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

Help, I’ve fallen in love!

Warning, there’s a lot of technical details about photography in this post, those of you who are bored with my prattling on about those details may skip reading what I’ve typed, and only look at the photos.

Barn swallow chattering away

I’m sure that by now, most of you have seen the image of the bald eagle and fox fighting over a rabbit that the fox had killed and was carrying when the eagle decided to steal the rabbit from the fox, that image is all over the internet right now. If you haven’t seen the image, a bald eagle swooped down on a fox carrying a rabbit to steal the rabbit from the fox, but the fox refused to let go. The eagle was strong enough to carry both the rabbit and fox until the fox decided that discretion was the better part of valor and let go of the rabbit, dropping unharmed to the ground as the eagle made off with the rabbit.

Along with that image, which I can only wish that I had taken, a couple of people commented on the photography aspect of what I wrote in one of my recent posts, and one person, Cornell Apostol, even wrote a post in his own blog as a result of things that I said.

So, I feel the urge to let my mind wander around in my thoughts on photography and photo gear yet again.

Yes, the equipment used by photographers is the means to the end, not the end itself, I understand that. However, it does require good camera gear to capture an image such as the eagle and fox as well as the photographer, Kevin Ebi, was able to shoot when he saw what was happening.

Although, no one who views that image is going to notice at first how sharp it is, or how well exposed it is, that image wouldn’t have the impact that it does if the image hadn’t been good to begin with.

Also, I complained about the noise in my images taken on a recent dark, dreary day, but then I remembered what I would have gotten as far as images if I were still using the Canon 60D body and Sigma 150-500 mm lens. The old combination wouldn’t have gotten the photos of the bay-breasted warbler, they were shot with the 7D Mk II and ISO settings higher than the 60D was capable of to begin with. Add to that the fact that the Sigma is almost a full stop slower than the Canon 100-400 mm lens that I used for the warbler, and I would have been almost two full stops “short” of enough light to get any image at all from the equipment that I used to use. So, while my photos weren’t great, they were far better than nothing, which is what my old camera and lens would have gotten.

While equipment may not be everything, it’s still important to have equipment that will be able to get an image when the opportunity is presented. If I ever have the chance to shoot something as dramatic as the eagle trying to steal the fox’s rabbit, I want to be able to get the shot. If I see a rare bird, I want to be able to document it.

However, there’s more to consider when it comes to camera gear than getting a shot in the first place, or even image quality, cost is one thing, weight is another. I may be in fairly good shape for some one who is 63 years old, but I don’t want to strap a 20 pound backpack on myself and attempt to hike 10 miles a day any longer.

So, when Canon announced the recent sale price and free battery grip for the 5D Mk IV, with or without a lens, with two lenses to choose from. That set me to thinking of which of the two lenses offered would be the best for my use once again. The two “kit” lenses are the 24-105 mm f/4 IS L series, and the 24-70 mm f/4 L series. I thought that I had settled on the 24-105 mm lens, but that decision has always bothered me, as that lens is far from Canon’s sharpest.

That focal range on a full frame camera is a very versatile lens, and would be the only lens that I’d need to carry with me for the occasional landscape or other subjects, other than wildlife, while I was hiking. I thought that I could get by using an extension tube or two behind that lens for macro photography, rather than carrying the 100 mm macro lens that I have.

Still, how soft that lens is bothered me.

I had considered the 24-70 mm lens in the past, but had been swayed by thinking that the 24-105 mm lens would be a better fit for me. After all, many of the professional photographers whose channels I have subscribed to on Youtube and who shoot Canon gear own and use the 24-105 mm lens. Then it dawned on me, most of the videos that those professionals posted were about learning to use Lightroom, and I was never that impressed by the photos that they shot. The one exception to that was Michael Melford, a Nat Geo photographer, who has switched to Nikon gear for better image quality. But, I thought that if the 24-105 mm lens had been good enough for Nat Geo in the past, then it would be good enough for my use. On the other hand, why should I settle for second best? Also, even a two page spread in Nat Geo isn’t the same as when you print out an image to 13 X 19 or 16 X 20 as I do with many of my best images. The small format of a magazine is better suited to the use of a lens that isn’t the sharpest available.

Another factor that has caused me to rethink things yet again are the recent trips that I made where I dedicated myself to shooting only certain subjects, and not trying to photograph everything that I saw that interested me. I learned that I can easily carry all the camera gear that I would need for landscapes, as an example, if I did limit myself to carrying only the gear needed for landscapes.

That takes me back to some of the recent photos that I’ve shot, and seeing how sharp that they were from edge to edge. Here’s an example from the 16-35 mm lens…

Sunrise over a marsh

…and you can see how sharp the lens is by looking at the dead reeds in the lower right hand corner of that image.

Then, there’s this image shot with the 70-200 mm lens…

Double exposure of the full moon and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan

…and you can see how sharp that lens is in the lower left corner of the image by looking at the trees and power poles in the lighted position of that image.

Well, maybe you can’t really see how sharp they are in this small format, but when I view those images on my 27″ iMac, I can see just how sharp those lenses are in the corners, and I’m loving what I see. Here’s two more recent images shot with the 16-35 mm lens…

My ode to the beauty of the green of spring

 

Early summer marsh

I absolutely love the 16-35 mm lens, and I’m having loads of fun learning how to use it! Part of me wants to put that lens on a camera body and take it with me everywhere I go, shooting everything I see that comes close to being a landscape. I know that the last image is nothing special, other than it captured the scene as I saw it, which has been a problem at times with the other lenses I’ve used.

Okay, changing gears a bit, fortunately, there’s an independent  lab that has a website, https://www.dxomark.com which tests camera sensors and lenses. That’s where I learned just how superior the sensor of the 5D Mk IV was to the sensor of the 7D Mk II cameras that I current use are, in real numbers. Most reviews of camera gear are done by talking heads affiliated with one camera company, or are only talking heads, and in most of their reviews, image quality is all but ignored. That’s something that I’ve complained about in the past when I was researching gear to purchase.

Instead of a talking head telling me that I’d see “improved low-light capabilities”, the tests done at https://www.dxomark.com tell me that I’ll see almost 3 full stops of improvement in low-light as far as noise in my images, and two full stops more of dynamic range when I upgrade to a 5D Mk IV. Real numbers based on lab tests, not some one trying to sell me the latest and greatest because they’re getting paid by the company that just released the latest and greatest.

Seeing real numbers is what convinced me to not to purchase the new 6D Mk II, since the dynamic range of that camera is no better than the 7D Mk II, even though I’d see some low-light improvement, and could afford the 6D right now. It makes no sense to make what amounts to a lateral move in my opinion. I’d have to give up auto-focusing capabilities and high frame rates for improved low-light images.

It’s the same with lens testing, real numbers, not some one’s impressions of how good a lens is. When it comes to zoom lenses, https://www.dxomark.com tests the lenses at various focal lengths and aperture settings so that you get a clearer image of how well the lens may perform, the way that you use it on the camera that you use.

When I first began looking at the lens testing done by https://www.dxomark.com, one thing stood out right away. That’s because they also test the lenses on several different camera bodies.

Some of Canon’s high-end lenses do not perform very well on their consumer grade bodies, but are great on their pro grade bodies. Hmmm, that may explain why I was never that impressed with the 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens on the 60D body I was using it on. On the other hand, mounted to the 7D Mk II, I think that the same lens is one of the best that I own. Too bad that the lens in question is so old that https://www.dxomark.com has never tested it, I’d like to see the comparisons between camera bodies with that lens. I think that what I see in other lenses as far as the differences in the bodies playing a part in the performance of the lens applies to what I’ve seen in my own trials and tribulations.

To go with that, some of the Canon EF S lenses built for crop sensor cameras perform better on their consumer grade bodies better than the higher priced L series lenses intended for professional use. I don’t know if that holds true for other companies that make cameras and lenses or not, I have a hunch that it does. Canon seems to tweak their lenses towards the bodies they will most likely be used on, and vice versa.

So, anyway, getting back to the 24-70 mm and 24-105 mm lenses, and for that matter, other alternatives that I looked into, this is what I’ve discovered. For the subjects that I shoot, the 24-70 mm lens is a better choice than most of the alternatives. While other lenses may be sharper with the aperture wide open, the 24-70 mm lens is sharpest stopped down to apertures more suited for landscapes and other subjects that I’ll be using it for. That lens is sharp edge to edge at the aperture settings I’ll most likely be using, and that’s what matters. It’s not how sharp a lens is at the center when the aperture is wide open, unless that’s the type of photography you do, and I don’t.

I’d say that this is the clincher, but it isn’t, the 24-70 mm lens also has a macro function. It isn’t a true 1 to 1 macro lens, but you can get to .7 life-size by using the macro function. So, if I’m on a hike and carrying the 7D with the 100-400 mm lens for birds, wildlife, and larger insects that don’t allow me to approach them very close, I can get by with the 24-70 mm lens on the 5D Mk IV for landscapes and near macro photography. I could also put the lens on the 7D to get a little closer to the subject if needed, due to the crop sensor of the 7D. I can use an extension tube to get to life-size if needed, also.

Okay, the real clincher was playing with the 24-70 mm lens at the local camera store. Yes, image quality is the most important aspect of a lens, but being user-friendly is also important. Plus, I thought that the macro function was somewhat of a gimmick, but in trying it out in the store, I found that it is a viable alternative to the 100 mm macro lens that I already have. I tried the 24-105 mm lens before, and it’s okay, but I fell in love with the 24-70 mm lens as soon as I touched it, or I should say, as soon as I looked through the viewfinder of the camera, and began making adjustments to both the lens and camera.

An added bonus is that the 24-70 mm lens is half a pound lighter than the 24-105 mm lens. That just happens to be one-third of the weight of the 70-200 mm lens. That means when I go out to shoot mainly landscapes, I can easily carry the three lenses that I’ll most likely need, and they won’t break my back carrying them.

More added bonuses, the 24-70 mm lens is $200 cheaper than the 24-105 mm lens, and it has the same hybrid Image Stabilization as the 100 mm macro lens that I have. For landscapes, the IS is no big deal, since I use a tripod most of the time, and turn the IS off. However, when shooting macros handheld, the hybrid IS that Canon developed for macro photography is amazing, and it works when using an extension tube behind the lens.

What this all boils down to is this, there’s no lens on the market that’s extremely sharp, at the center or edge to edge, at all apertures and all focal lengths, if it’s a zoom lens. And as I learned in looking at the camera and lens tested together, what model camera that one has plays a part in how sharp a lens appears to be, when you wouldn’t think that it made a difference. There’s so many things that one has to take into account when trying to decide on camera gear that it can be overwhelming at times.

While using the 24-70 mm lens in the store, it was hard for me not to purchase it right then and there, as my saving towards the 5D Mk IV is well along the way and I can easily afford the lens now. However, that would delay my purchase of the camera even longer, and the lens wouldn’t be that useful to me until I purchase the camera. On the other hand, the 16-35 mm lens on my crop sensor 7D is about the same effective focal length range as the 24-70 mm lens will be on a full frame 5D Mk IV when I purchase it, so in a way, I’ve been playing with a set-up that’s very close to what I’ll end up with down the road. Knowing what the future will look like is fueling my desire to complete my photo kit as quickly as I can.

What would improve the quality of the images that I shoot right now is the camera, not the lens. I really could have used the 5D Mk IV to its full advantage during my recent outing when photographing the warblers on a misty, foggy, dreary day when I had to push the 7D to its limits to get any photo at all because of the lack of light.

And, I’m very much looking forward to using the 16-35 mm lens on the full frame 5D body to see just how wide that lens is compared to what I see when using it on the crop sensor 7D.

Although, as much as I love the 16-35 mm lens, the more I’d like to own its big brother, the 24-70 mm lens, right now, so that I can begin the learning curve with that lens, and to see if it will prove to be as versatile as I think it will be. That includes testing out the near macro function of that lens. If it’s as sharp, can capture fine details as well as the 16-35 mm lens, and produces such true to life colors as the 16-35 mm lens, along with functioning as a macro lens, don’t be surprised if I end up purchasing that lens if Canon offers rebates on it before I purchase the 5D Mk IV body.

One more thing (At least) for me to get off my chest while I’m on the subject of photo gear. When I was using the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, I had to stop it down to f/8 to get good sharp photos from that lens. But then, the birds that I shot tended to blend into the background to a larger degree than what birds do now in my images…

Grey catbird

…because I can shoot with either the Canon 100-400 mm or 400 mm prime lenses wide open for a shallower depth of field than I could when I used the Sigma lens. The shallower depth of field makes the birds pop out at you more, since the birds don’t blend into the background as much…

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Blue jay

…and both of the Canon lenses are sharp enough wide-open that I don’t have to stop them down to get the subject sharp. That also makes for a more three-dimensional look that what I was able to get with the Sigma lens. Because of that, you can read the body language of the blue jay in the image above.

When I want to include some of the vegetation in a scene that contains a bird, I can do so…

Song sparrow, new leaves, and flower buds

..but that’s now my choice when I look through the viewfinder, not something forced on me by a lens that doesn’t perform as well unless it’s stopped down.

Male northern cardinal

Part of me wants to complete my camera kit as soon as possible so that it’s over and done with, and I won’t be thinking about it any longer. There are other considerations as well. I know that it will take me the better part of a day to go through the menu system of the 5D Mk IV after I receive it to set that camera up to what I shoot and how I shoot it. When I tried the 5D out in the store, it hit home to me just how much I have customized the 7D as far as saved settings and having changed the functions of some of the buttons used to change or access camera settings. I’ve had a 7D for a couple of years now, but I’m still tweaking the settings of it as I go along.

I’m still not to where I’d like to be, as often when I’m shooting a perched bird…

Pileated woodpecker

…I’m using a slower shutter speed to keep the ISO down for image quality, but then…

Pileated woodpecker

…the bird takes flight, and I end up with a blurry photo of it because of the slow shutter speed.

I’ve tried using the register recall function that the 7D has in those situations, however the camera won’t switch between aperture and shutter priority when I’ve tried it. I may have to approach the problem from a different angle to make the camera work as I want it.

Also, some people may call me crazy, but as I’ve speculated in the past, I think that cameras and particularly lenses need to be used for a while before they work as well as they end up working. My images continue to get sharper, and the auto-focusing of my lenses continues to improve as well, even though I can’t say why that is for sure. I think that when a lens is assembled, the moving parts for the zoom and focusing mechanisms are tight, and they loosen up over time as the lens is used. That may also explain the longer battery life that I’ve been seeing with my cameras as well.

I first purchased the battery grips for the 7D because I was coming close to draining a battery in a single day of shooting. And, even using two batteries in the grips, I would recharge the batteries after a single day of shooting because they had lost so much of their charge. Now I find that I can go for two, three, possibly four days of shooting without recharging the batteries, and there has to be a reason for it.

I think that it’s because the focusing mechanisms of the lenses have loosened up a bit, and the motor that dives them doesn’t have to work as hard to make them move. It would seem that since battery life gets shorter over the life of a battery that I’d be seeing the opposite, that the batteries would be draining faster now that they are a couple of years old, and have been recharged so many times.

Those reasons, and many others, are what are pushing me towards purchasing the new equipment that I would like to have as soon as possible. On the other hand, I’d really rather not go deep into debt to make those purchases right now.

I’ve already decided that I probably won’t upgrade the 7D body when Canon introduces the Mk III version of it, unless it does something spectacular like reach out and hold a subject in the perfect position in good light and has so much dynamic range that I don’t blow out the highlights as in this image…

Black-capped chickadee bring home the bacon

…when I can usually get the same subject better if I try hard enough.

Black-capped chickadee bring home the bacon

I have images of the back-end of the chickadee as it delivered the food to its young in the cavity of the tree in that image. I was hoping that the young could reach up to greet mom, but not yet from what I could see.

Except for its low-light performance…

Song sparrow at dawn

…and lack of dynamic range, I can’t see how Canon can improve the 7D to the point where I’d want to upgrade when I have a 5D to go with what I have now.

It’s not that my images are perfect, but many of them taken in good light are better than I hoped to achieve just a few short years ago.

American avocet

 

Female eared grebe

If only the male would have moved in front of his mate as he raised his crest…

Eared grebes

…I would have been an extremely happy camper. But, I was happy to get the shots that I did, the same applies to this great crested flycatcher.

Great crested flycatcher with lunch

 

Great crested flycatcher with lunch

OOo, that tickled as it went down!

Great crested flycatcher after lunch

And, if I could train the birds to perch in more photogenic locations…

Cliff swallow

…I’d be even happier with my images.

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

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22 responses

  1. Fabulous!

    June 1, 2018 at 2:50 am

    • Thank you very much Cindy!

      June 1, 2018 at 8:29 pm

  2. I do so appreciate all the trouble you go to to take such first class photographs. I really love what you show us. Today I especially enjoyed the sunrise, the early summer marsh and all those close ups of birds. You have such a good eye.

    June 1, 2018 at 3:55 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! If you liked this batch of photos, I’m sure that you’ll like the next batch just as much.

      June 1, 2018 at 8:29 pm

  3. So beautiful! Great pictures!

    June 1, 2018 at 10:44 am

    • Thank you very much! I’m glad that you enjoyed the photos.

      June 1, 2018 at 8:27 pm

  4. Even without the 5D, your photos, as those samples above, are already superb! Once you have the 5D, without buying any additional lens, the photos you will be creating will be undoubtedly world-class. However, take your time. Don’t go into debt, even for a short time.

    June 1, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    • Thank you very much Hien! I am proud of my most recent images, but I wouldn’t call them world class yet.I know that it’s just a matter of time before I can purchase the 5D, still, it’s hard to resist the sale prices on it right now, made even worse because B&H cut another $200 off the price for regular customers like myself. $800 off and a free battery grip is pretty hard to resist. 😉

      June 1, 2018 at 8:26 pm

  5. I remember some of these but they’re still excellent even the second time around!
    That American avocet is an odd bird that I’ve never even seen photos of.
    I love the colors on the barn swallow and the smile on the flycatcher. The shot of the pileated woodpecker is great too. I’ve tried several time for one of those!
    I think, for me personally, going into debt for more equipment would take the shine off it.

    June 1, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I’ve had photos of an avocet before, but they were shot at a longer distance so the curve of its bill and colors weren’t as pronounced. I’ve been lucky with birds coming close to me lately, which makes it easy to get the photos of the swallows and flycatcher. I really lucked out with the pileated, I was putting my stuff away in my car when I spotted him, and he stuck around long enough for me to put the tele-converter behind the lens and walk across the parking lot to get closer to him.

      Going into debt for the new camera wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t working so hard already paying off the hospital bill from last spring yet.

      June 1, 2018 at 8:22 pm

      • I hope I never have to find out what paying off a hospital bill like that is like, and I hope you won’t again either!

        June 1, 2018 at 8:36 pm

      • I feel exactly the same way, for both of us.

        June 2, 2018 at 10:39 am

  6. The grey catbird photo is my choice for best photo today! I can count its feathers- it is an amazing photo and to my eyes perfect. The American avocet is an unusual bird with that long curved beak and he knows he’s rather special. Love the sunrise and the green of spring photos too. I’m in love with your photos!!

    June 1, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne! I’ve been lucky lately in finding birds willing to pose for close-ups more than usual. It also helps that I now have camera gear that will capture what I see how I see it. If you liked these, then you’ll like the next batch too.

      June 1, 2018 at 8:15 pm

  7. All this research and thinking is having a really good effect on your pictures which are getting better all the time. In a strong field, I liked the song sparrow best.

    June 1, 2018 at 6:51 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I need to pay more attention to how you shoot the flowers in the garden, I do okay with birds, but my flower photos are still weak.

      June 1, 2018 at 8:09 pm

  8. Great captures, Jerry, you do stunning photography work! I am always impressed. 🙂

    June 3, 2018 at 7:23 am

    • Thank you very much Donna! I’m just a guy with a camera that happens to love nature and gets lucky from time to time.

      June 3, 2018 at 2:42 pm

  9. So many fabulous shots, Jerry! I love the details in your photographs – the Avocet’s large eyes, for example.
    It is good you have found a site that gives you a true idea how a lens performs. A problem when buying any kind of technical equipment is not knowing how it compares with similar devices or how it behaves in different conditions. I can imagine the temptation to just buy what you need now is very great!

    June 4, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! Yes, it is nice to have unbiased test results, because the reason that you see the details in my images is a result of using good lenses. The lens forms the image, the camera can only record what the lens forms, so with poor lenses, it doesn’t matter what camera is used.

      June 5, 2018 at 6:39 am

  10. I enjoyed your “ode to the beauty of the green of spring” very much.

    June 5, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      June 6, 2018 at 6:57 am