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City shooting with a 7D

City shooting with a 7D - ePz member Adrian Wilson (ade_mcfade) took the Canon EOS 7D for a walk for a spot of city photography.

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Landscape and Travel

Town Hall
Photo by Adrian Wilson (ade_mcfade).

Crop sensor

Having used a full frame Canon EOS 5D for over four years, I was pretty sceptical about using a camera with a crop sensor for city shooting. The beauty of the full frame is that you can use quality Canon L Lenses such as the 17-40mm to get incredibly wide angle shots, something that is a real benefit when working in often confined street surroundings, so I took the Canon EOS 7D into Leeds and gave the camera a road test on some familiar ground.

Examples – same camera position, different day, same lens. 17mm on the 5D and 7D.
Taken on the 5D
Canon EOS 5D.
Taken on the 7D
Canon EOS 7D.

As soon as I'd set the tripod up in front of the town hall, I was reaching for the zoom on the lens – surely I was at the 40mm end of the lens, not the 17mm. But no – this was as wide as it was going to get, which meant I had to either sacrifice my beloved yellow lines, or walk quite a long way back from the building to get my trademark shots.

I decided to shoot some HDR using the following settings:-
  • Aperture priority
  • Auto exposure bracketing – (-2, 0 and +2 EV – and also -3, 0 and +3 EV)
  • ISO 1000 - 1600
  • f/16
  • High speed shutter activation

This gave impressively fast shutter speeds compared to the EOS 5D, on which I'd never dare do HDR at ISO1600, as you increase the risk of noise in your shots. Also, with the higher frame rate, Three shots for the HDR were popped off in no time at all – this meant that slower moving objects in shot would not have moved through the 3 shots, giving you less ghosting in the shot.

HDR shot 1 HDR shot 2 

HDR shot 3

Note the people in these shots have hardly moved.

Another advance on the EOS 5D is that the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) goes to +-3 EV, rather than 2. This means that for those really high contrast scenes, you can use the convenience of AEB to get 3 shots off that cover the range of tones. Quite helpful when you've got a very bright sky casting a shadow over a building – you can get both exposed quickly without having to manually adjust the exposure.

AEB at +-3

Resultant blended file (using exposure fusion, no other processing).
Worked here as the foreground is really dark, yet a bright sky.
Live View
One annoyance at this part of the test was the fact that my angle finder would not fit on the 7D's viewfinder – it's a different size "shoe" to the 5D's. So I thought it was time to try the Live View mode to get some low angle shots.

There's a dedicated switch for this which is really handy – you can also use Auto Focus too, something missing from earlier cameras. I had a play around with the various display options using the "info" button, finding them more of an amusement than really useful. I guess if you're shooting landscapes with ND grads and want to avoid the sky burning out, then the live histogram would be very useful, but I was shooting HDR which is has a totally different approach to exposure.

In live view mode, the camera shows the scene on the screen; Canon have added a nice feature - you can super-impose grids over the view. For example, you can view your scene with 9 rectangles on, which helps you with the Rule of Thirds and getting your verticals straight; that's pretty useful.

Also, while in Live View, you can digitally zoom in 10 times and view anything in view with incredible detail. This is useful for focusing; flip the lens into Manual Focus, fine tune with the focus ring to you get the bit you want sharp to be spot on, then hit the shutter. A very powerful feature for any subject that doesn't move.

My style of city architecture photography is to work off a very low tripod, usually kneeling and looking down into an angle finder – with Live View, I found that once the camera was very low, I couldn't really see the screen sufficiently to compose a shot unless I lay flat on the floor.

To be really useful for this style of shooting, the screen would need to flip out so you can look at it from above; something you get on cheaper Olympus models. The risk there would be that you'd probably end up breaking the screen off!

High ISO
One of the main developments since the EOS 5D has been the improvement in high ISO performance – so I was keen to see what benefits this had to the city shooter.

I've already mentioned the high shutter speed and fast shutter helping prevent moving objects create "ghosting" on the shot. But another benefit I wanted to try out was hand held HDR. I've tried this with the 5D to poor effect.

With the 7D set up at a high ISO (1600 in daylight), on high speed shutter and AEB at +/- 2EV, I was getting shutter speeds of around 1/1250th of a second at f/16 so blur due to camera movement wasn't going to be an issue. The main concern is making sure all 3 shots are aligned so that your HDR processor can produce a decent image.

Hand held HDR source files:
Hand held HDR source files Hand held HDR source files
Hand held HDR source files

Result of Exposure Fusion:
Result of Exposure Fusion
Using the "align exposures" option on Photomatix, you can see that there were no issues at all – could this herald the end the need for a tripod to do HDR?

Fast shutter
So having shot a lot of architecture using HDR, I swapped from the 17-40 to the 70-200 F2.8 L IS to see how the 7D performs as a "street candid" body.

First up, you've got to be impressed with the Auto Focus on this body. Rather than the 9 points you get on an EOS 5D, you have a diamond of 19 points. Paired up with a 70-200, I found you could aim and fire a shot off almost instantly – the AF searches for a split second, you get the beep, squeeze the trigger and have the camera back down by your side before the subject could spot you. Very impressive.

Had a split second to get this guy – he was actually dancing like a raver at the time!

Here the AF picked the posts rather than the bus shelter.

And again, the AF chose the Picture house rather than the girls.
It's also worth noting that the extra "reach" of a crop sensor over full frame was impressive – factoring in the 1.6 crop factor at 200mm, it looks like you're using a 320mm f/2.8 lens. This meant that you can grab candids from a long distance, way before people would spot you.

This group were a long way off, with the EOS 5D you’d just get little specs, with the crop you get a decent shot, and nice background blur at f/2.8.

Here I was probably 100m away from the Police CSO.

So all in all, it's an impressive camera for city shooting in every way except one – the crop sensor. If you can cope with a narrower field of view than a full-frame, or use one of the uber-wide 10mm lenses out there, then this isn't really going to be a problem. After four years of full -rame photography made this quite an issue for me. I'd probably edge towards the EOS 5D Mark II for city architecture, but the high ISO, improved AF and fast shutter all benefit the street candid photographer.

Photo by Adrian Wilson (ade_mcfade)
Photo by Adrian Wilson (ade_mcfade).

You can purchase the Canon EOS 7D from Park Cameras.

ou've read the article, now go take some fantastic images. You can then upload the pictures, plus any advice and suggestions you have into the dedicated Photo Month forum for everyone at ePHOTOzine to enjoy.

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