Eclipse 2017

My wife and I took in the eclipse in Willamina, Oregon. I had intended on shooting from Victoria but we decided to take the trip at the last minute after hearing and reading the experiences of others who’d been under a total eclipse. Early on the morning of the eclipse, due to predicted overcast, we decided to get out of the coastal village of Otter Rock, OR where we were staying. We drove inland to Willamina, where the forecast was for clear skies.

At 7:20 we found a field with a few cars parked along the road. We pulled in to check the prospects and it looked to be a terrific location. At 8:00am, I set up my gear and Trina and I took our spots among a growing crowd, all patiently waiting for the show to begin.

Canon 5D IV, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 L II, 2x teleconverter, DIY solar filer using Baader AstroSolar OD 5.0

Right on cue, the moon started to nibble into the sun. I started shooting every couple of minutes, bracketing exposures. It was fascinating to see the slow envelopment through 800mm optics. About half way through, we realized the temperature had dropped several degrees and the light level had fallen. I’ve never seen light like it. The shadows were still crisp, as on any sunny day but the light level was lower than on a cloudy day. It was most similar to the light of a full moon but brighter. As totality drew close, I prepared to quickly switch settings and pull of the filter. I had set partial eclipse settings to the custom 1 spot on my camera’s mode dial and totality settings to custom 2. At the last sliver, I pulled the filter off and set the dial to C2. I started shooting seven frame brackets just in time for the diamond ring effect and kept firing away all the through totality and the reappearance of the diamond. I then put the filter back on, changed back to C1 and shot the reappearing partial phases.

Seeing totality was absolutely awe inspiring for both Trina and me. I found myself a bit shaky as the sun disappeared and the temperature and light levels dropped to their lowest levels. I was glad to be shooting with a cable release because my unsteady hands at the time would certainly have ruined my shots. It was a much more emotional experience than I was prepared for, in a good way. I imagine it’s a bit like looking back at earth from space - you know what it looks like but you’re seeing it for the first time with your own eyes.

Totality is such an amazing sight but more than that, it’s incredible to experience it with people. I was focused on shooting but I could hear peoples’ reactions around me and could tell they were equally awestruck. It’s easy to see why people become eclipse chasers after experiencing one.

A huge thank you to Stanley, whose land approximately 30 of us invaded uninvited. As we waited to set up, I wondered who owned the land we were about to enter and whether we’d be welcomed or banished. Stanley showed up on his ATV just as the moon started to make its appearance and I think everyone held their breath. I walked over to introduce myself and gauge his reaction. He was simply glad that everyone was able to enjoy the event and asked that people be careful about fire hazards in the dry conditions. Everyone cheered. Print’s in the mail, Stanley!

MEC Scully 50 Liter Dry Bag Review

Long house and mortuary poles at Skungwaii

My wife and I signed on to a four day Zodiac tour of remote parts of Haida Gwaii. Recalling a whale watching tour some years back and how thoroughly soaked my camera gear and I were as soon as the boat hit big water, my choices were to find a dry bag or leave my camera gear at home.

My gear fits into an airport regulation sized backpack. It’s easy to find top loading dry bags that will fit my pack but they’re a pain to use. They’re huge and you need to stand up to take the camera bag out of the dry bag and to wrestle it back in. The process becomes more difficult still when the outside of the dry bag is wet. If I chose a top loading bag, I knew that my camera was much less likely to see the light of day because of the hassle. I wanted something that I might be able to work out of on the boat if needed.

I checked out the Mountain Equipment Co-op website to see what was available there and I was quite certain that I’d found the holy grail of dry bags for my purpose. I gathered up my pack and headed downtown to the MEC to check it out.

The Scully 50 Duffle is a 50 liter dry bag that checked all of my boxes. It retails for $129.00 Canadian. Being a duffle, my camera bag sits nested inside on its back and ready to open. With my camera bag inside, there was a bit of room around it for miscelaneous items. Unlike many water resistant bags, the Scully is fully waterproof with a rolling inner liner although it is not considered submersible. I suspect gear inside would survive a short dump in the drink however. The bag has a bunch of attachment points and back pack straps that hide away when they’re not needed.

In use, the Scully did its main job perfectly. We went through 9 foot swells and were blasted with gallons of water. The underside of the main flap didn’t get wet through the zipper, let alone my gear beneath the rolled liner. I found getting my camera bag in and out of the Scully easy to manage, although my plan to rest the duffle on my lap in the boat didn’t work out due to the seating arrangements. The bag is seemingly made of very tough materials and stood up to the trip without incident. I opted, after putting my camera bag inside the Scully, to push the air out of the purge valve so that the bag was easier to handle on the boat. I found a couple of times that I’d forgotten to re-seal the valve, which of course defeats the purpose of a dry bag. It took a few times but I did make a habit of closing the valve.

The Scully also comes in 30 and 100 liter versions.

The controversial Canon 5D IV, why it works for me

Canon 5D IV with 16-35 f4 L IS

Context Matters

When I upgraded to a 5D ii from a 40D some years ago, it felt like a quantum leap in capability. Moving to the 5D IV from the Mark 2 feels like an even bigger jump.

After getting to know a camera, its strengths and shortcomings become apparent but those are relative to each individual to a large degree. What I think are strong points in a camera body might not matter the least bit to someone. For instance, if someone is a JPG shooter, the camera’s ability to render them might be a leading factor in their judgement of that body. I shoot RAW only so that is of little consequence for me. Similarly, I am not a video shooter, so one of the main sets of (justified) criticisms over the mark IV is irrelevant to me.

There were three main areas that drove my desire to upgrade from the 5Dii and my decision to not move to a 6D, 5Diii or 5DS/R and instead wait for the 5D IV, hoping that it would meet my needs. I was looking for better image quality, improved auto-focus capability and features that would make using the camera easier with my poor eyesight.

I shoot a variety of subjects - travel, portraiture, dogs, product, landscape, etc. - and I wanted a camera that would complement all of these. I did get that in the 5D IV. 

The camera solves an image quality barrier that I could not get past with the 5Dii. Where noise exists in the files of the 5Dii, patterning generally occurs. If the noise is not too prevalent, the files are of course usable. However, in darker parts of a photo at high ISO or even with long exposures at low ISO, the quality of the noise made so many files unusable. Some people may have the photoshop skills and patience to combine a bunch of files to eliminate the noise but that’s not my scene. I’m all about the instant gratification or as close as I can to it in terms of post processing. The 5D IV has fixed this problem for me. There is a bit less noise at equivalent ISOs and because there are 8 more megapickels to play with, the noise is finer in grain but, most importantly, the patterning is largely gone in all but the most extreme cases.  I recently printed a picture shot at ISO 3200 of my dog at 20x30” and it looks great. It had a bit of noise but it cleaned up easily. Lightroom does a beautiful job of lessening the noise in the 5D IV files without making them look plasticy.

Wookiee shot at iso 3200. Printed beautifully at 20x30”

Pseudo lighthouse in Orlando, underexposed for highlights and shadows pushed two stops

If You Could See What I See

I’d always struggled with the auto-focus on the 5Dii. I am unable to see whether focus has been achieved through the viewfinder and am most often unable to see the focus confirmation light, except under the best of circumstances. My crude focusing method was generally to try and place the center focus point over my subject, recompose and hope for the best. If I have the luxury of time and am on a tripod, I would sometimes use the 10x loupe in live view. From my point of view, servo focus in my previous Canons has not even been an option, as the focus points are too widely spread apart. I can not see well enough in the viewfinder to start focus, track a moving subject and keep points on the subject. Consequently, I never used servo mode on my 5Dii. Again, the 5D IV has changed this. Although I still can’t see the AF points in the viewfinder (rant below), as long as I can get AF started, the excellent 61 point AF servo seems to take care of the rest quite well. I still have a lot of practicing to do but servo is for the first time a realistic option for me.

Wookiee on the trot. Servo AF latched on easily

Lastly, and a big part of this is down to the two AF systems, the 5D IV has made my life easier with regard doing photography with poor vision. I described how AI Servo on the 5D IV is opening doors for me but the 61 point AF scheme in general is very useful. I am able to use the single point expanded options in many circumstances to give me a bit of an assist in case I miss place my AF point by a bit on my subject. The dual pixel AF in live view is incredibly good and very accurate. I’m still working on using it to fuller effect. In general, there are simply many more focusing tools available to me. The hardest part is really deciding which option to use when but this will come with experience.

The 5D IV can be set up so there are two review buttons: one to move to
the usual full screen review and the magnifying glass button that will
open the review at full magnification centered on the AF point or points used. As long as I am not focus recomposing, this a great shortcut to quickly check focus and move on. 

There has been quite a bit of whinging on the lack of a variable angle LCD on the 5D IV. I
can understand how this is a very useful feature for those with normal
eyesight but I have to get within about 6” to see my screen so the arms
length shooting that people do with the variable angle screens is not an option for me. Again, context, I am much better off tethering wirelessly to my phone. I have already used it to shoot a self-portrait at f2, something I would not have bothered to attempt with the 5Dii.

Self portrait shot at f2 using iphone to focus and trigger exposure remotely

Leading up to purchasing the 5D IV, the option to switch systems was never off the table and using a camera with an electronic view finder is very appealing to me because of my eyesight. However, as far as I know, only Canon and Nikon offer viewfinder diopter correction lenses. I need to shoot without my glasses and need to be able to dial that -6 correction from my glasses back in to the viewfinder. Most systems only dial down to -3 correction. Canon has viewfinder lens attachments that get me the rest of the way to -6. Unfortunately, this was a deal breaker for me when considering Fuji and Sony. As far as I could find, neither company offers this option.

The auto-ISO settings are another game changer for me with regard to
working with low vision. On my 5Dii, working in aperture priority, I
would have to manually adjust my ISO to give a suitable shutter speed by taking a few shots and reviewing the settings on the LCD because I can not see the speed I’m getting in the view finder. As soon as my subject moved into different light, I would need to do this again. The 5D IV allows me to specify that the camera look at the focal length and choose a shutter speed based from that. Furthermore, auto ISO can combine with manual mode so both a shutter speed and aperture can be set. Exposure compensation can be called upon to change brightness with this combination.

All Those Small Things Too

The headline features of the 5D IV got a lot of play in reviews of the camera but all of the little improvements over the 5D II add up to a lot of usability. Here are some of my favorites.

- Two separate buttons for back button AF (after some setup), one for single point and one for ai servo, or any other way you’d care to configure two different AF schemes. I am now able to move my thumb over one button from my usual single point AF back button position and work with the all points AF servo option. No holding a button and twisting a dial to switch modes, it’s just always there when I need it.

- Lens calibration in the 5D IV now allows for separate adjustments at the wide and tele ends of lenses.

- Dual card slots - so nice to have that backup.

- Viewfinder
level - again, it can be hard for me to actually see it but when I can,
it’s really quite useful and accurate. Of course, it’s also there in live view when I can’t see it in the view finder.

- Shutter noise - wow, this thing is so quiet compared to my 5D II! It’s also a lot smoother in the hand, reducing camera shake a bit.

- Customizable Q menu - especially with the touchscreen enabled, it’s very useful to bring in all of the settings you want to access on screen and axe those you don’t.

- Interval timer - I’ve yet to use it but am looking forward to doing so.

- Exposure simulation during live view - it’s very useful to get a bit of a sense how the picture might look before pushing the shutter, especially doing using long exposures.

- RAW image processing - this combines nicely with the wifi picture transfer. Now I have the option of doing a basic processing job in camera and transferring a jpg to my phone for posting on social media.

- Customizable rating button - I have mine set to give me either no stars, 1 star or 5 stars. The stars are there in Lightroom when my pictures are downloaded.

- Up to 5 stops exposure compensation - in certain backlit situations, the 2 stops in the 5DII just wasn’t enough.      

There are several others but those are the more prevalent ones for my situation.

Under The “Why Did Canon Do that?!” Heading

Pros far and wide complained when the 1 series lost focus points that light
before AF. Without this capability, it can be very difficult to see the
black auto-focus points in many lighting conditions. Simply put, if you can’t see to place your initial focus point, how does Canon
expect that we’re going have properly focused shots, regardless of how
well the AF system itself performs. With the IDX II, Canon restored this
feature to the flagship series and, in fact, improved up it by allowing
control over the brightness level of the focus points. The 5 series has
never had this feature so when I read that the 5D IV borrowed nearly
the exact same focusing system from
the 1DX II, I nearly jumped out of my seat thinking I might, for the
first time, be able to find my focus points reliably. No such luck. Back
to hoping for the best.

Maybe there are technical reasons for
this omission but if this was simply hobbling to differentiate the 5D
from the 1 series, I have to ask why this feature. Why not leave out GPS
or WiFi, or both? It makes no sense to put such a wonderful AF system
in the camera and then make it practically useless in many conditions.

The only saving grace is dual pixel AF - this works great for me when called upon. But I REALLY wish I could see those view finder AF points…

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