Not what I thought it would be

I thought I was smart… but I wasn’t. I tried out the Canon EOS 90D. What was I hoping for? Why do I return it?

I still have no high-resolution camera. My primary interest in having one is shooting portraits. My good old Canon EOS 5D Mark iii is ok, but I thought having something better would make my customers happier. However, as I’m trying to make profits with my photography, I wasn’t prepared to spend a lot of money. I don’t think I’ll gather extra customers from buying a better camera. It would just be a cost to me.

So I was looking for a reasonably cheap camera with high resolution. This led me to the new 90D. It has 32.5 MP. This is 46 percent more resolution than what I have. Hang on, you may think: the 90D just has an APSC sensor. My 5Dii is full format. It should have a better image quality. However, when I do portrait shootings, I shoot at low ISO. So all the disadvantages of small sensor are unimportant.

Then, an online store offered the camera with huge discount. I thought it’s now or never. I ordered it.

Bad View-Finder Autofocus

Then the testing: I used my EF 70-200 F2.8 lens. The first thing I discovered was a back focus problem. No 1DX quality, it’s ok for the price, I thought. So I fixed the back focus problem. Then the disappointment: Only about each 5th picture was tack sharp, the others more or less soft. This is simply not acceptable. Even my 5 year old 7D Mark ii performs much better.

To be fair, the problem disappeared when I used Live View instead of the viewfinder. However, I do sports portraits! Did you ever shoot action with a viewfinder? I cannot imagine doing this.

The 90D might be a great camera otherwise. However, dear Canon, what is the point of bringing a 32.5 MP camera to the market that shoots soft pictures? I’m sorry to write this. The camera will go back to the store after the weekend.

Atletica Helvetica

It’s official. On November 16, my first sports book will appear. Joint with my agency athletix.ch I will issue a book on the Swiss athletics season 2019. During the past months we were busy putting the content together. At the moment, we are ready for the print run.

The purpose of the book is to allow any fan to look back at and re-live the 2019 season. An ever-lasting dream of humans is to preserve emotions. Social media have no memory. Books have. This is why we decided to produce a book. We will produce 144 pages. The book will contain articles that have been written by professional journalists.

A special feature about Switzerland is that we have four official languages. Three of them will enter the book. Articles about athletes from the German speaking part will be in German, articles about athletes from the Italian speaking part in Italian and articles about athletes from the French speaking part in French.

We will re-visit all the major events of the season, starting with the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow and ending with the World Championships in Doha. Readers will enjoy looking back at the six Swiss gold medals at the Junior Europeans in Sweden, the Gold medal for Lea Sprunger at the Indoor Europeans, and, of course, Mujinga Kambundji’s historic sprint medal at the Worlds in Doha.

Online purchases are possible under http://atletica-helvetica.ch.

On copyright and upload filters

This might be my most controversial blog entry ever. Maybe you are one of the readers that will tell me that I have no idea of the modern internet. Let me start with a real case. Last year in Bellinzona I shot this press picture of the Swiss sprinter Mujinga Kambundji.

Mujinga Kambundji at Gala dei Castelli 2018 Bellinzona  July-18, 2018

Mujinga Kambundji at Gala dei Castelli 2018 Bellinzona July-18, 2018

I uploaded this picture to my agency, and one of our main clients, the Swiss Athletics Federation, used it for this article. The picture has never been sold to any other client. Recently, I met my picture again, namely, here:

Screenshot 2019-03-26 at 18.42.26

A YouTuber, called Nuffin’ Long Athletics, used it as cover photo for a video about Mujinga. I have no doubt that the video itself is a completely legal production. However, the use of the cover picture is illegal. It is my picture. I have never been contacted. Neither has my agency.

This is theft.

Today, the EU parliament passed a reform of the copyright legislation. This reform has been extremely controversial. Some of the main opponents were: Google (the owner of YouTube), a political party called the ‘Pirates’, many bloggers, YouTubers, etc.

The name of the political party is their program. Piracy is almost as old as the internet. Once, it almost destroyed the music industry. Since then, things have changed. Old players disappeard and were replaced by new players. One of the most important ones is

… YouTube.

To see this, go back to the case of my stolen picture. My interest would have been to sell to Nuffin’ Long Athletics. The reason? If I can’t cover my expenses, I have to stop my activities, sell my equipment, and do something else. Ask any artist, photographer, video producer, text author. They all have the same problem. Once the intellectual property is accessible, there is nothing that prevents pirates from copying it. This happens on each day, a million times. No wonder so many creative people change their jobs.

Who profits from piracy? To answer this, click on the video. YouTube starts with an advertising video and earns money (sometimes the YouTuber profits with a tiny amount, but Nuffin’ Long Athletics is too small; they get nothing). So the winner from the piracy is

… YouTube.

In theory, the law is on my side. However, will Nuffin’ Long Athletics respond to an invoice? Most likely not. Can I sue them? In theory, yes. Can I pay all the necessary legal fees from a damage payment? Obviously not. The economic value of an online picture is far too low. Can I sue Youtube? No. I have no contractual relationship with YouTube.

Let us come back to the EU copyright directive. The very controversial Article 13 (Article 17 in the revised version) states that that anyone sharing copyrighted content must get permission from rights owners (or at least have made the best possible effort to get permission). In particular it forces all online platforms like YouTube to police and prevent the uploading of copyrighted content, or make people seek the correct licenses to post that content. In plain words, YouTube will be held responsible.

What a game changer.

Obviously, YouTube doesn’t like this. Why? It’s expensive to improve their upload filters. Moreover, taking away illegal content from YouTube reduces revenue. Bloggers, YouTubers, and users of online platforms don’t like it either. Why? Users get less illegal content for free. They don’t care. And producers like Nuffin’ Long Athletics have to make sure they have proper licenses. This requires effort and costs money.

Now it’s your turn.

  • Feel free to explain why the EU is censoring Nuffin’ Long Athletics.  
  • Feel free to explain why the freedom of speech on the internet has died.

But please, answer these two questions and relate to my case. I’m not interested in Bla Bla on other things.

 

On photo gear 2019

Leichtathletik Weltklasse Zuerich, 2018

Another nerdy blog entry… which camera should I/you buy?

While home cycling in our basement, I watched a few YouTube videos. Each year the same: it’s the end of the year, everybody has time, and the YouTube family thinks about market trends.

Orientierungslauf Florian Schneider Lobhorn Bern 2018 July-29, 2018

I’ll be straight. (If you want to have a full hour of entertainment on this question go elsewhere.) Buy ANY modern camera of the serious manufacturers, like Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Sony (in alphabetical order), and this camera will be excellent. Period.

It follows that if you buy a completely new system, the best thing is to go to a shop. Hold several models in your hands, and do some test shots of different subjects (if they let you). If you find the handling intuitive and the price is OK, buy the camera. If you have to guess how to find the right buttons, buy another one.

Niederhorn    July-11, 2018

If you have special needs, there is a little more to say. For instance, I shoot something like 3’000 frames on one single event. I need fast cameras with fast writing and reading capabilities. The autofocus must be excellent too. There are two manufacturers that provide this: Canon and Nikon. The full frame versions are the 1DXii for Canon and the D5 for Nikon (the predecessors will be excellent too). The corresponding APSC versions are the 7Dii by Canon and the D500 by Nikon. By construction the APSCs have poorer low light capabilities, but for outdoor sports my 7Dii is absolutely sufficient.

The only reason I shoot Canon, not Nikon, is that I bought a Canon some 10 years ago. Hence, I am stuck to the system. Would I be happier with Nikon? I don’t know, but I guess not. From what I know about Sony (I have friends with Sony) the reading and writing capabilities are inferior to Canon and Nikon. I have no information about Fuji, as I have never seen a colleague with Fuji in an arena.

UCI Cyclo-Cross Weltcup Bern  2018

What are the future trends?

  • Mobile phones will take over the market for snapshots and even landscape. The electronic capabilities of these cameras are incredible. Their main disadvantage is the missing tele lens. Nevertheless, all classic manufacturers will have big, big problems. Not risky to predict that some of them will die. If you have no special needs (like wildlife or sports), but just want a camera for your family photos: invest some 1’000 or more stones and buy a high end smartphone.
  • For the rest of the market, mirrorless cameras will replace DSLRs, but this will take some time. Manufacturers need that time to build the new lenses. The new standard will be F2 zoom lenses that will replace the current F2.8 zoom lenses. A lot of negative things have been said about Canon, but notice that Canon is the only manufacturer so far that has a completely new F2 zoom lens.

 

2018: check

It’s the quiet time of the year. Time to look back. Enjoy some of my best pictures

Not mirrorless

So I have a new camera, a dinosaur: another Canon 1 DX mark ii.

In the days of the mirrorless hype (“the camera revolution has started”) when Canon, Nikon, and Fuji introduced a generation of new mirrorless cameras, my photo friends and I decided to buy… good-old DSLRs.

Why? The reason is simple.

  • First: for our needs, there aren’t lenses for mirrorless cameras out there. Those lenses that have been introduced are not convincing (the only exception being Canon’s new F2.0 zoom lens – this one might be a game changer in the future).
  • Second: modern DSLR’s are 100% reliable. Brilliant autofocus, 14 frames per second, my old one has 376’000 shutter releases and is still working perfectly).
  • Third: Why do we need more of everything? 20 Megapixels are all we need, I recently even delivered even a 5x5m poster. The video capabilities are really good, and the weight… come on, We’re neither 7 nor 80: the weight is negligible compared to that of the tele lenses.

I unboxed the camera yesterday. Enjoy some first test shots.

I am convinced, the future will be mirrorless. But meanwhile the new DXiis will do the better job!

Sigma screwed me up

Back to Bundesliga. This blog is about my frustration with my latest football coverage.

For those who follow my blog for photography reasons: maybe you remember that I bought a new tele lens earlier this year, the Sigma 120-300 F 2.8 S. It had been introduced in a video by Stephan Wiesner and we were quite enthusiastic about the first results.

After a few months it is time for a report on its long-run performance. I’ll be short: the lens has a massive problem: the autofocus! Depending on what you want to do, the performance ranges between “good” and “absolutely not reliable”.

  • The lens performed really well on the first day when the video was made: why? Because I only did two sorts of shots that work with this lens. First, shots when things are not hectic. Second action shots where the distance is predictable. A good example for the latter are the volleyball scenes from the head-on position that appear in Stephan’s video. Below are examples of such shots.
  • However, the lens is absolutely not reliable, if the subject is running towards you, or the exact spot of the action is not predictable. The first is typical for head-on positions in athletics (a 100m sprinter is too fast for the lens) and the latter for football matches (where one intelligent pass requires immediate re-focusing to some completely new spot).  I cannot include these pictures, because I delete them immediately: believe me, I deleted many! Also: be grateful to my parents who educated me well. I won’t use strong words here. I was tempted to use them, though, when I missed important shots.
  • As an aside, the lens also has strong vignetting. This is not bad per se. Some of the pictures have a “cool” look. However, Lightroom is not able to correct this if you want to.  So this is worth mentioning.

Just Another Lens

Did you buy another lens? Why do you need another one?”

I recently bought the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 lens. Admittedly, this was a very though decision, as I have a lot of gear.  Why did I do this?

  • At many events my 400 was too long and the 70-200 was too short. Examples? Football when the play comes closer, athletics when athletes react after the finish line.
  • Moreover, I love the flexibility of a zoom to shoot the same scene close and wide at the same time. So a 300mm prime lens was no option (and far too expensive).
  • Finally, I needed a fast lens. F2.8 was a must.

There’s only one lens on the market that can do all this: the Sigma 120-300 F2.8

VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018

Der Swiss MVP des Jahres Jovan Djokic im Schweizer Cup Final zwischen Biogas Volley Naefels und Volley Amriswil; VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018 am 31 March, 2018 in Fribourg (St. Leonhard-Halle), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller

Critics on the lens were excellent. So I took the risk and bought it instead of renting it first.

I added a Sigma USB dock, because I understood that Sigma lenses almost always have either front or back focus problems. I downloaded the adjustment software and spent one very dull evening with the calibration of a heavy back focus problem (thanks Tobias Wagen for cheering me up via the facebook chat).

Moreover, the lens weighs more than 3kg. From my experience with my 400mm prime lens, I knew I could hold it for a while and use a monopod between the shots. I certainly would think twice if I had to carry it with me as a nature photographer (which I am not).

VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018

Here’s a digital zoom into a picture. The lens is sharp until you approach the limits of my Canon 1DX mark ii. VOLLEYBALL CUP FINAL 2018 am 31 March, 2018 in Fribourg (St. Leonhard-Halle), Schweiz, Photo Credit: Ulf Schiller

The next event on my schedule was the Swiss Volleyball Cup Final. So I took the lens with me to this event. My friend Stephan Wiesner came with me and prepared a video.

So what is my verdict?

It is a great lens. Some “testers” have complained about this or that… I don’t care!

  • The pictures are sharp. Period.
  • The autofocus is working. Period.

The only serious complaint is about the initial back focus problem. Sigma stole me 4 hours to fix it. But here’s the second thought. I saved about 3’000 stones compared to a 300mm prime lens. In this sense, buying the Sigma 120-300mm lens instead of the 300mm prime is like receiving a daily wage of 2 x 3’000= 6’000.

This makes me feel good! I should go and buy another lens!

*** UPDATE: One month later I had many more opportunities to work with the lens. I stick to my verdict, but with a slight qualification. When the action comes close and I am shooting at 120mm at a distance of, say, 5-7m, the autofocus has problems. I missed some shots at Bundesliga matches. ***

*** UPDATE 2: It’s the beginning of June and I had the first serious issues with the lens. I used it at two meetings in midday sunlight and the results were… BAD. I immediately switched back to my old equipment which worked nicely. As this happened twice I will do further tests. Was it the sunlight? Was it me? Do I have to repeat the calibration? I’ll let you know, but it will take some time. ***

 

Mujinga

Soon after my move to Switzerland in 2004, I became aware of a little girl that was much faster than all the others. Not only did she beat my children 😉 , she always won with big, big margins against anybody. It was easy to see that she was really special. Her name was Mujinga Kambundji.

Mujinga Kambundji - Shooting

Almost 14 years later, Mujinga is an international star. At the recent indoor World Championships she won the bronze medal, beating the Olympic 100m Champion Elaine Thompson (JAM) and the World Champion of 2015, Daphne Schippers (NED).

Living in the same area, even being a member of her club, I always had in mind doing a shooting with her, but I knew she has a lot of similar requests. So I always hesitated, despite of other people telling me that she would agree for sure. In my opinion, there had to be a reason for a shooting.

Mujinga Kambundji - Shooting

The reason came when the organizers of the international CITIUS Meeting (Bern, Wankdorf, June 16, 2018) asked me to do a shooting with Mujinga. The CITIUS meeting will be Mujinga’s first individual start in her home town Bern since 2012.

My friend Stephan Wiesner, the well known YouTube photographer, came with me and we did the shooting in team work. Needless to say, that Stephan also did a nice behind-the scenes YouTube video.

Links:

Shooting action using flashes

Recently I did several portrait shootings with internationally successful athletes. The ambition is to set up special lighting using flashes. This blog is about the difficulties that you encounter and how to solve them.

The Basic Setup

First let me explain my typical setup like I used it for this portrait of the European Scratch Champion 2016 Gaël Suter. The customer (Tissot Velodrome) showed me a target picture with a portrait of a 5xOlympic Champion and Tour de France winner (if you know cycling, you know who).  That target picture had side lighting as the main artistic ingredient. So I placed my 120cm soft box with grid on the left hand side. This was my main main source of light. Next, I took my 180cm strip light (with grid too) and placed it on the right hand side behind Gaël. The idea was to create a rim light that would separate Gaël from the background (typical for sports portraits).

The rest was easy: Gaël balanced his bike on the rollers and I ensured that I pressed the shutter exactly when his right foot was in the picture.

Gael Suter, 26.06.2017

Gael Suter am 26.06 2017 im Tissot Velodrome, Grenchen, Schweiz, Foto: Ulf Schiller 2017

 

From still pictures to action pictures

Taking action pictures is considerably harder. This is a shooting that I did with Stephan Wiesner in December 2017 when we met the U23 European Silver medalist Dany Brand. The basic setup was similar, but not identical. One light source (the same 120cm soft box) from Dany’s front (of course now to the side of the photographer). Instead of the strip light we chose five speed lights from the back.

Dany Brand Shooting

Dany Brand (Silver 400mH at the European U23 Championships 2017)

The main problem is to freeze the action. To explain, a flash has a short but not infinitely short burning time. This time gets longer, when the flash is used at higher power. In such cases, the action often won’t be frozen. The usual result is a quite ugly image. So we had to ensure that the burning time was sufficiently short! This meant that the flash had to be at  low power. The usual reaction would have been to shoot with wide aperture. However, there was a second difficulty: we wanted to create the star-like look of the flashes in the back. Hence we had to shoot at F13 which is less than half the light as in Gaëls photo. We solved the problem by increasing the ISO (ISO 400) and moving the flash as close as possible. It was just outside the frame.

Moving the light source close is almost always a good idea in portrait photography. By the law of physics with half of the distance you need just 1/4 of the flash power. Moreover, the light gets softer (which was a potential problem here because we also wanted Dany’s muscles to pop out. But, as you can see, his muscles were bigger than the light source was soft 😛 )

Dany-Ulf-Wiesner

Me, Dany, Stephan