Film or digital
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
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.
of digital - the 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
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 - 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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
The Canon 1D mk 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
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
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.....
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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 mk1 tripod working
at ground level. This tripod gets you into places no
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
NB Since writing this article, I have updated my equipment
as described in this equipment
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!
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..
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.
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
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.
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
The industry standard
editing software for making these adjustments is Adobe Photoshop.
This is a very powerful piece of software and I currently
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
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".
tutorials that you may find useful -
Raw workflow tutorial
The art of raw conversion tutorial