More ISO Settings Misinformation

More ISO Settings Misinformation

This WAS going to be a post about exposure…….!

But, this morning I was on the Facebook page of friend where I came across a link he’d shared to this page which makes a feature of this:

%name More ISO Settings Misinformation

Please Note: I’m “hot linking” this image so’s not to be accused of theft!

This style of schematic for the Exposure Triangle is years old and so is nothing new.

When using FILM the ISO value IS a measure of sensitivity to light – that of the film, in other words its SPEED.  Higher ISO film is more sensitive to light than lower ISO film, and the increased sensitivity brings about larger ‘grain’ in the image.

When we talk ‘digital photography’ however the ISO value HAS NOTHING TO WITH SENSITIVITY TO LIGHT – of anything inside your camera, including the damn sensor.

ISO in digital cameras is APPLIED GAIN. Applied ‘after the exposure has been made’..after the fact…after Elvis has left the freaking building!

Your sensors sensitivity to light is FIXED and dictated by the size of the photosites that make up the sensor – that is, the sensor pixel pitch.

People who persist in leading you guys into thinking that ISO controls sensor sensitivity should be shot, or better still strapped over the muzzle of an artillery piece……..

The article then goes on to advise the following pile of horse crap:

Recommended ISO settings:

  • ISO 100 or 200 for sunny and bright daylight 
  • ISO 400 ISO for cloudy days, or indoors 
  • ISO 800 for indoors (without a flash) 
  • ISO 1600+ for very low light situations 

WTF??? What year are we in – 2007??

And this pile of new 2017 junk is on a website dedicated to a certain camera manufacturer who’s cameras have produced superb images at ISO settings way higher than the parameters stated above for ages.

Take this shot from a Canon 1DX Mk1 – old tech/off-sensor ADCs etc:

FW1Q4333 600x400 More ISO Settings Misinformation

Canon 1DX Mark 1 ISO 10,000 1/8000th @ f7.1 – click for the full size image.

ISO settings are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to good action photography – the overriding importance at all times is SHUTTER SPEED and AF performance.

I don’t care about ‘ISO noise’ anywhere near as much as I care about focus and freezing the action, and neither should you guys.

What have the above and below shots got in common – apart from the wildlife category?

 D4R3440 More ISO Settings Misinformation

Nikon D4 – a meagre ISO 3200 1/8000th @ f7.1 – click for full size image.

1/8000th shutter speed and an aperture of 7.1 – aperture for DoF and shutter speed to freeze the action – stuff the ‘noise’.

And speaking of ‘noise’ – there isn’t anywhere near enough to screw the shot up for stock sale even at full size, and I’ll tell you again, noise hardly prints at all!

Here’s another ‘old tech’ Canon 1DX Mk1 shot:

GX2R4727 More ISO Settings Misinformation

And here’s where the rubber really meets the road – low light 4000ISO  1/200th @ f6.3 – click for full size image.

I don’t really want to wheel the same shots out over and over but don’t forget the Canon 5D Mk4 Great Tit at 10,000ISO or 1DX Mk2 Musk Ox at 16,000ISO either!

Don’t get me wrong, when I want maximum Dynamic Range I shoot at base ISO, but generally you’ll never find me shooting at any fixed ISO other than base; other than when shooting astro landscapes.  Everything else is Auto ISO.

So a fan website, in 2017, is basically telling you not to use the ISO speeds that I use all the damn time – and they are justifying that with bad information.

Please people, 90% plus of what you see on the web is total garbage, please don’t take it as gospel truth until you check with someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

Do I know what I’m talking about, well, only you can judge that one.  But everything I do tell you can be justified with full resolution images – not meaningless little jpegs on a web site.

Anyway, that’s it – rant over!

As ever, if you like the info in this post hit the subscribe button. Hop over to my YouTube channel and subscribe there too and if you are feeling generous then a couple of bucks donation via PayPal to tuition@wildlifeinpixels.net would be gratefully appreciated!

Thanks Folks!

Camera ISO Settings

The Truth About ISO

Back in the days of ‘wet photography’, we had rolls and sheets of film that carried various ISO/ASA/DIN numbers.

ISO stands for International Standards Organisation

ASA stands for American Standards Association

DIN – well, that’s ‘Deutsches Institut für Normung’ or German Institute for Standardisation

ISO and ASA were basically identical values, and DIN = (log10)ISO x10 +1, so ASA/ISO 100 equated to DIN 21….nope, I’m not going to say anything!

These numbers were the film ‘speed’ values.  Film speed was critical to exposure metering as it specified the film sensitivity to light.  Metering a scene properly at the correct ISO/ASA/DIN gave us an overall exposure value that ensured the film got the correct ‘dose’ of light from the shutter speed and aperture combination.

Low ISO/ASA/DIN values meant the film was LESS sensitive to light (SLOW FILM) and high values meant MORE sensitivity to light (FAST FILM).

Ilford Pan F was a very slow mono negative film at ASA 50, while Ilford HP5 was a fast 400 ASA mono negative film.

The other characteristic of film speed was ‘grain’.  Correctly exposed, Pan F was extremely fine grained, whereas correctly exposed HP5 was ‘visibly grainy’ on an 8×10 print.

Another Ilford mono negative film I used a lot was FP4.  The stated ASA for this film was 125ASA/ISO, but I always rated it (set the meter ASA speed dial) to 100ASA on my 35mm Canon A1 and F1 (yup, you read that right!) because they both slightly over-metered most scenes.

If we needed to shoot at 1/1000th and f8 but 100ASA only gave us 1/250th at f8 we would switch to 400ASA film – two stops greater sensitivity to light means we can take a shutter speed two stops shorter for the same aperture and thus get our required 1/1000th sec.

But, what if we were already set up with 400ASA film, but the meter (set at 400ASA) was only giving us 1/250th?

Prior to the release of films like Delta 1600/3200 we would put a fresh roll of 400ASA film in the camera and set the meter to a whopping 1600ASA! We would deliberately UNDER EXPOSE Ilford HP5 or Kodak Tri-X by 2 stops to give us our required 1/1000th at f8.

The two stops underexposed film would then be ‘push processed’, which basically meant it was given a longer time in the developer.  This ‘push processing’ always gave us a grainy image, because of the manner in which photographic chemistry worked.

And just to confuse you even more, very occasionally a situation might arise where we would over expose film and ‘pull process’ it – but that’s another story.

We are not here for a history lesson, but the point you need to understand is this – we had a camera body into which we inserted various sensitivities of film, and that sometimes those sensitivities were chemically manipulated in processing.

That Was Then, This Is Now!

ISO/ASA/DIN was SENSITIVITY of FILM.

It is NOT SENSITIVITY of your DSLR SENSOR….!!! Understand that once and for all!

The sensitivity of your sensor IS FIXED.

It is set in Silicon when the sensor is manufactured.  Just like the sensitivity of Kodak Tri-X Pan was ‘fixed’ at 400ASA/ISO when it was made at the factory.

How is the sensitivity of a digital sensor fixed?  By the SIZE of the individual PHOTOSITES on the sensor.

Larger photosites will gather more photons from a given exposure than small ones – it’s that simple.

The greater the number of photons captured means that the output signal from a larger photosite is GREATER than the output signal from a smaller photosite for the same exposure value (EV being a combination shutter speed and aperture/f number).

All sensors have a base level of noise – we can refer to this as the sensor ‘noise floor’.

This noise floor is an amalgamation of the noise floors of each photosite on the sensor.

But the noise floor of each photosite on the sensor is masked/obscured by the photosite signal output; therefore the greater the signal, the larger the signal to noise (S/N) ratio is said to be.

In general, larger photosites yield a higher S/N ratio than smaller ones given the same exposure.

This is why the Nikon D3 had such success being full frame but just over 12 megapixels, and it’s the reason that some of us don’t get overly excited about seeing more megapixels being crammed into our 36mm x 24mm sensors.

Anyway, the total output from a photosite contains both signal and noise floor, and the signal component can be thought of as ‘gain’ over the noise floor – natural gain.

As manufacturers put more megapixels on our sensors this natural gain DECREASES because the photosites get SMALLER – they have to in order to fit more of them into the finite sensor area.

Natural gain CAN be brought back in certain sensor designs by manipulating the design of the micro lenses that sit on top of the individual photosites. Re-design of these micro lenses to ‘suck in’ more tangential photons – rather like putting a funnel in a bottle to make filling it easier and more efficient.

There is a brilliantly simple illustration of how a sensor fits into the general scheme of things, courtesy of digital camera world:

%name Camera ISO Settings

The main item of note in this image is perhaps not quite so obvious, but it’s the boundary between the analogue and digital parts of the system.

We have 3 component arrays forward of this boundary:

  1. Mosaic Filter including Micro Lenses & Moire filter if fitted.
  2. Sensor Array of Photosites – these suck in photons and release proportional electrons/charge.
  3. Analogue Electronics – this holds the charge record of the photosite output.

Everything forward of the Analogue/Digital Converter – ADC – is just that, analogue! And the variety of attributes that a manufacturer puts on the sensor forward of this boundary can be thought of mostly as modifying/enhancing natural gain.

So What About My ISO Control Settings Andy?

All sensors have a BASE ISO. In other words they have an ISO sensitivity/speed rating just like film!  And as I said before THIS IS A FIXED VALUE.

The base ISO of a sensor photosite array can be defined as that ISO setting that yields the best dynamic range across the whole array, and it is the ISO setting that carries NO internal amplification.

Your chosen ISO setting has absolutely ZERO effect on what happens forward of the Analogue/Digital boundary – NONE.

So, all those idiots who tell you that ISO effects/governs exposure are WRONG – it has nothing to do with it for the simple reason that ISO effecting sensor sensitivity is a total misconception….end of!

Now I’ll bet that’s going to set off a whole raft of negative comments and arguments – and they will all be wrong, because they don’t know what they’re talking about!

The ‘digital side’ of the boundary is where all the ‘voodoo’ happens, and it’s where your ISO settings come into play.

At the end of an exposure the Analogue Digital Converter, or ADC, comes along and makes a ‘count’ of the contents of the ‘analogue electronics’ mosaic (as Digital Camera World like to call it – nice and unambiguous!).

Remember, it’s counting/measuring TOTAL OUTPUT from each photosite – and that comprises both signal and noise floor outputs.

iso1 900x900 Camera ISO Settings

If the exposure has been carried out at ‘base ISO’ then we have the maximum S/N ratio, as in column 1.

However, if we increase our ISO setting above ‘base’ then the total sensor array output looks like column 2.  We have in effect UNDER EXPOSED the shot, resulting in a reduced signal.  But we have the same value for the noise floor, so we have a lower S/N ratio.

In principal, the ADC cannot discriminate between noise floor and signal outputs, and so all it sees in one output value for each photosite.

At base ISO this isn’t a problem, but once we begin to shoot at ISO settings above base, under exposing in other words, the cameras internal image processors apply gain to boost the output values handed to it by the ADC.

Yes, this boosts the signal output, but it also amplifies the noise floor component of the signal at the same time – hence that perennial problem we all like to call ‘high ISO noise’.

So your ISO control behaves in exactly the same way as the ‘gain switch’ on a CB or long wave radio, or indeed the db gain on a microphone – ISO is just applied gain.

Things You Should Know

My first digital camera had a CCD (charge coupled device) sensor, it was made by Fuji and it cost a bloody fortune.

Cameras today for the most part use CMOS (complimentary metal oxide semi-conductor) sensors.

  • CCD sensors create high-quality, low-noise images.
  • CMOS sensors, traditionally, are more susceptible to noise.
  • Because each photosite on a CMOS sensor has a series of transistors located next to it, the light sensitivity of a CMOS chip tends to be lower. Many of the photons striking the sensory photosite array hit the transistors instead of the photosites.  This is where the newer micro lens designs come in handy.
  • A CMOS sensor consumes less power. CCD sensors can consume up to 100 times more power than an equivalent CMOS sensor.
  • CMOS chips can be produced easily, making them cheaper to manufacture than CCD sensors.

Basic CMOS tech has changed very little over the years – by that I’m referring to the actual ‘sensing’ bit of the sensor.  Yes, the individual photosites are now manufactured with more precision and consistency, but the basic methodology is pretty much ‘same as it ever was’.

But what HAS changed are the bits they stick in front of it – most notably micro-lens design; and the stuff that goes behind it, the ADC and image processors (IPs).

The ADC used to be 12 bit, now they are 14 bit on most digital cameras, and even 16 bit on some.  Increasing the bit depth accuracy in the ADC means it can detect smaller variations in output signal values between adjacent photosites.

As long as the ‘bits’ that come after the ADC can handle these extended values then the result can extend the cameras dynamic range.

But the ADC and IPs are firmware based in their operation, and so when you turn your ISO above base you are relying on a set of algorithms to handle the business of compensating for your under exposure.

All this takes place AFTER the shutter has closed – so again, ISO settings have less than nothing to do with the exposure of the image; said exposure has been made and finished with before any ISO applied gain occurs.

For a camera to be revolutionary in terms of high ISO image quality it must deliver a lower noise floor than its predecessor whilst maintaining or bettering its predecessors low ISO performance in terms of noise and dynamic range.

This where Nikon have screwed their own pooch with the D5. At ISOs below 3200 it has poorer IQ and narrower dynamic range than either the D4 or 4S.  Perhaps some of this problem could be due to the sensor photosite pitch (diameter) of 6.45 microns compared to the D4/4S of 7.30 microns – but I think it’s mostly due to poor ADC and S/N firmware; which of course can be corrected in the future.

Can I Get More Photons Onto My Sensor Andy?

You can get more photons onto your sensor by changing to a lens that lets in more light.

You might now by thinking that I mean switching glass based on a lower f-number or f-stop.

If so you’re half right.  I’m actually talking about t-stops.

The f-number of a lens is basically an expression of the relationship between maximum aperture diameter and focal length, and is an indication of the amount of light the lens lets in.

T-stops are slightly different. They are a direct indicator of how much light is transmitted by the lens – in other words how much light is actually being allowed to leave the rear element.

We could have two lenses of identical focal length and f-number, but one contains 17 lens elements and the other only 13. Assuming the glass and any coatings are of equal quality then the lens with fewer elements will have a higher transmission value and therefore lower T-number.

As an example, the Canon 85mm f1.2 actually has a t-number of 1.4, and so it’s letting in pretty much HALF a stop less light than you might think it is.

In Conclusion

I’ve deliberately not embellished this post with lots of images taken at high ISO – I’ve posted and published enough of those in the past.

I’ve given you this information so that you can digest it and hopefully understand more about how your camera works and what’s going on.  Only by understanding how something works can you deploy or use it to your best advantage.

I regularly take, market and sell images taken at ISO speeds that a lot of folk wouldn’t go anywhere near – even when they are using the same camera as me.

The sole reason I opt for high ISO settings is to obtain very fast shutter speeds with big glass in order to freeze action, especially of subjects close to the camera.  You can freeze very little action with a 500mm lens using speeds in the hundredths of a second.

Picture buyers love frozen high speed action and they don’t mind some noise if the shot is a bit special. Noise doesn’t look anywhere near as severe in a print as it does on your monitor either, so high ISO values are nothing to shy away from – especially if to do so would be at the expense of the ‘shot of a lifetime’.

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

Canon 5D Mk 4 – First Thoughts

The Canon 5D Mk 4

Looking at the Canon 5D Mk 4 for Wildlife & Bird Flight Photography.

Part 1 – First Thoughts.

2ppi Canon 5D Mk 4   First Thoughts

The other day Calumet asked if I wanted to test the new Canon 5D Mk 4.  I’d just done an autofocus workshop in Birmingham and had been asked about this camera, so I thought it would be a good idea to take up the offer.

I’ve deliberately stayed well clear of any reviews of this camera while waiting for its delivery – don’t want to unbox it with any preconceived ideas do we??!!

I picked the camera up yesterday from Calumet Manchester, replete with the stunning 500mm f4 LIS Mk 2 lens – “Leanne, where’s the other two spare batteries you promised you’d ordered for me?”

The only Canon DSLRs I’ve used over the past couple of years are the 1DX marks 1 & 2, with the occasional ‘smattering’ of 5DMk3 when I’ve been out with clients – so this new offering from Canon has something of a ‘clean slate’ to start with in my eyes.

So it’s a bit of a shame it got off to a bad start when I pulled it out of its case last night and found that Canon STILL haven’t added a viewfinder blind – a major fault with the 5DMk3 in my opinion.

D4D7453 Edit Canon 5D Mk 4   First ThoughtsWhat the heck are they thinking?

D4D7456 Edit Canon 5D Mk 4   First ThoughtsThis camera is no 1DX Mk 2, and it’ll be bought by folk who want to shoot landscapes, seascapes, wide-field astro, a bit of studio work perhaps – it won’t be bought by folk like me who shoot big hairy-arsed beasties in zero light at ISO-stupid; yet the 1DX has one!

Come on Canon – think about the little things chaps.

Anyway, here’s the rig Calumet have supplied to me, just to see how far we can penetrate the domain of the 1DX Mk2/Nikon D5…

D4D7448 Canon 5D Mk 4   First ThoughtsAll those stupid straps can bugger off for starters – Jesus, they are a recipe for disaster.  But WAIT – if I take the camera strap off I’ve not got my stupid rubber flappy thingy viewfinder blind….

Now imagine I’m using this Canon 5D Mk 4 camera with a wide-angle lens shooting a low light seascape with a 10 stop ND and a 2 minute exposure.  That strap flapping in the wind and rattling on the tripod legs isn’t going to do much for image sharpness is it…it’s pathetic.

As a Nikon shooter the lack of a proper blind irks the heck out of me, but we’ll put it aside as I’m sure older 5D users are well used to the problem by now.

So moving on…

My two main interests in the Canon 5D Mk 4 are autofocus performance first, and ISO/low light performance a close second – being good at both is a prerequisite for wildlife photography, and in my mind this 5D Mk 4 is pitching its tent on the lawn belonging to the Nikon D810, so there’s a benchmark for it!

Setting the Canon 5D Mk 4 to my normal ‘Canon settings’ I nearly came a cropper before I started!

Not being used to the, shall we say ‘cheaper’ Canon DSLRs I pressed the DRIVE AF Mode button and flicked the front dial one click, assuming that this would shift the camera from the ONE SHOT mode the previous user had left it, to AI SERVO:

D4D7475 Canon 5D Mk 4   First Thoughts

D4D7512 Canon 5D Mk 4   First Thoughts

But NO…..WTF is this:

D4D7484 Canon 5D Mk 4   First ThoughtsAI FOCUS…..what’s that all about then?  So I did something that pained me greatly – picked up the manual – and wished I hadn’t.

So we hit the internet, and the the first hit in a Google search was:

Screen Shot 2016 10 20 at 15.01.19 Canon 5D Mk 4   First ThoughtsThat sounded so interestingly unreasonable that I tried it – and soon stopped!

Nahh… it’s not for me – unless I’m missing something major!

So just make sure you are in AI SERVO if you or your subject, or both, are moving.

It’s cloudy outside and about 1.5 hours before sunset, but let’s step outside and do my basic ‘car number plate’ AF test in CASE 1, just to see ‘the lay of the land’ with this Canon 5D Mk 4:

Screen Shot 2016 10 20 at 17.19.55 600x313 Canon 5D Mk 4   First Thoughts

If you want to download the full resolution jpegs – 700Mb zip file – please click hereThe file is at my Dropbox, so if this post goes a bit viral then it may take a while to download.

So there are 30 images, no processing done to them at all, and they are all either 5000 or 6500 ISO.

Shot hand held, 1/2000th, f6.3, manual exposure with auto ISO and back-button-only focus. Maximum frame rate was not quite 7fps (well it didn’t sound like it anyway), and I tried to shoot bursts of around 5 or 6 frames.  It was only on the last of these that I was concious of shooting in buffer overflow.

Single Point AF was being used, in Case 1 – which isn’t best suited to this particular job.  But it’s my standard test with any Canon, just to see how far off the ball the camera/lens combo is.

Shutter release priority was set to FOCUS for the first frame, and +1 focus priority for the second and subsequent frames.

And I have to say I’m pretty impressed.  It’s done a heck of a sight better than I was expecting in Case 1.

Yes the shots have some noise and it certainly can’t hold a candle to its big brother 1DX Mk2 in that department, but then again its not been designed that way. Neither do I regard the noise as much of a problem either because it’s evenly distributed and not overly present in shadows.

But from an autofocus point of view the biggest percentage of those shots are on the money so to speak, and where it has gone wrong it’s only by a whisker; always slightly behind the target – that’s to be expected with an accelerating subject and Case 1 Accel/decel tracking of ‘0’, using a long telephoto.

A considerable improvement over the 5D Mk 3 in both noise and AF performance in my opinion, neither do I think the Mk 3 would have managed 30 frames in the same amount of time.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting more of my thoughts and findings about the Canon 5D Mk 4.  Tomorrow I’ll do some ISO testing and a bit more on the autofocus if the weather and time permit, so expect another post shortly!

And yes, it’s official, Andy HATES the bloody touch-screen!  Boy am I going to get myself in trouble with that – perhaps I’m too old to cope with such fangled gadgetry!

But that is balanced out by the pleasant surprise that the camera allows exposure compensation in manual mode – up to now a luxury presented to nearly all Nikon users, but only 1DX and 1DX Mk2 Canon owners (to my knowledge anyway) – nice one Canon, it’s about time!

logo simple Canon 5D Mk 4   First Thoughts

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

Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

September 9th to 16th, Norway Musk Ox and Sea Eagles.

DSC 9620 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

Left to Right: Mark Davies, Sigbjorn Frengen (our specialist Musk Ox guide for Dovrefjell), “Some Bearded Fat Git”, Mohamed Al Ashkar, Paul Atkins and Malcolm Clayton.

All four clients have been on numerous trips to Norway before, but for everyone, including myself, it was our first time in the Dovrefjell–Sunndalsfjella National Park and the magnificent Musk Ox that call the place home.

Firstly, I have to say a massive thank you to our specialist guide for the Musk Ox, Sigbjorn Frengen.

He’s a superb guide, the font of all ecological knowledge, has a driving passion for what he does, is as fit as the proverbial Butchers Dog, and is only in his mid 20’s.  He took guiding a bunch of geriatric old farts like us well in his stride; totally oblivious to the fact that we were all mighty jealous of his youth and fitness and secretly wanted to kill him for it!

And yes, I immediately booked him for the Dovrefjell part of my September 2017 workshop!

Musk Ox are animals not to be trifled with – they may look very benign but they weigh in at between 400 and 600 kilograms and can outrun Usain Bolt with very little effort.  They are quick to temper, but the signs of the oncoming rage are subtle and difficult to spot even at 60-70 metres. Subtle head-shaking and snorting are the main give-aways that you are causing some displeasure:

11I1683 2 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

A lone female Musk Ox snorts her displeasure at the presence of the photographer. She wants to rejoin the herd but the camera is in her way, so she blows mucus out of nose as a sign of annoyance.  Canon 1DX Mk2 + 200-400 @ 560mm 1/2500th sec @ f7.1 and 16,000ISO – YES SIXTEEN THOUSAND!

 

The above image shows brilliantly my other main task for the week – testing the Canon 1DX mark 2.

Most people know me as a Nikon shooter, and that I have a love-hate relationship with Canon – yes, I’m a troubled person!

I’ve waxed lyrical about the Canon 200-400 f4 many times on this blog and elsewhere, and the fact that I consider the Canon 61 point Reticular AF System to be the best on the planet.

You will also know that I loathe the sensor output of the original 1DX, and Canons daft refusal to give us the Uncompressed RAW Recording capability – spoilt see, Nikon user!!

I managed to get a couple of hours on the Canon 1DX Mk2 back in July and promptly set about testing the improved AF algorithms – by jingo was I impressed.  I was getting 40% less dropped shots on the Canon 1DX Mk2 at 10 frames per second than I was used to at 6 frames per second on the Mk1.

And as for the sensor output in general, the shadows adjustment latitude and high ISO performance – well, it was a revelation.

The Musk Ox above (click the image to view the full rez) has virtually ZERO noise reduction on it – none in post, and LOW on the in-camera High ISO NR menu setting.

11I3358 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

A baby Musk Ox lying by its mothers side on a soft bed of lichen, Erica and rare alpine plants. ISO 2500, 200-400 @ 560mm, 1/2500@f7.1

Why use such a high shutter speed Andy?

It’s brain-in-gear time folks – breezy conditions, lowish light levels, hair on the subject that’s over 1metre long, and wispy grass stems – all these move way faster than the bulky Musk Ox itself – under peaceful circumstances of course!. If these little tiny details suffer with motion blur it ruins the image – provided you have a sensor that can ‘deliver the goods’ at the resultant ISO-stupid.

I’m also shooting hand-held off the knee, with and effective 560mm angle of view on a 20Meg+ sensor, so I’ll need at least 1/1600th to combat the shakes, and I am indeed ‘testing’ a camera, so shooting at sub 1600ISO is not doing the job.

I’m using ‘spot AF’ and partial metering, and my AF point is bang in the middle of the point pattern.

This all neatly brings me to my first problem with the Canon 1DX Mk2 – or at least the one I was using – look at this image from a few frames before:

11I3352 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

A baby Musk Ox lying by its mothers side on a soft bed of lichen, Ericas and rare alpine plants.

If you examine the two shots closely you see something odd.

At this distance, around 70 metres, the f7.1 aperture should be generating around 1 metre of DoF.

In the first shot the AF pont was pretty much on babys head, but the DoF run-out is a lot greater beyond that distance than it is closer to the camera.  If the shot had been taken wide open at f5.6 then the subject would not be as sharp as it is.  More of babys body should be sharp, and less foreground sharpness.

In the second shot I’ve wavered slightly right, so now the focus point is on mums ass. This SHOULD push the plain of focus further back – and thus that 1 metre DoF.  And it does – a bit! There is still too much foreground DoF.

The point is this, the focus tends to ‘bounce a little’ rather like the fault with the Nikon D4. This was caused, in the D4, by ‘mirror bounce’. But in the Canon 1DX Mk2 I get the feeling that it’s due to a nano-second miss timing between the AF sensor and the mirror starting to move for the next frame.

Why do I think this?  Because if I drop the frame rate from 10fps to 7fps the ‘AF bounce’ disappears completely.

I could put more images up to illustrate my point further but that would be pointless as it could be a fault unique to the camera I was using.  Having said that, there was another Canon 1DX Mk2 with a 200-400 shooting right next to me, and that showed exactly the same characteristics!!

But there is ONE thing I truly loathe on the Canon 1DX Mk2 – and the D5 and D500 come to that – the rear screen resolutions.

They are all too high in resolution.

I understand WHY they have such high resolutions, but when you are shooting stills at long distance, where focus placement is super-critical, they CAN lull you into something of a ‘false sense of security’ when you use them to check fine focus tolerances at 1:1.

You check the images on the camera and they look sharp.  You get back to base and offload the images to your storage drives then review them on a 13″ MacBook Pro with a damn 227 dpi Retina display and the still look sharp.  You get home and view them on your 90-odd dpi 24″ Eizo – and some of them look a lot less perfect!

I suppose with use it’s something you’ll get used to, but if you are moving to a Canon 1DX Mk2 from an older Mk1 or 5DMk3 then bare it in mind and check your images VERY carefully if you’re using big glass under critical conditions.

Anyway, back to the stunning Musk Ox again:

11I3397 Edit 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

A solitary bull Musk Ox stands watch over his harem of females under the gloomy light of late afternoon in the Dovrefjell National Park in Norway.

11I2108 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

Stormy skies form a backdrop to a bull Musk Ox standing watch over two females in his harem, ready to chase away any other bull that he may consider a threat to his dominance.

11I2101 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

“Bam-Bam does Lunch”

Lack of Lemmings meant the Arctic Foxes were still up in the high ground, so with that and a very wet forecast for Sunday we elected to leave Dovrefjell a day early and do the 7 hour drive to Lauvsnes in order to gain an extra day with the Eagles.

Monday morning saw us in the boat at just after 6.30am and myself an “Mad” Mark Davies had one shot weighing heavily on our minds – Backlit Eagle!

Over the remaining days I have to say that we were spoilt something rotten with opportunities for this most enigmatic eagle shot, here is a tiny fraction:

11I4606 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

11I5847 Edit 2 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts 11I5845 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughtsThe Canon 1DX Mk2 performed perfectly on this job, no one could have asked it to do more.  Shooting this at 10 frames per second was epic as it captures more of the ‘money shots’ with the spray trails.

Here is a continuous burst of 77 raw files at 10 frames per second, from when the eagle begins its approach to when I can’t basically be bothered any more:

Screen Shot 2016 09 24 at 16.26.31 600x357 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

And they are tack sharp from the first:

11I5833 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

To the last:

11I5899 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

 

I won’t say that by the end of the Thursday session it was getting boring, because I never cease to marvel at these awesome birds – but the hit-rate of the Canon 1DX Mk2 was getting a tad monotonous.

While a ‘crossing’ subject is not so taxing on the AF system as head-on subjects, the huge amounts of lens flare you encounter when shooting the style of image are notorious for playing havoc with auto focus.  When you get to the point of maximum rim lighting neither you or the camera can see very much of anything at all, and most older systems will hunt focus for a frame or two if you are not careful with your settings.

I shot sequences like this using both AF Point Surround and 9 point Zone AF – both of which performed superbly.

I’ll have to add a caveat though – the camera only performs this well if your technique is SOLID.  If you struggle to keep your AF group on target, or are just plain bone-idle, and try Large Zone AF or God forbid Auto, the cameras AF system goes into melt-down doing this sort of shot.

And yet AUTO on the Nikon D5 does a very good job at these sequences – weird!

So after a week of working the Canon 1DX Mk2 quite hard here’s what I think:

First, if you own a Mk1 1DX you NEED to upgrade, if only for the much superior IQ of the sensor.

Canon will probably hate me saying this, but the Canon 1DX Mk2 is ‘a bit of an animal’.  You could ‘wobble around’ a bit on the AF tracking with the Mk1 and get away with it.  But the Mk2 will bite you in the bum for doing the same thing – and when you least expect it.

With head-on targets the AF can both surprise and disappoint, methinks there will be a firmware upgrade at some point that will tidy the systems response to rapidly closing subjects at shortish distances.  That’s what happened with the Mk1.

11I7114 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

There some other settings I need to play with on this beast of a machine before I feel I can formulate a descent opinion, things that I never had a chance to try in Norway, and others that only occur to me when viewing images on a PROPER SCREEN!

There is more to this ‘box of tricks’ from Canon than meets the eye!

And has anyone noticed just how CRAP the manual is – Jesus, I don’t think I’ve seen such a ‘sketchy’ document since I perused the Nikon D5 manual….sometimes I get the impression that both Nikon and Canon are a little clueless as to how there own gear works!

Makes me smile – and that’s a good thing!  But then again, it’s not my money being spent here – it’s yours.

A big thanks has to go to Paul Smith for supplying his camera and lens for this first evaluation – Cheers Matey!

And as always a big thank you to my clients, Mark, Malcolm, Mohamed & Paul for being such good sports, making a fun group dynamic, and for having a damn good laugh for week – usually at my expense!  Cheers for your continued support guys.

And lastly, Ole Martin – thanks again for yet another great week. Only another 9 months and I’m back for two weeks solid – Christ, won’t that be fun!!!

Nikon D5 Autofocus Test

Nikon D5 Autofocus Test

On Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to do a short Nikon D5 Autofocus test, courtesy of Paul Atkins.

D4D6793 900x599 Nikon D5 Autofocus Test

Using Paul’s newly acquired D5, his Nikon 400mm f2.8 lens and his two crackpot Golden retrievers ‘Enzo’ and ‘Raffa’, his large lawn and a couple of tennis balls, I gave the camera some hard work to do.

Bearing in mind that attentiveness, obedience and eagerness to please, are not traits that figure greatly in either dogs mental make-up; I was pleasantly surprised as to how instructive the exercise was – well done puppies!

On a good run at the camera the dogs cover something like 28 metres in 5 seconds, starting out at around 31 metres away and ending just outside the focus limiter at around 3 metres.

The camera was set to my MANUAL EXPOSURE + AUTO ISO, 1/4000th and f6.3.

I should also stress that there was NO AF FINE TUNE set for these shots.

That silliness has been taken to a whole new level of craziness now – sweet Jesus it makes me so angry!

I set the AF up very much how I’d set a Canon 1DX or 1DXMk2, and then went through the majority of the AF modes.

Dynamic 9, 25 and 72, group, 3D and ‘AUTO’ – and I was totally horrified at which mode gave the best results, and I mean BEST by a country mile!

In this video I go through the full resolution sequence of 27 shots individually so you can see how the Nikon D5 autofocus performs as the two dogs get closer to the camera with every frame.  The images have only Lightroom default sharpening applied and have had nothing done to them except my standard contrast-lowering adjustments.

Don’t be silly – click the YouTube link in the bottom of the above frame and watch it at full resolution on my channel!

Please don’t take this as a definitive test of the Nikon D5 autofocus – I certainly don’t, and neither am I prepared to draw much of a conclusion from it.  But it works!

I know I’m not alone in finding the Auto focus mode to be ‘better’ in terms of consistent focus, but to my mind this should NOT be the case, especially on such a target moving in such close proximity to a long telephoto – even if it is an f2.8.

At this point I’m not going to bother showing the sequences from the other modes, just take my word for it that I was shocked at the distinctly poorer performance using the other modes I tried – except for GROUP, which has never worked well in this sort of situation.

A couple of things to note:

  1. I used the same settings at 12fps and the consistency level dropped by around 45%, so no change in that old chestnut.  The Canon 1DX suffered from it too, but with the limited testing I’ve done on the 1DXMk2, Canons idea of crafting and honing the existing AF system, as opposed to Nikons ‘chucking the baby out with the bath water’, seems to have solved the problem to a greater degree.
  2. The D5 raw files seem to have lost a little tractability in ‘lifting the blacks/shadows/exposure’ – something that I’ve always held typical .NEF files in high esteem for.  This I found quite surprising seeing as the camera was heralded as the ‘Prince of Darkness’.   It’s also the one thing above all else that I despise in Canon 1DX raw files.  But Canon have upped their game considerably on this front with the 1DXMk2.

Seriously folks, it’s like some sort of demented see-saw or merry-go-round with these manufacturers…

The new Canon is coming to Norway with me in a couple of weeks, and Mr. Paul is bringing his D5, so there will be quite a bit of performance testing going on throughout September and October.

Hope these shots peek your interest folks!

 

Canon 1DX Mark 2

Canon 1DX Mark 2 – a Game Changer?

A couple of weeks ago I posted on my Facebook page that I had been playing around with some RAW files shot with the new Canon 1DX Mark 2 – and my initial conclusion was that the new speed master from Canon was, in my opinion, something of a GAME CHANGER.

350x350 Canon 1DX Mark 2

Boy did I get a bit of a thrashing – from Nikon D5 users who have little to no experience of the pre-existing 1DX system, let alone the new one; in other words folk trying to justify the giant lump of cash they’ve just handed over………

What GAME is it that I think the Canon 1DX Mark 2 potentially changes?

For me it breaks down quite simply:

Auto Focus: The Canon 1DX Mk1 61 point Reticular AF system BEATS THE CRAP out of all variants of the Nikon Multi-Cam 3500 AF system when it comes to using long glass on fast-moving targets.

With the caveat that you need to know and understand how to set it up of course!

Image Quality:  Any Nikon pro-body RAW file kicks a Canon 1DX Mark 1 .CR2 file into the middle of the last century.

The Nikon D4/4S sensors produce RAWs that are cleaner in respect of ISO/Noise, greater Dynamic Range (up to a point) and are just plain “more tractable” when it comes to post process; especially in shadow and highlight recovery.

And so “The Game” is quite simple – AF Performance v Sensor Output IQ – it’s simple and straight forward enough that anyone can understand where I’m coming from!

Let’s get something clear from the start – neither Canon or Nikon have seen fit to let Uncle Andy get his hands on either of the new cameras!  The other week I went to a Canon day in Manchester and actually got my hands on a Canon 1DX Mark 2 – but when I went into my pocket and pulled out a 64 Gb CF card the guy from Canon had a hissy-fit and wouldn’t allow me to take any shots – “we can’t allow them to get into the public domain” was his excuse, and he wouldn’t budge.

But one of the speakers, Simeon Quarrie, was kind enough to let me have a play with some of his .CR2 from a project in Africa he’d just completed on the new Canon 1DX Mark 2 – and my chin hit the floor.

I could not believe what I was seeing – the amount of shadow and highlight recovery over-head was insane.  Overall, the shadow and highlight RAW IQ is right up there with the Nikon D4/4S.  Now let’s not get too carried away here; the Canon 1DX Mark 2 .CR2 file is still lossless compressed ( see blog article HERE) and so isn’t offering QUITE what it could do in respect of post-process, but it is A MASSIVE jump in IQ from the original Canon 1 DX.

FFS Canon, grow a pair will you – give the Canon users a firmware upgrade to allow them the option of keeping the uncompressed RAW will you!  It’s not going to cost you anything…

Austin Thomas kindly sent me a couple of RAWs from his new Canon 1DX Mark 2 a couple of days after the Canon Open day in Manchester:

ATKez Canon 1DX Mark 2

Screen grab of basic raw file adjustment from the new Canon 1DX Mk2 – shot taken by Austin Thomas.
Note Shadow Recovery slider position.

In this Kestrel image note the position of the Shadow slider in the Lightroom Basic panel – 100% to the right.  The shot is 3200ISO so yes there is a bit of noise, but I’ve not made any attempt to remove it – the ONLY adjustment made is to the shadow recovery.  Just look at the eye, there’s NO colour noise or pattern noise.

Screen Shot 2016 05 28 at 06.34.50 Canon 1DX Mark 2

Screen grab of basic raw file adjustment from the new Canon 1DX Mk2 – shot taken by Austin Thomas.
Note Highlight & Shadow Recovery slider positions.

In the Little Owl (L’owly!) shot I’ve pushed things further by putting the Highlight Recovery slider 100% to the left for maximum effect.

This extreme shadow and highlight recovery is almost impossible with Mark 1 RAWs without incurring massive penalties in the form of colour noise and sensor pattern noise, especially in the shadow areas:

1DXmk1 Canon 1DX Mark 2

1DX Mark 1 raw file with 100% shadow recovery – note the huge amounts of pattern noise and false green/magenta colour artefacting.  This shot is mine BTW – Austin doesn’t get many of these up his way!

And now it appears that DPReview have done something useful – they’ve been shooting a head-to-head between Canon 1DX Mark 2 and a Nikon D5 (which in itself is NOT useful), but they’ve put some RAW files up that folk can download.

A couple of these files do a very good job of illustrating my point about the Canon 1DX Mark 2, and you can download them HERE and HERE.

Go and download these two files:

G05.08Moto1DXII011 Canon 1DX Mark 2

G05.08Moto1DXII020 Canon 1DX Mark 2

Bring them into Lightroom and drag the Highlight Recovery all the way to the left, and the shadow Recovery all the way to the right:

G05.08Moto1DXII011 2 Canon 1DX Mark 2

G05.08Moto1DXII020 2 Canon 1DX Mark 2

Now go and look at those tyre barriers – no colour noise or sensor pattern noise.

As a long-time Nikon shooter I find lots of thing that irritate me about Canon – the crackers menu system and the God-awful ergonomics.  But then a lot of Canon users will say the same about Nikon – it’s what you are used to that makes the ‘stuff’ on the other side of the fence look crazy.

But all that is totally irrelevant really – all I’m ever concerned with is AF performance and sensor IQ.  And sensor IQ was the Achilles Heel of the original 1DX in my opinion – simply because I’m used to Nikon sensor IQ.

I choose to use a Mk1 1DX – with its somewhat inferior IQ – over my D4 or 4S – with the better IQ but poorer AF performance – when “the chips are down”.  The chips are down when I know I’m going to be in a situation where “THE shot” could come at any time, and is not going to be easily repeatable.

Seeing as adopting this course of action involves me begging, stealing, borrowing, or God forbid HIRING the gear, it’s a decision I never take lightly!

But the Canon 1DX Mark 2 has alleviated my IQ concerns, and so makes the option a little easier.

FOOT NOTE

The main fault with the Nikon Multi-Cam AF system is a missing user control – Canon call it Acceleration/Deceleration Tracking.  It’s a mission-critical control, and Nikons steadfast refusal to give us access to it means that either THEY are stupid, or that they think their users are.

But the new D5 AF system gives Nikon users access to a control Nikon call Subject Motion – you guessed it, it’s Acceleration/Deceleration Tracking.

Does it work as effectively as Canons – who have been honing and developing it for years?  Who knows….perhaps I would by now if it weren’t for the earthquake in Japan a few week ago.

I seriously hope that Nikon HAVE got it right; but at the end of the day it still doesn’t help me all that much because I can’t put a D5 on the back of a Canon 200-400 – the best all-round wildlife photography lens on the planet!

Raw File Compression

Raw File Compression.

Today I’m going to give you my point of view over that most vexatious question – is LOSSLESS raw file compression TRULY lossless?

I’m going to upset one heck of a lot of people here, and my chances of Canon letting me have any new kit to test are going to disappear over the horizon at a great rate of knots, but I feel compelled to post!

What prompts me to commit this act of potential suicide?

It’s this shot from my recent trip to Norway:

FW1Q1351 2 900x600 Raw File Compression

Direct from Camera

FW1Q1351 900x600 Raw File Compression

Processed in Lightroom

I had originally intended to shoot Nikon on this trip using a hire 400mm f2.8, but right at the last minute there was a problem with the lens that couldn’t be sorted out in time, so Calumet supplied me with a 1DX and a 200-400 f4 to basically get me out of a sticky situation.

As you should all know by now, the only problems I have with Canon cameras are their  short Dynamic Range, and Canons steadfast refusal to allow for uncompressed raw recording.

The less experienced shooter/processor might look at the shot “ex camera” and be disappointed – it looks like crap, with far too much contrast, overly dark shadows and near-blown highlights.

Shot on Nikon the same image would look more in keeping with the processed version IF SHOT using the uncompressed raw option, which is something I always do without fail; and the extra 3/4 stop dynamic range of the D4 would make a world of difference too.

Would the AF have done as good a job – who knows!

The lighting in the shot is epic from a visual PoV, but bad from a camera exposure one. A wider dynamic range and zero raw compression on my Nikon D4 would allow me to have a little more ‘cavalier attitude’ to lighting scenarios like this – usually I’d shoot with +2/3Ev permanently dialled into the camera.  Overall the extra dynamic range would give me less contrast, and I’d have more highlight detail and less need to bump up the shadow areas in post.

In other words processing would be easier, faster and a lot less convoluted.

But I can’t stress enough just how much detrimental difference LOSSLESS raw file compression CAN SOMETIMES make to a shot.

Now there is a lot – and I mean A LOT – of opinionated garbage written all over the internet on various forums etc about lossless raw file compression, and it drives me nuts.  Some say it’s bad, most say it makes no difference – and both camps are WRONG!

Sometimes there is NO visual difference between UNCOMPRESSED and LOSSLESS, and sometimes there IS.  It all depends on the lighting and the nature of the scene/subject colours and how they interact with said lighting.

The main problem with the ‘it makes no difference’ camp is that they never substantiate their claims; and if they are Canon shooters they can’t – because they can’t produce an image with zero raw file compression to compare their standard lossless CR2 files to!

So I’ve come up with a way of illustrating visually the differences between various levels of raw file compression on Nikon using the D800E and Photoshop.

But before we ‘get to it’ let’s firstly refresh your understanding. A camera raw file is basically a gamma 1.0, or LINEAR gamma file:

LinVsHum3 900x271 Raw File Compression

Linear (top) vs Encoded Gamma

The right hand 50% of the linear gamma gradient represents the brightest whole stop of exposure – that’s one heck of a lot of potential for recording subtle highlight detail in a raw file.

It also represents the area of tonal range that is frequently most effected by any form of raw file compression.

Neither Nikon or Canon will reveal to the world the algorithm-based methods they use for lossless or lossy raw file compression, but it usually works by a process of ‘Bayer Binning’.

Bayer Pattern Raw File Compression

If we take a 2×2 block, it contains 2 green, 1 red and 1 blue photosite photon value – if we average the green value and then interpolate new values for red and blue output we will successfully compress the raw file.  But the data will be ‘faux’ data, not real data.

The other method we could use is to compress the tonal values in that brightest stop of recorded highlight tone – which is massive don’t forget – but this will result in a ’rounding up or down’ of certain bright tonal values thus potentially reducing some of the more subtle highlight details.

We could also use some variant of the same type of algorithm to ‘rationalise’ shadow detail as well – with pretty much the same result.

In the face of Nikon and Canons refusal to divulge their methodologies behind raw file compression, especially lossless, we can only guess what is actually happening.

I read somewhere that with lossless raw file compression the compression algorithms leave a trace instruction about what they have done and where they’ve done it in order that a raw handler programme such as Lightroom can actually ‘undo’ the compression effects – that sounds like a recipe for disaster if you ask me!

Personally I neither know nor do I care – I know that lossless raw file compression CAN be detrimental to images shot under certain conditions, and here’s the proof – of a fashion:

Let’s look at the following files:

14bitUC1 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 1: 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED

14bitUC2 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 2: 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED

14bitLosslessC 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 3: 14 bit LOSSLESS compression

14bitLossyC 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 4: 14 bit LOSSY compression

12bitUC 258x400 Raw File Compression

Image 5: 12 bit UNCOMPRESSED

Yes, there are 2 files which are identical, that is 14 bit uncompressed – and there’s a reason for that which will become apparent in a minute.

First, some basic Photoshop ‘stuff’.  If I open TWO images in Photoshop as separate layers in the same document, and change the blend mode of the top layer to DIFFERENCE I can then see the differences between the two ‘images’.  It’s not a perfect way of proving my point because of the phenomenon of photon flux.

Photon Flux Andy??? WTF is that?

Well, here’s where shooting two identical 14 bit uncompressed files comes in – they themselves are NOT identical!:

controlunamplified 258x400 Raw File Compression control 258x400 Raw File Compression

The result of overlaying the two identical uncompressed raw files (above left) – it looks almost black all over indicating that the two shots are indeed pretty much the same in every pixel.  But if I amplify the image with a levels layer (above right) you can see the differences more clearly.

So there you have it – Photon Flux! The difference between two 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED raw files shot at the same time, same ISO, shutter speed AND with a FULLY MANUAL APERTURE.  The only difference between the two shots is the ratio and number of photons striking the subject and being reflected into the lens.

The Levels Adjustment Layer had values of 0, 50 and 150, and is going to be added to the following comparison images:

Firstly 14 Bit UNCOMPRESSED compared to 14 bit LOSSLESS (the important one!):

14bitUCvLosslessC 258x400 Raw File Compression

14 bit UNCOMPRESSED vs 14 bit LOSSLESS

Please remember, the above ‘difference’ image contains photon flux variations too, but if you look carefully you will see greater differences than in the ‘flux only’ image above.

14bitUCvLossyC 258x400 Raw File Compression 14bitUCv12bitUC 258x400 Raw File Compression

The two images above illustrate the differences between 14 bit uncompressed and 14 bit LOSSY compression (left) and 14 bit UNCOMPRESSED and 12 bit UNCOMPRESSED (right) just for good measure!

In Conclusion

As I indicated earlier in the post, this is not a definitive testing method, sequential shots will always contain a photon flux variation that ‘pollutes’ the ‘difference’ image.

I purposefully chose this white subject with textured aluminium fittings and a blackish LED screen because the majority of sensor response will lie in that brightest gamma 1.0 stop.

The exposure was a constant +1EV, 1/30th @ f 18 and 100 ISO – nearly maximum dynamic range for the D800E, and f18 was set manually to avoid any aperture flicker caused by auto stop down.

You can see from all the ‘difference’ images that the part of the subject that seems to suffer the most is the aluminium part, not the white areas.  The aluminium has a stippled texture causing a myriad of small specular highlights – brighter than the white parts of the subject.

What would 14 bit uncompressed minus 14 bit lossless minus photon flux look like?  In a perfect world I’d be able to show you accurately, but we don’t live in one of those so I can’t!

We can try it using the flux shot from earlier:

losslessminuscontrol 258x400 Raw File Compression

But this is wildly inaccurate as the flux component is not pertinent to the photons at the actual time the lossless compression shot was taken.  But the fact that you CAN see an image does HINT that there is a real difference between UNCOMPRESSED and LOSSLESS compression – in certain circumstances at least.

If you have never used a camera that offers the zero raw file compression option then basically what you’ve never had you never miss.  But as a Nikon shooter I shoot uncompressed all the time – 90% of the time I don’t need to, but it just saves me having to remember something when I do need the option.

FW1Q4469 600x400 Raw File Compression

Would this 1DX shot be served any better through UNCOMPRESSED raw recording?  Most likely NO – why?  Low Dynamic Range caused in the main by flat low contrast lighting means no deep dark shadows and nothing approaching a highlight.

I don’t see it as a costly option in terms of buffer capacity or on-board storage, and when it comes to processing I would much rather have a surfeit of sensor data rather than a lack of it – no matter how small that deficit might be.

Lossless raw file compression has NO positive effect on your images, and it’s sole purpose in life is to allow you to fit more shots on the storage media – that’s it pure and simple.  If you have the option to shoot uncompressed then do so, and buy a bigger card!

What pisses my off about Canon is that it would only take, I’m sure, a firmware upgrade to give the 1DX et al the ability to record with zero raw file compression – and, whether needed or not, it would stop miserable grumpy gits like me banging on about it!

 

Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

GX2R2055 Edit 21 Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

My Autofocus Guide for Bird in Flight Photography is finished and available for download in my online store – here, priced £29.00

The download is in the no-frills .pdf format.

Screen Shot 2016 12 10 at 12.20.12 352x400 Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

This is my ‘real world’ guide to Canon & Nikon Autofocus which is specifically aimed at photographers using long lenses for Bird in Flight photography.

I sell my full resolution wildlife and natural history images every day via the various global image libraries to which I am a contributor.  The largest percentage of these sales are Birds in Flight.

Image libraries demand tack sharp, full resolution uploads from their contributors;  even marginal sharpness will result in an image being rejected by Quality Control.

D4D7980 Edit Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

A large male White-tailed eagle, locally known as “Brutus”, carrying a very large Coalfish.

In this guide, I take you right back to the basics of subject speed and distance; and how this impacts on our choice of camera body and lens focal length and working aperture.

D4S6788 Edit Edit Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

A Red Kite in a fast dive against a blue sky.

You’ll learn how phase detection autofocus works – only by really understanding how your autofocus system works, and what its control settings actually do, will you truly be able to control it in the way you need to for the particular task at hand.

I give you exposure and autofocus control settings for both Canon and Nikon, based on ‘real world’ full resolution images – settings that actually work, and do the job you expect them to do.

We also discover the various ‘tips ‘n tricks’ we need to know to help the autofocus system do the job we are asking it to do.

We also look at the short-comings of both the Nikon and Canon systems, and how to work around them in order to produce tack sharp images of birds in flight – HAND HELD – forget that tripod; you can’t move fast enough with one!

Photographers who have read this guide as it was being written have called it ‘the definitive guide’.  I’m not going to be so big-headed as to promote it as such myself, but I will say that it’s taken a while to produce, is pretty darn thorough, and I have the shots to prove it!

Available for purchase in my online store right now.

Please Note: This document relates to LONG LENS continuous auto focus tracking in Nikon AFC and Canon AI Servo modes in conjunction with continuous shooting modes on Nikon D4/4S and Canon 1Dxbodies with v2 firmware or higher, and is primarily related to capturing Birds in Flight and other fast-paced wildlife action photography.
Canon 5DMk3/7DMk2 users will also find this guide very useful, as will non-wildlife shooters.

Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF

 The Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 Compact Flash Card from Calumet – review

Prospec Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF

The Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 Compact Flash Card from Calumet – click image to visit the product order page.

Because I’m something of a photographic ‘old fart’ and have been taking images for a living since before the venerable A1 was a glimmer in some Canon engineers eye, I treat everything new with suspicion!

Back in those days when we shot on film, suspicious gits like me had our favourite films we used.  These were whittled down from the vast array on offer, not only on the basis of their performance, but also on reliability.

Did the sprocket holes tear in a particular cameraif they did then to avoid imminent disaster you’d never put that film in that camera.

Were the ‘tails’ always taped to the cassette spool? Christ, that one nearly cost me a boat-load of money at a wedding once – both bride and groom were barristers!

Thank the Lord we don’t have problems like that any more.

But CF cards come with their equivalent problem – card failure.

CF cards are basically Flash RAM, just like SSDs in the latest computers.  And as such they are prone to some degree of instant failure over time.

 The Way I Use Camera Storage Media

When I’ve finished shooting something I move it from the camera storage to my main imaging machine as soon as possible.  Once the shots are on the computer, the card goes back in the camera and is immediately reformatted.

Back when the D3 was Nikon’s flagship I’d had some clonking failures of Lexar CF cards and Sandisk Ultras, when Kevin Treadwell at TFC Birmingham put me on to Delkin cards – and I have never had a problem with them………(see footnote)…

And the two original 16Gb Delkins I bought for the D3 are still going strong to this day!

So when I eventually moved to the D4 I wanted a 32Gb Delkin UDMA 7 to go with the 32Gb Sony XQD, but I couldn’t locate one anywhere.

I was moaning about this to Stuart Tudor-Wood at Calumet Birmingham and he suggested I tried their own Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 instead.

Can you imagine what the “suspicious old photography fart” in me was saying; I was used to possibly the most reliable memory on the planet, and the priciest; and here was something I’d never heard of, and costing pretty much the same..

I did manage to walk out of the door without paying for it, so that was a small victory – but it only lasted 3 weeks until I was doing another workshop there – he nailed me for it the minute I walked through the door!

So, here we are, two years later.  The other day I realised how long I’d had this card in regular use.  It’s a mighty rare occurrence for me to have a day shooting long lens action and not generate some use of the CF card.

Even if I’ve only shot to the XQD card, force of habit leads me to format both cards one after the other.

And if I’m going to shoot video I shoot that to the XQD and then remove it if I want to shoot stills, which consequently go to the CF card.

When I’m testing lenses and shooting for workshop slides etc I shoot to the CF card, then stick that in my steam-powered laptop – it can never see my XQD reader and I daren’t even think about asking it to accommodate tethered shooting..

I bought the card a new brother so I had two of them in the 1DX when I went to Norway in February this year.

All in all, looking back through all the image batches I’ve shot I reckoned that this one card had been reformatted 981 times in a selection of camera bodies from a 1DX and 5DMk3 to a D4S, D4, D800, D800E and D810.

In the D4 this card allows me to shoot 41 14bit uncompressed raw files before I hit the end of the camera buffer; which let’s face it, is plenty.

So I promptly set about shooting 20 bursts of 41 frames, wiping the card between bursts, just so that I could say with some degree of certainty that the card had just hit its 1000th reformat.

Now THAT is a good, solid and highly reliable card that has put up with more abuse in the last two years than some of my clients would give their CF cards in a lifetime.

What Do The ‘Hieroglyphics’ All Mean?

I must admit to being somewhat ambivalent to the majority of these speed numbers – at the end of the day, as a photographer you are more interested in sustained write speed than you are in read speed – or at least you should be.

The faster the write speed of the media the longer it takes to hit the end of the camera internal buffer – this means you shoot more sequential frames in a burst.

CF6 Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF

This logo means the media is compliant with the CFA’s CF6 specification, which is supposed to provide data transfer rates of 167Mb/sec.

But that quoted transfer rate could be either read or write – they never seem to commit!

CF6 specification means UDMA 7 compliance; whereas UDMA 6 equated to CF 5 specification and transfer speeds of 133Mb/sec.

CF cards have to communicate with a host device – in our case our camera; and UMDA is the most efficient and fastest mode of communication. But not ALL cameras are UDMA compliant.  And those that are might not be UDMA 7 compliant.

If a camera is not UDMA compatible then believe it or not, a slower non-UDMA card might make the camera work faster. If you put a UDMA 7 card in a camera that is only UDMA 6 compliant then that’s fine, but communication between the two will be at UDMA 6 speeds.

The moral here is to check your camera specifications, and available firmware upgrades.

What does 1010x mean? Known as the card Commercial X Rating it’s an indication of read speed more than anything else, and basically relates the speed of the card as a multiple of the old CD-ROM standard of 150KBs.  So 1010x equates to 151.15Mbs.

But here’s the thing; none of these speeds, theoretical or otherwise, are derived via a camera – they are all acquired on a test-bench computer and a variety of card interfaces.

There is a simple if slightly ‘rough ‘n ready’ test that you can do to check the camera/media combo write speed:

  1. Set the camera to its fastest RAW shooting frame rate (Canon 1DX users note, that’s NOT 14fps!).
  2. Set the burst length to 30 frames.
  3. Put the camera in manual mode, auto iso, and set the shortest shutter speed.

Get a stop-watch and be prepared to start it when the ‘data write’ indicator lights up.

Press and hold the shutter button to start the burst of exposures, take your finger off the shutter button when the camera stops shooting.  The indicator light will still be on, and the stop watch should still be running.  Stop the clock when the light goes out!

Multiply the number of frames by the size of your RAW file, then divide the result by the time in seconds and you’ll have a rough value for your data write speed in Mb/sec.

In a Canon 1DX the Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF card chugs away at a highly respectable 69Mbs write speed.

32Gb of storage with great reliability and ‘real world’ write speed like that is great – especially for the price.

Nikon Users

If, like me, you mainly shoot uncompressed 14 bit RAW (not an option for Canon shooters) the write speed of the Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF card in a D4/4S will drop to around 41Mbs due to the much increased file size of each RAW frame – 35.9Mb average RAW size, as opposed to the 1DX average file size of around 26.4Mb.

But sensible burst shooting in conjunction with the huge Nikon D4/4S buffer means you will never suffer from ‘buffer lock-out’.

Conclusion

Bearing in mind that this is just my opinion, the Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF card represents exceptionally good value for money.  Yes, there are faster cards out there; but I’ve been bitten by both S****** and L**** in the past, and ‘once bitten twice shy’ and all that……

For me the write/format longevity of this card is what strikes me the most, and for the price this card is well worthy of anyone’s consideration.

D4D2589 900x599 Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF

Two years and over 1000 reformats, the Prospec 32Gb UDMA 7 CF card is still going strong – have a Kite!

Footnote

I’ve just had it confirmed……..the Prospec is actually Delkin; so bearing in mind what I said earlier, the reliability comes as no surprise!

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