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July 29th, 2007 by john andrews

Canon MkIII Autofocus Problems: Update

It seems the Internet is changing things for the better. In my last post about the Canon EOS-1D MkIII autofocus, I commented how camera manufacturers get away with shipping inferior computerized cameras because we users cannot afford to properly test the single units we purchase. If you get a soft focuser or a stutterer you really can’t make a case with Canon or the dealer, because there are simply too many variables and it is too difficult to prove.

Well, that back focusing issue I highlighted has become a big issue, and the fine work done by the folks at ProPhotoHome is making big waves. NatureScapes now has a lengthy thread describing the issues nature photographers have had with the new MkIII, especially those trying to shoot flying birds. The Rob Galbraith people seem pissed, and were quick to test the new firmware release to see if it fixed the problem: it didn’t.

If the Internet enables grass roots action, we see it happening here. Some of the commentary from the very influential digital photogaphy websites, regarding this new $5,000 digital camera from Canon:

From Rob Galbraith.com:

…on sunny, warm days, the EOS-1D Mark III’s ability to grab focus initially, hold focus on static subjects and track moving subjects is both unusably poor and no match for the camera’s predecessor, the EOS-1D Mark II N…We’ve now shot and analysed about 3400 track, soccer and test frames taken over two days… and the results are effectively the same as before: lots of out-of-focus frames that should be crisply focused. And, as before, simply putting the EOS-1D Mark II N onto the same lens and shooting the same stuff produces a high percentage of in-focus photos.

Ouch. If we looked at the PPC payouts, for the DP sites, as a measure of how close they are to the purchase decision, we would see they are VERY INFLUENTIAL for high-end digital camera buying. That has got to hurt. Canon must be paying attention, but can they fix the problem?

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July 8th, 2007 by john andrews

Canon 1DMkIII back focus problems

No cat posts for me but sometimes I want to post about my non-SEO work (Mountain Biking, Digital Photography, Kayaking, Sailing, Hiking). I’ll keep it to technology, though, because I do have another blog for family stuff.

Those who know me as a photographer have likely heard my rants about how computerized (digital) cameras  provide easy excuses for manufacturers. They have become so complex with so many variables effecting image quality that we feeble users can’t really hold the manufacturer’s accountable for quality any more. You don’t know if your camera is a lemon, and even if you sense it might be, you can’t prove it. Sometimes you can’t even test it unless you’re an engineer with a home testing facility. When you drop $2k on a DSLR body and experience back focus issues or sharpness “problems”, what can you do? Pro shops know of these issues — visit a serious equipment room and there are certain bodies that kick around the lab looking like new because everyone knows “don’t take that one”. For every 5 totally beat up EOS 10Ds there is one that looks like new except for one major dent: the dent caused by the guy who slammed it on the counter after it cost him yet another crucial shot. Bite me once.
I’ve been shooting a 10D for 4 years and I’ve been waiting for the Canon 1DMkIII for two years.  Fast, robust, with clean sensor technology and > 8MP resolution. Now that it’s here, I’m agast at the reports. Back focusing problems that make it less desirable for action than the MkII? This can’t be!

I shoot hockey and if you don’t know what that means, it means low-light, off-white, fast-action that strains the best equipment, the most artistic talent, and the keenest eyes. Oh, and in digital camera world, where vertical and horizontal lines are used to define “focused”, there are goal nets and face masks to distract the autofocus systems.  In the world of Canon Digital SLR cameras, that also means you are almost guaranteed  a miss-focus because Canon’s AF system seriously (too seriously?) favors the cross of a vertical/horizontal line for focusing. Shoot a kid behind a face mask and you get a sharply-focused face mask. Shoot at wide aperture, which you have to do because of the fast action and low light conditions of youth hockey, and that 2.5 inches between face mask and face virtually guarantees an out-of-focus face. To shoot kids hockey, you need better technology than the world has so far. Until the Canon 1DMkIII, that is.
The MkIII has less low-light noise than any other camera. It shoots at higher ISO with less noise, which means it shoots faster in lower light. That alone is enough to make it purchase-worthy, but Canon’s engineers also put to work the magic of digital and gave us progammable focus offset adjustment. In situations like mine, where you can predict a needed offset from the focus point (2.5 inches beyond it, to focus on the face instead of the mask), you can now program that offset into the camera! That’s what I needed… it’s the perfect camera!

Alas but the real-world reports are coming in, and just a mnth or so after delivery the AF system on the 1DMkIII is failing the real world tests. Not only is it reportedly not  focusing properly (it seems to choose it’s own AF point instead of the one you preset even though it reports that it used the one you preset), but it’s inconsistently back and front focusing. Sometimes back focusing, sometimes front focusing. There is nothing worse than variability when it comes to precision…. that behavior makes the offset programmability completely useless. Ouch.

At more than $4k  for the body, this is ridiculous. At least we have the efforts of these hard working testers to show us before we waste our money. Otherwise, what do we have? Claims made, promises made, and individual users’ experiences that may disappoint but can’t be easily explained or demonstrated. I am SOOOOO glad I didn’t buy an MkIII yet. Again, hopefully, the consumer web is helping us hold manufacturers accountable for their claims (because apparently no one else is doing that).
I hope Canon USA answers these raised issues promptly and smartly.  I need a faster camera, and would greatly appreciate a programmable focus offset. It would be enabling for me, as there is simply no other way to get the hockey shots.

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June 7th, 2007 by john andrews

Choosing a Projection Screen

It’s time to install a home theater and video game projection screen. I’ve been projecting against a white wall for a few years now, but the kids are spending more time at other kids’ houses and starting to complain about my less-than-stellar “projection wall”. I looked online and now I am starting to appreciate the high-end home theater consultants working the market. There are a LOT of options when choosing a projection screen, and they can get expensive.

Whenever I look at one-time purchases like a projection screen, I ask my peers what they have done. Or at least this *should* be a one-time purchase (unless I get the wrong one!). So before I hit the forums, how did you choose your projection screen, which one did you pick, are you happy, and what would you do different next time?

From my initial research I there are popular home theatre forums:

And some tutorials with advice on choosing a projection screen:

And some of the projection screen companies offer excellent online resources:

BUT those are obviously biased. The online projection screen vendors also seem to avoid addressing many of the common concerns when choosing a projection screen, such as white screen or grey screen? What level of “screen gain” is appropriate for my room and my projector, and what effect will viewing angle have on image quality? I understand why they would avoid some of that, because it complicates a purchase decision that has a high barrier for return (shipping a projector screen is not a simple matter). But then again the local home theater specialist is a TON more expensive than Internet shopping. Someone should be able to be the Zappos.com of projection screens, but I haven’t found them yet.

So I wonder, would you buy a projection screen online? Would you build one yourself? Or would you hire a local home theater consultant? I am considering since I will get to see actual products before picking one. I also don’t see any clear winners in the home projection screen market, based on consumer reviews.

My set up:

  • Projector: older InFocus DLP projector, like this 750 lumen one but sub-1000 contrast. I will buy a new one soon, but not right away unless that is really important for choosing a screen.
  • Room: not a theater by any definition, it is a living room. Light colored walls, high celings with skylights, light colored carpeting. About 25′ x 16′ “theater” area.
  • Environment: I live WAY NORTH, so it stays light until 10 o’clock pm in the summer, and the summer is some 17 weeks long. Yes, obviosuly the skylights and wall colors are becoming an issue for me. Yes, of course there are picture windows as well. Lots of them. Hey, it’s beautiful out there!
  • Use: Projected games and DVD movies. I don’t subscribe to television, so it won’t be used very often compared to your typical American home projection TV room.

There are more than a few manufacturers of projection screens, whcih makes buying one all the more difficult:

  • 3M
  • AccuScreens
  • Adeo Group
  • Arisawa
  • AVers
  • Beamax- check out the videos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EfYwRwXnTo and Beamax dealers
  • Carada
  • Celio
  • Custom Display Solutions
  • Da-Lite
  • dnp Denmark
  • Draper
  • Dukane
  • Elite Screens
  • Euroscreen Bjurab
  • Goo Systems
  • Grandview
  • HoloDisplays
  • Hurley
  • Large Screen Displays
  • LP Morgan
  • Meler
  • Optoma
  • Planar
  • Projecta b.v.
  • RP Visual Solutions
  • Saaria
  • Screen Innovations
  • Screen Research
  • Screen Tech
  • Projector Screens list
  • SCREENMAXX
  • Severtson
  • Stewart Filmscreen
  • The Airscreen Company
  • The Screen Works
  • Vutec

Google says I should also look for

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