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!

 

2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

I’ve just had to spend some money and do a 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade, mainly because of Photoshops new ‘Select and Mask” interface.

D4D6816 600x400 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

Ever since this new workspace was introduced it has caused me no end of problems with brush lag and general ‘hanging’.

And the fact that I need to run screen capture software at the same time, in order to feed the Tube of You, meant that for the last month Uncle Andy’s been unhappy..

For the last couple of months I’ve been toying with adding more RAM to the machine, so last week I sprung £200 at Mac Upgrades for 32GB of OWC RAM to replace the 16GB of Crucial that I installed a couple of years ago.

There’s nothing like the assembly of wide-field astro shots from a 36Mp camera to point out weaknesses in RAM capacity!

But the Select and Mask workspace in Photoshop show diddly-squat of an improvement with doubling the RAM.  It wasn’t until I happened across a note by Scott Kelby where he noted that this new workspace was totally GPU dependent.  No mention of this on anything from Adobe that I could see.

Now the thought of buying a new GPU for Mac should fill anyone with dread over the lightness of their wallet after the purchase.

Mac GPU’s are thin on the ground, of limited spec and HUGELY over-priced.

Mac Upgrades offer “flashed” PC GPU’s – AMD Radeons at an appalling £264 for a 2GB; that’s just daylight robbery in my opinion.

Flashing a mac-suitable PC GPU serves one single purpose – you can see your boot screen at start-up.

My boot screen lasts for about 7 seconds with my existing SSD system drive and the 64GB of new RAM – so I’m not so bothered about seeing it, especially if it can save me money AND steer me away from Radeon and on to an Nvidia chipset.

Opting for an Nvidia chipset allows a greater choice of GPU specification and performance.

So I’ve spent the last few days getting my head around the technicals, and they really are quite simple.

The PCIe slots in a 2009 Mac Pro 4,1 are only capable of supplying 75 watts of power.  However, lurking on the board are TWO mini PCIe 6 pin auxiliary power connectors, each capable of delivering 75 watts each.

So if you purchase a couple of these:

Apple Mac Pro mini pci-e 6pin to pci-e 6pin video card power cable

you can effectively drive a mac-compatible GPU requiring 3x 75, or 225 watts total of power.

And so I came up with this baby!

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 14.47.53 copy 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

4GB – not 2GB, and £179 not £264 – and it only requires 150 watts of power.

So this very morning made a trip to Overclockers in Newcastle under Lyme and once back in the office it took less than 15 minutes to have the 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade done and working.

D4D6802 900x599 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

Just look at this bad boy in comparison to the GT120 it’s replacing – at least 8 times as useful!

If you fancy doing this to your Mac Pro 4,1 then there are a few things you need to do before you make your decision:

  1. Visit this page at Abobe to check for Lightroom GPU compatibility.
  2. IMPORTANT – you must download and install the Nvidia WEB DRIVERS from HERE if you are still running Yosemite or HERE if you are using El Capitan. You MUST do this BEFORE you turn your machine off to begin the upgrade – if you don’t you might be stuck with a machine that doesn’t turn the monitor on!

Install the downloaded web drivers and you will see the Nvidia drive manager icon at the top of your screen – click it and select driver manger preferences:

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 15.13.47 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

 

 

 

Why do I have to do this Andy?

The Mac OS has it’s own versions of Nvidia drivers (amongst others) but these are fairly crap, inefficient and far from up to date, and almost definitely won’t recognise you new GPU correctly.

Once you have checked that those web drivers are installed and up to date you should be clear to do your 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade.

Once done you can power the machine on; you’ll hear the start-up chime but the screen will stay black for the time the boot screen would have been active – the screen will activate at either your account log in page if you have your machine set up that way, or it’ll go straight to your desktop.

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 16.19.33 2009 Mac Pro GPU UpgradeAnd there you are – one 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade – DONE.

Now for some Adobe application setup.

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 15.36.47 900x677 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

  1. Fire up Lightroom and go to the preferences panel.
  2. Activate ‘Use Graphics Processor’.
  3. Click the ‘System Info’ button and check that the card is listed and is functioning properly:

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 15.37.23 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

Next, fire up Photoshop and go to Preferences>Performance:

Screen Shot 2016 08 24 at 15.38.34 2009 Mac Pro GPU Upgrade

 

 

 

Check ‘Use Graphics Processor’ and click the ADVANCED button:

You will see three options; Basic, Normal & Advanced.  It will most likely be defaulted to Basic.  I’ve selected advanced here but may have to change it ‘down’ if there is any fall-off in performance.

One final and very important item on the agenda, re-calibrate your monitor.

That’s it, a new lease of life given to a venerable old 2009 machine.

Apple is supposed to be dropping support for the 2009 Mac Pro 4,1 on the official launch of OSX 10.12 Sierra.

I’m not that bothered at the moment, it’s taken me up until July of this year to feel the need for 10.11 El Capitan – and that was only due to screw-ups with recent Adobe CC installers.

But sometime in the next 12 months I might avail myself of a Mac Pro 5,x.  This new 4GB GPU will transfer direct to that and I’ll turn this Mac Pro 4,1 into an image server – at least that’s what I’m telling myself !

IMPORTANT:  The procedure outlined here worked wonderfully for me – simple and fast.  But it might not go the same for you – I accept NO responsibility for any f***ed up equipment that might occur outside these office walls!

 

Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

Everyone likes a nice moody sunset, but great images await those camera operators that start shooting after most folks have started packing their gear away and heading home.

For me, twilight is where the fun starts.

D8E5809 Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

The rock stack lying off the boulder-strewn beach of Porth Saint, Rhoscolyn Head, Anglesey.

The low light levels on a scene once ‘civil daylight’ has ended mean you get awesome light with lower contrast shadows, subtle skies, and nice long shutter speeds for dreamy water effects without needing expensive 10 stop ND filters.

However, that awesome light vanishes very quickly, so you have to be ready!  I waited nearly 90 minutes for the shot above.

But that time was spent doing ‘dry runs’ and rehearsals – once the composition was set how I wanted it, the foreground was outside of DoF, so I knew I needed to shoot a focus stack as well as an exposure blend…mmmm….yummy!

Once we have made the long transition from civil daylight end to astronomical daylight end the fun really begins though.

Astro Landscape Photography

Untitled1 Edit Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

The Milky Way over the derelict buildings of Magpie Mine in Derbyshire.

Astro landscape photography, or wide field astro as it’s sometimes known, is not as difficult as a lot of photographers imagine.

But astro landscape photography IS very demanding of your familiarity with your gear, and will require some expenditure on additional bits of kit if disappointment is to be avoided.

D4D6778 Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

 

D4D6747 Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape PhotographyD4D6754 Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape PhotographyHere’s the kit I usually venture out at night with:

Dew Heater Band (A).

An essential bit of kit for astro landscape photography – it’s amazing how rapidly a lot of lenses, especially super-wides like the Nikon 14-24 f2.8 encounter a problem with dew at night.  This will in effect fog the front element, starting at its centre and if left unchecked it can spread across the entire face of the lens.

Heating the lens front sufficiently to keep its temperature above the dew point for your current location and time will prevent a ruined session – don’t leave home without one!

This dew heater is powered by a battery (C) via a dew heater controller (D) with is basically a simple rotary rheostat which controls the level of current driving the heater band.

I use mine at about 75% of ‘full chat’ and it seems to work just fine.

A final note on dew heater bands – these are designed for use by those strange folk who spend hours behind telescopes.  They tape the bands in place and leave them there.  As photographers we need to add or remove them as needed.  The bands can prove fragile, need I say more?

Yes, it pays to carry a spare, and it pays to treat them with care and not just throw them in the camera bag – I’m on band number 3 with number 4 in reserve!

Intervalometer (B).

You will need to shoot a long exposure of you scene foreground, slightly re-focuused closer to you, at a much lower ISO, and perhaps at a slightly narrower aperture; this shot might well be 20 minutes long or more and with long exposure NR engaged to produce a black subtraction.

Yes, a lockable cable release and the timer on your watch will do the job, hence (F) and (G) in case (B) stops working!

But an intervalometer will make this easier – as long as you’ve read the instructions..doh!

If you want to shoot star trails the external intervalometer is vastly superior to your cameras built in one.  That’s because the in-camera intervalometer on nearly all cameras except the Nikon D810A is limited to a 30 second shutter speed.

An hours worth of star rotation is barely enough:

Final 600x900 Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

 

But at 30 seconds shutter speed you will end up with 120 frames at fairly high ISO.

Far better to shoot at ‘bulb’ with a 5 minute exposure and lower ISO – then you’ll only have 12 frames – your computer with thank you for the lower number when it comes to stacking the shots in Photoshop.

There is also another problem, for certain marks of Nikon cameras.  The D800E that I use has a stupid cap on continuous shooting.  The much touted method of setting the shutter to 30 seconds and putting the camera in continuous low speed shooting mode and locking the cable release button down does NOT work – it only allows you to take 100 frames then the camera just STOPS taking pictures.

But if you use an external intervalometer set to a 30 second exposure, continuous and just drop the camera in BULB and Single Shot then the D800E and its like will sit there and fill your cards up with frames.

Other Essentials.

Micro fibre cloths, bin liners and gaffer tape (B,I and J).

After a couple of hours of full darkness your gear (and I mean all of it) will most likely be wet with dew, especially here in the UK.  Micro fibre cloths are great for getting the majority of this dampness off your camera gear when you put it away for the trip home.

Bin liners are great for keeping any passing rain shower off your camera gear when its set up – just drop one (opened of course) over your camera and tape it to the tripod legs with a bit of gaffer tape. Leave the dew heater ON.

Also, stick the battery supply in one – rain water and 13 volts DC at 4000MAh don’t mix well.

Photopills on your iPhone (G) is incredibly useful for showing you where the Milky Way is during that extended period between civil and astronomical daylight end.  Being able to see it in relationship to your scene with the Night Augmented Reality feature cetainly makes shot composition somewhat easier.

Head Lamp (H) – preferably one which has a red light mode.  Red light does not kill off your carefully tuned night vision when you need to see some camera setting control lever or button.

Accurate GPS positioner (K).  Not entirely an ‘essential’ but it’s mighty useful for all sorts of reasons, especially when forward planning a shot, or getting to a set position in the dark.

D8E5969 Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

The Milky Way towering over the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) station at Rhoscolyn on Anglesey.

 

I love taking someone who’s never seen the Milky Way out at night to capture it with their own equipment – the constant stream of ‘WOWS’ makes me all warm ‘n fuzzy!  This year has seen me take more folk out than ever; and even though we are going to loose the galactic centre in the next few weeks the opportunities for night photography get better as the nights grow longer.

D8E5420 Edit Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

The Milky Way over the derelict buildings of Magpie Mine in Derbyshire.

So if you want to get out there with me then just give me shout at tution@wildlifeinpixels.net

The Milky Way will still be a prominent feature in the sky until October, and will be in a more westerly position, so lots of great bays on the North Wales & Anglesey coast will come into their own as locations.

D8E3653 Edit 2 Edit Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

The Milky Way over the Afon Glaslyn Valley looking towards Beddgelert and Porthmadog. The patchy green colour of the sky is cause by a large amount of airglow, another natural phenomenon that very few people actually see.

And just look at that star detail:

Screen Shot 2016 08 19 at 12.35.40 Twilight & Astro Landscape Photography

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be putting together a training video title on processing astro landscape photography images, and if the next new moon phase at the end of this month comes with favourable weather I’m going to try and supplement these with a couple of practical shooting videos – so fingers crossed.

Good Contrast Control in Lightroom CC

Contrast Control in Lightroom

Learning how to deploy proper contrast control in Lightroom brings with it two major benefits:

  • It allows you to reveal more of your camera sensors dynamic range.
  • It will allow you to reveal considerably more image detail.

ContrastControl Good Contrast Control in Lightroom CC

I have posted on this subject before, under the guise of neutralising Lightrooms ‘hidden background adjustments’.  But as Lightroom CC 2015 evolves, trying to ‘nail’ the best way of doing something becomes like trying to hit a moving target.

For the last few months I’ve been using this (for me) new method – and to be honest it works like a charm!

It involves the use of the ‘zero’ preset together with a straight process version swap around, as illustrated in the before/after shot above and in the video linked below.  This video is best viewed on my YouTube channel:

The process might seem a little tedious at first, but it’s really easy when you get used to it, and it works on ALL images from ALL cameras.

Here is a step-by-step guide to the various Lightroom actions you need to take in order to obtain good contrast control:

Contrast Control Workflow Steps:

1. Develop Module Presets: Choose ZEROED
2. Camera Calibration Panel: Choose CAMERA NEUTRAL
3. Camera Calibration Panel: Choose Process Version 2010
4. Camera Calibration Panel: Choose Process Version 2012
5. Basics Panel: Double Click Exposure (goes from -1 to 0)
6. Basics Panel: Adjust Black Setting to taste if needed.
7. Details Panel: Reset Sharpening to default +25
8. Details Panel: Reset Colour Noise to default +25
9. Lens Corrections Panel: Tick Remove Chromatic Aberration.

Now that you’ve got good contrast control you can set about processing your image – just leave the contrast slider well alone!

Why is contrast control important, and why does it ‘add’ so much to my images Andy?

We are NOT really reducing the contrast of the raw file we captured.  We are simply reducing the EXCESSIVE CONTRAST that Lightroom ADDS to our files.

  • Lightroom typically ADDS a +33 contrast adjustment but ‘calls it’ ZERO.
  • Lightroom typically ADDS a medium contrast tone curve but ‘calls it’ LINEAR.

Both of this are contrast INCREASES, and any increase in contrast can be seen as a ‘compression’ of the tonal space between BLACK and WHITE.  This is a dynamic range visualisation killer because it crushes the ends of the midtone range.

It’s also a detail killer, because 99% of the subject detail is in the mid tone range.  Typically the Lightroom tonal curve range for midtones is 25% to 75%, but Lightroom is quite happy to accept a midtone range of 10% to 90% – check those midtone arrow adjusters at the bottom edge of the parametric tone curve!

I hope you find this post useful folks, and don’t forget to watch the video at full resolution on my YouTube Channel.

 

Lightroom Instagram Plugin

instag Lightroom Instagram PluginLightroom Instagram Plugin

Even though I suppose I am rather tech-savvy for an old fart, I have major head-problems with most social media.

Facebook took me years to get the hang of..

And even though I have an account, followers and everything I simply CANNOT get my head around Twitter …. it makes NO f***ing sense to me at all!

Over the last year I’ve also been aware of the growing use by professional of this other “thing” called Instagram.

About two months ago I asked my son Richard to explain how it works:

“It’s simple Dad, it’s Twitter for images”………..I couldn’t work out who to shoot first, me or him.

But, after much grief I was eventually shown how to put an image on Instagram.  I have an iPhone and an iPad but bare in mind it took me ages to work out how to put pictures on them.

And ALL mobile apps confound the hell out of me – so overly-simplified I find them difficult to use and I run out of patience!

So here I am looking at Instagram and seeing that I have to send an image to my iPad then I can upload it to Instagram – WTF????

I put a single image on there – it took me at least 30 minutes, and Rich was pissing himself laughing which didn’t help!

I tried a couple of programmes that were supposed to help put images on Instagram from a desktop machine, but they turned out to be more bloody complicated than the iPad method.

Needless to say I put Instagram on the back-burner.

BUT………………..someone has done something EPIC.  They’ve made a Lightroom Instagram Plugin – and it works!

It’s called LR/Instagram and you can download it HERE

LRInst Lightroom Instagram Plugin

Simply click the download link, unzip the the file and copy the LRInstagram.lrplugin file to your Lightroom plug-ins folder.

Open up your Lightroom Plug-in Manager and click “ADD” then navigate to the file itself

lrinst2 Lightroom Instagram Plugin

and click Add Plug-in.

The plug-in will appear under Publish Services in the bottom left panel of your Library Module.

Lrinst3 Lightroom Instagram Plugin

Click “Set Up”

Assuming you’ve actually got an Instagram account (if not then get one) all you need to do is fill in your account U/N and P/W and click Login:

Lrinst4 Lightroom Instagram Plugin

Once logged into your account you need to set the export preferences – I actually leave them set as above (default) with added standard screen sharpening and a custom watermark.

Simply click ‘Save’ and you’re done!

Using the Lightroom Instagram Plugin is easy if you are used to any of the other publish services inside Lightroom, but if you want to see it in action here is a short video on my YouTube channel – if you are viewing this post via email then the video will not show up – read it on the blog itself

This Lightroom Instagram Plugin seems to work flawlessly and definitely speeds up and simplifies publish images to Instagram – all I need to do now is work out an effective hash-tag method!

Lightroom Folders Panel

Lightroom Folders Panel

cc2015.6 1 Lightroom Folders PanelI find a lot of people are either confused or just plain unsure of what functions you can carry out in the Lightroom folders panel.

All Lightroom users should be familiar with the perennial problem of missing files, folders or drives from their Lightroom Catalogue, as indicated by the “!” exclamation mark in the top right corner of their image thumbnails.

Adobe really hack me off – for ages Lightroom indicated “missing” files with a question mark on the thumbnail.  But in their infinite wisdom they changed that to an exclamation mark (of course, still keeping the question mark in the Folders Panel!) just to confuse the bejesus out of everyone.  So now we have TWO TYPES of exclamation mark, each with a different meaning – nice one chaps……………….

Screen Shot 2016 07 12 at 11.15.50 Lightroom Folders Panel

With the exception of disconnected drives, missing files and folders are usually the result of moving files and folders via Windows Explorer on PC or Finder on the Mac.

And I find that in the majority of cases folk are just simply unaware that the same operations can be carried out within Lightroom via the Lightroom Folders Panel.

  • We can move files between folders.
  • We can move folders between drives.
  • And we can create new hierarchical folder structures on any attached drive.

All with the added bonuses of:

  1. Not leaving the Lightroom GUI.
  2. Lightroom does NOT loose the file/folder locations, so we avoid the dreaded “!” problem!

So I have created a couple of video lessons on YouTube:

If you are viewing this post via subscription email the please view the physical blog post – sometimes the video links do not show up in the emails.

Hopefully these two short lessons will enable you to understand the folder structure and placement options available to you via the Lightroom Folders Panel.

 

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