David Noton shoots landscapes with the EOS 5D Mark III
© David Noton
When Canon Explorer David Noton got his hands on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR he quickly put it through its paces, shooting landscapes in Italy, France and England. CPN writer Ian Farrell spoke to the award-winning English photographer about how the 22.3 Megapixel camera has bolstered his shooting repertoire.
For David Noton the move to the Canon EOS digital camera system in 2005 signified more than just a switch of brands: it was also his switch from film to digital. Along with scores of other professional photographers at the time, Noton chose the EOS-1Ds Mark II as the DSLR that would give him the image quality he was used to from film.
“It was a full-frame 16 Megapixel DSLR and a complete game-changer,” he recalls. “Some of my clients, like Getty Images, were requesting digital files and this was the only camera at the time that could deliver them at the quality I needed.”
Since then David Noton has invested heavily in the Canon EOS System, using the EOS-1Ds Mark III and EOS 5D Mark II DSLRs to photograph stunning landscape and travel images. Early in 2012 he moved on to the new EOS 5D Mark III…
Noton recalls: “When you initially pick up the camera, first impressions are of the improved build quality: it feels more solid, and more professional, and the LCD view screen is glorious. The weather sealing seems much better too, which is important in my line of work. In fact, the first time I used the EOS 5D Mark III was on Dartmoor [moorland in England] with the howling wind driving the rain at horizontal directions. I was thankful of the weather proofing then!”
Over the next few months Noton started to appreciate more and more of the camera’s new features. He explains: “On paper, the resolution of the EOS 5D Mark III is only one Megapixel more than the older [EOS 5D] Mark II model, and I know many photographers were thinking initially ‘what’s the difference?’ But there is a step-change in image quality with the [EOS 5D] Mark III – a tangible improvement in detail, sharpness, resolution, and dynamic range.”
He adds: “My customers are chiefly advertising agencies, publishers, stock libraries and so on, who use my images at all sizes. The 22.3 Megapixel resolution of the EOS 5D Mark III is plenty for their needs and perfect for me. I’ve printed fine art images that are 1.2 metres wide and they look fantastic.”
Image quality at high ISO settings has been an area of considerable development in many new DSLRs, and the EOS 5D Mark III takes this a step further. The camera is now able to shoot up to a maximum standard sensitivity of ISO 25,600, with the ability to boost this to ISO 102,400 for those occasions when there is almost no natural light. So, how has this improved ISO facility impacted on David Noton’s landscape work?
“I don’t think it has really,” he confesses. “We ‘landscapers’ like to shoot at lower ISO values and work with tripods and remote releases. But low-light work is about more than just high ISO shooting. For me, a camera that is good at high ISO settings is also good with long exposures and this is certainly true of the EOS 5D Mark III. I can shoot with shutter speeds of two minutes sometimes, and the image quality I’m getting is absolutely stunning.”
Noton explains: “The high ISO capabilities are useful when I’m shooting travel photography in a more photojournalistic style. It still takes me a while to get used to the concept of high ISO photography, having spent decades using film where ISO 400 was considered high speed. But I know that these days I can go far higher if I need to.”
He admits: “I’m looking forward to experimenting more with high ISO and the creative options it will open up. I like using my favourite fast aperture prime lenses for travel portraiture and reportage – the EF35mm f/1.4L USM and EF85mm f/1.2L II USM. I love the selective focus effects at wide apertures, and I think the high ISO facilities [of the camera] will add to this.”
When it comes to lenses, it is almost easier to list the EF optics that David doesn’t use rather than the ones that he does. In his kit you’ll find the EF14mm f/2.8L II USM ultra-wide lens and the EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens, plus the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM and EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM zooms. And, of course, the aforementioned fast aperture 35mm and 85mm lenses. Noton is also a fan of the TS-E17mm f/4L and TS-E24mm f/3.5L II tilt and shift perspective control lenses, which he uses to great effect in his landscape and architectural work.
A new addition to his kitbag is the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto zoom – a re-design of a traditional zoom focal length. “It’s a classic lens for all kinds of photography. I would never be without it,” says Noton. “The Mark I [of the lens] was very good, but the Mark II is better in terms of image quality. It’s noticeably sharper.”
He reveals: “I used to be sceptical about image stabilisation, but it’s lenses like the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM that have helped change my mind. In tests I’ve been able to shoot at shutter speeds four stops slower than usual and still get sharp results. In the field, this can make a really big difference. I remember one time in Africa, photographing an elephant up-close. The light was fading very quickly and everything seemed against me, but engaging the Image Stabilizer (IS) and raising the ISO a little gave me great results that were just not possible in the film era.”
David Noton advises those photographers who have recently invested in the EOS 5D Mark III to take some time to get used to using the improved AF system: “to its full capability”.
He admits: “In the beginning I really struggled with autofocus; most of my shots don’t feature the subject in the middle of the frame. When off-centre focus points were introduced I wanted them really off-centre, out on the intersections of the compositional ‘thirds’. Up until now no camera was doing that, but the EOS 5D Mark III is pretty near. I also find it easier to move the focus point around the frame. The handling is much better in this respect.”
Additional advice from David Noton for those travelling with their EOS cameras is less technical and more pragmatic. “Look, think, pause, strive for something unique to your vision,” he says. “Be imaginative. And always, always go for quality over quantity. Travel less; see more.”
David Noton has spent nearly three decades traveling the globe, photographing people, places and cultures. As CPN spoke to him about his experiences with the EOS 5D Mark III he was packing his bags for his latest adventure – a trip to Burma to shoot new material for his on-line eZine ‘Chasing the Light’. We put it to him that he has perhaps the best job in the world…
He replies: “Well, it’s not all sunshine and epic vistas. I have my fair share of frustrations and set backs just like anyone else. But when I’m trudging back after a successful dawn patrol, having witnessed the light painting a scene of almost mystical serenity, I wouldn’t swap my job with anyone. I’ve been a professional photographer for 27 years now, but it still feels like I’m just starting out.”
David Noton’s equipment
EOS 5D Mark II
EOS 5D Mark III
EOS-1Ds Mark III
EOS-1Ds Mark II
EF14mm f2.8L II USM
EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
TS-E24mm f/3.5L II
EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM
EF35mm f/1.4L USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF85mm f/1.2L II USM
EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
Speedlite 580EX flashgun
M80 Media Storage Device
BG-E6 battery grip
Biography: David Noton
© Ben Pipe
David Noton is an award-winning landscape and travel photographer with over 25 years of experience. He won awards in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 1985, 1989 and 1990 and over the years has travelled extensively to almost every part of the world, exploring deserts, rainforests, mountains, islands and ice caps. In 2008 his first book ‘Waiting for the Light’ was launched to critical acclaim. In 2010 his book ‘Full Frame’ was published alongside his second film ‘Photography in the RAW’. His pictures are now published all over the world and he writes for a broad range of media, including photographic magazines and websites.