5.02.2011

My elastic analysis of "favorite" cameras and lenses.

After I posted my Eeyore's Birthday blog I got several e-mails asking me why I wasn't using a better camera.  Each, in some way, presumed that I was using the best camera I could afford but were concerned that perhaps my budget wouldn't stretch to cover the cost of a "real", "modern" camera with "full capabilities."  I thought I'd explain why, for some months now, the Canon 1dmk2N has been my favorite camera.  My camera of choice.  The single camera I would choose from among those I own right now for one of those "lifetime on a desert island" questions.

First I should declare that I can afford other cameras and that I do own various other Canons, including:  a 5Dmk2 (which I press into service when shooting very wide angle images or images that require extreme enlargement.) a 7D and a 60D.  The last two are really more like production video cameras to me although their image files (especially around ISO 200) are very, very, very good.  But at equivalent sizes (up to the uninterpolated limit) the 1dmk2N is very much up to the same level of imaging performance.  But really, in my mind, that's not even part of the equation.

So why am I so smitten with this big, clunky camera from the mid-decade?   Let me count the ways.  But first let me say that there are two things I've added that make this camera more fun to shoot than a stock version.  I added a split image rangefinder screen that makes manually focusing easy and fun.  I bought an aftermarket battery that never runs down.  Really.  I swear it's got a small arc reactor inside.  I'm getting up to several thousand frames from a charge.

Here are the reasons I like shooting with this camera:

1.  The heft of the camera adds inertia which means that "an object at rest tends to stay at rest....etc."  A solid, heavy camera dampens user vibration well and that's a plus for those of us who like to shoot with manual focus lenses.  That's because I haven't come across any MF lenses that have IS (or VR).  I guess I could be shooting with Sony's a900 but that's a whole other story.

2.  The finder is very nice to look thru and makes it a pleasure to focus manually.  At least as good as the Canon 5Dmk2 with the upgraded screen and better with wide angle lenses.  Sexy finder.  Luscious.

3.  It focuses better than the other cameras.  Maybe even better than the 7D, which is supposed to be good at focusing.  The 1Dmk2 focus isn't complicated to use in AF and I've never had problems getting sharp focus in the plane I wanted it to fall in.  Doesn't really matter for the most part as this is the camera I tend to use with the manual focus Zeiss ZE lenses.

Take a look at the close-up view of the back:


That's where two more reasons reside.

4.  See the open card door?  There are two card slots.  One is CF and the other is SD.  And the SD slot does SDHC.  That means I can put a 16 gigabyte card in each bay and have the capacity to shoot over 2800 raw files.  Without reloading.  That's cool.  And in my studio we buy both kinds of cameras:  those with CF and those with SD slots.  So I always have both at hand.  I call it planned "un-obsolescence."  And lately I've been buying  SD cards to shoot video on.  Recent Amazon purchase was three 8 gigabyte cards at $12 each.  24 gigs of fast storage for a whopping $36.  Hmmmm.  Sounds good to me.


5.  See the contoured grip to the left of the card slots and just above the big wheel?  This camera body was designed to be comfortable in your hand.  And when you have it in your hand for four or five hours that makes all the difference in the world.  Canon makes pro cameras for people with normal hands, Nikon makes pro cameras for people with gorilla hands.  If you have big hands seek out a D3 instead....



6.  The screen is pretty good for such old technology.  I can almost accurately judge a shot from the screen unless I'm in full sun.  Then all bets are off.

7.  While my other three, newer Canons brag bigger numbers of pixels I'm not convinced that it makes too much difference for 90% of what most people shoot.  Great to have on client jobs but on jobs where I have only myself to please I find that the eight megapixels of the 1d2 are great.  And each pixel is twice as big as the ones in the 7 and the 60.  It's a different feel and a different equation when it comes to optical diffraction.  But the neatest thing about having just enough pixels is that post processing becomes a quick pleasure rather than a time consuming chore.

The back story is that I always wanted to play with the one series cameras.  I'd like to own the 1dmk4 but I'd hate to pay for it during a down cycle.  Right now everyone is sold out of the current body because they came from plants in the hardest hit area of Japan.  I couldn't buy a new one today if I wanted one and had money burning a hole in my pocket.

One day I walked into Precision Camera and scanned the used shelves.  They test and guarantee the used gear they sell.....  I saw this clean 1D2N and an equally clean 1d2 original.  But there was a problem.  I wanted the N version for the screen but it came sans battery.  The older version came with the charger and two batteries.  I bargained and bargained and walked out with both cameras (and the charger) for right around $1,000 or about $500 per camera.  My rationale was that I'd sell off the older camera and have a fun toy for a low price.  Then I shot the cameras.  And then I fell in love.  Didn't sell the older one either.  I'm rationalizing but I'd like to take them as a pair on my next road trip-shooting adventure.  They'd make a nice set.

My decisions about cameras are rarely logical.  If they were I'd still be shooting with a Nikon D700.  The files from that camera were great and I'd made my peace with it's handling.  But like the Canon 5d2 I never liked the feel or the sound of the shutter.  See what I mean? Totally irrational.  Seems not to make sense to shoot with an eight megapixel camera when I already own two 18 megapixel and one 21 megapixel cameras but there it is.  It all comes down to the feel and the fit for me.  I can always seem to tolerate smaller files better than bad or sloppy handling.  And I know that sentiment will be different from person to person.

Back when I was successfully shooting magazine covers with the 4 megapixel Nikon D2h all the photographers I knew saw the 8 megapixel cameras as the holy grail.  We said we'd stop there because that was all we'd need.  And I'm right there right now.  For most stuff.

The only thing I miss when I pick up these two classics and head out the door is the potential to shoot video.  And that's okay because it constrains me to always make fewer choices.  And, as I'm sure you know, more choices is hardly ever a good way to go.

Finally,  why the 50mm Zeiss ZE?  Two things.  I love to focus manually.  The focus stays where you put it.  And secondly,  It just looks better than the Canon normal lenses from 2.8 to 11.  And that's where I tend to shoot.  All personal choices.  I have my eyes peeled for a 1dmk3.  Besides the AF issues I've heard the image quality is superb........and they're going for a song.

22 comments:

kirk tuck said...

Update: Please be aware that I change "favorite" cameras at a whim and that my assessment of any camera doesn't constitute a call for you to purchase one as well. It's better to see my review as a rationalization of my way of shooting more than a search for the "holy grail" of cameras. I am not Indiana Jones. Cameras are not magical.

Ken Bennett said...

You want to buy a couple more Mark II bodies? They are still great cameras, and the overall image quality is excellent. I used mine for more than five years, and beat the living whatchamacallit out of them. Then I got the budget for an update, just in time to get a pair of Mark IV bodies last summer.

The Mark IV continues all the fun goodness of the Mark II, though I really do miss the interlocks that required two hands to change major settings on the Mark I and II. (I hate having the settings change themselves while the camera is over my shoulder.) The biggest difference with the Mark IV is the high-ISO performance. I shot a production of The Grapes of Wrath this winter, and was one of the darkest plays I've shot in awhile, both in content and lighting design. I ended up shooting most of it at 3200 and a big chunk at 6400, and the images are terrific. I simply could not have shot at all with the Mark II.

I still have the Mark II bodies, and still occasionally pull one out of the locker when I need a third camera for a long lens or a remote or something. (Speaking of which, what battery did you get that gives you thousands of photos per charge? The Mark II eats batteries, although maybe they are just old....)

Keep trucking, and enjoy what you enjoy.

Will Alan said...

Do you mind mentioning your battery brand/source?

atmtx said...

Kirk,

What an incredible deal you negotiated. I'm going with you the next time I need equipment! Those 1D cams are built like tanks too.

Andy

SS Buchanan said...

I migrated up to a 1DMkIV because I'd reached a point where I decided I needed the extra features (primarily the crazy ISO).

It's surprising how quickly that "big, heavy" body becomes normal, and anything smaller feels like a toy.

I love the MkIV, the only thing that annoys me is the lack of UWA on the 1.3 crop, but I'm looking to Frankenstein that soon, so I'll no longer have any complaints.

The MkIV gets rid of those AF complaints from the III, and has a nicer LCD (it's REALLY nice :) ).

Peter Frailey said...

Just curious, Kirk. Did you sell your Oly dSLR gear when you switched over to Canon last year? It occurred to me that you tend to keep stuff rather than sell it off... For example, all those old lenses you've put on the PEN.

I tend to sell off the old gear, but then a few years later wish I'd kept it....

Peter F.

Dave Elfering Photography said...

I think a lot of us wannabe photographers are always seeking "the grail" that will transform us into stardom. The only grail? Knowing yourself & vision and finding the tools to fulfill that vision. One popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. There are no shortcuts and your using old tech must annoy the bejiggers of out of everyone who thinks being on the waiting list of the latest/greatest is the answer.

Glenn Harris said...

There is nothing like the feel of a Mk IIN in your hand. I got mine when I was shooting a lot of sports and it was like a glove on my large hand. I've tried to hold a camera with a grip attached and it just felt unnatural and I couldn't image doing that for 6-8 hours. The image quality and focus speed was fantastic. But I am glad Canon removed the Erase All function on the Mk III and above. I have a 48x30 portrait of my daughter on the wall from this camera and looks great - not bad for only 8.2 MB.

Danny Chatham said...

Kirk,
Lets face it,we love them all!

Bold Photography said...

I had considered the 1D class when I moved to the 5DII -- but didn't like how the 1DIV felt in my hands. Plus, I tend to find satisfaction not so much in how it sounds, but in what the images look like, so for me, the 5DII is the best camera for what I do.

Now, if I can just myself down from the precipice of thinking about Porsches ...

Frank Grygier said...

Hello Indy..We Kirk Tuck mavens follow your camera escapades like mind numbed robots..Zack Arias was using a 1D with a Hasselblad lens and even Jarvis chimed in how much he adored Zack and the camera he used. We photo wannabees follow your every move seeking the grail of pixel nirvana. No need to warn us. We are helpless to resist the bokehlicious siren song of Zeiss glass and the dazzling watt seconds of the goddess Profoto. All kidding aside where did you say you bought the 1D?......

Christian said...

Kirk, I purchased a 1DmkIII about 6 months ago (a really good deal that I couldn't resist). I love the ergonomics of it and it's become the camera I use whenever weight and bulk are not the overriding concerns.

I, too, was concerned about the AF issue. Let me summarize my experience so far: the AF is *way* better than any non-pro Canon that I have handled. (Full disclosure: I have not really worked with the 7D, which is said to be pretty good, so I'm not qualified to comment on it). I usually get the focus dead on where I want it and if I don't, it's usually my fault, not the cameras.

There was a situation when using continuous AF photographing a children on a merry-go-round where the AF did disappoint. I do not claim that this was the AF issue raising its ugly head, I'm simply saying that I expected better than I got. So I switched to manual and did fine.

If you love the mkII, I'm pretty sure you'll fall in love with the mkIII. Me, I'm waiting for the 1DsmkIV (or whatever it will be called) so the 1DsmkIII will go for a song ... don't tell anyone. ;-)

mshafik said...

Hah, I was waiting for the post to end planning to hit the web and check reviews/prices of the 1DII N, but then I saw your update in the comments and it slowed me down.

You already convinced me to get a 60D and the 35mm f/2, and I am very happy with both.

Thanks for an interesting post, I hate pure technical discussions and I love to feel other people's opinions and impressions.

kirk tuck said...

The 60D and the 35 are great. Don't buy more if you are happy. Really.

Peter Frailly, I kept two e1's a macro and the 14-35 f2..... Nostalgia.

The battery for the 1d2n is a from Lenmar via Amazon and is $29. I just looked it up, ordered another one and saw that they have a quick charger for $59 as well......

Skip Hunt said...

Ya know? I'm guessing I'll never be a "real" shutterbug, "togg", "shooter" etc. I didn't even look to see what camera you used with the Eeyore's pix. I never seem to care. I can't remember the last time I asked anyone what gear they use.

I simply look at an image and evaluate how the image moves me. The tools used never seem to enter into the equation for me. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I simply don't have that interest I reckon.

Skip Hunt said...

Also.... someone recently asked me what gear I used to shoot a bunch of street stuff in Mexico back in Jan/Feb of this year. This person is REALLY into gear and all the machinations. Makes great images as well.

http://www.kaleidoscopeofcolor.com/galleria/mexico-2011-winter/

However, when I answered that all the images I'd shown him printed in a MagCloud photo booklet were all shot and edited with an iPhone 4 it seemed to anger him somewhat. Why? I can't understand that reaction at all.

Jan Klier said...

The 1 series definitely has a set of features that make life easier for professional users. From the battery life, the dual memory slot, the weather proofing. If it were just for the image, the 5 series is usually as good, the rest are creature features. They're worth it if it can make your job easier and you know you can trust it.

almostinfamous said...

in my early assignments, i was working with a pro with a set of canon equipment including the 1DmkIII with the sub-mirror fix installed.
a pleasure to use it, but my fingers(rather than hands) are rather stubby and therefore i tend to drift Nikon for the fatter buttons. actually, your post is the first that i have seen that explained my preference for nikon, though i do use canons as situations demand (higher megapixels mostly).

Anonymous said...

Camera snobbery obviously knows no bounds if one has to justify using a top of the line pro camera a few years behind the curve..

kirk tuck said...

Funny thing, Skip. If I write a blog about actual photographs or business or marketing or philosophy my blog readership declines. If I write a detailed review of the Olympus EPL2 it soars.....

Anonymous, agree.

But the real snobs wouldn't shoot with Japanese cameras anyway. :-)

Skip Hunt said...

@Kirk... I get it. Yeah, gotta giv'm what they want I suppose. I've mentioned it before I think, but the reason I check in here every now and then is for your writing. Your images are very nice as well, but your writing has a very nice flow.

Verbiage said...

Snobbery or not, seems like a fairly inexpensive way to experience reputedly great AF of 1D series (looking at a 1D Mk II myself)