My new canon R5

Yeah, it had to happen, I suppose... | 19/11/2021

New gear motivates me.

I'm not ashamed to admit it, either: but for all that, I don't chuck money at kit haphazardly - there's always a reason, a rationale, behind any significant new purchase.

And so it is with my new R5

Much as I love my 1DX, I really don't appreciate its sensor's pixel density: 18mp just isn't enough once you find yourself having to crop into an image, and that's a regular occurrence for me.

It's also why the Canon R6 - similar in many ways to the R5 - didn't make the cut. Two more megapickles weren't going to make a worthwhile difference, whereas 45mp in the R5 surely would. And, as it turns out, surely does.

I was also very keen to experience, and hopefully benefit from, its supposedly class-leading eye-tracking Auto Focus (AF).

Spoiler alert: it does not disappoint. The truth is, it's bloody amazing in its place. In fact, the R5's tracking in general looks like it will completely change how I shoot, and for the better. 

I haven't really been able to put it to a serious test yet - mainly just popping frames off with my 70-200mm f/4 or 100-400mm attached, at passing cars (which the Tracking AF stuck to like glue: Every. Single. Time) and whatever else I can see from my front door - but I did get out for an hour a couple of days ago to see if the Starlings at South Beach would be their usual obliging selves. They'd be an easy but informative opportunity to get to grips with Tracking Eye AF.

Well as it turned out, no "getting to grips" was necessary: with my 100-400mm Mk II attached via Canon's EF - R adaptor (and a solid day previously, setting the camera up...), it was a simple case of getting a bird in the frame, triggering the AF, and clicking the shutter for another keeper.

Every. Single. Time.

 It was nuts, in the best possible way.

Now, the light was iffy (there's something about Starlings that make getting a pleasing picture very dependent on what the light is doing), but these are typical of what the camera delivered when the light was right - and every one focused right on the eye:

Starling, South Beach, Blyth

Starling, South Beach, Blyth

Starling, South Beach, Blyth

Starling, South Beach, Blyth

Starling, South Beach, Blyth

In fairness, none of these would have been impossible with my other cameras, but the fact remains that Tracking Eye AF is going to make life so much easier when the circumstances dictate its use: and with the upcoming firmware 1.50 - further enhancing the existing AF modes, and introducing vehicle recognition and tracking (which I'll also benefit from, when I finally get back to Croft for motorbike racing and the like) - things will only get better.

Now then...

With the 100-400mm and 70-200mm f/4 attached, the camera has behaved flawlessly in my limited testing, with the AF being consistently rapid, accurate, "sticky" and responsive, regardless of what it was pointed at.

But today, I stuck my 500mm f/4 on, with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters - obviously it's vital that I can get as much out of the camera when I'm using my Big White and TCs - and things did not go at all the way I'd hoped.

Again, this was just standing on my front doorstep, but I have a few things I can always point a camera and lens at to get a feel for AF responsiveness, noise handling and whatnot: the camera just would not lock focus on things I have no problem acquiring with (say) the 1DX, using the same lens and TCs. 

The only way I could get anything useful to happen was to manually focus the lens to more or less where it needed to be first, then - and only then - would the camera do the needful.

This was a major worry. A couple of years back I gave the Olympus E-M1X a serious chance, primarily because my ongoing shoulder problem made the idea of using smaller lenses for the same effective focal length as I get from my Canon gear, every appealing. But in even slightly low light/low contrast situations (which is basically where I live...), the lenses I was using (primarily the Oly 300mm f/4 Pro) would not focus if I was using either of the Olympus TCs. 

It wasn't just inconsistent, it simply refused to acquire the subject. So a bird in a bush right in front of me might as well not be there, as far as getting an image of it was concerned. Nothing in the settings was any help. (Yes, I did RFTM.)

Olympus UK's advice? "Take the converter off...

FFS..!

Was the R5 going to be more of the same? I understand that mirrorless AF systems are significantly different to what is in a DSLR - no cross-type AF sensors in the R5 - but this wasn't just a case of getting used to... 

In truth, it was a real panic.

So, back to First Principles. I tried again, ensuring that I diligently followed the prescribed order of attaching TC to lens; lens/TC to adapter; adapter to camera, and thankfully, I was back in business, pretty much.

(I have no idea why the assembly/disassembly order matters, but I don't suppose Canon would explicitly stipulate it in writing if it didn't.)

It still wasn't as responsive or instant in acquiring AF lock as the smaller lenses were "naked"(without TCs) but I can work on that - as I say, this isn't a DSLR, so some adjustment was likely to be necessary, and I remain hopeful that there's some cryptic setting in one of the menus or sub-menus that needs to be toggled on or off, and all will be well - and I'll still need to properly test the 500mm F/4 naked, and the 100-400mm with TCs.

Both the 500mm and the 100-400mm pretty much live with a 1.4x TC attached (the 2x TC on the 500mm f/4 is always something of compromise - it just makes everything that bit harder to do well), so as long as everything plays nicely together in those combos, I'll be as happy as a clam: for motor sports I mainly use the 70-200mm naked anyway, so that'll be fine in any event.

  I'd kinda hoped that - for once - it would all just be plain sailing, with only me as the potential weak-spot, but that's modern photography for ya...

More about this (and it's  good news) here.


Categories: Gear