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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II, Canon 24mm f/2.8 IS, Canon 28mm f/2.8 IS lens comparison

Canon announced the introduction of three new lenses in the 24 to 70mm range a few months ago. The Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II has a list price of $2,300 and replaces the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens.  The other two lenses, 24mm f/2.8 IS and 28mm f/2.8 IS are new introduction and are not replacing any particular lens in their EF lens lineup and list for $850 and $800 respectively.

I have owned the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens for many years and have not been that keen on it.  The lens is a great performer. It is very sharp in the center at all focal lengths and the corners are excellent. Extending the focal length will result in a very small softness around the corners, especially at the high end of the focal length range but stepping the lens down 1 stop will make a great improvement. My complaint is with its weight and design.  The lens weighs in at 33.6 oz. and uses an extended tube design with the lens protruding the most at the shortest focal length - 24mm. Many people use this lens for wedding and portrait photography.  I bought it for landscape and travel but found the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L II lens a much more useful and pleasant model to use.  It is always in my equipment bag when I go on photo shoots. 

The new Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II is a dramatic improvement over its predecessor. It seems Canon is following its formula of recent new lens introduction by giving the new models superior optics based on new coatings and additional curved aperture blades to improve bokeh, sharpness and color balance while cutting chromatic aberration and ghosting. The new lens also has a zoom ring plus a lock at the wide end, and is a lot lighter. Its weight will be about 28.4 oz. Also Canon has decided to forego Image Stabilization on this new lens in favor of cost and lower weight. I am in favor of this decision because a high quality, fast lens of this focal length does not really need IS. I have tried a pre-production model at a photo shoot and was very impressed by its performance.  My new lens should be arriving next month. 

The Canon 24mm and 28mm f/2.8 lenses on the other hand are not L lens and are aiming for a wider market where Image Stabilization is almost like an expected feature. Although IS is very helpful in longer focal length lenses, making these two lenses with IS is perhaps purely a marketing decision, as evidenced by most of Canon's lower priced EF-S lenses, which all have the label IS stamped on them. Both lenses should be available for delivery some time in June and I expect them to have slightly better image quality than most EF-S lenses.

Visit my Equipment Bag to see all my camera gear and check out the wildlife and travel photos from around the world on my website 

Canon EOS 5D MK III vs. Canon EOS 1Ds MK III Comparison

I have been using the Canon EOS 1 series bodies since it was first introduced in 1989 and have upgraded to all the new models ever since. When the Canon EOS 5D was first introduced in 2005, I bought it because I needed a backup camera with semi professional capabilities. The 5D impressed me a lot with its great 12.9 MP sensor and excellent built and adequate features. It lacked the sophisticated AF functions of the Canon 1Ds MK II but considering it was priced at less than half the price, it was indeed a great value. 

The latest EOS 5D model, now called the MK III, has a new AF system and advanced HD video capabilities. The first thing I noticed when I started using the 5D MK III was its gorgeous LCD screen compared to the 1Ds MK III. It was like watching a program on HDTV vs. regular TV.  When the 1Ds MK III was first introduced, its 45-points TTL, 19 cross-type points and 26 assist points AF system set the standard but the 5D MK III's new 61-points AF with 41 cross-type points have finally surpassed the former champ. Although Auto Focusing depends on a lot of factors, including the subject, shooting conditions and the preference of the photographer, I find the new AF system on the 5D MK III to be superior. Below are the specs for both cameras.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IIICanon EOS 1Ds Mark III
36 x 24 mm CMOS sensor36 x 24 mm CMOS sensor
DIGIC 5+ processor -14 bitDual DIGIC III processors - 14 bit
3.2-inch LCD, 1,000,000 pixels3-inch LCD, 230,000 pixels
• RAW (.CR2; 14-bit)
• JPEG (EXIF 2.21) - Fine / Normal
• RAW + JPEG (separate files)
• sRAW1, sRAW2
• RAW (.CR2; 14-bit)
• JPEG (EXIF 2.21) - Fine / Normal
• RAW + JPEG (separate files)
100 – 25600 ISO100-3200 ISO
30 - 1/8000th of a second shutter speeds30 - 1/8000th of a second shutter speeds
• 5760 x 3840 (L: 22.3 MP)
• 3840 x 2560 (M: 9.8 MP)
• 2880 x 1920 (S: 5.5 MP)
• 5616 x 3744 (L: 21.0 MP)
• 4992 x 3328 (M1: 16.6 MP)
• 4080 x 2720 (M2: 11.0 MP)
• 2784 x 1856 (S: 5.2 MP)
• Single
• Continuous: 6 fps *
• Self-timer: 2 or 10 sec (2 sec with mirror lock-up)
Movie recording-
• 1920 x 1080 (16:9) up to 12 mins (Quicktime H.264; 38.6 Mbits/sec)
• 640 x 480 (4:3) up to 24 mins (Quicktime H.264; 17.3 Mbits/sec)
• Max file size 4 GB
• Quicktime MOV format (H.264 video, PCM sound)
• 30 fps
• Single
• Silent (single frame) *
• High-speed continuous: 5 fps * (adjustable 5 - 2 fps)
• Low-speed continuous: 3 fps * (adjustable 4 - 1 fps)
• Self-timer: 2 or 10 sec (3 sec with mirror lock-up)
6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 inches6.1 x 6.2 x 3.1 inches
1.9 lb unloaded
2.7 lb unloaded

The 1Ds MK III's ergonomically contoured and weather sealed body does feel superior to the 5D MK III but I would add the BG-E11 battery grip to the 5D to give it just as good a feel and the seals on the body should suffice for most weather conditions.

Both cameras performed well in the metering functions but the 5D MK III appears to have a slight edge over the 1Ds MK III on the high ISO settings, especially above ISO 3200. I am not a chart and graph person so no controlled, studio tests were used and I took both cameras out on photo shoots. The image quality of the photos produced by the two cameras are excellent and so similar it would amount to a difference without a distinction. I am not a fan of shooting movies but the 5D MK III does have an impressive HD video capability and using a tripod would really help in getting high quality short films.

Since I own the Canon 1Ds MK III and 5D cameras, there is no point in buying the new 5D MK III so I borrowed one from Canon Professional Service for the test. The 1Ds MK III now lists for $7,000 and the 5D MK III lists for $3,500, including the Canon grip, the price will still be less than $4,000. My conclusion is rather easy to arrive at, the 5D MK III is the best value in professional, full frame cameras today, in my opinion.  What is not clear to me is why is Canon pricing the EOS 5D MK III so aggressively 'low' and include their flagship 61 point AF system?  When I bought the EOS 1Ds MK III a few years ago, the price was $8,000. Now anyone can buy a camera that can do more for about half the price.  Is this any way to instill confidence in people buying their top of the line camera bodies?  Unlike the big Series I L lenses, they hold their value and the Series II L lenses are more expensive than the previous models. Apparently Canon will be discontinuing the 1Ds line and replacing it with the 1D-X and 1D-C bodies, etc. I am expecting my EOS 1D-X to arrive soon and will be doing a comparison of the new camera to my current favorite, the Canon 1D MK IV. Please subscribe to my blog if you want to stay informed and visit my website  to see many more photos taken with both Canon bodies and follow my travels on Facebook .

Monday, May 28, 2012

Underwater Whale Photography - Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 Review

Maui is my favorite place for Humpback whale photography anywhere in the world. Every winter, thousands of Humpback whales migrate from the cold waters of Alaska to the warm waters of Hawaii to mate or give birth.  Read my whale watching article to understand why.  

I have been a professional wildlife photographer for over twenty years. Every year I go to Maui for a photo shoot and earlier this winter I was there again and went out with my usual whale watching company.  The waters of Hawaii are part of a Marine Mammal Sanctuary and although the Humpback whales are very friendly, active and curious, coming right up to my zodiac, no one is allowed to go in the water unless they have a government issued research permit.  This year I brought along the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 point and shoot camera. This versatile camera is waterproof and quite rugged. Visit the  Equipment section on my website to see the complete specifications. I have used the Panasonic TS3 before and found it to be a competent point-and-shoot camera but this time I want to use it to shoot videos of the Humpback whales when they come up to my zodiac. 

The Panasonic DMC-TS4 has a 12.1 MP CCS sensor and a 2.7 inch LCD screen. It shoots full HD videos (1920 x 1080), comes with GPS, compass, altimeter and is water resistant to about 40 feet.  The camera comes with a Leica DC lens with a 4.6X optical zoom from 28mm, equivalent to a 28-128mm zoom. When I go snorkeling, I enclosed the camera in the factory housing, DMW- MCFT3, which will protect the camera down to about 120 feet. 

I came across this female Humpback whale. She was pursued by 3 males who want to mate with her. She was not too responsive to their advances and used my zodiac as a buffer to put some distance between herself and her suitors.  The male Humpbacks were not deterred and kept pursuing her by circling my small boat.  This gave me the perfect opportunity to try out the Panasonic DMC-TS4's underwater video capability.  I set the lens at 28mm, leaned over the zodiac and dipped the camera about 12 inches into the water.  At times, the whales were less than 10 feet from me.  The boat was rocking violently from the waves generated by these 30+ tons giants but I was able to steady the camera enough to take some decent HD videos.  I am impressed by the Panasonic TS4.  It is a compact, competent, point-n-shoot camera. I take it along when I do not want to bring my camera bag with me on outings. It also takes very good photos and videos on land as well. Take a look at the movie below and visit my website to see many more photos and videos of other whales and wildlife.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Canon EOS Rebel T3i vs. Nikon D5100 comparison

I am a wildlife photographer and have been asked many times by wildlife enthusiasts while on photo shoots, which is a good, all round camera for someone starting out in DSLR?  With the imminent introduction of the Canon EOS Rebel T4i and the replacement of the Nikon D5100 soon to follow, I thought it will be a good idea to give my opinion on the 2 cameras and see whether one should be looking to upgrade when the new cameras are introduced.

First, the specs are all but comparable. The Canon T3i has a 18 MP APS-C sensor with a 3 inch LCD screen and ISO range from 100 - 12,800 extended, 9 point AF system, shoots HD videos at 1080p and weighs in at 18.2 ounces. The Nikon D5100 has a 16 MP APS-C sensor with a 3 inch LCD screen, ISO range from 100 - 24,600 extended, 11point AF system, shoots HD videos at 1080p and weighs 19.7 ounces.  The Canon body comes with the 1.6X while the Nikon has a 1.5X crop factor. So on the surface the 2 cameras are really equally matched.  I would pay little attention the the 9 vs. 11 AF points or 12,800 vs. 24,600 ISO extended numbers.  These are the claims of the Marketing department of the two companies gone wild and playing the numbers game.  Both cameras have reasonably good AF system found in entry level models and the maximum, realistic, usable ISO number in my opinion for either camera is about 800 depending on the situation. See my other posts on my Canon equipment to see why. Both cameras come with a starter lens kit - 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS.  I am not a great fan of this 'bottom of the line' lens and would advise buying just the body and saving up some money for a better zoom lens.

I do not use these cameras on a regular basis but have friends who own them and they lent it to me for hands-on review. View my Equipment Bag to see what equipment and gear I use. Perhaps I have been a long time Canon user but I find the buttons and controls on the Canon a bit more intuitive and informative but both cameras offer sufficient information for the user to keep on top of the situation. The Canon's LCD screen appears slightly sharper and the body has a better grip to it, especially for anyone with larger hands. The Canon T3i has a dedicated Movie Mode and for those who shoot a lot of videos, this may be an advantage but both cameras capture very good quality movies and photos and it will be very helpful to use a tripod, even an inexpensive one. But both cameras will benefit with the addition of a grip, which is a worthwhile investment if one plans to keep the camera for a while and uses it often.   Generally, I find image comparison charts less than helpful because the images are mostly shot under 'controlled' situations. I find using real world, photo shoots as a basis for comparison much more useful.  Both cameras perform well in the field, both offer good value for the money. I find the Canon's extensive lineup of EF lenses a bit more impressive than Nikon and the image quality a little bit 'better' but this is my subjective opinion. I encourage anyone to go to your local camera store and get a hands-on feel of the two bodies.

In short, if one were to start off trying to decide on an entry level DSLR, either camera will do just fine. The Canon appears to be a bit easier to get the hang of, even without reading the Owner's Manual.  If you are like me, that is very helful. I don't remember the last time I have read any OM on any product.  I like to see how easy a product can be used without resorting to reading the (many times poorly written) User's Instructions.  Visit my website to see my wildlife and travel photos from around the world, follow my travels on Facebook  and drop me a line to discuss any equipment and photography in general.

****  Latest News - Read the Canon USA announcement of the new Rebel EOS T4i/650D  ****

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wildlife photography - Humpback Whales and Bald Eagles of Alaska

I am in SE Alaska right now. In the heart of the Tongass National Forest, the second largest rain forest in the world after the Amazon. It wouldn't be SE Alaska if it is not raining. Weather is actually quite good, by Alaskan standard. This Bald Eagle and I were both soaked when I took its photo and we were humming the same tune :

"Raindrops keep falling on our heads, that doesn't mean our eyes will soon be turning red.  I'm never gonna stop the rain by complaining, because I'm free, nothing is worrying me."

The Humpback whale is getting a good feeding with that gaping mouth. The method they use is called Bubble Net Feeding.  See my previous post for explanation and visit my website to see many more wildlife photos from Alaska.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wildlife photography - Humpback Whales Of Alaska

I am in SE Alaska right now on a photo shoot. Every year, around mid Spring to early Summer, Humpback whales arrive in large numbers in Alaskan waters to feed on the abundant food source. They sometimes feed cooperatively using a method called BNF.

Bubble Net Feeding is perhaps tied with Breaching as the most exciting cetacean behavior. It is apparently practiced only by Humpback whales and primarily in the food rich waters of Alaska in the summer. Other cetaceans are known to use bubbles to catch prey but the Humpbacks are unique in their method. It seems each whale knows the role it plays in the sequence. They all dive in unison when a large school of fish has been identified as the target. The lead whale blows a circular curtain of bubbles, beneath the school, and use it to contain the fish. The bubble blowing whale changes the depth of bubble deployment, depending upon where the prey is in the water. The panic-stricken fish start to gather in a tight ball and move towards the surface, contained by this cylinder wall of bubbles. Then again, in unison, the group rises to the surface with their gaping mouths wide open and swallow tons of water and fish together. This can be repeated many times until the fish are depleted or their appetite are sated.

Thankfully, BNF is not as unpredictable as Breaching because if one is vigilant, one can see small bubbles rising from the deep. This is usually preceded by sea birds (mostly gulls) hovering around an area trying to pick off small fish escaping the menacing bubbles. This photo was taken in Hoonah, Alaska. A small pod of Humpbacks were deploying this method and came up repeatedly with their huge mouths wide open. It was quite a sight to see. 

Visit my website to see many more exciting whale photos from Alaska and all over the world.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The new Canon EOS Rebel T4i/650D camera

Apparently Canon will be introducing a replacement to the current Rebel T3i camera, the new model will be called Rebel T4i/650D.  The announcement date is scheduled for June 8 and preliminary indications are the new camera will have a 18 megapixel sensor, 9 AF points with the all cross type and perhaps a touchscreen LCD.  Not much more is known at this time and the expected announcement date may change but keep checking back for the latest update.

Also to be expected with the new announcement are apparently 2 new lenses. The 40mm f/2.8 Pancake and the 18-135mm IS lenses. Canon is apparently embarking on a "one or two announcement a month" marketing and media blitz from now till September 2012, culminating in the start of the premier Photo Trade Show, Photokina in Cologne, Germany.  I will be In Europe on a photo shoot in September but will not be near Cologne to attend the show.  I expect some truly exciting new equipment to be announced during the exhibit, like brand new DSLRs from Canon, perhaps one with a 'mega' Megapixel sensor, for those who engage in the megapixel arms race game. The rumor here is there is a 'secret project' conducted by Canon right now in Asia involving a megapixel DSLR. If the test is successful, they may announce another new 1D camera some time this year, in addition the the 1D-X and 1D-C bodies. 

Frankly, I think Canon is playing this new camera introductory game too often.  It seems 'every few months' there is a 'new' Rebel or PowerShot camera coming out. Their point-n-shoot cameras are getting to be quite good now, like the PowerShot G1X. It is not necessary to introduce so many models so often. Just wait a while and introduce something with genuinely new and useful features that will really wow the amateur segment of the market and the publicity will take care of itself.

For those who can't wait for the Canon EOS Rebel T4i/650D to be announced, read my article on the Canon EOS Rebel T3i vs. Nikon D5100 comparison and see if you want to upgrade or just buy the 'older' model once the Canon Rebel T4i is officially announced since the Rebel T3i will go down in price. Also Canon USA has extended their rebates to June 30 to clear 'older' merchandise. For example, one could have bought a new Canon EOS 5D MK II body or the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens for a fraction of their first introductory price after their replacement were announced. There is nothing wrong with saving big bucks on something that is almost as good as the new models.

If you want to keep up with the latest Canon news and development, subscribe to my blog and Facebook  page.  Visit my website to see my equipment bag and exciting wildlife and travel photos from around the world.  

*** Latest development - Read the Canon EOS Rebel T4i/650D announcement here ***

Wildlife Photography - Alaskan Photo Safari

The North American continent is one of the premier wildlife viewing and photography spots in the world. It covers 10 time zones and is home to majestic mountains, stunning glaciers, lush temperate and coastal rain forests and countless miles of beaches, fjords and inlets. In addition to its scenic beauty, there are approximately 1,000 species of mammals and birds each, native to the land. The opportunities for wildlife and landscape photography are so diverse it is impossible to capture everything on a single trip, or even a single life span. For this article, I will limit my discussion to one particular place in North America - the State of Alaska, because one can see all three species of Ursi, namely Black, Grizzly and Polar Bears, majestic Golden and Bald Eagles, plus many different species of birds (including hummingbirds) and exciting whale species, like the Blue, Humpback, Bowhead, Orca, Beluga and many other cetaceans and pinnipeds.

I have been photographing wildlife in Alaska for many years now and have encountered many visitors from Australasia and Europe, especially the United Kingdom. My recommendation is to prioritize the species one would like to see before focusing on capturing their images. Black and Grizzly bears can be found from Ketchikan in the south, all the way up to the Brooks Range and other mountains in the southern Arctic region. Some great spots to see and photograph them are in the Tongass National Forest, near towns like Ketchikan, Wrangell, Hoonah and Haines. Kodiak Island and the Katmai National Park are prime locations to see the Kodiak brown bears. Polar bears are usually found near towns like Barrow, Wainwright and Kaktovik, deep in the Arctic Circle. Southeast Alaska is also a great spot for whale watching, especially the waters around Juneau, Seward, Kodiak, the Inside Passage and Icy Straits. Bald and Golden eagles are quite prevalent with the former rather ubiquitous around towns close to the water. The town of Haines boasts the largest concentration of Bald eagles in the world during the month of November due to the late run of salmon in the Chilkat River. The Alaska Bald Eagle Festival is held every year in town and attracts thousands of photographers from around the world. 

The Northern part of Alaska, deep inside the Arctic Circle, is a favorite spot for birders and photographers. Although the number of species are not huge, millions of waterfowls and shore birds feed and nest around numerous lakes and puddles across the Arctic tundra. Snowy Owls and Arctic Foxes are often seen hunting on the frozen ground. For those who want to photograph the Aurora Borealis, early to mid Autumn is the best time. Fairbanks is probably the most popular spot for photographers chasing the Aurora but on clear, dark nights, one can see the Aurora from many parts of Northern Alaska. Late Spring to mid Summer, around the whaling season, is a good time to visit Barrow. The Northern most town in the US, named after Sir John Barrow, the second Secretary of the Admiralty. Polar Bears can be seen scavenging the remains of whales in Kaktovik after the butchering process is complete. The Inupiat Eskimos are permitted to hunt a small number of whales every year for subsistence living.    

The state of Alaska is big - over 663,000 square miles. It is about twice the size of Texas, over three times the size of California and about seven times the size of the United Kingdom.  Although Alaska is home to lots of glaciers and snow, the summer months can be pleasantly warm, by Alaskan standards, of course.  Protected by the Chugach Mountains and the Alaska Range and warmed by Pacific Ocean currents, Anchorage, the largest city in the state, has a temperate maritime climate. Summer temperatures can reach into the high 70s. Low humidity also contributes to Anchorage's comfortable climate. However, temperatures can vary greatly depending on the region one may visit. Therefore, careful clothing selection is important to anticipate the unexpected. The best advice is to dress in layers, whether one is hiking in the wilderness or just walking around town and always have a waterproof parka available at all times.

Getting around Alaska is not easy and can be expensive because there are only a few main road systems and the rest of the state is very pristine and wild. For most people, flying into Seattle or Anchorage would be the start of their Alaskan adventure, if they are visiting the Southeastern or Northern part of the state, respectively. Fortunately, there is the robust Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System to connect most cities and towns. In addition, Alaska Airlines and its subsidiary, Horizon Air, can fly visitors into many big and small towns. Lastly, there is an army of bush pilots and a fleet of small planes and seaplanes ready to take adventurous photographers into almost anywhere not reached by the other modes of transportation. For the first time visitor, I advise sticking to one or two National Parks or towns and try not to overextend oneself. There is never any guarantee in wildlife sightings and photography but if one is willing to do some thorough research before going to Alaska and is prepared to spend at least two weeks, I can assure any traveler and photographer an unforgettable experience in one of the most spectacular scenic and wildlife locations in the world. 

I will be heading up to south east Alaska this weekend to rendezvous with the Humpback whales. Most of the Humpbacks on the west coast of the US migrate to the warm waters of Hawaii in the winter to give birth and mate.  In the spring, they return to Alaska for months of feeding before repeating their journey again next winter. Drop me a line to discuss hot spots for wildlife photography and viewing and you can follow my travels on Facebook and view my photos of past Alaskan photo safaris on my website

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Canon 5D MK II, MK III, 7D and 7D MK II Review

Canon has issued a press release showcasing their 5D MK II and 7D bodies as cameras of choice for stunts and action work, on the set of The Avengers.  Click on the link below to see the release.

Canon Press Release on the 5D MK II and 7D 

When the Canon 5D line first came out in 2005, it caused a sensation because of its excellent built, great features and superb 12.8 megapixel sensor. More importantly, its price was less than half the 1Ds MK II, Canon's flagship camera at the time.  I bought the 5D and loved it even though I already own the MK II.  What I did not realized at the time (I do now) was, Canon had embarked on a new strategy of broadening the mass appeal for high end, full frame DSLR.   The aggressive pricing of the subsequent replacement models of the 5D has proved my point.  The current 5D MK III sells for half the price of the 1Ds MK III and it is a 'better' and more versatile camera, in my opinion, and I own the 1Ds MK III.  Read my other posts on the 5D MK III analysis and visit my website under the Equipment  section to see details on the equipment mentioned in this post. By the way, the 5D MK III comes with the 24-105mm f/4 L IS lens as a kit and one can save a few hundred dollars if one buys the combo instead of separately.

I still own the original 5D but not any subsequent models. However, I have used both the MK II and MK III models and am impressed by their performance. It seems to me the current 1Ds line has outlived its usefulness and the 1Ds MK III is getting a bit long in the tooth.  The current 1D MK IV is good enough to do double duty for me.  I use it as a wildlife camera, first and foremost but also as a travel/landscape camera when I mate it with the 8-15mm f/2.8 L, 16-35mm f/2.8 L II and 24-105mm f/4 L IS lenses. The 1Ds MK III is getting less and less time in my equipment bag.  

The other camera I am fond of is the 7D.  It has an excellent sensor, good burst rate and above average AF sensors. I hope Canon will be releasing the MK II version some time this year, and it should come with a more advanced AF system, 10 fps rate and the megapixel count can stay the same or even drop a little.  The new Canon 1D-X, available next month (hopefully) will certainly put the 1Ds MK III out of its misery but it is by no means a perfect camera for me either.  I dislike having to bring a cropped frame camera body with me when I go on photo shoots but I like the addition reach it offers.  For those who are not familiar with my shooting style, I prefer not to use a tripod when I photograph wildlife. That limits me to the Canon 400mm f/4 DO lens, the longest lens that can afford me a whole day's of shooting while handholding the equipment.  The DO is not a good candidate for extenders, especially without the benefit of a tripod.  That is why I reach for the 7D when the wildlife is far away. I do use tripods when I photograph birds and will use a longer lens, like the Canon 500mm f/4 L IS or beyond.

Canon should take a hint from the Nikon D3X, which can take photos in both full frame and cropped frame format, albeit at a lower frame rate and resolution. If the 1D-X can take a full frame photo at say, 18 megapixels and 12 fps, plus a cropped frame image at say, 12 megapixels and 14 fps, it will be a perfect camera for me.  The sensor technology on the high end DSLR is so advanced these days, chasing megapixel count is rather futile and 10 - 20 megapixels are more than enough for most, depending on the shot.

Enclosed are two photos taken with the 5D and the 7D.  The night scene of Victoria Harbor was shot with the 5D and I used the 7D on the Bengal Tiger cub. The Tiger photo does have a bit of noise but you have to know under what condition I went through to take that shot.  I was on a bouncing Jeep in Bandhavgarh National Park in India. The sky was dark and cloudy and the Tiger was far away, in thick bush. I used ISO 1600 and spot AF to get between the leaves and branches. The 7D did a respectable job for me and I was impressed.  Read my other blog on the analysis of the 7D and 1D MK IV.  Visit my website to see many more wildlife and travel photos and follow my travels on Facebook .


Wildlife Photography - Tiger Photo Safari In India

The Tiger is an iconic symbol of conservation. It is a heavily muscled, powerful predator that stalks and ambushes large prey, camouflaged by its stripy coat. Unlike other cats, Tigers are good swimmers and often cool off in lakes and streams during the heat of the day.  Nine different subspecies of this carnivore are recognized, three of which became extinct in the latter part of the 20th century : the Bali , Javan and Caspian Tigers. The remaining subspecies are the Siberian, South China, Sumatran, Indochinese, Malayan and Bengal Tigers. Their characteristic dark, vertical stripes patterning the body vary in their width, spacing, and length, and whether they are single or double stripes. The pattern and distribution of the stripes is unique to each Tiger.  Poaching and habitat loss have occurred throughout much of the Tiger's range and is now severely threatening its survival; as land becomes rapidly developed to meet the increasing demands of the Asian population, Tiger populations become isolated in remaining fragments of wilderness and will ultimately die out.

India is one of the most interesting and last remaining countries to view and photograph Tigers. It is a land of controlled chaos, teaming with sights and sounds, plus a profusion of cultures and races.  The country is also rich in other wildlife, with hundreds of species of birds, plus Leopards, Asiatic Lions, Rhinos, Elephants, Bears, Gaurs and Wild Dogs, just to name a few. Visiting India is quite an exhausting flight for those who live in North America. It takes about 2 days, including layover to get there by plane. From Western Europe, it is about an 8 hour flight. Careful planning is required in order to get the most out of this long journey. 

The two central Indian National Parks of Bandhavgarh and Kanha offer the best opportunity to view and photograph Tigers in their natural habitat. The duration of time spent in each park should be at least two to three full days to maximize one's chances of seeing Tigers and other wildlife. Safaris in open top Jeeps, along with elephant-back rides, help track Tigers and other animals. The parks' regulations require a guide to accompany any vehicle entering. The guides are generally very helpful and is a resource in tracking and finding wildlife although it is recommended to bring your own expert guide, if possible. 

Bandhavgarh National Park, famous for its 'high'density of Tigers, contains 22 species of mammals and 250 species of birds, including Leopards, Jungle Cat, Muntjac and the only four-horned Antelope in the world, the Chausingha. Hemmed in by the Vindhyan mountain ranges, the Park is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Covering an area of 437 sq km, the Park encompasses dense forest, open meadows, wetlands and steep ridges. The Park is named after an ancient fort located in the area. It was once the hunting reserve of the kings of Rewa.

Kanha National Park, with its lush sal and bamboo forests, grassy meadows and ravines, provided inspiration to Rudyard Kipling for his famous novel, "The Jungle Book". The Park is located in the Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh, came into being in 1955 and forms the core of the Kanha Tiger Reserve, created in 1974 under Project Tiger. The Park's landmark achievement is the preservation of the rare hardground Swamp Deer (Barasingha), saving it from near extinction. Stringent conservation programs for the overall protection of the Park's fauna and flora, makes Kanha one of the most well maintained National Parks in Asia. 

The parks are opened from November to June, although the best months to visit are between November to April. The temperatures in the earlier months are a bit more comfortable but to maximize sightings, March and April are the best, due to the warmer weather but May and June may be too hot for most visitors. Deer and other prey animals are forced to visit waterholes more often during the hotter months and this offers plenty of ambush opportunities for Tigers. Safaris start early with the Jeeps queueing up at the park entrance starting around 6 AM. Each trip usually lasts about 3 hours and the mid afternoon is a good time for the second safari. The temperature in the Parks can be very cold in the early mornings and gets warmer and hotter as the day progresses. The roads are unpaved, rough and dusty. Bumpy rides in the Jeep are guaranteed and part of the fun, with no extra charge.   

No one is permitted to wander off on foot inside the parks and the Jeeps are small so a tripod or monopod is of little use. The vegetation is thick and the Tigers are experts in concealment. They can be almost 'invisible' in the thick jungle, just a few feet from you. I generally prefer to use a zoom lens since there is no telling where they may pop up but the best combo is to have two cameras ready. I use the Canon 7D with the 400mm f/4 DO lens and the Canon 1D MK IV with the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS or the 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS lens. Visit the Equipment  page on my website to see these gear. Since the lighting is usually fair to poor, I set the apertures of the lenses wide open with ISO setting of 800 and going all the way to 3,200 if required.  

It is truly a rare privilege for any photographer to come face to face with a Bengal Tiger in the wild. I came across this one year old cub and we exchanged eye contact for a little while before he disappeared into the bush. It was a very memorable moment for me and I will cherish it for a very long time. Visit the Tiger  page on my website to see more exciting photos from India and watch the  Tiger slide show on my website as well.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Canon EOS 5D MK III Camera Service Notice

Another minor hiccup for the Canon 5D MK III. It will affect only a small number of people and is more of a nuisance than a problem. Canon has confirmed that when the EF200mm f/2L IS USM and some units of the EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM lenses are used with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III Camera, the Lenses may emit an abnormal noise. The Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital SLR Camera does not need to be repaired as a result of this phenomenon.
The support measures for this phenomenon have been decided and they are as described below.
If either of the lenses is attached to the camera with the Image Stabilizer switch on the lenses set to ON, the Image Stabilizer will synchronize with the autofocusing (AF) function and an abnormal noise may occur. This abnormal noise does not affect captured images.
This phenomenon only occurs when the camera is used with either of the lenses, and does not occur when the camera is used with other lenses.
Affected Products are the EF200mm f/2L IS USM and the EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lenses.
This phenomenon only occurs with the EOS 5D Mark III camera. If the fifth and sixth digit of the six-digit alphanumeric number that is imprinted on the lens mount of the above EF lenses is of any of the following numbers, the lens is affected :
EF200mm f/2L IS USM: If the fifth and sixth digit is 00, 01, or 02.
EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM:If the fifth and sixth digit is 00, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, or 06.
Please check the six-digit alphanumeric number on your lens to see if you have a lens that need attention.
Canon Support
The Canon lenses affected by this phenomenon will be inspected and repaired free of charge starting from May 21, 2012. If you own one of the affected lenses, please contact our Customer Support Center.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Canon 1D Mark IV vs. Canon 7D camera analysis

 I have been asked often by photo enthusiasts, whether the Canon 1D MK IV or the 7D is a better camera and which body do I prefer. This is not an easy question to answer. First, a little background would be in order. I have been using Canon equipment for about 25 years. I started out with the Canon 10 and the EOS-1 in 1989.  When Canon first introduced their D30 digital camera in 2000, I bite the bullet and bought the body. It was SO expensive but I wanted to experiment with the new technology.  Since then I have used every DSLR Canon has introduced, leading up to the 1D MK IV and 7D bodies, which I currently own.

First, let us get the major specs out of the way. The 1D MK IV has a 45-point AF system including 39 cross-type points, a new AI Servo II AF focus tracking system with improved algorithm combined with 10 fps continuous shooting. It has an APS-H sized 16.1 Megapixel CMOS Sensor, Dual DIGIC 4 Image Processors, an ISO range of 100 - 12800 (up to 102400 in H3 mode).

The 7D has an APS-C size 18 megapixel CMOS sensor and Dual DIGIC 4 Image Processors, with ISO range from 100 - 12800 and speeds of up to 8 fps. It comes with the new, all cross-type 19-point AF system with improved AI Servo II AF subject tracking and user-selectable AF area selection modes. It also has an Intelligent Viewfinder, an entirely new technology, provides approximately 100% coverage and displays user-selected AF modes as well as a spot metering circle and on demand grid lines.

Both set of specs look impressive but how do they perform in real world environment? I add the Canon BG-E7 grip to the 7D to give it a 1D like feel and have taken both cameras out on many photo shoots under harsh environments. A few things stand out in my mind concerning the EOS 1D Mk IV : 

#1 - MK IV beats the 7D hands down under harsh weather conditions because of its all weather sealing. I was soaked from head to toe inside a zodiac in the Sea of Cortez, in rough seas, a few years ago but the 1D MK IV with the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II kept working without any fuss. 

#2 - The MK IV's superior AF focusing and lock gives it the advantage, especially under poor lighting and focusing on moving objects.  This can make the difference between getting the shot or a better shot vs. not getting it at all.

#3 -  MK IV's high ISO nosie reduction is superior to the 7D, although I would not go over 3,200 and 2,000 respectively for either camera when photographing moving subjects. Can't wait for my 1D-X to arrive so I can put it through more real world tests to confirm Canon's claims for the new camera. This will be the subject of another blog once I get the camera in June, hopefully. 

The APS-C sensor does have an advantage over the APS-H because of its additional reach. Normally I avoid using extenders unless it is absolutely necessary. This is why I reach for the 7D first when the subject is far away and I cannot get any closer.  

Now comes the other specs. The 1D MK IV and 7D list for $5,000 and $1,700 respectively. This means the first camera costs almost 3 times more than the second one, does it take a photo 3 times better?  The answer is of course, no, but this is the wrong way to compare two different bodies. First, there are so many factors that enter into the equation to capture a good photo. Both cameras can produce excellent images but in my opinion, the 7D is the best value in a cropped-frame DSLR on the market today and is an easy choice for those with limited money to spend. If you photograph a lot of wildlife and can afford it, I would get both cameras because combined with the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II and 400mm DO lenses plus extenders, you can get an almost infinite number of focal lengths, ranging from about 90mm to over 1,000mm, while handholding the package for maximum mobility. Visit my Equipment page to see how I deploy these gear on photo shoots.

Enclosed are 4 photos taken with both cameras.  Can you identify which photo was taken by which body?  Drop me a comment and see how you do?  Visit my website to see many more wildlife photos taken by different Canon equipment and follow my travels on Facebook .   

A footnote to this post. I have now received my EOS-1D X camera and have put it through a vigorous photo shoot in Alaska and Canada. Take a look at my review of the camera here and visit my website to see more wildlife photos taken with the new gear. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Canon EOS 5D MK III camera analysis

Now that the Canon 5D MK III 'light leak' problem seems to be behind us now, the cameras are back in stock in many stores. This brouhaha reminded me of the Canon 1D MK III incident a few years ago, when it was first introduced. I had never experienced the so-called AF issues that some clamored about. The bad publicity forced Canon to acknowledge the problem and 'fix the defect' in some cameras, resulting in the famous Blue Dot, put on the boxes of the 'new and improved' version.

Actually, I think Canon's real problem is their aggressive pricing in their new higher end cameras. A few years ago, I paid $8,000 for the Canon 1Ds MK III and now the 5D MK III is arguably a 'better' camera than the 1Ds MK III, selling for only $3,500.  Of course, the purist will claim the 1Ds MK III has a 300,000 shutter cycle, complete weather sealing, etc., but how many photographers will pay double the price to get the 1Ds now?  Even though Canon has 'lowered' the price of the 1Ds MK III to $7,000.  For those like myself who paid full price when it first came out, it's just water under the bridge.

I bought the first 1D camera when the line first came into existence in 1989 and have used the 1D series ever since.  It cost over $1,000 then and it was a LOT of money. $8,000 is a lot of money to pay today, let alone a few years ago, for the 1Ds MK III and now the 5D MK III is essentially a better camera (in my opinion) for half the price, if one does not mind not having a few features on the 1D but gain a few other features with the 5D.

Unlike the Canon L lenses, which protect most buyers' investment, because the new Series II lenses cost more than the older Series I.  Only in some high end camera bodies, do the new ones cost 'less' than the older models and do essentially the same or better job.  If Canon ever wants to charge $8,000 for another DSLR camera, they will have to come up with the mega pixel sensor to justify the high price and that will only work for those who subscribe to the pixel arms race.

I am a Wildlife photographer and use the 1D MK IV body a lot and have placed my order for the 1D-X, which should be shipping in about a month.  Paid $5,500 when the MK IV came out and the 1D-X will cost $6,800.  Normally I would sell the previous model when I trade up but this time I will keep the MK IV because it will be the last APS-H camera Canon produces. Plus the 1D-X does not have the auto focus capability with f/8 so the MK IV will be very handy to have as a backup camera. They both use the advance LP-E4N battery and LC-E4N charger, so I don't have to bring separate equipment on photo shoots.

Also anxiously waiting for the Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with the built in 1.4X extender to go on sale. This is one lens I would not mind paying for but upgrading to the new Series II lenses can wait. I am interested in real world differences, not lab tests and subjective results. Visit my website to see photos taken with all the cameras mentioned and see my Equipment page for more analysis.    

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Tribute To Mothers and Motherhood

Only recently dubbed "Mother's Day," the highly traditional practice of honoring Mothers and Motherhood is rooted in antiquity, laced with strong symbolic and spiritual overtones. In the past, societies tended to celebrate Goddesses and symbols rather than actual Mothers. The personal, human touch to Mother’s Day is a relatively new phenomenon. The majority of countries that celebrate Mother's Day do so on the second Sunday of May.

In the United States, Julia Ward Howe, a pacifist to the Franco-Prussian War, proclaimed Mother's Day in 1870 but the modern Mother's Day as we know it was first celebrated in 1908 when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in America. She went on to campaign and worked for a recognized holiday in honor of Mothers and Motherhood. Her efforts were rewarded in 1914 but the subsequent commercialization of the event in the following years brought great disappointment to Anna. The holiday Anna Jarvis fought so hard for was adopted by many countries and is now celebrated all over the world.

I have put together photos of Animal Mothers and their babies in a slide show to honor Mothers and Motherhood around the world. Visit my website to see more wonderful photos of these amazing and hard working Mothers from around the world.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wildlife Photography - Killer Whale Photos

A couple more Killer Whale photos to further discuss whale photography.  Both images (click on them to get larger view) were taken with the Canon 1D MK III body.  The first photo was shot in Monterey Bay, California during May. Gray whales migrate from the warm waters of St. Ignacio lagoon in Mexico (after giving birth) to the food rich waters of Alaska. They stay close to the shore and pass by the Bay around Spring. Transient Killer Whales can be found there every year to prey on the Gray Whale calves.  This Orca mother and calf pair was part of a big pod. The weather was nice with intermittent sunshine. I was in a small boat and used the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS lens. ISO 400 was used and the aperture was wide open.  The photo shoot was quite straight forward and it was just up to chance and patience in order to get good shots.

The second photo was taken around Vancouver Island in the height of summer.  It was during the salmon run and the Orcas were most probably from the resident pods, feeding on the fish.  The weather was gloomy, with a light rain.  I was in a zodiac and used the Canon 400 f/4 DO lens, set wide open with ISO @ 3200.  The reason was I had high hopes of catching the Killer Whales breaching and I needed the fast shutter speed to freeze the action.  The MK III's high ISO capability is not very good, especially with moving objects.  Even the MK IV has a lot left to be desired. I find the noise level too high for any ISO setting over 3200 when photographing moving wildlife.  That's why I am so anxious to get a hold of the upcoming Canon 1D-X, which is supposed to have excellent high ISO capability.      

This shot was much more challenging.  Breaching whales are unpredictable and happens in a split of a second.  The light was very poor and the Killer Whale breached far away from the zodiac.  I was lucky he was breaching towards me and my reflex was fast enough to get this shot. Visit my website under the Equipment section to see the gear I used to take these photos and be sure to view the slide shows on different whales on the site as well.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Killer Whale - Apex Predator of the oceans

Orca, also known as the Killer Whale, is the largest member of the dolphin family and is a favorite animal for whale watching groups all around the world. Both the male and female Killer Whales have a broad, rounded head and snout, an enlarged forehead, large, paddle-shaped pectoral fins and a large dorsal fin. However, males grow larger than females, and on reaching maturity become stockier and develop disproportionately larger fins, with adult males easily recognized by the tall, erect dorsal fin, which is the largest of any cetacean, growing to an impressive 6 feet in height. The female Orca, by contrast, has a more backward-curving dorsal fin , which grows to about 3 feet in height. An Orca’s dorsal fin and saddle patch are unique to each individual.

A number of different forms of Killer Whale have been identified, which specialize in different types of prey, differ in appearance, behavior and habitat use, do not associate with each other and are not known to interbreed. Studies have also revealed genetic differences between the different forms, and the Orca may therefore be split into a number of different subspecies or even distinct species in the near future. 

One of the best places to see Killer Whales is in Alaska. The cold, nutrient rich water supports a healthy ecosystem, which in turn supports a healthy fish population. The abundance of food attracts plenty of seals, sea otters, dolphins and whales. In turn, Orcas, the Apex Predators of the oceans are found quite frequently in large pods in Alaskan waters.  One of the best spots to photograph Killer Whales is Resurrection Bay.  A couple of years ago, I spent a few days on a small boat out in the Bay and took some great shots of these amazing animals after coming across a few large pods. The above photo (click on it to enlarge) is one of my favorite Killer Whales shots. The weather was rather poor, with light rain and very cloudy skies.  The whales were scattered and it was hard to concentrate on any particular individual.  Suddenly, I saw these three females in the distance swimming in unison. I was using the Canon 1D MK IV camera with the 400mm f/4 DO lens. It was just the right combo and I fired off a quick burst, just in the nick of time.  This "Fearsome Threesome" broke up right after I took this shot.  I consider myself very lucky to have photographed this image.

Read the Article on my website on where to go whale watching and tips on whale photography and see more exciting Killer Whales shots from Alaska and elsewhere. Don't forget to view the slide shows as well.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Whale photography and whale watching

As a wildlife photographer, I have taken a few images of some of Nature's smallest creatures, like the incredible Hummingbirds, and her biggest, the Blue Whale - the largest animal living on our planet, ever.

Cetaceans, the term used to describe porpoises, dolphins and whales, are mammals, just like ourselves. They are warm-blooded, have mammary glands to feed their young, possess a four chambered heart and have hairs on their bodies. Like all mammals, whales breathe oxygen. They surface to exhale and take in a quick breath before submerging. During the past few centuries of rentless commercial whaling, this behavior was the Archilles' Heel of the great whales, because the whalers can spot the animal even from a distance and thus gave rise to the old, familiar cry, "Thar she blows!"

There are two types of whales - toothed and baleen. Toothed whales, like the Killer whales and Beluga whales, have one blow hole on top of their heads and use their teeth to seize its food. Baleen is a strong and flexible material made out of keratin, a protein that is made from the same material as our hair and fingernails. Baleen whales, like the Humpback, Gray and Blue whales, have two blow holes and feed by swallowing huge amount of water, filled with small fish, krill and plankton. They then close their mouths and the baleen on the side will trap and filter the food and release the water.

Fortunately, apart from some small scale whaling operations in various parts of the world today, most shots coming from humans these days are from digital SLR cameras. There are approximately 78 distinct species of whales. Some are rather uncommon and difficult to locate, while others are whale watchers and photographers' favorite, like the Humpback whale and Orca (the largest member of the Dolphin family, also known as Killer Whale) because of their acrobatic displays and beautiful songs. Spotting whales is not a sure thing even when going out with a seasoned whale watching company. Knowing the time and place will greatly improve one's odds. Sperm and Humpback whales are most active during the winter months in Dominica and Hawaii, respectively. Humpbacks are also found during the spring and summer months around the waters of New England, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Alaska. Spring is also a great time to witness the Gray Whale migration off the west coast of North America. Killer whales can be seen during mid Spring to late Autumn in the Pacific Northwest during the salmon runs. Beluga whales are plentiful during the summer months near Churchill, Manitoba. Sperm and Southern right whales are often seen in the waters off Argentina and New Zealand during the winter months. There are of course many other spots around the globe where Cetaceans can be observed and photographed. 

Generally, most whale watching companies utilize boats ranging in size from small to large, carrying anywhere from 20 to 100 people or more. Whenever possible, I always go on a zodiac becasue it is faster and less crowded. On my cetacean photo shoots, I usually bring 2 camera bodies and 2 lenses. My camera equipment is from Canon, and the bodies are the 1D MK4 and 7D, and the lenses are the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II zooms.

Visit the Equipment section on my website to see these gear. I use zoom lenses because a zodiac can approach whales and vice versa in a short time and a prime lens will be of little use. Quite a number of times, Humpbacks, Gray and Killer whales came right up to my zodiac and I wished I had a wide angled lens on my camera. The generally accepted global standard distance for viewing whales is 100 yards but sometimes it is hard to enforce and other times, over enforced.

In a small zodiac, bouncing in the ocean, tripod/monopod and even Image Stabilers are of little use. I photograph in the Aperture (AV) mode and set my camera to 1 stop above the maximum and an ISO speed of at least 400 to obtain shutter speeds fast enough to freeze the action, especially on breaching whales. The Drive Mode is set to maximum continuous burst, the faster the better. If the light is poor or fading, I will go all the way up to ISO 1600 or open the lens up to its maximum aperture, in that order, if necessary. My AF points are set to the center with surrounding assist points turned on and Focusing Priority takes precedent over shutter release or frame rates. No point in getting blurry shots unless the subject is clearly in focus.

Depending on where the majority of light is coming from, in relation to the whales, I would also adjust my Exposure Compensation to account for the difference. With the combination of bodies and lenses I bring, it affords me a good range of focal lengths, ranging from approximately 90mm to 640mm. Whales are fairly large animals, even though most of the time, only a small portion of their bodies protrude above the water but I almost never use an extender. If the whale is too far, I will wait for a closer encounter next time. Photographing a breaching whale is one of the most exhilarating experiences for me. It takes a lot of practice, patience and lightning fast reflexes because it can occur anytime, so one must have the proper camera settings ready. 

California is one of the prime locations for whale watching and photography in the world. Gray, Blue, Humpback, and Killer whales plus others are found, at various times of the year, along the west coast of North America, from Alaska in the north, down to Costa Rica in the south. These areas can be reached by car or a few hours by air. However, my favorite spot for whale watching and photography is Maui, Hawaii. Humpback whales migrate to Hawaii in the winter to breed and give birth. The water is warm and mostly devoid of food, so Killer whales are generally not present, to prey on the calves. Since the Humpbacks are not feeding, the cows and calves are free to frolick and display their acrobatics. The bulls are busy trying to 'battle' each other for an opportunity to mate. The climate is warm and sunny. I put on my shorts, T-shirt and jump in the zodiac bare-footed. Going out a few hours a day from early morning to early afternoon usually will net some good whale photos. You can also read my other article on photographing wildlife in Alaska on my website.

I photographed this breaching Humpback whale in Maui when I went whale watching on a zodiac. The equipment used was the Canon 1D MK IV and 100-400mm f/4.5 - 5.6 L IS lens. Visit my website to see the Equipment and Gear I used and view the slide shows and videos below to see these incredible animals in action around the world. There are also more photos of different whale species on my site.