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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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 :
DP Review preview. Including image samples
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
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.
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.
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
||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
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:
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 - 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. The 70-200 f2.8 IS zoom lens was perfect
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.
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
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
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's house and the tower hide.
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.
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 at a forest drinking pool.
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 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.
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
The red-footed falcon nest boxes and perches. The hide is behind
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
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 holding a whopping great toad
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.
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.
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 Burgundy Fritillary
For more images of the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary taken at the
new workshop location (this year) please click here : DOB
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
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
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.
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 !
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
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.
Roof top - Monte St Angelo
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.
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 !
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
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
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
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 -
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
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
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.....
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.
Golden Eagles in 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
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 with hare:
Canon 40D plus 500mm f4. 1/320 f4.5 (+1) iso 400
Canon 40D plus 500mm f4 plus 1.4x extender. 1/60 f10 iso
Canon 40D plus 500mm f4 + 2 x extender. 1/60 at f8 (+0.33)
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.
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 :
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
Owl print in snow
Owl fishermen - Juha (left ) and Eero
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)
(Apologies for any names spelt wrongly !)
Please click here for more pictures of the golden
A happy and prosperous new year to you all !!
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
For a larger version of this image, please see my
image(s) of the month page
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
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.
Click here for more (and larger) images of the purple
Here are some very interesting links for you equipment junkies........
Rob Galbraith has finally finished his 8500 word article on the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 !