Exploring the Canon RP Part One, or “That’s not an eye”

Recently I bought a Canon RP.

I put a lot of thought into buying new camera gear. This is especially true of camera bodies. I ask myself a series of questions.

Will this make me a better photographer?

The answer is always no, but I ask as kind of a mental reset. If somehow I’m leaning towards “yes” then the answer is really to seek training. Better yet realize that it’s a temporary emotional thing and not a real need.

What problem am I trying to solve?

There has to be a very good reason for this purchase. My 7d did its job, but just barely. My 7d Mk II did its job very well, but had some limitations. My 5d Mk III is outstanding and it’s still my preferred workhorse. What would the new camera do that these others can’t? Is there a workaround?

Are there higher priorities?

This is the really big question. What else is going on in life right now? This should seem obvious but man, 2020 has been a whopper of a year. Is now really the time to part with precious resources to acquire more stuff? Really?

The problem to solve

I’ve been doing a lot of portraiture over the past year.

The 7d Mk II does a good job, my only real complaint is the crop sensor; and that’s not a very big complaint. The dual pixel autofocus system is outstanding and achieves focus even in poor light. The crop sensor however does introduce some limitations since now I need a lot more space. This becomes a real problem in a small studio. The number of focus points is pretty good, but also creates some limitations in composition. This camera is still great for most things although the dynamic range of the sensor is, to be generous, poor. It’s still my choice for most outdoor sports. Aside from the high quality construction the original 7d isn’t worth discussing.

My 5d Mk III is an old camera now, but it’s still outstanding and my go-to for almost everything. Great for landscapes, great for indoor and outdoor portraits, good dynamic range, plenty of pixels to work with. Outstanding build quality. It’s got the same number of autofocus points which I find a bit limiting. The downside: It’s a contrast-based autofocus system which results in poor autofocus in low light. In most low-light portrait situations it’s almost unusable. Ouch.

The problems to solve:

  1. Autofocus in low light
  2. More focus points
  3. Compatibility with my current EF lenses

Other attractive features

  1. Eye Detection AF
  2. Articulating rear display
  3. I got one hell of a good deal. If it wasn’t for the exceptional price on a refurbished Canon RP I might have waited until I wore out my 5d Mk III.

Taking the RP out for a test drive with Rohanna

I outfitted the RP with a Viltrox lens adapter and Rohanna and I wandered downtown Santa Cruz to try out the eye detection autofocus feature. There were problems almost immediately. We work together great and I love her style. Today she arrived with a broad hat, boots, and a long checkered coat.

That’s not an eye!

I know the feature works. I’ve seen the feature work. It would not work in this situation. The feature failed immediately and spectacularly. It would focus on the brim of her hat, her ear rings, and most frustrating of all; Rohanna’s coat. It would misidentify the intersecting pattern of her coat as an eye pupil. The only workaround was to disable the feature and go back to spot autofocus. Lesson learned, some subjects work, a few don’t. At least now I know.

My grumbling “That’s not an eye!” became the running joke for the shoot.

Details worth noting

  1. The camera body is small. I have big hands but I don’t mind the smaller body.
  2. One card slot. This is not ideal for events and is probably a deal breaker for some people.
  3. The body isn’t the same build quality. It’s OK but nothing like the 5d series. I was worried about damaging the lens mount while slinging it around with a heavier lens.
  4. The button layout is minimal and takes a little getting used to.
    1. The touch screen more than makes up for this
  5. What the hell is “FV” mode, how is that different from Program Mode, and why in the world would I care?
  6. There is no built-in image stabilization. This is no secret and not a deal breaker for me. It does mean that the battery wears down faster to power image stabilization built into a lens.
  7. I haven’t found a way to rename the files. My other cameras allow me to rename file sequences like “SCM5D3_” which I find very helpful. With this model I seem to be stuck with “IMG_”. This is a minor annoyance. At least the camera model is in the metadata.
  8. Back button focus. My favorite Canon feature is available on this model.
  9. Frames per second. I shot some surf and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s advertised as getting around 5 shots per second but my experience was better than that. I felt like it had potential to replace my 7d Mk II for sports. That’s probably not entirely true, but it was a really nice surprise.
  10. Video. I’ve read a lot of grumbly reports about the crop needed for decent video. I don’t plan to shoot video with this camera so that’s not a consideration for me.
  11. It looks ridiculous mounted to my longer lenses. I did this just for fun but wound up trying it out later. I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked on a monopod. I wouldn’t want to swing it around carelessly though.
I swear I’m not compensating for something here.

Teaching an Intro To Off-Camera Flash workshop

For the past couple of years I wanted to facilitate a simple portrait lighting workshop with my favorite local photography group, the Hwy 9 Photography Group. Ideally what that meant was that I’d coordinate with a local portrait photographer who would actually do the presentation. After a few false starts I decided OK… why not me?

Behind the scenes with Katie

What I wanted to show was that you could create stunning portraits using low cost equipment. No need for high end lighting; this could be done with speedlights, diffusers, a backdrop, radio triggers, and a hand-held light meter.

I worked out a basic outline that I thought would take 20 minutes to present. I contacted Katie to model for us, worked out times, availability, and rates. Then I worked out a deal for the exotic location of the gym at the Boulder Creek Recreation Center. Fancy, I know.

I did my best to keep my actual talking to a minimum. I get a little tired of hearing my own voice. I also don’t really consider myself an expert on much, but like I said earlier “why not me?” I wanted to give the basic idea. What you could do with one light. Two lights. Three.

Snapshot of me giving the brief rundown. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Kahn

It didn’t matter that none of the attendees had never shot with off-camera flash before. It also didn’t matter that none had worked with an experienced model before! I had a series of emails with Katie where I explained the situation. What I needed from her was to be herself, know where the lights were, be at ease, and mostly just do her stuff without needing direction. She was magnificent.

One light

We started out with a single light at camera left. A simple manual Yongnuo YN-560 II Speedlight connected to a PocketWizard PlusX Transceiver. The speedlight was placed inside a 36″ Fotodiox Pro 36″ (90cm) Octagon Softbox. After determining the correct exposure settings with the hand held light meter we were ready to go. The single light at camera left created some very dramatic light and shadows.

A single light at camera left shot as low key and dramatic. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Kahn

One light and a reflector

Next I introduced a reflector at camera right to fill in some of the shadows.

Many thanks to Katie’s mom for (a) being there and (b) holding the reflector. The softbox at camera right wasn’t used yet.

The results from just adding the reflector were stunning. Each participant spent about 5 minutes each shooting with this setup. I would tell everyone the exposure recommendation based on my meter then I’d hand my radio trigger to the next participant.

Photo courtesy of Ian Webb
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Kahn

Two lights: one at camera left, one at camera right

I setup the second light; virtually identical to the first light. The only difference was that the second speedlight was triggered optically. That meant that I needed to have only the one set of radio triggers. As soon as any other speedlight would fire then the second light would fire too. The optical trigger itself was built into the speedlights. I setup the second light to be about a stop less than the main light. Now we started getting even more volume to our subject. The point isn’t just to light your subject, it’s also to provide depth.

A shot from me using two lights
Behind the scenes with Mike Gendimenico
Behind the scenes with Keith Wyner

Three Lights: gels

I added a third speedlight behind Katie and put a purple gel on it. This speedlight was also on an optical trigger so it would fire when any other flash would fire. I had a few goals with the third light:

  1. separate the subject from the background
  2. demonstrate that you could change the color of the background
  3. introduce rim lighting
By placing a speedlight behind Katie and pointing it at the backdrop I could change the color of the background to nearly anything I wanted.
Courtesy of Erik Elfring
I’m not remotely as attractive as Katie. This is what happens when I’m talking and I hand the radio trigger to somebody. Photo courtesy of Erik Elfring.

Another great look is a rim light. Ideally you’d setup a light higher up and pointing down from behind your subject. Here I simply turned the speedlight around to face into the camera. I left the same color gel so Katie’s hair lights up with purple.

Rim light demonstration
For fun we played around a little with lens flares just by moving the camera a bit.

The Popup Flash

Now that everybody was acquainted with the benefits of off-camera flash and getting a little comfortable with the idea I wanted to take a step backwards. I wanted to show where the typical popup flash falls short.

Photo with the popup flash on my Canon 7d Mk II

The flash built in on many cameras points straight at your subject and right above the lens barrel. The result is a flat look. There is very little volume now. Notice also the weird catchlight in Katie’s eyes. It’s right there in the middle of her eyes. It’s not awful, but we can do so much better.

Putting it all together

It was time for a wardrobe change when Jon had an inspiration. He saw a small plush chair and thought she would look nice seated in it. Katie came back out in a stunning red dress and Jon’s idea absolutely came to life.

Seating Katie in the chair now meant moving the lights and metering again.
Behind the scenes with Mike and Katie. This was the entire setup.
Selective color. Photo courtesy Jonathan Kahn
My own favorite for the day