Photography and Art

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Canon 5D First Impressions

I've been lusting after a Canon 5D for a while, but the price tag is pretty extreme considering that you can buy a perfectly decent 20D or 30D (and now 40D) for half the price. I've been getting along quite nicely with a 20D for most of my work, supplemented by a Canon Elan film camera. Several things came together nicely to make it possible to buy the 5D at last: the Canadian dollar rose to match the US greenback, the 40D was announced, negatively impacting the 5D used market and I did a consulting gig that game me a little extra dough. As a result, I was able to find a nice 5D on and I've had the camera for a couple of days.

Unfortunately, there has been a nasty cold going around the office, so I wasn't able to get out and really put the camera to work. I've been relegated to using the camera in my wife's lovely garden, taking photos for my "fading beauty" project. In this project, I'm looking for the beauty in all things that age, whether it be flowers or people. I find that flowers in particular are far more interesting when they are past their prime and the flaws that were hidden when they were in perfect bloom are now starting to give character to each one.

So here are my first impressions of the 5D, from the point of view of someone who has owned a 10D and a 20D:

  • Physically, the camera is lovely. If you are used to the Canon high-end consumer cameras, you'll find that all the controls are exactly where you'd expect them. The camera is slightly heftier than a 20D, so if feels very solid and reliable in your hands, like holding a piece of solid metal.
  • The shutter is much quieter. It sounds more like my Canon Elan film camera than my 20D. The shutter noise of the 20D is one of my only dislikes about that camera. It sounds like a chiken clucking every time the shutter is pressed. I'm going to enjoy the sound of the 5D.
  • The viewfinder is a joy. After peering through the small viewfinders of the APS-C line, I'm delighted with the large, bright viewfinder of the 5D.
  • The display screen on the back is a little bit disappointing. Yes, it is large and bright, but when it is displaying the histogram along with the image, the image is teeny tiny. There is a lot of unused real estate for some reason.
  • The image quality is excellent, but it is early in the game to comment on this right now.
Even though I've been using the Canon Elan for quite a while and have done a lot of travelling with it, I've used it mostly for wide angle shots, taking advantage of the wider angle of view of the full frame camera. My every day camera has been the 20D, so there were very few times when the Elan was used for macro photography. As you can imagine, the fading beauty series demands a lot of medium distance macro work, where you're trying to fill the frame with a flower and its immediate environs. The 20D does this very well with my Canon 24-105mm lens. The closest focal point of the lens, combined with the effect of the small sensor manages to fill the frame with the image I'm looking for.

Imagine my surprise when I found one of the negative effects of converting to a full-size sensor. The 24-105 lens has a limited macro capability and I was already as close as I could go with the 20D. At the same distance, the 5D has a much wider angle of view, so the flower no longer filled the frame and the image included too much extraneous stuff. Clearly, I was going to have to find a better lens for this type of work.

Last Christmas, I asked my wife to buy me a set of Kenko extension tubes for macro work and I'd not really made much use of them. The combination of a 50mm lens with a 12mm extension tube was okay, but the 20D's crop factor just seemed to fill the image with too much of the subject. Enter the 5D and the combination now seems to work really well for photographing images of flowers. Happily, as one door closes, another opens up!

Here are some samples of my fading beauties taken with the 5D an the combination of a Canon 50mm lens with Kenko 12mm extension tube:

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