Shooting the Canon EOS 1D4 in my real world. - Neill Watson

Shooting the Canon EOS 1D4 in my real world.

Last time I grabbed a Canon EOS 1D4, it was in a winter period when there was little happening on the car photography front, so the test I did back then concentrated on it’s low light capabilities. But I was still interested to see what it brought along to a car photo shoot, where outright speed is not vitally of the essence, but accurate AF and consistent results are what’s needed. I’ve been asked several times for a quick follow up from the original article, so sorry it’s a bit late!



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Fast forward to last month when Phil Raby at Total 911 tells me we’re going to be shooting two icons, a Porsche 959 and Ferrari 288 GTO. A quick call to the guys at The Flash Centre in Leeds nabs their demo 1D4 for the days of the shoot, 1DS packed as a spare and off we go.

I’ll write later about the cars, they are simply stunning and thanks must go to Specials Cars in Malton for arranging the access, plus writer Kevin Hackett’s patience at standing around waiting when all he really wanted to do was launch over the horizon on the quiet North Yorkshire roads.

I’ve been using my Canon 1DS for this work pretty much since I went digital. It’s like my favourite pair for trainers by now. If you’re a 1D series user, you’ll be able to pick up a 1D4 and use it without opening the manual. All the main controls are exactly where you’ll instinctively feel for. However, once the newness wears off, you’d do well to download some of the PDFs from Canon’s European website that walk you through the advanced customisation features.

What I was most interested in was the AF performance in tracking shots. Shooting from car to car, with a slow shutter speed for motion blur but a pin sharp car, inevitably has a high failure rate. The 1DS is generally OK, but sometimes the AF will hunt for no reason and then just as the composition falls into place in the viewfinder, you get the dreaded “BUSY” in your eye as the buffer fills and the camera writes out to the card….. Frustrating until you learn to pace your shooting so as not to choke the buffer. Not so the 1D4. No chance of filling the buffer, even at the maximum burst rate. In fact, on tracking shots, the burst rate is so high, it’s easy to have too many ‘similars’. Better to turn down the firing rate slightly and keep recomposing the shot.

As for the AF, there’s no doubt it’s the best system I’ve tried yet, with far fewer failures due to AF errors. This is probably down to the fact that I set the AF to ‘surrounding points’ which takes into account the area immediately adjacent to the AF point you need. On low angle tracking shots, where you’re not looking through the viewfinder, but holding the camera down near the road, there’s no doubt it gives a greater hit rate. Read more about the AF adjustments for the 1D4 on the Canon Europe website.

The only thing I’d be critical of, and it’s purely personal, is that for the first time, I found myself missing my full frame sensor. I always shooting tracking shots at the wide end of my 17-40 zoom and several times, with the 1.3x crop I found myself struggling to get both cars in frame, leaning back into the camera car to try and fit them both in and still give the empty space the guys doing the layouts will need. Canon would do very well with a non-EFS lens similar to Nikon’s 12-24 at a price point of around £500 – £700. They do have the amazing, stunningly sharp 14mm, but at £2500, beyond the reach of many. A mental re-adjustment after the first run down the road and some hand signals to Kevin and it was forgotten.


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Static shots we handled using Elinchrom’s Rangers with a Skyport trigger on the 1D4, no problems. Shooting a glossy brilliant white Porsche 959 against the matt black of Yorkshire Air Museum’s hangar doors was a challenge, the black background sucking the power out of the lights, but the more powerful Rangers were able to keep up. My preference is normally for the smaller Quadra, but the Ranger certainly allows the lights to be set further back for a given output, something that can be useful for multi-car shoots.

If you’d like to see the how the shoot shaped up in the magazine, grab Issue 63 of Total 911 or download their new iPhone app to read it on your iPhone or iPad.

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