World-class photojournalist Brent Stirton's desert experience with the Canon EOS R, and why it offers the best low light performance he's ever seen
As a professional documentary photographer and Canon Ambassador, Brent travels the world extensively and relies heavily on his rugged, professional Canon gear. Known predominantly for his work highlighting wildlife, conservation and sustainability. He also spends a lot of time on assignment photographing conservation, global health, diminishing cultures, sustainability and environmental issues, most of which come with very challenging shooting conditions. On one of his most recent trips shooting the elections in Zimbabwe, Brent took a 5-day road trip across Namibia with Canon’s latest flagship mirrorless camera system.
What initially started out as a solo tour to document the Namibian tribal culture and scenery quickly became a group road trip accompanied by a TV crew with a busy agenda. Thrown in at the deep end, Brent’s initial concerns about using a new system were fortunately quickly diminished. “I’ve been using Canon cameras my entire career and so coming into a new system, especially when I’m being followed around by a TV crew was a lot of pressure, but I was relieved that it felt very familiar.”
Having covered 2500km in 5 days, most of it through the desert in windy conditions, made for difficult shoot conditions and really put the EOS R through its paces. Brent was particularly impressed with how it handled the experience. “One of the best features in the EOS R is its protective shutter, something that no other mirrorless camera currently features,” says Brent. “When you turn the camera off to change lenses, you get a static build up on your sensor, so taking your lens off is risky,’ Brent explains. “This camera has a gate that will come down over the sensor to protect it. I shot about 10,000 images using a variety of lenses during the trip and I didn’t get a single piece of sensor dust on the sensor.”
Of course the other major challenge that Brent consistently faces is low light conditions and this was something he was particularly nervous about. “Most of my work is for the National Geographic magazine, so I’m not really interested in compromise. If it doesn’t work for me, I’m just not going to use it,” Brent states. Luckily the EOS R yet again rose to the challenge. “Compared to my EOS 5D Mark 4 that I can shoot ISO 25,000 with no problems, I think with the EOS R takes it slightly further, making my experience of shooting high ISOs even better,” he enthuses. “I can just concentrate on the composition, I’m not worried about whether the camera and ISO can handle it. I think this is some of the best lowlight performance I’ve had from a Canon camera.”
Brent was also keen to see how the new generation of fast, high quality lenses fared. During his trip he used the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM, Canon RF 24-105MM F/4L IS USM and Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM lenses – as well as his existing EF lenses, using the EF-EOS R adapter. “I can say in confidence that the R-series lenses that I worked with are sharper in general than most of the EF lenses I’ve worked with. So it was a relief for me. The colour separation, the micro contrast, everything I got from the lenses, I was happy with.”
The AF performance and quality of sharpness also impressed. “With my existing EF 50mm f/1.2 and f/1.4 lenses, I usually get 60-70% of pictures in focus. If I’m shooting really wide open it’s risky. My hit rate with these new lenses is much higher. I’d say about 95% and if I’m missing the focus, it’s my fault,” laughs Brent. He goes on to say, “I’ve seen files blown up to billboard size coming off the EOS R and they’re superb. It’s not really what we need, it’s just something we’ve come accustomed to having.”
Having spent 5 days with the EOS R, Brent grew fond of this latest Canon mirrorless model. “Mirrorless is a personal revolution for me, and I do think that it is the future.” As someone whose mission it is to shine a light on people who are not in the news and to share their stories from all over the world, Brent depends on reliable gear. “It’s not a responsibility I take lightly. This particular camera enables me to forget about the tools and just get on with telling the story. I know that in the next couple of years I will fully migrate to this system because it’s the future now.
Brent’s favourite EOS R features
– The compact size of the EOS R makes it less intimidating and it’s a camera that you can be more approachable with when it comes to photographing strangers. It’s a rugged workhorse but comes in a body that is not intimidating.
– The silent shutter on the EOS R is actually silent, making it ideal for shooting portraits when you need to be unobtrusive.
– I shot, on average, one 64G card per battery. That’s 1500-1800 shots, so for a mirrorless camera, I don’t have any complaints. The EOS R also uses the same battery that comes out of my 5D cameras so I don’t have to carry around different chargers.
– Seeing the exposure in real time, especially the quality on the EVF was fantastic. It’s an EVF that makes me feel like I’m not looking at an EVF and I think that’s the highest compliment I can pay it.
Find out more about the new Canon EOS R here.