Camera: Pentax K1000 (Photography Museum)

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Pentax K1000

The Pentax K1000 (produced from 1976 to 1997) was a classic manual film camera often used by students. This copy was probably actually the camera my sister used when following me around on photographic forays. I don’t think I ever used it myself. But it is a classic piece of photographic history and some maintains a place in the collection.

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Camera: Canon EOS Elan 7 (Photography Museum)

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Canon EOS Elan 7 (Canon EOS 30 in Europe)

During university my EOS Elan was starting to show its age. It would also have been advantageous to have a second AF EOS body to shoot with (mainly to have different film types loaded at the same time). I was doing a lot of photography, including some commercial work, but didn’t have a lot of money, so I stayed with the same series and purchased the new EOS Elan 7 (released in 2000).

The EOS Elan 7 was lighter than the EOS Elan, but it also felt more plasticky. On the plus side, the EOS Elan 7 had an optional vertical battery grip which conveniently allowed the camera to run on AA’s.

In this period, shooting location commercial work and even a few weddings, I was in need of a quick, compact lighting setup. I opted for Canon’s E-TTL optical wireless multi-flash setup and purchased one each of Canon’s Speedlite 550EX and Speedlite 420EX (both released in 1998). I also extensively used my dad’s Elinchrom mono-lite studio setup.

While I always enjoyed darkroom work and spent a lot of time printing and developing in the black and white dark rooms in university, I have also always done a lot of photographic processing on the computer, first in Photoshop, later in Adobe Camera Raw, and now in Adobe Lightroom. (I got my first Mac and Photoshop 1.0 in 1989). Some time in the late 1990s or early 2000s I purchased a used Canon CanoScan35mm film/slide scanner (probably the 2700F) from my friend Rob. I stopped using the scanner when I stopped shooting slide film (about the same time my Mac computers abandoned the SCSI interface port).

It wasn’t long after I purchased the EOS Elan 7 that I started seriously pursuing digital photography (see Nikon Coolpix 950/990). Thus the EOS Elan 7 didn’t get a lot of use and I didn’t grow very attached to it.

Great Sand Dunes
Great Sand Dunes, Colorado
Yucca, Moab, Utah
Door At Aztec Ruins National Monument
Door At Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico
Canon EOS Elan

Photography Museum   |   Cameras

Camera: Canon A1 (Photography Museum)

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Canon A1

When I received my Canon EOS Elan I couldn’t afford to buy additional EF lenses. My photography buddy, Rob, suggested I buy a used Canon FD body and a few lenses to go with it. We visited a used camera store and he helped me pick out a nice black Canon A1 body and MA motor drive with a Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens. (I believe Rob had been shooting with a Canon AE-1 program, but switched to an EOS A2E about this time). Rob gave me his old not-very-sharp Vivitar FD-mount 24mm f2.8 lens, introducing me to the world of wide angle photography. A few months later, a friend of Rob’s who worked as a rep for Fujfilm was selling off his Canon FD 24mm f/2.8, FD 35mm f/2, and FD 50mm f/3.5 macro prime lenses. I thus built a kit including body and drive and  a suite of primes for quite cheep (much less than the cost of a good single prime EF lens). I also had my dad’s FD 70-210mm f/4 to use.

The A1 was originally released in 1978, and was a fully electronic body with manual, priority, or fully automatic exposure modes. It had a much more robust feel than the EOS Elan. After I acquired my EF 80-200 f/2.8 L lens I carried both bodies and systems for many years, using the A1/FD setup for wide angle work, and the Elan/EF setup for telephoto work.

The A1 still holds a special place in my heart. Perhaps because it was a critical part of my own early photographic development. However, I think it was also just an incredibly well designed and built camera.

I don’t bother to shoot film anymore, but I still occasionally use my FD lenses on my EOS M-series bodies via a Fotodiox adaptor.

Double Rainbow
Double Rainbow

Photography Museum   |   Cameras

Camera: Canon EOS Elan (Photography Museum)

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Canon EOS Elan (Canon EOS 100 in Europe)

Canon introduced the EOS camera line with the world’s first fully electronic lens mount (EF) in 1987. I remember my brother receiving an EOS body (probably an EOS 630) and the EF 35-80mm f/4-5.6 PZ motorized zoom lens as a gift for his upcoming high school trip to China. I may have that camera in a box somewhere. Regardless, my first EOS body, the EOS Elan (released 1991), was also a gift from my parents for Christmas in 1991 (probably). I thoroughly enjoyed this camera, except for its plastic build.

At first I only had the EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens (released 1990) to use with the EOS Elan. Being a poor high school student I couldn’t afford to buy any other EF lenses for a few years. My first major EF lens purchase was an EF 80-200m f/2.8 L zoom lens (released 1989) towards the end of high school. My next EF lens was the EF16-35mm f/2.8 L USM ultra-wide-angle zoom lens (released 2001) purchased while I was in art school — this is still one of my favourite lenses to shoot with.

Replaced by
Canon EOS Elan 7

Photography Museum   |   Cameras

Camera: Canon T70 (Photography Museum)

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Canon T70

Released in 1984, this was one of my dad’s cameras (he probably still has it but I don’t have a photograph of it) and the first camera I shot with extensively. I started high school in 1989 and though I was primarily interest in art, I did some photography as well that first year. I may have taken this camera to New Zealand and Fiji on a school trip in 1990. The T70 was a solidly built body and the progenitor of the top LCD that is still featured on Canon’s pro/enthusiast DSLRs. It featured TTL aperture and shutter priority AE modes, but I recall it was difficult or impossible to enter full manual mode. At the time I think I had only a Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 and a FD 70-210mm f/4 push/pull zoom lens (really fun) to shoot with.

Photography Museum   |   Cameras

Photography Museum: Cameras

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I’ve grouped the cameras by type as that seemed the most logical. Within types, the cameras are generally sorted chronologically in the order of acquisition. I cross-reference other cameras where necessary. I also mention lens and other equipment acquisitions relative to each camera if relevant.

35mm Film Cameras

Digital ILC Cameras

Digital Compact Cameras

Large Format Camera

Toy Cameras

  • Lomo LC-A
  • Lomo Colorsplash
  • Lomo Smena Symbol
  • Lego Digital Camera
  • Plastic Toy Camera

Photography Museum

Welcome to my on-line Photography Museum. I do not strictly classify myself as a collector of photographic equipment, but as an avid photographer I have amassed a considerable collection of gear over the past 26 or so years. I thought it would be fun to document this gear and share its history.

I love functional gear and don’t hesitate to acquire something if I will use it a lot. I do feel guilty if I buy something and it just doesn’t get used sufficiently. Thus I am quite spare in my purchases.

For most of my photographic journey taking pictures has been a hobby. The return on my investment comes in the form of satisfaction of creating images. Lacking financial justification I have avoided buying full-on professional bodies for the most part.

Glass is another matter and I don’t mind paying for good quality glass, though I often put a higher priority on compactness and portability than on outright performance (try hiking or travelling with a suite of f/2.8 zoom lenses and you’ll understand).

Enjoy the collection.

Cameras   |   Lenses (coming soon)

Canon EOS M5: Hands-on Review

I’ve been a fan of the Canon EOS M-series since it was introduced in 2012. After several iterations the camera bodies and system have come a long way, but in some respects still lag behind competitors.

Cautious Optimism

When the EOS M5 was announced September 15, 2016, I was intrigued, but did not instantly consider an upgrade from the M3. I mostly shoot landscape photographs. The EOS M5 sensor size and quality is essentially unchanged form the M3 and while the addition of dual-pixel (phase-detection) auto-focus (DPAF) to the M5 is fantastic I wasn’t sure if it would benefit me.

One of the best (and for some photographers, most annoying) features of the M3 is the optional/detachable tilting electronic viewfinder (EVF). I spent many years shooting exclusively with my iPhone and the Canon PowerShot S-series of compact cameras. When I started shooting with the original EOS M I did not miss a viewfinder at all, and, unlike many, had no problem shooting exclusively with the fixed rear screen. Thus, I felt the M3 gave me that best of both worlds: an ultra-compact inter-changeable lens camera (ILC) and the ability use a viewfinder when needed. I cannot understate how amazing the tilting function of the EVF is on the M3. It works so wonderfully at chest-level, when using a compact tripod, or for shooting ground-level landscapes and macros.

While I was looking forward to a more substantial grip on the M5 (I do occasionally shoot with larger EF lenses via the EF to EF-M adaptor), I was concerned about the added bulk of the built-in EVF and the lack of EVF tilting.

Canon EOS M3 w/ EVF vs. Canon EOS M5 (Front)
Canon EOS M3 w/ EVF vs. Canon EOS M5 (Front)

The other area of concern turned out to be a non-issue exacerbated by poor reviews. The M3 rear screen tilts up 180 degrees and down 90 degrees. While I have no interest in selfies, having a screen that tilts both up (for use on small tripods, at chest level, and low angle) and down (for shooting high-angles) is now essential for me. On the M5 the screen now tilts down 180 degrees, but every review (while quick to point out the selfie compatibility and video-blogger incompatibility of this camera) omitted wether or not the screen tilted up at all. A screen that does not tilt up seems like nonsense, but I thought maybe the EVF eyepiece interferes with tilting up in someway. This would have been a deal breaker for me. Alas, the M5 rear screen does tilt up 85 degrees (90 degrees would be better but the EVF would then be in the way a bit).

Wishes Granted

In early 2016, a thread on asked, “What Do You Want to See in the EOS M System?”

Having a very compact option already in the form of the M3, I was most interested in the M-series including a beefier premier body that borrowed more form Canon’s enthusiast DSLR bodies.

Let’s review my wish-list from last year and see if the M5 delivers.

  • built-in EVF — check
  • …with 90 degree tilt — nope, but I didn’t really think it would happen
  • built-in GPS or support for the GP-E2 (but built-in might kill the battery, so this is optional) — no
  • very slightly larger body — check
  • …at least slightly different back button layout (my palm often hits the menu button accidentally) — better and definitely more intuitive, but my palm still presses the menu button when holding larger lenses
  • vertical grip option with support for two batteries — nope, and this is still one of my major wish list items since I plan to use this body with a longer lens
  • use the same battery size as M3, please — check, yeah!
  • more pronounced back focus button (I use back button focus about 90% of the time and the one I can assign on the M3 is hard to locate by touch, especially with gloves) — better, the thumb-grip is more pronounced and the still-flush buttons are easier to locate
  • better than 4 frames RAW buffer (unlimited would be ideal) — check, 17 RAW or 26 large JPEG shots.
  • better than 4 frames per second continuous shooting (7 frames would be better) — check, 9 FPS or 7 FPS with Servo-AF
  • way faster autofocus — check, DPAF is a dream compared to the old sensor and on par with the Canon 80D DLSR from which it is borrowed

There were a few things I didn’t like about the M3 that I wanted changed:

  • the EVF contacts in the hotshoe broke support for the GP-E2 GPS receiver (doesn’t even work attached via USB) — GP-E2 mounts on the M5 but is still not recognized by the camera
  • button function assignment was not as flexible as it should be — much improved, almost any button can have any assignment (except the * button which is either exposure lock or focus in several different combinations along with the main shutter button). The multi-function top control dial and DIAL FUNC. button borrowed from the G-series and S-series is a brilliant addition.
  • not all menu items were saved in the Custom shooting mode, making it pretty useless — fixed, all shooting menu settings and anything added to MyMenu, including Custom Function items, can be saved in either C1 or C2.
  • autofocus with the screen magnified always switched the display to a zoomed out view — fixed
Canon EOS M5 w/ Canon EF-M 11-22mm 1:4-5.6 IS STM (Back)
Canon EOS M5 w/ Canon EF-M 11-22mm 1:4-5.6 IS STM (Back)

Big Brother Is Watching

Canon is not a company with a reputation for pandering to user requests. They are firmly entrenched as the professional DSLR

market leader (particularly in sports and editorial segments) and seem loathe to make radical changes to there camera body lines for fear of alienating their user base or, worse, messing up their profit margins. This is the common opinion in the blogosphere anyway. In some respects I agree, but am a little more lenient.

While Canon does seem to be a little cautious, they have actually been iterating quite quickly for the past three years. Proven features from pro-/enthusiast-DLSR bodies are trickling down the line and innovative functions from lower camera lines are being adopted by higher-end bodies. To me, the M-series is the middle ground where proven DSLR tech and innovations like touch-UI or the multi-function control dial can merge.

Canon don’t often offer firmware updates with feature additions, unlike, for example, Fujifilm. Canon firmware updates usually address performance issues (like the update to the original M which significantly improved AF). As cameras continue to be more about software choices though I can see this changing for Canon.

The fact that 11 of my fourteen wish-list and gripe-list items have been addressed in the EOS M5 show that Canon is, in some way, listening to its customers. (Also, none of my favourite features were removed. Yeah!) The three items that were not address (built-in GPS, tilting EVF, and vertical grip) are mostly forgivable omissions. I’d really like the grip, but understand the market for this accessory might not be substantial.

Auto-focus Overhaul

The DPAF system is a welcome if obvious improvement on the M5. The flagship M-body should always have Canon’s flagship live-view technology. Full-stop.

When shooting with the EVF the M5 allows you to use the touchscreen as a touch-pad control of the autofocus point (Touch & Drag AF). You can choose to use the full screen as the touch-pad, half the screen, or any quadrant. You can also choose to select the focus point via absolute position (like touching a smart phone display) or by relative position (like a laptop trackpad). I use the right-half of the screen in absolute mode and it is brilliant.

The M5’s subject recognition and tracking is pretty good, but Touch & Drag AF makes it so much better we will soon wonder how we ever shot without it. At the moment it is class leading. (Canon’s touchscreen adoption has always been one of the primary reasons I have chosen their MILC and compact cameras over Sony’s).

The M5’s improved auto-focus system (especially with adaptor-mounts lenses) combined with the EVF and easier to hold body led me to bight the bullet and acquire a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 super-telephoto zoom lens. I’ve wanted a lens in this class for a while but it never made sense on the smaller M-Series bodies. With he M3 I could really only wrap two fingers around the grip while my index finger was on the shutter button. With the M5 I can wrap three fingers around the grip — a big improvement that facilitates hand-holding this long lens.

The M5’s increased FPS and shot buffer also facilitate more action oriented shooting.

Other Noteworthy (Minor) Features


Canon’s smartphone integration has always been okay (better than competitors I understand) but not brilliant. The inclusion of Bluetooth LE and ability to use the iPhone as a wireless remote control is a nice addition to the M5. The Bluetooth remote is much faster than initiating a Wifi connection and even faster than digging my wireless remote out of the camera bag.

Shooting Display Settings

I don’t do a lot of studio shooting these days, and when I do I use my Speedlites 90% of the time, but occasionally I need to use my studio strobe lights. With the M3 it was difficult to use strobes because, while the exposure was set to match the flash, composing and focusing used the much dimmer modelling lights and the screen/viewfinder image appeared very dim. With optical viewfinder (OVF) cameras the viewfinder is always as bright as it can be. The M5’s “Exposure simulation” setting allows you to turn of screen dimming with slow shutter speeds or smaller apertures so the screen/viewfinder remains bright under the modelling lights.

The M5 EVF shows a nice combination of information. It is not huge though and with glasses on I struggle to see the corners of the image in the EVF. Luckily the “VF display format” setting allows you to shrink the sensor image display by about 80% for greater eye relief. (The side shooting info icons stays in the same absolute position when the image display is shrunk, now displayed on black for better contrast. The bottom shooting exposure data is always displayed on a black bar at the bottom of the EVF.) It’s little customizations like this that make an EVF more flexible compared to an OVF.

Auto ISO

The M5 is the first in the M-series to include Auto ISO. The control of this feature is limited however, providing only the ability to set the maximum automatic ISO. This is very far behind the competition.

Frankly, I have never understood what all the fuss of Auto ISO is about. I shoot in Manual exposure mode 99% of the time. Occasionally I use Aperture or Shutter priority but I am rarely satisfied with the results. I understand Auto ISO gives you better creative control, letting you to lock in both the shutter speed and the amount of desired depth of field while allowing the camera to deal with changes in scene brightness, however, I feel that if you want that level of control you are better off switching to full manual exposure. People who swear by Auto ISO also tend to put a high importance on a dedicated Exposure Compensation dial, as this seems to be how they control the brightness of the image. Doesn’t an easy to change ISO dial do the same thing?

If Auto ISO (or Av or Tv) was so brilliant then I’d expect it to handle gross scene brightness changes such as the subject moving from direct light to shade and during burst shooting each frame should have relatively similar exposures. This is not the case though and when I shoot auto-anything bursts I too often end up with the best composed frame being over or under exposed and the best exposed frame being the one with less than perfect composition/timing.

On the M5 the top control dial can be set to default to ISO adjustment. Thus a photographer can have a dedicated shutter speed  dial (front main dial), a dedicated aperture dial (rear dial), and a dedicated ISO dial (top dial). Adjust for brightness using the ISO dial rather than the exposure compensation dial.

I judge exposure via the histogram 99% of the time. I make sure the whites are not clipping (except if a light source is in the scene) and boost my shadows in post-processing if needed (which is most of the time for average- or high-contrast scenes). I don’t understand why there is not an option to indicate over/under-exposure on the histogram.1 I can’t quickly check both the histogram and exposure indicator since they are always on opposite sides of the display. Thus I use the over/under-exposure indicator as a secondary indicator at best and don’t often use the exposure compensation dial.

If I did use auto-exposure more often then perhaps I would care if Auto ISO had more configuration options. As it is, I don’t.

In-Camara Raw Processing

New to the M5 is in-camera RAW processing (also added to the G7 X Mark II which makes a tempting upgrade). I shoot RAW 99.99% of the time. The only time I shoot JPEG is if I use the built-in HDR function or if (in the past) I needed a faster burst rate. When Canon started including Wifi on there bodies I switched to shooting RAW+JPEG when travelling without a laptop so I could easily transfer images to my iPhone/iPad for mobile sharing. I’d delete the JPEGS once transferred to the computer. Adobe Lightroom Mobile’s support for RAW images and processing largely make the RAW+JPEG workflow redundant. Now, with in-camera RAW processing I can just shoot RAW and generate JPEGs in camera for the few images I want to share but don’t want to bother processing in Lightroom Mobile. Less wasted card space. Less wasted buffer and camera processing. Faster desktop offloading.

(The first step in my RAW workflow is to apply a custom Camera Calibration created specifically for a given camera with an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport calibration target. For in-camera JPEGs I create a custom PictureStyle which mimics the custom Camera Calibration profile and install that Picture Style on my camera. In other words, I never use Canon’s built-in JPEG colour processor.)


The M5 is limited to 1080p video. I personally think 4k video is overkill the majority of the time and frankly I maybe shoot 3 minutes of video a year (and use about 15 seconds of that), so video features mean little to me. I can imagine that Touch & Drag AF would be particularly useful for shooting video as other reviewers have stated. The M5 does include 5-axis in-body image-stabilization (IBIS) for video only, adding stabilization to non-stabilized lenses, or better stabilization to compatible already stabilized lenses. I have not tested this functionality but it is nice to know it is there.

Room for improvement

After several weeks of almost continuous use I haven’t found too many problems I’d like to see addressed in future iterations or firmware updates. The M5 is a solid camera.

Tilting EVF

I so rarely use the built-in flash I wouldn’t mind sacrificing it to have a tilting EVF. Besides low-angle macro/landscape work, a tilting EVF is handy for chest-level shooting. I am a bit over average height and shooting people from eye-level means either looking down on my subject or getting a soar back. This is a major reason why many famous photographers, including Diane Arbus, Cecil Beaton, Robert Capa, Robert Doisneau, Alfred Eisenstadt, Vivian Meier, Imogen Cunningham, and Richard Avedon used Rolleiflex TLR cameras — people should generally be shot straight-on and this means lower than photographer eye-level. Of course, on 35mm or APS-C, a tilting EVF would not help in portrait orientation, and a solid hot shoe is always a higher priority.

Being forced to use the eye-level viewfinder now I was also “forced” to acquire a new larger tripod (Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3). (Honestly, I needed a stiffer tripod for use with the Tamron 150-600mm, so I can’t completely blame the EVF.)

EVF/Liveview Blackout

Even though the AF and drive system of the M5 is much improved over its predecessors, the M5 still lags (pun intended) behind the competition when it comes to screen blackout during continuous shooting. EVF will never replace OVF for sports and action until this is sorted out. Its an industry-wide problem, but Canon should be at least as good as the strongest MILC competition at this point.

EVF/Screen Auto-switching

By default the M5 is configured to automatically switch between the EVF and the rear screen display when the camera is raised/lowered. This is facilitated by a proximity sensor near the EVF. The auto-switching function works great if the rear screen is used in the flat/stored position. If I tilt the screen up, then my thumb tends to trigger the proximity sensor often, which is nothing but annoying. In reality, the camera should switch to the rear screen anytime the screen is moved from the stored position as the EVF physically cannot be used. This is something that can be fixed with a  firmware update and has been noted by other reviewers. For now, I have turned off the auto-switch and assigned a manual switch to the trash button during shooting (I have to remember to switch screens before entering playback mode).

DIAL FUNC. In Playback Mode

In playback mode the DIAL FUNC. button is inactive and the top control dial is dedicated to increasing/decreasing magnification, which defeats the purpose of having a MULTI-FUNCTION dial. And since I can assign magnification to the * and AF Point buttons I would like to be able to assign another function, such as EVF/Screen switching to the top control dial. During playback other possible assignable functions of the top control dial include star-rating, image protection, rotation, creative filters, etc. And off course magnification.

Touch Actions In Playback

The G7X has a nice feature in Playback mode called Touch Actions. When viewing a recorded image you can touch and drag up or down and then towards one of the screen corners to select a user-assignable action (e.g., favourite, protect, erase, rotate, send to connected device, or jump through images). For the travelling photographer these functions are very handy as a lot of image editing and management takes place in-camera. I am shocked that the M5 does not have this feature. Touching the big, beautifully touchscreen during playback does nothing but scroll through images or an image index. The EVF is not a barrier to adding Touch Actions as the rear screen could still be used as a touchpad, vis-a-vis Touch & Drag AF, during playback.


The EF-M lens line-up continues to grow but there a few obvious gaps.

The lens that came in my M5 kit, the 8.3x super-zoom EF-M 18-150mm 1:3.5-6.3 IS STM, is another nice addition. With this lens I don’t have to choose which zoom range to carry, though probably with the trade-off of a bit of speed and sharpness. This lens is not natively supported by Lightroom yet and I am still in the process of creating a custom lens profile so I haven’t come to any hard conclusions about it.

The compact Canon EF-M 28mm F3.5 Macro IS STM is also interesting lens, but I have not yet had a chance to try it out.

The big gap in the EF-M lens line-up is obviously fast-anything. The 22 f/2 is the lone prime in the line-up but it is relatively slow focusing.

The following wide/normal primes in f/1.8 or f/2 would be welcome options: 15mm, 18mm, 35mm (equivalent to 25mm, 28mm, and 56mm respective in FF).

A fast f/1.4 or f/1.8 portrait lens would also be appreciated, in the 55mm range (an 85mm FF equivalent).

The current line-up of image-stabilized zooms are compact and good for all-round photography, but for lower light and action (indoor and sports) a fast f/2.8 suite would be ideal: 11-22mm (2x), 18-55mm (3x), 55-165mm (3x).

Canon EF-M Lenses 2016
The majority of the Canon EF-M lens lineup as of the end of 2016. From left to right: 22m f/2 pancake, 11-22mm f/4–5.6 wide-angle zoom, 18-55mm f/3.5–5.6 standard zoom, 18-150mm f/3.5–6.3 telephoto super-zoom, and 55-200mm f/4.5–6.3 telephoto zoom. The EF-M 28mm f/3.5 macro and 15–45 mm f/3.5–6.3 zoom are not shown.


The Canon EOS M5 is a significant update over its predecessor, the M3, and is arguably Canons first formidable entry in the MILC market. It is also a very well-built, adaptable, and enjoyable camera in its own right. Initially I hesitated to upgrade, but now I will not likely be using my M3 except when I need a very compact camera body or a back-up (the M3 image quality is essential the same as the M5).

I’d still be interested in a full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens (MILC) body from Canon. We mays see this in 2017 or early 2018. There are currently rumours of a Canon EOS M6 announcement slated for this month, but not many details about what that body might entail.

  1. The over/under exposure indicator is a logarithmic scale while the histogram is a linear scale, so one indicator can’t really take on both rolls. However, it would be nice to see at least a pointer indicating mean exposure as part of the histogram. For centre-weighted average exposure metering the pointer would essentially indicate the weighted-mean of the histogram. For spot metering, the pointer would indicate the location of the measured spot brightness relative to the rest of the histogram.

Cloudscapes Photographic Series

Cloudscape 2017-01-30

Cloudscapes is a photographic series that builds upon my previous Sky Panoramas series1. The photographs depict portions of the sky containing interesting clouds, colours, lighting, etc. I consider cloudscapes a sub-genre of landscape photography, but with my lens pointed towards some point in the sky instead of the ground.

Light and colour are often the main subjects, rather than just an aspect of sculpted solid surfaces as in landscapes. Clouds replace mountains. The inky blue of space replaces lakes, rivers, or seas.

One could say that photographing clouds is the same as photographing water. Clouds are a fluid medium that reflect and filter light.

Unlike the land, which is sculpted by light but remains substantially static (at least during the instant of a photograph), the sky is extremely dynamic. The shape and position of clouds changes from second to second. The position of the sun is constantly moving. Land is frozen. The sky is liquid.

When photographing the land, vantage points and compositions can be very limited (depending on what one is trying to capture). Move a few centimetres left or right, a few metres forward or back, and the composition changes or disappears. A branch fails to frame a pond. A rock no longer lines up with the mountain peak. A leading line doesn’t guide the eye into the scene.

In a wide-open space the sky is viewed as an uninterrupted hemisphere, 180 degrees across and 360 degrees in circumference. A photographer can point their camera towards the sky in any direction. They can shoot with a wide angle or telephoto lens to crop or expand the captured scene. There is no horizon that must be kept level. No trees that must remain upright. Clouds move and create an ever changing canvas of colour and light. But in all this freedom there must be constraints. Choices must be made. Balance must be found.

Some skies lend themselves to a painterly presentation. Colourful gradients, soft edges, and limited depth create an impressionistic or abstract quality. Some skies are dramatic, with raking or filtered light. Some skies seem less dramatic, but with a telephoto lens the photographer can isolate crisply detailed structures in fluffy cumulus clouds — distant sculptural castles floating in space.

Cloudscapes are ephemeral. They sometimes exist for a fraction of a second. They can be captured by the camera’s lens in that one instant and will never be seen again.

Sky Panorama #3, 2007
Sky Panorama #3, 2007

I first became aware of photographing the sky while studying photography in university. In a photography history class I became acquainted with Alfred Steiglitz’s cloud photos — the so-called Equivalent series.

“I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in forty years about photography,” wrote Stieglitz in an artist statement2.

While Stieglitz’s reasons for photographing clouds differ from my own, I immediately had an affinity for his subject matter.

Silverview 2017-01-06 08:29 Wide
Silverview 2017-01-06 08:29

I have another on-going photographic series called Silver View in which I record the ever changing view out my living room window which looks out on a natural park. In those photographs the scene is often dominated by an interesting sky or atmospheric phenomenon (e.g., fog, a rainstorm, a snowstorm, or a dramatic sunrise), but always the sky is shown in relation to the land. The Silver View series is very much rooted in place. It is about recoding the view from one particular location.

The Sky Panoramas, and by extension the Cloudscapes, question the notion of place and our identification with it. Does the sky represent the land over which it hangs? Can the sky over my house be differentiated from the sky over a Parisian suburb? Can we recognize the sky as belonging to a place or is the sky a separate space all together? Are we travelling through the sky as we are rooted to the land? Are we shaped by the sky (does it mold our identity) as we so often seem to be shaped by the land?

Cloudscape 2017-01-30
Cloudscape 2017-01-30

As with many series, there is no actual limit to how many Cloudscapes I can photograph or for how long I can continue exploring this theme. Therefore I impose limits in other ways. The primary limits appear in post-processing.

Images are not just taken out of the camera and printed or shared. While it is often difficult to capture the dynamic range of both the land and the sky in a single photograph, the dynamic range of a small portion of the sky may be extremely limited. Atmospheric perspective may reduce contrast to the point were a portion of the sky appears as a flat, featureless field. This would be a boring photograph indeed.

To add dynamic range and contrast I primarily manipulate the white and black points of the image. Delicate colours that are nearly invisible to the casual viewer begin to appear as the contrast increases. Structures with shape and modelling begin to form. While each final image can be considered dramatic it must still be a realistic representation of the scene. An image not pushed far enough will be flat and featureless. One pushed too far will be destroyed. Knowing how far to push an image is the art.

It is sometimes hard to know at the moment of capture if an image will stand up in post-processing. Some images that seem dramatic in the viewfinder are just too contrasty to tame. Some images that seem mildly intriguing become favourites when a little processing starts to reveal subtle colours or playful compositional relationships. Therefore I shoot a lot of frames and keep only a few of the very best results.

Spring Shower 1, 2006 (Sky Panoramas Series, but really also the first Cloudscape)
Spring Shower 1, 2006 (Sky Panoramas series, but really also the first Cloudscape)

To be clear, I do not look for recognizable shapes in clouds. I look for abstract compositions in the sky.

The average landscape photographer knows that there are select few hours around sunrise and sunset that are “best” for shooting. Trust me, I relish those times. I can’t always schedule my day to shoot during those “golden hours” so I have learned to make the best of any time of day. On sunny days I shoot black and white and capture the dramatic shapes and shadows of trees and rolling hills. On overcast days I focus on the colours and delicate details in close forests.

With the sky as the subject, selecting good times to photograph is more difficult. On blue-sky or overcast-sky days there is nothing to photograph. Better then to shoot traditional landscapes or macros. Sunrise and sunset are not guarantees of finding a good sky subject either. The sun might be too intense and colours too saturated. Clouds might not be in the right place in relation to the rising/setting sun to filter or reflect the light in a compelling way. In other words, opportunities to shoot images for the Cloudscapes series are not overly common.

It is hard to say what compels me to pick up my camera at any given moment and point it towards the sky. I can’t schedule a Cloudscapes photography session. In a very zen way I have to wait for the right moment. The sky dictates when it wants to be photographed.

Sky Gradient 2016-01-08 #4
Sky Gradient 2016-01-08 #4

  1. Sky Panoramas is a series of stitched multi-frame panorama photographs. The images have a very high aspect ratio (up to 5:1). Cloudscapes are a single frame photograph. It can take a minute or more to capture the 9 to 12 frames used to create the Sky Panoramas and thus they are infinitely more difficult to capture than Cloudscape images, especially if clouds are moving at any speed or the light is changing. Post-processing is also more demanding with Sky Panoramas, the files of which range in size between 500MB and 1GB. Sky Panoramas are also difficult to present on screen or on print due to there wide aspect ratio. As a compromise, I often find myself composing Cloudscapes in 16:9 aspect ratio. A third related on-going series, Sky Gradients, includes photographs of the colour gradient of the sky, usually just before sunrise or after sunset when the light is soft and the sky takes on a pastel hue. Sky Gradients are shot on cloudless days, though a slight haze in the atmosphere acts as a colour filter. The majority of a Sky Gradient frame is taken up by the sky, but a strip of horizon often appears at the bottom edge.

Flickr Gallery

Click to launch the Cloudscapes Flickr gallery …

What Do You Want to See in the EOS M System?

Canon EOS M3


I haven’t posted much here recently for two reasons: 1) I’ve been having too much fun with our now 14 month-old baby; 2) when not hanging out with the baby I have been shooting as much photography as possible.

Recently on Canon Rumors a thread was started which posed the question: What do you want to see in the EOS M system? I have been a fan of the EOS M system from the beginning, so here are my answers to this question.

I bought the EOS M as soon as it became available and the M3 as well. I have all the EF-M lenses and a half dozen EF L and non-L lenses as well (macro, fisheye, long zoom, etc.) Canon was running a deal when I got the M3 where they were giving away a free EF to EF-M adaptor, so that was nice (now I have two to play with). Anyway, I’ve given this topic a lot of thought.

Canon’s APS-C EOS M Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera System

What I like about the current system, and want to see in any future M body:

  • small, light, portable (the M3 is definitely easier to hold and operate than the M1 was, especially with EF lenses attached)
  • good enough image quality for the size — never had any complaints
  • small, high-quality EF-M lenses with the option to use other EF lenses for specific purposes
  • tilting touchscreen (fully articulated would be better)
  • tilting EVF (I do a lot of landscape work and this is great for low angle or even chest-level shooting)
  • ability to use older FD lenses via a glassless adaptor just for fun
  • seeing the exact same thing on the EVF and touchscreen
  • Wifi (getting images off for quick sharing without a computer, and been using Cascable to do timelapses recently)

What I don’t like about the M3:

  • the EVF contacts in the hotshoe broke support for the GP-E2 GPS receiver (doesn’t even work attached via USB). I geotag everything I shoot outside, but now I have to use tracks from my Garmin watch.
  • button function assignment is not as flexible as it should be
  • not all menu items are saved in the Custom shooting mode, making it pretty useless
  • autofocus while zoomed in always switches the display to a zoomed out view
  • a lot of other nit-picky things, but I can live with them (no camera is perfect)

I travel a lot and spend a lot of time hiking/skiing or in the back-country on extended trips. I would never carry an SLR body. If weight/space is really an issue I might carry only a G7X, but ideally I carry the M3 with a few EF-M lenses, depending what I expect to encounter. For dedicated shooting days I throw in whatever EF lenses I need as well. I have no problem with the bulk of EF and the adaptor on the M3, but I wish AF performance was better.

I think the original question could be a bit broader, as I consider the M-system and a full Canon mirrorless strategy to be two different things.

For the M-system I would like to see the following in the next body (which might be a higher end M in addition to the M3 and M10):

  • built-in EVF, but still with a 90° up-tilt (can sacrifice the built-in flash if necessary, but EVF centred over lens is better for balance)
  • built-in GPS or support for the GP-E2 (but built-in might kill the battery, so this is optional)
  • very slightly larger body or at least slightly different back button layout (my palm often hits the menu button accidentally)
  • vertical grip option with support for two batteries
  • use the same battery size as M3, please
  • more pronounced back focus button (I use back button focus about 90% of the time and the one I can assign on the M3 is hard to locate by touch, especially with gloves)
  • better than 4 frames RAW buffer (unlimited would be ideal)
  • better than 4 frames per second continuous shooting (7 frames would be better)
  • way faster autofocus

Full-frame Canon Mirrorless System

I think there needs to be a larger sensor mirrorless option in addition to the APS-C bodies. I don’t think the EF-M mount can be used with a 36×24 full-frame sensor (based on my measurements), but it could support an APS-H sensor (1.5x the area of APS-C) which would be acceptable in a body the size of the M3 (not sure the current EF-M lenses project a large enough image circle to cover APS-H though). (Canon actually just announced a 250 megapixel APS-H sensor, so we know they are working on this size.) When Canon introduces a full-frame mirrorless body, it probably won’t be in the M series and it probably won’t have an EF-M mount.

I would still be very interested in a full-frame Canon mirrorless system as a compliment to the compact and portable M-system. The market leader here is obviously the Sony A7 series, so really Canon just needs to be competitive with those bodies.

Full-frame sensor body wish list.

  • Take all the advantages of any of the 1Dx or 5D bodies and remove the mirror, use an EVF, and that ought to about do it.
  • EF-M mount, if possible, otherwise standard EF mount
  • If a new mount with a smaller back flange distance than EF and a larger diameter than the EF-M mount is introduced, then it better support EF lenses at full-speed via an adaptor (Canon seems to be going fast and furious on the EF lens upgrade front so I’m not too worried about this one. I would actually be shocked if a third mount was introduced, but the EF mirror box space is such a waste).

Autofocus seems to be the sticking point technology-wise. Getting mirrorless autofocus to be as fast as an SLR, even in low light and with fast moving subjects will be the Holy Grail. Reduce blackout times as well and SLRs will lose almost any advantage. There are times when an optical view-finder has advantages, but for 99% of my shooting, an accurate EVF and Live View are more useable.

Why Mirrorless?

Some people ask, why make a mirrorless camera that just replicates the best of what SLRs already do (and have been doing for a long time)? The inverse question is the answer: why, if you could build a digital sensor mirrorless body with all the features of current SLRs (minus OVF) would you bother making a body with a mirror box and all the mechanics, noise, vibration, size, etc., that come with it? DSLRs only have mirrors because film SLRs had them, no other reason. Its time to move on.