Was It Worth It? Gary Burns on Upgrading to the Canon R5 [VIDEO]

Was It Worth It? Gary Burns on Upgrading to the Canon R5 [VIDEO]

[click below to watch the video or keep scrolling for photos and a transcript]


We flew out to California to shoot the Canon EOS R5 with our good friend and Ambassador Gary Burns.

Gary is a chief aerospace designer for interiors by trade, and he's an excellent photographer both above and below the surface. We decided to sit down and have a chat with him about this camera and whether he thinks it was worth the upgrade.


John Brigham: So Gary I've watched you go from point-and-shoot to the full frame Canon EOS 6D Mark II, and now obviously we're getting into this Canon EOS R5 mirrorless. From my perspective this this upgrade is for the autofocus system but what what are your thoughts?

Gary Burns: Relative to myself it's a real evolution change. As you know I started with a simple-point-and shoot, and then the DSLR approach. With this new camera from what I've learned and read, the camera has the dynamic range, the autofocus, and it has the flexibility. The customization especially related to how we connect it to the housing is significant. It really is a game changer and and the evolution of my own maturity of taking pictures on land and underwater. I'm in the infancy of learning this camera but I think it's a great camera for the future.

Garibaldi off Catalina coast with Canon EOS R5 copyright Gary Burns

Even with such a small size relative to the frame, the Canon EOS R5 had no problem tracking the Garibaldi's tiny black eye all over the reef. Straight from the camera with no crop or exposure adjustment. Canon EF 17-40mm at 22mm • ISO 100 • f/10 • 1/160 • Copyright © 2022 Gary Burns

Autofocus Performance [1:46] 

John Brigham: Yeah you're right, definitely I think game changer is an appropriate term for this camera and I can't stress enough the autofocus system. There's the crazy amount of additional autofocus points, going from 43 with your 6D Mark II to 1053 for the R5. This is a significant amount of autofocus improvement. Also tracking. One of the things when it first came out I didn't know it applied directly underwater - but I found that it actually does - is eye tracking. Obviously they designed it for humans and cats and dogs but how would that translate under water?

Gary Burns: I must admit like every new platform that comes out I was apprehensive of using it. With our discussions and trying to work out how the tracking worked. That first dive we did it was phenomenal. If you recall we were shooting the [California] state fish the garibaldi. I would literally just move the housing and focus on the eye of the garibaldi, because it's a very sharp eyeball. And it didn't matter where the garibaldi moved, the camera was absolutely locked onto it. And I was shooting a relatively wide angle shot so I had to get quite close and I was moving in and out. And it was just perfect. So I think it was a great system this new tracking.


Garibaldi cropped from Canon EOS R5 copyright Gary Burns

The Canon EF 17-40mm lens at 22mm cropped to 2400 x 1600 pixels still produces stunningly sharp results of this garibaldi fish. • ISO 100 • f/8 • 1/160 • Copyright © 2022 Gary Burns 

John Brigham: We were lucky enough to have a really good dive and obviously the garibaldi was a staple but then we were lucky enough to have mola mola.

Gary Burns: Yeah that was a unique opportunity to have that.

John Brigham:  And then you did some work with some jellyfish that popped up kind of out of nowhere. In terms of autofocus what I can tell and from your images you didn't seem to have any hiccups here.

Gary Burns: There was no issue going from one to another to another. That all happened in a relatively rapid succession. When I was shooting the garibaldi that was one element because those fish are all over the place. With the mola mola, they are very inquisitive and they're much bigger. I actually looked at this animal when it was coming close to me and it was very curious about me. Whether it was looking at its own reflection through the dome port I don't know, but I latched on with the autofocus. It and its pals came around and it was mid-water. I was sort of adjusting my buoyancy and trying to take the picture but it didn't matter. As long as I was locked onto that [the autofocus] was very precise.

John Brigham: Yeah coming from shooting DSLRs myself you would see the auto focus points, you know, and it would be like here, here, or here [gestures 3 points in space].  But Jean [Rydberg] was saying when you're shooting the R5 you watch this cloud of focus points. You can watch it follow your subject which is just incredible how accurate and fast that that happens, it's instantaneous.

Gary Burns: Yeah I was shooting up, looking up in mid water where the the light of the blue is changing and I had the sunlight coming through. And even though the dynamic range was large, it really latched on to to the [subject], in this case the mola mola, and we got some phenomenal images. We were just really lucky that day.


Egg Yolk Jellyfish off Catalina copyright Gary Burns Canon R5 Ikelite Housing

The R5 didn't even flinch when Gary went from the Mola mola to the nebulous egg yolk jelly. • Canon EF 17-40mm at 37mm • ISO 100 • f/6.3 • 1/160 • Copyright © 2022 Gary Burns 

Lenses [5:41] 

John Brigham: Well hopefully it's a little bit of skill. So I was shooting the new 14-35mm lens. Just a little bit on it: it is a new RF mount, so it's designed to go straight onto the camera, no adapter needed. There's another similar lens out there, a 15-35mm, that's a little bit more unwieldy in size. And while the 14-35mm isn't cheap by any means at $1700, you're looking at $700 cheaper than the 15-35mm. Another thing I had to my advantage with that combination was that the camera has in-body image stabilization or IBIS, and then the lens itself also has image stabilization. So if you pair the two together you actually get an enhanced stabilization. So obviously for still shooters you can go down to a slower shutter speed and do some more handheld stuff. I was shooting video so it's very a buttery smooth transition. What lens were you shooting?

Gary Burns: I was using Canon EF 17-40mm but I still had to use the old adapter because I don't have the new RF lenses. But even though I didn't have the new technology, with the adapter it was locking on just perfect and it seemed to be pretty seamless. I would say if we can afford to change this platform, to go from a DSLR, until you've kind of got locked in I would say use your old lenses with the adapter. From what my experience was it seemed to work very very well.

Mola Mola off Catalina Island copyright Gary Burns Ikelite Canon R5

Lack of color contrast was no problem for the Canon EOS R5's amazing autofocus tracking system. The camera has Deep Learning capabilities which actually improve autofocus shot to shot by applying artificial intelligence. • Canon EF 17-40mm at 40mm • ISO 100 • f/5.6 • 1/160 • Copyright © 2022 Gary Burns

Shooting Video [7:19]

John Brigham: I myself, and I feel like I speak for a lot of people here to say I was apprehensive about going to video. Same principles of light of course but you you've got a whole other level of motion and you've got software and different things. The R5 is a killer video camera. I know historically you've not been a big video guy so is this going to be something that I'm going to have to push you out of your comfort zone on?

Gary Burns: I'd like to sort of develop my, shall we say, my maturity underwater in terms of shooting photography. I tend to like the stills and the reason I like that is because I feel I can be creative. With the post processing tools that we have that we can use today, I'm always looking for that little piece of art. But I've noticed as we dove together in the Caribbean, to shoot some of the whale shots and dolphin shots, and in my case over in Catalina, the seal shots, the video is going to be really a great tool. I'm looking forward to shall we say the evolution of my own photography.

John Brigham: I think one of the things that we have to our advantage in that field is our society's lack of attention span. So when I started thinking about videos, like "I got to do a video that's start to finish and it tells a story and it's x number of minutes long..." People don't have that attention span anymore. I'm going to use that to my advantage and I'm going to just get the clips. With social media, etc., to have the clip of the cool creature I think is more than good enough.

Gary Burns: I agree with you because people want to see a 30 second to 1 minute clip. Having a small YouTube video or just a personal video that you could show, say your work colleagues, or share within a photographic community, that's the way people would like to see video.

mola Mola off Catalina Island by Gary Burns Ikelite Housing Canon R5

Closing down the aperture can quickly turn day to night in mid-water. • Canon EF 17-40mm at 40mm • ISO 100 • f/10 • 1/160 • Copyright © 2022 Gary Burns

Customizing Settings [9:26]

John Brigham: So on this note of the camera and video, one of the things for me - and it sounds kind of like a stupid thing to get hung up on - was just switching between still and video. So before we went in we were actually in the hotel room and we were like, "Let's set up custom buttons." We set up the M-Fn button to toggle between video and still, and then we set up the star (*) key to do electronic viewfinder or LCD. Now everything's fine-tuning when you're coming to tactics and shooting underwater and all that, but I can say that worked out pretty well for me.

Gary Burns: For me it worked out really well because not only did we customize the camera to the application. You know I was only shooting stills, but I knew I just had a one button push and I could have switched to the video mode. The one thing it helped me do is to concentrate on what I was trying to create. I always try to think about the images in advance of what I really want to see. To be able to just press one button and toggle between different screens it was it was so simple to do. So my whole activity underwater really was really just changing the aperture. And I think if you looked at some of the images I got, sometimes I close the aperture down so I got a nice black background and some I opened it up so I got the nice light background. So really it was just a case of them being able to to change the kind of picture that I was trying to create.

Camera and Housing Ergonomics [11:18] 

John Brigham: So on that note you take what you've learned and you always apply it to what you're doing moving forward. A lot of the times what we're doing as photographers is just tool changes. That's what we're doing here now. What were your overall thoughts of the controls between your 6D Mark II and the R5, both on the camera and how that translated through the housing?

Gary Burns: I've used the 6D Mark II for probably four years and it's been a very solid platform. I've understood the personality of it and I've got used to working with it underwater. But I think with the customization of the R5 and the simplicity of the housing that you've built, really for the photographer you've only really got 3 buttons [that you need] to manipulate. And it gives you more time to think about the composition what you want to do. The fact that we can now track much faster and the the interface between the camera and the housing is a much more mature design in my honest opinion. Because I was able to put the camera in simply, the connection between the lens was simple, the adjustments were very simple. So if you customize the camera to the housing - and we did that in probably 15 to 20 minutes - we save it as a memory function, and basically we've saved the button pushes. It makes life very simple for us. 

gary burns underwater with canon R5 by John Brigham Ikelite housing

Gary Burns is clearly blown away by his first dive with the Canon EOS R5 camera. We doubt he will be falling back to the old 6D Mark II anytime soon (or ever). • Canon RF 14-35mm lens at 14mm • ISO 250 • f/4 • 1/200 • Copyright © 2022 John Brigham

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) [13:04] 

John Brigham: One thing that I have had experience with is electronic viewfinder - the EVF. I've shot that on other mirrorless cameras like the Nikon Z-series and so I've become very familiar with that system generally speaking. One of the benefits for me topside especially was that you can close out the rest of the world and you can focus. You don't worry about the being overpowered by the light around you and you get to see your heads up display. You get to see a preview of the image after you take the shot, which can be a little disorienting, but if you get used to it it's a very valuable feature. You don't ever have to leave that zone of taking a picture, micro adjusting, and then taking another picture. I like that underwater especially for macro photography because when you're shooting something very little then you can keep an eye on it. What's your first initial thought on it?

Gary Burns: I'm really new to the camera and I was really new to the housing. I was comfortable with using the camera in the housing based on the customization we've given it. When I actually took my first few shots it happened to be the mola mola. I was sort of mid-water and there's nobody around me and I thought I'm just going to try to understand the button sequencing. So I would actually focus with the the focus button and it immediately tracked onto the eye, which was which was incredible. And then all I was really doing was adjusting the aperture on the housing itself. But once I took my first picture my immediate reaction was - as I was thinking of my old camera - I wanted to [the housing] turn and look. But all of a sudden the image was actually displayed in the eyepiece. And I think maybe some features were not quite set right because the eyepiece seemed to be a little bit bright to me. So what I actually did was the same old technique to play it back. I pressed the preview button and I saw it on the small screen and I realized that I needed to change my aperture a bit. The fish was so curious about me it gave me the opportunity to make multiple changes and shoot. So that's was my first kind of feel for it. Maybe if we have this conversation in a month's time when I've had a little bit more experience and customization then I will think it's perfect.

Silhouette divers copyright Gary Burns Canon R5 Ikelite Housing

Streaming light rays are no problem for the R5's sensor. The camera's sensitivity and dynamic range are exceptional. • Canon EF 17-40mm at 17mm • ISO 100 • f/22 • 1/160 • Copyright © 2022 Gary Burns

Conclusion [16:15]

John Brigham: We're going to overlay the video with your initial images and I want to reiterate that it was the first time you've ever used the camera underwater.

Gary Burns: Yeah we're not making this up.  As we used to say - what you see is what you get. The creative juices were flowing, I could see the image I wanted, the opportunity of shooting something that we don't often see, and the lighting. The one thing we have to preface this with is that we were so lucky in terms of California to have that kind of visibility. It was really cold, maybe less than 60ºF. We were mid-water and all of a sudden we've got the shoal of a very unusual fish. The stars all aligned for us. And to have the opportunity to shoot this new platform with this dynamic high dynamic range in this great tracking system. We had a really good day.

John Brigham: That's a very promising step one.

Gary Burns: Yeah it's a promising start. And you know I'll be very frank with you, I was quite apprehensive to take it underwater because obviously there's a lot of money tied up in the camera, the lens, and the housing. I pressurized the housing and I did the sequence I normally go through with the original housing [for the 6D Mark II]. But if I had the option to go underwater now and I've set the 6D Mark II down there and the new R5, based on the experience I've had it's a total normal brainer [gestures to the R5]. 

John Brigham: I'm super excited to see you know what you come up with and you can bet that I'm going to be pushing you for video.

Gary Burns: I will try.

John Brigham: You'll do it.

Gary Burns: Especially if we  can get into the sea lions and we can set the strobes right, I think it's going to be a killer.


John Brigham Canon R5 and Ikelite Housing copyright Gary Burns

John tests out a couple of new DS230 strobes with the Canon EOS R5. TTL strobe exposure is possible when combined with a DL5 DS Link TTL Converter. • Canon 17-40mm at 37mm • ISO 100 • f/4 • 1/250 • Copyright © 2022 Gary Burns

John Brigham: I can't wait to see what the track is going to do on the sea lions. As always, my pleasure chatting about the R5. I can't wait to see what you do with it.

Gary Burns: Yeah I'm really happy to to have this this chat. It's been a great experience to dive with you and Jean and I was just thrilled having this opportunity.

John Brigham: We'll just have to come back out. I'll see you at the Long Beach Show hopefully!

Gary Burns Jean Rydberg John Brigham Boardwalk at Santa Monica Pier

Doing fun family stuff on the weekend. Ambassador Gary Burns, President Jean Rydberg, and Vice President John Brigham enjoy sunset on the Santa Monica Pier. 


Additional Reading

Catalina Island with the Canon R5 and R6 [VIDEO]

Canon RF 14-35mm f/4L Lens Underwater Review [VIDEO] 

Underwater with the Canon RF 100mm Macro Lens and EOS R5

A More Affordable Macro Lens | Sigma 70mm Art and the Canon R5

Hit the Water with a Shot in Mind | A Steve Miller Meditation [VIDEO]

Reading next

Unboxing the Nikon Z9 Flagship Z Mirrorless Camera [VIDEO]
Diving Catalina Island with the Canon R5 and R6 [VIDEO]