Ophrys Photography

Wildlife photography by John Devries, Kent UK. Inspirational images from nature.
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Equipment used

Equipment used


NOTE: This article was written in 2006 but has been added to numerous times.


Update July 2012 Current equipment used and why

Canon Cameras:

Canon 1 DmkIV 16.1 Mp with 1.3x crop factor
Excellent and robust professional camera with great autofocus, high frame rate (10fps) very good image quality and noise performance, 1.3x crop factor is useful for telephoto work. Large size and weight are minuses but battery life is exceptional.
5Dmark III 22.3 Mp Full frame
Excellent and very versatile camera with great autofocus, image quality and noise performance. More compact than 1DmkIV so used when weight saving is important. Liveview is superior to 1 series and it is quieter in operation when working with flighty subjects. 6 fps framerate is sufficient but slow compared to the 1DmkIV.

Canon Lenses:

500mm f4 L
IS (Heavy but fantastic lens, used mainly for birds and mammals, used in conjunction with both extenders)
400mm f5.6 L (Light lens with no IS - My favourite birds in flight (BIF) lens)
300mm f2.8 L IS (Medium to long telephoto of fantastic quality, used for birds and mammals, used in conjunction with both extenders when hiking distances that would be crippling with the 500mm f4. I often use it with an extension tube for photographing plants)
70-200mm f2.8 L IS II
(Short to medium zoom of high quality. Used in conjuntion with both converters)
24-105 f4 L IS
(Good general purpose wide angle to medium zoom of useful focal length on full frame camera)
17-40 f4 L IS
(Good compact wide angle zoom)
24mm f2.8
(Inexpensive but sharp fast wide angle purchased to photograph aurora borealis)
50mm f3.5 macro
(Compact and inexpensive - a good macro but requires close working distance. Only 0.5x lifesize magnification unless used with extension tubes)
100mm f2.8L IS macro (Excellent and versatile 1:1 macro with advanced image stabiliser that often permits hand holding. Can be used with extension tubes for greater magnifications. Also makes a great portrait lens)
180mm f3.5 L macro
(Larger macro lens of long focal length that permits gerater working distance than the other macros, so it is useful for butterflies and dragonflies. Often used in conjunction with 1.4 converter).
MPE 65 macro
(Unique manual focus lens that is used for work at high magnification - up to 5x life size)
1.4 III teleconverter (extender)
(For increasing the focal length of L telephoto and macro lenses. Used in conjunction with 500mm f4,300mm f2.8 and 70-200f2.8 mkII and 180mm f3.5 L macro)
2x III teleconverter (extender)
(For increasing the focal length of L telephoto and macro lenses. Used in conjunction with 500mm f4,300mm f2.8 and 70-200f2.8 mkII)

Main accessories
Gitzo GT 3530S carbon fibre tripod
Gitzo monopod
Speedlight 590ex II, 420ex and Mt24ex macro twinflash
Remote cable release
Two 25mm extension tubes



I am often asked what equipment I use, so this is a list of my gear and why I chose it. There are many hints and tips in this section that I hope you will find useful.

Firstly though, I must say that it doesn't matter how good a camera you have, the skill of the photographer behind it is still the most significant factor in taking great pictures- it is all to easy to just end up with just a snapshot.

The camera doesn't have "an eye for a picture", can't assess the quality of the light, compose the shot artistically in the frame and so on. These are human artistic attributes and only come with knowledge, patience and experience. Take these two images of a little egret for example:

egret 1
Egret 2
What the camera would take ?
A more artistic interpretation ?

Being charitable, I would say that the camera would take the image on the left, and the one on the right was taken with human thought and intervention. In actual fact, the camera would probably have messed-up the exposure as the water and white feathers would have fooled the camera's metering system. The image on the right is of the same bird, just taken later in the day when the lighting became magical. The water was still, so a reflection developed, and the bird was positioned in an off-centre position in the frame. The image was intentionally under-exposed to saturate the colours in the water.

When working in extreme close up (macro) or at a distance (telephoto) faultless technique becomes paramount regardless of equipment. A sturdy tripod, or beanbag, the use of a cable release and mirror lock-up to avoid vibration come into play. Moving subjects such as birds in flight raise the bar in technical difficulty to another level completely.


Film or digital ?

The majority of the images on the website are taken with Canon digital SLR cameras. I abandoned film cameras about two years ago when I felt that the quality of digital had finally become comparable to my scanned slides. I had previously been using a Canon EOS 30 film camera and Canon lenses, Fujichrome Sensia or Velvia 50/100 iso film and a Nikon Coolscan IV scanner to "digitise" them. Some images (the earlier ones) on this website were captured in this manner.

Digital has so many advantages over film that I can no longer see any reason to use it. I cover digital advantages a bit later in this article below.


Why Canon equipment ?

Well, I am such a good customer that they give me complementary equipment . Yes, well, in my dreams! Unfortunately I have to buy my own, so I could have chosen any make of camera, but as I have made such a significant investment in expensive Canon lenses, to change now to say, Nikon, would be very expensive at this late stage - fortunately I still believe this to be unnecessary, and given my time again I would probably still buy Canon. It is very well made and reliable, and at each price point in the range, I feel Canon still just has the edge over it's competitors.

I am so used to handling Canon cameras that I can do so without thinking about what I am doing too much, so to change to a another brand with different handling characteristics would probably not be a good idea for me. You may be different and get on better with Minolta/Pentax/Nikon/Olympus/Leica/Contax etc - these are all great makes take your pick.

First experiences of digital - the Canon 10D

canon 10D

Canon EOS 10D 6.3 megapixel digital SLR camera


My first digital SLR was a Canon EOS10D 6.3 megapixel camera. To be truthful, initially I was disappointed in the results I got from it, but I quickly grasped that I was the problem - not the camera. The Canon cmos sensor and digic processor it uses produce a slightly soft image when all the in-camera parameters are set to zero. Still leaving them at zero I then began to post-capture process a little in Photoshop. I adjusted levels to improve brightness and contrast levels, increase saturation, crop or resize if necessary and as the last stage apply a little "unsharp mask". My pictures now had real punch.

The resultant images I was getting were more than a match for the best that I had managed to produce to date from film. Actually I preferred them to scanned film - which looked grainy by comparison. Although a scanner produces larger file sizes, don't forget that a scan is a second-generation copy of the original slide which results in quality losses. I find that 6.3 Mpixels of digital data squirted straight into the computer easily matches a scanned slide. Moreover, the digital file will stand far greater enlargement than a scan once interpolated using appropriate software. Photo agencies insisting on 50Mb files from a digital camera are out of touch with reality and are placing an unnecessary financial burden on us photographers!
To see some comparisons of film vs digital slr shots side-by-side click here

The EOS 10D files printed out beautifully at A3 size on my Epson 1290 Photo-quality desktop printer. I was converted! It was also about this time that photo agencies also happily began to accept digital images, and many agencies are starting to prefer digital now that they have the necessary equipment and expertise to handle it. Although there are still many film diehards, many professional wildlife photographers are now changing to digital because of the huge benefits it offers...

Film
Digital

Film - Fuji Sensia 100 ISO, Slide scanned on Nikon Coolscan IV. 100% crop. Notice the grain and dirtiness of the image. The dirt will require a lot of cleaning up with the healing brush in Photoshop.

Digital - Canon 10D 200ISO at 100% crop. Similar if not better resolution. Much cleaner image and much lower grain at 200 ISO than the film is at 100 ISO.

Digital benefits

There are many practical benefits to shooting in digital and these include:

Instant preview of results - enables experimentation with apertures and exposures or position of flashguns etc and one can re-shoot if not satisfied .Examining the camera's histogram enables an assessment of exposure to be made at time of shooting.

You can take hundreds more more pictures without a cost penalty- Once you have the equipment, you can take and delete as many pictures as you like without the cost restrictions of film. I think this enables you to learn by trial and error and become a better or more adventurous photographer.

No waiting for films to come back from processing and no "getting lost in the post".

You can change ISO settings at the touch of a button - no need to change films in mid roll.

Really high ISO settings can be used on the latest Canon digital SLR's with very little noise (speckles equivalent to grain in film). This means that instead of putting the camera away or resorting to flash when light levels are poor, you can carry on shooting.

Digital images are much "cleaner" than scanned slides and require far less re-touching. This saves hours of time.

Digital images can be enlarged via interpolation (apparent resolution increased by software calculating the additional pixels) to a much greater degree than scanned film. A good quality 18Mb file from a digital camera can easily be interpolated up using proprietary software to produce a high-quality double page spread in a book to rival a 50Mb file from film.

Space requirements for storing and indexing slides in filing cabinets is horrendous. These days a computer (even a small laptop) with an external disk drive is all that is necessary to store a vast collection of images.

If you want a duplicate of a digital file, this can be instantly produced and burnt to CD whereas a slide must be sent to a lab for duplication (and paid for!) . The copied slide is a second-generation copy and will not be identical to the original.

Compact flash cards are much smaller than bundles of film cartons which is much more convenient when traveling. No need to worry about airport X-ray machines damaging the medium either.

I have found that my slides gradually deteriorate with time. Once digitized the images last forever - provided that they are safely backed up.

Probably the most significant benefit of digital is the control that it puts back into the photographer's hands when processing the images on a computer. Black and white film processing required a darkroom, chemicals and a lot of time. Cibachrome process for colour is expensive and a specialised procedure, therefore most photographers chose to entrust the process to someone in a laboratory who makes all the decisions about colour matching, cropping, dodging/shading for the photographer.

Although some photographers hate being stuck behind a computer, I enjoy being in control of the whole process - I like to make my own decisions thanks.
I shoot in RAW mode all the time and post-process for ultimate image control and quality, but if you set the camera to shoot large jpegs and set the in-camera parameters to apply moderate sharpening and increase saturation and contrast a little, then the images will be pretty good straight out of the camera.

Moving on... The Canon EOS 20D

With the advent of the Digic II processor and a shift up to 8.2 megapixels, I changed to a Canon EOS 20D camera.

canon 20D

Pictured above: Canon EOS 20D 8.3 megapixel digital SLR camera


The new CMOS sensor and digic II processor in the 20D was clearly superior to it's predecessor in the 10D. Images showed higher resolution thanks to the extra pixels, but also there was generally improved image quality. The "noise" performance (digital equivalent to grain in film) at high ISO settings was astoundingly good.

The 20D is small and light and has fantastic image quality I really love it. I still use this camera today for "static" bird photography as the 1.6x sensor is very beneficial when using telephoto lenses of small or distant subjects (as birds often are).

To read an excellent article on sensor sizes, crop factors and pixel density click here.

And on...the

Canon EOS 1D mk II.

After returning from a photoshoot in the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland I decided that I needed a "faster" camera than the 20D with quicker, more accurate autofocus.
I had missed far too many great shots of puffins coming into land, because the 20D AI servo predictive autofocus just couldn't seem to lock on to the subject fast enough before it landed. So, in July 2005 I purchased a Canon EOS 1D mk II body. I find that the image quality produced is pretty well equivalent to the 20D, but the autofocus accuracy in AI servo mode is in another league - and as * this is currently the world's fastest digital SLR (it can capture images and process them at the staggering rate of 8.5 frames per second and up 20 raw images or 40 large jpegs before the buffer fills up) this is just what the nature photographer needs for action shots.The buffer then clears at a rate of about 1 frame per second. The reason for wanting such a fast camera is to capture more wildlife action such as those birds in flight.
Another 1D mk II benefit is that autofocus is retained on the 100-400 f5.6 lens when the 1.4x extender is fitted. Fitting the extender makes the lens an f8 - which on the 20D means focusing manually - not so on the 1D which can still autofocus on the central autofocus point at f8.

My only critics of the camera so far are that it is pretty heavy and bulky compared to the 20D, especially with a telephoto lens mounted on it. I also find that the controls for reviewing images and selecting menus are a bit fiddly, but I am getting used to them. The shutter on both this and the 20D are both noisier than I would like -which is not great for photographing shy creatures. The sensor size is 1.3X which is more useful than the EOS 20D on wide angle shots, but I miss the 1.6x sensor when photographing distant or small birds.

* = Written in 2006

And on....

The Canon 1D mk III

Canon 1D III
Canon 1D mk III 10.1 megapixel camera

I ordered a Canon 1D mk III when the model was first announced in March 2007 but I quickly cancelled my order when the news of severe AI servo performance problems were discovered with this model.
Canon identified the issue as a submirror problem and the camera was supposedly now fixed. However, rumours on websites such as Rob Galbraith's , suggested that Canon has now recently discovered the "root cause" of the problem and there may be another fix to come.

I had been using the Canon 40D in preference to my 1D mk II for some time as the camera is so much nicer to use, it has an extra couple of megapixels to crop from, has a 1.6x crop factor which is great for bird photography - which is what I tend to do most in winter, but most importantly, the image quality is a bit better. However, I did miss not having more autofocus points - the 40D's nine is just not enough to be able to always put a point over the subject's eye. As good as the AF is on the 40D it does still not track subjects as well as a 1 series camera, and I miss not being able to use extenders on some lenses as the 40D will only focus to f5.6 vs f8 for the 1 series models.

I really missed using a 1 series professional body, and had been um-ming and ah-ing as to whether to get a 1DIII as many users now seem to feel the AF now works well.

When Jacobs offered the camera for £2299 I couldn't resist. The camera was a post sub-mirror fix example with firmware 1.2.3 loaded.

I was prepared to pay £3050 at launch, so I saved myself £751 and a lot of hassle by not being an early adopter. Enough waffle - is it any good ?

Test 1 - Can it focus on a static subject ?
I set up CD case in the studio and used one-shot mode with the 100mm macro. result - perfect. I repeated the test using AI servo and then Liveview/plus manual focus at 10x - No difference was observed between them at all when viewed at 100% on the screen. Phew - a great start - I haven't bought a complete dog !

I played around with the camera that night in the living room, and the AF in low light was obviously locking on much better than my 1DII - in fact it was quite astonishing.

Test 2 - Big test - how is the AF in AI servo in bright light?
Next day, I got my trusty assistant to run towards the camera Rob Galbraith style. The weather was very bright (conditions found to cause problems) and I used the 500 f4 wide open. I had 1/2000 sec shutterspeed and shot a burst of 65 large jpegs before the buffer filled - wow! When viewed on the screen at 100% I got a hit rate of 73%. The remainder were soft, but not badly OOF.

This was using centre focus point only and default custom function III settings.
Despite not getting 100% in focus, I had so many usable images that I didn't feel that I needed to worry too much about the odd soft one. I admit that I have not done this test with my 1D II but I'm sure it wouldn't have been as good as this. I would have preferred 100% but that is probably expecting a bit too much ! Never-the less, it is strange that once the focus has locked so well, it still loses it again on the next frame and then seems to re-gain it again for the next frame. I should add that this is all happening at a shooting rate of 10 frames per second - pretty phenomenal.

Next day I calibrated all my lenses to the camera with the lens micro adjustment feature. Interestingly, my very sharpest lenses (the 500 f4 for example) needed no adjustment, but some of what I considered less sharp lenses - like the 100-400 f5.6 needed around +6 adjustment. I will be interested to see how good these now look in real world use.

Test 3 - Image quality in the field
Use in the field. I shot some shots of green woodpeckers and a blackbird in good light. I used one shot but mainly AI servo - which worked superbly as the birds moved around. I need to try some action next, but so far so good. The images straight out of the camera (after raw conversion using CS3) were the best that I have seen on my monitor. Fabulously detailed, very low noise (far less than my 40D) barely needed a whiff of sharpening, very nice accurate and saturated colours. Here is an example:

1. Blackbird - 500mm 54 1/600 sec at f5.6 ISO 400

Blackbird

100% crop:

Blackbird crop


So all-in all, I'm very pleased, and I feel that so far the camera is as good as I had dared hope. All the features that I now take for granted on my 40D are present - such as the big screen (now much sharper than my 40D's thanks to the updated firmware - maybe not as good as the latest Nikons, but in another league to the 1DII ) the much better menu and button system, liveview etc. The camera is much lighter in weight than I was expecting too.

Niggles ? My main niggle is that I think that I prefer the old (1DII) way of selecting AF points manually - and why have the number of manually-selectable points been reduced from 45 to 19 ? Seems like a backward step. Having said that - I always had a point that I could put over the bird's eye today, unlike the 40D which has a miserable 9 points - that cameras biggest weakness.
The full 45 points only become available in auto selection of AF point mode (ring of fire) but the mysterious hidden 26 "assist" points are also available when expansion of AF points around the manually-selected point is selected in custom functions.

So far I think the 1DIII is awesome, I still need to try it on birds in flight, but the runner tests look promising. Unlike Andy Rouse, I certainly have no intention of jumping ship to Nikon just yet!

The story continues

I have been reading upon everybody's recommended custom function III settings for the camera to try to optimise the AF for action in AI servo- particularly birds in flight (BIF). Trouble is, everyone seems to have a different recommendation, and most of the web articles refer to a time before the submirror fix and latest firmware (1.3.1) came out. Nothing for it but to try myself.

I took the camera to Arundel Wildfowl Trust to gain some experience with the camera, and also shot at anything that moved in the sky - jackdaws, wild ducks attracted to the decoy of all the other birds, and this pigeon.....

Pigeon in flight

Shooting BIF is not an exact science - I find it incredibly difficult, and it is hard to gauge what the camera is doing on various settings, as my own performance is usually the limiting factor. The pigeon came past like a bullet, and I just sniped at it and got lucky. The camera locked on fine on this occasion - but I can't say that it always does by any means - even if I get it right myself .

I should add that I only used the 100-400 f5.6 IS zoom at Arundel. It is not a bad lens, but the 500mm f4 is so much better, that I am spoiled. Nevertheless, since I carried out the micro-adjustments on the 100-400, it is performing much better than I usually expect. Also the AF is a bit sluggish on it usually, but the extra horsepower in the 1DIII seems to drive it much better than previous cameras. The 400mm f5.6 is a much better lens for BIF as the autofocus is very quick on it. It lacks image-stabilisation (IS), but as shutter speeds in excess of 1/1000 sec are required, IS is not really necessary. The zoom is really useful to frame BIF as they fly towards you, I wish that Canon would update the 100-400 to compete with Nikon's 200-400VR - an exceptional lens by all accounts that Canon has no answer to.

So, in summary, although it is early days, I can honestly say that I think that Canon have indeed "fixed " the camera and it appears at last to be the phenomenal tool that it originally promised to be. If there are more firmware upgrades to come to improve the AF further - I will say yes please - thanks very much, but for the time being, I'm sure that this camera (mine at least) autofocuses better than any other Canon camera to date. - What a pleasure to be able to type that !

Later note :
I took the 1D3 to Bass Rock to photograph the gannets there. When fitted with an f2.8 or larger lens, (such as the 70-200 f2.8L IS lens I used) many more of the the AF points become cross type (as opposed to horizontal line type) which are more sensitive and lock on better. I must say that this combination was awesome for capturing the gannets in flight. I can say that it was almost easy - hit rate approaching 100%.
To see some of the gannets click here - all shots were taken with the 1DIII (with the exception of a few with grey skies taken at Bempton).

The Canon EOS 40D

Canon EOS 40D - 10.1 Mp camera


I think that the 40D is quite a landmark camera for Canon. It has Liveview - fantastic for close-up and hide work. It has a big bright high quality rear screen. It has 14 bit processing, and great speed in terms of processing images - so it has great buffer depth and burst rate.The menu layouts and buttons are so simple to use - they are really intuitive. The 10.1 megapixel 1.6x sensor produces some stunning images - very good colours and saturation. Noise levels are on a par with the 20D but not bad considering Canon have had to squash more pixels onto the same size small sensor. Another thing that doesn't get mentioned much is the audible noise that cameras make. The 40D is really quiet - much quieter than the 1 series cameras. This can make the difference between working successfully close to a shy bird/animal and frightening it off with the first click of the shutter ! It should be noted that the shutter is exceptionally quiet in live view mode and will still run at 5 frames per second.

While waiting for Canon to sort out the problems with the 1D mk III, I bought a Canon 40D to replace my ageing 20D. I am very pleased with this camera, I think it appears to hold up well against the Nikon D300 at a much lower street price. It has 2 less Megapixels (not a lot), a lower resolution rear viewing screen, (nice, but won't help you take better pictures) but does have similar IQ and noise performance (if you apply a little noise reduction on-computer rather than in-camera).

I suspect that the auto focus of the D300 is superior. On paper it should be - it has colour recognition as well as contrast - which sounds awesome, and the 51 AF points trounce the 40D's 9 points (It's weakest feature I feel). Nevertheless, the 40D is a great camera at a great price.

And on.....

The Full frame 1Ds mk II

Canon 1Ds MK II - 16.7 Mp camera

I never paid much attention to this camera when it was first released, as I thought 1) It is full frame camera better suited to studio and landscape work than wildlife - where the crop factor of the smaller sensor cameras is beneficial for telephoto work 2) The new price was exorbitant - over double the price of the 1D mk II - to which it is virtually identical other than for the full frame sensor.

Well, in 2008 the 1Ds mk III was released and the price of the 1DsII started to tumble. I picked up a used by excellent example for £1800 on Ebay. My logic was that until the Canon 1DsIII and Nikon D3 were released in 2008, this camera had a reputation for having the best image quality of any digital SLR on the market - and comparable to medium format. I figured that I could use this camera for macro, landscapes,photographing plants, insects, architecture etc - in fact anything other than action (only 4 fps) and telephoto work - where the crop cameras would have a big advantage.

Compared to the 40D and the 1D mk III, the tiny rear screen, lack of live view, the fiddly multiple button presses required to operate the camera, plus it's big batteries - and it's weight, make this feel like an old-fashioned camera already. However, the image quality and the huge cropability of the massive 50Mb files that it produces are just to die for. I was interested to see how the image quality compared to my 1D mk III
and how much of a handicap the full frame sensor would be for telephoto work, without the crop cameras' magnification factor.

To read about this comparison please click here: Full frame versus crop

To summarise the results, apart from the camera's weight, the 1Ds mk II is pretty much all the camera you ever really need. The image quality is stunning, aided by the full frame sensor and 16.7 megapixels.The 4 fps is not as sexy as the 10 fps of the 1DIII, but is not too bad, and the AF is spot on - so not so bad for action.The big surprise was that the full frame images cropped so well that there was no benefit in having a 1.3x or 1.6x camera (where the crop happens in camera). The extra pixel density of the crop camera does not appear to have such a beneficial effect in telephoto work as I had always assumed as the "per-pixel " quality of the 1DsII enables it to punch above it's weight..

The1Ds III is out of my price range at the moment - but has become a bit of an item of desire now as it has all the modern benefits plus an extra 4 megapixels. I bet it is a cracker!

2009 November update

It is interesting to look back at the above article. It is just three years since I started it, but there has been a lot of change and "progress" since then. Canon was the leading manufacturer of digital SLR's but Nikon has now caught up and passed Canon in some respects with the Nikon D3s/D700 and D3x cameras. These are both superb tools and serve different purposes. The D3s has "just" 12 Mp on a full frame sensor which enables Nikon to offer state of the art high ISO ability and a high 9fps frame rate. It also has class-leading autofocusing tracking accuracy. I would have liked a slightly higher pixel density for bird photography, but it is such a good camera that I would still be tempted to change to Nikon if I didn't have such a large investment in Canon lenses and if I did not believe that Canon will catch up and possibly overtake again in the next models.

The Nikon D3x has 24 Mp and has arguably the best image quality of any current camera but noise levels are not stellar like the D3's are. Canon are long overdue to replace the 1DsmkIII which is looking dated and overpriced when compared to the 5DmkII.

It now seems to be in fashion to have HD video on stills camera which is of no interest to me, but seems popular so I guess it is here to stay. The megapixel race is not over - at least not for Canon who seem determined to stuff as many pixels onto the sensor as possible. I bought an EOS 50D but was disappointed with its image quality and returned it the next day.

The EOS 7D has a massive 18 Mp on a 1.6x crop sensor and in fairness, the manufacturer has kept noise levels right down thanks to the gapless microlens technology and advanced processors and algorithms. From what I have seen, the image quality does not seem as good as my old 1DsmkII and 1DmkIII cameras though. The extremely high pixel density and advanced autofocus in a light body does appeal for bird photography, but I wont be going for one unless Iam persuaded that the image quality OK after all.If you read this article on the 7D by Roland Lim and scroll down to the comparisons with the 5DmkII you will see what I am talking about.

The 21Mp Canon 5DmkII shares the image quality crown with the 1DsmkIII and 24Mp Nikon D3x and has great high ISO noise performance. Unfortunately it has been saddled with a non-professional AF system and very poor 3.9 fps frame rate which makes it less appealing for wildlife photography. Shame that Canon didn't fit twin processors and the 7D's Af instead of the stupid HD video !

At the time of writing, the Canon 1DmkIV release has been announced and the first cameras are expected in December. On paper, this camera should be a wildlife photographers' dream : 16 Mp on a 1.3x crop (same pixel density as the 5DmkII so high image quality and great noise performmance should be possible), same 10fps, 1-2 stop noise improvement to compete with the Nikon D3. The greatly improved rear screen sounds good too. Needless to say it will have HD video. Most significantly though,
Canon have reputedly greatly improved the autofocus system to elimate the 1DmkIII's annoying habit of throwing a few out of focus shots into most bursts of images. The only real drawback currently is the insane UK price which is is unfairly high when compared to the USA. Time will tell if the camera meets expectations and it would be nice if the price drops significantly after launch.


Lenses and teleconverters

The lenses I use are all made by Canon e.g. 500mm f4 IS, 100-400mm f5.6L IS and 70-200mm f2.8 L IS (image-stabilised) lenses, 50mm macro,100mm f2.8 macro, 180 mm macro, 17-40 mm L f4 wide-angle. A Canon 1.4x teleconvertor is occasionally used on the telephoto lenses to increase focal length further. I also use a 2x converter with the 500mm prime lens as the optics are so good it works fine. I find that converters don't work so well on zoom lenses as image quality suffers.

The 1.4 x converter still works acceptably with the 100-400 lens, particularly if the lens is stopped down a little from its widest aperture. The focal length becomes 140-560mm. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch and the converter causes a loss of 1 f stop of light so the lens becomes a slow f8 lens. As autofocus only works at f5.6 or wider apertures on the xxD cameras, manual focusing is required. However, on the ID mark two and other Pro bodies, autofocus is retained to f8, but is restricted to the centre autofocus point only. It should be noted that some independant manufacturers such as Kenko make converters that will retain AF if the lens pins are taped up. There is an article here showing how to do it if you want to try: Taping the pins.

On the Canon 500mm f4 IS the 1.4 teleconverter turns the lens into a 700mm f5.6 lens. Autofocus still works on all camera bodies and there is negligible loss in image quality. Converters work best with the highest quality prime (fixed length) lenses as they magnify what is in front of them - including any lens shortcomings such as chromatic aberration.

With a 2x converter two stops of light are lost turning an 100-400 f5.6 lens into a really slow f11 lens at the long end - no good unless there is very bright light available. Autofocus is sacrificed and there is a definite loss of image quality . The converter still retains autofocus on the 1 series bodies at f8, but it is lost on the xxD bodies.

Having acquired the 500mm f4 lens - it's perfect partner, the 2x converter works very well, particularly in bright light conditions, particularly if you can stop it down one stop from widest aperture.It retains centre-point autofocus on the 1 series body at f8 - but not on the xxD bodies.

In summary, I would not recommend using a 2x converter with anything other than Canon's finest prime lenses - where it is a very useful piece of kit to own.


Accessories

1. Close-up equipment

For close-up work I use the Canon 50mm , 100mm and 180mm macro lenses and occasionally the Canon extension tubes to get in really close. I also often use the 180mm macro with a 1.4x converter for butterflies and dragonflies that do not allow a close approach. The converter magnifies the image in front of it without affecting the distance to subject. A monopod or tripod are essential unless flash is the main light source.

I use available light whenever possible, but when shooting "flighty" butterflies or flower close-ups, I usually resort to using a Canon MT 24-EX Twinlite flash or Canon Speedlight 580 EXII and wireless transmitting sensor. These are sometimes used as the sole light source if the subject is close to the background or if I intentionally want a black background. More often than not I use them for fill-in flash duties to add a little bit of light on the shadow side of a plant for example. When doing this I usually set the flashgun to underexpose by around 2 f stops to keep things looking natural. A lastolite reflector can often be as effective as fill-in flash, and is cheap and light and packs away very small.

EOS 1DmkII

The EOS 1DmkII with the MT24-ex twinflash unit

 

Although it is unnecessary for flash, I use RS 80N3 remote cable release when using available light for close-up photography. I only resort to using mirror lock-up if I am using long exposures (around 0.5 seconds). I like to lightly touch the camera body even when using the cable release as I believe this reduces vibration further when not using mirror lock-up.

Accessories that I consider essential include the Benbo mk1 for work close to the ground. I also use a Canon right-angle viewfinder to prevent getting a stiff neck in these positions. I use a Kirk BH-1 ball head which reduces the chances of vibration and can be smoothly moved into any position once the tensioner has been set appropriately without having to keep unlocking and relocking knobs.

The EOS ID mk II mounted on the Benbo

The EOS ID mk II mounted on the Benbo mk1 tripod working
at ground level. This tripod gets you into places no other can.

 

2. Telephoto equipment

For long telephoto work, such as for birds and mammals, I use a Gitzo 1548 carbon fibre tripod with the Kirk BH-1 ball head attached which gives very sturdy support. All lenses and cameras are fitted with Kirk's excellent (if expensive) quick-release plates. Click here for a review of Kirk products

NB Since writing this article, I have updated my equipment as described in this equipment II update.

Canon 100-400 f5.6 L IS lens

Canon 100-400 f5.6 L IS lens extended to 400mm
mounted on the Canon EOS 1D mkII camera, Kirk
BH-1 ball head and Gitzo 1548 carbon fibre tripod


Enter Big Bertha!

Big Bertha

Canon 500mm f4 IS dressed in battle gear

In April 2006 I finally took the plunge and bought a Canon 500mm f4 lens. I bought it mainly for bird photography. I am now poor, but ecstatically happy - it was horrendously expensive, but it is just superb.
Fortunately I was able to buy a mint second hand example which saved a lot of money compared to buying new.

It's main virtues are it's clarity - definitely the sharpest lens I own. Secondly, it is a fast lens (f4) which means that when used wide open, a higher shutter speed is obtainable enabling it to be used in poorer light than a slower lens. Thanks to image stabilisation it can be hand-held for short periods down to 1/125 of a second (if you are strong enough!). alternatively, it can be used on a monopod.

Being a fast lens also has the benefit of retaining autofocus with a 1.4x teleconverter on all Canon digital slr's.
With the 1 series bodies it will retain autofocus even on a 2x convert or. The effective focal length of the lens plus 1.4x converter on a digital slur with a 1.3x crop factor (1DmkII) is 910 mm , on a 1.6x sensor camera (e.g. 20D) this is equivalent to a monster 1120 mm !

Finally, the background blur at wide aperture (known as bokeh) is very smooth which enables the subject to stand out against a wonderful smooth pastel background - fantastic.

The downsides are cost, weight , and the attention that it attracts from the general public which can be irritating when you are trying to work.

I considered a 600mm lens, but dismissed this on grounds of size, weight and even higher price - the 500mm is bad enough. In order to make the lens more manageable, I bought a Wimberley sidekick - an ingenious device which slots into a Kirk or other Arca Swiss style ball head and transforms it into a gimbal style head. You can see it in the picture above, and here is a close up..

Wimberley sidekick

You have to buy a long Wimberley quick release plate (more expense) to enable the camera and lens to slide back and forth until the balance point is reached. Once it is, the lens can be moved around as though it is weightless. As the lens pivots up and down about the axis of the Sidekick, and side to side due to the ball heads bottom bearing which is left unlocked. The other two tensioners on the ball head are firmly locked tight.

The Wimberley enables such freedom of movement that it is effortless to follow birds in flight (or sports or whatever) with ease. Highly recommended ! If you have a 600mm lens, you will need to dispense with your ball head and fit a Wimberley gimbal head instead - does the same job but is much beefier for handling this monster lens.

If you want to add a teleconverter, the assembly becomes unbalanced, so all you do is lock down the big knob on the Sidekick, add the converter, re balance by sliding the quick release plate forward a bit and release the knob tension again. Job done.

The next accessory I bought was a Lens Coat, which can be seen in the first picture above. It is made of a camouflaged, rubbery fabric which is tailored to the lens. I bought this for several reasons.
Firstly, the lens stops looking so flashy and attracts far less attention when in use. Secondly, a huge white lens waving about is not the most desirable of items to present to timid wildlife. Finally, it does offer a bit of shock and scrape protection to protect the body of the lens from minor bumps..

The last accessory that I bought for the lens (this was a bad month for the credit card !) was a Lowepro Lens Trekker 600 AW. This enables the lens plus camera attached to be stored away for carrying. It offers great protection and is very comfortable. The lens hood has to be reversed on the lens to get it in the bag though.

Lens trecker


 

3. Wide-angle and some thought on digital multiplication factors

For the limited amount of wide-angle or landscape photography that do, I use a Canon 17-40mmL f4 lens on the Canon EOS 1D mk II. Landscape, studio or plant photographers would do better to invest in a camera with a full frame sensor like the EOS 5D or 1Ds as there is a greater field of view than with 1.3x or 1.6x sensor cameras - which crop the image.

As the sensor on the 1D mk II is 1.3x smaller than a frame of 35mm film (or the full frame sensor found on the Canon 1Ds/5D) the 17-40 lens becomes effectively equivalent to 22-52 mm which is a disadvantage when shooting wide-angle. The EOS 10D and 20D and 30D have even smaller sensors, as there is a 1.6x multiplication factor, in which the 17-40 lens effectively becomes equivalent to 27-64.
A 28mm lens really is wide angle on a film or full-frame digital camera, but on a camera with a 1.6x sensor, this effectively becomes equivalent to 44.8mm on a film camera - ie more like a "standard" 50mm lens than a wide angle - hence the need to use for extremely short focal length lenses on digital cameras. I have been careful to keep using the term "effectively" as the actual focal length of the lens does not change. What does change is the field of view. To read an excellent article on multiplication factors click here.

There is a lot of confusion about this digital multiplication effect. Lets take the 1.6x factor of the EOS 20D as an example. If you put a 400mm lens on a 20D and look through the viewfinder the image appears much closer than on a Canon 1Ds with a full frame sensor. You are not actually getting an increase in focal length - the 400mm lens is still 400mm on both cameras, but the width of the field of view is reduced on the 20D by a factor of 1.6. A better name is "cropping factor".

This cropping factor is a nuisance for wide-angle as the field of view is being reduced , but is an asset in telephoto work. Why is this? - Well, cropping of background either side of the subject is not a problem in telephoto work, the issue here is usually in getting a big enough image to fill the frame with a distant subject. The cropping effect means that all the 20D camera's 8.2 mpixels are distributed over the reduced area - the area occupied by the subject. It therefore has a higher pixel density than a full frame camera with the same number of megapixels.

An image taken at the same distance from the subject on a camera with a full frame sensor will appear much smaller in the frame as there is more space around it. As the irrelevant background will later need to be cropped out on the computer, the superfluous pixels will be cropped out, so the 8.2 megapixel image will end up cropped to say 6.2 megapixels - the resolution of a 10D!

The extra 3 mpixel advantage of a Canon 1Ds mk1 or Canon 5D (over a 20D) will disappear if the extra pixels are cropped out of the finished image! You might as well save a packet and buy a 1.6x sensor camera in the first place. However, if you can get close enough to your subject to fill the frame on a 1Ds/5D you will enjoy the benefit in terms of resolution that the extra pixels brings as they need not be cropped out. The more the number of pixels, the bigger the image can be enlarged to for printing.

As most wildlife subjects won't let you approach closely, the smaller sensors can be advantageous - so don't rush to buy that expensive full frame camera if you do mainly bird or animal photography!

While on the subject of the 1Ds, Canon brought out the 16.7 mpixel 1Ds mkII. This also has a full frame sensor and is extremely expensive. It makes a perfect landscape or studio camera due to it's resolution - so high it competes with medium format cameras such as Hassalblad apparently.

However, the huge 50Mb file sizes it produces are a mixed benefit - good in that some photo agencies still require such large file sizes, but a disadvantage in that all that data has to be processed by the camera - it can only work at 4 fps for 11 raw or 32 jpegs compared to the 8.5 fps for 20 raw or 40 jpeg of the 8.3 mpixel 1D mk II.
Due to the full frame sensor, you have to be closer to your subject given the same telephoto lens - albeit, as it has so many pixels, you can afford to crop 50% of them out again on the computer and still be left with 8.2 megapixels. Another disadvantage of 50Mb files is that they gobble up computer hard-disk space and demand a lot of computing power to process them quickly. As good as it is, there are some disadvantages to 1Ds mk II ownership if wildlife is your subject.

I find that a combination of the fast 1D mk11 for action and the high pixel density 20D for maximum "pull" on telephoto lenses is my preferred combination. At the time of writing, the 20D has been superceded by the 8.2 Mp 30D, and there is a new entry level camera - the 400d which has 10 Mp on a 1.6x sensor. The 400D therefore has the highest pixel density of any Canon camera - only time will tell if the noise at high ISO performance suffers as a result of cramming so many pixels onto the small 1.6x sensor. This camera could be a great option for bird photographers on a tight budget.


Processing in Photoshop

Professional and semi-pro camera manufacturers assume that the photographer is going to process images on a PC or Macintosh computer. It is generally accepted that it is better to carry out adjustments of colour balance, saturation, levels and apply sharpening (unsharp mask) after the image has been downloaded onto a computer in preference to in -camera if maximum image quality is to be obtained. Digitizing slides by scanning also inevitably softens images.

The industry standard editing software for making these adjustments is Adobe Photoshop.
This is a very powerful piece of software and I currently use PhotoshopCS3.

Once "processed" Images may be cropped and I sparingly use "the clone stamp tool" to remove dust marks, and to perhaps remove a distracting twig or blade of grass, but otherwise all images are pretty much as taken in the field. I am not into cutting out subjects and sticking them on different backgrounds - that just isn't photography in my mind!

You will find numerous articles on my website on Photoshop essentials.



RAW vs jpeg

For about a year, I used the large jpeg setting on the camera in preference to Raw as I could see no quality differences between the resultant images. Raw images are the digital equivalent of a negative and are unprocessed by the camera and are totally uncompressed. Jpegs are much smaller files and have the benefit that far more of them can be compressed onto a Compact Flash (CF) card. The lack of compression in a raw image should result in an image free of compression artifacts, but I hadn't really experienced these much with the Canon jpegs anyway.

Another disadvantage of Raw images used to be that they were very slow to open in edting software - particularly the camera manufacturers own. Despite this, I knew that most professionals shoot only in Raw.

With the advent of Photoshop CS, the raw plug-in became incorporated into the program. This was incredibly quick to preview and open Raws, so I decided to give it a try. As a result, I found that the raw image converter enabled a much higher degree of control over the processing of images, such as exposure, shadow and highlight detail, noise reduction for high iso images etc.
I now am a raw convert and shoot wholly raw. The only operations that I now carry out post raw conversion tends to be cropping, image resizing for e.mailing or printing and finally sharpening using "unsharp mask".

Two tutorials that you may find useful -

Raw workflow tutorial

The art of raw conversion tutorial


 


 

© Copyright Ophrys Photography 2012