Living in a Cave

Cave-dwelling bacteria decorate the walls of lava tubes in the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

Living in a Cave

Living in a Cave

Since we went there with a regular tour, there was no possibility to bring a tripod and set up shots as I normally would. So the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II together with the great little Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens, a 600EX flash (was not used for the shot above) and the mighty Nitecore SRT7 flashlight came with me.

The flashlight was used to light this shot. The 35mm is a very sharp lens, and you can handhold it at ridiculously slow shutter speeds. Plus the 1D X II is very good at high ISOs, so they made the perfect combination for this adventure.

Yet Another Puffin Portrait

I can’t help it – I like to shoot puffin portraits. Over time you see so many different faces, different personalities, different, but untold stories. The image below is one of my all time favorites.

It was shot at Látrabjarg, and I was quite shocked how much the bird colony shrunk during the last decade. And again, lots of people everywhere. Interestingly, tourists tend to cluster in all the wrong places – I was completely alone with 5-6 birds for an hour or so. In ideal light, ideal angle, ideal background. But this place was not marked with a “Lay here to photograph the birds” sign…

Yet Another Puffin Portrait

Yet Another Puffin Portrait

Shot with the Canon 1D X Mark II and 500mm f/4L IS II lens plus the 2x III teleconverter. It’s amazing how clear this ISO 1600 image is – not to mention the lovely colors.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II Review – Part 2

This is the second installment of my ongoing EOS-1D X Mark II review. You can read Part 1 here. My other posts comparing effective reach of the 1D X II with the 7D II and focus drive speed of different cameras including the 1D X II may also be useful for you.

Dynamic range

You may already saw at the usual camera testing sites that the 1D X Mark II has a dynamic range that’s practically identical to the competition, so “Canon is back in the game”. While this is true, let me approach the topic of dynamic range from another angle. Which is prints. I know that only a few of us print anything at all, and that may explain the number of people obsessed with the extreme dynamic range of today’s sensors. But in reality it is a double-edged sword.

Ink on paper has about 6 or 7 stops of dynamic range, so if you have anything with more range, you may need to be careful when preparing the prints to keep pleasing tonal relationships and prevent posterization. Too much contrast after setting the black and white points could also be an issue that needs to be mitigated. So the saying “be careful what you wish for – you may get it” is really holds in this situation.

Puffin Portrait at Látrabjarg

Puffin Portrait at Látrabjarg

Of course it helps in exposing naturally high dynamic range subjects, like the blacks and whites of puffins. But the dynamic range collapses quickly with increasing ISO, so you may not have that much to work with.

All in all, the 1D X Mark II is state of the art, but I had no complaints about the 5DS R either.

High ISO

As I mentioned in Part 1, I print large, and thus resolution is an important aspect of all images I keep. And despite the hype (may I call it marketing bullshit?) of the camera seeing in the dark in those extremely high ISOs, I consider 6400 the maximum usable ISO. Fine details are starting to get eradicated at 3200, though. The only use I have for the higher values is for preparing long exposure compositions.

I use the camera a lot with the 500mm f/4L IS II and the 2x III teleconverter, and my base ISO in this case is 800 – resulting in very clean images. The following image was taken with this combo at ISO 3200 during the Icelandic summer night.

Redshank at Night

Redshank at Night

RAW file bit depth changes a little with ISO changes. You get the highest usable bit depth (13.81 out of the theoretical maximum of 14) between ISO 125 and 200. At ISO 100, you get 13.71 bits, and 13.65 bits between ISO 320 and 51200. Higher bit depth meaning better tonal separation. I still have a habit to only use whole stop ISOs to avoid the ill-effects of digital compensation when using third stop values. At low ISOs (100 and 200) you have to make a tradeoff between dynamic range (better at ISO 100) or bit depth (better at ISO 200) based on what you photograph.

CFast 2.0 image corruption

Firmware 1.0.2 has been released yesterday to address the possible image corruption with SanDisk CFast 2.0 cards. I also experienced a corruption on my Lexar 3500x card. It looked different than the SanDisk issue, the image was cut after a few kilobytes. I don’t know whether the culprit was the card or the camera, but installed firmware 1.0.2 nonetheless. Should the problem happen again, I’ll let you know.

Resolving fine details

While shooting a couple of long exposure images, picked up the 1D X Mark II with the Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 2/135 lens to make some detail shots, just like the following one. Handheld, since the tripod was already occupied by the 5DS R.

Landmannalaugar Detail

Landmannalaugar Detail

The camera is prominently useful for landscape work. While not in the realms of the 5DS R in terms of sheer resolving power, the images are full of fine details. It seems that Canon opted for a weaker anti-aliasing filter in this case (unlike my old 1D Mark II, which had a pretty strong blurring filter).

Due to the relatively low resolution, less shooting discipline is required. Shooting a 135mm manual focus lens handheld is not a problem (something I failed to do successfully with the 5DS R quite a few times). It is also less demanding on lens quality (although using high quality glass pays off), and you can stop down to f/11 without diffraction becoming an issue. All these add up to a more casual shooting experience than the 5DS R.

So I arrived to a very interesting point. While both the 5DS R and the 1D X Mark II have their strengths in different areas, and I prefer to choose them based on these strengths for each image, the other one could do almost as well. I would be in deep trouble if I could keep only one of them.

To be continued…

1D X Mark II or 7D Mark II for Reach?

This was an important question for me. But let me rephrase it more precisely: given the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and 1.4x III and 2x III teleconverters, which camera produces more real pixels per object? Empty magnification does not count. The 7D Mark II with the 500 and the 1.4x, or the 1D X Mark II with the 500 and the 2x? (The 7D Mark II + 500 + 2x combination was ruled out since its image quality is not up to my standards.)

You may think that the 7D configuration with its 1120mm effective focal length will beat the 1D configuration with only 1000mm effective focal length. Well, you shouldn’t make a decision based on specifications only! Thus I did a little test, a result of which you can see below.


Click the image for the actual pixels version on non-Retina displays.

Air was a bit turbulent, and it impacts telephoto imagery with high resolution sensors, so I made a series of shots with each combination in Kuuvik Capture, and selected the sharpest from each batch for this comparison. Also converted the images to black and white because it’s easier to see the sharpness difference this way. 5DS R shots were the same resolution-wise that the 7D II shots, so only included the ones from the 7D Mark II.

The bottom line is that the 1D X Mark II with the 500mm f/4L II and 2x III produces more usable pixels than the 7D Mark II with the 500 and the 1.4x TC. The 500 with the teleconverter is simply unable to feed the resolution-hungry 7D II (as well as the 5DS R) sensor. This is in line with my experience in real-world images.

Tern with Angel Wings. 1D X Mark II with 500mm f/4L II + 2x III @ ISO 800.

Tern with Angel Wings. 1D X Mark II with 500mm f/4L II + 2x III @ ISO 800.

I prefer the overall look from the 1D X II (not just the higher effective resolution, but better dynamic range, better colors, less plasticky, etc.) to the 7D II, so it pretty much seals the deal regarding which camera will stay in my bag. And with the ability to autofocus using all AF points with the 2x converter at f/8, the 1D X II + 500 II + 2x III is a killer combination. You may need to renew your gym membership though…

Looking for more info on the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II? You may find my review and the AF drive speed comparison useful.