The Digital Journalist
Tech Tips

by Chuck Westfall

May 2006

A quick note before I begin: This edition of Tech Tips marks the 1st anniversary of the column. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all of our readers for their interest, and thanks to Dirck Halstead and The Digital Journalist production crew for their continuing support. It has been a great first year, and I am looking forward to many more.

On a shoot today with the Canon 1Ds Mark II someone made a claim that surprised me and I was wondering if you had heard anything like this. The claim:

"When shooting tethered you can shoot faster using a FW800 cable than you can using a FW400 cable."

The reason that I was surprised is that to my knowledge when you connect a FW400 device to a FW800 port, data communication takes place at the FW400 rate. Now Canon does not expressly say their port is FW400 but in a review I found this comment:

"The FireWire speed has also been increased, from 60 Mbps on the 1Ds, to 100Mbps on the Mark II."

This suggests that the port is FW400, and that it only communicates at one of the slower data rates in the FW400 specification which allows for a maximum of 400Mbps. This would seem to make it even more likely that the FW 800 cable would speed up shooting. Any comments or information you have heard would be appreciated.

First things first: There is no question that the data port on an EOS-1Ds Mark II is FireWire 400. The data transmission rate is higher than the original EOS-1Ds, which is also FireWire 400, but the main reason for that is the higher performance of the Mark II camera's DIGIC II processor vs. the pre-DIGIC equivalent on the earlier model. As you noted, in both cases, the actual data transmission rate from either camera is clearly lower than the maximum theoretical throughput for FireWire 400. This differential is caused by error-checking algorithms that ensure data integrity, an important consideration for high-resolution digital still cameras like the EOS series.

It is possible to connect a Mark II camera to a FireWire 800 port via an adapter, but I have not personally tried it. Based on what I've heard from Mac owners who connect their external FireWire 400 drives to a FireWire 800 port on their computers with this type of adapter, I would expect a slight improvement in data transmission rates with a Mark II camera, but nothing drastic. In any case, Canon does not recommend the practice of connecting current EOS digital SLRs to a FireWire 800 port, and we make no claims that it will improve performance.

By the way, if shooting quickly while tethered is important, I recommend using the camera's shutter button or a remote switch attached to the camera's remote control socket rather than firing the camera from the computer's keyboard. When firing from the computer, you can only take one shot at a time, and you have to wait until the image is completely transferred to the computer before taking the next one. When firing from the camera, you can shoot as many images as the camera's buffer memory will allow, even in continuous mode.

I own a 5D. I would like to set the owner and (c) notice in the camera, for use in the EXIF data. I do not, however, want to install any unnecessary software. Every time I do this my PC gets slower, more unstable, and filled with more unnecessary stuff. What is the minimum software I can install to set Camera owner and (c) information?

It is actually simpler now than it has been for the past few years to answer this question: The only software currently needed to upload the Owner's Name field to your EOS Digital SLR is EOS Utility 1.0. (This software replaces the "Camera Window" software I discussed in an earlier edition of Tech Tips.)

No other software is required for this purpose. However, if you want to use Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP), ZoomBrowser EX or ImageBrowser software in addition to EOS Utility 1.0, it is necessary to use the latest versions of each and uninstall any earlier versions. EOS Utility is supplied with the EOS 30D, but if you own the 5D or any other EOS digital SLR dating back to the D30, you can update to EOS Utility at no charge via the Canon USA Web site. Be sure to read the installation instructions carefully before you begin, because it is necessary to have qualifying Canon digital camera software installed on your computer before you install the updater version of EOS Utility. Also, there is an instruction manual for EOS Utility in the Product/Software Manual section of the Canon USA Web site. I strongly suggest reading this manual to get the most out of EOS Utility. Once EOS Utility is installed, it is OK to uninstall earlier versions of Canon EOS Capture and RemoteCapture software.

I am experiencing difficulty using both studio flash and a Canon Speedlite simultaneously. I own an EOS-1D Mark II N but the problem seems to be consistent with other 1-series DSLRs which I use from time to time for such work. The typical shoot involves a number of studio flash monoblocs positioned around the subject (sometimes as many as eight units). The nature of the environment (interiors) often precludes the use of a studio flash from the camera position so I have attempted to use the Speedlite (both camera mounted and via the Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2) for this purpose. However the resultant exposure is almost zero (i.e., no picture is recorded under this combined setup). The camera works fine with just the Speedlite or just the studio flash, but not together. I have tried removing the sync cord from the PC socket (triggering the monoblocs via optical slave): no difference. I have tried taking the flash off ETTL-II (onto Manual, thinking that the pre-flash was firing the optical slaves just prior to exposure): no difference. I have two 580EX (problem exists with both) and use various 1-series cameras, so it appears not to be an isolated equipment fault. Hope you can help.

I'll bet that the sync cable for the studio flash units has reverse polarity compared to the Speedlite. This isn't a problem when you're only using one or the other, but it doesn't work when both are connected at the same time. Here's why: your 1D Mark II N has a circuit that detects the polarity of the sync cable and compensates for it automatically. But when the flash in the hot shoe has reverse polarity compared to the sync cable connected to the PC socket, the circuit cannot compensate for both at the same time. The result is no flash. You should be able to correct the problem by reversing the polarity of the sync cable that's attached to the PC socket. Also, in this situation, I would suggest that you set the Speedlite to its Manual flash mode to avoid any issues with the preflash that occurs in E-TTL mode.

I am an amateur photographer who used to be a marketing communications director for a Fortune 100 company. I think you do a superb job as a communicator who believes in content and not fluff. You add great value to Canon customers. A question, if you have time to answer: Will the EF100-400L IS work well on a monopod with IS switched on? I know it won't on a tripod. What's your experience?

Thanks for the kind words! I sincerely appreciate your sentiments. As you mentioned, the EF100-400L is one of the early Canon Image Stabilizer systems that cannot compensate properly when used on a tripod. There's no way to guarantee that the IS system of this lens will work on a monopod, but the decision to use it or not depends on your technique. The steadier the lens, the more likely it is that the IS system will blur your shot. My suggestion would be to keep the IS system on for hand-held photography, but shut it off when the lens is on a tripod or a monopod. Incidentally, another tip to improve the odds of getting a sharp photo with the EF100-400L lens is to raise the ISO speed setting on the camera. This can result in higher shutter speeds under most lighting conditions, and the noise levels on our current EOS models are so low that you can get away with setting higher ISO speeds without losing much in terms of image quality.

How long will a CMOS sensor work before it starts to "fail?" My instinct tells me that anything with color will eventually fade, and there are color filters over each photosite on the sensor. Obviously color is just one aspect of longevity, and issues like camera obsolescence as well as other mechanical factors are involved. But theoretically, how long would a sensor keep on working before it runs into problems?

It's difficult to answer your question, because there is no easy way to simulate aging with an image sensor. However, the microlenses on Canon CMOS sensors do a good job of sealing the RGB filter elements and preventing them from exposure to atmospheric gases. Additionally, the CMOS sensors used in EOS cameras are usually in "dark storage" behind the camera's focal plane shutter except during exposures or cleaning, so that's another way in which the sensors are well protected. All we can really say is that we're building a track record over time; Canon's first CMOS image sensor for digital SLRs appeared 6 years ago with the EOS D30, and to date there is no evidence of sensor failure or any change in color accuracy with Canon CMOS image sensors regardless of age or usage conditions.

I have a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, but cannot get it to connect to my iMac G5. I went to the Canon site to download all of the latest utilities, but have had no luck. When I attach the camera to the computer, Camera Window opens, then quietly quits - like it didn't find a camera. What are the solution options?

The solution to your problem may lie with the Rebel XT's "Communication Setting." You'll find this setting on the "Setup 2" menu on the camera's LCD screen. When Communication is set for "Print/PTP," which is the default, the camera can be recognized by Apple software such as Image Capture and iPhoto, as long as the Preferences for those programs are properly set. But if you want to use Canon software, the XT's Communication has to be set for "PC Connection." This is spelled out in the software instructions, but it's easy to miss. If you continue to experience connection problems after making this change, I would suggest calling Canon USA's Customer Support Center at 1-800-828-4040 for further assistance. They are currently open from 8 a.m. to 12 midnight (Eastern USA time), Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays, excluding holidays.

Thanks to one and all for reading Tech Tips! That's it for now. See you in June!

You are invited to submit questions about photo equipment, imaging technology, or photo industry trends that may have a bearing on your work or interests. I cannot promise to answer everything, but I pledge to do my best to address the issues that concern you. (Please use the e-mail link provided at the end of this article.)

© Chuck Westfall

After earning a degree in Professional Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology and accumulating some valuable on-the-job experience during a 10-year stint in commercial photography and photo retail, Chuck Westfall began his corporate career with Canon U.S.A. in 1982 as a Technical Representative. He has steadily advanced through the ranks to achieve his present position as Director of Media & Customer Relationship for the company's Consumer Imaging Group, working out of Canon U.S.A.'s headquarters office in Lake Success, N.Y. Among his many assignments, Chuck Westfall is currently Canon USA's main media spokesman for new camera products. He also provides a unique insider's perspective to financial analysts who follow the company's CIG sales and marketing activities.

Chuck's involvement with digital cameras began in 1994, when he assisted Canon and Kodak engineers in developing the EOS-DCS series of professional SLRs. Since then, his responsibilities have expanded to include participation in the development and launching of many other Camera Division products, including Canon's professional and consumer-oriented digital cameras. Over the last 10 years, Chuck has continued to participate in the design, development, introduction and marketing support of camera products. Most recently, he supervised the launch of a comprehensive on-line and on-site dealer training initiative for the Camera Division.

On the personal side, Chuck married his beautiful wife Ying in 2000 and they have been blessed with a wonderful 2-year old daughter, Anna. As Chuck says, "Bringing up the baby is a blast, and we're enjoying every minute of it."