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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2001-12-19

D - DAY!
Sports Shooter takes a look (again) at the new Canon 1D

By Vincent Laforet, The New York Times

Well - it's here!

No, not just the Canon EOS 1D ---- but the first digital camera that feels like, and often exceeds, a film body's performance.

For those who have been waiting on the sidelines, you need no longer make a compromise when switching to digital. In fact, unless you're shooting with an EOS1 V, you can expect a serious upgrade from any film or digital camera currently on the market.

This body gives you back your confidence as a photographer. You no longer need to hold down that motor and pray you have the moment as you do with other digital cameras and their horrid shutter lags.

The first time I picked up the camera - 3 frames shot off before I could remove my finger off of the shutter. It's been two years since I felt confident that once I pressed down on that shutter, I HAD the moment - and with this body's 8-frames- per-second, a few frames to choose from. In fact I find myself shooting a single frame at a time, or maybe two quick ones - like I used to with film bodies. The EOS 1D has less of a shutter lag than an EOS 1N film body.

The EOS 1D does have a few imperfections, but it is undoubtedly the best digital camera available to news and sports photographers today. While some magazine photographers may wish for a slightly larger file size - the 11.7 MB image is perfect for wire and newspaper photographers.

Photo by Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

Photo by Vincent Laforet/The New York Times
Canon made the right bet in my opinion - I don't think you would want to work with bigger files on deadline. The current file size is already putting my G4 500 MHZ laptop through quite a workout, and I'm now carrying a bunch of 512MB flash cards (as opposed to 160 MB cards,) my 20 GB hard drive is also filling up very quickly, and my transmission time has now doubled.

And if you look real carefully - there is very little difference between the EOS1-D files, and the 18MB D1X files. More on that later.

DESIGN:

The camera feels perfect in your hands. The buttons are in the right place, the viewfinder is crisper and brighter than many film bodies and you can manually focus again!

The LCD screen is also incredibly sharp and vivid. The weight is just right and well balanced.

There is one serious design flaw - the PCMCIA door is an incredible hassle to open. You can absolutely forget doing so with gloves on. It takes three steps to get the door open and the card ejected. I've already put gaffer's tape to help with the process. I would also have loved to have a second slot to put a second PCMCIA card in - as with the D2000s.

The meter and Auto White Balance features are impressively accurate. I've always had to meter everything manually and do a custom white balance - reminding me of my chrome days. But this is the first body that I've been able to set on full auto for news and features and the results have been consistently reliable.

Photo by Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

Photo by Vincent Laforet/The New York Times
I have to admit that I've become a tad lazy due to the D2000's 4-stop exposure latitude with the Kodak Tiff file format. Chrome shooters will make a quick transition to the 1D. But those not used to making careful exposures will find the need to rely on the Program mode for two reasons: the JPEG format does not allow you to correct for exposure mistakes of more than 1/2 a stop either way and this body does NOT react well to underexposure. This is one of the camera's biggest flaws: if you underexpose, you will see unacceptable noise levels - even at 200 ASA.

While the Auto White Balance feature is dead-on in most situations, you can still set custom white balances. Even more useful, you can set the camera to an exact light temperature in degrees Kelvin. I did this at a recent Knicks game and was able to decide how cool or warm I wanted the image - allowing for much more realistic results than using a white/grey card. You can also save two custom white balances in memory using the Canon software.

BUFFER:

Depending on the shooting mode (RAW vs. JPEG) and the ASA (Higher ASAs = fewer buffer frames) you will range from 14 to 21 frames. If you shoot at 800 ASA and on high JPEG quality - you'll get 21. And I've never come close to filling the buffer - not even at an NFL game.

Let's face it - unless you have a fresh 36-exposure roll in your camera - you're going to run out of film real quick if you fire off a 21-frame sequence! I've found that the camera is able to write frames to disk quickly enough to keep up with me in almost any situation.

You can also shoot in RAW mode, or RAW + Jpeg at the same time - but few will want to do this because you're writing over 8 MB per image. (You'll fill up an entire 512 MB disk with only 64 frames.)

You can set the JPEG compression level through the camera and customize the quality level with the Canon software included with the camera. I can't find a reason to shoot in RAW, unless you expect a sudden shift in your color balance or exposure level. I set it on Raw (TIFF mode) when making portraits, still life and long exposures - otherwise the JPEG files are beautiful.

Photo by Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

Photo by Vincent Laforet/The New York Times
There is a second reason to avoid shooting in RAW: the Canon software you need for processing the files is incredibly slow --- unacceptably slow on deadline. And you are forced to open the RAW files using Canon's software.

Until CameraBits' PhotoMechanic supports the file format - I'm going to avoid shooting RAW. Basically, unless you're a magazine photographer or need an image absolutely free of compression, I recommend not shooting in Raw mode.

DISKS:

While you can only shoot 64 Frames in RAW + Jpeg mode - you can easily fit close to 200 frames of high quality JPEGS on a 512 MB card. So sports photographers can probably do with 4 to 6 512 MB cards for a game.

I used three cards in one NFL game --- with a little chimping and deleting. I also recommend using the Microtech 512 MB card over the Lexar card. It took the Microtech card 16 seconds to write 26 high-quality Jpeg frames - while the Lexar 512 MB took 20 seconds to write 15 frames. The Microtech took 33 seconds to write 17 frames of both RAW + High Jpegs while the Lexar took 42 seconds to write the same number of frames.

Photo by Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

Photo by Vincent Laforet/The New York Times
I recommend that photographers on deadline use the Microtech firewire readers - you'll copy files twice as fast than you would with a PCMCIA card adapter in the internal laptop slot. I copied an entire 512MB card in 2 minutes and 11 seconds with the firewire reader - the same disk copied in over 5 minutes and 30 seconds using my G4's internal card slot. That's a lot of wasted time when you have to pump out a few pictures in between periods or between being attacked by angry mobs in Pakistan!

BANDING:

Well, here's the only noticeable problem with the 1D: Banding - or vertical lines of noise in your pictures.

While you have to zoom in to 100% in the 12 MB file --- the lines are there when you shoot over 400 ASA, usually in the blacks, and in solid colors.

The problem is with long lenses, we have a lot of solid black colors in our backgrounds! The banding is also slightly present at lower ASA - but is not apparent unless you underexpose the image.

And whatever you do: DON'T UNDEREXPOSE 1D IMAGES!

I hope newer firmware or a plug-in will solve the problem in the near future. Only the Nikon D1X produces a higher quality digital image. But I would pick the 1D over the D1X any day - the D1X has a smaller buffer, and still has that shutter-lag, and I don't find the AF to be anywhere as good as the1D's.

I handed the 1D to a colleague of mine who shoots with the Nikon D1 series of cameras and he told me that unless Nikon came out with something soon, he could see everyone going to Canon.

LOW LIGHT:

I never used to shoot above 640 ASA unless I really had to with the D2000s - but won't hesitate to shoot at 1600 ASA with this camera. The 1D produces remarkable images at 800 ASA - and it more than holds it's own at 1600 ASA.

I was able to shoot beautiful files at Da Pit, a.k.a. Madison Square Garden. The images looked better than anything I've ever seen shot there - at 1/500th 2.8, and slightly grainy at 1/640th 2.8. For those of you who have been fortunate enough to never set foot at MSG - we've been shooting at 1/320th on the D2000's and getting very dark files at 800 ASA. No longer!

You can also shoot in Low ASA mode (100 ASA) or high (3200 ASA), by setting a Custom Function. I shot series of 30-second exposures in the low setting and the results were amazing.

On a RAW file, the quality is drop dead gorgeous. Not a single hint of grain or noise whatsoever - not even in the blacks on a night exposure. There was none of the characteristic noise either following repeated long exposures - the CCDs used to overheat with the D2000s and produce so much noise making the files unusable. One warning: don't go past 1600 ASA - the noise is so prevalent at 3200 ASA that you can see it on the image preview. Unless Canon does something with the next version of the firmware, don't even think about shooting in the HIGH ASA mode.

CUSTOM FUNCTIONS:

Geeks beware! You have so many custom functions that you will need to carry around the manual with you, even if you're a tech head. You can save three sets of custom functions however - which is amazing. I have three sets for my cameras. The first two are for sports/news and are almost identical - one has my AI Servo very responsive, while the other is slower.

You would want a slower response for sports where things pop in and out of your frame all the time - so that your AF doesn't pop in an out of focus all the time. However I would pick a quick AI servo setting for indoor sports such as basketball - where I want the AF to be very, very responsive. The third set I have allows me to select the AF point in a circular pattern by using the back dial - wonderful for features or PhotoJ work.

You can also custom set three custom JPEG settings with the software as well as the in-camera sharpening. I haven't had a chance to play with the in camera sharpening all - but I would recommend you avoid it for now. The preliminary results I have gotten have not been favorable.

BATTERIES:

You'll also want to carry at least 3 batteries per camera. These cameras obviously drain a lot of power due to the quick motor and intense electronics.

You'll also want to charge and discharge the batteries a few times before you get them to their full capacity. One battery lasted less than half an hour and less than 60 frames on a cold ski slope but fared much better a few days later.

I went through two batteries at both an NBA and NFL game.

I would seriously recommend you look into getting an external battery if you're planning on shooting outdoor events at the Winter Olympics. One that I highly recommend is the new Digital Camera Battery that was recently written up on Rob Galbraith's site (it is currently available at http://www.digitalcamerabattery.com/ or at any major pro dealer).

In conclusion - should Canon find a solution to the banding problems - the EOS 1D will come close to being the perfect digital body for all deadline photographers.

(Vince Laforet is a frequent contributor to Sports Shooter. His day job is working as a staff photographer at The New York Times. You can contact him at laforet@mindspring.com. Check out his web site at: http://www.vincentlaforet.com.)

 


Related Links:
www.vincentlaforet.com
www.digitalcamerabattery.com

Related Email Addresses: 
Vince Laforet: laforet@mindspring.com

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