1480 – A Voice In The Dark

Imagine: the end of Daylight Saving Time means, that for the next four-and-a-half months I will go home from work in utter darkness. Depressed? Not yet 😛

And this is one more reason to love my Tamron 17-50/2.8 VC. Incidentally, when I looked into a camera shop’s window today, it suddenly occurred to me, that not only Nikon owners are in the unfortunate position to have a non-stabilized 24-70/2.8, Canon owners have exactly the same problem!

I don’t know why, but until now, I had always assumed that only Nikon could have made such a brain-dead decision, but now it’s clear: they didn’t need stabilization, because their only serious competition does not have it either!!

Now tell me: why should I go for “full frame”, aka FX? The D7000 is already only slightly worse than a D700, the future D400 will most probably have the exactly same sensor. Thus noise-wise it’s only a matter of being two or three years behind the bleeding edge, but on an already very high level. On the other hand, for my type of photography, where motion blur is not a problem, a stabilized 2.8 lens on DX gives me at least as good image quality as a non-stabilized lens on FX – for a third of the price.

This can’t be a Nikon dilemma only. Just as the D300 is every bit a pro camera, so is the Canon 7D. The only real advantage of FX seems to be the bigger viewfinder, but only when it’s 100%, and when you want that on FX, you are deep in pro territory. It just does not make sense for me. What about you? I know many of you own the Canon 5DmkII. Compared to the 7D with its better … well … everything, is the sensor really so much better? Is it worth the hassle? Is it worth the higher lens costs? And if so, why exactly?

The Song of the Day is “A Voice In The Dark” from Elvis Costello’s new album “National Ransom”. Great album, great song, I’m glad to find a reason to feature it. Here it is on YouTube.

15 thoughts on “1480 – A Voice In The Dark”

  1. You make some very sensible and practical points about camera bodies. Over the last year I’ve formed the opinion that for most of my needs, both my GF1 and 5D MkII will provide good enough quality. That’s great because I end up carrying my GF1 around more and because of it I make far more satisfying pictures than I ever did when I used film. However, I don’t want to give up my FX body and it’s expensive lenses. I’m sure that a large proportion of that decision is based around emotion rather than practicability. I came to FX from owning and using pro standard large and medium format so it was a natural migration. No, most of the time it doesn’t produce better images, and yes it is more flexible with it’s TS-e lenses some of the time. The biggest reason for ownership though is that I like it! I’m sure that I would be satisfied with a 7D if it was the only choice though I would rue the fact that my 24mm lens wasn’t so wide.

    1. Tilt-Shift, right, that’s an excellent point. You can use those lenses on DX as well, but they are less effective for architectural and landscape work because of the crop factor. I use Photoshop for perspective correction (at least when I do it at all), and for my ultimate flexibility I have to trade texture quality.

  2. Can’t speak for the 5D MII, but the files from my 5D MI are better than those from my 7D. Easier to work with and for the lack of a proper word, lush in comparison. I toyed with the idea of selling the 5D when I got the 7D as a retirement gift, but after seeing the files from it I couldn’t. What I find is that I use the body best suited for the purpose, 5D for landscape/portraits and the 7D for action/wildlife. Unless one sees the files from both cameras on a good large monitor, I doubt anyone could see the difference.
    Given my vintage, IS (VC) is a must on my general purpose lenses. I opted for the 24-105 f/4.0 IS when purchasing the 5D and use a EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS on the 7D. After seeing images using Canon’s pro glass I was spoiled.

  3. Steve, what do you mean by “easier to work with”? Is this a matter of noise? And is this not compensated by the slightly higher resolution? Thus, would you say the same if the comparison were between 12 mpx from the 5D and the native 18 mpx of the 7D carefully downsized to 12 mpx?

    1. Andreas, noise is a large part of it and I often find I have to use Canon’s DPP software to get a 7D image acceptable for both noise and sharpness. In all fairness to the 7D I most often use it at higher ISO than the 5D to keep the exposure time as fast as possible. I will do a side by side comparison using a subject that I would normally use the 5D for and see if my statement is still valid. Will let you know the outcome. It does help some to set the 7D to record a medium raw file to mimic the 5D 12 mpx.
      Now that I think it through, there are two other issues that are not the fault of the 7D. First and foremost since wildlife is often done at distance it normally requires extensive crops. 50-60% is not uncommon and presents challenges and takes time to keep the image clean. I rarely crop a 5D file and often do not have to do NR or sharpening. Second is my fault in not upgrading my software and the 7D is not supported in PS CS3. This requires me to start in Lightroom with the raw and then save it in DNG to port over to CS3.
      I feel Nikon made the right call at limiting most of their bodies to 12 mpx, especially in the DX line.
      I am not disappointed with the 7D as it gets me images that would be impossible with the 5D because of the much better AF, FPS and wonderful shutter release. Very much like the 1D MII I had for the same type of photography.

      1. Ok, so you use them for very different things. As to support in CS3, you could create DNG right from the start, using the Adobe DNG converter. It’s standalone and not bound to a certain Photoshop version like Camera RAW. Adobe distributes it in a bundle together with Camera RAW, and I remember having seen some batch importers (camera or card to file system), that support running the converter automatically upon import.

        As far as image quality goes, I don’t think I can see any noise in my D300’s images as long as I have exposed properly. Of course, you know what I do to pixels, when I begin with extreme processing in Photoshop, I frequently unearth noise, even in images taken at base ISO. But that’s normal: as soon as you begin rising shadows, you are amplifying the signal, and that’s not different from what raising ISO in-camera does.

        1. Funny you should mention the DNG converter. After I posted my reply I got in the shower (why do so many good thoughts come while in the shower) and remember I had installed it and then forgot about it when LR started supporting the 7D. It is also available as a stand-alone download. I will now start using it.

          And when one starts messing with noise then the sharpness go to pot. Except that I have noticed the NR in Canon’s DPP doesn’t soften the image as much as LR or PS.

          I see John mentioned “feel” with FX images and with my experience he is correct. Very hard to find an adequate description. If I were thinking about a new body I would look for the largest dimensioned photosites/pixel I could afford and make FX/DX and # of MP secondary considerations. Probably most important is ergonomics.

          1. Well, whenever I have an image of the noisy kind, I open it in ACR with sharpening and noise reduction set to zero, and the the first thing in Photoshop is to run Topaz Denoise on it. Big difference.

  4. Andreas,
    You mention the D7000 – are you using that now?
    Ah, the DX/FX conundrum. For most of us, it’s easy – can’t afford FX. But then there’s the issue of lugability; much easier to carry around a DX camera for hours than FX. Still, whenever I see a photo from a full-frame camera there just seems to be a different ‘feel’ to it. Sorry I can’t be more specific, but it seems to be true for me. The thing is, if you were to place two shots of the same subject next to each other, one from the D300 and the other from a D3 or D700 and not say which is which, could you tell the difference. I doubt it, but when I’m looking at a shot and subsequently find out it’s fullframe, I feel a little ah-ha! moment, as if I kind of suspected it.
    For me, if money were no obstacle I’d go FX. Since it is, it looks like I’ll be going the D7000 route next year.

  5. Ok I made a side by side with the 5D and 7D and it created more questions than answers. But, Andreas thank you for bringing up the question of DX vs. FX. I learned a lot about how the 7D ‘sees’. In short, all settings were the same and I used the same lens on both bodies (24-105 f/4L IS) with adjustment for crop factor. The workflow was identical, except to get the image dimensions the same. I noticed that cramming 18 MP of info in a 12 MP space heightened the noise in areas of solid color and created a file that was 14.9% larger. 1/3 the frame was clear blue sky and just to rub it in the temp was a nice 75 F (23.9 C). The 5D file was cleaner, flatter in color and more even on the histogram. The 7D file was darker, richer in color and the histogram made a large step up at about 1-1/2 stops down from highlight end. It seems there is a highlight priority built into the processor/firmware that is not user programable, as I have highlight priority disabled in menu. As a bit of an aside I also made an image at the MRAW (approx. 10.1 MP) setting and it came out nearly as clean as the 5D file.

    My thoughts at the moment are get which ever body you want for the features and learn how the meter/sensor sees. Buy the best glass you can afford and disregard the rest of it.

    1. About my thoughts. For me it’s mostly ergonomics. I just know my D300. Any pro Nikon would probably do though. I remember that from the D200 to the D300 it was as smooth as it gets. Working with a Canon or another non-Nikon camera, I’d have to un-learn what my body knows, and then learn the new camera. Makes me shudder 🙂

      As regards image quality, I suppose as long as you don’t print extremely big and look from close, the differences between modern DSLRs are negligible. Heck, with good light even compacts are acceptable. And that’s a good thing. After all, cameras are mostly for taking pictures, not for worrying about image quality. At least they say so 😀

      1. Go with what you know works. I have learned some of the foibles in the Canon system and the 7D seems to be the best yet for the feel in hand. With my stable of lenses I doubt I will shift, even though at times I was temped.

        As for image quality, Nikon DSLR images have a certain look (again hard to quantify) that seem to be vibrant where the Canon files seem to be neutral. The 7D files in the today’s testing seemed to lean towards the Nikon spectrum, so maybe Canon is juicing it up a bit to meet the comp. I went ahead and processed the files down to the size I share and post (10″ W long side at 96 PPI) and all the noise and stuff that worries photogs disappeared. The rich colors on the 7D images stayed in place. I now have some equipment rethinking to do for my landscape work.

        One last comment, if you haven’t tried the pro Nikon glass, see if you can rent a lens of your usual working range for a few days when you have time to work with it. Your eye will tell you if the 3x factor in money is worth it to you.

  6. Gee whiz! No one commented on the lovely image! Well, I do love it. The backlighting is superb. You have yellow and blue, orange and blue, magenta and green – and there’s even a hint of purple in the lighted area in the right. I like how the street curves away to the right. I want to go there to see what’s to be seen next. I like how the shadows at the bottom ground the image, and how the tree puts a protective canopy over the rest of the scene.

    1. Thanks! The colors are a bit artificial in the sense that I accentuated what I saw fit for the respective part of the image, but under those conditions on a nightly street, you can’t speak of “natural colors” any more, so colors are fair game here 🙂

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