Sunday, February 2, 2014

Some New "Back to Basics"

EOS 5D, EF 28-105 @ 105, f11 and ISO 200, Photivo Raw File
Here we are in February, and I hadn't taken a single picture during the month of January, except or the one above on the 30th. It almost feels like starting over again! I realize this picture won't win any contests, but it does have what I personally like to see - lot's of light, contrast and texture.

Perhaps more important, I've finally entered the 20th Century and completely re-configured my marvellous EOS 5D Mark-1. Modern DSLR cameras, even my particular "ageing" favourite, are meant to be customized, with all kinds of different modes available around exposure and focusing. I was noticing last year that I was losing more than half my shots to bad focus, and pretty much 100% of my shots were under-exposed, in a very "lifeless" sort of way, requiring quite a bit of Raw file processing to get the exposure up to snuff.

Here's what I've done:

1) Stopped using "Evaluative Metering" ("Matrix Metering" if you use a Nikon), in favour of "Centre Weighted Average". From everything I've read about this, I'm committing a real blasphemy here! Evaluative Metering is supposed to be the de-facto for DSLR's -one of their biggest advantages, having all of those built-in metering points by which the camera's computer does many, many spot-metering checks through the entire frame, top to bottom; left to right, and then sets the best possible exposure value. Well, if that's true, then why were so many of my pictures so badly exposed I wonder, especially back when I was using the less valuable APS-C cameras?? Simply following the advice of the experts! Then I read somewhere that Leica cameras (supposedly the best, but if not that, certainly the most expensive) use a Centre Weighted meter, and at the other end of the scale, the humble point and shoot digital, the cheaper ones that don't give you a choice of metering mode, also use Centre Weighted as the only choice? I can't let one single picture of a cow be the ultimate judge, but with this Raw file, I didn't need to lift and tweak my exposure at all, but merely added some local contrast for better texture.

2) Hopefully I've resolved my bad focus issues. This picture tells nothing, as it was shot stopped down to f11, which would put everything in focus. But what I've done is assigned my back-button, the one marked "*" to be my Auto-focus button, instead of the shutter half-press, and I've also set my AF Mode to what Canon calls "AI-Servo" (strangest name you could think of for this function, Canon). This Mode is supposed to make the lens continuously maintain focus on a moving subject, and it does this very well. I don't often encounter a moving subject, so I always had it set to "One Shot" instead. But read carefully - with the AF function assigned to "*", when you quickly press and release the "*" button, this locks the focus for the shot as if it were set to "One Shot", but if you press and hold the "*" button, the focus will continually track a moving subject, as if it were set to "AI-Servo". It takes a little getting used to -that is, not having the half-shutter-press do your Auto Focus, but once you're set up this way and used to it, I must say it is very neat-oh! It also eliminates the need to "focus on the subject, and then re-compose", which I believe was the cause of my bad focus issues, especially with wide open apertures.

3) This is always a bit trickier for me, to select a focus point other than the one in the middle, but with the EOS 5D, and any other Canon DSLR or film SLR with a rear control wheel, it's a snap. You need to remember to press the "window-pane" button, the one next to the "*", and then quickly spin the dial to select the focus point you want. (Alternatively, you can move the Joy Stick to select the focus point - this is more direct). I prefer the dial, because it's more readily under my thumb, and seems less fiddly, although it is less direct, because as you spin it, the focus points light up in a sequence, whereas with the joy-stick, you can move to the point you want directly. Another choice is to have all focus points light up, and let the camera pick the right point for you. This is fine if you're using a small Aperture, but more of a crap-shoot as you open the Aperture up wider.

Previously, I didn't want to fuss with all this stuff, but ever since Canon introduced the EOS system way back in the mid 1980's, this very same functionality has been available, pretty much enabled in exactly the same way, and is always used by the pros. There are very good reasons for having these features enabled, and I hope to make the most of them going forward.

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