Young gypsy child stands in a shaft of light

Paolo Pellegrin

Life in low light

Paolo Pellegrin
Paolo Pellegrin


Renowned Magnum photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Paolo Pellegrin talks about his experiences using the new EOS 5D Mark IV for the first time, and how it compares to previous DSLRs in the EOS 5D series.

When he shoots his unique brand of documentary photography, Paolo Pellegrin has a way of getting under the skin of his subjects to reveal the most intimate moments. His approach requires as much tact and diplomacy as it does skill with a camera. In fact, Paolo’s ability to build relationships with his subjects is crucial if they are to trust him, and let him into their lives.

For one of his latest ventures, Paolo took a pre-production model of the EOS 5D Mark IV to Rome, Italy, where he spent time with a gypsy family living in the city, documenting their everyday lives and culture. The project is a perfect example of why Paolo has had such a long and fruitful relationship with the EOS 5D series – the cameras’ combination of full-frame image quality, responsive performance and portability lets him capture everything from street portraits to low-light landscapes.

When we spoke to Paolo about his experiences with the new camera, he was already busy documenting events in Iraq, working in towns like Ramadi and Fallujah. Down a very crackly phone line he told us about his first impressions...

“I’ve used the EOS 5D from the beginning, and I’ve seen the evolution of the cameras as they have progressed through the years,” Paolo says. “Although I only had the EOS 5D Mark IV for a few days in Rome, it made a big impression on me, especially when I was using it in low light.”

Many of the pictures that Paolo shot in Rome were captured after dark – just one of the reasons he favours prime lenses over zooms. “One of the most instantly noticeable things for me was the responsiveness of the autofocus when I was shooting at those dark locations, and that’s a very big deal for me,” he says. “Plus the image quality is better in those conditions too. My first impressions looking back at the RAW files is that there is less noise than ever before and plenty of detail in the shadows.”

Shooting on the move also places far greater importance on the quality of the LCD screen. With a high-resolution 3.2-inch touchscreen, the EOS 5D Mark IV shows the quality of Paolo’s recorded files in exquisite detail, allowing him to review and edit while he travels, without having to open up a laptop.

Paolo values the large pixel count of the EOS 5D Mark IV enormously. “I do a lot of large prints for exhibitions so more pixels are always welcome,” he comments.

"I actually use it virtually all of the time, both indoors and outdoors. I think of it as one of the best features of this camera system."

Keep it simple

Paolo shoots with a limited selection of prime lenses, favouring their image quality and fast apertures as well as the creativity that the restriction of a single focal length gives him. “My normal set up is 28mm, 35mm and 50mm primes,” he reveals. “I have the fast EF35mm f/1.4L II USM and EF50mm f/1.4L II USM versions of those two lenses, and I enjoy using the EF28mm f/2.8 II USM too, which is very small.”

Also in Paolo’s bag is the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM (“As much as I’m not in love with the idea of zooms, it’s a really great great lens!”) and the EF40mm f/2.8 STM ‘pancake’ lens – so called for its diminutive design.

When looking at his kit bag, the role equipment plays in Paolo’s discreet working style becomes more obvious. He likes to stay small and light, quick to react without drawing attention. And features in the new EOS 5D Mark IV can help here too. Take for example its Silent Shooting mode – an evolution of the technology found in previous 5D cameras. “When Canon introduced the Silent Shooting mode for me it was an absolute game changer,” Paolo says. “I actually use it virtually all of the time, both indoors and outdoors. I think of it as one of the best features of this camera system.”

Also new to Paolo was the ability to transfer images quickly to a tablet thanks to the EOS 5D Mark IV’s Wi-Fi/NFC mode. This new addition to the camera further impressed on him the knowledge that, should the situation ever arise where he needed to quickly share or shoot remotely using the Canon Connect app, he could do so with absolute ease.

The EOS 5D Mark IV is a very customisable camera, and although Paolo only had his sample camera for a few days he already began to feel the benefits of its improved handling. “I was pleasantly surprised by the touchscreen. I actually didn’t know anything about that until I had the camera in my hand,” he chuckles. “But it’s very fast to use and I like how you browse images, and zoom in to check details.”

“I didn’t have much cause to use the built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, but I can see that I might in the future. GPS is an interesting feature and would be useful in trying to map locations, like those in desert locations in the Middle East.”

"When Canon introduced the Silent Shooting mode for me it was an absolute game changer,"

Paolo Pellegrin photographs gypsy children with EOS 5D Mark IV

In talking to Paolo, it’s clear that that there is no one single feature that’s responsible for the appeal of the EOS 5D series with photojournalists. Rather it’s the cameras’ position as all-rounder: a DSLR that can do a lot of everything really well. And the EOS 5D Mark IV is well-placed to follow in the footsteps of its groundbreaking predecessors.

He adds: “Really, for me, it’s more about the file size and the quality of that file, especially in low light. And things like AF, which just gets better every time. I don’t have the camera with me here in Iraq, but I really wish I did. I’m very much looking forward to using it again in the future...”

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