Traveller’s check: capturing Swiss customs with the EOS 80D
© Alessandra Meniconzi
Alessandra Meniconzi’s travels have taken her to some of the most remote countries in the world. In a special interview she tells CPN writer Mark Alexander how Canon’s latest DSLR, the EOS 80D, has helped lighten the load on a recent assignment closer to home...
Canon Explorer Alessandra Meniconzi travels around the world. A lot. Her expeditions to photograph the lives of indigenous people and traditional cultures take her from her home in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland to the vast openness of Mongolia and on to the freezing landscapes of Siberia. Add in the heights of the Himalayas and Aurora Borealis as seen from Finland, and you get the sense that Meniconzi’s passport has been well-thumbed.
Her love of travel started 30 years ago during the hedonistic high that followed her studies in graphic design. A gift of a Canon camera from her brother completed the set-up and she embarked on her remarkable life on the road.
Encouraged by friends to publish her photographic records of her trips, she eventually made reluctant approaches to travel-related magazines, and the rest, as they say, is history. “My photography was just for me; for my memories,” she recalls, “but from that I began my career in photography. At the beginning I was working with magazines, but the first thing for me was travelling, travelling and travelling.”
Four books later and countless hours spent in airport departure lounges, Meniconzi’s work has been featured in international magazines and newspapers, and as part of calendars reproduced as postcards. It is a remarkable story of turning one’s passion into a successful and ongoing career.
Today, her wealth of travel experience comes to the fore as she divulges the tricks she employs to navigate through the dreaded departure gate. “I want to carry everything, so my bag often weighs more than 10 or 12 kilos, and then you have to add a tripod and flashes. Sometimes it can be very hard. I will be in Mongolia in October where the maximum hand baggage is five kilos. So I have developed some tricks: I put all my lenses and batteries in my pocket or I carry my bag on one shoulder so it doesn’t look so heavy.”
Light, but fantastic: the EOS 80D advantage
These wiley ruses and clever concealment are all part of a travel photographer’s wide range of skills. But with baggage allowances weighing heavy on her mind, it’s not surprising that Meniconzi chooses her equipment carefully. Tipping the scales at just 730g (battery and memory card included), the latest addition to make an impression in her kit bag is the EOS 80D. “It’s a very good camera,” she says. “The quality of the image it produces is comparable to a professional camera. And it’s not too heavy.”
The compact DSLR with its 24.2 MP APS-C CMOS sensor, WiFi and NFC capabilities makes the perfect travel companion. Packed with features, the EOS 80D is versatile and responsive and, as Meniconzi explains, an ideal piece of kit when speed is of the essence.
“One of the first things I discovered that I love about the EOS 80D is the touchscreen,” she says. “It’s lovely. When you touch the screen it is very responsive and fast. For me, it’s the first time I’ve used a touchscreen on a camera. Sometimes when you are pressed for time, the touch screen makes life very easy.”
The touchscreen provides the option to explore creative shooting angles that would be otherwise impossible with a fixed screen. The Live View continuous shooting mode also delivers 5fps (the EOS 80D’s maximum rate hits 7fps), but as Meniconzi explains, the multi-functional touchscreen has other uses.
“It’s very good,” she says. “I use Live View a lot especially in landscape photography. But I was also inside a church recently where I wanted to capture the people moving, but I couldn’t press the shutter release button as it would move the camera. So I used the touch screen, and it was great. I didn’t have to push it very hard at all.”
And then, of course, there is the 22.3mm x 14.9mm CMOS cropped sensor with EOS integrated cleaning system which not only delivers stunning images in a range of lighting conditions, but also gives Meniconzi extra reach when she wants it. “I have a full-frame camera and a 300mm lens, and sometimes when I want to take pictures and need a little more, I use the 80D and it becomes a 480mm lens. For me, it makes my lens more powerful. It can be especially useful when shooting wildlife when the full frame and the 300mm simply isn’t enough. In this case, I’ll go for the 80D.”
Add to that the camera’s integrated Speedlite transmitter and the ability to shoot videos at 1080p resolution at 60 fps, and you would be forgiven for thinking the EOS 80D is a ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ and master of none. But you would be wrong.
A new sensor achievement
As Meniconzi explains, the most impressive feature of her latest camera isn’t the flexibility of the touchscreen or the versatility of the intuitive video capture. More important to her is the quality of the image produced by the EOS 80D’s exceptional CMOS sensor, in whatever circumstances she finds herself in. “The files are very, very good,” she explains. “The dynamic range is bigger and the detail is very good. I took a picture of lady in a religious festival during which the women wear very nice clothes with very fine details. When I saw the file on the computer, I was amazed. It was very good.”
She continues: “Not only is there great detail and an impressive dynamic range, but I feel the colours are more vibrant. For that file, I just used curves and levels. I didn’t add any saturation.”
It helps that Meniconzi was using the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, which is a workhorse telephoto zoom that uses a clever trick of employing its virtually circular aperture diaphragm to give out-of-focus areas a softer, more uniform feel thereby helping foreground objects stand out. But the quality of the files the EOS 80D produced was a factor the Swiss photographer had to adapt to.
“Usually, with other cameras, I have to change the settings, but with this one I just left them as they were,” she says. “For instance, I was a little worried about applying too much sharpening because the images were already sharp. The quality of the image can be compared to that produced by a professional camera. They are very good.”
Meniconzi’s photography is centred around extraordinary lives set in fantastic scenery. Her intimate imagery blends the wonders of the natural world with the distinctiveness of humanity. To do this she often finds herself in testing situations where the available light can be limited. In a recent shoot in the Appenzell region of Switzerland, the early morning light proved ideal for an atmospheric study of the procession of the cattle up to alpine pastures, and a good test for the EOS 80D.
“I use high ISO settings for night pictures when I photograph stars or landscapes, but I rarely go above ISO 3200” she says. “I was in the German part of Switzerland photographing the ascent to the alpine pastures and I pushed the ISO up to between ISO 1600 and ISO 3200. It worked well; there was plenty of fine detail and not too much noise.”
The EOS 80D’s ISO sensitivity range extends from ISO 100 to 16,000 and reaches a high of 25,600, which can facilitate faster shutter speeds in tricky lighting situations. It also has 45 all cross-type AF points, which help when creating precise compositions and eases focusing when the subject is off-centre. The end result is a camera brimming with possibilities and perfectly suited for adventures where anything could happen.
Ultimately, Canon’s new EOS 80D is a feature-packed DSLR that produces impressively sharp, colour-rich files. It has seamlessly fitted into Meniconzi’s well-travelled kit bag and has helped her create the telling portraits and inspiring landscapes for which she has become known. “The quality of the camera is very good but, for me, the final and ultimate result is the quality of the picture,” she reasons. And that, above all, is why this camera will need to get used to travelling a lot more often with her...
EOS 80D – KEY FEATURES
- 24.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor with ISO 100-16,000 (H: 25,600) sensitivity
- 7fps full resolution continuous shooting rate with 3fps silent continuous mode with reduced vibration
- Swift and accurate full time continuous focus in Live View and Full HD movies with Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which can be fine-tuned for tracking sensitivity and speed for movies
- 45-point wide area all cross-type AF system with 27 f/8 compatible AF points
- DIGIC 6 processor with 14-bit processing for high quality images
- Large 7.7cm (3.0”) capacitive touch panel Vari-Angle LCD, 1040k dot, 3:2 ratio
- Intelligent viewfinder with approx. 100% frame coverage
- 7,560-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor with Flicker Detection
- Full HD movies with 60p
- Timelapse, HDR and Creative filters in Movie
- Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC for instant connection, sharing and remote control
- Creative Filters and Special Scene Modes plus Fine Detail Picture Style
- In-camera Multiple exposure, Interval timer and Bulb timer
- Electronic level for straight horizons when shooting landscapes
- Integrated Speedlite Transmitter
Biography: Alessandra Meniconzi
© Annick Romanski
Alessandra Meniconzi is a documentary photographer from Switzerland whose work focuses on heritage, customs, spirituality and the daily lives of indigenous people. She is also a Canon Explorer. In a rich and varied career, she has travelled the world documenting native people who live and work in the world’s most isolated regions. Her photography captures the interplay between wild places and ancient cultures and has graced numerous magazines, newspaper, calendars and postcards. She has published four books so far in her career: The Silk Road (2004), Mystic Iceland (2007), Hidden China (2008) and QTI - Alessandra Meniconzi, Il coraggio di esser paesaggio (2011).