Archive for the ‘Photo Equipment’ Category

Canon CP-E4 – Endless Power For Your Flash

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Canon CP-E4 battery pack

I’ve added a new gadget to my equipment: Canon’s compact battery pack for the Speedlite 580EX, acting as external power supply for the flash.

Why now? Well, I have been shooting with high-end re-chargable batteries (e.g. Ansmann 2850) for a long time, but I still felt that sometimes, just sometimes, the flash succession would not be fast enough. The other day I shot a wedding ceremony in a rather dark location, and I ended up with a sequence of images where I could clearly see the flash being “too slow” to recycle: Image with flash, image without flash, with flash, without… You get the idea. While this is not a big issue, it was bugging me, and I was looking around for external batteries. The obvious choice was Canon’s original equipment, the CP-E4.

Here’s a quick review for those facing the same problems, wondering whether the CP-E4 might be the solution.

The first impression is very, very good. In the pack you get a robust bag for the battery pack, a tripod mount, and a huge instruction leaflet in 8 languages. The battery pack itself is a sturdy plastic case with a flexible spiral cable (which connects to the flash) and a battery magazine (the CPM-E4) designed to carry eight AA-sized batteries.

A lot of thought seems to have gone into the bag: it can be fixed to a belt, but you can still change the magazine and also remove the entire pack if you need it. The magazine, however, does not confirm this impression. While it seems to be quite robust, I think that the small “noses” (that add stability to the batteries) can break off when you have to change batteries quickly on location. Well, time will tell.

Canon CPM-E4 battery magazine

You can mount the battery pack to any camera body using the tripod mount. But before doing so you should take note of the following section in the instruction leaflet (highlighting by me):

When using an EOS DIGITAL camera with the Compact Battery Pack CP-E4, images may contain noise due to electromagnetic interference. Therefore, be sure to keep the battery pack at least 5 cm/2 inches away from the camera body. Also, do not directly attach the Compact Battery Pack CP-E4 to the tripod socket on an EOS DIGITAL camera other than an EOS-1D series camera. When using an EOS DIGITAL camera other than an EOS-1D series camera, attach an optional battery grip to the camera’s tripod socket, the attach the Compact Battery Pack CP-E4 to the tripod socket on the battery grip.

So I should be lucky because I am using 1D mark IV bodies. But when I tried using the camera with the battery attached to the tripod mount, it did not work very well.  The camera became unmanagable with that “thing” attached. The battery pack not only adds considerable weight (which is already quite high with the camera and the lens and the flash); it also prevents an easy and secure grip to controls I use often (e.g. the vertical shutter release). So for me this is not a good solution. For me, the only way to use the battery pack is at the belt.

Also, when mounting the CP-E4 to the tripod mount you actually can not mount the camera to a tripod any longer! The geniuses at Canon just forgot to add a tripod mount to the battery pack!

But does the battery pack work? Does it help with shooting? Oh yes, absolutely! It works like a charm. Where in the past a flash powered by weak batteries would be available after, say, two or three seconds, sometimes even longer, it now is available right away, shot after shot after shot. When shooting in a quick succession (which happens often at weddings), every shot now gets a flash. Jee-Ha!

But before getting too excited, please watch out to not shoot continously. The instructions say:

During continous shooting, avoid taking more than 20 sequential shots using the flash. If you do take 20 sequential shots using the flash, take 10 minutes intermission before taking another shot.

This warning is in line with the warnings of the Speedlite 580EX instructions, so it seems to be a real risk for your flash.

Finally, you need to make a decision whether to use the custom function 07 of your Speedlite 580EX. This setting controls the way the power (from both the internal and external batteries) is used. By setting C.Fn-07 to “0″ the recycle will use power from both the Speedlite’s internal batteries AND the CP-E4 external battery. This is the default setting. While this gives you the maximum power available for your flash, you should be aware that this drains all the batteries in a uniform fashion. But the Speedlite 580EX needs some power for controlling the flash. So if you drain both internal and external batteries, you may end up being unable to use the flash at all. All 12 batteries need to be replaced then, and this may take some time. This will be avoided by setting C.Fn-07 to “1″. This setting uses the external batteries (if connected) as single source for the flash and the internal batteries as single source for controlling the flash. If your external batteries are empty, you just have to exchange them (e.g. by using a pre-filled CPM-E4) and you can continue to shoot shortly after.

The price for both pieces is just a bad joke. The CP-E4 (including bag and CPM-E4) cost me 140 Euros net, the additional CPM-E4 came in at 39 Euros net. Wholy moly! 39 Euros for a flimsy piece of plastic with no intelligence whatsoever? Canon surely knows how to charge extra for just their brand name! I admit, that I am quite reluctant to use unbranded components since I want to keep the warranty of my bodies. (There are cheaper knock-offs of the CP-E4 and the CPM-E4 available on the Internet.)

:: Pro’s

  • Endless power for your Speedlite 580EX flash
  • Robust product with a cleverly designed bag
  • Easy to handle in all situations

:: Con’s

  • Unsuitable for attaching to camera body
  • No tripod mount if you attach the pack to the camera body
  • CPM-E4 magazine is not as solid as the CP-E4 housing
  • Way too expensive for just a few pieces of plastic
  • No power level indicator (just a red light)

:: Summary

The CP-E4 is the external battery of choice for your Speedlite 580EX, and it will give you the power you need to survive exhausting shootings. Be prepared to pay a huge price for using original Canon equipment, and do not get too excited about mounting the external battery to your camera (it won’t work in practice).

RescuePro’s Amazing Customer Service

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

When we came back from South Africa and Botswana, I seemed to have an issue with one of my many SanDisk memory cards: On that card all the content seemed to be gone, but the file system seemed to be intact, and the card was working as designed; I could access the card without problems. I was completely puzzled as I never had that before. I was looking for help on the Web, and I came across LC-Tech, the company that offers RescuePro, PhotoRecovery, and FileRecovery – state-of-the art file recovery software for anyone experiencing file corruption. I downloaded the trial version, and I used it trying to recover the data.

Guess what? I have been able to recover the files fine, albeit not using the RecuePro tool (which I tried on other cards and it worked like a charm). In the end, it turned out to be all my fault. The card that was giving me the problems was a properly formatted, empty card I had never used before (purchased solely for this trip), and it turned out that I just believed that the data had been lost. In fact it was just the wrong card. Huh? Yes: One of the memory cards with the images had slipped deep into the camera bag into one of those dark corners of the bag, completely out of sight, and I found it only after emptying the bag. When I found that card, it was the card with all the missing images, and no need for rescue software!

The most amazing moment, however, happened long after that: Ray from LC-Tech called me (and left a voice mail) to check whether I had been able to successfully recover the data using RescuePro. That’s amazing, truly outstanding customer service. Just think of it – when was the last time a company actually cared about whether a user has been able to reach his/her goals? Must be a loooong time ago. Well, for me anyway.

Many many thanks to Ray and the entire RescuePro team! Both thumbs up! Should I ever come across a real loss of data, RescuePro will be my very first choice to recover my data.

Coming in March 2012: Canon EOS 1D X

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Photo: Canon

Today Canon has finally broken the silence on the future of their professional line of cameras: In March 2012 the company will start delivering the new EOS 1D X which is aimed to replace their current top cameras EOS 1D mark IV and EOS 1Ds mark III. In fact, this move will merge the sports shooter/press camera line (1D prefix, having a 1.3 crop sensor) with their studio camera line (1Ds prefix, with full format sensors). The 1D X will have a full format sensor, so Canon is getting rid of the 1.3 crop sensors of the 1D series. The sensor will have 18 Megapixel and shoot at up to 14 images per second. So this new camera needs to appeal to both customer segments, but will it?

I have not fully analyzed the specs and explanations from Canons marketing department, but a few things strike me as significant:

  1. The removal of the 1.3 crop will make many pro photographers unhappy. Over the years they have aquired lenses that work well with the 1.3 crop, and they got used to this. Also, for certain telephoto uses, the 1.3 crop was very welcome (e.g. put a 400 mm lens on a 1D mark IV, and you effectively get a 520 mm lens). This can be quite nice when you really need the focal length. (Ah, I can hear already Canon’s marketing department shouting: “Just buy a 1.4x teleconverter!”).
  2. From a pure resolution point, the camera is far weaker than the 1D mark IV as the increase from 16 to 18 MP is set off by the loss of the crop factor. Why? Well, today you put a 400 mm tele on your 1D mark IV body and get effectively a lens that behaves like a 520 mm tele, and you get an image that is 16 MP net size. With the 1DX you will shoot with the same lens (400 mm) an image that is 18 MP in size. But to get the same visual impression (of a 520 mm lens), you need to crop out the center of the image and end up with roughly 10.5 MP image size (Thanks to Joe Lechner for pointing this out in the comments). So, the new camera is actually a lot weaker (a 16 MP image today vs. a 10.5 MP image with the 1DX). This could be a real issue. For example, sports shooters will find that the action is further away (with the 1D X) than today. They will shoot the image anyway (I don’t think many will upgrade to the EF 500/4.0 L IS II USM lens) and the photographer or image editor will have to crop the image radically before sending/uploading.
  3. I don’t think that the number of frames per second actually matter much. Whether I get 10, 12, or 14 frames per second, is not really important. Well, again, sport shooters may disagree on this. They want to capture the action and select the best image from the lot.
  4. Unfortunately, it remains entirely unclear whether Canon has improved the accesibility of the sensor for manual cleaning (the auto-clean is not good enough). My experience with the 1Ds mark III is terrible. I have to spend a lot of time if I want to get the sensor entirely clean. This is much easier with the 1.3 crop since the sensor is smaller but sits in the full-format back, so their is an unused “border” surrounding the sensor which does not need to be cleaned thoroughly. While I manage to clean the 1D mark III and 1D mark IV fast and easy, it’s a pain on the 1Ds mark III. I guess that Canon has not improved this situation. This is a big minus.
  5. The most obvious improvement on the 1D X is the high ISO which allows you too shoot at up to 51200 ASA. If the noise is acceptable, this ALONE would be a good reason to buy the 1D X, but I will wait until the first genuine test shots are around.
  6. The megapixel madness has come to a halt, finally. I see very little reason to go back to 18 MP from 21 MP now, unless you need the other features of the 1D X, e.g. the high ISO or the 14 frames per second. The 1Ds mark III will continue to be the first choice for serious studio photographers, along with the 5D mark II. Well, unless the new 5D mark III – which should be announced this winter/spring – will take the technology into a different direction. It could well be that Canon wants to position the 5D mark III as their professional studio camera while the 1D X will target mostly the press photographers.
  7. Other than that, I see improvements in many aspects, but these are tiny. Two CF card slots, good. Ethernet port, good. Yet another arrangement of buttons and joysticks on the back of the camera – well, well, was that really necessary? Filming functions, only new for the 1Ds mark III owners. New autofocus system, did we really need a new one?

So, after all this long waiting time, this was a somehow disappointing update. I think that the 1D X was created mostly with the press photographers in mind. And somehow it looks like this will be one of the very last top DSLR camera that features a traditional view finder and a mechanical mirror. The trend is heading for mirror-less cameras, and this will also hit Canon’s top products at some point in time. The merging of 1D and 1Ds is a first indicator that the market for top DSLR cameras is shrinking. I will also wait for the 5D mark III and study the specs in detail before deciding whether to go for the 5D mark III or the 1D X in the future. The 5D mark II has probably taken over the top segment anyway, so Canon is wise enough to focus on this camera. This will earn their money.

My new EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Today, the latest addition to my lens collection has arrived: The Canon EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM, and it’s image stabilizer really blows me away. I am used to working with the non-IS version of the lens, and it was already very good in terms of image quality, i.e. sharpness, distortion and colors. But this lens, whew, it’s just amazing.

And I can easily prove it. Below is the first test shot. It is 1/50 sec from hand at 200 mm on a 1Ds mark III body. Usually, with the old lens, I would have required at least 1/200 sec, better 1/250 or 1/300, to get a decent shot. But here, the image stabilizer works its magic, and I can shoot at 1/50 sec. I did another test shot: 1/25 sec. at 90 mm, all sharp and clear.

This is probably the best purchase I made in years! Now all those super-dark environments, like churches and meeting rooms, can be shot entirely from hand. No more fiddling around with tripods or monopods.

Yee-ha! Am I excited? You bet.

Test shot from hand, with EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM on a Canon EOS 1Ds mark III body at 200 mm using 1/50 sec exposure time.

1:1 crop out from test shot above. The “Focus” field is clear and sharp. The image stabilizer has corrected the manual camera shake perfectly.