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June 2007

Online again

I’m back from a trip to Yosemite National Park, albeit one with no serious photographic opportunities as it was a family trip. Nonetheless, some satisfying images resulted.

I have some fresh experience with three Zeiss ZF lenses (see June 7 entry) on the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, via a Nikon-to-EOS lens adapter. I’ll have more to say on the Zeiss lenses in the future, but results so far suggest performance exceeding anything I’ve previously experienced when compared to Canon’s best. Of course, it’s manual focus and manual stop-down when working with them. I am particularly pleased with a portrait I made using the Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar, regrettably one I won’t show here.

It took me 30 seconds or so to grasp the fact that a beautiful rainbow surrounded the rising full moon, and running for the tripod wasn’t fast enough to make the image I wanted before the moon actually rose, with rainbow peaking prior to its rising, then rapidly fading. Still, I obtained the image below, which shows the effect.

rising moonRainbow Moon

Article updated— Brand-new Blur

I’ve updated my Brand-new Blur article to (unfortunately) include an example of optical misalignment with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8. I’ll be sending it in to Canon service. Once fixed, I expect the 85mm f/1.8 to be an ideal performer on the Canon EOS 1D Mark III. Normally I would exchange the lens, but I didn’t get around to using it until long after I had purchased it.

left  left
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 optical misalignment @ f/1.8, left edge / right edge
(tested on Canon EOS 1D Mark III)

Misalignment problems are even more troublesome on full-frame cameras; this example is from the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, which uses a 28.7 X 18.7mm sensor, covering the central 64% of a 36mm X 24mm “full frame” camera.

Really Right Stuff

I’m feeling rather frustrated with Really Right Stuff. In the past I’ve recommended their exceptionally well made (albeit pricey) products to quite a few other photographers (though I’m not a fan of their ballheads as beautifully made as they are, because tightening the knobs causes a slight shift in framing).

On June 6 I ordered an “L” bracket for my Canon EOS 1D Mark III. The confirmation email I received was terse and referred to a flash arm (Subject: http://FLASHARM/RRS- Order Acknowledgement). The email referred to “attached details”, of which there were none (I even checked the email source code—nothing).

I had made it very clear to Carla via an email exchange earlier that day that I needed that bracket, and she responded with “Please just place the order online or by phone and we'll ship ASAP”. I complied with an online order, which resulted in the aforementioned email confirmation. Since then, no follow-up, no response to my email query, nothing.

Today is June 22, 16 days later, and I have not received a single order status update via email or phone. After finally remembering my password I was able to login and check order status, confusing in itself unless one reads the fine print about clicking on the “Order #”:

rrs
Mostly useless order status—
one must click on the order #, which is not distinguished visually in any way

I still don’t have my L-bracket, and I have no idea when I will get it. At the Really Right Stuff web site, I can add the L-bracket to my cart and proceed to checkout (without completing) . There is no indication that it is back-ordered, so I assume it’s available. Shooting verticals will continue to be a hassle with the 1D Mark III—an L-bracket is far easier and faster than tilting a ballhead over 90°, and my preferred ballhead, the Burzynski, tilts just 45°, so an L-bracket is mandatory for vertical compositions.

Really Right Stuff changed their web site the day I ordered, but since my order is in their system, and I supplied a valid credit card, I’m at a loss except to suspect a computer snafu. I’ll have to try to contact them on the phone it seems.

Crud from the camera body cap

Can you believe the crud coming off Canon’s body cap for the 1D Mark III? Somehow, a tiny part of the body cap shredded itself and the result was this crud inside the mirror box, released via a gentle shake. It’s a good reminder to check even such mundane items as body caps for integrity, and to always mount and unmount body caps and lenses with the camera facing down. A gentle shake released this crud (and more) from inside the mirror box:

crud

Sigma DP1—first of a new genre of digital cameras?

I’m not alone in lamenting the complete absence of a compact digital camera that takes high quality images, one with a large sensor, first rate lens, and small size and weight. Small digital SLRs such as the Canon Digital Rebel and the Nikon D40 are still quite bulky and a hassle to carry around; the camera is there, and you don’t just forget you’re carrying it.

Announced nearly 9 months ago (see dpreview.com), the Sigma DP1 offers a (relatively speaking) huge sensor (20.7 X 13.8mm), utilizing the Foveon X3 chip, a unique design that provides non-interpolated color for each pixel. With a fixed lens (28mm equivalent), a weight of 240g and dimensions that can plausibly be called “pocket size” (big pocket), it’s the first of what I hope will be a new genre of compact digital cameras which offer high quality imagery comparable to low-end digital SLRs. (See May 13 Why digital point and shoot cameras are “all shit”). Of course, the imagery remains to be seen and evaluated, and Sigma makes no mention of DP1 availability that I can find.

I’ll be taking a close look at the DP1, and might end up buying one. Sigma’s lack of candor on availability undermines their credibility; whether it will ship in July or December (and which year) is completely unclear.

Mountain wildlife

Patience and moving sloooowly offers a chance to see wildlife, like this pair of Bighorn Sheep, with apparently no respect for road signs.

    sheep
Lawbreakers (click to enlarge)

A Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS and a 1.4X extender was just enough reach when mated to the 1.3X “magnification” of the Canon EOS 1D Mark III.

deer
The moniker “mule” deer isn’t for nothing!
deer
Marmots apparently like to eat radiator hoses, so don't park your vehicle near a colony!
deer
I found 3 squeaky “nests” (holes in the tree) in a single aspen tree—a dedicated parent.

Not shown is a beautiful adult black bear in prime condition, but alas no appropriate camera, and aforementioned bear was descending a tree about 30 feet away...

Canon 1D Mark III color

I have several hundred images from my recent trip to the eastern Sierra and White Mountains to process. More on that in a future blog entry. Today was a grab-shot day with family at the local farmer’s market (ah, the bounty of spring!), leading me to subjects that show off the phenomenal image quality of the Canon EOS 1D Mark III. I used the Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS, an excellent performer on the 1D Mark III, as predicted in my May 2 blog entry.

flowers 
Mohamed Soumah, Under the Sun, mural in Palo Alto, CA

The 24-105 f/4L IS is a very handy lens for comfortable carry-around use, with an equivalent 31-136mm field of view on the EOS 1D Mark III, due to its smaller than full-frame sensor. The disappointing corner and edge “crud” of the 24-105 simply are never “seen” by the sensor of the 1D Mark III; the 24-105 is a perfect match for the camera.

flowers
Fantasy frames

Though Canon’s 16.7-megapixel EOS 1Ds Mark II offers superior spatial resolution, there’s no way I’d trade my 1D Mark III for that camera’s higher resolution; it simply does not match the beautiful results produced by the 1D Mark III. For that matter, one can smugly snicker at those suckered into paying more money for the Leica M8, a camera demanding incessant attention to focus, framing, and filtration, albeit one whose image quality can be very high—but a camera which proffers gratuitous idiosyncrasies to connoisseurs of self-flagellation.

With essentially zero effort (straight processing with Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, Neutral, Daylight, Sharpening=1, Saturation=1), exceptionally pleasing results are delivered, results that I never achieved with the Canon EOS 5D, even with post-processing effort. That’s not to say the results are readily quantifiable, but years of experience and many tens of thousands of frames with various Nikon and Canon digital DSLRs do educate one’s eye. The difference is often subtle, yet not so—whether it’s 14-bit or more advanced electronics I simply cannot say, but the difference is a poise and transparency never before seen with a digital SLR.

flowers
Fair maiden

Today’s images are a small sampler of handheld grab shots, all taken in the space of 30 minutes, most at ISO 800 (!). They demonstrate the pleasing color rendition of the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, and its unprecedented image quality. As I predicted in my June 5 entry, if Canon can produce a 20 or 22-megapixel full-frame DSLR with the same image quality as the 1D Mark III, it will simply walk away with the entire high-end market, including the lion’s share of the medium format crowd.

flowers flowers flowers  
flowers 
 flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers
Edible color
flowers
Mohamed Soumah, Under the Sun, detail
flowers
Green glory

Of course, JPEG compression and small size don’t show off the images at their best, but if you want minimally-compressed high-res images, you’ll want my review when it becomes available. Such reviews take considerable time to conceive and prepare, so patience is required. The 1D Mark III is not perfect, and I have found a few issues with it already, one of which is a troublesome impediment in certain circumstances, yet is outweighed by so many other positive characteristics that I am willing to forgive.

And yes, the Canon EOS 1D Mark III can photograph more than potatos and onions:

flowers
Garish garage by day
flowers
To the point
(dark tones are intentional)
flowers
Yellow, interrupted
flowers
Time for a new sign

Domestic pigs trashing our national forests

A population explosion of Homo Nosapiens “Redneckius” has been trashing our national forests (literally and figuratively), as observed repeatedly by myself over a number of years.

Weekend habitat is generally within 30 feet of a dirt road. Preferred diet is liquid, consisting primarily of beer (12-packs preferred), malt liquor, high fructose corn syrup, but also includes stomach-satisfying trans-fat-laced snack foods, and the ever-elusive hatchery-grown trout. Preferred transportation is a pickup truck or SUV, with mileage improvements accrued via load-reduction measures prior to campsite departure, as seen below.

glow
Hangover

Such losers prefer to advertise their exploits via permanent means whenever feasible. While ATVs are prized for rapid environmental destruction (and for maximal irritation to others), an axe convincingly demonstrates mastery over inanimate objects, leading to a well-earned pride of accomplishment, provided that all fingers and toes remain intact after the twelfth beer. But that might be incorrectly assuming that impairment of judgment actually was exacerbated by the beer.

glowglow
Pre or post stupor entertainment?

I collected much of the garbage after photographing this all too common rape scene, but hours would be required to restore the campsite to any semblance of its natural state, and even a small tree as seen above takes years of struggle to reach that size.

Stiff monetary penalties would be very appropriate for such human turds, along with a few hundred hours of service dedicated to restoring such trashed areas, court-ordered alcohol abstinence (hit 'em where it hurts), and a court order to buy a used Prius.

Not without some redeeming qualities, some such folks are really quite expert marksmen, able to shoot holes into large road signs while simultaneously drinking a beer, driving, and scratching their ass, adding a rather interesting patina to otherwise mundane roadside objects.

Back from eastern Sierra

After 2.5 days of cycling (my back injury abated) and 1.5 days of photography (gotta get more time at it!), I’m back from the eastern Sierra and White Mountains. Much work remains in going through images, which will take time, but see a few below.

Unusually low snowfall this year (allegedly 30% of normal) advanced the season by 3-4 weeks. Whereas last year the drone of snowmobilers bedeviled those favoring simpler pastimes at Sonora Pass, this year could not even muster enough snow to cool a six pack, so the snowmobilers stayed home.

Following biking, I headed to the White Mountains. I have many images, but I’ve only begun to go through them. The two images below were experiments, the results of which appeal to me.

glow
Sunset glow—to the East—optical effect?
glow
Patriarch on blue

Zeiss ZF lenses in hand

Zeiss graciously agreed to loan me three of their “ZF” lenses (Nikon mount), the 25mm f/2.8 Distagon, the 35mm f/2 Distagon, and the 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar. I’ll be putting them through their paces on the Canon EOS 1D Mark III (and maybe, if I can stand it, the full-frame EOS 5D). (Note to Zeiss: make it easier to direct-link to a particular lens!).

The lenses are beautifully made, something one could only dream about from Nikon or Canon. We shall see how they perform, but of course on a Canon body it’s not only manual focus, but manual stop-down as well. The “Live View” feature of the Canon EOS 1D Mark III will prove useful for ensuring critical focus.

Canon 70-200 f/4L IS exchanged

Wow, I love Amazon.com. I logged in yesterday, reported my EF 70-200 f/4L ISa as defective (see June 5 entry), and the next day I had a replacement, all without leaving my computer (well, I did go to bed for the night, and eat breakfast). Gotta love UPS and FedEx delivery—way cheaper than driving an SUV somewhere.

Preliminary tests suggest that the replacement 70-200 f/4L is not only optically aligned, but might well offer imaging quality surpassing my expectations (field shots and some more careful tests are needed). I hope so, because I greatly prefer the size, weight and handling of the f/4 model; it’s considerably more pleasant to us than the heavy and bulky 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, which I also own. With the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, I can afford to give up 1 stop. See the May 4 entry on that subject.

Off to eastern Sierra

This is my last blog entry until I return on June 13—I’m off for some cycling (if a nagging back injury doesn’t sideline me completely) and of course, photography.

Canon 1D Mark III highlight detail

Shot taken in direct sunlight (10:00am) at ISO 200 with the Canon EOS 1D Mark III Highlight Priority enabled. I’m not sure I’ve seen any camera handle the exposure so adroitly, or retain highlight detail quite so well. Many cameras would “blow out” the highlight detail in such an image.

img
Canon 1D Mark III, autoexposure
flower
Excellent highlight detail

Experiment—white poppy

The latest image on the Experiments page.

img
White poppy, bee view

The Online Photographer has moved

On my links page, I previously recommended the web site The Online Photographer. Due to automated “spam robots” (erroneous of course), the site was shut down for a time and has been moved to The Online Photographer.com. It’s a great site, with a very high quality blog, well worth reading.

Canon EOS 1D Mark III color and noise

I walked into a restaurant for dinner last night, and made a grab-shot of this colorful face. I was prepared for disappointing color in the dim and wacky light, but what I got was something true to life and pleasing.

Sun
Canon 1D Mark III, ISO 3200, 1/125 sec @ f/4
Click to see 50% actual-pixels

Look at the color! I haven’t seen color this vibrant and pleasing at ISO 3200 ever before.

Noise is extremely impressive (see below). JPEG compression smooths out noise, so I’ll only provide a small crop here at Photoshop “Very High” quality. You might want to view this actual-pixels crop (below) in Photoshop. Examine the red/green/blue color channels—prepare to be impressed. Try Auto Levels also—I haven’t adjusted the crop for optimal brightness/contrast.

Sun
Canon 1D Mark III, ISO 3200, actual pixels, no added sharpening

Every time I shoot with the Canon EOS 1D Mark III (much less than I’d like so far), I am so excited by the results, more than any DSLR I’ve ever used. All of these are subjective, but here’s my take—

  • The perceived clarity of the image is superior to anything I’ve yet seen;
  • Color is pleasing with no work required to get it that way;
  • ISO 3200 is not only viable, but an ISO I’m starting to use without hesitation.
  • Black and white results (individual channels and/or grayscale conversions) are the best I’ve ever seen.

I’ll emphasize one of the above points: getting pleasing color out of the EOS 5D is a chore, but with some work it can usually be done, though sporadically the 5D just whacks the color so badly that correcting it is nightmarish (see D2x vs EOS). The 1D Mark III erases that annoyance—almost everything it produces is pleasing without any screwing around to get it that way. Perhaps I’ll find a weakness with more experience, but so far it appears that it’s at the top of the heap.

I’m processing the EOS 1D Mark III RAW files using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional with the settings shown below.

settings
My Digital Photo Professional 3.0.1 defaults
fun
Color fun with the 1D Mark III
My only “disappointment” is that the 10.1-megapixel EOS 1D Mark III is 10.1 megapixels. If it were full-frame, it would be be 17 megapixels using the same size photosites [(1.3*1.3)*10.1] . If Canon can maintain 1D Mark III quality at 17 megapixels, it will be the camera to turn pros away from many medium format digital offerings, and put a stake through Nikon’s heart too, unless Nikon delivers soon. It’s not at all a given that a dense full-frame sensor (eg 22 megapixels) would be preferable to a higher quality one at 17 megapixels, but if Canon can pull off 22 megapixels with 1D Mark III quality—well, what’s the point of medium format except at the ultra high-end?.

Brand-new blur — Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS

Read about the out-of-the-box optical problems with my brand-new Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS zoom in Brand-new Blur—Detecting Optical Problems. See also my May 4 blog entry on Canon 70-200 zooms.

Egret
Canon 70-200mm f/4L, 200mm @ f/4, blurred side

Canon EOS 1D Mark III color

I continue to be impressed with the color of the Canon EOS 1D Mark III (see May 25 entry on this fine camera). The images it produces are gorgeous, with a depth and richness I’ve not seen before. Some of this must be due to the 14-bit A/D conversion and some must be due to other sensor and electronic wizardry improvements.

The images below have been minimally processed from the RAW file—Neutral, Sharpening=1, Color Saturation=0 in Digital Photo Professional 3.0.1. They are backyard snapshots taken on a relaxed Sunday evening when the light had mellowed.

flowerRadiance to rival the sun itself / Mother and Child
flower
Olive I’ll be if I live
flower
Figlet

I like the EOS 1D Mark III a lot—so much so that I find myself being annoyed when I shoot the EOS 5D. For example, the “Live View” feature of the 1D Mark III is particularly helpful with close-ups like these.

A direct comparison to the 5D for closeups/macro is problematic, because perspective cannot be maintained (different focal length required, substantially different camera height). But a quick review of a reasonable attempt suggests a certain dullness to the 5D images when compared to the 1D mark III.

I haven’t nailed it down in a head-to-head comparison where all variables are controlled, but subjectively there’s something extra in the 1D Mark III images—and hopefully I’m avoiding the emotional trap of wanting to like a camera I just paid $4500 for. That’s why my Pro Reviews are unique; research and analysis in a comparative review take considerable effort, but can reveal the truth.

More Photomerge panoramas (Bishop, CA area)

Inspired by my recent (May 29) panorama with the Photoshop CS3 Photomerge command I tried another, this one consisting of 14 individual frames showing the Bishop area valley. It’s a panorama, with an aspect ratio of 15:1—too wide, I think; next time I’ll shoot with the camera in a vertical position. The final image is 27697 X 1859 pixels; the “large” version is less than 1/3 the size (linearly) of the original.

tinySee this pano in small (2048), medium (4096), large (8192)
Be sure your browser doesn’t “auto fit” the image to the window

My only real complaint (so far) about Photoshop CS3 Photomerge is that it makes very poor use of multiple CPU cores, running largely single-threaded. It also has trouble auto-aligning images with low contrast (such as clouds); these need to be hand-aligned.

Below are a few more examples I went through from an old shoot (click for large view):

rainstormRainstorm over Bishop (17 megapixels)
rainstormSunset after rainstorm (18 megapixels)

Plenty of stuff in May

Lots of stuff coming in June, though.

I plan on doing a full review of the Canon EOS 1D Mark III against the Canon EOS 5D and a smattering of Nikon D200, and I’ll be shooting in the Sierra in early June for some of the material. And I do plan on soon releasing my most extensive work yet, the Diglloyd Guide to Digital Infrared.

Stay tuned in June!

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