Ophrys Photography

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BLOG 2011 Page 2- May to back to January

 

May

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

Sparrowhawk bathtime

Long-eared owl nesting in the farm garden

Long-eared owl chick taken without a hide

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 hidephotography.com


April

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 below.


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.


March

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 click here.

Dancing Verreaux's Sifaka image suddenly becomes popular.



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 vibration

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 vibration.

Equipment changes

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 on The 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 appear negligible.

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








February

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 comparisons

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.

Starting image



These are both 100% crops.Both lenses were tested and images converted identically of course using tripod/mirror lockup, cable release etc:

70-200 mkI



70-200 mkII

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 need

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.

Pluses

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.

Minuses

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



100% crops
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 body.

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 !!
Update 17th Feb
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.

Woodlands Trust petition


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 underexposed images.


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 Canon 1DmkIII's.

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


Waxwings

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 here: Waxwings.


January

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 me.