Canon 80D

REAL WORLD REVIEW

INTRODUCTION

The Canon 80D is the latest in their line-up of mid-range, enthusiast level DSLRs. On paper, the 80D looks to be an improvement in practically every regard over the 2013-model 70D, especially with the introduction of a new dual-pixel 45 point auto-focus.

That said, I've never been 100% convinced by the need for the "double digit" models Canon offers - when you have extremely capable "entry-level" cameras like the 760D for beginners or the 7D mark II/full frame options for the more seasoned photographer who wants even more capability,  I always felt like the 60D and 70D have been stuck in a no-man's land. A mid-range obscurity. With the touted specifications for the 80D it felt like Canon were making a bit more of an effort to differentiate the 80D from the likes of the 760D.

So when a box arrived by courier containing an advance preview of the 80D I was looking forward to testing it out but starting from a position of mild skepticism. It will have to work hard to impress me :)

OUT OF THE BOX

Canon released a couple of other items at the same time as the 80D, including a new 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 "Nano USM" kit lens and a powered zoom adaptor. I didn't expect to find the power-zoom in the box but I did expect to see the 18-135mm lens. Instead, it shipped with one of the older and less exciting 18-200mm lenses. I'm still awaiting availability info on the camera + 18-135mm lens options so for now this review will only cover the camera.

Box contents were very much expected in other aspects. Camera, battery & charger, strap, all the usual manuals plus the aforementioned 18-200 kit lens.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor
  • DIGIC 6 processor
  • ISO 100 - 25,600
  • 7fps burst mode
  • 1080p 60fps FHD video recording, MPEG4 AVC/H.264
  • SD/HC/XC card formats supported
  • 45 cross-type point phase-detect multi-mode autofocus
  • 63-zone 7,560 pixel metering sensor
  • 3" 1.04mp LCD screen

USAGE & HANDLING

The 80D is a "mid-range", weather-resistant EF-S mount DSLR. Size-wise it sits reasonably squarely between the 760D and the 5D-III. Actually, the biggest difference in physical size comes from accomodating the LP-E6N battery, otherwise it's more in line with the smaller 760D than the other "mid-range" camera I compared it to.  The 80D has managed to lose some weight too and is about 5% lighter than its predecessor. It's still on the relatively heavy side at 730g, putting it in the same ballpark as the Sony A7RII. So it's not the biggest, heaviest brick in the Canon lineup yet still benefits from their biggest battery.

The vast majority of changes between the 70D and 80D are internal and although there have been some cosmetic tweaks I didn't really find anything significantly different. I generally find that most of the buttons are laid out in a more intuitive & sensible location on mid-range size bodies like the xxxD and xxD, rather than on the full-size SLRS, but to be totally honest it's "more of the same" and any Canon shooter will adapt extremely quickly. I still think Canon ergonomics & menus are the best out there.

The touchscreen is worth a special mention. It was pretty good on the 70D and it just *feels* better here. No accidental shooting when your nose touches the screen as you raise the camera to your eye! 

Onto the good stuff :)

The autofocus has seen a serious boost in capability featuring 45 all cross-type focal points (up from 19 in the 70D). Superficially, using it reminded me a lot of that on the 760D but performance wise it's a step up. It was fast & accurate on all lenses I tried shooting through the viewfinder. That said, third party lenses including the Tamron 24-70 and 150-600, and Sigma 70-300, were slightly slower. Not slow - not by a long shot - and they were still accurate, but there was a small, perceptible difference between 3rd party lenses & EF-S lenses and good L glass as you might expect. To put it into context, as you'll see later in the sample images, even when shooting birds in flight with the 150-600mm Tamron it was still very quick & tracked the target accurately. That said there is still a problem using third party lenses in Live-View mode. Both the Tamron & Sigma lenses did not work, at all. In fact, with my Tamrons, if you half-pressed the shutter button the lens & camera would lock up completely. Even turning the camera off would not fix the problem and you need to remove the battery completely. Bear in mind these lenses had their firmware upgraded after I encountered a similar issue with the 7Dmark2 so this is a new issue - actually, it's a lot worse than before because it crashes the camera! This is always a risk you take when buying off-brand lenses and even though it's limited to Live-View mode it's still very annoying! 

With all my Canon lenses though, autofocus really worked well with using Live-View and touch focusing. For people & moving targets it was good, tracking them across the entire scene. It even tracked through fences & tree branches pretty well. It will come into its own for videographers! Shooting wildlife was less impressive, not because of any limitation of the AF but only because it's difficult to practically use live-view and follow monkeys and birds racing around tree tops! Even shooting waterbirds skimming above the reservoir was tricky and I managed to get much more consistent results using the viewfinder. Being able to control the AF when you wireless connect your phone/tablet is also pretty cool - touching the tablet screen refocuses the camera, just like touching the LCD screen would.

Switching between AF modes is simple but I found that manually selecting a single specific point was a bit tricky - you need to use the D-pad while keeping the subject framed, one hand holding the lens while the other holds the camera, thumb fumbling for the control. Maybe it's just my giant hands :) But in the end I opted to use the grouped AF point mode, that way I could select and switch between groups of AF points when predicting the ones I needed rather than have to manually select the 1 in 45 point I needed! One last change to the AF is that the centre point now focuses down to -3EV.

The 7D mark 2 is still the king but it's pretty exciting to see such quality AF systems appearing across the whole Canon range.

Dark, mysterious & accidentally under-exposed.

Video features have been up-rated too, albeit stopping short of including 4K video. I think this is a mistake, whether it's true or not it feels like now Canon are deliberately hamstringing their cameras, we know the tech is available so when it's omitted it gives the wrong impression. Still, the 80D now shoots FHD at 60p, increased from the 30p of the 70D. The 80D also has headphone & microphone jack sockets now too, meaning the need to hack/workaround to monitor audio while recording can be done directly.

Other features include the anti-flicker white balance mode (very handy), WiFi & NFC (couldn't test NFC, WiFi worked as well as other Canon cameras) and an improved metering sensor. For the latter, it's the same metering sensor found on the 760D but if I am being totally honest I didn't really notice any huge difference over my other cameras and still needed to be consciously aware of/compensating for the lighting conditions myself. A quick word on battery life which was, in short, exceptional. I charged the battery to full once when I received the camera and never needed to charge it again throughout the entire time I used it, for just over a week. By the time I handed the camera back I'd shot 1107 images (according to Lightroom) and the battery was still showing over 30% charge. Even if the remaining charge was an overestimate, that's still superb performance and is a pretty stark contrast to the couple of hundred shots you get in the competition's small batteries.

Overall, there have been a number of good refinements & improvements with that new AF system on top. So far so good...

IMAGE QUALITY

Rounding out the package is the new 24mp sensor - let's see what it can do! I always try to test cameras out in a range of scenarios, from situations you'd expect it to excel & ones it may be less comfortable in. However I'm well aware that the 70D was popular with bird & wildlife photographers who may be interested in it as a cheaper alternative to the 7D mark 2. With that in mind, I thought I'd give a bit more attention in that area where I could.

To begin I wanted to explore the cropping potential from the higher resolution sensor - the next three images show the beginning, middle & end of a very quick, rough & ready process. 

The starting image, straight up conversion from the RAW file without any changes/processing.

The image above, cropped in. Still lots of potential.

Final image after processing, noise reduction & sharpening. Not bad for 15 minutes work!

The next two images show the image noise - shot at 1/100th sec, f/8 and increasing in full stops. ISO 100 is at the left and it goes up to the maximum expanded ISO of 25,600 on the right.

This is the same image as above but pushed in Photoshop to accentuate the differences between ISO settings.

Generally speaking I think images are clean and largely indistinguishable upto 1600. 3200 is pretty good and 6400 is definitely useable in some cicrumstances - some of the bird photos were shot at ISO 6400 to make sure I could get the aperture & shutter I wanted. Above that though, it gets messy...

Onto the sample images!

Who's a pretty boy then?

Who's a pretty boy then?

This is an almost-ran for me. The bird was sat on a concrete table underneath a big, shady tree. Shot at 1/250th sec & f/8 to try and keep it sharp, the ISO leapt to 6400. In order to counteract the noise I've needed to push the noise reduction much higher than I'd prefer and the details in the feathers are lost. Even post-capture sharpening wasn't enough to pull back detail in the orange and green but the blues look OK.

Iguanas aren't native to Singapore so this is an invader. I found this HUGE guy just starting to turn orange (ready for mating season) in one of the zoos.

A milky stork, shot wild around the Seletar reservoir

Another Milky Stork shot in flight. Not bad - it's not pin sharp on the face but I'll admit my tracking technique isn't always perfect :)

A spider monkey posing obligingly for me :) I love the detail in the fur

Shot through glass at the River Safari, this isn't a technical masterpiece... I just liked the symmetry of it!

Here I deliberately underexposed the foreground to keep detail in the unusual-overcast sky. All the colour & detail has ben pulled back in Lightroom.

I has a fish!

Low-light ISO test and also "How Would I Look If I Was Tron" nailed in one photo

Something a bit unusual and a personal indulgence :) 

This is Jupiter shot at 600mm - with the 1.6x crop factor it's the same field of view as a 960mm lens! It's fairly amateur by astrophotography standards but it's still cool to see! You can even see some details on the LCD screen when you enable 10x magnification

A slightly enhanced and very much cropped segment of the prior image. Cloud bands in the atmosphere are visible and the Great Red Spot is also just about visible - if the disc of Jupiter is a clock face, the spot is at about 9 o'clock. Colour information is lacking because it's so faint. You can also see one of the moons at bottom right (the other faint specks are just stars)

This was shot at ISO 12,800 then processed "Rockwell style" - moving all sliders to the right! It's not really a very good photo but considering the very dark conditions and the state of the RAW file it shows the kind of details you can rescue with a little effort.

I'm not exactly religious but it would be hard to ignore this sunset!

PROS

  • Very impressive autofocus, fast & accurate
  • Decent upgrades for video, in both recording quality & camera handling
  • Good touchscreen, probably the best implementation on a DSLR I've seen

CONS

  • High ISO performance is relatively average at best
  • Still no 4K video

CONCLUSION

If you remember I started this review with the opinion that I'm not a solid fan of the xxD series of cameras. I suppose the first question is whether the 80D has changed that perception? Well....

Yes & no. Mostly no, but the "yes" part surprised me in a very good way. When comparing the specs of the older models, let's say the 700D, 70D and 7Dmk2 as all were released relatively close together, I personally thought the feature set of the 70D simply wasn't useful enough on a day to day basis to warrant paying extra for. I can count on one hand the number of times I've shot at 1/4000th of a second let alone 1/8000th, by way of example! It felt like the 70D was the "Grande" option from a Starbucks menu, just something at an interim price point to satisfy buyers who had more money than needed for the 700D but not enough for the 7Dmk2. I've always advised people to start with the "best of the lowest level", in this example I advise gettingthe 700D, spend lots of time using the camera to work out what they truly need with their first upgrade - be it the features of a 7Dmk2 or a full frame option. 

The 80D is the first time I can remember where Canon have genuinely differentiated between the models in their lineup. I thought the 760D was going to be tough to beat and to my surprise Canon have actually put features in the 80D that means I would - for photographers who would realistically get the best out of it - recommend it over the entry level option. If you're shooting birds & nature but can't afford the 7dmk2 then it's definitely a very solid choice; what you lose in things like burst rate you gain in extra resolution to give more latitude for cropping. 

That said though, the camera is still definitely evolution rather than revolution. Just because it surprised me doesn't mean it amazed me. The high-ISO noise performance was something of a disappointment, albeit in that it didn't feel significantly better than the older model rather than being "bad". The video improvements are solid, but not 4K-level inspiring. The improvements in shadow rendering and how far you can push the RAW files are hugely exciting though and I hope they filter down into the rest of the range.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this 80D to people interested in shooting wildlife who can't afford a 7dmk2, or perhaps as a second-body for someone with a full-frame camera. I'd still nudge beginners in the direction of the 760D and the serious sport/nature-togs are still going to go for the 7Dmk2 but the 80D represents a good improvement in sensor technology that's still pitched into an odd no-man's-land that will only appeal to relatively small segment of Canon shooters. The future for this new sensor tech is very bright though :)

YOU MIGHT ALSO BE INTERESTED IN...

You can guess what I'm going to say here... either the 760D or 7Dmk2 are the logical alternatives for someone thinking about a mid-size DSLR from Canon!

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Canon 5DSR

Extended REAL WORLD REVIEW

OK I admit I'm a bit late to the game in terms of a straight up review of Canon's 5DSR. With the buzz around the camera and my place in the queue I was never going to get a review unit during the early days! Because of that, I've taken the more unusual approach of writing the review in terms of a longer term, extended use of the camera and how I thought it felt. To give it a thorough evaluation & see how it performs across a range of different scenarios I took the camera and a couple of lenses on a 3 week trip around China! As a result, this will be a slightly unconventional "experiential" travel review tying heavily into the trip and 16 days of non-stop use. Hopefully it will give me more of a deeper, longer term insight than some of the other early reviews of the camera.

The Canon 5DSR is one of two 50-megapixel resolution monsters which Canon released in 2015. Where it differs from its sister camera, the 5DS, is that the 5DSR has an additional filter which cancels out the optical low-pass filter that removes moire. The result, in theory, should be noticeably sharper looking images at the expense of potential image artefacts in some shooting situations. Otherwise, the cameras are technically identical.

So what follows is less one of my standard reviews and more of an account of the situations I encountered during my travels & how the camera fared. If you want a more "traditional" review then check out my 5DS review - this camera is functionally identical to its sibling, it produces great images if the conditions & your technique are good and the 5DSR definitely has a small but noticeable sharpness improvement over the 5DSR.

Out of the Box

The camera, battery & charger, neck strap and array of manuals & booklets. 

Three Weeks With the 5DSR

I'll admit upfront I was a little nervous about limiting myself to a single camera for a trip. I normally like to pack for every eventuality! Although I did take a second camera on the trip, an infrared converted Canon 500D, the 5DSR was going to be my main camera. I took a range of lenses covering a focal range from 16mm to 200mm so I'd be able to test the camera out on a range of different scenes.

I can summarise what it's like to use the camera and how it handles quite easily - in fact I already have. Unsurprisingly, it is to all intents-and-purposes identical to the 5DS but this is a good thing. Specificall, because the increase in resolution from the cancelled low-pass filter means the camera is even more prone to camera shake & mirror slap blurring the final image. Put in different terms, when you have very high resolution sensors with tiny pixels, the effect of camera motion is more noticeable & pronounced than with larger pixels. It's easier for images on the 50mp sensors to be very slightly blurry as compared to say 20mp sensors. Canon were aware of this and rebuilt the 5DS/R chassis to account for it. I didn't notice this being any more pronounced than the 5DS so right off the bat one of my concerns was happily addressed.

Otherwise it's just the same as the 5DS and by extension, very similar to the other Canon pro bodies. Anyone familiar with a Canon camera will be right at home with the 5DSR. I appreciated this fact when picking up my review body the day before I flew and despite having no time to familiarise myself was able to hit the ground running. I know that when you own a camera you become accustomed to the menu layouts and many people argue that having more options & functions available to you is better than fewer but I have a different personal view. Although I use hundreds of different cameras a year and therefore have to constantly learn new menus pretty frequently, I find that the simpler & more concise the menus & control layouts are, the easier & more productive it is to shoot. For me, anything that isn't making my shooting experience faster and smoother is getting in the way. Canon still continue to lead in this area for me.

The 5DSR isn't the biggest or heaviest in the DSLR world but it's not far off. It's a chunky, reassuringly solid block. This doesn't bother me normally but I was curious to see if that opinion would shift much after two weeks of lugging the camera and lenses around! In retrospect while I'm sure that a smaller, more compact solution may have made shooting more comfortable, my experience with the 5DSR wasn't uncomfortable. I'm also sure if I'd packed an entirely mirrorless setup my bag might have been a little lighter yet even though I did a huge amount of walking and hiking on the trip I didn't find myself wishing for a lighter setup. It's a personal choice and while I acknowledge the point Micro Four Thirds evangelists will make about the benefits of smaller kit, the size & weight of the 5DSR just did not bother me. My personal preference on this is that I prefer to go with the best image quality options I have available to me first, size & weight second. Besides, if we're being honest, it's not like I'm hauling a large format body around with me!  The difference may be a couple of kilos but that's not a problem. It's a balancing act/compromise that's unique to each individual. The size & weight of the 5DSR will be an obstacle for some, but for my travel the weight was not a problem.

PEOPLE, places & PANDAS

With hope, and help from a friend...

Like all of the current crop of high-resolution sensored cameras, the 5DSR is really going to excel in situations where you can take your time, shoot using a tripod and for scenes where the benefits of super-high resolution sensors will really shine through. Landscapes, studio work, even macro photography for example. I began by ignoring all of that and followed baby pandas around their sanctuary :)

If I'm being honest, it wasn't hard for autofocus on the 5DSR to track & shoot them. They're fairly slow and sort of famous for being contrasty colours! The only real challenge was distance and I needed to crop in a little after I was limited to shooting at 200mm.

The AF is the same as that on the 5DS, 61-point phase detection. I did find with the 5DS, and obviously it's the same with the -R version, that the AF points are perhaps slightly more clustered around the centre than I'd prefer. With such high resolution you need your AF to be accurate or slight blurring will be more apparent. In decent lighting conditions the AF performed well enough and paired with L-lenses was certainly fast enough too. I wouldn't say the AF on the 5DSR was the best I've ever seen but rather that it did the job OK in the majority of cases. As you'll see from later shots, when the pollution elsewhere in China impacted visibility, the camera did struggle more than I'd expect and I was forced to fall back onto manual focus on more than one occasion. For studio or meticulous, patient landscape photography it won't be an issue because you can take your time. 

... You can make it!

The second leg of the trip was to Xi'an. I had been warned by friends there wasn't a lot to see and do in Xi'an outside of the Terracotta Warriors and unfortunately that assessment was pretty much true. Although Chengdu had been perpetually overcast , Xi'an marked the beginning of a perpetual, choking smog that blighted the rest of our entire tour of mainland China which didn't really help its appeal!

That said, wandering around some of the older streets in Xi'an as well as the more touristy Muslim Quarter was fun and you do see some unusual things going on...

Street ear cleaning was one of the more unusual things I saw. Not sure how happy I'd be with a bloke sticking steel skewers into my ear canal and wiggling them around!

Thankfully the Terracotta Warriors are indoors and largely free from the haze blighting the rest of the region.

This was really the first time I'd be testing the dynamic-range & low-light capabilities of the 5DSR on the trip. The warehouses the warriors are housed in are quite dark overall but with strips of glass on the ceilings to let in light. Combined, it made wide angle shots difficult to balance the brightest & darkest areas of the scene and tighter shots, such as that above, required pushing the ISO to 3200 and beyond to keep the shutter speed fast enough to hand-hold. Using a tripod wasn't an option.

Like the 5DS, the high ISO performance of the 5DSR lags behind the likes of the A7R2 and even Canon's own 5D3 and 6D. The native ISO maximum of 6400 doesn't really cut it in my opinion, far from it. While images are sometimes rescuable in Lightroom it's probably the single biggest disappointment and most frustrating aspect of the camera. The lack of dynamic range can be worked around by exposure bracketing but if the lighting is so low your forced into pushing your ISO high then you're screwed. 

On the new main-line train route between Xi'an and Beijing sits the World Heritage site of Pingyao. If you can imagine an ancient Chinese town like you might see in the movies then that's Pingyao. The old city is surrounded by its original wall dating back almost 3,000 years. Outside the wall a new, modern town is springing up but inside the streets, homes and shops are all very similar to how you'd imagine them back in the days of Imperial China. Sadly the everpresent smog hung like a shroud above the rooftops but I think it actually suited Pingyao in some strange way. With small chimneys chugging out coal-fire smoke directly into the streets there was a wonderful "real-fire" smell and the smog made added to the ambience. It's just a shame it's hugely toxic  :)

The smog that pervaded every single destination on our trip was a constant nightmare to photograph in. Even shooting using ND grads to make sure the sky wasn't blown out didn't matter - because the skies were always pearly white it LOOKED like they were blown out. More of than not I tried to avoid including too much sky and where I had to I just gave up trying to handle it.  More dynamic range would have helped, especially in Pingyao where the streets were dark and the sky much brighter, but more dynamic range wouldn't have made the skies more interesting - they were simply the featureless, flat, horrible white expanse you see in some of the images.

The two images above have been processed to my own artistic taste but the image below is a good example of how the scene looked straight out of camera. The smoke was a murky orange fog and you can see the difference between brightest & darkest points here.

Beijing was one of the places I spent the most time in but photographically it was moribund. The smog was even worse, the people unco-operative on the streets and the sights miserable from a photography perspective. I'm pleased I visited and also saw the Great Wall and the Forbidden City but it will not be somewhere I choose to go back in a hurry. I have exactly one photograph I like from the Beijing leg of the trip, taken on the Great Wall. 

The final region I visited in mainland China was the Zhangjiajie National Park. Famous for its towering pillars of rock, its claim to fame - if you believe the Chinese Tourst Board - is that it's the direct inspiration behind the floating rocks you see at the end of Avatar! It's a spectacular place, although like everywhere else it was choked by pollution yet again. This was a huge shame and I was gutted to miss out on some landscape photography opportunities.

The Golden Whip stream winds its way around the peaks of Zhangjiajie and it's a very pleasant, gentle walk. It's quiet, relaxed and has some superb spots for landscape photography.

The next three images show examples of the beginning, middle & end of my processing flow for the Zhangjiajie landscape images and demonstrate how I tried to make the best of really poor lighting conditions, as well as showing you one of the more spectacular columns of rock. 

The first image below is a straight-up RAW conversion - I haven't even applied sharpening at this point, just a quick JPG export so this as close to out of camera as it comes. The skies aren't overexposed as you will see from the second image.

The image below shows the photo after I've used Lightroom's new dehaze function - the difference is quite profound and shows that even though it's a featureless blank, the 5DSR hasn't overexposed the sky. I've also applied moderate image sharpening at this stage too to bring out the detail.

This final image shows the "final" result with white balance corrected and +5 on vibrance to try and offset some of that smothering fog. Some of the fine detail is lost due to JPG compression but the full size image still contains a surprising amount of workable information even though from the first image you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a lost cause!

These sticks are a local folk tradition - not, as I originally thought, a superstition to keep the rock pillars from crashing down, rather they are a simple offering to the "mountain gods".

HONG KONG

After two-weeks in mainland China, especially in a wilderness in the middle of nowhere, I needed a return to civilisation! I'd never visited Hong Kong before but I was looking forward to it and not just for the photographic opportunities! The chance to breathe much cleaner air and ditch the gas mask was very much welcomed!

In contrast to the landscapes & slower, more considered shots I'd done in the mainland, in Hong Kong it was almost all street photography. The 5DSR coped better than expected. What follows are a selection of some of the better images from Hong Kong with a little note about each.

The final image has been processed in Analog Efex Pro and sharpened slightly. I actually felt the colour rendition of the bird's plumage was too bright and incongruous with the predominantly grey background - it actually looked fake! Applying a film-preset has toned it down a bit while still making sure it draws your eye.

Clarity tweaked & sharpened, you can see just how much punchier the colours are here in an image that hasn't had any colour processing.

It was hard to resist waiting for someone to walk down this staircase! The darker areas aren't vignetting, just an artefact of lighting on the day. Also the image HAS had vertical line correction but as you can see one side is straight and the other side isn't... the stairs aren't level!

Oh that hand is annoying! :)

A typical scene from Hong Kong that at the some time does & doesn't do justice to what I was trying to capture. It was a constant challenge - and a lot of fun - trying to get the verticality of the city in the same frame as the hustle and bustle of people. Buildings towering while people run around like ants. 

Again, I have tried to correct the vertical lines here but some buildings just seem to defy correction!

Leaving the smog of mainland China and getting clean, clear air in Hong Kong was like having cataracts removed. I kept seeing colour everywhere!

A snapshot of a pre-wedding bridal shoot. Although at 100% size you can tell there's some slight motion blurring for an off-the-cuff snapshot I think the camera has exposed it pretty well considering it's a mishmash of bright white dress and dark foreground!

An extremely rare portrait of my travelling companion!

CONCLUSION

To say the Canon 5DSR is a very capable camera that can produce some stunning images is a no-brainer. We all knew that going into this article. What I was interested in was how capable it was when you take it outside the studio. When things get a little murkier, or the light isn't quite how you want it, or you don't have time to set up the tripod... how does it handle those situations?

Generally speaking, the 5DSR is a good but not outstanding choice for travel photographers. 

The buying advice I give for the 5DS is exactly the same for the 5DSR - if you're using it in a controlled environment or you have the time & patience to set things up properly and get the best light then you will not find a better Canon camera. The results will be great. Whether you want to pay extra for the 5DSR comes down to whether you want the slightly sharper images. If I were buying, I'd go for the 5DSR over the 5DS but in *every* aspect other than improved sharpness the cameras are identical. However if like me you have a 5D3 or 6D and are wanting to upgrade then this may not be what you want. If you already have a current-generation full-frame camera then the 5DSR is like the 7D2; a specialised side-grade that will excel in a few areas but noticeable lag behind the "generalist" 5D3 and 6D in others. Think carefully before you buy and don't assume newer is better, or more megapixels will give you better photos. 

A common question is why bother with high megapixels when 20mp is perfectly fine for most uses and for printing at "normal" sizes. That's very true, but higher print resolutions are not the only benefit from high megapixel sensors. If that was the case then most of us would still be using our 8mp cameras and decrying the current crop of 24mp sensors as pointless. The greater latitude for cropping is one of the strongest arguments and even those sanctimonious super-togs who claim they always get it right in camera will sometimes make mistakes. Let's not forget too the the 5DSR can reveal some astonishing detail too - again, even if what you have right now is "good enough" you can't deny the 5DSR is better. Whether you need it is not a question I can answer but I think the high megapixel bodies we've seen recently have definitely carved out their own niche.

I've also been asked on dozens of occasions whether someone should by the 5DSR or the A7RII. Generally speaking, my advice is to wait to see what the A7RIII will be like, knowing Sony it's just around the corner! However if you simply must buy right now AND you already have a large range of Canon lenses AND you know for sure you'll be shooting with the 5DSR in the situations it's built for then go for it, it's a cracking camera. Just don't rely on it to do everything. If you haven't invested in a camera brand yet then the Sony is the stronger bet, certainly in the short term - the improved higher ISO performance simply means it can do the same as the 5DSR plus that little bit more, making it a more versatile purchase overall.

Personally? I'll stick with my 6D for now because I don't specialise in any one photography genre but I will be eagerly watching to see how the next-generation of massive megapixel monsters pan out. Something with extremely high resolution AND 6D noise performance is the dream :)

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OTHER REVIEWS YOU MAY BE INTERESTED IN

I'm adding my reviews for the 16-35 f/4 and 70-200 f/4 lenses soon, both of which were tested on the 5DSR. Stay tuned for those reviews and more photos from China! Otherwise you may be interested in the following camera reviews to compare - 

Canon 8-15mm F/4L Fisheye Lens

Real World Review

The 8-15mm f/4 Fisheye is a relatively new lens, released back in 2010, but that can sometimes feel like a lifetime ago in photography. Although I'd used it for specific assignments in the past

 

OUT OF THE BOX

The lens comes with it's own specialist lens hood as you'd expect for an L-grade item. The lens cap is also specially designed to cover the whole lens+hood assembly. A soft cloth pouch is also provided.

USAGE & HANDLING

Build quality should go without saying for an L-grade lens and the 8-15mm doesn't disappoint. It surprised me by how small it was, from photos the bulbous front element gave me the false impression it was going to be larger than it was. Partly that impression may have been reinforced by the massive 11-24mm f/4 lens I used just prior to reviewing the fisheye but still, it was quite a (pleasant) surprise to see how compact the lens is. At 500g I'd not exactly call it lightweight but mounted to the camera it felt well-balanced.

To be completely honest the main consideration in how the lens handles is how the zoom range renders images on your camera. It can show a full 180 degree image at 8mm on full frame cameras, rendered as a complete circle. In all my time with the lens I found this was more of a novelty effect and I couldn't really find a real world situation where this view was actually useful. Even doing some research online, all of the "full circle" scenes shot at 8mm were unusual rather than outstanding. Shooting at 8mm also means any distortion correction will be limited and unpredictable. Lightroom's internal algorithm general struggled to produce anything usable and I needed to use a dedicated fisheye correction plugin (Fisheye-Hemi) then tease out usable images by hand. After a while I stopped shooting at 8mm and mainly used the longer focal lengths.

I think the most useful advice I can offer about how to get the best out of this lens applies to all wide-angle lenses. Get in close to your subject, make sure you have some foreground interest, get close to the ground if you can - because wide-angles make everything look small in the frame you'll be left with a lot of empty space and not a lot to look at unless you consciously try to fill up the frame.


IMAGE QUALITY

Fisheyes give a unique, distorted view of the world. Whether this is what you want or if it "looks wrong" is down to what you are trying to achieve and how much you are prepared to live with to produce interesting & eye catching outcomes.

It almost seems pointless to talk about distortion - as you can see from any of the images shot with the 8-15mm they are all as distorted as hell but that's the point! If you want ultra-wide angle views of the world without this distortion then get ready to pay for the outstanding & outstandingly expensive 11-24mm f/4. Don't think that this distortion can simply be fixed in post-processing either; sometimes it can but that depends more on what you've photographed and what kind of compromises you are prepared to make, usually in the overall focal range you're able to show. It's either "ultra-wide & super distorted" or "wide & still a bit distorted" without much in the middle.

There are definitely other quality niggles and the amount of chromatic aberration was probably the most surprising, albeit easily fixed. I've left some uncorrected samples later on to show what it's like. For those considering the lens for astrophotography, the coma aberrations are barely noticeable on an APS-C body but at 15mm on full frame the stars do look like smudges rather than pinpoints in the corners of the frame. 

Other than this the lens is pretty much top notch as you might expect. Centre frame sharpness is superb. In fact, if you take an image shot at 8mm and correct the distortion, the centre almost looks unnaturally sharp! This is because the software is smoothing out and unavoidably introducing blur where the image elements are condensed. On higher-resolution bodies the sharpness is noticeably better.

All in all, the image quality for this lens is not something that easily compares to other lenses. Fisheyes are always hard to assess! You choose them because you know you're getting that look. All things considered, it's without doubt it's capable of producing the best quality images of any fisheye I've ever used. Check out the sample images below.

This is straight out of camera with only standard LR conversion sharpening applied. The distortion is obvious and you can see that the corners have black creeping in. It still gives this familiar scene from Singapore a unique perspective.

I just like this :)

Getting right up to your subject is advisable when shooting at such wide angles. While shooting this retro cinema facade I was less than a metre away from the ceiling but I've still captured a huge amount of the surrounding buildings.

A 15mm landscape scene with distortion correction applied. The central portion is pretty much untouched but the edges & corners do have noticeable artefacts. The curvature of the horizon is pretty apparent too.

As you can see the 8-15mm Fisheye is not exactly the best lens for selfies...

One of my favourite shots with this lens, this has been distortion corrected within Lightroom with only minor tweaks to contrast & vibrance. 

This shot and the next show the difference between an image shot at 8mm straight out of camera and the same image after distortion correction in Lightroom. This is the 8mm shot.

This is the 15mm shot. Notice the chromatic aberration, particularly prominent on the road arrow bottom left as a green band on the top edge & a purple band on the bottom.

Indoor & architectural photography are two styles where a fisheye can really shine.

 

PROS

  • The only lens to give a full 180 degree field of view for Canon bodies
  • Very good build & image quality
  • Can be used to shoot some extremely creative & eye-catching images
  • Not badly priced for a Canon L-lens!

CONS

  • It's a niche lens - do you really need one?
  • Distortion, especially at the wide-end, can't really be corrected at all

Conclusion

In some respects this is an easy conclusion to write but in other ways it's quite tricky. It's almost meaningless trying to make any kind of recommendation for this lens because it's such a niche piece of equipment! Fisheyes sort of sit apart from other lenses in any photographer's array of kit - they may not see everyday use but they can levitate everyday shots into outstandingly creative ones. Whether or not it's something you need, will use or will want is a completely personal question. All I can say is that from a build & image quality standpoint the 8-15mm is as good as you'd expect. If you need a lens like this then you won't find better.

The only other real alternatives are the manual focus Samyang lenses which are a lot cheaper but fixed focal length. Astrophotographers may end up opting for those because they don't need the zoom and manual focus is not a concern for astro work but if you want a fisheye and the versatility of the focal range I can't really find anything else to recommend.

Canon Powershot D30

REAL WORLD Review

The Powershot D30 is the latest in Canon's line of waterproof & shockproof cameras. Designed to be a take-anywhere camera that will still produce reliably good photos at the end of the day, the D-series have been around since 2009. Back in the day, unless you wanted to spend money on a more capable camera with a suitable housing, this style of action-cam was your only real option and as such, filled the niche pretty well. As well as that, it's been a firm favourite as a casual, family-friendly camera to use on holiday & around the pool.

However, of late Canon have seen competition from a new angle. With the arrival & adoption of Go Pro Hero-series cameras, the D-series are facing tougher challenges than ever before. 

I've taken the latest in the D-series - D30 - and pushed it to the limit of its design to see if this 12 megapixel device can meet the claims Canon says it can.

 

Out Of The Box

The camera, a battery and charger and wrists strap are all you get.

Usage & Handling

I've split my review into two sections, focusing first on the general useage and out-of-water performance initially then the underwater capability later. First impressions are that it's a very simple camera - easy to use with a sensible, no frills control layout which Canon have sensibly adopted from their other compact lines. Closer inspection of the functions & the menu shows the full extent of the camera's features & shooting modes which follow equally simple lines. The most advanced shooting mode is Program mode though there are a few other specialised options such as underwater macro, snow and the more common "scene" modes such as fireworks, miniature & toy-camera. For more casual photographers this will be fine but having only the P mode to give any degree of control will no doubt frustrate anyone more serious about their photography (unless you're an idiot). It was something of a surprise to be so restricted, I must admit, and did annoy me quite a bit in the early days of playing with the camera. It firmly places it in the casual/amateur camp but on reflection, this is exactly the niche Canon is trying to fill.

With so few options available to you when shooting, it's very literally a point and shoot. Everything is tailored completely around taking essentially all technical choice out of the hands of the photographer. Generally speaking, under good conditions it does a correspondingly good job, just like you'd expect from a beginner level compact. For those who use it on holiday, especially in bright & sunny conditions, it can produce nice results.

The three main buttons, namely the power, shutter and movie mode, are prominently placed on the top and are easy to find & use underwater.

It's a very family-friendly camera. Big, chunky buttons and a decent size screen help with useability and Canon have rated it shockproof to 2 metres. I tested this a fair few times, occasionally on purpose, and can attest that it does indeed survive a drop onto concrete from that height. A very useful feature to have! Even the screen seemed to be tougher than others I've used, no doubt due to sturdier construction to survive underwater pressure. The front lens is also covered by an additional layer of toughened glass to help it survive pressure.

Large buttons, a large, scratch-proof screen and rugged grips definitely fit the tough, action-cam styling

In normal, day-to-day operation the D30 does everything you'd expect from a camera at this price aimed at this market. Even if you don't expect to push the camera to its water- & shock-proof limits, if you want something to take on holiday with the kids it will be a decent job. You can trust it to a child and not worry they will break it. This is a very useful feature, not only because it will save your main camera or phone from damage but giving a child a take-anywhere camera might just help to promote their photography and creativity because you won't need to constantly keep an eye on them!

The second part of the review was the area I was MUCH more interested in and where I spent the bulk of my time testing it - the underwater capability. Based on discussions with visitors to the site & on scuba diving forums, it seems to be a common question. Is the D30 worth getting or do you need to spend more money on another camera and a dedicated camerato get decent results? This is what I set out to test.

The first thing to note is the water-sealing elements themselves. Like with a dedicated underwater housing for another camera, the key components that make the camera water-tight are O-rings. These, shown in the image below, are yellow rubber rings that make each of the internal compartments watertight. It's VERY important to check these before using the camera underwater as a compromised O-ring will turn your D30 into a bright blue brick immediately. Make sure they are dirt & grit free, they aren't already wet and the rubber is still supple and not cracked. Ensure the ring is correctly seated all the way around the edge of the hatch.

In bringing you this review, I have a confession. The first D30 I used worked OK on land but taking it on my first shallow dive it worked for a few seconds then abruptly died, never to turn back on. The seals were fine, the camera was in perfect working order before hitting the water... yet still it died. Doing research across major camera retailers & online shopping sites, this seems to be a fairly common problem. I'm not wholly surprised, it's a very low-cost option after all, and the general trend I've seen is that cameras are either going to leak immediately they are used or are fine. There don't seem to be many cases where the camera works for a few months then abruptly breaks, and all the cases I did contact people it seems like they weren't taking proper care of the O-rings. If you do buy a D30, make sure you buy from a place with a cast-iron returns policy.

The second review unit I tried was absolutely fine in all aspects.

While using it underwater I tested it in two main environments - the swimming pool and on a 6-dive liveaboard scuba trip to Malaysia - and I'll discuss all the quirks, features & flaws you'll likely encounter in an underwater environment.

If you've been diving you will know the effect the water has on colour. Red light is absorbed so everything looks a lot bluer and the water absorbs sunlight so everything is darker, especially as you dive deeper. To offset the former, the camera has a preset underwater white balance which adds in a lot of extra red to the final image. This can either be set manually and applicable to all your photos or is automatically applied when you choose the underwater macro mode. This mode is one of the two main ways you will likely end up using the camera and is designed to let you get close-up images of fish & marine life.

The four images below show a comparison of images shot in underwater macro & "regular macro" modes. See the comments for some unusual quirks I've noticed.

This is a beach-ball shot less than a metre below the surface of the water in a swimming pool, shot in Underwater Macro mode at the widest focal length. You can see from my leg on the right that the white balance is quite red and it's most noticeable when compared to the third image.

The underwater macro mode at full zoom, at effectively 140mm. Although the lighting was very good, being so close to the surface on a sunny day, you can see that the results are very good. The sharpness is especially good; you'll just have to trust me but it's rendering the print quality of the inflatable beach ball very well!

This is the exact same scene shot in normal macro mode and AWB. Probably a lot closer to what you'd expect looking at a beach-ball underwater! Quality at this wide-angle setting is pretty good here. 

This is the first oddity I noticed. When I enabled macro mode - but not Underwater Macro mode - then tried to zoom in to the full 140mm focal length like image 2 above, in this mode it absolutely refused to focus. On close inspection, it actually disables macro mode for about 1/3 of the zoom range.

This is bizarre. You can only use the camera for it's full macro capability in Underwater Macro mode. Standard macro seems to have a different set of parameters to underwater macro for some inexplicable reason!

I'll talk more about the AWB vs underwater white balance mode in the image quality section but in general useage it also highlighted another significant flaw of the camera. It can only shoot JPG, RAW shooting is not an option. This is a big problem. Even though the camera does have a dedicated UW-white balance and a small degree of tweaking is possible in photoshop, the ability to correct the white balance of a JPG is much reduced. This is a big oversight on Canon's part in my opinion and it limits the overall image quality you can expect to get out of the camera - the net effect of the decision will ultimately only serve to frustrate people who want to get the best image quality.

Another drawback is the battery life. Although the camera did make it through each of my hour-long dives, it did need recharging between sessions and in a couple of cases it was flashing red just before the end. This isn't a huge surprise, it's a small camera with a small battery. To be fair, I didn't even expect it to last the whole hour. My recommendation is to get a couple of batteries and make sure you keep them charged.

The battery life is even more of a cause for concern when you use the built-in flash although personally I found my results when I deliberately chose to use it were mixed. Generally speaking, you only need the flash for macro shots but beware - the efficacy of flash underwater depends hugely on the conditions and when it's fired head-on like it is mounted on the D30 it is often not that useful or flattering. Backscatter is the main problem. I've demonstrated this in the image quality section below, but generally speaking you need to light your subject from the sides using dedicated strobes and firing it from the front doesn't always work. It's useful to have as an option but it will drain the battery quickly and the net effect can be hit and miss. I kept the flash turned off and only manually used it for very specific purposes.

Focusing above ground the camera is good. It's pretty similar in terms of speed & accuracy to most compact cameras or smartphone cameras, and is at its best at wide angles. When zoomed in to the full reach of the lens the screen lags in all but the brightest conditions and getting focus locked on your target is much more hit & miss. Underwater, the AF is better than I'd expected but struggles at the telephoto end too. If you have good technique and hold the camera as steady as you can before, during and after the shutter has been pressed you will see better results.

I've mentioned the controls & menu already but underwater it really does shine. Big buttons, easy menus and simple controls are definitely very useful in those conditions and the big red movie button is especially handy! Generally speaking most underwater photos are either wider-angle scenic shots or close-in efforts trying to capture details of coral or underwater life and its very easy to switch between these two modes quickly and easily.

I don't normally mention the strap with a camera as it's usually the first thing I replace but for an underwater camera it's particularly important it does the job - in this case, it definitely does.

The camera itself is negatively buoyant so if you drop it, it's sinking. It's rated at 25 metres and I took it to this depth without a single problem.

Image Quality

With so few controls available to the photographer it's important that the images it produces in auto-mode are satisfying enough. In P-mode, the only option we have is setting the ISO.  In shallow water, or playing around beside the pool, it's likely the camera will stick in the ISO 100-400 range and the image quality here is pretty good, definitely very useable. From 800 and above the ISO quality drops significantly and shooting conditions are even more important.

In each image I'll go through the background to the photo and point out areas of interest.

The leaf above was shot in an essentially perfect underwater setting, very close to the surface on a sunny day. ISO 100-400 were indistinguishable and of good quality so the triptych image below shows ISO 800, 1600 and 3200 from left to right. 800 isn't bad, 1600 is quite respectable although bear in mind it's the centre of the frame in the best conditions you will ever get underwater and using a stationary subject. 3200 is poor, detail is lost and the colour has changed noticeably. I'd advise never using 3200 if you can help it.

The beginning of a long day. Shot at 6 in the morning at ISO 800, the black areas are quite clean and the image still is relatively sharp. Colours are a little dull & muted though, in reality things were more vibrant.

I wanted to show an example early on of what the camera can do when things pan out perfectly. This was quite deep, but I'd steadied myself and the fish seemed to be comfortable with my presence. They still moved quickly when I did, but settled down when I made a concerted effort to stay still.

Lit with the flash in Underwater Macro mode, this shows you CAN get good underwater shots on your dive but I must stress, this was one of only a few that were good enough for my standards.

You can still see flaws, specifically that the flash has lit the particulate matter in the water. This is the backscatter and is very, very hard to avoid unless you're in super calm & clean water.

This is an "almost-made it" shot. The fish are blurred, the backscatter is horrible and the higher ISO is evident.  Such a shame!

A weird sea-anemone, this shot shows the typical results I'd get using flash with the D30. This level of backscatter is very typical when using a front-set flash.

Here the flash brings out the colours of the coral and the backscatter isn't such a problem. I was pleased and surprised this shot came out OK as at the time the AF was struggling to lock.

This is what the underwater white balance does to skin tones when you forget to turn it off! 

Despite being only a few metres away from a fellow diver as we sit stationary in shallow water - at 3m on our safety stop - using the lens at full zoom the camera has focused on bubbles rising from below rather than the much more obvious and contrasty target.

Really impressive sharpness on these sea-urchin spines! The little white dots on the black urchins are part of the animal.

The black, sausage like object is a sea-cucumber. I'm not sure what the peculiar object it's touching is but I think it's another type of cucumber. This shows the effect of not using the underwater white balance.

Dynamic range isn't great but it has at least managed to avoid blowing out the sky while keeping some detail in the shadowy area of the boat.

The D30 also offers video shooting as you'd expect from a modern camera and features full HD recording as well as 120/240 fps slow-motion recording at 640x480 or 320x240 resolution respectively. A sample of the latter is shown below and as you can see the resolution is hopelessly bad. Compared to what's available on other compacts, this feels like a token effort and I never found any real world use for it. The full HD mode at 24fps was considerably better but again the overall quality depended hugely on the shooting conditions. You'll certainly get some memorable video of your swimming/diving adventures to share on YouTube & Facebook but it'll be far from professional standard.

Specifications

  • 12.1 megapixel sensor
  • Built in 5x optical zoom, 28-140mm (35mm equiv.)
  • Aperture range from f/3.9 (wide) - f/4.8 (tele)
  • 3" LCD screen, 0.46mp resolution
  • Waterproof to 25 metres
  • Shockproof to 2 metres

Conclusion

I've written & rewritten this conclusion so many times as I settled on my final thoughts! Initially I was quite dimissive of the camera and this opinion was reinforced when the first unit I received failed abruptly on just the first dive. With the absence of manual controls I wrote the camera off as one-trick pony and the trick - the waterproofing - didn't even work!

Still, I persisted with it and the second unit was a better experience, mostly because of how it worked underwater. Because I started from a photography purist standpoint I ended up frustrated. Watching others use it on the liveaboard I noticed they didn't care at all that it lacked a full suite of controls and features. It took pictures that looked OK and they liked it. That is one of the main standout highlights for this camera; a point & shoot just like your phone but which is MUCH more sturdy & reliable and where you can take it anywhere. 

As for it being an option for a serious underwater camera... that's more difficult to answer. It is certainly capable of producing the occasional very good image, and will produce some decent underwater shots to help you remember your holidays & dive trips. The HD video is pretty good too and at the price point you'd struggle to get the equivalent quality elsewhere. In essence, you can expect to get typical point & shoot quality a fair amount of the time and the occasional really good shot. Is it better than a dedicated camera in a housing? No, definitely not. With the latter having manual controls and the ability to control flash much better it was never realistically going to. Getting good shots from the D30 can occasionally feel like luck is a bigger factor than photographer judgement.

Where this camera is best suited is for the casual holiday/snorkelling crowd or for a diver who is looking for something cheap to video their experiences, maybe catching the odd snapshot for their dive log. At a push, I think it could actually fill the role as a cheap intro to underwater photography, something to help you decide if it's something you want to take more seriously. At first I wondered if it was going to be competition for something like a Go Pro - it really isn't, but that's because it's doing a different job entirely.  A Go-Pro would undoubtedly give better video quality, probably be as hit-and-miss for stills and is considerably more expensive. The normal progression for someone looking to get into underwater photography has usually been a compact camera with manual controls, such as an S120, before migrating up to a DSLR, attaching various dedicated strobes along the way. I can see the D30 fitting in as a preceding step before the compact camera option. Divers can buy a D30 and see if they are interested in taking it further; if you decide it's not for you, it's far cheaper than getting a Go-Pro or compact plus housing and you still have something for snorkelling or messing around in the pool. Don't expect miracles from it and it won't disappoint.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Strudy, reliable, family friendly camera that will take (almost) anything you throw at it
  • Camera is rated waterproof to a depth exceeding that of most recreational divers!
  • HD video quality is pretty good

Cons

  • Image quality is hugely dependent on luck & conditions, no RAW is a major oversight
  • Slow-mo video is hopelessly bad
  • Lack of manual controls
  • Battery life is only borderline; may run out on longer dives

Canon 11-24 f/4L USM

Real World Review

Until Canon released this lens, the only time you'd find 11mm in the focal range of a lens would be for a crop-sensor format or a fisheye. With the 11-24mm f/4 L, Canon have set out to build an ultra-wide to beat all other ultra-wides and to achieve that astonishing feat would require an an astonishing piece of glass. The prospect of this lens has had photographers, especially landscape photographers, drooling in anticipation.

I had three ever-so-short weeks to put this through its paces.

Read on to find out what I thought!

Out of the Box

I can't tell you what the official box is like - my review sample was delivered in a massive shoe box stuffed to the brim with bubble wrap and packaging :)  After digging my way through all of this I found it nestled inside. Over a kilo of metal, plastic and glass, barely holdable even in my giant hands... the lens is big. Huge in fact. Even the lens cap is massive and custom-fit to go over the bulbous front element. See the picture below next to the 50mm 1.8 to get an impression of what I mean!

Usage & Handling

I'm probably going to run out of adjectives related to size in this review. Likely I will need to google synonyms for "excellent" too. One of the reasons for the sheer size of this thing is that this lens is rectilinear - in simple terms, this means the lens will render a straight line in the scene as a straight line in your photo. The "opposite" is curvilinear and is most commonly seen in fisheye lenses. A curvilinear lens means straight lines in the scene will end up looking curved in your photo. For a lens to have a minimum focal length of 11mm with a maximum aperture of f/4 would lead to a big, but not enormous lens - to make it rectilinear is where the extra glass, size & weight comes into the picture. 

The 11-24mm is a large lens and with that comes the need for a different approach to shooting. You could hang it around your neck or on a shoulder strap and the weight wouldn't be so bad but the sheer bulk of the lens means it's a little uncomfortable to lug around. I used it extensively during the Canon Photomarathon event and it was hard, heavy work! I tried, but it's really not a "casual" lens. You'll want to take it out when you're prepared and with specific goals in mind. Maybe consider some personal training sessions beforehand too... the lens weighs a hefty 1.2kg!

Construction is as you'd expect from a modern L-lens, top notch throughout. Although the lens is made in parts from industrial-grade plastic this doesn't detract at all from the build-quality. The focusing ring is well damped, as is the zoom ring, and the whole thing feels dependable with the exception of the lens cap.

The custom designed lens-cap is almost like a small cereal bowl. As you can see from the image above, the built-in lens hood makes the front end of the lens even wider and the cap needs to be deep enough to cover all of this.

I did find that the plastic lens hood scuffed very easily taking the cap on and off. You can just about make this out in the image image, there's a faint line where plastic parts rub against each other. The lens cap was the only part of the build which I wasn't 100% confident in - although it pressure-clamps onto the lens hood I never felt completely sure it wouldn't fall off in my bag. It never did fall off, but it didn't exactly fill me with confidence!

I always try to use lenses in a range of different situations, ideally where you would expect to use them in the real world but also scenarios to stretch them a little. I found the 11-24mm stretched ME more than I expected! This is going to sound really stupid, but 11mm is very wide indeed. It's hugely fun to use, being able to take in a massive field of view in one frame, but I found it very difficult to shoot well composed images I'd want to keep. It's the same with all wide-angle lenses, you need strong foreground interest and to try to fill the frame with your subject, not always easy to do. At 11mm it becomes even harder. Shooting with it is a joy, getting useable results was hard.

Take care when mounting & removing it, the weight & size make handling tricky.

The front element is naturally too large & bulbous for regular filters but the camera does have a rear slot for gel filters. While the lens is weather-sealed, this does NOT apply to the front element and given how far the front element juts out you can expect it to get wet in bad weather.

Autofocus is fast, smooth & accurate though this isn't a huge surprise in a wide-angle lens. Manual focusing wasn't something I found myself doing an awful lot to be honest but the damping of the ring lets you control it slowly & smoothly.

Getting the best out of the lens requires much more planning & deliberating of how you frame & compose your shot but because of how awkward the lens can be to handle you are likely going to be in this frame of mind anyway. It's a lens that rewards a patient approach to photography more than any other lens I've used.

Image Quality

I'll let the images speak for themselves. I had planned a holiday trip outside of Singapore to let me spend some serious time shooting landscapes but unfortunately that fell through, necessitating a more "urban landscape" approach to the review! 

This was shot while I was reviewing the 11-24mm f/4 and the 5DS at the same time. Although the foreground is pretty vacant, the wide field of view has allowed me to use more of the railings as leading lines into the frame.

The colour rendition from the lens is lovely. This is a single shot under fluorescent lighting and the tonal range & contrast is great. Though I've tweaked it slightly in Lightroom, the adjustments in this case are very minor.

Impossible to resist, all the curving lines with the perpendicular bands of light & shade! The 11mm widest focal length let me capture the entire scene in one shot.

Using the 11-24mm at the Canon Photomarathon drew some envious looks :)

It's worth pointing out here I didn't include any gratuitous bokeh shots! For a lens this wide you'll struggle to generate any

Although the fact the lens is rectilinear means we get nice straight lines this doesn't mean the lens is free from distortion - at 11mm it's at it's most noticeable but as you zoom in through the range the effect diminishes. You can see it in this shot, the lady at bottom left is "stretched". You will need to bear this in mind when framing your shot.

A cropped-in shot, originally taken at 24mm.

Interior photography is another area the lens excels...

... as I had a lot of fun finding out!

An HDR composite to account for the super bright stage lighting and the dark surroundings. The chairs are unoccupied, reserved for the hungry ghosts.

Distortion from the 11-24mm is pretty inconsequential at any point in the zoom range and is easily fixed in lightroom with the exception that the extreme corners do stretch out lines a little. This is something you can only really avoid while out shooting when composing your shot, it's not easy to correct this. Coma is good except in the extreme corners at 11mm and even then it's not bad at all - something the astrophotographers will be happy to hear.

What impressed me the most was the sharpness, at all focal lengths, and even wide open. It's simply fantastic. Just remember to get the best out of this you're going to need to perfect your technique!

Other Options

Until now, the only other option to go as wide as this would be the 8-15mm f/4 fisheye and that comes with its unique set of image handling & distortion issues! Otherwise, the 11-24mm f/4 is in a class of its own.That said, not everyone needs 11mm of extreme wideness! 

  • Canon has the EF16-35 f/4 and EF16-35 f/2.8, both excellent lenses albeit at drastically different price points. The older EF17-40 f/4 is also excellent though now out of production. Keep an eye out for second hand copies.
  • Tamron has their 15-30mm f/2.8 VC lens. Regarded as optically very good, it's priced reasonably well but has a less impressive range than the other options.

Conclusion

Absolutely remarkable. The highest recommendation I can give is that I'd want one myself and this lens is just that! It ticks all the boxes we want as photographers. Whether you or I really need it is another question entirely of course! 

The lens has flaws of course. Most I've discussed above but the price is another consideration - $3000/S$4300/£2800 will put this out of reach of all but the most enthusiastic landscape photographers, but it's worth every penny.

If you want the widest, best quality ultra-wide angle lens out there it does not get any better than this!

Pros

  • Unrivaled focal range, especially at the widest end
  • Simply superb image quality!

Cons

  • Big & heavy, almost cumbersome
  • Top quality comes at top prices... it's expensive
  • Requires good technique to truly get the best out of it

Canon 5DS

Real World Review

The first digital SLRs were released around the turn of the millenium and by the standards of the time were megapixel monsters. While most consumer digital cameras were still hovering around the single megapixel mark, the new generation of DSLRs were coming out with unheard of numbers like 3 or even 4 megapixels! Very soon after all major manufacturers then went head to head in the megapixel wars. It was a race to see who could cram the most pixels into a camera, even after camera resolutions had quickly passed the minimum useful number needed for most photographers. For many years the megapixel was touted as the single most important measure of a camera.

Eventually, almost a decade later, the megapixel counts stabilised. Photographers were  savvier about what was important to them in a camera and focus shifted to other features such as dynamic range & low-light performance. Megapixel counts still trended upwards but at a much slower rate. In 2012 Nikon, using a Sony sensor, changed the game with their D800. Ramping up the megapixel count to 36 it demonstrated that there were tangible technical benefits from a high resolution sensor and, more importantly, proved there was a section of the market very keen to take advantage of it. Sony followed up with their own 36mp A7R and all eyes switched to see if Canon would take the bait and produce a high-megapixel camera of their own.

It took a few years - time enough for both Nikon & Sony to release their second generation models - but with the 5DS/5DSR Canon have not only re-joined the war but upped the ante. With 50.6 megapixels, more than a third higher than the competition, photographers have understandably been quite excited to see how Canon's new camera stacks up against the competition. With new 120mp SLRs announced, are we set to see another megapixel "arms race" begin? I've spent several weeks with it and given it a thorough assessment. 

Just in case... there are some macro photos of spiders and creepy-crawlies below. Proceed at your own risk! :)

Out of the Box

Everything you'd expect from a pro-grade camera. The camera itself, LP-E6N battery (more on this later) plus charger, strap, USB cable, manuals and all the associated Canon software.

5DS or 5DSR - What's The Difference?

The Canon Australia site has a very clear description of the differences. In summary, the cameras are essentially identical but for a Low Pass Filter on the 5DS. This is added to reduce the effect of moire but blurs the image slightly and reduces resolution. The 5DSR does away with this filter, increasing the potential resolution but likely increasing the post-processing burden to correct and moire & false-colour effects.

Usage & Handling

First impressions are pretty consistent with what I've come to expect from top-end Canon gear. Reassuringly solid & weighty in the hand, and especially well-balanced when paired with good glass, it definitely has the feel of a reliable & professional unit. In particular, it felt very similar to the 5D mark 3, unsurprisingly so given it's the latest extension of that line. At 845g it's not light but in comparison to its nearest rival, Sony's new A7RII, it's only 200g heavier. I think this goes to show how the previously disparate mirrorless and DSLR camps are converging, slowly, towards a "best of both worlds" solution. It's undoubtedly chunkier in dimensions than its mirrorless relatives which comes as no surprise.

I was actually a little surprised the 5DS didn't feel heavier as one of the changes Canon has made to the chassis is to add structural reinforcement to the chassis. This is directly related to the new sensor; with the increased resolution afforded by 50 megapixels comes an increased tendency for camera shake to blur the shot. Not only have Canon reinforced and damped the body, the 5DS also features a tweaked mirror design in an attempt to further limit blur caused by the internal mirror slapping up & down. Though it's not the most scientific of studies I did compare the number of shots taken vs. sharp keepers for the 5DS along with recent review images taken using of the 7D2, 760D and 6D. I noticed a fairly comparable rate across all cameras so the structural improvements appear to have been worthwhile.

It comes with two memory card slots, one for Compact Flash (CF) and another for SD. As with other professional grade cameras it does NOT have a built-in flash, only a hot shoe for external flash connection.

I was happy to see that Canon have included the anti-flicker white balance correction mode, seen in the 7D mark 2 and 760D, which is hugely useful. I'm not sure but I think it's the first time this feature has made it onto a full-frame camera too.

As you can see the control layout is pretty standard and at first glance looks almost identical to the 5D mark 3. I'm not sure if Canon have tweaked the design of the little "nipple" joystick but I found this one was a lot easier (and less painful) to use than that on the 5D3 and 7D2. Maybe it's just some slight divergence between individual units.

It's getting a little boring having to write it each time but again Canon have their sensible, well-designed menu system. It's no understatement that keep things simple & consistent across models helps immensely; it makes it much easier to get to grips with new cameras and when teach beginners, demonstrating features in an easy-to-use way visibly makes them lean towards that model. 

The general rule of thumb with camera sensors is usually that there's a trade-off between sensitivity & resolution. There are multiple factors to consider but generally speaking larger sensors have better light-gathering (and "better" noise characteristics) than smaller sensors, and for any given sensor size the greater the megapixel count the poorer the overall sensitivity & noise handling. This is the same situation with the 5DS - we gain drastically increased resolution at the expense of higher, cleaner ISO values. The standard range is 100-6400 expandable out to 50-12,800. The latter of these is so noisy and ugly it simply is not worth using; to all intents and purposes the camera's working limit is 6400. Even then, I found the results at 6400 to be inconsistent in the final image. Partly this is down to personal preference & experience and I admittedly prefer low-light capability in my personal cameras. I found it made me have to slow down and not simply snap away, trusting in Auto ISO to yield good results. In some respects, it reminded me a little of the Sigma DP1 Quattro, another "high-res" camera which demands a more patient approach to photography. Though I have to stress, the 5DS is a much more capable camera :)

When testing I try to use as wide a range of lenses as possible, from as many different manufacturers as possible. Typically this covers various Samyang, Sigma and Tamron models. To date I've never encountered any compatibility problems even though it's never guaranteed that the autofocus systems on third-party lenses will work reliable. Historically, it's usually only old lenses with new cameras that could potentially have issues. Unfortunately in the case of the 5DS I did encounter some isolated issues in a couple of Tamron lenses. When shooting through the viewfinder performance was exactly as I'd expect; no issues in any AF mode. Switching to live-view was a different issue though, and both the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC and the 150-600mm lenses would not focus at all in this mode, under any circumstance or conditions. The 24-70 would hunt slowly & constantly across the entire focus range and never lock, whereas the 150-600mm wouldn't even hunt and the AF box just flickered.

I've uploaded a very brief sample, shot on iPhone, to illustrate the effect on the 150-600mm lens. It's not the greatest quality but clearly shows the flickering issue and failure to "go green" with a focus lock. There is no audio on this short clip. This has been recognised by Tamron and a lens firmware update has been created to fix the issue - take your lens into a Tamron service centre to resolve this.

In all other situations I found the AF to be generally very good. With Canon lenses it did feel a little snappier as you might expect. It has 61 AF points with 21 cross-type and shares many of the same AF modes as the 7D mark 2 although its overall autofocus performance does lag behind the latter. Testing it out in an indoor badminton tournament the AF of the 5DS paired with a 24-70 f/2.8 was capable although ultimately the poor lighting forced high ISOs and slower shutter speeds. Though it seems somewhat incongruous to have a camera dedicated to a slower, planned photography with an extremely capable autofocus, the fact that Canon are doing this in more & more cameras is a welcome change.

As I hinted at earlier on the ISO limit of 6400 really did bite. I knew that the huge jump in resolution would come at the expense of reduced low-light capability but when you're used to letting the camera hit 6400 in Auto ISO mode and get clean results I swiftly found that I needed to urgently change my mindset with the 5DS. Shooting above 1600 was risky in most circumstances and 6400 is just plain ugly. It definitely demands a slower, more considered approach to shooting.

This was shot at ISO 6400, f/2.8 on a Tamron 24-70mm VC. It's not bad at all given the conditions but is an example of the 5DS pushed to what I felt were the limits.

This was shot at ISO 6400, f/2.8 on a Tamron 24-70mm VC. It's not bad at all given the conditions but is an example of the 5DS pushed to what I felt were the limits.

Chatting to the Canon techie-guys ahead of receiving my review unit, I was warned the battery life for the 5DS was reduced in comparison to other models using the LP-E6 battery. Most of Canon's major DSLRs use this same battery and generally speaking the performance is excellent. The LP-E6N is a new model of battery with the same form factor but some internal changes to adhere to new Japanese battery law. While it does have a very slight increase in capacity, to all intents and purposes it's the same as the LP-E6.

I tried the 5DS using both types batteries and performance was disappointing. In my own personal 6D, the camera easily lasts two days and thousands of shots. I used the 5DS on Canon's recent Photomarathon event and took two fully charged batteries, not expecting to need the second but I barely made it through the event. On one day I was astonished to see a battery fully-charged overnight start flashing red after only a couple of hours - see the screenshot of the camera battery panel below. While I think it's fairly clear the new sensor is more power hungry than predecessors and taken on face value the performance is poor at best, I think there may be some mitigating factors. For instance, I did use Live View to compose landscape shots a little more than I normally would, partly because I was conscious of the need to keep the camera as steady as possible to avoid motion blur. Overall though I felt like I was having to nurse the camera battery through the day, keeping it shut off when not in use and it did give me the same feeling I have when using mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless cameras have the excuse of a MUCH smaller battery :)

I was gob-smacked when I saw this. Full to 10% in a few hours and after only 132 shots. Not acceptable in my opinion.

I was gob-smacked when I saw this. Full to 10% in a few hours and after only 132 shots. Not acceptable in my opinion.

Aside from pointing out the unusual battery problem and ISO gripes, I am struggling to find anything worth writing about how the camera handles. This is because in the majority of cases it just functions as you'd expect. It's reliable; it just works

As a final point, it's worth noting that Canon issued an advisory that due to the enhanced resolution capability of the sensor only a subset of its EF lenses are advised for use with the 5DS/5DSR. Lenses not on this list are unable to make full use of the resolving power of the sensor. I have tested the effect of using a recommended vs. not-recommended lens and will share the details in the image quality section below. For now, the list below shows only the recommended lenses.

Image Quality

This is the acid test :) Does the 5DS have demonstrably better image quality than its peers?  How does it handle low-light/high ISO situations? How does it render diffraction blur? 

As usual I've tried to use the camera in a wide variety of situations, including those it's "designed" for as well as other common scenarios. Unfortunately I wasn't able to schedule a portrait shoot during the time I had with the 5DS. I'll aim to do that when I check out the 5DSR.

I started with the areas I thought would challenge it; the low-light/ISO capability. In a nutshell, the 5DS is absolutely fine to ISO 800, pretty good at 1600 and "generally OK" at 3200 - though for the latter this can be quite hit & miss. Converting to black & white generally helps these higher ISO images a lot.  6400 is ugly though, with muddy colours and a notable lack of sharpness. 12,800 is a waste of time.

This shows the ISO handling characteristics from 100 - 12,800.  Upto 1600 is pretty good with clean shadows but afterwards the performance drops off a cliff.  See this page for larger examples.

When you factor in the kind of photography this camera will be used for - studio, landscape, anything in controlled or slower situations - the ISO characteristics are very good. You can push it out of this comfort zone but when it goes too far, the results get worse quite quickly. 

How the sensor handled diffraction was another scenario I was keen to test. The images below show this pretty clearly - upto f/8 everything is fine & I was hard pushed to see any diffraction blurring in the final image. Beyond f/8 things again were scenario dependent but f/16 was realistically the highest I'd ever personally choose to push it. Even then, I'd probably try to keep it at f/11 or lower unless I absolutely had no option.

I used this scene with a tripod mounted camera and fixed aperture to test the diffraction characteristics of the 5DS. Shown below are samples at 100%. With the pixel density equivalent, roughly, to the 7D mark 2 you would expect similar rendering of diffraction blur on the 5DS.

From left to right, f/4, f/8 and f/11, unsharpened crops at 100%

To my eye f/4 is probably the sharpest and although f/8 is still perfectly useable. f/11 shows just how bad the rendering of diffraction at this aperture can be and is an unavoidable side-effect of such a pixel-dense sensor rendering diffraction blur.

My advice would be to use f/8 as a working ceiling and focus stack your shots when enhanced DOF is needed. Keep f/11 in reserve if you really, REALLY need it :)

The rest of this section shows a range of sample images I shot with the 5DS.

A jumping spider shot at f/8, 1/160th sec and ISO 200. A ringflash was used to get the DOF and shutter-speed I needed & you can see the rather unusual-but-cool catchlight in his eyes. In reality this little guy was just under 2cm in length. See below for a 100% crop

The same shot but with a 100% crop. To be honest, the level of detail in this file is absolutely unreal. Blown away by the detail, clarity and sharpness straight out of the RAW files. Though it's had minimal levels of colour balancing, clarity & sharpness applied in Lightroom, the resolution is simply amazing.

Another flash-lit shot, this frog was asleep and totally oblivious to my presence. If I had been a snake he'd have been in big trouble.

Though it is by no means the best option for street photography, in good light it's still quite capable. Paired with the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC here shot at f/8, 1/250th sec & ISO 1600. Converting to monochrome helps take the edge off the noise. 

On paper the 5DS has the same dynamic range as the 5D3, approximately 12 stops. Canon are still lagging slightly in this area and whether or not this is a big deal is largely driven by what you shoot. For the image above the only blown highlight was the lower-left side of the scrolling.

Though landscapes are where the 5DS would get a chance to excel unfortunately I didn't get much of a chance to shoot them! Still, with only minor tweaking in Lightroom the results are still extremely good.

This shot is essentially straight out of camera with one exception - I've boosted the highlights along the length of the tanker to show what kind of detail can be teased out of the RAW files.

I know what you're thinking... the 5DS is a landscape or studio photographer's wet dream but its the macro shots that are the best sample images! This is essentially SOOC with only RAW-processing sharpening applied. Again, at 100% the fine detail is simply staggering.

Another example of how much dynamic range can be teased out of the RAW files - the scene was exposing for the significantly brighter sky & musuem but the foreground was still recoverable. I could have pushed this even further.

To test Canon's claim that some lenses can't do the sensor justice I took one lens NOT on the list, the 17-40 f/4, and one that is recommended, the 11-24mm f/4.  I shot an identical scene with both lenses at a range of different apertures.  With no exceptions, the newer glass outperformed the older glass. The older lens produced perfectly useable results in the vast majority of case. I didn't expect to see much difference, and if there was it wouldn't make much effect, but the resolving power of the camera is such that it does make a visible difference and is especially noticeable in prints.

This is one of the scenes I chose, shooting inside Marina Bay Shoppes on a bright sunny day. The kind we used to get before the perma-haze arrived.

Shot on the 17-40L, 100th sec, f/4, ISO100.

Look at the floor tiles & white grouting between them.

Shot using the 11-24mm f/4, 60th sec, f/4, ISO 100

I hadn't realised the shutter speed changed between shots but it hasn't affected the result. As you can plainly see, the 11-24mm lens is much cleaner wide open and although both lenses improved at f/8 the newer lens still had a noticeable improvement in detail & microcontrast.

Specifications

Some headline specifications are given below but for the full list, click here for Canon's site.

  • 50.6 megapixel CMOS sensor, full frame 36x24mm size, 3:2 aspect ratio
  • EF mount
  • 61 AF point, 21 cross-type multi mode AF system, focus down to -2 EV
  • ISO (50)/100-6400/(12800), expansion modes in parantheses
  • 1/200th flash sync
  • 5fps burst mode (with compatible media)
  • FHD 1920x1080 movie recording, 30/25/24fps

Conclusion

The 5DS is an exceptional camera capable of exceptional results. With good glass, good technique and in the right conditions it's capable of producing images with sharpness & colour rendition I've not seen in any other camera. At its best, the images from this camera are absolutely glorious.

That said, I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. Unbelievable resolution comes with its drawbacks and for many photographers it's entirely possible they won't need or even be able to make use of the best the sensor has to offer. This camera excels in certain key genres that can either make full use of the resolution and typically are more suited to patient & considered photography technique. Whereas the 5D mark 3 was a universal step up from the 5D mark 2 that essentially all photographers could see benefit from, the 5DS is more of a new, specialised branch from the same "5D-root". I hesitate to describe it simply as a sidegrade because the image quality is such a step-up, but it's not accurate to claim it's an upgrade.

Overall, if you *know* you will be able to match this camera with the glass it deserves and will use it in the right situations, you will not be disappointed. It will produce simply gorgeous images. Get it now. For everyone else, it's probably not worth ditching what you have just yet; maybe rent one for a weekend to see if it meets your needs and expectations. It is for this reason the camera only has one "pro" - the image quality - and several "cons". Whether these turn out to be showstopping issues for you is entirely down to your own personal needs & shooting style. 

My own experience with the camera swung from extremes of absolute joy at seeing what it's capable of to frustration when I banged my head against the limits of its ISO & battery life. But when the time came to give it back it was very hard to let go... :)

What I'm now wondering is if the 5DS was this good, what about the 5DSR?! It's going to be exciting!

Pros

  • Absolutely astonishing, best-in-class resolution & image quality
  • The image quality is SO good it gets a second mention :)

Cons

  • Disappointing battery life compared to other DSLRs, similar performance to mirrorless cameras
  • Low-light sensitivity is poor; ISO 3200 is probably the useable ceiling, 6400 is almost always horrible
  • Diffraction ceiling is relatively low for the types of work this camera will be used for
  • Best results only possible with a small subset of expensive lenses
  • Large file sizes and RAW files slow lightroom noticeably, even on a brand new computer

 

Canon 760D - Rebel T6s

Real World Review

Canon's entry level series cameras have always been popular and capable with many photographers cutting their teeth on these models but with the overall decline in camera sales worldwide and the increase in capability & popularity of smaller micro four-thirds models, many people have commented that the days of the entry-level DSLR are perhaps numbered.

The response from Canon is the most emphatic of late, releasing not one but TWO new entry-level DSLRs, specifically the 750D and the 760D reviewed here. I'm using the phrase "entry-level" as it reflects their position in the overall Canon lineup - I'm NOT using basic for this 760D because as you'll see in the review, Canon have made some of the biggest updates and improvements in this line of cameras that I've seen in a LONG time...

Although known as the Rebel T6s in the USA, I'll be referring to it by the name it's known internationally - the 760D.

Out of the Box

Camera, all the usual Canon cables & CDs (inc. USB to enable live-view on a computer), strap, charger and batteries. Yep, Canon have included TWO batteries with this camera which is a very welcome touch.

My review box also came bundled with the 18-135mm EF-S lens but in this review I've used a range of different lenses. I didn't explicitly cover the lens and focused instead on the core camera.

Useage & Handling

Having reviewed the 7D mark 2, Sony's A7II and of course using my own personal full frame cameras I was surprised at how small and light the 760D felt when unboxing it. It's all relative of course, compared to mirrorless options it's still fairly chunky & a little on the heavier side, but feels comfortable in the hand. Adding lenses does shift the centre of balance forward noticeably, especially so with the larger EF L models so even though it's lighter than say a 7D2 when both have the same lens fitted, the overall balance of camera + lens is nicer on with a large DSLR to balance a large lens. If you mainly will be using EF-S lenses then you're likely to not notice this at all.

Image courtesy of Canon, shown with the 18-135mm kit-lens.

Canon have stuck to their tried and tested control & menu layout in almost all areas but with the 760D have added controls and features typically only found on their larger cameras. I've outlined all the controls and what they do in the images below but there are some great new features that definitely warrant further discussion, sadly not all the changes are necessarily for the better.

 

The controls are - as with all Canon SLRs - consistent & familiar. The only major change comes at top left with the new OFF-ON-MOVIE switch. Though initially I thought this was a great idea, over time I found myself preferring the buttons on the 7D2 and 6D where movie mode and live mode are integrated together. It's not a bad system to do it this way, just personal preference. Moving it from the right to left hand side of the camera is annoying though.

Everything is pretty standard and self-explanatory. The only other control mistake I noticed is with the AF selection buttons. You can see top right here there is a combined AF mode and "zoom-in" button, this is fine and standard on essentially all Canons. However, next to the the LCD as seen on the image below is another AF button. The only purpose of this second button is to cycle through AF modes. So we have two buttons less than 2 inches apart doing fundamentally the same thing - one cycling through modes, the other letting you jump to a mode directly. I really can't see the point of the former, instead it'd have been better to use that button for something else.

The most immediate & obvious addition is for the quick-view LCD screen on the top side of the camera as shown below. This is definitely an improvement and even though it's smaller and shows fewer settings than on larger models it's still a hugely welcome addition. It means you can shoot with the rear LCD screen flipped around to stop it being scratched in many situations, relying instead on just the information available through the viewfinder and on the top panel. Very nice indeed! Though it's not one of those things you need it's definitely something you miss when it's not there.

Here's a view of the new LCD screen, a first on any entry-level Canon DSLR. Long overdue in my opinion. It does the bare minimum, covering your exposure triangle settings, battery life, card capacity and an exposure indicator. Not quite as comprehensive as its bigger brothers but still, definitely welcome.

The buttons above are all standard too with the exception of the left hand button - this is the one which cycles through all three AF modes in turn and I feel is totally redundant because of the more flexible AF mode selector on the back of the camera.

A less appealing change is where Canon have moved the power switch, away from the right hand side (where the 750D and older models in this class have it) over to the left underneath the main mode dial. Personally I find the ability to switch on and use a camera one-handed very beneficial. I'm assuming that it's the addition of the LCD panel that prompted the shift which is a shame. Sticking with the power switch, Canon have now used the OFF-ON-MOVIE control from the 700D as you can see in the control overview diagram above but moved it across to the left of the camera.

I was worried initially this would lead to accidentally powering on into movie mode, or the switching moving in my bag leading to recording movies or draining the battery. I'm happy to say this didn't happen and the switch has just the right level of friction. It's a neat design and one that I think works well on a camera body this size. Personally I do prefer the integrated live-view/movie mode button on the bigger cameras but it's splitting hairs really and probably just a personal preference. The LOCK switch rounds out the new additions to the controls.

As is normal with the enthusiast/amateur cameras, the mode dial allows quick access to the dedicated scene preset auto modes rather than having dedicated Custom modes.

Aside from control upgrades the 760D also has packed in some new features internally. It shares the same anti-flicker mechanism seen in the 7D Mark 2, a feature that works really well at giving stable lighting results under flickering fluorescent lighting. The biggest improvement is the new 19 point AF system, a noticeable upgrade from the 700D and outclassing some of the AF systems on bigger & more expensive models still in production! With multiple AF modes & a lot of flexibility in terms of point/zone selection, it's by far the most capable AF system on these cameras to date. Just like with the Canon 7D mark 2, I found the enhanced AF capability did give me the confidence to move away from the centre-AF point method I normally adopt and letting the camera take focus control. It's much better than I expected, not perfect nor on a par with the aforementioned 7D2, but it's certainly very capable. Tracking across and into/out-of the plane of focus was also generally quite impressive. With a burst mode of 5ps and the AF working together I was able to get a number of "keeper" images of birds and wildlife while shooting... you'll see below, I sort of went crazy chasing birds at one stage! :)

Another internal change is a revamped metering sensor which combines colour & infra-red sensors to more accurately assess the scene. I must confess, despite trying all of the available metering modes I didn't notice any substantial differences - eventually I still tended to use centre-weighted metering by default, switching to point metering when the scene was more complex.

Using the 760D for a protracted period of time let me assess the battery life. It uses the same smaller form factor battery as in the 700D and though Canon rates it at approx. 440 shots, I found in practice to be nearer 500, likely because the review unit was brand new. This isn't great and is only slightly higher than comparable mirrorless models but Canon have recognised this and included a second battery in the box - a very nice and very welcome addition.

The rear touch-screen continues to impress, Canon's implementation is definitely one of the best around. Combined with the same standard of intuitive menus and an eye-sensor which actually works (unlike many!), I found myself naturally just setting the camera quickly & easily using the rear LCD screen.

Rounding out the slew of new features are wifi & NFC (a first in this class of camera).

Image Quality

As I alluded to before, paired with a decent lens it was an absolute pleasure going out shooting with the 760D. You can see some sample images below but first I've included images highlighting the very few areas of image quality that weren't quite to my liking.

The first is diffraction. With it's 24.2MP sensor at APS-C sizes, diffraction was a concern. For those unaware of what diffraction is, broadly speaking it's an optical effect which occurs when using narrow apertures. Your scene starts to blur in a distinctive way, one that's near-impossible to correct in post processing. The exact aperture where diffraction effects are visible depends on the size of your sensor and the number of megapixels, so a high MP count on a small sensor would in theory be more prone to diffraction at relatively larger apertures.

I tested this at a range of apertures and found that f/11 was the highest aperture I'd ever use in the real world - in fact, if I was shooting an incredibly detailed landscape, I'd probably shoot at a larger aperture and focus stack images to get enhanced depth of field across the entire frame.

Shown below are two 100% crops of images shot back-to-back. The first is shot at f/8 and is fine, no problems. The second is shot at f/22 and you can see how it is noticeably less sharp. Attempts to sharpen this did not really improve the image.

This is a 100% crop of an image shot at f8 to test diffraction. No problems at all here!

The same scene as above shot at f22 - it's ugly. From about f11 onwards diffraction starts appearing so I'd recommend keeping the 760D at or below this aperture for best effects. If deeper DOF is needed I'd recommend shooting at f8 then focus stacking your images where possible.

For the full size images check out this link

Another area that can be negatively impacted by cramming megapixels onto a small sensor is the ISO sensitivity performance. I've included some full size images so you can see the image quality yourself - click here to view the image samples, I've taken them off this main review page to ensure the review is quicker to load and if you want to see the image samples you can load separately.

In summary, just like the 7D mark 2, I found that ISO 1600 is probably the limit I'd choose to shoot at and only push to 3200 if necessary. 6400 and above are ugly, even with all of the high ISO noise reduction features enabled. 

With the only minor image quality drawbacks I encountered covered, onto the pretty pictures!

A long exposure photo of the ocean shot at f8 on a bright, sunny day using a 10-stop ND filter. The mist-like appearance of the sea is offset by the sharp, crisp detail in the pebbles.

Processed, cropped & grain added in post-production. Just to be clear, this was shot at ISO 100, the grain I added in post production

Essentially straight out of camera with only light sharpening. I've never seen this bird before in Singapore so any clue as to what species would be appreciated, leave a comment!

*update* - it's a Long Tailed Shrike. Apparently it's the "Vlad the Impaler" of birds, skewering its enemies!

Colour enhanced & sharpened to bring out the detail.

Another almost-SOOC shot, colours are natural (and really well rendered, red can sometimes be an issue for Canon) only lightly sharpened. This poppy field stretched for hundreds of metres in every direction.

Taken in a quaint seaside town in the north of England, like stepping back in time.

Really impressed at the colour, clarity and sharpness in this shot and the AF did really well in tracking the plane as it left Changi airport.

Extensive post-production to convert to faux-infrared, this shows that a lot can be achieved from the RAW files and there's very little colour banding indeed. Converting to fake infra-red is something I often try as it makes problems like colour banding really really obvious. Dynamic range was fine for my needs, nothing noticeably different from most other Canon cameras I've used. Canon do still lag slightly behind Sony in this regard but for many everyday scenarios it's not a huge issue.

Shot about 5 minutes after the bird above, this beast is a pretty common sight here in Singapore. Absolutely unfazed by my presence, it was very willing to pose!

With it's cropped sensor, I did find the 760D was great for giving me extra reach to photograph wildlife, hence the greater-than-normal numbers of birds in this review!

I'm not sure what he's trying to find but he was fishing for something. Sadly it does show the limitation of the dynamic-range in the 760D and much of the storm-drain water is clipping out.

That said, when properly controlled, the dynamic range is great for the vast majority of cases as seen in this black-headed gull.

Another obliging kingfisher, this time in East Coast Park. I'm not sure what he's been eating but his beak is covered in some kind of unusual residue. I wondered if it was red soil, these kingfisher do tend to hunt grasshoppers and other insects on the ground.

Specificaitions

  • 24.2MP APS-C sensor
  • EF-S mount (EF compatible)
  • 5fps burst mode
  • 19 AF points with enhanced AF modes & tracking
  • 63 zone colour & IR metering
  • ISO100-12,800, expandable to 25,600
  • 3" 1.04mp LCD touch sensitive screen

For full specs check Canon's site here

Pros

  • New AF system is a significant improvement from predecessors, outclasses some pro-grade models
  • Improvements & refinements to controls and handling
  • Very good image quality at or below ISO 1600

Cons

  • Higher ISO speeds (3200 and above) still "muddy", sensor sensitivity still lagging behind competition
  • Cramming more megapixels on a sensor reduces the maximum "useable" aperture down to approx f/11
  • Bigger & heavier than the competition, albeit not by huge amounts.

Conclusion

I like the 760D, a lot. Being totally honest, I haven't been this impressed with a Rebel-series camera since the 550D and each previous release has felt like a minor iteration rather than tangible improvement. Canon seem to have changed that with the 760D and as an overall package, it's definitely one of the best beginner-level cameras I've seen in recent months. It's not perfect, and the one area I feel is lacking the most is the sensor technology. Sony are the major competitor in this regard and their recent sensors have now "caught up" with Canon in many ways and are starting to exceed them. For Canon to remain in the race they need to show some radical innovation in this area. My worry is that the 760D will be the last of a few great APS-C cameras before they could end up being eclipsed by cameras that may not handle as well or have so many features, but do have sensors that outperform what Canon has. 

Still, putting my personal "future-fears" aside, what we have here and now is great and if you are a beginner looking to get your first "proper" camera then I'd recommend the 760D without hestitation. It's a very capable camera. I shot a huge range of subjects, from a wedding, landscapes, wildlife - it proved to be up to the challenge wherever I used it. For what is in theory a "beginners" DSLR it's great!

The 760D is available now for approx. US$849, £647 or S$1099.

Canon 7D Mark 2

Canon's original 7D has been their stalwart APS-C flagship since 2009 but has been showing its age against newer competition. Probably one of the most popular enthuasiast-amateur camera models in their range, fans have been clamouring for a replacement but with that comes high expectations amidst better-than-ever competition. I recently had three weeks with one of the latest release models and put it through its paces.

It's pretty widely held that the crop-sensor models tend to be favoured for sports or wildlife shooting. That's not to say they're somehow "unsuitable" for other shooting - far from it - but the crop factor does help in these situations. That said, historically I've not really done much of either kind of photography but because I figured many people interested in this camera would be looking to use it in these kind of situations I tried where I could to find shooting scenarios to demonstrate its capabilities, alongside more general useage so I could give as comprehensive an opinion as possible.

The question I had foremost in mind before beginning my review was whether or not Canon could produce a pro-grade camera with an APS-C sensor and would it stack up in terms of quality against the full frame DSLR and mirrorless opposition. The landscape has changed since the original 7D... is the 7D2 still going to be relevant?

Out of the Box

Everything you'd expect.  The camera, battery, charger & USB cable, as well as the usual array of Canon software CDs and a neck strap round things out.  Also, an odd black plastic clip-thing... not 100% sure what that is for admittedly :)

My review kit also came with an 18-135mm kit lens though that's an optional extra and not covered in this review.

Usage & Handling

My overriding first impression upon picking it up, without a lens attached, was one of heft.  I don't mean that it was heavy - though at almost a full kilo in weight it's not a small puppy - more than it felt reassuringly solid.  With my own personal 6D in my other hand, the two felt pretty similar in terms of physical size but the added weight of the 7D2 was noticeable.  That said, I don't think it was too heavy and as I found later, I thought that the extra weight in the body did help the overall balance when lenses were attached.  Mirrorless fanboys will no doubt be horrified by the 7D2's physical characteristics but as is to be expected for a DSLR, it felt like solid & dependable piece of kit.

Canon has stuck to their tried and tested control layout approach so the vast majority of functions will be instantly familiar.  The rear view looks almost identical to the 5D3 layout, for example, and the top LCD panel/button arrangement is similar to many other models. This consistency is just a small thing but shouldn't be understated; having the ability to pick up a different model to what you normally shoot with and already have a good understanding of how to use it isn't something other camera manufacturers always get right. Sure, historically I've mainly been a Canon shooter and maybe I'm biased... but if I AM biased it's because of little details like this that can have a profound impact on how we use our kit.

Despite conveying quite a lot of information the top-panel LCD is easy to understand at-a-glance. Which is the whole point of having it.

That said, I'm not a fan of all of the controls. I think the on-off button should be on the right hand side to facilitate one-handed shooting (Nikon cameras do this better). I don't see the benefit of having dedicated review/rating buttons. Worst of all though? The little d-pad joystick control in particular is utterly awful. Small, difficult to use and after a while it gets painful to nudge this tiny nipple of plastic around with your thumb. I hate it and much prefer the directional pad you get on the 6D or even the 7xxD-series cameras. I don't understand why it's there. It's also irritating to use it to navigate menus because you then need to move your hand to press the SET button. Definitely needs a redesign. 

Beyond these gripes it's otherwise a standard & well thought out layout that's easy to use. Having a larger body gives more room to have an ergonomic, sensible layout (as compared to smaller, more cluttered mirrorless cameras). With the setting lock slider and a locked mode dial, I never found myself changing the settings by accident.

A new control is the AF mode selection slider, co-located around the d-pad joystick. This lets you quickly and easily choose between different AF-point groups on the fly, from the single central point out through to all 65-points. It's a useful, easy to reach control but the best feature is the ability to reassign it to a different function to suit your own shooting style.

The 7D mark 2 doesn't come with a touch-sensitive rear screen. Having used the touch screen on the 760D I now think Canon's touch-screen implementation is one of the best around - albeit with scope for improvement - and not having a touch screen on the 7D2 is a shame, particularly because it's so much quicker and easier to change settings this way. Especially because the stupid d-pad joystick thing is such an irritating alternative!  With the enhanced phase detect AF useable in live-mode, the ability to touch-focus would have been a great addition that's sadly overlooked.

Canon 7D Mark 2 Controls Explained - Part 1

Most of these are pretty standard across virtually the entire Canon range. The live view/movie mode control is one I particularly like and lets you shoot using Live View or enter movie mode in one button, but in such a way that you don't accidentally turn movie mode on when you really want to compose using the rear screen. A definite improvement over the entry-level models that tend to use the mode dial.

The AF & AE lock buttons function identically to other models, as do the standard selection wheel/SET & lock buttons.

Around the control d-pad is the AF mode selection slider.

The AF mode select button is a little more involved given the AF system the camera has and I'll cover the details of that elsewhere in the review.

Canon 7D Mark 2 Controls Explained - Part 2

If you have a 5D3 then this will be instantly familiar. The lockable mode-dial gives all the standard PASM modes, full auto and three custom presets.  

Aside from the normal menu & info buttons, which work in exactly the same way as other models, the bulk of the other buttons are pretty much only used for image review purposes. While having dedicated buttons to review, compare and rate images in the camera is better than not having them, ultimately I didn't use them much at all. I always prefer saving the review process until I'm back on the computer where I can see the images at full resolution.  

Maybe travel photographers, bored waiting in airports, will find the ability to rate the images on their cards useful before they see them on screen. For me, I didn't find it overly useful.

Paired with one of my favourite lenses, the crop factor gives the 100mm macro an effective reach of 160mm at the expense of FOV. Often that's an attractive trade-off for macro shooting.

A major selling point for the 7D mark 2 is the "Dual Pixel CMOS AF" system, originally seen on the 70D, but the 7D mark 2 has the 65 AF points vs only 19 AF points on the 70D.  This is a huge jump in performance compared to its predecessor and it even shares features with the 1DX. I've not tested the 1DX personally but reports indicate that this new AF suite eclipses the top-end model in overall capability. Based on my experience though I'd be inclined to believe it! Without reservation it's the single best AF system I've ever used, bar none*. Speed & accuracy are the two most important measures and in this case I think the 7D2 is best in class. My own personal shooting style doesn't tend to use the full AF system of my cameras much and I typically use the central focus point only. I have to admit, turning on the full-range of AF points and letting the camera choose where it focused was a little nerve-wracking but I needn't have worried.  I experimented on as many different subjects as possible, ranging from static/stationary objects through to fast moving wildlife.  While no AF system is perfect, the 7D2 is best-in-class and by the end of my time with the camera I was perfectly comfortable with the AF system and picking the right mode for the scene at hand.  

You may have wondered what the asterisked caveat was? Here's the catch - to get the best out of the AF you need to have capable lenses that can do it justice. I tested with a number of different lenses over the period I had to review the camera and the 70-200 f/2.8 II was, maybe unsurprisingly, the stand-out winner. The AF performance when these two were paired was close to supernatural!  It just worked; fast, accurate and on exactly what I wanted to focus on. Other lenses were excellent too, particularly the venerable 100mm f/2.8 Macro, but when I used third party lenses the performance dipped. Don't get me wrong, performance is still absolutely fantastic, but it's not on the same "mind-readingly good" level you get when paired with top-tier Canon glass. It's the first time I've personally experienced the claim that third party lenses lag behind their Canon equivalents for AF performance but that's almost certainly because I rarely tax an AF system like I did during my time with the 7D2.

The only grumble I have relating to the AF system isn't really an issue with the AF system at all, rather it's a side-effect of the metering system performance lagging behind AF! As I've said, typically I use the central focusing poin-> spot meter -> recompose. However, with the 7D2, because the AF is so good it can often mean the metering settings are incompatible with the focal point. For example, evaluative/partial/centre-weighted metering are often too general to render a scene properly but using spot metering when your subject & AF are fixed away from the central point will still mean you exposure is off. The best solution would be to have the metering trigger off the same AF points used - however given that the AF system also uses the metering sensor to improve speed & accuracy it may still technically be difficult to implement.

The AF system also has dedicated menu options allowing the user to select from one of six predefined "AF cases" -

Maybe unsurprisingly, this is the mode I found myself shooting in most of the time when using the full suite of AF points and AI servo. It's probably the most similar to "normal" AF modes on other cameras, albeit with the faster & more accurate system on the 7D2 making full-auto AF more useful.

Maybe unsurprisingly, this is the mode I found myself shooting in most of the time when using the full suite of AF points and AI servo. It's probably the most similar to "normal" AF modes on other cameras, albeit with the faster & more accurate system on the 7D2 making full-auto AF more useful.

Of all of the more specialised AF modes, this was the one I found to be most useful, most accurate & easiest to test. For example, on a portrait photoshoot I easily locked onto the model but when people passed in front the AF system definitely did ignore them. Similarly, tracking cyclists & birdsin the park with trees and other people continually moving in and out of the frame the system worked very well - in the majority of cases - at remaining locked onto my subject.

Of all of the more specialised AF modes, this was the one I found to be most useful, most accurate & easiest to test. For example, on a portrait photoshoot I easily locked onto the model but when people passed in front the AF system definitely did ignore them. Similarly, tracking cyclists & birdsin the park with trees and other people continually moving in and out of the frame the system worked very well - in the majority of cases - at remaining locked onto my subject.

The idea behind this case is that you prefocus manually on the rough area you expect something to appear into your scene, switch AF back on, then when your subject enters the frame the AF quickly locks on so you can take the shot. I tried testing this by pre-composing my shot when I knew people where going to walk into frame to see how quickly/accurately it picked them up. Generally speaking it worked well - however, I then repeated the exercise using the "Case 1" setting and found the AF system seemed to work essentially the same.   It could be the benefit is really seen on fast-moving sports subjects but the guys practicing their triathlon in the park seemed to be moving fast enough to test the AF system!

The idea behind this case is that you prefocus manually on the rough area you expect something to appear into your scene, switch AF back on, then when your subject enters the frame the AF quickly locks on so you can take the shot. I tried testing this by pre-composing my shot when I knew people where going to walk into frame to see how quickly/accurately it picked them up. Generally speaking it worked well - however, I then repeated the exercise using the "Case 1" setting and found the AF system seemed to work essentially the same.  

It could be the benefit is really seen on fast-moving sports subjects but the guys practicing their triathlon in the park seemed to be moving fast enough to test the AF system!

Cases 4, 5 & 6 were the most difficult to test.  Also, reading the description for each & how their configurations differ, they all sound very similar indeed.To test this was probably the most embarrassing part of reviewing this camera... For each case in turn I'd lock onto a bird then try chasing it around!  I'm sure you can imagine the scene - large ang mo with a large camera running around chasing wildlife. Not the best look! In my experience, each of case 4 - 6 performed exactly the same.  I also found that when shooting a burst of frames trying to catch birds in flight, the overall success seemed to depend very heavily on the accuracy of the initial AF-lock.  In other words, if I locked onto a bird then chased it around, the AF would generally do a decent job keeping up - regardless of which case 4, 5 or 6 I was using - but if my first AF-lock was slightly out it never quite seemed to catch up. Never let it be said I'm not willing to suffer a little personal embarrassment to bring you these reviews :)

Cases 4, 5 & 6 were the most difficult to test.  Also, reading the description for each & how their configurations differ, they all sound very similar indeed.To test this was probably the most embarrassing part of reviewing this camera... For each case in turn I'd lock onto a bird then try chasing it around!  I'm sure you can imagine the scene - large ang mo with a large camera running around chasing wildlife. Not the best look!

In my experience, each of case 4 - 6 performed exactly the same.  I also found that when shooting a burst of frames trying to catch birds in flight, the overall success seemed to depend very heavily on the accuracy of the initial AF-lock.  In other words, if I locked onto a bird then chased it around, the AF would generally do a decent job keeping up - regardless of which case 4, 5 or 6 I was using - but if my first AF-lock was slightly out it never quite seemed to catch up.

Never let it be said I'm not willing to suffer a little personal embarrassment to bring you these reviews :)

Another of the standout features of the 7D mark 2 is the 10fps burst mode, a speed only previously reached (and exceeded) by the top-end 1DX.  At full speed the camera sounds like a machine gun and is rated to have a 31 RAW image buffer capacity - in practice, with fast cards, I found I hit at least 35 images before I experienced slow-down, sometimes considerably more.  Shooting RAW+JPG and it still managed an average of 25 frames, still very respectable. Though bear in mind, at full whack that's "only" 2.5 seconds of shooting!

It's hard to convey the effect of shooting at 10fps in still images but in an attempt to demonstrate what's possible I shot the cyclists in the park and converted the resulting burst into a GIF.  

Although you can see some distortion in the cycle path caused by the frame alignment in photoshop, what's interesting is seeing how the camera metering changed across each frame

While experimenting and playing around with the 7D2 I thought it'd be fun to film the shutter in slow-motion at full 10fps-speed. What I saw surprised me and I've shared the results in the video below. As you will see in this clip, which lasted for 5 seconds of "real time", the shutter starts out initially at its typical fast speed.  After a couple of seconds though it suddenly slows down dramatically. Though I'm not certain, I think the reason for this is that I shot the slow-mo video without any memory cards in the camera - this leads me to believe that the performance of the internal buffer is linked-to and depends heavily on the memory card used. Based on my other observation that the buffer often exceeded the advertised maximum when I used fast SD cards, I think it's a fairly safe assumption to make that the internal buffer relies heavily on shuffling images to the card almost immediately and you will see considerably better performance using fast cards.

The third most important new feature is a new "anti-flicker" feature for the auto white balance setting. If I'm being honest, I hadn't realised how much of a problem this could be until I did more research into it - then looking back at my own library of images I could easily see where I'd captured photos that experienced this effect.

The problem is that many forms of lighting, most frequently fluorescent or LED lights, actually flash on and off many times per second. Although this is almost always imperceptible to the human eye, it's often easily seen in our photographs and is more prevalent when shooting several frames in quick succession. What Canon have implemented is the option to shoot in AWB mode with an additional anti-flicker setting you can toggle on/off. When turned on, the camera analyses the lighting in the scene and will only trigger the shutter when the lights are on - the benefit of this is the lighting will be consistent and identical across all of your images, the drawback is that the camera will delay the shutter for a fraction of a second until the lighting is "correct". In practice, I found that delay in shutter triggering was only ever noticeable when I was trying to detect it and in all other cases it wasn't something you would really pay attention to.  For me at least, I would leave the anti-flicker feature on at all times. It really is a useful new feature. Although sometimes it will "save" an image that would otherwise have been ruined by light flicker, for the vast majority of times you will see the biggest saving in post-processing.  See the images below for more detail on what I mean. To show the effect, I've created a few more GIF images below.

The first two are from an underpass exclusively lit by fluorescent lighting.  As you can see from the first GIF, the flickering is hugely pronounced!  The second image is the same scene with anti-flicker enabled.  The third image is another scene, this time an MRT station lit mostly with fluorescent lighting but with other light sources present to give a more "real-world" example of the feature in use.

Notice here how the colour of the scene above changes as the camera AWB varies significantly between each frame.  This is caused by the light flickering and although it's normally imperceptible to the human eye, when shooting under these conditions it can often lead to strange, tricky to correct colour casts on the final image.  You can see too that the lighting flicker isn't synchronised and each light flickers on/off at different times.  This means you have multiple, different colour temperatures to deal with in the final image which causes a headache when it comes to processing.

This is the same scene - but after changing the AWB to anti-flicker mode.  Notice how the lighting is rock-solid consistent... though it's SO good you'll just have to trust me it's actually more than one frame and is actually a GIF!  You can see some minor alignment warping in the end of the tunnel as my position shifted over the last few frames if you don't believe me :)

To show the anti-flicker feature in a different context, here the lighting conditions within the MRT station are almost the same as the underpass - set to anti-flicker mode and you can see the WB is always consistent. There's a small amount of colour variation caused by converting the JPGs to a GIF for the animation.

After testing this out I am sure this feature will become standard across the rest of Canon's range and with the new 760D this is indeed the case - Canon seems to be implementing it on all new cameras, even the amateur end of the range, because it's just so damn useful.

Battery life is excellent, based in no small part due to the LP-E6 battery, now upgraded to the E6N version. It comfortably lasts more than 1,000 shots and can sit in standby for days on end.  Running the 6D and 7D2 side by side for a full day photoshoot the 6D was left with a good 200 images "in the tank" though, implying that the 7D2 is a little more power hungry than its full frame cousin. Still, it's an order of magnitude better than a mirrorless equivalent.

Overall I drew two conclusions about how it felt to use the 7D mark 2.  It's reliable, the AF is fantastic and the 10fps burst mode is a dangerously addictive (albeit spray-and-pray!) feature I'd love to have on my other cameras.  That said, over the three weeks I had with it, I didn't "bond" with it... but don't get me wrong, that's not a bad thing. The camera is very capable indeed, and very good indeed at what it does. It is a great tool for the job but I found myself being more impressed by it's features on a technical level than falling in love with it. 

Image Quality

A huge part of what a camera is capable of depends on the lens you pair it with and I tried to shoot a range of scenes & scenarios with as many lenses as I could to produce these sample images.  Many have been processed but my philosophy when reviewing is to show both unprocessed images and what you can then achieve after processing - only those still learning or people who should know better just use what they get straight from the camera!  I think it's better to see exactly what the camera & the photographer can ultimately produce rather than a dump of unprocessed JPGs!  Check out some of the things I was able to do with the 7D2.

The beach at East Coast Park.  Although a little further along the coast there were people clearing up the rubbish, it was unexpected & quite sad to see so much garbage washed ashore.  Unprocessed.

Downtown Singapore.  Sharpened & colour/contrast tweaked.

I have no idea what this chap was doing.  Standing on the edge of the jetty as the tide was coming in, he was stood there completely motionless!  Converted to monochrome & sharpened.  Silver Efex Pro 2 used for the monochrome conversion.

A close-up portrait of a grey heron taken in Pasir Ris park.  The bird landed very close to me in a tree and though it never took its eye off me, seemed unperturbed as I edged closer.  Sharpened & contrast enhanced.

A 100% crop of the eye, prior to processing.  You can see the noise inherent in the image and this was shot at an ISO of 3200 after sunset.  Impressive results considering the conditions.  Unprocessed, direct-from-RAW conversion.

Shot at 150mm, equivalent to 240mm.  It was astonishing how close the heron let me get to it.  At one stage I could have reached out and comfortably touched it; it was absolutely unfazed by my presence.  Sharpened, cleaned-up, contrast enhanced and brightened as I was forced to deliberately underexpose due the rapidly fading light. Tbough it looks relatively bright in the background, to the eye it was pretty murky!

I took the 7D2 on a photoshoot and put it head-to-head against the Canon 6D and Sony A7II - it definitely held its own against the full-frame competition. Converted to monochrome, sharpened and tweaked.

Shot from the window of my apartment, this Black-naped Oriole was hungrily eating the seeds/pollen from the tree it was perched on.  It also seemed to be opportunistically feeding on wasps also feeding - either that, or it was fending the off from stealing the food!

Paired with the 100mm macro I was able to again use the extra reach from the APS-C sensor to stay far enough away to get this image of a dragonfly without it flying away.

I love kingfishers.  I spent years trying to see one in the wild but Singapore has such a huge abundance I see them most days either on my commute to work or when I go into the nature reserves.

This guy was skittish but did obligingly pose long enough for me to snap off some portraits.  Processed from an original RAW file.

Shot at ISO 3200, this is an example of an image that was on the borderline between useable and garbage - see the original, unprocessed 100% crop below. Having the extra 1.6x crop-factor was useful in helping me keep my distance from the extremely dangerous pit viper.  It has been pretty heavily processed to rescue a final result which is presentable.

For almost the entire first year of living in Singapore I was desperate to see snakes in the wild.  Though I don't think I can really attribute it to Canon, my track-record for finding snakes when reviewing camera gear is now pretty good :)

You can see here the underlying image converted directly from the RAW file, shown on the left before noise-reduction and on the right after noise processing.

I almost always use Imagenomic Noiseware Pro and you can see it has done a good job in removing noise in this case - good enough so that with further processing I was able to rescue the image.

You have been warned... we are watching you.

I touched on the ISO performance earlier with the pit viper image but all cameras have a trade-off somewhere. Despite its otherwise impressive array of features, the 7D2 still does suffer from image noise at higher ISOs. It's basic physics which dictates smaller sensors are noisier than larger ones and although the noise characteristics are MUCH improved over its predecessor, it's still not on a par with full frame sensors.  The image below is taken at ISO 100 - below that are examples of cropped centre-edge sections. Click on the comparison composite below to see a larger version. In my opinion, I found anything up to 1600 was perfectly useable but 3200 was limited - sometimes the images could be rescued in post-processing, sometimes not. I found ISO 6400 was rarely useable for colour scenes but could sometimes be saved by converting to black & white. Mostly not though. Even with high ISO and long exposure noise reduction enabled the quality was just better but ultimately not useable.

This high ISO performance is, for me, the single biggest let-down. Though better than the previous generation it's not significantly improved at higher speeds. Sometimes to get the shot, particularly with birds & wildlife, you have no option but to ramp up the ISO and sadly I had a number of images which just didn't cut it when the light began to wane.

Though it won't win any awards this scene IS useful to check out the ISO performance!  See below for a 100% crop of the right hand side of the frame.

At-A-Glance - Specifications & Comparison to the 7D

The 7D2 is an upgrade over its predecssor in almost every way.  Here's a rundown of the 7D mark 1 vs the 7D mark 2 in a few key attributes.  See my conclusion for more detailed thoughts.

  • 18 megapixels -> 20 megapixels
  • 8fps burst mode -> 10fps burst mode
  • 19 AF points -> 65 AF points (in addition to an expanded range of AF modes)
  • ISO100-6400 (12800 expanded) -> ISO100-12800 (51200 expanded)
  • 0.92mp rear LCD screen-> 1.04mp LCD screen (ClearView  II)

For full, detailed specifications you can check the Canon site here

    Canon 7D2 vs Canon 6D (or "crop vs full frame")

    This is another common question I've had recently, especially from photographers looking to move up from the a more basic/amateur body to something more capable.  It's not a new question, full-frame vs APS-C has been a much-discussed topic for years! Sadly I'm not going to provide any kind of revelation... the answer is always "it depends what you want to acheive with the camera".

    Though the 6D is by no means the most advanced full-frame out there, it's priced at a similar level so it's understandable that many will look at the 7D2 and the 6D and wonder which is right for them.  I always prefer talking about someone's photography first before making a recommendation but in the broadest sense I'd make the following recommendations.

    Choose the 7D2 if

    • You already have a number of top-end EF-S lenses covering a range of focal lengths
    • Your priority is shooting wildlife or sports to benefit from the extra reach afforded by the crop sensor

    Choose the 6D (or full-frame) if

    • You value improved image quality - in the form of better high-ISO capability, more versatile DOF & superior dynamic range
    • Your shooting preference is more general - landscape, street, studio... anything that DOESN'T benefit from the crop-sensor
    • You haven't invested in EF-S lenses or you're planning on expanding your EF lens collection

    Remember - these are completely generalised and very, very broad guidelines.  If you are debating what camera to get next and have any questions, feel free to get in touch

    Pros

    • Top-of-the-range autofocus system
    • 10fps burst mode with insanely large buffer to back it up
    • New Anti-flicker AWB
    • Solid, professional weather-sealed build

    Cons

    • Sensor quality lags behind full-frame sensors - most noticeably in terms of high-ISO performance
    • Lower resolution than competing models
    • Needs equivalently good glass to get the absolute best out of its strongest features

    I haven't included the fact it's a crop sensor as a pro or con.  Rather, it's a a facet of the camera that your personal preferences will mean it benefits or complicates your shooting.

    Conclusion

    The Canon 7D2 is undoubtedly a major upgrade over the mark 1.  Every important feature, from image quality, autofocus to even how the camera handles white balance is upgraded and refined.  If you love your 7D & have invested in the APS-C platform and want an upgraded & improved model the 7D2 won't let you down at all - I can definitely recommend it.  It may "only" be an APS-C sized sensor but it's 100% a professional camera.  It definitely outclasses many, if not most, of the CSC options on the market, particularly m4/3 cameras which have the benefit of a cropped sensor but lag behind in other aspects.

    This is where the 7D2 gives me pause for thought though.  Canon is pitching it as an alternative to professional full frame models such as the 5D3, not to mention top-end full-frame mirrorless rivals.  With the super-resolution 5DS/R models imminent, it will be interesting to see if the 7D2 can hold its own in the future; will we all be shooting at 50+ megapixels and cropping, rather than used a cropped sensor? My gut feeling is that Canon have come as far as they can with their existing approach to the APS-C sensor format - the 7D2 is the pinnacle of APS-C evolution, rather than revolution - and Canon will need to make some fairly hefty improvements in sensor performance for a future 7D mark 3 to impress as much as the 7D2 has.  The 7D2 is good and can stand toe-to-toe with the current competition.  The problem it faces is the competition is moving fast indeed.

    To summarise...  If you shoot nature, it's a fantastic option; just get it. If you want a pro-grade second body to backup a full frame camera, get it. It's a lovely camera and in its own particular niche, the best I've seen so far.

     

    The Canon 7D2 is available now for approximately   £1,999, S$2,499 USD$1,499, body only.

    Canon's Powershot G7X is the latest in their G-series of "flagship" compacts.  With the compact camera market having dropped off a cliff in recent years due to smartphones winning out in the "convenient quality" category, it is only in the prosumer domain that compacts still have any tangible market hold.  With manual controls, RAW capabilities and much improved image quality stemming from the larger, more capable sensors, many enthusiasts & professionals still like having a top-notch compact either as backup for their main camera or just to have something compact for everyday use.

    Promo image from Canon's site of their G7X 

    Promo image from Canon's site of their G7X 

    What's in the Box?

    A pretty standard package - camera, battery & charger and wrist strap.  Canon have also included "go-faster" red striping round the mode dial & shutter button :)

    Usage & Handling

    This isn’t the first Canon compact I’ve used, or indeed owned, and Canon are known for being reliable & consistent with their camera controls and general handling. It’s fair to say I found this much easier and more familiar to use than many other cameras I’ve reviewed, partly through experience but in fairness it’s partly because everything is kept simple across their range where possible. I like that the general handling & setup of the cameras feels simple & intuitive and the G7X continues the trend. Buttons are well placed and don't get in the way and menus and interfaces are well laid out with all the most important functions easy to find. It's small and I've got big hands but the controls are just about right on sizing for me, in contrast to most other compacts and many mirrorless options!  While the buttons are fine in general use, the spinny wheel control is, like other compacts, a necessary burden.  Without it, full manual control would be near impossible but the simple fact is the wheel controls on the rear of every single compact I've used are poor.  The G7X's wheel isn't the worst, but I still find them awkward to use.  The rear LCD touchscreen helps though - moving focal points is a breeze and really helps in composition & although by habit I navigate the menus with the d-pad buttons it's nice to have the option to drive it completely from the screen.  Having said that, I do still find that touchscreens are prone to me accidentally hitting it and leading to mild confusion when it isn't focusing where I thought it should be!

    One feature I really like is the manual exposure compensation dial.  I find that shooting fully manual on compacts can be quite fiddly so having the ability to shoot in AV mode and rapidly adjust my exposure to suit the scene is hugely beneficial.  

    A few minutes before this shot I had the camera setup to shoot the Marina Bay skyline.  Heading home I saw these lights and the jogger - with a flick of my finger I set it to underexpose by 3 stops and get the shot I imagined. Tweaked & processed in Snapseed after transferring the JPG to my phone.

    A few minutes before this shot I had the camera setup to shoot the Marina Bay skyline.  Heading home I saw these lights and the jogger - with a flick of my finger I set it to underexpose by 3 stops and get the shot I imagined.

    Tweaked & processed in Snapseed after transferring the JPG to my phone.

    A fast lens with a versatile zoom range is one of the features that sets the prosumer compacts apart from the rest of the range.  Canon has set the bar high here, with a 24-100mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range and an aperture ranging from f/1.8 at the wide end to f/2.8 at the long end.  This beats the main rival to the Canon G7X - the Sony RX100-3 - in both focal range and also how wide the lens is across the comparable 24-70 zoom range.  Having this range & aperture is really useful in such a small package!  The bokeh is pretty good too, better than you'd expect from such a small sensor!  There's no in-camera image processing options but this doesn't worry me too much.  For mobile processing I'd want to port it over to a tablet or phone and to get the best out of an image it'll need to be pushed through Photoshop anyway; I often think in-camera RAW tweaking is a bit gimmicky and I've never found it reliable or capable enough.  It's an omission compared to competitors but I don't think it's an important one.

    I'm not a fan of rear LCD screens as the only way to shoot with a camera and although the G7X has a bright, uncluttered screen, it suffers the same hard-to-see issue as all LCD screens in bright sunlight.  The miniature viewfinder on the RX100-3 definitely gives it the edge here & I also thought the RX100-3's focal length indicator on the zoom display was a useful addition thalt the Canon was missing.  Also, the screen only tilts 180 degrees and doesn't let you tilt downwards which I personally find more useful in a prosumer compact than the ability to take selfies.

    Another gripe I had was with the battery life.  It's not dreadful, certainly better than cameras like the X100 series, but I found myself getting between 220 and 280 shots on a charge, though the latter involved lots of nursing and managing the screen brightness.  Buying a second battery will be essential but at least the camera comes with a charger so you can pre-charge ahead of shooting!

    Pretty much every camera now also allows for remote image viewing & control via smartphone and the G7X is no exception, packing in wifi & NFC connectivity.  For image viewing and downloading the app is fine but for remote shooting it's a far cry from the EOS app which by comparison is much more useful.  Crappy smartphone apps for non-DSLRs are common across all manufacturers and although that's no excuse, at least it's on a par with its peers.  If I had to choose between the useability of a camera vs the useability of its associated app I'd choose the camera every time but it feels like all of the apps are stuck in a rut.

    While it does have a few flaws none of them are show-stoppers.  The most important features in any camera are how easily you can configure it for you to capture your scene - which it does very well indeed - and how it records that scene when you release the shutter.  General usage & handling felt natural and comfortable and rather than have tons of deep, complex menus I found that everything I wanted to tweak had a dedicated button or was on the "quick menu" overlay across the image. Shooting with a compact isn't as fun as with an X100, or as versatile as a DSLR but Canon have done well in making the core shooting experience as painless as possible.

    Image Quality

    There are always a few key areas I like to check when looking at compacts with their small lens & small sensors - distortion & sharpness for the former and high ISO/long-exposure noise artefacts for the latter.  The image of the three lamposts shows pretty clean results for a high ISO shot with only minimal processing and all noise reduction performed in camera and it still amazes me how good the images from modern compacts can be in low-light.  Distortion, flare, CA and other common optical flaws are barely noticeable in most circumstances and fixable in post-processing in the vast majority of cases.

    I was keen to see what the G7X was capable of and I'm really happy to report it's good.  Very, very good in fact.  I've included a host of sample images below and the majority are straight out of camera - where I've processed them, I've done so in a way that I felt suited the image and that other photographers might process them too.  There's no simpler way to say it - the G7X does not disappoint at all in the image quality stakes.  Out of camera JPGs generally need minimal tweaking and the RAW files give plenty of latitude if you do want to tease the best out of any given shot - I found that shooting RAW+JPG was fine from a performance & convenience perspective though the camera did slow down noticeably once the frame buffer filled.  

    Check out the images below, I'm sure you'll agree that for a compact, the results are impressive indeed.

    As a day-trip to the Singapore Turf Club racecourse, organised by the PSS, came to an end these dark clouds rolled in.  Good dynamic range and punchy colours in this shot.

    And I couldn't resist including this shot of the PSS guys waiting for the next race :)

    One of the EXTREMELY loud frogs that can keep me awake when they gather outside for their nightly shouting contest!  I used the time-delay shutter function, f/8 and ISO100 so the shutter speed was quite long, over a second.  I boosted the brightness on my iPhone and used it to "light-paint" the frog who obligingly stayed still for his portrait!

    This was quite challenging to take with a compact. The AF assist lamp stubbornly refused to help focus lock onto the frog and manual focus was next to useless in the dark conditions - in fact, I rarely find manual focus to be a useful tool on compacts and to that extent the G7X is the same as its competitors.  In the end, using my iPhone to light the frog to let the AF lock on did the trick.

    I loved how the camera captured this - it's exactly how I saw it, with the morning mist hanging over the storm drain.

    Reds can sometimes be difficult for cameras to render properly and personally I always find it hard to reliably convert RAW files to look realistic.  Here, the G7X has done a superb job straight out of camera with this flower!  The sharpness of the morning rain on the petals is lovely too.

    Finding a snake in the wild in Singapore was on "must-see" list.  This is a baby male Wagler's Pit Viper.  Aggressive & rather poisonous so having 100mm of reach with the G7X was definitely appreciated!

    Tweaked slightly in Lightroom to correct perspective and boost the oranges.

    Tweaked only slightly in Lightroom.

    OK this photo might not win any awards but I included it to show how the G7X handled a low-light snapshot and also to show the astonishing spectacle of these dog owners taking their pets for a "walk"...

    Gratuitous big sky shot, the dynamic range here is fairly impressive too although unsurprisingly the Sun has burned out top right.

    Converted to monochrome & cropped to pano, this was shot at the full 100mm extension with the boats a good kilometre or more away.  At full size the details of the ships on the horizon, the sailors and their yachts are all quite detailed, showing how much leeway the 20 megapixels gives you when cropping your images.

    An early morning scene of the beach near Changi.  This is the out-of-camera JPG but I also checked the RAW file - unfortunately the sun has bled through into a number of surrounding pixels.  This is fixable by underexposing or using an ND grad filter, or shooting bracketed exposures and merging to HDR.

    A low-light, high ISO image taken in front of Marina Bay Sands.  Taken handheld, it's come out acceptably sharp and high-ISO noise looks pretty good.

    Good, clean images in the shadows/blacks when shooting long exposures.  The right-most HDB block actually has a lighthouse built onto the roof!

    One peculiar quirk that I found using the G7X was when shooting long exposures in aperture priority mode.  I would deliberate choose a small aperture & low ISO to force a longer shutter speed but the camera would only automatically choose a 1 second shutter.  To get a longer shutter speed I needed to switch it into full manual and use exposure simulation on the rear screen to frame my shot & estimate exposure - even turning on the built in ND filter didn't length the 1 second exposure time in AV mode.  Though the workaround was OK, a 1 second restriction in Av mode was quite peculiar but not unheard of; Samsung's NX series do something similar and the RX100-3 automatically reduces the aperture size at long exposure + high ISO settings.

    What is it with me and taking photos of planes?  :)  This is converted using Silver Efex Pro 2 and tweaked in Photoshop

    Specifications

    • 20.2 megapixel, 1" sensor
    • 24-100mm (equiv) lens, f/1.8-2.8
    • Integral lens stabilisation
    • 3" LCD screen, ~1 million dots
    • Touch-screen, tiltable from 0-180 degrees
    • 6.5fps burst mode
    • 10cm x 6cm x 4cm, 304g
    • 5472x3648 resolution
    • 1080p movie mode (inc. iFrame format)
    • ISO 125-12800

    Conclusion

    I'm impressed! The G7X is a very capable camera which is easy to use, produces good quality images and has a solid set of features.  It has its niggles, mostly around the useability of the rear screen, and the life of individual batteries isn't great but none of these are showstoppers.  The most important features are usability & image quality and the G7X delivers in both regards.  If you are looking for a top-end compact camera then the G7X is fantastic.  Highly recommended!

    If you're trying to choose between this and the RX100-3 keep an eye on my site - I'll be doing a head-to-head test of both cameras and publishing the results soon!

    The G7X is about £449 in the UK or S$799 in Singapore.

    Pros

    • Great handling & manual controls (esp. the dedicated exposure compensation dial!)
    • Extremely good image quality for its size
    • Best-in-class lens with impressive focal length range & wide aperture

    Cons

    • Rear screen hard to use in bright sunshine, touchscreen lacks a lock & only tilts 180 degrees
    • Manual focus isn't great, especially in low-light conditions
    • Worse-than-average battery life

     

    How I Review

    Although looking at MTF charts and DxO statistics is an important measure in judging gear quality, I like seeing real-world, hands-on reviews equipment in an environment I could imagine myself using it.  Technical & theoretical attributes are definitely important but I prefer to try to expose kit to a range of different usage situations and see how it holds up.  

     

    Thanks to Canon Singapore for the review unit.

    Canon 760D ISO Comparison & Diffraction Test Images

    Shown below are the supplementary ISO Comparison images as well as the full size diffraction test images shot at f8 and f22

    Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS USM II Review

    Most photographers using SLRs will, at some point, look to complete the "trinity" of lenses - a wide angle zoom, maybe 16-24mm, alongside a 24-70mm and rounded out with a 70-200mm.  These three lenses cover a huge focal range and give the best balance of image quality, cost & versatility in the smallest number of lenses.  Having said that, if you opt for the faster f/2.8 lenses over the f/4 versions you are often looking at a significant investment but with that comes the highest quality currently available.  

    Canon's earlier offering, the mark I version of the 70-200 f/2.8 IS, was often voted people's favourite & most used lens and it's easy to see why - image quality is fantastic, it was reasonably priced and useful in a huge range of scenarios.  Released back in 2001 it was beginning to show its age when compared against newer offerings and the state of the art has shifted over the last decade.  Canon's latest revision of this popular lens has a tough standard to beat if it was going to tempt people to upgrade.

    I've used this lens in the past, as well as the f/2.8 mark I and also the f/4 version.  Although it's never a lens I've owned I'm personally in the market for something in this class so the chance to get hands-on for another long term period was something I didn't pass up!

    Out of the Box

    As well as the lens you get the standard caps & hood you expect from all L-lenses.  A nice padded case is also provided.

    Whats In A Name?

    • 70-200mm is the focal range measured in full frame terms.  In other words, a short-to-moderate telephoto zoom lens.
    • f/2.8 is the maximum aperture.  The fact it's consistent throughout the zoom range and very wide should immediately warn you this is likely to be a heavy lens with a LOT of chunky glass!
    • IS is Canon's Image Stabilization.  This particular lens is rated at 4-stops of stabilization, so it ought to be very effective at cancelling out camera shake.  Remember, image stabilization doesn't do anythin to reduce the blur from a fast moving subject!
    • The "L" indicates "Luxury" and is basically how Canon choose to differentiate their professional grade kit from their other ranges. Image quality & construction will be top-notch for lenses designated L.
    • USM stands for UltraSonic Motor, basically Canon's top-end autofocus driver.
    • II - this is the mark II version of this lens, the predecessor having beeen released back in 2001.

    Useage & Handling

    The 70-200 focal length and f/2.8 aperture instantly suggest a number of photographic scenarios that this lens would excel in.  Its focal range puts it in portrait & headshot territory and the fast aperture helps it out in indoor & lower light situations.  It can also be a handy addition when travelling where the versatility & reach offer great utility, albeit in a fairly heavy package!  My plan to review it was to put it in as many of the situations it should excel in and see how it performs.

    First impressions upon handling the lens are that it's solid.  The thing feels like a tank!  With 23 internal glass elements and a metal outer body construction, not to mention the metal tripod ring mount this thing is an absolute beast!  It's heavy, it's wide and bloody hell does it feel good!  You would expect this kind of feeling with an L-lens, especially one of the white ones, and this delivers in spades.  It's an odd feeling... I'm a photography nerd and do like attractive, well-made and professional gear but this is the first time I've ever done a "woo hoo" when hefting a lens for the first time.  I own large super-telephotos too but nothing has given me quite the nerdgasm this did! It did give me pause for thought though, would it be too heavy to use?

    With all new photography kit to review I take it on a photowalk to get a feel for it, this time through East Coast Park.  Mounted on a Canon 7D-II and hanging around my neck it was initially uncomfortable.  The lens is heavy and with a default strap, downright uncomfortable.  I ended up ditching the neck strap and using a shoulder-sling.  These are much more convenient & comfortable.  In this case, switching from the bog-standard camera strap to a shoulder strap (like these from Black Rapid) made it MUCH more pleasant to carry around.  

    Overshadowed by the larger ocean-going vessels, this paddle-boarder was a good distance of the coast but with the 1.6x crop factor of the 7D-II pushing the 200mm end out to 320mm

    Telephoto lenses also compress perspective which can be useful in landscape shooting - in the image below, I tried shooting at 200mm (again, effectively 320mm) to flatten the docks along the bottom of the frame.

    I was worried that when paired with a full size DSLR it would be cumbersome & tiring.  Admittedly, after several hours walking up & down the park, I could definitely feel that I'd been carrying it!  Without a proper shoulder strap it would have been even worse!  Overall, I think it's probably not far from the edge of what's comfortably portable for a day's shooting - and it'll certainly help your muscle tone while shooting! - but it is OK for use over many hours.  With full weather sealing, even a short rain shower didn't stop shooting.

    I was lucky enough to be able to attend a friend's wedding recently and although I was very careful to not get in the way of the official photographer, I couldn't ignore the opportunity to try it out!  Most wedding shooters tend to carry two bodies for the day, usually a 24-70 and a 70-200 and I wasn't surprised to see the official photographer using the mark I version of this lens!

    Using the lens for a photowalk out-and-about was fun.  Using it indoors capturing candidate shots of friends & family at the wedding was flat out awesome.  Paired with the 6D for the day, I set it to f/2.8 and never looked back!

    Shot indoor in natural light at f/2.8 - lovely bokeh despite an otherwise distracting background and sharpness is fantastic.  Colours are rendered perfectly too.  This is cropped to approximately 50% of the larger frame yet still holds up very well.

    I also think the colour rendition here is just beautiful.

    Another shot at f/2.8 and the centre sharpness here is just superb.  Knowing that you can shoot wide open and still get stunningly sharp detail never gets old and allows for some really creative images.

    The lens is fantastic for indoor portraits - shot below at f/2.8 (yet again!) you can see the level of detail in the cardigan and her face.  It does also highlight how shallow the DOF can get though, especially if you are shooting close, and you can see that her hands & the cocktail class are already blurred.  

    The mark 2 lens also comes with the latest incarnation of Canon's image stabilisation.  It's rated at 4-stops.  This basically means you are more likely to be able to get hand-held shots at slower shutter speeds because it compensates for camera shake.  While it doesn't do anything to stop the blur from your subject's motion it definitely increases the "keeper" rate.  I'm impressed - though it's difficult to demonstrate the effectiveness in pictures, it's a noticeable improvement through the viewfinder compared to older IS lenses and against competitors versions.  

    Autofocusing performance is another attribute where it's hard to convey just how good it is in photos.  It needs to be measured in two ways, speed & accuracy.  If you read my other reviews, I normally test this by repeatedly getting the lens to hunt over its full focal range & see how many "hits" it gets.  Generally speaking, most lenses are pretty good though some have niggling issues, particularly those from 3rd party vendors like Tamron & Sigma who reverse-engineer the AF process.  It's rare that I'm totally unsatisfied with a lens' AF performance because to a certain extent they are all in approximately the same ballpark.  This lens has changed my expectations yet again...  On both accuracy and speed it is in simply a different league from all other lenses I've used.  I know that AF is also driven partly by the camera & partly from the lens but regardless of whether I used a 550D, 6D, 5Dmk2 or 7Dmk2 it was the same... it just worked.

    Hit rates from most of my other lenses when I'm asking the AF to hunt-and-lock is, broadly speaking, in the 40% - 50% range.  When I take the time to compose and focus carefully it's usually in the 85% range (both of these figures after using the microfocus adjust feature where available).  The 70-200 mark II has pushed those numbers up markedly, to somewhere approaching 75% in snap-shot situations and over 95% for static shots.  

    I totally admit I might just be behind the times in my expectation of what AF is capable of!  But seeing the performance of this lens was something of a revelation and puts every single camera/lens I've ever used in the shade.  It's that good.

    This snapshot - and you guessed it, shot at f/2.8 again, pays testament to the speed & accuracy of the autofocus.  This chap poked his head over the railings for only a few seconds, swiftly retreating when he saw I was pointing a camera at him!  In that time the lens refocused across practically its entire range in a split second and nailed accuracy.

    Testing for flare was tricky.  In all honesty, though I'm sure the conditions exist that will show up flare artefacts, in all my experience with this lens I've never found it accidentally in a photo nor found a reliable way to generate it.  Even keeping the sun in the corner of the frame on a clear day didn't work!  In the end, while flare is never something that can be removed completely, I didn't once find a problem with it. Distortion was also very good and not something that was really noticeable using the lens though with certain types of photo it was more prominent as you can see in the example image below, shot at approximately 70mm.  At 200mm I found the problem to be even less pronounced.  I've added in the corrected version of the frame after processing in Lightroom to show how pronounced the distortion is and how easily it's fixed.

    The images above and below are quick captures to show the field of view at min/max edges of the zoom range, shot on a full frame camera.  Above is 70mm, below is 200mm.

    I'm a newcomer to infra-red (IR) photography and definitely still finding my feet - most of the work I'm doing is shamefully bad - but I did experiment with the lens and didn't find any examples of hot-spots or aberrations.  No sample images I'm afraid, not quite ready to start sharing those :)  The lens focusing distance meter does have IR markings on as well as standard ones.

    There are number of controls built into the lens itself to control minimum focusing distances (either 1.2 -> ∞ or 2.5 -> ∞), used to speed up AF performance and stop the lens hunting too much in certain situations, as well as toggles for AF/MF & to enable/disable image stabilisation.  The latter also has a mode option, with mode 1 stabilising across all axes and mode 2 designed for panning motions, damping vertical but not horizontal motion.  I don't personally find much use for the second mode, instead leaving it on mode 1 almost permanently, but it's nice to know the feature is there if you ever need it!

    It also comes equipped with a standard tripod ring mount.  Although made of metal & sturdy, I did find it a bit annoying that when the lens is mounted to the camera you can't remove the tripod mount, forcing you instead to detach the camera completely.  It may seem a fairly small gripe but every time you detach your lens you increase the chance of dust & crap finding its way onto your sensor and it's easier to attach/remove a ring mount from a tripod or monopod than it is unscrew the entire plate.

    In summary, if you can get over the size/bulk & weight of the lens you will have a shooting experience that is nothing short of amazing.  It is, by far, the most satisfying lens I've ever used.

    Image Quality

    The mark 1 lens was highly regarded not only for handling & performance so the bar is already set very high for the mark 2. Likewise, the f/4 version of this lens is optically excellent.  Finally, if you are paying more for an f/2.8 lens, especially at this price, then it had better be exceptional when shot wide open.

    Again the lens doesn't let us down.  I've uploaded some sample images below to demonstrate this, click on them to open larger versions.  Unless stated otherwise the images are straight up RAW conversions with only standard screen sharpening applied from ACR - I do this because this is likely to be how 99% of people would start with their own RAW processing workflow.  I've annotated each image to give a little more information behind each scene.  

    After shooting weddings & a photowalk I next turned the lens toward a portrait session.

    I've mentioned the sharpness throughout this article as it really is a stand-out feature.  This was shot hand-held at f/4 as sunset was approaching yet still shows remarkable sharpness - check out the 100% crop below.

    Canon 6D - f/4 - 1/160th sec - ISO320 - 200mm

    He's not the model though ;)

    Some default LR screen sharpening here but otherwise it's all from the lens.  Even though a tiny amount of motion blur is present while pixel peeping the raw sharpness is still evident.  For studio or tripod shots it is even better.  I should have probably dropped the shutter to at least 1/200th sec but the light was beginning to fade.

    Some default LR screen sharpening here but otherwise it's all from the lens.  Even though a tiny amount of motion blur is present while pixel peeping the raw sharpness is still evident.  For studio or tripod shots it is even better.  I should have probably dropped the shutter to at least 1/200th sec but the light was beginning to fade.

    From a photoshoot organised by PSS, model Angela Wendy.

    Most of the other guys were shooting using a single strobe, this was shot at f/2.8 to highlight the lovely bokeh.

    Canon 6D - f/2.8 - 1/160th sec - ISO200 - 200mm

    Another from the same shoot, converted to monochrome.  Settings as above, shot at 70mm.

    Proof if needed this lens is also very capable of "wildlife" photography!  Loving the contrast in this shot.

    Canon 6D - f/2.8 - 1/400th sec - ISO 400 - 200mm

    While waiting my turn with the model I turned the lens onto others sharing the beach.  It's probably a bit big to be discreet enough for street photography but quality/capability wise it's certainly good enough,

    Model lit by one strobe, from below bizarrely, with natural lighting for the background.  Check out the 100% crop of her face below

    Canon 6D - f/6.3 - 1/160th sec - ISO 100 - 70mm

    Click to make it larger.

    In summary, image quality is nothing short of exceptional.  At f/2.8 it's awesomely sharp in the centre and still impressive at the edges & in the corners.  Stopped down it gets better, though given how impressive it is wide open the improvement isn't too extreme.  Bokeh wide-open is just lovely.

    For the price it needed to be absolute top-draw in terms of image quality.  It absolutely is!

    I'd really like to see the results of this lens paired with the forthcoming 5DSR!

    Other Options

    As I said in the opening to the review, the 70-200mm focal length range is useful & there are multiple options out there on the market. Though I am yet to fully review all of these options, I've used a couple of examples personally and can share some anecdotal opinions. As & when I flesh out my review backlog I'll update these links to the full reviews.

    • Canon f/2.8 70-200 L IS I - the predecessor to this lens.  Cheaper, optically fantastic but upgraded in every way by the mark II
    • Sigma f/2.8 70-200 EX DG Macro II - no review yet, and no personal experience
    • Tamron f/2.8 70-200 Di VC USD - no review yet, and very limited personal experience
    • Canon f/4 70-200 L IS - smaller, cheaper & lighter because of the smaller aperture. Good option if you don't need f/2.8

    Pros

    • Outstanding, best-I've-seen image quality.  Imagine watching VHS then jumping straight to blu-ray.
    • Image quality.  So good I'm adding it twice!
    • Handling & Features.  Ignoring the weight, the key features of the lens - AF, IS - are state-of-the-art.
    • Versatile focal length range.
    • Longevity.  It's going to be in your bag for a LONG time to come, just look at its predecessor.

    Cons

    • Cost.  Though the quality & performance support the price to some extent, it's very expensive.  I'm guessing this will be the single biggest obstacle for people looking to get this lens.
    • Heavy.  And bulky.  Get a good strap & comfortable camera bag if you plan to use it travelling.  And maybe a personal trainer to work on your arm strength.
    • Irrationally attractive.  If you are serious about your photography, it will exert a strange pull, dominating your every waking thought until you re-mortgage your house to pay for one.

    Conclusion

    I've used this lens a few times now and each time it was just an absolute joy.  It's not without its flaws - and they ARE definitely a serious consideration - but the act of using it is extremely satisfying and seeing the results on the computer seals the deal.  If you are looking for a 70-200mm lens you will not get better than this.

    It puts me personally in something of a difficult situation!  I myself am looking for a new 70-200mm lens.  I'd used the f/4 version as well as the Tamron competition and was beginning to veer towards the Tamron.  Now I've used this, it's spoiled me!  Until I'd experienced the AF performance I'd assumed what I've had in the past was good enough; now I don't think so.  Until I'd seen wide-open sharpness I thought the competition was good enough; now I don't think so.  

    Which leaves me with my final conclusion... The highest level of recommendation I can give for a lens is that I would buy one myself, and this is exactly what I hope to do here just as soon as I've built up the courage to rob a bank.  

    It really is that good.  Simply awesome.

    Canon Powershot G3X

    REAL WORLD REVIEW

    The G-series of cameras from Canon have always been their enthusiast/prosumer range with features & specs that typically outclass their other compact cameras. With the compact camera segment suffering heavily at the hands of ever-improving smartphones, the enthusiast user is pretty much the only slice of the market which I think has any future. Smaller cameras & smaller sensors but with controls & features photographers come to expect from more expensive models will still appeal to many as either a backup or an alternative to a larger, more capable body.

    Within the G-series Canon stratify their offering with the ageing G1X as theoretically the "best" and the G3X, G5X, G7X and G9X all slotting in beneath. With the G5X and G9X only recently announced and the G1X relatively long in the tooth now, the G3X is currently top of the Canon enthusiast compact range. On paper the camera has some pretty impressive specs - a 1" sensor, colossal 24-600mm zoom range (the largest ever seen on a G-series camer) and a cracking lens with a widest aperture of f/2.8. I've had a few weeks with it to see if it delivers, including the opportunity to take it travelling... potentially one of the best uses for such a relatively small camera. 

    OUT OF THE BOX

    Just the camera, battery & charger as well as a neck strap.

    USAGE & HANDLING

    The G3X is a bridge camera rather than a "compact" per se but it is one of the smaller bridge models I've seen for a while despite having a mammoth 25x zoom range. Although the widest aperture is f/2.8 it quickly drops down and as a result the lens doesn't feel unbalanced or oversized. Overall I think the best word to describe how the camera feels to hold is dense. It's pretty much the same size as a Sony A7RII but a little heavier - bear in mind this is with a lens built-in. As an aside, this actually helped validate a theory of mine that the balance of mirrorless bodies would be helped if they were a touch heavier - the G3X is about the same size but feels just that bit better than an A7 for example. More comfortable and the hand-grip is noticeably easy to hang on to. It's still not as ergonomic to use long term as a proper sized SLR and after shooting with it for the best part of a day I could feel my hands curling around into claws... still, it's generally pretty comfortable to use.

    Part of the reason for this is the control layout which again shows how Canon still has an edge in this department and the G3X is no exception. Controls are very well laid out and don't feel cluttered with the tiltable touchscreen once again proving why it's such a boon (with one caveat below). Menus again are simple, uncluttered, consistent with other Canon bodies and just work as you'd expected with features common across their entire range.

    I think there are only a couple of usability gripes I have. First of all the touch screen is easily knocked and if anything is a little TOO sensitive. Perplexingly, the menu lets you set Standard or Sensitive modes but nothing to dial down the sensitivity! The problem is the drawback for being able to select a focus point with a fingertip, it's all too easy for the camera to brush up against something and the focal point moves accidentally. Being able to tone down the sensitivity would be one option, another would be for a small "lock" button which I can use to easily enable/disable the touchscreen. While you can do this in the menus it's a bit of a pain in the backside to constantly flip in and out. If we have a dedicated "smartphone transfer" button then we can surely have a "lock" button! This would help with my other complaint which is that the rear dial on the back of the camera is also far, FAR too sensitive. It's even more annoying than the touchscreen because the standard mapping of the wheel is to change ISO. Granted I could remap the controls but the wheel itself is useful - it's just that after taking a number of pictures only to realise you moved from AUTO to 160 ISO and everything is underexposed is rage-inducing!

    There's also potentially a small bug when shooting in manual mode. Even after configuring each of the dials & controls to both shutter & aperture settings I found that once I changed the ISO the camera then "forgot" that the same wheel normally controls shutter. Effectively, if I mapped the shutter speed to the same wheel as the camera wants to use for ISO, then change the ISO... I can't change my shutter speed until I leave Manual mode. I'll try and post a short video clip to show what I mean. I'm sure there's probably a workaround but because Canon's controls & menus are usually bullet-proof it stuck out as a bit odd.

    It feels reassuringly well built with a magnesium alloy chassis and it can definitely take a few accidental knocks with absolutely no effect (don't tell Canon I tested that!) - the same isn't true with some of the competitors I've tested. The only think that was slightly disconcerting was how much the internal lens mechanism would wobble if you shook it but that's the Image Stabilisation mounting rather than any kind of build issue. Still, it looks a bit unnerving seeing your lens jiggle about :)

    The lens itself is motor driven, triggered from a dial around the shutter button. It's reasonably fast for a powered zoom but I think this is where a compromise has crept in. It's fast, but quite hard to make smaller, accurate adjustments to the focal length - even though there's a dedicated button on the barrel, visible in the photo below, to make fine-tuning adjustments it's quite a clunky process. Likewise with manual focusing; it's achieved with by pressing another dedicated button on the lens barrel but it's a very slow process and one I only ever bothered with for the purpose of testing.

    The auto-focus is very good in decent light, better than I expected and it definitely did a good enough job which meant I didn't need to focus manually at all. When things got a bit darker it struggled quite a bit though. I did wonder if the manual focus option would have been easier & better to use with an EVF and although the camera does have an optional extra viewfinder that plugs into the hot-shoe I didn't have a chance to try it out. The EVF itself is a few hundred dollars more too, further inflating the price.

    I think the lack of a built-in EVF is one of the biggest areas the G-series cameras are lacking compared to their rivals, especially for the larger G3X. Sony's RX10-II is one of the nearest rivals and the EVF on that model is very capable and definitely a boon.

    Battery life isn't bad, better than the other enthusiast-grade bridge cameras, but far from what you'd get on a DSLR. However the ECO mode on the G3X is surprisingly good. To give you an example, I took a fully charged G3X out on the first day of my Bangkok trip and with ECO-mode turned off the camera drained after about 5 hours of near-constant usage. Day 2 with ECO-mode on was MUCH better and the camera still had juice in the tank after 8 hours shooting. This battery saving option turns off the screen after a short period where the camera hasn't been used, turning on again if the photographer presses any button. It adds a bit of lag but it's still quicker than turning it on from scratch.

    All told, the G3X handles pretty well. It has a few minor ergonomic quirks but these can mostly be lived with because what the G3X really delivers is what counts - top notch image quality.

    IMAGE QUALITY

    The G3X shares the same sensor as the G7X and Sony RX100-III so my expectations for image quality were very high. I was super keen to see how things would look shot at longer focal lengths. Unless otherwise stated, all images have been processed in Lightroom - I'd rather show you some good images and demonstrate what the camera is capable of than a ton of boring out-of-camera JPGs :)

    The lens itself is worth a mention here. It's f/2.8 at its widest but this only applies at 24mm, as soon as you zoom in the aperture shrinks noticeably down to its narrowest of f/5.6. As you'll see, the pairing of Sony's superb 1" sensor and this lens generates some lovely photos!

    Probably my favourite shot from the G3X. I took this while reviewing another camera & lens and spotted this - if the G3X wasn't so compact I would have left it at home. As it was, I was able to pack the G3X with space to spare and still get this image.

    The "macro mode" built into the camera isn't brilliant. It's not truly macro of course, just a close-focus mode, but it's still possible to get pleasing results.

    One quirk I noticed while shooting was that the using automatic white balance the images as shown on the camera had a subtle but definite green tinge. I wasn't sure if the AWB setting was out slightly, if the rear LCD had a colour cast or if there was a tinge to the underlying images. After viewing the results on my laptop I confirmed it; the AWB mode gives a very slight green tinge to images shot in that mode. If you explicitly choose a white balace to choose the conditions it disappears but who does that? We all shoot RAW and use AWB don't we?

    Thankfully it is very easily fixed if you shoot RAW. Reuters photographers are shit-out-of-luck though :)

    The next three images are the same scene - the first is straight out of camera and completely untouched, the second with the green tinge corrected and the third with my final pass at processing.

    Straight out of camera

    Green tinge fixed. You may not notice the difference - it's very subtle. Look at the stone cladding around the archway near the bottom of the frame, just left of centre.

    The final image with the processing I would apply to make the scene pop!

    With its tiltable touchscreen it's pretty damn good for street photography - even lazy street shots like this! For people who want to snipe pedestrians from afar this could be the camera for you!

    Another off-the-cuff shot but this caught my eye - the people wearing masks on the bus seemed to tie in with the sad "hospital" image on the side of the bus. Even the red marks on the left hand person's shirt reminded me of blood.

    Bokeh with such a small sensor isn't easy but definitely possible if you go hunting for it.

    Another image I personally really like. It reminds me of the absolute chaos that are the streets of Bangkok.

    Sometimes it doesn't matter if there's a green tinge ;)

    The photo above was shot in a relatively dark temple despite the final exposure maybe suggesting otherwise. Without the image stabilisation afforded by the camera I doubt I could have got this shot. Quite simply the IS is one of the best I've seen in a compact camera for quite some time.

    A very obliging common lizard here in Singapore, this chap kept an eye on me but let me get as close as I wanted.

    As an inexpensive 600mm option it's very good. With the right conditions you can get some very good wildlife shots although framing & hand-holding at 600mm can be annoyingly difficult at times. With the EVF you could likely get a more stable posture maybe.

    I would have bet good money that the sensor was capable of superb performance at high ISO levels and I'm pleased to say I wasn't wrong. It's just as good as the G7X was. I've created an animated GIF of a 100% crop of an image cycling through each ISO from 200 up to 12,800. To my eye everything is great up to and including 3200 and even 6400 isn't bad, rescuable in Photoshop depending on the scene. 12,800 is pretty horrible though. 

    ISO 200 is the first frame and is weirdly the darkest - despite the camera being mounted on a tripod and conditions remaining unchanged, the metering is different. I suspect I caught a flicker from the lighting at that point.

    Let me know if you think this animated GIF approach for comparing ISO works - I'm experimenting with different ways of comparing ISO in real-world images.

    600mm is an astonishing focal length in such a small body - I was a little dubious that the results would be worthwhile and was worried that it was more of a marketing exercise.

    Happily, I was wrong. The lens on the G3X is quite simply excellent.

    The next two images are 100% crops taken from the G3X at 600mm and the second is from a Canon 6D with a Tamron 150-600mm lens. How does the $1400SGD bridge camera stack up against nearly $5000SGD of full-frame goodness? Check out the images below - both are completely untouched from the cameras.

    This is the G3X shot

    This is the 6D shot.

    It's fairly difficult to tell the difference between each shot which in itself is an amazing result from the G3X. The 6D and 150-600mm lens is better SOOC but not by much and I have the feeling that after processing it might be even harder to tell the two apart. This is pushing the G3X to its limit, the building is almost one kilometre away from my apartment and it was about 6pm so light was fading. All in all, a cracking result.

    VIDEO QUALITY

    Some 1080p video samples below. All straight out of camera, except for YouTube stabilisation where it warranted it. Remember I'm still getting used to shooting this video stuff, these are for reference only and not exactly Oscars material! They are only designed to showcase the video quality in a few different situations.

    The video functions are where the G3X falls short against the competition. Canon are still lagging behind the likes of Panasonic & Sony when it comes to including 4K video in their cameras and this will surely be a deal-breaker for some. I'm pretty sure this is because Canon want to nudge us towards their dedicated 4K video cameras but the longer their rivals keep integrating 4K into smaller bodies the more likely I think it is they will have to reconsider this decision.

    PROS

    • Fantastic image quality
    • Superb optics - decent aperture and superb zoom range
    • Image stabilisation is very good

    CONS

    • Burst mode is limited to 6fps - competitors are at least double that
    • AF suffers in low-light conditions
    • Lacks 4K video
    • Battery life is average at best (buy a couple of spares)
    • No built-in EVF
    • Weird green tinge to AWB shots

    CONCLUSION

    Viewed in isolation, it's hard not to be thoroughly impressed by the G3X. Canon have paired a cracking lens & sensor and the images this camera is capable of producing are very, very good indeed. Canon's G-series are going from strength to strength, first with the G7X and now again with the G3X. For the travel photographer it's a serious option for a small, self-contained and relatively inexpensive to boot at only £700GBP/$1100SGD/$900USD. 

    Competition from the Sony RX10-II and Panasonic's FZ1000 is stiff but each of the cameras  in this class offers us something different. This is great for photographers, we can choose what we need the most and there will be an outstanding bridge camera available to meet that need. The G3X is holding the crown for sheer versatility by virtue of its awesome zoom range and I'm sure there will be photographers out there who view this as a convenient way to get 600mm of reach with good image quality to back it up.

    I'll be doing a side-by-side comparison of all of these cameras soon but if you are looking for an all-in-one package that's smaller than an SLR and can produce some stunning images, the G3X might just be for you.

    Canon Connect Station CS100

    REAL WORLD REVIEW

    This isn't the kind of thing I normally review but when Canon offered me a brand new unit to gauge what I thought my curiosity got the better of me! The Connect Station is a new product, first of its kind from Canon, and it's designed to be a home media hub for your photos & videos. It even integrates with your printers - so long as they are Canon - so you download, browse and print your favourite images from your sofa.

    When it was announced earlier in the year reception was lukewarm and Canon kept quiet until its release late last month. I've tried it out day to day for a few weeks now to see if it's an early Christmas cracker or a Thanksgiving turkey...

    BEFORE WE START!

    Check out my rapid-fire video review of the CS100 here - 

    OUT OF THE BOX

    Alongside maybe an inch of printed instruction manuals - for what is theoretically a plug & play device - you get the CS100 unit itself, power cables & a remote control. Batteries included.

    Conspicuous by their absence are network & HDMI cables... considering the whole point of the device is that it's a network hub that plugs into your TV it was annoying to have to find my own!

    Setting it up is pretty easy - attach power, network, HDMI cables and you're done. After that the unit takes a good 30-40 seconds to boot up, so slow you're likely to want to keep it switched on permanently, and you're into the configuration & registration process. You need to create an account with Canon's Imaging Gateway site to register your device & access their internet sharing functions but after that you're pretty much up and running.

    The hardest part of the whole setup process is taking the back off the remote control to get the batteries in.

    HOW IT WORKS

    It's immediately apparent the CS100 is aimed mainly at the beginner or casual user and enthusiasts/pros are infinitely more likely to take their images straight to the computer. Still, I've tried to review it from the perspective of a range of audiences.

    From the outset it's worth emphasising that the device is optimised for Canon's ecosystem of products. Although it supports devices & images from other manufacturers it isn't as streamlined or satisfying a process as you get using 100% Canon kit. 

    For example, the NFC connection only works with compatible Canon cameras which represent a relatively small slice of their current crop of cameras. Although more and more cameras will shop with NFC embedded it was fortunate I still had the new G3X available to review at the same time - without this camera I wouldn't have been able to test the NFC function at all.

    Testing the NFC connection with a card containing a mix of RAW and JPG images totalling 2GB was a slow process, more than long enough to go & make a cup of coffee. It was easy & totally hands-off albeit more time consuming than it would take for me to import the images directly into Lightroom. Importing direct from an SD card was also reasonably fast. The unit supports Compact Flash & SD cards via a pair of covered slots on the front of the device which is masked by a removable rubber panel. This panel is, without a doubt, the first thing you will lose - it detaches completely rather than being attached like the rubber flaps on the side of your camera are. It isn't actually needed for anything but I managed to lose mine for two days. Something to bear in mind is that you don't get any control of which images you want to import - it drags the entire card over.

    The NFC reader doesn't register smartphones, tablets or off-brand cameras. I tried using the Sony A7R-II and sure enough nothing happened. To pull images from other devices or Canon kit without NFC you need to connect to the Connect Station itself over wi-fi (via the browser on your phone) and then select the images to push onto the CS100. RAW files from other camera manufacturers do not render, not even DNG. It's worth pointing our that contrary to what you might read elsewhere online the CS100 does render CR2 files.

    When images are pulled into the Connect Station they are organised by default into date-ordered catalogues. You can give images a star rating from 1-5 but you can't name or keyword them - nor would you want to with the clumsily slow on-screen keyboard method. You can also create your own albums too by individually selecting images to include. This is a slow process, especially if you have a lot of photos. Weirdly you can't name your own albums though and the CS100 just chooses a seemingly random title for them. You can also choose to add music from either your own or a small selection of provided background tracks; all of the ones I tested sounded like annoying iPhone ringtones but I can't really fault Canon for including generic floaty harp music when they also give us the ability to choose our own!

    Once you have photos on the device you can begin to share them around. Printing direct to a Canon printer on your network is one option but I sadly couldn't test this as I don't own a Canon printer. You can share to the most common social media outlets direct from the CS100 too after you've completed a one-off authorisation process. Finally, you can also pair to another Connect Station and share images that way - this is quite clever but because I don't know anyone else with a Connect Station I couldn't test that either.

    Another minor gripe is that although the CS100 has a USB port it's only USB 2.0 and only lets you pull images OFF the device to backup elsewhere. This just makes no sense for me - is the CS100 my backup solution or not? Why can't I bulk add a ton of images from a thumb drive straight onto it? It's a peculiar design decision.

    Although the on-screen interface looks nice and is well-designed there's just enough lag when interacting with the CS100 to annoy and this only increases as you add more images. Comparing it to Apple TV which does a similar "render multimedia content on your TV" job it doesn't feel quite as slick an experience when there's a small but noticeable input delay.

    What's next? Well, to be honest... that's pretty much it. All of the above for S$400? Really?

    We can see what the CS100 offers but let's look at what the alternatives are.

    • I could build a barebones PC connecting directly into my TV which could do much more than the CS100 albeit at the cost of much more setup & configuration in the early stages. It would then use my existing Photoshop subscription and render any image file I cared to throw at it.
    • My existing network-attached storage solution is 2 terabytes - twice that of the CS100 - but it doesn't let me view or send the images to friends & family. Then again, I don't want it to do that. I want it to safely back up hundreds of thousands of images, documents & all my other files. Not just photos.
    • My TV accepts SD cards already so I can already view JPGs. I can also plug in a USB stick to my TV too, turning my TV into a giant digital picture frame if I so wanted. It even plays music.
    • My Apple TV automatically shows all of the photos I take on my phone and also has my entire movie & music connection, all from a box a fraction of the size.
    • If I want to share photos from my phone to social media I use the app on my phone. I don't even bother downloading to my computer first in most cases. If I want to share photos from my camera I connect via wifi to my phone, edit in Snapseed then upload direct to social media. 
    • I don't have kids but if I did, and I wanted to share the minutiae of their daily lives with grandparents, I'll shoot on my phone then send to them all simultaneously using WhatsApp. Even my 88 year old grandfather uses WhatsApp. Nicer images taken with my camera would be emailed or more likely processed, printed & framed. 

    Hopefully these highlight the problem I have with the CS100. At best it just adds an unnecessary extra step in all of the above tasks. At worst it gives me less than what I already have... and all of this for an extra $400. 


    PROS

    • Does indeed make it easy to view photos straight from camera to your TV
    • Easy way to get offsite photo backup for tech-beginners
    • First time you watch the NFC reader import your images is cool


    CONS

    • Hugely overpriced for what it delivers
    • Storage capacity too small to be a serious backup option
    • Single HDD isn't reliable enough
    • Offers nothing we can't already do manually elsewhere
    • Requires Canon devices to get the best out of it


    CONCLUSION

    If I squint my eyes and look at the CS100 in the best possible light I can sort of see what Canon were trying to do here. The idea isn't that bad it's just the execution in this first version is significantly below expectations, especially at the current price point. I know that keyboard warriors & fanboys will point and laugh before suggesting Canon should turn their efforts towards a proper mirrorless pro-grade camera... and I'd be hard pushed to argue.

    The CS100 isn't quite as bad as producing Lego cameras instead of real ones but it's not far off.

    Honestly, I just can't recommend this to anyone. It's simplycheaper, quicker and more reliable to do everything the CS100 does in other ways. They may not be "joined up" but they are usually free, brand-agnostic and more importantly already part of our daily lives.

    Canon need to improve the specifications & open up the platform, not try to shoehorn us into their brand. I doubt Chuck Westfall reads my site but just in case, here's what I think a potential CS200 needs to do to make it appeal more -

    1. 4TB of storage, RAID 1 as a minimum
    2. Add more options to upload to any Cloud storage - giving a super-easy onsite & offsite storage solution
    3. NFC that accepts images from any devices
    4. Use USB 3.0 and allow proper two-way communication such as adding additional storage (if I could attach my existing NAS to something like this THAT would be good!)
    5. Network printing to any brand, not just Canon. The only people using this are amateurs so it doesn't matter about print profiles or calibration - they just want their printed image.
    6. Dedicated apps to control the unit - not this "on screen keyboard" crap. Let us control the CS200 from our phone or tablet
    7. At the very least, allow us to view DNG files - ideally all RAW files but I won't hold my breath
    8. Beefier hardware for a smoother, less laggy user experience
    9. A remote control that doesn't need a crowbar to open the battery compartment
    10. A significant price drop

    Oh and one more thing.

    Make the rubber front-cover permanently attached to the unit. I was terrified I'd lose it and have to pay for my review copy of the CS100 out of my own pocket.