Today the Canon 5D Mk IV cameras are out and I’m sure by this afternoon there will be unboxing videos all over YouTube. Aaron and I decided to do an unboxing post, too. By unboxing, of course, we mean taking it apart. If you want to make comparisons, you can look at our old (2012) 5D Mk III teardown or the fairly recent 5Ds teardown.
The lawyers would like me to mention that even though we (often) make this look incredibly easy and fun, you should not do this yourself. If you leave a small leak during reassembly, then when you put the battery back in the smoke leaks out of the camera. It’s important to keep the smoke inside the camera. Trust us on this, for we have experience. Every time we’ve let the smoke get out of a camera, it never works again. And your warranty will be null and void.
To be blunt, we didn’t expect a lot of surprises inside the Canon 5D Mark IV. From the outside, it looks just like the Canon 5Ds and Canon 5Dsr, which look a lot like the Canon 5D III. We expected to find some new chips inside, because, well, the camera does some new stuff that should need some new chips. And, of course, as with every camera ever made throughout history, this one has ‘improved weather sealing’. It’s not improved enough for the warranty to cover water damage, of course, but still, that’s worth a look. If nothing else, we usually enjoy opening up Canon cameras because the engineering is always nicely laid out and usually pretty. And we’re the kind of guys that value inner beauty.
So lets take some screws out!!!
Getting the Case Off
This was the first surprise we had and it goes on through the whole disassembly. Until now Canon cameras have all been pretty straightforward in their disassembly: you take out screws, that part of the case comes off, repeat for another part of the case. This time, we did the usual first step, removing the cover of the I/O ports.
But it didn’t slide out. Next, out come the bottom plate screws.
It loosened, but it wouldn’t come out either. Peeled back the grips and went to work on the front plate. No joy again. The various plates all loosened but wouldn’t come off. And when you’re disassembling a camera for the first time, you don’t pull on stuck things because you don’t know what they may be stuck to inside.
Finally, we did take off the one thing that came off in the usual fashion; the back cover assembly. Canon techs are reading this and laughing their butts off by now, I’m sure.
After we looked around a bit we realized that basically to take off any part of the shell, other than the back assembly, you had to take off most of the shell because Canon has added lots of plastic pegs and latches to the various parts of the shell, making it much more interlocking than in previous cameras.
Pegs under the I/O cover plate. Lensrentals.com, 2016
Interlocking latches around the bottom plate. Lensrentals.com, 2016
What does this do? Well, it certainly would strengthen the shell, making it more resistant to bangs and drops. It might, (I can’t say for certain), make the seals between the various parts tighter and more water resistant. From my point of view, (but not any of yours), it’s going to make it more difficult and time-consuming to work on this camera, but not hugely so.
Speaking of water resistance we did see, like we did with the Canon 7DII and Canon 5Ds, lots of foamed seals along doors and joints.
Even the inside of buttons has very thick rubber gaskets everywhere you might look.
This next part might be useful to you, though. There was only one area where we didn’t see any seal except plastic-on-plastic. This was in the top right corner where the back plate and top plate come together. Between the two red lines, there’s just a plastic to plastic seal with no gaskets. This may be completely watertight because of pressure between the two shell plates. But I might put a bit of tape over it if I was going out in the rain. (OK, as you all know I don’t take cameras out in the rain without plastic covers. Because we write off ‘weather resistant’ cameras for water damage every week. But I know you young people live life in the fast lane and like to take risks.)
OK, Let’s Look at the Insides
I mentioned earlier that we had the back cover off. Inside it looks very much like other Canon back covers. There are aluminum shields over the button panel and LCD. The flexes running to and fro over the LCD are more complex than other Canons because of the extra processing for the touch screen.
We took the back assembly apart a bit and you can see the button panel is similar to other 5 Series cameras, with the addition of the new focus select button added. It’s one of the two small, round, copper plates below (to the right in the picture) the tilt button.
Once all the connecting flexes have been removed we could slide off the large, stiff, main LCD flex, which really is a circuit board almost.
And now we see the LCD. Well mostly the aluminum shield/brace over the LCD with a little window with tape showing the LCD. Again we saw nice rubber seals all around the LCD panel. We didn’t remove it because we don’t yet have replacement double sided tape to make sure it stuck down properly, but other than the extra connections of the touch-screen, it was similar to what we’d seen before.
Turning back to the rest of the camera, we see a couple of interesting things on the back of the camera. First, there are more flexes connecting to the main PCB than most other models. Second, we were very pleased to see a thick, stiff, sheet of rubber covering the back of the PCB (it’s actually very shiny black; the lights give it that gray and blue appearance). Underneath it, you can see the aluminum shielding and protecting panel that covers chips on the grip side of the PCB.
You can get a better idea of how much nicer this is than the old foamed-tape flimsy thing that we dealt with in the Canon 5DIII in the picture below.
With the back, bottom, and front plates loose, we could now take the I/O cover panel off at this point and you can see the various ports.
Here was our first real disappointment. Skipping ahead for clarity, the USB and HDMI ports are soldered to the main PCB. Only the flash sync and audio ports are on a separate board. This means (as often happens) when a USB or HDMI cable gets jerked hard the port can get pulled off it’s solders to the board. The repair, in this case, is a complete main board replacement. We’d much rather see these ports on a sub-board, but understand this is a lot cheaper to manufacture this way. Almost every SLR made does this, but I sure wish they’d brace the ports or something.
The CF card door came off next. Usually, this just requires removing the screws and the door slides off, you just have to be careful not to mess up the door position sensor. In this camera, though, there’s a flex right under the door that wanted to stick as we removed it. No harm was done, just another case of this camera being a bit tougher to disassemble than most.
We next took the front cover off. This was a lot more complex than it would seem because Canon runs some connecting cables from the front cover, around the side of the camera, to the back PCB. This is one of those ‘why you don’t do it yourself’ moments. One good tug and some important parts would never work again.
The flex that Aaron is removing tape from, and the small white wire at the bottom, run from the front cover, across the I/O ports, to the PCB in the rear. Lensrentals.com, 2016
But once those were unhooked, the front slide right off.
And now we have a nice look at the front of the camera.
That’s the mirror motor over there under the EOS on the left side. Here’s a closer look.
Finally we were able to remove the top assembly. From underneath, it looks pretty much like every other top assembly, and we’ve learned from long, painful experience not to take these apart unless we absolutely need to. In general, if something is wrong with the top assembly, you just replace the top assembly.
With the top off we have a nice view looking down onto the pentaprism. Again, we don’t disassemble these and further. There’s a lot of alignment and calibrating that needs to be done if you do. And no, I have no idea what the writing or initials are for.
OK, let’s get back to the main part of the camera. After taking out some screws we can pull up the aluminum and rubber sheet shields in one piece, exposing the PCB.
There are a lot, a whole lot, of flexes connected to the board from every direction. They are thicker and more complex than previous cameras and a lot end up in thick ‘press in’ connectors instead of simple flex cables.
Basically, there was a lot of unhooking of connections and a few screws to remove before we could take the main PCB out. There was also a very large connector mounting from under the board that you can see here, just above the SD card. The SD card reader, as is usually the case, is soldered to the board. There wasn’t anything else very interesting on the underside of the board.
Underneath where the PCB was we now see the circuit board of the image sensor, and to the right of that the CF card assembly. You can see reflections from the clear plastic shield over the sensor circuit board.
If you look closer at the sensor assembly you see three special screws, one on either side of the viewfinder, one at the bottom. These are the adjustment screws used to level the sensor so that it’s in exactly the same plane as the lens mount.
You can see from this not-so-great side view that it’s a simple screw-over-spring tension adjustment.
The next thing we wanted to do was remove the CF card assembly. Bent CF pins happen with some frequency and this is a common repair. We’d already seen that just disassembling the camera enough to expose them was going to be a chore. Removing the CF assembly actually ended up being more of a chore. Usually at this point removing the CF assembly is just taking out a couple of screws and unhooking a flex (the CF card door was removed earlier). In this case, we had to remove the battery door lock plate first.
And then could remove the CF assembly. Once it was out we saw why we had to remove the door lock: the CF assembly also contains the battery-door-closed sensor (in front of Aaron’s thumb). Not a big deal, just different, and well, we do replace CF assemblies a fair amount.
The last piece we took off was the bottom plate, just because we wanted to see how strong it looked. I should note even the tripod ring has a nice rubber seal around it.
And when the plate comes off it’s quite thick and sturdy as you can see. A lot of cameras have really thin metal plates here.
Now looking under the camera we can see the DC boards and other power boards, but not a lot more of interest. We really saw no reason to disassemble the mirror box and take off the battery compartment so we decided to quit while we were ahead.
So What All Did We Learn Today?
Well, let’s see. The weather sealing on the Canon 5d Mark IV appears pretty robust, although you know my opinion on weather sealing in general. The shell of the camera has an interlocking construction with lots of pins and clips and more screws than previous Canon cameras. This makes it kind of a pain to get into, but I’m sure it adds to the shell’s overall strength. It might make it more weather resistant if the parts are held together more tightly, but I couldn’t say for certain.
There are more chips, and more and heavier connectors moving electrons from board to board than even the Canon 5Ds cameras have. This kind of makes sense because there’s lots of new stuff in here: a touch screen LCD, dual-pixel technology, WiFi, GPS, the list goes on. One thing that didn’t really come across in the pictures, though, is there’s more air inside this camera than we’re used to seeing. There are some empty spaces that aren’t packed full of electronics. In other words, this camera probably could have been a bit smaller but Canon wanted to keep the form factor the same.
Construction is at least as robust as the recent 5 series releases and better than the Canon 5DIII, which is as it should be. There’s a little more complexity with cables running hither and yon more than in previous Canon cameras, but that isn’t going to affect operations at all. It may make repairs a bit more difficult. And I’m, as I always am, disappointed to see HDMI and USB ports soldered onto the main PCB. They get torn off a fair amount on every camera that’s made this way (which is most cameras that aren’t dedicated for video). On the other hand, the main PCB replacement may not be much more expensive than a sub-board replacement.
So overall, it was an interesting disassembly with a fair amount of new quirks and tweaks, rather than the rather straightforward upgrade I was expecting.
Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz
Because people still insist on asking or speculating: Yes the camera is reassembled. Yes, it’s working just fine. No, it won’t go out on rental this week, we’re having some of the guys here shoot with it while they do their own write-ups about actually using it. But it will be rented after that.
Here at Lensrentals.com, not only do we have one of the largest selections of rentable gear in the world, but we also have a pretty dedicated and hardworking staff. And with perks that include access to over 111,000 items, you may have guessed that almost everyone who works at Lensrentals.com is also a photographer in some capacity. This also gives us knowledge of gear from nearly 100 different employees, all with their own perspective and expertise.
So with our sale on macro photography gear rentals, we thought what better to promote the equipment we have available than to show off some of the incredible photos that our staff has created using the gear we have available for rentals. Below is a breakdown of a few photos taken using macro lenses and equipment, by our wonderful staff members here at Lensrentals.com.
I set up 2x Astra Bicolor LED lights on either side of my bug. I found him in the yard and stuck him in a Tupperware and put in the freezer for storage. Be extra careful not to drop him on the ground like I did, or else you’ll see chunks of dirt and dust on your specimen.
I dialed my setting into the StackShot, and you let it run. It comes with all the proper cables to allow the camera to be fired incrementally with the Cognisys StackShot system. The perimeters you set will be custom to what your shooting, but with the stack shot you set your far point, your close point, and how many times you would like it to step and fire a shot in between. I tried an even one hundred photos. Once again I don’t recommend this unless you have the processing power because trying to stack 100 shots in Photoshop takes a toll on your memory!
I set out to take some close ups at a flower show when I spotted this guy relaxing in a nearby fountain. I was carrying the Nikon AF Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Lens, on Nikon’s D750 body. It was the middle of the day, bright and sunny outside, and I didn’t feel a tripod or additional lighting would be necessary. At reasonable distances, this is an excellent portrait lens and up close (0.5m to be exact), it’s one of the sharpest macro lenses around.
As I focused on the frog in the viewfinder, I switched to live view and toggled my focus while zoomed in on the Nikon d750’s tilting LCD screen, composed and took my shot. The depth of field is limited by available light. This shot was taken at f/4.8 because I was happy with the focus capturing the “face” and eyes as well as some of the water droplets in the foreground. Many Macro photographers prefer a more detailed shot achieved by stopping down the aperture to f/11, f/16, or beyond. It’s all a matter of preference, but this technique requires increasing ISO values (which is useful to the point image degradation occurs and dependent on the camera system being used) or the use of additional lighting (preferred method). Working with the available light and the Nikon d750’s excellent ISO capabilities, stopping down a bit more wouldn’t have been problematic, I was just happy with the look I was getting, and a little jealous that I wasn’t relaxing in that fountain.
The people at Laowa keep coming up with inventive glass, and the Venus Laowa 15mm f/4 Macro is no exception. This lens is fascinating in that it’s the first of its kind as it’s a wide angle lens capable of 1:1 magnification, albeit at 4.7mm (It also shifts for perspective correction). This presents a unique challenge when lighting a subject you’re practically touching.
In this shot, my daylight was gone, but I did have a flashlight app on my iPhone. I set Focus Peaking to Low and the color to Red and used the tilting LCD screen to focus in live view. Magnification in live view isn’t possible for full manual lenses, but at 1:1 it wasn’t necessary.
I chose Sony’s A7Sii just for this scenario. Known as a leader in handling low light conditions, I figured I’d just trust Auto ISO to handle exposure this time. At that close working distance, I found my focus, then stabilized my light with one hand and took the shot with the other. I had set my exposure based on my comfort with one hand shooting at 1/60; this was limited my ability to stop down further while maintaining resolution (I like to maintain resolution by reducing ISO values for Macro photography so I can crop in post-processing, but it’s just a personal preference). The Sony A7sii easily handles good resolution at ISO values greater than 6400 for this type of work. For example, this shot was taken at ISO 800. I chose this exposure because I liked the appearance of the crisp-edged bokeh in the periphery.
A side note about this lens, because of the close working distance for 1:1 macro work, it’s better suited for small scale perspective work (making little things look big). Lighting for detailed (real) macro work is complicated. A pop-up flash will cast a shadow over the lens and at 5mm, to be honest, a Speedlight will too. Without a snoot or a modified softbox for an external flash, true 1:1 work is tough. That being said, it’s very interesting and you can get as close as you want.
The Yasuhara Nanoha x5 Macro Lens is a fun lens to experiment with. While it is not a replacement for the Canon MP-E 65mm 2.8, this small manual lens will get you the magnification you desire, 4x-5x to be exact, and at useable apertures (f/11-f/32). This is achieved in such a small lens by the implementation of 3 small LED lights surrounding the front element. They function as a continuous “ring flash” for close up work. This lens was built for scientific photographers and is best handled on a rail system.
Nonetheless, it’s a fun lens to use to observe textures and small subjects and the closest thing to a handheld microscope that I’ve worked with. The 11mm focusing distance’s hard to achieve unless your subject can fit inside the 25mm opening of the housing for the LCD lights surrounding the front element. This proved difficult for these shots. Self “portraits,” I took these shots by placing the camera on a tripod and my left eye between the led lights as close to the front element as possible. The focus ring and magnification ring are one in the same, so I used those while viewing an LCD monitor that I attached via the camera’s micro HDMI output with my right eye.
Utilizing focus peaking, I concentrated on the reflection of one of the “catch light’s” to make sure the surface of the eye was in focus. I used the same technique to focus on the lashes in the other photo. Due to the difficulty of the shot, I used a Giga T Pro ii wireless remote trigger to operate the shutter without touching the camera once I had it in focus.
The day I shot these three photos was, what I thought, going to be a very boring, overcast day. I had planned on going to one of the many spots I use for wildlife photography, but it kept raining off and on, so I decided to stay in my backyard. I had taken home a few telephoto lenses but realized it was a great chance to try out the Sigma 180mm f/2.8 DG HSM OS Macro with the Canon EOS 5DS.
I started looking around in my garden, and I began to notice things I’d never seen before. It was like being on another planet and seeing all of these little alien creatures for the first time. What I had initially thought was a bad day for lighting turned out to be great. It was about 30 minutes after sunrise (around 7 am), and the light cloud cover served as a natural softbox, spreading the morning light around and balancing it all out. The rain was now something that I was benefitting from because of the tiny drops lingering on the leaves and flowers. I wanted just to drink them all because they looked so big and delicious at 180mm.
One of the things I like most about the Sigma 180mm f/2.8 DG HSM OS Macro is that you can distance yourself a lot more than you can with other macro lenses. I found that this gave me all kinds of new angles and perspectives that I had never tried before. Focusing is no easy task with this lens, however. It takes a lot of patience and many shots that are out of focus, especially when using it for the first time. At such a long focal length, this lens gives you lots of bokeh and makes your subject stand out when you’re up close.
Considering it was my first time using this lens, it still surprises me that these two photos are still two of my favorite macro shots. If I mentally zoom out from that world I was in that morning; I can see why my neighbors sometimes look at me in a weird way. From their view, I’m the world’s most dedicated grass photographer.
This is Mooski. He’s a ferocious predator that inhabits my home. Only a daring, fearless photographer, like myself, would take such a risk to get a shot of the true beast resting in his eyes. Actually, none of that is true. He is very sweet, lazy, and will do anything to get a tiny crumb of Flaming Hot Cheetos. Mooski is always lounging around the house, so it’s pretty easy to get good shots of him.
This photo is from about four years ago before I worked at LensRentals, and I had rented the Canon 60mm f/2.8 EF-S Macro to use on my Canon Rebel T3i. I had never used a macro lens, so I just started shooting anything and everything. Mooski was laying on my bed, and I wanted to sneak up on him and try to get a shot of him sleeping. I was now the predator. As I ascended from the side of my bed, about a foot away from his face, he woke up and gave me a very displeased look as I took this shot. This is why he looks a bit angrier than he is. It was around 5 pm and he was in his spot on my bed where the sunlight falls through the window and creates his warm cat nap zone. I honestly had no idea what I was doing at the time, so I was shooting everything at f/2.8, auto ISO, and letting the camera decide the shutter speed. If I were to take this shot now, I would shoot it somewhere around f/4-f/5.6. There is a lot of experimental Photoshop work going on in this photo, which I have no comment on. However, it’s worth mentioning that I had to bring a little bit of shadow out of his eyes because of the high angle of the sunlight.
From now until September 20th, receive 15% all macro photography gear by using the coupon code CLOSEUP15. And if you have any interesting Macro Photography, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Every time a new camera is released, and usually, for a couple of months afterward, I get lots of calls and emails from customers asking why they can’t read the Raw files they just shot.
“They’re just CR2/NEF/ARW files that I should be able to open! Something is wrong with the camera you sent me.”
Rest assured; the camera is not broken. If you can see the files but can’t open, the camera is fine. I still haven’t figured out why yet, but every time a manufacturer releases a new camera, they keep the file extension the same but change how the raw data is interpreted. This means third parties like Adobe, PhaseOne, and Camera Bits (Photoshop/Lightroom, Capture One, and Photo Mechanic, respectively) have to reverse engineer those raw files for their software to be able to work with them. That process usually takes a week or so after initial release, but eventually, they issue software updates, and all is well.
If you haven’t already jumped on the Creative Cloud bandwagon, and you want to hold on to your old versions of Photoshop and Lightroom (or Elements, if that’s your thing), there is still hope for you. You can download the latest version of the standalone, free Adobe DNG Converter for your Mac or PC:
DNG stands for “digital negative” and is an open raw image file format. It’s a generic version of CR2, NEF, ARW, etc. that can be read by a variety of software platforms without needing proprietary decoding. There are a handful of cameras out there that shoot straight to DNG, including Leica bodies and Pentax bodies. It would be a much easier photo editing world if more companies would adopt the DNG format, but alas, it is not so. There are also some caveats to converting to DNG, but that’s really beyond the scope of this article.
If you just want to get up and running with old Adobe software, this is the quickest and easiest way to do it. Get the DNG converter, convert your raw files to DNG, then open them in your old Lightroom. Voila!
If you’re on Capture One, everything I’ve just said won’t matter to you. You know what you’re doing, and you’re ahead of the curve. This isn’t a slight against Adobe users; there are just a lot more amateurs using Adobe products. Same goes for Photo Mechanic users. Just check for updates and you’re all set. If there’s no update yet, just wait a few more days.
There are a handful of stubborn Digital Photo Professional and Capture NX users out there that none of this applies to as well. Canon and Nikon give you updates all the time when their new stuff comes out, often before the cameras start shipping. And both apps are free! Googling “Canon Digital Photo Professional” or “Nikon Capture NX-D” will get you going pretty quickly. Since they’re proprietary pieces of software reading proprietary raw file formats, they’re going to give you the best raw conversion results (I guess that’s pretty subjective, but that’s also a discussion for another time).
Are you using GIMP, Affinity, or anything else? Sorry, I am no help to you. Best hit the forums or contact the developer.
Hopefully, all of this makes sense. The digital photo world is always changing and updating, and it’s easy to get left behind. With a little luck and some handy links, though, you can get a little more life out of what you’ve already got in computers and software.
As someone who has taught off camera lighting for some years now, as well as taught dozens of workshops on the topic – I’ve always heard the same question from photographers who are using off camera lighting for the first time. “What’s the difference between ____ and ____.” When working with off camera lighting, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the large variety of tools you have available to you. What’s the difference between an octabox and a regular softbox? I’ve often tried to explain these differences, but it’s always best to just show them with light, so I rented out a ton of gear and decided to demonstrate the difference between each light using my friend Trevor as a model.
All of these tests were performed at 2ft, 5ft, and 8ft from the subject. These were taken using a variety of light modifiers available for rental here at Lensrentals.com, as well as from my personal collection of modifiers. Additionally, they were metered and left unedited while being taken in a controlled environment in a studio. All test lighting were also performed using a Profoto B1 lighting unit. Additionally, these were taken at a 45-degree angle, shot directly onto the subject (not feathered). And finally, the light was exposure balanced to the subjects face and adjusted based on the distance to match the exposure – while the exposures aren’t 100% perfect, it was the best that could be done with the given constraints.
As you can see, this test showed me that there is a lot of diversity when it comes to lighting modifiers. Between distance and placement, a single modifier can be very soft or hard lighting. This is due to the correlation of distance from the subject. When the lighting modifier is closer to the subject, it is bigger by their perspective, thus providing a softer light. When the modifier and light begin moving away from the subject, their perspective of the light shrinks, and will provide harder light as a result.
While the test was initially about seeing how the size and shape effects the subjects face, I quickly found myself to be more interested in how it affects the background. Naturally, the smaller the light source, the more controlled the light becomes, and that as the light gets larger, so does the spill from the light. This is where the control aspects of lighting come into play more than anything.
So what did we learn today? Well first, lighting isn’t as complicated as many may have thought. A lot of the lights modifiers had very similar results and weren’t nearly as unique as many would try to claim. However, these were controlled tests shot directly on the subject – obviously feathering and using the modifiers in unique ways will show you where they shine. But if nothing else, hopefully, this has convinced you to give lighting modifiers a try, as this has shown that they’re not as complicated as you thought.
I get asked a lot about different telephoto lenses. Is the 400 DO II better than the 400 DO? Which is better, the Tamron 150-600mm or the Sigma 150-600mm? You’ve probably noticed that I don’t answer those questions. The reason is simple. Our optical bench is designed to test lenses up to 2.5kg weight and a maximum of 250mm focal length. Most super telephotos fall outside that range.
Some old picture of me carrying lenses, because the editor counts pictures in the articles but doesn’t read the captions. I know it’s an old picture because if we had an area with that much empty space Tyler would have put 6 workstations in there. Note From Editor: I read the captions.
But, of course, we’ve spent most of the last 10 years figuring out how to do things we aren’t really supposed to be able to do. The truth is, with some reprogramming (like overwriting the expected focal length in the software), really careful technique (like a long delay for vibration dampening between each measurement after the machine moves), and a few other manipulations, we’ve found we can test most lenses at 400mm with good reproducibility.
Notice I said most. One lens you’ll see missing today is the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR II. Now I do expect that Nikon fans will claim a major conspiracy, but the truth is simpler: the first 400mm f/2.8 VR II is the heaviest super telephoto we tried. When we did, I thought there might be a bit of vibration-induced variance in the results so I don’t think they’re valid and don’t want to post them.
Now Swear the Solemn Oath! (Yes, you have to repeat it out loud.)
Animal House, Universal Pictures, 1978
I do solemnly swear that I understand the following.
The reason 400mm was chosen is because it seemed like a nice round number, and there are lots of lenses that get there.
A given lens’ results at 400mm aren’t necessarily similar to those at 300 or 600mm.
These tests were performed on a machine that isn’t designed to handle these lenses, and therefore may, or may not, be all that damn accurate.
The MTF graphs are the average of multiple copies, but for many of the lenses, we used 5 copies instead of 10. These were time-consuming.
A lens tested at f/2.8 should have lower MTF than one tested at f/4, etc. So don’t say something stupid about a f/5.6 lens being as good as a f/2.8 lens.
Also, I promise not to ask Roger to repeat the tests at f/8, or 600mm, etc. because I realize the bank’s going to come take his machines away if he doesn’t start doing some stuff that generates revenue soon.
Very good, you are now members of the Delta Tau Chi optical testing fraternity. You may now read on.
The Canon Supertelephoto Primes
This is the section for both of you who want the absolute best lens at 400mm, and money is not (or at least not much) of an object. If you’re a Nikon shooter, just pretend the Canon 400 f/2.8 MTF curve says “Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR”, and then skip on down. The 400mm f/2.8 lenses are pretty identical.
A lot of Canon shooters want to know how close they can get if they give up a stop of aperture and get the markedly less expensive and amazingly lighter 400mm DO II. The answer is at f/4, the 400mm DO IS II is basically as good, at least in the center 1/2 of the image where most telephoto subjects rest, as the 400mm f/2.8 IS II is at f/2.8.
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
Let me emphasize that this is the DO II. The original isn’t quite as good as you can see below (The DO II is on the right).
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
And while we’re answering questions Canon telephoto shooters ask all the time, let’s compare the 400mm DO IS II to the Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II with a 1.4x Mk III teleconverter since these are both f/4, of similar size, and similar cost. The 300mm + 1.4X combination, is, of course, 420mm so it is a bit longer range.
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
As you can see, the 400mm DO IS II is a little bit sharper than the Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS II with TC combination on the bench. In the real world, though, the 300mm with TC combination offers some other advantages (like being able to be a 300mm f/2.8 when you want) that may be more important than the MTF curves. As an aside, we experimented a fair amount with the 300mm f/2.8 and 1.4x combos. First using the same lens with different converters, then using the same converter with different lenses. The converters don’t vary as much as the lenses, which makes sense; they’re optically much simpler than the 300 f/2.8 lenses.
The CaNikon Supertelephoto Zooms
OK, the vast majority of us aren’t interested in a $10,000 lens that requires a heavy duty tripod to use effectively. That is a specialist’s tool. We are more interested in that zoom or prime lens that can get us to 400mm at a fairly reasonable price. I understand you’re also interested these days in the third-party lenses that do that and we’ll get to those next. But it’s important to look at your brand’s offerings first, so you have that comparison point. (Spoiler alert: If you shoot Canon you’ll probably love the 100-400 IS II; if you shoot Nikon you probably won’t love the 80-400 VR II).
The Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II is generally considered one of the best telezooms on the market and it’s MTF curves tend to support that idea. Remember, though, with the zooms we’re looking at them at f/5.6 at 400mm. That’s two full stops less aperture than the 400mm f/2.8 we started with. But the Canon is excellent at 400mm as you can see.
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
And just because I wanted to know, we tested the old, but excellent Canon 400mm f/5.6 L prime lens, for comparison. Few people shoot it anymore, but there’s a reason it’s remained in production for decades. It’s not quite as good as the 100-400 IS L, but still, an excellent performer considering how old the design is. (In the lab. In the field I’ll take the IS every time).
Commonly called the 80-400 VR II, this lens has been the Nikon 400mm zoom for some time now. It’s, well, it’s better up to about 300mm, but it’s just not that good when you stretch it out to 400mm. Not a great performance for a lens that demands a premium price.
The newer Nikon telezoom is something of a different beast. It’s a fixed aperture lens and it zooms out to 500mm, so it’s the first lens in this test that can actually go past 400mm. Plus it’s a lot less expensive than the older 80-400mm. I can’t comment on how it performs in the field, but from an MTF standpoint, it outperforms its much more expensive brother at 400mm.
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
The Third-Party 150-600mm Zooms
These recent entries in the super telephoto zoom market have changed things quite a bit. The Sigma Contemporary and Tamron lenses both can be had for under $1,000; much cheaper than the brand-name zooms. The Sigma Sport is a different lens, being almost 50% heavier and about twice the price of the other two.
There is one HUGE, IMPORTANT thing I want you to take away from the MTF curves on these lenses. At 400mm the two Sigma lenses are at f/6.3 maximum aperture, the Tamron is at f/5.6. Now I don’t think that half stop is going to affect your shooting significantly, but it probably will have some effect on MTF curves. The Tamron, Canon, and Nikon zooms we tested above are all done at f/5.6 and should each be at least a little better MTF stopped down. And yes, I know you wish I’d tested them all at f/6.3 to even the playing field. But I’ve got paying customers waiting and bills to pay.
Just in case you missed it, the Tamron testing aperture is f/5.6 at 400mm, so we can directly compare it to the Canon and Nikon telezooms above.
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
If you make that comparison, you’ll see why, for quite a while now, I’ve recommended this lens to Nikon shooters instead of the Nikon 80-400mm VR II; its similar in sharpness, far less expensive, and has additional range. But at the same time, I’ve told Canon shooters if they want the sharpest zoom at 400mm, to stick with the Canon 100-400. Obviously, if they want 600mm range, then my suggestions are quite different.
The Sigma Contemporary is very similar to the Tamron in size, price, and obviously, range.
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
You can probably tell the Sigma has a slightly better MTF, but I’ll put them side-by-side below for easier comparison. I suspect that even if we stopped the Tamron down to f/6.3 the Sigma would be slightly better in the lab, but I also doubt the difference is nearly as great as the copy-to-copy variation. In other words, I wouldn’t consider MTF to be a significant factor when deciding between these two lenses. Things like how it handles, focuses, and how well the stabilization works are going to be way more important.
As I’ve mentioned, despite the similar names this is a very different lens than the Sigma Contemporary. One of those differences is weight and size. It’s the second heaviest lens we tested; only the Canon 400mm f/2.8 weighs more. But the Sigma Sport differs in that a lot of its weight is in a very heavy front element that sits at the end of an extending zoom barrel, which for purposes of testing at 400mm is partially extended. When we tested it, slight vibrations interfered with testing enough that we had several bad readings for each lens. For that reason, much as I wanted to compare the Sigma Sport to the Sigma Contemporary, I just don’t have enough faith in the results to make them public.
I don’t think we really did too much here today except to have some fun and confirm, in numbers, what most people already know. The 400mm f/2.8 lenses, if you can afford one and don’t mind carrying it, are amazing. Canon’s new 400mm f/4 DO IS II is also superb, at least as good as the 300mm f/2.8 IS II with a teleconverter.
Canon’s 100-400 IS II is, from an MTF standpoint, the best zoom at 400mm, but the Nikon 200-500 and both the Sigma and Tamron 150-600s are also really good, far less expensive, and have greater range. The Nikon 80-400 VR II is not quite as good at 400 as the competition.
Roger Cicala, Aaron Closz, and Markus Ruthaker
Geek Note: Some of you may have noticed the two Nikon lenses seem to have astigmatism right in the center, which is, to say the least, unusual. This is one of the things that has more to do with our testing than reality. Remember we test the lenses rotating them so we take 4 slices to get a complete picture of the lens. With these heavy, extending barrel zooms, the barrel tilts a bit with extending, so the center doesn’t quite stay in the center, it’s a few mm off center in some rotations. Here’s a random 80-400 as an example, showing you all 4 quadrants of MTF.
You can see that the best center is the 45-degree rotation, but at other rotations, the best reading is slightly off-center. We can have a geek argument that maybe we should recenter at each rotation; it would make prettier MTF curves. My thought was nope because the whole purpose of the 4 rotations is to look at the different areas of the lens at the same position, just like it would be in an image. Besides, this is the way we’ve always done it. But let me add that that is NOT the way the manufacturers would do it. They show you a single cut, so, in this case, our 45-degree cut should be closest to the manufacturer’s ideal.