Big Update

November 29, 2010

I have just uploaded seven new species and more than 60 new images. Check out the News section of my website to see them 🙂

Here are a few of them 🙂

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After my recent rather mixed experiences and resulting bad comments about using flash, I ran into a situation, where I simply had to use fill flash to get away with good images. It still bugs me that I cannot get every image flashed, but I just have to live with it. Last weekend I found a group of nicely cooperating Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, but they were in a forest with mixed light conditions. I chose an overcast day to go for them, because by doing so I could avoid to get nasty shadows on the birds, which would be there if the sun had shined through the trees. Even without sunshine it was very tough. Shooting all white birds against a rather dark green background presented itself as a great challenge. In order not to blow the whites I had to underexpose the images more than I usually like to. This made the backgrounds even darker than they already were and added further noise. The problem was that without flash even at -1 the white edges of the cockatoos’ feathers were still blown and the background already awfully dark. So shooting that way was not possible or would have resulted in terrible images.

Now to the beauty of fill flash. With the flash I was able to shoot at – 2/3, did not blow the whites and even maintained a background color I could work with in post processing. I set the flash to -1, which is quite strong. Although I was shooting at a distance of 15+m I removed the Better Beamer. With it I could not get the results I wanted. Using flash in such hard conditions always requires some testing to gte the right amount and right exposures.

I made two images for you to see the dramatic differences when using fill flash compared to not using it. Both images were made within one second! The images are unprocessed RAW files, just converted and resized! I thought that’s the best way to show you the differences. From the flashed image you could definitey produce a nice file. The scene, however, is not the best, but was ideal for the comparison 🙂

The first one is without flash. 1D Mark IV, 600mm, F5, ISO 1600, -2/3, 1/320 <—- you see how dark it was!

You can easily notice how dark the image is and that the white areas on the bird’s head and shoulder are already heavily blown out.

And now the image with fill flash. The camera settings are identical, except that I used the 580 EX II @ -1. This gave me a higher shutter of 1/400, however, did not make the image darker. Instead it got better overall exposed.

Isn’t the difference amazing? The flashed image is one you culd work with, whereas the first one has only one future……which is seeing the inside of the bin 😉

Parrots from the weekend

November 21, 2010

On Tuesday I will have the last exam of my semester and afterwards I am planning to drive to Western Australia (Perth) to explore the birdlife over there 🙂 Happy to hear any god suggestions for photography spots in case anyone of you has been there already 🙂

Below a few images I made last weekend

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Crimson Rosellas

This is probably the first image of such a hybrid in the wild. I found it today in a flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos. It was much smaller than the Sulphurs, more like a Galah. It showed interesting feautures of both birds 🙂

But have a look yourself.

Firstly the likely parents

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Long-billed Corella

The Hybrid 🙂

That’s the way it should be 😉

 

Mega Update :)

November 10, 2010

just finished uploading 40+ new species from OZ. You can find the images in the taxonomical list or in the news section of my main website. Hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed it taking them 🙂

 

 



It certainly doesn’t look like that anymore 😉

Owning my Canon EOS 1D Mark IV for almost eleven months now I thought it’s time to write another review of the camera and share some of the settings. If you guys have some other settings, I’d be happy to discuss them with you. These are just my personal impressions about the camera after shooting birds with it for a long time. Lots of the settings below might be wrong or not helpful for other applications.

The camera’s and my start were less than ideal, if not to say a disaster. I got it on December 31st 2009. When I went out the afternoon of January 1st to test it I realized that the camera had a terrible front focus with my 600 L IS lens. It was about 15cm!

Thinking it could be easily calibrated, I sent it and the lens to Canon. When they came back, the problem was still there. After fooling around with the micro adjustment, where a value of +15 seemed more or less right, I decided to send it in again. I did so because Canon told me with such a high value accurate focusing cannot be guaranteed. When I got it back the problem was still the same….so I sent it again….and surprise….not working. After the fourth time, however, they finally did the job…after me telling them to delete all micro adjustment values. Just disabling the MA is not enough! Be aware of that if you ever send you cameras to Canon! You have to manually delete all MA values and then set it to disabled.

By mid February I could finally start to use my Mark IV. However, the trust in the camera was gone. After having good results while shooting Grey Herons on frozen lakes in Berlin, I gained some confidence, but every out of focus or unsharp images left me behind with a bad gut feeling. With any other lens, the camera worked flawlessly, though.

The first real test for the camera arrived in March, when I headed to Florida, to spot a few workshop locations with a friend of mine. In Florida I shot about 30 000 images. Without extenders the combo of 600 IS and Mark IV worked amazingly well and I had the best number of in focus shots ever. Adding the fact that most birds in Florida are rather tame, I was able to shoot without the extenders most of the time and got stunning results. The sharpness, details and noise were simply great and much better than on any other Canon camera I had used before, comparable to the 5D Mark II and better than the 1Ds Mark III. I never got along with the 1Ds mark III’s AF (because of having only 19 selectable points), though, so I can only reflect on shooting with it for a few weeks. I never owned a 5D Mark II either, so the statement above is based on images I saw made by friends. I still believe that the 5D Mark II is unbeaten in image quality, but the Mark IV is close. Anyhow, the Mark IV performed above my expectations on the plain 600mm IS lens. The extenders, however, gave me some headache. Sometimes I got stunningly sharp images, but I also got lots of slightly unsharp images. Most of the images were still useable, but not as good as I was used to. Back then I could not really explain what the problem was. After I came back, I talked to the CPS again and showed them some sample images and I made some focus tests again. I came to the conclusion that the poor results must have been me somehow, because the AF was spot on. The CPS told me that they believe the images were slightly blurred and also told me that the Mark IV requires higher shutter speed with extenders and that 1/800 @ 840mm on a tripod was not necessarily a sufficient shutter speed. I never had any trouble with that speed on my other camera bodies, though. That does not mean that I didn’t get sharp images at low shutter speeds, but the percentage of bad images was much higher than with my other 1 series bodies. I started to push the ISO on following shootings to get faster shutter speeds. Surprisingly to me, the results started to become better and better. Since I started trying to stay above 1/500 when using a teleconverter, the images have been pretty nice. I am not a technician, but I believe this phenomenon has to do with the higher megapixel count of the Mark IV and the higher pixel density, which makes the camera more sensitive to any kind of vibrations. The results with the 2x TC still vary from exceptionally good to bad, but that has always been the case, also with all my other camera bodies. I am very interested to see how the camera will perform with the new III series converters. Concluding to the converter issues I have to add that the Mark IV performs now well with the TCs, after I have adjusted my work-style to its demands. It took me some time, but I am now completely happy with it. When it comes to fast action, both TCs do not perform that great, but this has been the case with my other 1 series bodies as well.

Is the Mark IV the best camera I have used so far for bird photography?

It definitely is!

Since I am in Australia, I have been shooting more than ever before and figured out many ways to get stunning images with the Mark IV. It is more accurate, faster, and better capable of high ISO and incorporates many cool new features. The 10 frames per second are stunning and you can capture many moments you would have missed otherwise. It fills up your cards and buffer very fast, so it s important to use large and fast memory cards. Some might throw in the 7D, but I cannot use a 2x TC on a 7D, which makes it uninteresting for me. I also shot with my Mark IV for hours in pouring rain, which I would be afraid of doing so with a 7D of 5D II.

Below I will show all my custom function settings (C.Fn) and explain certain settings I use.

When it comes to shooting perching birds, I found that the best Ai Servo speed setting is between standard and fast. It depends on the situation and how clean the background is, but in general the results are pretty good when I set it to medium fast or standard. With the 2x TC fast works really nicely as well. However, having only the center AF field makes shooting and composing an image with the 2x TC sometimes tricky. For flight images I set it to standard or medium slow, because the fast settings perform not well for that. For everything except flight shots I have only one AF field activated with no expansion. For some flight shots I activate the surrounding AF fields. (C.Fn III – 8 set to 2, otherwise 0) I choose only one AF field, because I want to control exactly where the camera focuses. When photographing I switch the AF field all the time. I always chose the field, which is directly on the bird’s eye. That requires a lot of scrolling on the wheels, but to me this is the only way to guarantee to get sharp eyes on a bird.

Below I will list all custom functions I have changed. Ones not listed are set to factory default.

C.Fn I – nothing changed at all

C. Fn II – 2 set to 3 (disable noise reduction)

C.Fn II – 4 set to 3 (disabled, nonsense if you shoot RAW and just slows down)

C.Fn III -2 set to medium fast

C. Fn III – 6 set to 7 (Spot AF)

C.Fn III – 16 set to 1 (best feature EVER, saved me lots of images) I love it! It is so fast and convenient now to switch from vertical to horizontal and back. In the past turning the camera always meant scrolling on the wheels like crazy to get the right AF point. Now I preselect a point and have it instantly activated when the camera is turned.

C.Fn IV – 1 set to 2

C.Fn IV – 2 set to 1 (C.Fn IV – 1 and 2 are set in that way, so I can use the *-button to focus, instead of the shutter button)

C.Fn IV – 1 set to 1 (switches the wheels in manual mode)

That’s already it. After talking to many guys, including the CPS, these are the settings I have used for a few months now. In the beginning I played around much more, but then came back to these settings and the results proof me right I think. I would be still very interested to hear if you use different settings and why.

I highly recommend using very fast memory cards in your Mark IV. It can take the full advantage of them and only with the 90mb/s cards you can maximize your shots in a burst. I use 90Mb/s Sandisk Extreme Pro cards and can get about 40-50 RAWs in a row. One RAW is about 20MB. At the moment I use the 32GB version of the cards, which can save about 1400 images.

I think on my latest work you can clearly see that the Mark IV is a superior camera and that I love it. Maybe the bad performance in the beginning had to do with my lack of confidence, since we had such a bad start. If you are looking for a pro level workhorse with amazingly fast frames per second and high ISO capabilities the Mark IV is your camera. Otherwise a 7D might be a really good choice. I have to admit, though, that on some occasion guys with a 7D got better birds in flight images than I did. Their 7Ds simply tracked birds better under some circumstances, like mangroves backgrounds. Nevertheless the Mark IV is “the” camera for me.

I add a few 100% crops to see the high ISO…pretty good I’d say. Using 1600 is a no brainer and even 3200 works nicely, when you do some noise reduction. What bugs me a bit is the Mark IV’s tendency to produce a magenta cast on many images, especially when using high ISO in overcast situations. very visible in the 3200 ISO shot.

400

800

1000

1250

1600

3200

Hope you enjoy reading it and I’d love to hear some of your thoughts 🙂

New best friends…

November 3, 2010

They are called leeches and just love me! 😉 I had hundreds of them on me and they were literally everywhere in the forest. At least it hurts when they bit, otherwise it would have been only half the fun …..NASTY…..  Yesterday it rained very heavily, so I decided to walk through the rainforest instead of taking pictures of cockatoos. After a while I found two nice spots and tried to get some decent landscape images in the pooring rain. 🙂

1D Mark IV + 4/70-200 L IS

This blog cannot have a posting without a bird, so here’s an alternatively framed Sulphur-crested Cockatoo 🙂