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Technique

Le présent article n'est pas disponible en Français
June 2007

This is the scenario: you need the commission, the client is promising plenty of work, but you’re a little unsure about using a digital camera.

For some people, this could be their worst nightmare. The work is welcome, but shooting digitally is something that you have done your best to avoid.

Fear not - If you are a good photographer and you can use a computer, it really is not hard to fulfill the brief.

Going shopping

To start with, you will need a digital camera body to shoot the pictures. There are several choices from Canon with prices ranging fom €1,500 - €7,000.

The lower end of the price range includes such cameras such as the 400D and 30D. Both are very capable, but not designed for professional use. They feature the smaller 22.5 x 15.0mm sensors as opposed to the standard 24 x 36mm sensors. Their construction is lighter and they are not so well specified in terms of autofocus speed and frame rates.

The other end of the price scale includes the ‘flagship’ models, the EOS-1D Mk II N and EOS-1Ds Mk II. The former costs about €3,500, is equipped with an 8.2 megapixels (Mp) sensor and frame rates of 8.5 frames per second. Autofocus is the fastest on the market and nothing can touch this camera for capturing sports action.

The EOS-1Ds Mk II has the ultimate sensor size and price tag at 16.7Mp and €5,000 respectively. The camera renders the very finest detail and is perfect for features or advertising work, both in the studio and on location.

 

EOS 5D – designed for professional use

A newcomer to digital is well advised to start in the mid-range, with the extremely capable EOS 5D. It is priced at around €2,500 and features a full-frame 12.8Mp sensor. The construction is designed for professional use with a robust magnesium alloy body; there is little that this camera cannot tackle. If you have been using EOS cameras for a while, the layout will be familiar and for many people the manual is not necessary. Most importantly, your existing lenses will work just fine.

Most photographers have found that the demands of digital capture on lenses is higher than with film, both in terms of definition and sharpness. If your lenses are getting a bit old, then it might be worth adding a new, up-to-date zoom to sharpen up your captures? The L-series EF24-105mm f/4L IS offers great flexibility, image stabilisation and the best L-Series glass for optimum definition and sharpness.

A few extras

Just as with film, the camera and lens are just a beginning. Perhaps a shopping list of essentials might be helpful;

  • EOS digital camera body
  • Zoom lens
  • Spare camera body
  • Compact flash cards
  • CF card reader
  • Computer (PC or Mac)
  • LCD monitor (good quality)
  • Monitor calibrator
  • External hard disks x2
 

A card reader with a compact flash card suitable for the EOS 5D.

Setting up the EOS 5D

The EOS-5D is an easy camera to use, some might say easier than the EOS-1 Series cameras. For many the camera features will be intuitive, it is just the digital bit on the back that may need a bit of explanation.

Out of the box, the settings have been devised to give excellent results for a wide range of users. A few tweaks to the menus will help to fine tune the camera to give a more appropriate result for reproduction in magazines or newspapers. For the moment, to avoid complications at the processing stage, we will work only with the standard JPEG mode of capturing images rather than RAW.

Getting to grips with menus

 

It needs two clicks up to be fully on.

To start the 5D, turn the camera on. The switch needs to be moved up two clicks to enable full functionality. (In the middle position, it is not possible to set the Aperture value in Manual exposure or the Exposure compensation in the auto modes.)

As the exposure modes controlled by the knurled wheel on top of the camera, to left of the prism, and main camera controls to the right, are so straightforward and similar to film cameras, let’s concentrate on the digital functionality.

Turn the camera to Manual (M) or Aperture priority (Av) to display all options in the menus below.

On the rear of the camera, to left of the LCD panel, press the ‘Menu’ Button. A range of options is presented. The three different sections are colour coded and rather than scrolling through use the ‘Jump’ button to advance from one section to another.

  • Camera setup (Shooting menu) is red, with a camera icon
  • Image viewing and print (Playback) settings are blue with an arrow symbol. The
  • Setup menu is yellow with a tools icon.

Shooting menu

Set the image quality to the best possible JPEG - ‘L’ with the smooth-arced icon

Colour space should be set to 5500°K, or daylight, the same colour temperature that film is balanced to. Interestingly, the best results with digital cameras are obtained with a fixed white balance, rather than letting the camera change it automatically - Auto White Balance (AWB). If you prefer, it is also possible to choose a ‘Sunlight’ setting.

 

Colour space setting in the menu of the EOS 5D.

Colour space: Adobe RGB. To change, press the centre button on the control wheel and then select the appropriate value. See the screen shot to right.

Finally choose picture style ‘Neutral’

Playback Menu

In the playback menu, the only items that really benefit from being changed are Review time, AF points and Histogram.

Review time is a personal thing; it means that once an image has been captured, it is displayed on screen for a period of time. I normally set 2 seconds as it gives just enough time to visally check composition and exposure on the histogram between shots (press the ‘Info’ button when re-playing images to display the histogram.

AF points should be familiar from film cameras, except that this gives the option to show the AF point that was used to focus the captured image on the screen display.

Histogram is the most useful of these options. The camera can display either a simple grey scale or a full colour histogram showing distribution of tones in the images. The histogram is one of the most useful tools on a digital camera and by showing the tonal range in the image it clearly shows whether the image is correctly exposed and whether there is any clipping of the data in the shadows or the highlights.

Setup Menu

 

A grey scale histogram.

Auto Power off works well when set to 2 minutes. Auto rotate correctly orientates images on screen, but leaves vertical shots small and hard to view. Perhaps it is best leave this setting off.

Date and time is important and easy to set-up. Later on, it is likely that you find the ability to sort images by the shot or captured date extremely helpful. Assuming for the moment that you file your images by file number, leave the file numbering on ‘Continuous’.

Communication is designed to allow you to choose whether you will print from your camera (unlikely in a Professional environment) or to shoot, with a cable direct to a computer. Assuming you will not print from camera, choose the ‘PC connect’ setting.

The last essential setting in this menu is ‘Format’. When you have shot some images and copied them to your computer, it is important that you erase them in the camera using the format option. Do not erase them one at a time (slow) or using the computer (works on a different file system). For reliable shooting and to avoid loosing images due to corruption, always ‘Format’ your compact flash card.

More options

We have now covered all the essential settings in the camera. There are a couple more options contained in the ‘Custom Functions’ that improve usability slightly.

Custom function 2: long exposure noise reduction should be set to option 2 - On. This means that on a long time exposure of more than 1 second, the camera uses a special setting to remove noise from the image. The result is excellent, so well worth using although a 2-second exposure will actually take 4 seconds. There is no disadvantage to leaving this on permanently.

Custom Function 17: AF point activation - choose setting 0, as ‘Expanded’ can lead to selection of the incorrect focus point for portraits and detail work.

And finally, on the top plate of the camera, select the AF / WB button, press once and rotate the control wheel on the back of the camera to select either ‘K’ (for the temperature setting we made in the menu) or ‘Sunlight’. Leave this setting unless working indoors a great deal under mixed lighting conditions.

Conclusion

Your EOS 5D is now correctly setup for optimal shooting at the best JPEG quality. Images can now be copied off the compact card and handed to clients, knowing that you have a result that is equal or better than you would get with film.