I received my Canon 5D Mark III's last Monday and have been shooting pretty much every day with them ever since (short review: AF finally works, thank goodness, and the hand grip is deeper, which is nice). In perusing the online reviews, I saw a mention of the Silent Shooting Mode. Having used this on the 5D Mark II, my impressions were that it was a pretty interesting idea, but badly implemented. Basically, on the Mark 2 the mirror would stay up as long as the shutter button was held down, making for an exceptionally long blackout time and having to consciously think about releasing the button every time you took a picture.
With the 5D Mark III, the feature has been improved immensely and essentially just slows down the mirror a bit to decrease the sound of it hitting. You get a slightly longer mirror blackout, but otherwise there's no difference except for the sound, which is ridiculously quiet. Like, quiet enough to proclaim on Twitter that it seemed even quieter than my trusty (read: unused) Leica M6.
So, is it?
In search of some answers (and waiting for some RAW images to be outputted), I set up a little test, placing both cameras on a couch and measuring the sound of their shutters using dB Meter Pro on my iPhone. I initially was going to put a lens on each one, but sadly, I sold my last Leica lens a few years ago, and have for some reason held onto the M6 body thinking that one day I might pull it out again and run few rolls of Tri-X through it. So, I decided to do the test with the shutter caps off (hello sensor dust), and the iPhone positioned about two inches away from each (yes, I measured).
Anyway, on to the test. I did five actuations for each (both at 1/500), making sure the phone's microphone was positioned the same distance away.
Here are the numbers (measured in dB):
Leica M6 : 100, 101, 103, 102, 102.
Average: 101.6 dB
Canon 5D Mark III (in Silent Mode) : 98, 99, 99, 98, 100.
Average: 98.8 dB
Here's an audio file, with five actuations of the Canon, then Leica. As you can hear, the Leica's shutter sound is shorter and a bit sharper, while the Canon is stretched out a bit, but sounds more dampened.
So, what does this all mean? Comparing a film camera that ended production in 1998 with the latest/greatest from Canon doesn't really count for much of anything, except that the Leica has always been held up as the paradigm of quiet-- the camera by which all others are measured. More importantly, this is a killer feature for a camera that seems to have fixed the majority of the issues its predecessor had, and then furthers its appeal by improving a feature that most photographers didn't even know existed.
Like many photographers (I suspect), I often keep a camera with a wide angle lens near me while in the car. These images I take rarely serve as more than an instinctual record of scenes that catch my eye as people and places hurtle past. In rare cases, I'm surprised by the visual successes of one of these photos.
The photos here come from my trip earlier this month to Kerala and were all taken from the backseat of an SUV. The purpose of the trip was to visit family there and subsequently we were traveling quite a bit most days. I'm still sorting through the images and waiting on my film to be developed and hope to share a few more images.
It's difficult to measure progress as a photographer. The whole idea of becoming "better" once one masters the technical aspect is a murky path with many dead-ends and no end point. I don't think it happens in the actual act of photography, when one raises the camera. By then, decisions have already been made about where you're standing and where you're going to point the camera. It's the accumulated knowledge, life experience, aesthetic judgements and maybe what you had for breakfast that day that brought you to that spot and it's this awareness (minus the breakfast part) that is going to guide the photo that you take.
With that thought, I've been looking through my assignments and personal projects from this year and thinking about where I've made steps forward, and where there has perhaps been a wrong turn made, or simple a bit of idling in place. I'm not sure the details of the conclusions I reached are that important, but I do hope the larger realizations might be helpful.
First, it took much too long for me to realize this personally, but the most damaging idea for a photographer is following a preconceived notions of the kind of photographer one is "supposed to be". This trap that imposes limits and a rigid framework on your work. Truth is, on a basic level we all get to choose what kind of photographs to make, it's completely our choice and our responsibility to figure out what we want to say. While external influences exist, those best, most important photos are the ones that reflect upon the photographer himself in an intimate, thoughtful way. Also, I get to shoot for myself, even on assignment, and the satisfaction of a job well done needs to come from within, not from others. As for looking at my own progress, I see it most infused in the assignments where I let go of some of my own faulty framework of what a photograph should be and use the time to try to discover something new I hadn't seen before.
Included here are 15 photographs that I'm happy about from 2010. I'm deeply thankful for the editors at publications like The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Markets, Washingtonian, Guardian Weekend, Smithsonian and Forbes who have entrusted me with work and encouraged finding creative, new approaches to stories and portraits.
I'm also thankful for the individuals who let me into their homes, or just gave me a few minutes of undivided attention for conversation and photos. It feels just plain lucky that I got to meet people like Chris Hitchens, Elizabeth Warren, Ken Feinberg and Anas Aremeyaw Anas in the course of my work.
I'm also thankful to have my work recognized in American Photography 26, FotoWeek DC, Mamiya and American Photo magazine for recognizing my work. And to Mike Davis, for fine-tuned guidance and softly spoken profound thoughts about photography.
Here's to a productive new year, moving ever forward down this path.
Ted Sorensen, 1928-2010
I had the good fortune to hear Ted Sorensen speak about the Cuban Missile Crisis during a conference a couple of years ago. Even better, he agreed to sit for a quick portrait in a studio I had set up back stage. His eyesight wasn't great and I directed him with a gentle hand on his immaculate dark suit to have him face the camera.
As we talked, an organizer from the conference came over and greeted him. Mr. Sorensen turned to her, gave her a bright smile, and I made this picture.
I spent a few hours on the Mall this past Saturday, covering Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally and meeting a lot of nice people from all over the country who are genuinely concerned about the direction this country was headed. Beck has shown himself to be a master at tapping into that concern, fear and anti-government sentiment. He also has a relationship with truth and facts that might charitably be described as unhindered.
Here are a few of my favorites from the day, the full set can be seen on my Photoshelter Gallery