November 6, 2011

An Informal Review of Canon Professional Cameras & Lenses

My good friend John Snell recently wrote me an email describing the Canon equipment he has used in his business as a nature & equine photographer in Lexington, Kentucky. It was so informative that I asked and received his permission to reproduce it here. Enjoy!

Canon Professional Equipment by John Snell

I have the 5D (full frame and approximately 13 megapixels [mp]), 5D Mark II (full frame and 21.1 mp) and the 7D (1.6 crop factor, 18 mp and 8 frames/second). I have owned the 1D Mark II (1.3 crop factor, 8.3 mp and 10 frames/second) and 1Ds Mark II (full frame, 16.7 mp).

I had no fault with the 1Ds. I have made prints up to 54" tall with amazing sharpness, and even the Red River Gorge book cover (Red River Gorge: The Eloquent Landscape by John Snell, Acclaim Press, 2006), which I shot at ISO 400, f/4 for 4 minutes 15 seconds, enlarged excellently with no noticeable noise.


The 1D Mark II was a good sports camera, but I never was able to enlarge any of my photos from it beyond 16x24 with sufficient sharpness. I used it primarily for my sports work, most often at Keeneland [horse racing track in Lexington, KY]. Occasionally, when I needed the extra 30% reach, I would use this camera. But I wonder if I should have used the 1Ds Mark II and cropped in. Probably I would have gotten a sharper image. And [even] with the 1.3 crop sensor of the 1D Mark II, I didn't see any noise
issues there.

The 5D is a great camera. At approximately 13 mp and full frame, it gave me a great backup for the 1Ds Mark II. In some ways, I felt it produced images that could be enlarged as much as those shot with its "big brother."

I loved the full frame cameras because they allowed me full range of the 17-40mm zoom lens. As you know, [natural rock] arch photography in the Red River Gorge requires up close shooting with wide lenses, so I could not sacrifice any of the wide reach of that lens when shooting there.

Princess Arch, Red River Gorge, KY

Now we come to the 5D Mark II. Exceptional! I often shoot it at 400 ISO without hesitation and rarely see noise at that ISO setting. About the largest print I've made from it to date is 40", but that's mostly because I don't want to spend the money to make "speculation prints" that are cumbersome to transport/exhibit and expensive to mount, mat, stretch and/or frame. I feel that whenever I need to shoot at even higher ISO settings, I can do so with the 5D Mark II.

I did get noise at 3200 ISO the other night in the Smokies. But the noise cleaned up pretty well with Imagenomic's Noiseware plug-in [for Photoshop]. The key to using the higher ISO settings is to absolutely not underexpose! You need to squeeze every bit of brightness possible out of those images without blowing out highlights. Histogram to the right. Histogram to the right....[Note: An exposure technique for raw format images that favors overexposing so the histogram is shifted to the right (brighter) but not so far as to clip highlight details. --- Editor]

The 7D is my current sports camera, and I also use it when I need the extra 60% reach. I'm not as prone to shoot it at ISO higher than 400 as I am the 5D Mk II, because it does show more noise. The Keeneland shot with the white horse was taken with my 70-200 f/2.8 lens at 70mm and ISO of 1000, I think. There is some noise. But the shot is well exposed, so the noise cleans up nicely.

White Horse at Keeneland Race Track, Lexington, KY by John Snell

I love the 60% more reach the 7D gives me. When added to my 300mm f/2.8 lens and 1.4x teleconverter, it gives me the equivalent of a whopping 672mm f/4 lens, which is not only great for sports photography, but landscapes as well. I'll often use my 70-200mm f/4 lens as a pseudo macro lens by putting it on the 7D. I don't know what the enlargement factor is...nowhere near 1:1...but it has allowed me to shoot some closeups of flowers and other small subjects without having to carry my 100mm macro lens along. I have made tack sharp 20x30 prints from the 7D, and am confident I can go even larger.

Magnolia blossom unopened by John Snell

None of these remarks are the result of scientific analysis on my part. They're just personal observations.

----John Snell, Lexington, KY