Jeff Ascough on
with the Canon
EOS 5D Mark III
© Jeff Ascough
Canon Ambassador Jeff Ascough has established a reputation as one of the world’s top wedding photographers and has shot his latest assignments with Canon’s EOS 5D Mark III DSLR. CPN spoke to Jeff Ascough to get his first impressions of working with Canon’s 22.3 Megapixel DSLR.
CPN: When you first picked up the EOS 5D Mark III, what were your initial impressions?
Jeff Ascough (JA): “The first thing that struck me was the ergonomics of the camera. It’s obviously more robust than the previous version. It’s ergonomically better in that it’s got a better grip; it’s slightly heavier and is built more solidly. It feels much more robust than any of the original 5D-series cameras.
The most exciting thing for me is the silent shutter mode, which allows me to take pictures without any shutter noise; this is a tremendous feature for the way I shoot. Things like the 100% viewfinder are a much welcome improvement, as is the new focusing screen with the heads up display and focusing points.
It’s obviously an evolution of the 5-series but, for me, it’s a big step rather than just a gradual upgrade. It’s quite a big change. It’s been superb over the last eight weeks or so that I’ve had it – it’s been really good, a great camera.”
CPN: At the launch of the EOS 5D Mark III CPN featured some landscapes you’d shot with the camera, but you’ve now had the chance to shoot weddings with it. How has the camera fared shooting weddings?
JA: “It took a little bit of getting used to, with the different placement of the function buttons. For example, the playback button is in a completely different place to the [earlier] 5D-series cameras. In terms of shooting, the major difference is the autofocus accuracy – it is substantially better than the previous 5-series camera – it’s been a pleasure to use in that respect.
I’ve had no problems at all with focusing with any of the lenses I’ve used, even though those lenses have been calibrated to other camera bodies. This has allowed me to shoot at really wide apertures, knowing that I’m going to get the shot in focus. It was always a little ‘hit-and-miss’ on the previous model – you’d get it [in focus] sometimes and you wouldn’t get it other times. Even in [wedding] shots like ‘the first dance’ at f/1.4, or even f/1.2, in dark environments I’m still able to nail the focus – that’s the single most impressive thing [about the camera]. That and the silent shutter mode, for obvious reasons, like when you’re inside a church, so there’s no noise in terms of handling.
CPN: You mentioned the improvements in the camera’s AF system – can you explain what you have noticed?
JA: “The general accuracy of autofocus is far superior to the previous model. In normal light you wouldn’t notice the difference, but when you start shooting in lower lighting, and lower contrast situations, the autofocus is far more accurate on the 5D Mark III. It’s hard to explain, but you know that you’ve got the image; that it’s sharp. When you look on the LCD screen it’s sharp but sometimes when you looked at it on the previous 5D, you thought you had the image sharp but you [sometimes] hadn’t; it drifted a little bit.
Manual focus is also a lot easier on this camera and is far more accurate. The tracking is brilliant as well. I get situations where I have brides walking towards me, either going to church or down the aisle, and one of the cool customisation functions is to have the AI Servo tracking transferred to the depth-of-field button. You can just switch it [the camera] into [AI] Servo mode by holding the DOF button down, and then switch to One Shot by releasing it – that’s been a really good feature; it’s pretty cool. I’ve enjoyed using it and it’s been incredibly accurate as well. This camera seems to be a lot better at tracking subjects.”
CPN: You’ve already mentioned the robust feel, and use of some of the controls, but what is your overall impression of the handling and button layout of the EOS 5D Mark III?
JA: “The normal buttons I would use – the shutter button, AF-ON and those kind of buttons – are still in the same place as on the original [5D] camera. The playback button initially caused me a few odd moments when I was trying to get the camera to review the pictures, and it wasn’t helped by the moving of the magnification button. That took a little bit of getting used to, but once I got used to it there wasn’t any problem.
The Live View button is now in a much better place, near the thumb as opposed to being on the other side of the camera. The other big improvement has been the addition of the M-Fn button on the front. I’ve transferred aperture lock onto that button. So, for example, when you’re shooting in aperture priority mode instead of having to move my thumb around on the back, I can just use the M-Fn button to lock the exposure, which, for me, is a much, much more intuitive way of working, especially as I use back button focus.
The customisation is really great – Canon has done quite a lot of really good things with the customisation and the button placement. In terms of handling the camera feels like a little EOS-1-series camera; it’s almost like going back to the EOS-1V and EOS-1N cameras – it feels that solid in the hand.”
CPN: The high ISO performance of the camera is key to your style of shooting in available light – how have you found the EOS 5D Mark III in terms of ISO performance?
JA: “The ISO performance has been quite remarkable. I’ve been shooting weddings at ISO 6400 and there’s just no problem. The tonal range is great; the colours are great; the noise is really, really well controlled. It’s a really big improvement on the previous model – I’d say about two stops compared to the previous model or probably more than that. To my eye it looks almost two stops better on the ISO; it’s been terrific.
The main thing for me is the fact that when you pushed it [ISO] on the 1D Mark IV or the 5D Mark II the files used to get quite ‘crunchy’ in the shadows and block up quite a lot, but this camera is just great. There’s so much tone in the files, even at ridiculous ISOs.
CPN: In purely practical terms, does this standard of ISO performance help your work?
JA: “Yes, because you’re not running out of light. One of the biggest problems you have when you’re shooting a wedding, and when things are happening very quickly, is that you get into a frame of mind where you have to pre-empt what’s going to happen next, and then choose lenses for that situation. In the past you could get stuck with an f/2.8 zoom on the camera and think ‘I’ve got to change to a prime [lens]’, but you wouldn’t have the chance to do so. So you’d end up ‘banging’ the ISO up and then getting a file that’s not as good as it should be.
With this camera I can shoot with an f/2.8 lens all day, in any given lighting situation, and not have too much trouble in terms of running out of light. So, from a purely practical point of view, there are less lenses to carry around, there are less changes to make, and there are less decisions to be made in terms of swapping lenses over. In this respect it’s a lot easier to work with.”
CPN: The EOS 5D Mark III has one CF card slot and one SD card slot – does this benefit your way of working?
JA: “A lot of people rave about having two CF card slots [in a camera] but, to me, it’s the wrong way round as I think having SD and CF card slots is the best way. I need to have a backup of all of the pictures that are taken so, on a CF card, I have all of the RAW files written and on the SD card everything is written as JPEG. In each camera body I put one big SD card in, and that SD card then stays in that camera; it’s never taken out unless there is an emergency when I need to get the files from that card. So, if I’ve got to do another wedding, I just format that card in-camera.
The beauty of SD cards is you can get them anywhere, so even if I had a major card catastrophe at a wedding, I can go to a petrol station or supermarket and get SD cards. It probably won’t ever happen to me but I think photojournalists in the middle of nowhere are more likely to be able to get hold of SD cards than they are CF cards.
Different cards also help me with identifying the files – I know an SD card has got my JPEGs on it and it’s got all of the backup files. Having two sets of CF cards could cause confusion in the midst of shooting a busy wedding day.”
CPN: In your opinion what is the quality of the LCD screen on the EOS 5D Mark III?
JA: “It’s a big improvement in terms of literally looking at the LCD. It makes it a lot easier to review pictures. I think video guys might notice it more than I would in terms of practical uses, but it’s definitely a clearer, bigger screen, which is obviously advantageous to anybody who is going to be viewing pictures on the back of the camera. It’s a very nice screen.”
CPN: Have you been using any of the Custom Functions on the EOS 5D Mark III?
JA: “The Custom Functions that I primarily use are the camera controls, just to be able to assign different functions to different buttons. For example, I’ve got the SET button which controls ISO and I can change ISO ‘on the fly’ without worrying about having to hit the button on the top and spinning the wheel. If I’ve got the camera up to my eye, it’s easy just to switch the ISO with the SET button.
Like I said before, the M-Fn button has got the exposure lock set to it, obviously back button focus is the main thing for shooting with, and the depth-of-field preview button is now the AI Servo/One Shot button as well.
The new menu system in the camera took a bit of getting used to. I’ve also got safety shift enabled on ISO, which is really good.”
CPN: How do you work with RAW files from the camera?
JA: “I’ve been converting them [RAW files] to DNGs and then importing them into Lightroom, as Adobe hasn’t made Lightroom compatible with the RAW files yet. That’s how I’ve been working – just using Adobe’s converters to convert to DNGs. That’s been absolutely fine – there’s been no problem at all with that. You just have to wait about 15 or 20 minutes extra while it converts all the files over, but that’s about it.”
CPN: What is the image quality like from the EOS 5D Mark III?
JA: “That’s just fantastic! Absolutely stunning! The image quality has been the best yet that I’ve seen from a Canon camera. It’s just amazing. The quality is just frightening, especially now that the autofocus is so good. If you use really sharp prime lenses, like the 50mm f/1.2 or the 85mm f/1.2, the quality, detail and depth that’s in the images is just amazing. It’s lovely – the colours are right. You used to have the play a little bit with the 5D-series cameras to get the colours right but this one [camera] is pretty good.
The Auto White Balance can shift very quickly and, depending on the lighting situation, seems to be quite sensitive, so you have to be a little careful. It doesn’t make too much difference to me, because I’m shooting RAW, but I think it’s slightly more sensitive than the previous 5D-series cameras. The exposure is a little bit more sensitive as well than the previous camera.”
CPN: We noticed on one of your blogs you mentioned that there was an improvement in the timing of the shutter release. Can you explain your thoughts about this?
JA: “In normal mode it’s instantaneous. On the old 5D [Mark II] you could almost feel it wasn’t as responsive as a 1-series camera. This is different – this feels like it’s responding properly. It’s very fast; even in silent shutter mode it’s still responding very quickly. It just feels different with the mirror movement. It’s like it’s been super-charged, like a super-charged 5D – that’s what it feels like.”
CPN: The EOS 5D Mark III has a 100% viewfinder – is this easier for you to work with?
JA: “Yes, definitely. You know when you come to crop the image in-camera that ‘what you see is what you get’. With the old 5-series inevitably I end up cropping little bits off it when I came to do the workflow or it wasn’t quite composed properly. The actual amount of cropping that I’m having to do with the 5D Mark III is a lot less – that’s the first thing I’ve noticed.
The other thing is if you are using the camera with a prime lens the viewfinder is so bright – it’s lovely. It’s like a 1-series [camera], it has that kind of feel to it.”
CPN: Does not having to crop so many images save time in your workflow?
JA: “Yes, and I think it’s more satisfying to me more than anything else; knowing that what you’re seeing through the viewfinder is what you’re getting in the [image] files. It’s more of a professional thing, as there are times with [processing] weddings when you tend to keep cropping pictures because you’ve missed that little bit on the edge or something has come into the edge of the frame that you hadn’t seen through the viewfinder.
You just know that’s there’s nothing beyond the viewfinder now; everything that’s in the viewfinder you’re going to get [in the picture]. For me it just makes a little bit of difference, and it’s nicer and more comfortable to work with. You just feel that you’re seeing what the lens is seeing, rather than 85 or 90% of what the lens was seeing on previous cameras.”
CPN: Having used the camera for a couple of months now Is there anything you would have liked to have seen in the EOS 5D Mark III that isn’t there yet?
JA: “The only thing for me is not to do with the ergonomics, handling or focusing of the camera, but it’s more in the software section. I would love to see the option to just have a histogram on the back of the camera – a large histogram, rather than a picture with just a little histogram next to it, because that doesn’t really tell you about the picture; it’s too small. That [large histogram] would be a terrific option to have on the camera.
The other thing that I would like to see is spot metering attached to the focusing point, like on the 1-series cameras. I think the spot metering is still straight down the middle, not attached to a focusing point. I think it would be a good option to have.
In a completely ideal world the top mode dial needs to go and be replaced with buttons, like on the 1-series. Even with the lock on it it’s just one of those things that I think could be designed better.”
CPN: What are your final thoughts on the EOS 5D Mark III?
JA: “Once you get used to using a camera for a few weeks, and you’re using it all the time, it becomes second nature. A bad camera will always catch you out; you’ll always do something and wonder why you did it. This camera hasn’t yet – it’s been really good. It’s close enough to the old 5D-series to be completely familiar, but it’s obviously a big step up in terms of what it can actually do.
For me, it’s great because I don’t have to take 1-series cameras with me anymore – I don’t need the weight, the bulk, or the size. There’s nothing that a 1-series camera will do now that, for my job, this camera won’t do. For me, an EOS-1D X would be overkill for what I’m doing – why take the extra bulk?
In the past, if the light would run out I’d have to go to a 1D Mark IV to get the extra high ISO but I don’t have to worry about that now. It’s a bloody good camera!”
CPN: Do you want to add anything else?
JA: “If you look at the EOS 5D Mark III as a camera, it’s great. I think it would be interesting to see what lenses are coming out from Canon. Because the 5D Mark III’s resolution is so good the lenses look sharper through it than the old [5D Mark II] camera with the same lenses on. If you put a prime [lens] on this camera and then put a zoom with the equivalent focal length on this camera they’re worlds away in terms of resolution. If you’re going to have a camera like this you really need lenses that are going to match it, so hopefully there’ll be a 28mm f/1.4 lens or a new EF35mm f/1.4L that’s even better [than the original], and obviously the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, which hasn’t arrived yet. I think if the lens line-up is tweaked this’ll be a fantastic package.”
Biography: Jeff Ascough
© Jeff Ascough
Englishman Jeff Ascough started his photography career in 1989, in his family’s business, as a portrait photographer and then as a wedding photographer. In 1993, he set up his own photography business and, in 1995, began shooting weddings in a documentary style. Between 1995 and 2003 he won over 170 regional, national, and international awards for his work. In 2004 he became the first British wedding photographer to be featured in The Washington Post and in 2005 was voted one of the five best wedding photographers in the world in a BBC poll. In 2007 Jeff was voted one of the 10 best wedding photographers in the world by American Photo magazine and in 2008 he became a Canon Ambassador. In June 2010 he was one of 12 photographers who received the annual 'Lens & Light Honor' from a leading wedding photography website for his "stunning, modern, artistic imagery at the frontier of the field".