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!!!

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!

Canon 1DX MkII

Canon 1DX MkII versus Nikon D5?

350x350 1 Canon 1DX MkII

Holy Smokes – I’m getting inundated with questions since yesterdays launch announcement regarding the Canon 1DX MkII.

Everything is hypothetical at the moment because I’m not expecting to see a D5 until mid-March, and the 1DX Mk II around mid-April to May.

Trying to compare, or do an ‘X versus Y’ is really something of a pointless excercise, even if the two bodies were ‘on the shelf’ right now, and I say this because:

  1. Most potential purchasers of either body are already heavily invested in one system or the other.
  2. A direct comparison is only of real use to someone who isn’t heavily invested in glass from one system or the other – in which case you shouldn’t be looking at either camera body because both of them will chew you up and spit you out in bubbles.

Remember, a good camera is only as good as the glass that feeds it AND the twat that’s doing the driving!

But the perenial Canon v Nikon question will always be there like the elephant in the room, so here are the general specs for the two camera bodies:

Sensor Format

Canon 1DX MkII: Full frame
Nikon D5: Full frame

Megapixels

Canon 1DX MkII: 21.5 megapixels (20.2MP effective)
Nikon D5: 21.33 megapixels (20.8MP effective)

Max Resolution

Canon 1DX MkII: 5472 x 3648
Nikon D5: 5568 x 3712

Aspect Ratios

Canon 1DX MkII: 3:2
Nikon D5: 3:2 and 4:5

File Formats

Canon 1DX MkII: JPEG, RAW for stills. MJPEG, MOV, MP4, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 for video.
Nikon D5: JPEG, RAW, TIFF for stills. MOV, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 for video.

Bit Depth

Canon 1DX MkII: 14-bit
Nikon D5: 14-bit

Memory Card

Canon 1DX MkII: 1 CFast and 1 CompactFlash
Nikon D5: 2 XQD or 2 CompactFlash

Autofocus Points

Canon 1DX MkII: 61 phase detection points, with 41 cross-type
Nikon D5: 153 phase detection points, with 99 cross-type

Viewfinder

Canon 1DX MkII: 100% coverage and ~0.76x magnification
Nikon D5: 100% coverage and ~0.72x magnification

Rear Display

Canon 1DX MkII: 3.2-inch touchscreen with 1.62 million dots
Nikon D5: 3.2-inch touchscreen with 2.359 million dots

ISO Range

Canon 1DX MkII: 100-51200 (50-409600 when extended)
Nikon D5: 100-102400 (50-3280000 when extended)

Metering Methods

Canon 1DX MkII: Evaluative metering, partial metering, spot metering
Nikon D5: 3D Color Matrix metering, center-weighted average metering, spot metering, highlight weighted

Continuous Shooting

Canon 1DX MkII: 14FPS at 20.2 MP for up to 170 RAW photos (16FPS with mirror lockup)
Nikon D5: 12FPS at 20.8 MP for up to 200 RAW photos (14FPS with mirror lockup)

4K Video Recording

Canon 1DX MkII: 4096 x 2160p at 59.94 fps, 50 fps, 29.97 fps, 25 fps, 24 fps, 23.98 fps
Nikon D5: 3840 x 2160p at 30 fps, 25 fps, 24 fps

4K Clip Length

Canon 1DX MkII: 30 minutes
Nikon D5: 3 minutes (though rumour has it this will be extended).*

Weight

Canon 1DX MkII: 3.37 lb (1530 g)
Nikon D5: 3.11 lb (1415 g)

Price

Canon 1DX MkII: £5199
Nikon D5: £5199

*Nikon have been denying this being down to weather-sealing and over-heat problems, but the D5 uses the power-hungry H.264 video codec – 30 minutes record time might result in an overheat problem similar to Chernobyl.

The Canon 1DX II uses the motion jpeg (MJPG) codec – easier on the camera but needing BIG transfer bandwidth, hence the need for those rather expensive C-Fast 2.0 memory cards!

But from a stills photography PoV there isn’t generally a lot between the two cameras in terms of image size and megapixel count.

Both cameras are more than capable of shooting long continuous burst of RAW files at very high frame rates – useful for the long-lens sports photographer where depth of field even wide open is measured in meters.  Any marginal errors in the predictive autofocus calculations made by the camera become masked by the available DoF – even with wide open apertures. see HERE for more explanation!

But when it comes to wildlife photography, birds in flight, and birds flying directly at the camera in particular, one does need to ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts’….

As I have pointed out many times in the past, two of the biggest contributors to poor AF performance with fast moving, closing subjects at sub 25 metres are:

  1. High Frame Rate
  2. Too many active AF points

So unless I’m shooting a ‘manual focus trap’ like this:

D3C2901 Edit 1024x680 Canon 1DX MkII

Common Kestrel Landing
©Andy Astbury/Wildlife in Pixels

I’m not really interested in shooting at 3 trillion frames per second – buy my AF Guide for Nikon and Canon for further explanation!

The Canon 1DX II is described as having new predictive AF algorithms working with the new EOS Intelligent Tracking and Recognition AF – this might increase the effective ‘sharp capture’ frame rate in AI-Servo from the 1DX Mk1 sweet-spot of 5 or 6 fps with an f4 lens;  then again it might not!  The sooner someone lends me one then the sooner I’ll be able to find out and let you know…..

I’m also pleased to see an increase in frame coverage of the 61-point High Density Reticular AF II system – this seems to be up by 24% on the original 1DX.

The overall mark changes to the 1DX stills AF system are not quite as radical as those between the Nikon D4/4S and new D5 – I’m still trying to get my head around the idea of all those AF points.

So before we all get too excited I’ll just say this: 90 percent plus of people who take pictures using autofocus DON’T actually know how it works.

Predictive AF is exactly what it says on the tin – it ‘predicts’ where the subject WILL BE when the shutter opens for the NEXT frame; and while the mirror is DOWN the AF controller/motor MOVE the lens focus to THAT PREDICTED position.

For a closing subject, the lens focus is physically AHEAD of the subject prior to the shutter opening – that’s right, a bird flies into the plane of focus….and don’t confuse plane of focus with focal plane either!

So there’s a lot going on when we shoot in Canon AI-Servo or Nikon CF, and to get a sequence of sharp continuous frames….

GX2R1981 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1985 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1989 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1990 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1991 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII GX2R1994 900x600 Canon 1DX MkII

we have to regulate the amount of subject information that the camera tries to handle.  And the commonest error people make is to supply TOO MUCH of that information by using too many AF points.  That mistake is often further compounded by allowing the camera to ‘decide’ what it thinks it needs to focus on by using some form of auto-area focus mode.

This ‘overhead’ of information takes time to process.  And the only time the camera has available to process this information AND move the lens focus is that split second when the mirror is down between frames and the shutter is closed.  So the general and fairly fool-proof way of working is to use as few AF points as you need to cover the part of the subject you want sharp focus on; and then help the camera out further by giving it that extra bit of processing time/ more mirror down-time – lower frame rate!

So some of what these two cameras are offering isn’t exactly beneficial on the face of it.

But time will tell!