In search of perfection
Of course one can not attain perfection, one can only come close. Still, that doesn’t stop me from trying, because when I do, I get the best images that I can under the circumstances at the time.
But, I’m learning that it isn’t just the photographer that can’t reach perfection, neither can the manufacturers of cameras and lenses. As good as the camera gear that I have now is, each item is lacking in one way or another.
Take the Canon 100-400 mm L series lens that I recently purchased. Its auto-focus is much faster than any of the other long Canon lenses that I own. However, when I’m chasing small birds in low light as they are when they’re in their normal habitat…
…I believe that the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) is even better as far as auto-focus. However, that lens can’t match the image quality of the Canon lens in those situations. I love the soft light in that image, along with the pose that the warbler struck. But, something that I can’t control is the fact that this individual doesn’t have the pronounced red streaks on its chest as most males of this species have. So my pursuit of perfection is dependent on the individual birds that I find to photograph as well as my skills as a photographer.
I can’t use the Canon 400 mm L lens in those situations, its minimum focus distance is just over 11 feet, meaning that I wouldn’t be able to get as close to small birds as I do at times, like this one. Since I know that, I have’t tried using that lens to chase small birds where they live.
The Canon 300 mm L lens was great for close-ups, but its performance tailed off as the distance to the subject that I was shooting increased. I could go back in my archives and find numerous images shot with the 300 mm lens that are close to macro shots because that lens was at its best the closer I was to the subject. However, I could also go back in my archives and find even more images where the 300 mm lens was softer than it should be when the subjects were farther away from me.
Theoretically, the 100-400 mm lens is supposed to be just as good up close, its minimum focusing distance is just a hair closer than the 300 mm lens is. However, in practice so far, I’m having trouble getting super sharp images from that lens down near its minimum focusing distance. There have been exceptions to that though.
Still, I believe that the 300 mm lens was even sharper up close than those images shot with the 100-400 mm lens are. I’ve spent very little time with the 100-400 mm lens shooting at very short distances, so maybe it’s me and not the lens that’s responsible for the poor performance so far. Every bit of camera gear comes with a learning curve, since the 100-400 mm lens can produce images as good as the butterfly, I may have to practice with that lens more at very close range to get the best out of it.
Those images bring up a weakness in the Canon 7D Mk II camera that I use most of the time as well. Being a crop sensor camera, its low light performance and dynamic range aren’t as good as a full-frame camera’s would be. I pushed the adjustments in Lightroom quite a bit to bring those images of the butterfly into something worth posting.
It’s the same with this one.
You should see the detail in the image above viewed full screen in its full resolution, you can see each individual feather on the mallard’s neck!
That brings up something else that I have to say, and I hope that it doesn’t sound as if I’m bragging, not too much anyway. When I get things right with one of my best lenses, the image has to be viewed as large as I can blow it up on my computer, or print it out very large if I have it printed, to truly see the level of detail that there is in my best images these days. When viewed as the images are presented here, you can not see the fine detail like the individual fibers that make up the mallard’s feathers, or individual scales in the butterfly’s wings as you can when I blow them up on my computer, or have them printed at 11 X 14 or 14 X 20. So, I am making progress, even if I have already reached the limits of the quality that you can see in the images in my blog.
Anyway, what good is dramatic lighting if camera that I’m using can’t capture it as well as it should? Both the butterfly and the mallard images could still use some dodging and burning, but I’d rather not spend all my time editing images on the computer. I’d like some time to be outside shooting more photos. I could post an unedited photo of both the butterfly and mallard to show you how much I had to work on them in Lightroom to make them as good as they are, but I won’t. I’ll only say that I’d still like a full-frame camera one of these days for its better low-light performance, and higher dynamic range. You may not notice it, but I’ve lost some of the detail in the feathers of the white ring around the mallard’s neck because it was blown out too much for Lightroom to recover. I still had to push the shadows more than I would have liked to get the greens and blues of the mallard’s head right the way that I saw it when shooting that image. Because the ISO setting was low to begin with when I shot those, I didn’t get much noise by boosting the shadow detail as much as I did.
Maybe I’m getting too picky as I try for the best images possible. I didn’t use to worry as much about noise in the shadow areas of an image or if a few highlight areas were blown out as long as the overall image looked good. I suppose that it’s because the overall quality of the images I shoot continues to improve, that I’m bothered by those things now when it wasn’t that way before.
I have learned to get good images of birds in flight with the 100-400 mm lens.
However, the 400 mm prime lens is still easier and a better choice to use for flying birds, especially in poor lighting.
Now, if I can get a wood duck to repeat the same flight path someday when the light is better, I’ll really have a great shot that shows all of the duck’s colors!
Anyway, if it were a perfect world, camera manufacturers would develop a sensor that recorded light exactly as our eyes see it. That’s not likely to happen, as it isn’t only our eyes that see light. Our brains adjust what we see, much like we can adjust images with the various types of software on the market these days.
And if it were a perfect world, lens manufacturers would produce lenses that produced exceptional results through the lens’ entire range of focus and aperture. Maybe some one does, but not in the price range that I can afford.
If it were a nearly perfect world, I’d be able to carry all of my camera gear with me, and the correct lens would magically be mounted to the camera for the next opportunity that I have to shoot a photo. But, that isn’t possible either, the weight is prohibitive.
Shooting photos at the Muskegon County wastewater facility tends to spoil me. Most of the time I’m in my vehicle, with the two 7D bodies, one with the 400 mm prime lens on it, the other with the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter on it. When I see a stationary bird…
…I grab the second set-up for a portrait like that one.
For birds in flight…
…I grab the camera with the 400 mm prime lens on it. Those aren’t great, but at least you can see why green-winged teal are named what they are. These next two are better examples of what that set-up can do.
I’d love to be able to carry both of those set-ups with me all the time, but they’re too heavy and cumbersome for longer walks, so I normally bring just the 100-400 mm lens with me.
As I’m walking more for health reasons than for photography these days, I’m faced with the question of what do I bring, and what do I leave behind. It almost always works out the same, what I leave behind is what I need for what I see on any given day. If I bring my macro lens expecting to shoot insects or flowers, then I don’t see any insects, or the wind kicks up so much that trying to photograph flowers is more frustrating that I have patience for.
If I bring my wide-angle lens expecting to shoot a few landscapes, then good opportunities never present themselves, but then there are insects all around me, and no breeze at all, so flower photography would have been easier.
I think that the plan that I came up with a while back is the right choice for me to make.
As I use the newer 100-400 mm lens more, I’m getting much better results with it, both as a near macro lens…
..and for birds in flight, as the red-winged blackbird and hawk photos from earlier show.
Of course it’s great on birds that are perched.
Even in low-light situations.
Eventually, I’ll purchase a full-frame sensor camera and Canon’s 24-105 mm lenses. Along with the 7D and the 100-400 mm lens, that will cover everything from most landscapes, near macros, birds in flight, as well as bird portraits. I can easily carry that, along with just two accessories, the 1.4 X tele-converter, and the set of extension tubes that I have. The tele-converter extends the 100-400 mm lens to 560 mm for longer shots, and the extension tubes will convert the 24-105 mm lens to a macro lens of sorts. Along with the close focusing ability of the 100-400 mm lens, I should be set for almost anything, and all of that will weigh much less than half of what I tried to carry with me in the past.
That will mean that I’ll have to do some swapping of lenses and accessories, but the weight reduction for longer walks will be worth it.
Now then, I’ve received the bill for my stay in the hospital, and the bad news is that the health insurance that I have through work covered very little of it. The good news is the hospital doesn’t seem to be in any hurry for me to pay the entire bill as quickly as possible. I’ve talked to one of their financial representatives, and I have two years to pay the bill interest free. If I went longer than two years, they would charge interest, but paying it off in two years is something that I can do fairly easily. I’ve already made a lump sum payment of almost 1/5 of the total bill, and my monthly payments for the next two years will be easy for me to make, it will be less than what I was spending on camera gear.
Finally knowing how much the hospital bill is and what terms they offer has been a huge load off from my mind. I knew that the insurance I have through work isn’t very good, so that my portion of the bill would be large. The insurance company paid about $250 dollars of my hospital stay, with me picking up all the rest. That makes me wonder why I “contribute” towards the insurance at all, but enough of that for now.
That will put an end to any purchases of camera gear, except for a few relatively inexpensive things that I have on my want list. That’s okay for now, I can work on improving my skills with what I already own as I pay off the hospital bill. Once that bill is paid, I can begin saving for a full-frame camera and the 24-105 mm lens.
Another weekend has come and is almost gone, and I should begin another post with the images that I’ve shot the past two days in an effort to keep my posts shorter. However, that’s not going to be the case.
I still need to improve my action photography, but I feel as if I’m making progress in the right direction.
Those two were on the wrong side of me as far as the position of the sun, but at least you can identify the species of both birds. The grackle by its pale eye, and the red-winged blackbird by its red shoulder patches.
I was lucky in one way, the two of them hovered there squawking at one another long enough for me to switch to the saved settings for birds in flight, and get a good focus lock on them with the 100-400 mm lens.
Grackles are not shy, retiring birds at all, and they are a bit larger than the red-winged blackbirds, so it surprised me that the red-winged blackbird…
…was able to drive the grackle away.
Maybe it’s because the red-winged blackbirds are fearless, and will take on birds much larger than themselves.
Those were shot early in the morning at Muskegon, and I was going for portraits of the cranes, so I had the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens. But, the red-winged blackbirds chasing the cranes put an end to any thoughts of a good portrait shot. In the low-light at the time, my shutter speed was too low to freeze all the movement going on…
Finally, I got the shots that I was hoping for…
…with the one crane asking the other, “Does this bird make my butt look big.”…
…and the second crane replying, “Only when it spreads its wings out.”…
…until the cranes moved into taller vegetation and the blackbirds gave up the chase.
I think that this is a good place to end this post. I have some other action shots to share, but I can use them in another post which explains why I’m working so hard to improve my photography skills. I’ll end this post with one more close-up shot this weekend with the 100-400 mm lens.
I shot quite a few photos at close range this past weekend, and I am getting better results with that lens in those situations. I think that I may have to calibrate the focus of that lens to the 7D body though, as part of the problem I was having seems to be that the lens focuses slightly behind the subject at close range. But, I’ll work with it a bit longer before I do that, as I’d hate to spoil how well it works at longer distances.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!