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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 12, 2007 6:49 PM

Mark III Misses the Mark, Part II

Posted by Rod Mar

In a previous post, I started describing the focusing problems of Canon's new flagship camera, the EOS 1D Mark III.

After shooting some tests at a youth soccer game and struggling through the Seahawks' road win at San Francisco, I acted against my best instincts and brought the cameras to Pittsburgh with me last weekend.

Needless to say, the cameras underperformed. And as mediocre as I can be some days, having cameras that don't function properly is just bad news.

Take for example this is a portion of a contact sheet from the game (note — all images are shot with a single autofocus point in the middle of the viewfinder):


From a contact sheet glance, the images appear sharp. And when reviewing them on the LCD screen on the back of the camera, they look sharp, too.

But upon closer inspection, there are all kinds of problems.

This is the full, uncropped version of frame at far left of the bottom row of the contact sheet. It's shot at 1/1250 sec., so movement wouldn't be a factor. Looks pretty sharp, right?



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1250th sec., f2.8)

A closer look reveals the ball appearing VERY sharp and the player's face appearing in focus:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1250th sec., f2.8)

An even closer look at the face shows a weird blurriness that I can't account for. It's like the sensor is vibrating or something. The Mark II had a similar problem before a firmware upgrade solved it. But his face is simply not sharp enough, even at this enlargement:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1250th sec., f2.8)

Of that entire series, only one frame was as sharp as an image on a Mark IIN. I thought the best composition is in the last frame (bottom row, far right) where the running back has separated from the players in the background. Not only is he centered between them, but he is also further ahead of them, giving the viewer the sense of a good run and a long gain. But this frame, in which the camera has had at least eight frames to track focus, is neither sharp nor soft in the traditional sense. It's just "fuzzy". If you look closely, the football seems to be the sharpest part of the frame, which makes no sense at all:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1250th sec., f2.8)

And a tighter crop:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1250th sec., f2.8)

Here's the all-important face:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1250th sec., f2.8)

More weirdness: the ball appears to be sharp, and is the sharpest part of the frame, but looking at it closer again reveals that strange fuzziness to the image:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1250th sec., f2.8)

The bottom line is that when the camera does not perform correctly, it makes finding the great moments of a game even harder. Instead of choosing frames by judging light, composition and moment, I'm choosing them solely by the accuracy of the focus.

I will say this — when the camera does focus correctly, the images are unbelievably nice. We used this photo of Mack Strong in the newspaper last week after injury forced his retirement:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/1250th sec., f3.5)

Editing the Pittsburgh game was tough because of this. I'll keep testing the cameras and hope that Canon finds a solution.

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Posted by Jeremy

6:49 PM, Oct 14, 2007

I'm getting the same problems with the new 40D... is it okay to assume Canon will correct this with a firmware update?

Posted by John

6:39 PM, Oct 15, 2007

Gotta ask, 'cause that closeup of #39's face is really weird: RAW or jpeg?

I have trouble figuring out what kind of optical problem could cause that kind of distortion at 1/1250. It actually almost looks interpolated to me...

Posted by John

9:25 PM, Oct 15, 2007

OK: I'm not obsessing, I'm procrastinating.

Take that head crop (2003947216.jpg). Run it through PS's smart sharpen set to motion blur, 0 degrees, 45% sharpening, 10 pixel radius. Look at the shoulder 39s: they come clearly into focus. The face is sharper, too. Works on the ball shot, too.

It could still be a software problem.

Anyway, I'm going to take out the trash, now.

Posted by Faust

10:57 PM, Oct 15, 2007

About weird blurriness...
I took pictures in RAW(1D Mark III,of course),then convert these images in 2 different converter,got different results..
The image converted by Canon Digital Phto Pro looks blur;
but converted by Silkypix,got sharpen & sturdy image!

The AWB is weird too,when you take pictures under tungsten lamp..

Posted by Faust

10:58 PM, Oct 15, 2007

About weird blurriness...
I took pictures in RAW(1D Mark III,of course),then convert these images in 2 different converter,got different results..
The image converted by Canon Digital Phto Pro looks blur;
but converted by Silkypix,got sharpen & sturdy image!

The AWB is weird too,when you take pictures under tungsten lamp..

Posted by Jimmy

10:43 AM, Oct 16, 2007

That's really disturbing. I hadn't heard about this focus glitch. I sold off my gear earlier this year because I needed the cash and I was looking to re-equip. I heard that Nikon has a new cam, 3D or D3, not sure. Does anyone know if it has focus problems? I sold all my L glass so that's not an issue for me.

Posted by Dan Smith

5:46 AM, Oct 17, 2007

Rod, assuming that you were shooting from around 90 feet away, the depth of field on your shots would be about 2ft -- a little less than a foot in front of the ball and almost exactly a foot behind it. That's enough to account for the ball being in focus and the face not to be.

If you were closer, the DoF is smaller, further away and it would be larger. Additionally, the smaller the aperture, the greater the DoF. (If figured you already knew that.)

I was shocked to call my preferred camera vendor the other day (by preferred, I've spent $30,000+, personally and professionally, with them in the last 3-4 years) and have them **talk me out of buying a Mark III** from them.

Lately, I've shot mostly auto racing (Grand Am Cup, Rolex Series, etc) and the Mark III's features definitely hold an appeal over the 20D/Mark II combo I currently use, but the variety of people who've had issues with the AF are making me hold onto my quickly obsolescing gear.

That said, I do wonder if user error is playing a part -- I know most pros, myself included, take offense at the suggestion of user error, but it's a possibility.

Posted by Ken Mott

2:17 PM, Oct 18, 2007

Canon has a fix out for this. Check the regular Canon photo forums. But it has to do with the mirror for the focusing system, you need to send it in. All future production models will be ok.

Posted by notanerd

5:00 PM, Oct 18, 2007

not only do they have a fix out .. CNET's article about the the fix gives kudos to Rod directly:

http://www.news.com/8301-13580_3-9799964-39.html

you should be asking them for free gear now ;)

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