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Canon EOS 6D

Review Date: Feb 27, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,250.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Great low light sensor, great colors and picture IQ, super centre AF point, very cheap (JUN 2015), small light weight, great battery time, good menu,
Relative few AF points, no eye AF, light metering does not follow AF point, outer AF points relatively weak,

Got a 6D. It now supplements my 5DSR. So far I have taken more than 25.000 shots with it.

The short story: At today’s price level the 6D is a wonderful bargain option. Great Full Frame photography with Canon currently does not come cheaper than this. Its short on bells and whistles, but the sensor is simply excellent and not only does the sensor thrive at high iso shooting – the 6D has a fast, accurate and light sensitive centre focus point to match. I got the non-wifi version to shave off an additional 250$ on an already low price. Of course there are shortcomings at this price point. But they may be less than you think. Read on for the full picture.

Handling: Coming from the 5DII/5DIII the 6D takes a little while getting used to. Both cameras have options that the 6D does not and the button layout is somewhat different. First and foremost there are less buttons and I found myself missing some of the direct access functions on the 5DII, 5DIII and 5DSR. Also there is no dedicated jog-stick instead its integrated with the rear wheel. Handling is however still very good and an advantage over the 5D-series is that the 6D is noticeably smaller and lighter. The entire button and screen layout works well once you get used to it. I like the build. It’s not 5D territory but the 6D will last for years if you treat it with care.

The body is clearly made for still photography. Shooting videos is best with a tripod because the 6D only shoots video using live view. In-body IS and a swivel screen would go a long way to provide decent hand held video operation.

The software menu is easy to navigate and includes a custom menu option which I can recommend. I have almost all my menu needs covered by my own custom menu. There are somewhat fewer settings and options available than with the 5DIII and a lot fewer than on the 5DS/R – but frankly, we have become very spoiled with pages of menu options – the 6D may not allow you to customise everything you want, but I venture that very few photographers will find anything important lacking.

Basic Settings & AF: 6D has wide auto-bracketing (7 frames), custom white balance and a host of AF-setting options. You can also set a number of custom controls so the camera works like you like to. You even get niceties such a white balance bracketing. With the 6D Canon finally got the implementation of auto-iso right. You can now set the key trade-off parameters yourself so you can confidently rely on auto-iso to make “smart” choices.

You get the very useful option to choose between two “sets” of predefined settings by dialing in your choices to “C1” and “C2” on the main knob. The knob even has the 5DIII lock so you do not inadvertently change the main shooting mode and on top a dedicated settings lock. These details a really a boost for your daily use. Finally, the "Green" auto-setting also works with RAW files when you hand the camera over to your family members and friends.

I hardly shoot anything but RAW files. But for those who like jpegs there are many excellent tools to employ such as highlight priority, pictures styles, HDR-mode etc.

AF is the one area where the 6D is a mixed bag of offerings.

First the good: The centre AF point is probably up there with the best Canon has to offer. Fast, accurate and reliable in very low light – allowing it to focus where the 5DIII cannot. If you use the centre point a lot the 6D is a treat. You can also customize the 6D AF settings to your shooting style. A nice – and useful – option. Finally, the AF points can be selected to default to your preferred position depending on whether you are shooting portrait or landscape.

The bad: The 6D outer focus points are not as accurate as the 5DIII’s. Instead in many ways it seems like shooting with the 5DII when you move away from the centre AF point. Also the AF points do not cover as much of your FF viewfinder as the 5DIII. There are also much fewer AF points; however I see this as less important. It’s the two first issues that buyers should consider when choosing between the 6D and 5DIII.

I got along well with the 5DII and action shots myself and I’m very happy with what the 6D delivers. So do not think of the 6D having inferior AF – its just not as good as we know we could have today.

Have not used video enough to comment on this. It does 1.080 HD. No 4K here!

Still picture recording options: The single SD card slot can be set record files in all manner of modes and file sizes including several different jpeg resolutions.

With a fast SD card previewing is almost without delay and you can quickly scroll to enlarge the display view.

Response times: Start up time is very fast.

6D is not a speed demon but reasonably fast with its 4.5 fps. That’s actually better than the 5DII. Just say’in since there seems to be a widespread thinking that less than 10 fps is useless for action. It is not. 4.5 fps is far better than what we had in the film days (one day I’ll write an article on why 10 fps is actually not twice as good as 5 fps). However, if fps is what you really need you are neither in 6D nor in 5DII/5DIII/5DSR territory anyway.

While the world will have to wait for my article with the necessary samples and statistics, you can look here for someone who shots sports with the 6D for a living: [...] now that’s impressive!

Shooting JPEG’s unfortunately does not give you more fps but it does allow you to shoot a lot more pictures without slowing the camera down compared to shooting RAW.

In real life shooting I can do 18-20 full RAW files on my 128 Sandisk Extreme Class 10 SDXC card. Canon has made sure that the camera does not stall altogether. Instead the 6D continues to shoot frames – even if its quite slow from there.

Pic IQ: This is where the 6D shines. Its simply Wow! for the money. Colors are beautiful. Clarity and detail is impressive – and remains so while you dial up the iso settings. Not only is it a great nighttime camera the noise is also very nice and manageable when it turns up. Baring the new DX it may be the best high iso Canon camera you can get. Certainly better than the 5DIII and probably slightly better than the 5DS/R.

The 6D does not have the dynamic range of the competition (SONY/NIKON) an area where Canon lags behind, its still very good, just not as good. If you do professional landscape photography you may want to look elsewhere. I have no complaints myself.

6d can be set to a ridiculous iso 102400. I shoot comfortably at iso 6.400 . After that quality goes South. I’ll do 12.800 when I have to and the results are certainly usable compared to not getting the shot.

Light handling: Light metering seems on par with the 5DII and the 5DIII. There are four standard settings. Many competing brands meanwhile offer more advanced light metering such as measuring the light according to your selected AF point. Canon needs to catch up here.

White balance also feels very much like using the 5DII/5DIII. That is: Less than fully accurate. Use a grey card if white balance is important to your shooting.

Microadjustment: It worked well as expected. Fortunately Canon allows users to set MA both according to lens and variably for Canon zoom lenses (separate settings for the wide/tele ends). Again the 6D has all the setting options that really count. Great!

With the 6D you can also buy software that will automatically drive a full AF test for microadjustment. This may help a lot of people getting more reliable microadjustment settings.

I always recommend microadjusting your lenses for the best results. Canon has “acceptable standard variances” for its cameras as well as its lenses You cannot expect even expensive Canon lenses to be spot-on without testing for micro adjustment.

Other thoughts and conclusion: Dust system works very well (as it should now-a-days). I have not cleaned the sensor a once during a safari trip and I do not expect to do it again anytime soon. Manual focus is easy with live view. You also get a 2-axis meter to make sure you level the camera when needed.

For the money the 6D cannot be beat within the Canon family (JUN 2015). The picture IQ is so good that if I had to choose I would pick up the 6D over the 5DIII any day I had a very specific need for the 5DIII.

Happy shooting!

Canon EOS 5DS R

Review Date: Feb 27, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $3,350.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: 50 MPIX!, advanced mirror modes, excellent time lapse, excellent auto ISO, great colors, excellent light metering, fast and precise AF, lots of AF tweaks, great menu options, great ergonomics.
No eye AF, light metering does not follow AF point, no touch screen, useless crop mode, no wifi/gps, needs your own color profile in Lightroom (Adobe's fault), eats batteries for lunch.

Upgraded my aging 5Dii's to the 5DS R.

Lenses matter with this camera. 50 mpix is unforgiving. The range of lenses I could use so far were the new EOS 16-35mm f/4 IS L, Sigma 50mm F/1.4 ART, EOS 70-200 f/2.8 IS L II and EOS 300mm f/2.8 IS L II. All pictures shown here where taken hand held including the night scenes - so yes you can actually use this camera without a tripod, more about this later.

Handling: Coming from the 5DII/5DIII you will find this camera body very familiar – all the way down to the battery. IT is a big camera even for a DSLR, but not excessive. It is the third generation 5D-series camera based on the 5DII body and accordingly the entire button and screen layout feels very mature and natural. It’s a camera buildt to last many years.

The body is clearly made for still photography. The weight alone makes shooting videos without a tripod a dog because of the combined weight of camera & lens & the fact that the 5DS R can only shoot video using live view. I really miss in-body IS or at least a swivel screen for decent hand held video operation.

The software menu is probably the best Canon has made yet. The layout is an extension of the 5DII/5DIII options, however Canon has added several very useful options such as customizing the auto-rotate focus point individually for vertical and horizontal shooting. Also, the expanded custom settings available for defining your own C1-C3 shooting options are extremely useful. I strongly recommend all users to look into this. I have pre-settings for action, bracketed jpeg shooting and shooting against the sun. Overall, it’s a noticeable step up on the software side.

Battery power is noticeably shorter than for the 5DII/5DIII and most people will probably be well off buying at least one spare. Depending on your shooting habits, you may even want more spares. I could imagine some people going through 3 on an intensive days shooting.

The screen is excellent if not spectacular – and you can easily see if your pictures are sharp. While the screen has some menu options available for how you scroll through your pictures I still find them limited. This is important because @50 mpix you will want to check you results on-screen fairly often to ensure your shots are spot-on.

What irks me a little here is that when Canon decided against a swivel screen they did not at least give the 5DS R a touch screen. Having used one on the 70D I can truly say it’s a blast for changing settings quickly as you can see and change everything at once without fiddling for buttons and sub menus around the camera body.

Exactly when reviewing pictures we confront another of the 5DS R’s shortcomings: it takes time for the pictures to emerge on your screen. For me this is not an issue in spite of all the action shots I take – so it’s not as bad as I see it described sometimes – but scrolling on-screen is not 100% fluid. So if this is key to how you shoot you may want to consider this. At least you can quickly look at your picture at 100% on screen.

Basic Settings & AF: Everything you need and then some. Amongst the essentials the 5DS R has wide auto-bracketing (5 frames) and Canon finally got the implementation of auto-iso right. You can now set the trade-off parameters yourself so you can confidently rely on auto-iso to make your “smart” choices. Finally, as before the "Green" auto-setting also works with RAW files giving extra editing buffer when I hand the camera over to my family members.

AF is one area where the 5DS R is a significant upgrade compared to both the 5DII and 5DIII. Neither of these impressed me much, but the 5DS R is clearly better. It starts with the upgraded AF points and high customizable way you can employ these – like restricting the use to cross-type AF sensors. Combined with its new AF tracking system the 5DS R is especially better than the 5DII/5DIII when shooting moving targets.

The centre AF point is excellent – matching that of the 6D, also in low light. And the 5DS R AF even trumps the 6D centre point by adding a fine centre point option making the 5DS R’s autofocus the best Canon has issued so far.

For video we get face tracking – which works OK. In spite of all its custom glory and improvements Canon’s AF software offerings is still pitiful compared to the completion. Why oh why does Canon not offer a dedicated face and eye AF? This would be even more useful for this camera with its 50 mpix.

Not everything is perfect and some will find the AF points are too narrow in both height and width. I also occasionally feel constrained by the narrow AF span but with 50 mpix going to a longer focus length and cropping afterwards is a real option.

Recording options: 5DS R in fact does have a crop option. Its implementation however makes me wonder how useful it will be for users. When shooting raw the camera does not crop the RAW file. Hmmm. This comes with some penalties and most important of these are that neither the RAW shooting speed or back screen review speed gets any better. So why use it? Ouch. I cannot imagine ever using it myself.

Shooting JPEG’s speeds everything up. But again you don’t really need the crop mode for that anyway because the camera is quick enough handling even full JPEGs. It’s a fail from Canon’s side and I wonder how difficult it would be to offer a real RAW crop mode.

Instead there is the option of shooting a lightly compressed RAW format (MRAW) – but still filling the entire frame crop mode or not. The difference is only that when you open the RAW file in your editor it will open “cropped” but with the full RAW file available.

As you should expect the two card slots can be set individually to record in all modes and combinations. However, the slowest of the two cards will determine your ultimate shooting speed.

That narrow DOF when shooting @50mpix is something I needed to get used to. In fact DOF is the same as before but the ultra high mpix count will make even small differences in DOF more visible than before when you look at shoots @100%. Since I like to shoot wide open and still crave sharpness (an optical contradiction), I have had to reconsider my options compared to shooting with the 5DII/5DIII. This is in fact one reason I got Canon’s new 16-35mm f/4 IS L which may eventually push out my 35mm f/1.4 L.

Costs and comforts of shooting 50 MPIX: Apart from taking ultra high resolution pictures another reason to get 50 mpix is the option to make deep crops. Something I need a lot for my shooting style. This does however beg the question: will the extra pixels you gain be offset by mirror slap and camera and hand shake? If the resulting 50 mpix are not ultra “sharp” why invest in all those pixels and the associated processing challenge?

First the bad news: yes it is an addition challenge shooting the 5DS R hand held compared to the 5DII/5DIII. I get fewer “ultrasharp” shots with the 5DS R than I do with the 5DII/5DIII/6D. But there is also good news: Canons excellent mirror dampening system works very well, so I get as many “ultrasharp” shoots as I did with my 70D (a Canon crop sensor camera). So, if you are shooting hand held there is a potential penalty if you need to enlarge all the way to 100%. Otherwise reducing the picture to 5DII/5DIII size will do away with the difference. And of course you can opt for tripod or monopod support.

Sometimes when I read about this challenge on the web I wonder what people are doing with their cameras to claim that the 5DS R cannot be used hand held. I can and I almost only use it that way with no regrets.

As for processing these files on my computers. I have no difficulties at all. But I do have very powerful CPU's and videocards to match - so YMMV.

Response times: Start up time is very fast.

Shooting speed is 5 fps which is good for almost all kinds of shooting unless you have a very specialised need for rapid firing. However, if fps is what you really need you are not in 5DII/5DIII/5DSR territory anyway as none of them are fast shooters.

One question that gets asked a lot is what kind of memory card to get for the 5DS R’s “enormous” files. Answer: not so fast as you think. So look carefully before buying ultra expensive ultra fast memory cards. Unless you have money to burn go for “fast enough” and use the split to buy more megabytes. I have a “fast” 256 GB Komputerbay compact flash card for the added speed CF cards provide with the 5DSR and a cheap PNY 256 GB to fill when speed is not of the essence. That’s ½ terra byte and with that I never expect to run out of space (shooting one card at a time). You can find tests on the net to guide you on which cards fall into the sweet-spot for 5DSR shooting.

In real life shooting I can do 14-15 full RAW on my 256 GB Class 10 SDXC card. This is the in fact same shooting speed that I get with the currently fastest 128 GB Sandisk SDXC card that I also have. With the CF card I can do 18-19 shoots before the camera slows down. Fortunately Canon has made sure that the camera does not stall altogether. Instead the 5DSR continues to shoot frames – just somewhat slower.

Pic IQ: Overall the 5DS R is as good as digital FF gets right now. Clarity and detail is extremely impressive when the light is good. Canon sensor tech still lags behind some of latitude of the competition (SONY/NIKON), but if the marginal difference is an issue for you I’m sure you won’t be reading this review anyway - except for entertainment. For the rest of us is more than OK - its simply great.

Noise levels are extremely good taking into account the 50 mpix sensor size. If you reduce the files to match the 5DII/5DIII files size it is much better than the 5DII and a – visible – touch better than the 5DIII because of the added detail.

I used to consider iso 800 my practical limit. But I now find myself happily dailing in iso 1600 which still is very good. When the 5DS R was announced I was at first dismissive due to the very low camera high iso max of 6.400 fearing that it signalled rather poor high iso ability. That was unfounded.

For all practical purposes almost all DSLRs hit the ceiling when going >iso 6400 in the sense that you get the same result as simply underexposing for example iso 6400 as turning up the nominal iso to 12800 or 25600. The real life result is that the 5DS R will give you slightly better results (at equal file size) than the 5DIII @ iso 12800 & 25600.
After 1600 iso pic IQ begins to take a visible hit, but I still use the entire span up to iso 6400 when needed. I have not yet used flash with my 5DS R.

Light handling: Camera handles light very well. I have a non-scientific impression that light metering is better than both the 5DII and the 5DIII (which I saw as equal). Sadly, again Canon’s software engineers let their customers down. While the competition for years has offered light metering according to the AF point you select this obvious and very practical option is not available in the 5DS R. It’s a shame and another reminder that Canon’s AF and light metering software lags behind.

I also feel that white balance has improved over the 5DII/5DIII. In fact I find that it is really good which is rare with digital DSLRs. Just remember not to judge the white balance looking at the screen. Grey card is the way to go.

Microadjustment: It worked well during my tests as expected.

Unfortunately Canon's software license does not allow 3.rd party software such as Focal to automatically drive a full AF test. The result is that microadjustment is as time consuming and frustrating as always. Again something one should think Canon would like to offer its customers. I for one would be willing to pay for this and I’m sure may others would too. Canon surely has such software available already for its authorised repair shops. Sell it and make some extra JPY!
Due to the high demands the 50 mpix will place on any lens I highly recommend microadjusting your lenses for the best results. It should be the very first thing to do after inserting the battery or you may be underwhelmed by the picture IQ for no other reason that a slight OOF effect.

Other thoughts: No visible banding so far in my shots (as with the 5DII). Someone out there can probably provoke it. But for most photographers it will be a non-issue. No hot pixels on the sensor.

Dust system works very well (as it should now-a-days). I have not cleaned the sensor yet and I do not expect to do so anytime soon. Manual focus is easy with live view, but holding the camera still is another matter as mentioned under video shooting so the 5DS R will only really work for ultra-sharp pictures with a tripod or with stationary objects.

Deleting a batch of individual pictures (I do this a lot en route) is easy and there are more options on how you delete pictures than before. This can still be further improved and again the lack of a touch screen is a further limiting factor.

There is a non-Canon related issue worth mentioning: Adobe has gotten the calibration files for the 5DS R all wrong. In fact so wrong that I do not recommend anyone to use Adobe’s standard color profiles with the 5DS R until they are updated. To get the best picture IQ you should either make your own profiles or download some on-line. There are good profiles for free and some cheap commercial offerings. If you use LightRoom and PhotoShop for your RAW-processing you will need these. The link above shows an example of how bad it is. Adobe's profile to the left with overblown highlights and crushed shadows. My own profile to the right. Much better shadows and well controlled whites and reds.

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Review Date: Feb 19, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,700.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Sharp, Beautiful Bokeh, Efficient and silent IS, Fast focus, Great handling,
Heavy, Pricy

I have had my new EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L ii for six months now. This review will focus on a specific question; should current owners of the EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L "upgrade" to the mark ii version?

The short answer is "no". But there are other reasons than "upgrading" to consider, and a special case for those who shoot film. So read on.

Picture Quality
Stunning. But not anymore than its predecessor. Frankly, you would be hard pressed to see the difference. It's there. And I know some tell-tale signs pixel peepers can look for. But no one can seriously argue that's its worth an upgrade for the picture IQ.

Autofocus speed
Same thing as before. I've seen claims the new lens is faster. Well, mine is not. Definitely not. I shoot a lot of tracking shots, and just as before I take 3 to make sure 1 is spot on. That's still pretty fast. And its quite impressive for all the glass that needs to move around - just not lightning fast.

Here you get a noticeable upgrade. At least one stop. Also it settles faster. There is a new setting type "3" mode IS, which I personally prefer for most sports type shots. But remember that if the shutter speed is high enough its even better to turn off the IS. Finally, its somewhat less noisy than the original, which could be an important reason for film makers to upgrade.

A slight advantage for the newer model. If I shot birds for a living maybe a consideration. But then I would certainly go with a 400mm - so not sure how important this is (YMMV). I do not use 2.0x so no comments on that except to note that several reviews mention the mark ii as a slight upgrade.

Handling & design
This is where I feel I got the most from the upgrade. Its only a little lighter, but its just that much lighter to make a difference when you are hauling it for several hours. Also, the recessed buttons are so much better. I hated it when the old ones got pushed accidentally - and it happened too often to me. The new focus function is highly useful for filming. Pre-focussing is the same, and I'm personally not a big fan of Canon's implementation now or then. I disliked the new foot design when I first used the 200mm f/2.0 IS L ii, but on the EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L ii it feels "right" because I always use it with the foot on. I also use the 90 degree clicks to position the lens, a nice, practical design detail. The hood is slightly different and handles better, but there still that awful knob to contend with.

As an upgrade the better IS implementation and improved handling does not match the significant price differential between the original and the mark ii. At least not for photography. If using extenders is very important to you - than just maybe. Maybe. However, if you're shooting film - go for it if you can.

The market place seems to confirm this answer. Judging from review counts on the net and the flickr pool for this lens not that many EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L ii's are flying off the shelves. I also seldom see any of these in the wild - not even at sports events. Probably a side effect of the brutal cost cuts in the traditional news industry.

But there is more to the story. The original EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L is getting older every day. Some are still relatively new, but a lot are getting ready for their anniversary. With the very good used prices you can still get for your original lens and factoring in the cost of one major repair such as the IS will bridge a lot of the gap. In addition one day Canon will not repair these anymore - just ask 200L IS L f/1.8 owners about that sad scenario. And you get a short but welcome guarantee period that could be useful.

Remember that not even Canon lenses last forever. And IS lenses simply tend to fail more than non-IS lenses.

There is still some time for current owners to enjoy their original lens. Just remember to check the market place so you are not caught off guard and miss the boat when used prices begin to drop faster. If Sigma pulls off a great 300mm f/2.8 OS with three years warranty as they have just announced - that could hurt the old used lens prices a lot.

It looses overall for missing out on value. Purely optically its still a winner for sure.

Accessories I Recommend:

Don Zecklens Cap
Black Rapid shoulder strap or similar

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

Review Date: Jan 8, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: colors, fast focus, build, bokeh,

This lens delivers wonderful results. It is the perfect standard lens for a crop camera and it creates beautiful pictures on FF.

The bokeh is great, it's truely razor sharp from f/1.8 and only marginally soft wide open. It's focus is soundless and lightning fast.

I shoot mainly portraits with the 35L wide open and at f/1.6.and people are really impressed. Have also had many pictures published in all kinds of media from book covers over newspapers to TV with this lens.

Did I mention that the colors are deep and saturated too?

It can go close and take pictures at available light from amazing perspectives. For indoor use is shines at taking pictures of family and friends with both crop and FF.

Of all my lenses it is the one I will always bring along - and the one I use the most. It's worth every cent you pay for it.

It may show some CA, PF etc. wide open as others have mentioned, but so does the 50L, 85L and the 135L (a sacrifice made to improve the bokeh). For this reason I often tend to shoot @ f/1.6 for just a little better colors and contrast.

The 35mm 2.0 is a close as Pluto when it comes to functionality and image IQ.

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

Review Date: Aug 29, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Cheap, light (comparably), durable, fast focus, very sharp, great colors, built-in hood, tripod mount included.
No IS, f/5.6 is slow if you like to shoot hand held.

For pure optical performance it does not get better than this.

If you are looking for the best 400mm on a budget or for a light weight alternative to the 400L f/2.8 this is the lens to get. No compromises in sharpness, color or clarity. It is an amazing lens for its price point.

The downside is no IS, no zoom and f/5.6. Thus there is a very real difference shooting with the 2.8 and the 5.6, just as you will not get the flexibility of a zoom like the 100-400mm, which is also excellent lens and comes with IS.

Canon has so many great choices for 400mm. Use the one that fits your situation the best.

(Remember to check your lens for front/back focus, my sample needed -8 to be on spot with my 5Dii. It makes a visible difference even @ f/5.6.)