Your Monitor – All You Ever Wanted Know

Your Monitor – All You Ever Wanted Know, and the stuff you didn’t – but need to!

I need a new monitor, but am undecided which to buy.  I know exactly which one I’d go for if money was no object – the NEC Spectraview Reference 302, but money is a very big object in that I ain’t got any spare!

But spend it I’ll have to – your monitor is the window on to your images and so is just about THE most important tool in your photographic workflow.  I do wish people would realize/remember that!

Right now my decision is between 24″ and 27″, Eizo or BenQ.  The monitor that needs replacement due to backlight degradation is my trusty HP LP2475W – a wide gamut monitor that punched way above its original price weight, and if I could find a new one I’d buy it right now – it was THAT good.

Now I know more than most about the ‘numbers bit’ of photography, and this current dilemma made me think about how much potential for money-wasting this situation could be for those that don’t ‘understand the tech’ quite as much as I do.

So I thought I’d try and lay things out for you in a simple and straight forward blog post – so here goes.

The Imaging Display Chain

Image Capture:

Let’s take my landscape camera – the Nikon D800E.  It is a 36 megapixel DSLR set to record UNCOMPRESSED 14 bit Raw files.

The RAW image produced by this camera has a pixel dimension of 7360 x 4912 and a pixel area of 36,152,320 pixels.

The horizontal resolution of this beastly sensor is approximately 5200 pixels per inch, each pixel being 4.88 µm (microns) in diameter – that’s know as pixel pitch.

During the exposure, the ANALOGUE part of the senor sees the scene in full spectrum colour and tone through its Bayer Array – it gathers an analogue image.

When the shutter closes, the DIGITAL side of the imaging sensor then basically converts the analogue image into a digital render with a reproduction accuracy of 14 bits per pixel.

And let’s not forget the other big thing – colour space.  All dslr cameras capture their images in their very own unique sensor colour space.  This bares little to no resemblance to either of the three commonly used digital colour management workflow colour spaces of sRGB, AdobeRGB1998 or ProPhotoRGB.

But for the purposes of digital RAW workflow, RAW editors such as Lightroom do an exceptional job of conserving the majority if not all the colours captured by the camera sensor, by converting the capture colour space to that of ProPhotoRGB – basically because it’s by far the largest industry standard space with the greatest spread of HSL values.

So this RAW file that sits on my CF card, then gets ingested by my Mac Pro for later display on my monitor is:

  • 1.41 inches on its long edge
  • has a resolution of around 5,200 pixels per inch
  • has a reproduction accuracy for Hue, Saturation & Luminance of 14 bits
  • has a colour space unique to the camera, which can best be reproduced by the ProPhotoRGB working colour space.

Image Display:

Now comes the tricky bit!

In order to display an image on a monitor, said monitor has to be connected to your computer via your graphics card or GPU output. This creates a larger number of pitfalls and bear traps for the unsuspecting and naive!

Physical attributes of a monitor you need to bare in mind:

  1. Panel Display Colour Bit Depth
  2. Panel Technology – IPS etc
  3. Monitor Panel Backlight – CCFL, WCCFL, LED etc
  4. Monitor Colour Look-Up Table – Monitor On-Board LUT (if applicable)
  5. Monitor connectivity
  6. Reliance on dedicated calibration device or not

The other consideration is your graphics card Colour Look-Up Table – GPU LUT

1.Monitor Panel Display Colour Bit Depth – All display monitors have a panel display colour bit depth – 8 bit or 10 bit.

I had a client turn up here last year with his standard processing setup – an oldish Acer laptop and an Eizo Colour Edge monitor – he was very proud of this setup, and equally gutted at his stupidity when it was pointed out to him.

The Eizo was connected to the laptop via a DVI to VGA lead, so he had paid a lot of good money for a 10 bit display monitor which he was feeding via a connection that was barely 8 bit.

Sat next to the DVI input on the Eizo was a Display Port input – which is native 10 bit. A Display Port lead doesn’t cost very much at all and is therefore the ONLY sensible way to connect to a 10 bit display – provided of course that your machine HAS a Display Port output – which his Acer laptop did not!

So if you are looking at buying a new monitor make sure you buy one with a display bit depth that your computer is capable of supporting.

There is visually little difference between 10 bit and 8 bit displays until you view an image at 100% magnification or above – then you will usually see something of an increase in colour variation and tonal shading, provided that the image you are viewing has a bit depth of 10+.  The difference is often quoted at its theoretical value of 64x –  (1,073,741,824 divided by 16,777,216).

So, yes, your RAW files will LOOK and APPEAR slightly better on a 10 bit monitor – but WAIT!

There’s more….how does the monitor display panel achieve its 10 bit display depth?  Is it REAL or is it pseudo? Enter FRC or Frame rate Control.

The FRC spoof 10 bit display – frame rate control quite literally ‘flickers’ individual pixels between two different HSL values at a rate fast enough to be undetectable by the human eye – the viewers brain gets fooled into seeing an HSL value that isn’t really there!

04 9 Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

Here’s why I hate FRC !

Personally I have zero time for FRC technology in panels – I’d much prefer a good solid 8 bit wide gamut panel without it than a pseudo 10 bit; which is pretty much the same 8 bit panel with FRC tech and a higher price tag…Caveat Emptor!

2. Panel Technology – for photography there is only really one tech to use, that of IPS or In Plane Switching.  The main reasons for this are viewing angle and full colour gamut.

The more common monitors, and cheaper ones most often use TN tech – Twisted Nematic, and from a view angle point of view these are bloody awful because the display colour and contrast vary hugely with even just an inch or two head movement.

Gamers don’t like IPS panels because the response time is slow in comparison to TN – so don’t buy a gaming monitor for your photo work!

There are also Vertical Alignment (VA) and Plane to line Switching (PLS) technologies out there, VA being perhaps marginally better than TN, and PLS being close to (and in certain cases better than) IPS.

But all major colour work monitor manufacturers use IPS derivative tech.

3. Monitor Panel Backlight – CCFL, WCCFL, LED

All types of TFT (thin film transistor) monitor require a back light in order to view what is on the display.

Personally I like – or liked before it started to get knackered – the wide cold cathode fluorescent (WCCFL) backlight on the HP LP2475W, but these seem to have fallen by the wayside somewhat in favour of LED backlights.

The WCCFL backlight enabled me to wring 99% of the Adobe1998 RGB colourspace out of a plain 8 bit panel on the old HP, and it was a very even light across the whole of the monitor surface.  The monitor itself is nearly 11 years old, but it wasn’t until just over 12 months ago that it started to fade at the corners.  Only since the start of this year (2017) has it really begun to show signs of more severe failure on the right hand 20% – hence I’ll be needing a new one soonish!

But modern LED backlights have a greater degree of uniformity – hence their general supersedence of WCCFL.

4. Colour Look-Up Tables or LUTs

Now this is a bit of an awkward one for some folk to get their heads around, but really it’s simple.

Most monitors that you can buy have an 8 bit LUT which is either fixed, or variable via a number of presets available within the monitor OSD menu.

When it comes to calibrating a ‘standard gamut with fixed LUT’ monitor, the calibration software makes its alterations to the LUT of the GPU – not that of the monitor.

With monitors and GPUs that are barely 8 bit to begin with, the act of calibration can lead to problems.

A typical example would be an older laptop screen.  A laptop screen is driven by the on-board graphics component or chipset within the laptop motherboard.  Older MacBooks were the epitome of this setups failure for photographers.

The on-board graphics in older MacBooks were barely 8 bit from the Apple factory, and when you calibrated them they fell to something like 6 bit, and so a lot of images that contained varied tones of a similar Hue displayed colour banding:

1 Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

An example of image colour banding due to low GPU LUT bit depth.
The banding is NOT really there, it just illustrates the lack of available colours and tones for the monitor display.

This phenomenon used to be a pain in the bum when choosing images for a presentation, but was never anything to panic over because the banding is NOT in the image itself.

Now if I display this same RAW file in Lightroom on my newer calibrated 15″ Retina MacBook Pro I still see a tiny bit of banding, though it’s not nearly this bad.  However, if I connect an Eizo CS2420 using a DisplayPort to HDMI cable via the 10 bit HDMI port on the MBP then there is no banding at all.

And here’s where folk get confused – none of what we are talking about has a direct effect on your image – just on how it appears on the monitor.

When I record a particular shade of say green on my D800E the camera records that green in its own colour space with an accuracy of 14 bits per colour channel.  Lightroom will display it’s own interpretation of that colour green.  I will make adjustments to that green in HSL terms and then ask Lightroom to export the result as say a TIFF file with 16 bits of colour accuracy per channel – and all the time this is going on I’m viewing the process on a monitor which has a display colour bit depth of 8 bit or 10 bit and that is deriving its colour from a LUT which could be 8 bit, 14 bit or 16 bit depending on what make and model monitor I’m using!

Some people get into a state of major confusion when it comes to bits and bit depth, and to be honest there’s no need for it.  All we are talking about here is ‘fidelity of reproduction’ on the monitor of colours which are FIXED and UNALTERABLE in your RAW file, and of the visual impact of your processing adjustments.

The colours contained in our image are just numbers – nothing more than that.

Lightroom will display an image by sending colour numbers through the GPU LUT to the monitor.  I can guarantee you that even with the best monitor in the world in conjunction with the most accurate calibration hardware money can buy, SOME of those colour numbers will NOT display correctly!  They will be replaced in a ‘relative colourmetric manner’ by their nearest neighbor in the MONITOR LUT – the colours the monitor CAN display.

Expensive monitors with 14 bit or 16 bit LUTs mean less colours will be ‘replaced’ than when using a monitor that has an 8 bit LUT, and even more colours will be replaced if we scale back our ‘spend’ even further and purchase a standard gamut sRGB monitor.

Another advantage of the pricier 14/16 bit wide gamut dedicated photography monitors from the likes of Eizo, NEC and BenQ is the ability to do ‘hardware calibration’.

Whereas the ‘standard’ monitor calibration mentioned earlier makes it’s calibration changes primarily to the GPU LUT, and therefore somewhat ‘stiffles’ its output bit depth; with hardware calibration we can internally calibrate the monitor itself and leave the GPU running as intended.

That’s a slight over-simplification, but it makes the point!

5. Monitor Connectivity. By this I mean connection type:

74f97065a3 193829 belkin pcmonitor 606 original Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

VGA or D-Sub 15. Awful method of connection – went out with the Ark. If you are using this then “stop it”!

de98677f26 193829 dual linkdvi d original Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

DVI – nothing wrong with this connection format whatsoever, but bare in mind it’s an 8 bit connection.

12 189 047 08 Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

Dual Link DVI – still only 8 bit.

Display Port seitlich Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

Displayport – 10 bit monitor input connection.

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HDMI left, Displayport right – both 10 bit connections.

6. Reliance on dedicated calibration device or not – this is something that has me at the thin end of a sharp wedge if I consider the BenQ option.

I own a perfectly serviceable ColorMunki Photo, and as far as I can see, hardware calibration on the Eizo is feasible with this device. However, hardware calibration on BenQ system software does not appear to support the use of my ColorMunki Photo – so I need to purchase an i1 Display, which is not a corner I really want to be backed into!

Now remember how we defined my D800E Raw file earlier on:

  • has a pixel dimension of 7360 x 4912 and a pixel area (or resolution) of 36,152,320 pixels.
  • 1.41 inches on its long edge
  • has a resolution of around 5,200 pixels per inch
  • has a reproduction accuracy for Hue, Saturation & Luminance of 14 bits
  • has a colour space unique to the camera, which can best be reproduced by the ProPhotoRGB working colour space.

So let’s now take a look at the resolution spec for, say, the NEC Spectraview Reference 302 monitor.  It’s a 30″ panel with an optimum resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels – that’s 4Mp!

The ubiquitous Eizo ColorEdge CG2420 has a standard 24 inch resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels – that’s 2.3Mp!

The BenQ SW2700PT Pro 27in IPS has 2560 x 1440, or 3.68Mp resolution.

Yes, monitor resolution is WAY BELOW that of the image – and that’s a GOOD THING.

I HATE viewing unedited images/processing on my 13″ Retina MBP screen – not just because of any possible calibration issue, or indeed that of its diminutive size – but because of its whopping 2560 x 1600, 4Mp resolution crammed into such a small space.

The individual pixels are so damn tiny the lull you into a false sense of security about one thing above all else – critical image sharpness.

Images that ‘appear tack sharp’ on a high resolution monitor MIGHT prove a slight disappointment when viewed on another monitor with a more conventional resolution!

So there we have it, and I hope you’ve learned something you didn’t know about monitors.

And remember, understanding what you already have, and what you want to buy is a lot more advantageous to you than the advice of some bloke in a shop who’s on a sales commission!

If this post 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.


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!

Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus

2ppi 400x400 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus PerformanceLike Nikon, Canon never do me any favors!

But I do feel that I must say to the world that it ought to give this camera a bit of a break.  It’s had a good mauling in a lot of places, usually by idiots and no-nothings, who keep comparing it to its big brother the 1DX Mk2 – a camera not without its very own set of unique foibles!

The Canon 5D Mk 4 is NOT designed to be a “poor mans” 1DX Mk2.

It’s hardly what I’d call ‘cheap’ in the old purchase price department for starters, so ‘poor mans’ and ‘budget’ are not terms I can easily associate with it.

There are lot’s of things I need to delve into further on this camera to give you guys a fuller picture of the cameras overall performance – most of which is going to involve Calumet or Canon lending me more lenses.

But I can say that I’ve formulated a solid opinion on the Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus performance, and it’s turned out to be a lot better than I’d first imagined.

These are the style of shot that really tells you if your auto focus is working and up to the job:

1D9A3561 600x400 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

“Joey” 1/3200th, f7.1, ISO5000

1D9A3410 600x400 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

“Joey” 1/3200th, f7.1, ISO5000

1D9A3454 600x383 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

“Joey” 1/3200th, f7.1, ISO4000

But before you can start producing the shots you have to go through the tedious bit of testing the AF first.  It was while testing the overall sharpness and accuracy of the AF system that I came across a little problem.

When photographing the old ‘brick wall’ static target I found the system was front focusing by around 40 centimeters at 30 meters.  If I added +4 on the AF micro adjustment (using the 500mm don’t forget) then everything was razor sharp.

This didn’t seem right in my eyes – I’ve never felt the need to use micro adjust on Canon gear to achieve sharp focus on a static target – perhaps I’ve just been lucky!

But after testing this body with another 500mm L IS II, and Calumets lens on 3 other bodies, all tests revealed the same necessary +4 adjustment.

MG 0202 Edit Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

The difference is quite marked!

  • Bare in mind that all these ‘static tests’ MUST be done with the aperture WIDE OPEN (in this case f4).
  • I always use the high ISO capabilities of a camera to the maximum, which allows me the luxury of shooting at between f6 and f8 to maximise DoF and use a high enough shutter speed to stop the action.  Manual exposure with Auto-ISO is my usual method of shooting with long glass.  A noisy image that is razor-sharp will ALWAYS out-sell a low noise image full of motion blur!
  • At f8 hardly any of the ‘poor sharpness’ (above left) is visible in the image because DoF is doubled from 40cms to over 80cms behind the plane of focus at this distance.
  • If I was to swap out to a shorter lens then the required amount of micro adjustment would be less, and with a longer lens MORE!

However, when we come to photograph the likes of ‘Joey’ we have a BIG problem!

Adding positive micro-adjustment values is basically like adding BACK FOCUS – you are telling the system to focus BEHIND where it perceives sharp focus to be – in other words ‘focus further away’.

So with a head on closing target/subject the resulting AI Servo sequence of frames will all be back focused.  The camera will be focusing behind a subject that’s getting closer – it’ll never work!

What we need is the system to move the plane of focus AHEAD of the subject, so that when the shutter opens for the next frame, the subject and plane of focus are hopefully in the same place.  This is how PREDICTIVE AF works, and cameras like the 1DX Mks 1 & 2/Nikon D4/4S truly excel at it.

Dialing in an opposite value of -4, and using AF Case 4 settings with Zone AF for the AI Servo sequences of little Joey yielded good results, but the level of consistency was still below what I thought was possible.

And it certainly got even less consistent when I changed to Point Expansion or Point Surround AF modes.

But now I’ve settled on a custom setup that is NOT obtainable on any of the fixed AF cases; TS & ADT both at +2 together with -3 AF micro adjustment:

1D9A4149 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

‘Morgan’ 1/4000th f8 ISO4000 & -3 AF micro adjustment

I’ve just uploaded a new video to my YouTube channel where I discuss the performance of the Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus system, and go through A LOT of full resolution images.

Note, some of you may get bored and think I examine too many images – shame on you! There are 4 sequences, and each one represents around 4 seconds in real time and are a ‘buffers worth’ of shots.  So all those boring shots took less than 20 seconds to acquire –  I have to show all the shots in a sequence to illustrate the level of consistency, and I show 4 sequences to prove none of them are a fluke – I DO THE JOB RIGHT – unlike some other reviewers!

You can view it at full size by clicking the YouTube icon bottom right once you press ‘play’, but be warned it’s 36 minutes long!

I’m not finished with this camera just yet I don’t think; I must admit that I do quite like it!

Is the Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus capable of better performance than that of the venerable old 5D Mk3 ?  Yes, it is.

Is the image quality better than the 5D Mk3 – oh you betcha it is, by a country mile and just like the 1DX Mk2 advantage over the 1DX.

Are the G/T algorithms (ISO), sensor and ADC output better – from what I can see that’s a ‘yes’ too; but then I’ve not done any dynamic range testing yet – kinda hard when the only lens you’ve got is a 500mm!

I’m getting used to the ‘touchy-feely’ screen now, but the fixed 7fps HS frame rate pisses me off a bit, I’d like to be able to drop it to 6 or 5 to the AF system even further.

Take my advice and don’t be impressed with the ‘Duel Pixel Raw’ feature – it’s CRAP. It does absolutely bugger-all apart from slow the camera down and produce massive files that are not worth the time or effort.  And you can only ‘work’ them in that clunky DPP software which is a total abomination to try and use!

And old UHS1 SD card tech? The camera would be better with a CF slot in conjunction with a CFast2 slot ‘a la’ 1DX Mk2 – in my opinion of course.

1D9A4186 600x400 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

Great Tit. Canon 5DMkIV, Canon 500mm f4 L IS II, ISO 10,000 +4 AF Micro adjustment

logo simple Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

Canon 5D Mk 4 from £115.96 per month – Click HERE

Lumenzia UPDATE

Lumenzia1.8.3 150x150 Lumenzia UPDATELumenzia Update version 1.8.3

Lumenzia Lumenzia UPDATEThere has just been a new Lumenzia update made available today.  Existing users need to update this as soon as possible, especially those using the latest iteration of Photoshop CC 2015.  The update fixes compatibility errors with the “Combine Tool”.

Anyone who HAS NOT invested a few dollars in LUMENZIA needs to do so – not having it is a fools game!

REMEMBER – Lumenzia is NOT another filter FX set; it’s a tool that helps the uninitiated conquer the fearsome Photoshop skill of Luminosity Masking. It also helps with all sorts of other Photoshop tasks and image improvements.

I’ve been promoting the Lumenzia Photoshop extension for a year now.  Over that time it has grown into something that represents even greater value for money than it did in the first place.  And it was great VFM then!

Customers can buy and download LUMENZIA by clicking here.

Check out my other posts about it here, here and here

Image Sharpness

Image Sharpness

I spent the other afternoon in the Big Tower at Gigrin, in the very pleasant company company of Mr. Jeffrey “Jeffer-Cakes” Young.    Left arm feeling better yet Jeff?

I think I’m fairly safe in saying that once feeding time commenced at 3pm it didn’t take too long before Jeff got a firm understanding of just how damn hard bird flight photography truly is – if you are shooting for true image sharpness at 1:1 resolution.

I’d warned Jeff before-hand that his Canon 5Dmk3 would make his session somewhat more difficult than a 1Dx, due to it’s slightly less tractable autofocus adjustments.  But that with his 300mm f2.8 – even with his 1.4x converter mounted, his equipment was easily up to the job at hand.

I on the other hand was back on the Nikon gear – my 200-400 f4; but using a D4S I’d borrowed from Paul Atkins for some real head-to-head testing against the D4 (there’s a barrow load of Astbury venom headed Nikon’s way shortly I can tell you….watch this space as they say).

Amongst the many topics discussed and pondered upon, I was trying to explain to Jeff the  fundamental difference between ‘perceived’ and ‘real’ image sharpness.

Gigrin is a good place to find vast armies of ‘photographers’ who have ZERO CLUE that such an argument or difference even exists.

As a ‘teacher’ I can easily tell when I’m sharing hide space with folk like this because they develop quizzical frowns and slightly self-righteous smirks as they eavesdrop on the conversation between my client and I.

“THEY” don’t understand that my client is wanting to achieve the same goal as the one I’m always chasing after; and that that goal is as different from their goal as a fillet of oak-smoked Scottish salmon is from a tin of John West mush.

I suppose I’d better start explaining myself at this juncture; so below are two 800 pixel long edge jpeg files that you typically see posted on a nature photography forum, website or blog:

D4S6753 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 1. Red Kite – Nikon D4S+200-400 f4 – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

Click the images to view them properly.

D4S6693 2 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 2. Red Kite – Nikon D4S+200-400 f4 – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

“THEY” would be equally as pleased with either…..!

Both images look pretty sharp, well exposed and have pretty darn good composition from an editorial point of view too – so we’re all golden aren’t we!

Or are we?

Both images would look equally as good in terms of image sharpness at 1200 pixels on the long edge, and because I’m a smart-arse I could easily print both images to A4 – and they’d still look as good as each other.

But, one of them would also readily print to A3+ and in its digital form would get accepted at almost any stock agency on the planet, but the other one would most emphatically NOT pass muster for either purpose.

That’s because one of them has real, true image sharpness, while the other has none; all it’s image sharpness is perceptual and artificially induced through image processing.

Guessed which is which yet?

D4S6753 2 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 1 at 1:1 native resolution – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

Image 1. has true sharpness because it is IN FOCUS.

D4S6693 Edit 2 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 2 at 1:1 native resolution – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

And you don’t need glasses to see that image 2 is simply OUT OF FOCUS.

The next question is; which image is the cropped one – number 2 ?

Wrong…it’s number 1…

D4S6753 4 Image Sharpness

Image 1 uncropped is 4928 pixels long edge, and cropped is 3565, in other words a 28% crop, which will yield a 15+ inch print without any trouble whatsoever.

Image 2 is NOT cropped – it has just been SHRUNK to around 16% of its original size in the Lightroom export utility with standard screen output sharpening.  So you can make a ‘silk purse from a sows ear’ – and no one would be any the wiser, as long as they never saw anything approaching the full resolution image!

Given that both images were shot at 400mm focal length, it’s obvious that the bird in image 1 (now you know it’s cropped a bit) is FURTHER AWAY than the bird in image 2.

So why is one IN FOCUS and the other not?

The bird in image 1 is ‘crossing’ the frame more than it is ‘closing in’ on the camera.

The bird in image 2 is closer to the camera to begin with, and is getting closer by the millisecond.

These two scenarios impose totally different work-loads on the autofocus system.

The ability of the autofocus system to cope with ANY imposed work-load is totally dependent upon the control parameters you have set in the camera.

The ‘success’ rate of these adjustable autofocus parameter settings is effected by:

  1. Changing spatial relationship between camera and subject during a burst of frames.
  2. Subject-to-camera closing speed
  3. Pre-shot tracking time.
  4. Frame rate.

And a few more things besides…!

The autofocus workloads for images 1 & 2 are poles apart, but the control parameter settings are identical.

The Leucistic Red Kite in the shot below is chugging along at roughly the same speed as its non-leucistic cousin in image 2. It’s also at pretty much the same focus distance:

D4S6621 2 600x400 Image Sharpness

Image 3. Leucistic Red Kite – same distance, closing speed and focal length as image 2. CLICK IMAGE to view larger version.

So why is image 3 IN FOCUS when, given a similar scenario, image 2 is out of focus?

Because the autofocus control parameters are set differently – that’s why.

FACT: no single combination of autofocus control parameter settings will be your ‘magic bullet’ and give you nothing but sharp images with no ‘duds’ – unless you use a 12mm fish-eye lens that is!

Problems and focus errors INCREASE in frequency in direct proportion to increasing focal length.

They will also increase in frequency THE INSTANT you switch from a prime lens to a zoom lens, especially if the ‘zoom ratio’ exceeds 3:1.

Then we have to consider the accuracy and speed of the cameras autofocus system AND the speed of the lens autofocus motor – and sadly these criteria generally become more favourable with an increased price tag.

So if you’re using a Nikon D800 with an 80-400, or a Canon 70D with a 100-400 then there are going to be more than a few bumps in your road.  And if you stick to just one set of autofocus control settings all the time then those bumps are going to turn into mountains – some of which are going to kill you off before you make their summit….metaphorically speaking of course!

And God forbid that you try this image 3 ‘head on close up’ malarkey with a Sigma 50-500 – if you want that level of shot quality then you might just as well stay at home and save yourself the hide fees and petrol money !

Things don’t get any easier if you do spend the ‘big bucks’ either.

Fast glass and a pro body ‘speed machine’ will offer you more control adjustments for sure.  But that just means more chances to ‘screw things up’ unless you know EXACTLY how your autofocus system works, exactly what all those different controls actually DO, and you know how to relate those controls to what’s happening in front of you.

Whatever lens and camera body combination any of us use, we have to first of all find, then learn to work within it’s ‘effective envelope of operation’ – and by that I mean the REAL one, which is not necessarily always on a par with what the manufacturer might lead you to believe.

Take my Nikon 200-400 for example.  If I used autofocus on a static subject, let alone a moving one, at much past 50 metres using the venerable old D3 body and 400mm focal length, things in the critical image sharpness department became somewhat sketchy to say the least.  But put it on a D4 or D4S and I can shoot tack sharp focussing targets at 80 to 100 metres all day long……not that I make a habit of this most meaningless of photographic pastimes.

That discrepancy is due to the old D3 autofocus system lacking the ability to accurately  discriminate between precise distances from infinity to much over 50 metres when that particular lens was being used. But swap the lens out for a 400 f2.8 prime and things were far better!

Using the lens on either a D4 or D4S on head-on fast moving/closing subjects such as Mr.Leucistic above, we hit another snag at 400mm – once the subject is less than 20 metres away the autofocus system can’t keep up and the image sharpness effectively drops off the proverbial cliff.  But zoom out to 200mm and that ‘cut-off’ distance will reduce to 10 metres or so. Subjects closing at slower speeds can get much closer to the camera before sharp focus begins to fail.

As far as I’m concerned this problem is more to do with the speed of the autofocus motor inside the lens than anything else.  Nikon brought out an updated version of this lens a few years back – amongst its ‘star qualities’ was a new nano-coating that stopped the lens from flaring.  But does it focus any faster – does it heck!  And my version doesn’t suffer from flare either….!

Getting to know your equipment and how it all works is critical if you want your photography to improve in terms of image sharpness.

Shameless Plug Number 1.

I keep mentioning it – my ebook on Canon & Nikon Autofocus with long glass.

I’ll finish it one day soon – I need the money!

Click the images for larger view

afdoc1 564x400 Image Sharpnessafdoc2 564x400 Image Sharpness

Shameless Plug Number 2.

1 to 1 Tuition Day

Understanding Canon & Nikon Autofocus


Bird in Flight Photography

GX2R2055 Edit 2 2 Image Sharpness

Click Image for details.


Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Donations would help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.


Wildlife in Pixels – Website News

Wildlife in Pixels – main website updated & other news.

So I’ve just spent the last 4 days slaving away over an old version of Dreamweaver (CS4 no less) updating the rather tired and untidy looking main website.

With a not insignificant amount of valuable input from my learned friend Steve Kaluski, and the (new to this old fart) discovery of in-line css rules, I’ve managed to come up with what I think is a cracking new look for the website that’s far less cluttered and messy!

site 900x740 Wildlife in Pixels   Website News

The new site landing page.

That’ll do for the rest of this year at least, and I think it looks epic – what say you guys?

I’ve updated the image gallery using Juicebox – whether I leave the “share” and image page display options live I’ll decide over the next few days.  But the gallery is a lot less “clunky” than it used to be, and looks pretty good on an iPhone too.

gal 900x510 Wildlife in Pixels   Website News

The new website gallery.

Important News about Norway Workshops for 2016.

I booked two trips over in Norway for 2016 about 4 weeks ago – one in February 2016, which is my usual winter haunt of Flatanger.

Winter 900x586 Wildlife in Pixels   Website News

Norway Winter Eagles Tour February 2016. Click to view website page for this tour.

And the second trip, scheduled for September 2016 is over to Dovrefjell for the Musk Ox and Arctic Fox, followed by 3 days of Eagle photography from the boat.

Dovrefjell 900x742 Wildlife in Pixels   Website News

Norway Tour September 2016. Click to view website page for this tour.

In the very short space of time these trips have been publicised, the uptake has been awesome – the February trip is provisionally full and; again provisional, there are only two places left on the September trip.

At the bottom of new Norwegian Workshops page – HERE – you’ll see that I’m running a ‘standby’ email link.  If you are interested in going on this list just drop me an email via the link.  I’ve never had a cancellation for any reason as yet – but just in case it does happen then I can let you know.  Meanwhile, visit the workshop pages themselves and get a flavour of what they are about.

Anyway, thanks for reading this short missive and if you have a chance hop along to the main website and give it the “once over” as your opinion matters!


View Autofocus Points in Lightroom

Mr. Malcolm Clayton sent me a link last week to a free plug-in for Lightroom that displays the autofocus points used for the shot, plus other very useful information such as focus distance, f-number and shutter speed, depth of field (DoF) values and other bits and bobs.

The plug-in is called “Show Focus Points” and you can download it HERE

Follow the installation instruction to the letter!

Once installed you can only launch it from the LIBRARY MODULE:

FPlugAx 900x563 View Autofocus Points in Lightroom

Accessing the Plug-in via the Library>Plug-in Extras menu CLICK to view LARGER

You will see this sort of thing:

FPPlugin 900x506 View Autofocus Points in Lightroom

The “Show Focus Points” for Lightroom plug-in window. CLICK to view LARGER.

It’s a usefull tool to have because short of running the rather clunky Canon DPP or Nikon ViewNX software it’s the easiest way of getting hold of autofocus information without sending the image to Photoshop and looking through the mind-numbing RAW schema data – something I do out of habbit!

It displays a ton of useful data about your camera focus settings and exposure, and the autofocus point used – be it set by you, or chosen by the camera.

As far as I can see, the plug-in only displays the main active autofocus point on Nikon D4 and D4S files, but all the autofocus group as well as active points seem to display when viewing .CR2 Canon files as we can see on this very impressive car number plate!:

Canon2 900x563 View Autofocus Points in Lightroom

Screen grab of an unprocessed 1Dx/200-400/TC shot I did while testing the tracking capabilities of the Canon lens with the TC active – the REAL image looks more impressive than this! I’m actually zooming out while tracking too – this is around 200mm + the 1.4x TC. CLICK to view LARGER

Canon 900x503 View Autofocus Points in Lightroom

Canon 1Dx in AI Servo AF Point Expansion 4 point; what I call “1 with 4 friends”. CLICK to view LARGER.

CanonAIF 900x503 View Autofocus Points in Lightroom

Canon 1Dx in AI-F autofocus showing all autofocus points used be the camera.

Viewing your autofocus points is a very valid learning tool when trying to become familiar with your cameras autofocus, and it’s also handy if you want to see why and where you’ve “screwed the pooch” – hey, we ALL DO IT from time to time!

Useful tool to have IMO and it’s FREE – Andy likes free…

Cheers to Malc Clayton for bringing this to my attention.

Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Your donation will help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.


Canon 1Dx Sensor Noise

What seems an age ago now I did a two-day workshop for Calumet at Drummond Street in London, and a chap turned up there armed with a Canon 1Dx PLUS a 200-400 f4.  The lens had only just been launched, and he’d been out and spent a truck-load of cash on both lens and body.

Yours truly was all over him like a severe rash, and I ripped it from his poor old fingers, stuck it in Case 2 and dived outside and started ripping through frames of vehicles passing the store!

I was smitten from that very moment – but it was weird all the same.  I was joyous at how the lens and camera performed; pissed off that I didn’t own it; and seething at Nikon AF and the poor distance performance of their own 200-400.

Not that Nikon is crap – far from it; it’s fantastic – but this was just SO much better, and child that I am, THIS was what I should be using and all else was just pants.

Begrudgingly I handed the old chap his camera back, satisfied my dour mood with a cursory “not bad….” and carried on with the workshop.

Later in the day I stuck the images I’d shot with the Canon 1Dx into Lightroom on the 27″ iMac I use for workshop presentations – and was immediately a little happier – they looked “iffy” to say the least!

The Nikon 200-400s’ distance resolution problem has always hacked me off – 10m or less it’s epic, but 75m and further I hate it, and in between well, sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t. And it’s bad with teleconverters, it really is…

Scanning through all the Canon 1Dx shots I was still amazed by the lens – it was delivering tack sharp high-resolution images at all focal lengths and distances, with and without  teleconverter; basically it was kicking the Nikon into the last century simply by NOT displaying ANY of the same faults.

But I was having to look past – in comparison to Nikon – a thin veil of sensor noise, and I was also aware of a reduction in sensor Dynamic Range when I looked at the shots and noted the popped highlights that experience told me my Nikon wouldn’t produce.

Since then I’ve had a few more occasional chances to use the lens and body, and my results have continued to generate the same response – great lens, shame about the sensor IQ; but I’ve always been using other folks cameras and you don’t like to mess about with them too much, so I have always assumed that things “could be made a bit better” with some fiddling about.

Last year, hand on heart, I can honestly say that I was responsible, in whole or part, for at least 6 sales of Canon 200-400’s to existing 1Dx owners, and the lens-envy has always been there when they’ve been and bought it.

Since the first day I handled the lens I’ve been of the mind that it would be the ultimate lens for my Eagle workshops in Norway.  I was thinking of trying to take one, plus the required 1Dx, over there in June last year; but seeing as the my clients were all Nikon I thought I’d best not!

But I have a “mixed bag” of clients booked for my Winter trip in a couple of weeks time, so seeing as I was of the mind that a few folk owed me a few favours…..

Upshot is that for the last two weeks, thanks to Reece Piper at Calumet, I’ve had a Canon 1Dx sat in my office; and many thanks to my favourite Geordie lass June Lown, a 200-400 f4 to go with it.

When I picked up the 1Dx from Calumet I swiped a 100mm f2.8 macro while I was at it, as I had been tasked with a high speed action shot featuring makeup brushes and I thought we’d go nuts and do the shot whilst exploring the 1Dx in a bit more depth.

GX2R6630NTM 800x900 Canon 1Dx Sensor Noise

Canon 1Dx + 100mm f2.8 macro. Nikon SB800 flash & Calumet ProSeries wireless.

Prior to picking up the Canon 1Dx I’d done a few test shots on my own Nikon gear just to get the lighting and flash timing sorted out, but I’d been using some different brushes:

D4D0013 599x900 Canon 1Dx Sensor Noise

Okay, so here is the base .CR2 raw file for the finished image:

GX2R6638 600x900 Canon 1Dx Sensor Noise

Base .CR2 raw file

Now, I’m going to get to the point of this post topic!

As a standard retouching procedure on this type of shot I always overlay a custom Curves Adjustment layer with a sine-wave curve – it helps show up all those little imperfections you can’t see when you view the image without it:

Screen Shot 2015 01 30 at 15.09.38 Canon 1Dx Sensor Noise

Custom Curve for retouching

The main purpose in this particular case is to check for dark imperfections in that black background – yep, proper retouching is all about the minutia if you want perfection.

I’m trying to put together a video course on retouching that’ll be available in my store a little later this year – email me for details

Because the powder velocity is so damned high as it leaves the brush bristles I needed 1/32nd output power on the SB800s in order to freeze absolutely every grain of powder, so the shots(both Nikon and Canon) were at 400 iso just to give me a working aperture of f14.

When checking the test shots they looked like this with the customised Curve Layer:

D4D0013 Edit 599x900 Canon 1Dx Sensor Noise

Nikon D4 400 ISO 1/250th @ f14 test shot with custom curves layer.

Check out how clean the black background is.

So now all we do is swap the brushes, and change from Nikon D4 to the Canon 1Dx – I make no changes to either the lights or the background, and the exposure settings are exactly the same – 1/250th, 400 ISO, f14 – and I’m expecting gold…

But throw the CR2 file into Photoshop and stick the custom curve over it to see the comparrison:

GX2R6638 Edit 600x900 Canon 1Dx Sensor Noise

Canon 1Dx 400 ISO 1/250th @ f14

Sweet Jesus………….!

Now don’t run away with the idea that it’s the “normal” noise you think of – luminance noise.  In fact from that point of view it’s no better or worse than the Nikon D4 sensor.

But what you can see here is PATTERN NOISE/READ NOISE – see my Sensor Noise post from a while ago HERE

Don’t get me wrong, you can barely see it at 100% magnification, and a lot of folk won’t notice it AT ALL:

fullREZ 900x614 Canon 1Dx Sensor Noise

Canon 1Dx/Nikon D4 comparison at 100% magnification viewed normally. CLICK to view larger

But if you want BIG prints, or you sell your images for stock, then you need to check them a lot more thoroughly at higher magnifications:

400x 900x614 Canon 1Dx Sensor Noise

Comparison at 400% magnification CLICK to view larger

At 400% the noise is just about visible – because it’s a dark error/fault on a basically slightly darker background.  But keep it at 100% and put the custom curve over it and:

fullREZ2 900x615 Canon 1Dx Sensor Noise

Custom Curve layer at 100% – now that pattern noise on the Canon sensor is obvious.

…now you can see what you have got to take care off in retouching.

Got a 1Dx?  Then this pattern noise is in YOUR images – FACT.

But if the image has a more “normal” tonality to it then it certainly won’t be obvious to you – but it’s there nevertheless.  Just try looking in your shadow areas.

Why the 1Dx sensor should be so much noisier than the D4/D4S is beyond me to be honest. Yes I know it’s an older mark, but the then current Nikon D3 and D3S were far better than this; in fact they were, and still are, only marginally worse than today’s Nikons for pattern noise.

In reality the images are of course eminently usable – as the millions of 1Dx images used daily world-wide testifies; but they do need a teeny bit more effort when processing than files from a top-end Nikon camera, if the final images are to have the same degree of quality in terms of “clean-ness of file”.

There is also the question of a clipped Dynamic Range, but that’s an easy walk-around in most cases – neither Highlight Tone Priority or Safety Shift are the answer though IMO; the former just under-exposes the shot, and the latter drives me nuts, though it’s a damnably good idea in principle.

So this noise thing truly is my ONE AND ONLY gripe about this camera – up until this last week I had a few others based solely on my usage of other folks cameras, but those are now well and truly GONE.

On the “pros & cons” side of things, noise and clipped dynamic range are my only cons, and there are many pros that cancel them out – the real big one for my is the autofocus system which, at least when used with the new(ish) 200-400 and the latest firmware, is truly EPIC and seriously kicks Nikon into a cocked hat in terms of tractability, speed, accuracy and user control.

I’m working on a large pdf document all about autofocus with both Nikon D4/D4S and Canon 1Dx bodies that has wildlife photography and long lenses as the main bias, but it will give a lot of valuable information and knowledge to non-wildlife photographers and 5DMk3 owners as well. Again, email me for details – BUT IT WON’T BE FREE!

If I had the dough I’d buy a 1Dx and a 200-400 f4 tomorrow – perhaps I’d even dump Nikon all together for long lens action/wildlife photography.

But I haven’t, so unless a miracle happens and Canon suddenly feel like sponsoring someone who actually “knows about stuff” then there’ll be tears when this rig has to go back I can tell you…:(

Would I dump Nikon for all my photography where speed and autofocus are not required, like macro or landscape – not on your bloody life!

Many thanks to Reece Piper & Calumet UK, June Lown, and Chuck Westfall of Canon USA


Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Your donation will help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.


Exposure Compensation

Exposure Compensation

Exposure Compensation – that’s something else that cropped up once or twice for the chaps on my recent Norwegian Eagle workshop!

We had something like 420 or more dives from eagles during the trip, and very few if any were shot with flat metering, or 0Ev compensation.

What is Exposure Compensation, and why do we need to use it?

It all begins with this little button:

D4D0716 Edit 900x900 Exposure Compensation

D3 Exposure Compensation button – Nikon, Canon and most others use the same symbol.

Pushing this button and rotating your main command dial will select a certain exposure compensation value.

Why do we need to use Exposure Compensation though?

Cameras, for all their complexity and “intelligent whotsits” are basically STUPID!  They don’t know WHAT you are trying to photograph, or HOW you are trying to photograph it.

They make a lot of very basic assumptions about what you are trying to do – 99.99% of which are WRONG!

The camera does NOT know if you are trying to photograph:

  • A white cat in a coal shed
  • A black cat in a snow storm
  • A white cat in a snow storm
  • A black cat in a coal shed

All it sees is a frame full of various amounts of light and shade, and depending on your metering mode (which should always be Matrix/Evaluative – see post here) it gives you an “average mean exposure value”.

Take a general scene of fairly low contrast under flat overcast light:

Scene 900x599 Exposure Compensation

A scene as WE see it.

SceneAvEx 900x599 Exposure Compensation

The same scene as the camera METER sees it.

SceneArea1 900x599 Exposure Compensation

Lighter tones within the scene.

SceneArea21 900x599 Exposure Compensation

Some darker area tones within the scene.

SceneGreys 900x599 Exposure Compensation

The exposure is governed by the PREDOMINANT tone.

As discussed in the previous metering article mentioned earlier, only MATRIX/EVALUATIVE takes the entire frame area into account.

Okay, so that scene was fairly bland on the old tonal front, so let’s have a look at something a little more relevant:

Pos1 900x599 Exposure Compensation

Straight off the camera with no processing. 1/2000th @ f4 1600ISO +1.3Ev

Pos2 900x599 Exposure Compensation

As the camera metered the scene WITHOUT compensation.

Why would the image be so dark and under exposed?

Well here’s an approximation of the cameras average tone “thought process”:

Pos31 900x599 Exposure Compensation

The approximate average value of the scene.

But if we look at some averages WITHIN the overall image:

Pos4 900x599 Exposure Compensation

Random tonal averages within the image.

We can see that the tonal values for the subject are generally darker than the average scene value, therefore the camera records those values as “under exposed”.

This is further compounded by the cameras brain making the decision that the commonest tonal value MUST represent “mid grey” – which it DOESN’T; it’s lighter than that – and so under exposing the image even further!

Now I’m not going to get into the argument about “what is mid grey” and do Nikon et al calibrate to 12%, 18%, 20% or whatever – to be honest it’s “neither here nor there” from our standpoint.

What is CRITICAL though is that we understand the old adage:

“Light Subject Dark Background = Under, or negative exposure compensation. And that Dark Subject Light Background = Over, or positive exposure compensation”.

Okay, but what are we actually doing?

In any exposure mode other than Manual mode, we are allowing the camera to meter the scene AND make the decision over which shutter speed or aperture to use depending on whether we have the camera in Av or Tv mode – that’s Canon-speak for A or S on Nikon.

If we are in shutter priority/S/Tv mode then the camera sets the aperture to give us its metered exposure – that thing that’s usually WRONG! – at the shutter speed we’ve selected.

If, as in the case above, we ADD +1.3Ev – one and one third stops of POSITIVE exposure compensation, the camera uses the shutter speed we’ve selected but then opens up the aperture WIDER than it’s “brain” wants it to.

How wide? 1.3 stops wider, thus allowing 1.3 stops more light into the the sensor during the exposure time.

If we were in Av/A or aperture priority mode then it’s the shutter speed that would take up the slack and become 1.3 stops SLOWER than the cameras “brain” wanted it to be.

Here’s an example of negative exposure compensation:

D4D6682 900x598 Exposure Compensation

1/3200th @ f4.5 1000ISO -1.3Ev exposure compensation.

In this particular shot we’re pointing towards the sun – a “dark subject, light background” positive exposure compensation scenario, or so you’d think.

But I want to “protect” those orange highlights in the water and the brightest tones in the eagle, so if I “peg those highlights” just over a stop below the top end of the cameras’  tonal response curve then there is no way on earth they are going to “blow” in the final RAW file.

Manual Exposure mode can still furnish us with exposure compensation based on metering if we engage AUTO-ISO.  If we decide we want to shoot continuously with a high shutter speed and a set aperture at a fixed ISO then our exposures are going to be all over the place.  But if we engage AUTO-ISO and let the camera choose the ISO speed via the meter reading, we can use the exposure compensation adjustments just the same as we do in Av or Tv modes.

This get’s us away from the problem of fixed ISO Tv mode running out of aperture in low light or when very high shutter speeds are needed; or conversely, stopping the aperture down too far when the sun comes out! – I’ll do a breakdown on this method of shooting later in the year – it’s not without it’s problems.

Next time you get the chance to stand by a large lake or other body of water, just take a moment to notice that the water is dark in some places and light in others. ambient light falling on a moving subject can easily be very uniform and so the subject basically has the same exposure value all the time.  But it’s the changing brightness of the background as the subject moves across it that causes us to need exposure compensation.

People seem to think there’s some sort of “magic” at play when they come out with me and I’m throwing exposure compensation values at them.  But there’s no magic here folks, just an ability to see beyond “the subject, framing etc” and to actually “see the light” and understand it.

After all, when we click our shutters we are imaging light – the subject is, for the most part, purely incidental!

And there’s only one way you can learn to see light and grasp its implications for camera exposure, and that’s to practice.

Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Your donation will help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.


D4 Firmware update 1.10

Nikon D4 firmware update 1.10 released today.

Important Note.

According to Nikon:

The firmware cannot be updated if Enable is selected for Network>Network connection in the setup menu.  Be sure to set Network connection to Disable before upgrading the firmware.

For full details of the update and issues addressed please read