Master the Craft Step One – Getting past the Camera

Forgive me, I don’t intend it to start this series of articles with a rant, but I do feel the need to vent a little at this early stage and point out that somewhere along the line that ‘we’ (thats the collective we as photographers) seem to have lost sight that it is the ‘image’ that matters and not the camera (which is just a tool) that made it. Perhaps most importantly, its an observation that just because a photograph was made with the latest camera doesn’t make it a good photograph! In fact, the opposite holds true most of the time. Almost universally the current wave of photographs from the latest cameras that adorn our favourite virtual social hangouts (and latest camera news websites) are the latest form of pixel drivel.

Photography is about photographs. It is not about cameras and memory cards.

I want to make an observation that runs the risk of offending the odd person (you cant make an omelette without breaking a few eggs). You see, I have noticed a general down turn in recent times in the quality of photography I am seeing across the internet. I am speaking generally here, and confine my comments to those images I see predominately gracing the pages of social media channels and those websites that espouse camera news and reviews above actual image making. Oh, I am seeing all the latest cameras being used and abused to produce these images, but they are being used to produce imagery that is at best banal in the vast majority of cases. It is as if we are supposed to believe that all you need in your hand is the latest camera system and your photograph is instantly elevated to ‘celebrity status’. What utter nonsense.It seems to me that with every new camera or lens announcement that spreads like wildfire across the pages of the internet that there is an increase in the hype, hyperbolae and (lets call it what it is) ‘fanboysim’ associated with the latest piece of ‘kit’. Frankly, I am pretty tired of it. This hype that manufacturers (and a great many ‘You Tubers’) spew forth with every new camera announcement is designed to do nothing more than sell boxes and gain subscribers. It is an insidious vitriol that has become monotonous, predictable and even nauseating. It is frankly a cancer that is detrimental to quality photography and its high time someone called them out for what they are. They do nothing to improve photography and serve no one but themselves in the process (are you still with me?).

Let me be crystal clear on this point. If you want to improve your photography and create better photographs than the vast majority (not hard) all you need to do is follow three steps. If you follow these steps I guarantee your photography will improve exponentially and that you will produce far better images than the vast majority of people out there who loosely call themselves photographers. Follow the steps and you will Master the Craft. It has been my experience that the vast majority out there foolishly believe that their next camera purchase is all they need to improve their photography and that their current camera is somehow holding them back from producing better photographs. They could not be more wrong. A decent camera is all you need to make a great photograph. After that, no amount of money thrown at the problem is going to improve your photography and falling into the never ending upgrade cycle will do nothing but empty your bank account. The problem of how to improve your photography is not one you can solve by throwing money at. You are going to have to do some actual real work instead. Sorry.

With that said, lets be far more positive and talk about the three steps you can take to vastly improve your photography. Step one is to learn how to use the tool you already own properly. And, this is very important, educate yourself on what makes a good photograph; thats Step Two. But, of even greater importance, you need to seperate yourself from the emotional investment in your own work; and thats Step Three. Let me give a very clear and blunt example of what I am referring to in Step Three:  Just because you (or me) travelled to the other side of the planet to make our photograph, doesn’t make it a good photograph! In fact, our emotional investment in our travels makes us probably the worst person to make the call on the quality of the photograph. But I am getting ahead of myself…

Lets take this step by step. Step one is the easiest of the three steps and is to learn the tool you already own. Before I go any further, I will stop myself right here and say that if you think the latest camera that was just announced or released (or that you need a sensor with more dynamic range or more pixels) is going to improve your photography then you need to immediately stop and rethink what it is that makes a really great photograph. If you fall into this category then there is nothing I can do to help you. You are stuck in a never ending upgrade loop that is going to continually empty your bank account. Your only hope to break out of this vicious circle is going to come in the form of a revelation. You have to open yourself up to the reality that its not the camera that matters and realise its you that is the limiting factor. Problem is, most people who are stuck in this loop are completely oblivious and believe wholeheartedly that what I am writing applies to everyone but themselves.

If I take myself as an example, there is a very good reason I shoot with the Canon EOS 1DX MKII and the EOS 1DX before that.  You see, I ‘know’ the tool’. I know it so well that if you handed me my camera I could set an ISO, f-stop and shutter speed blindfolded in less than 2 seconds (heck I can change focus cases and customise each case blindfolded, without even thinking). I can do this, because I have mastered the tool. I have a starting ISO, f-stop and shutter speed on both my 1DX MKII cameras. I know exactly what they are set to when I pick them up, and I know exactly how to change them in milliseconds without even thinking. My fingers know exactly where each button is and exactly what it does. Its muscle memory for me to change the settings on these cameras. Do you know what happens when operating your camera controls becomes muscle memory? It frees up your brain up to be creative! You are no longer constrained by the technical limitations of your brain and fingers. Your brain is free to create. You can be an artist and NOT a technician. This is so important that I am going to say it again…. When you master your camera you free yourself from the boundaries of any technical knowledge you require to operate the tool of your trade. Your brain can focus 100% on creating the photograph instead of worrying about any technical limitations that impede the quality of your photography. You are now truly free to create. You can focus on the play of light in front of you and on capturing the magical decisive moment (it exists as much in Landscape as it does in Wildlife and Street photography). At this point of the development of your photography you have transcended the technical boundaries of your camera and you are now only constrained by your ability to create (thats Step Two). Step three we will come to later as its a necessity to understand once you master step one and step two.

I can hear the masses now.. I know my camera they are chanting! (pitchfork in hand). But how many out there could truly set their camera controls blindfolded without even thinking about it. How many could even turn on the camera and attach a lens without thinking? Truly knowing your camera means it becomes an extension of your arm and hand. You don’t have to think about using it in any way. It is merely an extension of your body and nothing more than something you put to your eye before you press the shutter. Its not a party trick to set your camera controls blind folded without having to engage your brain. Its an absolutely essential skill to get past being a technician and to start creating great photographs. Next time you stop the car because you see something you want to photograph ask yourself at what point does your brain focus 100% on creating the image and not on cameras or equipment? Is it when you first saw the potential photograph? When you step out of the vehicle? When you finish setting up the camera? The answer is it should be before you even saw the potential. Your brain should be creating and thinking about composition, light and the image all the time when you are out making photographs. Getting the camera out, setting it up and making the exposure should be something that you do without even thinking about.

Just as an aside: Over the last week or so I have fielded quite a few questions about the new Canon mirrorless system asking what my thoughts are, when will I buy one and will it replace my current 1DX MKII cameras. To cut to the chase, I will likely not be purchasing a Canon mirrorless R system in the foreseeable future (and I have played with a pre-production sample and the new 24-70mm f2 lens). There are a number of different reasons for this decision; not the least of which is the limitation of five frames per second – which is just too slow for wildlife and the unanswered question over its capabilities to deal with extreme cold. More importantly, though is that the camera offers absolutely nothing that is going to improve my photography. Sure, it offers me a small weight saving and a few extra megapixels (which I don’t need) over my 1DX MKII cameras, but frankly that isn’t worth the learning curve of a whole new tool, let-alone the cash outlay. If I was to invest in this new camera my photography would likely degrade until such time as I came to grips with the new tool and mastered the new camera. That is something I am only willing to accept if there is an obvious advantage in the long run and quite honestly at this point I don’t believe there is. With that said, I do very much like the ergonomics of the new mirrorless system and it is the first mirrorless camera I have picked up that actually felt good in my hand.

To close out Part One of Getting Past the Camera it is important to recognise that it is possible to make a brilliant photograph with pretty much any camera (even one more than five years old!). The technology has matured to the point that the camera is in virtually every single case no longer the limiting factor in anybodies photography. We have more megapixels than we need and we have more dynamic range than we need. We have cameras that focus faster, shoot faster and are capable of taking more photographs than ever before. Modern cameras are simply no longer the limiting factor in anyones photography. Understanding and accepting that a new camera will not improve your photography is a necessity to actually improving the quality of your photographs. Once you accept this fact you can get on with learning and mastering the tool that you already own. And as an added bonus you just saved a bunch of money!

In Step Two of Master the Craft we are going to talk about educating yourself on what is a good photograph. It might seem a simple thing, but you would be surprised how many photographers out there have no idea what makes a great photograph. Part two and part three are sort of linked, but we are going to deal with them separately as Part three is more about feelings and emotion where as Part two is more about education and understanding.

Departing for Namibia Desert Fire Safari 2018

The couple of weeks I have had to unpack, catch up and repack since I returned from the Nature Festival in Finland has quickly come and gone and very early tomorrow I am heading back to the airport to start the trek over to Africa for my 2018 Namibia Desert Fire Safari. It has been two years since I was last in Africa and I am very much looking forward to returning to the oldest desert in the world and the fantastic and diverse opportunities that Namibia always presents.On this safari we are going to visiting the ghost town of Kolmonskop, the giant sand dues of Sossusvlei (and of course the iconic Deadvlei), the spectacular skeleton coast and the wildlife rich region of Etosha. On top of this we have many other stop off locations planned along our journey. This year we will be kicking off our safari by flying down to Luderitz from the capital city of Windhoek. Flying saves us two days on the road and gives us even more time for photography in the field.This safari is a combination of both landscape and wildlife and as such I am packing both wide angle and super-telephoto lenses. All of this will pack into my F-Stop Lightroom Roller which I will use to get the equipment through the transit stage of my travels. I will then re-pack it on location into my F-stop backpack.

F- Stop Lightroom Roller Camera Bag:

  • 2 x Canon EOS 1DX MKII
  • 2 X Canon EOS 1DX MKII Spare Batteries
  • 1 x Canon 16-35mm F4L
  • 1 x Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE
  • 1 x Canon 24-70mm F4L IS
  • 1 x Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS MKII (I am unsure if I will upgrade to the MKIII at this stage)
  • 1 x Canon 400mm F2.8L IS MKII
  • 1 x Canon 1.4 TC MKIII Teleconverter

In my checked luggage I am bringing the following:

  • 1 x Sachtler Flowtech Carbon Fire Tripod (the new model I have absolutely fallen in love with)
  • 1 x Arca Swiss Geared Tripod head
  • 1 x Canon 1DX MKII Battery Charger and Lens Cleaning Kit

Why No Canon Mirrorless R? 

I will have more to say about the new Canon mirrorless camera (and many of the other new cameras recently announced) in a new series of posts I am calling ‘Master the Craft’. I hope to publish the first of this new series while I am on the road.

Post Script – An update on the torn lateral tendon in my right elbow for those of you who kindly emailed me to see how it is progressing.  After very intensive physiotherapy over the last few months I have turned the corner and can again lift my camera without pain and discomfort. I am hopeful that this Namibia safari will be the first trip since Antarctica last year that I can work freely without pain in my right arm.

See you in Africa!

Canons New Mirrorless Camera Thoughts and Musings

Over the last couple of weeks I have fielded a few emails and phone calls asking me my thoughts on the new mirrorless camera coming from Canon (to be announced officially in the next few days – Nikon’s is now formally announced). Honestly, I have not been given any information on this camera from Canon. None of my Canon contacts have mentioned it even in passing or provided any detail about a mirrorless camera whatsoever (nor have I bothered to ask). Even if they had, I would no doubt be under an NDA (which I am not) and unable to talk about it. Regardless, the specifications for the new Canon mirrorless camera have leaked on-line over at Canon Rumours and I have now had a bit of chance to gather my thoughts on the published specifications and what it might mean for my own photography. In case you missed the published specifications they are included below: (keep in mind none of this has been confirmed by Canon).Canon EOS R Specifications (still not confirmed by Cannon)

  • 30.3mp Full Frame CMOS
  • Dual pixel CMOS AF
    • 100% vertical x 88% horizontal AF coverage (We think)
  • EV -6 low brightness autofocus
  • 4K video
  • Touchscreen LCD
  • Articulating screen
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • Microphone jack
  • Headphone jack
  • Dustproof
  • Drip-proof
  • Magnesium body
  • Battery: LP-E6N
  • Battery grip: BG-E22
  • Size: Width of about 136 mm × height of about 98 mm
  • Weight: Approximately 580 g
  • Mount: inner diameter 54 mm, flange back 20 mm, 12 pin
  • Mount adapter: “Mount adapter EF – EOS R” “Control ring mount adapter EF – EOS R” “Drop – in filter mount adapter EF – EOS R”

A new mount?

From what I can surmise from the information available online it does indeed appear that the new Canon RF mount on this new mirrorless camera is a shorter registration than the EF mount, and it therefore will require an adapter to use EF lenses. That is sure to please some that want to adapt lenses to the RF mount, and will disappoint others (myself included) that were hoping for native EF compatibility. As of today we have no idea what (if any) implications there are for requiring an adapter for EF lenses, but the bottom line is a native EF mount would have zero implications – and that would have been my preference.

Am I about sell my DSLR’s and jump to mirrorless?

Before I answer that question it is important to understand that mirrorless cameras fill a certain niche. If you are street photographer, wedding, or a general jack-of-all trades shooter then mirrorless may well be the answer to all your prayers. However, contrary to what you might have read from the many zealots and pundits online mirrorless is not the be all and end all of cameras and it certainly doesn’t spell the extinction of the mirror SLR camera. Mirrorless cameras suffer from a number of different problems not the least of which is predictable and consistent failure in cold climates (and questionable weather sealing). Over the last few years I have seen numerous mirrorless cameras fail (including latest models from Sony, Fuji  and others) in extreme cold on workshops and expeditions and whilst they come back to life once warmed, the shot has been long missed (along with many others). Simply put, with current technology EVF’s (Electronic View Finders) cannot be relied on in temperatures below about -10º Celsius. In temperatures of -20º Celsius and below you can expect failure to occur in as little as just a few minutes. This makes mirrorless useless for a lot of the winter photography I do in extreme cold. Just as an aside, once temperatures reach -20º Celsius and below you can expect problems even with most DSLR’s. Focus points start to ‘ghost’, batteries drain super quickly and electronics freeze and fail. Only the toughest and most rugged cameras such as Canon’s 1DX MKII and Nikon’s D5 can be relied on these sort of conditions. To date, I have never had a 1DX or 1DX MKII fail in extreme cold and have used these cameras for many hours at a time in temperatures as low as -40º Celsius. Try that with mirrorless and see how you get on…

With the issue of cold temperatures aside, mirrorless offers many advantages (not the least of which is a smaller size and less weight) that are extremely appealing and put simply I am excited about Canon’s new mirrorless camera. And yes, I will almost certainly be purchasing one and adding it to my camera kit. However it is important to understand that it certainly wont be replacing my DSLR’s any time soon. The new mirrorless camera will serve me as a lightweight travel camera and landscape camera for all but sub zero conditions. Mirrorless will not replace my DSLR cameras for wildlife in the foreseeable future (irrespective of climate).

I am still formulating my thoughts on what a new RF mount means for me, but its unlikely I will purchase new RF lenses in the foreseeable future. I will instead adapt my current EF lenses to the mirrorless camera. Of most interest to me is the option to adapt my Tilt Shift lenses to the new camera for landscape work.

As yet I have no idea when Canon will actually be able to deliver this new mirrorless camera (keep in mind its not even officially announced yet). I hope (although I think its unlikely) it will be in my hands in time for my Namibia workshop early next month.

 

BenQ W11000H 4K UHD THX DLP Projector Review Part Two

A couple of days ago I published Part One of this two part review of the new BenQ W11000H 4K UHD DLP Projector.  Part One covered a brief history of projection for the home from CRT projectors up to the current state of play with 4K UHD Projectors. In part two we are going to look in detail at the BenQ W11000H 4K Projector.

When BenQ offered me the opportunity to review their brand new top of the range 4K UHD THX certified projector I literally jumped at the opportunity. Not only was I keen to see how it compared to the Marantz VP11-S1 I had been using in my cinema for better part of the last decade (see part one of this article) but I was as keen as mustard to see what sort of advantage 4k UHD would offer over high end 1080p presentation in a room and space I was intimately familiar with. I was even more keen to see how I could take advantage of the increased resolution to even better display photographs in my home (skip forward to the conclusion if you want an immediate answer).BenQ W11000H Projector: In brief, the BenQ W11000H is a single chip DLP projector that uses 4.15 million micro mirrors and XPR dual position actuator fast switching to produce its whopping 3840 x 2160 resolution with 8.3 million distinct pixels for each frame. With a resolution that’s four times higher than Full HD 1080p, 4K UHD reduces pixel blur for awe-inspiring clarity and crisply defined fine details. The W11000H is also the worlds first THX certified 4K UHD DLP Projector. THX certification guarantees accurate content reproduction as directors intended. With 100% Rec. 709 color accuracy, precise gamma, ideal colour temperature, enhanced uniformity, super high native contrast ratio and pre-calibration THX mode, the W11000H produces the best and most accurate out of the box picture quality I have ever seen from a consumer projector (regardless of price). But I am getting a bit ahead of myself and we should first look at the chassis and features of the W11000H before we dive in depth into its image quality.

The chassis of the BenQ W11000H is essentially identical to the previous W11000 model. Its quite large (470.7mm wide by 224.9mm high and 564.7mm deep), quite imposing and definitely makes a statement. This isn’t a projector you just plonk down on a coffee table, fire up and then pack away when you are finished. The W11000H is really designed for custom installation and thus its most likely home is going to be in a dedicated space such as a media room or home cinema. The matt black chassis of the W11000H is really built with the sole purpose of delivering the best possible picture quality through the enormous lens centre front.  Photographers will appreciate the optics on this projector before they even turn it on. The projector body itself is large and is a nice matt-black finish that wont draw undue attention to itself in a dedicated space. Lets be honest though, you don’t buy a projector like this for the look and design. You buy it for the incredible picture quality that a high end 4K projector can display.

The projector has front facing ventilation that includes an intake and exhaust for cool and hot air. The airflow design is superb and allows for easy installation in tight places. In my own cinema ventilation was somewhat of an issue with my previous projector so I really appreciated the thought and attention to detail BenQ made in this department. If you are planning to install this projector in a hush box (it really doesn’t need one as its super quiet in operation) you will likewise find the airflow design beneficial.The top of the projector includes only two control knobs for the physical 65% vertical lens shift and 27% horizontal shifting of the lens. Although lens shift can be accomplished in software there is no substitute for optical adjustments of this order. The level of adjustment is quite substantial and facilities placement off centre in both the vertical and horizontal planes. This design gives you a lot of flexibility in projector placement. In my own cinema I was able to place the projector on a shelf at the rear of the room and use lens shift to optimise the image. According to the BenQ literature there is no loss of image quality by shifting the lens. In my own tests I found this to be absolutely true. Pixel geometry remains perfect even at the extreme ends of the lens shift.

The W11000H offers a hidden control interface under a sliding cover in the event you need to control the projector without the remote control. The inputs, include power and HDMI and are located on the side and are separated to avoid any video interference. The only other compartment is the bulb replacement panel on top, which given the lamp life you are unlikely to need access to for years.

SetUp: I am going to assume that anyone who purchases a projector of this calibre is either knowledgeable enough to set one up on their own, or plans to have it professionally installed (I would recommend professional installation if you have not tackled something like this before). In my own case, I was able to unbox and install the projector in about 30 minutes. I would wager that hardest part of setup for most people will be mounting the actual projector and aligning it with the projection screen. The projector is quite heavy at just under fifteen  kilograms and the addition of a friend to help mount the unit will be appreciated by many. If you are installing into an existing space with a pre-installed screen be sure to use the calculator BenQ provide to work out your projection throw distance before you start drilling any mounting holes in your ceiling.

Features: The list of features included with the W11000H is quite extensive, but setup is extremely straight forward. The W11000H includes 2 x HDMI (HDMI 1: HDMI 2.0 and HDCP2.2; HDMI 2: HDMI 1.4a and HDCP 1.4), PC (VGA), USB (Type mini B for firmware upgrades), LAN, RS232, DC 12 Volt Trigger and an IR port if you need to run an IR extension.

The supplied remote control with the W11000H is of an excellent standard. Its large, with clearly labelled back-lit buttons and feels really solid in the hand. The fit and finish of the remote is of a premium standard and matches nicely with the projector chassis. All of the required controls are easily accessible.

HDR: The W11000H projector is turbo charged with HDR10 support with BenQ including Auto HDR colour rendition and cinema optimised technology. The high dynamic range performance of the  W11000H ensures greater brightness, contrast range and overall image depth. The net result is you get to experience every detail of 4K video content for the best possible cinema experience. Dolby Vision is not supported at this time , but is likely to come via a future firmware update.

Image Integrity and Colour Accuracy: The W11000H uses DMD DLP technology to avoid inherent alignment issues that can occur with multiple planes. The projector generates razor blade sharp images and accurate colours free from artifacting such as blur, shadowing and interference patterns for immaculate clarity.

Precision 14-Element 6-Group Lens Array: Photographers will more than appreciate the super high resolution 14-element lens array found in the W11000H. The array is structured into six groups with metal barrel and cell framework resulting in greater light penetration than traditional 1080p projector technology. The results are outstanding color performance, clarity and sharpness across the entire screen. The lens architecture in the W11000H is class-leading and optimised specifically for 4K content. The lens also includeds a fantastic True Zoom function. The W11000H’s lens system uses only the highest grade glass for superior light penetration and optimal image quality. Proprietary low-dispersion lens coatings minimise any chromatic aberration and ensure you benefit from all the clarity in your favourite 4K UHD content.

Immaculate True Zoom: The W11000H’s True Zoom system adjusts focus automatically to deliver visually perfect focus without the need to refocus the projector after zoom changes. The three focusing lens groups adjust simultaneously with the zoom lens group to negate any curved field for immaculate cinemtatic performance and high precision clarity across the entire image. It might seem like a trivial thing but I really appreciated this feature during the setup procedure. You only need to achieve optimum focus once. Once focused you can alter the zoom at your leisure without having to refocus the lens.

100% Rec.709 Color Accuracy: Factory calibrated to 100% Rec.709 the W11000H does indeed look pretty spectacular right out of the box (well done BenQ!). With this performance you can indulge in the truest color image reproduction possible in your home cinema. Those of you who follow my blog will know that its a pet peeve of mine that most displays ship from the factory in ‘flame thrower’ mode. It was a revelation to turn on the BenQ, switch it to ‘Cinema’ mode and find it just about perfect out of the box.

6X RGBRGB Color Wheel: Of all DLP projector components, the color wheel has the greatest effect on color. Achieving perfect balance between color accuracy and brightness requires high precision and stringent quality control. Because even nanometer differences create great differences to color spectrum, BenQ CinematicColor™ uses precise nanometer-level references to test over 20 combinations of color wheel angle and coating. Each color wheel is carefully fabricated with high-pure-color coatings to meet Rec. 709 color gamut requirements and reproduce the true color of Hollywood films. Does all of this engineering show in the final result? Absolutely. I have seen three chip DLP projectors that don’t look this good.

Factory Calibration Report: Using special instruments and software, each CinematicColor™ projector is tested and adjusted for precise D65 color temperature, gamma, black level, white level, neutral gray, RGBCMY color tracking, hue, saturation, brightness and output from different interfaces based on ITU-R Rec. 709. Collecting all data for individual CinematicColor™ factory calibration reports, BenQ are the industry’s only brand to adopt such high standards of colour gamut and gamma calibration to exceed Rec.709 standards. Users who care about colour accuracy (which photographer doesnt?) will really appreciate this level of performance and certification typically only found in very expensive and very high end professional products.

Dynamic Black Technology and Active Iris: Active iris controls the amount of light through the optical system for ideal contrast. Dynamic Black™ analyzes scene brightness levels to optimize light output and contrast. Bringing out subtle details in shadows and preventing bright scenes from washout, W11000H delivers impressive contrast for true blacks and amazing picture depth, details, and clarity. 

Cinematic Wide 2.4:1 Anamorphic Format: Available at local BenQ dealers, optional Panamorph Paladin anamorphic lens delivers the immersive 2.4:1 aspect ratio of commercial cinemas without letterboxing, delivering 2 million more pixels for increased brightness and detail to recreate full cinema experiences right at home. *Select “Anamorphic 2.4:1” or “Anamorphic 16:9” in menu with anamorphic lens. * As of this review I have not had access to the Paladin lens to test this feature. In my own cinema I am somewhat limited by a short throw distance of 3700mm and as such would be limited to quite a small screen with the Paladin. The Paladin lens is best suited to those with ample room for longer throw distances.

Input switching
The projector only has two HDMI inputs (A HDIMI 2.0 and a HDMI 1.4) which is typically not an issue given most people would run HDMI sources into an amplifier or video processor, then a single HDMI out to the projector. While that may be the most common setup, there are two available inputs and switching between them is possible via the remote control (although the projector is slow to recognise and lock onto the new source once switched).

Picture Quality: With its THX certification (certification card included with projector) you can have confidence that even out of the box this projector is going to produce an outstanding image (and it truly does). The built in display modes do a very nice job of providing a jaw dropping experience right out of the box. The projector can of course be custom calibrated to suit the environment it has been installed in and I would assume that most people who purchase this projector will employ an ISF certified technician to custom calibrate the projector for their sources and room to eek out every last drop of performance. That said, the performance I was able to achieve out of the box in ‘cinema’ mode was absolutely phenomenal. BenQ are to be congratulated on providing such a wonderful result straight out of the box.

Years ago (perhaps 20 years or more now) THX released a limited edition laser disc to demonstrate their THX speaker systems called ‘Wow!’ It was an extremely impressive montage of George Lucas film clips cunningly edited together to blow the listeners socks off. I still recall the first time I watched and listened to this disc and I remember it was a serious ‘Wow!’ moment. I relived that moment when I watched my first native 4k UHD DVD through the BenQ W11000H. The picture quality is simply jaw dropping. For lack of a better word… Wow! It should be noted at this point that the black levels on this projector are sublime with inky blacks of seemingly infinite depth. The projector produces the best black levels I have yet seen from a consumer projector in my viewing room.

Whats Missing: While BenQ get a lot of things right with this projector (most notable of which is the incredible image quality), nothing is perfect and there’s a couple of small omissions that could be added in future versions.

Blanking: One feature I really miss on the BenQ W11000H (that was on my Marantz VP11-S1) is ‘blanking’. Blanking gives you the ability to shift (and hide) the edge of each side of the projected image by one pixel at a time. Blanking is extremely useful to ensure a perfect picture to edge of screen match. The lack of blanking on the W11000H means you need to take extra special care to align the projector with the screen during setup. Its not a deal breaker (far from it) and if you are planning to run an external video scaler (such as a Lumagen Radiance Pro or similar) then it becomes a non issue since any blanking can be done internally by the outboard scaler.

Motorized Zoom: A motorised zoom function with lens memory positions would have been a nice addition for those running scope 2.35:1 systems who want to overscan their movies (to avoid having to purchase an anamorphic lens) and need multiple lens position memories. Whilst BenQ do offer an anamorphic lens option, the ability to overscan the image and use lens memory positions to shift between 2:35:1 and 16:9 material would have been a nice option. You can still run a 2.35:1 Constant Image Height setup with the BenQ without an anamorphic lens but you will need an outboard video processor such as the Lumagen Radiance Pro.

ISF Menu: The W11000H includes a password locked ISF menu. When I enquired with BenQ about access to the password I was told that “not even BenQ have it and that it is only for ISF technicians in the BenQ factory”. Fortunately I still have some connections in the Audio Visual world and I reached out to my contact at the Imaging Science Foundation and was able to obtain the password (If you read Part One of this review you may remember that I am actually an ISF certified technician).  Hidden in the ISF menu is the ability to set picture parameters for both night and day. ISF simply call this ISF Night and ISF Day. All it really does is give the ISF technician who is calibrating your projector the ability to set parameters for night and day viewing that are then ‘locked’ and not user adjustable.

Addendum – Please don’t write to me and ask for the ISF password. I am not allowed to disclose or share the password (sorry!) You can contact the Imaging Science Foundation or your local ISF technician for further information.

Conclusion: The W11000H sits squarely at the top end of the consumer range and as such, you should set your expectations of pricing and performance accordingly. The BenQ W11000H 4K Projector with HDR, will cost you round $8,999.00 AUD. If that doesn’t dent your wallet and if you have some spare cash, there is also an option to add a 2.4:1 anamorphic lens to the projector to deliver the aspect ratio offered at commercial cinemas (see notes above).

In conclusion, the BenQ W11000H 4K UHD Projector produces an image that is simply jaw dropping. There is no other superlative I can think of that more accurately describes the sensation of experiencing this projector with high quality UHD 4k content. Whilst the premium price tag might scare some away it is worth keeping in mind that just a few years ago the sort of image quality offered by the W11000H was simply impossible in home projection – it was science fiction. Even then the best that was available was horrendously expensive (think exotic sports car pricing) and wasn’t a patch on the W11000H’s performance.  The W11000H is simply the best consumer projector I have yet experienced. Wether you are displaying the latest 4K UHD movie, 1080p Blue Ray, 4K Netflix, or photographs from your computer, the W11000H produces gorgeous images that will leave you swimming happily in a pool of your own drool. If you are looking for the best possible performance the buck stops here. I give it my unequivocal and highest recommendation. 

A note on Price vs. Performance: Over the last few years BenQ has been consistently (and quietly) producing products that offer performance well above their price points. Their recent batch of colour accurate monitors (such as the SW271) for photographers (recently reviewed on this site) were groundbreaking in their performance for price. The W11000H treads the same path, offering a level of professional performance that far exceeds its very modest price point. Smart consumers will recognise that these products are absolute bargains; offering performance that far outweighs the cost of investment. As someone who has owned displays and projectors that cost many times more than the BenQ offerings I can unequivocally report that I don’t believe you can do better for the money.

BenQ W11000H 4K UHD THX DLP Projector Review Part One

Introduction: It isn’t too often you read a projector review on a photographic website but projectors actually have a lot of applications in the photographic industry and over the last couple of years I have found an increasing need and use for projection in my print workshops (as well as using projectors to display photographs to friends in my own home). As a result, I recently updated the projector I had been using and wanted to share my findings on the upgrade as well as comment on how projection technology has matured over recent years in light of this recent upgrade; and lastly how you might utilise projection in your own home to better display your photography.

Because of the length of this review I have broken it up into two parts. Part one is a little about the history of home cinema projection (from my perspective) and how the technology has evolved and Part two is the review of the new BenQ W11000H projector. If you aren’t interested in the history (I think it is interesting see where we came from) then you can just skip forward to Part two (which I will post in the next few days).Where we Came From: By way of a brief history, As well as my photographic background I also have an extensive background in high end home cinema. In my previous life in the 1990’s and early 2000’s I designed a great many home cinemas for clients and was (and still am) both an ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) certified technician and a Level II THX Certified technician. I was also certified by CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) in home cinema design. My designs won several ‘Best Home Theatre of the Year’ awards from CEDIA. When I say I designed home cinemas, I am not referring to your generic home theatre in a box solutions, bur rather to high end custom home cinemas designed to properly replicate (and in many cases significantly improve on) the movie going experience. When I first started designing home cinemas the only real projection option available was 3-gun CRT (Cathode Ray Tube). CRT projectors were extremely large, extremely expensive and extremely dim by cinema standards.  In order to get any sort of reasonable light output you either had to run a very small screen in a completely dark room, or stack projectors for additional lumens (light output). Stacking projectors was neither cost effective nor convenient. It took up a huge amount of space, put a huge dent in your wallet and required significant and frequent alignment (CRT projectors were prone to ‘drift’ which meant they needed frequent calibration). In hindsight, they were quite honestly more trouble than they were worth most of the time. However, they were the only game in town before the advent of LCD, DLP, DILA and Laser and if you wanted a home cinema projector, CRT was about you’re only choice. Of course in those days if you wanted to display your photography on the wall you used a slide projector (remember slides?). At the time I was using a Leica slide projector on a portable screen I would set up whenever I wanted to do a slideshow. The result was good, but it was quite a hassle to setup and prepare.
With the advent of advancing digital technologies the game changed in home cinema projection and it was finally possible to get truly bright large screen projection at a reasonable price point (compared to what it used to cost with CRT). The very first projectors utilising these new digital technologies were quite honestly pretty awful by todays standard, but they were a quantum leap in brightness over the previous CRT units.

Fast forward a decade or so from the advent of digital projection and the technology continued to mature to the point where the CRT was completely dead and digital projection (be it single chip or 3 chip DLP, LCD, DILA or Laser) was providing excellent 1080p High Definition content on just about any size screen you could want at a price point that was affordable for many who were constructing dedicated home cinemas utilising projection. Of course, much depended on your screen size, and room application, but there was a product for just about every application and budget. It was also around this time people started using projectors to display their photographs instead of traditional slide projectors. Along with film and the Dodo, slide projectors went the way of the dinosaur.

In the space of just a few years 1080p HD content became the defacto standard for home cinema. It was around this point in time (a bit over ten years ago) I purchased and installed a Marantz VP11-S1 1080p single chip DLP Projector in my house. It was at the time an extraordinary, industry leading projector with a superb Konika Minolta glass lens. It was single chip DLP and not super bright (around 700 lumens), but it was ‘razor blade’ sharp with outstanding on-board video processing. It had a variable f-stop allowing you to tailor the black level to your environment and it provided a great deal of adjustment to obtain the best possible picture. Once properly calibrated it was regarded at the time as one of the finest single chip projectors on the market at just about any price (and it wasn’t cheap at around $17,000 USD MSRP.) I used it for the next ten years on a 92” acoustically transparent SMX THX projection screen in a dedicated light controlled room for both movies and for photographic slideshows. The Marantz VP11-S1 remains to this day an outstanding 1080p projector that stacks up very well against just about any other single chip 2k projector south of about fifteen grand. During the many years of ownership I also used the projector for slideshows of my photography as well as for screening photography documentaries (and general movies).Fast forward to today and digital resolution has continued to increase to the point where now have a number of new projectors coming into the market place offering 4K UHD resolution as well as HDR10 capability (Dolby Vision is also starting to make an appearance). The game has changed; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the game has evolved. With the advent of 4K Projectors capable of HDR it is now possible to obtain image quality in home via projection that was up until this point pure science fiction. Enter the BenQ W11000H 4K UHD THX Certified DLP Projector. The world’s first THX certified 4K UHD projector that is HDR capable and that can display photographs (and movies) in a resolution previously unavailable in the average home. Part two of this review will focus on the BenQ W11000H and will be published in the next few days.