I’m still learning
Although I feared that there would be a learning curve when it came to using the new 100-400 mm lens, that didn’t happen. By the end of the first day that I used it, I had figured out how to set the various switches on the lens to produce the results that I desired. A lot of that probably has to do with what I had already learned using the Beast ( Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and the 300 mm L series lens. The only real difference in the new lens is that it has a third mode of Image Stabilization which I had never used before.
I had read that this new mode was better for birds in flight, and that has proven to be the case as the hawk in flight photos from the last post show. Other than that, it’s just like all my other Canon lenses only better, the new lens has been everything that I had hoped for and more, right out of the box.
Mounted to the 7D Mk II, it’s an awesome combination that makes getting good photos almost automatic.
Well, not really automatic, it’s up to me to position myself in the right place at the right time, make sure that the camera and lens settings are correct for the type of photo that I’ll be shooting, along with all the other little things that go into making a good image.
Take the recent photo of the red-winged blackbirds in flight.
That was almost all luck, a grab shot if you will. I heard the blackbirds, turned, saw them, and shot as quickly as I could because there were obstructions on both sides of that view. After that shot, I thought that I’d be smart and get into a better position where the obstructions wouldn’t be a problem. That didn’t work well, I was too close to the blackbirds so I could only get a couple of them in the frame at one time, I was shooting their undersides, with no color from their wing patches, and the cornfield that they were flying over was tall enough to block my best view. That’s just one example, I still have a lot left to learn.
One thing that I’m learning is to wait until the flock of birds turn, so that they are banking for the turn as many of the blackbirds are in the photo above. Otherwise, I end up with boring photos of the birds all in profile, like this.
The only reason that I posted that one is because the little ruddy ducks that have to run to build up enough speed to take flight seem to be saying to the larger birds “Hey, wait for us”.
I’m also learning what works best as a background for flocks of birds in flight, and what the distance between the flock and the background works the best. All of this goes back to learning where to position myself to get the best images that I can.
Speaking of getting the best images that I can, the new 100-400 mm lens has changed my thinking somewhat. That, and seeing the photos that are posted to the North American Nature Photographers Association’s Facebook page. My very best images compare favorably to almost all of the photos that I see there, unless the photographer was using one of the very high-resolution cameras such as a Nikon D810, the Canon 5DS R, or the top of the line Sony camera bodies. That is, at least on the technical side of the equation, as I say, I still have a lot to learn as far as technique.
Since I had the large 16 X 20 inch prints made, I know that either the 7D Mk II or my older 60D bodies will produce great prints that size. I can only imagine how much better that those prints would be if I had the same quality of lens as the new lens is.
Also, I’ve made it no secret that I’d like to have a full frame camera body for better low light performance.
Unfortunately, everything in photography is a trade-off in one way or another. As much as the manufacturers have improved digital cameras, there’s still no perfect camera for all situations made at this point in time. Something else that needs to be added to the equation is the fact that wildlife is most active in low-light situations most of the time, which is why I was looking for better low-light performance from a camera, and considering a full frame camera.
So, I took stock of what I had, and how well it performs. With the 7D Mk II and the new 100-400 mm lens, I have about the best set-up out there for birds in flight and other action photography. The 60D camera also works well, but with one exception, it won’t auto-focus with my longer lenses when I add either of the tele-converters. Otherwise, I think that I could do exactly what I would like to do already, have one set-up ready at all times for action shots, and the other set-up for the very best portrait shots.
There have been too many times when I missed a shot because I was either changing camera settings, or swapping lenses or tele-converters to switch between action and portrait photos, because I have to use the 7D to have auto-focus available. Also, as good as the 60D is, it can’t come close to matching how fast or accurate the auto-focusing of the 7D is. And, the 60D can’t auto-focus at all when I use a tele-converter behind a long lens.
One more thing to add to the equation, the cost of the high-quality, extremely wide lenses required to shoot landscape photos on a crop sensor body as my 7D and 60D are. That’s another point in favor of a full frame sensor camera.
Maybe my math skills are a bit rusty, but I’ll tell you, solving an equation with so many variables is difficult, it makes my head hurt as Mr. Tootlepedal would say. It’s even more difficult when how much weight I put on to each section of the equation changes based on the photos that I have shot recently. What I do remember from back in the dark ages when I went to school, when confronted with a complex equation, you begin by simplifying it.
When looking at what I’d like to do in its simplest terms, what this all boils down to is do I want to shoot the very best images possible in good light…
…and live with the level of image that I currently can produce in bad light.
Or, do I want to live with what I get in good light…
…at the expense of shooting slightly better images in poor light.
Since I shoot Canon gear, there are really only two options for me as far as full frame cameras, the new 5D Mk IV and the 5DS R, that will make any improvements in my images. The 5D Mk IV offers slightly better low-light/high ISO performance, but no improvement over the 7D in resolution or in the details or resolution of a subject that it can record.
The 5DS R has the about the same low-light/ high ISO performance as my 7D does, but with the low pass filter disabled, it is stunning in the amount of resolution and details that it records with its 50 MP sensor.
So, at least for right now, I’m planning on purchasing a 5DS R in a year or two. If Canon were to announce an upgraded 7D with the low pass filter effect turned off, all bets would be off. 😉
That’s because I don’t shoot only birds, I do landscapes…
…and macro photography as well.
The 5DS R will auto-focus to an aperture of f/8, the same as my 7D does. So I can use my long lens with a tele-converter for bird and wildlife portrait shots. With its amazing resolution, it will really improve my landscapes and macro photos as well, more bang for my buck.
I’ll tell you, as good as my photos are becoming, those shot with the 5DS R just blow mine away from what I’ve seen. There are a few people posting photos to the North American Nature Photography Association’s Facebook page using the same 100-400 mm lens that I have, along with the 1.4 X tele-converter, and their images have to be seen to be believed. I should also add that as good as the new 100-400 mm lens is, I want to shoot every species of bird and everything else that I’ve already photographed all over again. It’s that much better than what I’ve been using, as you can see from the photos of the coot and ruddy duck in this post.
I have a series of photos that show why I’d like to have two birding set-ups, one for portraits, one for action. I found one of the bald eagles perched in its usual spot at the wastewater facility, and I started out using just the 100-400 mm lens set at 400 mm.
I didn’t crop that at all, although I could have, to let you think that I was closer than I really was. When I saw that the eagle was in no hurry to move, I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the 100-400 mm lens for this one.
Then, I went one step farther, swapping out that extender for the 2 X tele-converter, to get to 800 mm.
You can see how much larger the eagle became as I went up in focal length, as none of those images were cropped at all.
Actually, the story is longer than that, when I first started shooting the eagle, the light wasn’t that good. As the light improved, I kept swapping tele-converters back and forth to get better images. If the eagle looked as if it would take off, I’d remove the tele-converter so that I’d be able to track the eagle if it did fly away. Every time that I swap out extenders, there’s the chance that I’ll get dust on the camera’s sensor, which I’ve already had to clean twice, and is due for another cleaning from the spots that I have to remove from my images.
The last two are actually from two weeks ago, and you can see that the light wasn’t as good then, which is why I held off posting them. This week, I sat there watching the eagle for better than half an hour, and it never did move on, so I did instead.
I tried the same thing with a peregrine falcon…
…but it flew off as I was swapping out extenders every time I got close to it…
…so I never did capture it taking off or in flight.
Before I forget, it isn’t just a matter of swapping tele-converters, it also involves changing the camera settings as well. I can shoot at slower shutter speeds and a lower ISO setting when the bird is perched than I can while it’s in flight. It takes a minute or two to make the swap of extenders and camera settings, and while the eagle gave me plenty of time to do that, the falcon didn’t, and neither did this pie-billed grebe. However, the grebe didn’t fly away, they have a much stealthier way of disappearing.
The grebes can make themselves sink into the water by controlling how much water their feathers hold, to put it in simple terms. Here, the grebe is going…
It only takes them a second or two to complete disappear from sight, and I’m happy to have finally captured that entire sequence. I just checked the metadata for those images, and it took the grebe just over a second to disappear.
Anyway, for the time being, I’m shooting most of my landscapes with the 60D and the EF S 15-85 mm lens, which does quite well.
However, to get the best out of that set-up, I have to shoot three bracketed shots and blend them in Photomatix software to get the results that I do. I can take the 7D and new lens and get images just about as good without using extra software.
With no clouds, I doubted if the sunrise would produce a good image, I was wrong, very wrong!
With the golden glow of the sunrise, and a little bit of fog, the sunrise produced two good images.
I suppose you could say that it produced three good images, if you like this one of geese and mallards in flight against the early morning glow.
Getting back to the photo gear, after seeing how much better the 100-400 mm lens is than my other long lenses are, I have decided that I should upgrade my wide lenses before I purchase a better camera, as that will improve my photos the most. I can use the better lenses on my current cameras for the time being. Since I know that I’ll eventually purchase a full frame camera, I’ve chosen lenses that will work best on it, but will also be an improvement over the lenses that I currently own. The good thing is that what I have now performs pretty good, so I’m in no hurry to rush out and make the purchases soon, I’ll upgrade as my bank account allows.
I got a chance to play with the new lens as a macro lens a little more on Monday, I shot this dragonfly at 400 mm and as close as I could get the lens to focus, then cropped the image a little.
Then it dawned on me, I had the 1.4 X extender with me, so I went back and tried that set-up. By then, the dragonfly had turned around though, so I didn’t get the best angle for this one.
But, I did learn that the set-up performed well, and that the auto-focus doesn’t slow down as much as when I use the extender with the 300 mm lens.
The fact that it auto-focuses faster is a good thing, because I swear that the birds know that the new lens is faster than what I used to use. The 100-400 mm lens typically snaps into a focus lock very quickly, but it wasn’t quick enough for many of the small birds that I chased this weekend. I have several empty branch photos to prove that. I couldn’t believe how quickly the birds were reacting, I could get the focus, but before the shutter fired, the birds were already gone. I did mange to find a few slower birds though.
Actually, war’s going on with the birds is that I’m trying to get better images, therefore I’m taking more time to get an unobstructed view of them in the best light possible. It’s only then that I raise the camera to my eye, and by that time, the birds are ready to move on anyway, my having a clear view of them prompts them to move even sooner. That means that I’ll have to work a little harder, and a lot smarter to catch them.
It probably doesn’t help that I’m trying to photograph most of the smaller birds at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve where Brian Johnson bands birds. Most of the birds that I see there have one of his bands on its leg, which means that Brian has handled them at least once. While he’s very gentle with them, it’s no fun for them to be caught in a net, then have a human carry them to his workspace where he pokes and prods the birds to check their condition. Then to top it off, he clamps a metal band around your leg. that would make me leery of humans too.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!