[SHOOTING THE CANON]

When the Canon 5D digital single lens reflex debuted in August 2005 it introduced a new camera type to the catalogue and defined a new category of photographer. The 5D was the first full frame DSLR in a conventional form, smaller and lighter than the professional 1D series. It was aimed at professionals who didn’t need the functions and bulk of the 1D which was intended for photo journalists and sports photographers, and it was also intended for well-heeled amateurs who wanted the better image quality from a full 35mm frame sensor, even if it did top out at a miserly 12.8 megapixels. At least they were fat pixels with good signal to noise.

In 2008 Canon launched the MkII with a 21 megapixel sensor and the ability to record high definition video and a classic was born. The 5D MkII became an incredibly popular camera with both stills and video photographers. It was the first stills camera to give broadcast quality video and was used in production in the US and Britain.

An episode of House, “Help Me”, was shot entirely on the Canon 5D Mark II, replacing the drama’s usual 35mm film format. In this episode a building collapses, trapping a woman under the fallen masonry, and House is forced to operate in a dimly lit confined space. The director chose to recreate the space to actual size and took advantage of the smaller Canon cameras to add realism to the episode.

One of the earliest and most spectacular applications of the 5D MkII for video is a travel documentary shot by Michael Fletcher in the north-west of WA and available on Vimeo …

The 5D MkII was followed by the MkIII, with some improvements but probably not enough to make happy MkII owners trade in their treasured cameras. And now comes the MkIV, this time with significant advances over the predecessors.

Resolution is increased to 30.4 megapixels and 4K video has been added. The autofocus system has been borrowed from the 1D X, meaning that it has the tracking abilities of the top sports camera. One nice touch in the auto focus settings in the menu is that each function is described in plain English. For instance what Canon call “Case 4” is a setting “For subjects that accelerate or decelerate quickly.” Knowing which setting is best for tracking a moving subject is helpful when shooting video or, in stills, fast moving birds or footballers.

The large optical viewfinder is a thing of beauty but the LCD screen is fixed, which is not so sweet. Canon claim that this is to improve weather sealing, but other companies manage to fit a moveable LCD and still claim good environmental sealing.

The so-called Liveview still leaves a lot to be desired. When switched to Liveview for either video or stills the mirror is raised and the viewfinder is blacked out. In this day and age when mirrorless cameras can give a simultaneous view on the LCD and in the eye level viewfinder the DSLR approach seems pre-historic. And what Canon calls “silent shooting” with this camera is more clackety clack than truly silent, as can be done with a mirrorless camera.

Still image quality is simply superb. JPEG processing is very good but the RAW files have the little extra zing and detail that justify any extra work in post-camera processing. Auto exposure, focus and white balance are all spot on. In many respects the Canon 5D MkIV is the true and worthy successor to the MkII. Built-in WiFi and NFC connectivity have arrived at last, bringing a conservative camera range within cooee of 2016.

At $5100 street price for the body alone this will not be on everyone’s Christmas wish list. The Nikon D810 at $3500 is serious competition, but without 4K video, and the Sony a7R MkII at $4100 is a more modern, mirrorless camera that does do 4K. But for Canon owners with a bag of lenses and accessories the 5D MkIV will still be the way to go and they won’t be disappointed..

Be warned: the printed user manual is 660 pages, every one stuffed with essential information.

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[TO ZOOM OR NOT TO ZOOM]

We have just spent a week in full tourist mode, travelling about snapping places and people, with just one lens attached to the camera – the new Panasonic Leica 12mm f1.4 wide angle (equivalent to 24mm in 35mm film terms).

This being a micro four thirds lens it happily mated with our Olympus OMD E-M1 and we deliberately left all our other lenses at home so that we wouldn’t be tempted to change to another focal length or to a zoom. With primes you zoom with your feet and we were happy with that.

We also intended to take lots of photos of buildings from close quarters, so the wide angle suited the purpose. Not once did we hanker after the glass at home.

The Panasonic lens is brilliant, as it should be for the price – $1800.

Focusing is fast, but then that is hardly ever an issue for a very wide angle lens. It is also totally silent and beautifully smooth. But the real icing on this expensive cake is the absence of the barrel distortion characteristic of wide angle optics. The image is flat, corner to corner.

Panasonic boast of superior “high-speed, high-precision Depth from Defocus (DFD) technology for both photo and video recording. DFD supports the precise focusing essential for recording 4K video.” We had no complaints about the precision of the auto focus.

So, it costs a lot – more than most people would spend on a camera – but you get a lot.

When we got back home we set the Panasonic to compare with the Olympus 7—14mm f2.8 Pro zoom which costs $1400. (The Olympus lens is a 14—28mm film equivalent constant f2.8 aperture).

The obvious differences are that the Panasonic is faster (maximum aperture) while the Olympus is more versatile, being bother wider and longer in its variable focal lengths. The mZuiko Olympus lens is no slouch when it comes to fast and silent auto focus, but not quite up with the Panasonic.

Optically the Panasonic is perfect while the Olympus shows very slight barrel distortion at the 12mm focal length. Most people wouldn’t notice it and it is easily corrected.

The verdict is that if perfection is non negotiable and price is no object and you don’t mind the restriction of a fixed focal length then the Panasonic is the cat’s pyjamas. If you want to save $400 and gain the versatility of a zoom with the optical and mechanical compromises inherent in the form then go for the mZuiko Olympus. We could live with either or both.

There is an interesting comparable pairing of micro four thirds telephoto lenses from Panasonic and Olympus – the 100—400mm f4—6.3 (200—800 equivalent) Panasonic ($2,200) and the 300mm f4 mZuiko prime ($3,400). These are for bird watchers and sports photographers and they are both superb lenses.

The eye-watering price difference buys a fabulous, no compromise lens for when only the best will do. But save $1,200 and you get the versatility of the zoom with the longer reach but with a variable maximum aperture and slight optical and mechanical compromises. And you do get that amazing maximum focal length of 800mm equivalent with the Panasonic which, believe us, gets you looking right into the birdy’s eye.

While at first glance these prices appear very high never forget that a 600mm f4 Canon lens will set you back $14,500. The apparently super expensive mZuiko will save you $11,000. That should convince the Beloved Other that it is a prudent purchase. Micro four thirds lenses are smaller, lighter and cheaper than those made for full frame DSLRs and the shared system between Panasonic and Olympus, with each company producing their own range of lenses, means that the choice of type, quality and price is extensive.

Now for a dose of realism. We are not so good a photographer that the deficiencies inherent in the zoom lenses will make a difference to our pictures. That being the case the argument in favour of the cheaper versatile zooms over the more expensive primes is settled. We’ll take the Olympus wide zoom and the Panasonic tele zoom. Now, how to fritter away the money we have just saved?

[South Australian Railways Museum ~ Panasonic Leica 12mm lens]
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[FUJIFILM MAKES GOOD BETTER]

Fujifilm this month release their flagship camera, the X-T2, nicely evolved from the much admired X-T1. The unique APS X-Trans sensor has been upgraded from 16 megapixels to 24 and there are improvements to the auto focus system. There are now 325 focus points, and it is not the number that is impressive so much as what they do.

Tracking auto focus is now particularly accurate and fast which is a boon for video shooting and action photography. There are specific settings for different types of subject motion – coming to the camera, moving across in front of the camera and so on. Once a subject is locked in focus it can temporarily move behind objects without losing focus – imagine you are tracking a cheetah and it runs behind a bush, when it comes out the other side it will still be sharp.

The video capability of the X-T2 – a weak point in the X-T1 – has been upgraded. 4K video of stunning quality now comes straight from the camera, via the dual memory cards. There are sockets for external microphones and headphones and the audio level can be controlled in camera.

To get the most out of the video system it is necessary to invest in the optional “Boost” grip which adds two batteries to the one in the camera, giving three times battery life and up to 30 minutes of continuous 4K shooting. Some of the camera controls are duplicated on the grip for ease of access and the grip itself makes the camera more comfortable in the hand.

By the time you have added the grip and a zoom lens to the X-T2 it no longer qualifies as a “compact” system camera but it is still smaller and lighter than any DSLR of comparable performance.

Some minor ergonomic changes have been made to the controls. We handed the camera to a happy X-T1 owner for his assessment and he reckons that “the Fujifilm designers have really listened to the X-T1 owners and have given us what we asked for.”

Fujifilm cameras are eccentric. They embody the best features of classic 35mm film camera design in things like the analogue-style ISO, shutter speed and aperture controls. Fujinon lenses have aperture rings for setting aperture priority and there is a shutter speed dial for speeds up to 1/8000 of a second. When both the aperture and shutter controls are set to A the camera is in what everyone else calls P, for Program, mode. And the classic feature set even includes a threaded cable release socket in the shutter button.

The fine electronic viewfinder is carried over from the X-T1 but the LCD has been given an important re-design – it now flips both vertically and horizontally on a set of double hinges. It is now possible to use the camera in low shooting in the vertical orientation. This is an elegant feature not at all like the fully articulated screens on some cameras that are more clumsy than useful.

Fujifilm cameras excel at high ISO images without noise being an issue. At ISO 6400 noise is barely visible in RAW files, but the noise reduction in JPEG is unnecessarily heavy handed with blurring of fine detail. But then who would shoot JPEG with a camera like this?

The X-T2 has a range of film simulations, now including Classic Chrome (Kodachrome) and the black and white Fujifilm Acros, which can be activated with yellow, red or green filters.

So, what’s not to like about the Fujifilm X-T2? The price. At $2500, for the body only, it costs as much as two Olympus OMD EM1s or one Sony full frame a7II with basic zoom lens. Add to the base price the cost of the boost grip and two extra batteries plus a lens and the investment is heading over $3000. The XT-1, still available, costs about $1100 for the body, and is one of the bargains of our time. When we reviewed the X-T1 in March 2014 we said “This is a majestic piece of gear, both optically and mechanically…” and it still is. But never forget, the best is the enemy of the good.

[Fujifilm X-T2 Acros film simulation with red filter]

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[CONFESSIONS OF AN APOSTATE]

A few years ago we forsook the faith of Windows and went whoring after the iGods of Jobs. It happened like this.

First we were seduced by the iPad and then the iPad with the Retina (Apple talk for high resolution) display with its accurate colours and contrast right out of the box. Then it was just a short step to the MacBook Pro, a portable computer that miraculously showed the right colours and contrast no matter the angle from which it is viewed. And before you knew it we had bought an iMac and the iHeresy was complete.

Quite simply if you are serious about using a computer for photo editing then there was no choice. Only Apple seemed to care about colour-accurate displays. Well, not any more.

The Microsoft Surface Book is a portable computer that could entice us back into the cult of Gates. We have been using the Surface Book ($2299) alongside the MacBook Pro 13” Retina ($1999) laptop and choosing which to worship is not easy.

They use the same processor, the Intel Core i5, and have similar screen sizes. Both are high definition with the Surface Book being marginally sharper and better colour balanced with a dazzling true white. Photos and videos look stunning on this display and by comparison the MacBook images look a little dull.

They both come with 128GB flash drives, with higher drive capacities and faster processors available at much higher prices. So why does the Surface Book cost more? To start with it has a touch screen that can be written on with the supplied stylus. This is of more interest than it might seem because the display section of the computer can be detached from the keyboard and used as a tablet.

What’s more the display can be folded back flat against the base of the unit to make it easier for touch and stylus operation. You could argue that the computer/tablet combination would add many hundreds to the price of the MacBook, and even then you would not get the seamless integration of laptop and tablet.

However things don’t all go the Microsoft way. The two units have similar keyboards with trackpads. The MacBook’s trackpad is a sweet thing, sensitive to the touch, easily interpreting multi-finger gestures and responding to a gentle tap to execute the command. The Surface Book touchpad is coarser and less responsive so we paired the Book with a Bluetooth mouse and then it worked flawlessly but portability is compromised.

When it comes to the Windows 10 vs MacOs El Capitan operating systems the choice is easy – go with the one you know and love. But the Mac OS does have the advantage of in-built applications that Windows doesn’t seriously try to match. For the photographer the inclusion of Photos and iMovie in the Mac system is just about a deal decider. Windows also has something called “Photos” which offers less in photo editing functions than the average smartphone can manage. The MacBook can be used for photo and video editing without any additional software and that is not possible with the Surface Book.

Windows does give access a huge array of excellent free applications, including the well-regarded Photoscape picture editor. When Photoscape and Irfanview, another free app, are installed on the Surface Pro it is as good as the MacBook. But that still leaves video editing software lacking and we have not found anything to compare with iMovie. Wondershare Filmora is an iMovie clone but it costs about $75 and doesn’t handle 4K video. Microsoft advise that the clunky old Windows Movie Maker is “not supported on Windows 10”.

The killer argument for the Microsoft Surface Book is that it could be all the computer you will ever need. Add a 1TB external hard drive (about $90) a Bluetooth mouse (ours cost $5) and an external 4K monitor and you will have an all-in-one laptop, tablet and desktop computer. Add Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements to the software and it adds up to a neat, do everything, space saving photo and video editing machine. It could be time to worship at the shrine of Gates once again.

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