The Digital Journalist
Tech Tips
November 2007

by Chuck Westfall

A local photographer here in California suggested I contact you to see if you could offer some advice. I have an unusual assignment: to photograph a race between a plane and a car! If you could recommend a specific camera setup for the Nikon D200 or perhaps some articles I would really appreciate it. I would appreciate any ideas to help produce good images. Thanks so much! PS: The race will take place at an airport here in California. The weather (most likely) will be sunny. There might NOT be clouds in the sky (so this could affect metering in the camera). I will have full access to set up in, on, or near a runway where the car and plane will be passing over/by.

Thanks for the information. Here are some ideas that may be helpful for you:

1. Lighting: Do you have any say over when this photo session will take place? Ideally, you would want to shoot in early-morning or late-afternoon sunlight to get a warm "sweet light" effect to your photos. If that's not possible, chances are good your lighting will be relatively flat, which is still OK, even if it's not as pretty.

2. Camera Positioning: No matter what time of day you end up shooting, I would suggest positioning the camera so that the sun is either behind you or overhead. Aiming the camera towards the sun or the brightest area of the sky should be avoided, unless you like silhouettes and blown-out backgrounds. I would also suggest that you position yourself at right angles or at a 45-degree angle to the path the car and the plane will be using, and sufficiently far away not only for your safety, but also in order to use a reasonably long lens. Use a sturdy tripod with a good pan head so you can follow the action smoothly. If the lens is larger than the camera, chances are it will have a tripod collar, which should be used to balance the setup and avoid stressing the camera body's lens mount.

3. Lens Selection: One of the best lenses for this type of photography is a telephoto zoom. Since you'll be using the Nikon D200, you might want to consider the Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED AF VR lens. Photographers using the Canon EOS system could use the EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM. Other good choices might include a fixed focal length 300mm, 400mm, 500mm or 600mm lens, depending on how far you'll be from the subjects.

4. Camera Settings: Let's divide this topic into several subcategories:

• Image Quality Mode: For maximum image quality as well as maximum flexibility during post-processing, use RAW mode.

• AF Mode: Use Continuous Focus for your D200 (AI Servo for EOS users). Select the center focusing point manually, as opposed to automatic focusing point selection.

• Drive Mode: High-Speed Continuous

• Exposure Mode: Stick with Manual to keep your exposures consistent during burst mode shooting. Take a few test shots ahead of time to check your exposure, using the camera's histogram to ensure that you're on the money. You don't want to be too far over or under.

• Shutter Speed, Aperture & ISO: I would set the shutter speed no slower than 1/1000th sec., but use higher speeds if you've got good light. Since you'll be shooting against a blue sky, I would also select an aperture that's about 2 stops down from wide open on your lens in order to get better evenness of illumination in the corners of the image. Don't be afraid to adjust the ISO to get the shutter speed and aperture combination you want.

5. Shooting Tips: Assuming you are positioned as I've suggested, you'll probably be at roughly a 45-degree angle to the subjects when you start shooting, and then you'll pan the camera along with their movement until they pass your position at which point they will be at a 90-degree angle, If this is the case, and if you are using a VR or IS lens with a mode switch, use the panning mode. Practice tracking the subjects with the AF system by pressing the shutter button halfway for a few seconds before you press all the way down to start the sequence. Try to be patient and don't start shooting until the subjects are close enough to fill the frame reasonably well. Otherwise, you'll probably end up throwing away a lot of frames where the composition is too "loose." If you're using a zoom, start out at maximum focal length and pull back as the subjects approach your position.

6. Other Tips: Be sure that the camera's battery is fully charged and bring along a fully charged spare or two, just in case you need extra power. Also, be sure to bring along enough memory card capacity to handle your needs; I'd take along at least 48GB (6 x 8GB) if you're going to shoot a lot. Also, consider hiring an assistant to download the images into a laptop computer or portable storage device. Last but not least, don't forget to protect yourself with sunscreen and appropriate clothing for the weather, and bring a lot of water to keep yourself hydrated.

I am a firefighter who does off-duty spot news photography. The new digital cameras are very sensitive to the reflective striping on our turnout gear and apparatus, especially at night with flash. I have Canon 20D & 30D cameras. Do you have any suggestions or settings to illuminate the scene and reduce the overpowering reflections?

One of my buddies happens to be a volunteer fireman, and he confirms that the best solution for this particular problem is to use off-camera flash. This technique allows you to light the subject from a different angle than the camera position, so that the flash illumination does not bounce back into the lens. An ideal setup would involve the use of a bracket to hold the flash, which would connect to the camera's hot shoe via an Off-Camera Shoe Cord. With this setup, you would have a place to store the flash when it's not in use, but you could easily detach it from the bracket to hold it at arm's length and point it at an angle to the main subject while you're shooting. Here's a Web link for the Off-Camera Shoe Cord:

Canon Off Camera Shoe Cord 2 Review.aspx

I work full-time with the EOS-1Ds Mark II, and have noticed that Canon AF algorithms can sometimes pick another AF point than the one selected, if the camera can't AF with the selected point, and close AF points have high contrast to easily focus on. There is no feedback that the camera does this, but it does seem very likely to happen. I'm not talking about back-focusing issues; I know how my lenses work in this aspect. This seems to be the case on the 350D and 400D also. I'd like to disconnect this function - better no AF than wrong AF. Can it be done?

Assuming you are selecting the focusing point manually on your EOS-1Ds Mark II, the only way to let the camera use any other focusing point than the one you selected is to use Custom Function 17-1 or 17-2. So, if you want to ensure that the 1Ds Mark II is only using the single focusing point you selected, make sure that C.Fn 17 is set to 0. If C.Fn 17-0 has already been set and you still think the camera is picking another focusing point, either it is malfunctioning or you are mistaken. The EOS 350D and EOS 400D do not have the equivalent of C.Fn 17, so all you need to do with them is to make sure the camera is set for manual focusing point selection to ensure that focusing points other than the one you selected will not be used.

Are you completely sure this AF change is not happening?

Yes, I am absolutely certain. I've had a close working relationship with our R&D engineers since the early 1990s, and I am quite familiar with the AF specifications of all EOS SLRs. As an addendum to my previous reply, let me say, however that even when a single focusing point is manually selected, it is quite possible for the camera to select a subject that is slightly outside the AF frame shown in the viewfinder. This can occur under two circumstances:

1. In the case of EOS SLRs with less than 45 focusing points, the AF frames are engraved directly on the focusing screen. In some cases, the focusing screen may become very slightly shifted to the left or right of the actual focusing point position.

2. Also in the case of EOS SLRs with less than 45 focusing points, the size of the AF frames on the focusing screen is smaller than the size of the actual focusing points. If there is more than one subject in the area being analyzed, the camera may pick the area with the highest contrast, and this area may be slightly outside the AF frame in the viewfinder. However, under no circumstances does an EOS SLR with less than 45 focusing points and set for manual focusing point selection evaluate another focusing point than the one manually selected, unless the camera supports focusing point expansion and the user has selected it.

With EOS-1D class cameras including the EOS-1Ds Mark II, the size of the actual focusing points is very close to the size of the AF frames superimposed on the focusing screen, and moreover the alignment of the AF frames shown in the viewfinder compared to the positioning of the actual focusing points is typically quite accurate.

I have been an EOS user since 1993. Back then I bought an EOS A2 35mm SLR with two lenses: EF28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 USM (type 1); and an EF100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM. I still have them and use them with my EOS 20D. However, since going digital I have come to realize the 100-300 is my weakest lens in terms of IQ. I look to replace it and I study the various reports. But my main question concerns the 28-80. There are no "modern" tests for this older lens (that I know of), so I have nothing to compare it against. If I were to upgrade it too, what should I work toward? I've always thought it does a pretty good job, and so, other than an IS function, I'm not sure as to whether I should even bother with an upgrade. Would I notice a significant difference between it and the EF-S17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM in terms of sharpness?

The EF100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM lens is still current in our lineup, but it's been effectively replaced in terms of popularity by the EF70-300mm and EF75-300mm zoom lenses. Within the current Canon line, I would say the best replacement would be the EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. This lens doesn't have a ring USM (it's a micro USM instead, which is just as quiet), and it doesn't focus internally. However, both the focal length range and the image quality are superior to your lens, and it also has a very effective Image Stabilizer. There are plenty of other choices at higher and lower price points, but within the Canon line, I'd rate the EF70-300mm IS USM as the best value overall in its category.

If you were using a full-frame digital SLR, the most direct replacement of the EF28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 USM would probably be the EF28-90mm f/4-5.6 III, but since you're going to be using an EOS 20D, the equivalent lens would instead be the EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. You should be able to pick one up for less than $100 on the used market. (There's nothing wrong with using your 28-80mm lens on the EOS 20D, but due to that camera's smaller imaging format, the angle of view would be equivalent to 45-128mm on a full-frame camera.) If there's some room in your budget, then either the EF-S17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM or the EF17-40mm f/4L USM would be better choices. The EF-S17-55mm has a longer zoom range, a faster maximum aperture, and an Image Stabilizer. The EF17-40mm L lens has the advantage of covering full-frame, so it could be used on both of your cameras, and might also be useful to you in the future if you ever upgrade to a full-frame digital SLR like the EOS 5D. In terms of image quality, the EF-S 17-55 and the EF17-40L are fairly close (and definitely better than the EF-S18-55), though the 17-40L has better evenness of illumination wide open at 17mm than the 17-55mm lens if that's important to you.

I have heard that when using a camera for handheld photography, it is best not to use a shutter speed lower than the reciprocal of the focal length of your lens (100mm = 1/100 sec., 50mm = 1/50 sec., 400 = 1/400 sec., etc.) Does the 1.6x focal length conversion factor for APS-C digital SLRs (or any conversion factor) affect this equation at all?

In my experience, it is best to apply the focal length conversion factor in this particular situation. For example, if you are using a digital SLR with a compensation factor of 1.5x or 1.6x compared to full-frame 35mm format, you should multiply the actual focal length by that factor to arrive at a useful figure. In this case, the safest shutter speed for handheld photography at an actual focal length of 50mm would be approximately 1/80 sec. You might be able to get by with a slower speed with careful technique or image stabilization, but if the shot is important, it's better to err on the side of caution.

Thanks for reading Tech Tips! That's it for now. See you in December!

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 daughter, Anna. As Chuck says, "Bringing up the baby is a blast, and we're enjoying every minute of it."