Tag: 5d

Why Usability is More Important than Image Quality To Me and Why I Wouldn’t Buy Nikon.


Lets get one thing really clear at the outset. This post is not a Canon verses Nikon post. I am a Canon user and this post will go some way to explaining why, but right from the beginning lets be clear, If image quality is the most important factor to you in camera choice right now, as a DSLR buyer then go right ahead and get yourself a Nikon D800. It is amazing. What you read in the reviews is right about the quality of the files it produces. Here, at last is a DSLR which produces files very (very) close to medium format quality. You will not be disappointed by the images you get from it as regards the way it handles colour, contrast or detail. You will be able to crop into images heavily and still be able to produce wonderful prints. It is a ‘game changer’.

Would I buy one? No.

Is that because I am biased? No.

Is that because I am heavily invested in Canon EOS lenses? No.

Is it because, in reality, I like blurry, soft, images and, in fact love analogue images more than digital? No.

Why then?

One word. Usability.

I work with workshop participants weekly. I work with every make of camera on the market they bring along. Every model. Without exception, Canon DSLR’s are the most user friendly cameras on the market today.

Let me give you some examples of issues I have with Nikon’s in particular which make them unusable FOR ME (but you might be fine with).

1. Exposure simulation in Live View. In both Canon and Nikon systems as you adjust the aperture or shutter speed while in Live View the monitor will get brighter or darker to simulate this for you, just as a helpful approximation, the affect of those changes on your image. Slow down the shutter speed and the screen gets brighter. Speed it up and it gets darker and so on. Except, and it baffles me as to why, but the Nikon designers decided tht this really useful feature should stop working when the shutter speed exceeds 2 seconds (6 seconds on some models). Yup, thats right. Do they think it is of no help to see what’s happening when light levels are so low that we need exposures longer than 2 seconds? What on earth possessed them to BUILD THIS IN? Canons on the other hand simulate the exposure right up to 30 seconds. Usability.

2. I would love a Nikon designer to explain to me why they decided you can’t see the light meter gauge superimposed on the Live View screen. You have to turn Live View OFF, and either put your eye to the eyepiece or switch on the “Quick Info” menu to see the Light Meter gauge. Baffling. Needless to say on the Canon it is viewable in Live View.(UPDATE: apparently, you can see some sort of light meter gauge by pressing the OK button in LV on some Nikon bodies, high end it seems, but not all. I will have to see exactly what this looks like next time I have a Nikon in my hands to assess)

3. Another completely unforgivable omission on a Nikon that I find unacceptable is that while you can focus in Live View mode, manually or automatically, you cannot use the depth of field preview button in Liew View to check you have focused on the correct point and have everything you require in sharp focus.  Whereas, of course, you can on the Canons, even the most basic models.(UPDATE; I have, since writing this, found out that on the D3 and D800 models depth of field is simulated constantly in Live View. This seems to me to be a great feature. The only thing I would say is, in using D3’s and D800’s, the graniness of the monitor compared to those used by Canons is so bad that I hadn’t noticed that this was, in fact the case. So although I applaud the ‘feature’ It would be good, now, to improve the sharpness of the monitors on these cameras to make the feature useable)

By the time I get to point three I find that a Nikon is so frustrating to use I just refuse to consider buying one, no matter how good the image quality is over a Canon. I know that at some point Canon will release a full frame body which will rival or exceed the D800 in image quality. In the meantime I also know the 5D mk2 and 3 still exceeds any requirements for image quality my customers have ever required already, so they are not poor cameras. I can wait. I am baffled by those who have sold their (in my opinion) superior L EOS lenses  and bodies to jump on the D800 bandwagon, seduced simply by image quality. 

They certainly do have amazing, stunning image quality. No doubt about that whatsoever. But I wonder how many are secretly fuming and regretting the move. Furious that they didn’t realise how poorly designed the Nikon’s are and how frustrating they are to use to to those who are used to the amazing usability and functionality of Canons EOS range? I wonder how many stand behind the D800 in low light in turmoil wondering if they have the depth of field they need? Remembering how easy it was to check on a Canon? Annoyed about yet again having to turn off Live View and turn on another screen just to make exposure adjustments, while reminiscing at how easy it was back in the day when they had a Canon? And more money in their bank account?

If you are a Nikon owner, please don’t get me wrong. They are superb cameras that will give you years of great service. If you have never owned a Canon you probably haven’t even noticed these issues and have no problems using your camera. My comments are aimed more at Nikon themselves or these design flaws and at Canon users, especially high end 1ds and 5d users who are being seduced away from Canon by the IQ of the D800. It is these I am urging to think again.

(UPDATE:Since writing this, I have have had others raise issues to do with Nikons being difficult to operate with gloves on, compared to Canons, issues to do with how complex and baffling their menu systems are, that in Live View the D800 drops to just 4 frames per second, the inexplicable AF/MF switch on Nikons etc, etc, etc. I am sure there are many more. For me the functions I have mentioned are just those that would affect the way I use a camera the most. All cameras have their foibles and I know Canons have some of their own too. I also wanted to add that if you don’t use a camera in the way I do, maybe the features I have discussed may have no impact on your choice of body manufacturer, which is fine. I just felt I had to flag up certain things about Nikons which most users do not become aware of until after they have spent a huge amount of money buying into a system of bodies and lenses and are pretty much tied into for the foreseeable future. I just wanted you to go in with your eyes open).

So if you are thinking of switching systems, think long and hard. Don’t just consider IQ. Think about usability and functionality. If you are thinking about buying a DSLR for the first time, think about the same things too. The decision you make now will tie you in to a system, potentially for many years to come. 

It’s not all about megapixels. It’s about usability, so that operating the camera becomes simple and invisible. Thus your mind is free to concentrate on what is really important. Composition. Timing. Light. Art. Not faffing about with a bit of kit that just frustrates you.

Canon 5d Mk 3 Woes and Why I Heard Music

Canon 5dMkIII

Drive by Shooting - Image Courtesy of ©John Birch 2013

Drive by Shooting - Image Courtesy of ©John Birch 2013

I have been using the 5d mk2 quite happily for a couple of years and had seen no reason to upgrade when he mk3 was released. I am not one who always has to have the very latest model of everything, unless there is a very good reason for it.Having a go with customers Mk3’s showed me it was better made, had a better screen and weather sealing and some nice refinements ergonomically such as the grip shape and position of the depth of field preview button. Nice though these things were, they weren’t a huge leap forward and so I contented myself with my faithful mk2’s.
That was until a customer, accomplished photographer Valda Bailey, came onto a workshop up in Northumberland in January. (You can view her work on her website, and you should (its really good) HERE ) She is a creative photographer and was experimenting with a feature buried in the menus which is not well known. Exposure blending. Some of you may know Chris Friels work and will have seen he has been using the same feature on portraits. Valda didn’t really show me what she was getting over the weekend until we had breakfast on the last morning when she bought her laptop into the cafe. She asked me to have “a quick look before I delete them”.
So I did.
What I saw made me stop eating my breakfast.
Very little stops me eating breakfast. Cafe on fire. War maybe. Little else. I was astounded. I thought I had got some nice images from the weekend as we had had wonderful light and atmospheric weather but on seeing hers I felt like formatting my cards. The images were astoundingly good. Hang on my wall good. I don’t think she believed me. But I don’t butter people up, I tell them honestly what I think, without being unkind – I believe in constructive comments, but these deserved unbridled praise. I wanted a mk3. I wanted one right there and then.
Then I broke my leg.
This had two effects. Firstly it meant I would be able to go to Focus on Imaging at the NEC, the biggest photography trade show in the UK, which I would have missed as I was due to lead a workshop on Skye, but the broken leg meant that was now possible. The show is the best place to buy gear at low prices generally speaking. The other, negative, effect was, although I could now go to the show (and be pushed around it in my wheelchair by my mates Carl & John) I was now unable to work and so cash was a real issue. Very frustrating. Until my card provider stepped in with 18 months interest free credit, so problem solved (well, problem delayed, lets not fool ourselves!)
And so it was I became the proud owner of a Canon 5d mk3, along with a free battery and 16gb compact flash card, plus £160 cash back from Canon. This bought the price down, effectively, to under £2k. A very good deal. Now at the show there were two companies offering the same deal. Calumet and Cameras Direct (if I remember rightly). However, Cameras Direct were also giving you a free copy of Adobe Lightroom 4 as well, worth around £100 at Amazons prices. So why did I buy from Calumet? Well, I have Lightroom 4. But I could have sold the free copy and made some cash. However, I knew of Calumets reputation. They are known for being suppliers to professionals. Solid. Dependable. They are known for good service, so I opted for them.
Boy am I glad I did.
On my first trip out with the camera (you can read John Birches blog post about he trip HERE – it’s a great read, and his blog is well worth following generally, well written and authoritative. He knows what he is talking about) I started to see an intermittent fault with the camera. You can see here some images which show the problem.
Shutter issue
Mirror Issue

Winter Wasteland - The shot I was after!

I think either the mirror was not lifting quickly enough or he shutter curtain was sticking, and thus shadowing on images. It would happen to a group of about three or four images and then wouldn’t occur for another hundred shots or more.
Straight away I tweeted to Calumet about the issue but to no response. It seems they don’t man Twitter at weekends (this might be something you need to address, Calumet, Twitter is 24 hours). Because I have about 1000 followers on Twitter (you can find me on Twitter as @dougchinnery), most who are photographers, this started to generate traffic as you can imagine with theories about the problem, possible solutions and so on.
On Monday morning I emailed the company with a description and images of the problem and a few minutes later, via Twitter, had a tweet asking me to call them. The phone was answered in two rings. This pleased me. A person answered. Still good. I explained the issue and without hesitation she said, “no problem, I will get FedEx to collect it today to bring it back for us to look at”. I was very impressed by the FedEx collection. Most companies tell us to pack it up, drive to the Post Office and send it back to them by Special Delivery at our cost and risk (about £20 to £25 for a camera). I was hoping she would say we will replace it, but accepted they would want to take a look first. A couple of minutes later (literally) I got an email from Laurence at Calumet. He had seen my email and images and said, “we will collect it today and send you a new replacement”. Result.
Then things got a bit surreal. Ten minutes after that who should knock at the door but the FedEx man. I hadn’t even boxed up the camera. When I opened the door I told him it felt like I was in a FedEx commercial (his uniform was well pressed and he was smiling and rather TV adverty-looking). All it needed was the sun to come out, birds to start singing and an orchestra to start playing and the cameras could roll.
In my rush to pack the camera for him I left the Calumet battery in (not the genuine Canon one) and my 16gb card in he camera. Doh!
I won’t bore you with all the details but Laurence at Calumet remained my single point of contact throughout. He replied to every email within two or three minutes. Everything he said he would do he did. He was superb. Whatever you are paying him, Calumet, it is not enough. They got a new camera to me in less than 48 hours. They even went to the trouble and cost of FedEx’ing my battery and CF card back to me. It was all done with courtesy and efficiency. It is, quite simply, the best service I have had from a photography related supplier ever.
Needless to say they now have me as a loyal customer. Yes, they may not always be the cheapest. But ask yourself when you buy that lens from a supplier in Hong Kong on eBay that has a fault. Will the hundred quid or so you saved seem like such a good deal when they ask you to post it back to Hong Kong? When Canon or Nikon in the UK won’t honour the guarantee because it is a grey import. (They will fix it, they just won’t do it under guarantee). It is rare these days for modern electronics to fail, but when they do, it’s a pain. I am so pleased I opted for Calumet and will be an evangeliser for them now. I don’t know how the other outfit would have handled my problem, but I can’t see how they could have done any better unless the MD had hand delivered it in his Bentley same day.
So, my message is. Consider using Calumet in future, especially for major items (they also do lens and body hire). Also, beware grey imports. They are cheaper for a reason. Often we get away with it, but it only takes one issue with a body or lens to wipe out the savings we have made on several items over the years in hassle and grief, if we ever do manage to get them to sort it.
I also love FedEx. And the driver really was like a bloke from an advert. It was a bit surreal. No orchestra though. Shame really. I would have liked to have heard music.

Winter tree

Tree in a Blizzard - Shot from the Car