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|| News Item: Posted 2005-01-31

The Converted: Register-Guard Goes Digital
'Holy crap, what's Image Rescue???'

By Brian Davies, The Register-Guard

Photo by Brian Davies / The Register-Guard

Photo by Brian Davies / The Register-Guard

An young owl is released back into the wild, one of photographer Brian Davies' first non-film assignments with the new Canon 1D Mark II cameras.
(Editor's Note: One of the last hold outs to convert to digital cameras, the Eugene Register-Guard earlier this month ditched Tri-X for compact flash cards. Known for their award-winning photographs, this was a significant event and we asked for the staff's thoughts, fears and impressions in their first weeks of "doing digital".)

On a recent January night, I found myself out in the woods after dusk, waiting for a rehabilitated great horned owl to be released back into the wild. Just another day as a staff photographer at the Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon. It's cold, almost too dark to to see much less focus, and I have a brand-spanking new pair of...gulp...Canon Mark II digital cameras hanging around my neck!

8.2 mega-pixels of sheer terror!

I am 13 years into my career as a photojournalist and a guy can get used to doing things a certain way. I was dragged kicking and screaming out of the darkroom in 1994. I thought auto-focus was of the devil. And my way has always been the film way.

Until last week that is, when my employer spent a bizillion dollars outfitting its six photographers with the latest Canon digital Mark II cameras, lenses, strobes, infrared strobe-triggering devices, light stands, CF cards, batteries and a menagerie of 21st century digital photo software and archiving gear.

Holy crap, what's Image Rescue???

But back to the owl.

I thought this would be a good "real world" test of what this camera could do. "Real world" means an assignment where a whole bunch of unforeseen things could go horribly wrong with no "do-overs". Actually, I knew the camera could perform; it was the photographer I was worried about. Oh sure, I got pretty good at home shooting pictures of my tortured wife and son, multi-strobing the dogs and freaking out visitors. But could I use this camera under pressure?"

I thought of my colleague and deskmate, Wayne Eastburn. Wayne started shooting at the Register-Guard in the 1950's photographing basketball with a twin-lens reflex camera. Nothing could be harder than THAT!! He is a walking example of Darwinian photo-adaptability. And HE was now using the Mark II.

Photo by Brian Davies / The Register-Guard

Photo by Brian Davies / The Register-Guard

Register-Guard staffer Wayne Eastburn, who once photographed some obscure English garage band called The Beatles in the mid-1960's, samples the Mark II and a 24-70/2.8 in the newsroom.
Feigning utter confidence, I quickly set up a pair of shiny new 580EX strobes, and synchronized them to the wireless ST-E2 (sounds like a robot from STAR WARS) infrared trigger. I chose an ISO, picked an aperture, shot a test frame and both flashes went off. Whew!

Crisis averted so far.

Just in time too because out comes the handler with the owl and the bird is showing some signs of impatience. I'd have to trust autofocus to find him in the darkness thanks both to my aging eyes and a deeply ingrained inability to focus the "Canon" way no matter how hard I concentrate. Clearly the owl was in no mood to stick around to see what I was planning to do to him with all that gear -- he immediately bolted into the night.

I got one frame. Uno.

And let the record show that when I chimped that solitary frame, the frame upon which the whole dang assignment depended, a frame meticulously choreographed by a photographer rendered mentally paralyzed by digital technophobia, let the record show in the annals of embedded EXIF data that the white balance setting was on...fluorescent!!


Back at the office, the image cleaned up nicely though. In short, everything about the Mark II is phenomenal in that way. It's a camera that exceeds expectations. The files are fairly forgiving of slight variances in exposure (or just plain stupidity) and are just beautiful, especially in low light.

The conversion to digital has given us all a creative spark, what with the instant feedback and the ability to do some things in low light that we couldn't do before. We couldn't be more excited about the potential of this new technology.

I just hope I never need this Image Rescue.

(Brian Davies is a staff photographer with the Eugene Register-Guard. You can check out his work at his member page:

Related Links:
Brian Davies' member page

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