Accessories to Get the Most Out of Your 5DS R

The Canon EOS 5DS R is indeed a great camera, rivaling or even surpassing medium format digital offerings. But to extract its capabilities to the last ounce, you’ll need the appropriate lenses, accessories and technique.

Let’s get the lens question out of the way first, before I move onto the accessories and gadgets – the real topic of this post. This camera ignited a complete revamp of my lens set. I’ve already replaced the 500mm with the Mark II because of the 7D Mark II, but the 5DS R made changes also necessary in the shorter focal lengths range. The first lens that got replaced was the 135mm – with the Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2/135 ZE replacing the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM. The Canon was no slouch, but the Zeiss is in a completely different league. Next came the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art replaced with the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZE (actually this change is in progress, as the first copy went back to Zeiss – more on it after the issue settles). On the wide end I’m about to acquire a Zeiss Otus 1.4/28 ZE (when it comes out next year) and a Zeiss 2.8/15 ZE.

It may look pricey at first, but these lenses are not comparable even to the Sigma Arts. With the Sigma 50, 5DS R images just look like regular 35mm DSLR images, albeit with slightly higher resolution. But they are still limited to 40×60 cm print sizes according to my standards. There’s a lot of empty magnification in those images. With the Otus 55, 60×90 cm is easily reachable. The images remind me of those I saw from Hasselblads. The Otus 55 costs around $4000, which is in line with medium format normal lens offerings priced between $3000 (Schneider) – $6000 (Leica). And the 5DS R is more than affordable compared to medium format cameras/backs.

With this said, it’s not surprising that you’ll need tripod stability and shooting discipline used with medium format gear. The setup I describe in the following sections was built slowly during the last couple of years to satisfy my landscape photography requirements. Removing “field frustrations” one by one.

As a quick overview, you can see my rig on the following picture.

Ready to shoot

Ready to shoot

Tripod and Head

I’m using a Gitzo 3532LS tripod for more than three years now. These legs proved to be versatile, have great torsional rigidity and dampen vibrations rather quickly. I prefer three legs sections for increased stability, and myself being 172 cm, this tripod gives me just the right height to work comfortably even on slopes.

On the head front, the Arca-Swiss d4 is my choice. I had been struggling with ballheads for a decade, and they became unbearable when I started to shoot tethered most of the time. I had to wait three months for the d4 to be delivered, but it well worth the wait. Now I can adjust the camera position with just one hand, while holding the MacBook Air in the other. Not to mention that sagging omnipresent even with the best ballheads is a thing of the past. I prefer the d4 compared to the Cube, because of the quick adjustment feature.

The third piece of the the support puzzle is the camera plate. I’ve relocated my Kirk plate from the 5D Mark III – it is 100% compatible. As I wrote in my Kirk plate first impressions piece, I really like its two attachment point fixing method. Together with the 5DS R’s reinforced base plate, it provides very stiff support. Note that no battery grips are used here – they just introduce another attachment point with possible flex and sag.

Filters and Lens Shading

I moved to the LEE filter system when I started shooting with primes only. Four different filter sizes were unmanageable – even with the two types of filters (ND and polarizer) that I use. Still don’t like graduated filters and the dark mountain tops you see so many times on photographs made with them, and my LEE filter set consists of just a 100x100mm polarizer, a 3 stop ND, plus the Little and the Big Stopper.

They beautifully solve the filter thread problem, but forget about stock lens shades. So I had to find a solution. Sometimes I used my hat to shade the lens front element, and that gave me the idea: get a piece of black paper/plastic, and figure out how can I hold it in place (remember, one hand for adjusting the head/camera/lens, another for the MacBook – there’s no third one for holding the shade). I ended up using a Wimberley Plamp as a third hand. Originally I had a piece of black cardboard in my bag as a shade, but recently switched to a piece of matte plastic named Shadepirate. You can’t see on the above picture, but I put a piece of Velcro under the clip of the Plamp to protect the tripod leg.

Tethering

Tethering became integral part of my workflow years ago. At the beginning I had been dragging a 15″ MacBook Pro around, but that turned out to be a bit heavy and problematic. For more than a year now, a 11″ MacBook Air serves as a field computer. It fits into the pocket of my Domke vest, weights as little as five or six 4×5″ film holders… Yes it’s a bit more than 1kg, but my backpack and tripod weighs around 20kg together, so that’s not a huge increase.

Of course I use my own software – Kuuvik Capture – on the MacBook for controlling the camera. But usually also keep a copy of Capture One open so that I can make critical decisions on the filed.

With the arrival of USB 3, cable quality became increasingly important. You need to have good signal integrity for a reliable connection. For this reason, I settled down with TetherTools’ TetherPro cables – currently the 15 feet (4.57m) orange one. As an interesting side note, we had a handful of Kuuvik Capture support incidents where changing the cheap cabling to a good one solved the issue.

Conclusion

For me, the 5DS R marks the end of the casual 35mm shooting era, but in exchange delivers image quality previously available only with much more expensive medium format systems. Even with expensive Zeiss glass, the complete system price/performance ratio remains on a uniquely high level.

Not to mention that the same camera can be used for birding with stellar results – a domain no medium format camera dare to enter.

Gitzo 3532LS First Impressions

I had sold my 8 years old Gitzo 1325 tripod along with my 5D Mark II a few weeks ago, so I was looking for a new tripod. There was nothing wrong with the 1325, I just had an opportunity to step up. I was looking for something similarly spec’d. This boiled down to two choices: the new (2012) Gitzo 3532LS and the RRS TVC-33. They are shockingly similar in all aspects, except two: the “I’m an expensive tripod, steal me” pattern on the RRS and their prices. The RRS retails for $925 (which is about 960 EUR after shipping and import duties), but I bought the Gitzo for 680 EUR including shipping (both are net prices). That is, the RRS is 40% more. Simply does not worth it.

The 3532LS is a great tripod. But even the 1325 was a great one. Weight is about the same. Length is about the same (add or take a few grams and millimeters). Gitzo added some nice features to their newest generation, however:

  • Leg locks. On the 1325 I had to learn the exact torque that I should use to tighten the locks – tightening the upper ones a tad more than the lower ones. Just to avoid inadvertent unlocking. The G-Lock system does not let the legs to rotate, so this is not an issue any more.
  • Included spiked feet and snow feet. The spikes are rubber covered. The snow/mud feet looks a bit clumsy compared to the huge one I had for the 1325. But that size was really prohibitive – I had used them only once in 8 years. These smaller ones will find a permanent place in my bag.
  • Spare washers and grease is included (as well as wrenches and a dust cover).
  • Although I had no issue with the 1325’s top plate locking system (and I had carried it over my shoulder with the 500/4 attached a lot), the new secure locking system is a welcome addition.
  • Max load is doubled (25kg now).
  • The entire tripod seems to dampen vibrations much quicker and better than the 1325 did.
  • Weight hook at the bottom of the top plate. Great to hang your heavy bag (or a beanbag) here in windy conditions. I really appreciate this addition.
  • A carabiner hole on the rim of the top plate (I prefer to attach the strap with a carabiner than wrapping around the head).
  • Leg angle stops can be pulled out from the outside (there are finger recesses on both sides), so you don’t have to push them out from inwards. Nice!

The only negative thing I found was that after removing the top plate, some of the exposed edges were quite rough. Actually they were not deburred. I thought that they will scar my fingers in the worst moment, so picked up a file and deburred those edges.

I hope that this product will prove to be at least as reliable as it’s predecessor. It’ll stay with me for the upcoming decade – or even more.