Irix Edge Filters

Irix Edge Filters

A few weeks ago, Irix dropped me a set of their Edge 95mm screw-in filters to try on their fabulous 15mm Blackstone lens.

Irix Edge CPL ND UV logo white 900x506 Irix Edge Filters

Now before we go any further, I have to say, that filters for landscape photography can represent something of a bottomless pit of expenditure in your photography gear.

I see folk with vast numbers of filters; NDs, grad NDs, tint and temp grads, fogs and soft focus filters and all sorts of exotic bits of glass and acrylic to stick on the front of their superb (and sometimes not so superb) landscape lenses.

Some of those same folk then look inside my bag in horror when they see that I only carry 3 filters – a 10 stop ND, 6 stop ND and polarizer.

I gave up using ND grads years ago, simply because they are time-consuming, and because if your horizon is not perfectly flat they will always effect the exposure of your middle to far foreground in some way or other.

For me, I find it far faster to shoot a bracketed sequence.

When your are shooting under very transient light conditions, such as sunset and twilight, time spent choosing and lining up a grad ND is time lost.

Followers of this blog will know that I have Lee SW150 and Lee 100 systems, both with 10 stop and 6 stop NDs and a polariser – the SW150 a circular, and the 100 system is a linear.  I’d have linear for the 150 system if they made one, simply on the grounds that they are normally cheaper – and I’m a tight-ass cheapskate!

When Irix sent the 15mm Blackstone for review, I purchased the Lee SW150 adapter ring for 95mm thread lenses – it works well and I can’t fault it.

But, I had the insanely expensive SW150 system holder and glass filters ALREADY, because I used them on the 14-24mm f2.8 Nikkor, and sometimes on my beloved Zeiss 21mm.

When I originally reviewed the 15mm Irix Blackstone there was really no other option for filtration.

But this new range of 95mm Irix Edge Filters now means that landscape photographers can have the necessary filtration without having to go with any form of 150mm filter system.

The 95mm Irix Edge Filters range.

Irix Edge CPL ND UV box 1 900x768 Irix Edge Filters

The packaging is robust and keeps the filters safe.  The card outer sleeve tells you what filter is inside,  though if you remove/loose it then you have to open the case and examine the edge of the filter to see the same information – it’s the only niggle I have, and it’s a minor one and certainly not a deal-breaker.

Though our Richard might argue that point after sprinting along the side of Howden reservoir after one that blew away in the wind yesterday!

But it would be nice of Irix to put the information inside the case so you could see it without faffing around – it all saves time, and time can be of the essence!

The filter range consists of:

A UV/Lens Protect – you all know my attitude to these by now!

Circular Polariser – this is mounted in a low profile 5mm frame with knurled edges, and has a double-sided anti-reflective nano coating.  AND – it is front-threaded to allow for a certain amount of stacking with other filters in the range – more on that shortly.

ND 8, 32, 128 & 1000 Neutral Density – these ND filters are all built in a 3.5mm metal frame, so are super low-profile.  They are all front-threaded and have the Irix double-sided anti reflective coatings.

ND filter terminology:

This seems to confuse a lot of people, which I suppose is understandable because different manufacturers persist in using different, and in the case of Lee for instance, MIXED terminologies.

So let’s try and break this down for you.

A one stop drop in exposure results in HALF the amount of light reaching the sensor/film plane.

A half is represented by the fraction ‘1/2’.

Irix, and others, take the denominator (bottom number of the fraction), stick the letters N & D in front of the said denominator, and now we have the filter value of ND2.

So, an ND2 neutral density filter is a ONE STOPPER – to use one particular Lee parlance!

If we reduce our exposure by 3 stops (that’s half of a half of a half, in other words 1/8th) then an ND8 filter is a THREE STOPPER!

An ND32 is a FIVE STOPPER, and ND128 is a SEVEN STOPPER.

And finally, an ND1000 (which is actually an ND1024!) is a TEN STOPPER – of Lee Big Stopper fame.

However, an ND1000 (ND1024) can also be classed in the ‘X.Y’ system as ND3.0 – oh dear!

The ‘X.Y’ (x point y) system is most commonly encountered with ND Grads – for example the Lee Soft-edged ND Grad set featuring 0.3, 0.6 & 0.9 ND Grads.

A 0.3 ND is the same as an ND2 – a ONE STOPPER, a 0.6ND is a two stop or ND4 and a 0.9ND is a 3 stop or ND8 – don’t you just love it!!

So hopefully we’ve cleared any confusion over ND stop values, so let’s get back to the Irix Edge Filters and my thoughts on how they perform.

If you click this link HERE you will be taken to page where, if you scroll to the bottom, you can watch a video of me doing a couple of shots at Salford Quays the other day.  I didn’t have my glasses on for the ‘talk to the camera bit’ and so made a slight screw up when talking about the focus scales – watch it and you’ll see!  And I’ve been told that I must apologise for inferring that Salford Quays is in Manchester!

Anyway, here are the two shots we did in the video:

D8E3501 Edit 600x900 Irix Edge Filters

Media City Footbridge, Salford Quays.

D8E3515 Edit 900x506 Irix Edge Filters

Salford Quays, NOT in Manchester! Irix Edge Polariser stacked with the Irix Edge ND1000

The first image (Media City Footbridge) is shot with just the 95mm Irix Edge Filters circular polariser.

Conditions were vile with sun and rain in rapid succession and the shot will never win any prizes, but it does help show that the filter does not effect sharpness in the image, and is a lot more colour-neutral than a lot of CPLs out there on the market.

The second shot is with the ND1000 stacked on top of the CPL – and again there is no noticeable lack of sharpness.

When you stack the filters there IS a SMALL amount of vignetting as seen in the uncropped/unedited raw file below:

D8E3514 900x601 Irix Edge FiltersBut that’s easily taken care with a little bit of content aware fill in Photoshop, so you don’t HAVE to crop it out:

D8E3514 Edit 900x601 Irix Edge Filters

And just for reference, here’s the unfiltered scene:

D8E3516 900x601 Irix Edge Filters

God – how boring!

As a final testament to the stacked CPL + ND1000 Irix Edge Filters combo, here’s a shot from Howden Reservoir in the Peak District, taken yesterday directly into the teeth of ex-hurricane Ophelia:

D8E3562 Edit Edit Edit 601x900 Irix Edge Filters

Howden Reservoir during Ophelia.

If you look at the larger image, considering the fact that this is a 15 second exposure and that everything not nailed down is moving, then this image is plenty sharp enough – check out the fence lines on the hill, and the left tower of the dam in the distance.

Do NOT forget, this is a 15mm lens, not a more conventional 21mm to 24mm lens.

I could not pull this shot off with a Zeiss 15mm – no filters and bad edge performance.  And I couldn’t pull it off as easily with the Nikon 14-24mm because the filters would have been unshaded from the sunlight off to my front right.

I was asked a couple of weeks ago ‘how neutral are the Irix Edge Filters Andy’?

It turns out the person who asked me had just read about some U.S branded CPL and ND filters that are supposed to be the most color-neutral filters on the market.  This is also the same guy who still uses a Mark 1 Lee Big Stopper with its phenomenal blue/green cast.

“Do you ever change the colour balance, hue, saturation or luminance of any of your 8 colour channels in Lightroom, and the Basics Panel vibrance and saturation sliders?” I asked.

“Of course I do” came the reply.

“So why are you asking about filter neutrality then?” asks I.  This was followed by a long silence, then the penny dropped…!

Yes, we all want some degree of filter neutrality because it shortens our workflow; but please remember that we are not shooting archive.  We shoot creative imagery.  We make shots of ice bergs have a blue tint to emphasize the cold atmospheric of the image, and we invariably warm up and saturate certain areas of every sunset image we ever take.

So to a large degree, full neutrality of of our landscape filters is not required, as long as they are neutral enough NOT to exclude certain wavelengths/colours of light from our recorded raw files.

And yes, on the neutrality front, these Irix filters are very good.  The ND1000 is a little brown/warmish, but about 20% less so than the B&W screw in 10 stop I used to use – and no one ever complained about that filter.

I did a very ‘Heath Robinson’ test on the Irix 95mm CPL and got a colour shift of 2,7,5 RGB, but I’m just waiting for Paul Atkins to get back of his holiday so I can use his small colourimeter to check it more accurately – so PLEASE don’t go quoting that value or treating it as hard fact.

I’ll do an colour shift evaluation test on a range of filters at some date in the future, but for now all I can say is that I find the 95mm range of Irix Edge Filters exceptionally easy to work with both in terms of colour rendition and image sharpness.

So much so that I’m going to try and ‘bum’ an 82mm and 77mm step-down rings so I can use them on my Zeiss and Nikon lenses – apart from the 14-24 that is, which is now banished from my landscape and astro gear line-up for ever.

In the meantime, guess what? Irix have asked me to do a talk at Camera World Live on Saturday 28th October!

I’ll be doing my brief talk at 3pm – see here – and I’ll be on the Irix stand all day, so if you are there, just pop along for a chat or any advise you want.

August News – Nikon D850 Thoughts

 Nikon D850 – Initial Thoughts.

2 900x506 August News   Nikon D850 Thoughts

Before we get into my initial thoughts about the D850 “leaked specs”, Roger Styles read my D5 post from the other week and asks:

“Very interesting…and I wonder if you would care to suggest how the D500 with a 300mm f4 lens would have performed? Similar? Worse? or heaven forbid better?”

Well Roger, all I can say is that I’m not really in a position to comment on how the MultiCam 20K system worked out on the D500/300mmPF combo (I didn’t use it) but I do have  D4S, D5 and D500 7200ISO shots so you can compare the image quality with regard to noise etc:

D501122 900x600 August News   Nikon D850 Thoughts

Nikon D500, 300mm f4 PF, 1/2500th @ f8, ISO 7200. Click to view full size

D5A8309 900x600 August News   Nikon D850 Thoughts

Nikon D5, 500mm 1/2000th @ f8, ISO 7200. Click to view full size

4SB0435 900x599 August News   Nikon D850 Thoughts

Nikon D4S, 400mm f2.8 1/2500th @ f8, ISO 7200. Click to view full size

Bare in mind I’m only illustrating IQ here – so look at the out-of-focus areas and darker tones to see the differences.

Roger – I can’t offer you any real comparisons between the D5 and D500 AF performance,  but from other tests I’ve done with the D500/300PF combo I’d say it performs the same or slightly better than the D5.  But only because you are using a shorter focal length lens with theoretically greater depth of field for any given aperture and distance – therefore more AF errors are masked by DoF.

Why does the D500 image look so crappy?

The answer is simple – too many mega pixels and not enough light!

The more megapixels you squeeze into a fixed area, the smaller each one of those photosites has to be.

There are two main problems with making photosites smaller:

  1. Reduced Dynamic Range
  2. Increased Diffraction

Overall, the sensor becomes more light-hungry.

Let’s put these three sensors on an even playing field with regard to crop factor:

D4/D4S = 16MpFX = 8Mp x1.5 crop

D5 = 20.8MpFX = 10.4Mp x1.5 crop

D500 = 20.9Mp x1.5 crop = 41.8MpFX

The IQ implications of these figures are illustrated in the images above!

And this brings me nicely around to the new Nikon D850.

maxresdefault 900x506 August News   Nikon D850 Thoughts

I got rather excited about the idea of this camera when it was first thought to have a hybrid OVF/EVF – the implications for using the plethora of super-sharp older manual lenses with modern focus-peaking in an EVF made me go all swoony!

But alas, this was not to be, and instead, all we have is a pumped up FX D500 – if the leaked specifications are to be believed.

The D850 is NOT a replacement for the D810 – anyone who thinks that is an idiot.

Let’s look at these leaked specifications:

  • 45.75MP FX full frame CMOS sensor – clipped Dynamic Range then, nice one Nikon
  • 180,000 RGB sensor that’s same as the D5, with better face detection and enhanced scene recognition – really?
  • Native ISO range of 64-25600 (expandable to 32-108400) – meaningless at the top end, and I doubt the base ISO will actually be 64ISO
  • 153-point AF system with 30% more frame coverage than the D5 – a higher resolution sack of angry weasels!
  • Center AF point -4EV, and all others -3EV – same as the D5
  • 8K timelapse shooting – Who in their right mind shoots time lapse and allows the camera to process and assemble it? Oh yeah, that’s right – dickheads!
  • 4K UHD video recording in FX with no crop – pass
  • 51-photo buffer when shooting in 14-bit uncompressed RAW – GOOD. That’s really a data-pushing miracle, to be honest
  • 3.2″, 2.36-million-dot tilting LCD touchscreen with improved gesture control – tilty screens are useful but straight away are a weak point.  But what use is gesture control when you’ve got gloves on ‘cos it’s -30 below?
  • 7fps continuous shooting standard, 6fps with autofocus, 9fps when using a battery grip – here’s where the price tag will go over £4000, because the grip will be £400 plus if I know Nikon!
  • 30fps at 8MP using the electronic shutter – 8Mp raws from a 48Mp sensor – what a spiffingly top notch idea.  And is that 30fps available silently?
  • RAW can be small, medium, and large resolutions – For F***s SAKE WHY would you buy a huge capacity camera and then shoot small files with it?  Has the world gone bloody mad?
  • 0.75x magnification viewfinder, the first for a full-frame DSLR – GREAT, but you can buy an adaptor to do the same thing to the majority of existing Nikons.
  • Focus stacking. The camera can shoot up to 300 photos with 10 levels of bracketed focus from nearest to infinity for software to stack afterwards – I have every confidence that this will turn out to be crap!  It’s a gimmick to get the unskilled to part with their money.  Aimed at macro and landscape photographers who can’t be bothered to tweak their focus manually.
  • Natural Light AWB achieves better white balancing in natural light – stupid gimmick
  • Completely silent electronic shutter while shooting in live view. – could be useful for sports if it works with fast shutter speeds
  • There’s no low-pass filter – GOOD – why couldn’t they do that on the D5?
  • SD + XQD card slots – Jesus Christ – Nikon need to grow up and stop mixing media

So as I’m sure you can tell, the Nikon D850 is not setting my world on fire.

What could Nikon have given us?

A hybrid OVF/EVF with an RGBW sensor and keep the capacity down to 36Mp or a tad less would have made a good impression with me for starters.

You have to have been asleep for months to not have heard something about the Fuji GFX medium format.  That’s running at 51.4Mp on a 1441mm2 sensor, which is roughly 1.67x the area of an FX 35mm camera.

Simple maths tells us that if we trimmed the GFX sensor to fit in a 35mm DSLR then it would be – that’s right, 30Mp.  The world of photography is populated by frigging idiots who just keep clamouring for more megs – and the camera manufacturers give them what they ask for simply because the idiots spend money like it’s going out of fashion.

Listen, if you want 50 megapixels or more, then go and buy a medium format camera and get 50 megs worth of good dynamic range with nominal diffraction.

Do not buy a Nikon D850 then stick a wide angle lens on and stop down to f22 – the image will be unusable at full resolution – and I don’t need to see a raw file to know that; it’s simple physics.

How this camera will stack up on the sports/action/wildlife front remains to be seen, but I don’t see how it can even be as good as a D5 – and that’s not brilliant.

To get the full potential out of the D850 for sports/action/wildlife then you will need the vertical grip AND an ENEL18A battery or two, and a charger, because I don’t think the D850 has USB charging.

An ENEL18A battery at Park Cameras is £169.00 and a genuine MH-26a charger is crazy money anywhere!

So you will be looking at more than £4000 – and I can think of far more sensible ways to spend that lump of cash.

Nikon promised us something really special to celebrate their 100th aniversary – this ain’t special Nikon!  It’s nothing more than the DSLR equivalent of a click-bait video.

But then again, I’m going on “leaked specifications” – and they could all be lies, smoke and mirrors.  We will have to wait and see what the real specs are when Nikon officially announce the D850.


Irix 15mm Blackstone f2.4 – First Night Test

 Irix 15mm Blackstone f2.4 – First Night Test

As I said way back in my in-depth review of this awesome bit of kit, I was originally interested in the Astro photography potential of the Irix 15mm Blackstone/Firefly lens.

Monday night – 24th July – saw myself and Rik heading for Snowdonia in North Wales, and in particular the small wooden foot bridge over Afon Idwal, just a ways up the old miners track behind Ogwen Cottage.

The weather forecast was for clear skies, and Google Earth in conjunction with Stellarium and TPE told me that around 11 pm the Milky Way would be over said small wooden bridge.  So we packed a few things and off we toddled.

D4D6145 3 2 2 2b 589x900 Irix 15mm Blackstone f2.4   First Night Test

IMPORTANT: THERE IS NO SHARPENING ON THIS IMAGE. All 33 image frames (32 light frames plus the long exposure frame) had ZERO sharpening applied during processing. The Milky Way towers high in the night sky over the mountains of Snowdonia in North Wales. A small wooden footbridge over the rushing waters of the River Idwal forms the focal point.

The place was rammed with people coming down off the mountains – and a pile going up as well – as it transpires, they were having an all-night party on the shores of Llyn Idwal higher up the track – nutters!

The Welsh midges were out in force and doing their best impression of man-eating tigers and guess who forgot to bring the mozy repellent!

The composition I was after entailed me setting up on the path and shooting straight along the bridge,  so I set the camera up with the Irix 15mm Blackstone set on the infinity click stop and the focus locked with the locking ring.  I knew from all the testing I’d done that this would give my tack sharp stars even with the aperture wide open and that stopping down to f6.3 or narrower would render a sharp foreground to around 1.5 metres.

The ‘plan’ was to shoot a foreground image at low ISO during twilight in order to save having to shoot a long exposure with LENR under total darkness – and that’s exactly what I did, then it all went a bit ‘Pete Tong’!

What caused the confusion was my Photpills app on my iPhone telling me that the Milky Way was already where I needed it to be in about another hour and a half, so the whole shot was not going to work – bear in mind the sky is still too bright to see any stars.

So like an idiot I believed it and moved the camera, looking for another composition that would work – as it transpired a fatal mistake.

A lesson for the future – if a mobile app does not match up with Stellarium, the Photographers Ephemeris and Google Earth try restarting the phone and re-calibrating the compass!!

After 45 minutes of struggling to find another composition using the new projected position of the Milky Way in the growing darkness, I looked up and saw the Summer Triangle – in exactly the position that my original plan had calculated.

After a short bout of self-directed expletives based around men’s dangly-bits and the act of procreation, I got the camera back in something approximating its original position, but of course, the original framing would be ‘off’ so my initial low ISO foreground shot was useless.

Starting over, I set the camera to shoot 32 frames in continuous low and used a locking cable release to shoot  rapid sequences of 32 frames – an easy way to do the job that does not always work too well with a big zoom like the Nikon 14-24, or Canon 16-35 – occasionally you can get ‘mirror vibration’ effects on your images.  But with a short-barreled prime like the Irix 15mm, this is not a problem I ever see.

By around 11.30pm I’m happy with the sky shots I have in the can, but now comes the long exposure foreground shot.

I’m actually dreading this shot as it’s going to take a long time to produce and I’m anticipating some of those aforementioned party goers to come wandering back down the track with head-torches waving around all over the place.

I opted for a 10-minute exposure with long exposure noise reduction enabled in the camera – so the shot is going to take 20 minutes to produce.

Twenty minutes later, the shot on the back of the camera indicated that in reality, it needed around another stop and a half-ish of exposure time.  I’d got away with no torches wandering through this shot, but if I did another, longer one I was certain it would get ruined.

So I shot 32 dark frames and another couple of 32 frame sequences, then we packed the gear away and headed for home.

Screen Shot 2017 07 25 at 16.58.11 900x506 Irix 15mm Blackstone f2.4   First Night Test

The total number of frames for this shot with the Irix 15mm was 85 and comprise of:

  • 32 light frames 6secs @f4 6400 ISO
  • 32 dark frames 6secs @f4 6400 ISO
  • 1x 600sec @f6.3 400 ISO – (no need for re-focus so no focus breathing problems).
  • 20 frames to make the master flat file

(If you to learn why we shoot so many frames and what to do with them all then buy my latest Astro photography training video HERE).

stars100percent 900x858 Irix 15mm Blackstone f2.4   First Night Test

Made from 32 images with 32 dark frames and a flat-field frame by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.4.0. Click to view full size.

As you can see from the image above, stars are tack sharp (even with no sharpening added in post), and coma is minimal.  And most importantly there is plenty of colour in those fainter stars – something that is a little harder to achieve with the ubiquitous Zeiss glass.

I could improve the image quality even further by correct that minimal coma in Photoshop with a custom brush and the clone tool, and make a star mask and reduce the noise even more (see my training videos if you want to know more!).

And of course, if I hadn’t had the wobble over composition then perhaps I would have ended up with something like this:

D4D5907 2 600x900 Irix 15mm Blackstone f2.4   First Night Test

Or something in between the two!

But either way, the session proved to equal or exceed my expectations of this Irix 15mm lens capabilities.

So, am I impressed by how this lens performs under Astro photography conditions?  You bet I am!

I’ll never use my trusty Nikon 14-24 for Astro photography ever again as far as I can see – why would I…

Sharp focus with the Irix 15mm is so easy to achieve, and there is now no reason to re-focus on closer foreground objects – all I need to do is stop down the aperture a bit.  So that’s all those focus-breathing errors out the window for starters.

Then, there is less coma, less chromatic aberration and a lot less barrel distortion.

When fumbling around in the dark, personally I think it would be good if Irix could increase the diameter of the focus locking ring, but that’s such a minor point it’s only just barely worth a mention.

What’s next?

Irix have just sent me a set of their new Edge 95mm screw-in filters, including 10x and 7x ND filters and the circular polarizer – so some daytime landscapes seem to be in order over the next couple of weeks.

I just wish I’d had the 11mm for the shot of the Milky Way!

Nikon D5 Extended Test

Nikon D5 Extended Test

The last week in June saw me in Norway doing something a bit different from the norm – photographing eagles all week with a 500mm prime – real hard work!

But I thought the task would be made slightly easier with the Nikon D5 running with generation 2 firmware; that is v1.10

And after a solid week of shooting my verdict is – WOEFUL!

The auto focus is still as predictable and user-friendly as a sack full of weasels, but what I found truly appalling is the image quality at lower ISO values – and by lower I mean sub-3200 ISO!

D5A0836 900x600 Nikon D5 Extended Test

Click image to view full size

D5A0836crop 900x808 Nikon D5 Extended Test

Click image to view full size

Shooting in Manual Exposure/Auto ISO is the most efficient way of shooting any action, especially with long glass,  but allowing the Nikon D5 to choose its ISO speed just highlights its single massive drawback – poor low ISO performance.

The shot above is at ISO 250, 1/2000th sec and f8.  The crop shows the simple adjustments done to the shot inside the Lightroom Basic panel, and as you can see there is nothing untoward there.

But just look at that appalling level of noise in the underside of the wings – as I said before – WOEFUL.

In this next image, we see the same eagle shot at the same time with the D5 (left) and a D4S (fitted with a 400 f2.8, right). Both cameras are in d25 AF mode, 1/2000th sec, f8 and ISO 1100:

D5A7655 900x564 Nikon D5 Extended Test

Click image to view full size

Both images have had a ‘zeroed’ process applied to them in Lightroom followed by a process version swap to kill the excess contrast added by Lightroom in the background.

Again there is excess noise under the wing together with detail degradation in the D5 shot on the left.

As a final comparison, here is the same moment in time caught on the D5, D4S and 1DXMk2. All 3 images have a flat, neutralised process in Lightroom with no added output sharpening:

D5A7649 900x600 Nikon D5 Extended Test

Nikon D5, 500mm 1/2000th, f8, ISO 1600
Click to view full size.

4SB0284 900x599 Nikon D5 Extended Test

Nikon D4S, 400mm, 1/2000th, f8, ISO 1250
Click to view full size.

B39I9903 900x600 Nikon D5 Extended Test

Canon IDXMk2, 400mm, 1/200th, f6.3, ISO 640
Click to view full size.

You do really have to view these images at their full size.

On the whole, I have to say that the 1DXMk2 is the worst image in terms of IQ – both Nikons have it beaten to death – which I must admit surprises me considering the ideal lighting conditions.

But as for the two Nikon shots the D4S still produced the slightly better IQ, lens differences aside, there is still slightly more noise in the D5 shot.

The other error in the D5 shot is due to the sack of angry weasels – the auto focus – the shot is not sharp.  But funnily enough the previous frame was:

D5A7648 900x600 Nikon D5 Extended Test

Click to view full size.

As ever, the Nikon AF tends to bounce around a little bit. Even though the D5 has the new Multicam 20K system there is still the same problem of subtle focus bounce that I personally try and negate by shooting at f8 – hoping that the extended DoF will mitigate its visual effect.

But it doesn’t always work, and the D5 will still sometimes drop focus completely on the ‘pick shot’ when the eagle hits the water.

Over the course of the week, I tried pretty much every conceivable permutation of Blocked Shot Response/Subject Motion/AF Mode settings that made any sense – and a few that didn’t – and to be honest they were all as bad as each other.  In the end, I settled on BSR/SM settings at default ‘out the box’, and Group AF mode – but that was way less than perfect.

Ole Martins eagles do represent possibly the most testing scenario for any camera auto focus system, but overall I have to say that for this particular job the D5 AF is an epic fail and a retrograde step – the D4/D4S faired much better.

And both Nikon systems get kicked into touch by the Canon system,  but the IQ of the 1DXMk2 lets it down somewhat, especially in comparison to the Nikon D4/D4S.

I’m certain that better IQ can be had from the Canon system if only Canon would give its users a firmware update to record uncompressed raw; something I’ve been banging on about for years.

But this post is about the Nikon D5 image quality at lower ISOs – and in all honesty, it’s CRAP.

Further Nikon D5 AF thoughts:

Typically of Nikon, they bring out another firmware update just after I use the damn thing for a week.  I’ve not tried the new firmware yet but the ‘added AF modes’ of a single row and single column closest point have a certain smack of desperation in my eyes.

I know that OEM AF calibration is done in both the horizontal and vertical planes.  So to give a camera the ability to use its horizontal calculations and to ignore its vertical ones, and vice versa says to me that there is an imbalance between its x and y axis ‘workings out’.  Couple this with forcing the AF to pick the closest point on the subject under that row or column is basically a case of ‘hedging your bets’ even further.

Nikon should have done exactly what Canon did, and simply refine their existing AF system instead of adding a shed-load of these tracking sensors – there are just TOO MANY points resulting in too much information, and any errors between vertical and horizontal are just being amplified.

I cannot find any visual representation of the two new modes, called group-area AF (VL) with 5 points, and group-area AF (HL) with 11 points.  But if they are as described then they will be ignoring the fixed tracking points. If that is indeed the case, and these modes actually give a marked improvement, then the whole system is a waste of time and effort because it is the plethora of fixed tracking points that form the main distinction between the Multicam 3500 FX and 20K systems.

But hey, that’s just my opinion and I’m not really in possession of all the facts yet.


Lens Review – Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

D4D1060 2 2 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

I heard a few rumors about the new Irix lenses before I went to Iceland back in March, but could I find one to even look at let alone test – no, they seemed as elusive as hens teeth.

But last month I was invited by the Irix marketing and distribution team to give one a beating!

The one lens in the range that piqued my interest the most was the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 – and here’s why:

  1. F2.4
  2. Supposed lack of CA
  3. Supposed lack of barreling
  4. 15mm PRIME
  5. Focus locking ring
  6. Hard focus stops
  7. Infinity click/detent
  8. Good old-fashioned engraved focus scale with DoF, IR and hyperfocal markings
  9. Solid all-metal construction
  10. Removable lens hood – the importance of this will be pointed out later.
  11. Price point – for the money this lens COULD represent epic value for money – but only testing & evaluation will confirm that.

All-in-all the lens appeared to be a dream for wide-field astro photography and sweeping vista landscapes – just such a shame I couldn’t get hold of one for my Iceland trip.

So a couple of weeks ago I met up with Charles Woods of Charles Talks fame – a real nice guy who moves in far higher circles than I do being the go-to contact for Leaf, Cambo and many other gorgeous lines of photographic loveliness.  If Charles takes on a brand then it’s worthy of some very serious considerations.

The Lens:

The Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 packaging is like a babushka – it’s a lens in a semi-rigid case, in a tin, in a box! (excuse the slightly dog-eared box but it’s been around a bit!).

Inside the tin you will also find a world-wide warranty card, a multi-lingual introduction booklet – AND, a SPARE rear lens cap; a nice touch Irix.

15mmPak Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Open the zipped case and there is your lens with the lens hood reversed:

15mmPak2 1 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Remove the lens, turn the lens hood around, line up the registration lines on the hood and lens, then twist until it locks into position:

15mm Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

A couple of interesting features on the lens you MAY find useful:

15mmPak3 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

On the underside of the lens hood (if it’s on the top you’ve got the hood upside down) you will see a sliding door.  If you push this forward it will reveal a gap  – fit a 95mm screw-in polarizer and you can rotate it as necessary then slide the door back until it ‘clicks’ shut.

And on the rear of the lens there is a built-in gelatin filter holder – Irix have put a lot of thought into the ‘bells & whistles’ on these lenses.

My Thoughts – personally I have to say that these two features may well be very useful for studio/indoor photography BUT – try fitting tiny gelatins in a force eight gale when shooting landscapes!  And as for polarizing filters – they never really work well on lenses with such a wide angle of view because their effects are virtually non-existent on all but the center of the image.

It’s vitally important that the filter access door is ‘clicked’ closed, otherwise it can cause a small amount of flaring – I’ve taped it on the outside so I can’t open it by accident, and I’ll be using 150×150 filters and a 95mm adapter ring for the holder.

Being a bit ‘old skool’ I’m never a big fan of light weight plastic lenses if truth be told,especially when it comes to wide angles. So holding the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 is a real pleasure for me with its all metal construction, and honestly, it’s built like a tank.

The lens itself is manual focus only and available in Nikon F, Pentax K & Canon EF mount options, and features a 9 curved-blade aperture together with 15 elements in 11 groups.

15mmElements 1 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

The focus ring is silky smooth and has more resistance than your typical Zeiss Distagon, which in my opinion is a good thing.  The other attribute of the focus ring is the long throw, which is a lot longer than the 15mm Distagon and comparing it to the short throw, fast focus ring on the venerable Nikon 14-24, this Irix lens should be a dream to use for both daytime and night landscape photography.

I have to add a note here about the focus ring on the Nikon 14-24.  It is far too fast/short for precise manual focus without a heck of a lot of practice.

Focus Scale & Focus Locking Ring:

15mmPak4a Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Just ahead of the main focus ring is the focus locking ring – one of the main features of the lens I found piquing my interest in the first place, especially for wide-field astro work where focus is super critical, and accidental movement of the focus ring easily happens.  In the image above the focus is not quite fully unlocked – the unlock indicator should be just about in line with main focus indicator line on the focus scale/vertical white line after the ’15’ on the lens bell for normal focus operation.  Turn the locking ring to the left until it stops – don’t over tighten/force it – and your focus is locked.

The focus scale itself is excellent, and packed with all the information you could ever need if truth be told.

There is a definite ‘click’ as you focus at infinity, and there is even an infra-red focus mark.  You have DoF indicators for f8, 11 & 16 together with hyperfocal distance markings for the same apertures.

There is also one more feature of this lens that I have not mentioned yet, and that’s because it isn’t something you should really ‘mess about’ with unless you know what you are doing!  I am talking about this on the underside of the lens bell:

15mmPak4b Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Details of how to use this feature can be found on Page 8 of the downloadable Extended User manual HERE.

My Thoughts – just about every manufacturer of lenses of this focal length will do a ‘factory infinity calibration’ calculated at beyond 50 meters.

As a landscape photographer your eye level horizon at sea level is around 4700m, and the clouds touching the horizon may be well over 100km away.  Focused at infinity and stopped down to f11 or f16 they WILL be sharp due to DoF.

However, shooting the sky at night at f2.4, f2.8 – in other words with NO DoF to help you out – you will invariably find that you need to focus just before, or more rarely just after, the infinity mark in order to get those stars tack sharp.

A close star like Arctaurus is more than 36.5 light years away, and Polaris – the Pole Star here in the northern hemisphere – is 433.8 light years away.  What I’m trying to say here is that there are many ‘degrees of infinity’ and some types of photography require greater accuracy than others.

Experience has taught me that at 14mm and f2.8 sharp focus on street lights at night from around 15km and an elevated position work perfectly for pin-sharp stars.  Some people then tape the lens focus ring, but using the focus locking ring on the Irix is a tidier solution.

But Irix go a step further than that and give you the ability to MOVE the position of the infinity indicator to correspond with a true visual infinity.  PLEASE READ the manual before attempting to do this yourself.

So this Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 is perhaps the most well-appointed lens I’ve ever come across – but now it’s time for the rubber to meet the tarmac and actually do some testing.

Comparative testing

It made sense to compare the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 to possibly the best known and more expensive lenses in this super-wide lens class, namely the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 and the Zeiss Distagon 15mm f2.8 ZF2.  There seemed very little point in comparing the Irix to the likes of the Rokinon/Samyang 14mm prime as I would expect the Irix to out-perform it by a good stretch, and thus not show how far the Irix ‘punches above its own weight’.

I’ve been wanting a prime to replace the Nikon 14-24mm, especially for night sky photography, for quite some time.  To that end I have tried three different examples of the Samyang 14mm f2.8 and found them all terrible with the aperture wide open when used on a 36Mp camera.  The images from it might appear okay shrunk down to 1920 x 1080 and run in a time-lapse video, but for full resolution stills and large display prints I have found all three examples I have tried to be inferior in terms of sharpness and coma.

lenscomp Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

So having decided on the two comparison lenses my first test was for vignetting.

Vignette Test Results:

The images below were all produced using the standard DSO Flat Frame production technique of imaging a diffused D65 light source with the lens focused at infinity.

(Click the image to open in a new window and click again to view at full size)

15mmBlackstoneVigTest 1 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Vignette testing the IRIX 15mm Blackstone lens against the Zeiss Distagon 15mm f2.8 ZF2 and the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 @15mm. (Click the image to open in a new window and click again to view at full size).

Now before anyone gets ‘all hot and bothered’ about the vignetting on the Irix at wider apertures, here’s where the advantage of a removable lens hood comes into play.  Taking the lens hood off after you have produced your image enables you to easily produce a flat calibration frame using an LCP filter – something that the medium and large format photographers have been doing for years.  Combining these frames is easy inside the likes of Lightroom, and the process removes all vignetting, colour shifts and dust spots from your images.

Of course, you can produce flat calibration frames for the likes of the Nikon or Zeiss – I do it all the time – but you have to make them in the same manner as I made the test shots above.  But it is imperative that you shoot them at the same focus distance, ISO, focal length and aperture as your image frames.

But using the Irix makes the process very simple and it takes just a few seconds to produce a calibration frame which is customized for your composition and lighting levels.

So despite what you might think, vignetting is irrelevant – especially on lenses with a removable lens hood.

Sharpness & Diffraction, Resolution, Chromatic Aberration, Native Lens Color Cast & Contrast Testing.

Please make sure you view these images at 100% magnification by clicking on them.

This test was carried out at a focus distance of 12.5 inches and lacking a proper test bed, getting everything parallel and centered was quite time-consuming I can tell you!

All images shot in manual mode at ISO200 using shutter speeds that rendered a +/-0Ev on the cameras internal meter.

There are some subtle exposure variations between shots from the same lens in each of the three tests which is due to the use of cold cathode lighting, its flicker frequency and the shutter speeds used, but the variation is negligible and for our purposes totally irrelevant.

There has been no sharpening, CA correction, luminance or color noise reduction or other process settings applied to any of the images you see below except for white balance.

The first set of images show the low right optical center 770 pixel square from the D800E raw files.  The second set of images show the same 770 pixel square from the bottom left corner of the frame, and the third set that of the top center.  I chose the low right center because we are interested in the rendering of the higher lpm (line pairs per millimeter) resolving power of the three lenses being tested.  The axial center is located in the middle of the concentric circles:

Centers Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Sharpness & Diffraction, Resolution & CA, Native Lens Contrast & Colorcast test results.
Image Center Low Right
Camera used: Nikon D800E.

Immediately one or two things are apparent.

The Zeiss is the sharpest at apertures wider than f5.6, and both the Nikon and Irix catch up with it by the time we get to f8.

So above (wider than) f8 the Irix would appear to be less sharp than the Zeiss – but things are never quite so cut and dried as they appear.

The Zeiss is not quite as sharp as you think because it’s got a higher degree of transmitted contrast – something a lot of people would be mistaken in thinking is due to the so-called ‘Zeiss pop’**.  If I remove -20 contrast from the Zeiss f5.6 image and equalize the black and white greyscale values in Photoshop, then the difference between it and the Irix at f5.6 appears to be significantly less than we first thought:

Zeiss equalise to Irix Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Zeiss Distagon @ f5.6 (left0 vs Irix Blackstone @ f5.6 (right) with black point and white point greyscale values in the Zeiss image modified to closely approximate those of the Irix image.

** the so-called ‘Zeiss pop’ is down to sublime MICRO-CONTRAST, and the 15mm Distagon has very little of it.  You need to look at Zeiss lenses longer than 25/30mm before you even begin to see it.

And the Nikon exhibits the same tendency, though not as extreme as the Zeiss.

So all in all, from an image center sharpness point of view the Irix has good level of performance.

The Irix seems to consistently produce a ‘warmer’ image at f2.4 than at f2.8 and beyond, which is a bit odd, but again easily correctable in post so not of any real concern – unless you are crazy and shooting jpeg-only of course.

The next observation we can make is image center CA.  All 3 lenses exhibit good anti CA in their image centers, but if you look carefully you will see that the best performer is the Irix.  The Zeiss is second best, and the most obvious CA can be seen on the Nikon images.


On the diffraction side of things we can see diffraction begins to show at apertures smaller than f11.  But diffraction is caused by the inter-relationship of lens aperture Airy Disc and sensor CoC (circle of confusion).  As long as the lens aperture Airy Disc is SMALLER than the sensor CoC, diffraction will not be a problem.

When the Airy Disc and sensor CoC are of equal size the combination of lens and camera sensor is said to be at its ‘diffraction limit’.

These images were produced using a 36Mp Nikon D800E, which is diffraction limited to f14 at best, and more usually f13.  Switching out to a 20Mp Nikon D4 I’m diffraction limited to f16 or 18, and on a 12Mp D3 I can get away with f20.

So diffraction has little to do with the lens and everything to do with the camera sensor, and if I had used a Nikon D3 for the above tests then f22 on all 3 lenses would look a lot sharper!

Lens Native Color Cast:

We can also just about see the Zeiss has a vestige of a green cast, and the Nikon a slight blueish one while the Irix stays fairly neutral (other than at f2.4).

The CA/Color & Resolution story takes on a whole different meaning though when we move off-axis and look at the image sides and corners:

Sharpness Diffraction Resolution CA Native Lens Contrast Colorcast Nikon D800E Image lower left corner Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Sharpness & Diffraction, Resolution & CA, Native Lens Contrast & Colorcast test results.
Image Lower Left Corner
Camera used: Nikon D800E. (Click the image to open in a new window and click again to view at full size).

Between the Nikon & Zeiss that’s £3500 worth of glass at f2.8 out-performed by a much cheaper lens at f2.4 – gives you something to think about doesn’t it.

Now let’s take a look at the top center:

topmid 1 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Sharpness & Diffraction, Resolution & CA, Native Lens Contrast & Colorcast test results.
Image Top Center
Camera used: Nikon D800E. (Click the image to open in a new window and click again to view at full size).

In both of the off-axis comparison tests you can easily tell which lens is the winner in the CA stakes – the Irix, and by a huge margin too.

Yes it does exhibit some CA at the image margins, but far less than the other two lenses.

CA removal can sometimes have a detrimental effect on convoluted edges in your images due to the manner in which it works.  Ordinarily these errors don’t have much of a visual impact in your shots, but the larger your sensors pixel count the more edge-halo problems you can experience if you try the sharpen the image, or try to create or apply masks.  I shall talk more about this later.

The inherent ‘native’ color cast of the Nikon and Zeiss lenses is plainly obvious in the off-axis test shots, as is the neutrality of the Irix.

Something else you may or may not have noticed in the above 3 test sequences is that the Nikon 14-24mm @ 15mm images all display an increased ‘image magnification’.  This is due to excessive FOCUS BREATHING of this particular lens.  Focused at such a short distance – 12.5 inches – 15mm on the Nikon carries the same magnification you would associate with perhaps a 16mm or 17mm lens.

Lens Barrelling:

D4D0955 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Lens barrelling & angle of view of the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 @ 15mm
12 feet and f14.

D4D0956 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Lens barrelling & angle of view of the Zeiss Distagon 15mm f.8 ZF2.
12 feet and f14.

D4D0957 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Lens barrelling & angle of view of the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4.
12 feet and f14.

The barrelling test loser is the Nikon – and you can also now see that, even at 12 feet, the focus breathing of the lens is resulting in a wider AoV – check the right edge of the air vent in the brick wall.

So the Nikon – at reasonable working distances – has a wider Angle of View (AoV) than the Zeiss, which in turn is marginally wider than the Irix.  I can’t say that I’m particularly bothered by this as the overall effect is minimal.

The Irix has slightly less barrel distortion than the Zeiss and so has to be the clear winner.

Coma Test

Seeing as the Irix originally piqued my interest as a super-wide prime with astro potential I’m really keen on looking at the coma it produces.

What’s Coma Andy and why does it matter to you?

First things first, here is what Coma looks like:

canon usm2 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Top Right corner Canon 16-35 USMII at 16mm & f2.8

The artifacts produced by Coma at wide apertures can make certain lenses redundant for astro photography – every single one of those upside down Cylon Warbirds is a star that’s supposed to look like a pin-prick of light.

Coma, or Comatic Aberration, is simply a distortion of off-axial point light sources.  The direction of the distortion can be sagittal (parallel to the lens diagonal), meridional (perpendicular to the lens diagonal), or a mix of both.

In the Canon lens above (that was over £1000 worth when new)  the coma is strongly meridional which is then pin-cushioned – terrible, and virtually impossible to correct for in Photoshop.  Yes, the coma vanishes at around f7/f8, but you can’t use those small apertures when shooting astro.

Contrast the image above to the one below from the Nikon 14-24:

nikon Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Top Right corner Coma on the Nikon 14-24mm @ 14mm and f2.8

Okay, the Nikon sets the bench mark – the Coma is a fairly even mix of mild meridional and sagittal distortion which can easily be corrected in Photoshop where necessary.

Let me just say that the images above were shot under perfect dark sky conditions.  The image below by comparison is most definitely NOT – the sky is full of light pollution and we can’t see the stars at their full brightness, so the next shot is a slightly unfair comparative:

irix Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Top Right corner Coma on the Irix 15mm @ f2.8

As I said, due to light pollution we can’t see any of the fainter stars, and the brighter ones look smaller.

And here is the Zeiss 15mm Distagon ZF2 under the same conditions as the Irix above:

zeiss Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Top Right corner on the Zeiss 15mm f2.8 Distagon ZF2 @ f2.8

To be honest, the level of coma in both the Irix and the Zeiss are in no way unmanageable in Photoshop, and so are of little concern. Both are mild in their extremes of the image frame corners, the Zeiss being slightly biased towards sagittal and the Irix perhaps a tiny bit more meridional.

In both lenses the distortion ‘coma tails’ are smaller than the stars diameter and so a piece of cake to remove with a coma brush in Photoshop.

And if you want to know what a ‘coma brush’ is then go and buy my My Complete Guide to Photographing and Processing Night Sky Images.

Light Transmission

When I was doing the light polluted night sky shots I mentioned earlier I became very aware of something I hadn’t really noticed before – a T-stop difference between the Irix and the Zeiss:

Tstop 600x322 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Click the image to view larger

A 6 second exposure at the same aperture (f-number) and ISO on the Zeiss is roughly as bright as a 3 second exposure using the Irix.

The middle image is 3 seconds using the Zeiss, and is noticeably darker – I would say that the Irix transmits somewhere between +0.6 and +0.75Ev more light than the Zeiss – which let’s not forget is THREE TIMES THE PRICE!


So, what do I think of the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 so far – bearing in mind that I need to test it for flare and focus breathing.  Well, I’m off to Norway for a week and hopefully I’ll get a few seascapes and high country midnight sun landscapes done in between the eagle action – and the Irix is the only superwide I’m packing!

I will conclude my review of this lens on my return from the land of the Vikings, but suffice to say, at the moment I consider possession of this lens a complete NO-BRAINER.

See my UPDATE on this lens HERE.

Nikon D7500

Nikon D7500

D7500 Nikon D7500

All week my inbox has been inundated with emails from every vendor and idiot magazine extolling the virtues of the new Nikon D7500, why I should want it, buy it, and tell everyone else to do so.

In Ephotozines announcement for example,  they state that the Nikon D7500 sits ABOVE the D7200, launched back in March 2015.  And that would be a logical assumption based on the model number wouldn’t it; the D7500 could be seen as the D7200 replacement, or at least a step up from it.


Nikon have been making basically three classes of DSLR cameras, Basic, Intermediate and Professional/Advanced.  Late last year Nikon brought out the D5600 which sat firmly in the BASIC bracket.

The D5600 importantly has:

  • No DUAL card capability
  • No AI/AIS indexing capability
  • No vertical grip capability
  • Body Only price: around £500

The D7200 has:

  • Dual Card Slots
  • AI/AIS indexing tabs
  • A  vertical Grip capability
  • Body Only price: around £850

The NEW NIKON D7500 has:

  • NO Dual Card capability
  • NO AI/AIS indexing tabs
  • NO Vertical Grip capability
  • Body Only price: around £1300

As far as I’m aware the Nikon D7500 is THE FIRST Nikon DSLR body to cost MORE than £1000 that does NOT allow you to use the FULL range of Nikon current production lenses such as the 50mm f1.2 or indeed any of the stellar AI/AIS lenses available on the used market for little money.

Ai Ais Nikon D7500

The AI/AIS tab on the Nikon lens mount – missing on the Nikon D7500.

The D7200 DOES all the above, and the D5600 does not.

Take the Nikon D7500 and swap the 7 and the 5 around and you get a Nikon D5700 – now that’s more like it!

But Andy you’re talking crap – it’s got the brain of the D500!

Yes – so they say, but it’s still got basically the same AF system as the FX D750 and DX D7200 – the 51-point MultiCam 3500 FXII, not the D500 MultiCam 20K.

But Andy you’re talking crap – it does 8 frames per second!

That’s as maybe – but how long can it keep that up for buffering to a crappy SD card?

Nikon have basically ripped the 20.9Mp sensor and Expeed 5 processor out of the D500 and jammed it into a D5600, together with the AF module from the camera YOU THINK it’s replacing, and decided to charge you more than TWICE THE PRICE.

Nice one Nikon!

Yes, image quality wise the Nikon D7500 should kick the living daylights out of both the D5600 and the D7200 if only because of the D500 SNR firmware that drives its image recording.

But at that price???

Believe me – a used D3S would crucify the Nikon D7500 on IQ alone, with the added benefit of dual CF cards and an FX sensor.

But perhaps you don’t want the glorious wide angle performance afforded you by an FX sensor.  If that’s the case then be sensible with your money and get a D500 – used ones are out there at the same sort of money as the new Nikon D7500.

It just shoots for ever buffering to an XQD card, has AI/AIS capability and can be fitted with a vertical grip.  Then the AF can be revved up a bit more by using a big battery out of the one of the FX pro bodies.

You’ve only got to look at the specs for Nikon D7500 to know it’s something of an epic FAIL!


Monitor Calibration Update

Monitor Calibration Update

Okay, so I no longer NEED a new monitor, because I’ve got one – and my wallet is in Leighton Hospital Intensive Care Unit on the critical list..

What have you gone for Andy?  Well if you remember, in my last post I was undecided between 24″ and 27″, Eizo or BenQ.  But I was favoring the Eizo CS2420, on the grounds of cost, both in terms of monitor and calibration tool options.

But I got offered a sweet deal on a factory-fresh Eizo CS270 by John Willis at Calumet – so I got my desire for more screen real-estate fulfilled, while keeping the costs down by not having to buy a new calibrator.

%name Monitor Calibration Update

But it still hurt to pay for it!

Monitor Calibration

There are a few things to consider when it comes to monitor calibration, and they are mainly due to the physical attributes of the monitor itself.

In my previous post I did mention one of them – the most important one – the back light type.

CCFL and WCCFL – cold cathode fluorescent lamps, or LED.

CCFL & WCCFL (wide CCFL) used to be the common type of back light, but they are now less common, being replaced by LED for added colour reproduction, improved signal response time and reduced power consumption.  Wide CCFL gave a noticeably greater colour reproduction range and slightly warmer colour temperature than CCFL – and my old monitor was fitted with WCCFL back lighting, hence I used to be able to do my monitor calibration to near 98% of AdobeRGB.

CCFL back lights have one major property – that of being ‘cool’ in colour, and LEDs commonly exhibit a slightly ‘warmer’ colour temperature.

But there’s LEDs – and there’s LEDs, and some are cooler than others, some are of fixed output and others are of a variable output.

The colour temperature of the backlighting gives the monitor a ‘native white point’.

The ‘brightness’ of the backlight is really the only true variable on a standard type of LCD display, and the inter-relationship between backlight brightness and colour temperature, and the size of the monitors CLUT (colour look-up table) can have a massive effect on the total number of colours that the monitor can display.

Industry-standard documentation by folk a lot cleverer than me has for years recommended the same calibration target settings as I have alluded to in previous blog posts:

White Point: D65 or 6500K

Brightness: 120 cdm² or candelas per square meter

Gamma: 2.2

Screen Shot 2017 04 02 at 13.04.25 Monitor Calibration Update

The ubiquitous ColorMunki Photo ‘standard monitor calibration’ method setup screen.

This setup for ‘standard monitor calibration’ works extremely well, and has stood me in good stead for more years than I care to add up.

As I mentioned in my previous post, standard monitor calibration refers to a standard method of calibration, which can be thought of as ‘software calibration’, and I have done many print workshops where I have used this method to calibrate Eizo ColorEdge and NEC Spectraviews with great effect.

However, these more specialised colour management monitors have the added bonus of giving you a ‘hardware monitor calbration’ option.

To carry out a hardware monitor calibration on my new CS270 ColorEdge – or indeed any ColorEdge – we need to employ the Eizo ColorNavigator.

The start screen for ColorNavigator shows us some interesting items:

colnav1 Monitor Calibration Update

The recommended brightness value is 100 cdm² – not 120.

The recommended white point is D55 not D65.

Thank God the gamma value is the same!

Once the monitor calibration profile has been done we get a result screen of the physical profile:

colnav2 Monitor Calibration Update

Now before anyone gets their knickers in a knot over the brightness value discrepancy there’s a couple of things to bare in mind:

  1. This value is always slightly arbitrary and very much dependent on working/viewing conditions.  The working environment should be somewhere between 32 and 64 lux or cdm² ambient – think Bat Cave!  The ratio of ambient to monitor output should always remain at between 32:75/80 and 64:120/140 (ish) – in other words between 1:2 and 1:3 – see earlier post here.
  2. The difference between 100 and 120 cdm² is less than 1/4 stop in camera Ev terms – so not a lot.

What struck me as odd though was the white point setting of D55 or 5500K – that’s 1000K warmer than I’m used to. (yes- warmer – don’t let that temp slider in Lightroom cloud your thinking!).

1000k Monitor Calibration UpdateAfter all, 1000k is a noticeable variation – unlike the brightness 20cdm² shift.

Here’s the funny thing though; if I ‘software calibrate’ the CS270 using the ColorMunki software with the spectro plugged into the Mac instead of the monitor, I visually get the same result using D65/120cdm² as I do ‘hardware calibrating’ at D55 and 100cdm².

The same that is, until I look at the colour spaces of the two generated ICC profiles:

profile Monitor Calibration Update

The coloured section is the ‘software calibration’ colour space, and the wire frame the ‘hardware calibrated’ Eizo custom space – click the image to view larger in a separate window.

The hardware calibration profile is somewhat larger and has a slightly better black point performance – this will allow the viewer to SEE just that little bit more tonality in the deepest of shadows, and those perennially awkward colours that sit in the Blue, Cyan, Green region.

It’s therefore quite obvious that monitor calibration via the hardware/ColorNavigator method on Eizo monitors does buy you that extra bit of visual acuity, so if you own an Eizo ColorEdge then it is the way to go for sure.

Having said that, the differences are small-ish so it’s not really worth getting terrifically evangelical over it.

But if you have the monitor then you should have the calibrator, and if said calibrator is ‘on the list’ of those supported by ColorNavigator then it’s a bit of a JDI – just do it.

You can find the list of supported calibrators here.

Eizo and their ColorNavigator are basically making a very effective ‘mash up’ of the two ISO standards 3664 and 12646 which call for D65 and D50 white points respectively.

Why did I go CHEAP ?

Well, cheaper…..

Apart from the fact that I don’t like spending money – the stuff is so bloody hard to come by – I didn’t want the top end Eizo in either 27″ or 24″.

With the ‘top end’ ColorEdge monitors you are paying for some things that I at least, have little or no use for:

  • 3D CLUT – I’m a general sort of image maker who gets a bit ‘creative’ with my processing and printing.  If I was into graphics and accurate repro of Pantone and the like, or I specialised in archival work for the V & A say, then super-accurate colour reproduction would be critical.  The advantage of the 3D CLUT is that it allows a greater variety of SUBTLY different tones and hues to be SEEN and therefore it’s easier to VISUALLY check that they are maintained when shifting an image from one colour space to another – eg softproofing for print.  I’m a wildlife and landscape photographer – I don’t NEED that facility because I don’t work in a world that requires a stringent 100% colour accuracy.
  • Built-in Calibrator – I don’t need one ‘cos I’ve already got one!
  • Built-in Self-Correction Sensor – I don’t need one of those either!

So if your photography work is like mine, then it’s worth hunting out a ‘zero hours’ CS270 if you fancy the extra screen real-estate, and you want to spend less than if buying its replacement – the CS2730.  You won’t notice the extra 5 milliseconds slower response time, and the new CS2730 eats more power – but you do get a built-in carrying handle!


Canon 5D Mk4 Review – Conclusions

Canon 5D Mk4 Review – Conclusions

2ppi 400x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

So, this has been a long time coming, but I like to be thorough you know.

The question everyone wanted answering was “is the Canon 5D Mk4 ‘better’ than the 5D Mk3 Andy”..?

The short answer is, ‘in my opinion’ a very affirmative YES.

But of course I’ve got to justify the ‘yes’ and that can be done by stating the important improvements – better image quality and autofocus.

Just the same as with its high performance cousin the 1DX Mk2, the Canon 5D Mk4 has had an impressive IQ boost brought about by one thing above all else – the SENSOR and its recorded Output.

The auto focus system has had the same overhaul found on the 1DX Mk2, and so there’s another big improvement.  Nope, the 5D Mk3 AF was NOT the same as that found on the original 1DX….

If you are a ‘tech slag’ then you’ll love the ‘touch screen’ menu, and the GPS too.

The touch screen drove me nuts when I first got hold of this camera – I hated it.  But I’ve gotten so used to it now that when I turned it off the other day I soon turned it back on – changing settings is tedious without it!


Nikon have had the lead over Canon for quite a while when it comes to RAW recording:

  • Lower noise levels – especially at low to mid-range ISOs (100 to 6400)
  • Better shadow recovery
  • Option to shoot fully uncompressed 14bit RAW

Ok, so Canon (stupidly in my opinion) still refuse to allow you to shoot true uncompressed RAW, but on the other two counts they have at long last just about caught up with the boys from Minato.

For Canon users the sensor and its recorded RAW output on both the Canon 5D Mk4 (and 1DX Mk2) is something quite revolutionary; while as a Nikon user I’ve been used to it for ages!

What is it I’m talking about?  The benefit of having the ADC ‘on sensor’ or ‘on die’ to give it the correct terminology.

Canon have previously had their ADC circuitry buried deep in their DIGIC chips which are separate from the sensor, and so require wired connection.  This leads to two distinct problems:

  1. Number of connections is physically limited.
  2. Signal Entropy!

I’ll do a separate blog post covering sensor makeup shortly.

But now with the above two camera body sensors they’ve gone the Nikon way, using ADCs integrated within the sensors themselves.

It’s a well known fact that Nikon have used Sony sensors, or made sensors of Sony design by ‘special arrangement’, for ages.

In output terms, the Canon 5D Mk4 and Canon 1DX Mk2 sensors do bare such a spookily strong likeness to the Sony Dual Pixel Exmoor design – the coincidence is staggering!

What this means is basically:

  • A lower noise floor.
  • Greater potential shadow and highlight recovery over its predecessor.

Canon 5D Mk4 Dynamic Range

There are all sorts of reviews/claims plastered across the web that claim the Canon 5D Mk4 has a greater dynamic range than the class leader Nikon D810.  These claims, all by ‘third party idiots’ mind you, not Canon, are based on test results published by DXO Mark.

Screen Shot 2017 01 03 at 10.49.29 600x311 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

If only the idiots could read a graph!

According to the graph, at base ISO the Nikon D810 kills it by well over a stop, and doesn’t fall behind until base + 2.5 stops – 300 ISO indicated.

For landscape and other high definition/resolution photography you are going to be using your camera at base ISO to maximize DR, so basically the 5D Mk4 doesn’t even come close in this respect.

Having said all that, the way DXO Mark conduct their testing is somewhat circumspect in a lot of folks opinions – mine included.  Nonetheless, these results are being regularly misinterpreted and misquoted  everywhere!

When it comes to actual ‘tripod on the ground’ dynamic range you will always and without fail find that the ‘real’ DR is lower than the ‘oft quoted’ version – why?  Because the ‘testers’ try too hard and use complex methodologies that involve maths, or ‘scaling’ techniques that look test images as 13″x19″ prints – crazy!

All I’m interested in is how much of a scenes brightness range can I record on the sensor with one single exposure; and will I need to bracket exposures.

So let’s have a look at the performance of the 5D Mk4 sensor and see how much we can milk it for:

1D9A6372 Edit 600x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

So here’s a scene outside ‘Chez Andy’ on a dull and rather overcast day – this gives the camera a better fighting chance than it would have on a bright blue sky day will full bore sunshine.

Evaluative metering gives a manual exposure reading of 1/30th sec for f8 at 100ISO (base ISO from what I can gather).

The two main regions of interest are obvious in any test of dynamic range – brightest highlights and darkest shadows, the areas indicated by the red circles, together with their spot metered values.

The indicated spot for the sky is a bit misleading – I actually pointed the camera straight up at the sky with the lens defocused and nothing but ‘sky’ in the frame!

Also, bare in mind that camera meters give you an exposure to record a tone as 50% grey!

So I shot a bracketed sequence from 1/250th to 4 secs, at 100ISO and f8.

Screen Shot 2017 01 03 at 13.43.27 600x375 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

The scene brightness range runs to a metered 11 stops, so if DXO Marks published test DR of 13.59Ev at 100 ISO (64 ISO as they would call it) is correct then one or more of these frames WILL contain detail in both the bright highlights and darkest shadows.

We might have to ‘recover’ that detail in post, but it should all be there within the recorded sensor output.

Guess what – it isn’t.  Very nearly, but not quite. Feel free to download the raw files yourself by clicking here (approx 2mins download).

To save a ton of typing and image uploading I’ll run a short video on how I do a quick assessment of the images to obtain a ‘real world’ ball-park DR value:

And purely as an exercise, what can we pull out of this single frame?

Screen Shot 2017 01 04 at 11.26.50 600x375 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

Looks somewhat HDR-ish because of the dramatic highlight and shadow recovery settings, but it just goes to show what you can pull back on this Canon 5D Mk4 sensor – you’d never pull this off on a single frame shot done with a 5D Mk3.

If I run the same type of rough analysis on the Nikon D810 and a descent bit of Zeiss glass I get a DR approximating 11.5 stops, and pretty much the same for the D800E.

More importantly, for the Canon 5D Mk3 the result is no more than 9.5 stops, but I’ve only tested it using the older 16-35mm f2.8 Mk2.

Just to clarify the DXO Mark ‘thing’ – while I either question or argue the numerical value of most of their sensor tests, the ‘trends’ identified within those results are pretty much spot on.

A good place to view more realistic DR values for a large number of sensors/cameras can be found here.

And as a final caveat regarding ANY sensor DR test – the test is based on the RECORDED SENSOR OUTPUT.  This is solely comprised of the ADC and image processors ‘digitised interpretation’ of the true ‘analogue output’ of the sensor. 

Is this a distortion of reality?  Maybe, but for the moment it’s what we’re stuck with!

So I think the Canon 5D Mk4 does pretty good on the dynamic range front, but the crazy high values the ‘third party idiots’ bandy about are just pie in the sky.

Frankly DR values of 13 to 14+ stops from a 14 bit ADC and a 36×24 sensor are something of a ‘step beyond’.  A 16 bit ADC on a medium format sensor on the other hand……but then that’s what you pay the big bucks for!

But just so we’re clear, the Canon 5D Mk4 DR is very noticeably greater than that of its predecessor.

Autofocus Performance

Now I’ve already posted about this HERE. So if you haven’t already read that then do so first.

I find the Canon 5D Mk4 noticeably faster in AF acquisition the the Mk3, and a lot more responsive when tracking subjects moving directly towards the camera.  It’s not a 1DX Mk2 under these circumstances, but I was surprised at just how close it came to its big brother in this respect.

However! Unlike the 1DX Mk2 which ‘sticks to a subject like glue no matter what’ in the tracking department, the Canon 5D Mk4 can sometimes chuck its toys out the pram when subjected to lens flare.

This means that back lit subjects CAN sometimes present a bit of a problem.

1D9A5645 600x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

Back lit compositions against a dark background and without flare cause zero problems.

But introduce a bit of flare and things can go pear-shaped very quickly:

1D9A5610 600x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

Please note: I said ‘can’ not ‘does’ – it doesn’t happen all the time.  But when it does, even keeping the AF tracking active and on target doesn’t help you when it does ‘stuff up’ – if it’s not focused in the desired plane at frame 1 it stays that way for the entire frame sequence.

This can most likely be cured with a firmware update, but as it stands at the time of writing then this shot, done with the 1DX Mk2 could be problematic:

11I5845 600x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

…when you consider it’s just one frame from a long action sequence with lens flare where every frame is sharp.

Screen Shot 2016 09 24 at 16.26.31 600x357 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

But then again, the 5D Mk4 isn’t trying to be a 1DX Mk2; it’s just trying to be better at everything than the 5D Mk3 is/was.

ISO Settings – Noise

Hopefully you will have already read my post Camera ISO Settings – The Truth About ISO

If you haven’t then may I suggest you do – pronto!

ISO, or ‘post exposure applied gain’ is all relative to the number of photons passing through the lens and being collected by the photosites on the sensor.

The net result is that a shot at base ISO can look like crap if you are trying to photograph the ubiquitous ‘black cat in the coal house at midnight’, and 10,000 ISO can look epic in the presence of huge photon counts:

1D9A4186 600x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

Great Tit. Canon 5DMkIV, Canon 500mm f4 L IS II, ISO 10,000

The Canon 5D Mk4 IS less noise at any ISO setting than its predecessor 5D Mk3, again simply because of the ‘on die’ or sensor-integrated ADC.

As I said earlier, the older Canons – and that includes the crackpot 5DS and SR – have off dye ADC components, and this limits the number of connections between the sensor and the ADC. This number was (I’m fairly certain!) limited to 8 with cameras fitted with a single Digic processor, and 16 in those with twin Digics.

In order for the system to turn a respectable image processing time this low number of communications channels or buses had to carry all the sensor data to ADCs that needed to chew it up and spit it out at a great rate of knots – in other words they are high frequency ADCs.

And here is the kicker; there is a rigid and inflexible bond between operating speed/frequency and noise.  This is the noise seen in your shadows – especially when you try to recover them by even a modest amount.

Moving the ADC ‘on die’ allows for more connections. This in turn allows for the use of ADCs with lower operating frequencies, which in turn results in a lower noise floor.

I’m not going to produce a raft of comparison shots between the Canon 5D Mk4 and its predecessor – hell, this post is long enough as it is, and there are plenty of them already on the net.

In Conclusion – Major Improvements over the 5D Mk3

The Canon 5D Mk4 IS a better camera than its predecessor in the two major attributes of a stills camera:

  1. Faster Auto Focus with greater flexibility and control.
  2. Improved Dynamic Range, Noise Floor and post-process latitude – all of which can be attributed to the switch by Canon to ‘on die’ ADC circuitry.

These above two improvements are major, and possibly more far-reaching than a lot of you may imagine.

Other Improvements:

  1. More megapixels if that floats your boat.
  2. Frame rate increased from 6fps to 7fps – though I don’t like a fixed fps personally.
  3. Touch screen menu system.
  4. Built-in GPS – which can drain the battery BTW if not set properly in the menu.
  5. Built-in Wi-Fi – which I have yet to get working!

Things I Don’t Like:

  1. Dual Pixel Raw – God in Heaven what a crock!  Dual pixel tech was created to give phase detection AF for video. But Still Camera Setting 2 on page 1 is like Canon thought “how can we turn this into a USP for the gullible stills-only camera buyer”.
  2. SD media slot – come on Canon – twin CF (not twin C-Fast) or switch to XQD.
  3. It eats batteries if you forget to turn off WiFi and GPS.
  4. Pathetic lack of proper viewfinder blind – seriously Canon!
  5. The persistent refusal of Canon to offer uncompressed RAW recording. It would take the smallest of firmware updates.  To me it just seems ridiculous not to give the user the choice as Nikon and others do.

So yes, in my opinion, the Canon 5D Mk4 is a better camera than the 5D Mk3.

If you own a 5D Mk3 have you GOT to trade it in?  That depends on what you want out of your camera and only you know that.

Would I trade in my D800E for one?  Hell NO!

But if you do fancy the upgrade from the Mk3 then, based on the review example I have here, you will see a considerable beneficial difference in your images – unless of course your name is Neil Burton!

Big thanks to Reece Piper and Calumet for supplying the Canon 5D Mk4 for review.

Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog, and my YouTube channel if you’ve viewed the video there, and as ever if you can spare a small donation via PayPal I’d be eternally grateful.

Cheers Folks!



Buy the Canon 5D Mk4 in the UK here Calumet Photographic

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3

D8E6995 1 400x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Wow, it’s a bit big!  That was the first thought I had when getting hold of this lens for the first time – I thought for a second the lovely Leanne at Calumet Manchester had given me 24-70 by mistake.

It’s longer, fatter in the barrel and somewhat heavier than its Mk2 predecessor – but is it any better?

I suppose I can be a bit more objective than most reviewers of this lens when it comes to Canon wide glass because I never use it!

Canon has always seemed to have a different ethos to that of Nikon and TPMs such as Zeiss when it comes to wide glass design.

For sports/photojournalism they have always functioned perfectly well because they are usually quite light, fast to use, versatile, cheap(ish) and adequately sharp for the job -and they’ve sold millions over the years…and rightly so.

But if you wanted a high resolution wide angle with good micro contrast and superb sharpness then, as a landscape photographer for example, you’d be struggling.

Low resolution, poor contrast, vignetting, axial and lateral chromatic aberration, extreme corner distortion and coma are typical faults with wide angle lenses across the board, but Canon wide glass has had more exemplars of these faults than most.

Don’t get me wrong, Nikon have produced some real ‘dogs’ too – just not quite as many!

Let’s face it, no Canon wide could slip into a line up of of Zeiss glass and go optically unnoticed.

When Nikon brought out the 14-24 f2.8 why did Novoflex start flogging mount adapters to Canon shooters?

The only folk who will argue with me are those that have never tried Nikon or Zeiss.

As Canon WA glass goes, the 16-35mm f2.8 Mk2 does an OK job with landscapes, and for the most part produces results very much like the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 when both lenses are shot at around 26mm to 32mm, but it leaves more than a bit to be desired when being shot wide open.

Its worst fault for me, shooting wide open, is the vile level of COMA.  There’s been many a wide-field astro shot consigned to the bin because if it.

D8E7003 400x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 with the Mk2 on the right.

So, is the new Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 an improvement – it needs to be for the price.

D8E6997 1 400x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 with the Mk2 on the right.

The Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 takes the same 82mm screw mount filters.

There is a newly re-designed lens hood.

Typical of this style of wide zoom, even though its an internal FOCUS lens, like its predecessor, it’s not strictly an internal ZOOM.  The front element moves in and out as the zoom ring is rotated, being furthest forward at 16mm, furthest back at around 26mm and then creeping forward again as we go to 35mm.

Designs like this have ‘compromise’ stamped all over them.  The legendary Nikon 14-24mm does the same sort of external zooming with its front element group, but is furthest forward at 14mm and furthest back at 24mm.  The Nikon is a super wide zoom while the Canon is a super wide to standard wide zoom.  Standard wide angle requires a different element design and layout – so COMPROMISE!

This moving front element makes all lenses designed this way ‘suckers and blowers’ so the cautious among you might want to put one of those lens protect filters on the front.

If you do, then PLEASE, don’t pay thousands for a lens and then be a cheapskate.  You lose light with every air/glass surface you place in the optical pathway.  And a lot of these filters SAY they are optically correct when they are most definitely NOT.  The finest lens in the world turns into a turd if you stick a cheap filter on it.

D8E7011 1 400x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 with the Mk2 on the right.

So let’s take a look at vignetting.  We’ll do that in two ways.

Firstly, let’s see how the vignetting at f2.8 changes with focal length, with the Mk2 on the left, and the Mk3 on the right:

Mk3f2.8FLVig 246x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Vignetting of the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk II & III at various focal lengths at a constant f2.8

Next, let’s stay at 16mm focal length on both lenses and look at the vignetting through the aperture range:

16mmVgTest 1 407x900 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Vignetting of the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk II & III at various apertures and a constant 16mm focal length.

Now these vignette results didn’t leave me in a state of shock and awe in the slightest.

You need to view the images at 100% to see the subtle improvements in the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3.

In the first test – maximum aperture vs focal length, the new variant looks equal to or slightly worse than the Mk 2 at 16mm.

But things begin to improve a bit once we are getting towards 24mm.

On the second test – 16mm vs aperture range, again we see the awful maximum aperture vignetting compared to its predecessor.

From f5.6 to f16 it’s perhaps a sliver better than the Mk2. But, notice that the images are a bit brighter.  This is most likely to do with the improvements made to the multi-coatings.

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 vs Mk2 Image Comparisons

Let me begin by saying this – 16mm on the Mk3 is NOT the same 16mm that the Mk2 has!

1D9A6348 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3 1D9A6347 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Mouse over the slider – see what I mean?

Both shots are 16mm @ f11 on the Canon 5DMk4.  The camera was locked down on my heavy Gitzo, and the camera was triggered with a Canon TC-80N3 – in other words NOTHING moved!

The images have not been adjusted in any way – no lens correction profiles – as shot.

Notice the Mk3 image has greater ‘contrast’ and is less flat-looking?

Okay, so let’s look at the ubiquitous ‘brick wall’ test.

We are doing shots on the 5DMk4 using both Mk2 and Mk3 lens variants.

  • at 200ISO
  • at f2.8, f5.6 and f11
  • at 16mm, 25mm and 35mm
  • at a fixed ‘Cloudy B1’ manual camera white balance
  • manual focusing
  • the camera has been re-focused using x10 live view between each frame.
Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 13.03.17 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window.

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.24.56 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 16mm @ f5.6

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.27.56 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 16mm @ f11

The above screen grabs give you a great ‘feel’ for all the differences in contrast and lens colour cast between the Mk2 and new Mk3 variants – these are quite significant.  Even more so when when you look at the vignetting, distortion and AoV differences.

Moving on to the full resolution comparisons:

Again, no adjustments at all other than Lightroom standard profile sharpening, and we are looking at the frame centers at 1:1 ratio:

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 13.19.28 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 16mm @ f2.8

At 16mm @ f2.8 (above) the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 is noticeably sharper than its predecessor.

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 13.31.01 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 16mm @ f5.6

Stopping down to f5.6 @ 16mm yields a better sharpness on the older Mk2 variant.  Is there a tiny bit of improved sharpness on the new Mk3 – perhaps.

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 13.42.08 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 16mm @ f11

Now at 16mm @ f11 both lenses seem ever so slightly less sharp.  But that is not down to diffraction as you’ll see later with the 25mm and 35mm tests.  I could be an error on my part when focusing, but for me to make the same mistake on two different lenses is a bit of a long shot.  I’ve re-shot and got the same result – methinks it might have something to do with that ‘compromise’ I mentioned earlier on….or, it could be me!

Moving from 16mm to 25mm and 35mm:

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.32.48 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f2.8

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.33.04 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f2.8

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.34.28 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f5.6

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.34.47 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f5.6

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.35.32 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f11

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.35.46 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f11

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.36.28 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f2.8

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.36.44 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f2.8

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.37.24 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f5.6

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.37.38 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f5.6

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.38.21 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f11

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.38.36 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f11

Make sure you have viewed all the above screen shots at full resolution.

Okay, so we have visually covered iteration comparisons for the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 and its predecessor in terms of distortion, vignetting, field/angle of view and sharpness.

In terms of stopped-down sharpness, on the Canon 5DMk4 at least, I’d expect to get into the realms of aperture diffraction around f14 to f16.

Wide open the Mk3 version stomps all over the Mk2, and I think it stays ahead through to at least f11 across the entire focal length zoom range.

Chromatic Aberration

The Mk2 16-35 f2.8 has a somewhat noticeable chromatic aberration problem, so how does the new Mk3 version measure up in comparison – both shots are 16mm @ f11:

1D9A6347 Edit 2 600x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Click the image and a full size jpeg (80% quality) will open in a new window.

1D9A6348 Edit 2 600x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Click the image and a full size jpeg (80% quality) will open in a new window.

Compare the lamp post on the right and the window and alarm box on the left of the shots.

Though still present, chromatic aberration is much reduced on the new Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3.  Along the middle axes of the image – especially the horizontal – there have been big improvements.

The Lightroom ‘remove chromatic aberration’ function cleans the raw file up beautifully without having to go anywhere near the manual corrections – just tick the checkbox. But doing the same to a Mk2 image usually leaves vestiges of both red and green fringing at the frame edges at 16mm.

Coma Test:

What’s Coma? It’s a lens design flaw which renders ‘tails’ and ‘wings’ on off-axis points of light.

And here is a shining example, courtesy of the Mk2 16-35:

J6Q7329 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Coma on the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk2 variant.


It’s not exactly the best time of year for Milky Way astro shots here in the UK – New Year as it is.  But we ventured out at midnight the other night just to test this Mk3 version of the lens.

The area is fairly local and surrounded on all sides by huge light polution but it served the purpose of the test.

Shooting wide open f2.8 @ 6400ISO, stacking 8 shots done in quick succession here’s the truth about the coma on the new Mk3 16-35mm variant:

1D9A6327 18 600x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Click the image and a full size jpeg (80% quality) will open in a new window.

It’s not the best astro you’ll ever see, but it does show that the coma is still there, but it’s a lot less intrusive.

In Conclusion

So there we have it – the new Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3.

Is it better than it’s Mk2 predecessor?  Well yes, it is – and in pretty much every aspect I’d say.

The vignetting at 16mm f2.8 is quite strong – nearly 4 stops darker than the image center.  This WILL cause you problems if you have peripheral deep shadow areas, as even on the 5DMk4, pulling 4 stops will make the shadow areas go a bit noisy.

I also think that 16mm is now more like 18mm, but what’s a couple of mills between friends ehh!

Would I buy one? Well, that depends.

If I had a Mk2 variant and needed the lens format then I would be looking to trade in immediately.

Wedding, street, sports/photojournalism and events photographers would be mad if they didn’t have one of these in their bag. And I think wildlife photographers would benefit as well – I reckon it would be perfect on the 1DX Mk2 for just about anything.

Not being a Canon shooter for anything below a 200-400 I won’t be putting it on my ‘wants’ list at all, but if you are ‘Canon-only’ then I strongly recommend you have a look at this lens.

As for landscapes and wide field astro, erm…..let’s just say there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and some are better than others.  Having said that, if you are a landscape shooter with a Mk2 variant and you can’t afford/ just don’t want a plethora of glass for specific tasks then it’s a big improvement on what you’ve already got.

Where to buy this lens in the UK – buy it here Calumet Photographic

Many thanks to Reece Piper, Leanne and Richard from Calumet for loaning this lens for the purposes of review.

And a big thanks to June Lown for the loan of the Mk2 to make the comparison.

17.5 hours that’s taken – Jesus, it’s like having a full-time job!  If this review has been useful to you then please consider chucking me a small donation – or a big one if you are that way inclined!

Many thanks to the handful of readers who contributed over the last week or so – you’ve done your bit and I’m eternally grateful to you.

Happy New Year everyone!

Gear Review 2016

Gear Review 2016

What bits of kit impressed me in 2016?

One or two for sure, but not as many as you might think, but here are the things that have made it into my office for keeps, or made my ‘wants list’!

Nikon D500.

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

Every time I grab hold of one of these 1.5x crop DSLR bodies I find myself wanting one more and more – cracking little camera.

I find the new Nikon auto focus system works better on this body than it does on the lamentable D5.

The 10 frames per second frame rate will drop noticeably to around 7fps with continuous dynamic tracking, but that’s not a bad thing really.

Get an XQD card (a big one!), and the battery pack with a D5 battery in it will give the auto focus that little extra ‘umph’.

Nikon 300mm f4 PF lens.

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

Les Peel (Hi Les!) turned up here the other day with one of these 300mm PF lenses on his D500 – and honestly, it blew me away!

I’ve seen very mixed reviews about this lens, and to be honest I’d not given it a second thought ever since it was launched.  But the D500/300mm PF combo that Les brought here staggered me in terms of sharpness and auto focus speed; I even slung the lens on my D800E, and got the same results.

Yes, I agree with with some of the negatives put forward by some; too many elements give give a certain ‘flatness’ to its images, and don’t even think about pointing it at the sun, because the fresnel will make a mess!  But in terms of sports/action photography the idea of using it is a more appealing thought than that of swinging a 300 f2.8 all day.

Please bare in mind though that my opinion is based solely on the use of ONE example.

Canon 1DX Mk2.

By Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

This camera isn’t just an ‘upgrade’ to the 1DXMk1 – far from it.  For me the Mk1 was a reliable, steady and highly predictable dance partner.

The Mk2 is a bit of an animal by comparison – like switching from a slow waltz at the local town hall to a full-on Argentine Tango with some sultry hooker in a down-town bar in Beunos Aries!

I took one to Norway back in September for a week (1DX that is, not the sultry hooker), and it mystified my for at least 3 days because I was treating it like a Mk1.

For me it needs a small firmware ‘fettle’ on the AF, but the level of performance with this Mk2 is exceptional.  And now the ADC is integral with the sensor (a la Nikons Sony sensors) the image quality has shot through the roof.

If you own a Mk1 and you are still debating the trade-in then STOP IT and get a move on – times a’wastin..!

Canon 200-400mm f4

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

Still ranks as my favored lens for wildlife photography, not quite the blistering speed and resolution of the behemoth below, but it’s a very close second.  The versatility of 200-560mm comes in mighty handy, and it totally wipes the floor with the Nikon alternative.

Canon 500mm f4 USM Mk2.

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

Oh my, what a lump of glass. Far lighter than its predecessor, and better balanced if you ask me; I can shoot this lens hand-held all day long – simply stunning image quality and so sharp and fast in the auto focus department that it makes me want to cry!

Both it and it’s zoom cousin above represent huge chunks of investment so you have got to NEED either one.  But both of them are worth every single penny if you ask me.

G-Tech G-Raid 8TB Removable Drive

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic
%name Gear Review 2016

I have to admit to being a bit of a G-Drive fan-boy – yep, they’re slightly pricey!

But if you spend thousands on your camera bodies and lenses, and your images are your lifes work, then wincing at the cost of somewhere bullet-proof to store said images is the action of an idiot.

My images are stored on two 4TB internal drives and both of these are cloned to an 8TB internal RAID 0 pair.  This RAID 0 pair is backed up to the 8TB G-Drive unit.  Being on a ‘cheese grater’ MacPro I have no Thunderbolt connections.  But this G-Drive unit is plenty fast enough for my needs across USB 3.0

It’s fast, reliable, very quiet and gives me dual backup for off-site storage for not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things.


G-Tech G-Drive EV ATC 1TB USB 3 Hard Drive

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

I’ve had a couple of these 1Tb USB 3.0 portable G-Drives for over a year now – I use them for storage and backup when I’m away, and they have performed flawlessly in that time.

Based around the modular G-Drive system the internal Evolution series drive can be easily removed from the ruggedised water-proof case with little or no effort.

To free up the usb ports on my MacBook Pro I’ve just upgraded the external cases to Thunderbolt (yes, my MBP is the sensible one !). So now the drives can be used on either my MBP or Richs’ Vaio.

Eizo ColorEdge CS2420 24.1″ Wide Gamut Monitor

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

As yet this baby hasn’t made it into my office because I don’t need a new monitor.  But in about another 3 to 4 months that’ll be a different story, because my back light hours are long-since past already, and the extreme right edge of my LP2475W is getting slightly dark.

But am I going to replace it with a ColourEdge or SpectraView Reference – am I heck as like!

No, it’ll be this CS2420.  Calumet Birmingham have one of these in permanent use – God only knows how old it is or how many hours it has on the back light.  But I calibrated it the other week using my ColorMunki Photo via the MBP running a 10 bit connection over Display port to mini Display port and was mightily impressed:

Screen Shot 2016 12 21 at 14.51.38 600x375 Gear Review 2016

The CS2420 (wire frame) compared to AdobeRGB1998 – impressive for under £600.

I must stress that I treat any monitor as ‘dumb’ – I don’t use any of the software-based calibration utilities that come with the monitor, nor do I use the silly little sensor that drops down from the top bezel on some Eizo CE’s.

When you have a print coming off the printer that looks exactly like the original image (not the damn soft-proof like some folk forget) then you know your colour management is set up perfectly.

And this CS2420 Eizo enables me to do just that – for under £600 – a bargain!

Speaking of printing, my last recommendation is a printing paper.

Brilliant Museum Inkjet Paper – SilverGloss Natural 300gsm

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

Brilliant by name, and rather brilliant by nature!

I love this paper. It’s quite heavy and substantial at 300gsm, and has quite a large gamut.  I use it all the time in my venerable Epson 4800 – and that’s with the ‘canned profile’ and Lyson ink for Gods sake.

It gives exceptional prints using Calumet/Brilliant own ‘canned’ profiles on the Canon 9500Mk2 and Pixma Pro 1, and the Epson SC-P600/800.  I’ve no reason to think it won’t work in other printers that have a profile listed on the Brilliant website, but I haven’t tried them!  And Canon actually produce their own Pixma Pro 1 profile for this paper too, links below:

Mac OSX El Capitan version

Windows 10/8/7/Vista version

You will find the profile in one of the sub folders in the download.

And speaking of the Pixma Pro 1

Buy Here: Calumet Photographic

%name Gear Review 2016

A 12 ink A3+ printer that I really do rate – for a ‘plastic fantastic’ desktop printer.

I know it’s been around for a while now, so it’s not new like the Epson SC-P600/800 printers – but then again, I’m not overly partial to either of those.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the printers – it’s just the stupid driver installations I can’t get on with – pathetically over-complicated.

Basically the Pixma Pro 1 is ‘plug ‘n go’ once the driver is installed and it produces the best quality prints I’ve seen out of a Canon DTP since the venerable old 3500Mk2 ended production.

The light weight head is supposed to help prevent clogs – though the real cause of head clogs is low humidity inside the printer.

No ‘plastic fantastic’ printer is designed for regular long print runs; that’s the purview of the big medium format jobs.  But for someone who wants to print a handful of A3 prints per week this printer should suit them down to the ground.

Canon 5DMk4.

A lot of you will be wondering why I’ve not mentioned or listed the Canon 5DMk4.  Short answer is I’ve not finished testing it yet – I do the job thoroughly!  No good saying it works brilliantly, then have the thing erupt in a ball of flame after 2 months a la S7 Edge is it?

I just need to do some final dynamic range testing on it, and to that end I’ll be using the new and older versions of the ubiquitous 16-35 f2.8

So there we go, 10 goodies of varying cost that I’ve considered as ‘wish list worthy’ in 2016; some new and some not so new.

Remember, these are just the opinions of some fat geezer in Cheshire!


I’ve just brought out my Basic Milky Photography Workflow training, available HERE

Add the discount code BLOG25DEC at the checkout to get 25% off all available downloads – either my Auto Focus Guide for Birds in Flight or my Milky Way Workflow, or BOTH!

Money – it’s such a dirty word, but we all need it!

I wish I could afford to give this training away, but I have to support a family and my photography and photo training are my only income.

I know most of you will try to shop around for bargains and not buy from the referral links in the above post – and that’s okay.

But these posts take time to produce when you type with two fingers like me, and that’s time I’m not earning money to pay the electricity bill et al.

If you could make a small donation via the DONATE button below it would mean a lot folks – seriously, it would.

This blog gets visited by a LOT of people from all walks of life and from all across the planet.  If just 20% of my visitors donated between £5 and £10 per year then I could go full time on reviewing gear in depth the moment it became available to buy or hire for a few weeks.

Manufacturers like Canon and Nikon will never ‘lend’ me anything for review simply because they can’t trust me to say nice things about them.

Retailers make very little in the way of profit on a per item basis. Especially on bodies and lenses, the margins are ridiculous, even your local green grocer couldn’t operate on some of the narrow margins.  So retailer sponsorship here in the UK isn’t a feasible proposition either.  Calumet are good in lending me items from their ‘hire stock’ but that just costs them money in lost hire revenue; which in turn leads to broken up and protracted review times.

So please folks, if you want me to find the bugs in something – so you don’t have to waste your hard earned cash and find them yourself, then please consider making a donation.

Many thanks and Seasons Greeting to all.