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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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October 11, 2007 7:08 PM

Mark III Misses the Mark, Part I

Posted by Rod Mar

Thanks to all of you that have noticed that I'm shooting with new cameras. Man, you guys really read the fine print!

Last week, I received two brand-new Canon 1D Mark III's, which are the latest top-of-the-line professional cameras from Canon, which is the brand used by the staff at the Seattle Times as well as pros all over the world.

There are many many great things about this new camera -- improved imaging, a "live-view" option that lets the shooter see through the viewing window (like a point-and-shoot camera), and, very important to sports photographers — amazing ability to shoot in very low light.

In previous posts, I've written about using on-camera flash at high school games, as well as the options of shooting available light. The Mark III removes any questions about shooting without flash.

With the last version of the camera (the Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN), shooting at ISO 1600 was a tricky, and barely palatable solution.

The Mark III shot at ISO 3200 looks like the older cameras at ISO 1000. Here's an example:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 3200, 1/400 sec.,f2.8)

Pretty amazing, if you ask me. For you old-time film shooters out there, my colleague Mark Harrison likened the improvement to when Kodak came out with their T-Max 3200 black-and-white film, which revolutionized low-light film shooting, and he's absolutely right.

So what's not to like about the new camera?

Actually plenty.

Steve from Texas writes:

"I noticed that all this week's shot were with the ark III. How did the focus tracking work for you? There is much discussion on the web concerning this issue. All your shots were crystal clear. Has your "keeper" rate increased,decreased or remained the same with the new body?"

Yes, believe it or not, Canon's new flagship camera...has trouble focusing.

And it isn't a rare isolated problem. The camera has trouble tracking subjects in its autofocus. Further, the problem is worse in bright, sunny conditions with low ISO's.

It's a well-documented problem, and Canon has acknowledged the problem.

Over at Rob Galbraith's informative website, their staff has put together an exhaustive study of the problem.

Also, it's been a hot topic on the Sportsshooter.com message boards.

Important note — pleaes keep in mind that the following evaluation is NOT scientific, but rather based on my personal experiences with the Mark III and the each previous generation of the EOS-series of digital SLR's.

I received the camera two weeks ago, and tested both at a youth soccer game before I went to San Francisco for the Seahawks/49ers game. I noticed that some images were a bit fuzzy, and I thought I detected some front-focus (point of sharpest focus is in front of subject) issues.

Here's a full-frame example, which looks pretty sharp (note — all images are shot with a single autofocus point in the middle of the viewfinder).



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 100mm, ISO 640, 1/1000 sec., f2.8)

Take a close look at the player's face — it's a little fuzzy, even at such a big enlargement:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 100mm, ISO 640, 1/1000 sec., f2.8)

Examine the grass at his feet. The grass slightly in front of him is sharper than the focus on his face. And with at 100mm I don't expect such shallow depth-of-field. Even with shallow depth-of-field, the Mark II cameras would focus on the subject. This camera seems to jump around much more:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 100mm, ISO 640, 1/1000 sec., f2.8)

The next day, in San Francisco, I noticed some image softness, but since I hadn't put many frames through the cameras, I decided I needed more work to really make an evaluation.

So last week, in Pittsburgh, I got my answer. And it's not a good answer. The camera is not very good at achieving initial focus, nor tracking in servo-mode. And, I occasionally get a frame that appears to have some weird shakiness throughout.

I'll continue this post in another entry, since it's getting pretty long and involved.

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Posted by matt

11:25 PM, Oct 12, 2007

i feel your pain... my entire wake forest/nu football take was nearly unusable. so i went back to the markii.

you are right, night football is great, but daylight, backlit is terrible. i have also had a problem with the cameras not reading flash cards (yet they will reformat in markii cameras). we have already sent two of our initial six in for repairs, which were not satisfactory, and i guess we are waiting before we buy anymore.

Posted by Mr. Michael

12:13 AM, Oct 13, 2007

Man, what a pain! Actually, I'm of two minds on this one... I'm disappointed that the Mk IIIs have this problem from the standpoint that I was looking for an improvement in low-light digital shooting...

But then I'm relieved because I haven't purchased one yet, and now I don't feel so left out. I'm terrible... as soon as I got my 5D I was blown away by how much better a camera it was over my previous set... and then within a month I wanted something even better. I was both hoping and fearing that the Mk III would be that better camera. Now I don't feel so bad for not jumping.

But what a pain for sport shooters!

I wonder if Canon can/will fix it with a firmware update. I sure hope so.

Posted by John Bates

3:49 PM, Oct 15, 2007

Without meaning to sound skeptical of the Mark III focus problems:

It looks to me like the boy is leaning forward, out of the DOF from the center focus point. In other words, the autofocus at the center point *looks* sharp (although we don't have the full crop to compare), and the boy's face is slightly in front of the DOF "boundary".

Can you post the full crop from the actual center point? The shield?

Posted by Phil

4:06 PM, Oct 15, 2007

I agree with the last post. The boy is leaning forward and out of the DOF plane. The focus point is on the boys chest which is in focus.

I suggest the reviewer learns how to use this complex camera properly before he jumps on the bandwagon of photographers lining up to slag it off !

Posted by Victor

4:24 PM, Oct 15, 2007

"And with at 100mm I don't expect such shallow depth-of-field."

This is an absurd comment. Depth of field is not camera dependent. Given a sensor size and lens settings, the depth of field will be a constant. If the depth of field is shallower than expected, I suggest the expectation is wrong.

Posted by Rod Mar

4:38 PM, Oct 15, 2007

Wow, the lads in the UK have taken up defense of the Mark III!

Good for you guys -- I hope you get the chance to use the camera soon.

The point I was trying to make, and that I obviously didn't make very well, is that the autofocus jumps, and erratically at that.

I can take your criticisms that I'm no expert. But my friends at Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and many metro dailies have shelved their Mark III's until Canon can find a fix. And yes, Canon has acknowledged the problem.

I'll shoot over 100 major sporting events this year, and at 2,000 frames per game, I feel pretty comfortable knowing what my equipment can do and not do.

And Victor -- in response to my comment that "at 100mm, I don't expect such depth of field", you say, "depth of field is not camera-dependent". 100mm refers to the lens, not the camera.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting!

Cheers,

Rod

Posted by Shaun_nyc

4:59 PM, Oct 15, 2007

Rod,

When & where has canon acknowledged the MKIII AF problems ? This is huge news for us non pros that laid out almost 5k for soft pictures. I guess a recall or class action suit is close behind? What a relief

Regards
Shaun

Posted by bud Hines

8:02 PM, Oct 15, 2007

Why are the fan boys having so much trouble understanding a well written article by a respected "real" sports photographer for a large newspaper. It's as simple as this......his cameras don't work, and he needs them to work....His fellow professional sports photographer friends Mk3s don't work....I would have to believe after all the reports that have been posted by users, who use them every to to get their job done, that a lot (probably all) of the Mk3s don't perform up to professional standards. If some owners can't see the problems, for whatever reason, then good for them...ignorance is truly bliss. But to say the author needs a lesson in spelling or that the boy in the photo may be leaning forward an inch or two is truly having your head in the sand.

Look at the rest of the pictures in the article.... of a real football game...and you will understand why most, if not all, of these cameras are being returned or waiting for some sort of resolution from Canon. Keep smiling!

Posted by Daniel

11:25 PM, Oct 15, 2007

Both of my Canon Digital Rebels XT's have focusing problems. One was almost brand new and the other was about one year old. I believe that the flaw is a manufacturing and engineering problem, not from wear and tear.

Horizontal photos were out of focus and vertical photos were sharp. Took me about one month and 500 photos took figure out what was wrong.

Called Canon Customer Service Dept. and lady acknowledged that there is a flaw across their COMPLETE LINE OF DSLR's. Since it was out of warranty, they charged me $200.00. I believe this should be a recall issue, but since it's really hard to detect, Canon prefers to keep it quiet.

My friend called Canon a couple of weeks later and the Customer Service Rep. claimed he's never heard of such a problem. Both of them REFUSE to allow me to talk to a technician.

Therefore, as a long time Canon camera fan, I am switching over to Nikon. Shame on Canon for hiding a serious problem.

Any questions, please e-mail me at dandear99@hotmail.com

Posted by Victor

11:28 PM, Oct 15, 2007

Yes, I know 100mm refers to the lens. At 100mm and whatever f-stop you chose, given the sensor size, there will be particular depth of field for the focus distance, period. How could it not be as expected unless you were expecting incorrectly?

Posted by Rod Mar

11:43 PM, Oct 15, 2007

victor,

perhaps we are not speaking of depth-of-field in the same way. i'm sure you're technically correct, and what i'm referring to is the part of the photograph that is in focus at a given focal length, with respect to the distance the subject is from the camera.

for example -- if shoot a very tight portrait of you, focused on your eye, with a 100mm lens @ f2.8 (full-frame 35mm vertical image) that shows half your face, your eye will be in focus but your ear will not. if i have you stand 20 feet away and shoot that same 100mm lens @ f2.8, again focused on your eye, your entire body will be in sharp, correct?

that is what i mean in the example of the soccer kid. the part of the frame that is sharp is far too shallow for a subject that far from me given lens, aperture and distance.

the boy's shirt is sharp, and the grass in front of him is sharp. but his face should be sharp too, and it's fuzzy. it's sharp in three of the other frames in the sequence.

if you look a part two of the post, you'll see what i mean when the ball appears sharp and the face is not on the last series.

thanks for your interest.

Posted by Raimund

3:24 AM, Oct 16, 2007

> And, I occasionally get a frame that appears to
> have some weird shakiness throughout.

I am having the exact same problem!

Well the other problems too ;)
The camera seems to lose track very easily and than switches to the nearest high contrast source.

Did you try to set (against Canon recommendations) III-2 to +1 or even +2?
This kinda overplays the problem since the AF constantly tries to focus on everything in range of the selected (center) sensor.
Though I only tested this with a short sequence and others reported the function is working as designed for them - that means ignoring obstacles and continueing to track the original subject. My III seems to react instantly on obstacles and after that waits for the designated amount of time when III-2 is set to -1 or -2. That equals to frames OOF.

It's als recommended to set III-8 to 1 to add side assist points.

Would love to read more about your findings.

Posted by Michael D

8:44 AM, Oct 16, 2007

As a fellow professional photographer, I have to say that my Mark III is having the same issues, even with the most current firmware. I just need this to work! My 1D works in situations that the Mark III won't...

Posted by Shaun_nyc

4:49 PM, Oct 17, 2007

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