Now I know, now I wish
Well, I picked up the very large prints that I had made of a few of my photos. The first thing that I noticed is that the photos that I had shot with the 60D body were the equal to those shot with the 7D Mk II. Of course for most of them shot with the 60D, the camera was mounted on a tripod, with the ISO set to its lowest setting, 100. Those are all landscapes that I shot as HDR images, processed with Photomatix and Lightroom.
However, even the extreme close-up of the dragonfly that I shot recently is a fantastic print in 16 X 20 inch size. The head of the dragonfly is close to 6 inches across on the print, and you can make out every tiny hair and each of the individual compound eyes of the dragonfly. That image was shot handheld with the 100 mm macro lens, the best lens that I own.
I also did two of the very long exposure images that I shot at night with the 7D on the tripod, one was processed as a HDR, the other one wasn’t. The reason that I chose those two was because I had trouble with noise due to the very long exposure times required to shoot at night. I’m happy to say that there’s no sign of the noise in the prints, after I removed the noise in Lightroom.
Another image that I chose to print was one of the images of the Virginia rail that I shot using the 2 X tele-converter behind the 300 mm lens. It came out very, very good, but I detect a little softening, probably due to the 2 X extender. Knowing that I had used the extender wouldn’t stop me from printing an image to that same large size if the image looked good on the computer. The softening is noticeable when I look at the print very close, but it looks very sharp when seen from a normal viewing distance.
I also printed the flying dragonfly from this spring, shot with the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), and it also came out very, very good. I can tell though that it was shot with the Beast, as the resolution isn’t quite as good as what I get with my better lenses, close, but not quite equal.
I also printed an image of a marsh wren that I had cropped quite a bit. The system that they use at the place where I had the prints made warned me that the image size of that one was too small when I chose the size print that I did. However, it came out just fine, you can see every fiber that makes up the wren’s feathers.
Were there disappointments, just two really. I chose an images of a water-lily that I thought was excellent, but the print is slightly over-exposed, easily corrected if I were to have it printed again. The other disappointment was one of the images of the lesser yellowlegs fighting. I knew that there was some motion blur, and that the camera had focused on the bird in front in the frame, so the bird behind it is a bit too blurry for that image to be a great one. Still, it wasn’t bad, just not good enough. Because of their positions, it would have been a great print if I had focused on the bird in back, rather than the one in front. That was a matter of luck, not anything that I did. As quick as the action was, there was no time to analyze how a print would turn out.
Overall, I’m extremely pleased, I know that I can go to at least a 16 X 20 print, and that the print will be sharp enough for any one, even me. 😉 I’ll tell you, a 16 X 20 inch print is huge!
Anyway, after seeing how well that the prints had turned out, I wish that I had printed more images that may possibly sell, but I tested most of my gear, and it all passed, with flying colors in most cases. I know that I can use either of my camera bodies, and any of my lenses and accessories, and produce a very good, very large print. In a way, that’s kind of awesome.
I know that the critics are ripping the new Canon 5D Mk IV, even though they haven’t even touched one yet. Most of the criticism is over the video capabilities, and the to some degree, the fact that Canon carried over their same old controls on this new model. Not a single one of the critics has shot a still image with that model camera yet, which is what I’m most interested in.
There was one thoughtful preview of that camera though, that had to do with the low pass optical filter, which the 5D Mk IV still has.
For those of you who don’t know, the only purpose of a low pass optical filter is to soften the image produced by the lens slightly as the image is transmitted to the camera’s sensor to eliminate any possible moire. I know, it sounds silly that they added a filter that softens the image that a camera can produce, but in the early age of digital photography, moire was a serious problem. As digital camera sensors improved, that has become less of a problem.
Nikon broke new ground when they introduced the D800, which had a high-resolution, high dynamic range sensor, with the effects of the low pass optical filter turned off. The images produced by that camera blew almost every one away with how sharp the images were and how much more detail there was in the images. Other manufacturers followed suit, and most of the recent digital cameras have the low pass optical filter turned off to produce higher resolution images.
My brother’s Pentax K1 doesn’t have the low pass optical filter, and the sharpness and the detail that he gets in his images are amazing. They’re much better than what I can get with my Canon cameras.
So, what does all this mean to me?
It doesn’t make my decision as to whether or not to upgrade to a full frame sensor camera any easier, that’s for sure.
I can’t help but wonder what this image would have looked like if I had shot it with a full frame camera.
I think that it’s the most artistic photo of a great blue heron that I’ve ever shot. I love the scene almost as much as I love the heron.
I know that I do need a high-quality long zoom lens so that when I stick my head up above the vegetation, and the bird that I’d like to get a portrait of spooks before I get the portrait…
…I could get the entire bird in the frame, rather than chopping off its wings.
Then, I could zoom back in as the bird continues to fly.
Although, 400 mm isn’t a long enough focal length for when the bird lands in the closest tree.
The egrets, and there were several of them on Sunday at the wastewater facility, were all very wary, another photographer told me that he witnessed a young bald eagle swooping down on the egrets when they were all together. That would make any critter wary.
By the time that I got around to trying to photograph the egrets, they were extremely wary…
…and I never did get a portrait of one, just a few poor photos of them in flight, as you can see. The other photographer was chasing the eagle around, so I never got a photo of it either.
I did get a slightly better photo of a peregrine falcon though.
From the blood on its beak, it must have just finished eating breakfast.
I had gotten to the wastewater facility before dawn, but the sunrise was a bust as far as any photos. I did shoot a few photos of a pair of sandhill cranes and their colt. (A juvenile sandhill crane is called a colt)
I switched over to shoot a video…
…for those people who have never heard the calls of a sandhill crane. But, as I was switching back to shoot stills, the cranes took off, so I missed that. I had to settle for this flock of Canada geese flying into the morning sun.
Once again, there’s the one oddball, three have their wings up, the oddball has its wings halfway down.
I also shot a portion of a huge flock of starlings.
However, I should have gone to a wider lens to get more of the flock in the frame. Another time when having a long zoom lens would have been nice.
Even though the sunrise itself was a bust, a short time later, I shot these.
I tried to eliminate the lens flare, but I failed.
I also failed to get a good capture of how many dew covered spider webs that there are to choose from when I decide to shoot one of them.
I was having a bad day, because this was another failure.
I should have chosen one or two of the flowers and gotten closer, rather than trying to get them all in the frame.
I know that since I don’t get out to shoot photos every day that I get rusty during the week. I spotted a mixed flock of small birds feeding in one of the woodlots at the wastewater facility…
…but that’s the only photo that I managed of a perched bird that I can identify from the photos that I shot. I did manage to keep the gnatcatcher in the frame as it flew to its next perch though.
If it hadn’t flown behind other branches, these may have been good photos.
My timing was off, and I could not get good photos of any of the other small birds that I saw there. So, I went back to shooting larger birds.
I know that I have to never stop learning, and trying different things. The photos that you’ve seen so far were shot on Sunday at the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I returned again today, Monday, and almost all the birds were very wary. I had been about ready to give up, but then I considered that as slow as the previous day had been also, that it may be a good day to do some testing.
The photo of the egret where I couldn’t get the entire bird in the frame bothered me. Well, maybe bothered isn’t the right word for it, that photo presented a problem that I could attempt to solve. I do have a long zoom lens, the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), but it has never been good at producing sharp photos of birds in flight, no matter what I’ve tried. It would be okay if I used it to shoot portraits of birds, but as soon as they begin flying, the Beast is a bust.
So, I sat there watching some egrets a good way down one of the drainage ditches at the wastewater facility, wondering what I could try. I have a 70-200 mm f/4 lens, but that’s not long enough, especially when I’m having trouble getting close to birds in the first place. I also have the tele-converters, but the 2 X extender turns the lens into a f/8 lens, which means I lose some of the auto-focusing features of the 7D camera. I thought to myself, “what the heck, I have nothing to lose, I may as well give that lens a try with the 1.4 X extender”. Then, I remembered what I had learned while shooting the lesser yellowlegs fighting, so I dialed in about the same settings in the camera, and I took off walking, trying to stalk the egret closest to me.
I was bent over as I worked my way through the tall weeds on top of the drainage ditch, but I never saw the egret before it saw me, so I wasn’t able to try for a portrait. The egret took off, I zoomed in to get this shot.
I continued to zoom and shoot for these.
This is one of those times that I wish that you could see these images full screen on my 27 inch iMac as I do, they’re much better than what they appear to be in this small size.
I walked back to my car and reviewed the images, and buoyed by what I saw, I went searching for another test subject. This time, it wasn’t an egret, it was a red-tailed hawk.
It may sound funny, but I know that hawk, and I know that it won’t let me get very close to it. I had to crop that image a lot more than what I would have liked, or the hawk wouldn’t have been much more than a dark lump on the pole. However, if you notice which way the hawk’s feathers are blowing in the wind, I had both the wind and the light on it right. Sure enough, as I walked closer, the hawk dove down and towards me to build up speed.
I still had to crop that one, but it’s good enough that you can tell that the hawk was blinking when the shutter went off. To my surprise, the hawk didn’t turn immediately, it continued quartering towards me.
I went back to my car and reviewed those images, and while they looked great on the back of the camera, I’ve been fooled by that in the past, thinking that I had sharp images when they weren’t so sharp seen on my computer.
Still, they looked extremely sharp, so then I began thinking about reason that they were so sharp. Maybe it has to do with the Image Stabilization of the 300 mm lens I thought to myself. The 70-200 mm lens doesn’t have IS, maybe that was the difference I reasoned. I know that I have to turn the IS off on the Beast to get anywhere near a sharp photo of a bird in flight with that lens, so I went looking for something to test that theory out on. I put the 300 mm lens back on the camera to do some testing. I didn’t find a large bird, just a barn swallow, but I used the same camera settings, and shot a series of photos with the IS on, and another with it off. I couldn’t see any difference then, nor can I see any now that I’ve viewed both sets of images on my computer. Here’s one of the images shot with the IS off.
Okay, so maybe the IS has nothing to do with what I was seeing, maybe it was all due to the camera settings, I thought. Still not convinced by what I saw on the back of the camera, I went looking for more test subjects. I found these mute swans…
…but they wouldn’t fly. Neither would this goose that I found.
Then, I found the almost perfect subject, a juvenile bald eagle.
Even with the 1.4 X extender behind the 70-200 mm lens, the eagle looks small in that image, which I didn’t crop at all. I so wanted my longer set-up at that point, so that I could shoot a few portraits of the eagle, but I had testing to do. You can tell by the way the eagle’s feathers are being blown by the wind, that once again, I had both the wind and the light on the eagle if it took flight, which it soon did.
That image wasn’t cropped at all, you can see how much more of the frame that the eagle fills when it has its wings spread than what it had filled while perched. These next two weren’t cropped either.
The eagle was trying to avoid diving towards me as the hawk had done, so it sort of hung there in mid-air flapping, but these are the best photos, since the eagle had its wings almost fully spread.
Also, the eagle doesn’t come close to filling the frame when it had its wings down, so I cropped this next one a little.
Once the eagle started making headway, I shot this last photo of it as it turned away from me.
That one is cropped also, but I had to include it, since the eagle had its talons hanging as it flew away from me.
Now then, without a doubt, the flying bird images that I shot today are among the sharpest that I’ve ever gotten. So, the question is why? The camera settings have a lot to do with it, but I think that there’s more to it than that. I think that part of it is because the 70-200 mm lens doesn’t have IS, which tries to freeze the image in place as a bird in flight is moving. The barn swallow wasn’t a good test, as it wasn’t moving. I’ll have to test that theory out more at a later date.
If only I could get a bird to start from the same point and take the exact same path every time repeatedly so that I could try different things each time it took flight. 😉 Barring that, I’ll have to shoot some bird in flight photos with the IS turned off on the 300 mm lens.
I think that another part of why these are so sharp goes back to the performance characteristics of the 300 mm lens itself. It’s at its sharpest at less than ten feet, beyond that, it’s a little soft. I’ve been able to make that lens work for me, but it took a lot of work to get to the point that I’m at now. The reason that I suspect that the lens has been part of the problem is that the images that I shot of the swans and the goose look a tick sharper to me than my images shot with the 300 mm lens usually do.
I’ve been saying that the 70-200 mm lens is the second best that I own, almost as good as the 100 mm macro lens is, for some time now. It’s a shame that I don’t have any reasons to use that lens more often.
On one hand, it was a poor weekend for me as far as photography is concerned. I don’t know why, but I found very few birds to photograph, which is unusual. On the other hand, I learned that the camera gear that I have now can produce some excellent very large prints. I’ve also been able to put a few more pieces of the puzzle together when it comes to shooting very sharp bird in flight photos. I’m really geeked about both, even though it may not seem like it right now. That’s because I still have some more testing to do with the lenses that I have now. Overall, my images continue to improve, and every time that I think that I’ve reached the limit of what I can do, I surpass that limit. Maybe not with every image, but in terms of shooting more very good ones more often.
All this gives me a lot more to think about, so I’ll leave you with one of the eagle in flight images that I cropped, because I just couldn’t resist doing it.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!