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|| News Item: Posted 2010-02-21

The Olympics: A True Test for the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV
Al Bello of Getty Images is putting Canon's new flagship camera through it's paces in Vancouver and shares his honest opinion.

By Brad Mangin,

Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images

Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with 300mm lens: Daniela Merighetti of Italy competes during the Alpine Skiing Ladies Downhill on day 6 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Whistler Creekside on February 17, 2010 in Whistler, Canada.
It's warm and comfortable in my living room, and as I watch the Winter Olympic Games on TV, I can't help but think about all the photographers working in extremely cold conditions. As a California native, I don't think I could stand out in the cold and rain and snow for weeks at a time.

As a photo geek, I pay attention to the photographers shooting in the background, and then I'll often try to follow up hours later to see how they did - looking for their images online.

Al Bello is one photographer in particular that I've been following. Bello is Getty Images Chief Photographer for North America and a member. This year's Winter Games in Vancouver mark the 8th time he has photographed the Olympics, shooting every one of the Olympic Games since Atlanta in 1996.

I know Al personally, so I gave him a call just to check in, see how he was doing, and to find out of he has anything fun or interesting to share. It didn't take long for the conversation to turn to the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, Canon's latest professional DSLR.

I actually got my hands on this camera - briefly - a few months ago, and I wrote a blog story about it ( I was pleased with it, and felt it solved the problems found in the Canon EOS-1D Mark III.

Shortly after my blog post, Rob Galbraith posted a review that was a lot different than mine. He was not pleased with it (

Al is a really honest person, so I was looking forward to hearing his impression of the camera. He has been using it at the Olympics, putting it to work in extreme conditions, and was familiar with the older version of the camera as well.

"The camera is basically the same as the Mark III only it's sharp this time," said Bello. "It has a bigger file size with a larger buffer. The mechanics of the camera are really the same as the Mark III- that was never the problem with the older camera. I always loved the functionality of the Mark III, the buttons, etc., were fine - it was the focusing just was atrocious and unusable. I went through five sets of cameras trying to get one that worked."

With caution, Bello told me that he took some pre-production test Mark IV cameras with him to Beaver Creek in December of 2009 to shoot skiing.

Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images

Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with 300mm lens: Michael Klingler and Thomas Duerr of Liechtenstein slide out of control down the course during the men's bobsleigh two-man heat two on day 9 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
"I shot under all kinds of different light and weather in Beaver Creek with the new cameras," he said. "This was a big test. I gotta say I was pleasantly surprised. The pictures were sharp!"

Bello is shooting with production models of the Mark IV in Vancouver and the results have been mostly positive for him.

"I have learned what to do and what not to do with the camera," he said. "I sat down with the guys at Canon and took their suggestions for how to use the focusing points and tested them at a football game. They wanted to sell me on the 45 point focusing system. For sports photography I do not think this is the best way to shoot - it is not fast enough. What I have done is use single dot focusing point with no helpers and no side-by-side assist, etc. I fluctuate between 19 points and outer 9. The autofocus has been very strong. I can’t say 10 out of 10 in a sequence will be sharp, but when a picture is sharp it is razor sharp. This has been the biggest joy, surprise and relief for me with this camera."

Bello has also been testing Canon’s new 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens in Vancouver and, so far, likes what he has seen.

Like many photographers (myself included) all over the world Bello had problems with the Canon Mark III.

"During my frustration a year ago I tested the Nikon D3 cameras because I was suffering," he said. "They have a great system - but I think the AF in the Mark IV is faster than the Nikon. The first frame is faster and the delay is less. The color, especially in the reds and blues stands out with the Canon Mark IV more than the Nikon. I like the color that the new Canon can punch out. I tend to be a pessimistic guy, especially after the fiasco with the Mark III. I didn’t expect anything out of the Mark IV."

"Overall The Mark IV is a good camera. I am pleasantly surprised that everything is working well. No matter what anyone does with a new camera there will always be people who do not like things about it. I wish we had the perfect camera. When it comes to color and autofocus speed Canon has the advantage, Bello said.

"A lot of photographers are going be gun shy about getting the new camera. It is no picnic spending $5,000 on a camera. Slowly the results are coming out. I think it is worth the investment," Bello said.

Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images

Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with wide angle lens: Nicholas Alexander of the United States soars on the Large Hill on day 9 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at Ski Jumping Stadium on February 20, 2010 in Whistler, Canada.
But, Bello said that not everything is perfect with the Mark IV.

"The disappointment of the Mark IV is the high ISO is still not as good as Nikon once you go past 3200 ISO," he said. "I have had experiences with the Mark IV that are just not as good as Nikon. With the Mark IV the noise shows up once you pass 3200, especially with wider lenses. Nikon ISO is superior past 3200."

Bello said that he has a need for a Canon-made full-frame professional sports camera. Because he shoots hockey and swimming, he needs a full-frame camera to put into a goal-cam in a hockey net and at the bottom of a pool for swimming races so he can get more of the lanes in the picture.

"This is a big deal for me," he said. "The lack of a Canon full-frame camera is forcing me to use a Nikon system for my goal cam and the underwater housing for my swimming remote. The Canon 5D Mark II (full-frame) is not a fast enough camera for what I need. I still do not know why they can’t do this for us. I want to use the Canon for this - but I can’t."

Bello is shooting in Vancouver with a team of over 50 people working for Getty Images.

"I am extremely grateful and lucky to work with such a talented staff of photographers," he said. "Working for Getty Images is fantastic. They give me opportunities that many people don’t get. I have my dream job and am happy to have this opportunity. We have all known each other for a really long time it makes it fun to work together."

In addition to spending so much time with his co-workers at Getty Images, Bello loves seeing old friends from around the world at big events like the Olympics.

"It’s great," he said. "I have made friends from all over the world from this job. It’s been a good ride for me. I work my ass off. We all do. Every day is a new day. It doesn’t matter if the weather is crappy our or sunny."

Photo by Donald Miralle

Photo by Donald Miralle

Al Bello of Getty Images sets up a remote camera under the ski jump on day 9 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at Ski Jumping Stadium on February 20, 2010 in Whistler, Canada.
"Having a chance to take pictures is what the Olympics are all about. I prefer to be outdoors, so where I am shooting right now in the mountains at Whistler is great for me. My role here in whistler is to be here the entire time and go from venue to venue helping everyone out. I am assigned to the mountain. There are other Getty photographers who are responsible for their venues. This is the first time I have had this assignment and I am really enjoying it. Each day is a new day to take pictures at a different event."

One of Bello’s highlights so far in Vancouver has been photographing USA skier Lindsey Vonn winning the Gold Medal in the Alpine Skiing Ladies Downhill.

"I was able to ski to my position to photograph the Ladies Downhill," he said. "My position was for a solid action shot. In order to shoot the event I had to get a shovel from an assistant and dig a hill to boost myself up so I could see over a fence. I had to build this 6-foot hill out of snow. I made a ledge that I was able to prop myself up on to shoot over the fence. You never know what you are going to see at an event like this. Besides shooting the action of Vonn from this spot I got a really good silhouette picture of Daniela Merighetti (see top of this page)."

Bello has already had some satisfying shooting experiences in Vancouver, including being able to shoot from under the lip of the ski jump.

"It is fun every day," he said. "I am looking forward to getting up and going to work each morning."

(Al Bello is the Getty Images Chief Photographer for North America based in New York. You can see his member page here and his personal website here

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