New Camera, Random Thoughts

Using a new camera and housing for the first time is always a bit nerve-wracking...all the more so when you've got limited time, a fever, bad weather, and skittish I did in Izu.

Plus, just to add to my anxiety, a bunch of people were expecting me to get good photos, none of them allowing for the (entirely realistic) possibility that I could flub up and botch the whole trip.

pair of squid

Just days before my departure, I got a Canon 5D Mark II, the successor to my favourite camera for the past several years, the original EOS 5D.

Yes, I know. The camera has been out a while, but there wasn't much point for me to invest in one until I had a housing for as soon as I had a Zillion 5D Mark II housing in my eager hands, I got the camera and headed to Izu.

There's been so much written about the 5D Mark II that I'm not going to bother talking about specs and such. Just Google the camera name and you'll find plenty of technical information about it.

I am, however, going to tell you that after four dives with the camera...I love it. Here's why:

By way of background, I've used a number of Canon DSLRs over the past several years, including the 1D, 1Ds, 1D Mark II, 1Ds Mark II, 1D Mark III, 5D, and 40D. Of all those cameras, the 5D was my favourite.

It's the right size for my hands, so I don't get as tired carrying a couple of them around all day as I do with the larger 1D cameras, and the colour rendition seems the nicest of all the Canon cameras I've least to my eye.

Also, I'm a simple shooter, meaning I stick to the basics...i.e., as long as I have control over shutter, aperture and ISO, I'm happy. I don't fiddle too much (especially underwater) with the options and additional functionality available on DSLRs, so the 5D was perfect for my needs.

With this in mind, I had high expectations for the 5D Mark II.

The camera didn't disappoint. As you can see from the photo at the top of this post and from my earlier post about the squid I photographed in Izu, the colour rendition of the 5D Mark II is outstanding.

I shot the squid image above at ISO 320, with the aperture pretty wide at f5.6, shutter set at 1/200, and illumination for the squid from two Inon Z220s set far to the left and right, pointed nearly straight out. I was using a Canon 17-40mm lens, zoomed in close to the 40mm end, with a Pro-One Dome and a +2 diopter.


Why did I choose these settings? Well, in short, because I had to. It was pretty dark, so I needed to use a relatively high ISO to pick up ambient light, but also, my strobes were mis-firing and not putting out enough juice.

No matter what I tried, I couldn't get the strobes to work properly, so I needed the extra camera sensitivity to be able to wrap sufficient light around the squid. (I think I've figured out the cause of the strobe difficulties. I'll write about it later once I can confirm.)

To say that I was worried about how the images would turn out is like saying I was sorta nervous on my first date!

Fortunately, the camera performed beautifully. Despite the relatively high ISO (I usually prefer to stick to ISO 100, or up to 200 max), the noise levels were fine. I'm not a pixel-peeper, so my criterion was viewing the files at 100% on-screen and checking for ugly stuff.

Despite the difficult lighting situation, the camera did a great job distinguishing the nuances in light levels to make the squid look 3-D and not flat (as they appear in many photographs I've seen of them).

If I had one gripe, it's with the autofocus. The reason I switched from Nikon to Canon many years ago was Canon's superior AF on the long lenses I use topside. Underwater, in dark conditions, Canon AF doesn't work as well as I'd like.

Obviously, the AF is good enough for me to get the photos I need, but it just seems to be less zippy than it should be...primarily in low EV conditions and with macro subjects. This was true with the 5D, and it doesn't seem to have improved any in the 5D Mark II.

Again, I'm not a technical expert...I just know what I experience.

From what I hear from friends, the recent Nikon DSLRs have excellent AF, so I'm looking for an excuse and the circumstances to try a Nikon D700 underwater...[insert sound of me clearing my throat]...a not-too-subtle hint to anyone who might be in a position and of the inclination to send a camera my way!

But, the minor AF issue aside, the bottom line is that I'm happy enough with the camera that I'll be getting a second 5D Mark II body soon, which I'll be putting to work in a Seacam 5D housing that I'll have my hands on shortly...[insert video clip of me rubbing my hands together in anticipatory, lustful manner].