My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

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.

Red-winged blackbirds in flight

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.

Assorted waterfowl in flight

Assorted waterfowl in flight

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…

American coot

American coot

…and live with the level of image that I currently can produce in bad light.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Or, do I want to live with what I get in good light…

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

…at the expense of shooting slightly better images in poor light.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

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…

Sunrise near Muskegon 1

Sunrise near Muskegon 1

 

Sunrise near Muskegon 2

Sunrise near Muskegon 2

…and macro photography as well.

Robber fly

Robber fly

 

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

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.

Bald eagle at 400 mm

Bald eagle 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.

Bald eagle at 560 mm

Bald eagle at 560 mm

Then, I went one step farther, swapping out that extender for the 2 X tele-converter, to get to 800 mm.

Bald eagle at 800 mm

Bald eagle at 800 mm

 

Bald eagle at 800 mm

Bald eagle at 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.

Bald eagle taking off

Bald eagle taking off

 

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

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…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…but it flew off as I was swapping out extenders every time I got close to it…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

 

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…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.

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

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…

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

…going…

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

Pie-billed grebe sinking out of sight

…gone.

Pie-billed grebe gone

Pie-billed grebe gone

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.

Sunday sunrise

Sunday sunrise

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.

Monday sunrise

Monday sunrise

With no clouds, I doubted if the sunrise would produce a good image, I was wrong, very wrong!

The Monday surprise

The Monday surprise

With the golden glow of the sunrise, and a little bit of fog, the sunrise produced two good images.

The Monday abstract

The Monday abstract

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.

Canada geese and mallards in flight at sunrise

Canada geese and mallards in flight at sunrise

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.

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

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.

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

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.

Unidentified dragonflies mating

Unidentified dragonflies mating

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.

Northern cardinal admiring the beauty of the changing leaves

Northern cardinal admiring the beauty of the changing leaves

 

Juvenile cedar waxwing

Juvenile cedar waxwing

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!

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19 responses

  1. Wonderful photographs of that bald headed eagle, you are so clever.

    October 11, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan!

      October 12, 2016 at 12:09 am

  2. Vicki

    beautiful photos, I have never seen a grebe sink like the one you photographed..

    October 11, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    • Thank you very much Vicki! I’ve seen grebes sink before, but I’ve never been fast enough to catch the sequence before.

      October 12, 2016 at 12:10 am

  3. My goodness, you take a lot of trouble with your shots. No wonder that you are getting such excellent results.

    October 11, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I do put a lot of effort into my photos, but not enough for truly great photos, yet that is.

      October 12, 2016 at 12:12 am

      • It is only a matter of time.

        October 12, 2016 at 6:02 pm

  4. Great shots of the eagles, and the sinking grebe is very interesting. I’m guessing that they do it to escape a threat, and it’s probably more effective than trying to fly away.
    I like the sunrise shots, especially the misty one. That’s one way you gain by not having any high hills or mountains. I’m driving to work at sunrise now but I never see the sun because of all the hills. I just see the sky getting lighter.
    Nice shots of the dragonfly too. I wonder if you had to use a tripod or is the image stabilization enough with that setup?
    I think my favorite shot this time is the flock of red winged blackbirds. I meant to say something about it last time you showed it but I forgot. I’ve never seen that many together. I can imagine what a noise they must have made!

    October 11, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! Yes, the grebes sink to escape threats, they are very poor fliers that take forever to build up enough speed to get airborne. A ruddy duck will dive before fly when a threat arises also, but they dive in the typical duck fashion, not just sink straight down as the grebes do.

      We have a few more hills than what my shots from around Muskegon would lead you to believe, that area is a flat plain, which is why they built the wastewater facility there. But you’re right, it does make for great sunrise photos.

      I didn’t use a tripod for the dragonflies, I braced myself on the railing that they were perched on or near to keep the camera steady as I shot those photos.

      That was just a small portion of the flock of red-winged blackbirds feeding in the cornfield. Their chatter was enough to alert me to their presence, but the sounds of their wings and the air being moved by their wings were incredible. I should have shot a short movie, but I never knew when the flock would move, or where.

      October 12, 2016 at 12:23 am

  5. All beautiful photos, Jerry, and thank you for posting the cardinals. The grebe sinking out of site would make a great panel framed as a sequence!

    October 11, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia! I’ve been trying to shoot good cardinal photos this fall now that they’re done molting, but I haven’t had much luck until Monday. I hope to shoot more soon. I had to crop the sequence of the grebe sinking for the images to be printed very large, but as a framed sequence, they would probably work for that. Thanks for the idea.

      October 12, 2016 at 12:15 am

  6. I found the sinking grebe absolutely fascinating! I had no idea they did this – thanks for the series of shots. The photos of the other birds you’ve taken with the new lens are wonderful. The one of the peregrine looking at the camera is my favourite I think. I also enjoy looking at your landscapes and sunrises. I love the gentle colours of Sunday sunrise.

    October 12, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! Yes, the grebes just sink down out of sight, most of the time they were already gone before I could get them in focus, so I was very happy to have captured that sequence. I’m also very happy that the new lens is able to show how beautiful the birds are, and the intensity of a raptor’s stare. There are times when I can feel their stare through the camera lens, I wouldn’t want to be a small animal and feel that stare!

      October 12, 2016 at 11:36 pm

      • Terrifying!

        October 13, 2016 at 5:29 pm

  7. So many fun things here, Jerry. First, I think this is the first time I have ever seen an eagle shot in a tree with leaves. Remarkable.

    Love the piercing falcon stare..

    Third, there is something about the grebe photo that really appeals to me – some kind of balance of the reflection, combined with its body ducking in and out of the water.

    Looks like you are having fun. Carry on!

    October 12, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    • Thank you very much Judy! It’s funny that you mentioned the leaves on the tree behind the eagle, that was the wrong way to shoot the eagle according to the experts. I should have moved a few feet in either direction and shot the eagle against the plain sky, and that’s how I’m beginning my next post.

      You don’t know what it’s like to be stared at until you see that stare through the camera lens, the images don’t do it justice!

      Grebes are just darned cute despite or because of their slightly odd appearance, maybe it’s those big eyes?

      I am having the time of my life, it’s so good to be using great equipment that does what it’s supposed to when I’m surrounded by birds.

      October 12, 2016 at 11:43 pm

  8. Pingback: I’m still learning — Quiet Solo Pursuits – Blog Life

  9. I often comment on the birds but today I must not forget to compliment you on your amazing golden sunrises today. Stunning! It’s really my favourite time of the day to be out in nature. Thank you for sharing the beauty of Michigan sunrises with us. 🙂

    October 17, 2016 at 12:06 am

    • Thanks yet again Jane! I love sunrises, they’re usually better than the average sunset, and morning is my favorite time of day.

      October 17, 2016 at 3:13 am