Choosing between full frame Canons…

The Canon EOS6D, EOS5D MkIII and the EOS1DX

The Canon EOS6D, EOS5D MkIII and the EOS1DX

A couple of years ago I wrote about how, as a working photographer, I make purchasing decisions. The formula is simple: assess the actual need against the purchase price and proceed accordingly. On that basis I own Canon full-frame digital SLRs (the cost of switching to another brand would be too high – even if I wanted to) and about ten Canon lenses. My last crop-frame DSLR was the EOS7D which was lovely to use but utterly useless to me above about 640 ISO and I shoot at 1000 to 2000 quite a bit these days. I’m always interested in new kit but rarely do I buy something just because I want it.

The chances are that all three of the cameras in the picture are nearing the end of their model lives. The rumours of an EOS5D MkIV and even an EOS1DX MkII (or whatever they choose to call it) are already swirling around the web and it cannot be long before the EOS6D gets an update either. That doesn’t make them bad cameras – far from it, they are all exceptional bits of kit.

I was asked the other day by a talented amateur photographer that I happened to be shooting a portrait of whether it was worth his while “going full-frame”. There’s never a right or wrong answer to questions like that: Are they rich enough to buy on a whim? Can they afford the new lenses that they might need? Will it improve their photography? All I can do is to say that I love the image quality that the larger area sensors undoubtedly give you in low light. Any of the three cameras above (and their Nikon equivalents) will happily operate at 3200 ISO which is about as far down the road to shooting in the dark as I tend to need to go and so I’m happy to work with any of them.

The EOS1DX is three times the price of the 6D without seeing much (if any) jump in image quality. Of course you get huge jumps in build quality, speed of operation and in the flexibility offered and it is those options and features that you need to assess to justify the extra cost. The weight and size differences are also considerable and in using and carrying them it becomes obvious after a few seconds that they are very different animals and that choosing which one to buy is all about ‘horses for courses’.

Sitting neatly between the 6D and the 1DX is the 5D MkIII. Small enough to be carried everywhere, built well enough for most jobs and with plenty of options too. The speed of operation is good without being blisteringly fast and the files that it produces are right up there with the very best. It is no surprise that the 5D MkIII is my favourite for the work that I do and has been for the last couple of years.

On top of all of that there is the ‘mis-matched camera syndrome’ that I and a lot of photographers suffer from. Put simply, working with two cameras as many of us do becomes a bit harder when the two cameras are not the same model. Not only are the controls and menus different when you are shooting but so are the memory card options and (most importantly) the batteries and chargers. It can be really infuriating if you are travelling and have to bring two or more different camera battery chargers as well as multiple types of memory cards. Luckily Canon only use Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) but that’s still more options than you might like.

If you are reading this Canon Inc (or Nikon for that matter) – can you do something about standardising chargers and maybe adopting charging and even file transfer over USB Type C as an option in your next releases? Standardising batteries across the range is probably a step too far but it might be a good idea if you can pull it off. How about making all cameras twin slot with CF and USB? How about making one of the CF slots on the 1DX replacement compatible with a quality CF to SD adapter? I’ve got lots of ideas and I’m available for consultancy (insert smiley icon here).

If your one of those disciplined souls who can ignore all new equipment rumours and announcements then you’ll have missed Canon’s upcoming EOS5DS and EOS5DSR – two 50+ Megapixel full-frame DSLRs which will have the pixel-peepers going nuts. The rest of us have looked at the specification and decided whether or not we are interested. I’m a ‘not-interested’ and will wait for the much-rumoured EOS5D MkIV to be announced later this year or early next. That doesn’t mean that I’ll just buy one – it means that I’ll think about it when I’ve actually seen one. The same goes for anything else that hits the market by the way.

Taste in monochrome

Ever since I shot my first roll of black and white film back when I was teenager I have been striving to master the art/science/alchemy of good monochrome. Many of my early photographic heroes were all brilliant in black and white and my own struggle with getting close to being good at it is a subject that I have blogged about before. Over the last two years I have become much better at it and I thought that I’d show a series of images here that demonstrate how I go from an original colour picture to a toned monochrome. I sometimes use Tonality for my conversions but this one was done in Photoshop CC.

Colour photo converted from a Fujifilm .raf file in Adobe Camera RAW

Colour photo converted from a Fujifilm .raf file in Adobe Camera RAW

Pensioners window shopping in the Brtish Heart Foundation furniture and electrical good store in Winton.

Straight ‘desaturate’ from the colour photo using Photoshop’s Shift Cmd U on a Mac (shift Ctrl U on a PC)

Contrast added using levels  in Photoshop.

Contrast added using levels in Photoshop.

New layer added and a tone applied across the image using the paint bucket tool at 12% before the levels were adjusted to re-introduce a black.

New layer added and a tone applied across the image using the paint bucket tool at 12% before the levels were adjusted to re-introduce a black.

Once you get the hang of it, this is a simple process which could be automated for batches. I prefer to do it by eye because the re-introduction of the blacks after the tone was added is something that benefits from subtlety and which changes from frame to frame.

I’m 99.9% sure that there are ‘better’ ways to do this but it appeals to my taste in monochrome for the web. It chimes with my taste in printing papers back in the days when we hand printed our portfolios on specialist papers with their own signature tones. Mine was Agfa Record Rapid which, when developed in the requisite chemistry, had a very pleasing warm tone.

I’m getting close to having a style that I like for this kind of work – my personal work – and I am looking forward to putting a better edited body of work together using this style or at least a development on it. In the meantime, there’s a large collection of assorted personal work on my Pixelrights gallery.

Reliance on the internet

As photographers we have got used to using a range of web-based technologies to deliver our work to our clients. Most of the time it works and nobody notices how amazing these technologies are. Over the years we have come to expect more and more in terms of bandwidth and speed and we have come to rely on getting good connections to easily accomplish what would have been regarded as time-sensitive alchemy only a few years ago.

On an overseas job last week the client wanted a lot of high resolution Jpegs delivered to them very quickly and their chosen method was WeTransfer. It’s a very good and reliable system in itself but it depends on a half decent internet connection. Sadly we didn’t get that connection and out of sheer frustration I did these screen grabs:

wetransfer

Yes that’s right: one million, two hundred and one thousand, seven hundred and thirty hours to complete a transfer that should have taken about half an hour on a half decent network. In case you are interested that is fifty thousand and seventy-two days or one hundred and thirty-seven years and sixty-five days. A bit slow. The second screen grab says less than a minute but that was also wildly inaccurate as no further data moved.

In the end I had to abandon the ethernet and wifi networks that the client had arranged for us to use and head outside where I could pick up a great 4G mobile signal by tethering to my iPhone and use my roaming package to send the pictures – which took about 44 minutes (by then I has 1.2Gb of pictures). The point here is that now we have come to reply on the internet for almost all of our image delivery it has become crucial that we have multiple ways of connecting to the internet.

Dusk at the National Theatre

Dusk approaching at the National Theatre on London's South Bank. ©Neil Turner, March 2015.

Dusk approaching at the National Theatre on London’s South Bank. ©Neil Turner, March 2015.

Interesting evening light plus some fabulously brutal architecture makes for some interesting photos. Whilst walking to meet up with a friend and colleague at the National Theatre yesterday evening I was drawn to this section of concrete staircase and shot a few frames in one of those “just because…” moments.

Fujifilm X100S 800 ISO 1/250th of a second at f8.

Twenty-five years ago today

©Neil Turner, 13th February 1990. Whitecross Street Market, London EC1.

©Neil Turner, 13th February 1990. Whitecross Street Market, London EC1.

Over the last few years I’ve posted a few pictures from my own filing cabinet when they have had some relevance or when there is a specific anniversary. This picture was taken twenty-five years ago today as I went for one of my regular wanders around bits of London that were near Metro – the 24 hour laboratory where we all got our E6 transparency film processed. It was about a mile and a half from our Hoxton office (before it was trendy) and it took about twenty minutes to walk there or five minutes to drive. Sometimes there would be other photographers around and we would adjourn to a local cafe for a cup of something and a sandwich and at other times I’d take myself off for a walk around one of the many fascinating side roads and markets that made up the Clerkenwell/Farringdon/Smithfield area and take a few personal and/or stock pictures whilst the film made its hour and three quarter journey through the system and the ‘soup’ at Metro.

On this particular day I went to Whitecross Street with a couple of cameras and a couple of rolls of Kodak Tri-X film. It is amazing what you remember when you start to think about a day and a place and my memory of this day is that I was half an hour into the walk when I bumped into another photographer (there were three or four agencies close by) and we had a coffee anyway!

The man in the photograph (who said his name was Frank but I’m not sure he was being 100% honest judging by the cheeky look in his eye) had been a stall holder at the market selling books and a few magazines for many years. Trade was brisk as the workers from the many offices on the edge of the City of London were having their lunch hours and I didn’t really finish my conversation with him.

Anyway, another ‘archive’ picture that brings back happy memories and brings a smile to my face. This was, quite literally, half of my lifetime ago and I still love the photograph.

Techie stuff: Nikon FM2 camera with a 135mm f2 Nikkor, Kodak Tri-x film.

Electronic viewfinders and me

©Neil Turner, February 2015. The cliff tops at Boscombe on a dull winter's day.

©Neil Turner, February 2015. The cliff tops at Boscombe on a dull winter’s day.

A few months ago a colleague whose work I know and love said that it took him a little while to get used to electronic viewfinders and now that he has been using them for a while he cannot remember why he had been so resistant to them in the first place. Resistant to electronic viewfinders? That summed up my attitude until a couple of weeks ago too. After carrying my beloved Fujifilm X20 around with me I decided that it was time to give an X100S a run out. The lack of a zoom lens and the small jump in size and weight is compensated for by a big increase in the higher ISO quality (which isn’t to be sniffed at during the winter time) and a few more megapixels (allowing a bit of judicious cropping here and there) and so for the last few weeks I have been shooting my personal work with the X100S. The idea hit me that now I had the option of using the electronic viewfinder (to be known as the EVF from here on in) instead of the optical viewfinder (known from here as the OVF) and that’s what I started to do.

For the first few days I was getting annoyed by the EVF to the extent that I had to have a few days off from it. During that time I shot some photographs that I really liked and I had to force myself back to using the EVF with something of a heavy heart. That was just over a week ago and I am now really pleased to announce that I have got the hang of shooting using an EVF. Welcome to the twenty-teens, welcome to the world of the EVF enthusiast and welcome to a wide world of possibilities I hear some of you saying. Not quite.

The current situation is that I am perfectly capable of shooting with an EVF and that I can see why some photographers have made the switch but not me. I still prefer the OVF to the extent that I don’t want to use the electronic version and to the extent that the kind of work that I have been doing with my Fujifilm cameras isn’t as fulfilling without the old-school optical set up. If I were tempted to buy a Fujifilm XE-2 or an XT-1 I’d have to forego one of the main pleasures that I derive from using kit that, despite some huge flaws, makes me want to go and just shoot pictures.

I’m not going to tell all of the EVF enthusiasts I know that they are wrong but I am now in a position where my choice to carry on using OVFs and DSLRs is made from knowledge and not from ignorance. There, I’ve said it.

Another photo worthy of an obituary

©Neil Turner/TSL. Carl Djerassi, June 1999, London.

©Neil Turner/TSL. Carl Djerassi, June 1999, London.

Carl Djerassi, the chemist widely considered the father of the birth control pill, has died aged 91. I photographed him back in 1999 sitting in what I thought was a very ‘egg-shaped’ chair in his London apartment. If you want to know more about him, The Guardian’s obituary is worth reading but my very clear memory of being there was that he was one of the calmest people that I had ever met. He was confident without being arrogant and his understanding of my job and the job of the reporter who went with me was absolute. He had, obviously, been interviewed and photographed hundreds of times before but I still believe it to be true that most people who have had that kind of media exposure still don’t ‘get it’ in the same way that he did.

It seems that almost every week now I see an obituary in the press of someone that I photographed earlier in my career and it has two distinct effects on me. The first is quite predictable – I feel that bit older each time it happens. The second effect is to make me realise how amazingly lucky I have been in meeting the people that I have met and having been able to make what I hope are portrait and feature images that will stand the test of time.

This particular photograph lived in my folio for many years. It was unusual for me to have shot quite such a reflective portrait at that time. I was busy trying to make a reputation for myself as ‘the guy’ who used strong lighting and strong compositions to compliment that lighting. Like most phases of a career, it passed. I can still shoot the strong pictures when the situation calls for it but this portrait is far closer to my current favoured style than almost anything that I shot in those early days of digital. When I look back at the more memorable images that I shot through the late 1990s – the period of transition from scanned negative film to 1.9 megapixel digital cameras – a lot of them have this kind of feel and that surprises me because my memory is of lighting everything in slightly over-the-top ways.

Technical stuff: Kodak DCS520 camera with a Canon 28-70 f2.8L lens. Ambient light, 1/160th of a second at f4 on 400 ISO.