Rudy Winston
Rudy Winston

Rudy Winston has over 17 years experience with Canon USA's Pro Products team, and has been responsible during that time for training Canon's staff on new products, creating presentations for customers and dealers, numerous writing projects, and providing technical assistance to professional and amateur photographers.

Getting the most out of EOS 5DS and 5DS R files

May 21, 2015

We’re nearing the actual start time of delivery to dealers for the EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R cameras (June 2015), and a lot of anticipation greets the start of sales to working pros and serious DSLR enthusiasts. Up close and personal, so to speak, I’ve seen prints as large as 4x6 ft. from files with pre-production versions of these cameras — and the results are stunning. We can go on and on about the amount of detail and texture that becomes possible at large output sizes from these files, but I’ll leave the superlatives to actual camera owners. I’m sure they’ll have plenty to say once the cameras hit dealer shelves.

For starters: EOS 5DS/5DS R is at home for many types of photography!

One of the most impressive aspects of these cameras is how adaptable they are to so many different types of assignments. Since their announcement earlier in 2015, many users have tried to pigeonhole them as “only for landscape shooters” or call them “just a studio camera.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m sure the incredible pixel resolution the EOS 5DS and 5DS R provide and the output potential they offer will be of great interest in a whole spectrum of photographic genres:

  • Sports and action:
    Think about the detail potential in magazine cover shots, double-page spreads, and even banner display potential at stadiums or for marketing purposes. Either camera shoots at up to 5 fps. Put that into perspective: that’s faster shooting than the original Canon EOS-1 camera, which revolutionized sports photography when it was introduced.
  • Wildlife:
    There’s potential detail in anything from a lion’s mane to the feathers of a bird, in full-frame files, and also the ability to crop into an image when you simply can’t get close enough to wildlife, yet still have information for a great final picture.
  • Weddings and events:
    For those vital images that mean sales to a working pro (anything from posed formal shots to large group photos), you can work with full 50.3 million pixel RAW or JPEG images and know you have incredible detail for even the largest prints. And when quantity counts more than large file size, switch to smaller resolution files (RAW images, for instance, can be 12.4 or 28 million pixel files, at the s-RAW and m-RAW settings, respectively).
  • On-location fashion:
    Use features like the 61-point AF system to track even a fast moving model and know you have the potential to capture all the detail and texture in his or her garments and accessories. If shooting moves into the studio, the same virtues instantly come into play there.

The point is simple: with up to 5 fps shooting, tremendous AF performance, and the same industry-leading E-TTL Speedlite capability (including compatibility with Canon’s radio-transmission wireless flash system), the EOS 5DS/5DS R has the responsiveness and performance to be a lot more than just a static, tripod-mounted camera in the studio.

With high-resolution, any and all flaws become visible

This doesn’t just mean flaws in a person’s complexion during a portrait or beauty shoot, but minor hiccups in our technique as photographers. The 50.3 million actual pixels in an EOS 5DS/5DS R high-resolution file make it easy to spot the tiniest of errors. This may not matter much to the sports photographer using an EOS 5DS for a great magazine cover shot or a wedding shooter shooting group photos at a wedding. But to the super critical landscape photographer, who is expecting every blade of grass to be visible in that scenic shot if it’s printed with a 44-inch wide-format printer, or the studio shooter who wants every last bit of detail in that product shot, there are ways to get those results.

You’re entitled to wonder why we have any concern about high-resolution files and their quality. If we got good results with ordinary photographic technique with previous DSLRs, why should an EOS 5DS or 5DS R be any different?

High-resolution brings with it several possible visual landmines, in addition to its fantastic detail in large output:

  • The slightest amount of camera shake or vibration becomes markedly more visible.
  • Diffraction from small lens apertures (like f/16, f/22, etc.) shows up as a more noticeable loss of sharpness.
  • Even slight focus errors — from something as simple as leaning slightly forward or back, after locking focus in a hand-held shot — become much more evident. This can be noticeable even if the aperture has been stopped down for more depth-of-field.
  • No lens is perfect and shots taken at less-than-optimum apertures will need post-processing help to show optimum sharpness, especially near the corners of the image.
  • Even the finest tele-extenders produce slight optical losses versus a lens alone… these will be more visible upon close inspection with high-resolution files.
And we view high-resolution images a lot more critically

There are two reasons that high-resolution cameras produce these challenges. First, with markedly reduced pixel size (to accommodate so many pixels on a full-frame sensor), tinier degrees of changes in light impacting pixels become noticeable. A very small amount of camera shake that might not really be noticeable at a 100% view with 18 or 20 million pixels can suddenly become much more visible with the finer pixel pitch of a 50 million pixel sensor.

And the very fact that we have more pixels means that if we simply magnify part of a scene at 100%, we’re looking at a much smaller area than we would be with a lower-resolution file. In effect, it’s as if we’re magnifying the image more. Figuratively speaking, at typical computer monitor resolution (which of course varies; let’s assume roughly 120 dpi as a general average for today’s monitors), consider the following:

  • EOS 5D Mark III (22.1 million pixels; 5760 x 3840 resolution)
    At 100% view, this is similar to viewing a 48x32 in. print from a distance of about 2 feet away (or whatever distance we tend to view our computer monitors from)
  • EOS 5DS (50.3 million pixels; 8688 x 5792 resolution)
    100% view — similar to viewing a 6x4 ft. print, again, from a viewing distance of roughly 2 feet away

Either figure puts things into perspective. For those old enough to remember the days of shooting with film and initially judging image sharpness by magnifying our negatives or slides on a light box with a 10x or similar magnifier, this is stunning. Could you imagine “proofing” your film by having 6x4 ft. prints made of each image you took? Figuratively speaking, that’s what we’re doing when we click to get a 100% view of an EOS 5DS or 5DS R file. It’s no wonder that the slightest imperfections become visible!

Getting the most out of EOS 5DS or EOS 5DS R files

All this said, there’s no question that the EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R will produce terrific files, even in rapid action situations that preclude things like tripods and totally vibration-free shooting. But for those who shoot in more deliberate fashion and really want to get the utmost out of the resolution potential of the EOS 5DS and 5DS R models, here are a few things to definitely practice whenever possible:

  • Use faster minimum shutter speeds
    The old “1/lens focal length” rule of thumb is out the window. Where possible, particularly in a hand-held situation, use speeds of at least a full stop or two faster than whatever you considered your previous minimum “safe” speeds to be. This applies to both with and without Image Stabilization.
  • Use Image Stabilization, if you’re hand-holding or monopod-mounted
    You’ll still want to raise your speeds faster than any previous comfort levels when using Image Stabilization (IS), but IS is an asset any time the camera is not locked down on a solid tripod. Don’t let the presence of IS lull you into a false sense of security when using an EOS 5DS or EOS 5DS R. However, if low light means you must use slower speeds, you gotta do what you gotta do. Otherwise, crank them up a notch or two. Bottom line: If you’ve got Image Stabilization in a lens, use it!
  • Use a tripod wherever possible
    And we mean a good-sized, high-quality one too. Sure, it slows things down a bit and is more to carry on location, but the payback will be sharper images. Shooting moving subjects? Look into those sophisticated gimbal-type heads that allow for long-lens movement, while preserving steadiness. This may be the biggest step you can make to supremely sharp EOS 5DS images.
  • Minimize any slight vibrations from mirror movement
    Canon engineers have taken the first step here with a mirror system that’s now motor driven and cushioned at the upper and lower ends by a sophisticated mechanical system (not a simple foam pad or similar “solutions”). Regardless, especially at those critical slower shutter speeds like 1/125th down to perhaps 1/2 or 1 full second, EOS 5DS and 5DS R users can help. Consider trying Live View (especially with Silent Shooting Mode 1 or 2 active).

    Or, use conventional Mirror Lock, ideally with a Remote Control switch (electronic cable release). Mirror Lock now also has delay settings, from 1/8th to 2 full seconds, for shooters who want to continue to use the eye-level viewfinder, but achieve the benefits of letting the camera “settle down” from any fine harmonic mirror vibrations before the shutter opens. These are set in the camera’s 4th Shooting Menu (red menu tab area).

  • When possible, set optimum lens apertures
    The super-high pixel resolution of the 50.3 million pixel sensor in these cameras means that the softening from lens diffraction becomes much more visible, if you go looking for it. Bottom line — if you habitually stop your lenses down to small apertures “just to get a little more sharpness,” you’ve got to stop doing that. Even with super-sharp macro lenses, you’re going to get better final sharpness at apertures like f/8 or f/11 (and lower, such as f/5.6, etc.) than you will by stopping down. Sure, there are times you have to balance that against the need for more depth-of-field. But understand this, pure and simple: if you shoot with an EOS 5DS or 5DS R at apertures like f/22 or f/32, you will not get the best sharpness your lens is capable of producing. End of story.

    Likewise, almost all lenses perform slightly better if they’re stopped down at least a bit from wide-open. It’s obvious that some situations simply demand full aperture (sports pictures indoors or at night, for instance), but for less demanding scenarios, consider stopping the lens down a stop or two if you’re looking to really pull the best detail you can out of EOS 5DS or 5DS R files. This is especially true if you want or need the edge sharpness to be close to center sharpness… not a huge factor for a portrait or fashion photographer most of the time, but likely a big concern for a landscape shooter.

  • Strongly consider using DPP’s Digital Lens Optimizer technology
    Many users “don’t want to like” Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software for processing RAW image files. But if you work with an EOS 5DS R or 5DS, I strongly recommend you at least try using DPP on a few RAW images files and applying the Digital Lens Optimizer tool to compatible images. This is a very lens-specific sharpening algorithm, that is aperture- and distance-sensitive for each image, and applies critical sharpening that can counter certain optical issues (like softening from diffraction, when stopping the lens is set at small apertures). There isn’t space here to fully describe what we call DLO technology within DPP software, but it’s there for certain compatible Canon lenses. And if you’ve shot a RAW image with one of these lenses, it really does optimize the image as you process it. Again, try it!
  • Use the Fine Detail Picture Style
    This is another feature that comes into its own if you process RAW images in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software. But even if you don’t, the new Fine Detail Picture Style will treat your review images on the LCD monitor and anything you output on-screen for quick client review and so on, to an enhanced sharpening that optimizes what the 50.3 MP sensor delivers. Similar to Adobe Photoshop’s™ Unsharp Mask function, this allows the camera to use finer settings for “Fineness” (similar to Adobe’s Radius) and “Threshold” settings than the Standard or Neutral Picture Styles would. Additionally, it cuts contrast and delivers a slightly more workable file than the very snappy defaults of the Standard Picture Style. Obviously, Picture Style becomes very important for critical users who may need to shoot in-camera JPEG files and/or HD Video files.
  • Focus carefully
    An entire book could be written about Autofocus, but that’s not our purpose here. But just remember: the slightest focus errors will become extremely evident when shot at 50.3 million pixels, if you then output it to large prints or magnify it to 100% or more on a monitor. Learn to use the AF system and its different tools… just because “I’ve always used the center AF point” before doesn’t make it optimum for every situation you may encounter with an EOS 5DS. The on-line Canon Digital Learning Center has some very useful information about different aspects of the camera’s AF system, including the superb AF Settings Guidebook from Canon’s engineers in Japan, which you can download free of charge. Even though it’s written for EOS-1D X users, the vast majority of its information translates directly to EOS 5DS and 5D Mark III AF operation.

Are you one of those super-critical users who work off a tripod and lock everything down? Seriously consider using Live View and magnifying the view on the camera’s LCD monitor to fine-tune focus. The 6x or 16x magnified view, likewise, gives a real-life impression of any camera shake, even if you’re tripod-mounted. (Note that if you try to use AF during Live View, it’s always the “off-the-sensor” contrast-type viewing; there is no option to revert to the 61-point AF system with a Quick Mode AF option in EOS 5DS Live View.)

Summary:

That note about using the same AF settings and techniques you always have, because up to now they’ve been “good enough,” speaks volumes to the light this article attempts to shed on those who may be interested in the EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R cameras. Since these cameras so clearly are marketed at the experienced, high-end user, many of those potential customers are rather set in their ways — and often, with good reason.

But understand that if you are that type of user who’s going to magnify every good image to 100% or 200% view and be left awake nights if you don’t see the detail and sharpness you hoped for, there definitely are ways to get the most out of what this camera can deliver.

Be realistic in the way you shoot and in what you expect. The person who uses this camera hand-held or on a monopod for action shots alongside their EOS-1D X can’t expect quite the same levels of critical details that the landscape shooter might, who’s totally locked-down on a full-size tripod, shooting everything at f/8, critically focusing using a magnified view in Live View, and using an electronic cable release to fire the camera.

But no matter what your technique, here are two new cameras that will indeed reward the experienced DSLR user, especially anyone who wants or needs to produce large printed output. The rewards are even greater if some or all of the steps mentioned here are put into regular practice when using the EOS 5DS or EOS 5DS R.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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