Trying Out Canon Gear

Esther BeatonPhotography Equipment2 Comments

I’ve used Nikons all my career. That makes this article an impartial evaluation of the dream kit that Canon asked me to trial. It consisted of a Pelican case bursting with about $30,000 worth of pro gear.

Let’s start with the EOS 1DS III – what a brilliant camera! It’s a bit of a Clydesdale in build but at least it won’t fall apart. The controls are all in the right places and super-easy to figure out. It was easy to preview and magnify, although I found the scrolling around a little less easy. I love the option of having vertical shooting controls duplicated. The big wheel, or “quick control dial” really works. I thought it a gimmick at first but it truly allows quick access and quick changes to many functions. It’s easy to adjust the white balance and the image quality. It’s also easy to override exposure, change ISO, and all the important image-making controls. The lovely big monitor and the preview images have good tonality – not bumped up contrast and weird colors like some lesser manufacturers. Easy to change cards. I love the dust elimination that occurs automatically when the camera is turned on. The only control I had trouble with was the top wheel, or “main dial”. My finger kept searching for it in front of the shutter release, not behind it.
The lenses are all workhorses too – you could stop a speeding car if you left one in the middle of the road. I tried the 300 mm f2.8L IS, 70-200 mm f2.8L IS, 24-70 mm f2.8L, 16-35 mm f2.8L II. The controls are on the side of each lens – all in one place – a great location as it saves you searching all around the perimeter of the barrel. The image stabilizer took a bit of getting used to – there is a lot more lag before settling down than I’m used to when I use my Nikon lenses. Turning autofocus on and off was a breeze which is very important as I found AF to be seriously ineffective with low contrast subjects, like in the shade. But this is typical of most AF in general although I must admit my Nikkors perform a bit better in the same conditions.
Right from the start of the digital revolution, Canon invested in full frame bodies and lenses to cover the 35 mm format, so they sync together like ballerinas, at least in the pro gear I tested. Now, with their ISO of 1600 as a standard – well, I’m just gob-smacked. To be able to dispense with a tripod when I want to is a blessing beyond belief.
The 300 f2.8L IS was surprisingly light as well as being a true telephoto. It made me wonder if that is why I got strange out-of-focus areas just beyond the in-focus areas. There were internal reflections, like a double image, which reminded me of mirror lenses.  It’s not an effect I cared for and I much prefer the Nikkor 300mm 2.8, which is the full 300 mm length and a lot heavier, but has the smooth transition to out-of-focus areas behind the subject. In my world, which is bird photography (as far as long lenses are concerned), I want the portrait effect with lovely blurs in the background. When I attached Canon’s 1.4x converter it had no problem with maintaining the autofocus – lovely.
The camera always displayed the correct information, no matter how many attachments I inserted between lens and body. I even tried out a something called a “Life Size Converter”. It’s a strange beast – a combination of teleconverter and extension tube – a brilliant concept that I’ve never seen before and an essential gadget for us nature photographers.
The 16-35 mm zoom was a beautiful wide angle lens allowing focusing down to an amazing 1 foot (.3 metre). The 100 mm f2.8 macro lens is a champ too. It focuses down to a magnification of 1:1 which is already life size. But when you attach the Life Size Converter, it magnifies even more. I didn’t calculate it but I could focus very close and here’s the amazing bit – still retaining f2.8! You wouldn’t use that aperture at that magnification of course, but it makes for easy viewing and focusing – normally such a problem when you’ve added a series of extension tubes.
But the most amazing bit of gear was the 65 mm macro lens, called the MP-E65 macro. When I had a government job, I used to build a lot of equipment. Getting good quality, high powered magnification was always a problem, so I adapted a microscope lens to fit onto a 35mm body. It worked fantastic. Well, Canon has done the same. Whether it really is a microscope lens or not I don’t know, but it looks like one with its tiny 23 mm front element. The magnifications are conveniently marked on the lens barrel making it just a dream to quickly extend it to the reproduction ratio you want. However, at 5x it’s no longer f2.8, and it is quite dark through the viewfinder. Naturally you would be using such a lens with flash, so I tried out the MR 14 ring flash. There was no instruction book, but I still managed to figure out how it works (and that’s saying a lot). It was great how the flash immediately deferred to the camera as the main control. I had the camera on Av (Aperture perferred or aperture value) and they stayed at that setting without overriding me. The flash, which I set on TTL (or ETTL as Canon calls it) calculated a perfect exposure. Turning off the ambient recording was not so easy. Eventually my buddy, Peter McNeill, already a Canon convert, suggested putting the camera on M so I could choose a shutter speed like 1/125 (which would exclude ambient exposure). And it worked like a charm! As he said in amazement, “It’s too easy!” The lighting from the ringflash was beautiful – soft and even. Although it wasn’t the true circular ringflash I’m familiar with, the fact that it was divided into two halves, meant you could set different output levels for each half. Again, I figured this out without the instruction book – a great bonus. When you put the rig together – camera body, 65mm lens, and ringflash with commander mounted on hotshoe, it made a tidy portable package. Again, in Peter’s words, “Too easy.” It’s hard to get across the convenience of this rig and its performance until you’ve been where I have: tortuous mental calculations, tortuous brackets and arms, cords wobbling all over the place, ages spent just in focusing and then still not getting the shot. This is surely a case of exchanging dollars for hard work. If you pay the money (and the rig is not cheap) you’ll get phenomenal results – easily!
Do you need to buy your special someone a Christmas present? This Canon dream kit might set you back half your annual salary, but your special someone would be devoted to you for life. Thanks Jay Collier of Canon Professional Services, you really opened my eyes.

2 Comments on “Trying Out Canon Gear”

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Esther,
    How lucky are you? Did you have to give it all back? I’d love some of those L Series lenses but can only dream for now. The new Nikon D3 has had rave reviews – maybe they’ll give you one to keep you faithful! Do you think the brand makes that much difference or is it more in the “eye” of the photographer?
    Keep up the great work,
    Nick of Umina

  2. Paul

    As a Canon user myself all I can say is “welcome to my side of the fence”!! I’m equally as envious as Nick have been dreaming of snapping away with one of those big (hence the name “Canon”!!) lenses attached to my camera.

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