Canon 550 and the 48MB barrier.

canon 550D 20mm f2.8

canon 550D 20mm f2.8

After spending yesterday editing the large number of files that I shot with this camera on Friday, I am even more impressed with it. The files that the camera produces are a real pleasure to look at. There are also other advantages that using this camera can offer.

There are a number of picture libraries who sell my work, who operate on a minimum file size of 48MB. This is roughly equivalent to A3 at 300ppi. For many years it has been a requirement to supply images at this size, even though until recently no DSLR produced them. This required interpolation which is something I've never been happy with. It results in a loss of quality, no matter what software is used. Many claim to do it better than others, but all the methods and software are very similar. I've tried them all, and there is no difference that I can see between them.

The upsizing of a file results in a softening and degrading of the image. The more an image is upsized the worse it is.
To get round this I have been creating 48MB+ images by shooting multi-images and combining them in either Photoshop or PTgui. This then creates a genuine 48MB+ file, but the downside is the greatly increased processing time it takes to create these, added to the extra storage requirements for all the extra pictures. It can take up to 10 times longer to create a multi-image panoramic stitch than processing one file.

There are now DSLR's that create 48MB+ files.
NIkon have one - D3X.
Canon have three - 1Ds MkII, 5D MkII, and the 7D (Up till now the only APS-C sensor to break the 48MB barrier)
Sony have two - Alpa a900 and Alpha a850.

There is one rangefinder camera that creates 48MB+ files.
Leica - M9

Thats it. All bar the 7D are full-frame. They all have one thing in common, they are heavy!

The 550D now joins that list. Its just over half the weight of the lightest of the DSLR's on this list, and is lighter than the Leica. It also costs significantly less than the others. Also having an APS-C sensor means that it can use lenses created for cropped sensors, which again can mean significant savings in weight and cost.

The 48MB+ file size is important in that it greatly increases the sales potential of your image. An A3 double-paged spread in a magazine is probably the most difficult brief to fill in terms of providing images for publication. The massive billboards that you see are created from files around this size, as they are viewed from some distance away and printed at resolutions such as 50 dots per inch.

Some libraries have been selling 48MB+ interpolated files, including mine, with varying degrees of customer satisfaction. Some libraries have encouraged photographers to upsize files even larger. I once heard of one library encouraging a photographer to blow up his 6MP files (Around 17MB) to 100MB files! He was told that advertising agencies liked files this size! It would have been interesting to see a clients reaction if they bought one of these massively upsized 100MB files. I tried it once, to see what it was like & it the image quality was unbelievably bad.

So the 550D ticks a lot of boxes in terms of my work. Its also making me re-think what I'm going to be using in the future. As I have indicated before, I bought the Leica M9 as an alternative to cameras like the D3X, which I used but ultimately had to sell because of what it was doing to my body! But there are many occasions when I want to use AF. The 5DMII is one of the lightest of these 48MB+ cameras, but even that becomes a problem on a long day involving a lot of walking. During my real world test with the 550D on Friday, I walked about 2 miles carrying the camera + 4 prime lenses. It was a pleasant experience and I really didn't notice the weight. For longer walks I would probably cut the lenses down to 2, making it even more manageable. I'm going to do a test on the Canon 18-55mm IS kit lens that I have from a previous camera to see if its usable. It performed well on the 500D I had, and it is a very light lens.

All of this is making me seriously think about my m4/3 collection of cameras and lenses. Before the arrival of the 550D, this was the best weight/size/quality ratio that I could come up with. Plus I enjoyed using the GF1 and E-P2 very much. However there was always a problem in upsizing the m4/3 files, which is why I shot an awful lot of multi image panoramas with those cameras.

I'm gradually working out what to keep and what to sell, and my inclination at the moment is to keep the GF1 plus the 20mm and 45mm lenses and sell the rest. However I'm in no hurry to do this yet. I have the feeling that the E-P2 in particular will be difficult to part with.

Finally, in the spirit of one my guidelines -
14. Be prepared to stand your ground when you are convinced you are right, but be prepared to admit you are wrong if its proved otherwise.
I have in the past been somewhat scathing about the software that companies release for processing raw files. I always felt that the Canon software was the best of the bunch, but was still
not great. I found previous versions slow and with some odd colour renditions. I've had to use it for the 550D raw files as Adobe haven't yet released a version of ACR that reads the files.
I will admit that I haven't used Canon's Digital Photo Professional for a long time, but its worked really well for the 550D. Yesterday I gave it a try with some of the few 5DMkII files I have left in .CR2 form (I convert most files to .dng) and they also came out really well. Its always taken me a fair amount of Photoshop work to get these files looking as I want them, but running them through the Canon software, they came out with lots more punch and great colour. It actually runs a lot quicker than I remember too. The time taken to convert the Canon files using their software is probably cancelled out by the time saved in post-processing using Photoshop, so I may well be using DPP a lot in the future.

As I've indicated before, things are never set in stone, and if things change I'm always ready to change my mind. Canon have gone up quite a few notches in my "consumer satisfaction experience" recently. Now if they would only hire a decent camera designer!!

Words - D
Images - D & A

As ever this is a personal commentary and is not intended to influence or criticise others personal preferences.