Frits van Eldik on shooting an F1 weekend with
the EOS-1D X
© Frits van Eldik
With a top shooting speed of 14fps, standard ISO capabilities up to 51,200, and a 61-point AF system the EOS-1D X DSLR was arguably the ideal camera for Canon Ambassador Frits van Eldik to shoot an F1 Grand Prix weekend with. CPN spoke to the top motorsport photographer about his experiences working with Canon’s flagship 18.1 Megapixel EOS-1D X DSLR during the 2011 Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix weekend.
CPN: What cameras do you currently shoot with?
Frits van Eldik (FVE): “Mainly the EOS-1D Mark IV and the EOS 5D Mark II. I used to work with the EOS-1Ds [Mark III] but as soon as the 5D Mark II came out I changed to it to save weight; quality-wise I was very happy with it for full-frame [shooting]. I’ve always worked with two different [sensor] types of cameras but, moving to the 1D X, my problem is solved because I’ll be using the same camera with the same buttons in the same place. So, I can have two or three cameras the same, with different lenses, and can change quickly without having to reset anything.”
CPN: When you first picked up the EOS-1D X, what were your initial impressions?
FVE: “When I first picked up the camera the first question was ‘Is it full-frame?’ and I was happy the answer was ‘yes’. I use the joystick (Multi-controller) a lot and it’s very important for me to change my focus points but, in a vertical position, it was not there [on my previous cameras]. Now it is there – that made me very happy, as did seeing that there was an Ethernet port and two CF card [slots]. Little things, like buttons in the right positions, make you happy.
The whole menu is completely different, when you look at it for the first time, but it’s so easy to use that, as soon as you start playing with it, you could work with it within a few minutes. Of course, you have to go through everything and see what your personal preferences are for the way you like to work with a camera, but the first impression makes you happy. When you start shooting with it, as soon as you push the [shutter] button, the speed in focusing and handling gives you a lot of confidence.
When I first tested it, there were three photographers there. We started testing it, and came back within 20 minutes, and we all said: ‘Wow, this is unbelievably good!’”
CPN: What were the conditions like where you were shooting in Abu Dhabi, given it was a night race?
FVE: “I think photography is ‘painting with light’. You have to play with the light and you have to understand what light is doing within your picture. When you have a race like Abu Dhabi, where you start in daylight with a practice session and you finish in the evening, there are a few moments when you make a plan to be in a certain position at a certain time because light will be there.
The problem is I always want to show speed. I prefer to show moving wheels, so I normally work on a slow shutter speed. So, even at a Grand Prix like that in the past I wasn’t really complaining because if you were shooting at low shutter speeds you could work under these conditions. From now on you will never face problems with light because you can easily go so high in ISO and still have the quality you had in the past. So, you’re much more flexible in the way you’re shooting.
In the past, with a car [silhouetted] in the brightest sunlight, you couldn’t really freeze the bonnet of the car because you had to lower the shutter speed. Now you can shoot at 1/1000th of a second to make sure you freeze that moment, without losing any [image] quality in grain or in dark parts.
Under all circumstances this camera will help you. In my case, most of the time we [F1 photographers] are [shooting] in lovely, sunny conditions but imagine if you are a news photographer, or working for an agency, not knowing what conditions you will face – night-time or daytime, indoor or outdoor. [Now] you can just go high in ISO and it’s much more flexible. At the night Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi you just think ‘there are no conditions in which I’m limited by my camera’.”
CPN: Do you shoot in RAW or JPEG?
FVE: “Normally I shoot RAW. In the past I worked with JPEGs as, because I had to work quickly after a practice session, or a race, I preferred JPEGs. Then the software to change RAW [images] to JPEGs became better, so I shot RAW.
With this camera I started shooting on RAW then, at a press conference, I did RAW and JPEG. I looked at the JPEGs and I was happy. On the Friday I started shooting only RAW, as this is how I would normally use a camera. Then I received a message from London saying ‘Frits, there is no RAW converter available at the moment, so you can only shoot on JPEG’. I received that after my day’s work and I thought it was a shame I couldn’t use these pictures – I could only see them in the camera. So, I decided to shoot JPEGS for the next two days.
That evening I was thinking ‘in this camera it is possible to work on your pictures, so it must be possible to work on a RAW [file] and save it is a JPEG’. My camera was in the locker at the racetrack so I went there the next morning. I took one picture as a RAW and I could change it to JPEG. I decided to put the pictures of the day before onto the card again and changed them to JPEGs in the camera so I could have a proper look at them and use them. So I shot the first day RAW and changed it [images] in the camera to JPEG.”
CPN: Out of interest how many pictures would you normally shoot each day during a Grand Prix weekend?
FVE: “At the beginning of the season you take much more because you want to have every car in different positions, but I would say around 1,000 pictures a day. So, for a three-day event, it’s 3,000 pictures. I try to make as few as possible because I don’t like being at my computer inside [editing]. I prefer to be outside working.”
CPN: What are your initial feelings on the image quality coming out of the EOS-1D X?
FVE: “It’s unreal. The pictures look so natural colour-wise, and sharpness-wise, that this makes it unreal. In the past, when you went higher in ISO values, the colours were a bit different than they were in reality. At the first testing we shot some rugby, some football and some cycling; the first look [at images] we had on the Canon computers really surprised us.
Also, in Abu Dhabi, in strange artificial light with a lot of dark parts and shade on a dark car, the pictures were still so detailed. There’s no noise at all, even at ISO 4000 in strange light conditions.”
CPN: The new sensor technology has meant increased ability to capture shadows and highlights, so did you notice this and how did you find the dynamic range?
FVE: “The details in the bright parts and the dark parts of a picture are unbelievable. You don’t loose any quality in any of those parts [of the picture]. In the past I shot pictures to make them a little bit lighter and thought ‘I can make that a little bit darker later on, and the result will be OK’. Now, I don’t think you have a problem.”
CPN: Looking at your images, some of them are shot at ISO 10,000. How was the camera performance when shooting at high ISO settings?
FVE: “For me ISO 10,000 is very high because I always try to show some movement in pictures. Even when I take pictures of people in a garage I want to have some movement to show they [people] are working. So, normally I don’t go high in ISO.
In my situation, working at Grand Prix, all of the photographers know that you are a Canon Ambassador, so they always come to you asking questions about new products. When I arrived [in Abu Dhabi], they found out that I had the EOS-1D X with me in the press conference because everybody was shooting and I just pressed this [shutter] button once, which had a different sound, and everybody looked at me. Afterwards they came to me and asked ‘Can you show me something?’ So I showed them a series of pictures on my laptop, which is proof enough for everybody that this is the quality we’re all looking for.
As soon as you start working with the camera you have a good feeling, then you take some pictures. The first thing you do is look at the screen and zoom in. I thought ‘this is unbelievably good’ and I took some more pictures – maybe 50 or 60 different kinds of portraits – and went outside with my laptop to take a quick look. The quality is so good it’s almost unreal. During testing we saw some amazing results at high ISOs with a 400mm [lens], with a 2x extender, and on 10,000 ISO. If you really need to have a good portrait under these conditions, this camera delivers.
When we tested it for the first time I think we shot basketball at [around] ISO 100,000. When you look at it [the image] of course you have something like noise and grain, but the quality of the picture stays intact – the structure of the picture stays perfect. It makes it so much more flexible with this camera.”
CPN: You mentioned earlier about the camera having an Ethernet port – can you explain why this feature is important to you?
FVE: “Well, if it’s working like I hope it will work then you can connect your camera to the Internet; to your computer. To send pictures from your camera to your computer is the fastest connection you can have. Especially when you shoot RAW, sometimes you have to put your card in the reader to start sending them [the pictures] over and you can have a break for a few minutes. So, if we can connect the camera straight to the computer via Internet/Ethernet connection and transfer pictures to our laptops that’s perfect.”
CPN: The metering system in the camera is new, with a new 100,000 pixel AE sensor that is also ‘colour aware’. Did this have an impact on your images and how did the metering system perform?
FVE: “It is an RGB sensor that will assist the autofocus system, which basically will say that when you have two football players running towards you – one in a blue shirt, one in a red shirt – and you focus on the blue shirt the RGB [metering] assists AF so it will focus, more probably on the blue shirt rather than the red shirt. So, the colour sensor is assisting the AF system.
The way I use AF works very well – it’s just very good. I always try to use a product how I’m used to working, so I like as little depth-of-field as possible. Some people like shooting at f/5.6 or f/8, but I make about 90% of my pictures at f/2.8. When shooting a Grand Prix you have only twice in a whole day when you’re really shooting action; it’s not much time. In the past you thought ‘OK, relax, do your best’ – you take 10 pictures and out of those 10 one should be brilliant. Now, because you are so much more flexible, you have the feeling from the beginning that you can shoot at higher ISOs and it’s easier to use a 2x extender. You’re not limited any more.”
CPN: How about the new AF system on the camera, did you get time to test it out and see how it performed?
FVE: “From my [point of] view AF is very good. I still do a lot of shots on manual but that also has to do with the way I used to work in the past. I can 100% rely on myself and I don’t want to make a lot of pictures.
When you want to make scenic pictures of a small car in the bottom of a picture AF points are not in that position, so you would still shoot manually. I see a lot of pictures from photographers who always have the focus point in the middle. For me, having the possibility of quickly changing focus points by the joystick [Multi-controller] makes my life easier. I don’t have many focus points in the middle – you want to have it [focus] somewhere else so you do this manually or with AF points. It’s a mix for me – 40% is manual and 60% is autofocus.
For me it [autofocus] is working perfectly. Following a car or bicycles, which we did during testing, as soon as you lock on it easily follows. This gives you confidence when you are working with it [the camera] and you have the feeling that every picture you take is a proper picture.
I shot a series [of pictures] to see if AF was following the cars. This was a night race in artificial light, so it was not ideal [conditions], at ISO 4000, with a 400mm lens and a 1.4x [Mark III] extender. When you zoom in, you cannot believe it’s at ISO 4000. When you see all those details, especially in the black parts, there is almost no grain and that makes you happy.”
CPN: The EOS-1D X shoots at 12fps or 14fps shooting in high-speed mode. Did you shoot any images with this mode and, if so, how did it perform?
FVE: “When you shoot action you want to have the high frame rate for testing. The only thing is I think that even 12 frames per second, for me, is a little too fast for normal use. It depends a little bit on the cards you’re using but there is a certain buffer [limit]. I took about 45 pictures and then it stopped so, at 12 frames per second, that’s about four seconds [of shooting].
(* Editor’s Note: the camera Frits van Eldik was shooting with was a pre-production EOS-1D X so these values may not reflect the exact final specifications of the camera).
When I use more frames per second, for instance when the [F1] cars go over the start line, there’s a lot happening. Normally you just keep on pushing [the shutter button] and try to follow the cars until they are at the first corner, which is about six or seven seconds. I think 12 frames per second can be a good option, especially for close action for two or three frames close together. But, for a lot of other things, I could easily go down in frame rate. For the start of a race I would go for eight frames per second, which will be quick enough [for me].”
CPN: How did you find the handling of the camera and the new button layout?
FVE: “It’s perfect for me, but I think I use only about 30% of the possibilities in the camera. I can work easily with all of the buttons I want to use. I had to send the camera back to Canon Japan and I started working again with the [EOS-1D] Mark IV. When I had to go back to an older system I was surprised by how quickly I was used to the new system.”
CPN: Do you customise your cameras for your use?
FVE: “No, not really. Because I don’t always want flash I would like a flash on/flash off button but, for my hands, just as it is the EOS-1D X is perfect. As a Canon Ambassador, when you’re doing testing, you realise that everyone buys a camera thinking that it’s specially made for them and you start to realise that every photographer needs to have that feeling. It’s very complicated to find a grip and a position for all types of hands. You would never have thought about this until you start working with people from [Canon] R&D.
In the past when I had the first meeting with Canon I really thought ‘I’m going to tell them what I want and how they’re going to do it’. All different types of photographers have their own different needs and they [Canon] have to put everything in one black box – that’s a really big challenge. To be honest, in the past I have sometimes complained; that’s until you realise that thousands of different photographers need to have that special feeling – that was an eye-opener for me.”
CPN: Do you use Custom Functions at all?
FVE: “Yes. The first time out shooting with the camera you start working with it and you think ‘OK, this is good’. You start to fine-tune it to your own liking. Everybody uses cameras in a different way. In the past I had some colleagues complaining about their gear saying ‘it’s not working, it’s not sharp’ and it was the same equipment as I was using. So, we went out for a session, changing equipment, and came back and it seemed the problem was with the pictures, not the cameras. It was the way he was working with it.
I think you always have to fine-tune it to your own liking. How fast do you want your AF? How much contrast? You have to find your own way of performance on the camera. I would suggest, for any camera, read the manual and see what the possibilities are. I get a lot of questions from people and I often say ‘you can easily change that by changing a different setting’. Some things are very simple to adjust or to make your own preferences – you have a quicker menu and things like that.”
CPN: What is your overall opinion on the image quality of the EOS-1D X?
FVE: “The funny thing is when you start testing they [Canon] don’t tell you anything about the camera. What I have in my mind I want to ‘translate’ onto my computer. I’m not so much into technical things but, of course, I want to know how can I achieve the best result for what I have in mind.
When I do events for Canon you have two types of photographers. I find professional photographers [often] don’t go into technical details – they just ask about the handling – and you get hobbyists who ask technical [specification] questions. One of the questions I get asked is ‘It’s only 18.1 Megapixels, why not more?’ I answer ‘First of all, who needs more? Secondly, every pixel increases quality by 20%, 20% bigger’. In the end I only want to see the quality of the picture. I really don’t care if it is 25 or 60 Megapixels. If I have this quality – which I can easily print at two by three metres if necessary – why do I need any more pixels? There is no need for this question.
The only thing is when you want to crop in you want to have the best quality, so the picture is the proof. I would never say ‘Just 18.1 Megapixels?’ When you look at the [picture] quality, it is the best quality I have ever seen. I prefer to have this quality and then crop in on the picture afterwards.”
CPN: The EOS-1D Mark IV had SD and CF card slots whilst the EOS-1D X has two CF card slots. Is having two CF card slots of benefit to you?
FVE: “I’m not sure if it’s true but I always have the feeling that a CF card is more solid and reliable. I prefer to have everything on one system, so I prefer to have just CF cards. It’s not really a big thing, but I prefer it. I think it’s more important for video as everybody wants to work on CF cards. When I shot with the [EOS-1D] Mark IV I always had an SD card in there just in case. We started with 256Mb [memory] cards, or something like that, and now when I put in an 8GB or 16GB card I never have a situation where my card is full. I don’t have a problem.”
CPN: Do you have any final thoughts on shooting with the EOS-1D X?
FVE: “It’s the ideal camera – whatever I have in mind I can make with this camera. For me, it’s the ideal tool for any kind of photographer – from studio to wildlife, from sports to war. You can do everything with it, especially guys shooting in low light conditions. For someone like Ziv [Koren] working at night you can make beautiful big files with existing light. That’s what I love to do – I love to play with the light that is there.
I can’t think of something that’s not possible to do with this camera, even at high ISO. Personally, I will not go higher than ISO 10,000 but when you see what you can get out of this camera playing with the existing light – whether it’s a candle or a bright sunny day – everything is possible. You’re almost looking for less light now. In the past this was not possible.”
- Please note: all of the images accompanying this article were shot by Frits van Eldik on a pre-production model of the EOS-1D X DSLR. No post processing has been made to any of the cropped sections taken from Frits van Eldik’s original images – they are 100% crops of the original images.
Biography: Frits van Eldik
© Remy Cortin
Top motorsport photographer Frits van Eldik hails from the Netherlands. He worked for a specialist automotive picture agency for seven years before starting his own motorsports publishing company. He photographed his first Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1989 and by 1994 was shooting all of the F1 races in a season. He became a Canon Ambassador in 2008 and enjoys photographing all motorsports and “everything else that moves fast.” In 2012 he is shooting F1 Grand Prix and a variety of other motorsports around the world.