|Canon EOS 10D Digital
An Affordable Pro-Level Digital SLR
by Jack Neubart
I've spent some very rewarding moments with the Canon EOS 10D, enough so that I know not to bore you with technical details but rather to get on with it and relate my experiences. The tech stuff you can check out in the article we ran in issue #24 First Look: Canon 10D.
Let me begin by saying that I am a devoted Canon EOS user. And quickly add that this does not make my review of the 10D biased. In fact, it makes me more critical, since I never accept any new product as "the answer" to my photo-imaging prayers on the manufacturer's say-so alone. I demand performance, and if the camera can't deliver, then I don't want it anywhere near me.
In a nutshell, I am loath to return this camera at the end of the loan period. In fact, the 10D makes it difficult to work with any consumer or prosumer digicam. I have to remind myself that working with those other cameras requires me to lower my expectations, at which point I can move forward. But we're here to talk about the 10D, not those other cameras.
First Impressions Are Not Deceiving
What impressed me about this camera the moment I held it in my hands at this year's PMA show in Las Vegas was that it was not bulky and that it had a familiar look and feel to it (it should, since it's styled after the EOS Elan 7/7e); and appeared to handle admirably.
What I found the moment I pressed down on the shutter release button was that focusing was practically instantaneous, as fast as on the Rebel Ti, which focuses faster than the 7e, from my experience, although I have not done actual quantitative tests to verify this.
A Canon techie did explain that, owing to the CMOS-to-35mm-film aspect ratio, the focusing sensors are more spread out on this camera, hence becoming more responsive than on the Elan.
When a camera actually arrived for me to work with, I immediately hitched it to my new Canon 100mm macro lens and Canon macro-flash units and went bug hunting. I was in for a very pleasant experience.
All the Bugs Are Outside the Camera
By the way, did I mention what a joy it is to be able to put all my EOS gear to use in the digital realm--finally! OK, back to our story…
I was looking for Monarch butterflies, but they were in short supply. Something about nearly being wiped out a couple of years ago in a freeze at the western-most point of their migration. But Red Admirals were in abundance. As were all shapes and sizes of bees.
Of course, the tough part about butterflies is that they can be flighty. The Red Admirals, however, were not as skittish as the Cabbage Whites, and would "pose" for me, knowing full well I had one other obstruction standing between me and them: the wind. A breeze would kick up and toss the branch or flower about, and even the lightning-fast blitzes of light from the flash were no guarantee of getting a sharp picture. I was shooting with the lens set at or about lifesize.
Now, keep in mind the 1.6X factor on top of the original focal length of my lens when used on the digital 10D, so my 100mm lens was effectively 160mm. Anyway, setting a smaller lens aperture to squeeze out every iota of depth of field was necessary, even for a bug perfectly stationary. Depth of field at these magnifications is minimal at best. Often we try to get the head (and antennae?) in focus. With butterflies, the wings often take precedence. Getting both wings in focus is difficult enough, if not impossible, and some people have the audacity to insist on seeing both the top and underside of the wings at the same time. Good luck getting that sharp.
Anyway, I don't mean to make this a treatise on bug shooting, most important was setting the lens to the closest focus position manually, although at times I did use autofocus, manually overriding focus on the fly--no pun intended. There were lots of near misses, and some images that others might find acceptable. But I did manage to get one or two images I was really happy with after about an hour or so in the summer sun.
During this interlude, I found the 10D comfy to hold, even for prolonged periods. What I also found--and, mind you, I was shooting in RAW data capture mode--was that, after firing off a number of exposures, I'd have to wait for the camera to process the images. Admittedly, I would have some down time with a film camera, when changing film, so it's the proverbial six-of-one…
I used autoexposure bracketing and could also have used white balance auto-bracketing. In fact, there are so many ways to set white balance that I often found it easiest to use AWB and take care of the rest in Photoshop. What I did find was that many images did need a contrast boost after the fact. No, I didn't try the contrast enhancement option in the camera. That's something that will have to wait till I buy my own 10D, as will a few other features. When you're getting down to serious picture-taking, you focus on getting the image, not playing around with it.
I also wanted a good tight shot of a bee. Unless you go with higher magnifications, as with the Canon 65mm 1-5X macro lens or add lens extension (with tighter control over your subjects), you'll want to work with the larger bees. At this point I should throw up the caution flag: photographing bees, wasps, and other such critters could prove hazardous to your health. I can recall one time when my camera backpack wasn't secured properly, and when I bent over to shoot some wasps, the bag shifted, thereby throwing me off balance and nearly hurtling me into the shrub. But that's another story… [If you're going to go flopping around in the shrubs make sure you have a friend along to capture this moment for posterity - Ed]
The trick with bees and other nectar feeders is patience. Avoid sudden movements or casting a shadow on the insect. Once you've established the bee (or butterfly) frequents certain flowers, plant yourself there, with lens pre-focused/magnification set and all camera controls set as well; and wait. When the insect alights, move very slowly, until it pops into focus. Don't forget to use the 10D's exposure compensation with bright flowers. And if you're using flash against blue or gray skies (or other bright backdrop), you should still use ambient exposure compensation. The 10D, unless adjusted otherwise via a custom setting, will automatically reduce the flash exposure for a more natural rendering. You can also adjust flash output on the flash unit itself (not applicable to all flash units), or on the camera.
One important point: as with the Elan 7/7e, a custom function allows you to set flash sync at 1/200th when operating the camera in aperture-priority mode--and this is the mode to use with macro. Otherwise, I would have to use the camera in program mode (being at the mercy of the camera to determine f-stops not to my liking) or, alternatively, employing manual mode on the camera, with the flash still in E-TTL. Using the flash sync custom setting enables me to select my f-stop in aperture-priority and be assured of proper flash sync regardless of ambient light levels.
Monkeying Around at the Zoo
I brought my 200mm f/2.8 Canon lens with me to the Central Park Zoo. I was hoping for a "contra jour" (against the light) subject, so I attached the 550EX strobe to the 10D's hotshoe. Well, the snow monkeys weren't cooperating. Contrary to a few days before, when they sat grooming each other on the nearby raised plateau, this day they were off to the side, at some distance, and darting about like, well, like monkeys.
I set the 10D's focusing to continuous mode, to enable predictive autofocus. Finally, one snow monkey came into view at the opportune spot. While autofocus tracked it I watched as the eyes popped into focus and released the shutter. Flash was not the predominant light source but it did produce a catchlight in the animal's eyes - giving it a more lively and aware look.
Afterwards, I worked my way through a maze of boardwalks at the Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, only to be told it was nearly time to leave. As I was making my egress, I spotted a snake behind glass.
Not having time to change lenses I continued to use the 200mm. I was thrilled to find the snake far enough away that this optic, when planted practically flush against the glass, got it in focus. Direct flash would have created too many glaring hot spots, so I redirected the flash head upwards, for bounce. With only seconds remaining before I'd be asked one last time to exit, I had enough time for one final exposure. It was enough. I got the picture, without any intrusive shadows or hot spots. Looking at the image, I could swear we were out in the jungle. The bounce flash did the trick - helped out by a little prudent cropping.
People and Flash
The week before, I'd brought along a different digicam, with built-in zoom and flash, and managed to get some nice slow-sync exposures, and was therefore expecting much the same now. But that was not to be. In the end, I found it necessary to use direct flash, which, of course, resulted in harsh shadows. It later dawned on me where I went wrong: I had left the custom setting to flash sync at 1/200th as before, so shooting in aperture-priority mode wouldn't deliver true slow-sync exposures. I did manage a few, but in other modes, and not quite as expected.
Outdoors, I found the built-in flash did a nice job. On one occasion, I photographed a young woman knitting. I moved to her shadow side to see how well the flash would do. It did very nicely, without overpowering the exposure.
Then I moved on to find a parrot perched atop a young man's head. I asked if the flash would bother the bird, "I guess we'll find out." Well, the flash didn't faze the bird one bit. I continue to claim that the bird droppings that came moments later had no connection to my use of flash, and I left before giving anyone a chance to establish a causative relationship either way.
Some Odds and Ends
I did just that. This feature alone is enough to recommend the 10D to anyone seriously interested in digital photography.
Aside from that, the 10D delivers. Yes, high ISO images (ISO 1600) are flatter and less saturated than those pictures shot at ISO 100, but I can work with that. I didn't see evidence of serious chrominance noise--the image didn't appear especially grainy. And I didn't notice any luminance noise in long exposures--even as long as 8 seconds.
In all, I felt as if I were working with a 35mm film EOS SLR. This camera was a nice change of pace.
Will I be swayed to buy the new, less expensive digital Rebel? The digital Rebel, which also boasts the 6 MP capture on a similar CMOS chip and many fine features besides, lacks two essential ingredients for my needs. You'll find out about those when you read the hands on review in an upcoming issue.
All photographs Copyright (c)2003 Jack Neubart. All rights reserved.