CAMERAS and LENSES

This describes the status quo in spring 2018

Photographing birds and mammals

I have had a radical rethink on cameras and have abandoned APS-C bodies to go exclusively for full-frame.   My 7D has gone in part-exchange for a 5D MkIV.   There are plenty of websites defending this action and others that sing the praises of APS-C, so I am not going to argue the point here - Google the issue if you need more information.   From the start of 2018 all images were taken on the 5D MkIV and I have no regrets; it is a fantastic camera and, given the price, so it should be.

The obvious advantage of the 5D MkIV is the sensor, but additionally the operating system enables useful flexibiity.   Because the sensor is so good, shooting at high ISO generates little noise and it can be managed easily with Neat Image (see Processing).   I therefore take most wildlife images at AUTO ISO, setting a minimum shutter speed of 1/500th second.   This gives shake-free shots with the image-stabilised telephotos (see above) and with my 150mm macro (not stabilised) as described below.

I also use 'back button focusing', set up via the customisation menu.   As with AUTO ISO, there are several good web pages that explain how to set up and use these options.   Removing AF from the shutter release may seem daft for wildlife photography and, until I got used to it, I took a few out-of-focus shots.   But it has several advantages.   You can focus on your subject, then quickly recompose, and that becomes second nature.   If you want to use AI SERVO, you just keep the back button pressed whilst shooting.   Thirdly, it gives the option of instant switching between AF and manual focus for insects - see below for more on this.

For birds, the Canon 500mm f4 IS USM lens (usually with the 1.4x extender) is the preferred option.   At the time this seemed horrendously expensive, but now that Canon have upgraded both the specification (a little) and the price (a lot), it was clearly a sound investment.   I also have the EF 300mm f2.8 L IS II USM Lens, which is fabulous for hand held shots of birds closer to the camera and for flight shots. It works brilliantly with a 1.4 extender.   It is almost half the weight of the 500mm f4, so it can be carried when cabin baggage restrictions are strict and severe.   When weight is a real problem I can use the 300mm with the 2x Mkll extender; this combination loses a little sharpness, compared to the lens alone or the 1.4 extender, but it is workable.

Photographing insects

All my macro work uses a Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM Macro lens.   I mostly use manual focusing for butterflies, though I leave the lens set to AF.   With back button focusing (see above) I can set my focus manually and take pictures without AF over-riding my setting (because the shutter release is disconnected from AF).   But if I suddently want to use AF, all I do is press the back button.   Why might I do this?   Two examples... If I want to use a reflector to illuminate the butterfly, because the direction of natural light is not optimal, I can hold the relector in my left hand and operate the camera entirely with my right.   Occasionally I might have to shoot with the camera held above my head, taking multiple shots whilst guessing that the camera is pointed at the subject - butterflies don't always settle in a perfect spot for you.   I can do this one-handed, but only if I use AF.   So, back-button focusing works for me.

As with bird photography, I mostly use AUTO ISO, though if the light is really good I will set the ISO to give me a really fast shutter speed (usually 1/1000) at f13 because the lens is not image stabilised.   With the 5D MkIV I can go up to 2500 ISO if this works better, when AUTO ISO would try to reduce the effective ISO setting to an unnecessarily low value, reducing the shutter speed more than I would like.   Hence the aperture can be kept down with a shutter speed that allows hand-holding, giving shake-free shots with a good depth of field.   I have tried to use tripods for butterflies, but find them too restricting, unless I know that the butterfly is roosting.

For moths removed from my MV trap, in a passive state, I always use a tripod (see Photographing Moths page).   Since this procedure tolerates long exposures of static subjects, I can use a lower ISO setting, though with the 5D the difference is not noticeable.

Civilising Big Bertha or how to make the Canon 500mm f4 lens more portable

The Canon EF 500mm f/4 L IS USM is a fantastic lens, but it is heavy.   It weighs over 4 kilos, and with a camera attached, the package comes to over 5 kg.   There are those who claim that it can be hand-held, but it is not the procedure of choice, so normally a sturdy tripod and a Wimberley head (another couple of kilos) are essential accessories.   Carrying that lot any distance tends to dull the creative flair of most photographers Ė it is tempting to drive everywhere and stay in the car where possible.   But it isnít always possible.

So I had a brainwave, comprising a second-hand golf trolley and a section of internal flue for a wood-burning stove Ė 3mm steel, 25cm diameter and 1 metre in length at purchase, subsequently shortened....see below.

The steel tube was cut slightly longer than the camera plus lens, but the length was dictated by the straps on the golf trolley.   The camera+lens slide in when not in use and nestle snugly inside the flue tube.   The fit is sufficiently close for it not to Ďbang aboutí whilst in motion.

The tube is lined (clumsily, Iíll admit) with tough polythene and the circular piece of wood fixed in the bottom is covered with 1 inch thick foam to cushion the ride.

And if it rains?   I have a shower-cap, which works a treat.   Iím going to fix a piece of plastic pipe to the side of the flue tube to accommodate my tripod, though provided that it is clean, it slides into the tube alongside the camera.

I can walk miles with this set-up, even over fairly rough and/or boggy ground; after all itís designed for golfers and they play rain or shine, uphill and downhill.   And when I get old, they make electric ones, donít they?