Newsletter of E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer and www.EJPhoto.com
All contents ©2004 E.J. Peiker
(Vol 3 , Issue 1)
Two New Cameras
In the last half of 2004, Canon brought two new digital SLRs to the market - the EOS 20D and the EOS 1Ds Mark II. These two camera bodies have become the staple of my photography with the original EOS 1Ds serving as a backup. First to market was the EOS 20D which is an evolutionary change to the hugely successful EOS 10D. It retains the 1.6x crop factor of the 10D and its predecessor while increasing the pixel count to over 8 megapixels. Additional new features include nearly 5 frames per second, a much shorter shutter lag of about 60 milliseconds, a better auto-focus system that acquires and tracks better than its predecessors and adds two more AF sensors to form a diamond shaped sensor pattern. The body is somewhat smaller and lighter than the 10D which makes the camera feel odd in the hand at first but one quickly gets used to it and becomes appreciative of the smaller size The camera mount has been changed to accept the venerable EF line of lenses as well as the new digital only EF-S line of lenses. Probably the best change is the instantaneous start up from power off or sleep mode and its very fast image review times and image write times. Everything about this camera is significantly faster than its predecessor.
The 20D has become my bird/wildlife camera of choice with its combination of a 1.6x crop factor and speedy handling. I have found the image quality to be outstanding, surpassing the several EOS 1D Mark II's I have used in fine detail, especially in highlight regions. Independent lab tests have also shown color accuracy to surpass the 1D Mk II. Noise is impressive with ISO 400 just seeing the beginnings of very mild digital noise and ISO 100 and 200 being essentially noise free - in general about a one stop improvement in noise from the 10D. Battery life is outstanding - I have yet to exhaust a two battery set-up (by using the optional vertical grip and Canon BP 511A batteries) in a full day of shooting even in extremely cold temperatures. Like the 10D, there have been a few firmware gremlins that have been addressed by multiple firmware updates. There still is the Error 99 that occurs about once every 1000 shots or so for no apparent reason but in general, the camera so far has been a relatively reliable performer and is highly recommended. One improvement for the future should include yet another improvement in autofocus tracking of moving subjects - while the 20D is a good performer in this area, it still has a way to go before it can be called great
The flagship EOS 1Ds Mark II was released in November at a staggering street price of $8000. To date, this is the ultimate digital SLR. Impressive features include 16.7 mega pixels (!) in a 35mm full frame equivalent sensor so all lenses behave as they would on a 35mm camera, 4 frames per second, a dramatically improved auto focus system from the original 1Ds, the legendary rock solid chassis of the EOS 1 line with substantial weather sealing, a shutter rated for 200,000 activations and many many more features. All of the upgrades from the 1D Mark II, including ETTL-2 flash metering, parallel data paths to memory to move the data off of the sensor rapidly, and others have been included while providing better highlight detail than the 1D Mk. II.
My relationship with the 1Ds Mark II started off rather rocky - after being the first person on the nations second largest distributor of photography equipment allocation list, I was quite excited to have the camera the morning after Canon released them for shipment. Unfortunately my excitement was quickly squashed as the camera I received had a strong vertical banding problem. The distributor quickly remedied the situation and sent me a new camera despite it being on allocation with many fewer cameras available than there were customers to buy them. The second body arrived and has fully lived up to my expectations.
The question with such a tool immediately begs to be asked "Is it worth it?" Well, this is very objective but for the highly discriminating photographer with the means, it clearly is. There is no 35mm equivalent digital camera that even comes close. Resolution is substantially improved over the 1Ds. The original 1Ds is really a ISO 100 only camera if you don't want to deal with significant digital noise, the EOS 1Ds is still relatively "clean" at ISO 800. The autofocus issues of the 1Ds have been addressed and a recent firmware upgrade improves it even more making this a capable performer for high resolution action photography. The shutter lag is just a bit over 40 msec with a custom function enabled and the AF does a good job of tracking moving subjects. Picture quality in a word is stunning. The camera tests out at an unprecedented 9 stops of dynamic range, blowing everything except the oft delayed Fuji S3 out of the water. If there is a downside, it is that the camera outperforms the lenses that you can attach to it. Chromatic aberration in lenses is revealed by the 1Ds Mk II - "Canon, we need better wide angle lenses to use with this camera!"
The Best Ballhead ever made!
My search for a ballhead that I truly like has finally come to an end after many years of searching. I have tried the vast majority of the professional grade ballheads and all were lacking until now. The Really Right Stuff BH-55 is truly the first "perfect" photographic product I have ever used. There is absolutely nothing about it I would change. Starting with the precision machining to the smooth operation, and the absolute rock steady platform it provides, nothing else even comes close. The wait was long for this product, but it was worth it. If you get a chance to try one of these, you will immediately start counting your pennies to see how you can get a nearly $500 ballhead - an astronomical price but well worth it..
The head is low profile and is wide in stature. It accommodates several different type of Arca Swiss type release clamps. The tension knob is a very large knurled knob that makes it very easy to positively lock the ballhead in place. While many other ballheads will eventually flop no matter how tight you tighten the head (especially with heavier pro equipment), the BH-55 will not flop even with a 500mm lens attached directly to it. The tension preset knob is numbered so that you can easily set it up for different weight combinations, simply by memorizing what number is appropriate and this takes all of the guesswork out of tension settings. I opted for the lever clamp and this also has worked well. The fears of accidental release are unfounded and the design makes it difficult for this to occur even in the brush where things might get caught on the lever.
The bottom line is that there is no photographic product that I endorse more strongly than the BH-55! Check it out at www.reallyrightstuff.com/ballheads/index.html
My photo travel has slowed down somewhat in the second half of the year after the photo sabbatical I took this summer. My work at Intel Corp. forced me to cancel a number of trips but I still did get out towards the end of the year. Over the Thanksgiving weekend I paid my second visit of 2004 to Yosemite National Park and had much better weather than in the spring when it rained continuously. Fortunately my replacement EOS 1Ds Mark II arrived the evening before my flight to California and everything checked out OK so I took it as my primary body and it did not disappoint. I feel finally, after several tries, I have done Half Dome and many of the other landmarks justice.
In mid December, I joined a small group of Phoenix area photographers on a weekend trip to Northern Arizona and Southern Utah to photograph Lower Antelope Canyon, Lake Powel, and one of the most unique places I have been - The Wave in Southern Utah. The wave is a series of sandstone formations that has been sculpted by eons of water and wind. This area usually doesn't have water but much to our surprise, the week before's rain and snow formed many small lakes that offered nice reflections.
The end of December took me to Sandia Crest just east of Albuquerque where all three species of Rosy-Finch, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Steller's Jay, Pine Siskin, and Dark-eyed Junco were abundant. It was brutally cold with temperatures around 20 degrees and winds blowing between 20 and 40 MPH resulting in sub-zero wind chill factors.
DuckShop 2005 in Full Swing
Holidays and a fantastic 2005!!!
© 2004 - E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer.
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