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.

BenQ ScreenBar e-Reading Lamp

Over the last week since I returned from Antarctica I have been testing a clever new product from BenQ called the ScreenBar e-Reading Lamp. In a nutshell the idea of ScreenBar is to reduce eye strain by softly lighting the screen and surrounding area without introducing any glare. Although the design concept is extremely simple, the problem ScreenBar tries to solve is actually quite complex and has been tackled in various forms and with varying degrees of success by different manufacturers over the years.  This is the first time however, that I have seen a solution that offers not only a soft dimmable glare free light, but that also offers colour temperature control, auto dimming and is powered solely by USB.

Wether its working late hours, watching online videos, extensive word processing or any other kind of non-critical colour work a task light can help reduce and even prevent eye strain. When we sit in front of our computer we look directly into the monitor and our eyes are subsequently affected by the reflected glare. This where the ScreenBar changes the game. The video below show just how simple and easy it is to set up and install ScreenBar.

Personally, I spend a lot of time in front of my computer dealing with email, websites and general running of a business (not to mention time I spend processing and printing photographs) and as a result I often suffer from eye strain after extended sessions in front of my display. To be clear, I don’t use the ScreenBar light when I am editing, processing and printing my photographs, but I have been using it extensively for all my other computer work and I really like the way it eases eye fatigue. I also love the simplicity of the design, the ability to dim the light, set a colour temperature and power the entire device from just a single USB port. Currently I have the Screen Bar installed on my BenQ 4K monitor and a second unit on my iMac.  For general day-today computing needs I have found I prefer to have the light on all of the time and am only turning it off for colour critical work and printing work. In short, I have found significant reduction in eye fatigue with the ScreenBars and I am therefore keeping both lights (although I am going to have to order a third as my son has already stolen the one from my iMac for his own computer).

Screen Bar Key Features

Auto Dimming. Optimal Brightness Instantly: Thanks to the built-in ambient light sensor, ScreenBar adjusts the brightness level automatically and instantly. It can be manually dimmable with the touch sensor control as well.

Space Saving. No Lamp Base, More Desk Space: A specially designed clip makes the attachment onto monitors easy and stable. No need for screws or tape that damage monitors. The clip fits any monitor with thickness from 0.4” to 1.2” (1 to 3 cm).

Screen Bar is available to purchase from Amazon the following countries: (these are not affiliate links)

US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B076VNFZJG

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07GGVNXSW

DE: https://www.amazon.de/dp/B0785D93KD

AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B076VNFZJG

JP: https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B07D7PDF8L

Software that Totally Redefines the Need for Mega-Pixels

Over the course of the last week I have been testing a new piece of software that in brief my experience to date totally redefines the need for super high mega-pixel cameras. This new piece of software is such a game changer that I believe it may well revolutionise not only the workflow of a great many serious photographers (especially those like myself who print) but seriously challenges the validity of cameras with any more than about twenty mega pixels. On top of that, it raises serious concerns about what can be done with a image downloaded from the internet. The potential for this to be abused is a bit of a concern, but that is a topic for another day.

I ran across this new piece of software quite by accident. To be completely transparent I don’t even remember exactly where it was I first heard about it. I may have read about it on a forum or someone may have mentioned it in passing. In any case, I have been testing this new software from Topaz Labs called A.I Gigapixel™.

In short, A.I Gigapixel is a simple stand alone application for uprezzing images.  That in and of itself is nothing unique, but what makes it so special is the incredible results you can achieve with this remarkable piece of automated software. According to Topaz Labs:

A.I Gigapixel™ is the first and only desktop application to use the power of artificial intelligence to enlarge your images while adding natural details for an amazing result. Using deep learning technology, A.I.Gigapixel can enlarge images and fill in details that other resizing products leave out.

I wont bother to repeat any more of their marketing copy here on my blog, suffice to say this software works as advertised; and it works in spades. In direct comparisons between uprezzing in photoshop and uprezzing in A.I.Gigapixel there is a clear and obvious advantage in the Topaz Labs software. The difference is so pronounced as to be truly extraordinary. I have long harboured the belief that all you really need is about fifteen mega pixels to make a really great print up to roughly 20 x 30 inches if your capture is sharp and well exposed. I have demonstrated this fact countless times in my print workshops. Of course, everything has to do with viewing distance, but in the real world we don’t view prints six inches from our noses or under the power of a loupe. Now, with this new software it is possible to make prints of simply superb quality much larger than previously possible. Don’t believe me?

Well, you can try it for yourself as Topaz Labs offer a 30-day money free Trial with no obligation to purchase at the end of the trial period. If you are interested in making prints and you need to get the best possible image quality I strongly recommend you give it a try.

To be absolutely clear I have absolutely no affiliation with Topaz Labs. I have never spoken with anyone from the company and nor have I ever received anything from them for free (I have never even tried any of their software before). I downloaded the trial of A.I Gigapixel, tested it and within fifteen minutes I was so blown away that I immediately purchased it. If you print, or if you need larger files I wholeheartedly recommend you check out A.I Gigapixel. It might be the most significant piece of software for the digital photographic industry since the release of Photoshop.

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.

 

Outdoor Photography Magazine April Edition Interview

The latest April 2018 issue of Outdoor Photography Magazine features a new interview ‘Five minutes with Joshua Holko‘ about my Arctic Fox project in the north of Iceland and the subsequent book on the project Melrakki. There is also an extended Behind the scenes look on Outdoor Photography’s website. The limited edition hard cover of Melrakki has been long sold out, but it is available as an open edition soft cover HERE. If you enjoy the interview be sure to subscribe to the magazine.