Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts
September 9th to 16th, Norway Musk Ox and Sea Eagles.
All four clients have been on numerous trips to Norway before, but for everyone, including myself, it was our first time in the Dovrefjell–Sunndalsfjella National Park and the magnificent Musk Ox that call the place home.
Firstly, I have to say a massive thank you to our specialist guide for the Musk Ox, Sigbjorn Frengen.
He’s a superb guide, the font of all ecological knowledge, has a driving passion for what he does, is as fit as the proverbial Butchers Dog, and is only in his mid 20’s. He took guiding a bunch of geriatric old farts like us well in his stride; totally oblivious to the fact that we were all mighty jealous of his youth and fitness and secretly wanted to kill him for it!
And yes, I immediately booked him for the Dovrefjell part of my September 2017 workshop!
Musk Ox are animals not to be trifled with – they may look very benign but they weigh in at between 400 and 600 kilograms and can outrun Usain Bolt with very little effort. They are quick to temper, but the signs of the oncoming rage are subtle and difficult to spot even at 60-70 metres. Subtle head-shaking and snorting are the main give-aways that you are causing some displeasure:
The above image shows brilliantly my other main task for the week – testing the Canon 1DX mark 2.
Most people know me as a Nikon shooter, and that I have a love-hate relationship with Canon – yes, I’m a troubled person!
I’ve waxed lyrical about the Canon 200-400 f4 many times on this blog and elsewhere, and the fact that I consider the Canon 61 point Reticular AF System to be the best on the planet.
You will also know that I loathe the sensor output of the original 1DX, and Canons daft refusal to give us the Uncompressed RAW Recording capability – spoilt see, Nikon user!!
I managed to get a couple of hours on the Canon 1DX Mk2 back in July and promptly set about testing the improved AF algorithms – by jingo was I impressed. I was getting 40% less dropped shots on the Canon 1DX Mk2 at 10 frames per second than I was used to at 6 frames per second on the Mk1.
And as for the sensor output in general, the shadows adjustment latitude and high ISO performance – well, it was a revelation.
The Musk Ox above (click the image to view the full rez) has virtually ZERO noise reduction on it – none in post, and LOW on the in-camera High ISO NR menu setting.
Why use such a high shutter speed Andy?
It’s brain-in-gear time folks – breezy conditions, lowish light levels, hair on the subject that’s over 1metre long, and wispy grass stems – all these move way faster than the bulky Musk Ox itself – under peaceful circumstances of course!. If these little tiny details suffer with motion blur it ruins the image – provided you have a sensor that can ‘deliver the goods’ at the resultant ISO-stupid.
I’m also shooting hand-held off the knee, with and effective 560mm angle of view on a 20Meg+ sensor, so I’ll need at least 1/1600th to combat the shakes, and I am indeed ‘testing’ a camera, so shooting at sub 1600ISO is not doing the job.
I’m using ‘spot AF’ and partial metering, and my AF point is bang in the middle of the point pattern.
This all neatly brings me to my first problem with the Canon 1DX Mk2 – or at least the one I was using – look at this image from a few frames before:
If you examine the two shots closely you see something odd.
At this distance, around 70 metres, the f7.1 aperture should be generating around 1 metre of DoF.
In the first shot the AF pont was pretty much on babys head, but the DoF run-out is a lot greater beyond that distance than it is closer to the camera. If the shot had been taken wide open at f5.6 then the subject would not be as sharp as it is. More of babys body should be sharp, and less foreground sharpness.
In the second shot I’ve wavered slightly right, so now the focus point is on mums ass. This SHOULD push the plain of focus further back – and thus that 1 metre DoF. And it does – a bit! There is still too much foreground DoF.
The point is this, the focus tends to ‘bounce a little’ rather like the fault with the Nikon D4. This was caused, in the D4, by ‘mirror bounce’. But in the Canon 1DX Mk2 I get the feeling that it’s due to a nano-second miss timing between the AF sensor and the mirror starting to move for the next frame.
Why do I think this? Because if I drop the frame rate from 10fps to 7fps the ‘AF bounce’ disappears completely.
I could put more images up to illustrate my point further but that would be pointless as it could be a fault unique to the camera I was using. Having said that, there was another Canon 1DX Mk2 with a 200-400 shooting right next to me, and that showed exactly the same characteristics!!
But there is ONE thing I truly loathe on the Canon 1DX Mk2 – and the D5 and D500 come to that – the rear screen resolutions.
They are all too high in resolution.
I understand WHY they have such high resolutions, but when you are shooting stills at long distance, where focus placement is super-critical, they CAN lull you into something of a ‘false sense of security’ when you use them to check fine focus tolerances at 1:1.
You check the images on the camera and they look sharp. You get back to base and offload the images to your storage drives then review them on a 13″ MacBook Pro with a damn 227 dpi Retina display and the still look sharp. You get home and view them on your 90-odd dpi 24″ Eizo – and some of them look a lot less perfect!
I suppose with use it’s something you’ll get used to, but if you are moving to a Canon 1DX Mk2 from an older Mk1 or 5DMk3 then bare it in mind and check your images VERY carefully if you’re using big glass under critical conditions.
Anyway, back to the stunning Musk Ox again:
Lack of Lemmings meant the Arctic Foxes were still up in the high ground, so with that and a very wet forecast for Sunday we elected to leave Dovrefjell a day early and do the 7 hour drive to Lauvsnes in order to gain an extra day with the Eagles.
Monday morning saw us in the boat at just after 6.30am and myself an “Mad” Mark Davies had one shot weighing heavily on our minds – Backlit Eagle!
Over the remaining days I have to say that we were spoilt something rotten with opportunities for this most enigmatic eagle shot, here is a tiny fraction:
The Canon 1DX Mk2 performed perfectly on this job, no one could have asked it to do more. Shooting this at 10 frames per second was epic as it captures more of the ‘money shots’ with the spray trails.
Here is a continuous burst of 77 raw files at 10 frames per second, from when the eagle begins its approach to when I can’t basically be bothered any more:
And they are tack sharp from the first:
To the last:
I won’t say that by the end of the Thursday session it was getting boring, because I never cease to marvel at these awesome birds – but the hit-rate of the Canon 1DX Mk2 was getting a tad monotonous.
While a ‘crossing’ subject is not so taxing on the AF system as head-on subjects, the huge amounts of lens flare you encounter when shooting the style of image are notorious for playing havoc with auto focus. When you get to the point of maximum rim lighting neither you or the camera can see very much of anything at all, and most older systems will hunt focus for a frame or two if you are not careful with your settings.
I shot sequences like this using both AF Point Surround and 9 point Zone AF – both of which performed superbly.
I’ll have to add a caveat though – the camera only performs this well if your technique is SOLID. If you struggle to keep your AF group on target, or are just plain bone-idle, and try Large Zone AF or God forbid Auto, the cameras AF system goes into melt-down doing this sort of shot.
And yet AUTO on the Nikon D5 does a very good job at these sequences – weird!
So after a week of working the Canon 1DX Mk2 quite hard here’s what I think:
First, if you own a Mk1 1DX you NEED to upgrade, if only for the much superior IQ of the sensor.
Canon will probably hate me saying this, but the Canon 1DX Mk2 is ‘a bit of an animal’. You could ‘wobble around’ a bit on the AF tracking with the Mk1 and get away with it. But the Mk2 will bite you in the bum for doing the same thing – and when you least expect it.
With head-on targets the AF can both surprise and disappoint, methinks there will be a firmware upgrade at some point that will tidy the systems response to rapidly closing subjects at shortish distances. That’s what happened with the Mk1.
There some other settings I need to play with on this beast of a machine before I feel I can formulate a descent opinion, things that I never had a chance to try in Norway, and others that only occur to me when viewing images on a PROPER SCREEN!
There is more to this ‘box of tricks’ from Canon than meets the eye!
And has anyone noticed just how CRAP the manual is – Jesus, I don’t think I’ve seen such a ‘sketchy’ document since I perused the Nikon D5 manual….sometimes I get the impression that both Nikon and Canon are a little clueless as to how there own gear works!
Makes me smile – and that’s a good thing! But then again, it’s not my money being spent here – it’s yours.
A big thanks has to go to Paul Smith for supplying his camera and lens for this first evaluation – Cheers Matey!
And as always a big thank you to my clients, Mark, Malcolm, Mohamed & Paul for being such good sports, making a fun group dynamic, and for having a damn good laugh for week – usually at my expense! Cheers for your continued support guys.
And lastly, Ole Martin – thanks again for yet another great week. Only another 9 months and I’m back for two weeks solid – Christ, won’t that be fun!!!