My thoughts on using a hired Canon 5D MkIV on a photo shoot in Manchester.

On the weekend of 2 Sept 2017 I hired a Canon 5D Mk IV and went around Manchester city centre in the sunny weather to take photos. Normally I use various SLRs and compacts, as I mainly publish to web pages and social media. They’re more compact and convenient but on this occasion I wanted to make the most of this top notch full-frame camera and I was very impressed with it. It has a full frame sensor which means there is a greater ‘wide angle’ effect. I had a 24-70mm Nikon lens which produced superb quality sharp images. It was heavy but but manageable. I mostly used the standard P – Program Auto setting.

Here are a few thoughts, presented as numbered points:

1) Here’s a contradiction: Statement A – You don’t need a high end professional camera if you’re only displaying the photos at small size, on a web page, smartphone or maybe at small print size – 6×4 inches. Statement B – If you use a high resolution high end professional camera you can see the extra quality and sharpness even if you’re only displaying the photos at small size, on a web page, smartphone or maybe at small print size – 6×4 inches. Which is true? I think there’s truth in both statements, but my experience with the Canon 5D seems to confirm Statement B? Any thoughts?

2) Shadows, trees and white vans are the enemies of architectural photographers. Oh, and clouds. A building facade always looks best when there are no shadows. Later in the day as the sun gets lower in the sky, there are more and more shadows. Look at a chocolate box or souvenir calendar: You won’t see any shadows on the buildings. Trees get in the way of buildings and I often find there are too many of them. What’s the point in building or restoring a superb facade when it’s blocked by trees. That’s one of the reasons why photographing in the winter can be better. And as for white vans, they have a habit of appearing whenever I lift the camera to photograph something. Well not all the time but it often seems like that!

3) You can only photograph some buildings at certain times of the day due to the direction of the sun. On my photoshoot today I didn’t try to photograph buildings that are facing the wrong way. If I want to photograph those buildings I will need to return on another day, though sadly not with the Canon 5D which I only had for the weekend!

4) To take buildings properly you really need a wide angle lens. The 24mm – 70mm lens I was using on the Canon is ideal for all kinds of architecture. You have to bear in mind however that the lens still suffers from distortion – barrel distortion at the wide angle end of the scale and pincushion distortion at the telephoto end. I corrected the distortion in Photoshop if it was noticeable.

5) Some of the photos I took are ‘After’ photos which are intended to match up with ‘Before’ photos from my archive. Often it’s not possible to achieve exactly the same viewpoint. It’s nice if you can find the same viewpoint but not necessary.

6) Sometimes temporary conditions make familiar buildings look completely different. In the photo of Manchester Cathedral, the tower looks like a modern office block under construction. In this case, should you take the photo or would it be better to wait until the work is complete. That depends on what the final use of the photo is. If it’s purely intended to document a time and place, you can use it. But if the photo is for promotional use, for instance in a tourist brochure, you have to wait until the building looks its best.

7) I often correct converging verticals, but not always. This effect is caused when you aim the camera upwards and the vertical lines seem to fall inwards. To achieve straight verticals, I use ‘Correct Camera Distort’ in Photoshop. This tool allows you to ‘stretch’ the picture as well as correct any barrel distortion or a crooked horizon. In the world of architecture, most photographs of buildings are corrected in this way. It’s possible to achieve straight verticals in the camera by using a wide angle lens and placing the building in the upper half of the frame. The horizon should be placed in the middle. In a city you have to estimate where the horizon is as there are buildings in the way. I used this effect in one of the photos of the Old Fire Station.

8) I had the camera set to RAW + JPG high for all shots. I archived the RAW files to an external drive and used the JPEGs as they produce perfectly good images for display at web pages. If any of the photos are needed for print, particularly at a large size, I can go back to the RAW file to see if I can obtain the maximum image quality. My general rule for RAW files is: Use RAW if you think the image will need extra enhancement, for instance because the lighting is difficult. Otherwise JPG is fine.

I hired the Canon 5D Mk IV from Calumet in Manchester. The cost including the lens was £158 for the weekend (9am Friday to 10.30am Monday.) During the week, this price buys one day’s hire. Hiring is a great way to try out a high end camera and lens without committing yourself. The total price of the camera and lens bought new would be around £3500 (2017 prices).

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Aidan O'RourkeAidan O'Rourke has been active in photography and online media since 1995. He has documented the development of the local area in his Eyewitness website (1997-2005) and as a contributor to books, publications and the Manchester Evening News. He runs photography walks in Manchester and Liverpool.