camera body

Haje's review notes: Canon EOS 6D

After Photocritic editor Daniela came and showed me her shiny new camera - the Canon EOS 6D - I was gobsmacked. I have used my Canon EOS 5D for a while, and for quite a long time, I had been extremely happy with the photos, but living with this nagging feeling that there was something 'off' about the 5d. As soon as I picked up the 6D, I realised what it was. The Canon EOS 5D mark III is an astonishing piece of kit. The low-light capabilities are out of this world, it takes incredible photos, and the controls are so natural that it is probably the camera body I've gotten used to the fastest. It's a masterpiece of electronics and design. However, as I discovered when I first held its baby brother, it's too large.

This may come as a surprise to someone who's met me. I'm a tall guy (around 6'4" / 196 cm or so), and I have freakishly large hands. But, when I was writing a lot of books about photography, I forced myself to use entry-level cameras - not because I particularly wanted to use them, but because one of the key things I make in my books is that equipment doesn't really matter. That is very, very true, up to a point -- but given that most of my books are written for beginners, I had to 'eat my own dogfood', as they say: I figured it wouldn't make any sense to use a 5D mk III and then sing the praises of entry-level SLR cameras.

Dead Rat Orchestra -- Concert photos taken at Islington Assembly Hall, 1 June 2013.

Anyway: Last night, I did my first gig with the Canon EOS 6D, and ran into the first time where the 6D fell short. With the 5D, you can take gorgeous 22-megapixel shots in raw all day long; I never ran into a full buffer. On the 6D, however, I ended up missing several of the shots at the concert due to the camera's buffer being full.

I can't quite convey my disappointment: The 6D is a perfect camera for me in so many ways. I love the 20 megapixels, I love the ergonomics, I love the fact that it's a lot smaller and a bit lighter than the 5D. I like that it has GPS built in (great for travel photography!). I suppose it's naïve to think that any camera can completely replace a camera that's £1,000 more expensive.

Despite this one minor hiccup, I do still think I'll end up selling my 5D mk III. In the end, the consideration is this: How often do I take concert photos (not that often), and how often do I travel and take photos (frequently). The lighter weight, smaller size, and built-in GPS are worth more to me than being able to go all rapid-fire at a gig. And, of course, there's a way of dealing with this shortcoming, too: Become a slightly better photographer, and be a little bit more selective about the photos I take.

See the full gallery of concert photos taken with the 6D over in my Flickr set!

Canon, this is completely ridiculous

$900 for this dastardly pair? You've GOT to be kidding

No doubt about it, for serious photographers, the brand new Canon 1D X has a metric tonne of reasons for why it deserves its place at the top rungs as the Canon flagship. It's nothing short of an incredible piece of kit; one that will have many a photographer drooling, and many a bank manager rubbing their hands in glee. It is, rather obviously, the most epic dSLR camera ever.

Which is, my dear reader, why I'm so bloody furious with Canon. Carrying a hefty £5300 / $6800 price tag, this piece of kit costs more than a snazzy-looking second-hand Porsche, so it had better be bloody awesome. Most signs point to 'yes'. I'm not angry about the things Canon have included in this lovely package of photographic nirvana. I'm pissy about the things they've decided to make optional extras.

Where's my GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth?

Specifically, the pieces of kit that are at the receiving end of my rage is the Canon GP-E1 GPS receiver and the Canon WTF-E6 wireless transmitter. Canon claims that they "designed the GP-E1 to share the same rugged and durable exterior construction as the EOS-1D X without adding additional bulk", which is outrageously ridiculous in itself. The very definition of "adding additional bulk" is having to attach an external thing to your camera in order to add extra functionality.

So, why didn't Canon just build it into the camera? I have heard a few potential explanations, but they're all absolute hogwash...

There isn't enough space in the 1D X camera body - Pick up the smartphone that's closest to you. Let's say, for the sake of this argument, that it's an iPhone 4S, which was launched at roughly the same time as the 1D X. The Jesus-phone contains Bluetooth, a GPS receiver, the radios needed for telephony and data traffic, WiFi, a digital compass, a 3.5-inch 960x640-pixel screen, a load of megapixels to boot, and enough processing power to edit photos on the go.

An Apple iPhone 4S is 63 cm3 and weighs 140g. The camera is 2,150 cm3 or so. That means that the camera is roughly 34 times larger than the phone, and weighs approximately 10 times more*. Saying that there isn't space to include three measly extra radios and a bit of extra electronics is just daft. If anyone tells you otherwise, hold up any modern smart-phone and tell them to shut their pie-holes.

*) Canon haven't released an official weight figure for the Canon EOS 1Dx yet, but its predecessors all weighed in at about 1,550g or so, and after handling a 1D X, I wouldn't say that this thing is going to come out any lighter, exactly...

The technology isn't there - We can't say that there's no precedent for including this sort of tech into cameras either. Say what you will about the Fujifilm FinePix XP30 (for example that it's one of the most hideous cameras ever made), but it comes with a $150 price-tag, and has GPS built-in. As for WiFi, take the Samsung SH100. Acquiring one lightens your wallet by a featherweight $130, and it packs all sorts of gadgets - including WiFi - into a package that's only 94 cm3. And it weighs less than the aforementioned iPhone 4S.

Oh, and on the issue of WiFi, a lot of us have been relying on Eye-Fi memory cards. That's right - a flippin' SD card that packs up to 8GB of storage and full WiFi functionality. I would, at this time, invite you to reach for your nearest camera, and grab the SD card out of it. Now marvel. An Eye-Fi card is the size of a postage stamp and about as thick as a coin. They can be had from about £40, too, which isn't that much more expensive than a non-WiFi-enabled high-end SD card. Tech like this is nothing short of actual magic. But it exists, and has done so for about half a decade.

So, dearest Canon, the tech is out there. I suspect you are aware of this, since most of the SD-card cameras you've sold in the last few years are Eye-Fi compatible. Oh, and do you remember the lovely Canon PowerShot SX230 you announced in February? It's a tiny, tiny camera that has GPS built-in...

Rubbing salt in the wound

If we for a moment ignore the slap in the face of not just including these features in the cameras in the first place, let's take a look at the knockout punch: The price tag of the add-ons.

Once you've plonked down a small family saloon worth of cash, do you really want to pay another (rumored) $300 for GPS functionality and $600 for the WiFi/Bluetooth features? I don't want to sound ungrateful to the Gods of Photography, but $300 for a GPS chip? You have got to be shitting me - you can build your own GPS logger shield for Arduino for under $20, and ready-built USB GPS receivers retail at just over $30.

The WiFi/Bluetooth thingiemajig is even more insulting. Its rumoured $600 price-tag is enough to buy a whole additional Canon SLR camera body. Repeating the same exercise as above, if you were to add Bluetooth to your own homebrew project, you're looking at a $40 pricetag. WiFi is a bit pricier, at $90 for the kit. Nonetheless, that still means that you, as a random average joe, can spend $130 to buy the components needed to build the gadget Canon are selling to you for $600.

Keep in mind that these prices are retail price, too - There's no way Canon doesn't have some pretty serious buying power, both when it comes to twisting suppliers' arms and that little concept of economics known as economy of scale. The components to build the GPS unit won't cost Canon more than $10 or so, and the WiFi/Bluetooth unit might cost them $40. At the most.

So, what it all boils to is that you can buy a weather-proof camera that has WiFi built in for $150 (that's 25% the price of the WiFi attachment for the Canon 1D X), or you could buy a GPS-enabled camera for $130 (less than half the GPS-attachment for Canon's flagship).

My dear Canon, do you really hate your professional photographers that much?

So why wasn't this stuff included?

On their website, Canon state that "The GPS Receiver GP-E1 has not been authorized as required by the rules of the Federal Communications Commission", which might explain in part why they decided to hold off on shipping them out. Presumably, choosing to include GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth would have to include a round of testing that might have delayed their project... But I'm sure people would have merrily waited a couple of months to have this stuff built in.

Another potential (if moderately far-fetched) reason for choosing to keep the GPS / WiFi / Bluetooth stuff external, is that these items are all transmitters/receivers. Not too long ago, for example, I had the opportunity to take photos in a military research facility, and one of the things I had to sign (in addition to the Official Secrets Act), was a declaration that I brought absolutely no electronics into the facility that could transmit or receive data. That included having to re-format my memory cards before entering the facility, in front of the security guys, and handing over my mobile phone and Kindle(!) for safe-keeping before I was allowed into the facility.

This type of thing is already a problem for journalists: It's not illegal to send text messages from a court room, but take a photo, and you could end in deep doo-doo. As such, many journos tape off the cameras on their phones, choose cases for their phones that cover up the camera, or choose phones without cameras - all to avoid being accused of taking photos when they're not supposed to . Employees that work in sensitive industries (such as GCHQ or the Security Services) are running into this problem in a more acute way: For some employees, any phone with a camera is completely banned, no matter if the camera is covered up or not. Have you tried finding a phone that doesn't have a camera on it recently? It's surprisingly tricky.

It isn't unthinkable that there are agencies that need photography but ban all and any use of any GPS, Bluetooth or WiFi. Keeping these units as attachments could solve this problem, meaning that super special scientific spy photographers can continue using Canon's top-of-the-line snapper without running foul with their agency policies. It could also be the case that Canon want to give photographers the option to not have transmitters or receivers on them in case they are taking scientific photos of some sort, that might be disturbed by any electronic interference... But surely there must be a better solution for those edge cases?

So, what would the solution be?

Okay, so I hate the kind of blogger who whines about something without offering up at least some idea towards a solution. Here we go...

If we for a brief moment accept that Canon has a good reason to not want to include radios in their top-end cameras, because a fraction of their user base might be put off by them... It could be solved very differently: Instead of adding expensive and clunky external units they could introduce expansion slots that keep the GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth chips and radios on compact-sized expansion modules, to be inserted into the camera body itself.

Obviously Canon would get big bonus points if these modules come included with the camera, so you can install them and then forget about them, instead of running the risk of forgetting your GPS unit when you really need it. This would keep the potential benefit of being able to update extension modules later. Hell, they could even consider opening up for third-party extension modules that could be inserted into the camera (RadioPopper, I'm looking at you here...), for semi-permanent extensions of functionality.

Just don't insult us by charging us $900 for a set of 'accessories' that really ought to have been part of the original product. It makes your 'flagship' look an awfully lot less flagship-like.

This article was originally written for Gizmodo UK.

Stopping down a Canon EF lens

A stopped down lens should look a little bit like this. Or a lot like this, in fact. The size of the hole depends on how far you've stopped down your lens.

If you’re used to manual lenses, you know how easy it is to stop them down. If you are a little bit more advanced than that, and have ‘graduated’ to more advanced lenses, stopping down a lens (i.e making the aperture smaller) while it is not attached to a camera body can get a little problematic. There is a way to do it, however… 


All of Canon’s newer lenses (the whole EF and EF-S series) have electronically controlled aperture. Normally, that’s great, because you can select what aperture you want with the thumb wheel or via the camera’s menu system, instead of having to do it with a wheel on the lens itself.

There is a trick you can use to stop down lenses, however. Mind you, this is probably a bad, bad thing to do, and it may break stuff. Having said that, I have been doing this for years, and it seems to work fine, without any adverse effect.

A stopped down lens should look a little bit like this. Or a lot like this, in fact. The size of the hole depends on how far you've stopped down your lens.

Stopping down a lens is done by putting the lens on the camera, and setting the camera to either manual aperture (A or Av) or fully manual (M). Select the aperture you want. Then, press and hold the aperture preview button. If you don’t know where that button is, it is probably the one near the bottom of your lens, on the side. The one that you never use. Yes, that one. Press it, hold it, and then take the lens off the camera exactly like you would do normally.

If you have done it right, you are now holding the lens, which should still be stopped down. It should look approximately like in the picture with the red circle.

Finally, this trick for setting the aperture is not a “recommended” method (not that there really is one), but at worst the “ERR 99″ or “ERR 01″ it may produce on the camera can be cleared up by turning the camera off and back on.

So why would you bother?

Well, this trick will come in most useful when you’re using your lens detached from the camera, obviously. This would come in particularly useful in macro photography, such as if you are using non-electronically connected spacers between your lens, so your camera can’t send the right signals to the lens to make the aperture change.

If you are reversing your lens with a set of reversing rings (or using my nifty homemade lens extender), it would also be useful, if you want to use the lens at anything other than fully open.

And hey, it’s a nifty trick. Sometimes, that ‘s all you need, right?

Finally, if you like this post and want to learn more about macro photography, check out my book on macro photography (in the sidebar over there →).

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