Ophrys Photography

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News (Blog) 2008


News archives :

     

December - Garden birds and a good cheap hide.

At the end of November I usually start feeding the birds in the garden in earnest. I am fortunate to live in a house surrounded by farmland and can attract some interesting if not rare winter birds.I also planted a lot of native trees and shrubs and dug out a large pond about fifteen years ago.Every year as the wild garden gets more "mature" (another name for overgrown) it seems to attract something different. This year is the turn of three jays. These birds, being members of the crow family are highly intelligent and require you to use a good hide and usually fly off at the first click of the camera shutter. This year for some reason the jays are far bolder and have enabled me to take some nice portraits. I set the Canon 1Dmk III to "silent" shooting mode - this is not really silent and doesn't work in motordrive modes, but it is a lot quieter than the normal clattering machine gun sound of the 10fps motordrive. As the birds were a little close, I changed to the 1DsmkII camera as the full frame permitted a wider view which was useful when the birds opened their wings.

The method I use for getting images like the ones below is very simple. First locate the feeders in a location that has a good background without any clutter and has the sun behind you for most of the day. Set up a hide (see a cheap recommendation further on in this article). When you are ready to take your pictures, take all the feeders down bar one, and put a nice-looking branch or log close to the feeder. If you get it right, the birds will either use the branch to land on before jumping onto the feeder or may queue up on it waiting for their turn on the feeder. With species such as nuthatches, jays and woodpeckers you can drill some holes in a post or log and poke peanuts inside. You can then angle the post to conceal the holes The birds love picking them out and will give you some great photo-opportunities.

There are lots more images of jays in the gallery here: jays

Another common creature, but new for me in the garden is the grey squirrel. I think squirrels and foxes are terribly maligned creatures. I love them. Call them tree rats if you will, but I think they are great. Their acrobatic skills are amazing, and there is no getting away from it - they are cute. It is a bit of a pain that they chew bird feeders open - but so far, the metal gauze feeders that I use are proving to be squirrel-proof. I spread seeds and peanuts on the ground and they spend many happy hours searching in the grass for them.
It is really a shame that they carry the virus that affects red squirrels - I can appreciate that they will have to be controlled in areas anywhere near reds. The picture below was taken from my hide on a frosty morning when the temperature was -4c. How we suffer for our art eh? My recommendation for clothing in a hide is to use ski clothing if you have it. Ski sallopettes are quilted, and a ski jacket is very warm. Wellies with multiple layers of socks keep your feet warm, a thermal hat that can be pulled down over your ears takes care of your head and I use black Thinsulate gloves that are warm but are still thin enough to be able to operate the camera controls through.

More squirrels here: Grey squirrel

Talking of hides, I usually use a Wildlife Watching Supplies dome hide. This has been very good and has withstood a good few winters out in the garden. It is held together by two elasticated hoops which have to be fed through hems in the hide material. I find this very fiddly and it takes me much longer to erect it than I would like. I therefore rarely take the hide out with me in the field - preferring a bag hide in preference as I like to keep the amount of time that I am outside the hide to a minimum to prevent disturbance on site. A bag hide is literally a bit of camo material with a lens hole that can be draped over yourself and the camera/tripod while you sit in a chair so is really quick to use. The disadvantage over a dome hide is that the bag is very restrictive and it shows every movement you make.

While I was at the Rutland Birdfair this year I noticed another hide that looked interesting. It has an in-built seat and folds away into a neat and pretty light pack. It is incredibly quick to erect, which is just what you want in the field. It has in-built hoops that come over the seat like a child's pram cover.. So far it seems really good. My only nitpick, is there is no netting or scrim at the lens opening. I got around this by attaching a piece of army surplus scrim netting with safety pins, so no big deal.The really good news is the price - just £75 for the one man, and the two-man with two seats is just £90. That's a really good deal I think. If you want to get one of these hides yourself, they are available from Gardenature or Ultimate nature gear. There are links to these websites on my Links page.


November - A rare visitor to Britain

I'm certainly no twitcher, but when an extremely rare bird turned up from America and took up residence on the Royal Military Canal at Hythe in Kent I couldn't resist. On our visit on the 28th of October, the bird, a green heron from the United States, had been there for around 4 days. It seemed quite at home and was busy fishing when we arrived. Although of great interest, it always saddens me to see rare vagrants, as the birds are so far from home, they are very unlikely to find their way back or to find a mate. Still, this one had found some perfect habitat to live in and looked in excellent condition. I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't stay for quite some time.

The green heron has apparently been found in the UK on six known occasions, but this was the first record for Kent. So this is definitely a mega rarity. Rare enough to attract a BBC film crew at the time of our visit.

The weather was glorious for a change, and the only blot on what would have been a wonderful day came when I twisted my ankle rather badly on a concealed hole in the grass beside the towpath.Too busy following the bird when it flew, rather than looking where I was going. I would have got away with it if I had been wearing my walking boots, but I had forgotten to pack them in the car and was wearing trainers with no ankle support - doh !

For more pictures of the bird please click here: Green heron



October - Red deer rut, two great camera and lens comparators and where is cheapest to buy your camera equipment ?

Red deer rut

I always look forward to October as it is a great month to witness the red deer rut. Red deer are the UK's largest land mammal, and the stags are very impressive with their full antlers, and the females are really cute - with their lovely expressions and doe eyes. Perhaps what is more impressive though, is the noise that the stags make - a huge bellowing roar that can be heard for miles. The call is intended to both attract other females into their harem and also to warn other males that they mean business.

Stag silhouette
Stag calling

The stags are totally pre-occupied with maintaining their harems and trying to round up does from rivals so they can become quite approachable (with caution). Fights can break out between well-matched stags, but more often than not a dominant stag establishes himself with most of the females. A good place to see the rut is in the London parks, but as the deer are culled annually in November to keep numbers at a sensible level, there is little point going after the end of October.

Every year I try to get some different shots. Although I haven't given up hope yet, I haven't witnessed any fighting or a mating so far this year. I did however stay until dusk last time, and I found I got some nice light between 4:00 and 5:00 pm.

To see more of this year's deer please click here : Red deer stags

Websites

I have discovered two fantastic websites which enable side-by side comparisons of your selected items of equipment. I found these really useful, and I think you might well do to.

The Digital picture- Fantastically useful lens comparator. Put your chosen lenses side by side and as you mouse over the images you can compare two lenses or a single lens at various apertures and focal lengths.

Imaging Resource - A really useful camera comparator. Set up two cameras side by side and compare their performance on the same test subjects at different ISOs. Alternatively set up the same camera twice and compare it against itself at different ISOs.
Ever wanted to compare a Nikon D700 and a Canon 5D or a Nikon D3 vs a Canon 1DSIII ? Now's your chance. Be sure to follow the instructions and view/scroll around the images at full size.

I have added these sites on my Links page, so you will be able to find them again if you forget where you saw them.

My other recommended website is a price comparator that I frequently use to find the cheapest place in the UK to buy camera equipment. It is Camera pricebuster . Try it, you might save yourself a fortune!

September 2008. New cameras released. Test your colour IQ.

There have been three new digital SLR cameras announced this month prior to Photokina. First to be announced was the Canon EOS 50D. This sounds an extremely interesting camera for bird photographers as it has 15 megapixels on a 1.6x crop sensor. Usually alarm bells would ring at such high pixel density, as it would usually signify large amounts of digital noise in the image, particularly at high ISO. Canon claim to have got around the noise problem in the new camera by eliminating the spaces between the microlenses on the sensor and reducing the voltage which in turn reduces heat and noise. The camera sports Canon's latest Digic 1V processor which enables 6.3 frames per second despite the large file sizes that 15 megapixels produces.
Brutus Ostling (a very highly respected wildlife photographer in Sweden) has been testing the camera over the summer, and this is a video of his findings: Brutus Ostling video. I have read elsewhere in his Blog that he feels that the 50D is Canon's best autofocussing camera. It will apparently not replace the 40D but will complement it in the range.

The next announcement was the Nikon D90. This is the first SLR to have video capabilities.Personally, this seems like a gimmick to me, I would have no use for it, other than perhaps adding some video clips to my website. The D90 is the third new Nikon digital SLR to be released this year. The other two - the D3 and D700 are truly excellent 12 MP full frame cameras with fantastic high-ISO noise capabilities.They both utilise a Sony CMOS sensor.


This week, Sony added the A900 to their lineup, which sports a 24 MP sensor - making it currently the 35mm SLR camera with the highest pixel count on the market. In a brief report, Luminous Landscape felt that it offered similar resolution/image quality to Canon's 1Ds mk III at half the price.
It is again probable that Nikon will produce a top of the range camera sharing the 24MP Sony sensor.

 

It will be intriguing to see how Canon responds to these threats to it's flagship model. Also the full-frame 5D is well overdue for replacement, and everyone expects it's successor to be announced at Photokina. Rumours abound, but it is conceivable that it will be the around the same 21 MP as the 1Dsmk III but with a new full frame sensor and noise performance to match the Nikon D3/700. Doubtless it will share the improvements to the rear screen resolution, dust-reduction system and Liveview of the 50D.
Will Canon be forced to release a 1Ds mk IV as a result (they are rumoured to have been working on a 50MP sensor !) and will the1DMk III be updated/replaced too ? Who knows, but these are exciting times.
Thanks to Nikon and Sony, Canon no longer dominates the digital SLR market, and the competition is now forcing Canon to dig deeper into it's R&D department's sack of goodies - what's more, the competition will keep the price down hopefully too.

Finally, at Photokina, Canon released it's long awaited £2299.99 replacement for the Canon 5D - the 5D mk II. It sports a new 21 MP sensor which is claimed to provide better image quality than the £4500 1DsmkIII ! I bet that pleases recent 1Dmk III owners (not!).

It is claimed to provide better high-iso noise performance than the previous 5D despite the greatly increased pixel count. So far so good. It shares the new Digic 4 processor first seen in the 50D which provides faster image processing - necessary to handle those huge 21Mp files.On the minus side, the autofocus remains largely unchanged from the old 5D and the frame rate is a sluggish 4 frames per second. The camera can shoot reduced sized sRAW images (10 Mp and 5 Mp) to save disc space. It is a pity that the excess processing capacity can not be utilised to improve the frame rate of the camera when sRAW is used.

Like the Nikon D90, it also provides video capabilities. The quality of the video is pretty extraordinary by all accounts, as it is in true "high definition" 1080p. Vincent Laforet has produced a video called "Reverie" using it which demonstrates it's capabilities. Note - you will need to download Apple Quicktime (free) to view the video if you do not already have it. It takes quite a while to load depending on your connection speed, but it is impressive, so do persevere. Despite the obvious quality, the video is apparently still only at 1/4 original resolution. Whether video should be included in a stills digital SLR is a matter of debate. Personally, I feel it is a bit of a gimmick - if you want a video camera buy one, and don't make me pay for something that I have little or no use for !

Canon have clearly had to compete with competition from the likes of Sony and Nikon and have consequently produced what I feel to be a bit of a "marketing manager's camera" rather than an "engineer/photographers" machine. I think that the Nikon D700 is probably currently the nicest camera on the market at the moment as it has the best compromise of price/resolution/image quality/speed/high iso noise ability/AF quality/build quality. The 5DII may offer even better IQ and it has that big 21 Mp count, but it is let down by it's inferior autofocus and that miserable 4 fps.

Roll on the 1Dmk IV - hopefully early next year. Doubtless it will have HD video, the new high-resolution rear LCD,and improved Liveview and dust reduction system. It would be very nice if it had truly the world's best AF system, around 16 Mp, high ISO ability to match the 5D mk II but with a 1.3x sensor and twin Digic 4 processors - to maintain that 10 fps. Now that would be the wildlife camera to die for !!

For a full preview of the 5D mk II see :
Rob Galbraith preview
DP Review preview. Including image samples
Bebb wedding photographer's review - includes an interesting video and ultra high-iso images

There are other new releases announced at Photokina from Leica, Pentax, Panasonic etc - to read more see DP review.

Test your colour vision !

Here is a link to a colour IQ test that I found. All you have to do is drag and drop the colour squares next to each other in colour order. You are provided with the start and finish colours in each sequence. You can then go on to compare your score against other people of your gender and age group.
Colour IQ test

I was very pleased to have it confirmed that I have perfect colour vision (score of zero). That came as quite a relief as I would hate to think that I have been selling prints to customers with a colour cast ! Your score will of course depend on the quality of your monitor and how well it is calibrated.If you feel that your score does not reflect what you would expect, try calibrating it using the on-screen check or better still use Adobe Gamma (part of photoshop) or better still - using a proprietary calibration tool. I use the Colourvision Spyder . The express version can be purchased for around £55.


 

August 2008

Hilary Mayes's paintings

I feel very privileged that artist Hilary Mayes approached me with a request to use several Ophrys Photography images as source material for her fabulous paintings. The first in the series to be completed is this leopard, in Samburu Kenya last year.

Despite Samburu having a reputation for being "easy" for leopards, we had enormous trouble finding one, it actually took us four days. The leopard that we found was not in a tree as I had hoped, but was concealed from the intense mid-day heat underneath the shade of some bushes beside a rock. Hilary spotted the potential of the shot and came up with this beautiful interpretation. I love it, and I hope you do too. It will soon be available as a limited edition print direct from Hilary if you are interested in purchasing one.

To see the original source image click here : Leopard

To visit Hilary's website and see more of her work, please click here: Hilary Mayes

Leopard - Copyright Hilary Mayes



Ophrys Photography slideshows now compatible with Firefox 3  

Firefox is an excellent web browser and is a good alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. It is also far less vulnerable to virus attack than IE. Only trouble is, with the latest version (3) the Porta slideshows on this website became incompatable. I have therefore spent hours applying the patch to the two files within the slideshows that caused the problem - over 350 slideshows were affected and had to be reloaded ! I hope you Firefox users appreciate the effort just for you !!


Full frame camera vs crop cameras.


Last month I purchased a full frame camera - a second hand 16.7 megapixel 1Ds MK II in great condition. I paid £1800 for it on Ebay, which seemed like a bargain considering the new price was £4600 before the 1Ds mk III came out.

I bought it as I both wanted to test out the camera but also wanted to see how good the mage quality was compared to the latest generation crop cameras - the 1Dmk III and 40D that I already own, I produced a tutorial in July on full frame vs crop cameras. As the results where not as I expected, I repeated my tests and these are now available for reading here: Full frame vs crop.

New Adobe Lightroom 2 and Camera RAW 4.5

For those interested, there is a new RAW converter available for Photoshop CS3 and it is also to be found within the new version of Adobe Lightroom 2.
New features of Lightroom 2 include a localized adjustment brush, support for multiple monitors, improvements in handling external hard drives, enhanced sharpening, 64- bit support and new smart collection options.

If you are a CS3 user, you can download the new converter by opening Photoshop CS3 and clicking on >help>updates. You can then download Adobe's new camera profiles (currently in beta). According to Adobe, the Standard camera profiles significantly improve color rendering, especially in reds, yellows, and oranges.
The Camera Matching profiles are intended to match the camera manufacturers' color appearance (Canon and Nikon only currently).
There is also a DNG Profile Editor, a free software utility for editing camera profiles.

Below are a couple of shots of my Photo buddy, Andy amongst a field of poppies. I've always thought the poppies looked a bit orange before, but they do look much better with the Adobe Standard beta setting selected in ACR 4.5.





To get started, open your image in ACR4.5 and then click on the camera calibration tab (camera symbol). You can then click on the down arrow against Name, and select "Adobe Standard beta" or one of the camera profiles. Presumably Adobe will prepare these for all the popular cameras in time.



July 2008 Arty poppies, seabirds and updated orchid slideshows.

Last year I had a go at taking some pictures of poppies in a field with a very wide aperture. I was pleased with my first efforts. To get the very soft look, I used a long 180mm macro lens at wide open aperture, and then made the lens longer still by adding a 1.4x converter to it (252mm equivalent). You can see how this blurred out the background to a beautiful pastel colour.

Arty poppies

Today I thought I would have another go at poppies in a different field, which happened to have oats in it this time. Trouble was, the weather was very windy. It was impossible to get the flowers to even stay in the frame, so I tried a different approach. Rather than fight the conditions, I thought I would have a go at using a very slow shutterspeed to create intentional motion blur and hopefully obtain an interesting effect.

I used the same lens setup as the poppy above, but in order to achieve the intentional motion on a bright day, I had to lower the ISO setting on the camera to ISO50 and used a tiny aperture of f36 in order to achieve a very slow shutterspeed of 1/6 second. The slow shutterspeed allowed the poppies to move around in the image.

These were two of my favourites:

arty poppies in oat field


arty poppies - van geogh style

I think that the effect resembles a watercolour painting. I was very pleased with the result and vowed to try to remember to have a go at motion blur on other subjects in the future.

To see more arty poppies click here.

Farnes and Bass Rock

The Farne islands in Northumberland hold a very impressive number of breeding seabirds. The sight, sound and smell is an unforgettable experience. It is possible to visit two of the islands - Staple and Inner Farne.

The farne islands
The Farnes

Boats go daily from Seahouses. There are several tour companies who go over to the islands, but I again chose to use Billy Shiel. They do an all day bird trip for £25, but there is also a National Trust landing fee of £5.60 payable by non-members on arrival.

Seahouses
Seahouses harbour

Our first visit to Staple had to be abandoned as there was too much of a swell on the sea to land safely. So we had to make do with an afternoon on Inner Farne. A disappointing start after a 6.5 hour drive to get here from Kent. The weather continued to dog us, and we were treated to a heavy shower on both leaving and returning to the harbour. In an open boat - this means getting very wet. Black sacks to cover photo equipment are imperative on these occasions.

Arctic tern on inner farne
Arctic tern on Inner Farne

Inner Farne has a large colony of breeding arctic terns which are famed for dive-bombing visitors that get too close to their nests. I was impressed that my Canon 1Dmk III seemed to be able to ignore the background and lock onto the tern above, despite the close proximity of the busy background. I am coming to the conclusion that the 1Dmk III in it's latest firmware guise is completely cured of it's original autofocussing problems now. If it misses a flight shot, it is usually my fault. It is very difficult to keep a single autofocus point on an approaching bird - so there are still a lot of images to bin with BIF (birds in flight). I have experimented with expanding the AF points using the custom functions to include those points either side of centre with quite good success. BIF are definitely an acquired skill - similar to shooting I suppose, and the more you do, the better you get. The Farnes provide a continual supply of moving targets for you to practice on !

Inner Farne also has other breeding birds that allow a very close approach for photography - shags, guillemots, a few razorbills, kittiwakes, sandwich terns and of course the puffins that everyone loves to see. At this time of year, they often carry sandeels to feed to their young in their burrows. As I have a huge amount of puffin shots already, I concentrated this time on getting some decent flight shots with the 1DIII. It is still not easy - the birds come in a great speed as they have to run the gauntlet of gulls that try to rob them of their hard-earned catch.

Puffin landing
Puffin landing

The next day, we had arranged to drive to the pretty little port of Dunbar to catch a boat to Bass rock with an organised photography group. This is about an hour from Seahouses. The organisers had commissioned a boat, and we were therefore lucky to be the only people on the rock that afternoon.

Dunbar harbour
Leaving Dunbar

On approaching the rock, fish scraps were thrown over the side of the boat (called chumming) and this generated a huge feeding frenzy amongst the gulls and gannets which continually plunged into the water after the food. This was occurring right by the boat, with so many birds, that the problem became - how to take a picture without too many other birds in the way! The technique adopted was to use a wide-angle lens set with a largish aperture and high ISO and just sap away trusting to luck. I did get a few usable pictures this way - like the one of a gull below :

Herring gull from boat
Grey seal
Herring gull - wide angle shot
Grey seal - in Dunbar harbour

We had an unusually calm arrival at the rock, and after a climb up the steep path past the lighthouse, we were greeted by the incredible sight of around 50,000 breeding gannets. The skies were very grey, but this was not a problem for photography as the birds are predominantly white and the highlights are all too easy to blow out sunny/contrasty conditions.

We had five hours on the rock, which was sufficient to get a wide variety of behavioral and close-up shots. The sun did come out for about ten minutes on a couple of occasions, so it was also possible to get some flight shots in brighter conditions. The biggest challenge with so many birds was getting a shot of a single individual or pair without other birds in the background. Even with headshots, there were so many birds in the air that it was impossible to get a background without any others in !

Gannet landing - bass rock
Gannet landing - Bass rock. The 70-200 f2.8 IS zoom lens was perfect for
these flight shots

Bass rock was a very special trip, and one that will go down in my memory of one of my greatest wildlife experiences of all time.

Although the next day back at Seahouses was very windy, we did manage to land on Staple island in the morning as the direction had changed, so that the boat was being blown onto shore instead of away from it.
The sky was blue for the whole day too - so at last we had some good opportunities for puffins in flight. Staple has a great colony of puffins on the rocks right by the top of the steps of the landing stage. It is possible to spend the whole allotted two hours here - as there is a varied choice of background - sea, yellow rocks, sky or grass, and there are plenty of birds coming and going continually. The island also holds many kittiwakes shags and some razorbills - all of which can be approached very closely for photography.

For photography, I would recommend a 100-400 or 70-200 lens plus a wide angle such as a 17-40 on Bass rock. For the Farnes, a 100-400 is the most useful lens. However, this lens autofocuses very slowly, so I got good use out of my 400mm f5.6 for flight shots. I would also recommend a 1.4x converter and also an extension tube to get some really tight crops of the birds heads. I did not take my big 500mm lens to save weight and it would have been overkill most of the time. But I did miss it's extreme image quality and ability to throw the background right out of focus at times.

Click here to see my pictures of the gannets. I shall be adding the puffins, terns and other seabirds as I manage to wade through all the images I have taken.

Orchid slideshows

I have been beavering away updating the old-style slide shows on the website. I am now up to date with the British orchid collection - hoorah ! All species are now in the larger, clearer format.

By sifting through some older scanned slides, it has really brought it home to me how superior the resolution is on the modern digital cameras compared to film. Also the film images are so mucky ! They require hours of work with the healing brush tool to clean up all the bits of detritis on them . Why some people still rate film so highly, I can't imagine. The funny thing is, scanned slides do still print very well - looking much better then than when viewed on the computer at 100%.

To see the new-improved orchid galleries please click here. There is almost a complete collection
of species - I appear to still need the Hebredian marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza ebudensis), the Dune helleborine (Epipactis dunensis) and the Lindisfarne helleborine (Epipactis sancta) - only found on Lindisfarne, Northumberland to have a concise collection of species. There are a lot of subspecies, variants and forms of the species - so it is very difficult to photograph everything, but there are a lot of these present in the image collection here too.


June 2008 - Feeling Hungary

I spent a week in Hungary photographing bird with Bence Máté - the young Hungarian photographer whom has repeatedly won the Eric Hosking award in the British Wildlife Photographer of the Year and has won Wild Bird Photographer competitions. Many thanks to Bence and his girlfriend - who goes under the wonderful name of Ágnes Kiss, for their warm hospitality over my week's stay.

In addition to renovating the farmhouse we stayed in, Bence has built around 16 hides, both on his doorstep an also around Hungary for photographing birds. The hides are very lavish and include the tower hide which overlooks trees where golden oriole, bee-eater and cuckoo can be photographed if you are lucky. Unfortunately I dipped on the oriole and cuckoo, but was able to photograph mating bee-eaters and a kestrel by way of consolation. The hides have large glass windows which have a reflective coating which effectively turns them into one-way mirrors. Shooting through the glass appears to have negligible degradation on image quality providing that you do not try shooting at an angle. What is significant, is the 1.5-2 stops of light that the glass robs you of, necessitating higher ISO settings to compensate.
The tower hide was unbelievably hot when I visited it as the outside temperature was in the mid 30's centigrade and inside it was much hotter. It's amazing that the camera still functioned at these temperatures, (and me too for that matter).

Bence mate tower hide
Bence's house and the tower hide.

Mating bee-eaters
Mating bee-eaters from the tower hide

In the forest around the house are several forest pool hides. These are much cooler than the tower as they are sunk into the ground. They are also fitted with the mirror glass and look out over a concrete pool filled to the brim with water and lined with logs to disguise the edges. They can seat about three people. On a still day, the water acts as a mirror and you can get some wonderful reflections of the birds as they come to drink and bath. There is not much water available in the hot,dry, forest, so the birds are attracted to the drinking pools like a magnet.

While I was in the pool hide below, in addition to the usual birds (like hawfinch!) I was able to photograph a buzzard and to my great delight - a goshawk. I have never seen a goshawk before, so I was ecstatic to be able to get some shots of this stunning new bird at such close range. Talking of range, the hides are all set up around Bence's Nikon D300 (1.5x crop factor) and 300mm f2.8 lens - 450mm equivalent. I took my Canon 1DmkIII (1.3x crop) and 500mm f4 lens. (Overall 650mm equivalent). I found my setup wa a bit to long in focal length for photographing bigger birds and also for action - when birds are spreading their wings and flying around. This proved very frustrating at times - as I often lost good shots by clipping off wingtips etc. Another time, I would still take the 500mm lens, but also a 300-400 mm too. I did have a 100-400mm zoom with me that I used occasionally, but I missed the awesome sharpness that I have come to take as the norm with my 500mm, but more significantly, I missed the wider aperture of the f4 lens - for the extra stop speed advantage (remember the glass robs 2 stops of light) and also the much nicer bokeh (blurred background) of the longer lens.

Bence mate forest hide
Forest drinking hide

Some of the pool hides are set up for front lighting, others for backlight - which can give some dramatic effects. Bence has also invented an ingenious system of mirrors which can be used to add additional lighting and can be adjusted by a system of cables from inside the hide - really clever.

Goshawk drinking
Goshawk at a forest drinking pool.

Pool hide
View from inside a pool hide

On the road leading up to the house is a nest box for rollers. Next to the box is a convenient branch, on which the birds like to land when entering or leaving the nestbox. Bence likes you in the roller hide before 4:30 am to minimise disturbance to the birds (early starts were the norm throughout this trip - no peace for the wicked!).

Roller nest box
Roller nestbox and perch

The first visit I made to the roller hide provided some great portraits of these stunning birds plus a few flight shots. However, it was my second visit that yielded the best results - some nice flight shots were made by pre-focussing (manual focus) on the branch and letting rip with the motordrive. But the highlight of the day was when the male roller presented the female with a cricket as a love token - which obviously did the trick as mating followed. This guy obviously knew how to treat a lady.

Mating rollers
Mating rollers

Although I could happily stayed working the hides around Bence's house, he was keen that I should try for red-footed falcons at another tower hide in Hortobágy. This necessitated staying away for a couple of nights as it was a long drive. The tower hide was Bence's mark II design and was better insulated that the one at his home (thank goodness) however, it was still pretty darn hot.

Red-footed falcon nests
The red-footed falcon nest boxes and perches. The hide is behind the trees

We spent a day and a half in the hide trying to get flight shots of the falcons (very difficult as you have restricted room and visibility) - and they come past like a bullet. Unfortunately the birds did not seem to want to use the perches, which was a bit of a pain.On the last morning before we left, the birds finally performed for us. We had barely got set up when a beautiful sooty-coloured male arrived with a frog which he had caught and posed with it before devouring it. He then swapped over on nest duty with the female, and then she posed on two of the perches in turn for us while preening.

Red footed falcon
Female red-footed falcon preening

All in all, this was a wonderful trip. Many thanks to Bence for providing such fantastic photo opportunities.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Hungary - it is a very nice country. A bit like English countryside at times, but with more sunshine, less people, less cars but lots and lots of wildlife. I recommend it highly for bird watchers and nature photographers alike.

Bence mate
Bence holding a whopping great toad

Links to galleries including images from from the Hungary trip:

Hawfinch
Red-footed falcon
Bee-eater
Hoopoe
Roller
Red-backed shrike
Goshawk
Kestrel
White stork
Swallow
Tree pipit
Buzzard
Nightingale

May 2008

New Tutorial - Eye enhancement in Photoshop

A catchlight in the eye is highly desirable in most images. In this new Photoshop tutorial on eye enhancement I show you how to simply enhance the natural catchlight that is buried deep in the shadows of most images rather than resort to using flashguns or artificially introducing a simple but unnatural white dot in post processing.

Before
After
Before
After


Orchids and butterflies Workshop

May is such a fantastic month for wildlife in Britain and Europe. Everywhere you look there are fresh new leaves, the woodlands ring with the sound of birdsong and the spring flowers have started their new season. Some types of butterfly are also on the wing, and early species such as orange tips, brimstones and the green hairstreak are to be found in suitable habitat. This is a great time for the wildlife photographer to be out in the field.

My favourite place for running orchid photography workshops is at a beautiful piece of ancient woodland just south of Canterbury in Kent. Sadly this event had to be cancelled last year as the knee-high lady orchids which are the main attraction were devastated by some mystery predator. This turned out to be muntjak deer that appear to have a particular liking for lady orchid flowers. This year, the orchids are fairing a little better, but this colony usually has thousands of flowering spikes including a few white (var alba) specimens and this year, there are just a couple of hundred. For the workshop, I desperately needed a more reliable site to take clients and at last I have found one.

Lady orchids
Lady orchids

I can't give the location away as this is sensitive information, but the new site has around 800-1000 flowering spikes this year, flowering right out in the open thanks to the stirling work of the local Wildlife Trust and volunteers. As a bonus, There were also a couple of great butterflies present - the green hairstreak, and a good colony of the rare Duke of Burgundy fritillary butterfly is also currently present. Nearby, at Kent Trust site, the monkey orchids are also just starting to flower, so these will be included on our photo tour. There may be a few places left on the workshop (which I am running jointly with George McCarthy next Wednesday 21st May) so if you are interested in attending, please drop me an e.mail for more information. The cost is £75 per person.

Duke of burgandy fritillary butterfly
Duke of Burgundy Fritillary


For more images of the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary taken at the new workshop location (this year) please click here : DOB fritillary.

New Canon firmware for the 1DmkIII

Canon have released new firmware 1.2.3 for the 1Dmk III. My initial trials indicate that it has improved the AI servo autofocus significantly. Although hard to prove this scientifically, the camera feels different to me when shooting birds in flight (BIF) . Using my favourite BIF lens - the 400mm f5.6, the AF seems to lock on faster and is far less reluctant to jump off the bird to the background. The tracking seems much improved, and the general feel of the camera now is that the AF is fast, stable (less jumpy/jittery) and accurate. I would say that the 1DIII now trounces my previous 1DII (and the 40D). At last it is the camera that it was meant to have been at launch.

If I mount my camera on a tripod (plus use a cable release) and take a picture of a static subject in AI servo mode, and the AF hunts rapidly for focus and then stops. Some people on photo forums complain that their focus continually hunts on a static subject in AI servo. I would suggest that this is not normal and if yours does this, send it back to Canon.

So, is the AF perfect now ? In a word - no. There are still occasions in a burst of frames when the AF inexplicably loses focus for a frame or two and then regains it, but at 10 fps - there always seems top be something useable in the burst. It is now a cracking camera.


 

April 2008

A tripod to avoid - and a lesson learnt

This month I planned a trip to the Gargano in Italy to photograph orchids - particularly the Ophrys species. The Gargano is an area in the Southeast of Italy and has a justified reputation for being excellent for orchids in April.

When photographing orchids I usually use my excellent but heavy Benbo mkI tripod, which can be seen below working at ground level. However, I have often used a Benbo/Uniloc Trekker when travelling abroad to save weight in the suitcase and when hiking around. As I knew my old Trekker would not be man enough to support my Canon 1DmkIII and a 180mm macro, I took my 40D and 100mm macro lens to reduce the load and carrying weight.

.Benbo tripod

My trusty old original Trekker had broken a leg some time ago when I pushed down too hard on it (me being lazy by not slackening the bent bolt lever enough) I decided to replace it with the latest mk III at the eleventh hour - well the day before I was due to leave to be precise.

When I found my first orchids to photograph, I got out the Trekker mkIII and was immediately horrified to see the new tiny ball head that was supplied as standard. In the picture from the Patterson brochure, you can clearly see the tripod and supplied head being used with a digital SLR - but I found that the head was totally incapable of supporting the camera without sagging. Still, no matter, I had brought along my trusty Markins ball head and a 3/8" adapter and fitted that instead.

Next problem - the new tripod now has an adjustable plastic head mount which allows the camera to be rotated through 90 degrees - and to wobble like a jellyfish !

Benbo trecker mk III

The "Bent bolt" lever caused the next problem - it simply wouldn't tighten enough to stop the legs splaying under the camera's weight. After numerous frustrating attempts to tighten it as the legs continued to splay all over the place, it seized completely ! Just for the record, the leg adjustment screws are far too tight, and required a very firm hand to tighten the legs adequately. I was therefore forced to abandon this tripod after thirty minutes of frustration and use my camera bag as a support for the rest of my 14 day trip !

On my return to the UK, I have returned the tripod to the supplier where I bought it requesting my money back as the item is not fit for purpose - for the reasons stipulated above. I will let you know what happens as events unfold.

So - in summary, my advice is :

1) Don't touch this tripod with a barge pole until the manufacturers do something about the hugely reduced quality of the Trekker mk III.

2) NEVER GO ABROAD WITH UNTESTED EQUIPMENT !!!

Despite my equipment problems, the Gargano certainly delivered - and I saw 43 species of orchid, plus some interesting hybrids and albinos. Ten of the species were new for me. I will be adding pictures to the galleries as I sort them out.

Monte St Angelo
Roof top - Monte St Angelo

OPhrys Garganica
Ophrys Garganica



March 2008

New Tutorial - Photoshop CS3 update

I have prepared a new tutorial for those of you who have upgraded to Photoshop CS3 and are grappling with the new RAW converter. I take you through my RAW workflow and how to use the increased number of sliders properly. As the RAW converter is identical to that in Adobe Lightroom, the RAW conversion bit is is also relevant to Lightroom fans
To access the Tutorial click here:- Photoshop CS3 RAW workflow tutorial.


The big picture

I normally sell prints at A3 or A4 size as these are the largest sizes that I can handle in-house. If I was to sell images printed on canvas or to wallpaper, I would have to source this resource externally and would unfortunately have to pass on this charge to customers. As an alternative, I am able to provide a single-use licence for customers to use a high-res image (supplied on disc) for printing themselves. Mrs Clark did just that, and she very kindly allowed me to publish this picture of a bedroom that she has decorated to great effect with a Skomer puffin image to brighten up a plain wall. She now has a totally unique feature and is apparently delighted with it - the image quality is apparently great.

Big Puffin image

The cost of this service is a measly 50 quid - so please contact me if you would like to do something similar.

Mrs Clark used a company called "The better wallpaper company" and they are to be found here: betterwallpaper.

Many other companies will print to canvas if required.


A new camera - at last !

Canon 1D III

For those of you who regularly read these pages, you may remember that I ordered a Canon 1D mk III when the model was first announced back in March last year - so it is a year old already - how time flies. You may also remember I quickly cancelled my order when the news of severe AI servo performance problems were discovered with this model.
Canon have recently identified the issue as a submirror problem and the camera is supposedly now fixed. However, just as you thought it was safe to go back in the water, there are rumours on websites such as Rob Galbraith's , that suggest that Canon has now recently discovered the "root cause" of the problem and there may be another fix to come. Also some sports photographers have reported more AF problems when the scene is predominantly blue and when the light is particularly flat ! Hopefully this time, a future firmware update is going to sufficient to provide the solution.

I have been using the 40D in preference to my 1D mk II for some time now as the camera is so much nicer to use, it has an extra couple of megapixels to crop from, has a 1.6x crop factor which is great for bird photography - which is what I tend to do most in winter, but most importantly, the image quality is a bit better.
However, I did miss not having more autofocus points - the 40D's nine is just not enough to be able to always put a point over the subject's eye. As good as the AF is on the 40D it does still not track subjects as well as a 1 series camera, and I miss not being able to use extenders on some lenses as the 40D will only focus to f5.6 vs f8 for the 1 series models.

I really miss using a 1 series professional body, and have been um-ming and ah-ing as to whether to get a 1DIII as many users now seem to feel the AF now works well. Some great Finnish bird photographers such as Markus Veresvuo and Jari Peltomaki are now getting great results from their "fixed" cameras.

When Jacobs offered the camera for £2299 recently I couldn't resist. I was prepared to pay £3050 at launch, so I have saved myself £751 - like getting my 40D for free. I ordered the camera after 1:00pm on a Wednesday and I had it in my hands on Friday morning - great service Jacobs! Enough waffle - is it any good ?

Test 1 - Can it focus on a static subject ?
I set up CD case in the studio and used one-shot mode with the 100mm macro. result - perfect. I repeated the test using AI servo and then Liveview/plus manual focus at 10x - No difference was observed between them at all when viewed at 100% on the screen. Phew - a great start - I haven't bought a complete dog !

I played around with the camera that night in the living room, and the AF in low light was obviously locking on much better than my 1DII - in fact it was quite astonishing.

Test 2 - Big test - how is the AF in AI servo in bright light?
Next day, I got my trusty assistant to run towards the camera Rob Galbraith style. The weather was very bright (conditions found to cause problems) and I used the 500 f4 wide open. I had 1/2000 sec shutterspeed and shot a burst of 65 large jpegs before the buffer filled - wow! When viewed on the screen at 100% I got a hit rate of 73%. The remainder were soft, but not badly OOF.

This was using centre focus point only and default custom function III settings.
Despite not getting 100% in focus, I had so many usable images that I didn't feel that I needed to worry too much about the odd soft one. I admit that I have not done this test with my 1D II but I'm sure it wouldn't have been as good as this. I would have preferred 100% but that is probably expecting a bit too much ! Never-the less, it is strange that once the focus has locked so well, it still loses it again on the next frame and then seems to re-gain it again for the next frame. I should add that this is all happening at a shooting rate of 10 frames per second - pretty phenomenal.

Next day I calibrated all my lenses to the camera with the lens micro adjustment feature. Interestingly, my very sharpest lenses (the 500 f4 for example) needed no adjustment, but some of what I considered less sharp lenses - like the 100-400 f5.6 needed around +6 adjustment. I will be interested to see how good these now look in real world use.

Test 3 - Image quality in the field
Use in the field. I shot some shots of green woodpeckers and a blackbird in good light. I used one shot but mainly AI servo - which worked superbly as the birds moved around. I need to try some action next, but so far so good. The images straight out of the camera (after raw conversion using CS3) were the best that I have seen on my monitor. Fabulously detailed, very low noise (far less than my 40D) barely needed a whiff of sharpening, very nice accurate and saturated colours. Here is an example:

1. Blackbird - 500mm 54 1/600 sec at f5.6 ISO 400

Blackbird

100% crop:

Blackbird crop


So all-in all, I'm very pleased, and I feel that so far the camera is as good as I had dared hope. All the features that I now take for granted on my 40D are present - such as the big screen (now much sharper than my 40D's thanks to the updated firmware - maybe not as good as the latest Nikons, but in another league to the 1DII ) the much better menu and button system, liveview etc. The camera is much lighter in weight than I was expecting too.

Niggles ? My main niggle is that I think that I prefer the old (1DII) way of selecting AF points manually - and why have the number of manually-selectable points been reduced from 45 to 19 ? Seems like a backward step. Having said that - I always had a point that I could put over the bird's eye today, unlike the 40D which has a miserable 9 points - that cameras biggest weakness.
The full 45 points only become available in auto selection of AF point mode (ring of fire) but the mysterious hidden 26 "assist" points are also available when expansion of AF points around the manually-selected point is selected in custom functions.

So far I think the 1DIII is awesome, I still need to try it on birds in flight, but the runner tests look promising. Unlike Andy Rouse, I certainly have no intention of jumping ship to Nikon just yet!

The story continues

I have been reading upon everybody's recommended custom function III settings for the camera to try to optimise the AF for action in AI servo- particularly birds in flight (BIF). Trouble is, everyone seems to have a different recommendation, and most of the web articles refer to a time before the submirror fix and latest firmware (1.3.1) came out. Nothing for it but to try myself.

I took the camera to Arundel Wildfowl Trust to gain some experience with the camera, and also shot at anything that moved in the sky - jackdaws, wild ducks attracted to the decoy of all the other birds, and this pigeon.....

Pigeon in flight

Shooting BIF is not an exact science - I find it incredibly difficult, and it is hard to gauge what the camera is doing on various settings, as my own performance is usually the limiting factor. The pigeon came past like a bullet, and I just sniped at it and got lucky. The camera locked on fine on this occasion - but I can't say that it always does by any means - even if I get it right myself .

I should add that I only used the 100-400 f5.6 IS zoom at Arundel. It is not a bad lens, but the 500mm f4 is so much better, that I am spoiled. Nevertheless, since I carried out the micro-adjustments on the 100-400, it is performing much better than I usually expect. Also the AF is a bit sluggish on it usually, but the extra horsepower in the 1DIII seems to drive it much better than previous cameras. The 400mm f5.6 is a much better lens for BIF as the autofocus is very quick on it. It lacks image-stabilisation (IS), but as shutter speeds in excess of 1/1000 sec are required, IS is not really necessary. The zoom is really useful to frame BIF as they fly towards you, I wish that Canon would update the 100-400 to compete with Nikon's 200-400VR - an exceptional lens by all accounts that Canon has no answer to.

Hopefully I will be able to post some custom function III recommendations as I become more familiar with the beast !

So, in summary, although it is early days, I can honestly say that I think that Canon have indeed "fixed " the camera and it appears at last to be the phenomenal tool that it originally promised to be. If there are more firmware upgrades to come to improve the AF further - I will say yes please - thanks very much, but for the time being, I'm sure that this camera (mine at least) autofocuses better than any other Canon camera to date. - What a pleasure to be able to type that !

If you would like to see some other early examples from the 1DIII - take a look at the following two galleries:

Green woodpecker (A few shots were taken with the EOS 10D in 2004 - you won't have much trouble working out which !)

Mandarin ducks taken at Arundel - note the lovely saturated colours. All taken with the micro-adjusted 100-400 f5.6 IS handheld.


 

February 2008

Golden Eagles in Finland

Finland

Typical monochromatic scene in Finland - actually taken in colour !

Those of you who follow these pages may remember that I went to Finland at this time of year in 2007 in the hope of photographing golden eagles in the snow. You may also recall that despite spending three long days in a hide, I had no success. Well I am pleased to report that this year, I returned and fortunately had much better luck.

The first day I was in the hide 2 hours before dawn and had to wait until 1 pm until the first eagle appeared on the bait - a road kill hare buried beneath the snow. The eagles seem to smell or sense the lump in the snow and are immediately attracted to it. All I can say is wow - what a fantastic bird ! It is such a privilege to see such a large, impressive and totally wild bird at such close quarters.

The eagles are very wary, and I was advised to not move my lens and wait 5-10 minutes before starting to take pictures to enable them to start feeding and settle. This was agonizing for me, but I held on until the bird looked relaxed - and got my first shots in the bag - hooray.

Golden eagle

Golden eagle with hare:
Canon 40D plus 500mm f4. 1/320 f4.5 (+1) iso 400


Golden eagle i snow

Golden eagle:
Canon 40D plus 500mm f4 plus 1.4x extender. 1/60 f10 iso 400

Golden eagle with hare

Golden Eagle:
Canon 40D plus 500mm f4 + 2 x extender. 1/60 at f8 (+0.33) iso 320


Next day was better still. Three different eagles visited over the course of the day, and each stayed at least 15 minutes. One eagle flew into a nearby dead tree, had a preen and then flew briefly back to the hare, enabling some flight shots to be attempted in the poor light conditions.

Golden eagle in flight

Golden eagle:
Canon 1Dmk II plus 500mm f4 , 1/800 f4.5 (+1.33) iso 800


.

Talking of light conditions, the entire trip this year was dogged with grey, overcast skies. You may be forgiven for thinking that this is normal for Finland in winter - but this is not usually the case. At this time of year, in the Vaala region where I was located, it is normal to have -20c and plenty of bright blue skies. Having said that, both my recent winter trips have been very mild (-2c) had similar gloomy conditions. (Global warming ?) Most days this year had thick cloud and a drizzle of snow much of the time. This makes for some moody and interesting shots, but is tough for getting a high enough shutter speed for flight shots or fast moving small birds - such as crested tits.

Crested tit in snow

Crested tit :
Canon 40D plus 500mm f4. 1/160 f4.5 (+1.33)

Fishing for owls

Great-grey owls (GGO's) are a Finland speciality, but are largely nocturnal and keep in the depths of the forest. However, in harsh conditions they are forced to hunt voles in open fields in daylight and can apparently be very approachable for photographers.

My guide, Eero Kemila, had heard of a sighting of GGO "tracks" at a site about 3.5 hours drive away, and asked if I wanted to have a crack.As this was right at the top of my species wish list, I eagerly accepted despite the low probability of actually being successful. We were accompanied by Juha who was going to try the "fishing technique" for owls for us.

The technique is to find your owl or a site where you think there is one, and then using a dummy vole, cast out using a fishing rod and then walk across the open fields in the hope that the owl will see the vole (as they can from astonishing distances and come swooping in). Once you have got the interest of an owl, you can substitute the mock vole for real ones that you just happen to have with you in the boot of your car !

Thanks to Eero, we did find some "tracks" - these are actually the marks left by the owl as it dives into the snow after the vole. In the shot below you can clearly see the outline of the owl's body, wings and feet ! The head is coming towards the camera.

Great grey owl print

Owl print in snow

 

Owl fishermen - Juha (left ) and Eero (right)

Despite a lot of fishing and a lot of driving around in the off-road vehicle, we did not see a GGO. Instead we had to make do with seeing some of Eero's phenomenal shots which he has accumulated over the years. Oh well, maybe next year !

Many thanks to Eero and Rhya for the fantastic guiding and hospitality !



Left to right - Eero, Rhya, Grant (my photography buddy) and Juha.
(Apologies for any names spelt wrongly !)

Please click here for more pictures of the golden eagles.


 

January 2008

A happy and prosperous new year to you all !!

Jan 24th

I have been trying to get a shot of a kestrel that often perches on posts on the track to my local nature reserve. It is quite obliging when shooting from the car, but always seems to get on something unsightly - or in this case out of site ! ....


However, perseverance always pays off, and as I noticed that there was going to be a nice sunset this evening , I jumped into the car and zoomed over to the track. After a bit of searching - there it was on a post, and for once, I had an unobstructed view, with gloriously warm evening light on the bird. I only got a brief few seconds before it flew off hunting, but I was very pleased to have got this nice image of a common but nevertheless stunning bird.....

Kestrel on post

For a larger version of this image, please see my image(s) of the month page

January 22nd

It was a surprisingly bright day in January, and my photography pal - Andy Vidler kindly acted as chauffeur for the day. We started by practicing our BIF shots (bird in flight) on some mediterranean and herring gulls. Andy was very pleased with the auto focus on his Nikon D300, but I was struggling a bit with the Canon 40D. I changed to the 1D mk II and my hit rate went up quite a bit. Funny really, as the 40D actually beat the 1DII in some recent AI servo auto focus tests that I did on a moving car being driven towards me.

Five purple sandpipers had returned to the same rocks that they were on last year at Hythe in Kent. The birds are amazingly accommodating, and will allow a very close approach if you just take it easy at first until they get to accept you. The Canon 40D produced some stunning shots of the sandpipers - surpassing the IDII image quality I think. I do wish that Canon would not be so stingy with the number of auto focus points on the 40D - nine is just not enough, I struggle to get an AF point to be just where I always want it - over the eye of the bird. This is not an issue with the 45 points on the 1DII and the 51 points on the Nikon D300.

Purple sandpiper

Click here for more (and larger) images of the purple sandpipers.

Gear talk

Here are some very interesting links for you equipment junkies........

Rob Galbraith has finally finished his 8500 word article on the Canon 1D mk III auto focus test .It makes a fascinating read, and concludes that the 1Dmk III with the sub mirror fix and latest firmware update v1.1.3 is much improved in his AI servo auto focus tests over the original bodies that he has tested. The good news is that the camera produces very high-quality files, noise performance is excellent, and the AI servo works much better in low-light than it's predecessor the EOS 1D mk II N. The bad news, is that it does not perform as well as the 1DmkII N in bright sunlit conditions. So - great camera - but don't take it on holiday with you ! I should add that there are many respected photographers who now feel (or have always felt) that their particular camera performs superbly well- despite all the furore. Most strange.
Here is another balanced in-depth review of the camera and it's auto focus performance by a pro sports photographer - Laurence Ripsher.

Here is a link to a thread- in a Fred Miranda forum where a contributor observed another issue in Rob Galbriath's 1DIII test photos " virtually every time the MkIII has an out-of-focus image, it almost always exhibits some sort of secondary 'ghost' image, suggestive of some sort of movement (which at 1/8000th, I'd think is unlikely on RG's part.) Read more here: Fred Miranda

It is most disappointing that Canon do not seem to be able to improve this camera in all respects to everyone's satisfaction over it's predecessor. I really expected to be a 1DIII owner myself, but I am still too cautious to invest in one. Perhaps Canon will gradually improve the AF performance through firmware improvements, but it is possible that there is an inherent design fault with the mk III that can't be sorted in it's current guise. Maybe there will be a 1DmkIIIN or mkIV model soon which re-establishes the Canon 1D series as the AF king - who knows. As it stands, the 1Dmk III has acquired a tarnished reputation, and I would be concerned about resale values.

In the meantime, Nikon appear to have raised their game, and the D3 and D300 models appear to be very good cameras. The noise performance on Nikon has always lagged behind Canon, but the Nikon D3 (full frame) now appears to have bettered Canon 5D (full frame) in this respect. Here is the ISO comparison by Ken Rockwell. It is nice that Nikon are back in the game - the extra competition can only be good for us consumers.

Ken Rockwell also did comparative tests of the new 12Mp Nikon D300 against the Canon 5D 12Mp. The Canon is now an old design and will probably soon be superceded, but it is still holds up very well.in terms of image quality and low noise.Like the Nikon D3, it has 12 Mpixels on a full frame sensor, so the pixels are large and spread-out which helps give the low noise and high image quality (IQ). The D300 appears to better the 5D in noise performance above 800 iso - but the sharpness of the image suffers. Nikon are apparently using on-chip noise reduction even with RAW images (naughty) and this is why it appears to win over the 5D at first. Ken Rockwell called this "cheating " in his article !

I am still very pleased with my Canon 40D and I think it appears to hold up well against the Nikon D300 at a much lower street price. It has 2 less Megapixels (not a lot), a lower resolution rear viewing screen, (nice, but won't help you take better pictures) but does have similar IQ and noise performance (if you apply a little noise reduction on-computer rather than in-camera). It remains to be seen whether the auto focus of the D300 is superior. On paper it should be - it has colour recognition as well as contrast - which sounds awesome, and the 51 AF points trounce the 40D's 9 points (It's weakest feature I feel).

Finally, Canon have launched their 21 megapixel full frame 1Ds mkIII flagship camera. Here is an interesting test of the camera by Juza nature photography. The 21megapixels is great for making very large prints or for cropping very hard, but as nearly double the number of pixels have been crammed onto the same sized sensor as a 5D, the pixels are smaller and closer together, so noise performance and IQ should not be as good as the 5D - despite the huge resolution advantage of course. The 1DsIII is apparently about the same in terms of noise as the 5D - so that is a big achievement.

Make up your own mind as to whether you think that it is worth investing all the extra money (£5899 1DsIII vs £1299 5D from Park cameras at time of writing) after you see Juza's examples. For the wildlife photographer who uses telephoto lenses a lot, I personally still prefer a crop-sensor camera.

Here is another very interesting article by Alan Stankevitz who very clearly demonstrates the crop camera advantages over the full frame cameras. I strongly recommend you read it - you could save yourself a lot of money. He puts up a very convincing argument for buying a 40D instead of a 1Dmk III . If I only did studio work, close-up and landscape, I would go full frame for sure, but as 80% of my work is telephoto - I like the 40D's 1.6x crop.


A new computer.

"Upgrading" the 1DII camera to a 40D with 10.1 Mp 14bit image files, has caused me several problems. Firstly, the more megapixels you have, the more space it uses on your computer hard disk.So you soon run out of space, and need to upgrade your storage and backup.

Secondly, I found that processing raw images from my 40D took twice as long as my 8.2 Mp 1Dmk II images - despite being only 2 extra megapixels. Perhaps it's the 14 bits that take the extra time - I don't know, but it is a pain waiting 50 seconds each for images to process !

Finally, as Adobe Photoshop CS2 does not support the new cameras (such as the 40D) an investment into CS3 or lightroom is necessitated too.

I was therefore forced to upgrade my trusty old Pentium 4/ 2.8Mhz/1Gb DDR ram computer for a new hyperspeed Draconis computer from Cube Computers. This has an awesome spec for less than £1000 and I would recommend one to anybody:

Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium (I went for XP)
Intel Core 2 Duo QUAD CORE Q6700 CPU
8192MB Corsair DDR II 667 Memory
1500GB SATA II Seagate Data Storage
NEC 7170 Multi Format DVD/CD ReWriter
ATI Radeon HD 2600 512MB PCI Express Graphics Card
7.1 HD Surround Sound
Intel Core 2 Duo Deluxe Motherboard
Sony Floppy Disk Drive
DVD/CD ROM Drive
10/100/1000 Ethernet LAN
12 x USB2 Ports
Firewire
Cube computers Draconis

My only reservations about it are that it comes with Vista loaded as standard - which has compatibility problems and is memory-hungry with minimal benefit over XP. I therefore plumped for the XP Professional "upgrade" - which transpired to be the 64 bit version. Apparently this is necessary to achieve maximum warp drive, but transpired to have all the same compatibility problems as Vista. So out went my Agfa scanner (no driver updates available) also my wireless card ( finding a 64 bit card was not easy - and the one I got was faulty, and it's replacement suffered a bad connection problem - aargh!!!). The final compatibility problem was the fact that the Windows XP transfer wizard, which should transfer all files and settings across effortlessly for you, does not appear to work and this had to be done manually. What a pain.

However, hopefully that is all behind me now, and I now have a much improved computer and subsequently much quicker image workflow - for the time being !