CAMERAS and LENSES

This describes the status quo in spring 2017

Photographing birds and mammals

I have two Canon camera bodies - a 6D and a 7D Mkll. For birds I mostly use the 7D Mkll because it has faster AF with big lenses and the Mkll is less noisy than its predecessor.   The 7D enables the use of Auto ISO and, for bird photography this is my default mode.   I set the Auto ISO range from 100-1600 (I would set the upper limit at 1000, but that is not an option) and the minimum shutter speed at 1/500, I then use the camera in Av mode, trying to keep the aperture at f8 or smaller to give a reasonable depth of field.   This works pretty well in most UK light conditions; in bright 'continental' light I would drop the maximum ISO to 800.

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

I now prefer the 6D for macro photography.   It uses the full frame of the sensor, rather than the cropped frame of the 7D.   Since I use manual focus for insects, the AF advantages of the 7D are irrelevant.   This enables ISO settings of up to 2000 or even more without appreciable noise, 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.

All my macro work uses a Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM Macro lens.   Initially I used this mounted on the 7D.   Switching to the 6D required the lens to be too close to the butterfly for (its) comfort.   I needed a longer focal length.   I experimented with the 300mm (see above), mounting it on a 25mm extension tube.   This produced excellent results, but is heavy and cumbersome.   I then discovered that I could mount the Sigma 150mm macro lens with the 1.4 extender, separating the two with the 25mm extension tube - see below.   The extension tube is necessary because the component lenses of the extender bulge out too far to allow direct connection to the Sigma lens.   However, the extension tube allows really close focussing, if desired.   This combination gives me very sharp images and good depths of field - demonstrably better than the 7D Mkll with the Sigma lens alone.

For moths removed from my MV trap, in a passive state, I use the Sigma 150mm Macro lens mounted directly on the camera body.   Since the procedure for moths uses a tripod (see Photographing Moths page) and tolerates long exposures of static subjects, I can use a low ISO setting, with insignificant noise on the 7D.   This is useful, because the Sigma 150mm with the 6D body requires the lens to be so close to the subject as to interfere with natural light.

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?