Testing The Canon 5DS At Fiesta

August 15, 2015

Old Spanish Days - Fiesta 2015
In Santa Barbara, California we celebrate Old Spanish Days, or Fiesta, in the first week of August. It is a very fun series of events that includes folk dancing, traditional music, great food, the largest equestrian parade in the country and even a rodeo. For Fiesta this year I decided to photograph a number of the events with a Canon 5DS camera. This is the new Canon camera that is raising eyebrows for its 50.6 megapixel full frame sensor. 

Since I normally shoot a Canon 7D being able to shoot the Fiesta events with a full frame sensor, higher ISO capabilities, and better overall quality was a treat.  I rented the 5DS because it retails for $3700 and I wanted to test it to see if it was something I might plan to purchase. I rented the 5DS from Samy's Camera in Santa Barbara and tested it over six days.  What follows is a description of my experiences with the 5DS. 

La Fiesta Pequeña
Perhaps the most popular kickoff event of Fiesta is La Fiesta Pequeña, or the little fiesta, held the Wednesday evening of the week of Old Spanish Day. This event is held on the steps of the Santa Barbara Mission just as the sun sets. Colored lights bathe the old mission while dancers of all traditions entertain the huge crowd. The highlight of the night was the first dancer known as the Spirit of Fiesta. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge image.

Fiesta Image-6Spirit of Fiesta 2015Alexandra Freres dances as the 2015 Spirit of Fiesta. (169 mm, ISO 3200, 1/200 f4.0)

I worked this event from about 200' away with a 70-200 f 2.8 lens and a 1.4 extender. With the 5DS I was able to crank up the ISO and shot the event hand held. In spite of that the reputation of the 5DS not excelling in action types of settings I was able to capture some useable images. Overall I was impressed the the ISO capabilities and sharpness of these images taken under changing light conditions and all hand held. The dynamic range did seem a bit compressed in my results. 

Las Noches de Ronda (Night of Gaiety)
Thursday night was an opportunity to shoot just the 70-200 lens at Las Noches de Ronda which is held at the Santa Barbara Courthouse sunken gardens. Arriving event after a few hundred other spectators I did not get very close to the stage. In spite of that the ability to crop a 50 megapixel image and still find useable content was interesting. The image below is an extremely cropped images of dancers on a distant stage. 

Fiesta Image-41Evening DancersShot with a 70-200 lens. (115 mm, ISO 3200, 1/125, f2.8)

Even cropped to about 20% of the original image size left an interesting and pretty decent image. But the distance and extreme low light shows some noise in the black areas and even skin tones. I found 3200 was the highest ISO I could shoot this type of event and even then with poor light the quality of the image at that ISO suffers. That is easily seen in the jpeg version. I found 6400 not useable in this setting. 

This second image is not of Fiesta but of a black phoebe on the rooftop outside my residence. It also shows the power of the crop with the 5DS. The first image is full frame in size. The second is cropped to 25% of the original. Remarkable sharpness and background given my long lens and distance from subject.

power of crop50 Megapixels Cropped Even cropped in post production the quality of the image looks more like a zoom than a physical crop. Impressive!

Old Spanish Days Parade: Viva Fiesta!
Friday brought an opportunity to grab some images at the Fiesta Parade. The parade is the largest equestrian parade in the United States. The 2015 Fiesta Parade showcased approximately 500 horses. So, if you like photographing horses this is a nice opportunity. Last year I shot the parade with my 7D with the cropped sensor. This year the 5DS really made a difference.

Fiesta Image-22Mule Drawn WagonShot with a 24-105 mm f4.0 lens.

You get quite close to the horses in this parade so I decided to shoot my Canon 24-105 lens. The 5DS performed extremely well in shooting the parade. I noticed clear differences in the quality of color, sharpness, and detail from the 5DS over my 7D. That seems obvious but when you shoot the images and look at them during post-production it is quite dramatic. This is a big step up in camera quality.

Saturday Night: The Fiesta Rodeo!
The first time I went to the Fiesta Rodeo in 2013 I was disappointed by the images I made. The lighting in the show ground arena is dappled and inconsistent with a strong yellow cast. Even color corrected they were unimpressive.

This time I decided to focus on the 5DS and decided to push things and use my most inexpensive lens...a Canon 50mm f1.8 plastic model. Cost...$100. I wanted to see what the full frame sensor would produce with a lens that approximates what the human eye sees. 

My seat at the arena was at the far end...opposite the bucking bronc rider pens. Distant shots of bucking bulls would not be my focus tonight. Instead I looked for opportunities to catch the feeling of the rodeo arena. Just about sunset I made the image below shooting from behind the calf roping pens.

Fiesta Image-43Fiesta Rodeo NightCalf roper bolts after his target. (50mm, ISO 1600, 1/400, f1.8)

To me this image says a lot about the Canon 5DS. Sloppy light, action, and a short lens and yet it produced one of my favorite rodeo images. The flavor of the evening and the arena are seen in the human eye mimicking 50mm. But it is the quality of the sharpness of the rider coupled with the smoothness of the distance sky that are the products of the 5DS. This shot was taken with an ISO of 1600. I doubt I could have come close to making either the Spirit of Fiesta image above or this calf roper image with my Canon 7D.

So, even though the 5Ds shoots half the frames per second as the Canon 7D Mark II, at 5 frames per second you can get an image. Even though this body is not defined as sports or action lens it did okay in limited use. I will note that buffering and my older compact flash cards did delay shooting. Even still after this night I was pretty convinced about the quality of the 5DS. But, I had two more tests to complete.

Landscape And The 5DS
One of the primary uses of the Canon 5DS and 5DS r is landscape photography. It is a primary use because you can place the camera on a solid tripod and get large format sharp landscape images. So, I thought I would try just that.

I headed down to the local Goleta Beach area on a normal night with a speckling of clouds in the air. By the time I was set up some clouds had moved in and I waited for the sun to drop below the horizon. As it did I set my 24-105 mm lens to 24 mm and the ISO to 100 and narrowed the aperture...f22. This permitted a 2 second exposure to blur the water of the Goleta Beach area and capture the color of the pier in the pinkish light of sunset.

Purple BeachPurple Beach & Goleta PierCanon 24-105 mm f1.4 lens, 24mm, 2 sec, f22.

The image turned out just fine. I was impressed with the sharpness of the pier in the larger version of this image. Again, the dynamic range seemed a bit stunted but the color was very nice. So, on to the final test.

For Me It's Macro!
My final image making experience with the Canon 5DS was two different macro photography scenarios. To me this is the test, up close and going for fine detail. I set up two studio images. The first was a shot of the back of a sand dollar that is common on the beaches here. This sand dollar was two inches across at it's widest....so pretty small. I moved in real close and set a narrow aperture. Light for this shot was a single LED hand held light set to 5000K. So, I took a long exposure to compensate for the narrow aperture and mostly indoor natural light. The image was covered to black and white.

Sand Dollar StudySand Dollar StudyCanon 100 mm Macro, 100mm, 3.2 sec, f/18, ISO 100

I like macro work because you end up seeing things not normally perceived when looking at an object with our normal field of vision. In this case I really liked how the image showed the river-like pattern on the bottom of the sand dollar (no doubt so water and food can flow in and out as the sand dollar rests on the ocean floor). The white speckled bumps shows were what you feel as you run your finger across the surface of this creature. 

Summertime SweetsSummertime SweetsRaspberry still life. Canon 100 mm macro, ISO 100, 100 mm, 1/6 sec, f/11.

The second macro image is a more traditional foodie-style still life image (100mm, 1/6 sec, f11, ISO 100). I bought some local raspberries at the farmer's market and staged them in a small dish. This shot was a more traditional studio shot using two flashes (one in an umbrella, one for accent). Afterwards I dropped the final image into photoshop to add the text.

Overall Thoughts About The Canon 5DS
In the 6 days I had this camera I tried to take a variety of shots in a variety of conditions and styles. I am still impressed by this camera. Two major reasons: Having the 50 megapixels is really nice when cropping is useful. As most reviews say, you rarely need 50 megapixels unless you are printing large. But, I have to admit it sure is handy to have the power of the crop.

Secondly I loved the detail in the images. Even when pushing the sensor limits with poor light the 5DS hung in there. I would definitely shoot at ISO 3200 in good light. You would likely have very good images. My experience at ISO 1600 was impressive to me. I would love to take some images with the 5DS r and a Zeiss Otus lens. Wow, would really be fun!

I thought the 5DS performed admirably in action and even lower light conditions. Although not an action or wildlife body it clear can get you there in a pinch. As a landscape and macro shooter I enjoyed the 5Ds a lot. Finally, I was impressed by the shots of the horses in the Fiesta parade. the detail in their coats was very nice.

You can other test images from the series  here.

Overall the Canon 5DS is an impressive camera. I think I convinced myself I want one. I hope Samy's has one in stock.

Thanks for reading.

Craig E Rademacher


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