Canon EOS R Mirrorless Camera Field Tested

Those of you who followed my recent landscape workshops to the Great Ocean Road and Tasmania (Read the Trip Report) will already be aware that I took the plunge and purchased a Canon EOS R mirrorless camera body to test in the field. It was not a decision I took lightly and I thought long and hard on the implications before I bought into this new RF mount system (more on RF below). I was quite prepared to take the gamble and sell the camera if I decided it did not work for me and the style in which I like to photograph. As it turned out, I am keeping the camera and it will serve as my dedicated landscape camera going forward. By way of some back story, I have been looking for a light weight landscape camera for some time now and was keen for it to be a mirrorless camera. Although the 5D MKIV has many appealing properties I really wanted something smaller and lighter with an EVF. I specifically wanted an EVF for my landscape camera for the focus peaking feature which is an absolute god send when using tilt and shift lenses. I have tried previous generations of the Sony A7 series; but frankly those cameras are not for me. They left me frustrated at their ridiculous ergonomics and scratching my head at their confused menu structure.

Unlike the vast majority of You Tube camera video reviews (does anyone actually use these videos to make buying decisions?) I wanted to actually spend a good amount of time in the field with the camera to really get my head around it before I made up my mind on what I like and what I did not like. Two weeks of intensive use in Victoria at the Great Ocean Road and in Tasmania gave me a great opportunity to come to grips with the camera and really see how it performs in the field  for my style of photography (specifications are really useless for anything other than armchair evaluation and armchair evaluation is about as useless as it gets for assessing the tool during real field work).

My impressions of the Canon EOS R are based on the application I intend to use the camera for – Landscape photography where I am primarily based on a tripod. My thought process for choosing the EOS R was fairly simple: I wanted a camera that was light weight for hiking and one with which I could utilise my existing Canon tilt-shift lenses (with or without adapter). I did seriously consider the Fuji 50 Medium Format but ultimately decided the lack of tilt shift lenses was a deal breaker for me (I have no interest in focus stacking in post).  I was also less than thrilled at the wallet breaking concept of purchasing into an entirely new lens system (I did try the Fuji camera on several occasions and found it an outstanding camera). Packing the same sensor as the Canon EOS 5D MKIV, the EOS R was perhaps the obvious choice. So how did it perform as a dedicated landscape camera?

In short, the Canon EOS R performed exceptionally well in the field and far better than I had thought it might have as a dedicated landscape camera. I very much appreciated its light weight form factor (especially on hikes) and surprisingly to me I also very much enjoyed the cameras ergonomics (although I have not as yet made up my mind about the touch bar). The buttons more or less fall naturally under my fingers (except for the AF button which is a little too close to the side of the camera for me – but I have big hands). I found the Electronic Viewfinder to be amongst the very best I have tried and although it is not as good as a high quality optical prism I did find it acceptable in most situations. Like all EVF’s, the display in the EOS R tends to fall apart in near darkness and is horrible for high speed capture (more on this below).

When it comes to battery life we need to be crystal clear.  Compared to something like a Canon EOS 1DX MKII battery life in the EOS R (and indeed all mirrorless cameras) is abysmal. I can get thousands of shots on a single charge with a 1DX MKII (even in sub zero temperatures). With the Canon EOS R I was lucky to get 100 shots. For landscape photography where I am utilising a tripod this really isn’t too much of an issue for me and it just means I need to carry a spare battery (no big deal as the batteries are small and light). Even a heavy days landscape photography is usually less than 100 images anyway so battery life is really close to irrelevant. Nonetheless I find the need to carry a 2nd battery an annoyance and the need to change it frequently even more so.

I know the arm chair experts out there are at this point brandishing pitchforks and fire brands with cries of ‘Dynamic Range!’  So, let’s clear up the DR issue right now: Yes, the EOS R has the same sensor as the 5D MKIV and yes it does not have the 14+ stop Dynamic Range of the Sony Sensors. But who cares? Im yet to see a single photograph that is worth the paper it is printed on that actually uses even close to 14 stops of Dynamic Range. Call me old school, but I want to make photographs in soft light with a limited dynamic range and if the sky falls outside of the sensors capability to record it I am more than happy to use a graduated ND filter to tame the Dynamic Range. The new range of high quality optical glass filters on the market are superb and have no negative impact on image quality.

As a wildlife camera and for the sort, type and style of wildlife imagery I pursue I am afraid the EOS R is all but useless. Its frame rate is just far too slow for subjects such as birds, its auto focus is not a patch on the EOS 1DX MKII in the field and the EVF is simply sub optimal with fast moving subjects. The time may come when a mirrorless camera is the weapon of choice for wildlife, but until that time the 1DX MKII and its replacement the 1DX MKIII will be my tools of choice for serious wildlife work.

Canon had a number of solid engineering reasons to develop the new RF mount for its mirrorless system. Frankly, none of those reasons offer me anything I don’t already have in my current EF mount so I think it highly unlikely at this point that I will be purchasing any dedicated RF lenses. The new Canon EOS 1DX MKIII when its officially announced will be EF mount. Working Pros such as myself are fully geared for EF mount and we are not about to dump tens of thousands of dollars of glass when the tools we currently have are more than sufficient for our needs. Canon know this and are not about to abandon their core high end market just because they have a new mount in two different mirrorless bodies. We will get a professional mirrorless camera from Canon with an RF mount, but don’t expect to see it until after the 1DX MKIII is announced.

During my testing of the EOS R I also inadvertently tested its weather sealing when I slipped on moss covered rocks at Hopetoun falls in Victoria and temporarily submerged both myself and the camera in the river – whoops! I managed to kill a 24-70mm F4L IS lens in the process, but the camera was absolutely fine. It not only survived the short dunking, but it didn’t skip a beat in the process. Once I extracted myself from the river I simply dried off the camera and kept shooting. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend you try this (I may have just been lucky) it is pretty solid evidence that the EOS R is quite a tough little camera with more than decent weather sealing.

In conclusion, I found the EOS R to be a fantastic tool for serious landscape photography and have decided to keep the camera for just this purpose. I love the focus peaking feature with tilt shift lenses and I really like the light weight form factor. I will definitely not be using it to photograph wildlife though. The cameras slow frame rate, EVF and focus tracking make it sub optimal for my wildlife work. The EOS R would likely also make a very nice walk around camera or travel camera for those looking for a light weight alternative to a traditional DSLR. If I were looking to use it for this purpose I would probably consider one of the new RF lenses so I could do away with the RF to EF converter. For landscape photography on a tripod though the converter is a small price to pay for the convenience of tilt shift lenses. I am looking forward to using the EOS R later this year on my landscape workshop in the Faroe Islands. I will also be taking an EOS 1DX MKII with a 400mm f2.8L IS MKIII for the Puffins.

The photograph below was taken at Freycinet Peninsula on the East Coast of Tasmania with the Canon EOS R with the RF to EF adapter, a 1.4 TC MKIII and the 24mm F3.5 MKII TSE lens (giving me an RF mounted 35mm f3.5 TSE equivalent).  Obtaining infinite depth of field with focus peaking with this setup in the field is an absolute joy and a pleasure. Exposure time was two minutes with a 3 stop Medium NISI Graduated Optical Glass Filter.

Tasmania II Workshop Departure and Packing List 2019

A week of R&R has quickly rolled past and tomorrow I am starting the second of two back-to-back landscape workshops to the Great Ocean road in Victoria and World Heritage Forests and Wild Coasts of Tasmania. Although I have been to Tasmania countless times in the course of my life I never tire of returning to this wonderfully quiet corner of the world. Smattered with primordial old growth forest, pristine rivers and wild and rocky coastlines the landscape opportunities are as fantastic as they are varied. Perhaps best of all, there are still many opportunities to create strong and unique photographs that transcend those captured in the many over touristed locations found around the world today – it is in many ways virgin ground. I have been so taken with the untapped potential on offer in Tasmania that I have decided to return in May next year 2020 and offer one more landscape workshop to Van Diemens land and its primordial forests and coastlines. I will have full details soon, but you can pre-register your interest by dropping me an email at info@jholko.com

Shifting gears somewhat, and hot on the heels of my recent (and somewhat controversial as it turns out) post on ‘Why the DSLR is here for many years to Come *’ are some more thoughts on where mirrorless cameras actually fall into action for the working professional (and serious amateur). Despite what some might believe, I am not against mirrorless cameras (I actually just purchased one – A Canon EOS R). I believe mirrorless cameras hold some significant advantages over traditional DSLR cameras for certain applications and in certain situations. Firstly, mirrorless cameras (the bodies anyway – For some reason mirrorless lenses are often bigger and heavier than their mirrored cousins) are generally much smaller and lighter than their traditional DSLR counterparts. This makes them ideal for hiking and travel. EVF’s (Electronic View Finders) also offer some added additional capability not found in a traditional SLR Mirror camera. Features such as a live histogram in the viewfinder, zebras (for blown out areas) and focus peaking are all really useful features.  The problem with EVF’s to date is their tendency to simply shut down and stop working once they are exposed to temperatures below -10º Celsius for extended periods. Granted, this isn’t going to be an issue for most people, but if you plan to photograph in the world’s Polar Regions at any stage it bears serious consideration. Battery life is also a serious problem in cold weather. The extra current draw required for EVF’s results in dramatically shorter battery time in sub zero temperatures. I have watched photographers struggle with mirrorless battery life on recent cold weather workshops in the Arctic and the necessity to swap batteries in and out on a regular basis is a royal pain in the rear end. By comparison I can get multiple days out a Canon EOS 1DX MKII battery in temperatures as low as -35º Celsius and shoot thousands of frames. No mirrorless camera can do that (yet). Nor, can any mirrorless camera match the focus speed and accuracy of a 1DX MKII in the sort of conditions in which I frequently find myself shooting. I know much of the mirrorless hype would have you believe otherwise, but actual real world experience in the field has shown me it simply is not the case. Nor can any mirrorless camera yet match the rugged build and reliability of a 1DX MKII. That time may come, but today the weapon of choice for serious wildlife work in inclement conditions has to be the Canon EOS 1DX MKII (and its Nikon equivalent).  That said, mirrorless cameras most definitely offer some significant advantages for landscape photography (in all but the harshest of conditions) and that is why I decided to add a Canon EOS R mirrorless to my arsenal.  I did seriously consider the Fuji GFX50 (and its new big brother the GFX100), but ultimately decided the lack of native tilt shift lenses was a deal breaker for me. Especially since the larger sensor in the Fuji results in even shallower depth of field.

For my second Great Ocean Road and Tasmania workshop I am packing the following:

  • 1 x Canon EOS R Mirrorless w/ Really Right Stuff L Bracket (with spare batteries)
  • 1 x Canon 17mm F4L TSE Lens
  • 1 x Canon 24-70mm F4L IS Lens
  • 1 x Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE Lens
  • 1 x Canon 100-400mm F3.5-5.6L MKII Lens
  • 1 x Canon 1.4 TC MKIII
  • 1 x Gitzo GT3533S Carbon Fibre Tripod with an Arca Swiss D4 Geared Head
  • 1 x Set of Nisi Graduated Filters w/ V6. Holder and Polariser
  • 1 x Set of Lee Neutral Density Filters

This will be my first foray into serious landscape photography with my own personal mirrorless camera and I am really looking forward to seeing how it performs in the field. I decided to opt for the EF adapter with the added functionality of the control ring (which I have left at its default setting for Aperture control). Since I primarily plan to use this camera for tripod landscape photography I decided not to purchase any native RF lenses, but rather adapt my current EF lenses (especially my TSE lenses). The addition of the 1.4 TC MKIII is mostly for use on the 24mm TSE lens (turning it into a 35mm TSE Lens).  The keen eyed amongst you might also note the addition of a suite of Nisi Filters. Yes, I recently upgraded from my rather scratched, much loved, but well and truly worn out ‘LEE resin filters’. See you in Tasmania!

* Addendum – It seems Ricoh agrees with me. The DSLR is here for many years to come.

Why the DSLR is Here to Stay for Many Years to Come

Very recently F-Stoppers published a short article titled ‘Why the World’s Best Photographers are sticking with DSLR’s‘. Whilst I find the articles title to be nothing more than a poorly veiled ‘click bait’ effort; the nuts and bolts of the article are both accurate and profound (and I find myself in full agreement with the articles conclusions based on my own experience in the field). The article is well worth five minutes of your time if you want to understand why the DSLR is still the weapon of choice for a great many professional photographers, why photographers (myself included) still choose a DSLR for our serious photography and why the DSLR is going to be around for many years to come (as a matter of supplementary evidence Canon has stated several times in recent weeks it is not finished with EF lens development!) You can read the full article over at F-Stoppers HERE.

 

Prepare Yourself for Storage Failure in the Field

Recently I had a very expensive 128 GB SanDisk C-Fast card fail on me in the field in Iceland when I was between Winter workshops. This was the first time in well over a decade of digital photography that I have personally had a card fail in a manner that was completely unrecoverable. I have on several occasions seen other brands of card fail and have several times been able to rescue files from cards that had been accidentally erased by clients in the field (using SanDisk’s excellent Rescue Pro software).  In this case however, the card had become completely corrupt with absolutely nothing recoverable. In fact, inserting the card into the camera would actually cause the camera to refuse to even turn on (same result in different cameras).  Trying to read the card in any computer would simply show either no files, or a drive that would not mount. Trying to run Rescue Pro (or SanDisk’s other ‘clear format’ software) resulted in ‘Drive not available’ errors. In short, my expensive card had become completely corrupt.

Of course, the first thing I did when I had access to the internet was to contact SanDisk (a painful process) and lodge a ticket for a faulty card. I had to supply photographs of the card (front and back), describe the failure in excruciating detail via several emails and provide proof of purchase via a photograph of the original purchase receipt. The entire process was exceptionally painful and longwinded and had the card not been worth around $500 I probably would have just thrown my hands up, thrown the faulty card in the bin and ordered another. Given the cost however, I decided to persevere and see it through to a resolution.

What caused this card to fail so catastrophically I cannot say for certain, although I have my suspicions it was caused by turning the camera on and off very quickly (hint – don’t do this). Irrespective of the cause, what is important to note is that I was not able to recover any of the photographs on this card – zero. To SanDisk’s credit they did replace the card (although it took over a month); although they offered zero viable options to recover any files outside of sending the card at my own significant expense to a third party data recovery company. Had the images on the card been really important to me I would have proceeded down this path; but given there were just a few landscape images I shot between workshops on the card I decided to save the expense and consign any potentially recoverable files to the digital gods. It was made crystal clear by SanDisk as a matter of policy that they take no responsibility for any lost data under any circumstances (interesting policy from a storage company – what exactly do they take any responsibility for then?).

The net result of this card failure was a bunch of lost photographs and a month without a replacement card (no big deal). What the experience taught me above all is the importance of being able to shoot to dual cards simultaneously in the field to avoid this sort of potential tragedy. Shooting to dual cards was something I always did with the previous generation Canon EOS 1DX camera. However, its a practice I subsequently dropped with the release of the Canon EOS 1DX MKII since the cameras frame rate slows down too much when shooting to both the CFast and CF card (and Canon in their wisdom and effort to be backward tech friendly did not give us dual CFast slots). Now, on the eve of the Canon EOS 1DX MKIII I find myself praying that the good people at Canon will PLEASE give us dual CFast slots on the new body when it is announced later this year.

As card storage sizes have continued to increase with every generation released the chance for failure of a card that holds an entire trip or holidays work becomes greater and greater. Imagine loosing your entire next workshops work because you were shooting to one of the huge 512GB+ cards that subsequently critically failed. Cards of this size mean that you could shoot for days (or even weeks) before you had the need to download and empty onto a hard drive. Thats a huge amount of work to be stored on a card that is not backed up and that ‘might’ fail at any time. Something to think about the next time you are preparing to go out and shoot in the field. There just might be method in the madness of shooting either to dual cards where possible, or to multiple smaller cards instead of one gigantic card.

Canon Photography Equipment for Sale

Recently I upgraded some of my long lenses to MKIII versions and as such have a few lenses now for sale that need to find a good home. All have been checked and serviced by Canon here in Australia in the last few weeks. All were purchased locally from Canon Australia. Prices are all in AUD Australian Dollars. Deduct approximately thirty percent for USD based on exchange rate of 70cents AUD to the USD. Inspection and test of all lenses in Melbourne is welcome. Buyers pays shipping / courier costs. Drop me an email for interest in any of the items (Photographs of actual lenses on request).

Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII -$10,000 AUD

Lens is in excellent condition. Optics are Perfect AAA+++ Very small scratch on the metal plate on the lens barrel. And small scratch on lens hood 8/10. Lens is supplied with all original packaging including lens trunk, paperwork and original shipping box. Just serviced and checked by Canon Australia

Canon 400mm f2.8L IS MKII – $10,000 AUD

Lens is in as new Mint condition. Perfect AAA+++  10/10 (I have actually only used it once) Lens is supplied with all original packaging including lens trunk, paperwork and original shipping box. Just serviced and checked by Canon Australia

Canon 300mm f2.8L IS MKII – $5,000 AUD

Lens is in excellent condition. Optics are Perfect AAA+++ Very small scratch on the metal plate on the lens barrel. And small scratch on lens hood 8/10. Lens is supplied with original lens trunk.

Canon 85mm f1.2L MKII – *** JUST SOLD ***

Lens is supplied with all original packaging including lens pouch, paperwork and original shipping box.

Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS MKII – $1,800 AUD

Lens is in excellent condition. Optics are Perfect AAA+++ Very small scratch on lens barrel 9/10. Lens is supplied with all original packaging including lens pouch, paperwork and original shipping box. Just serviced and checked by Canon Australia