I couldn't resist going back to Hungary at the beginning
of May to stay with Bence Mate - this year's winner of "Wildlife
Photographer of the Year" competition. It was three years
since my last visit and Bence had been busy building more nest
boxes and hides around his farm for photographing bee-eaters and
rollers. He had also built an ingenious new hide amongst a reed
bed that overlooked a small lake. Like all Bence's hides this
is fitted with one-way glass so you can see out but the birds
can't see in. The hide actually floats so can go up and down with
the water level but the photographer is always at eye level to
the water - brilliant. I was fortunate to be among the first to
try out this new shore hide.The bird species available were fairly
restricted - great white egret, grey heron, night heron, hooded
crow and a couple of grebes, but the background of red algae,
water and trees was beutiful and unique. On my second evening
in the hide, I witnessed an extraordinary fight between two great
white egrets that lasted about 3 minutes. I really thought they
were going to kill each other - they were stabbing each other
with their beaks, biting and standing on each other to try to
drown their opponent. After a lot of action (and a long of pictures)
one bird escaped and left the other one flapping around exhausted
on the surface of the water.
Great white egrets fighting
Unfortunately the bee-eaters and rollers had not arrived at the
time of our visit - they were a month later than usual but there
always seems to be an alternative in Hungary. This year it was
nesting hoopoes. These were over an hour drive away and it is
best to arrive at dawn so an early start was required each day.
Early means up at 3:45 am to chomp on some toast as you are piling
out the door into the car. Once installed in a temporary hide
we were treated to ultra close views of hoopoes that were nesting
in an upturned concrete ring that once apparently held toxic chemicals,
but didn't seem to bother the birds. The male brought food about
every ten minutes to give to the female through a hole in the
concrete ring. Food ranged from small bugs to small lizards.
Hoopoe with lizard
Hoopoe with raised crest
here is another fantastic shore hide where
Bence took some of his early award-winning images of herons catching
and fighting over fish.The hide overlooks a pool that is stocked
with fish that is irresistible to herons and egrets. It is an
idyllic location that is reached after a 300m wade along a path
cut through the reeds through water up to your thighs. (You are
issued with waders for this purpose!). Once in the hide you are
serenaded by the booming of bitterns and the pinging of bearded
tits while you wait for the sun to rise. At this point the early
start seems very worthwhile.
View from the shore hide at sunrise
Heron with impossibly large fish
could go on giving accounts of all the birds that I photographed,
I still have many images to sort out - so do look out for them
as they appear in the image galleries if interested. I will end
now with a few favourite images...
Night heron displaying to a hooded crow
that is just outside the shot
Night heron from the new shore hide
Sparrowhawk at a forest drinking pool
Long-eared owl nesting in the farm garden
Long-eared owl chick taken without a
Kestrel with mouse from the tower hide
If you are thinking of visiting Bence's
hides, the ideal focal length lens to take is a 300mm f2.8 used
with and without extenders. The hide glass
robs you of about 1.5 stops of light so you usually need to be
using around 800 iso if you want to shoot action or to shoot early
or late in the best light. I also found a 24-105 zoom to be very
useful and if space had permitted I would have liked to have taken
a 70-200 as well. A 500mm f4 would be a good choice for small
birds at drinking pools but is a but too long for most other subjects.
I had a Canon 5DmkII full frame camera which was very useful when
the the 1DmkIV crop was just too much, but I found that the 1DmkIV
was the most useful camera as always when shooting action.
Many thanks to Bence for a fantastic week and great hospitality.
I arrived home absolutely shattered after the series of
very early starts combined with latish nights as there were so
many images to dowload each day, but it was all very worthwhile.
Bence has now started a company building photography hides in
Costa Rica and the Pantanal. If you would like to check out Bence's
website or book a tour, please click here
At last the weather seems to be improving and the light for photography
is much nicer than the grey gloom of the winter and most of March.
I have paid a few visits to some local nature reserves
and was pleased to find that the Kent Trust was using some wonderful
Highland cattle to graze Oare Marshes. I got some pictures of
the cattle and a few teal which were close to the road.
Male Teal at Oare marshes
Next up was Elmley nature reserve on the Isle of Sheppey.
The pools along the track to the reserve had quite a few little
egrets which were scuttling around catching fish like these two
I also had a near-miss with a male marsh harrier. It had been
feeding on a dead hare, but unfortunately it was in a dip in the
grass and I only saw it at the last moment when I was almost upon
it and it flew. It landed on the grass about 50m away - too far
for a good image, but nice to see anyway.
Lens tests - 100-400 f5.6L
IS vs 70-200 f2.8L IS mkII with converters
Having bought the new 70-200 f2.8L mkII lens to
replace my old mkI I wondered how it would compare beyond 200mm
when fitted with a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter. Well there is only
one was to find out. To read about my tests and conclusions please
Dancing Verreaux's Sifaka image suddenly becomes
I was toying with entering my shot of a Verreaux's sifaka
lemur "dancing" with a baby on its back into this years
Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition as it is a bit of
a cracker. However, after scrutinising the endless pages of competition
entry critera I spotted somewhere buried in there that images
must have been taken in the past 3 years - and this one fell just
outside that - so I couldn't enter it. However, almost by way
of a consolation I was approached by a News and Photo agency to
publish it in a newspaper and it ended up in not just one tabloid
but four ! The Daily Mirror, The Times, The Express, the Telegraph
and the Telegraph
on Line. If you click on the last link you can see the photo.
New Article on the effects of mirror slap and
I was conducting tests on my new 70-200mm f2.8L IS mkII lens but
these were marred by the effects of mirror slap at much higher
shutterspeeds than is normally expected. To read more clcik here:
Tutorial on mirror slap and
I will let you into a little secret.You can get a fantastic price
for your used Canon L lenses on Ebay. A boxed lens in mint condition
seems to go for nearly the same price as a new lens. If you buy
wisely yourself by not being an early adopter and by waiting for
the launch price to drop and then buying from the cheapest source
on say, CameraPricebuster
then the cost to upgrade may not be as bad as you thought. I recently
updated my 70-200 f2.8 L IS to the mkII version, the 100mm f2.8
Macro USM to the 100mm L IS version and my 1.4x converter II to
the mkIII converter in this manner.
The 70-200mm change was a great move I sold it
for more than I paid for it on Digital Rev 5 years ago! The mkII
is a stunning lens and when combined with converters probably
makes my 100-400mm redundant as the image quality looks very similar
at the longer focal lengths with converters.
I have mixed feelings about the change to the 100mm f2.8
L IS macro. I can see absolutely no improvement in image
quality with the new lens over the old non-L macro. However it
certainly focuses well - much better than any other macro I have
used and the IS appears to be very effective. If I just used the
lens for macro with manual focus off of a tripod or with flash
as many people do - it would not be worth upgrading. However,
I will find the improvements worth having for photographing butterflies.
The 1.4x mkIII extender is also a mixed bag.
Image quality is absolutely identical to the mkII as far as I
can see on the 500mm f4 and even on the new latest generation
70-200 mkII, I can see absolutely no difference. Here is a comparison
Digital Picture . From their comparison there is a trace less
chromatic abberation in the corners, which is something I had
not checked for. Otherwise my findings are confirmed as the differences
It is possible that the new 300mm,400mm,500mm,600mm mkII supertelephotos
may benefit from it though. Although it is much harder to demonstrate,
I feel satisfied that claims for improved autofocus speed are
justified. I went out "shooting" herons nestbuilding
with a 500mm f4 and 400mm f5.6 and I was pleased to note that
AF speed was noticably snappier when the mkIII converter was used
instead of the mkII. So the new converter will earn its keep.
I have noticed that the new converteralso has a broader lens locking
switch, so I hope that improvements have been made to the locking
mechanism when a lens is mounted onto the converter. All my three
previous converters started off life by simply locking automatically
when the lens was twisted into place but within a few weeks they
all required the switch to be manually clicked to achieve lock.
This was not improved by using switch cleaner or light lubricants.
Below are a few herons from the day:
And there are more here: Herons
I have gone a bit overboard this month - I have written
three new tutorials and have tested the new 70-200 f2.8 IS mkII
lens and 100mm f2.8L IS macro lens. There is great news about
a Government U-turn on plans to sell off UK woodlands and finally
a bit about waxwings - phew!!
Lens micro adjustment tutorial
Many recent cameras have the ability to be adjusted to dial-out
autofocusing errors. If this is not done then you may not be getting
the sharpest images that your gear can produce. A lot of people
don't seem to bother with this as they think it is too complicated,
but they are truly missing out.
I have been meaning to write a tutorial on this
for ages, but I have held back because I felt that although I
have tried several methods, I had not found one that is fast,
accurate and reproducible - until now that is.
In this new tutorial
on lens micro adjustment I explore various methods and end
up with a method which I recently stumbled across is by far my
favourite to date. It involves shooting tethered using Canon Utility
software and USB lead (you know, the disc that came with the camera
that is still sitting unopened in the box). This is nothing like
as scary as it sounds, so do give it a go - it is brilliant.
Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens
I decided to sell off my 70-200 f2.8L IS on Ebay and bought the
mkII version as it has built up such a reputation for high image
quality. Funnily enough I originally bought my mkI at a very good
price and actually made a small profit on it when I sold it five
years on ! The popular L lenses often do fetch nearly-new prices
on Ebay it seems.
So how does it perform ?
My first tests after doing the lens
micro-adjustments were comparing the mkI with the mkII 70-200
f2.8L IS lenses. I have only included test results of the two
lenses at a middling aperture of f8 and focal length of 130mm
here as the results were consistent regardless of aperture or
degree of zoom.
These are both 100% crops.Both lenses were tested and images converted
identically of course using tripod/mirror lockup, cable release
The improvement in clarity in the mkII is present at every aperture.
For example this is very apparent in the dots within the diamond-shaped
border of the mandolin in the images above.
The performance of this lens wide open at 200mm is most impressive.
The mkI lens is a very good lens, but the mkII is significantly
improved. The image stabiliser on the new lens is quite simply
awesome. It is quiet in operation after a little chirrup as it
starts (and stops) and is reputed to offer a 4 stop advantage
when hand-holding and I can believe it. The view through the viewfinder
is very stable indeed at 200mm and handholding it at 200mm at
around 1/30 sec or less should be a distinct possibility if you
had to. Combined with the low-light capability that the wide f2.8
aperture permits plus the low noise of the latest generation cameras
this will enable users the exciting prospect of shooting at dawn
or dusk or indoor situations without resorting to flash.
Next I compared the new 70-200 mkII to my 100-400 L IS which
has been transformed since I carried out precise lens
micro-adjustments on it.
Starting image at 200mm and f5.6
70-200 mkII at f5.6 and 200mm 100% crop
100-400 f5.6 and 200mm 100% crop
From the above handheld tests with IS on in bright conditions,
the 70-200 is obviously superior to the 100-400. The shorter lens
was handicapped by being used at maximum focal length but also
had the advantage of being stopped down two stops to match the
widest aperture possible of the 100-400 (f5.6).
The images from the 70-200 show much greater sharpness, resolution
and contrast and is a clear winner. I have not yet tested it with
tele converters against the bare 100-400 but I predict that with
the 1.4x (98mm-280mm) there will be little to choose between them
but with the 2x converter (140mm-400mm) the 100-400 will take
the advantage, but that is not a forgone conclusion and something
I will have to try. Then there are the new mkIII converters which
might just even things up. It is a pity that they are so expensive
- I will have to wait a few months until the prices drop before
I take the plunge I think, it never pays to be an early adopter.
So should you upgrade a mkI to a mkII ?
I would say yes, as I value the differences between the lenses
pretty highly and it cost me around £500 to upgrade now
that the price of the mkII has fallen since launch. If you are
new to the 70-200 L then the mkI is still a great lens and if
you can pick one up for a good price it could be all you will
This is my controlled, measured answer to the question. If you
want to know what I really think - I am like a kid with a new
toy with it. This lens is just awesome and worthy of all the hype
Canon 100mm f2.8 L IS Macro lens test
I have been very satisfied with my 100mm f2.8 macro USM it is
a terrific lens and very sharp. Having been impressed by the improvements
in the mkII 70-200 I thought that I would also upgrade this lens
for the L image-stabilised version.
100mm f2.8 macro USM
100mm f2.8 L IS macro
From the picture above you can see that the new lens looks quite
different but the differences in weight and size are negligible
despite the incorporation of image stabilisation. The new lens
has the red line around it which denotes that it is one of the
prestigious L lenses so I had high hopes for its image quality.
It also sports Canon's new hybrid image stabiliser technology
and also has greatly improved autofocus.
Although image stabilisation is not normally considered a high
priority on a macro lens as you will often be using a tripod or
flash (which will freeze all motion) there are many occasions
that I would appreciate IS when shooting butterflies handheld
with available light. IS does not usually work well in close up
but this lens is claimed to have a 4 stop advantage due to IS
at normal distances and 2 stops of benefit when shooting at 1:1
(lifesize) thanks to the unique hybrid technology. I have not
been able to test this claim scientifically, but the IS certainly
seems to work very well in practice.
Similarly autofocus is not usually a highly valued quality in
macro lenses as focusing is often done manually as the cameras
does not know what it should be focusing on. This is very true
and I use manual focusing a lot these days - particularly in conjunction
with Liveview which permits very accurate focusing. However, once
again, when shooting butterflies or dragonflies handheld or off
of a monopod in available light I often select an autofocus point
and move it where I want it to be and even utilise AI servo to
counter any in and out sway of my body.
The autofocus of the previous USM lens was a great improvement
over the old noisy and slow non-USM lens but it is still slow
by normal lens standards and prone to hunting. The latest lens
is much better and focuses quite well and is exceptional for a
macro lens in this respect.
Despite doing exhaustive testing I can not detect any improvement
in image quality of the new L lens compared to the non L version
despite careful lens micro adjustment or focusing manually in
Liveview at x10.
Starting image with focus point marked in red
L lens at f2.8
Non- L lens at f2.8
L lens at f16
Non- L lens at f16
Any differences observed are probably down to variation in focusing
errors or flash angle/distance when I carried out the tests. The
original 100mm macro is a seriously good lens and I suppose that
it comes as good news that the new lens is no worse, but I would
have hoped that an L designation would mean that it has taken
a step forward - but sadly this is not the case.
So how about using the lens with extenders ? It is an L lens after
all and the 180mm macro will accept a tele extender. Unfortunately,
like its non-L cousin, this 100mm L lens won't accept an extender
either unless you put an extension tube between it and the camera
More minuses - hidden costs
Unlike the non-L lens which accepts the Canon MT 24ex twinflash
and MR14ex ringflash directly, you have to purchase an overpriced
adapter ring (67C macrolite adapter approx £32) if you want
to use Canon's own flashes on this lens. I was hoping to find
a cheap Chinese clone of this on Ebay but drew a blank.
A tripod mount /lens collar is not absolutely essential on this
lens as it is not unduly long and heavy and won't put too much
strain on the lens mount without one. The non-L lens does not
have a lens collar and unfortunately neither does the new L version
either. This is a pity as a lens collar does provide a more rigid
connection to the tripod and permits the camera/lens to be quickly
turned from landscape to portrait mode after slackening the adjustment
knob. I feel that Canon should have included a lens collar (like
they do on the MPe 65 and 180mm L macros) and they rub salt into
the wound by making the aftermarket accessory - tripod mount ring
D terribly expensive at around £123 ! I have located a cheap
alternative made by JJC
which is around £15 and looks much the same but I can find
no user reviews on this so I do not know if it is any good or
not. If you try one I would appreciate it if you could let me
know what you think of it.
The expense does still not end there either - as a quick release
plate is then required. Warehouse Express who stock the excellent
(but overpriced - again !) Kirk QR plates do not appear to stock
the dedicated LP-57 plate and so I might consider using a Wimberley
P20 plate which should be compatible or maybe a long P30 or even
longer P40 which would then serve as a simple focusing rail. This
is very handy when focusing manually as the lens (plus camera)
can be moved in/out towards the subject rather than moving the
whole tripod. This is all getting a bit pricey !
Canon Tripod Mount Ring D
Canon 67C Macrolite Adapter
So should you upgrade to the new L-IS lens ?
If you routinely shoot macro handheld with flash or focus manually
off of a tripod then I can see no reason to upgrade as you will
not see any appreciable improvement in image quality despite the
L designation of this lens. You will pay more and could incur
the hidden costs I mentioned above.
However, If you want to shoot handheld or routinely use autofocus
on your macro lens or use it to shoot portraits (which it is very
good for) then the upgrade is probably worthwhile. The new lens
is not hugely more expensive than the non- IS version (around
£250) and has the benefit of the hybrid IS and much improved
AF and as such makes it a far more versatile proposition than
the USM lens.
Government selling off UK Woodlands !!
Great news - people power works . The
0.5 million signatures and letters to MP's opposing the sell-off
has worked - the government today announced a U-turn and David
Cameron announced today (17th February) that the forests will
not now be sold off. A great day for wildlife !!!
Defra is proposing: "a new approach to ownership and management
of woodlands and forests, with a reducing role for the state and
a growing role for the private sector and civil society".
This worries me greatly and I’m sure it worries some of
you. There appears to be a danger that our ancient woodlands could
be purchased by developers or left to become neglected. So can
I ask you to click on the link below and sign this petition if
you haven’t already done so and to pass it on to like-minded
friends. Also you can write to your MP to oppose the sell off.
New Tutorial on rescuing over or underexposed
images in Photoshop.
This is a great Photoshop technique that I came across
recently. Although there is no substitute for getting the exposure
right at the moment of capture, there will inevitably be times
when we get the exposure wrong on a precious image and are desperate
to fix it somehow. This new tutorial may just save your bacon
Tutorial on rescuing overexposed or
New Tutorial for users of the Canon 1DmkIV
I am often asked what custom function settings I use for this
camera. Although you will get pretty good results on the default
camera settings, they can do with a bit of tweaking particularly
those which affect shooting action in AI servo. The difference
that the settings make is a bit overplayed in my opinion though.
People became a bit obsessed with them trying to counter what
transpired to be a manufacturing fault (submirror) on some early
Judging autofocus performance is totally subjective, so opinions
vary as to what settings are best.These are the ones that work
for me are included here: John's
1DmkIV Custom function settings
This winter has been fantastic for waxwings. There are
plenty of their favourite food - berries around and they are often
staying for a few days in many locations throughout the UK. Unfortunately
the weather has been so devoid of sunshine this year that it has
been difficult to get pictures in decent light. Finally I connected
with a flock of 24 birds in a Tescos car park near Whitstable
in Kent. They often seem to pick crazy places to feed, and a busy
carpark was no more sensible than usual. The birds would fly down,
frantically gobble berries and fly back to the safety of the trees
when a car drove past within a few feet of their bush. The bushes
seemed to be alive when the waxwings descended ...
For more pics see the waxwing gallery
Birds in snow
Happy new year to everyone !
Checking back on last years' blog it began " Snow
before Christmas may be unusual in the South east of Britain,
and this year it was pretty heavy in Kent where I live."
Well - in common with most of the rest of Britain we have sustained
not one but two periods of serious snow, the heaviest in November
- quite extraordinary.
My investment in a permanent garden photography hide and in feeding
the birds with a wide variety of seeds, nuts and apples has paid
off. I have had some wonderful days photographing birds such as
woodpeckers, yellowhammer, nuthatch, kestrel and the usual collection
of tits and finches. A couple of grey squirrels and bigger birds
such as pheasants, magpies and jays have also been regular visitors
as the food has been a lifesaver in the very harsh weather conditions.
The images in this month's "Image
of the month" were all taken from my hide.
I like to work a species - even common ones thoroughly as you
can often get some different kinds of shots or nice behavioural
stuff. Here are a few of the pheasants in snow...
|I am currently using the hide to run 1:1 bird photography
workshops, so if you would like to book one, please contact