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When given an assignment to try out the new 50.6 Megapixel EOS 5DS DSLR, top travel photographer and Canon Explorer Joel Santos spent one week travelling over 2,000 kilometres around his home country of Portugal to capture a series of stunning landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes. In an exclusive interview he spoke to CPN’s Steve Fairclough to discuss his first impressions of working with a camera that maintains the familiar handling of the EOS 5D-series but adds high-resolution image quality never-before-seen in a DSLR plus a raft of new features...
As well as the EOS 5DS, Joel’s kitbag for the week-long road trip around Portugal included an assortment of EF lenses. He explains: “I used the 24mm [f/1.4L II USM] fixed lens for a night landscape and I had a chance to use a prototype of the new 100-400mm as well – I was really, really impressed by that lens because it’s much better than the previous version. I always pack three lenses – the 16-35mm, the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm. I use the f/4 version [of the 70-200mm] because it’s lighter and I really have to take weight into account [when travelling]. But, for this camera, the f/2.8 [version of the 70-200mm] delivers the resolving power for this sensor so I didn’t use the 70-200mm f/4 in this case.”
Although the high-resolution EOS 5DS is packed with new features – such as crop ratio modes, ‘Fine Detail’ Picture Style, a Mirror Vibration Control System and much more – Joel reveals: “When I first saw the camera I thought it was a 5D Mark III because the body, except for small details, is almost exactly the same. You have that sense of familiarity with the camera so it was easy to pick up and know where every button was placed. Sometimes, when you are expecting a new product you imagine the product will look a lot different but the camera kept faithful to the previous [5D Mark III] design. This is good because you can use the same batteries; you can use almost all the same accessories and you can ‘jump in to’ the camera directly – you don't have a learning curve at all. You look at the menu system and realise it’s faithful to what’s been done before, so it’s easy to spot the new features.”
One feature that immediately stood out was the 5DS’s customisable Quick Control screen that allows users to select only the functions they require and display them where they want to, and at what size they want to, on the camera’s rear screen. Joel notes: “They’ve changed the interface on the Quick [Control] menu, which is a really good, new feature because it’s nice to have those features you use as the most easily accessible – I like that.”
He also quickly took advantage of the crop/aspect ratios on the EOS 5DS that offer 30.5 Megapixel stills with a 1.3x crop and 19.6 Megapixel stills with a 1.6x crop, as well as a 1:1 aspect ratio for square compositions, plus additional 4:3 and 16:9 aspects (when shooting in Live View mode).
Joel explains: “When I’m composing a photo I must mentally have all of the photo in my mind, with all the fine details around you, and then I just play around with them. When I was in crop mode I mostly used the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II lens and it’s good to have almost like three lenses but using just one lens. Even if you use the 1.6x crop mode you still end up with a 20 Megapixel file, which is more than enough for most of the current uses of my photographs.”
He adds: “The main thing is it [crop modes] allows me to think as if I was using another lens. Position, for me, is paramount in a photo – after finding the perfect light and the perfect subject – composition is what brings it all together. So, when using it [crop modes] I can think of a final photo and not think as a 50 Megapixel photo that I will have to crop a lot when I get home. You can still have the file with the 50 Megapixels so when you get home you can play around with it and, if you want to crop it, you can.”
With tack-sharp images being of paramount importance to travel photographers – who, after all, very rarely get the chance to re-take an image – we asked for Joel’s thoughts on the internal Mirror Vibration Control System that aims to achieve critical sharpness at 50.6 Megapixels.
He admits: “That’s the kind of technology where I don't have a microscope to really evaluate the difference between the [5D] Mark III and the [EOS] 5DS. What I can say is that by looking at the final results I wasn’t concerned by the vibration of the mirror. When you have so many Megapixels just a slight movement of the camera will be quite noticeable because you can enhance and amplify the image up to 100% and see the detail so precisely that any problem with sharpness would be evident and would become a real problem.”
Joel adds: “The images are really, really sharp and I didn't have any problems with ‘mirror shock’ or ‘shutter shock’. I tested the camera with all kinds of different shutter speeds, especially the ones that are prone to have those kinds of [mirror vibration] problems, so below 1/30th of a second – for example, at five seconds or 10 seconds [exposures] that kind of vibration can really become apparent. I didn’t find any problem with that. I was glad to find this out as there are some cameras that really have that kind of problem when they have such a high Megapixel count, but it didn't happen with Canon.”
As for the ISO performance of the 5DS Joel admits: “The standard ISO range of this camera is not the same as the 5D Mark III – it has two stops less (6400 v 25,600) – but I actually never go beyond [ISO] 6400 and when I was testing the camera at night I had a half moon [to help to light the scene], so I didn't need to go up to 6400. I stopped at around ISO 3200 and I did a long exposure so I could have a coastal landscape with the stars just bright in the sky, not star trails. I was expecting an image like that, when seen on a computer, to have problems because it’s a lot of pixels; it’s high-resolution and a long exposure but actually the result is really amazing – it’s really good, perfectly on par with what I get with the Mark III. I was impressed.”
Joel has a clear modus operandi when shooting landscapes on location – preferring to manually focus and make use of the Live View mode in his EOS cameras. “I always use Live View when shooting landscapes. For me, Live View is not just a gimmick and Canon – and I’m not doing any favours here – for me, has the best Live View [system] on the market because I can really put the image [on-screen] at 100% and manually focus precisely where I want… and the image I get from the camera is crisp and clear. I can really see detail and I can focus accurately, even when there is low-light. There are a lot of cameras out there from different brands that can amplify to 100% but the image is not clear; you don't understand exactly what you are focusing on and how precise it is.”
He adds: “Another thing I really, really love about Live View is the real-time RGB histogram. When you are shooting digitally you cannot afford to under-expose because you know that you’ll lose a lot of information and that will mean a lot of noise in the shadows – I don't want that. So, when I’m shooting I always have the real-time RGB histograms and I expose to the right without clipping any of them, so I can see by each channel which one of them is about to get clipped and I can protect data that way.”
Joel reveals: “I shoot at a low level, or even higher than me, but most of the time below eye-level. Of course, when you're shooting for a long time you cannot be leaning through a viewfinder as amazing as it can be – large and so on – it’s completely different to look at a Live View image and really compose and have those gridlines and adjust. I’m completely obsessed about lines and how they ‘play’ together so Live View is really a powerful tool for me.”
When Joel is shooting portraits he uses the optical viewfinder and of the 5Ds’s viewfinder he says: “I think they’ve also done really nice work with the viewfinder. You can see all the information really clearly and it does not get in the way of your photography, so you can have access to that data without messing with what you are seeing visually. It [the viewfinder] is also an improvement and I liked it.”
Of the quality of the images coming out of the EOS 5DS Joel states: “It was amazing. Of course, you have to use the right lenses. The lenses must be prepared to deal with that amount of resolution because if they aren't, you’ll have problems with sharpness. I used the best lenses and I really was amazed when I saw the images. The camera [I used] was a prototype so I initially wasn’t able to see and process the RAW files. What you're seeing are the JPEGs out of the camera with just minor adjustments, for spots and so on, but pretty much they are the final images as captured by the camera.”
He adds: “I was amazed to see the amount of detail you can really have and I played with ‘in-camera Photoshop’ – the Picture Styles and I used a new Picture Style; the ‘Fine Detail’ mode. Of course it [Fine Detail mode] enhances sharpness and detail in the image and I was really impressed by the amount of detail. I played with it because I already knew that I wouldn’t have a way to access my RAW files, so for every adjustment I would need – in terms of colour, contrast, saturation, White Balance and so on – I had to use the in-camera settings to get the final picture most of the time. I did some photos with and without that Fine Detail feature and you can really see the difference between them.”
“If you are the kind of photographer that shoots and sends photos straightaway to a client, or to Facebook or something like that, you can rely on those in-camera modes… but I would believe that most of the photographers who would buy this camera will always prefer to get home, sit and look at Lightroom, and process the photos the way they want.”
Joel notes: “The thing is – when you look at this kind of [camera] specification you really wonder ‘why do I need so many Megapixels?’ because I’ve been living well with 20 Megapixels, but actually it’s a pleasure to see so much detail on the screen. I actually use an iMac with a 5K screen so when you get used to it it’s really hard to come back. You don't ‘need’ it but when you see it, it’s amazing! Of course, it’s an extra tool when you have that kind of resolution and you never know what the future will bring, so it’s nice to have that kind of resolution. I was impressed by the detail.”
When quizzed on what other features he liked in the 5DS, Joel replies: “I love that most of the features that you usually get outside of a camera are starting to appear inside the cameras. The intervalometer; the time-lapse [movie mode]; the BULB timer – you need to have features like that ready to use. I was pleased to see those kind of features.”
He did, as a travel photographer, miss the inclusion of in-camera GPS but, at the moment, this is a clear trade-off between the need to have a robust body and the design compromises in terms of body strength that would be required to include a GPS system, which would require a partly plastic body to allow the GPS signal to come into the camera.
So, would Joel recommend the EOS 5DS to other travel photographers? He fires back: “Yes, I would, because the main concern would be performance. Weather sealing – it has it; frames per second – five [frames per second] is enough for the kind of photography you do for travel assignments. It’s not a camera for sports [in terms of speed], so I think it’s more than suited for travel photography.”
Joel explains: “As a travel photographer the clients you have sometimes just need some part of the photo you’ve just taken because they want to use it inside an article or on a cover. You have to have the confidence to know that you have the resolution to provide a good enough image, with enough resolution, to be published. So, yes, I would definitely recommend the camera.”
“I’m looking forward to having two of these bodies but I have to manage a way to upgrade my system (he laughs). I would definitely love to have one or two of these cameras in my kitbag,” reveals Joel. “I’ve just had the chance to use the 5DS but I would definitely also have the 5DS R as a second camera. I haven't had the chance to try it yet but with the low-pass filter cancellation [of the 5DS R] I would love to see 50 Megapixels on a 5DS R. In terms of a kitbag, probably when shooting people why not use the 5DS and when shooting landscapes take out the 5DS R and use it.”
When asked for his final thoughts on the EOS 5DS Joel admits: “I was expecting this camera to have compromises, because it has a huge sensor and you know that when you have a huge sensor you have small photo sensors and then the ability to gather light is not as good. But I was really impressed. I was expecting more trade-offs… I was expecting ‘you can have this resolution but you lose this and that and that…’ but actually on the key aspects of the camera I didn't lose anything. So, that was good to find out.”
And as for shooting high-resolution files at 5fps, Joel reveals: “I was also expecting slightly sluggish operation because it’s a lot of data to crunch – five images per second makes it about 250 million pixels [of image data] to process in just one second… so I think it’s pretty amazing that a camera can do that. I know people always expect cameras to be [fast] like racecars but this camera has a target [audience] it is aimed for and they've nailed it! The camera is really good and familiar [to handle] – it delivers.”
© Magali Tarouca
Joel Santos was born in Lisbon, Portugal, and although he holds a Master‘s degree in Economics and Management of Science and Technology he has now dedicated his career to his greatest passion: photography. His photographs and articles are frequently published by photography, travel and corporate magazines all over the world, and have featured on more than 30 covers and in hundreds of articles. His work has also been shown in several individual and collective exhibitions in Portugal, Poland and East Timor, among other countries. He is the author of the best-selling book ‘Photography: Light, Exposure, Composition, Equipment and Tips for Taking Photographs in Portugal’ and has won several national and international photography awards. His work is frequently featured on Portuguese TV and Joel regularly leads photography workshops all over the world.