Gary Schmid on the EOS-1D X and the EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
© Gary Schmid
Canon Explorer Gary Schmid is one of the world’s leading commercial photographers and he has recently been working from his base in Dubai, as well as on location in Russia, with the 18.1 Megapixel EOS-1D X DSLR and the EF14mm f/2.8L II lens. In an exclusive article for CPN he reveals his thoughts on the performance of the camera and how the super wide-angle lens has helped his interior shoots...
I had the chance to get a deep, ‘hands-on’ test with the EOS-1D X DSLR recently after a short test last year on a travel photography workshop in Vietnam. This time I was able to test Canon’s flagship DSLR in my daily work as a commercial photographer for food and products along with the EF14mm f/2.8L II lens for interior photography, which is one of my major fields of work.
My first impression of the camera was a nice feeling of ‘home’ as I have had a Canon EOS-1Ds III for many years, but it took a back seat after I got the EOS 5D Mark II and then the EOS 5D Mark III shortly after it was released. An EOS-1 series body is something unique and solid to hold and handle. Even if my 5D Mark III with the battery grip has almost the same dimensions, the body of any EOS-1 camera is something different. I don't face normally rainy or mucky weather conditions in the Middle East but I do love travel photography and Asia especially – there the weather sealing of the EOS-1 is unbeatable.
The first project I shot with the 1D X was a jewellery shoot for an Italian client. I had 28 rings and earrings to shoot and chose to use the camera with the EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. Despite the smaller file size – RAW files on the EOS-1D X are around 18Mb compared to 21Mb from the EOS 5D Mark III, thanks to the latter’s larger pixel count on the sensor – the picture quality is stunningly clear. Saving the files as TIFFs gives a file size of slightly above 50Mb, which allows for good enlargements of any size.
Taking the 1D X along to an interior shoot I noticed a little, but handy, difference that I missed when I first changed from the EOS-1Ds III to an EOS 5D Mark II. During a shoot I always have my cameras connected to a computer and I use EOS Utility remote software. With this setup on the EOS-1 models I can change shooting modes (M, P, Av, Tv...) without touching the camera, but not on the 5Ds as they have a physical wheel control to cycle through the modes. For interior photography I do occasionally change modes during the shoot, whilst in studio sessions for products and fashion, with studio strobes, I'm always in M mode.
In my commercial work I generally face two different circumstances to shoot. One is shooting interiors with tungsten and ambient light, where I prefer using the Av mode. For almost everything else – like fashion, food and product shoots – I have studio strobes where my camera settings are customised using Custom Functions. On every shoot it is very handy to be able to get the camera to the settings I need in one quick step.
My main customised settings bring the camera into manual M mode with a shutter speed of 1/200sec, aperture at f/8 (which I change according to what I've got in front of my lens to shoot), ISO 160, white balance set to 5900K (the colour temperature of my studio strobes) and AF expansion (focus using one manually selected point assisted by the eight surrounding points).
This particular AF selection is my favourite in my daily work as a commercial photographer. In total there are six AF area selection modes to choose from and the one I opt for works perfectly for product, food and fashion photography. With the multi-control wheel on the camera I can easily and quickly move the single AF point to where I need it while I look through the viewfinder.
The autofocus of the EOS 1D-X is by far the most high precision autofocus system I have ever seen. It features the camera’s 61-point AF system, including using the new dedicated AF menu with great settings and possibilities to easily change parameters for your needs, such as in the AF Configuration Tool, AF Area Selection Mode and Custom Controls for effective AF-related functions.
The EOS-1D X collects data from the 61-point AF sensor and the auto exposure sensors to deliver perfect autofocus in every situation and every lighting conditions. There is an AF correction light-source detection sensor and, with certain lenses, a panning detection gyro sensor too. And in the AI Servo mode it can help to focus on the subject even by colour as well as contrast. On the 1D X the AF related settings are now moved from the Custom Functions (C.Fns) settings into the [dedicated AF] menu where you can find a lot of AF settings under the new AF menu tab. Different presets (Cases 1–6) give you more accurate control over the AI Servo AF [settings], according to the subject's movement.
I never faced any situation where the 1D X wasn’t able to focus precisely onto what I wanted to. Paired with any of my L-series lenses it was ‘spot-on’ and very fast. This new autofocus is a dream for every photographer and not just for sports and fast action journalists who, for sure, will love this high-end autofocus where subjects even get tracked by colour and contrast.
For my very wide interior shots the EF14mm f/2.8L II USM lens convinced me from the first attempt. Version II of this lens is very smooth and has a very fast and silent autofocus... not that the focusing speed matters a lot for me on an interior shoot, but it’s still good to have. It’s much the same as the fact that the weather sealing doesn't make a big difference for my commercial work but, in the field, for travelling and landscapes it does.
The image quality of the 14mm lens is more than impressive. Even with the widest aperture open the corners are impressively sharp. Stopping down by two stops is even better and the little shading in the corner (with a full-frame DSLR) is gone by f/5.6. The Chromatic Aberration is as little as I’ve ever seen before with any wide-angle lens, with only some little purple fringing in the centre of very high-contrast subjects and distortion is very well controlled.
The overall outstanding quality of this ultra wide-angle lens goes back to Canon’s Super Spectra coating that keeps image quality high by controlling flare and ghosting. I’ve never had so much fun using such a wide-angle lens because there was never any concern about a compromise in the picture quality.
I think many photographers went through a long process of decision making between the EOS-1D X and the EOS 5D Mark III. If you are into sports, journalism or anything related to speed there is no question which one is the favourite. The [up to] 14 frames per second rate of the 1D X gives me a sharp photo in almost every situation I shoot. In my field, commercial photography, photographers are always looking for higher resolution but I must admit that the 18 Megapixels delivered from the 1D X are better than the pure number tells.
I would miss the HDR function of the 5D Mark III, which delivers a really great result in almost every situation, but I rarely use this function for my usual commercial photography. There are many differences and similarities between these two truly great DSLRs. For me the AF, metering, sync speed, Custom White Balance, ISO and battery life were all a step ahead on the EOS-1D X. As a commercial photographer the ‘decision-maker’ for the 1D X would, in the end, be the perfectly designed body and the 400,000 cycles of the shutter compared to the 150,000 cycles of the 5D III. This makes a difference when you make your living out of photography and take up to 1,000 shots a week.
Biography: Gary Schmid
Gary Schmid is an international commercial and travel photographer who is originally from Austria but now works from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. After completing his studies and gaining a Master Craftsman's Diploma in Photography, in 2005 Gary opened his own studio in Austria. In 2009, with more business coming in from the Middle East, he moved to Dubai from where he now covers the whole of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Gary’s commercial photography includes luxury hotel interiors and exteriors, food, lifestyle and fashion, plus he also has a passion for travel photography. His photographs have been published in magazines around the world, as well as being used on many different items of food packaging. His travel photography has been displayed in art galleries in both Dubai and his native Austria and he became a Canon Explorer in 2012.