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|| News Item: Posted 2005-11-30

Canon EOS-1D Mark II N User Report
By Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin / MLB Photos

Photo by Brad Mangin / MLB Photos

Shot with Canon EOS-1D Mark II N: Chicago White Sox batter Scott Podsednik is mobbed by his teammates after his game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series against the Houston Astros.
"Ninety percent of baseball is half mental." - Yogi Berra

You gotta hand it to the former New York Yankee great as his philosophies about our national pastime also hold true in the world of photography.

Sure, a camera is only a tool. It's the photographer who makes the picture. However, if you are having doubts about the inner workings of your professional digital camera and are constantly worried if your images are going to be sharp or not, you might not always be on top of your game and your photography might suffer.

I can safely say that while using the NEW EOS-1D Mark II N over the last several weeks any images that were not sharp were MY fault and I haven't had to tell my therapist about any head games that my camera was playing on me. I was able to enjoy my days and nights at the ballpark concentrating on the action, knowing that my camera was going to do its job. Thus, I was able to make a few pictures that I really liked. Yogi was right all along.

I am not alone in having many doubts about the quality of images that sometimes come out of my older Canon EOS-1D Mark II cameras. I have always enjoyed using the cameras for the most part, except for the occasional times when the images are mushy, back focused or just plain unusable. When this happens while you are on an important assignment and your one nice frame of the day of Adrian Beltre or Barry Bonds homering is ruined because their feet are sharp and their faces are a horrible blurry mess you are left doubting yourself and becoming very confused why your camera is playing tricks on you. I should know. I am speaking from some very real personal experiences here. Experiences that I wish I did not have to share. I know I am not alone.

With the release of the NEW Canon EOS-1D Mark II N I have a feeling most photographers, myself included, will not suffer from the mental games that are played with us when our cameras don't behave the way we think they should. Based on the NEW Canon EOS-1D Mark II N that I have had the pleasure of using for the last six weeks I would have to say that Canon has fixed whatever problems they had with the older Mark II, thus allowing me and other photographers to shoot ballgames with a clear head, knowing that if we do our job the camera will do it's job.

The older Mark II has always produced a beautiful file, noise-wise, etc. It was always the sharpness issues that were whispered about ever since the camera came out in the summer of 2004 that were troubling. Almost immediately upon the camera's release there were stories coming from the 2004 Olympic Summer Games in Athens about wire services trading in huge quantities of cameras that were not sharp.

When many of my friends and I had similar problems in August and September of 2004 with some of our cameras we knew these were not isolated cases. Even though I had one of my bodies in the shop a few times to fix this problem I never felt completely comfortable when I made a picture I liked at a game until I got home from the ballpark and was able to open the file in Photoshop and see for myself that the image was indeed sharp.

Photo by Brad Mangin / MLB Photos

Photo by Brad Mangin / MLB Photos

Shot with Canon EOS-1D Mark II N: Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski makes a late tag at Houston Astros base runner Chris Burke as Burke scores the tying run in the top of the ninth inning in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series.
Granted, many of us Canon users were spoiled with the sharp files we dealt with while using older Canon EOS-1D (and the EOS film cameras for that matter). It took us awhile to get used to the look of the Mark II files that were produced with the new CMOS chip. The cameras were shipped from the factory with no in-camera sharpening turned on, which meant that many of our pictures had a soft look that was supposed to be normal.

In sports photography we struggle every day to try and make meaningful, story telling images. Every once in awhile we stumble across a special image that we will keep in our portfolios for years to come. It is always sad to realize that your special image is not sharp. In sports photography our images MUST be sharp. I can't tell you how many times I have had an OK image published in a magazine only to have my good friend Chris Covatta tell me it wasn't sharp. Thanks Chris!

I am going on and on about this sharpness issue because it is very important AND because I am so excited that the NEW Canon EOS-1D Mark II N produces SHARP files. Of course, Canon will never publicly admit that there was a sharpness problem with the old Mark II. One change that Canon made with the new camera was having some in-camera sharpening turned on when the cameras were shipped from the factory. This small change is not what makes the cameras better than the predecessors, in my opinion.

Why would Canon come out with a minor upgrade like the NEW Canon EOS-1D Mark II N such a short time after the original version was released? My thinking was that they would never admit a mistake or a problem with the older Mark II. Camera manufacturers are like general managers in baseball.

Photo by Brad Mangin / MLB Photos

Photo by Brad Mangin / MLB Photos

Shot with Canon EOS-1D Mark II N: Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski jumps into the arms of closer Bobby Jenks as they celebrate the first World Series win for the Pale Hose since 1917 after the final out of Game 4 at Minute Maid Park.
You might get some good dirt from both of them off the record, but in public neither one of them will ever confirm a product rumor or a trade rumor. They just can't. There is too much at stake. Camera manufacturers have to protect their inventory, keep secrets away from their competition and deal with the parent company in Japan. Ball clubs have to play their cards close to the vest and keep personnel matters secret from competing teams.

I figured Canon had fixed whatever bugs were in the system of the old Mark II regarding sharpness problems, slapped a bigger screen on the back and called it a day.

I am not a conspiracy theory guy like my friend Alan Greth, but I had a feeling that once I got my hands on one of the new cameras that my pictures would instantly become sharper and the really cool HUGE LCD screen on the back of the camera would become my second favorite feature of the NEW Canon EOS-1D Mark II N.

I am not going to bore you with technical details that I can't understand or explain very well. You can find plenty of wonderful breakdowns of the camera, piece-by-piece, all over the Internet. I am simply going to tell you how this new camera performed at a few San Francisco 49er games and at the 2005 World Series in Chicago and Houston.

The quick story is the NEW Canon EOS-1D Mark II N performed brilliantly. While shooting the first three games of the World Series I was positioned in places that allowed me to use the one new body I had for over 95% of my pictures. I shot the first two games in Chicago outside third base using the new camera with a 400 2.8 for most all of my coverage and I shot Game 3 in Houston from the third base overhead platform with a 400 2.8 and a 1.4 converter on the new body.

I was able to completely focus (no pun intended) on the ballgames themselves without worrying if my images would be sharp enough. The big screen (50 percent larger than the older Mark II) completely kicked ass. I had so much fun chimping during the games that I now know that I have a serious problem that needs to be looked into- but that's another story for another day.

When Game 4 rolled around I was assigned to shoot from the great inside first spot at Minute Maid Park in Houston. This position requires a second body with a 70-200 2.8 on it to shoot the plate, thus I had to break out one of the older Mark II bodies. I immediately became gun-shy with this older body as I felt it was not doing as good of a job as the newer camera did as all the images I chimped appeared a little soft in comparison, especially with the zoom. I kept switching lenses back and forth between the cameras not wanting to make THE picture on the old body.

I am not saying that this would have been such a huge problem, but the bottom line is that there was enough doubt in the back of my already really screwed up mind to mess me up. This is never a good thing- especially at the World Series!

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Shot with Canon EOS-1D Mark II N: Indianapolis Colts WR Troy Walters, left, makes a catch that he converted into a touchdown as San Francisco 49ers CB Keith Lewis defends him during 4th quarter action at Monster Park in San Francisco.
I ended up shooting some OK pictures of the White Sox celebration that night after much deliberation when I swapped cameras and lenses several times in the ninth inning while I tried to decide if I was gonna go loose or tight with the end of Series jube. I decided to go tight with the NEW Mark II N and got some OK stuff- the camera did it's job- any deficiencies in my pictures were do to pilot error.

Paul Cunningham, my editor at Major League Baseball Photos loved the new option that allowed me to customize my file names. Having Cunningham see files named BRAD2184.JPG instead of JC0R2184.JPG made it much easier for him to know who shot which images at the Series with multiple photographers. Anything that makes Paul's job easier at the Series is a GOOD thing.

I had a good time showing my buddy Scott Clarke the camera during Game 3,the longest World Series game ever played at 5 hours and 41 minutes over 14 not-so-exciting innings. Scott was amazed at the quality of the screen and the sharpness as I continually zoomed in on the back of the camera showing Scott various patches on the Astros and White Sox uniform sleeves from the far away overhead platform that we were shooting from.

The quality of the files from night games is truly amazing. I did not do any side-by-side tests between the old and the new Mark II bodies to see how they handled noise, etc. However, I can say that the files I shot at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago at 1000 ASA (1/800 @ 2.8 at home plate) were truly amazing. I just had an 11 x 14 print made of Scott Podsednik being lifted on his teammates shoulders after his walk-off homer beat the Astros in Game 2 and the quality just blew me away. The image was tack sharp and the file was so clean- no noise whatsoever.

The new camera also performed well at a few San Francisco 49er games I shot in the pretty light at Candlestick Park. Once again, if the images weren't sharp it was MY fault and not the camera's.

There was a certain feeling having the new camera in my hands- knowing that my images would be sharp. I believe this power of positive thinking helped me make a few nice frames. I can't say that I would not have made the same pictures with the older Mark II. All I know is the power of positive thinking can be a wonderful thing and having the confidence in your equipment is very important when your ass is on the line to deliver the pictures.

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Shot with Canon EOS-1D Mark II N: San Francisco 49ers WR Johnnie Morton, right, makes a nice catch while being defended by Seattle Seahawks Marcus Trufant, left, during first half action at Monster Park in San Francisco.
Our profession has changed so much over the last few years with the advent of digital photography. In the old days (not so long ago) when we all shot film our cameras were simpler to operate and simpler to repair. When my old Canon F1 or old Canon EOS-1V broke down most of the time I would not be able to use it at all-, which is a good thing. It was never fun to have a camera go down of have a leaf shutter explode into a million pieces- but at least I knew the camera needed to be repaired and I would not mysteriously have my pictures turn out awful.

Back then many of us were fortunate to live near a wonderful factory authorized repair center (for us in the Bay Area it was Charley Provance and the fine folks at Horizon Electronics in Union City) that could fix our cameras in a day or less.

Nowadays both of the major camera manufacturers will not allow the independent repair shops to work on the digital cameras, thus when we have a problem with these highly sophisticated pieces of computer equipment we are at the mercy of the over-worked and under-staffed factory repair centers on both coasts. This means repairs that would take a day or less in the old days now take MANY days due to shipping, etc. This is not a good thing.

Many of us cannot afford to be without several of our camera bodies for weeks at a time. It is because of this change in the repair landscape that it is more important than ever for us professionals to be able to rely on our four thousand dollar cameras. This is what we do for a living. We need our cameras to work. Is that too much to ask?

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Shot with Canon EOS-1D Mark II N: San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Lloyd, right, makes a one-handed catch while being defended by Seattle Seahawks Kelly Herndon, left, during first half action at Monster Park in San Francisco.
I know I am saying wonderful things after using just one of the new Mark II N bodies. I am the eternal optimist sometimes, and for my sake and for the sake of all of my friends who are searching for the right tool to make their professional jobs easier I am thinking that Canon has got it right this time.

The bottom line is I will be buying a few of these new cameras before 2006 spring training rolls around this coming March. By the time the big leaguers start lacing'em up next year I want to be on top of my game and not worrying about my cameras. I have a feeling that I won't be the only photographer being able to do a better job focusing on the action.

The New Mark II N will mean many things to many different photographers. Upper Deck contract photographer Thearon Henderson likes the fact that the Canon logo on the front of the camera now has sunken lettering and fill-in paint. What will your favorite feature be?

"The future ain't what it used to be." - Yogi Berra

(Brad Mangin is a San Francisco-based freelance photographer. His many clients include Sports Illustrated and Major League Baseball Photos.)

Related Links:
Mangin's member page

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