Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My first "real world" test of the Canon 5D Mark III - High ISO, silent mode and more!

Last Saturday was the first time in years that I did not grab a 5D Mark II to shoot an event. It was a little sad to leave my trusty old friends behind, but very exciting to replace them with a couple of the new 5D Mark III bodies. Was there a little apprehension shooting with a new camera, sporting a different focus system, different user interface, new buttons, and new modes? Heck yeah. But like any good photographer, I spent some time with the camera in the days leading up to the Bat Mitzvah and even brought the manual with me.

I had a good laugh, thinking about the family meeting their photographer as he reads the manual to his new camera. That probably would not instill a whole lot of confidence in them. :) But I brought it just in case.

So...how did it go, you ask? Well...I can tell you that it was an amazing first run.

Lets start with the new focus system. I have yet to learn it inside and out, but I did find that it was dead on. I had very few images that were not tack sharp. I did notice that the center focus point, which always lit up on the Mark II when it achieved focus, did not always light up on the Mark III. I may have to call my friends at Canon to find out what this is all about. But, regardless, it was focusing where I wanted and worked great.

This was one of my first shots in the morning, and I did zoom in on her eyes, using the LCD of the camera, to make sure that the focus was doing what it was supposed to.

During the service, I stood in the back of the Temple and shot using the Sigma 120-300 2.8 lens with a 1.4x teleadaptor, to give me an effective range of 168-420mm at f4. At this point I was shooting at ISO 3200, knowing that this new camera would give me nice clean images at this setting. I used the Live View mode on the LCD of the camera and would zoom in 10x to manually focus on their eyes. I can tell you that the new LCD is crystal clear and really helps to get that focus locked in tight!

During a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, there are certain times when I know that I am going to shoot a lot of images. Whenever mom and dad get up and give their speech to their child, there is usually a great outpouring of emotion. It is usually at this point when I am firing off a lot of images in continuous mode. In the past, this has been a bit of a problem because the shutter is fairly loud and can be disruptive. I have even had the Rabbi, who is at the other end of the Temple give me that death stare. With the new 5D Mark III, I was surprised to find a new silent mode! This proved to be EXTREMELY valuable during this time. I could fire off 3 pictures per second and nobody heard a thing. I would say that this feature alone makes the camera worth the $3500, but that might be a little bit of a stretch. Needless to say, I will be using this mode for all images shot in a Temple or Church.

When I shoot a Mitzvah, the vast majority of the shots are taken from the back of the room, from my camera and lens which are mounted on a tripod. But when the child walks through the congregation with the Torah, I move to the center aisle and shoot handheld, either with my Canon 70-200mm 2.8 or my Sigma 85mm 1.4. But low light levels can make this a challenge since they are moving towards me. It was at this point that I decided to jump to ISO 6400, which I would have NEVER done before. And just like my tests earlier in the week, the images looks great with just a minimal amount of noise (which I can easily remove in ACR or using NIK Dfine).

Then it was party time and I was entering "the dark zone". (This is when you are supposed to hum the first few bars of "The Twilight Zone").

I shot most of the party at ISO 3200 and everything worked out great. But then...it was time to turn the lights out completely and run her video montage. I like to shoot these images without any flash so that I can get use only the ambient light coming off the screen. I found my subject and shot a couple of images and...uh oh...the shutter speed was too slow and they were really blurry. So blurry that even ISO 6400 might not work. Figuring that the 5D Mark III could handle the challenge, I cranked up the ISO to 10,000. Yes - I did say ISO 10,000!

I shot a whole bunch of images and was amazed as I looked at the screen on the back of the camera. They looked great. I was even more amazed when I got home and saw the images on a 30" display. They still looked VERY good.

Adding flash to a shot like this would have been a shame. I love this with just the red accent lights.

These next two shots are why I was looking to upgrade my cameras from the 5D Mark II to the 5D Mark III. These were both taken at ISO 10,000 with very little light to work with and helped me get the key shots!

Even if there were digital noise (grain) in these images, it would be acceptable to me. These photos are not about picture quality perfection, they are about the emotion that is captured in front of me.

After a very long day (7:30am until 1:30am) with almost no down time, and 2200 images captured, I would have to say that I am thrilled with the new cameras. Sure, I know that the camera is just a tool that we use to create our art, but having the best tools available really does make a difference!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Side-by-Side ISO comparison of Canon 5D Mark II vs. 5D Mark III (ISO 100-25600)

I just received my Canon 5D Mark III (after waiting forever for a 5D Mark II replacement) and was anxious to see how this new camera handled high ISO shooting. Since I shoot a lot of events where I have minimal light, this is a critical feature for me. Sure, there are lots of great new features in this camera, but having clean images at ISO 3200 or ISO 6400 is the holy grail for me. So...with that in mind, I set them up for a stand-off!

Here is my test scenario:

* 5D Mark III and the 5D Mark II side by side on tripods
* Focal length set to 200mm (100-400 on the Mark III and 70-200 on the Mark II which could effect sharpness)
* Focused on the same object (a signed football helmet)
* Aperture of f5.6
* Set timer mode to 2 sec (to avoid any shake)
* Used the new Lexar 1000x cards (to test the speed of the UDMA7 card slot)
* Turned off the lights in my home office
* Shot in RAW and imported into Photoshop with no altering of the files
* Zoomed and cropped to show a close-up of a dark and light area

Room setup with both cameras side-by-side (you can not tell from this image, but the 5D Mark III LCD is much brighter and sharper than the LCD on the 5D Mark II)

(Original image taken with the 5D Mark III at ISO 100 - scaled to 33pct)

And here are my results. Note: You can click on any of the following images to see a much larger version.

At ISO 100, both images are very clean. Interesting to see such a difference in the colors and gradations.

At ISO 800, we start to see some noise in the Mark II image but the Mark III stays clean.

At ISO 1600, we see a small amount of noise showing up in the Mark III image, but it is still far better than the Mark II image.

At ISO 3200 we see noise in both images, but after careful comparison, you will see that the Mark III image at ISO 3200 has about the same amount of noise as the Mark II at ISO 800

At ISO 6400, we see significant noise in the Mark II image but the Mark III image still looks very useable.

Now we are taking the Mark III into an area where the Mark II shouldn't go. So, I kept the Mark II at ISO 6400 to show you the comparison of the previous maximum ISO to the new higher ISO of the Mark III. You could argue that these two images, even with very different ISO settings, are about equal in quality.

It ISO 20000, as one would expect, we have significant noise in the Mark III image. But in the rare case where you need to shoot an image with almost no light present, this would yield a useable image, especially for a newspaper or small printed image.

Lastly, we crank it up to ISO 25600 to see what we get. At this point, we are in a pretty noisy world of digital imaging, but the image does not look much different from the ISO 20000 photo. With this in mind, I would avoid the ISO 20000 and go straight to ISO 25600. I did shoot some test images in a room that was almost pitch black, with just some light coming off of a distant computer monitor and was impressed that the camera could focus on the subject. I was also amazed at how much light the camera grabbed. I could barely see the subject, but when viewing the image on the LCD of the camera, it looked like daylight. Pretty amazing.

More tests to come!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Night Photography: Why this is my favorite time to shoot (and my tips on how to do it best)

From the very start of my photography career I have been fascinated with night photography. I started shooting in the later hours of the day for many reasons. Firstly, I was traveling around the world and busy for most of the day, with only after business hours that I got "my time" to go and shoot what I wanted. And for those of you who photograph for a living, you know the difference between shooting images for a client and shooting images purely for the enjoyment of it. I thoroughly enjoy my evening shots and find it really rewarding, not in a monetary sense, but strictly for the excitement of capturing the beauty that can only be seen one the sun has set.

This is one of my favorite night images. I took this in Bristol, England from a freeway overpass. I had finished my daytime work and had heard about their infamous suspension bridge, which goes from one peak to another without any support in the middle. I wanted to get a shot of this, and paid a taxi to take me there. After driving around for a while and not finding a suitable shot, my driver started to leave the area. As we were driving over a freeway overpass, I saw my shot! I asked the driver to pull over where it was safe and proceeded to walk back to that spot (and yes, there was a walkway). I ended up sitting on this overpass for almost 3 hours as the sun slowing dropped from the sky. But it was well worth the wait and I was rewarded with a clear evening and wispy clouds.

I took this image a couple of months ago in Boston, MA during an overcast evening. I was walking through the older section of town and loved this intersection. This was a 6 second exposure with an aperture of f9. And of course, with this long of an exposure, it is critical to have the camera perfectly still. Here is how I take most of my night shots.

* I set up my camera on my trusty Gitzo GT1540 tripod with the GH1780QR head. I love this combination because this is small enough to pack in my carry on luggage, but also provides great sturdiness to avoid any camera shake. People really underestimate the importance of a good tripod!

* I will typically set up my Canon camera in timer mode or use a cable release. You really do not want to press the shutter button as this will cause slight movement of the camera, resulting in a less sharp image. People never believe me when I tell them this, but just that little bit of movement from your hand on the camera can make a difference.

* I usually shoot in aperture priority and try to use the lowest ISO possible. Most of the images taken here were taken between ISO 100 and 400.

* I turn off any image stabilization on my lenses since I am shooting from a sturdy tripod and the image stabilization sometimes get confused and may induce shake.

* I generally shoot with the camera in "Live View" mode so that the mirror is locked in place. This allows me to frame my shot using the LCD on the back of the camera and also avoids any motion that might be caused by the mirror flapping in the camera.

* Many times I will shoot at -1 stop, since I find that the digital cameras tend to over compensate for the lack of light.

While visiting New York City in 2008 for the PhotoPlus trade show, I went out for a night hike and took this shot along Wall Street. I shot this at ISO 200 so that the shutter speed (at f9) would be one second. I did not want to blur the 3 lower flags too much and any longer speed would have created too much motion for my liking.

I was on a very quick trip to Washington D.C. in November of 2008, and had only one night to grab images. The advantage of shooting night images along the mall, is that parking was wide open so that I could easily drive from one memorial to another and park right up front. This allowed me to shoot many sites in a limited amount of time.

The other advantage to late night photography is that very few people will be in your shots. I took this photo around 11pm and I had the place to myself. I set up my camera on my tripod, and took a 30 second exposure, with me running around and popping my flash at each statue to give them a little more light in the final shot.

Taken during my trip to Cologne, Germany for the photokina trade show in 2006. I was sicker than a dog when I took this, but it was my last night there and I was bound and determined to get this shot before flying home.

I took this shot of "The Met" in New York City in 2009. I remember this well because I was approached by the police and told that I could not use a tripod on the premises. I really hate this rule, since the police never have a good answer as to why tripods are not allowed. Luckily I got enough good shots before his sergeant arrived, that when approached by the big guy, I packed up and left.

In 2007 I was teaching in the city of Toronto, and soon as I completed my work, I hopped in my rental car and headed for Niagara Falls. I had researched this on the Internet and knew that the falls were lit until 11pm, and took full advantage of this. I literally shot images until the lights were shut off.

This is another shot of Niagara Falls taken on the same evening. What I like about this particular photo is that it is different from what most people shoot. I isolated one small section of the falls and made sure to include the mist covered rock on the bottom right. In order to sufficiently blur the water, I used a 4 second exposure.

I have made countless trips to Australia, but I never get tired of Sydney. It is my favorite city in the world, and nothing says Sydney more than the opera house. The interesting thing about shooting images like this over water, is that the human eye does not really see the reflections as clearly as the camera picks them up. I learned this early on, and take full advantage of this whenever the opportunity arises.

While on vacation on Maui (in the Hawaiian Islands) in 2009, I shot this image of a fire juggler during a Luau. I was a guest at the hotel and saw this in the distance from the pool area. I grabbed my 100-400 lens and shot this image at 400mm with the ISO cranked up to 3200. I lowered the exposure compensation to exaggerate the darkness. I used only the ambient light from the fire to light him. If I had used a flash, it would have totally ruined the shot. This ended up being one of my favorite shots of the trip. Not only did I like it, but I showed it to the promoters of the Luau and was asked to shoot some more on the following night. The last night of the trip, the whole family was invited as the guests of honor at the show.

These next two shots were taken during the opening ceremonies at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Like the Sydney Opera House photo, I used the one vantage point which had water in the foreground to add a nice reflection to the image.

The blue color that you see in the sky above the Bird's Nest is the remaining smoke from fireworks which had just gone off. The blue lights inside the stadium helped illuminate the smoke, giving me this really cool effect.

Yep, this is from yet another trip to New York. I go there quite often to speak at the large photo stores and usually stay pretty close to Times Square. I shot this photo with a 2 second exposure to give me good trailing lights from the automobiles. Without the lights from the cars, this image would have been unbalanced with bright lights in the upper portion of the image and darkness below.

As you can probably tell, I rarely go anywhere without my camera. In 2007, while on a family camping trip, I asked my nephew to go inside the tent with a flashlight and move it around. I wanted him to evenly light the whole tent so that it would show against the night sky. Keeping the shutter open for 3 seconds, he provided just the right amount of light and movement. The deep blue sky in the background tells me that this was taken approximately 20 minutes after sunset.

One of my favorite tricks when shooting night photos, is to roll the zoom during the exposure. This is a 3 second exposure of Times Square where I left everything alone for 2 seconds and then rolled the zoom on the last second.

To get a good example of how the zoom effect can create a totally different image, from the same vantage point, check out these two photos of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The first shot is a 13 second exposure with everything perfectly still.

This shot was a 15 second exposure, but this time, I rolled the zoom for the last couple of seconds of the exposure. It is different from what most people take and it adds a dynamic effect to the image.

I hope that I have inspired you to take more photos after the sun has set. Maybe I will see you out there with my tripod in hand.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Photographing a golf tournament: Proper camera settings, composition and ideas

If you are a regular blog reader here, you know that I have photographed many different sports over the years, but until yesterday I had never actually photographed golf. You would think that, living in California where we have year-round golf, that I would have done this already, but nope. Not until yesterday.

My son recently added golf to his list of school sports, and he and the team asked me to come out and shoot images of them at a local tournament. I decided that this would be another great chance to break out the new Sigma 120-300mm 2.8 lens and put it through it's paces.

Here is what I brought with me on the course:

Canon 1D Mark IV (it really helped to burst at 10 frames a second to capture all aspects of their golf swing)
Sigma 120-300mm 2.8 lens (although a 70-200 would have worked as well)
Gitzo GM5561T monopod (since I wasn't about to handhold the big Sigma lens for 3 hours)
Lexar 128GB 1000x CF card (more than I needed...but what the heck!)
LowePro ProRunner 350AW bag

I also brought a Canon 5D Mark II and a 24-70 lens but never ended up using those.

After arranging a golf cart (which I really needed to follow 3 different teams throughout the 9 holes), I was off and shooting.

I shot most of the images with the lens wide open at f2.8 to separate the golfers from the background. It was nice having the 300mm reach so that I could stand back and still get nice tight shots of them.

Like any good photography, your foreground and backgrounds are important. In the image above, I wanted to show the golfer in the background but include some of the birds that were on the course in the foreground.

Most people would shoot images of the golfers from the front, but I thought that it would be interesting to include a shot from behind them. I did this on this hole for two reasons:

1. I liked the straight fairway with the trees and blue sky in the background.
2. The late day sunlight was coming from behind them and it would not have been a good shot from the front. 

I did my best to include shots of the kids, teeing off, hitting from the fairway, and using their putters on the green.

As you can see from this image, the sun was very low in the sky and shining right into their faces as they teed off from the 7th hole. This made it difficult for them to spot the ball, but I was happy to have this golden light. And hey, it is all about the photographer, right?

I really wanted to get some shot of the kids hitting out of the sand traps, to get that shot with the sand spraying all over. I positioned myself in front of my son to get this shot. Not as much sand as I was hoping, but hey, it was a really nice shot that put him on the green. (Photographer's note: most of my "picks" were images which include the golf ball in the shot. This helps tell the story, just like including the puck in hockey images and the ball in football or baseball.)

Going back to the foreground and background topic, I positioned myself with the flag in between myself and the golfer so that the viewer would know what was happening. If I did not include the flag, you would not know that he was chipping onto the green.

Most of the images that I took were centered in the frame, but I know better than to do this in every shot. I knew that Connor was putting up this hill, so I focused on him (fixed focus - not servo) and then repositioned the camera to have him far to the right of the frame. I then waited for the ball to move to the left of the frame and shot this image.

I had a challenge with the first pair since my son is left handed and his partner is right handed. This meant that whichever side I shot from, I would have the back side of one of them.

Waiting is part of the game too...

I saw that the golfer was going to hit from behind this sand trap, so I got low to the ground and shot this photo, just showing his upper torso with his club high and the grass flying.

Finally, towards the end of the day, I got my shot of the sand flying from the sand trap. I know that he was not happy being in the sand trap, but I was happy to get my shot. :)

A photo of the short game of golf.

These last two shots were tough since the sun had already set. You can't tell from these shots, but it was actually pretty dark. I had to crank up the ISO of the camera to 2000 and brighten these in Photoshop.

And then, as I was driving the golf cart to the last hole, I turned to my left and saw something coming over the hills in the distance. I thought to myself "Is that the moon?" and sure enough, it was.

I was so blown away with this opportunity that I waited a couple of minutes for the moon to rise over the hills and shot this image. Even though I was there to shoot golf, this was one of my favorite images of the day. I love the composition of this image, with the moon not completely above the hills, framed by the trees, and with some of the golf course in the foreground. If you look closely, you can even see a couple of the golfers in the distance. (Photographer's note: Since I did not have a tripod with me, I had to shoot this on my monopod. I set the ISO to 500, f/stop to 2.8 and then stopped down to -2 in exposure compensation to keep the moon from blowing out. I knew that this would darken everything else, but I also knew that I could brighten up the trees and grass in post production.)