The devil is in the detail


I don’t actually print that many of my photographs, so it never really bothered me that my trusty Canon 20D of the past 5 years or so had a 1.6x crop-sensor and was capable of capturing only 8 megapixels.

On the odd occasion I did decide to print something, I could easily squeeze out a decent traditional sized print, and I have even printed a couple of 20×30 sized images that look quite good… at least I thought so… until now. My Canon 5D Mark II has a 21 MP sensor capable of more advanced processing, and while the number of megapixels might not directly improve my chances of making a good photograph, along with the full frame capabilities, the detail it can capture is quite remarkable.

Images made with this new camera make for some pretty big file sizes – each processed tiff is a whopping 60MB – and the detail within each frame is exceptional. The picture above is a 100% zoomed-in crop from the image below (see the red box)… it is from the RAW unsharpened file, and as you can see, even without any post-processing, the detail in the lighthouse wall is quite impressive.

Good and bad though… everything becomes amplified. If I set up on a steady tripod and nail the focus… if I use mirror lock up and a remote release… an image captured can look incredibly sharp. On the other hand though, with the full frame sensor it doesn’t take much for an image to start looking ever so slightly soft or blurry when issues of steadiness aren’t addressed properly.

When using the 5DMKII I have had to revert to using my older, heavier tripod legs to ensure a greater degree of stability. The smaller, lighter tripod purchased over the summer for portability doesn’t seem to be able to provide a steady enough platform for the new camera, especially in windy conditions or when I make the decision to leave the shutter open for a longer period – I may have to invest in a more solid ball-head too. Depending on the aperture selected, my favorite 17-40mm lens appears to have some issues with “softness” in the corners when shooting wide at 17mm. For someone who has recently become quite enamored by the look of 17mm on a full frame sensor, this isn’t good news.

Having said all that… I am absolutely loving the quality of image produced by this camera. I have ordered a large metallic print (24×36) of a recent photograph to see how well the detail on screen transfers to the printing process – fingers crossed that it looks just as impressive!


8 thoughts on “The devil is in the detail

  1. Ben Horne

    When I upgraded to a 1Ds3 several years ago (same MP as the 5D2), I was amazed by the increased detail. I took a photo of what I thought was a small sailboat on the horizon with a long lens. When I enlarged the photo on my computer, I saw that it was actually a unique ship that can sink itself half way (vertically) and become a unique platform to study the ocean. I was amazed at the detail.

    On the note of the 17-40mm, despite the corners being a hair soft on full frame, it’s a sweet lens. I’ve owned both that lens and the 16-35mm II. Though better in the corners than the 17-40, the 16-35mm II still isn’t razor sharp. I preferred the 77mm filter size of the 17-40mm.

    • David Patterson

      Ben… I have always loved the 17-40mm lens, and it is only now that I am able to go full frame that I even notice the softness in the corners. When specifically looking for a photograph to be sharp and detailed, I think the softness is a small price to pay for the wider view. Having said that, as a large format photographer, I cannot imagine the detail you are able to get from your 8×10 transparencies… that must be stunning!

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