Boring gear talk
I’m sorry, but most of you will find this post rather boring, except for the photos, I hope. I’ve been taking stock of the photo gear that I currently have, and what I’d like to have in the future. However, just as in the last post, I’m going to start with a good photo so that it appears in the header here.
Although, I may as well start my discussion of photo gear with that photo. I haven’t mentioned it before, but I now have two tripods, the Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod that I purchased in 2014, and I added a Manfrotto compact tripod back in early July of this year. If you remember, my Tokina macro lens quit functioning just before the 4th of July holiday weekend, and I had planned on going to the Loda Lake Nature Preserve to shoot photos of the wildflowers there on one day of my three days off from work. It didn’t make any sense to go to shoot flowers without a macro lens, and as an added incentive, Canon was offering a rebate on their 100 mm L series macro lens, up until the 4th. Even though I had vowed never to purchase anything at the local camera store, I wasn’t going to bite off my nose to spite my face, so I purchased the Canon lens locally so that I’d be able to get the rebate before it expired, and so that I’d have a macro lens when I went to Loda Lake.
Well, when I walked in the store, they had two models of Manfrotto compact tripods on sale for over 1/2 off the normal price, but I rejected them as they seemed to be quite flimsy when I tested them out.
I love the carbon fiber tripod that I already owned, it’s light and solid as a rock, but it doesn’t fit well on the camera gear backpacks that I have. I can get that tripod strapped to the backpacks, but because of how long it is, it either hangs so low as to hit my legs on occasion as I hike, or when I kneel down to shoot a photo. If I strap it up higher on the backpacks, it catches low hanging limbs, then springs back to smack me in the back of the head. Not that I don’t need a whack on the head on occasion, but it happened too often. Not only that, but when I had it strapped up high, I couldn’t lean back to shoot birds flying directly overhead.
So, I went back to the store the next week to give the two models on sale a second look. The better model, still less than $50 US, had the same quick release plate that the head that I have on my good carbon fiber tripod uses, so I bit the bullet and purchased one. It does fit on my backpack much better, and it does work for landscape photos when I need it to, so I guess that it was an okay purchase. This is a photo that I shot using the compact tripod, you may remember it.
Still, when I’m getting serious about landscapes, I lug the carbon fiber tripod along with me, leaving the other one behind.
Since I’m on landscape photos, be they day……
…I love the good tripod, it goes higher than eye level for me, and I’m 6 ft 6 in (2 m) tall. I took advantage of that back when I was shooting sunrises over my favorite marsh, getting the camera set-up at eye level, then raising the tripod even more to get above the vegetation, and using the tilt screen of the 60D body in live view to confirm my composition before shooting photos like this.
Conversely, I used that tripod’s ability to set-up very low to get the composition that I wanted for this photo, with the camera just inches above the sand.
I’ve learned that a good tripod is indispensable for good landscape photos, and the Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod that I have fits the bill perfectly, other than the problems involved in carrying it. The compact Manfrotto tripod does work well enough when I’m hiking to shoot the occasional landscape, but I wouldn’t recommend it to any one to use as their main tripod.
I may as well move on to the next item on my list that’s related to landscape photography, a Canon 5DS R camera body. That’s a long way off right now, it’s a very expensive camera, designed and intended for serious landscape photographers. It has a 50.6 MP Full-Frame sensor, and is meant to compete with the Nikon D810, since it has the Low-Pass Filter turned off.
For those of you who don’t know, to prevent moiré, most digital cameras have a low-pass also known as an anti-aliasing filter that unsharpens the image being formed by the camera’s lens before the image reaches the camera’s sensor. What is moiré? A moiré pattern occurs when a scene or an object that is being photographed contains repetitive details (such as lines, dots, etc) that exceed the sensor resolution. As a result, the camera produces a strange-looking wavy pattern that appears in the image. You may have seen examples of this once in a while on TV when some one is wearing clothing with a herringbone pattern.
With the low-pass, anti-aliasing filters turned off, there’s more chance of moiré appearing in an image, but the images are much sharper, and have much greater resolution than if that filter is turned on. My brother has a Pentax camera with that filter turned off, and the sharpness and resolution of his images stand head and shoulders above the best that I can produce with even my Canon 7D Mk II.
I’ve heard that we should sharpen every image that we shoot to make up for how the low-pass filter in our cameras unsharpens our images as they are created in the camera. Maybe I should try that in Lightroom, but that seems to produce a slightly unnatural look to my images when I have tried it. The point is though, as sharp as the photos are when they are shot with a good camera and lens, imagine how much better they would be if shot with a camera that doesn’t reduce the sharpness in the first place.
A side note, it’s funny, but some committed Nikon users who shoot wildlife are switching to Canon to use the 7D Mk II because of its auto-focusing system and high frame rate. On the other hand, committed Canon users have been switching to Nikon if they shoot primarily landscapes, because the Nikon D810 is a so much better camera for landscapes. It looks as if we’re entering the age of purpose-built cameras.
Anyway, as I said, the Canon 5DS R is a long way away right now, my skill level at the current time doesn’t justify that kind of money, and I have the Canon 60D bodies for right now. Once I have worn out at least one of the 60D bodies, then I’ll get serious about the 5DS R.
Another factor in this part of my thinking is that both of my wide-angle lenses are EFS lenses, that only function on a crop sensor body, meaning I’ll have to purchase a very good wide-angle lens to use on the 5DS R when it becomes time to make the move. All my lenses from the 70-200 mm and longer would work with the 5DS R, which means that I’d only need a good wide-angle lens to use with it. So, I’ll start saving now for in the future.
A few more things on this subject before I move on. While the Nikon D810 and Canon 5DS R are intended for landscape photography, from what I see in my brother’s photos, a very high-resolution camera like these are just the ticket for macro photography also. I know that my brother gets the fine details of very small subjects much better than I can with my current cameras. Also, when birds or other wildlife cooperate, that extra resolution is a good thing. The 5DS R with a full-frame sensor will also produce less noise than my crop sensor 7D Mk II does. There are more reasons for me to add the 5DS R to my kit, but I won’t bore you with them other than to say that the 7D has spoiled me, and I’d like to have the same level of features for all the subjects that I shoot, wildlife, macros, and landscapes.
Now then, this is related to that in a way, I’ve mentioned several times how good the metering system of the 7D Mk II is, and I’ve learned why. It has a 150,000 pixel RGB+IR AF sensor that functions with both the auto-focusing and metering systems. You’re probably wondering what all that gibberish means, it’s as if the 7D has a second sensor that not only measures the intensity of the light, but also the color. That’s why I don’t have to make exposure adjustments when I go from shooting bright yellow flowers…
…to bright yellow leaves…
…to vivid red leaves…
…to a combination of both colors.
While other features of the 7D Mk II get the most press, to me, the most impressive feature is the metering system. All those were shot without my touching the exposure compensation at all. That’s a good thing, as my thumb is busy operating the auto-focusing system. I use back button auto-focusing exclusively on the 7D, the auto-focus doesn’t start with the shutter release button any more the way that I have the camera set-up now. There are reasons for this that I won’t bore you with though.
But, it does lead me to the next purchase that I made, a Canon 1.4X tele-converter. I had the Tamron extender of the same power, but as I mentioned when I first got the 7D, the fabulous metering system of that camera went a bit nuts when I used the Tamron extender. When I used it, I had to adjust the exposure compensation for almost every shot, and I was spoiled by not having to do that when I didn’t use the Tamron extender. Also, when I purchased the Canon 2X extender, I found that I didn’t need to adjust the exposure compensation when using it. But, when I was switching from Tamron 1.4X extender to the Canon 2X extender, and back again, I did have to make exposure adjustments, and there were times when I forgot to make those adjustments before shooting a few photos, which resulted in bad photos.
I don’t know why I have to adjust the exposure when using the Tamron extender, the metering system is inside of the camera and should read the light correctly once the light reaches the sensor, no matter what. I still suspect that it’s the way that Canon programmed the 7D, to not work as well with other manufacturer’s lenses or accessories, but I could be wrong.
The Tamron extender won’t be put out to pasture though, I’ve often wished that I had two 1.4 extenders, one behind the 300 mm lens for birds, and one behind my macro lens to increase the magnification and/or working distance to the subject. Now I have two, the Tamron works great with the Canon 100 mm macro lens on the 60D body.
I’ve crossed the 400 mm L series lens off from my want list forever. There were always two things that had lowered my desire for that lens as a super sharp lens for birding, it doesn’t have image stabilization, which I’ve learned to love, and that lens won’t focus any closer than 11 feet (3.3 meters). First, image stabilization, it allows me to shoot photos like this…
…the metadata for that photo says 1/400 second at f/8 while using the 300 mm lens and 1.4 extender for 420 mm of focal length, and it’s sharp. I’m pretty steady, but I doubt that I could do as well without IS as I can with IS.
Then there’s the fact that I’d have to be at least 11 feet from a subject, when I often get closer to that when photographing birds.
The 300 mm lens is f/4, with either of the 1.4 X extenders, it becomes a 420 mm f/5.6 lens, the 400 mm lens is a f/5.6, for all practical purposes, the same lens. However, here’s what the 300 mm lens can do that the 400 mm lens can’t, I used the 2X extender behind the 300 mm lens for this.
If I was carrying the 400 mm lens, then I wouldn’t be able to shoot the near macro images that I can with the 300 mm lens, something that I’ve come to rely on when I don’t have time to break out the second camera body with the macro lens on it. It doesn’t make much sense to me to carry a less capable lens, even if it is a tad sharper. You have to get a photo before you can worry about how sharp it is, and I’m sure that I’d miss shots with the 400 mm lens.
Another advantage to the 7D’s ability to get the exposure correct without my having to adjust it very often is that I have more time to get the IS of the lens set correctly for birds in flight.
As you can see, no more ghosting in those photos when I get the lens set correctly. It does help to have an almost cloudless blue sky as a background. 😉 Since I’m finally learning how to get good sharp photos of birds in flight when using the 300 mm lens, there’s even less reason for me to purchase the 400 mm lens. In fact, there’s no reason at all, so that lens is off my want list.
In fact, there’s very little on my want list these days, other than the camera and lens that I mentioned earlier. Other than a few filters and other accessories, I’m pretty much set. As I’ve said before, it’s time for me to put them all to use to produce some better images, and I think that I am, although I still make some major mistakes.
I use a polarizing filter almost all the time when I’m shooting landscapes, but I have to learn to pay more attention to the entire sky in the frame when I do use that filter so that I don’t end up with an uneven colored sky in my photos, as in this one from an earlier post.
You can see that the sky goes from light to dark and back to light again, the sign of an amateur behind the camera. This is better as far as the sky…
…but not only did I get the shadow of my camera in the corner of the frame, but the composition is poor as well. In my defense ( my excuses for a poor photo), with most of the brightly colored leaves from the previous week gone, the scene didn’t really inspire me to work very hard. That second photo was an exercise in learning how to include foreground elements in an image, and learning to see through a very wide-angle lens, something I’m still working on. That photo may not be good, but I incorporated what I learned from it into the sunset images that have appeared earlier in this post. Also, the shadow of the camera in the frame is due to the 60D viewfinder not showing 100% of what the camera is going to record, when I look through the viewfinder, I only see 95% of what the camera is going to record. I could easily crop it out, if the photo was worth it.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, I’m not used to looking at the world through a very wide-angle lens. What I learned from that photo was to get even closer, and even lower. When I set-up to take the sunset photos in this post, it seemed that I was ridiculously low and equally ridiculously close to the edge of the water, but I got the view that I hoped for. In fact, some one who stopped by to chat asked me why I had the camera so low, so I showed him one of the photos that I had already shot, then he understood.
I got sidetracked again didn’t I? I was talking about the polarizing filter. I’ve been using it for many of my most recent bird photos, I’ll get to the times when it worked well, but first, a not so good photo.
I’m learning that some species of birds do not photograph well when using the polarizing filter, and here’s what I’ve learned. Never use that filter for birds that are mostly black or species that seem to change colors as the angle that sunlight hits them changes, which includes mourning doves, and while I haven’t tried it yet, turkeys.
With other species, of course the polarizing filter works when there’s sky for a background.
By cutting the glare from scenes with water as a background, the polarizing filter also works well for waterfowl.
In fact, it works so well for mallards that you may see a lot more of them around here again!
It has surprised me how much that the polarizing filter helps when photographing songbirds that aren’t shot against the sky or water, like this junco, the first of the fall season for me.
The filter seems to make my images look sharper and cleaner than without, as well as better contrast and color.
Now then, you may not think that the next three are great, maybe it’s just because of how hard I worked to get them that I like them so much. I have photos of sora out in the open, but on this day, I was photographing two of them that were sticking closer to their normal habitat, deep in the reeds and cattails. I had to shoot nearly straight down for this one.
Sora, like most of the other members of the rail family, are elusive birds that, while they may be common, are seldom seen, and you can see why here.
It was very hard to get either of them in focus as I was shooting through dense vegetation, but I like the way that these photos show the sora as they actually live.
Darn, since I reduce the image quality of my photos before I post them, you can’t really see how I was able to capture the texture of the sora’s feathers. 😦
Believe me though, these last three are really sharp, as I was very close to the birds and using the 300 mm lens, Canon 1.4 X extender, and the polarizing filter. If you want to improve your photos, I suggest trying a polarizing filter, it doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try. Unlike the UV haze filters that don’t do anything other than reduce the quality of the images from your camera, a polarizing filter does cut through haze and can improve your images.
I’m still working on collecting a set of neutral density filters to use while photographing landscapes, I just took delivery of the first one this week. I started with one that reduces the light by 6 stops and fits the 15-85 mm lens, since it’s the one that I use most often for landscapes. Six stops sound like a lot, but the polarizing filter reduces the light entering the camera by two stops, and there are times when that amount hasn’t been enough. After my next paycheck, I’ll purchase a pair of the neutral density filters that reduce the light by only 2 stops, one to fit the 15-85 mm lens, and one to fit the 70-200 mm lens. I haven’t noted which of the landscape photos that I’ve posted recently that were shot with the 70-200 mm lens, but there have been a few. Eventually, I’ll add one that fits that lens and reduces the light by 6 stops as well.
A ridiculous thought just occurred to me thinking about this section, and the photos that I shot last weekend at Duck Lake State Park as the sunset. You see, I had my landscape set-up pointed to the west to capture the sunset, but when I looked behind me, I could see the full moon rising over Duck Lake. I attempted a few shots of it while using the 7D with the 300 mm lens on it, but I couldn’t get much in the frame other than the moon itself at that long focal length. It was a beautiful sight, but so was the sunset, I couldn’t decide which direction that I wanted to shoot the most. I did think of running back to my car to grab the second tripod, but I wasn’t about to leave anything on the beach, since there were a few people around.
A sidenote, there are almost always people on any public beach along Lake Michigan, anytime of the year, so while I didn’t want to include people or cars in that scene, I had no choice for that one, the light was too good at that moment.
Another sidenote here, the 7D Mk II supposedly has the ability to do in camera HDR images, but the output is a poor quality JPEG image. I mention it now, because I tried it again that evening with the same results as before, junk. I thought that it would be just the ticket for birds in a difficult position to shoot due to the lighting at times, but the quality isn’t there. While I’m bashing the 7D, here’s another feature that doesn’t work, the electronic level that you can have displayed in the viewfinder that supposed to help you keep the camera level, it is way off. I use the electronic level that you can display on the LCD screen of both the 60D and 7D, they seem accurate, but the display in the viewfinder of the 7D is off by a good 5 degrees, if not more. I should shoot and post a photo or two to show how far it’s off.
Anyway, there I was, a good sunset in front of me, a glorious moonrise behind me, and gulls flying past me to let me get more of this type of photo.
What’s a photographer to shoot? I got the sunset.
And I got a good, but not best, shot of the moonrise, after the sun had set and the color over Duck Lake had left the clouds.
If I had known what was going to transpire that evening, I have enough gear, three camera bodies, enough lenses, and two tripods, I could have gotten a much better photo of the moonrise if I had brought everything with me. That is, if my back could have handled all the weight. 😉 But, that has got me thinking again, and that’s seldom a good thing.
I’ve already figured out that I should have used the exposure data from the photos of the moon that I shot with the birding set-up as the starting point for the series of images that I shot to create the HDR image of the moonrise that you’ve seen. If I had, then the moon would have appeared as the moon, and not just a bright, over-exposed blob of light in the photo. The light of the moon didn’t register in the histogram for the photo that I shot as my starting point, since it was such a small part of the scene.
I know, this post is rapidly becoming even more disjointed than my usual ones, but there are reasons. I should never type as I think things through, but sometimes I can’t help it.
This past weekend isn’t the first time that I’ve had great scenes in two different directions, that’s one of the reasons that I wanted two cameras with me at all times. If the weather is such that there may be a good sunset along lake Michigan, then you have to get there early and stake out your spot before some one else does. You know, I’d better stop typing until I think through what’s going through my mind right now, so I’ll throw in a bunch of other photos for now.
Reading my own words as this post started to come unraveled, I can see why birds look at me as if I’m crazy at times.
Sorry for the length of this one, and the way that it ended, but I have to rethink a few things right now. 🙂
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!