Getting Familiar With the New Camera

· Reading Time: 19 minutes

Saturday, October 31, 2020

If you have been following the blog lately, you will already know that I have ordered a new camera to replace/augment my well used Canon 5D Mk3 which has been in service since 2013.  A few weeks ago, after a lot of thought, I decided to order a brand new Canon 5DS R which is basically the same camera as what I have been using with the exception of the sensor which is over 50mp as opposed to 22mp.  This effectively doubles my resolution and ability to make large prints from my images.  I had been a little shy at the nearly $4000 price tag that they were released at, and with them being about five years old at this point, I wasn’t even thinking about this body any more.  However, when B&H Photo had them on clearance through Canon for less than $1500, I really couldn’t justify not getting this body.  It was going to be a very inexpensive way to get the resolution that I was needing for my large prints through the art galleries that I have been doing from time to time.  Most recently, I had a couple of prints done at 4ft by 8ft which was straining the Mk3 files to their limits.  I could have used a 50mp sensor for those and I was very happy that I had one on order.  It wouldn’t change anything in my portfolio, but it would definitely give me some great options moving forward.

The new body came in a few days ago, but I had been out of town quite a bit and just haven’t had time to even open the box and look at the camera much less capture any photographs with it.  Granted, it was not going to be the typical new toy excitement here since the camera body looks identical to the one that I have been using, and functions largely the same.  The differences are all internal where it matters.  When I got back in town yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to pull the camera out of the box and start to get the menu items set up so that it worked just like my previous camera.  That took about an hour to get accomplished diving deep into the menus and getting everything fine tuned.  I also installed the brand new RRS L Plate so that it would mount up to my tripod and Acratech Ballhead in the same way as my other camera.  You are seeing a trend here aren’t you?  I love how my current kit functions and I am used to it, so everything that I can do to keep it the same works best for me.

When I got it all together, I was really wanting to see what the camera would do differently than what I was used it.  I was now looking at a camera that was pretty much just like what had been in my bag for years, and I wasn’t seeing much in the way of differences in the functionality of it now.  There were some subtle differences on the Live View screen which would take just a little to get used to.  I needed to capture some images to see just what the resolution would do for me, and to see how good this camera body was at capturing detail.  For that, I was going to need to go out in the field to give it a try.

Looking at the weather, we were expecting some good clouds starting around 9am and going until early afternoon.  The clouds were looking to cover Wilkes, Surry, and Yadkin Counties most favorably.  As it turned out, I had just had a very good trek through Surry County not that long ago and was wanting to go back to see what else I could find out there.  With that in mind, I had my destination set.  I was going to head back out towards the town of Pilot Mountain, but was going to spend more time on the side roads to see just what I could get into.  I wasn’t really planning on getting anything major, but if I managed to stumble onto a great scene, who was I to question it?  My main purpose was to put the camera through its paces to see just how it compared to my existing camera and to see just how well the computer would handle RAW files that were roughly 70mb as opposed to 22mb.

The Fall of Chevy“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

When I finally got into my area of operations I started to look for things that would work for the conditions that I was in.  The clouds were looking good, and the lighting was nice and soft over most of the landscape.  The colors were still Autumn-like, but the leaves were fading fast.  I ended up turning down one road that I recognized shortly after turning as one that I had been on last year at some point.  I even found an old Chevy that I had seen then.  I recalled pulling over and looking at it and deciding that it wasn’t looking quite right for any photography at that time.  The trees were all full and there just wasn’t any real excitement to the image.  This time was a bit different.  The trees were still largely full, but the leaves had a much warmer appearance to them now.  Coupled with the blue truck, I saw a color balance that I had not seen before.  The weeds had also died back a little bit which allowed more of the truck to be seen.  It wasn’t a perfect setup, but it was a lot better than I had seen before.  It was worth pulling the camera out if for nothing else to give it a quick shot or two.

I started out with my 24-70mm lens and tried to get a composition figured out from just at the road.  I didn’t want to go in too far because there were a lot of “No Trespassing” signs all along the buildings to the left of the truck.  I didn’t want the neighborhood lynch mob to come out and try to string me up, so I wanted to stay as close to the road as I could.  Unfortunately, my standard lens didn’t have the reach that I needed to get the composition that I wanted.  I was including too much of the sky in the trees above which seemed to cause the truck to get lost in the scene.  I needed to crop in closer to it.  I went back to the truck and grabbed my 70-200mm lens and transferred the Polarizer that I had already fit onto the other lens. I went back to the spot that I had been which seemed to be the best angle for this truck and zoomed into 110mm which was just perfect to fill the frame with this truck and have it surrounded by the warm colors of Fall.

The composition was a simple one with only one real subject, but it was an important composition for me.  I was going to test the resolving capabilities of this camera with a telephoto shot from this range.  I could tell that the LCD was much crisper on the back and it allowed me to focus much easier than the previous camera had.  That was always my issue with the long lens.  It just never seemed to be in focus on the LCD, but this one left nothing to the imagination and I was able to nail the focus in Live View with no problems at all.  I was already liking this new camera, but some of the buttons and functions felt and acted different so I was having to get used to that as I went.

I didn’t stick around here too long as every car that passed me by I kept expecting to stop and the driver challenging me about why I was there.  Just wanting to quit while I was ahead, I packed everything back up and got back on the road.  I made a lot more turns and found myself back on another road that I had been on last week while driving the Miata.  About the time I figured out where I was, I found an old gas station that I had recalled seeing from the car.  I had thought about using this as a location for a photo shoot with the Miata, but there was too much red.  That red was looking good under the blue tones of the sky though, and I really needed to test out the dynamic range of the new camera.  This was going to be a good location to do that with I thought so I pulled over into the parking lot.

Cam’s Corner“, Canon 5DS R, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2 and 3-stop soft ND Grads

My plan for this composition was going to be an exaggerated angle on the roof from way down low capturing the clouds and the character of the old building.  I grabbed my 16-35mm lens which I knew would be just perfect for this composition.  I also decided to use my remote release since there were a lot of find details here that I didn’t want camera shake to ruin.  I went over and started to position my Manfrotto tripod down on the ground to get that low position that I wanted.  As I was looking through the viewfinder, there was too much perspective distortion so I raised it back up just a little until things started to look right. It was then a matter of getting the separation needed between the different elements in the scene which was rather hard to do, but oh so satisfying as I got them all lined up.  I then started to check my exposure and found that there was a great deal of spread in the exposure between the shadows and the highlights.

I had two choices here with how I could deal with the exposure latitude.  Three actually, but since the 5DS R doesn’t have the reputation for having a lot of dynamic range, I didn’t want to try to rely on recovering details, so that was out.  That left me with the next option of possibly shooting an HDR series which would allow me to expose for all the different tonal values in the scene.  I got the camera set up for that and shot five frames in quick succession from dark to light.  The exposures each looked good, but going through them in image review, I could see a problem developing.  The sky was moving too quick for me and the frames were not all lined up which was going to cause some ghosting in the image which I didn’t like.

That left me with the final choice, and that was to use some ND Grad filters to control the sky.  This wasn’t perfect because in order to darken the sky, I was going to have to darken the canopy of the gas station the same as the sky.  To minimize that, I slid in a 2-stop soft edge grad which would be gradual and not darken things too much.  This helped, but the sky was still too bright for the image to be captured the way that I wanted it captured.  I added a 3-stop soft grad and slid it up just a little more than the 2-stop so that it would impact the top of the sky the most.  That seemed to work out well in the histogram so I pressed the depth of field preview button and made sure that the lines were not visible in the image and confirmed my exposure one last time.  I then started a series of images waiting on the light and the sky to become the best.  I shot a bunch of images from this point hoping to get a combination that would work.  This was one of the last ones that I shot and I must say, I am rather pleased with the dynamic range.  The sun was behind the clouds just above the canopy, so everything underneath that canopy was in the shadows.  With the help of the filters and some Lightroom tricks, I was able to pull out all of the detail in this image that I was used to being able to capture with the old camera.  It also became one of my favorites from this trek.

Good Times Gone By“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad

I was starting to feel pretty confident that I was going to be able to acclimate to this new camera in no time so I went on the hunt for more images to capture.  I was back on unfamiliar roads at this point which I preferred because I was looking for something new to photograph.  It didn’t take long at all before I saw a house over to the side of the road next to a really cool tree.  As I was slowing to pull off the road, I saw the old Ford truck parked over on the opposite side of the house.  This was gold, and I was excited to find it.  There was a barbed wire fence in place which was going to make it difficult to get in position to shoot either of these subjects, but they were good enough for me to give them both a try.

The first composition that I wanted to work on was the truck.  Since there was no bed on the truck, I saw no reason why I shouldn’t include the house in this composition to fill that void at the back of the truck.  I worked out a location to put the camera which was right at the fence.  I opted for my 24-70mm lens at scene because I really didn’t need anything longer or shorter to capture the composition I had in mind.  I also added my polarizer since I knew that there would be some glare on the glass and metal.  As I was fine tuning the image, I could see that the sky was going to cause me a bit of problem as it was kind of bright.  In order to combat that problem, I slid in a 3-stop soft edge ND Grad which brought the exposure into a more workable range.

It was the composition that I was having problems with now.  I just didn’t like the angle that I had on the truck and there was a gap between the cab and the house which I didn’t like.  I needed to get further to the left.  I could do that by backing down the fence, but then I would get clutter in the way of the shot.  I needed to get closer to the subject on the other side of the fence, but that wasn’t a possibility…Or was it?  I lifted the tripod over the fence and placed it about five feet closer than it had been.  It was just within my reach and I could see the LCD for composing the image.  I was liking what I was seeing and committed to that composition.  I got the ND Grad into position where there was no visible line and twisted the polarizer until the glass looked perfect.  It was now up to the wind to calm down and allow me to capture some frames.  That was the hardest part as there was a constant gentle breeze which moved the branches and leaves.  I knew that with this resolution I was going to have to be careful with any movement in the frame.  I captured some, but it wasn’t bad and definitely didn’t pose any distractions which I liked.

Tired of Home“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

When I was satisfied with the old truck, I moved a bit further down the fence to concentrate on the house.  this time I was trying to keep the truck out of the frame and just make this a simple image of a house with a tree to the left.  The clouds had a great bit of texture to them and to keep that texture in place, I left the ND Grad on the lens as well as the polarizer.  This image was a bit easier to compose since I could keep the camera on my side of the fence to capture it.  There wasn’t anything earth shattering about this composition either.  In fact, it was a very simple image to create.  What I liked about it was the shape of the tree, the smaller tree behind the house, and the wheels laying up against the side.  When I got home, the thing that I didn’t like about it was the green grass and blue toned sky on either side of the white house.  The color just didn’t help this image at all.  In order to concentrate on what I loved about the scene, I converted this one to monochrome in Lightroom which did the trick.

There is just something timeless about a monochrome image of an old house or barn.  This image could have been captured 50 years ago, or today.  I have even removed the indicators for the season by taking the colors out of the frame.  Without color, the viewer is forced to really look deep into the picture to try and determine what items are on the porch, and even to discover the wheels and tires around the foundation.  This is the type of image that I really like to create. It is not blatant and in your face, you have to really look into it to figure out all of the elements.  I’m glad that I went with monochrome for this one as I really don’t think that the color version was a successful image.

I looked for some other options to shoot these two elements, but couldn’t really find anything that I liked with the fence preventing me from getting in closer.  I decided it was time to pack up and keep it moving.  My truck was parked partially in the road as the shoulder here was very narrow.  No sense in pushing that luck any further than I had already done.  I got things loaded back in my Lowepro bag and continued on down the road.  Looking back on the morning, I was thinking that I probably had four image in the bag and that was probably enough to get a feel for the new camera when it came to editing.  I wasn’t quite ready to call it a day though so I just started South and figured that I would eventually come back Westbound headed to home.

Elkin Express“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad

I wasn’t really finding anything else that jumped out at me, and I eventually ended up in Yadkin County which worked just fine.  I have done a lot of successful treks in this area and was looking forward to seeing what I could run into.  I ended up around the town of Elkin, the center of town as a matter of fact.  I had been through here last week coming back from Walkertown and had seen an old CSX locomotive right there in the middle of town.  It seems that the Yadkin Valley Railroad has acquired a number of these old trains and have put them into service.  I love the blue and yellow of these trains and they are so much more photogenic than the Norfolk Southern trains that I am used to seeing.  Sadly, I didn’t have my camera then and the lighting wasn’t good anyway.  Fast forward a week later and here I am back again with great light, and my brand new camera.  Things are looking up.

I started to look at the scene critically and took in all of the surrounding elements.  I was pretty sure that I was going to be able to get a photograph here so I pulled off and parked in an actual parking space next to a sidewalk.  I tell you what, this was luxurious for me considering that I had just spent a good portion of the morning on the shoulder of the road just out of traffic to get the images.  I now had marked parking and safe walkways to get into position.  I was thinking that this train was the same one that I had seen before and looking at it closely, I started to think that this was a display.  If that was the situation, I was going to be back here again and again under different conditions to shoot this cool subject.  Since it did look to be immobile, I didn’t feel overly bad getting in close to it.  That meant that I could shoot this with a wider angle lens than I had been able to use the last time I shot one of these old trains.  I found a place in the nicely mowed yard and fitted my 24-70mm lens and a polarizer.  It was then a matter of fine tuning the position to allow me to camouflage the cars in the background as well as the shed that was just to the side of the second locomotive.  The sky was getting more and more interesting so I got down nice and low to get an upward perspective on the train allowing more of the sky to come into play.  I used the tree to the right to frame the image and anchored it on the rusted track to the lower right.  I let the train fade off to the lower left while leaving the sky forming a nice diagonal above the train.

I started to make exposures and realized that I wasn’t getting the pop that I wanted on the train.  In order to get the exposure worked out just right, I added a 2-stop ND Grad, not really to solve an exposure problem, but rather to help add a little visual punch to the main subject.  I went through probably eight or nine compositions before I landed on this one here which was my favorite.  I committed to this and watched the sky change above the train for about 15 minutes.  In that time the sun came out and doused the train with nice light while the sky was showing some really nice detail.  When I got home, I found one image that really sang to me.  It had the great light of the sun, wonderful textures in the clouds, and even a little bit of lighting on the tree in the background. That was the one that I ended up processing and it turned into my other favorite of the day alongside the one of Cam’s Corner which I had shot much earlier.

When I was finished with the train, I saw that the clouds were rapidly going away which was what the forecast had suggested.  With the bright sun coming out, it was time to call it a day and head home.  I was anxious to see how many of the images I had caught turned out as well as I had hoped.  I am happy to say that each of the compositions that I shot had yielded an image that was worth keeping and editing.  The process didn’t take too long at all as the image files were very good to start with.  I was very happy that I had put a little extra emphasis on my technique with this camera as I do believe it will highlight any errors that are made by the photographer.

The dynamic range is reasonable with the camera and very close to what I am used to.  There is a bit more noise in the shadows, but as long as I take that into account, I can alter how I capture the image.  It will all become a matter of getting used to what the files are capable of just as I did with the 5D Mk3 for so many years.  I can say that this is one of the best purchases that I have made for my kit in quite some time.  The abilities that it will allow when it comes to making large prints is worth so much more than the cost of the camera.  While it is not nearly as advanced as the RF mount cameras that are being produced these days, I believe that this is a very capable camera for what I will be using it for and I should be good for a good many years to come.

Thanks for joining me on this testing trek.  I hope that you enjoyed it, and liked the images as much as I did.  I know it has been a while since I have been out doing rural photography and I’m excited that the time of year has arrived for doing just that.  There is just something very fun about doing decay photography.  Remember, if there are any of these images that you would like prints of, I would love to help make that happen.  You can purchase directly from the store here, or you can email me at [email protected] to discuss your special order options.  Also, don’t forget that in two weeks I will be doing my very unique Decay Workshop in East Bend.  There are still slots left, so get signed up today for that November 14th workshop.

Until next time….

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