of the stronger negative responses to the new release is from Kirk tuck at Visual Science Lab. I take this one fairly seriously, because he’s been working a lot with other forms of this camera style and is a strong supporter of this emerging form factor, so his comments can’t be easily ignored.
It is a $799 camera that’s effectively a repackaged T4i. It has a new mount, but there’s an adapter that allows existing EF and EF-S lenses to work with the body, which caught my attention as a Canon user.
My interest in the product? Unclear. But I have been thinking through a personal project with some complexity to it, one that involves a lot of field time including video and time lapsing, and this has me, god help me, thinking about adding some gear to the kit, including audio capture and a body I can use for “B roll” style environmental and behind the scenes video. One option I’ve been considering is the GoPro, which would be about $300. Another has been a T4i, which is in the $850-1000 range depending on lens options.
So this body fits somewhat in the middle between the low end option that has some interesting possibilities but is video only, or going with another full-sized, consumer-oriented DLSR body that have good video/audio capabilities.
I’ve been thinking this through this evening, and I’m leaning towards Kirk Tuck’s negative view, however. One of the first thoughts I had was “street kit!” but I don’t think the new lens for this mount (18-55) is what I want; I’d want to use it with my 24-105, and honestly, with that lens, the size advantage of the smaller body is mostly lost. Unless the 18-55 is incredibly sharp, I don’t see this body as a street kit addition to my existing kid.
There is only about a $50 difference between this body and a brand new T4i. If I’m only adding a body, it’s hard to see how this body would work better for my needs than a T4i. Just from not having to learn more new control system quirks, going with a T4i to supplement the 7d and T3i minimizes my chances of brain cramping on an image at a key time. Especially for a first generation, I think I’d want a bigger price difference for me to bring it on. If I decide to go video only, the GoPro is enough cheaper to definitely be worth it. Heck, the GoPro is almost down to “impulse buy” levels.
For me, I don’t think this camera is a good fit at this time. None of the mirrorless are, unless I choose to build a street only kit around a mirrorless body, and if I did that, it’d cost me enough for the right lens that I’ll likely stick with the DLSR and 24-105 and use the iPhone when I want maximum portability. I just haven’t seen any of the new mirrorless camera systems to make me squirm and start counting nickels. Having said that, I think this new form factor is the evolutional future of interchangeable lens cameras, and over time, the mirrored units will fade to a specialty niche. But this will take some time, and I’m in no hurry to jump in front of this parade.
I think this camera is a good camera, but I think it’s going to be most interesting to people upgrading into the interchangeable lens world from pure point and shoots. For those people, this is a nice upgrade. As a supplement to an existing Canon DLSR kit, I’m not convinced. And is it as good as or better than competing models like the sony or the fuji? I have no clue — go ask Kirk.
So I think it’ll do well, and I’m going to be watching as they expand the lens options and they grow this unit into future generations. I must admit I’m a little disappointed that the mount form factor prevents a sensor bigger than APS size, but I’m not surprised. I’m of mixed feelings whether the industry should be pushing towards lower cost full frame sensors, or whether the future is improving APS sensors until even the 5D bigots agree they’re okay. I’m guessing that down the road the market differentiator between mirrorless and DLSR will likely be sensor size, and DLSR will shift more towards the full frame (more expensive) offerings. The mirrorless platform seems to slide in nicely as a replacement to the existing Rebel-class APS sensor DLSRs — eventually.
We’ll see. It’s something I’m watching, but until I get my hands on one and see how it operates, I’m just speculating. I do know if/when I move forward on my project, the EOS M won’t be the addition to the kit. Maybe next generation, but not now. And if someone asks me for a recommendation, at least for now, my answer’s going to be the T4i, not the EOS M. At some point, we’ll see if that changes.
I ran into this piece, and I thought I’d add a bit of noise to the system and give my perspective on the situation. The quick summary: some workshops suck. Gary Fong’s idea is that before you sign up for a workshop, you send a request to the workshop operator, who needs to respond back with the answer to your questions. It is, effectively, a job application form, and honestly, not a very good one (and in a few cases, if you did ask those questions of a job applicant, I wonder if it’d be legal….)
The goal of this is laudable. The tactics are questionable. The underlying tone is unfortunate and hostile.
Don does a good job of tearing apart the document, so I won’t repeat his criticism. I agree with him completely on that.
The document is a very poorly constructed ‘contract’ for prospective workshop attendees to send to workshop leaders. If one is thinking of attending a workshop, one must only have to send this document to get the skinny on the real motivations of the workshop leader.
Fong’s document seems to be based on that tired old bullshit of “Those Who Can Do, Those Who Can’t Teach”. The refutation of that obviously stupid statement is everywhere. Some of our greatest teachers have not actually been that successful in their art, but have been FANTASTIC teachers. I am thinking of some of my wonderful composition teachers Ronald LoPresti and David Cohen. Tina Modotti was a most incredible teacher, and few are even aware of her work. There was a time that you simply couldn’t consider yourself a real photographer if you hadn’t studied with her. Nadia Boulangerwas considered to be one of the greatest influences on composers during the mid 20th Century… if you were a serious composer you packed up and studied with her for a few years in Paris. I ask you when the last time it was you heard her music? You see – TEACHING is a profession all its own.
Again – absodamnlutely. I have been to a few given by some big – big – names and found them to be awful. Egos the size of lower Manhattan mixed with a total inability to transfer information. But WTF – they are super awesome on the internet and have a ton of twitter followers, so it must have been me. SO WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT BAD WORKSHOPS? Well – we have the internet, blogs, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and a plethora of places to make our concerns known. We can ask for references. I was always happy to comply, and even put blog posts about my workshops – good or bad – online.
As it turns out, I’ve been evaluating some workshop options for the 2nd half of 2012 and what I might be able to do in 2013. I’ve also recently been putting some time (and money) into some online workshops through Creative Live, so I’m a good candidate for being the person Gary Fong is trying to protect. Thanks, Gary, but I don’t think this helps.
I know that if I were giving a workshop, I’d never answer a request like this; sorry, but the tone is way too close to “how often have you beaten your wife recently?” for my taste. It’s a no-win situation. Besides, if I’m running a successful workshop, I don’t need to, because I know someone else will fill that spot, and my first reaction on seeing a letter like this is “this person is trouble”, and I wouldn’t want them in my workshop in the first place, so I’m not going to encourage them.
As someone who is evaluating workshops, I would never send a form like this. As a practical matter, if I can’t make a decision on a workshop based on the information you put on your site (and which I can search out online about it), I’m going to move on to a different workshop; I’m not going to go digging into a workshop like Fong suggests except in a really exceptional situation. If you don’t do a good job of convincing me to sign up with your online materials and marketing, I’m not going to chase you down and start asking questions. I’ll find someone else who does a better job of marketing their workshops.
So as a workshop buyer, what am I looking for? It depends on the situation (of course). I break workshops down roughly into four types:
- Lecture-oriented seminars with larger audiences, like Art Wolfe’s current series, or the Strobist/McNally road tour. Primarily lecture with little or no hands-on.
- Smaller seminar/hands-on seminars about specific topics. Creative Live’s seminars are a good example, as are Syl Arena’s lighting seminars in Paso Robles. Smaller audience, more hands-on, more personal instruction and discussion.
- On-location workshops, where in many cases it’s more about the location than the teaching; in many cases, the workshop staff is more guide and teacher, although it depends on the staff and location. When I take that winter workshop in Yellowstone, I expect it to be much more about the situation than about the gear, for instance.
- Private workshop sessions where you go one-on-one with a photographer.
(I mention all of those because they’re on my short list as options I’m considering).
How do you as a workshop host convince me to sing on?
First, it has to be a topic I’m interested in. Sorry, wedding workshop hosts. Then you need a body of work that shows me you’re qualified to teach the workshop. That implies a rock solid online portfolio (at the very least), and I need to be able to look you up and see that you know your stuff and that what you shoot is compatible with what I’m trying to accomplish; or in an on-location workshop that you know the area and I’ll get direction better than I can get from Fodors or Lonely Planet. It’s amazing how many destination workshops fail this test.
Make sure you’ve got online videos of you teaching something. Anything. short youtube videos doing screencast tutorials is one option. Doing a longer piece at a place like B&H is better. Doing an extended class at Creative Live is even better. I want some way to get a sense of how you teach and how well, but also what your personality and style is. This is great fodder for your blog. You do blog, right? You’re trying to sell yourself online and you don’t? Oh. I’m sorry. (You need to blog. Your blog needs to promote what you do. Your personality needs to come through. If it’s all PR and marketing and zero you, what’s that say about your workshop experience? You need to sell yourself as well as your subject. If you can’t do that, I’m not taking your workshops).
Promote your previous workshops. Write up the experiences; show pictures. Give us a sense of how it went, and help us want to be on one. Aperture Academy does a really nice job of this, as an example. I may not be typical of this, but I realize things don’t always go as planned. Talking about what went wrong in your workshops and how you adapted to the situations is a lot more attractive to me than finding a gap in your history where a workshop that you had issues with got, um, overlooked on your site. Chances are, someone else who was there will talk about it on their blog. Better you give your side than pretend everything is always perfect.
Encourage your students to blog about the workshops. Link to them when they do. I’m unlikely to ask for references, and I don’t particularly care about your prepared list of people who’ve promised to gush about you. I can find former students of yours online with the search engines. make it easy for me and link to them all as part of your site’s marketing, even the ones that aren’t 100% thrilled with you. And guess what — if I go looking and I can’t find former students writing about your workshops, that’s really, really bad. scary bad, as in “I’ll go somewhere else” bad, because if I can’t find happy former students blogging about you, either you don’t have any, or there’s something wrong here that I don’t want to deal with. I’ll go find an instructor with happy blogging students.
If you’re someone who takes a $1500 workshop from someone who doesn’t do this kind of research before plonking down that kind of money? you kinda get what you deserve. It’s not that hard…
The key here? don’t wait for me to ask you for this stuff. It needs to be out there waiting for me when I come looking. Your website, your blog, your workshop site and online marketing material has to look — not pro, necessarily — but polished and competent. If it’s sketchy or incomplete, if there are typos or major mistakes in it? If you can’t run the workshop’s website well, what’s that say about how you run a workshop? (okay, I’ll forgive typos in a blog to a good degree; in fact, I prefer a blog that’s clearly YOU, not run through a marketing team or ghosted by a PR person or intern. But still, at some point, sloppiness and poor execution in your online work is an indicator to how you do everything else).
I don’t need Gary Fong’s letter because if you don’t give me enough information make a reasonable decision without contacting you, I’ll scratch you off the list and go work with someone who does. If you pass that initial list, I’ll track down former students online and see what they say about your workshops. If I can’t find them? I’ll go somewhere else. If you have a tendency to get caught up in your own shooting while teaching a workshop, it’ll come out in the student feedback I’ll find when I look for it, and I think that’s a mis-behavior that’s at the core of the gripe Gary Fong is chewing on. (trust me: I’m not expecting you to NOT shoot. But if I end up feeling like I”m there to fund your photo trip, not to be led on my photo trip, my blog will make that clear…)
I’ve mentioned a few organizations that I think do this well: CreativeLive continues to impress me with the quality and breadth of their online classes; Syl Arena is a good example of the one-man-shop topic-specific workshop; Aperture Academy does a good job as the “multi-host co-op” organization, and people I know who’s taken their workshops (I haven’t, yet) have seemed pretty happy with their work. Michael Frye is a good example of a photographer who teaches workshops (through the yosemite ansel adams gallery) on location who uses online screencast-style teaching to good effect as a tool to sell both his books and his workshops.
If you don’t have the body of work — as a photographer or as a teacher, or preferably both — and you don’t have an online presence that convinces me you are professional enough to pull off a workshop, and you don’t have a history I can find of former students that liked working with you enough to write about it? You got a problem, because there are a lot of workshop operators out there that have all of that. Guess which ones I’ll go to first?
And none of that requires the kind of — attitude — you find in Gary Fong’s proposed letter. It’s well-intentioned, but unnecessary.
(and what am I currently planning? Right now, I’m seriously considering a private one on one workshop session in the field when the opportunity allows. If and when I pull the trigger, I’ll talk about why and how it worked out… Right now, it’s all planning).
Back in 2010, when I retired my HP9180, I wrote a blog piece asking the semi-rhetorical question Do do you really need a printer — and here it is 2012, and I have a definitive answer for that question.
For me, at least, the answer is a definite yes. I’d been considering buying one for a while, when Mark’s new Epson 3880 convinced me it was time to get serious about this. The 3880 was beyond what I wanted to spend, but I’d been arguing with myself about it’s slightly littler brother, the Epson 2880. Much to my surprise, Adorama had a few as manufacturer refurbished for about $90 off the new price, and that was enough to convince me to grab one (that deal is no longer available, however).
Personally, I wouldn’t buy a used printer (your mileage may vary), given the usage and wear printers go through, and if this was a revenue generating printer I wouldn’t buy refurb, either, but as a low-volume, primarily hobby device, I’m comfortable with this choice. It comes with a warranty, so if I run into issues, I have options.
Why the 2880? I wanted something from a good manufacturer (which, for photo printers, IMHO, means Epson, Canon or HP); I ruled out HP because I find their inks brutally expensive (I don’t work there any more, I can say that now) and their low and medium end devices don’t tickle my toes (and I’m unwilling to pay $3500 or more for a printer yet). I wanted a wide format printer, this one will do up to 13×19, which is great, as my favorite print sizes are 11×14 and 11×17. And it supports roll paper, which allows for panorama prints, something I really want to explore, and which can be cheaper than pre-cut paper. And the print costs seem reasonable. I really like the Epson UltraChrom Inks, too, and as I explore black and white printing, the Epson inks seemed to be a better choice.
Having said all of that, it was primarily lack of roll paper support at this price point that made the difference between Epson and Canon, FWIW. Canon has some nice models, too.
The printer is on a truck, trundling this way. I’ll probably be unpacking this weekend and starting to explore.
What do I plan on doing with this? Make prints. Put them up on my wall. Give them away. Expect to see some opportunities on this site for prints once I get settled in.
Why do this? Why not lab prints?
Well, it’s complicated. Maybe for some people lab prints are an option, but one thing I fell in love with using the 8190 were art papers. Big, thick, textured hunks of paper that bring a different look and life to an image. I miss that, and using a lab to print on Hahnemuele German Etching or Photo Rag Pearl is between impossible and unaffordable.
Besides, I enjoy geeking the printer and working to make my prints better.
And that’s the other, bigger aspect of this — I lost an aspect of the quality of my images when I stopped printing. I got comfortable with a “good enough for Flickr”. Over the last few months, I’ve bent taking a close look at what I’m doing and why, and why I haven’t been as happy with the results as I want to be — and I came to realize that when I stopped printing, I stopped getting better, and in fact, my photography regressed. When you only look at your images online — you can get satisfied with the quality a lot sooner in the production process. Putting it on paper, especially at larger sizes, means you can’t tolerate the flaws.
So I came to the decision that to drive my imagery forward again, I had to start putting it on paper again, and I needed to do it myself and not depend on a lab to do it.
Besides, I like giving prints away… (and maybe selling the occasional one).
And the first image I’m going to print on this puppy is this one:
This year for the holidays I decided to try something different with a couple of my gifts. Every year, I try to make christmas gifts for the family a little personal, and in the last few years, that’s meant something using my photos.
This year, rather than a standard framed print or a calendar, I had prints done via ArtisanHD on Plexiglas. It looked like an interesting, modern alternative to the standard matted print. These images in the 12×18 size (good for 11×14 prints) ran a bit over $50, and to be honest, I was blown away with how they looked.
If you’re looking for something different and memorable, with good quality, something that’s going to leave an impression — this is something you might want to consider. I liked the quality of the final product, I was very happy with the quality of the print, and in fact, I did one for myself, which is going up in my cube at work tomorrow, too. And I expect it’ll get people to come into the office and ask about it.
I had to go visit the dentist this week, and I had just enough time free before the appointment that I could sneak down to the Palo Alto Duck Pond with my gear and do some head to head tests and start learning how the new lenses are going to operate.
This exercise was intended to try to understand a couple of things: first, how well the image quality of the T3i stands up to the 7D, so I know what situations I have to depend on the 7D, and when I can use the 2nd body. Second, I want to get some sharpness tests of the 70-200F2.8l+2.x combo against the 300F4+1.4x to see whether the former would work as my birding rig, and if not, how far can I push it before image quality starts to fail. And third, I’ve just had this nagging question about whether the 7D needs to be serviced and whether it’s giving me the clean, sharp images I expect from it.
To try to start figuring this out, I sat next to the pond (trying to avoid the kids with the bag of bread and the resulting chaos, not always successfully) and shoot the same subjects at the same time using the same settings so I have some rational images to do comparisons with. For all of these images, both bodies were set to ISO 400, AF to the center sensor, Aperture mode (adjusted by +2/3 stop as I typically do), with AF set to AI Servo and autoexposure to Center Weighted Average; I had no custom settings set.
These images are shot raw, with almost no processing; perhaps a bit of exposure and contrast tweaking, but all have the same default sharpening and no noise reduction or lens correction. The camera profile was set to camera neutral. All lenses were shot hand held, with IS on, set to setting 2.
Also, just to be clear, here’s the list of lenses and bodies I’m experimenting with. You have to be really careful because after a while, all of the letters can start running together, and it matters whether it’s the “70-200F2.8L IS” or the “70-200F2.8L IS II”. The “2.X II” teleconverter isn’t as sharp as the newer “2.X III”, but if you aren’t paying close attention, you can miss the difference in the model naming.
- 7d body
- T3i body
- 70-200F2.8L IS (not “IS II”)
- 2.x Teleconverter II
- 1.4X Teleconverter II
- 300 F4 IS
Click through each image to see the large version:
- The 7D, with 70-200X2x at 400mm, F8
- The t3i, with 70-200X2x at 400mm, F8
- here it is at 300MM, F8
- 300F4+1.4x at F5.6
Here’s a second round, shooting at something close up instead of relatively far away:
- 7D, 315MM @ F5.6
- 7D, 300F4+1.4x @ F5.6
- 7D, 280mm – 70-200+1.4x @ F5.6
- 7D, 280mm – 70-200+1.4x @ F5.6
- T3i, 300mm – 70-200+2x @ F5.6
- xT3i, 400mm – 70-200+2x @ F8
- xT3i, 300mm+1.4x @ F5.6
So my verdict?
If you look at those last two images side by side, you can see an obvious difference:
The right image is significantly sharper. That’s the 300F4+1.4x combo. The 70-200+2X seems to be acceptably sharp up to about 300mm, and then softens. In some cases, especially with relatively close birds, it might be “good enough” if the other lens isn’t available, but honestly, I think that’s wishful thinking. It’s just too soft. The quick testing I did with the 70-200 with the 1.4x seems to be nicely sharp, but even that the sharpness falls off as it heads towards max magnification.
This is normal with teleconverters. It’s not a matter of whether the image will degrade, but whether that degradation is acceptable. The 2x will soften your image; don’t pretend your 300+1.4x is going to be as good as a 400F4 — this is understanding the tradeoffs between quality, budget and having to hire a sherpa with a mule to carry it all.
So, my bottom line?
I’m not seeing any significant change in image quality between the 7d and the T3i. This is good; I didn’t expect to, since they use the same sensor down in the bowels; the pricing difference between the two bodies is primarily about manufacturing and features — and when you pick the two up in each hand, you can definitely tell the difference. The 7d feels built like a rock, the T3i feels more “plasticky” and is definitely lighter. It seems perfect for my needs as a 2nd body, though, and a good value compared to the 7D. (this also implies there’s no obvious issues with the 7D body indicating it needs a trip to the shop. also good). This means I can feel comfortable using both bodies, within the limits of the T3i — for instance, the more limited buffer for burst shooting.
The 70-200+2x combo is noticeably softer at 400mm than the 300+1.4x is; for my purposes, it’s “too soft”. This doesn’t surprise me much. I was hoping I could use it as my primary birding gear, but I wasn’t depending on it. I now know to stick with the 300 setup for that. From what I can tell, the 70-200+2x is acceptably sharp up to about 300mm, so in a pinch, I can use it if the 300mm is handy with some limitations, but the 70-200+1.4x is even sharper in that range, so I should use that instead.
Shooting at F8 helps, as you might expect, when compared to wide open. But doesn’t make enough of a change to change the results.
(and because I want to be clear on this: this isn’t a ‘problem’ with the lens. I was experimenting to see if I could push the envelope in an attempt to lighten the kit I haul around. I thought it was unlikely I’d get away with this without spending a lot more money on the 70-200F2.8 IS II lens, which is just beyond my budget. My opinion, honestly, was that I’d rather buy these lenses now and save up for my 500mm than put even more money into the more expensive 70-200. That’s all part of looking at the bigger and long-term picture of what your needs and priorities are….
The attempt was worth a shot, and now I know. Doing these kinds of tests is an aspect of learning your gear, so you know without thinking (or worrying!) what to grab to make a shot happen. If you know what the gear can do — and what it can’t — you can focus more on the shot, and less on wondering if you’re going to get it.
Do you know how your lens will react if you change it from F5.6 to F11? What center-weighted exposure mode does vs. evaluative, and when to use which?
you really should, because if you stop to think through which settings to use when, by the time you think it through, the shot will be gone. Putting time into experiments like this is part of the process of making the gear more invisible to the moment.
At some point in your progression as a photographer, you realize that new gadgets don’t make you a better photographer. That doesn’t end the gear lust — but it hopefully makes it easier to resist it. If you listen to photographers like David duChemin and Zack Arias, they also emphasize the “learn to use what you have and get the most out of it” concept, and encourage photographers to upgrade slowly and wisely. It’s something I’ve tried to take to heart.
In my case, when I bought my 7d body about two years ago, I made myself sit down and write up exactly why I thought the body would improve my work, and what weaknesses in my current gear it improved. (as it turns out, I would say I hit the justification pretty closely, too). And I told myself that once I got it, I’d stop buying gear until I was convinced I needed an upgrade and could justify it to myself objectively.
But I’ve just committed some serious gear upgrades. Thinking about this goes back to early this year but when I realized that I was likely to be leaving HP and taking with me some significant accrued vacation pay, the idea of investing that lack of vacation on the camera kit became a real option, and I started a serious exploration of what my goals would be and what my possible upgrades were.
I’ve ended up retiring this from my kit:
- Tamron 28-300 F3.5
- Canon 100-400 F4.5 IS
- Canon 30D
I retired the 30d a few months ago; I came to the realization that the difference in quality between the 30D (about four generations old) was so much different than the 7d that I could tell which body I used for a shot just looking at the previews in Lightroom. The 30d was a good body for the time, but it simply didn’t compare to the 7d, and so I tended to carry it but swap lenses to the 7d for most shots. Once I noticed that was what I was doing (it took me a while), I simply stopped carrying it. I prefer a two body kit, but only if I am willing to actually use both bodies.
It’s been my plan to upgrade the wide angle lens for a while. I’ve written about the Tamron before http://www.chuqui.com/2010/01/a-few-thoughts-on-lenses/ and it’s a nice lens for what it is, but I never really got past the “look not love” phase with the lens, and while it’s a step up from a kit lens, it’s — it’s still an inexpensive lens that’s good for some things, but not enough of the things I want it to do.
People who know me probably are suprised that I’ve retiring the 100-400. I originally didn’t plan on it, but as my research evolved, it started to make sense. it’s six years old, and it’s been used a fair amount. It spent a chunk of time with Canon for repair (twice!) after it got dropped in Yosemite this spring, and I know others who’ve had problems with dust in the lens (because of the trombone design), and some general drop in quality over time because of the normal bumps and bruises of being used. And, frankly, it’s a big, heavy beast of a lens.
While the 100-400 was in the shop, I started shooting more with my 300F4+1.4x combo, and really coming to appreciate that as a bird and wildlife setup. It is — frankly — noticably sharper than the 100-400 at 400mm, with faster AF. It is also a big, heavy beast of a lens, but any lens at this length is going to be. But what it convinced me was that my kit of lenses didn’t need to stretch from 20-400; I could go to a 70-200 and still use the 300 to do what I wanted to do. Hopefully lightening the camera bag along the way. Because of this, I decided if the money was there and the right lens was available, I’d upgrade everything.
In trying to decide what to upgrade to, I started out by deciding what my “budget is not an issue” kit would be. I quickly honed in on the following parameters:
- EF lenses, not EF-S
- L Glass where it made sense
- IS where it was available at a rational cost
These are Canon specific, but basically, these mean lenses compatible with full-frame sensor bodies (EF-S work only iwth crop sensors); the L glass is Canon’s pro quality lenses, and the IS is Canon’s vibration reduction system. The L glass not only implies top quality optics and coatings, but weather sealing, and other features seen on “pro” lenses like internal focus.
I also made one other restriction: If the lens rental places weren’t renting it, I decided that was a hint to avoid the lens because that implied that (a) it was too expensive for the quality, (b) it was too fragile, or (c) it just wasn’t that good. By seeing what Borrowlenses.com and lensrentals.com kept in stock (and I found that the mini-reviews you find on lensrental did a good job of saying what the extended reviews found around the net said, but without all of the geeky verbiage!) I got a good first approximation of what good and reliable lenses to choose from.
For my basic “any budget” kit, I quickly settled on three lenses:
- Canon 16-35F2.8L II
- Canon 24-70F2.8L
- Canon 70-200F2.8L IS II
For those keeping score at home, that’s about $4000 in lenses if bought new. In theory, a great combo. In practice, no way I was going to spend that kind of money. So I started exploring options. The first obvious option: buy used. But since one of my goals was reducing the weight of my bag, moving from F2.8L to F4 lenses would shrink their size and weight — and cost — significantly. So would making a decision to go with an EF-S lens for the wide angle.
I seriously considered the Canon EF-S 17-55 F2.8 IS. I seriously considered the Sigma 23-70 F2.8. I seriously considered the Canon 24-105 F4L IS. For the telephoto, I quickly narrowed it down to the Canon 70-200F4 (and to decide on IS depending on budget), although I must admit to be tempted by the 70-300 as well. And to be honest, I kept hearing the 70-200 F2.8′s whispering at me that siren song that said “Arthur Morris keeps saying use me with a 2X teleconverter, and life will be wonderful…”
When I finally got the logistics of the job change settled and I knew I was moving on from HP, I started shopping. Both Lensrentals.com and Borrowlenses.com sell off their gear and lensrental did their winter sale about the time I started shopping, but most of what I was interested in went quickly and before I was ready to buy. I also was watching KEH.com and B&H’s used sales to see where the right lenses were at the right price.
And as it turned out, when I was ready to buy, Borrowlenses had what I wanted. Even better, they’re local, so I could drive over and pick it up (which I did), and I’ve worked with them and have talked to them about rental options in the past, and everyone I’ve talked to about them gives them rave reviews. All of that made for an easy decision I could trust, unlike the risk that sometimes come from sites like eBay.
Originally, I hadn’t planned on buying a second body, but during this time I went shooting with a friend who happened to have the lenses I was considering, because he was ready to upgrade his body and wanted some advice. He got his advice (and new body) and I got some hands on time with some of my lens options, and we all won. He then came back later and said he’d realized he could buy the body using his Amex points, which reminded me I had some Amex points sitting bored and restless as well — and while they didn’t pay for the entire body, they let me buy it as a significant discount (so I did).
In the end, I have picked up a couple of lenses and a new body:
- Canon 24-105 F4L IS
- Canon 70-20 F2.8L IS (not the IS II)
- Canon T3i body
The more I looked around the web at what photographers had in their bags, the more I saw photographers who’s work I liked and respected carrying the 24-105. In the end, it won out over other options, even though it didn’t meet a couple of initial goals: I’ve given up on the widest part of the range (only going to 24mm, not 15mm) and it is not a smaller, lighter lens than the Tamron in any way. In fact, by the time I was done I saved no real weight out of my kit, becaues the 70-200 F2.8 is actually heavier than the 100-400 by a bit, and I also get to carry the 2X teleconverter to pair with it. I’m going ot be curious when I can go head to head between the 70-200+2X combo and the 300+1.4x combo how the sharpness compares. If it’s close, hopefully it’ll mean I can stop carrying the 300mm and maybe sell it to put away towards the 500mm lens fund or something. Too early to tell yet — with the holidays and the new job, shooting time has been basically zero other tahn some really simple test shots to verify everything’s working.
In all honesty, the amount of time I’d be working in the 15-25mm range is pretty small. It doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of cash to extend my kid to that range, not when I can rent a lens when I know I”m going to want it. So while I didn’t meet that original goal, I met my key needs, and I can add a lense to cover that when necessary at a reasonable cost. I definitely could use a 500mm more than I need something like a 10-22.
Total cost? about $2800. If you think back to the “any budget” option, I was looking at about $4000 for lenses, plus another $1500 for a 2nd 7D. By making some informed compromises, I cut that by about half, with little significant loss of functionality — and what I have is a big step up from what I was using before.
I did a little shooting with the 24-105 with the family over the holiday. I hope to go out and put the 70-200 though some serious paces shortly. I’ll talk about both in more detail as I get some images and experience with them, but with limited use, both are impressing the hell out of me.
The reason I ended up getting the T3i is more complicated; every time I go out shooting at a place like Merced or Isenberg for the cranes, I find myself really wanting to experiment with video of the fly-ins and to try shooting some timelapses. I also want to start capturing audio to try to bring the experience to those who can’t get out there. Those are things I couldn’t do with the 30d in any way; and in practice, I am going to want a unit to shoot the video or timelapses AND a unit to shoot regular images while it’s chugging away, so I couldn’t start exploring that without a second body. The T3i seemed a good compromise between not having the capability and not wanting to pay for a 2nd 7d body. Time will tell if I’m right, or if I’m any good at that stuff… But at least now, I have that option.
Well, as soon as I buy a few things, like filters and an intervalometer, and… (it never ends, right? but that’s half the fun).
So now, all I need to do is get out and start shooting again, right?
So this week was my birthday, I’m now officially a year older than I was a year ago. More importantly, I officially declned to fo find out what exists on the “other side” for one more year, a task I hope to continue for a number of years.
Birthdays tend to be problematic. I get asked what I want, and I have no idea. This year, I simply pointed at my Amazon wish list and said does this help?
It did, and Laurie was nice enough to get me a copy of Spectacular Yosemite, text by Stuart Booth, photos by Quan-Tuan Luong.
It is a large, oversized hardcover with overf 150 images, many taken in medium or large format, and well displayed using full page or double-page layouts. In all honesty, the photography is spectacular. You can get a nice sample here on the PDN site.
I was blown away. My honest first opinion while browsing the book the first time was actually “why do I even bother picking up a camera?”, after a bit, I decided to turn it into a challenge. His work has a very distinct style, especially in his larger format works — but you can still see the influences of some of the other photographers that have worked in Yosemite. His use of dramatic lighting reminds me a lot of William Neill.
A lot of the imagery is done on the valley floor and from easily accessible locations, meaning that as a visitor or visiting photographer, you can find many of the places Luong shoots from and investigate your own visions of the park. He also, however, hauls his here into the backcountry and brings those parts of the park back for your enjoyment as well.
All in all, an an exceptionally well done book both both photographers and lovers of Yosemite. I’ve gone through it twice now, and am planning on going back and studying the images with some care, becasue I feel like there’s a lot I can learn from seeing how Luong is interpreting places I know I’ve photographed as well.