When the EOS-1D Mark III was released it understandably pushed some of the other releases at the same time out of the limelight – the accessories and lenses that make the EOS system what it is. So we asked two of our road testers, Andy Mettler and Ziv Koren to put the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, the Canon Speedlite 580EX II, the WFT-E2 WiFi unit and the M80 media storage viewer through their paces.
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
This lens is an update of the previous version, with the aim of improving the edge-to-edge sharpness and further reducing distortion at the wide-angle end of the zoom range.
New coatings have been developed to minimise ghosting and flare that can occur with digital cameras and it uses two ultra low dispersion (UD) lens elements to help minimise chromatic aberration. It is slightly larger than the previous version – a necessity of optical physics to improve the image quality. Although it was released with the APS-C sensor EOS-1D Mark III, it is compatible with all the cameras in the EOS range, including the full-frame cameras, the EOS 5D, EOS-1Ds Mark II and EOS-1Ds Mark III.
Andy Mettler had previously used both the predecessor to this lens, and the EF17-40mm f/4L USM lens, but has since stopped using either of them in favour of this version.
“This lens is not just great for the EOS-1D Mark III, but it also works well on the EOS-1Ds Mark II - a camera I still use regularly when I need the larger file size. The edges are noticeably sharper than the previous version, and while they do fall off a little on the full-frame sensor, this is not a lens or manufacturing problem, it is simply a question of optical physics.
“The other advantage is the control of the edge distortion. The previous EF16-35mm lens could make subjects at the edge of the frame look like aliens, with big bowed heads. While there is still some distortion, it is much more tightly controlled and there is less vignetting too. In fact, it’s becoming my favourite lens – so much so that when anyone asks me which wide-angle lens to buy, I no longer enter into a discussion, I simply point them to this lens.”
Ziv Koren is also impressed: “I liked the previous version of the lens – it has a great focal length for the way I work. The Mark II version is a definite improvement. Sharpness is better at the edge and is more uniform across the frame. The handling is as good as ever and overall it makes a good lens even better. It is slightly larger than the previous version, but if that’s how it has to be to improve the image quality, it’s a good trade.”
Canon Speedlite 580EX II
Like the lens, the Canon Speedlite 580EX II is an update of the Canon Speedlite 580EX. It has been re-designed to fit with the EOS-1D Mark III and provide complete weatherproofing as well as the ability to adjust flash settings and Custom Functions through the menu system of the EOS-1D Mark III. However, it is also fully compatible with all the other EOS digital cameras.
One of the most important improvements in the Canon Speedlite 580EX II is the strengthened hotshoe mount, which provides both the weather proofing and a stronger connection with the metal foot. As an added advantage, the electronics inside have been improved and the flash now recycles about 20% quicker and is also almost silent.
When asked about the Canon Speedlite 580EX II, Andy Mettler said: “When I saw the new, apparently stronger hotshoe mount, my first thought was ‘that’s great, I wonder where the weak point is now?’ Sadly, I didn’t have to wait long to find out – the melee of a large group of hockey fans produced a knock that while it didn’t damage the camera or tougher shoe mount, did cause damage inside the base of the flash, breaking a connection.
“All flashguns have a weak point – on the older Speedlite 580EX, this would have probably ripped off the entire hotshoe. It’d be impossible to build a totally robust flashgun that could stand up to the rigours of a photojournalist’s life indefinitely. This flashgun goes a long way towards it, but there will always be a weak point,” says Andy.
“The new tougher hotshoe mount and the weather sealing will help the flash survive in a range of situations, especially when the weather gets wet,” he adds.
He was also impressed with the improvements in the electronic efficiency. “The flash seems to recharge a little quicker and be a little more powerful than the Speedlite 580EX. I’ve been using Lithium batteries in the flash, which really helps with the recycling, especially when I don’t use a battery pack with it.”
EOS-1D Mark III accessories
However, Andy was concerned about the loss of the Master/Slave switch. “Like many photographers, I usually use flash off-camera and the extra steps involved mean it is not as intuitive. No longer can I switch the flashgun to Slave without looking. I have to press and hold the zoom button, then turn the dial, and then press set, all the time looking at the back of the flash to make sure I’m setting it to Slave. With a mechanical switch it can be done by feel. While the extra time isn’t usually an issue for me, the need to look to confirm is.”
Andy isn’t convinced about the white balance either. “Skin tones when shooting fill-in-flash with indoor available light can occasionally seem a little strange – a bit too much red, magenta and yellow. Outdoors though, Auto White Balance gives excellent results,” he says.
Ziv Koren echoed Andy’s views, though he’s not broken one yet! “The extra weather proofing on the flash is very welcome, but I don’t really like the loss of the Master/Slave switch. It slows down the handling, and since I usually use the flash remotely with an ST-E2, having to wait for a couple of seconds for the flash to switch across to slave mode slows down my working and makes me less likely to use it.
“When I have used it though, the results though are as good as the previous version. The tougher mount is also great. It is quicker and easier to lock onto the camera, and the weak point seems to have been removed.”
The WiFi unit is the update to the WFT-E1. It enables several shooting options – from simply wirelessly transmitting images from the camera at up to 54mbps, to tethered shooting onto a network, to shooting directly to an external hard drive, to connecting a GPS unit and geo-tagging images. It really is a versatile unit.
Andy Mettler is a wireless network specialist. His big passion is remote editing and wireless networks. The WFT-E2, it seems, has answered his prayers. “Finally, my dream of the last few years has been realised,” he says. “Remote editing is a true possibility with the new WiFi unit. I leave it on my camera for weeks at a time. It’s very stable, quite fast and doesn’t upset the camera handling much.
“Setting it up is very easy,” he adds. “The set-up assistant is easy to follow and does all the hard work for you, and the range is good in both ad hoc and peer-to-peer connections – easily a couple of hundred metres when used with a good hotspot.”
The first question most people ask about the WiFi unit is how stable it is. With the previous version, the WFT-E1, turning off the camera would break the connection and require setting up again. Andy was overjoyed with the FT-E2.
“With the new unit, I can turn off the camera and then turn it back on later and it picks up just where it left off. One day I did a four-hour shoot and the connection didn’t dropped once. I took a break, turned the camera off, came back, turned the camera on again and it picked up the peer-to-peer connection to my laptop straight away.”
His predictions for the WFT-E2 are broad: “As remote editing becomes more widespread and accepted, this unit will play a major role in the future of photojournalism and event photography. It even has uses for the military and police to gather high resolution images quickly and easily. If, in future, it could be incorporated into the camera with a 3G data module and SIM card slot as well, it would be even more perfect.”
Canon M80 media storage viewer
Media storage viewers are portable hard disks with a screen to allow downloading of images from memory cards (both CompactFlash and SD) to free up card space or provide a backup while away from a computer. They are available in two sizes, the M30 with a 30Gb hard disk and the M80 with an 80Gb hard disk.
The 3.7inch (9.4cm) screen is bright and sharp, and allows reviewing of images so you can delete the bad ones and effectively edit while away from home. For photographers that travel and don’t need to send off images everyday, it provides an elegant and simple storage system that works just like an EOS camera. The M80 media storage viewer will store around 6,300 EOS 5D RAW files giving most people enough space for a fair amount of shooting.
Ziv has been using the M80 media storage viewer on some of his assignments. “It’s brilliant how simple it is,” he says. “It looks and works just like a camera - so much so that you don’t need the manual to get going with it. The simplicity really is amazing, and having the same interface as the camera really is a great idea. For anyone using an EOS 30D or 5D, having the same battery could be useful too – you only need to carry one charger, and if the camera battery dies, then the one in the M80 may act as a good enough back-up.”
However, he would like it to have a larger capacity. “On a long assignment, 80GB may not be enough,” he says. He would also like to see an improvement in the speed of the browsing.
“For editing in the evenings the interface, while simple to use, can seem a little slow,” he adds. “Flicking between pictures can take a couple of seconds, which when you want to quickly review your images from the day to delete the bad ones, it can be time consuming and the longer it takes, the more battery life you use. Overall, I think the unit is great, but there is room for improvement in future versions to make it a truly professional tool.”