A Month in New Zealand
With the Canon EOS 1D
Written by: Bill Caulfeild-Browne
Outlined photographs are linked to larger versions.
Way Down Under
Although I’ve been a photographer since I was about
five years old, I’ve never owned a digital camera — until now. This article
is as much a critique of digital camera photography as it is of the 1D. It's
from the perspective of one who grew up with glass-plate cameras and Rollei
Not that I’m a stranger to digital photography per
se. I recently donated my Ilfochrome darkroom to a good cause because I
hadn’t used it in three years. I much prefer working with my computer, scanner
and inkjet printer through the medium of Adobe Photoshop.
Why the Canon EOS 1D?
Easy — I already had an EOS 1V and a number of Canon lenses, and I liked
what I read in the review in The Luminous
Landscape, and elsewhere. I’m primarily into nature and wildlife
photography, which share some of the
characteristics of sports photography and photo-journalism, for which I’m sure
this camera was conceived. Speed of autofocus, motor drive, general handling
and reliability in tough conditions are critical in both fields.
My 1D arrived just before Christmas, giving me about ten
days to familiarize myself with it before leaving for a month-long trip New
Zealand. First impression: boy, is this baby heavy ! Second impression: boy, is
it ever easy to hold steady! Every minus has a plus, I guess. Still, after a few
days trudging about with it hanging around my neck I occasionally had to check
that it wasn’t one of my Rollei 6008s weighing me down.
There’s no doubt the 1D is a solid, beautifully built instrument which I feel could take a lot of abuse and keep on ticking. My test protocols did not include abuse, however.
My third impression was one of slight discomfort — I
couldn’t hear the film winding on!
Before the Trip — The Menu
Because I had read differing opinions of the ease of handling of the Menu features of the 1D, I deliberately did not read the instructions first, but set out to see just how intuitive the Menu is. Result — I mastered it in about ten minutes and subsequent reading of the manual added very little to what I had already learned. My only criticism involves the Quality setting; it’s not immediately obvious what relationship it has to the “RAW + JPEG” setting in the General Menu. Both must be set correctly. Otherwise, it’s great.
For my trip I took the new 16-35mm L zoom, which I treated as my standard lens, because at 35mm it gives an effective focal length on the 1D of 46mm. Accompanying it were the 50mm f1.4, the 100mm f2 (my favorite lens), the 200mm f2.8L and the 300mm f4 IS L. The latter is my preference for small birds and mammals as it has very close focusing, down to 1.5 m.
This isn’t a critique of lenses, so I’ll limit myself to saying that the new wide-angle zoom might convert me to being a regular zoom-lens user. (Its the only zoom I own for any of my cameras.) It is very sharp indeed at f/8, my “default” aperture, and free of any distortion visible to the naked eye. This holds true at its middle range focal length as well. I think there is a little curvature of flat horizons at the shortest focal length, but it is not noticeable in any of my slides… oops, files !
One of the first things a new digital photographer has to get used to is the ease of changing “film” speed. This feature alone almost makes it worth using a digital camera. The ability to switch at will from 200 ISO to 1600 ISO or any point in between is fabulous.
Fortunately, the 1D allows you to show the ISO setting in the viewfinder, through the Custom Settings, and I recommend this for those of us accustomed to “fixed” ISO in conventional cameras. It’s easy to forget you changed the setting last evening to photograph the twilight.
The next thing I noticed was that I was shooting at faster shutter speeds. I generally use Fuji Velvia (50 ISO) or Provia (100 ISO) and so the normal 200 ISO speed of the 1D gave me shutter speeds one-half or one-quarter of my usual exposures. The next thing I knew, I was taking many more hand-held shots — quite a change for a guy who almost always uses a tripod !
In my pre-trip tests I exposed the same scenes at 200 ISO and 400 ISO and found it very difficult on 13X19 inch enlargements to tell the difference. There is simply so little noise at 400 ISO that I used that speed routinely for any “bad light day”, and I decided to use ISO 250 for all other shooting. I defy anyone to find more noise at ISO 250 than at 200 !
For the record, even shooting at dusk I found no banding of any sort, though I did not use the very high ISO speeds at all. (Yet!)
My wife and I rented an RV for our sojourn on the South Island, intending to visit some of the spots we missed when we were last there in 1989, and to re-visit some of our favorites. New Zealand, of course, is famous for its landscapes and I had some misgivings about shooting these with a digital 35mm camera when last time I’d used medium format.
But guess what ? My digital landscapes with the 1D at 11X14 look clearer and at least as sharp as my 6X6cm Ilfochromes of 1989! This will not be true at higher magnifications — it’s just that I have about twenty 11X14s from 1989 that I can compare.
For wildlife, the 1D excels. I have never enjoyed shooting birds as much as I have with this camera. Even though the EOS 1V is as fast (and can take 36 frames continuously instead of about 17), the ability to shoot without concern for wasting film is a real asset. You know you can edit your results that evening — or in the next five minutes — instead of waiting to get home, get your films to the lab, etc, etc.
So our trip was a mélange of landscapes (particularly at dawn and dusk — I largely agree with the sage who suggested putting your camera away at 10 am and not getting it out until 4 pm!), and birds. There are not many mammals in New Zealand, and actually not a wide variety of birds either, but many of them are quite exotic to North Americans.
300mm IS 1/8000 (sic) f 5.6 ISO 400
Of course, in January it’s mid-summer in New Zealand, with mean temperatures in the high teens and low twenties, Celsius. It is a fairly humid climate — a little rain every few days — and this is relevant from the point of view of dust. I have read that CCDs seem to accumulate dust more easily than CMOS chips. I can only state that out of over 1,000 files I brought back, only three of them (consecutive shots) show a slight blob in one corner which I assume to be dust. Considering I only cleaned the CCD (with a blower) twice in the entire month, largely as a precaution, I’d say it was not an issue. In a very dry climate where static can build up perhaps my experience would have been different.
In addition to the camera and lenses, I took two CF cards, each 256 MB. I could have chosen to take one 512 MB card, but I like to avoid having all my eggs in one basket.
I elected to shoot all my pictures in RAW format only; I don’t need JPEGs in the way a news photographer might. On this basis I typically got 50-57 pictures per 256 MB card, although the camera would initially show I’d get only 43-47. As pictures accumulated on the card, the prediction of how many shots remained got more and more accurate.
At the end of each day I’d do a little preliminary editing on the camera’s screen, but found it really only useful for picking out the real duds and for checking for blown-out highlights. (The latter facility is another really good reason to use a digital camera.) Then I downloaded the cards to a 10 gigabyte Mindstor PSS-1710. This portable hard drive worked very well; by the time I got home I had about 5 gigs of images.
I used Color Matrix 4, the Adobe RGB option, exclusively, as I expected to manipulate images in Photoshop. Typically I find the resulting images need about 20 points of extra saturation in Photoshop, as well as dose of sharpening. Subjectively, I find the initial color rendering very accurate and only boost the saturation because accuracy isn’t as pleasing as more concentrated tones — though in a few cases I actually reduced saturation to increase subtlety. All the shots shown here have only cropping, saturation and sharpening — no other manipulation.
I took two battery packs and a charger plug adapter
suitable for New Zealand. Fortunately, the charger works from 100 to 240 volts,
because New Zealand uses 240.
At first I found I could get only about 150 shots from a fresh battery, but by the time I left a month later, and the packs had been fully discharged and recharged several times, I was getting about 260 shots per charge. This was with the minimum review time and auto shut-off set at one minute, shooting RAW only. I find it a bit difficult to accept Canon’s claims of 350-500 shots, even if I never used an IS lens. Perhaps another month will further improve things.
Incidentally, the camera is virtually “instant on”; you turn the switch and by the time you’ve got the viewfinder up to your eye, you’re in business. I was never conscious of any delay.
I used the Auto setting nearly all the time and it worked just fine. For fun, a few times I shot a piece of white paper to create a custom white balance, but for normal outdoor shooting of natural subjects, the auto setting is all that’s needed. When I got back, I used the color cast removal feature of Photoshop Elements on a number of shots, and the effect of the “correction” was virtually nil.
Because I usually use a tripod I shoot with Aperture Priority, and the only exceptions in New Zealand were when I switched to Manual in order to take a series of photos to be stitched together as a panorama.
The ability to inspect your shot a few seconds after it’s taken is invaluable, though it can be a little misleading at first. Several times I re-exposed shots with –2/3 stop compensation because the highlight warning was blinking. As I got more experienced, and especially after I got home and saw the results on my monitor, I realized these apparently blown-out highlights were actually fine. They were things like bright snow on the top of Mount Cook, or the whitest part of a sunlit cumulus cloud — whites you would expect to be absolutely white in a print. In truth, I did a lot of exposure bracketing which almost always turned out to be unnecessary. Canon’s integrated metering is very hard to fool !
I did use spot metering a fair amount, generally for small birds in surroundings of a different tone.
I have already mentioned how great the motor drive is for bird shots, but I found the speed too high. Using the Personal Functions, I slowed down the High Speed mode to three shots per second, and the Low Speed to one per second. This suits my style, and speaks volumes about the flexibility Canon have built into this machine.
Although I’m a nature photographer, I also love steam engines. The picture of the Kingston Flyer was one of ten taken at one per second, using AI Servo. All ten were critically sharp, including the last when I was actually panning the camera as the engine passed me.
100mm 1/750 at f 5.6 ISO 400
After the Trip
I mentioned that rather than lug a PC with me, I used a portable hard drive to store my images. When I returned I uploaded the shots to my Dell workstation through an IEEE 1394 connection. It took about six minutes to move the images to ThumbsPlus, the archiving / thumbnailing program I prefer — a little more than a minute per Gig. Not too bad for over one thousand pictures. But that was the quickest part...
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of this camera. It has opened up new possibilities for me, and it is so far removed from the old bellows roll-film cameras I cut my teeth on as to be incomprehensible. How lucky we are to live in such technologically advanced times.
Or are we? For the weak point of the 1D is its software. It just doesn’t live up to the truly awesome potential of the instrument. Canon, here are some suggestions.
First, speed it up. I have a pretty much state-of-the-art computer with 512 megs of RAM and a very fast processor — and having to twiddle my thumbs while the program works is frustrating.
Second, enable a full preview by double-clicking on the thumbnail, instead of having that action transfer the file to Photoshop. There’s already a button for the latter, and the world is used to clicking on images to see a full size version.
Having said that, the program works well. It installed very easily (I’m running Windows 2000 Pro) and some of the options are great — curves, exposure modifications and even changing the Color Matrix. Things the old film photographer in me can hardly believe !
But to load 1,000 images takes forever... though I could divide them up into separate folders, I know.
Although I have the full version of Photoshop, I rather like using Elements. It’s only good for RGB processing, which is fine with me, but it has two features the full version hasn’t got — an easy color cast removal button (make sure your monitor is properly and recently calibrated!) and a stitching program for panoramas. The latter has the potential for allowing much bigger enlargements than you might expect from a 4.1 Megapixel camera, by enabling you to use a longer lens, taking three or four shots to make your picture, and then stitching them together as if you had, say, a 12 megapixel CCD. (But there is a question as to big a file Elements will handle — I’m still experimenting with that).
I have now edited my shots down to 400 and I’m not finished yet. It’s a whole lot easier editing this way than editing film and then taking the time to scan the survivors, believe me !
After a month of concentrated use with a wide variety of natural subjects, I’m convinced I made a very good buying decision. The camera is almost all I could wish for — a CCD or CMOS chip 36mm X 24mm would bring the camera to the status of perfection for my needs. In fact, it already has more ability with this camera than I have as a photographer.
Will I sell my trusty Rollei 6008s? No, not yet. Not as long as I want detailed 20x30" prints and big glowing slides to show, but I might have an EOS 1V available for sale...
Well done, Canon – I’m delighted.
Feb 17, 2002
The 1D's Instructions show "Working Conditions" as being 0 to 45C or 32 to 113F. Today is one of the few cold days we've had up here on the 45th parallel since returning from New Zealand, at -10C, so I thought I'd see what happens with a cold camera !
I took the camera out for about 1 1/2 hours and took about 50 shots, one every couple of minutes as the camera cooled. I did not shelter it all — it was hanging around my neck outside my parka. I didn't even hold it in my gloved hands except when actually shooting. By the end of this, I'm sure the instrument was down to the ambient temperature of -10C (or 14F).
I'm pleased to report the camera worked flawlessly; the pictures were equally well exposed from one end of the test to the other. The only indication of the cold was that the half-charged battery at the beginning was very low (but still working) at the end.
Caution: do not attempt this test at home without taking a plastic bag (I use one from our local supermarket) into which to seal the camera before taking it back indoors! I left mine to warm up for a full hour before removing it." I guess Canon is a bit conservative — unless there's something I don't know yet ! Actually, I've always believed that CCDs work better when cold.....
All Text and Photographs are Copyright Bill Caulfeild-Browne — 2002
About The Author
Bill Caulfeild-Browne is a semi-retired business executive who lives in Tobermory, Ontario. A dedicated nature photographer, he has had three one-man exhibitions in Mississauga and Toronto and has contributed to numerous magazines and books, including the World Wildlife Fund's "Endangered Spaces" and "A Nature Guide to Ontario". He loves to travel, usually with his Rollei 6008s, and has recently visited the Galapagos and Antarctica. He is a member of the Board of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
The world's first hands-on review of the EOS-1D can be found here.