As readers of this website know, I've switched from Nikon to Canon, and I've been very happy with the switch. I feel there are definite advantages to the Canon system -- although in saying this I'm not bashing Nikon, and, indeed, I've had a gut-feeling that Nikon's predictive autofocus and focus tracking system may, indeed, be superior to Canon's -- at least with the EOS 3. On my last trip to Kenya, however, I experienced some problems, some of which were shared by other EOS 3 users, and I think it might be worth noting to put other Canon users on alert. Hopefully, those of you who have experienced one of the problems I'm referring to will write to Canon, and perhaps a change can be implemented. So ... here's the alerts
One -- Lenses not locking into place -- not mounting correctly: For two years in a row, while in Kenya, I've had at least one of my EOS 3 cameras give me major problems with the lens mounting system. Canon's lenses mount and dismount by depressing a button on the left side of the lens mount, which retracts a small metal post into the camera body. Doing so allows the lens to be twisted to the left and removed from the camera. For mounting, a twist to the right remounts the lens, which is secured when you hear a little 'click' as the metal post snaps back into place. The small metal post (you'll see it on the lens mounting ring on the camera body -- left side) is the key to a secure lens. This post must retract in order for a lens to be removed, and must pop back out in order to secure a new lens.
Last year, I fought with both my cameras over this lens post issue. On occasion, but not every time, the post would retract (as it must to remove a lens) but it would stay depressed, and not pop back out. When I mounted a new lens, the post, if it stayed retracted, would not lock the lens in place. Several times I almost had a large telephoto pitch out of my landrover when a lens I thought was firmly attached was not, since the locking pin never popped out and into place.
This year, the same problem arose with one of my EOS 3s, a camera that was sent back to fix this problem last year. Now, to fix the problem in the field, one can do one of several things (at least what myself and others who had this problem did). One, you can continually depress, or 'flick' the lens release button, and hopefully the pin will, at some point, pop back out. Or, as I watched one person do, you can rather forcefully twist the camera body to the locking position -- essentially 'snapping' it into place, and perhaps the snap or shake or jolt ends up freeing the pin and it pops out. You'll know when the pin pops out because you can hear it -- and when it does, the lens is in place.
On a couple of occasions I was so frustrated in missing shots that I simply made sure my camera was twisted all the way to the right, where it would normally lock, and I fired even though the camera was not actually locked onto the lens. This worked when I shot in a horizontal format, but not on a vertical, as I could not get the correct amount of torque to keep the lens pressed to the far right (clockwise) position. Once, when trying to remount a lens while zebras dramatically fought nearby, the lens pin simply would not pop out. In desperation, I calmly just kept on pressing in the lens release button, doing so in a manner that essentially 'flicked' the button in and out. Well, that succeeded in making the lens release button pop off the camera, with the tiny spring that activates the button flying out across the Masai Mara.
When that happened, the camera was essentially finished for the trip. I could still mount or unmount a lens, but to do so I had to take a small blade to the camera and manually depress the small metal lever that, normally, the lens release button depresses. This was cumbersome and unwieldily and time consuming -- so I mounted one lens on that camera and kept it there.
Recommendation: Canon definitely needs to make a stouter lens release pin, or provide a slightly larger hole for the lens to pass through in the lens mount on the camera body. Those of us who suffered from this problem wondered if the pin itself became slightly bent as there is torque placed on the pin whenever a big lens is rotated on axis -- if you rotate it by holding on to the camera body to twist, and not doing so by turning the lens barrel. Holding on to the camera is fastest and easiest, while doing so with the lens itself is slow, but this might prevent the lens pin from slightly bending. We also wondered if miniscule amounts of dirt or grime in the socket where the lens pin retracts could cause sticking. I can't see how -- but maybe small amounts of dust could accumulate and make a difference if the tolerance is extremely slim.
Two - misfocus, by focusing beyond the subject: I have to admit, without my glasses I'm pretty useless anymore, and AF certainly has helped save the day for me. Before I wore glasses I loved the EOS 3 eye-control features, but at least in Africa where my glasses are often smeared by residue of sunscreen, the eye-control didn't work as well. I'm not faulting the eye-control feature -- it is my slimy looking glasses that are at fault here.
However, in reviewing my recent Alaska images, and some of my most recent Kenya shots, I found, on occasion, that I was missing focus, with the sharp focus occurring somewhere behind the subject. With an animal standing parallel to me, the grasses or tundra brush would be sharp, but the body of the animal would be soft. With front-views of lions or bears, the shoulder of the animal would be sharp but the head soft.
I attributed this to me simply being sloppy and missing focus. It's been suggested that CF17, which activates focusing points adjacent to the one you select, might, at times, be responsible, picking up contrast behind the subject and focusing there. However, in looking at my Kenya material, the contrast was greatest at the subject, and the grasses that ended up sharp where actually outside the 45 point ring -- so the focusing sensors could not have been fooled.
I suspected I could still be the problem -- not the camera, but when one of our Kenya participants arrived with a brand new EOS 3 and suffered this same problem -- but radically so, I knew it wasn't me. One day, one of our participants commented to me that it appeared to him that his camera (brand new) was focusing past the animal he was shooting. I took a look, setting the focusing sensor square on the snout of an African buffalo, and found, to my amazement that the buffalo's butt -- facing away from the camera-- clearly came into focus! His focusing sensor was off by a good three feet! We tried several CF alternatives but nothing worked, and he retired that camera for the trip.
As did I with my problem camera, for I found that when I focused manually and had something sharp, and then hit the AF button, the lens refocused, and did so by ending up with the subject slightly out of focus. I had Mary and another person confirm this -- having them manually focus on an object, confirming it was sharp, and then hitting the AF and seeing it ever so slightly pop out of critically sharp focus. This 'pop' was so slight that I know, in the field, I often missed it (since the EOS 3 does not have a built in diopter) but when luping my slides with a 10X Schneider lupe, it was VERY apparent. I have a waist level finder that has a 2.5X magnification, and with it I could have double-checked my focus. Unfortunately, it was at home -- I didn't take it on this trip!
I ended up borrowing an EOS 1V from a friend and, with the diopter correction built-in to that camera, I was able to confirm my focus a lot better. Also, I trusted that the 1Vs focusing would be the best available, as the camera is the top of the line. I'll be very interested in seeing if in focus tracking, or predictive focus, if the AF kept up, as I shot some wonderful material of a lioness walking towards the camera carrying a cub. With at least my one EOS 3 I'd be worried as I wait for my film to return, worried that the focus may be on the shoulder and not the head!
Recommendation: I don't have one for Canon, but I would recommend that you carefully look at your material and determine if all of your shots are focusing where you expect, or if the AF is going slightly beyond the expected focus point. If it is, then this problem isn't unique to me, and to the guy with the bad new camera, and Canon will need to seriously address this issue.
While I love my Canon gear, I am very disappointed with the focusing results I've obtained from Alaska and from some of the Kenya material. Particularly with Kenya where, after seeing what happened in Alaska, I double-checked as best I could, and still, on occasion, the focus went past the subject. If you have had similar problems, please email me and I'll start a file. Perhaps I'll be able to go to Canon with a list of names with similar complaints so that their designers can make the necessary corrections.