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Digital Photography Equipment

Information about digital camera equipment and accessories. Also includes details on issues like sensor cleaning, backfocus / frontfocus, calibration, etc.

This page is under development.

List of gear

Item Description
Canon 10d
6.3 Megapixel dSLR. 3 frames / sec, ISO 100-3200.
My first digital SLR. I have brought this camera everywhere, and I have certainly made the most of it. I have shot in -40 degree weather, tropical jungle storms, and it has yet to give me any real troubles. I figured that the Canon 10d was the first prosumer digital SLR that had the potential to replace my film camera, while still being affordable.
Canon 350d
Canon Digital Rebel
Backup body - I have two of these, which give me not only a backup dSLR, but also the ability to have multiple lenses mounted without having to swap them in the field.
Canon Elan II Last resort backup body - my original film SLR. This camera has travelled the world without failing me, and as nearly all of my digital gear is still compatible with it, I keep it as a backup.
Canon EF 100-400/L IS Super Telephoto Zoom. Just got it, and am testing it out. Will report back soon. But so far I love it!
Canon EF 17-40/4L Wide-angle zoom. One of the concerns with small-sensor (APS) digital cameras like the Canon 10d is the focal length multiplier. At 1.6x, a 100mm zoom now behaves as a 160mm zoom equivalent. While this is great for wildlife enthusiasts, it can be problematic for landscapes and tight places. What used to be a wide-angle lens in the 35mm format, a 24mm lens gives you the same field of view as a 38mm lens -- hardly wide-angle. Unfortunately, getting high-quality glass at the ultra-wide end of the spectrum becomes an expensive ordeal. Realizing that I would need a good walk-around lens, I contemplated for quite some time over the options and settled on the 17-40/4L. I could not have picked a better lens. I had used the Sigma 15-30 ultra-wide zoom and didn't like the focusing or the protruding front element. The 17-40 is exceptionally sharp and is fast enough for most of my natural-light shots.
Canon EF 70-200/4L Medium-telephoto zoom. Trying to find a replacement for my original consumer 28-200 zoom, this has been a great lens to work with. Although it would be nice to have more reach on the short end, I find it sufficient for a lot of my outdoor shots. It has also worked well as a portrait lens at the 70mm end. Unfortunately, it does appear that a number of people have complained about backfocus / frontfocus issues when using this lens with a Canon 10d. Armed with the countless stories I had seen on DPReview, I worriedly bought the lens. Without taking more than a dozen experimental shots, I immediately set out to double-check the focus. As you'll read below, I too, had to deal with a poor focus issue. Fortunately, I have resolved it now, and am extremely happy.
Canon EF 100/2.8 USM Macro Sharp 1:1 macro also great for outdoor portraits on 10d and studio for film SLR.
Canon EF 50/1.8 Mk II Sharp, cheap "normal" lens. Can be used as a macro as a last resort.
Canon BG-ED3 "Big Ed". This is a vertical grip for the camera. Not only does it provide an excellent vertical grip, it can accommodate two BP-511 batteries, provided extended shooting between recharges. I regard this as an absolute necessity.
Canon EF 480EX Compact E-TTL flash.
Epson P-2000 Great portable storage device (PSD) that I use for all on-location shoots and travels. With a 40GB hard drive (some have replaced it with a 100GB) and an incredible screen, this is a perfect solution for additional storage in the field.
Sekonic L-358 Popular light meter. Used most often for measuring strobe/flash output in a studio session.
Lowepro CompuTrekker AW
Lowepro Mini Trekker
Backpack that has enough space for nearly everything, including my laptop. Weatherproof.
Averatec 3150 Cheap 3hr, 4lb notebook computer that does the job for travelling.
Sandisk Extreme 1GB 10MB/s CF card Fast storage for most of my shots.
Lexar Pro 1GB 80x CF card Fast storage for most of my shots.
Sandisk 1GB CF card Slow storage for extra shots.
CF PC card adapter Backup if card reader not around for laptop. I am currently using a PMCIA card reader, but a CardBus Adapter would be much faster, although more expensive.

 

Digital Camera

Sensor cleaning

Please see my article on dust and sensor cleaning.

Cold-weather shooting with Canon 10d

I decided to bring all my gear along for a cold interior trip. Turns out that we had -35 deg C / -31 deg F without windchill. I must say that I have never been so frozen, so I wasn't expecting my Canon 10d to work.

However, I did shoot about 50 shots in -20 deg C to -35 deg C. Taking night shots was really difficult, as it was hard to have the stamina (or my companions' patience!) to setup the tripod, etc.

My results:

  • Battery drain was better than expected. Still didn't quite finish a single BP-511 for 200 shots (no flash, moderate review).
  • Although I kept my camera in my Lowepro Mini Trekker for most of the time (which seemed to provide pretty reasonable insulation), I had the camera out occasionally for moderately long periods of time 10-20 mins+ (camera probably cooled to near ambient temperature in this time). I had to wait some time before I used it after bringing it back into a warm place.
  • One concern I had was that I had to hold my breath during a number of the shots as I had to be careful not to exhale on the back of the camera. It seems that the playback button and on/off switch areas would immediately condense the moisture during an exhale. If I were to do this again, I would probably attach a clear acetate or plastic to the button areas to offer better weather protection, as I would be really worried about corrosion internally due to perspiration/breath condensation.
  • No camera or lens difficulties whatsoever (besides large-aperture sticking on my 50/1.8, causing err 99 -- see err 99 info below).

Wishlist

  • Weatherproofing
  • Better protection of highlights
  • Solution to dust prevention
    Perhaps the Canon XTi (400d) solution will appear in the replacement for the Canon 30d

 

Lenses

Backfocus - Experiences

When I first purchased the Canon 10d, there were countless messages circulating on internet forums about backfocus problems. Feeling very concerned about this issue (and how it could affect my confidence in the camera), I bought the camera hoping that my setup would not exhibit these problems.

Of course, when I received my Canon 10d along with the Canon 70-200/4L lens, I was very quick to spend my first 500 shots on trying to evaluate whether or not I could see any issue. Unfortunately, my tests actually highlighted the problem. The degree of backfocus I saw on the 70-200/4L at the near end (70mm @ f4.0) was quite significant, especially if the subject was just outside the minimum focus distance. The autofocus error was in the order of centimeters, which could obviously ruin many shots.

Imagine shooting a portrait, and having the ears in focus, rather than the eyes. This would be unacceptable. More importantly, now that I have to use a 1.6x focal length multiplier, I was intending to use the short end of the 70-200/4L as a portrait lens.

As an engineer, it was important to be highly objective in these tests, so I endeavoured to determine the degree of back/frontfocus across a number of my lenses.

Backfocus Tests (see Mishkin)

Note that the test methodology is critical in such an evaluation. There are so many factors to consider when trying to evaluate autofocus performance that it is highly probably that one will come to an incorrect conclusion by some procedural flaw. For example, one has to be careful about distracting elements, the size of the autofocus sensors, directional sensitivity, etc. in addition to the standard setup features (such as tripod, mirror lockup, etc.).

...

After finally coming to the conclusion that my Canon 10d + Canon 70-200/4L exhibited moderate back-focus, I took it to a local authorized repair centre for Canon (Photronics). They did a quick test with a lens collimator and verified my conclusions.

I sent the lenses (--- note why it is important to do this) and body to Canon for "calibration". When my gear returned, I was pleased to report that the backfocus issues had been corrected almost completely. -- repair body and/or lens

... calibration shims

Camera error - Err 99

My Canon 10d camera occasionally would lock up all functionality and display a flashing Err 99 on the display. Turning the camera on and then off would allow the camera to recover and shoot once again.

After a lot of investigation and trial & error, I discovered that the problem was with my old Canon EF 50 / 1.8 lens. Over time, dust and dirt had collected in the aperture blades, causing them to stick. Once the camera detects that the aperture has stuck, the Err 99 code is displayed. I noticed that it was only on apertures smaller than about f5.6 that I'd see the sticking aperture. I could easily reproduce this by setting aperture manually (eg. to f4.0), then pressing the depth of field preview button. This causes the aperture to close down to the desired setting. It was only when I then dropped the aperture down to f1.8 that it would then unfreeze the blades and it would work again.

My overall solution? Bought a new 50/1.8 lens (they are so cheap that they are nearly disposable!). If this had happened on a more expensive lens, then I would have simply had my lens cleaned at a repair facility.

 

Backpack

As a good part of my photography involves travel, it is vital that my backpack be well suited to the needs of travel.

  • Weatherproofing
    It is also the case that during travel one is frequently met with unexpected downpours and other miserable conditions. Having a safe harbour for your expensive gear is critical. While waterproofing would be nice, the water-resistant LowePro MiniTrekker was protective enough to handle an hour downpour while keeping the contents dry. It also shielded my camera from -40 deg Celcius ambient temperatures very well. Of course, it would not be adequate to prevent against accidental submersion (eg. river boat sinking, etc.). The newer MiniTrekker AW(???) line has waterproof zippers that might be a nice upgrade.
  • Lockable zippers
  • Comfort
    During travels, I often end up carrying a large amount of gear on my back for the entire trip. The gear (possibly including my notebook computer and a water bottle) actually weighs a moderate amount (... weight). Wearing this for extended time means that a comfortable back support and waist strap are vital.

    The LowePro MiniTrekker has a great wide strap system that is very comfortable, including a recessed section for your middle back that provides great airflow.

    The Tamrac had small straps that were not comfortable for any extended length of time.
  • Day pack storage (preferably 8.5x10 for notebook/computer)
    Whenever possible, I try to leave as much gear as possible at a safe location (eg. hidden in a hotel room, locked to a metal pipe with teflon cables), and only carry what I need for the day. This allows me to spend the entire day with only my camera bag. Having a day-pack compartment that is large enough to carry water, books, maps, etc. is vital.

    The LowePro MiniTrekker had enough storage to accommodate letter-sized objects (including my notebook computer) and will expand to take bulkier items.

    The Tamrac only provides a small triangular section at the top that requires papers to be folded to fit.

 


Reader's Comments:

Please leave your comments or suggestions below!
2007-12-15tony
 im a beginner and need help setting the cammera to take pictueres at the right i think i want to say f-stops where you choose the right place and setting in taking picyures day or night i just dont know what to do
2005-06-22benny
 

hi, congrats for your website of course.

I have a question about the mini trekker as i am wathing around for a new backpack...i wasn't able to find anyware if the lowepro day pack that is separately sold can be used together with the mini trekker or is just suited for te bigger aw II units. When you speak about "day pack" on your mini trekker you are speaking of the separate unit that you lock on the bag or just about a non-removable compartment (a fold) within the minitrekker itself.

Thanks a lot

 

Hi Benny -- The "day pack" I was refering to is the front flap / pocket. Of course Lowepro sells a "DayPack" as well, so I apologize for the confusion! From the sounds of the Lowepro website it looks like the detachable day packs are only intended for the AW II series, which wouldn't include the Mini Trekker. It appears that the DayPack relies on 4 D-rings to secure to the Trekker AW II, and since these don't exist on the Mini Trekker, I don't think it would work.

PS: I have now upgraded to the CompuTrekker AW and love it. It is the perfect mix of size and features that I need. About an inch thicker than the MiniTrekker, it allows me to carry the laptop (or papers) in the rear compartment while the front zipper portion can be just for day items and books. The integrated All-Weather cover is definitely a handy touch and has meant that I no longer carry an extra cover.

2005-02-10pbguitar
 

I really would love to get outside and take some beautiful winter shots but am scared to damage my camera.I live in Canada, where over 7 months of the year we are well below freezing. I have just purchased the Canon EOS 300D and have not used it outside yet for fear of freezing the LED or corrosion...what other types of protection could you suggest if I do ever decide to venture out in winter? Or should I at all?

 

When it comes to digital cameras, I'm strongly of the opinion that you have to make the most of it. Part of this comes from the fact that technology is improving so rapidly, and the depreciation is incredible. You have a great camera that is probably much more rugged than you might realize. Although I can obviously make no guarantees about the safety of your camera in cold weather, it is widely accepted that they can tolerate significant low temperatures without problem.

As a case in point, my 10d had no issues at all shooting in -40 deg celcius weather. Many others have shot in conditions much colder.

But, that being said, you have to be careful about condensation. The biggest issue is moving your camera between cold and warm environments. A good way to reduce some of the effects of condensation is to place your camera and lens in a sealed bag. Then, let the camera sit for as long as it takes for it to warm up / cool down before opening the bag. In addition, I know that someone else has once reported corrosion because of breath-induced condensation buildup near the rear buttons. I can see how this might happen, and next time I would probably tape up some clear plastic across the back of the camera to help shield against it.

All in all, don't be afraid to make the most of your camera! I live in Canada too, and have to deal with rain and cold for moderate parts of the year. That's never stopped me, and I'm so glad I didn't try to "baby" my camera... I would have missed out on many great opportunities!

 


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