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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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No commentary on the trip like last time for this entry, but there are more pictures and trip recap coming. I know you all care.

Before returning to talking about Bavaria, I want to talk about is the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. I only played with my 5d2 a little bit before the trip, and was relatively happy with it at that point. Having shot with it solely for a week, I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with it.

What I love is that when I get a keeper with the 5d2, it’s an amazing keeper. The color and contrast out of the sensor are great, and the oodles and oodles of pixels let me pull a usable tight crop out of just about any photo. The narrower depth of field and ability to shoot in the dark make some impossible shots possible. The viewfinder is a lot nicer than my crop bodies.

Taking shots of some trees in a field, it’s got great autofocus. The photo will be amazing, and I could make a 20×30 print; I’m only limited by my lens and working method. Walking around and shooting things that are moving is an episode in disappointment. By that, I’m not talking about AF servo tracking with somebody running towards me on a track. I’m walking around Oktoberfest in good light, and trying to get somebody’s head in focus for a quick snapshot, with the hope of pulling the shot as soon as I can get focus confirmation. In my experience, the camera is junk at this. I spent a lot of time walking around with a 35L, 17-40L, and 50/1.4 at Oktoberfest, and maybe a tenth of my shots were close to being in focus enough to use them anywhere near full resolution.

Part of this is my working method. I don’t sit around with all of the AF points on and then wait until I see what it grabbed, and pull the shot. I set the focus point I want to use, focus the subject, and shoot. I’ve been shooting this way since my EOS-3. There are two problems with this on the 5d2. The first is that the focus points that aren’t the center focusing point are only about 3% of the frame away from the center focus point. I’m exaggerating, but really, the af point coverage of the whole image is embarrassing in how small it is. So, I have to grab the nearest focus point to where I want the point to be in focus in the frame, and then focus-recompose once I get confirmation, and hopefully the subject hasn’t moved too much. The distance between the focus point and the “hypothetical location” where I want to be in focus is large enough that this is tenuous. The other problem is that there is a lot more lag between when I get focus confirmation and am able to pull off the shot than I’m used to. I don’t have any quantitative data to back this up, beyond that I keep feeling like the camera is lagging my inputs versus my years on the 20D and 40D.

This kid wasn’t moving, it was easy to take a shot of him, because the lag and movement in the process weren’t a problem (intended focus was on the apple, in order to leave the kid a bit soft, it worked perfectly):

The second problem is that the focusing points that aren’t the center point suck. A lot. Especially in lower light. So they’re useless. What this means is the only reasonable thing I can do is focus with the center point, recompose quickly, and pray that the shot works.

Awesome photo, right? Sure, at 450 pixels. Much higher than that it’s clear the focus is blown. What happened? I was shooting in the dark. The only focus point I could get to grab anything was the center point. We’ll assume it got the correct focus on her eye (it probably didn’t, but we’ll give the benefit of the doubt); recomposing changed the plane enough to blow the shot. I didn’t want her in the center of the frame. Again, the typical argument for this in the past is “use a closer focusing point.” There aren’t any focusing points that are closer, because the closer points don’t work in less than optional conditions, and the closer points are only marginally closer. My eyes are not good enough to follow up autofocus with a quick manual focus shift for these sorts of situations, which is about the only way to get this working.

Again, I’m not a sports shooter. I don’t need 37 frames of somebody walking towards me with a meter of hot dog hanging out of their mouth. I want a quick decisive photo of my subject that’s in focus, even if I’m shooting nearly wide open in dusk. With my style of working (and again, this may be the flaw), I cannot shoot the 5d2 in this fashion. In the future, I’ll prefer something else for walking around shooting things for which I don’t have the option to sit around and get the perfect shot for five minutes. When I have the time, I can’t think of a camera I’d rather have (I mean, beyond a Leica); I much prefer the form factor, size, and lack of “look at me I have a camera” versus the 1D and 1Ds.

I suppose the argument is that I’ve got 21 megapixels. I can just shoot somebody in the center of the frame, and then crop it to how I originally wanted to shoot the photo. I don’t like this argument. I might as well be shooting a crop body and just getting the shot in the first place. And I can save myself the wasted pixels on disk.

Other things that bug me: Sometimes the camera just isn’t there when you need it. Every once in a while, I try to wake it up with the half-shutter because I need a shot now, and it just mysteriously isn’t ready until I try again. It’s not 100% of the time, but it costs me a couple seconds, and I miss the shot. I can’t put my finger on it yet. For some reason it can’t drive the focus of my macro lens from full-near to infinity. Every other camera I’ve used/still have can. It just gives up focusing halfway through the sweep out, even when hunting behavior is enabled in the custom functions.

What do I want? A modern and useful autofocus sensor with more coverage of the frame and usable focus points other than the center point. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that, having used the 5d2, what I really want instead is the same sensor with a usable autofocus sensor: the 1Ds. I don’t need amazing AF tracking for sports shooting, dual cards (though that would be nice), weather sealing, and most of the other pro features. I just want single frame stills of static subjects that aren’t going to be static very long to work. My EOS-3 and 40D are better with my method of working than the 5d2 will ever be for this type of photography.

Devil’s advocate: It could just be that now that I have more pixels, and my depth of field is narrower, I notice the misses more often. Hogwash, I say!