Monday, February 26, 2007

Imaging Resource gets 1D Mk III Prototype,dPreview Snubbed

Well, the Imaging Resource web site got a prototype Canon EOS 1D Mark III for testing and hands-on evaluation, and the job they're doing with it is pretty good. Good sample photos, nice comments on what's improved, and especially how Canon has made significant CHANGES to their long-criticised,almost idiotic 1-series control and menu system. Canon has brought some very nice NIKON touches to the 1D Mark III body, like an AF ON button,right where the Nikons have the AF ON button. And Canon's brought a pseudo-Nikon-like joystick to the 1D series. Canon has actually brought some of their prosumer body control concepts and ethos to the 1D series after premiering the Nikon-like multi-controller button aka "the nipple" first on the 20D/30D model line, apparently finally admitting that the 1D series's "press-spin-select-adjust-oops-I-screwed up-press-spin-select-DAMNIT!!! " pseudo-logic needed some serious control revisions. Canon said they looked at re-designing the EOS 1D Mark III camera from the ground up,and it's about time Canon started emulating Nikon's control concepts, like the AF ON button and more-logical control functions and ways of adjusting a camera.

Still, it's apparent from the hands on preview that Canon hasn't YET quite figured out how to make an AF point navigation system with the brilliance of the Nikon D2-series with its fool-proof 4-way controller + AF mode selector switch. Canon has added the 20D/30D mini-rocker switch,aka "the nipple" to the 1-series for the first time, but it just isn't the same thing as Nikon's 4-way controller switch. Sorry Canon, nice try, but your dinky little button is too small still...well, maybe by one or two more generations down the road,perhaps Canon will finally be able to achieve parity with Nikon's camera control concepts and functionality on a multi-direction input thumb-operated pad system, because while imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, Canon is still missing another entire SWITCH to help control this 45-point focusing system. Canon ought not to try and innovate, but to copy Nikon's idea very much more closely and slavishly. As in almost verbatim. You know, by adding the needed missing switch to control "how" the AF system will work. And while Canon hasn't YET gotten it quite right, they have added a dedicated AF ON button,RIGHT where a NIKON body has the same-named button. Forget that stupid star button shit Canon's been using with a Cfn 4 setting--it was in the wrong place for what it does,and the newly-added AF ON button is RIGHT where Nikon feels it should be,where the thumb has a natural placement,and where the thumb is in a position to work with good dexterity,especially important when covering a longer event where the thumb is going to be used for focus actuation for hundreds of shots. The star button's control is unnaturally far right as an AF ON button,completely counter to the thumb's natural placement when shooting with a horizontal mode camera;not surprisingly,Canon has located the new Nikon-style AF ON control right where Nikon puts it-- in the perfect location.

Now that Canon has ADDED a significant NIKON focusing control button, and ditched the old 1-series' interface quirkiness,by making it work more like a pro-sumer Canon, Canon has doubled the audience for the 1D Mark III;as I see it, they've made the 1-series EOS much more appealing to many Nikon users, and I think that's actually deliberate. But still,Canon's AF point selection point engineering solution seems just a bit cheesy. It's not 'quite' there yet. Nikon's still got a better concept and execution for user-supplied AF area selection and adjustment,since canon hasn't added the missing Focusing Mode/Pattern button this generation.Menus are fine, but big,easy-to-shift selector BUTTONS determining how the AF system can be customized on the fly is what the D2 series Nikons have,and Canon still lacks. But still, Canon's AUTO AF area selection might be just the ticket for pointing and following action with excellent camera performance with the camera picking the AF points,and lighting up and showing you which AF points it's using. Time will tell, but I think Canon may well have super-duper all-auto AF performance,with the camera being smarter than many a shooter. Canon's got a lot of faith and experience in AUTO-everything camera design,with the photographer more of an End User,if you know what I mean.

Allowing a modern,flagship-level Canon to select the AF points to use might work better than some people want to think. I think Canon has a reputation for AUTO-everything shooting that's based on sound engineering principles being applied across the entire camera. I think maybe Canon engineers strive to design the best fully-automated routines that they can design,so that the camera functions well with a sort of "End User/hack/newbie" running the camera. Maybe that's my prejudice, but I think Canon,and Minolta, long assumed that better automation equals better shots on a strict percentage basis, and that throwing numbers at the problem is where the solution is to be found.

It seems as is dPreview owner Phil Askey might have some reason to feel a bit slighted,as do other reviewers and site owners who got absolutely NO prior notice of the camera's unveiling some five days ago now,and of course who got NO cameras to see early. As it stands now, dPreview is not bringing the world much more information than the bare bones press release Canon issued, and you've got to look hard to find the link to the 63-page Canon white paper detailing this soon-to-be-shipping new pro body. The sensor layout has been improved,and the fill factor and the microlens array have both been improved,so this new sensor really should deliver pretty good amounts of detail for a 10 MP sensor. It seems to be a significantly better-performing sensor than you might expect at first thought.

Stop by Imaging Resource and see quite a few images sized at 3,888 x 2,592 pixels. Photos range from 3.8 to a little over 7 megabytes in size, depending on how much fine detail the shots contain.

I have downloaded quite a few of these images, many made with the Canon 50mm f/1.8 EF-II lens, which I own. As long as there's nothing resembling contre jour lighting,or the sun anywhere NEAR the front element, this cheap $79 50mm lens yields a sharp but rather boring-looking image,with harsh bokeh in many situations. The 100mm f/2.8 EF Macro lens is also sharp,quite sharp, and was used on many of the Imaging Resource indoor test target photos, and is a very good lens at indoor distances, such as those the Imaging Resource use for their test scenes. I mention the lens issue here simply because the 50 1.8 EF-II makes really "boring-looking" images,and the outdoor test photographs convey a boring,dull,uninspiring look,and the pictures really lack much "impression". I want to point out to unsuspecting viewers that those street-type scenes shot with the 50mm EF-II lens look weird largely because of the awful,awful impression this lens delivers at the ranges and apertures most of those storefront-type scenes were shot at. It's fashionable to call cheap 50mm lenses "Excellent Lenses",and while Nikon's 50mm 1.8 AF is a good lens, it's not great, but it's WORLDS better than say the two 50mm 1.8 Series E Nikon 50's I've owned,and this Canon 50 1.8 EF-II lens is right down near the bootm,even below the 30-year-old 50 1.8 Series E lens design.

The Canon 50 1.8 EF-II, the modern one, is a $79 lens of poor ghost and flare resistance; it is a TERRIBLE optical design when shot towards any bright light,and when shot directly toward the sun, the 50 1.8 EF-II has the weakest ghost and flare resistance of _ANY_ normal lens I have owned. Ever. Ever. It is sadly,and incredulously awful against the light! The coatings,and the optical design are very primitive, which is a simply inexcusably basic problem. This lens has a chunky, five-sided diaphragm opening, and complete,total,utter inability to shoot toward not just the sun, but toward almost any type of bright light source; a bright reflector in front of it, or a building reflecting the bright sky anywhere near the front of the lens, you name it,this design cannot handle it. Bokeh-wise it's crappy, and the aperture looks like a big pentagonal-shaped dinosaur turd. Neither the lens's anti-reflection coatings nor optical formula can cope with the sun without MASSIVE image ghosts and flares. The shots are fricking USELESS unless the lens is shaded,deeply, from ALL bright stray light. Say to yourself, "compendium lens hood, and an assistant with a black card to throw a shadow ONTO the front element." Never take this lens to the beach,unless you like green-headed people. I own a Russian 58mm f/2 Auto-Cosmogon in m42 thread mount that's actually a tad bit BETTER against the light. Since the I-R test shooters didn't shoot toward the sun, the pictures look serviceable, but there's a soul-less, dull, boring feeling that comes from this lens design. This Canon 50 has really LAME image characteristics. It's hard to overstate how poor a performer this lens is, with the worst ghosting and flare I've ever seen in a modern prime lens. As if that's not bad enough, it has crummy bokeh,and ugly OOF specular highlight rendering due to its primitive five-bladed diaphragm.

Oh, guess what....Canon has a brand-NEW,professional caliber 50mm f/1.2 EF L-series lens design....hey, whadda' ya know! It costs $1,499 and is brand new for 2006-2007. Canon also has a $309 50mm f/1.4 lens. I mention the f/1.4 model and f/1.2 models because I would NEVER recommend the 50 1.8 EF-II lens to anybody. It's a 4.6 ounce plastic toy-like lens that can easily ruin photos in only moderately challenging light,and when the light is sweet and angled,as in the afternoon or early morning, the f/1.8 EF-II model is just,well,like a toy lens.

I'm going into such length here about the 50 shots because,unless you're a bokeh freak,and sort of a lens junkie, you've probably,thank your lucky stars, not owned a lens like the Canon 50mm 1.8 EF-II. It has adequate sharpness. It renders fine detail quite well at f/8,which is where a lot of people will test it. The problem is that at moderately larger apertures,like f/3.2 at closer to mid-distances, this lens has butt-ugly out of focus areas, both in front of and behind the point of sharpest focus. In scenes where there is a slightly out of focus background, this particular Canon 50mm 1.8 design renders the OOF portions with a very,very negative "vibe" that many people cannot put their finger on. There's a reason huge, pentagonal-shaped diapragm openings have been abandoned, and more-round aperture blades have been moved into lenses since the 1970's; why the Canon 50 1.8 EF-II has this 1950's-shaped aperture opening, and why it has such poor flare and ghost resistance, is beyond me. The lens, while "sharp"enough,is fine on test charts, but it has absolutely no business being used on 3-D objects,especially if conditions will see large-ish apertures and out of focus areas included in the composition to any significant degree. If the lens is not stopped down enough to render MOST of the scene's area entirely in good,sharp focus, this piece of crap design makes your pictures look,well,not good enough for the modern era. I'm not making this up--this 50 is one of the lowest-quality prime lenses I've ever owned. Why does a modern,multicoated,single focal length lens 50mm have almost NO resistance to ghosting? WHY is the lens so,so poor when shot against the light? Price is no excuse; this problem was handled many,many decades ago,and yet this thing ghost like a SOB. Why? It's a simple 50mm lens design that performs well below 1950's standards,and it's 2007 now.

I've gone to the trouble of writing this so that you'll be able to appreciate the Imaging Resources street scenes which were made with this ultra-lightweight,economy-designed 50mm f/1.8 EF-II lens. Shooting anything except test targets ought to be made illegal with this lens. This lens renders scenes in such an ugly way, and often ehibits hashy,downright ugly bokeh. Knowing that the 1D Mark III street scene samples were shot with this unfortunate lens design makes me VERY,very aware of how awesome the sensor on the 1D Mark III actually is.

Bottom line: I've seen JPEG images this camera makes under studio lighting,and the images are very,very clean and smooth,and reveal detail right down to what I consider the be the limits of the drecky 50/1.8,and the 100/2.8 EF Macro shots look great. This camera is delivering EXCELLENT resolution across a wide range of ISO settings. This camera is a nice imager. Going by the Imaging Resource comparison photos, I'd say the Mark 3 has about a full stop cleaner-looking images at the top two settings than the Mark 2 model did! Yeah, ISO 6400 on the new camera looks as clean,vibrant,and detailed as 3200 on the Mark 2, and 3200 on the new camera looks as clean,vibrant,and detailed as 1600 did on the Mark 2. Which is an amazing improvement which will be welcomed by many shooters. 1600 on the new camera looks pretty DAMNED good for 1600.

[ Addendum,March 1,2007: A few days after I wrote this, I found this thread about an EOS 350D owner adapting a Yashica-Contax mount Zeiss 50mm f/1.7 Planar manual focus lens for use on his EOS body using a Kindai adapter. See Peter Spiro's comment about the awful bokeh of the 50 1.8 EF-II at this thread ]


Anonymous said...

Wow. That was some rather harsh treatment of the nifty 50. About 20 minutes ago shot a closeup of an old dog, and it's one of the sharpest images I've ever captured. I agree it has limitations with appealing bokeh, as well as spotty focus ability and cheap construction. Dude, it costs $80! You're raking on it like it ought to perform better???You think it's meaningful to say the 50 1.2 is superior to the plastic mount 1.8??? Gee, Why don't you compare it to the 1.0 while you're at it? Why not whine that it has nowhere near the reach and focus ability of the 200 1.8L? Your opinion of this lens is in opposition to the vast majority of shooters who pack a nifty fifty for very legitimate reasons. I'll leave it at that.

Derrel said...

Yes, the Canon 50mm 1.8 EF lens is an *inferior* lens design. Nikon's equivalent $99 50mm 1.8 AF-D lens performs substantially better. Canon's pathetic design and poor lens coatings make this modern lens INFERIOR to pre-WW II,uncoated lenses. Canon's 50 1.8 EF is an incredibly lame performer. Nikon's 50mm 1.8 Series E had better coating and performs better, and it is a now 30-year old design! There is simply NO EXCUSE for a 50mm 1.8 lens that ghosts so,so badly in the era of multicoated,computer-designed lens making! NO EXCUSE whatsoever. It ought to perform substantially BETTER than a 30-year-old econo-50 from Nikon,and it ought to perform AS WELL as the 50 1.8 AF-D Nikkor which retails for what, $99; yet the Canon is more in line with the 58mm f/2 Russian lens I have had for 30 years now. Canon's econo-50 may cost only $80,but it is still a disgrace in the era of multi-coated,computer designed lenses. I don't care if it costs $40,it's over-priced. I gave mine away to a nephew of my wife, and told him,"here,you can have this,but be warned it's a real piece of shit lens against the light."
Compared to a $29 pawn shop Nikkor 50 1.8 AF from 1990,the Canon lens's performance is simply crap by comparison. Seriously. I'm not comparing it to the 50 1.4 EF,which I own, but to 20- to 30-year-old Nikon ECONOMY 50mm designs which are FINE when shot toward the light.
When something is crap, I will say so. And this lens is not nifty, it's quite simply sub-standard,even by the standards of the 1960's.