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Live View is My Friend

Lobby View, New York, NY August 12, 2009, Canon 45mm TS-E f/4.5
Lobby View, New York, NY August 12, 2009, Canon 45mm TS-E f/4.5

I just had a quick week off but before that I spent six days on two architecture projects. The six days helped drive home what a great lens the new 17mm TS-E is and made me all the more eager to get my hands on the new 24mm TS-E II. But beyond that the spaces I photographed were ringing with my new mantra, Live View is my friend.

Live View is Canon’s implementation of the ability to see the image you are about to shoot live as a video feed on the camera’s screen, zoom in up to a 10x magnification, and check or set focus manually. Live View can be seen one of two ways: via the camera’s screen or if you are tethered either via the camera’s screen or via the computer screen.

Lobby View, 100% Crop of First Image Focused via Live View in Camera
Lobby View, 100% Crop of First Image Focused via Live View in Camera

When I first got my 1Ds Mark III’s I used Live View via my laptop’s screen as I tested some lenses. I found it cute but I did not see its usefulness. If anything there was a negative to it.  When operating Live View via the computer, I had a tendency to leave it on for minutes at a time which led to the camera’s imaging chip overheating creating stuck pixels in the image. So, I avoided Live View and continued to shoot as I have always done.

Fast forward a year and a half. I am testing the new 17mm TS-E lens and finding it very hard to focus manually. What to do? Out of desperation it crossed my mind to try Live View again. I had no laptop with me so I enabled it in the camera. Man, what a difference. Zooming in and setting focus. It’s all a piece of cake. On assignment in the following days I was able to put the focus exactly where I wanted every time. No more trial and error via the laptop to set focus. How did I work without this?

It’s clear that Live View can be helpful when shooting wider open, with less depth of field, but I wouldn’t discount the value of it when shooting architecture at f/11 or f/16. Depth of field is a tricky beast made trickier in the digital age. In the analog days most photographers tended to rely on the scales manufacturers provided on lens barrels or if shooting 4×5 they could simply pull a Polaroid to check focus. In both cases, images were never examined at 100% on large computer screens as they are today. If anything, the digital age has brought home the critical nature of focus with all lenses including wide angles, the fact that depth of field was always something of a false promise – it never guaranteed sharpness but only a range of acceptable sharpness around your point of focus, and that all lenses must be tested to not just find their sweet spots but to also find where diffraction sets in.

Community Garden, New York, NY August 14, 2009, Canon 17mm TS-E f/16, Focused via Live View in Camera
Community Garden, New York, NY August 14, 2009, Canon 17mm TS-E f/16, Focused via Live View in Camera

Another element in this, too, is newer lenses which don’t have set infinity points. Yeah, I’m shooting a building 50 yards away with a 17mm lens at f/16. I should be able to set the lens to infinity and not think twice about focus. Where’s infinity though? The answer is – it depends. With all lenses it depends upon the temperature, with tilt/shift lenses it depends upon if the tilt is being used, and with autofocus lenses having the lens focus beyond infinity can help the lens achieve accurate focus.

Once you get hooked on Live View it’s hard to work any other way especially if you are working locked down on a tripod and photographing stationary subjects. I recommend using it via the camera’s screen. You can still shoot tethered but Live View is easier and quicker when you are at your camera and all the controls are right at hand. This is also best option with Canon’s manual focus only tilt/shift lenses. In that case there is no advantage to enabling it in the computer. You have to be at the camera to move the focus regardless.

On a Canon 1Ds Mark III Live View is enabled in Set-up Menu 2, select Live View function settings. Once done pressing the Set Button on back of the camera puts you in Live View mode. It takes a second or so but once done the view through the lens appears on the camera’s back screen. You can then put the focus area anywhere within the frame via the Multi-Controller Switch and you can zoom in via the Magnify Button. To exit Live View press the Set Button again.

Community Garden, New York, NY, August 14, 2009, Canon 24mm TS-E f/8, Focused via Live View in Camera
Community Garden, New York, NY, August 14, 2009, Canon 24mm TS-E f/8, Focused via Live View in Camera

The Live View function settings will also allow you to project a grid on top of the image and Custom Function 16, Live View exposure simulation, in the Custom Function IV menu, Operation/others, will alter the Live View screen image to reflect your exposure settings. I find the latter helpful when I use Live View.

I also find it helpful to use a loupe against the camera’s screen when working with Live View. Not to magnify the screen image further but to block out stray light. If you’ve been a photographer a while and have an old Schneider medium-format film loupe with a dark base or Toyo view camera focus loupe they will work fine. Otherwise, Hoodman’s HoodLoupe works very well.

2 Comments

  1. Hi,

    This was fascinating, thank you. I’ve been using TSE lenses for years and frankly had problems with focus, the live view tip (which come to think of it is fairly obvious and I’m surprised at myself for not considering it) will help a huge amount especially with a Zacuto loupe. My 24mm TSE is going to be traded in for the Mark 2 as it has lousy chromatic aberration and edge softness even without any movements but I might cut out the middle man and go for the 17mm. I’m undecided.

  2. The 17mm is very wide. It’s helpful for a large building or a large space within a building but the perspective can wacky very quickly if you are in a smaller space and slightly off angle – or if there are objects in the foreground which extend to the middle ground.

    The 17mm is a very helpful lens to have but if I had to pick one it would be the 24 TSE. The 24 TSE sees more use.

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