Canon vs Fuji: R5 Fail

Last summer, I thought to upgrade from the Fuji X-T4 to the Canon R5.

It didn’t last long.

I spent ages poring over specs sheets online, checking image quality, etc.

As a geek interested in various forms of nature photography (closeup, landscape and astrophotography), for over a decade I’ve made a habit of shooting more than one RAW per output image. Whether the scene in front of me benefits from simply average-stacking, HDR, focus-stacking, pixel-shift or panorama, the more data captured at source, the better an image can be produced and the more future-proof it is against further revisiting, potentially years down the line.

Given that I do a lot of my photography during weekend hikes around the countryside, in any given day I’m likely switching between these drive modes on a regular basis as I react to what’s in front of me.

This is where the Canon R5 falls down. For all that the specs suggest it might be a “perfect” camera for landscape, in reality it’s anything but. I found are three areas of major fault that nobody in any “review” seems to have noticed:

  1. The electronic shutter is arbitrarily limited to no longer than 0.5s shutter speed. This renders it impossible to make a focus-stack where the individual frames are any longer than that – so loch-shore landscapes are out. I contacted Canon Support about this and they said they had no plans to fix it.
  2. The 14-bit read-out is only available in burst modes slower than H+; in that mode it drops to 13-bit, potentially making images noisier.
  3. Switching between focus-stacking and exposure-bracketing is a massive pain in the backside. I had to use the My Menu to bring the two drive-modes closer; even so, switching between the two requires entering whichever is enabled, disabling it, going into the other, enabling it and checking the parameters. You can’t store either of these drive modes as an aspect of a custom user mode. If nothing else, it slows me down in the field.
  4. Canon’s attitude – corporate “Big Photo”(TM) – where the EF lens mount is well established, the RF mount is relatively immature and they used patents to stop third-party manufacturers producing RF lenses to protect their profits. Legally fine, but doesn’t sit well with me as playing nice.

I got a few good photos out of it, but the above loomed too large, destroyed my enthusiasm for it – big regret.

So I sold it after only a few months.

Fuji brought out the X-H2 while I wasn’t looking and it is far better suited to my taste.

  1. I know Fuji users tend to like the rangefinder-style exposure controls, but this has sensible PASM controls that allow storing actually useful combinations of settings in my 7 custom modes. (C1 = walk-around aperture-priority starting from f/5.6, auto ISO, colour, AEB; C2 = serious tripod-using landscape in manual mode, base ISO, 1s for long exposures, b&w preview, pixel-shift, …)
  2. 40MP is a major leap forward in APS-C sensors. It goes without saying that it’s 14-bit in any drive mode.
  3. In a first for Fuji, it supports pixel-shift
  4. The drive-modes are a button-push away – all of them including in-camera HDR, bracketing, focus-stacking and pixel-shift – and can be saved as part of a custom user mode.
  5. Long exposures are timed up to 15 minutes! No need for Bulb mode!
  6. The more I use the camera, the more I appreciate little things that show how well thought-out it is – memorably, where other cameras – Sony! – have a USB-C slot for power, transfer and remote control, the Fuji X-H2 has the USB-C slot for the first two but remote cable release is a micro-jack socket on the other side of the camera. So for astrophotography on a star-tracker, it’s an absolute beast – external powerbank coming in, shutter triggering automatically and pixel-shift as a form of dithering on 1-minute sub-exposures, it doesn’t get any better.

I don’t normally much care for brand allegiance – I’ll shift from Olympus to Pentax to Fuji to Sony to Fuji to Canon to Fuji if I think they suit me best at a given moment (over many years, I might add!) – but I can’t help notice this is now the third time I’ve come round to Fuji… it’s almost a habit.

My Photography Zen just ran over your Dogma

In a previous life I used to attend the local photography club; there were ups (friends; winning the occasional competition; being involved, mostly in geekish matters; making the occasional presentation) and some noteworthy downs (a very rude judge; a feeling that photos were judged according to how “lucky” they were to have been found, rather than appreciating skill in the making). On the whole, however, they were welcoming and friendly and it was generally “my” club.

So, now we’ve settled elsewhere in the country, I thought I’d investigate the local camera club.

Such conversation as there was was mostly limited to willy-waving equipment:

  • someone’s selling their Canon 550D and someone else has a 7D. I don’t care; show me the results from either.
  • “oh yeah, oh yeah, Sigma’s a good make. I’ve got a Tokina 11-16mm lens, that’s quite wide-angle”. Immodest one-upmanship, as though one’s lens’s field of view is something to boast about.
  • “I don’t use Photoshop. I figure if you’ve spent thousands on a good camera…”. Well good for you; if I’d spent thousands on my camera I’d consider it imbalanced not to be matched in complexity of software.
  • “I don’t use Photoshop. It makes competitions unfair, that someone puts in the work to do it correctly in-camera and someone else takes a lousy photo and makes it good”. Wake up: post-processing is a necessary part of photography, and at least they’re getting results.
  • “So what do you use?” A Panasonic. “Oh.” Pause. “I have a Nikon” (points to bag emblazened with a Sony logo). I’m as glad for you as the results you get are good.
  • I bought a 100-400mm lens for £650; the chap selling it said it had auto-focus but I was disappointed when it didn’t”. Tough luck; my favourite lens cost me £40 on eBay.

It being the first night of the season, there was a short presentation of a selection of images (of varying degrees of appeal; “sorry but we haven’t calibrated the projector yet” – and it showed, as the red channel was completely blown) and an awful lot of laying-down rules about competitions (down to 2 photos per contributor per competition, inexplicably; a meagre 1024*768px size for digital submissions).

The arguments are old, tired and banal. There was no evidence of people being interested in each others’ choice of subject-matter or approaches to it – what makes them tick as photographers, people, artists. Like landscape or find it too anyone-can-appreciate-it common-denominator? Like portraiture? Sports? Abstract art, fine art? Microscopy?

As a parallel to the hardware fixation, all talk of software – including, critically, “advancing one’s photography” – centred on Adobe Photoshop, as though it were the only tool out there.

Nature:TNGTo state the obvious, photography is not about hardware – the clue’s in the name: light-writing; it’s about image – the image – and what thoughts it evokes in one’s brain. Advancement is a matter of choice, control (pushing the right buttons for desired outcomes) and knowledge – the practical experiences of requirements and attainability at time of shooting and of rationally choosing settings for their consequences as a function of the image-space (rather than as individual corrections or tweaks) in post-processing.

Nor is post-processing all about Photoshop either – but I know what saturation, high-pass sharpening, barrel-distortion-correction and channel-mixing do to an image, and I know how my particular camera behaves with noise arising from high ISO as distinct from longer exposures, and that I prefer to remove both kinds of the camera’s noise as much as possible only to reapply synthetic grain using a Perlin noise generator. All are functions of the image, independent of the software being used.

From experience, the best a competition can do is assign a score – subject to the judge’s biases – and, typically, make some superficial remarks about if one were to “…just tweak the sharpness a bit”… as though there were only one such control (I can think of simple, deconvolution, unsharp masking, high-pass, refocus and Wiener sharpening algorithms off the top of my head – which of these do they just mean?!). This does not lead to advancement.

I do not have to subscribe to their arbitrary rules, limitations and regulations.

I will not be attending that photo-club.

I have images to be making!