Taking Canon to the Canyons; how the Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III, Canon EOS 50D and Canon G10 fared in the South West USA

Taking Canon to the Canyons;
how the Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III, Canon EOS 50D and
Canon G10 fared in the South West USA

A photographic tour of the South West US Canyons

In November 2008 I was lucky enough to spend two weeks on a dedicated photographic holiday of the South West US Canyons led by fine art pro photographer Nigel Turner. The following is a summary of the trip and my experience using the Canon 50D, the Canon 1Ds Mk III and the Canon G10.

I should start with briefly introducing myself. I thoroughly enjoy photography as a hobby having taken it up following getting a digital compact in 2000. I enjoyed experimenting and learning what worked and what didn’t! Digital cameras have certainly come into their own, after all each photo is free and you can just delete those that don’t work. I enjoyed it so much I got my first DSLR, the Canon EOS 300D - the first ‘entry level’ DSLR in 2003. It’s amazing to think that this was a ground breaking move by Canon at the time, being the first DSLR to be sold under £1,000 (just!). Those wanting an entry level DSLR now are spoilt for choice with the Canon EOS 1000D, Canon EOS 450D, Nikon D40, Nikon D60, Sony Alpha 200 just to name a few and many of these very good cameras are available for less than £300!

Since getting my first DSLR my photography has constantly improved, as I’ve learned how to control the camera and take the picture I want. I have owned a Canon 30D which takes great pictures still, but was very attracted to the benefits of the new Canon 50D and made the upgrade.

The holiday was my first dedicated photographic trip and I was certainly very excited about going! The trip was to be led by pro photographer Nigel Turner who having moved from the UK to Las Vegas 20 years ago knows the best places to be at the right time. The scenery was going to be magnificent, consisting of Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley and Canyon De Chelly.

Getting the kit there

The first issue to solve was what equipment to take and how to get it there! This issue was broadened when I was lucky enough to have on loan for the trip the Canon 1Ds Mk III, the Canon 16-35L f2.8 and Canon G10. I therefore needed to get a rucksack and my choice came down to either a bag from the Lowepro Vertex range or the Tamrac Expedition range. I decided on the Lowepro Vertex 200 AW, in part because I have had a couple of Lowepro bags in the past and have always been impressed. I was also happier with the Vertex’s pockets, laptop section and tripod mount. The Lowepro Vertex 200 certainly managed to fit a huge amount of kit, so what did I take?

I had with me:

The layout took a bit of experimenting with, but eventually it all fitted and my kit was easily accessible whilst in the field. Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of all the above in the bag before I had to give back the Canon 1DS Mk III, Canon 16-35L f2.8 and Canon G10 (yes they were difficult to part with!), but here are a couple of photos with a Canon 30D, EF-S 60 f2.8 macro and Canon EF-S 17-85 f3.5-4.5 instead.

I had the tripod in my suitcase on the flight out, but all the rest went in the rucksack. The Lowepro Vertex 200 is a perfect size for taking a large amount of kit as hand luggage. It is under the size limit for most airlines and I certainly had no issues going through airport security. Having a separate laptop compartment was very useful to quickly take the laptop in and out at the scanning areas, and on the plane the bag fitted easily in the overhead compartments without a problem.

On your back the bag is very comfortable with good shoulder straps and waist belt for added support. Even with the tripod on, I found it comfortable and a great way of transporting my gear. I was never worried about the gear as the bag is well padded and, as my Dad who has the same bag found out, it even copes with rolling down the side of a 20ft rock! If I had to criticise it, the zips are a little stiff, but I guess this is the trade off for having weatherproof zips! Luckily on the trip it didn’t rain so I didn’t have to test them or the rain cover for that matter, but hey, I rather it be dry and the light good! If you’re after a rucksack to take 2x DSLR bodies and 5/6 lenses, accessories, plus a laptop and tripod I thoroughly recommend the Lowepro Vertex 200 AW. If you need to take more kit (or a 17” laptop) there is also the Lowepro Vertex 300 (as well as the smaller Vertex 100) in the range.

The Trip

We flew into Las Vegas and managed a couple of hours walking down the strip before collapsing with tiredness having been up for 26 hours. The walk gave me a chance to try out the Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III and I decided to take just one lens, the Canon 35L f1.4, as most of the shooting was going to be hand held and in very low light.

Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 35L,
ISO 1250, 1/100 Sec at f1.4

The first thing that struck me about the 1Ds was the sound of the shutter, such a great addictive “clunk”! The build quality is as you would expect; the Canon 1Ds can withstand whatever the user or elements throws at it, and I quickly felt at home with the layout of the key buttons and dials. Having set it up on the flight out to have certain settings that I prefer, for instance having the quick-jog joystick to scroll through the AF points, I didn’t have a problem using it. I must confess I was apprehensive about this, thinking that it might feel alien to my trusted Canon EOS 30D and recently acquired Canon EOS 50D, but of course this was not the case with key Canon family traits being consistent.

Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 35L,
ISO 1250, 1/160 Sec at f1.4

I’ll talk about the Canon 1Ds Mk III in more detail throughout this review, but I should mention that this was also my first real outing with the Canon 35L f1.4. I had trawled the web forums and review sites and put a lot of thought into what lenses to get. The Canon 35L f1.4 was attractive in that it repeatedly had stunning reviews from its users. I wanted a high quality fast prime (Large aperture/Small f stop) for low light shooting. The 35mm focal length gave me a wide (ish) focal length on full frame (Canon 1Ds, 5D) and a 56mm equivalent on a cropped sensor (e.g. Canon 50D, 40D, 30D etc or Canon 400D, 450D etc) which I believe is effectively similar to the 50mm focal length largely viewed as what the human eye sees. I am excited about the new Canon 5D Mk II, so the full frame focal length as well as the view point I could get with the Canon 50D was equally important. I have been very impressed with the sharpness, colour and contrast I get with this lens and it also has that addictive ‘L’ series build quality.

I was largely shooting at ISO 800 with the lens wide open at f1.4, and found this allowed a fast enough shutter speed to take handheld shots. I came away with some pleasing memory shots and would love to go back to Las Vegas for a weekend (probably without a camera!) and spend time in those amazing casinos and hotels!

Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 35L,
ISO 320, 1/60 Sec at f1.4
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 35L,
ISO 800, 1/60 Sec at f1.4

So, next it was off to Zion National Park for the real start of the photography and I was definately looking forward to it, hoping for some beautiful autumnal colours.

Zion National Park

We were in luck, the trees were still full of colour and the weather forecast was good for the three days that we were staying. We arrived in the park for lunch and having checked in to the hotel, had time to wander into the canyon along the Virgin River and get a taste of what we would be photographing over the next few days. This gave me the chance to try the Canon G10 digital compact bridge camera for the first time.

I have had a Canon IXUS compact before and found that they take good photos, though for those used to using DSLRs, compacts don’t offer the level of control that you may wish. This is where the Canon G10 comes in. It offers full manual control of shutter speeds, apertures and exposure compensation etc which will please many DSLR users who also want a compact camera. The Canon G10, like the Canon G9 before it, has the ability to capture images in RAW format (along with JPEGs at the same time), adding to the usability. There are also post processing capabilities such as adjusting exposure, white balance etc for use back at home after the shot has been taken.

The first thing I noticed with the Canon G10 was its ease of use. Those who are used to either the Canon IXUS range or the Canon EOS range of DSLRs should find the menus and functionality very quick and easy to understand. The Canon G10 comes with a dedicated exposure compensation dial, an improvement on the G9, allowing quick and easy adjustment as well as being clearer when exposure compensation has been set.

I found that the Canon G10 had the ability to control the focus area (something that I find frustrating with most compacts). You can choose the size of the focus area and its location on the screen, particularly useful when there was a heron at one of the rapids and I tried setting the focus point on its head. Having a compact with the ability to control shutter speed was refreshing too. When taking the pictures of the heron I wanted to try and blur the water a bit too. Shooting handheld I tried a shutter speed of 1/20th sec and with the G10’s integrated Image Stabiliser (IS), I was able to take sharp photos with the effect I wanted.

Canon G10, ISO 100, 1/20 Sec at f6.3

I was very impressed with the Canon G10. It is a very well built camera with the added benefit of having a great deal of user control. It is also small enough to be a compact that you can have with you most of the time.

Our first full day in Zion marked the start of the serious photography; out came all the equipment and tripod. The days were to start early with a 5:30am wake-up call to make it in time for the sunrises – definitely worth it!

At Zion, the light from the sunrise can be captured hitting the colossal peaks that form great canvases for the glowing light. We were lucky all three mornings and it was a perfect start to each day.

Canon 50D, Canon EF 16-35L, ISO 100, 1/20 Sec at f11
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 16-35L, ISO 100, 1/2 Sec at f16

A morning spent walking up to the Emerald Pools gave me the opportunity to use the Canon EOS 50D. My previous DSLR was a Canon 30D and I had decided to upgrade to the 50D due to the increased pixel count, high ISO performance, live view and improved quality of the screen. The screen quality is the first thing that jumped out as being an improvement. It is clear, bright and viewable in the sun, certainly putting the Canon 1Ds Mk lII’s screen to shame! I’ll talk about using live view etc later.

I spent a lot of time throughout the trip using the Canon EOS 50D and the Canon EF-S 10-22 f3.5-4.5 and Canon 16-35L f2.8 Mk II. The EF-S 10-22 gives a great ultra-wide view point being 16mm equivalent. Its quality is great too. Having got home, viewed the photos and printed at A3, I have been very impressed with the quality of this lens.

The 16-35L on a cropped sensor (50D) was a good combination. I am used to using the Canon EF-S 17-85 IS as my ‘walk around‘ lens, but having had the benefit of experiencing the 16-35L I will definitely be looking into getting one as the improved build quality, saturation of colours and sharpness are a clear improvement, plus this lens can be used as an ultra wide lens on a full frame, which I used on the Canon 1Ds Mk III regularly in Zion.

Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22, ISO 100,
1/25 Sec at f11, circular polariser filter
Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22, ISO 100,
1/15 Sec at f14, circular polariser filter
Canon 50D, Canon EF 16-35L, ISO 100,
1/80 Sec at f11
Canon 50D, Canon EF-S 10-22, ISO 100,
1/15 Sec at f11, circular polariser filter

Zion is an amazing National Park, especially in autumn. The cliffs provided great backdrops against the colours of the leaves of the trees. The river also gave interesting opportunities for photographs, especially slowing the water down using ND filters.

Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS,
ISO 100, 1/8 Sec at f11
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 35L f1.4, ISO 100,
4 Secs at f14, 2 Stop ND filter, 3 stop ND Grad,
circular polariser filter
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 16-35L, ISO 100,
2 Secs at f22, 2 Stop ND filter
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 16-35L, ISO 100,
2.5 Secs at f22, 2 Stop ND filter
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 16-35L,
ISO 100, 1.6 Secs at f20,
2 Stop ND filter
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 16-35L,
3.2 Secs at f20, ISO 100,
2 Stop ND filter

It was a thoroughly enjoyable 3 days at Zion. Next was Bryce Canyon and we had heard that there was snow!

Bryce Canyon

There certainly was snow. There had been a storm the day before we arrived which had left 6 inches or so of snow as well as very cold temperatures! The night we arrived it was -8°C and -12°C factoring in the wind chill. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be that cold! The snow provided an extra element to Bryce Canyon, insinuating the orange rocks and textures.

With Bryce giving its best shots in the morning, the first afternoon we arrived was spent with Nigel who gave a demonstration of how to calibrate monitors, the first step in colour management and ensuring correct colour and brightness of photos when viewed on screen and in print. Nigel demonstrated using a Gretag Macbeth EyeOne Display 2 monitor profiler. I have since acquired one having not calibrated monitors before and I find it simple and easy to use and have successfully calibrated both PC and laptop monitors.

Throughout the trip Nigel also talked about post production of images using raw converters and Photoshop, including soft proofing, working in a colour managed workflow and printing. It certainly makes a difference and I have since started to learn how to work in a colour managed work space myself and produced some prints that are accurate in both colour and brightness (something I struggled with in the past!).

Three mornings were spent at Bryce, a truly magical amphitheatre of sandstone hoodoos. The early morning light catches parts of the amphitheatre as it rises, lighting up certain hoodoos and making them almost transparent. The mornings were certainly cold, although made slightly better by having hand warmers in my gloves! The cameras worked slowly and battery life was reduced which was to be expected given the -5°C to -10°C temperatures. I was using the WexPro compact flash cards throughout the trip and they gave me no problems at all, even in cold conditions.

Canon 1Ds MkIII, Sigma 50mm f1.4, ISO 100,
1/3 Sec at f11
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L
f4 IS, ISO 100, 1/30 Sec at f11
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L
f4 IS, ISO 100, 1/80 Sec at f11
Canon 50D, Canon EF 16-35L, ISO 100, 1/20 Sec at f11,
3 stop ND Grad filter
Canon 1Ds MkIII,
Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS,
ISO 100, 1/6 Sec at f11
Canon 50D,
Canon EF 16-35L,
ISO 100, 1/80 Sec at f11
Canon 50D,
Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS,
ISO 100, 1/50 Sec at f11
Canon 50D, Sigma 50mm f1.4, ISO 100, 1/30 Sec at f11

A walk one afternoon into the Canyon was another good time to experiment with the Canon G10. It was the perfect camera to take along in a pocket whilst walking along the icy trails. Bryce Canyon is at 8,000 feet and the trails are steep going down into the amphitheatre so it was certainly a better idea to go without tripod and rucksack! The Canon G10 is fun to use and managed to cope with even tricky lighting conditions. The ability to make exposure compensation was a useful function with the snow, although not always required with the G10 metering well.

Canon G10, ISO 100, 1/1000 Sec at f4.5
Canon G10, ISO 100, 1/640 Sec at f4.5
Canon G10, ISO 100, 1/1250 Sec at f4
Canon G10, ISO 100, 1/80 Sec at f6.3

Shooting both the Canon EOS 50D and Canon 1Ds EOS Mk III at Bryce made me appreciate even more some of the 1Ds features. The increased number of focus points I found useful when choosing which hoodoo to focus on. Having set it up to scroll through 19 focus points through the view finder, I found it easy to focus where I wanted without having to recompose the image or use manual focus.

The 100% view finder was a joy. It was large, clear and bright with its greatest merit being that it allowed you to perfectly compose your image without having to estimate the part of the image that wasn’t included (like on the 50D’s 95% viewfinder). In a place like Bryce this was a huge benefit, as I wanted to exclude tops of adjacent hoodoos etc without having to do unnecessary cropping afterwards.

Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon

Following Bryce we headed south to Page on the edge of Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam. The purpose of a couple of days at Page was to see Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado and the slot canyon at Antelope Canyon. It was the slot canyon that I was most excited about as I have seen a number of amazing shots that were taken there.

Shooting at Antelope Canyon requires a clear sky so that the sun gets diffused as it bounces off the canyon walls. The first morning at Page was overcast so we visited the Horseshoe Bend. The Colorado has gorged down through the sandstone creating cliffs 800+ foot high. In today’s health and safety nanny-state world, it was very surprising that the sand path through the desert led right up to the unprotected cliff tops!

I wanted pictures that captured the whole of the river, which took a lot of concentration. Some I even took peering over the edge whilst lying on my stomach!

3 shots - Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon TS-E 24L,
ISO 100, 1/100 Sec at f11,
3 stop ND Grad filter

The following photo was taken using the Canon TS-E 24L Tilt and Shift lens. I used the shift function to capture three portrait shots which I later stitched together. The size of the resulting photo is 149MB TIFF and 49m pixels so I’m hoping to be able to print it big.

Seeing the Horseshoe Bend was an amazing sight but certainly not for those that are fearful of heights!

The following morning was perfect for shooting at Antelope Canyon. I decided to shoot mainly with the Canon 50D with the Canon EF 16-35L f2.8 Mk II. The Antelope Canyon is a fantastic place. It is a narrow gorge with 100ft walls rising from the streambed. There are two parts - Upper and Lower. We were shooting in the Lower Canyon which was accessed by metal stairs/ladders that lead the way down to the streambed. The stream has eroded away the rock making some amazing shapes and textures, perfect for some abstract photography.

Canon 50D, Canon EF 16-35L,
ISO 100, 1 Sec at f14
Canon 50D, Canon EF 16-35L,
ISO 100, 0.8 Sec at f11
Canon 50D, Canon EF 16-35L,
ISO 100, 2.5 Secs at f11
Canon 50D, Canon EF 16-35L,
ISO 100, 1.6 Secs at f11

A tripod is a necessity and the angles of some of the shots meant that you were having to contort yourself at weird angles. I think I spent most of the time sat on the sandy floor. Given the strange angles I found live view functionality very useful. The clear screen on the Canon 50D meant that you are able to zoom in and check the focus. I also found live view very useful in composing whilst setting up the tripod, especially given that sometimes you needed to support the legs against the canyon walls. I was using live view in combination with mirror lock up, given the low light exposures were of typically 3 seconds or longer.

Canon 50D, Canon EF 16-35L,
ISO 100, 1 Sec at f11
Canon 50D, Canon EF 16-35L,
ISO 100, 2 Secs at f14

Shooting at Antelope Canyon was an amazing experience. The photography was a great challenge and shooting with the Canon EOS 50D using live view worked exceptionally well. Next stop was Monument Valley.

Monument Valley

We had an enjoyable day in the park even if it was another early start for the sunrise – once again it was worth it. Although there was some cloud cover the sun broke through and we were able to capture some fantastic silhouettes of the mittens.

Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS, ISO 100, 1.3 Secs at f5.6

I found Monument Valley such a surreal place, made me feel like I was part of a John Wayne movie!

Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS, ISO 100, 1/25 Sec at f11
Canon 50D, Canon EF 16-35L, ISO 100, 1/160 Sec at f11
9 shots stitched - Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS, ISO 100, 1/160 Sec at f11

Our final sunrise of the trip was Church Rock just outside Kayenta. This site was suited to a panoramic view with the formations in the background. The light catching the foliage in the foreground made it a good sunrise to finish with.

6 shots stitched - Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS, ISO 100, 1/40 Sec at f11

Canyon De Chelly

The final part of the trip for photography was Canyon De Chelly, a large canyon in the Navajo Indian Reservation. The photography was best from inside the Canyons, which was accessible to tourists only by heavy duty 6 wheel drive vehicles. It was an enjoyable day and a great experience in the vehicles. The autumnal colours were still around which like Zion were supported by huge backdrops of the cliffs.

Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 16-35L,
ISO 100, 1/100 Sec at f11
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon 16-35L,
ISO 100, 1/180 Sec at f11
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS,
ISO 100, 1/80 Sec at f4
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS,
ISO 100, 1/160 Sec at f11
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS,
ISO 100, 1/160 Sec at f11
Canon 1Ds MkIII, Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS,
ISO 100, 1/200 Sec at f11

Homeward Bound

The flight home from Phoenix allowed time to reflect on what was a fantastic experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my first dedicated photographic trip, its merits being able to share the experience with other like minded enthusiasts, learning and improving my photography as I went along and most of all, having a good amount of time in each location to enjoy the photography itself. Going on an escorted trip also means that you are at the right locations at the best times of the day to get most use of the optimum lighting conditions. My experience with the Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III was certainly an enjoyable one. Looking at images on screen and in print, the added detail that the 21 megapixel full frame sensor gives you is fantastic and I will certainly be getting a Canon 5D Mk II as a result! The Canon 50D is a great camera too and certainly an improvement to the EOS 30D I am used to. I found the 50D faster to operate than the 30D and the improved screen and live view a great benefit on the trip in real life shooting. Back at home the increased pixel count certainly captures great detail and produces amazing A3 prints (not yet printed larger, but I‘m sure there is enough detail to). I think that the Canon EOS 50D and Canon EOS 5D Mk II will be a great combination.

I also came away wishing I could keep the Canon G10 as this is a great compact camera with full control overrides, RAW capture and complimentary to any DSLR user’s kit. Sadly for my wallet I will therefore be getting one of these too!

Well, here’s to baked beans for the whole of 2009…

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