Back in February, Canon announced an update to their pro level camera systems with the 1DX Mark II. With a brand new focusing system, and 4K video features, the Canon 1DX Mark II left a lot of fanboys drooling, despite the costly price of $6,000. Alongside the drooling fanboys were a long list of skeptics. With the Canon 5d Mark IV remaining a rumor for years now, is this the next camera that people should succumb to? Is this what the future looks like for Canon? Well, I was able to get my palms on the new system, and test it for myself.
The Canon 1DX Mark II is an upgrade from the predecessor in the Canon 1DX in just about every single feature. A small bump from 18.1MPs to 20.2MPs adds a little more resolution to this speedy system. And speedy might be an understatement; at 16fps per second (a 2fps bump from the 1DX), the Canon 1DX Mark II is the fastest shooting DSLR on the market, easily beating the competitor Nikon D5’s 12fps. But the speed doesn’t end there. Utilizing the CFast card technology, the buffer feels completely limitless, allowing 170 RAW images in burst mode, taking only a second to be ready to fire off another 170 images continuously. Though these are numbers posted by Canon…as I easily shot over 200 images on a CFast card without stopping the 16fps even once (Using a Sandisk Extreme Pro 128GB card). Literally everything I threw at this camera, is handled it with confidence…leaving me to believe, that this is the best DSLR ever made.
But the feature list doesn’t end on the photography side of the system. Packed into the Canon 1DX Mark II is 4K functionality. That’s right, 4K footage is able to finally come out of a DSLR, and from my initial tests, the footage looks good. Additionally, the battery also seems endless (I took over 2300 photos on it, and it still sat at half life when I was finished), and the focus, well the focus, is incredible; but we’ll get to that.
The build quality of the Canon 1DX Mark II is something you’re likely not familiar with if you’ve stuck with the Canon 5D Mark III and similar systems. With full weather sealing throughout the camera, this camera just feels more robust that the smaller systems developed by Canon. While I’m always concerned when I have my Canon 5d Mark III by the windy beach, I’m not sure there is anything, aside from maybe a monsoon, that could make me concerned if this camera can hold up. After all, this camera was originally developed for journalists traveling to remote parts of the world, and sports photographers who need the reliability of a system that can really take a beating.
Perhaps the most impressive feature within the Canon 1DX Mark II comes with the new focusing system. This systems focusing system is fast and accurate, like, really fast and accurate. To properly test the focusing, I decided to take the 1DX Mark II out to Malibu, California, and photograph some of my friends on their motorcycles, as they speed around corners going 50mph. To up the ante, I brought along a non-Canon lens, with an extremely long focal length, the beloved Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Edition. The longer focal length meant that in tight crops, you’re definitely going to need to an incredibly fast focusing system to catch up with your moving subject, and accuracy to adjust as needed. So how’d it do? Spectacularly.
When shooting at 14fps (the max speed without mirror lockup), I found that 95% of the photos I took were keepers, even when shooting at 400mm and longer. On average, the first photo would be out of focus as the system would still be locking onto the subject, from then on, nearly every photo was properly tracked and focused with ease. The focusing system on this camera actually made me delusional with my expectations, and it wasn’t until I went back to my Canon 5d Mark III that I really learned to appreciate the new system in the Canon 1DX Mark II. Much like the frames per second, this system is unneeded for 95% of photographers. But those who do need it can expect to be wowed.
Low Light Performance
No one really expects the Canon 1DX Mark II to be a low light monster, as it’s built for speed more than high ISO clean files. That said, I did find the higher ISO files to be pretty impressive. For me personally, I’ve always commented on how I want more Low ISO options, and I, like most photographers, never really shoot above ISO 3200, because I usually have the lenses or other equipment where high ISO isn’t necessary.
But when testing out the new 1DX Mark II, I found myself to be quite impressed with how high it can go. For one, the focusing system also provides better low light focusing performance, allowing you to focus on things even in the dark. Even at -3 Exposure Value, I found the 1DX Mark II able to focus on objects quickly, and without the need for seeking (as my Canon 5d Mark III often needs to do). The focusing was fast, and the images are clean. I’ll let you be the judge, though, and have provided some high ISO images below.
Canon provided the icing on the cake with the Canon 1DX Mark II with the announcement of 4K video at an impressive 60fps. It also comes standard with 1080p, at 120fps, which is equally impressive for video guys out there. As for me, I’m not really a video guy yet, just a photographer experimenting with it from time to time. So I took the liberty to capture some video footage, in low light and present it here for you all to judge. But before getting to the video footage, I do like to point out that one of my favorite underdog features of shooting video with the Canon system came with the touch screen focus. For years, I’ve complained that touch screens don’t belong on DSLRs, but, I think I get it now. The touch screen allowed me to easily adjust the focus on the system and have it lock onto various subjects while shooting.
The biggest downfall of this system comes with the price of it. At $5,999, it’s not cheap by anyone’s standards but is quite easily the best system Canon has ever built. Does it have a purpose for everyone? Probably not. But for those who need the speed of this camera, I suggest you hand over your Canon 1DX’s now and swap them out for the Mark II version.
What I Liked
Incredible Focusing System
Impressive High ISO Capabilities
4K Video output at 60fps
Robust Build Quality
What Could Be Improved
Price (Cause you know, I want my cake and eat it too)
I love using lighting while on location, but I’ve certainly experienced the downfalls. While bringing lighting gear outdoors is great for light control, bringing off camera lighting with you while shooting outdoors makes the process cumbersome, and really limits your mobility. However, I’ve found a few different tools that can help with lighting your scene while outside, and giving you full mobility to get up and move with ease.
One of the biggest problems you’ll run into when shooting on location is providing power for your lights. While speed lights are a solution to this, they often fall short in terms of wattage when shooting on bright and sunny days. So for that reason, all of my recommendations will be with the Profoto B1 and B2 systems. I understand that there are more affordable options available (such as an AlienBee B800 and a Vagabond Mini), but I’ve found the Profoto systems to be the easiest solution, and without any cables or extra gear needed to lug around. Furthermore, because of reliability issues, we do not rent the Vagabond Mini system from PCB, so we’re just going to make it easy and use the gear we have in our inventory.
The Bounce + Assistant Technique
Among the most obvious and common ways to control light on location is to get an assistant to help you, and bring along a bounce system to help control and shape the light when working with a subject. Often, I’m able to find a friend or an aspiring photographer who is happy to help me when shooting on location in exchange for lunch, giving me the versatility of light control, while still keeping it affordable.
For me personally, I prefer the California Sunbounce as my preferred bounce system. Sure it’s expensive, but with its rigid design, it’s able to stay lightweight, and give you really nice control of the light. The mini Sunbounce (which is hardly mini) allows for plenty of control of light, and the handles make it easy for an assistant to control the light and make fine tune adjustments, even in windy environments.
One of the most common ways I light on location while staying mobile is using a monopod instead of a light stand. With the help of an assistant, a monopod keeps the light mobile and lightweight, while giving you, even more, control than a standard light stand, provided that your assistant is able to adjust the light as needed.
Personally, I choose to use the Profoto B1 system for this lighting technique. With the battery attached and High-Speed Sync, the Profoto B1 makes shooting on location easy, while still keeping it light enough for an assistant to easily carry around and manipulate. Using this on location with the Profoto foldable beauty dish, or even a medium softbox, you’re able to get nice, soft and controllable light, in an incredibly mobile package.
A couple years ago, a new product came onto the photography scene, and completely changed the way we were able to light subjects in lower light environments. This product, call the IceLight by Westcott, is a lightsaber-esque tool loaded with LEDs, and allows for nice and soft light, in an all in one package. While this isn’t a great lighting solution for a bright environment, it does work incredibly well when shooting at dusk or even at night. If I’m doing a darker, moodier shot, I’ll bring an assistant along, and have them hold and control the Westcott Icelight as my main light. The system is surprisingly controllable and provides a really soft light on your subjects.
Boomerang Flash Bracket
Up until now, all of these recommendations come with the need for an assistant in some capacity. While friends and family are often able and happy to help out, you’re not always given the luxury of having someone standing around to help hold and control your gear, so I wanted to leave you with one option that doesn’t require an assistant at all. A product I recently discovered and quickly fell in love with is the Boomerang Bracket by ProMediaGear. I love it so much, that a few weeks ago, I even reviewed the product over at Resource Magazine. What the Boomerang Bracket is, is a bracket system that allows you to mount a Profoto B2 flash unit to the top of your camera, and still give you enough control to move the light around as needed, and enough clearance to actually use a modifier with the unit. While the design is cumbersome for some, it actually works a whole lot better than most options and is light enough to carry around for extended periods of time.
While the system works great for the majority of users, it does comes with some downfalls. For one, it certainly is heavier than other options. While the bracket is lighter than one would suspect, it does have some weight to it. Secondly, it also limits where you can place your light. Often, I’ll just shoot it overhead, giving me the option to flash my subject and create nice and even light on them where they’d otherwise be in the shade. You do have a limited range of motion with the joint on the bracket, you’re still not going to be able to expertly feather the light on your subject with this tool.
Hopefully throughout this article, you’ve found that there are practical ways to light while on location, and still keeping your mobility about you. Using some of the gear listed above, you’re able to travel from location to location, much like a natural light photographer, and not have to deal with the constraints that natural light often will give you. If you’ve used any of these techniques, feel free to share your results and BTS photos in the comments below.
When I decided to write about the “perfect” portrait lens, I really thought I had a grasp on what I was going to talk about. As a Canon shooter, I imagined that I would spend all the time talking about the sharpness of the Canon 135mm f/2.0, or the amazing bokeh of the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II.
But only a few days into working on this project did I realize how much we talk about models of lenses, but omit an understanding of lens optics themselves. Like many photographers, I have lost track of the time I have spent reading, and watching lens reviews. Then saving up money to buy a certain lens, but not asking the most important question, will this focal length help me in my photography.
And I am not alone in this problem. At Shooting the West, a photo workshop and symposium in Nevada, I spoke about and demonstrated different focal lengths for a room full of photographers. In this lecture, I found that many photographers, regardless of experience, really didn’t understand why they are reaching into their camera bag for one focal length over another. Selecting a lens just more than getting closer or further away from your subject, or how soft the bokeh of a lens can be.
So I am not going to waste your time with pixel peeping, or bokeh comparisons. I am going to introduce the concepts of lens focal length and how it relates to compression, distortion and why this should be the first thing you think about when reaching into the camera bag, or purchasing a lens.
The first thing I think about when selecting a lens is compression, or how much of the background I am going to see behind my subject. To test lens compression, in the case of portrait photography, I asked my good friend, and go to model, Travis Stewart to stand in the same place as I took several pictures of him. For each shot, I would change the focal length while keeping him composed in the same space of the frame.
I started with wider-angle lenses first and then moved up to more telephoto. While the 16mm, 24mm, and 35mm focal lengths are not thought of as portrait lenses, look at how much of the background is displayed at these ranges. Travis is still present in the frame, but if the portrait was also about the area or place the subject lived or worked in, these focal lengths really show off the location and the subject at the same time. Of course, there is distortion at these focal lengths, which we will get to later, but even at 24mm, the distortion is not so radical that you couldn’t live with it, or just make a better composition, say full length.
At 50mm and 70mm there is a very nice balance of showing off a large part of the landscape, but making Travis really stand out in the frame. Still good focal lengths to use when you need to showcase that background.
After 100mm two things start to happen, first, the compression of the background is so great, that we have lost the mountain range, and now we are just seeing the hills directly behind Travis. And at 135mm and 200mm not only do only see the hills, but also those hills have moved right behind Travis. As my focal length become more telephoto, it looks like those hills are just over Travis’ shoulder, when in fact they were at least a half a mile away, if not more.
Another thing to look at in these shots is image distortion. With the 16 and 24mm, we see serious distortion in Travis’ face. I took another set of images for more of a headshot composition, which really shows off this distortion. It is interesting that Travis’ nose does get larger because of the distortion while his body and face are narrower. As we get to 50 and 70mm that distortion starts to go away, and the nose is back to a normal size, and all those hours in the gym are showing off.
Most portrait photographers avoid wide-angle lenses when doing portraits, because of this very distortion, but as a fun test, I had Travis hold out his water bottle to show how distortion could aid you with certain subjects. At 16mm, the water bottle is huge, and is the subject of the photo, but when I took the exact same picture at 200mm, the water bottle is now much smaller and lacks punch. What if you are hired by a sports team or athletic apparel company, and they want a portrait of a pitcher or quarterback holding a ball out towards camera? Shooting the wrong focal length could put emphasis on the wrong subject. A wide, or at least wider-angle lens would make that ball larger and make it stand out from the subject. A telephoto lens would make the image more about the athlete holding the ball.
And of course, there is the relationship of the depth of field to focal lengths. Notice in all of these photos, as the focal range increases, the depth of field gets shallower. All of the shots were taken at f/10. I do want to point out how close Travis was to the camera, which has a significant impact on the depth of field as well. Even at 16mm, the background is out of focus because of the distance of subject to the camera.
While much of this information was not news to me, it was interesting to put a subject in one location and see how the focal lengths not only impacted distortion, and depth of field, but also the environment I am working in. Right now my go-to lenses for portrait work are 35mm and 100mm primes lenses for this very reason.
It is these concepts you need to think about when purchasing and using lenses. If you are working in a small studio, or your location is not great, then a telephoto lens will not only reduce distortion, and give you a shallow depth of field, but it will also compress that background, so less of it is present. But if your location is on the assembly line of a factory and your subject is the CEO, you probably want to find a focal range, like 35-70mm, that will both showcase your subject and their location.
Lens data charts are great, and comparing the bokeh of one lens to another makes for great information, but when it comes to your work, make sure you are telling your story in the right voice.
Back in early February, Canon announced the Canon 1DX Mark II, the flagship sports camera, with added 4K video functionality and all of the premium bells and whistles you’d expect to come in Canon’s new top of the line camera system. As you can imagine, since the announcement, we’ve been getting countless phone calls and emails asking when we’d have them in stock, and available for rental. About a week ago, our order came in, and we’ve been sending out the system to photographers all over the country and getting their opinions on the new model.
Copyright John Russell | Used With Permission
Among those who have had the opportunity to use the new Canon 1DX Mark II is Nashville Predators’ team photographer John Russell and Tennesse Titans’ photographer Donn Jones. Russell and Jones were able to invite some of our Nashville office staff to come along and help capture the hockey game as the Nashville Predators took on the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Western Conference Semi-Finals. While there, we were able to work alongside Russell and Jones, documenting them as they shot what is likely known as one of the most exciting games in the playoffs so far this year. While shooting, Russell and Jones were able to give us some real life feedback on what they thought of the new Canon 1DX Mark II, while working in a stadium packed with 20,000 screaming hockey fans.
Generally, Russell and Jones had nothing but good things to say about the new system, noticing significantly better tracking and focusing than the previous model in the Canon 1DX. Watch the video above to get their real life thoughts on the new camera, and stay tuned for a full review on the new camera sometime in the next week or so. As for the game, the Predators were able to capitalize on the Sharks and score the game-winning goal in the 3rd Overtime.
Copyright John Russell | Used With Permission
Copyright Donn Jones | Used With Permission
Special thanks to John Russell, Donn Jones and the Nashville Predators for allowing us access to film during the game.
Sony has cranked out a bunch of new lenses lately, and one of their latest got my attention: the FE 50mm f/1.8. It did so for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn’t expecting it, since they already have the really good FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens in their lineup. Second, I’ll admit I expected them to suffer from the inevitable comparisons with Canon’s ‘nifty fifty’ the 50mm f/1.8 STM lens.
The Canon lens is small, inexpensive, quite sharp, and has some of the lowest copy-to-copy variation we’ve ever tested. Copy-to-copy variation has been a weakness in the FE lineup. While Sony was clearly making progress with that I wasn’t sure they were ready to take on the reigning variance champion. The sony lens is a little larger and more expensive, but then again, if you shoot Sony FE you’re kind of used to ‘a bit more expensive’ lenses and at $250 this is a really affordable lens.
As always, I remind you that this isn’t a review of the lens, simply a lab test of multiple copies on our optical bench to assess MTF and variation.
Well, we’ll go with the logical comparison first, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 vs the Sony 50mm f/1.8. The Sony actually does better at the lower frequencies, indicating it’s probably a more ‘contrasty’ lens, while the Canon is better at higher frequencies, so it may have superior fine detail resolution. Both are really quite good, though, and I should really use ‘different’ rather than ‘better or worse’ to compare them.
Of course, a lot of Sony shooters want to see the FE 50mm vs 55mm comparison. There’s quite a price difference and while there’s a lot more to a lens than MTF curves, people probably want to see what the MTF differences are.
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
The 50mm is a very good lens and quite a bargain at the price. But there are reasons the 55mm costs more. It’s clearly better across the field than either of the ‘nifty-fifty’ lenses. But the usual rule of ‘increasing resolution is increasingly expensive’ does apply. You get a better lens, but you pay a lot more.
This is the portion of the test where I just expected Sony to not compare very well. But guess what? The copy-to-copy variation on the FE 50mm f/1.8 is superbly low. Remember, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM is the standard against which all other lenses are measured. It’s amazingly consistent. The Sony is very close to that. In some ways (center sharpness variation) it’s actually a bit better. So hat’s off to Sony, they’ve made an FE lens that from a copy-to-copy variation standpoint is as good as anything on the market.
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
Let’s show you how good by comparing the variation of the new 50mm with the 55mm, which has a lot of sample variation. (I’ll go ahead and add, because desperate fanboys continue to ask, the variation for 55mm lenses is the same now as it was then.)
Olaf Optical Testing, 2016
To summarize, then, if you buy a 50mm f/1.8, chances are it’s going to be just about like every other 50mm f/1.8. Sure, there will be a few bad copies, there always are. But they’re very consistent.
We’ll probably tear one of these down soon and take a look inside to see if we can determine just why sample variation is so low. The Sony is a ‘unit focus’ lens with no separate focusing element, if I read their release information correctly, which may have something to do with the lower sample variation.