Monday, September 20, 2010

The Great Canon Rip-off – Sky High New Lens Prices!


 Lens Price If you are a full frame Canon user like me I sure it won’t have escaped you that Canon have recently released a plethora of new highly desirable new L lenses. These include an EF 70-300 f/4.5-6.6 L IS zoom, an EF 8-15 mm f/4 L fisheye zoom lens, an EF 300mm f/2.8 IS Mark-II lens, and an EF 400 mm f/2.6 IS mark-II lens, not to mention version III of their 1.4x and 2x extenders.  Plus new mark-II versions of the 500mm f/4 and 600 mm f/4 lenses are also in the pipeline. That’s quite a lot of new glass. But have you seen the prices!

I’m sure that a few of these lenses may have been on your wish list as well as mine, but when I saw the prices I must admit I was simply gob smacked!

Lets take the extenders for a start. The current version II of these sell at about £260-£270 within the UK, but the suggested retail prices of the new versions are £549.99. That’s a price increase of around 107%. Sure there may be some improved optics, but a price increase of that much…wow.! They are going to have to be really, really good.

EF300mm-f2-8L Lens Next I’d like to mention the EF 300 mm f/2.8 IS USM lens. This is a lens I’ve have coveted ever since I had the chance to borrow one for a brief time at one of my kids school sports days. It’s a simply fabulous lens, receives 10/10 reviews and is generally regarded as one of the best pieces of glass in Canon’s current line-up. One wonders just how this could be improved? It’s also a lens that really seems to perform with the 1.4x and 2.0x extenders so would be ideal for wildlife photography too. Ever since that sports day I’ve paid close attention to the price of this lens, which was around £2,500 and just too much to fork out back then. To my horror the price of this shot up to around £3500 plus in January 2010 with Canon citing falling exchange rates (more on that below) necessitating an across the board increase in lens prices. To be honest the lens then became just a pipe dream.

The new version II of this lens is priced at a staggering £7,499.99 which is a inordinately large sum for a 300 mm lens no matter how good it may be. This is an increase of over £4000 on the previous model. How on earth can Canon possibly justify such an increase no matter how good the lens performs?

According to Canon the new 300mm f/2.5 mark-II has a the new IS version II, is a lot lighter due to new titanium components, and has 16 lens elements with high performance fluorite elements. However, the current 300mm f/2.8 has 17 elements, weighs only 150 grams more, and is practically the same size at only 4mm shorter. They look practically identical. IS-II is supposed to give quicker stabilisation and a up to 4-stops, but on spec. the new lens is going to have to have some sort of mind boggling, blistering, optical performance to be able to justify such a hike in price.

It will be very interesting to see what happens to the price of the EF 300mm f/2.8 IS mark-I. Normally you’d expect a lens to come down in price when superseded, but version-I is so good you may see existing supplies being snapped up quickly as many will view the mark-II as simply unaffordable.


The Yen Exchange Rate debacle

At the end of January 2010 the retail price of Canon lenses increased by an average of 30-40% across the board within the UK, with Canon citing the strengthening Yen against the British pound necessitating the price hikes. Well lets just have a look at that shall we. image At the beginning of 2009 you’d get around 130 Yen to your pound, but from January through till August the value of the Yen to the British pound actually fell reaching almost 157 yen to the pound. This meant Canon were actually earning more Yen for their British sales within that period. Were prices reduced in the UK? No they remained pretty much the same. During the later part of 2009 the exchange rate stabilised at around 147 yen to the pound which continued through to the start of 2010.image

At the end of January 2010 the rate fell to from 147 to around 133 and Canon  duly increase their prices. The pound has continued to fall steadily against the Yen throughout 2010 but even by September this year the average rate is 130 Yen to the pound. That’s exactly the same as it was in January 2009. Yet why are the same Canon lenses still 30-40% more dearer than 21 months ago?



I see little evidence from exchange rates for justification of such a huge increase in retail prices from Canon earlier this year and I also feel that the new lenses prices seem simply extortionate. To the serious amateur like myself, and no doubt millions others, Canon is simply pricing us out of the market and items such as these will be left merely for the super rich and high earning professionals. There’s no doubting Canons expertise, research and technology is absolutely top notch, but to see new models being priced at twice the price of the previous one smacks of greed and could alienate a large portion of it’s previously expanding customer base.  It’s a real shame to see this happening as there is, without any doubt, a boom in photography and many more photographers are aspiring to acquire better quality glass. It seems to do this Canon will require a substantially larger slice of your hard earned dosh from now on.

I guess I for one, will have to keep buying the lottery tickets and hope!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wish List for the Canon 5D Mark III

Equipment Editorial

Now that I’ve proclaimed my top ten features I’d like to see in Lightroom 4. I thought I’d do the same for my other weapon of choice, my Canon 5D Mark II. The 5DMII was released back in September 2008, so has now surpassed that 18-24 month period in which camera models are typically superseded by newer and more feature packed versions. 5D Mark III The annual Photokina show in Cologne is fast approaching too, which is normally the stage for the major manufacturers to announce their latest and greatest. Having said that, Canon have recently announced several new lenses, a new EOS 60D camera body, and probably stunned the Camera world by announcing the largest ever CMOS sensor at 120 MP. So can we expect anything new, well if you take heed of the latest internet rumours there will probably be no 5D Mark III till well into 2011?

The current 5D Mark II is a fine camera and for many has been proclaimed by many as just about the best camera out there for landscape photographers. There’s no denying it’s been a huge hit both with professionals and serious amateurs alike and in capable hands can produce superb images. It does have it’s ‘Canonesque’ quirks however, many which I highlighted in my article Canon 5D II – One Year On, and I doubt Canon would ever radically change or vary from their basic design, so I seriously doubt many of my wishes will be met. I’m not a huge fan of the video functions, which looking at the 7D and 60D seems to be the headline grabbing features. It’s not that I dislike video features, but just that being a still’s photographer, they are just not on my radar as priority items. Lets get back to basics please. Anyway here are my top ten, in no particular order:

  • Built in GPS: this must be a long overdue feature and probably an easy one to implement. There are many GPS tracker devices out there (I have an AMOD AGL 3080) and the prices have dropped significantly in the last year to where you can pick one up for not much over £60, so the hardware addition should not be that expensive. Currently however, getting GPS data back into your RAW file EXIF metadata is still a tad fiddly although can be achieved by free software. I certainly hope Canon don’t take the route of an add on GPS device that sits in the hot shoe, that would be disastrous and no doubt expensive to the consumer. If GPS were in-built this would be an upgrade deciding feature for me.
  • In-Built HDR processing: a complete wild card this one, but wouldn’t it be nice. If know the purists will always want total control on merging multiple exposures, but I’m sure Canon could come up with something pretty good.
  • Electronic Level: image this feature is present in the new EOS 60D and has been a regular features on competitors cameras for a while, so a must for any new Canon Camera now. At last we’ll be able to ditch the hot-shoe bubble levels, but we need to be able to see this through the viewfinder not just on the rear screen. 
  • Quicker and Better Focusing: an absolute no brainer here, the current 9-point focusing system is long overdue an update, and many had hoped would have been updated with the 5DMII. The 7D features a 19-point focus system and even the new 60D  sports a 9-points system. Improved focusing in low light would be a big hit too.
  • Bigger, Better and Brighter Screen: the 5DMII screen was a big improvement over the 5DMI, but I think there is still room for a much, much bigger screen. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one where we can actually use to made subjective decisions on our photographs. Oh and please, please can we have a one-touch button to zoom straight in for a 100% preview!
  • 3 Stop or greater Compensation: It’s present on the 1D’s and needed on the 5D Mark III. Many photographers are now experimenting with long exposures and filters such as the Lee Big stopper and B+W’s 10-stop filter have greatly extended the landscape photographers day. You can just about see through the 10 stop filters with Live-View in normal light, but forget it in low pre-dawn or evening light. Canon need to take heed of this expanding and popular aspect of photography and allow tLive-view screen compensation so we can compose, focus, and adjust grads even through a 10-stop filter.
  • User Configurable Auto-ISO: auto-iso is a great feature but it’s a poor implementation of this on the 5DMII. Currently Auto-Iso chooses ISO values between 100-3200. Please let the user specify the upper and lower limits. It seems Pentax can manage this, so why not Canon?
  • Proper Camera User Settings: again, a great idea but a totally useless implementation.  User settings should be a useful starting point only. If you then adjust the aperture, ISO or shutter speed it should remain at those values. If you (like just about every other photographer I hasten to guess) have probably got got your auto-power off set for a short interval (as we all wish to preserve battery life), then as soon as your camera powers off, your User Settings are set back to their starting values. I don’t know any photographer uses the same settings for every photograph, so why on earth make them work that way? Make them work properly and give us several more!
  • Ergonomics – Tactile Buttons & Analogue Controls: I know making all buttons alike probably aids the visual appearance of a camera body, but when you are fiddling around in low light they all feel the same and it’s easy to press the wrong one. Tactile buttons would be nice; one’s that feel different and are readily identifiable by touch. They could be alternate sizes, have a textured or imprinted surface. A rubberised and larger DOF button would be a big improvement too; that tiny little button is just too slippery and awkward to locate. I also still have problems pushing down the joy-stick Multi-Control button to access the Quick Control screen, so much in  fact I’ve mapped that to my Set button. I like analogue controls and the Control wheels are great. They just make more sense and are so much easier to operate than digital equivalents. The three principals settings for any photograph are, shutter speed, aperture and ISO. We have Control dials for the first two so why not for ISO? One the front of the thumb grip perhaps?
  • An Eyecup that doesn’t fall off: another one of my major gripes (that I know is an impossible request). For a camera that costs as much as the 5DMII, the crappy little plastic eyecup is truly awful. If you’ve never had reason to remove this it may have remained in place just fine. If you use an angle finder like me, you’ll know, sooner or later the eyecup it won’t grip anymore and will easily come off. Now I always travel with a spare.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned resolution in any of the above and that’s because I’ll take it as a given that resolution will be increased and I suspect, to around 24 mp or greater.  An increase in resolution is sure welcome, but 21 mp is pretty good for me, so it’s just not on my list. Also my last few items are mainly issues I have with the current body style and operation, most which I’ve mentioned before, and which I hold little prospect of ever being addressed by Canon.

Well, those are my wishes, now let me hear yours. Comments welcome…

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When All Else Fails – The Gold-N-Blue Polarizer

Equipment & Techniques

As a amateur photographer and working man, achieving quality time for my hobby is more often than not quite difficult. For me, the main opportunity often turns out to be the family summer holiday. However, unless you’re off to sunnier climes and spectacular scenery overseas, here we have to put up with the unpredictability of the British climate. Many’s the time I’ve crawled out of bed at some ungodly hour, half asleep, and set off in the dark to some distant location only to be greeted with a sunrise that’s hidden behind a thick carpet of grey cloud. Welcome to the English summer! Once more, when I return, the rest of the family is just settling down to breakfast and I’m then expected to ferry them around and entertain them for the rest of the day and well into the evening. It makes for long tiring days, often without the reward of at least one good photograph.

Embleton Bay

But what to do when that sunrise doesn’t materialise? It’s disappointing to put it mildly, and after several days in a row it can be down right maddening. It’s easy just to give up, go back and may be even try and catch a little more sleep before the rabble awakes. But hey, us photographers have to make the most of things don’t we?

Well exactly that happened to me whilst up in Northumberland last week. For several mornings in a row I ventured out from our holiday cottage in Craster to the fabulous Dunstanburgh castle, only to be faced with dull lifeless skies. At least some mornings there was a bit of a breeze and then my Lee Big Stopper (10-stop ND) filter could be put to use. Then I remembered my little used, Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue polariser.

Embleton Bay (Sep 2010) 1035

Like most photographers, I’ve been through the coloured filter phase, and have sunset and tobacco grads and a whole host of other enhancing filters that reside within a CD wallet somewhere. But they seldom see the light of day and these days and seem considered almost bad form by some. I’m not knocking them though; they do have their place, but I just don’t seem to use them anymore. I’m certainly not adverse to adjusting my pictures in Photoshop or Lightroom however, and firmly believe that I want to produce a picture that is pleasing to me, not just a photographic representation of the scene at the time. I certainly don’t like over cooked images, if you know what I mean, but see nothing wrong with adding a bit more colour, vibrance and contrast.

During my ‘Cokin Filter phase’ I also acquired, at some not inconsiderable cost, a Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer, but initial experiments with it’s use seemed, to my eye, a tad unpleasing. It too remained at the bottom of my filter wallet.

Well, if there was ever a day for experimentation this was it. I was at a great location but with lifeless skies and poor light. Out came the Gold-N-Blue.

The Gold-N-Blue filter works like a normal polarizer excepts that it enhances blues or yellows as it’s rotated, and both to a lesser degree somewhere in-between. I found it possible to add some yellow to the skies and blues to the water which I though helped the scene tremendously. The gold certainly brought out the barnacles, shells and seaweed on the rocks, and added interest to the sky. The blue extreme enhanced the blue in the seas and when dull adds magenta.

Embleton Bay (Sep 2010) 1056

Lastly I added the Lee Big Stopper 10-stop ND filter and took some long exposures  of some rocks. Both these are exposed for 100 seconds with the above picture taken at the blue end of the polarizer at F/1,1 and the one below at the gold end at F/11. Both have enhanced vibrancy, clarity and contrast within Lightroom 3.

Embleton Bay (Sep 2010) 1060

I hope you’ll agree, both are far more interesting than dull grey skies. The Gold-N-Blue polarizer should now remain a regular in my Camera bag.



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