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Living with a Canon EOS 7D – Part 3 – In the field, Wildlife Photography.

Finally, I was able to take my Canon EOS 7D into the field, I mean by that into the bush, how did it fair though?

Let me be honest up front, so there are no misunderstanding, after 6 months of using the camera I am still learning how to get it right. I may know how to, technically and theoretically, take a photograph but this machine is still partially a mystery to me. A mystery mostly because yours truly is off the “auto mode” and into some serious photography. Besides “auto mode” does not give me what I want, just what I expect and that is not good enough.

A tip for you, when you go into the bush choose you lens carefully, chances are you will not be able to change it as it will make you loose the moment. So, what lens are suitable in the bush for wildlife? You can look at this previous article I wrote, Choosing a lens to suit wildlife photography and Living with a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS L lens in the wild, but it gets more complicated than this. Consider light, are you going out in the day or twilight? In full day light a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 will do fine, in twilight you would be better off with a 70-200mm f/2.8 as the reach would be limited anyways. Fine so the next question is what about flash or high ISO to compensate? Flash, forget about it, it’s unlikely to help because of the distance we are talking about. As for high ISO, in the case of the Canon EOS 7D up to 12800 which I never used, it does help and the noise control of the Canon EOS 7D makes it all worth it. At ISO 6400, you have noise but less then my Canon EOS 400D at ISO 1600, besides there are wonderful tools to reduce grain/noise, check out Adobe Lightroom 3 Beta 2 for example.

So what have I learned about taking photos of wildlife with the Canon EOS 7D ?

  1. Set it to aperture priority, AV Mode. Then again I only shoot in this mode, it gives you control over the depth of field.
  2. Set the ISO to Auto, surprise surprise, yes and leave it that way, it will avoid profane language when you set it to 6400 and forget that you did, I found that the camera it very good at choosing the right ISO setting.
  3. Set the focus to AF Point Expansion, it will give you a little more control over the focus point then Single Point AF, just in case the subject moves.
  4. Set it to spot or centre weighted average metering, I find it gives me a better result overall
  5. Set to AI focus, again for flexibility (double tap the trigger and it acts as AI Servo) although AI Servo would work too but it may start hunting.
  6. Set it to High or Low Speed Continuous, though for fast moving subjects High Speed Continuous shooting is advisable.
  7. Have a high capacity CF card 8GB and above, trust me.

Oddly enough, I never shoot wildlife in RAW, simply because in RAW I can only shoot 6 frames (less then a second) in High Speed Continuous shooting  before the camera slows down, in JPG this rises to a cool 70 (10 seconds).

Please note that none of the photos below have been modified except for the resizing required for the web.

Here is a sequence of Impala chasing Impala shot with the Canon EOS 7D in relative low light (twilight) with the settings above, set at f/4.5 using the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS L lens, the camera chose ISO 1600.

Impala sequence
Impala sequence
Impala sequence
Impala sequence
Impala sequence
Impala sequence
Impala sequence
Impala sequence
Impala sequence
Impala sequence

This photo of Rhinoceroses was shot after sundown with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM at f/2.8 at 1/4 sec and ISO 6400, it was on a tripod. You will notice noise but remember it was dark to the point where I could only see shadows.

IMG_3016

In daylight the Canon EOS 7D paired with the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS L lens give this result.

IMG_2299

in brief, The Camera is very good and well suited for wildlife photography, if paired with the right lens.

Does the camera really makes a difference in the real world? Part 1 – Intro

I am going to talk about a scary subject in a few forthcoming posts, one that frightens me terribly…

Imagine for a moment, maybe in horror because that’s what is happening to me right now, that you taking this prise winning photograph and your beloved Canon EOS 5D, yes Charl I was thinking of you, or Canon EOS 7D’s shutter locks up or something happens that renders your professional camera completely useless. It gives me the shivers, just thinking about it. There is nothing in the world that you can do about it. What now?

But wait, there is a Canon EOS 1000D in your bag! Your partner uses it from time to time to help out at a wedding or other event where you need to be at 2 places at the same time. You are saved!!! But are you, really?

I am not really exactly talking from experience here, but I have had my share of catastrophes that came uncomfortably close to this scenario. The worst was our trip to the Kalahari where my prized Canon EOS 300D and Sigma 170-500 were destroyed just before entering the park for 5 days. I had no backup cameras, I could not afford one at the time. To tell the truth going to any game reserve without a camera would be the equivalent of being blind for me. I was lucky enough to have found a Canon EOS 400D in Upington and I still had a kit 55-200 lens with me which I promptly used for the rest of the trip.

Today, I feel a bit like the Mythbusters, I am going to simulate that very improbable catastrophe using 2 very different cameras both 1.6 cropped. One is considered as the ultimate Canon entry level, Canon EOS 1000D, the other camera is the one that may have change the way Nikon fans, whether they admit it or not, look at Canon cameras, the Canon EOS 7D. Do not mistaken this for a comparative review, it’s not. It’s about living with an uncontrollable event and how to handle it and make the best of it.

Firstly, these are 2 completely different cameras with 2 completely different characters, never mind specifications, check Digital Photography Review for the reviews of each. The Canon EOS 7D is a pro level SLR, the rig is with a battery grip and 2 batteries in it and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 USM L weighs a massive 2.5KG, than again you can feel the the magnesium alloy body quality as you grip the camera, it feels and holds right… On the other hand the Canon EOS 1000D is an entry level that with one battery and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 USM L weighs a respectable 1.6KG but because it it smaller physical size it is going to be harder to handle.

Next, the real life test, for that I will use the same lenses and flashes with both cameras, either the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 USM L or the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 USM L and do the same photos with the same settings with both and see how hard it can get without having to spend more money.

Till next time when I take the challenges of a studio photography environment.

By the way, should you have a couple of challenges for me please feel free to add them to the comments and I’ll try to do some, given time.

Editor’s note (2010-03-10): The Canon EOS 1000D was returned to the workshop due to an error 99, so this may be longer to test then expected.
Further note (2010-08-28): The Canon EOS 1000D keeps jaming at the worst moment, the 7D no so much (it had a lens communication error today, it was the 1st glitch, fixed it in 10 seconds)

Living with the Canon EOS 7D

Canon EOS 7D

Firstly, this is NOT a review, if you are looking for a review please go to dpreview.com they dissect the camera to the nth level and then put it back together or Digital Photography School. By the way, DPReview’s rating is “Highly Recommended” with an average of 9.16/10 as compared to Nikon’s D300s (which I have a lot of respect for) with an average of 9.16/10, how odd is that? Anyways, this is about living with it and I have the camera for nearly a month.

First thing you have to understand about the Canon EOS 7D, it is a professional graded “still” camera!!! I will come to the video in a latter post, 1 thing at a time. So what do I mean by that? Well, coming from the very good and light Canon EOS 400D, its like coming off a bicycle with training wheels and driving a racing bike, I know I said this before and I will probably say it again.

First thing you will notice when you pick up the Canon EOS 7D is it’s weight at 918g with the battery in is not light add a battery grip with 2 batteries, a CF card grip and  a 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens and here comes 2,378 kg, not light at all I can tell you.

Second thing you will notice is it’s size, it is massively larger than the Canon EOS 400D, but what a grip, with 2,5kg in your hand you better have a good grip and you do.

Thirdly you will feel the magnesium alloy quality of this professional camera, it fells so good.

And then you switch it on and at first glance life just became more complicated, the buttons and the menu (until you figure out the Quick and Custom menus) looks devastatingly confusing. I read the manual cover to cover 3 times so far, about to do it again but not cover to cover this time. I can now drive the racing bike around a track but I am still far for being able to race…

There are little things I have noticed using the camera, if RAW is used at high ISO you might be disappointed with the amount of noise, oddly enough I did not find this problem with the use of JPGs, most probably due to the high amount of post processing. Taking movement of anything whilst is high burst mode (up to 8 frames a second)  is wonderful but watch how quick you fill your memory card. Lastly, it is deadly silent in comparison to other DLR’s I have used or tested.

So would I recommend it as an upgrade from a 400D/450D/500D? Not unless you are going into photography seriously, the price does not warrant it. If you are doing casual photography and want the ability to do the odd video clip, I would advise either the Canon 500D or the cheaper but versatile Canon PowerShot SX20 IS (I will do a “living with the Canon PowerShot SX20 IS a little later). If you, like me, are either in action, sport or wildlife photography the Canon EOS 50D will do fine if you do no care about video. But if you are serious and have the finance for it the Canon EOS 7D paired with a versatile L lens, I recommend the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM to start with bringing you to an equivalent of 39-112mm of this 1,6 cropped sensor,  is the way to go.

I will write more about this in the weeks to come as I will soon have the opportunity to try a Canon EOS 5D Mk1 and maybe others in the field. I am also taking some courses in the next few months of subject maters I had not really thought off previously. But first impressions are that It was a very good investment.

My Camera history – The Digital Age.

After much research and deliberations, I decided to switch brands at that time, Nikon and Canon both had tempting offers and I tried both. Canon came out tops and a few months later I bought a Canon EOS 300D, the digital age downed on me…

I got a good package for the price, a Canon EOS 300D with the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, a Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 USM and the battery grip, to begin with I was satisfied. I bought a Sigma APO 170-500mm F5-6.3 DG lens to compliment and be able to do wildlife as well. I was working within my budget of the time and, retrospectively, the gear did the job very well. It was not yet a hobby though I started to like photography far more that in the film days. The simple fact that the results are immediate and that there is no printing cost associated made it easier for me to experiment and that is when photography became a hobby.

Unfortunately, my Canon EOS 300D with the Sigma attached took a serious fall at Augrabies Falls in the Northern Cape and had to be replaced quickly. I was lucky to find a Canon EOS 400D in Upington at a reasonable price. You got to understand that Upington, whilst being one of my favourite cities in South Africa, is very isolated for the rest of the world. I was lucky to find one before I went into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Peace Park and so armed with a Canon EFS 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and a Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 USM I entered the park, click here for the photographs. I found the 55-200 barely adequate for my needs it just did not have the reach, but I suppose the results were satisfactory.

After that unfortunate incident I had some serious decisions to make, my insurance did not cover the full amount (my mistake I under insured) so I simply got a replacement battery grip, a Canon Speedlite 430EX flash, a Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod with a Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head and a Crumpler bag. That was 2 years ago. I eventually got the nerves to add a lens to my collection, I was looking at the Sigma APO 170-500mm F5-6.3 DG again but I wanted something better, something more solid, I tested the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM lens and found it to be heavy and rather pricy at the time, after all I was barely a hobbyist photographer, what would I do with a near professional lens? It took me a couple of months but the need got the better of me and I bought it along with a Canon Extender EF 2.0XII. The sheer quality of the images I could get with this lens changed my position and I became more than a hobbyist, closer to a junior amateur. That lens opened a whole new world for me and it did not stop at wildlife photography. It took me a further 18 months and a lot of research to chose the right “all purpose” lens, I finally settled on the Canon EF 28-70mm f/2.8 USM L and I am not sorry. As I say, once you have had exposure to Canon L lenses you will never go back. I sold my Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 USM and through away my Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. Today I still have my Canon EOS 400D and with my investments in Canon lenses I am committed to stay with Canon. I have also added a Manfroto 804RC2 Basic Pan Tilt Head for my tripod, a polarising filter and a Lowepro SlingShot 300 AW bag to my gear.

Last year I started my Flickr collection which now includes 1422 photos and growing. This year in March this blog became a photo-centric website committing me to improve and learn more on photography, though I do not intend to become a professional, an amateur status will be good enough.

In part 3 I will discuss how I learned to photograph since I committed myself last year.