Canon EOS 5Ds and 5Dsr

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend a Canon Experience Day, with the chance to try out Canon’s two high resolution cameras, the EOS 5Ds and 5Dsr. Helping out, were two Canon Ambassadors, David Clapp and Tim Parkin, along with Canon Representative, Rob Cook.

Hound Tor

Normally when trying out gear, you get a quick few minutes at trade shows and don’t have a chance to take images away with you. However, the idea of the Experience Days, is to really gain some experience with using the equipment available. It wasn’t just the camera bodies either, with a range of lenses also being available to try out. I was also able to try out the bodies with my own lenses and use my own memory cards, so that I was able to examine the images and compare to my own equipment in full resolution.

Conditions weren’t ideal for showing detail, as conditions were very foggy, but it was still possible to practice landscape photography in the more demanding conditions found in the Hound Tor area of Dartmoor and later around the abandoned barn at Emsworthy.

I started off using the EOS 5Dsr for a few hours around Hound Tor, coupled to the highly rated (if difficult to perfect) TS-E 24mm tilt and shift lens. Despite it now being a few years old, this lens really showed what the 5Dsr can do, showing a high degree of resolution and detail. My own EF 24mm f/1.4 was also able to show additional detail, when compared to what my 5D MkII can achieve.

Hound Tor

After a foray into Widecombe for a late lunch, we moved on to Emsworthy Barn. This is an old abandoned barn, situated amongst traditional drystone walls. By this time, I had swapped the 5Dsr and TS-E lens, for a 5Ds and a 16-35. This combination was visibly less sharp, even in the extremely foggy conditions (which may actually have exaggerated the difference) and I was also able to make a direct conparison between the two bodies, using my 24mm lens. This location enabled me to take some images, I don’t often get a chance to try out, as I would normally be wary of heading to the moors in such conditions alone.

Emsworthy Barn

As the light dropped, it was time to head home. It was a very interesting day and a rare chance to try out equipment, I may consider purchasing, before I take the plunge. It has also given me a new perspective on the current very high resolution cameras on offer and rather than get a second MkIII as backup, I would be more inclined to go for the 5Dsr instead, as the price difference is relatively small for the resolution advantage gained, particularly, as I could even see the difference in detail when viewing at 50%, the zoom level I use to estimate print sharpness and detail. The various crop options and ability to use at a lower resolution for many shots, would lessen the impact on cost for computing power and storage space, making it a more sensible choice, than it may otherwise have been.

The Faroe Islands and Viking Invasions

I’m not long back from my latest trip around Scandinavia. Last year, I was given the opportunity to chase the total solar eclipse, which was going to occur on March 20th 2015. Totality was only going to be viewable from land in two places though, Svalbard and Faroe Islands. The original plan was to head to Svalbard, but time of year meant that the weather could be hit and miss. For the sake of mobility and the dangers from polar bears, it was decided to switch to the Faroe Islands instead.

The trip would start in Norway, around Alta in Finnmark, where I was to help out a little with the final tour of the Aurorahunters season. It was a little more low-key than my full guiding in Iceland last November, but it was good to be part of the Aurorahunters team again. As usual, we would be chasing the Aurora Borealis, which in late winter, essentially means looking for gaps in the weather in much of Europe.

Of course, things didn’t quite go to plan, and we fell foul of the strike by Norwegian Airlines pilots, forcing us to make some last-minute decisions and changes to make sure we made it to the boat for the Faroes several days later. When I arrived in the Alta Commune, there was little snow on the ground, but that changed overnight, so it was lucky we decided to go on a hunt the first night and saw a nice display over a canyon and nearby mountains.

To get to the Faroe islands, meant travelling by ship from Newcastle, requiring flights from Alta via Oslo and Gatwick. The ship was to be our base for several days, including the three days travel, there and back, leaving us a few days to explore the islands. The Faroe Islands are a group of self-governing islands (and also part of Denmark) situated pretty much half way between Iceland and the Shetland Islands. The location pretty much offers a picture of the likely weather. Right in the path of the gulf stream, the weather pretty much matches that of the UK and Iceland, with the winds being closer to the strength in Iceland (and also Shetland), than the UK, in other words, potentially very windy and wet, with a lot of clouds. Obviously not the best weather for viewing a solar eclipse. However, as is so often the case, just like in the UK and Iceland, the prevailing weather meant that the scenery was pretty spectacular, with dramatic, flat-topped mountains, betraying their volcanic origin.

Also travelling on the ship, were a band of Danish and Icelandic vikings from the “Berserk Vikings“, who of course invaded the dance floor on the first night, doing recent (and not so recent) dance moves, while dressed as vikings. They were actually travelling to the Faroe Islands to hold a Solar Eclipse Viking Market at the Hoyvik Outdoor Museum, on the outskirts of the capital, Tórshavn. The aim was to raise funds for the future events in teh Faroe Islands, as well as having some fun.

Despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to experience the full glory of the eclipse or the strong geomagnetic storm that occurred during our visit, but just witnessing the sudden darkness and the cultural experience with the modern-day vikings was enough. I was even part of one of their ceremonies, thanking each other for helping to make the market a cultural success and that experience will live with me, along with the mental picture of the Faroe Islands landscape.

New Direction – Portrait Photography

Up until recently, I’ve always concentrated on nature photography, with a mixture of wildlife and landscape. I’ve photographed in a variety of places, including the local area in Somerset and my native Devon, as well as my spiritual home of the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District while in transit to Scotland. While I’ve done a little carnival and event photography and some architectural photography, that’s pretty much been it.

Recently though, I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut. Some of that is down to the pressures of work, leading me to feel too tired to do anything other than recover and recharge my batteries at the weekends. The trip to Finland would have been my only shoot this year, apart from odd things here and there, if it wasn’t for a couple of events organised by Sydenham Camera Club.

Now, I’ve never really been interested in portraits, beyond photographing family special occasions. However, the camera club have organised some interesting photo shoots. The first was back in July, when a shoot was organised on a farm in the Quantocks, owned by one of the members. Not only was I able to photograph some horses, but we also shot with four different models, Cerris, Leigh, Roxy and Sophie. Lighting was difficult, as it was one of the hottest days of the year, but we were able to find some shade and some filtered light, allowing my creative juices to start flowing.

Next up was a very ambitious project at Hestercombe Gardens, just outside Cheddon Fitzpaine, near Taunton in Somerset. This was an evening shoot involving 18 photographers, 8 models (Hannah, Leigh, Sophie, Roxy, Emma, Portly, Zoe and Maxine), plus make-up artist and hairdresser (who also modelled later), with an extra helper, in 7 separate locations. This allowed me to use flash, something I tend to avoid, but also one shoot allowed me to shoot with a model on my own, in perfect warm, late evening lighting, the sort of light I like. This really allowed me to be creative, with my penchant for narrow depth of field, as well as some contre-jour shots. Make up was by Indie, from Vanilla Skin.

All in all, they were both successful shoots and I particularly enjoyed the shoot with Hannah. I think the combination of Hannah’s natural poise, the lighting, the lack of flash and being able to shoot alone, really opened up my mind to some creative shots.

Latest Visit to the Aigas Field Centre

A couple of weeks ago, I made one of my regular trips to Scotland. As usual, I had two stopovers in the way to my final destination of the Aigas Field Centre. The weather turned out to be about the most favourable so far. I’ve had good weather in the past, but it was too good, with very harsh lighting. Often though, the weather has been pretty wet, with a low cloud base. This time however, it was pretty much perfect for a landscape photographer, at least on most days. While there were some wet periods, on the whole, it was showery, with constantly changing lighting conditions, with just one day being extremely wet (complete with flooding).

As has become fairly standard over the past few trips, my first stop was at a small Lake District village called Watermillock at the Brackenrigg Inn, which overlooks Ullswater to the south. The single rooms are quite small, but the food is among the best I’ve tasted. Often, the weather in The Lakes is pretty wet and there was some flooding when I arrived, but the sun was shining, with enough cloud cover to give some interesting skies. I dutifully drove down to Pooley Bridge and walked along the southern bank. It wasn’t quite as straightforward as I’d expected though, due to the flooding. Firstly, I tried photographing the river in flood, but I couldn’t get a composition I liked, so I continued to the southern bank, where I’d photographed before, ready to capture the sunset. The path I had taken before though, was completely flooded, so I had to take the higher path, until I could find a place to descend back down to water level and away from the trees. The flooding in my chosen spot was obvious, with a number of trees surrounded by water. The sunset wasn’t the best, but I managed to get some shots I was happy with anyway.

My next stop was one of my favourite places, Glencoe. As usual, I stayed at the Clachaig Inn, near to Signal Rocks and next to the River Coe. It is a prime place for ramblers and mountaineers, so has a much more informal feel to it that I like. The food is more pub-style, than restaurant, but still pleasant to eat. Again, the weather was perfect for landscapes and I was able to get one of my favourite images of the year. The sun broke through the clouds, lighting up the surrounding mountains, leaving the River Coe in enough shadow for me to reduce the shutterspeed enough to get good motion of the water.

After just a single night at the Clachaig, I drove to my final destination, the Aigas Field Centre. I’ve seen a few changes amongst the Rangers over the years, but they are all very friendly and knowledgable. The food is also very good and there is always plenty for even the largest of appetites and the centre is worth a visit, just for that. It has become my escape from a busy and stressful working life and is now pretty much a second home to me. If I lived closer, I would probably visit more often than I do, but the drive is simply too long for more trips. As usual, my reason (or rather excuse) for going was a masterclass photography workshop that was being run by the renowned Scottish nature photographer Laurie Campbell. Even though, I probably don’t really need his tutelage anymore as such, I always pick up some piece of useful information, simply by his proximity and by seeing him at work and he has become a friend over the years. The Masterclass Photography workshop, is as much about learning fieldcraft as photography and it is this that is one of my main reasons for attending. Another important reason, is to visit areas I like to visit, have time to stop photograph and not have the stress of driving long distances. The Aigas Estate is also well worth a visit, with a large range of different habitats and wildlife. In the spring and summer, it is possible to see ospreys and other raptors on the estate, as well as many different small passerine birds, with various wildfowl and other winter birds arriving in the autumn. There are also a number of resident mammals and herpetic fauna, including pine martens and badgers, not to mention red squirrels. I have spent around four and a half years trying to get a photograph of  red squirrel I am happy with, with very little success. However, on this trip, they were very visible, with a number of youngsters running across the lawns around the arboretum. With a little judicious baiting, they performed admirably and at one point three different individuals were in close proximity.

There are a number of local straths and glens surrounding the field centre, including Strathconon, Glen Cannich and the more famous Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar. These are all good for seeing golden eagles and each has their own landscape. Glen Affric is known for the remnant caledonian pine woodland and has special recognition for its importance in the natural habitat of the Scottish Highlands. Very few other glens and straths can offer such a fine example and once the autumn colours are produced, it is nothing short of breathtaking. Sadly, we were a little too early to see it at its best, as the colours weren’t yet in their full glory, but a visit to Strathconon produce some better colours. Stathconon is the complete opposite to Glen Affric in some ways. It is a good example of imbalance in fact, as the forestry commission has a strong presence and there is alot of evidence for overgrazing by red deer, with quite alot of erosion of the slopes. However, the colours around Loch Meig, near the bottom of the glen were just getting to their best and the almost still, sunlit  evening made for some spectacular reflections, so much so, that we were late for dinner. There was just enough of a breeze to blow the leaves, without disturbing the water.

We also went a little further afield, visiting the Falls of Shin, to see the leaping salmon and trout. Numbers weren’t large, but there were enough for some photographic opportunities. Another trip took us along the Farr Road, ostensibly to look for signs of black water voles, but also to look out for red grouse and to see some ancient preserved pine roots, evidence of how the moorland once looked, before human intervention.

Finally it was time to leave and to say goodbye to some friends in their final season at the centre. Unfortunately, I had left it too late to book a room at the Clachaig Inn for a couple of nights, so I was forced to look for another stopover. I chose the Isles of Glencoe Hotel, a pleasant hotel in a prime location, on the banks of Loch Leven, at the bottom of Glencoe. While the room was very nice and the food was good, it was a little too formal for my purpose, as I wanted to eat when I was ready to eat, instead of having to plan when to have dinner, early in the day. The locale was spectacular though and the changeable weather made for some dramatic landscapes. I produced a number of images I was very happy with, but one in particular stood out for me, making it two standout images for the trip. The final day, as I was just finishing my breakfast and was about to go and get ready for the drive to Ullswater, the mist started rolling across the loch from the direction of Kinlochleven. I quickly grabbed my gear to a high vantage point overlooking the loch, deciding on a short telephoto lens, grabbing a number of shots, looking towards the nearby mist beyond Eilean Munde, before heading towards another vantage point looking towards Ballachulish Bridge.

Finally, I headed off back to Ullswater, where the weather had closed in, so it was a restful night at the Brackenrigg before I headed home, from what had been a very successful and enjoyable trip, with a number of significant images.

Canon 5D MkIII – Thoughts after One Week of Use

Cinnabar moth caterpillar with Canon EOS 5D MkIII.

Back in March, I was lucky enough to get an invite to see the then new Canon EOS 5D MkIII at the Focus on Imaging event. I published my thoughts in my First Impressions of the New Canon EOS 5D MkIII blog entry. I have now finally taken the plunge and have owned it for one week. So far, I haven’t had a great deal of opportunity to put it through its paces. However, I have taken over 350 macro images (mostly in windy conditions) and explored how high I can push the ISO and last night I was able to test the autofocus a little.

First thoughts, are that it feels very good in your hands, as I also said previously. You definitely know you’re holding it from the weight, but (for larger hands at least), I think it fits perfectly, without feeling like you might drop it. Pretty much like the 7D in fact. I probably still need to read the manual properly, but mostly, I have been able to find out where things are. The mirror lockup is now on the first page of the menu, without having to delve into the (illogical) AF menu to find it. However, I am finding the zoom action a little difficult to get used to. In many ways, it is actually in a more logical position, but old habits often die hard. Also, the Q button screen doesn’t seem to have any access to the AF selection, like it does on the 7D, using the AF selection and M-Fn buttons instead.

Macro photograph with Canon EOS MkIII at ISO 6400.

My first concern was over manual focus, as I have always found manual focusing on the 7D through the transmissive viewfinder difficult, but despite having the same design, I haven’t had any problems with the 5D MkIII. The next step was to test the amount of noise and see how far I was willing to push it. While it was difficult, due to the windy conditions (motion blur always makes the noise look worse), my initial feelings are, that with correct exposure, ISO 6400 will work well for macro work, but ISO 12,800 is too noisy, although it may be ok for printing to A4 or even A3. That is a full two stops better than the 7D (which is actually noisier at ISO 1600, than the 5D MkIII is at ISO 6400 and probably at least one stop better than the 5D MkII.

Testing autofocus system of Canon EOS 5D MkIII against busy background.

After only being able to take macro shots in my back garden, I was finally able to get out and about with the camera last night. I deliberately left my 7D at home, so that I wasn’t tempted to go for the extra “reach”. I didn’t get too many opportunities, as most of the bids were pretty distant, but I did get some test shots. The first opportunity was a group of carrion crows on the path. There was a person coming in the opposite direction, so rather than me disturb them and I get a rear end view, I decided to wait for the other person to disturb them, so that they flew in my direction. The first thing I noticed, was the frame rate. Even though it’s only 2 fps less than the 7D, it’s obvious in use. While it isn’t critical (or even required) for most circumstances, when it is needed, it probably wouldn’t be quite fast enough for really fast moving action. However, the AF was so much more assured than the 7D and even in that short time, I had much more confidence that I could get the shot when push came to shove.

Testing image quality of Canon EOS 5D MkIII o nslow moving subjects.

In terms of image quality, it was night and day compared with the 7D. Even though many of the birds were distant, there was so much more definition. It was even noticeable in the slower moving targets, such as the mute swans, where the reach wasn’t important. The 300mm f/2.8 with 1.4x extender coupled to the 5D MkIII, produced images as sharp as the 300mm f/2.8 without extender does on the 7D and that’s without any AF microadjustment. I’ve done very little wildlife work with the 5D MkII, so I don’t have much to compare, but the AF alone makes it a much better camera in that regard and the indications so far, that it produces sharper wildlife images than the MkII, probably due to the focusing abilities rather than any sensor differences.

I thought long and hard about getting the MkIII, but in the end, it just made sense for the type of shooting I do. For landscape photography, I doubt it will make much difference to the MkII, but it has now become useful for action shots, with a much more assured focusing system and the benefits of the higher image quality from the full frame sensor. In the past, It was always a debate, which camera to take, if I had to travel light. Now it is a no-brainer. Where the 5D MkII would have let me down when photographing fast moving wildlife and the 7D wasn’t ideal for landscapes and suffered in low light; the MkIII is the best compromise for all the shooting I do. If I could afford bigger primes,  then 7D would be quietly retired, but I need the extra reach too often to sacrifice it at the moment. Perhaps an option would be a used 1D MkIV, or perhaps I’d be better off getting a big(ger) white. That’s a debate for the future though. No doubt, I will be publishing a fuller review, once I’ve gained more experience shooting with it.

A Journey with Nature Available on the Blurb UK Site

Recently, Blurb, the original self-publication bookstore, expanded their services to include a UK based website. I have now updated my bookstore to allow purchase of the print versions of my book (one text only and the other illustrated with photographs), as well as an updated iPad version. The prices are £2.49 for the iPad (or iPhone/Mac) version, from £5.00 for the text only version and from £24.95 for the illustrated version. I also have a limited number of paperback copies of the two text versions, for sale locally, at £4.50 for the text only and £23.00 for the illustrated version. (iPad and Illustrated) (Text only)

Focus on Imaging 2012

Yesterday was the start of this year’s Focus on Imaging exhibition. I decided not to attend last year, as Canon weren’t attending and there wasn’t anything specific I wanted to have a look at. This year though was set to be full of anticipation, with Canon’s recent releases of the 1D X and 5D MkIII, not to mention Nikon’s D800 and D800E.

I had originally decided to go out of curiosity, to have a look at the 1D X, but then of course with all the rumours and subsequent release of the 5D MkIII, it took on a new edge, as it was a camera that was more in my price range or more to the point a price range I could justify, based on my level of sales. Then the week before the exhibition, I received an invite from Canon Professional Services (CPS) to a demonstration of the 5D MkIII, so my first stop on arrival was the CPS stand, next to the main Canon auditorium, to book a session.

My overall impression of Focus, was that there were less people there than I remembered from two years ago. However, it could just have been that they were all crowded around the 5D MkIII and 1D X stands, as you couldn’t get anywhere near them when I arrived, such was the interest and the corridor in that area was completely blocked. The usual range of show offers from the various exhibitors were in evidence, including a good price for a Black Rapid strap and a set of small Interfit 5-in-1 reflectors, but as usual, the paper I usually use was noticeable by its absence, despite a couple of exhibitors having a selection from Hahnemuehle (including Hahnemuehle themselves).

Then the time came for the demonstration and I will make another post with my impressions (along with some impressions expressed by the rep) of that and the subsequent quick testing afterwards. After that, I also made a beeline for the area where they had the only sample of the pre-announced 200-400 with built in extender. First of all, I picked it up and was immediately surprised by the weight, or rather the lack of it. It was much easier to handle than my 300mm f/2.8 IS (original version). I think this was partly due to the lightness and partly due to balance. I would say it’s only marginally heavier than the 300mm f/2.8 but much better balanced. I then had a chance to try it on a 1D MkIV. I wasn’t able to get any real impressions beyond seeing the difference between the extender in and out, but it’s very easy to reach the switch to flip it in and out with your left thumb. If it has the same image quality of other super teles (which I’m sure it will have), then it will be a lens to lust after.

All in all, it was worth attending and it was a good opportunity to see the new cameras and upcoming lenses. For anyone who is considering attending over the next couple of days, I would say get on the train or in your car and take a trip.

Photographs of Bygone Bridgwater

I’ve had a week off work shis week, but the weather hasn’t really been ideal for landscapes and the forecast wasn’t looking any better for the rest of the week either, so yesterday I decided to do something a little different. I don’t often take detail shots, but when I do, it’s usually details of nature. Yesterday, I decided to look for little details in and around Bridgwater instead, with black and white in mind. To suit black and white, I was therefore looking for textures and shapes. The other reason for thinking about monochrome, was the idea of looking at details from a bygone era.
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much in Bridgwater, it’s a sizeable town, but the centre is very small for its size. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll find lots of history. Historically, it was closely associated with the industrial revolution, as so many towns and cities are and the remains of much of that activity is still visible. The obvious link to the past, is the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, which links the rivers Tone and Parrett. At the Bridgwater end, is Bridgwater Quay, just before the entry into the tidal River Parrett. Alongside the quay, there are a number of old artefacts, such as mooring rings and gearwheels. Also, the lock gate between the canal itself and the quay is still in working order and serves as a footbridge across the canal.

As a source of experimentation, it went well, although, I will need to some retakes. Also, commercially, it probably makes more sense than my usual nature photography. At least I know that when the weather isn’t favourable for nature photography, I still have an outlet.

Canon 5d MkIII, 7D MkII or Something Completely Different?

I don’t normally post anything to do with rumours of upcoming cameras, but today, a series of images was posted, purportedly taken by a tourist in Kenya, who was in the same vehicle as a Canon employee testing the new 600mm MkII and the announced 200-400mm with built-in 1.4x extender. The photos look a pretty good match for released images by Canon. More interestingly though, not only does there appear to be a 1D-X being tested, but also a mystery smaller format camera. Speculation varies as to whether it is the future 5D MkIII or the 7D MkII, but it is clear that the layout appears to be an evolution from that of the 7D, which isn’t really unexpected. It also appears to not have a pop-up flash and the size of the pentaprism would suggest it is full frame. Beyond that though, it is anyone’s guess.

See the images for yourself:

or read the discussions:,2963.0.html

Having had some time to digest the available information, the following summarises the salient facts.

  1. Pentaprism size suggests larger than APS-C, perhaps full frame.
  2. Some of the visible buttons might suggest high speed shooting.
  3. Button layout is a combination of 1D-X and 7D.
  4. Longer format rear screen might suggest greater emphasis on video.
  5. Lack of Creative Auto setting on mode dial – departure from both 5D and 7D lines.

So, lots of ifs buts and maybes, that don’t really do much to answer the questions. When the specifications of the 1D-X were released, some of them had me interested, for example, the better low light and overall image quality. However, the price is out of my range and the move to full frame would lose me “reach” over the 7D, which would be the obvious camera to replace. The thought of a possible small format version of the 1d-X (with its cheaper price point) does interest me and if it just happened to have  1.3x crop (i.e. the now supposedly defunct APS-H format) and around 22MP, so that it would offer improved image quality over the 7D, then I would probably be planning on a purchase in the future. Even full frame at around 25MP if it had improved image quality, better tracking and improved dynamic range and sensitivity over the 5D MkII would spark interest, as I could then keep the 7D for when I need the reach and use the new camera for all other circumstances, effectively replacing the 5D MkII.

Time will tell in the end and ultimately, we just have to wait for the announcement. The Camera and Photo Imaging Show starts on February 9th in Japan and with Focus on Imaging a month later, it is an ideal time coming up for Nikon and Canon to make some high profile announcements.

Bridgwater Canal

Last Sunday, I decided it was about time I went out again. The lighting was pretty much perfect for some shots I had been planning for almost two years, but had always found somewhere else to photograph. A few miles outside of central Bridgwater, the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal passes a pub called the Boat and Anchor Inn, near the Huntworth Business Park. It isn’t anything out of the ordinary as far as canal-side pubs go, but they do serve very good food and of course offer nice beer. I didn’t visit on this occasion though, as I wanted to catch the low sunlight lighting the pub buildings and the canal. However, my memory was a little faulty and the angle I was looking for wasn’t possible, so I concentrated more on the canal, where the light was ideal.

While I was photographing the first of my chosen views, a dog walker stopped to say hello and mentioned that they were showing the canal on Countryfile on BBC1 later that evening. We chatted for a while, with him stating that he hadn’t seen them filming, but I thought it was slightly ironic, that I’d chosen that evening to photograph the canal.