I got a couple of Alaska Max jets on test on the same day recently. One was still unpainted but the colors were on the rudder and winglets so it was easy to see where it was going. The other jet was already fully painted and probably close to delivery. With me now traveling a little bit more and that travel being with Alaska, maybe I shall get to travel on one before too long. We shall see…
I had given the R3 a couple of trips out before I headed to Nellis. I had shot it at BFI and at Juanita Bay. However, my trip to Nellis was the first time it was going to really be given a serious blast with constant shooting and varying conditions. How would it perform and could it be the camera for me for the next few years?
First, I should point out that I have not yet had a proper investigation of the various functions of the camera and how to configure it. Consequently, I was not using it in the best way I could but was instead experimenting with it as I went. So, given that limitation (of me, not necessarily the camera), how did it go? Overall, things were very impressive. Let’s start with the simple things.
Battery life was really good. I shot a little late on the first night, all of the second day and the beginning of the third on one battery. I had spares with me but the battery life, while maybe not as long as for the 1DXII, was still very good. It is also a nice thing that I can recharge with a USB-C charger if I need to which means not taking the large battery charger with me.
Autofocus was very impressive. When things are a long way off, it is still guessing at what to look at and that is something I need to investigate. However, it seemed to recognize planes very early on and then track them very effectively. The ability to let it track a target allowed me to worry about composition far more than I used to with center point focus. I could move planes to the edge of the frame to get a wingman in and still have focus working well.
Exposure was okay. I have the viewfinder set up to give me the exposure simulation which is handy for understanding what the camera is seeing. This helped me out once when I have managed to change the ISO to 800 by accident. Not sure how I did that but I was able to notice it quickly. However, I am not so sure about how quickly it adjusts as conditions change. Moving from a cloudy background to blue sky provides a rapid change that the camera needs to accommodate and it sometimes seemed a little slow to work it out. When shooting raw, your have some latitude to adjust afterwards, of course.
Handling was good. It felt good in the hands and I am wondering whether I will miss the hand grip I have used in the past. The controls are good. The smart controller is neat but it does get adjusted a lot without realizing. I also am so used to using center focus that I sometimes assume that I have to keep the subject in the same space to keep it in focus, not realizing that I can re-center things with the camera following things. I did struggle to work out how to chance the card that I was using. I found a way but it was not as simple as for the 1DXII.
Image stabilization is something that is causing me a lot of trouble. It isn’t the performance of the stabilization. That is really impressive. What I am struggling with is that the stabilization switches on and then stays on. I can put the camera down for a while and I can still hear the IS motors in the lens whirring away. Eventually they switch off but this seems like it is really chewing battery life. I have tweaked a few things to reduce it but, on the 1DXII, the IS would switch off after about 20 seconds. Why it this happening? Again, this may be my failing but I would like to understand why it happens and try to switch it off.
Frame rate is very impressive. I rarely switched it up to the 30fps setting. 15fps was blasting through the cards at a prodigious rate as it was so no need to make things any worse. I have the audio shutter turned on so I have something to remind me when I am taking too many shots and to hopefully keep things under control. However, while the frame rate may notionally be similar to the 1DXII, it consistently hits it which does result in a lot more photos than I was used to. More culling to come I guess.
Having the ability to connect to my iPad and phone is a real benefit. I used to just have this with the M6 and I really liked that. Being able to connect to the R3 gives me a lot of flexibility. I was able to send a few shots to a friend while out in the field. I will use this sporadically but it is definitely a good capability to have.
Overall, it was a great experience. I had two bodies with me but I focused on shooting with the one R3 and the other body, a 1DXII, stayed in the bag almost all of the time. I had it ready in case but didn’t end up using it. At no point during the time there did I think about reverting. I do still have a few tweaks to work out with how to set the camera up but it was a very positive experience. I think that this camera might be the one for me.
My 1DXII bodies have been doing sterling work for the last five or so years and continue to be reliable. In the interim, the camera world has made a shift from SLR technology to mirrorless. Canon was a slow starter in this space but has since got in to gear. I am not an early adopter and waited until something came along that really appealed to me. The R3 body was that thing. It combines the latest of the mirrorless technology with a body like the 1D series and the associated great battery life. It was enough to make me take the plunge.
Getting one was a different story. I ordered one in the fall of 2021. I wanted to get one first to work with it and make sure it was the thing for me before committing to a pair of them. Recently, I got the call that my body had finally come in. I was very excited to try it out. I then got a call from the store within an hour of the first saying that the second body was on. I had ordered this much later with the intent of knowing whether I was happy or not before it showed up. I decided to defer it and see how things went. I think the credit card was pleased with that decision too!
I have now had a week of playing with it having shot some aviation and some wildlife. I have not really had a chance to dig deep yet so this is just first impressions. Overall, it is really impressive. The ergonomics are familiar after years of shooting with 1D bodies. However, the controls are more complex and things are not identical so I am taking a while to get comfortable with where everything is. This will probably take me a while.
Battery life has been very good. I was expecting it to be worse than the 1DXII but it seems to have stood up to a lot of shooting with tons of life left. New batteries don’t hurt of course and we shall see how things play out. The small megapixel bump is fine but it really is barely noticeable compared to the 1DXII. 24Mp versus 20Mp might sound like a big increase but when you look at the linear pixel count it is only a small increase.
Autofocus is amazing and confusing. Its ability to pick up targets and then track them across any part of the image is fantastic. It seems to have very good accuracy and I am liking the shots I am getting. Eye detection on wildlife is spookily good. However, I don’t yet know how to control the autofocus properly. There are so many ways to customize things that I have yet to understand. For example, I haven’t yet worked out how to make it focus on a center spot only like my old setup. Most of the time, the clever stuff is more useful but there are odd times when you want it to do something simple. With small subjects or cluttered backgrounds, this can be important.
I also have to get used to pressing the button when I pick up the camera. I am used to looking through the viewfinder to sight a subject before pushing anything but the viewfinder shuts off after a while and needs to be woken up. It would be good if that could be done with some motion sensing (maybe it can and I haven’t found it yet).
I have tried the eye control a little. It seems to work pretty well. Calibration with my glasses was fine and the contract lenses were okay too but I have put that to one side for now while I leaned to understand a whole bunch of other functions of the camera. I have also connected it to my phone and iPad which has been a handy thing to do. I did briefly experience with the automatic focus stacking which seemed to work well and I shall try more of that in due course. I haven’t tried any video yet at all.
I have had to change my cards and card readers since both of the card types are new to me. That was a nuisance but not the end of the world. I actually bought them a while back so I wouldn’t have to worry about it now. I got the 24-105 lens in the RF mount. My old 24-105 was a bit beaten up and the image quality was not strong so a replacement seemed like a good idea. They had been as rare as rocking horse poo but fortunately were in stock when I went in so I got one. I also have the convertor for my other lenses and they seem to be working extremely well. The combination with in body stabilization has improved them too and I find some of the tracking of moving subjects in the viewfinder easier than it used to be – something which I attribute to the IBIS.
Overall, I am happy so far. Definitely some things to work on understanding. At the time of writing (versus publishing), I am about to go on a trip when I shall shoot a lot of planes. This will be a big test but the initial experience makes me think it should go well. The camera tracks the cockpit of planes like the eyes of a bird so I am feeling confident it will be good. I think the conversion to mirrorless is going to be complete for me based on what I have seen so far but within the next month, I should know whether it will work for me or not.
The testing of the Eviation Alice continues. My first post on this was when they tried to do some high speed taxi trials but didn’t manage to get the plane going. However, they have been making more progress since. I managed to get up there when they were planning some more taxi trials. I was hoping for some more fast work which they delivered. Not fast enough to get the nose wheel off yet but progress all the same.
A few photographers were out to see what occurred. The test team did not seem too happy about the level of interest. I think they would prefer to get early testing work done without the world watching. They did have their own multimedia team, of course. Various cameras were doing the official recording and some drone work was done as they carried out the trials. A NOTAM for the UAV was in place for several days. I went with stills and video and put some stuff together for GAR and here is some of what I got. Let’s hope to get more as they progress.
North of Seattle is Arlington and the airport at Arlington is home to Eviation, a company developing an electric powered aircraft called Alice. They undertook some low speed taxi trials during December but plans for high speed taxi and flight were thwarted by consistently bad weather. A recent nice day on a Sunday looked like the first opportunity to do some testing again and a NOTAM was published meaning we knew something was up.
I met my buddy, Bob, up at Arlington and Alice was already out on the field when we got there. The time for the testing was at the end of the day so they were preparing for when the runway was theirs to use. Sadly, the aircraft was not playing ball. As is the way with flight test, things were not necessarily doing what they were supposed to. They did run one of the motors up to speed but the other failed to perform and resulted in the first shutting down too. Not ideal for an aircraft. No doubt they will resolve such things in due course. By the time they had spent some time troubleshooting, the sun was setting and there was going to be no taxi trial.
I chose the side of the field that was backlit since it was closer to where the testing would take place. Some great shots from the other side with the setting sun on the mountains behind were made by others. However, I was in the right spot when they dragged the plane back to the hangar. Things were getting pretty dark and I was very pleased to have brought the 70-200 f/2.8 with me since it did a great job with the lack of light. The raw images looked very subdued but they really came out well when I processed them.
I put together a piece for GAR on what we had seen. You can see that piece here if you want to check it out. It seems to have generated a lot of traffic which suggests there is a lot of interest in some of these electric aircraft projects. Whether they will be successful or not, we shall see. In the meantime, the weather got bad again but we shall hopefully have a break in it soon and a chance to see them taxiing the plane and then flying it.
Of the original 787 development airframes, three are now in museums and Boeing has one that it continues to use for test work. It was the fourth of the jets and, I assume, the closest to a production standard. It was recently out at Boeing Field for a flight. It taxied by me to the end of the taxiway where it then waited for a very long time. Some fire trucks were close by but not attending it – just watching as far as I could tell. They called up to say that they would be there for a long time so the tower was diverting things around them.
Eventually they taxied back before finally getting whatever was the issue sorted out at which point the runway in use had changed. They had to head to the other end of the field for departure. This time they did take off and headed off for whatever testing they had planned. Not sure of whatever it was that caused them so much trouble but I guess it got resolved.
A rainy Saturday afternoon had very little going on except the return of a G600 test aircraft to the Pacific Northwest. I have no idea why Gulfstream has not painted this jet but it is still in primer. I half expected to see it had been painted when it arrived, but it was still green. The conditions were alternating between torrential rain and patches of sun. Indeed, the sun was out five minutes before the G600 arrived but, no surprise, it was back to rain by the time it came in. When conditions are like that, I go with a heavy overexposure and then pull things back down in post. Hopefully, before too long, I will be experimenting with a new body, and we shall see whether I need to modify my exposure techniques in bad conditions.
Of the four 777X test aircraft, one had eluded me. I had shot the third jet on the ground but never in motion. Supposedly it is the performance test aircraft so the suggestion was that it was being preserved until a lot of configuration work had been done to make sure the engines were in peak shape prior to measuring fuel consumption. Recently I heard that it had been making a bunch of flights. The good news was that these flights – lots of straight line flying out over the Pacific – were quite long and they usually landed in the early evening. A trip after work was on the cards.
The problem with this timing is that is clashes with dinner. Fortunately, I have a wife that is tolerant of my interest (although I think it would be wrong to say she understands my obsession!). Nancy was willing to delay dinner until it came back (and I could then get home). With test flying, there are no guarantees about timing so I would watch the jet head back up the coast only to turn around and go for another run south.
Fortunately, it finally turned back towards Seattle and it was pretty certain it was coming back. The benefit of this waiting is that the light is getting better and better. The downside of shooting the 777X is the size means the long lens is too much for the touchdown area. The wide lens doesn’t do well for the rest of the approach though. Two cameras was the answer. I thought I had one set up right but it turns out I had messed up something with the result that the shots were rather overexposed. Fortunately, RAW came to the rescue and I was able to get the shots back to what I wanted. Now I have them all in flight.
Whenever you suddenly see a bunch of YouTube videos on a similar topic, you wonder whether a company has been sending out copies of its product to people to get them talking about it. I think this must be the case with DxO Mark since I have come across a lot of videos about their new raw convertor, PureRAW. Having watched a couple of the videos – the technique clearly works – I was curious about the capabilities of the product. Since they provide a 30 day free trial, I decided to give it a go.
One of the topics which seems to get people really worked up if they are too focused on the products and less on the photos you take with them is Raw conversions. You can shoot JPEGs in camera but, if you shoot Raw, you tend to have a lot more flexibility with post processing. (For those not in to this stuff – and I am amazed you are still reading this if that is the case – a Raw file is the data that comes off the sensor with very little processing applied.). Software developers come up with their own ways of converting this data into an image. Camera manufacturers provide their own raw converters but they don’t share the detailed understanding with the software manufacturers so they have to create their own.
The most widespread software provider is Adobe with their Camera Raw convertor built in to Photoshop and Lightroom. There are others with their own software and you can come across some quite heated discussions online about which is the best. Hyperbole abounds in these discussions with anyone getting in to the debate almost always dismissing Camera Raw as terrible. It’s clearly not terrible but it might have its limitations.
PureRAW is a convertor which doesn’t really give you much control. Instead, it takes the Raw file, does its magic and then creates a new DNG raw file which you can them import direct in to Lightroom (if you choose – which I do) to continue to edit in much the same way you would have previously. Watching the reviews, they seemed to suggest that for normal shots at normal ISO settings, there was not much in it. However, for high ISO images, they showed significant differences with reduced noise, sharper images and clearer detail. Some reviewers thought it might even be a bit oversharpened.
I figured I would try out my own experimentation with some really high ISO images. I have some shots at ridiculously high ISO settings that I took at night or in poorly lit environments. These seemed like a good place to start. The workflow is not ideal – this would not be something I do for all images but only for some that seemed like they would need it – because I have to select the shot from Windows Explorer (getting there by right clicking on the image in Lightroom) and then drag in to PureRAW. I can drag a whole bunch of shots over there before having to do anything to them.
The program will download profiles for the camera and lens combinations if it doesn’t already have them and you have to agree to this. Not sure why it doesn’t do it automatically to be honest but I guess there is a reason. When you have all of the shots of interest selected, you click Process and off it goes. It isn’t terribly fast but I wasn’t dealing with a huge number of shots. Interestingly, I took a look at Task Manager to see how much resource it was using and the processor was barely ticking over so it wasn’t stressing the machine at all. At a later stage, for reasons I shall explain in a while, I did deactivate the use of the graphics card and things got considerably slower.
When the processing is finished, you have the option to export them to Lightroom. It saves them in a sub folder for the original folder and they all import together. Since I have Lightroom sort by capture time, the new files arrive alongside the original which makes comparing them pretty simple. For the 204,000 ISO shot (an extended range ISO for that camera), things were slightly better but still really noisy. For the 51,000 ISO shots, things actually did appear to be pretty impressive. I have a normal profile for the camera that I use for the raw conversion and a preset for high ISO conversions and the comparison is not dramatic but it is definitely a sharper, more detailed and slightly cleaner result.
I have put pairs of shots in the post with crops in on each image to give a comparison of the output so you can judge for yourself. Will I buy the software? I don’t know. It is currently $90. That is quite a bit for software that does one thing only. The interface with my workflow is a bit clunky and it has benefit in a relatively limited set of circumstances from what I have seen so far.
Now for some further feedback as my experimentation has progressed. I did try the tool out on some more normal shots. There are some minor differences from a conversion of the raw within Lightroom but they don’t seem to be significant enough to justify the investment. I played with some shots that had very contrasty scenes and it was slightly less noisy but, again, not that big a deal. They also felt over sharpened.
I have had some problems with the program. After a while, I got conversions where the new DNG file was just black. This happened on a few occasions. I found switching to CPU only solved the issue but only after I deleted the DNGs that had been created. Interestingly, once I went back to Auto mode, it continued to work. A weird bug and not one unique to me apparently. I have also had erratic results when it exports to Lightroom with it failing to do so on a number of occasions. This is really laborious to deal with and, combined with the fact that the drag from Lightroom to PrimeRAW only works on a Mac and not on Windows, the lack of integration is really enough to put me off.
So far, I will let the trial expire. It is a tool that is capable of some interesting improvements in more extreme situations but the integration is poor and the benefits are limited for me so, with that in mind, it just isn’t worth the expenditure. If it made more of a difference to normal shots, I might consider it but it currently doesn’t offer enough to justify the cost or the process slowdown.
I missed out on the first flight of the first Max 10 version of the Boeing 737 family. I got to Boeing Field as it was landing on its initial flight which I watched from the freeway as I got close to the airfield. However, a flight test airframe is going to get a lot of use so I knew I would have more opportunities. The Max 10 rolled out a long time ago so the start of flight test was heavily delayed, presumably as a result of the overall Max grounding and the more intense scrutiny being given to Boeing as a result.
I have now seen it flying a few times. It is still flying around with a trailing static cone so they either haven’t completed calibration of the air data system or just haven’t got around to removing the cone yet. It is in Boeing house colors with the large 10 on the fin being the main giveaway. It is longer than the Max 9 but not noticeably so. I’ll need to put them side by side to see where to identify the differences.