Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Canon 5D versus Canon 5D Mark II Noise Comparison at 1600 and 3200 ISO

4-5 months ago, I did a comparison of the noise in the images from my Canon 5D at 1600 and 3200 ISO against those from a Canon 5D Mark II, also at 1600 and 3200 ISO. I found the differences to be negligible.

As you can imagine, this annoyed some photographers (especially, I assume, those who had purchased a 5D Mark II) and they said my tests were flawed...especially, since my test images had some blur from camera shake. I actually thought that the camera shake might help to force people to look purely at image noise instead of image detail.

I've come to agree that loss of image detail is in fact related to image noise, because image noise can obliterate image detail.

So, I finally got a hold of the Canon 5D Mark II again and re-did the tests. I braced the camera on the back of a chair and used a Canon 50 f/1.4 lens at an aperture setting of f/2.8 (because I did the test in relatively low light--which is normally when one uses ISOs of 1600 and 3200). I did 100% magnification crops from both cameras at their highest resolutions in RAW image format. I used Canon Digital Photo Professional software to create the jpegs directly from the RAW files. (Note: the point of focus was right between the 3 strawberries at the top of the image for all images.)

Here are the test images:

Canon 5D, 1600 ISO, 100% magnification

Canon 5D Mark II, 1600 ISO, 100% magnification

Canon 5D, 3200 ISO, 100% magnification

Canon 5D Mark II, 3200 ISO, 100% magnification

Am I seeing any huge differences now? I wouldn't call them "huge", but I *am* seeing some noise improvements in the 5D Mark II images versus the 5D images. Are they enough to justify paying twice as much for a 5D Mark II versus a lightly used 5D? In my opinion, these differences alone would *not* justify paying so much more for the Mark II.

That said, if you really need to be able to shoot at 6400 ISO and maybe (occasionally) at 12,800 ISO, need the higher megapixel count of the Mark II (21 mp versus 12.8 mp for the 5D), and could really use the video recording capabilities of the Mark II, then the 5D Mark II may indeed be a worthwhile purchase.

I decided not to purchase the 5D Mark II in 2009 and I don't regret my decision. The 5D Mark II still has the antiquated 9-point AF system that the 5D and Canon's 1.6 crop factor DSLRs have and it's not really very usable above 6400 ISO.

Recently, however, Canon came out with the 7D, which finally goes beyond that 9-point AF system. And the announcement of the 1D Mark IV (due to start shipping in December) has created a *huge* temptation for me. ISOs up to 102,400 (seemingly quite usable up to 51,200 ISO) with the best auto-focusing system on any DSLR Canon builds.

Now, if I can just dig up the $5000 I need to purchase it...:p.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography.His main website is:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The New Canon 1D Mark IV: the end of flash photography (for those who hate it)?

I was just photographing a wedding over the weekend and, again, I was spending too much time "fighting" with proper exposures when using my on-camera and off-camera flashes (a 580EX II on the hotshoe and two 550EXs as slaves). The more time I spend trying to fix suboptimal flash performance, the less time I spend focusing on the actual wedding activities going on in front of me!

When I heard Canon's official announcement about the new 1D Mark IV coming this December today, I was intrigued. When I read that the high end of the ISO range was expanding past the upper limit of 6400 that was present on the Mark III to a whopping 102400, I was more than intrigued!

Now, it has been my experience that the highest ISO available on a Canon DSLR is seldom that usable--i.e., you only want to use it when you have no other option. Now this fluctuates a little, depending on the camera. I have generally found the maximum of 3200 ISO on the 5D to be pretty usable and the maximum of 6400 ISO on the 1D Mark III long as the image was properly exposed; if you underexposed it, forget it.

My experience with Canon's 1.6 crop factor DSLRs (i.e., the Digital Rebels and the 10-50D series) was that you really wanted to stay away from the top ISO if possible, *even if* properly exposed. And the 5D Mark II is very noisy at the top ISO (25600), and I'm not even sure I could call the second highest ISO on it (12800) all that usable either.

The other thing that pains me about the 5D Mark II is that it can't possibly focus without a flash or wireless transmitter attached to it in darkness requiring 12800 or 25600 ISO. Its 9 AF point autofocusing with one cross-hair point is very primitive and not good in low light; so, what's the use?

Well, if Canon has ever made a camera that can focus in low light without AF assist, it's been the 1D series; and according to the specs for the 1D Mark IV, that autofocusing has been improved. But the thing that gets me most excited is combining Canon's most advanced autofocusing camera with an upper ISO that is 4 stops higher than the 1D Mark III! This means those shots I could barely get of the wedding couple dancing on the dark dance floor at f/1.4 with the ISO cranked to 6400 and the shutter speed down to 1/30 sec, I would now (theoretically) be able to capture with a shutter speed of 1/500 sec instead!

Now, I don't want to be Pollyanna-ish. Until I see some image samples from the 1D Mark IV, I'm going to figure that the top ISO of 102400 and maybe the second highest ISO of 51200 aren't going to be very usable generally. That would leave me with the next highest ISO of 25600. 25600 is two stops faster than 6400. So, in my example, instead of using a quite low shutter speed of 1/30, I'd be able to increase it to 1/125 sec...*much* more reasonable for catching a wedding couple slow dancing on a dark dance floor.

Being able to crank the ISO up two stops will also make it easier to catch those wedding processions down the center aisle in dark churches (with high ceilings and walls that are too far away to bounce your flash off of) without creating "deer in the headlight" photos with your flash.

Another feature that I'm quite interested in is the Auto ISO setting that enables automatic 100-12800 ISO coverage. Now, I've been a bit frustrated with the Auto ISO on the 5D Mark II because you can't set a minimum shutter speed and in Auto ISO, the 5D Mark II will sometimes choose really low shutter speeds, like 1/15 or 1/20 sec if you're shooting in P or Av (aperture priority) mode. The 1D Mark IV, however, lets you set an acceptable shutter speed range in the custom settings, which should eliminate those unacceptably low shutter speeds.

Here are some sample high ISO images shot with a pre-production 1D Mark IV.

You can read more about the Canon 1D Mark IV at Canon's website. And you can pre-order it at B&H's website!

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Beyond Lens Envy

I've seen this pattern over and over...people get into photography as a new hobby, experience some initial successes, then start yearning for better and more expensive equipment in order to continue on a trajectory of better and better images.

I followed this route for a while myself. After borrowing and/or owning the best digital SLR equipment Canon makes, I experienced just how far the equipment could take me. I'll admit the equipment helps, but there's still a gap toward success that can only be filled by the photographer's skill and vision...and ultimately it's the skill and vision that yields the success.

If an equipment-related problem is blocking the ability to achieve a particular vision, then it may be quite appropriate and necessary to buy (or make) some equipment.

I get the impression, however, that photographers tend to resort to equipment purchases/upgrades as a default, rather than really thinking the problem through and coming up with a free solution that uses their existing equipment--for example, a change in technique.

Of course the photography equipment manufacturers and retailers--and top photographers enlisted by the photography equipment manufacturers--encourage this type of thinking! But if you're just a little clever and resourceful, you can loosen their grip on your photography-related purchasing.

You don't need the best or most expensive equipment to make great or successful photos. It's much more important that you really get to know the equipment you have and learn how to get the results you want using that equipment. *That* is what you need to know to become a truly successful photographer.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: