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

I’m loving it

There are times now when things get a little slow while I’m out shooting photos, since I now restrain myself from shooting small birds that are really beyond the of range of my lenses, and I doubt if I will ever purchase a longer lens than I have now. That doesn’t matter, as I know that on any given day, I’m bound to get a very good image of something.

Great blue heron

That’s one of the reasons that I continue to visit the Muskegon County wastewater facility on weekends, and to do my almost daily walks around home during the week.

Chicory

 

Unidentified sunflower

 

Unidentified sunflower, closer

 

Unidentified sunflower, closer

 

One thing that I love about going to the wastewater facility is that I can load all my photo gear in my car, and that I’m usually close enough to it to put any of the gear that I have to use when circumstances warrant it. The bad thing is that other than my long lens set-ups and my macro lens, I seldom need any of the rest of it. There are times, like when I had the tripod and gimbal head set-up to photograph the swans from a recent post, I’ll play around with my wide-angle lenses, the 70-200 mm lens, or some of the other accessories that I have. The landscapes that I shoot aren’t worth posting, I know that when I shoot them, but it keeps me in practice. The 70-200 mm lens does an excellent job on gulls in flight, but it isn’t as if I need to post yet another gull in flight image unless it were to be exceptional in some way. But, I stay in practice that way, and it reminds me that the 70-200 mm lens is one of my best, and that I should use it more often.

Even though I know that no one is ever going to see most of the photos that I shoot, I still love doing it, and I learn something every time that I go out shooting them. Even around home now, even though I shoot fewer photos all the time, I’m still learning. The things that I learn may not be directly related to photography, it may be something about the behavior of birds and other critters that may eventually lead to better images in the future. I’ve said it before, but becoming good at nature photography demands that you immerse yourself in nature, and that’s what I love about it.

Tree swallow in flight

 

Tree swallow in flight

 

Now, I have the time to do that while I’m out shooting photos, because I don’t have to spend as much time thinking about the photography aspect, that’s becoming ingrained in me. I know what to do when automatically most of the time. I now have equipment that’s good enough to allow me to do that as well. When I started my blog, I was using a Canon Powershot camera for most of the photos that I posted, even though I had a Nikon camera and lens at the time. I spent two years fighting that Nikon and the very low quality lens that I had purchased with it. The camera itself was full of bugs, nothing worked quite like it was supposed to. If I’d have known then what I know now, I would have returned it and demanded my money back, but I thought that it was me. The lens that I purchased to use on it acquired the reputation of being one of the worst that Nikon had ever produced.

When the Nikon died, I made the switch to Canon, with the 60D body. It took me a year to get past all the bad habits that I had acquired while using the Nikon, but then, my images began to improve. I was using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) back then, and while the quality of the glass in it can’t match what I have now, it did have one thing going for it, the best auto-focusing that I’ve used to this day as far as small birds in the brush. The Beast can still hunt down birds trying to hide better than any of my other lenses, but at the price of reduced image quality, especially in lower light. Also, the weight of the Beast was something that was a drawback to using it, that’s how it became known as the Beast in the first place. Even the much better Canon 100-400 mm lens weighs considerably less, and it’s no light-weight by any means.

But, the 100-400 mm lens I have now hadn’t been built at the time, so I tried to make do with the 300 mm lens and 1.4 X tele-converter. While the results were better than I could get with the Beast most of the time, it was still far from the ideal set-up to use for birds. The auto-focus was too slow and imprecise. I’d often go back to the Beast when chasing warblers or other small birds of the deep woods. However, the 300 mm lens has produced some of my best close-ups, and there are times when I wish that I had it with me when shooting near macro photos.

I’d better pause for another photo or two here.

Juvenile tree swallow in flight

 

Muscovy duck

 

Muscovy duck

Next up was the 7D Mk II, a truly remarkable camera in my opinion, it was the answer to almost everything that I wanted in a camera. I had never used a camera as sophisticated as it is before, and it’s taken me a while to learn most of what the camera can do. I say most of what it can do, because I’m sure that I still haven’t gotten the best that it can do yet. Still, as I’ve said before, being a crop sensor camera, it struggles more in low-light in the form of sensor noise. That’s also true when I raise the shadow detail in an image, like when I’ve shot photos of birds in flight when the birds are above me. The underside of the birds’ wings are often black, or at least very dark, as the images come out of the camera, I have to raise the shadows in Lightroom to make the image appear as I saw it when I shot it. That introduces more sensor noise in the image. I can live with that amount of noise, but there are times when there’s too much noise in the image overall when I’ve shot the image in lower light.

Bank swallow

 

Bank swallow

Since I shoot nature photos, many of my best opportunities are around sunrise and sunset, when the light is low, as that’s when critters are most active. That’s the only reason that I’m even considering a full frame camera. Well, that and the fact that the 7D is a 1.6 X crop factor body, meaning I’d have to purchase a very expensive lens to get a wide enough field of view for many landscape images if I were to use the 7D for those. For example, the EF S 15-85 mm lens that I have is a 24-136 mm equivalent on the 7D, and there are times when 24 mm isn’t wide enough for landscapes. I suppose that I could make more use of the panorama capabilities in Lightroom to overcome that, but that’s another story for another time.

One more thing, being a 1.6 X crop sensor means that the image from the sensor has to be expanded that same amount to reach the size of the image produced by a full frame sensor. That causes a reduction in the final image quality as a result. Since a full frame sensor produces a larger image to begin with, it doesn’t have to be blown-up as much to be viewed as we view them. Think back to the days of negatives and slides, you’d have to use a magnifying glass to see what was in an image as it came out of the camera. That’s how small the image produced by a full frame camera is, the 7D produces an even smaller image to begin with.

I think that we forget about the good old days of film, getting the quality of large prints that I can get with the 7D would be like attempting to print that same size from images shot with one of the old Kodak Instamatic cameras. It wouldn’t be possible, the small size of the recorded image wouldn’t produce an acceptable print as large as I can make now.

It’s an absolute joy for me to be out shooting photos with the equipment that I have now, and that’s only going to get better. For one thing, as I said before, my images have a more three-dimensional look to them. Part of that is learning to use the light and shadow on a subject better, but a big part is better lenses.

Woodchuck

 

Chipping sparrow

 

Female eastern bluebird

 

Spotted sandpiper in flight

 

Barn swallow

 

When I first began using the 100-400 mm lens, I wrote that I thought that it produced more depth of field at the same aperture as my other lenses. So, I’ve been shooting at wider apertures with both that lens and the 400 mm prime lens. I’ve changed my thinking, it isn’t that those lenses produce a wider depth of field, it’s that both of them are tack sharp even with the aperture wide open.

By opening up the aperture and getting less depth of field, my subjects stand out from the background better, which helps to produce the 3D effect that I’m getting now. To get my subjects as sharp with my other lenses, I’d have to stop down more to overcome the inherent softness of the lens at maximum aperture. That brought more of the background into focus to some degree at least, which meant that the subjects in my images tended to fade into the background. I always wondered how the professionals got away with shooting at the apertures that they said that they did, now I know, it’s because they use quality lenses. To get a good sharp image with the Beast, I’d have to shoot at f/8 to f/11 if there was enough light. I now have no qualms about shooting at f/5.6 with either of my newer lenses, unless I’m very close to my subject, as in less than 10 feet. Then, I do need to stop down a little to get the entire bird in sharp focus.

Female orchard oriole

 

Juvenile killdeer

 

Cedar waxwing

 

Cedar waxwing

 

Juvenile eastern kingbirds

Being the stubborn, pig-headed fool that I am, I have to know the why of something that I’m told to do before I’ll do it. In fact, even though I had been told why, I had to see it for myself before I believed it. Of course that couldn’t happen until I had lenses good enough to see it for myself. But, that applies to many of the things that professionals say to do,  I have to see it for myself before I take their word on it.

I had intended to go into the differences between how the professional photographers do things when compared to how those of us who are hobbyists do things, and why the camera settings that the pros use aren’t always the best for the hobbyists. But, I’ve already babbled on too long as it is. Maybe I should lay a little more of the foundation for what will be in that post.

I’ll start with the exposure meter in the cameras, they are programmed very well these days, but they can still be fooled. Say that you’re shooting a white bird or flower that almost fills the frame. The meter in the camera doesn’t “see” color so much, it thinks that the white that it does see is too bright, and if you allow the camera to set everything, the result will be an under-exposed image most of the time. The camera is attempting to render the white of your subject as 18% grey, as that’s what the system is programmed to do. You have to over-ride the system to allow more light in if you want the white of your subject to be white in the image that you shoot.

Mute swan

Just the opposite is true if you’re shooting a very dark or black subject, the camera is going to try to render the black as 18% grey. The result will be an over-exposed image, even though from my experience, no camera raises the exposure to the point where black becomes 18% grey, I don’t think that they can. But, they do try, and you’ll need to adjust for that.

Sandhill cranes landing

 

Eastern Phoebe

 

Cottontail rabbit

 

Yarrow

I’ve done a dumb thing. I went to the local camera store and tested the 6D Mk I against my 7D Mk II in order to see how much of an improvement in low-light situations I’d see, and whether going to a full frame camera was going to be worth it. Was I ever surprised, I thought that there may be some difference, but you’ll see just how much of a difference there is. All of the following images were shot with my 100-400 mm lens and the ISO set to 12800 for both cameras. The lens was wide open, f/5.6 and the shutter speed at 1/200 with both cameras. I applied the exact Lightroom adjustments to the images from each camera. I added 25% each to the clarity and vibrance, turned the lens profile correction on, and removed any chromatic aberrations. The only thing that varied was if I cropped an image, and that’s noted in the caption for the image.

Canon 6D Mk I at 400 mm, no crop

WOW!

Canon 7D Mk II, at 400 mm, no crop

It’s hard to see the noise as noise in the photo above, but you can see that even the colors are off compared to the 6D. The reason that the subject looks closer in the image from the 7D is due to the crop factor of the sensor, the 400 mm lens is effectively a 640 mm lens on the 7D. Okay, so I’ll crop one of the images from the 6D to get as close.

6D Mk I, 400 mm and cropped slightly to match the 7D

WOW! again! There’s very little noise in the image from the 6D, and the image quality is much better overall.

The 6D won’t auto-focus with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the 100-400 mm lens, but the 7D will.

7D Mk II, 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender, not cropped

So, I took another of the images from the 6D shot at 400 mm and cropped it to match as closely as I could.

6D Mk I, 400 mm, and cropped close to 100%

I’m looking at the printing on the package that I shot, and it’s about as sharp in both images, even though the image from the 6D was cropped close to 100%. I later went back to the images shot with the 7D and corrected the color cast by using the white balance adjustment. I also tried to reduce the noise in those images as well, but I was never able to get rid of the noise to the point where the images from the 7D were as free from noise as the images from the 6D were straight out of the camera. Reducing the noise also reduced the sharpness of the images shot with the 7D as well. I was also able to remove most of what little noise was present in the images shot with the 6D.

I’m convinced, I could make good use of a full frame camera for what I photograph now, and what I’d like to photograph in the future. If the original 6D can outperform my 7D by that much in lower light, the new version should be even better. But, I’ll probably do the same test again when the new version hits the stores to be sure. I also want to verify other features that the new 6D is said to have also.

The good thing is that I don’t have to rush into anything, for most of my images, the 7D is still the better camera. That way, I can wait until Canon begins to offer rebates on the new 6D Mk II, so that it won’t cost me as much. That also gives Canon time to work out any of the bugs in the camera. I’ve learned that some of the first copies of both the 7D Mk II and the 24-105 mm lens that I’d like to purchase had issues that required that customers return the item to Canon to be repaired. I believe that Canon has replaced some of the first 24-105 mm lenses that they shipped, and issued a recall for auto-focusing issues. I don’t need another buggy camera, or a buggy lens that doesn’t perform well, so I’ll wait.

A few other random thoughts about the 6D. One, it weighs next to nothing compared to the 7D Mk II that I use. As I told a reader recently, shooting with the 7D Mk II is like driving a tank that handles like a sports car. The lower weight of the 6D tells me that its construction isn’t as robust as the 7D, but I don’t abuse my equipment the way some photographers do.

One of the reasons that my 7D weighs so much is that I have a battery grip with two batteries in it. Picking up the 6D, I found that even though it’s a full frame camera, the body is smaller than the 7D, even without the battery grip. With my big hands, it took me a few seconds to figure out how to hold the smaller body well enough to shoot at the slow shutter speeds in the test. The way that I’ve come to rely on getting a firm hold on the 7D with the battery grip reinforced how much the battery grip aids me in holding the camera still while shooting, even when used in the landscape orientation. I will definitely be adding a battery grip to the 6D Mk II or any other full frame camera that I purchase in the future, I feel that it does make that much of a difference in how steady I can hold the camera, especially with the long lenses that I use.

I could go on, but I think that I’ll add one more photo, then stick a fork in this post.

Grass seeds in the sun

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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18 responses

  1. You won me over with the juvenile kildeer. What a charmer she is! Then, to follow it up with cedar waxwings….they always look to me like they are molded of plastic – so sleek and gleaming.

    The 3D effect you get by opening the aperture is very pleasing, and most appropriate for your subject manner. I always find the muddled background colors a mystery, and wonder what background actually produced that color. Funny that your own eye can’t muddle the color like that and decipher what it actually is.

    Another good post. Keep it up.

    July 10, 2017 at 8:56 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! I seldom photograph younger birds like the killdeer, as mom was nearby throwing a fit. But, the young one ran past me to get closer to mom, so I took a few shots as it did. The cedar waxwings are one of my favorite species of birds for the reasons that you mentioned. The only reason that you don’t see more of them here is because I’m also going for a variety of birds photographed well.

      Maybe you could have a talk with the birds and get them to always perch were I can take advantage of opening up the aperture, too many of them still perch where I still get too much of the background in partial focus. Our eyes are amazing organs, with a much greater depth of field than any camera, and they also focus so quickly that we don’t even realize it, which is why everything seems to be in focus all the time to us.

      July 10, 2017 at 9:29 am

  2. Thanks for posting the Muscovy ducks! They look like they are possibly hybrids, unless they come in color variants. The ones I am familiar with are mostly black, but that red, wrinkled face is unmistakable.

    All beautiful photos, but I am partial to those cedar waxwings. 🙂 We have them here in Oregon, but I rarely see one here in my immediate area. I used to see a lot of them back east.

    July 10, 2017 at 11:59 am

    • Thank you very much Lavinia. I thought that muscovy ducks were black, but the expert birders say that one in my post was a domestic hybrid muscovy duck.

      I’m glad that you liked the cedar waxwings, they’re one of my favorite species to photograph. It’s too bad that you don’t see them more often.

      July 10, 2017 at 9:01 pm

  3. Love all the bird photos especially the cedar waxwing which I saw recently for the first time on holiday and I hadn’t looked up its name yet! The individual flower photos are wonderful too. Your photos reflect your enthusiasm and enjoyment for nature…look forward to your next post already!

    July 10, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I’m glad that you had the chance to see cedar waxwings in person, they look smooth and sleek compared to other birds.I should be shooting more flowers since I love them so much, but there’s only so much time available for my photography.

      July 10, 2017 at 9:07 pm

  4. Now you’ve made my head hurt….but looking at the pictures eased the pain a lot.

    July 10, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! Sorry that I made your head hurt, my next post may have the same effect, so you’ve been warned. However, it also has plenty of good images, some that I’m sure that you’ll comment on.

      July 10, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      • I look forward to it.

        July 11, 2017 at 6:44 pm

  5. Wonderful pictures, you get better and better each post, most enjoyable.

    July 11, 2017 at 2:35 am

    • Thank you very much Susan!

      July 11, 2017 at 7:28 am

  6. I wish I could afford some really good camera equipment. You’re getting some great shots with what you have.
    I don’t know how you got that woodchuck to lie so still long enough to click the shutter. I see their back end and that’s about all.
    I think my favorites have to be the cedar waxwings. They’re beautiful birds that I hope to see here soon.

    July 11, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I’ve more or less devoted myself and my paychecks to photography, or I wouldn’t have the stuff that I have.

      The woodchuck was probably winded and needed a breather after running across a hayfield to get to its den. I see a lot of them standing on their hind legs on the lookout, but I’m never able to get close to them.

      You should be seeing waxwings soon, their young can fly quite well now. I’m seeing them in their flycatching stage lately, perching in trees then flying out over water to catch insects. All too soon, they’ll be devouring fall berries.

      July 11, 2017 at 10:45 pm

  7. Fantastic photos, Jerry!

    July 11, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      July 11, 2017 at 10:15 pm

  8. Wow and wow, Jerry! I love all these shots but that cute kildeer and all the swallow shots are my favourites. The swan is a beautiful photo and I am so grateful for your explanation about shooting white and black objects.

    July 14, 2017 at 9:31 am

    • Thank you very much Clare! It may seem backwards, you’d think that for a white subject that you’d have to reduce the light coming into the camera, but you have to increase it because the camera’s light meter is fooled by bright white. It’s just the opposite with black, the camera will try to over-expose it if it can.

      July 14, 2017 at 8:34 pm

      • Thank-you! I really must try to remember that 🙂

        July 15, 2017 at 3:38 pm