Archive for the ‘Cameras’ Category

Last fall Canon released a completely new EOS M series camera to elevate its game. To those not married to Canon, the newest member of the “M” line up is finally competitive with the established brands in this arena, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, etc. But the M5 for a Canon DSLR user is ‘camera nirvana’. I owned the EOS M, the M3, and now the M5. I wrote about them on this blog.

As much as I like the M3, it still wasn’t that effective when using the EOS DSLR lenses. The focus was too slow. Let’s be clear, the M3 with an EF lens mounted on the EF adapter was not quite as fast as my original Canon EOS 1 film body from the early 1990s. Ouch! The M3 was plenty fast at acquiring focus with the EOS M series lenses but Canon has a weak stable of proprietary lenses for this camera. The trick with these M cameras is to use a fixed focus point. The AF tracking is not that good.

The M5 however is not monkeying around. With the EF adapter and any of my many EF lenses the M5 can acquire focus as quickly as an older DSLR like the 50d, 60d, etc. It is close to the speed of my 5d mk II or a 7d. It isn’t going to threaten the performance of Canon’s latest 80d or 5d Mk IV. But it is fast enough. With the EF-M lenses it is spot on and lightning quick. The camera does have focus issues with slower lenses like f/5.6 in low light.

picture of drink

M5 with 18-55mm at 55mm, 1/80sec at f/5.6, 800 ISO

All of this focus improvement comes under the aid of Canon’s dual pixel autofocus system found in its latest DSLRs. The camera features the all new Digic 7 processor and can shoot at speeds up to 9 fps. Although the camera does not support 4k video, which has surprised every professional reviewer, it does benefit greatly from the dual pixel AF.

At first glance one may wonder why Canon called this the M5 and not the M4. Well the M3 was a replacement for the M2 which replaced the M. The M5 is not a replacement for the M3. it is a bold step up model with a built-in electronic finder that gives the camera a mini SLR appearance like the Sony A7 cameras. So skipping a number seemed to make sense… well to Canon at least. I sort of see the logic. You see Canon has announced a replacement for the M3 and it is the M6. The M6 looks and feels almost exactly like the M3. The only difference is that it gets the internals from the M5. It will use the same EVF as the M3 or a newer, slimmer version of the EVF Canon just announced.

The revised lineup for Canon EOS-M cameras will be the entry-level EOS M10 which looks and feels like the original M, the M6 which is an updated clone of the M3 and the M5 that I have.

The M6 will be available in black and a new silver trimmed camera, reminiscent of the old “chrome body” SLRs or the 60s and 70s. The M5 comes in black only thus far.

I really like the performance of this new M5. I take the lion’s share of my photos with these M cameras so I have no regrets dropping the king’s ransom of $979 on the body. I will say that I am a bit disappointed in the “feel” of the camera. Although it appears to be built with the same basic pieces, the M3 had a better finish on the body and dials. I don’t think it is better built, just a better finish that looks richer. The M5 is a barn burner of a camera and finally does everything well enough that I have no worries about what Sony or Olympus are doing.

Canon has added a digital in body 5 axis stabilizer for video. I believe that Canon could unlock this with firmware in the future to allow for a digital IS in camera for use with vintage lenses. This is something Sony has on the A6500 camera and I would love to see Canon give us that. It won’t deter us from buying Canon’s IS lenses, so hopefully the bean counters will let them unlock it for manual lenses and still image use. Canon has either failed to see or refuses to accept that a bold number of people buying these mirrorless cameras are doing so to operate older rangefinder glass and other oddball lenses that cannot be used on ANY DSLR due to the mount flange to sensor distance. Sony’s A6500 runs about $1300 for the body and offers the 5 axis image stabilization for both still and video use.

picture high iso

M5 22/2 1/640 sec at f/4. Shot in mirror ISO 25600 no edit except flip

So as far as the performance goes the M5 is excellent. Picture quality is great, speed improved and ISO is better than the M3. My M3 delivered solid results up to ISO 1600 and this camera seems to get an extra stop of ISO before really degrading. That said, here is a shot at the maximum ISO, 25600. The shot is completely unedited other than a mirror flip to compensate for the backward image created by shooting into a mirror. Yes, it is noisy, but frankly it is pretty good since the shot was taken at 1/1600 sec at f/4.0 at night, under dim interior light. This is a usable ISO setting, it won’t yield any gallery grade detail, but it will get you that elusive shot of the Sasquatch at night that you keep failing to get at ISO 6400 😉

The new M6 will be equally as good since it will have all the internals of this M5. The price range for the new lineup will look something like this:

  • EOS M10 w/15-45mm             $449
  • EOS M6 w/15-45mm               $899
  • EOS M5 w/15-45mm               $1099

Frankly, the M6 is too much money. It does share all the juicy tech guts with the M5 but the control setup is stripped a bit, the screen is lower resolution and it has no built-in EVF. Canon gets some $230 for an EVF to fit the M6 (same one as old M3 or a new slimmer model) Why not just buy the M5 and be done with it? Without the EVF the M6 is smaller on all dimensions, but just by a millimeter or two. When you add the EVF to the M3 or M6 the camera is taller than the M5 and the EVF when mounted to the camera makes the camera awkward to get in and out of a bag.

The M10 is completely different. It is a basic aim and shoot with interchangeable lenses and the old M2, 18 MP sensor. It is truly a stripped down entry-level unit. I am glad Canon has it as it allows new users to buy into the system at a low price and know they can upgrade later to more serious models, and for those foregoing a DSLR it can be a great second body.

Canon still trails its competition in a pure spec shootout. The Sony A6000 compares well to it and some may prefer it. Sony has a better AF tracking system. But the Canon will make better pictures with less tweaking in post processing. For users not interested in adapting virtually any lens ever made to the camera, a Rebel SL1 is only slightly larger and actually a little lighter and may be the better choice. It is dirt cheap, not quite as well made, but faster at almost everything.

But the Rebel takes the EF lenses and EF lenses are by default BULKY as the EF lens mount is one of the widest mounts in the market place. The Rebel SL1 will never offer the same tight compact design and minimalist travel size with multiple lenses as the M series cameras can. With the M series (or a Sony A6000 series) I still get to carry and use classic rangefinder and custom old school glass. I bought the original M to use old glass and just happened to discover an AMAZING travel camera. Whether you buy a Sony A6xxx or the Canon M series, you will NEVER fail to be amazed by its indomitable travel spirit. I have been shooting seriously for nearly 40 years, I have owned Leicas, 4×5 Linhof, Hasselblad, and literally more than a hundred cameras over the years, I have never owned a better camera for travel than this EOS M series. NEVER. I made a video showing just how much stuff can fit into a tiny travel bag.

I talked about how I resurrected and old Tenba travel bag I have had since the late 1980s when I wrote the original M camera up. I am still using that little bag for this M5. I can carry the M5 and as many as 6 lenses in a bag as small as a lady’s clutch purse. That ain’t happening with a DSLR, even the world’s smallest DSLR, the Canon Rebel SL1. My standby, carry set with the M5 in the tiny Tenba includes the EFS 55-250 IS, EFM 11-22, EFM 22/2, Zeiss M 35/2, Samyang 8mm.

This M5 and presumably the new M6 will work exceptionally well with the entire lineup of EF lenses and all the after market EF mount stuff as well. Sure, some of the EF lenses are unwieldy on the little mirrorless camera, but some are not. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM and the 85mm f/1.8 USM are both great on the M5 and they focus very fast. The 50 is comparable to an 80mm on full frame and the 85 is like a 135mm on full frame. So until someone releases a fully coupled EF-M prime portrait lens my EF 50/1.4 will have to do, and it does. I was goofing around with the camera and the EF 50/1.4. I really think Canon should unlock the 5 axis digital stabilization for still photos, it is hard to hold the little camera steady and even at 1/80 sec I see a little touch of camera shake in these images.

man holding camera

M5 EF 50/1.4 1/80th@f1.4 ISO 320

Lab (dog)

Betsy, M5 EF 50/1.4 1/60 sec @ f1/4 ISO 1600 some camera shake 😦

Sheltie (dog)

Maggie, M5 EF 50/1.4 1/200 sec @ f/1.4 ISO 1600

picture of woman

M5 18-55 at 55mm 1/50 sec at f/5.6 ISO 3200

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I spend a fair amount of time on this blog talking about delicious bokeh. And why not? One of the things that is difficult to do on these ever better phone cameras is a soft background with creamy bokeh. These phone manufacturers are moving towards software enhancements aka ‘portrait mode’ to emulate the classic portrait look. Honestly the latest generation is pretty good, but what they still haven’t done and likely will never do is the telephoto compression effect.


New Orleans, LA, 2016

Using a true optical telephoto does more than just bring the subject “closer”. It creates a ‘compression’ effect that is very difficult to emulate with software. The image of the French Quarter in New Orleans to the left was taken with a Canon EOS M3 with an 80-200 zoom set at 121mm (35mm equivalent 194mm). Even with this modest level of telephoto, the compression effect is evident. Look how the background high rises are stuffed up close to the mid ground and foreground.

Camera manufacturers used to have lens guides to help sell SLR users on the benefits of buying additional lenses. Odd that they don’t do that much anymore. These guides often had two charts showing a wide range of focal lengths. The first was an angle of view or magnification chart, the second a perspective chart.

The angle of view chart would take a camera placed in the exact same location pointed at a target in the distance. The first lens was typically the widest lens available maybe a 15mm fish-eye then subsequently longer lenses that effectively brought some distant subject, rendered nearly invisible with the fish-eye, shockingly close with the long telephoto of 800mm or 1200mm. Modern digital cameras with enough pixels can effectively achieve the optical telephoto “effect” with a digital zoom. For every 2x of magnification 4x fewer pixels are used. If a 12mp camera delivers a 4:3 ratio 4000 x 3000 pixel image a 2x digital crop becomes a 2000 x 1500 pixel image. Yes that 12mp camera at 2x digital zoom is now a 3mp camera. 4x digital zoom drops the resolution to 1000 x 750 pixels and that is a mere 0.75mp image. On a full frame camera this is the equivalent of going from a 50mm lens to a 200mm lens but you are cropping away 93.75% of your pixels. Although a photo with as few as 640 x 480 pixels can look fine on a Facebook post it cannot be blown up much or printed very well, nor can it be manipulated in Lightroom or Photoshop type software without major digital noise developing. Digital zoom simply sucks and honestly even a camera with a whopping 108mp, would still be limited to an effective digital zoom magnification ratio of 6x while still maintaining high quality editable images of about 3mp.

Of further note, the camera in phones often use tiny little sensors and focal lengths so short that depth of field is nearly infinite. This is why soft out of focus backgrounds have to be software created (aka “fake”) on phone cameras. The tiny sensors have itty-bitty little pixels that do not gather light well and that leads to more digital noise when shooting in low light or more importantly, when editing images in software programs on your pc.


Canon USA, 1977

Camera phones do perform exceptionally well outdoors and on close focus subjects like people. They are crisp and sharp. But how many people shoot a “selfie” and think, I don’t look right? Well the camera phone is using a fairly wide-angle lens, otherwise you could not hold the camera in you hand and get your whole face in the picture.

Shooting  a head shot with a wide-angle lens is rarely flattering to the subject. The relative distance from the camera to various contours of the face are exaggerated with the wide-angle lens because you are so close to the subject. Look at it this way: If a tight head shot is taken with a 24mm lens on a FF DSLR, the camera will be about 12-15 inches from the subject. If it is 12 inches away focused on the eyes. the person’s nose would be 10.0 inches away and the eyes 12 inches and the ears 15 inches. This is how the exaggeration occurs, the relative difference is steep as the ears are 50% further away from the image plane as the tip of the nose. The same image made from further away with a 105mm lens would yield the same head shot but with a “flatter” look to the face. Why? Because now the camera is 5 times further away at 60 inches. The tip of the nose is 58 inches and the ears are 63 inches, which is the same 5 inches as before. The relative difference between the tip of the nose and the ears is now only 8% from the position of the camera.

This is where those old school lens brochure’s perspective charts were so revealing. These charts actually showed a fixed subject, say a person and then changed through a series of lenses in the example to the right, from 17mm to 200mm. They kept the subject roughly the same size in the picture. So now the camera had to be moved for each lens to keep the subject the same size. This showed us the perspective of using different lenses. The 17mm shot had the camera up uncomfortably close to the subject which created an illusion that the subject was very far away from the background and distorted the features of the subject. As the lens’ focal length increased the background became increasingly more compressed relative to the subject. A building fifty feet behind the subject now appears to be immediately behind her with a medium telephoto 200mm. Why? Because to keep the subject the same size, the 200mm lens required the camera to be 50 feet away from the subject and thus both the subject and the background were relatively far away. This flattening effect is flattering to the human face as it dis-enhances the natural contours of the face. On full frame cameras the 85mm-135mm range is ideal for portraits.

It is important to remember that depth of field is entirely a matter of focal length, aperture, and distance. In this modern digital world we make comparisons to the “standard” 35mm or ‘full frame’ when comparing lenses across sensor sizes. A 50mm lens on a Canon APS/c camera is “equivalent” to a 80mm lens on 35mm or FF. But it really isn’t. The angle of view is equivalent, but that’s it. The longer 80mm FF lens at the same f-stop will have a more shallow depth of field. The 50mm lens on the APS/c would remain at the same subject to camera distance because the shorter focal length is equally offset by the cropped sensor. All else equal the focal length is shorter and the depth of field is greater. Throwing the background out of focus will be harder on the APS/c than the full frame. So for portraits a 50mm on a Canon 7d is NOT the true equivalent of an 80mm on a 5d.

We are nowhere near the point where a cell phone camera or even a good compact camera can deliver the capability of a DSLR or Compact System Camera. I shoot a lot of photos on my phone because I always have it on me, but I shoot more photos on my ‘real’ cameras because they just do more and they do it better!



Canon USA, 1977

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