Why iPhone RAW is a Big Deal

iOS 10 brought the capability to get the RAW image data from the camera and save it as a DNG file. It elevates the quality of iPhone images to a whole new level (for those who care). The following image tells it all.

Click the image for actual pixels display on non-Retina screens

Click the image for actual pixels display on non-Retina screens

On the left is how the iPhone renders the image, on the right my version converted from DNG and tweaked to taste in Capture One. Both show the actual pixels (100% magnification). Red areas are the overexposed parts. The images were captured as RAW+JPG in the upcoming Mark II Artist’s Viewfinder 5.0, so they represent the exact same moment.

With shooting RAWs you can avoid most of the pitfalls of iPhone image processing (I know them from experience):

  • Over-sharpening, which ruins images with already high contrast edges, such as tree branches against the clear sky.
  • Excessive noise reduction – usually on an unnecessary level, even at ISO 25. You know, the blotchy look at 100% which looks downright ugly.
  • Unrealistic color. Apple processes the images for punch, which is good for making your friends envious on social networking sites, but is a problem when you want to actually use them (the images, not your friends) as real photographs.
  • Sometimes overdone light falloff correction. You know, when the sky is brighter in the corners than in the center.

You also get more headroom for recovering overexposed areas (they are also better by default because of the lower contrast), but on the other hand you need to correct corner light falloff by hand.

To my eye the difference is so large that I won’t use JPGs any more when I’m photographing with the iPhone (which happens a lot, since it’s always in my pocket). No, they are not challenging DSLR (or even large sensor point and shoot) quality, but are way more usable than the JPGs.

A Year with Zeiss Lenses

More than a year had passed since I started migrating to Zeiss lenses – and I still couldn’t be happier. This, together with the Canon 5DS R completely transformed how I approach my subjects. The resulting files reflect what I see and how I see it. Every time. No additional frills that need to be edited out in post.

Fall Morning

Fall Morning

No matter if I work slowly and deliberately under a dark cloth, tethered to a MacBook Air, or – as it was the case with the above image – shooting handheld from a moving boat. The images are always stunning. I’ve never been so satisfied with any photographic equipment. These words shouldn’t be taken lightly – I’m an extremely hard-to-please man.

The only thing I miss with this setup is movements. A few degrees of tilt/swing here and there, plus a couple of millimeters rise/fall/shift could save the day sometimes. Well, if you think that I’m exploring the possibilities in this area, you are right. But more on my findings later.

Stranded and Breaking Up

The photo below is a good example of when endurance pays off. Following a rather spectacular sunrise weather slowly turned miserable. After a while my shooting companions gave up, and I was walking the beach alone in the cold drizzle. Camera and lens wrapped in a plastic bag. Wiping water off the LEE Big Stopper every 30 seconds or so.

But suddenly everything came together. Forms, colors, patterns. I’ve explored this composition quite a bit, taking roughly 20 frames with slightly different angles and of course to have several wave formations in the background to choose from.

Stranded and Breaking UP

Stranded and Breaking Up

And yes, a cup of hot tea in the car was priceless… Photographed with the Canon EOS 5DS R and Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 2/135 lens.

Making the Canon 5D Mark IV Soup

The following is a satirical look on how Canon designed the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – followed by a little more serious discussion.

Sitting on the old, weathered coffee table in my office, the camera is waiting for the validation tests for Kuuvik Capture 2.5

Sitting on the old, weathered coffee table in my office, the camera is waiting for the validation tests for Kuuvik Capture 2.5. It makes a killer combo with the EF 35mm f/2 IS lens, just like the 5D Mark III did.

Ok, so let’s begin with the ingredients:

The recipe is pretty straightforward, anybody having access to these quality ingredients can cook it after a few years of making soups like this.

Take the EOS 5DS R, and replace the sensor with a new one based on the current generation design with on-chip ADC (like the ones in the 80D and 1D X Mark II). Since the sensor is a bit smaller resolution than the one it replaces, frame rate can be increased a bit. Peel the 7D Mark II and add its weather sealing and a slightly modified version of the AF point selector switch to the bowl.

Crush the 1D X Mark II, but be careful that both the GPS unit and the AF sensor remain unharmed, we’ll need them. Unfortunately crushing the body will destroy the red AF point illumination and the CFast card slot, so there’s no chance to improve our soup with those extremely fine parts. Yes, use the GPS unit from the 1D X II, since the 7D II’s unit has a digital compass, and that might cause disorientation and dizziness even in small doses.

Cut the 80D in half, pull out the touchscreen and the Wi-Fi. But be extremely careful to clean the Wi-Fi thoroughly, otherwise the soup will taste like crap. Add these to the bowl. Season to taste with Dual Pixel RAW.

— ooo —

Tech companies (and Canon is no exception, just like us) love to reuse existing components in new products. This greatly improves return on investment (good for the company) and reliability (good for the customer).

The 5D Mark IV is a premier example of smart cooking from these components. It’s a serious upgrade for anyone using the 5D Mark III and doesn’t need high resolution or high frame rate. That is, a highly versatile generalist camera.

But since I own and love a 5DS R and a 1D X Mark II, this soup is not for me. I have been using a high res + high speed combination for years, and I prefer it to a single generalist camera, or even a pair of those cameras (I had a 5D Mark III for years, but life is much better now).

Stringent Look - Canon EOS 5D Mark III with EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + 1.4x III

Stringent Look – Canon EOS 5D Mark III with EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + 1.4x III

Photos in this post were made with the 5D Mark III years ago – despite having a rental body for adding it to Kuuvik Capture, I had no time to go out and shoot (not to mention that the weather was dull). But since the Mark IV is s direct replacement of the Mark III, they illustrate the kind of images I usually make with a body like this.

There are things that I really miss, however:

  • CFast 2.0. The 1D X Mark II showed that they are in a completely different league in speed and user experience compared to CF. With CFast the Mark IV’s smallish buffer (21 shots) would not be an issue at all.
  • UHS-II for the SD card slot. UHS-II would be a lower cost alternative to CFast 2.0 (but still faster than CompactFlash: speed ratings are 633x for UHS-I, 1066x for CF, 2000x for UHS-II, 3500x for CFast).
  • USB Type-C socket. The USB3 Micro-B socket the Mark IV (and all USB3 Canons) uses is the worst connector plug I ever saw (only Apple’s 30-pin dock connector comes close). Fragile, hard to insert properly with cold fingers, etc, etc. Canon (and everyone) should use the reversible USB3 Type-C plug these days. With A-to-C cables for legacy computers only having an A socket.
  • Red AF point illumination. See my former opinion about the crappy solution used in every contemporary Canon except the 1D X Mark II.
  • Usable Wi-Fi. The 5D Mark IV shares the snail-like Wi-Fi implementation of the 6D/70D/80D. Come on Canon, 9MB/s peak transfer speed over 802.11n for a 30mp camera? In 2016? To make things worse, you can’t use a much faster WFT-E7 external transmitter to speed up wireless tethering.
Window Remnants - Canon EOS 5D Mark III with EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Window Remnants – Canon EOS 5D Mark III with EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Would I recommend it to a friend?

It boils down to a pair of points: if you need ultra high resolution and are willing to spend a small fortune on lenses that actually can deliver the resolution, then no. In this case get a 5DS R, which is prominently usable even for birding. Or if you need a high-fps camera, then don’t fret about the Mark IV’s frame rate, go get a 1D X or 7D II for yourself.

But in all other cases I can recommend the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – it’s a really nice camera and a joy to use. Well, it’s not a surprise as all professional Canons I happened to use since (and including) the 5D Mark III were exceptional tools. And I totally agree with Canon’s philosophy to please actual photographers and not tech journalists and bloggers (you know, the kind harshly complaining about “lack of innovation”).

Shameless plug

If you are upgrading from an older camera, such as the 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III or either 7D, you’ll probably need my ShutterCount app to let the buyer know how many shutter actuations your old camera has.