Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Didn't See This Coming - A Full Frame Digital!

Pointe-de-Bute Cemetary
Canon EOS-5D Classic, Tokina AF 19-35

Less than a week ago, I sold my only working digital camera - the EOS Digital Rebel T3i, mainly to help cover part of the cost of a Mobility Scooter for my wife Kathy. Other than a Panasonic DMC-FH27 I had borrowed from her, I had nothing but film cameras left, which didn't bother me, as film has placed me on a seriously new learning curve. But yesterday, I found a deal too sweet to pass up - a Full Frame Canon EOS 5D "classic" (some call it the Mk-I, others call it the 5D Original). No matter what you call it, this was in the local classifieds, so I could avoid all the "++" charges on Ebay, and it was very reasonably priced. I won't say what I paid, except that it was about 25% lower than actual selling prices on Ebay. It's condition is spotless - like new, shutter count is around 10,000, it came with a custom focus screen (the one with the Grid etched into it), 3 batteries and a rarely ever seen AC power adapter. Also included in the deal were a Tokina AF 19-35mm f3.5-4.5 ultra wide angle, and a Canon EF 28-105 USM (I already had one, now I have two, one for film and one for digital!)

I spent last evening checking everything out thoroughly, and found that everything is indeed 100% great. This morning, it was very rainy, so I took it out and did three shots from the car window, starting with the one above, plus these two:

All three were taken with the Tokina lens, which is also my first experience ever with an extreme wide-angle on a full-frame body, and with the ISO at 400. There was also a fourth shot, but I'm saving that for a later day, because I brought my Elan-7 along with me, and did exactly the same shot with the same lens (the EF 40mm STM), and made sure the two cameras were set with everything exactly the same. I want to determine for myself, and my readers, the difference between film and a full frame digital sensor. I've gotten a bit of criticism lately about some recent comparisons I've done - mainly along the lines that my digital files were not processed enough to make them compare more favourably with film! My thinking was that this is the whole point - compare a straight from camera digital JPG to a straight from scanner film JPG - and of course film does look better every time when this comparison is made. However, one individual suggested that I should've optimized the digital camera RAW files to make the comparison more fair - so that is now going to be the way I do it - the digital will be optimized RAW to JPG conversions, and the film scan will be optimized as necessary TIF to JPG conversions, using exactly the same optimizations done with the same software. It is true, I suppose, that digital photographs need a lot of optimization to make them look anywhere close to the way film already looks without any help. Fair enough - that's what I'll do.

So - about the 5D Classic - falling in love with this camera cannot be helped. As far as DSLR's go, it is absolutely rock-simple. There are no bells and whistles like you find on all lower-end cameras. This is a serious high-end, less-is-more workhorse. It is eight years old now, so naturally it is lacking features found on the most recent DSLR's, like Live View, Video, super high ISO, super high Pixel Density, and high resolution rear monitors. Let's start with the Monitor - it is really useless - the image quality on it is so poor, you can't really determine much about the quality of the picture you just took, except that you actually did take the picture. The best thing to use this Monitor for is in full-info mode, showing the RGB histogram, and a tiny representation of the picture in the upper left corner. Being more of a film fan anyway, I actually like this - I don't want my monitor telling me that I got the picture right - rather I want to know I'm getting the picture right because I'm making the correct settings -  and then having a tiny picture along with the histogram makes for a bonus over film, unless I choose to leave the monitor off completely. The rest of the experience in using the 5D Classic is actually very like that of an EOS film camera. All of your various settings are made by using buttons, control wheels and the top LCD monitor - very little is actually done through the rear LCD Menu - and I really like that too.

The camera is heavy and solid - a lot more than any of my EOS film cameras, and even heavier than the best DSLR I'd previously owned - the 7D. I don't mind big and heavy, but there's a lot to be said for light and agile too - such as my bare minimum EOS 500n (Rebel G) -an exceptionally lightweight all plastic bodied camera. My Elan7's are not that heavy, even with the battery grip attached. The 5D Classic is a real no-nonsense, minimalist professional working machine.

How about the image quality? Well, so far, I've only been working with the Tokina ultra-wide lens - it's far from being a Canon L series, so I don't really know for sure yet if I'm commenting on this lens or on the camera itself. Oh yes, I did one shot this morning with the EF 40mm, which turned out lovely, but I don't think it was any better than the Tokina. I will say that I'm very impressed with the little bit I've done so far. It's a 12.8 MegaPixel sensor, which for a full-frame these days, is about half of what you get brand new. But 12.8 is still plenty, and every other reviewer out there says that bigger pixels can be better than more pixels, because bigger pixels have much better signal to noise specs at high ISO settings. So far, everything I've done is at 400 ISO, and compared with 400 ISO film, the 5D images are remarkably noise free - very clean. This coming weekend, I'll be shooting another cat show, and I'll be doing that at ISO 1600. The 5D's highest setting is 3200, so compared to the last cat show I did last June, using the Rebel T3i at 6400, I'm at a big disadvantage. Then again, I was shooting cat shows in 2008 - 2010 with a Rebel XS, which was also an ISO -max of 1600, so I've been there before.

I believe I'm going to find the 5D Classic to be an exceptionally good DSLR when it comes to image quality - I'm expecting it to be equal, but still different than film - I really don't know yet where my preferences will fall. I really love how using this camera is so much like using an EOS film camera - it is very similar to using an Elan-7; there's not a whole lot of digital features to choose from, the ISO range is pretty much the same as you'd have used in the film era, and even though there is a rear LCD that shows you the picture you just took, there's no way that this LCD can even begin to tell you that you took the picture right - for that you need to wait until you get home to view the files on a computer screen.

I should also mention the Tokina 19-35mm f3.5-4.5 ultra-wide zoom lens. It's supposed to be a cheap lens - they're selling used now for around $150. First of all, click on the above images to enlarge them - this is just as much the lens we're looking at here as it is the camera. I think the IQ is excellent. The lens body seems to be entirely metal - you certainly don't get that with lower-end but way more expensive Canon lenses. The grip rings for manual focus and zoom are made of a better quality rubber than any low-end Canon lens, and finally, the zoom and focus rings turn as smooth as butter - among the best I've ever seen. Also, the auto-focus is very snappy and accurate. I expect I'll be using this lens a lot - it's a perfect focal range for shooting large buildings, cars and trucks.

There'll be a lot more to come from me as I spend the next little while with the EOS 5D Classic!

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