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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review: The Canon EOS 1DX Mark II

I started out in digital photography with the purchase of the Canon EOS 1D Mark II many years ago. That camera quickly became my go to camera for just about everything, including birds in flight.  To this day, that body has a special place in my heart as one which could take abuse, and never fail. Of course until it did fail, and then I had to replace it, but I digress.

For those who have not been initiated into the deep line of Canon cameras, the 1 Series (as it is known), is the flagship DSLR in Canon's line.  It has been a go to camera for the worlds best sports and wildlife photographers.  Indeed, every camera I shoot with, I compare to this line.

I am taking a break today from lens reviews to review the Canon EOS 1DX Mark II.  I will look at fit and finish, capabilities, image quality and the most brutal test of all, birds in flight.  So sit back in your arm chair, grab a cup of Joe and get ready to experience the best of the best Canon has to offer.

The Canon EOS 1DX Mark II


Specifications
  • 14 frames per second (FPS) shooting (must use LP-E19 battery)
  • 21.2 megapixels
  • 61 AF points with 41 of those being cross type
  • Dual Digic 6 and Digic 6+ processors
  • 4K video up to 60 fps
  • 1080p video up to 120 fps
  • Autofocus available at f8 on all autofocus points
  • WI-FI
  • GPS
  • ISO up to 409,600
  • Lights which flicker (eg. florescents) can be managed with the anti-flicker mode
  • AF points now can be setup to be red instead of the darker black/gray color in the Mark I.
  • Touchscreen during video for better focusing
  • Dual card slots; one slot takes CF and the other slot takes CFast
  • Released April 2016

Build Quality/Fit and Finish

The 1DX Mark II boasts a fully weather sealed and dust sealed magnesium alloy body.  Over that body is what appears to be a rubberized type of material which includes anti-slip surfaces for gripping the camera better.

The camera felt like it was made for my hands and as I shot with it; it felt like an extension of my hand.  There is certainly no room to complain with how this body is built.  It was built for the discerning pro or advanced amateur looking for a no excuses experience in photography.  

Some may find the weight to be an issue with this camera as it comes in at 2.95 lbs.  Let's just say it weighs 3 lbs and be done with it.  It is a heavy camera, and it seems a little heavier than some previous models.  For example, my older 1D Mark II came in at 2.7 lbs and my 1D Mark III is only 2.5 lbs.  

When shooting birds in flight hand held, I had to stop often to let my shoulder rest.  This is a common issue with the 1 Series line, and if the situation permits, I would invest in a gimbal  head for the flight shots.  However, the weight is not all bad.  A heavy camera can produce more stable shooting as it can help balance heavy lenses.

At one point during my testing, I was able, quite by accident to discover just how rugged the housing of this body is.  During the shoot, one of my tripod legs slipped and down went the body.  It landed in the dirt with a thud.  My heart sank; I walked over to the now muddy body, cleaned off the back of it and resumed shooting.  No ill effects were noted for the rest of the shoot.  That is one tough body!

Autofocus

Let me say that I was totally blown away by the autofocus of this camera.  I was able to shoot birds in flight with little difficulty and even in low light.  The camera locked on to my subject quickly and stayed locked.  For the majority of my shooting, I stuck with the general purpose setting on the AF modes.  In this mode, I did find it would grab the background quicker, but that might be what you want.  There are many modes to choose from, and you can easily tailor the camera to what your needs are.

Huntersville, NC - Lanner Falcon,  Sigma 150-600 C @ f5.6, 1/1250th of a second, ISO 8000. Using center point expand autofocus.

Autofocus points can easily be moved using the joystick on the back of the camera, or if you prefer, using the standard wheel and dial approach.  I found both methods to be quick and painless.  It should also be noted that I did dial in a -1 micro-adjust focus correction when using my Sigma 150-600.  

If I were to complain about anything on the autofocus side of things, it would be the lack of autofocus points near the edge.  When I was shooting static subjects, I often wanted to move up past the autofocus cluster to focus on my subject's eyes. This is one area that the 7D Mark II excels over the 1DX Mark II.  The photographer almost has edge to edge autofocus points on the Canon 7D Mark II due to the smaller sensor size.

A myriad of autofocus options are available on the 1DX Mark II.  I used Case 1 for my testing.  I also primarily use this mode on my 7D Mark II.


Low Light Performance

At only 21 megapixels, Canon was making every attempt to make this camera a low light monster.  When shooting birds in flight, I started shooting at 8:00 am in a forested area.  This is a low light time in the autumn season. I was able to shoot without difficulty at ISO 8,000 and still have usable shots.  When shooting static subjects I dropped back to ISO 6400 to produce very usable shots.  Compare this to my Canon EOS 7D Mark II and I would definitely be in trouble at 3200 and above.  This camera saved my bacon on this day.  The shot below was taken at a whopping ISO 20,000.  Although I would not try to make large prints from this shot, it does show just how versatile this camera is.

Huntersville, NC - Eurasian Eagle Owl,  Sigma 150-600 C @ f5.6, 1/1250th of a second, ISO 20,000. Using center point expand / AIServo autofocus.

Image Quality

I hesitated to even write anything on image quality because at this price point, it better have astounding image quality, but I decided to go ahead with my thoughts on it anyway.

It, of course, has amazing image quality.  I found the level of detail to be more than enough and the "cropability" of the final product to be just as amazing. Meaning that even after cropping, I felt like the final product held good detail.

However, because of the low light work I was doing, I was not able to test it at 100 ISO.  I think at that level I would have been completely blown away.  Even  at ISO 3200 though, it was astounding.  Much better than my crop sensor bodies (of course). Below is a static shot of a golden eagle photographed at 3200 ISO using fill flash to bring out facial detail.  I would have no issues with making 30 inch images even at this ISO.

Huntersville, NC - Golden Eagle,  Sigma 150-600 C @ f6.3, 1/250th of a second, ISO 3200. Using single point/AIServo autofocus.

Where I found the image sensor lacked was in dynamic range.  I thought it did a fair job in the shadow detail, but I found that recovering highlights was only slightly better than my 7D Mark II.  This is something I am hoping Canon can correct in the near future.  My Canon 1D Mark III can recover highlights that would never be recoverable with modern cameras.  The newer and higher megapixel sensors simply cannot recover these highlights (with maybe the exception of the higher end Sony cameras).

Video

I did shoot three videos over the course of a weekend of shooting, but shooting video was not my primary goal with this test.  However, let me say that shooting video was much better than it is on my 7D Mark II due to the touch screen autofocus.  I could easily touch anywhere on the LCD and shift focus from one object to another.  This ability would also make special effects like pull focus possible.

This camera also supports 4K at 60 fps, which is welcome, as Canon has been slow to provide this to its non-cinema lines. Now, if slow motion is your primary style of shooting, you will only get 120 fps at 1080p. Seriously though, If you are that into video, and want to stick with Canon, either get a dedicated cinema DSLR or get one of their professional video cameras. I will address the video shooting more in my podcast and YouTube channel.

Conclusion and Wrap up

The autofocus is completely stunning and took even me a little by surprise.  For that reason alone, I highly recommend this body.  I may even pick one up on the used market myself in a few years just for flight. 

If you are only interested in image quality and have no need for fast action photography, I would look at the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV or maybe even an older 6D. 

So, 6,000 dollars?  Is it worth it to you? My advice to you, if money is an obstacle, is just to wait until it comes down on the used market.  In a few years, this camera will be down below $1,000 US and will be a great bargain.

If you want a camera with similar functionality and don't mind giving up the full frame sensor, consider the Canon EOS 7D Mark II which can be picked up on the used market for under $1,000 US. Although the 7D II isn't quite as performant on the autofocus side, it has amazing detail and most of the features this body has to offer.

If you want to stick with the 1 Series bodies, but can't afford this body, consider a used 1DX or 1D Mark IV.  You will have to drop down to 18 megapixels on the 1DX and 16 on the Mark IV, but I can tell you they have amazing autofocus and image quality. 

In the end purchasing a camera like this is about weighing the pros and cons for your style of photography.  No one can tell you what your needs are, but I hope this helped you to understand who this camera is for, what features it has and what kinds of trouble you might run into.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Canon EOS R Specifications and Thoughts

Early Image of the Canon EOS R Mirrorless Camera















Canon rumors released a bunch of specs for the new Canon EOS R mirrorless camera on September 1, 2018.  I have highlighted the specs I really think will be helpful to nature photographers.  The specs are as follows...

  • Number of effective pixels: 30.3 million pixels (Total number of pixels: 31.7 million pixels)
  • Image type: JPEG, RAW (14 bit), C-RAW
  • Dual pixel RAW support
  • EVF: organic EL, 0.71 times
  • AF point: Maximum 5,655 points
  • Distance measurement range: EV – 6 to 18 (23 ° C at room temperature · ISO 100 with F1.2 lens)
  • ISO sensitivity: 100 to 40000 (extended ISO: 50, 51200, 102400)
  • Shutter speed: 1/8000 to 30 seconds, Bulb
  • Continuous shooting performance: Up to 8 frames per second (at servo AF: up to 5 frames / sec)
  • Video: 4K 30p, FullHD 60p, HD 120p
  • Rear liquid crystal display: 3.15 type 2.1 million dots touch panel
  • Recording medium: SD / SDHC / SDXC card
  • Battery: LP-E6N / LP-E6
  • Can charge inside the camera using the USB power adapter PD – E1 (only when using LP – E 6N)
  • Size: 135.8 x 98.3 x 84.4 mm
  • Weight: 660 g (including battery / memory card) · 580 g (body only)

Based on the fact that most of these are probably not just rumor at this point, I am going to put in my two cents on what I like on paper and what I think might be an issue.  I am going to cover this more in depth in a podcast coming out soon.
  1. 30 megapixels is more than enough for most applications, so I don't see any need to complain here.  Honestly, I actually applaud them for not trying to go for 40 or 50.  I think that will help keep noise down.
  2. They are claiming it has 5,655 AF points.  So that is pretty much the whole screen and is welcome.  I am sure you will be able to choose how many you want to be active as this would be a must for fast action photography.
  3. I know that Canon is going to get kick back from photographers on only having 4K at 30p, but I still think this is a good offering on their first mirrorless targeting advanced photographers.  Hopefully it will not be a crop like it is on the Canon 5D Mark IV.
  4. Some images suggest that it has a fully articulating screen.  This is going to be huge for vloggers and shooting from low angles.
  5. Only 660 grams compared to 910 grams of the 7D Mark II.  All you weight snobs should be happy about that.  Personally, the camera is always the lightest part of the equation in wildlife photography, so I don't worry about it.
  6. Only 8 frames per second, but that is more than enough for wildlife photography.  8fps or above is the sweet spot for action work.

That's really all I have to say for now on this topic.  We really need to wait a bit longer to see how everything shakes out.  This is indeed exciting news as Canon moves into the new era of photography!


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I need your help to keep producing content! Consider becoming a patron to my work. Funds received from your help, will go toward keeping the infrastructure in place to keep providing free content. As you know, web site hosting, microphones and recording gear are very costly. To find out more about being a patron and how this can benefit you, head out to my Patreon site : https://www.patreon.com/mattcuda


Individual training, and honest and useful portfolio critiques available. Email me at matt.cuda@mattcuda.com
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Monday, September 3, 2018

Review: The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM

After reviewing the Canon EF 300mm f4 IS USM, I felt like it was time to take it up a notch and review a lens that is really at the top of the Canon lineup for sports and wildlife.  This lens has been engineered with the most discerning photographers in mind.  Some might even say the Canon EF 400 2.8 II is the best telephoto lens Canon has ever made.

Because this may be the "baddest" lens Canon has ever made, I vowed put this test through its paces.  From initial impressions to micro focus calibration to field work, I wanted to see if this lens really was the best.  Of course there are several other lenses which are famous for being amazing lenses in the telephoto "L" lens lineup.  Among the best are the EF 500 f4 L, the EF 600 f4 L and the EF 200-400 L.  Make no mistake, I will not let lenses in this price category and fame get by with anything!


The Canon EF 400 2.8 arrived in a hard case with a strap 

As with my other reviews, I will be holding this lens up against the modestly priced, but highly effective Sigma 150-600 C.  Since I shoot with this lens on a weekly basis, I am thoroughly familiar with all the pros and cons this lens has dealt out. Will the 400 2.8 really blow away the Sigma?  Read on to find out! 


Canon EF 400mm 2.8 L
Canon EF 400mm 2.8 L IS USM

Overall Specifications of the Lens

  • Weight - 8.4 Pounds 
  • Length -13.5 inches
  • Image Stabilized - Mode 1 Stabilizes X and Y axis.  Mode 2 Stabilizes during horizontal and vertical panning. Provides roughly 4 stops of image stabilization.  Mode 3 detects which axes to stabilize and only stabilizes at the time the images is taken.  There is no preview.
  • Lens Construction -16 Elements in 12 Groups 
  • Focal Length - 400mm (prime) 
  • Image Magnification - 1:5.8 
  • Aperture Blades - 9
  • Closest Focusing - 8.86 feet (2.7 m)
  • Filter Size - 52mm (Drop In)
  • Lens Hood (reverses for stowing ET-155)
  • Removable Tripod Collar
  • Aperture - f2.8 to f32
  • MSRP - $9,999 US
  • Used Price - $7,000 US?  (not readily found on the used market)

Micro-Adjusting to the Canon 7D Mark II

I think a big mistake some reviewers make is not micro-adjusting the lens to the camera.  How can you sincerely test the lens in the field without making sure the auto-focus of the camera is calibrated to the lens?  I figured this lens would be spot on when calibrated to my Canon 7D Mark II, but it was not.  I ended up making a -2 adjustment in order to get it perfectly in focus.  Below is the actual final calibration shot.




Build, Fit and Finish


Canon began manufacturing of the 400 around 2010, and it was officially released in August 2011.  It was an upgrade to it's sister lens the Canon EF 400 f2.8 L IS USM.  The latter no longer being in production.  

The first word that comes to mind when looking at the build of this lens is "WOW!"  The engineers set out to produce an astounding lens and they met their goals with breath taking precision.  From the moment I opened the box, I knew I was viewing an unusual product.


The most obvious and striking feature when viewing the lens from any distance, is the large diameter of the front elements.  This accounts for the majority of the weight of this lens and also the extreme cost.  Having a front element this large is amazing, but it is also a target for all manner of possible ways to get damaged.  The more surface area of glass on the front, the easier it is to scratch and the more front heavy it becomes.  8.4 lbs is no joke!  It weighs more than the average new born baby and lugging this around all day is likely to be taxing on the body.  



One Massive Front Element


At the rear of the lens are are myriad of buttons and switches.  There are some you would be familiar with such as the image stabilization switch and some you may not be.  Since this is the best of the best, it comes with a few more bells and whistles that are worth explaining throughout this review.  Included among the controls is a new button to me, the focus preset "Set" button.  That's right, you can set a pre-focus area and return to it over and over again.  More on that later.  As with most Canon L lenses, the manual focus ring is a good size and smooth to operate.


At the rear of the lens, is a drop in filter holder.  This allows you to drop a smaller filter into the rear of the lens.  With a massive front element, buying a filter that big would be difficult if not impossible.  I really wish all telephotos had this feature, but I can see the difficulty this would introduce into the manufacturing process.


View Showing the Drop-in Filter

So it can't all be roses, right?  Well, yes, there are a couple drawbacks on the build with this lens.  First, the lens hood is so massive that it was actually difficult for me to push the lens through the opening in my blind's camo netting.  In small spaces look to be a bit frustrated by this design.  The other obvious issue is the weight of this lens.  Because of the 8.4 lb weight, it is almost impossible to lug this 4 miles through rugged terrain.  If you are thinking about this lens as your primary wildlife lens, I would recommend against it.

Finally, when the lens arrived to me, the hood was actually stuck on the lens.  I was able to loosen it up, but eventually the little knob to tighten down the lens hood stuck in the open position.  At that point, I had to wedge a piece of cardboard between the hood and the lens to keep the lens hood from falling off.  Now, I want to ask you.  Should a $10,000.00 lens have a fault in the lens hood knob?  After researching it online, I found it was a fairly common problem with this lens and the other big Canon primes. This is not something you want to find out after spending this kind of cash on a lens.


Sharpness and Optical Quality

What you are not going to find in this review is a sharpness test pointing at some lens chart.  There are plenty of those available on the web.  What you are going to see is how this lens performs against real subjects.  My working genre in the photography world is wildlife and I specialize in bird photography.  So that is where I will concentrate my tests.  Always stick with what you know when testing a lens.  

When I began testing this lens sharpness, I knew it was going to be very sharp.  This lens is well known for its sharpness and speed of focus. Because of that, were I decided to spend all my time was comparing this lens with my Sigma 150-600.  I wanted to answer the question, "Is this lens' sharpness worth almost $10,000 US?  I honestly believe that as photographers on a budget, we owe it to ourselves to find out what makes a 10K lens a 10K lens. Even if most of us never buy this lens, we need to answer that question.

Indeed the lens was sharper than my Sigma 150-600, but I did not feel like the difference in sharpness was worth spending that kind of money.  With modern post processing software, the sharpness difference can easily be compensated for.  Don't forget, I could buy 10 of the Sigma lenses for the price of one Canon 400 2.8 II.  However, if price is not an issue for you, then you will be getting a very sharp lens with plenty of resolution.  Below is a 100% crop of a mourning dove with default sharpening applied.


Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove - 100% Crop

I could definitely see where there was more resolution provided by this lens when compared to other lenses I have photographed with.  In the above 100% crop, the beak details were quite amazing.  Below, I have a fully processed image of the mourning dove with added clarity, sharpening, contrast and noise reduction.


Mourning Dove Fully Processed



Auto-focus

Out of the gate, this lens is a thoroughbred.  It can focus faster and better than any other lens I have ever used.  This is due, for the most part, in thanks to the large front element gathering light at f2.8.  It is a light sucking hog and that is exactly what your DSLR's AF sensor is hungry for.  Having said that, for basic action, I don't think you need a lens of this caliber.  If you are making a living as a sports photographer, then a lens like this will make a difference in what is in focus and what is not.

Personally, as far as wildlife, I thought this lens was  overkill and I really don't think that is what Canon designed this lens for, specifically.  My feeling and the feeling of others was this lens was designed for fast action sports photography for the discerning professional. It is heavy and was designed to be put on a monopod at a baseball or football game.

With my backyard birds, I didn't feel like it snapped into focus any faster than my Sigma, but it did focus faster when using AI servo.  The incremental focusing done in this  mode was so fast, that it made a totally different noise as the focus motor zipped back and forth finding focus as the birds moved their heads and bodies.  Had I taken this out for birds in flight photography, I believe it would have been a stellar lens.  With the weight of this lens though, I honestly didn't feel like lugging this up to Pilot Mountain.

One of the subjects I photographed during testing was the red-bellied woodpecker.  Woodpeckers are very agile and difficult to focus on.  The 400 did a great job of keeping up with the woodpecker's bobbing head. I felt like it did a better job than my Sigma here.  Note that this time of year is terrible for photographing songbirds.  This is their time to molt, and this poor female red-bellied woodpecker has lost a great deal of her head feathers.


Red-bellied Woodpecker

Image Stabilization (IS)

In case I didn't mention this several times already, let me say it again.  This lens has all the bells and whistles and so I was not surprised to see three different modes of image stabilization.  That's right, not two modes, but three modes!
  • Mode 1 - This is the traditional IS mode which stabilizes both the vertical and horizontal axes.
  • Mode 2- This is also a traditional IS mode which only stabilizes the vertical axis.  This is used for panning purposes.
  • Mode 3 - This mode is new and will only stabilize the lens when the shutter button pressed all the way down and at the time of taking the image.  It does not "preview" the stabilization in the view finder.  This mode is more effective when shooting action.
View of Stabilizer Modes and the Unique Focus Preset Switch


My Sigma 150-600 also has the Mode 3 feature, but it is not a switch.  It is configured through the doc.  You can choose whether you want to preview the IS or let it lock it down at the moment of taking the photo.  So I can not say that this is a great win for Canon, although  with Canon it is immediately available with a switch.  So maybe a slight advantage from that perspective.

Among the other switches near the image stabilizer switches is the focus preset switches.  When the focus preset function is engaged, the photographer can focus on a particular area in the image and make it a focus preset.  This is primarily useful for sports photographers who are shooting in a particular zone on a ball field.

Uses for this Lens

Again, one of the most obvious uses of this lens is professional sports photography.  I would say that it should be exclusively used by this group, but I think that would be short sighted. 

As a secondary use, I could see this used for wildlife photography.  Specifically as a go to lens for low light, flight photography or blind photography.  I think its strengths would be best utilized in a stationary manner.  From a car, a popup blind, or on a sturdy tripod with a gimbal head you would have a killer setup.  I can see pairing this with the Canon 7D Mark II to give you a 640mm effective focal length.

However, I do not see this as a run and gun lens.  If your style is moving stealthily through the woods and using cover and concealment as you move, this lens will be heavy and with the big white lens hood, will give away your position.  If you insist on using this lens in this type of setup, consider buying a lens coat and a gym membership.  

Final Verdict

Obviously from a technical perspective this lens is going to work extremely well for you.  It has amazing auto-focus, amazing build quality and at 400 mm can handle most of your wildlife and sports photography needs.  However, and this is a BIG however; is this lens the best choice for you?

Big features make for a heavy and expensive lens.  There is a reason that many photographers opt for the 300 2.8 instead of the 400 and that is simply the raw economy of the matter.  On the used market, I can pick up a Canon EF 300mm 2.8 IS for only $5,000. Furthermore, since the 300 is so sharp, I can put a 1.4x teleconverter on the lens.  For a few hundred dollars more, I have an f4, 420mm effective focal length.  Or, how about a 2x teleconverter giving you a whopping 600mm effective focal length. 

There are also other third party options which also bear mentioning here.  How about the Sigma 120-300 2.8?  A sharp and more versatile lens which also supports using a teleconverter.  This lens is only $3,313 US.  With the money saved, you can take a trip to Alaska to photograph brown bears and eagles.

It used to be that the major manufacturers were the only companies that frankly could make the glass needed by semi-pros or pros, but those days no longer exist.  Today, the 3rd party lens making world is growing rapidly and producing some astounding glass. They are turning the heads of even the most discerning professional.  Finally, I think Canon needs to understand the changing world of photography.  No longer do professional photographers make the money they need to purchase a lens for $10,000.  We are expected to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less money.  The days of newspapers owning a couple 400mm 2.8 lenses are gone along with the large staffs of in house photojournalists.  

Having said all that. You are in control of your own destiny.  If you have the extra money, than by all means go for it.  Buy that EF 400mm lens!  You will not be disappointed.

Quick Summary

  • Great build quality
  • Image stabilized
  • f2.8 aperture makes shooting in lower light easier
  • Sharpness is excellent
  • Best in class auto-focus.
  • Extremely expensive at $9,999.00 US
  • Large, clunky lens hood with a problematic tightening knob.
  • White color could draw unwanted attention from your subject
  • Focusing ring was great when hand holding, but slips when resting on a bean bag
  • Weight makes it difficult to use in run and gun wildlife photography

Check out the accompanying video for this review!

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I need your help to keep producing content! Consider becoming a patron to my work. Funds received from your help, will go toward keeping the infrastructure in place to keep providing free content. As you know, web site hosting, microphones and recording gear are very costly. To find out more about being a patron and how this can benefit you, head out to my Patreon site : https://www.patreon.com/mattcuda

Individual training, and honest and useful portfolio critiques available. Email me at matt.cuda@mattcuda.com
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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Cowardice, Intimidation and the General Population

From time to time, I write about this topic.  It is the topic of how the masses perceive each other and how there is almost nothing you can do about it.  That's right, I said there is nothing you can do about it.  Let me explain this in detail.

I was born into a normal middle class household in the northern tier of  Pennsylvania.  My genetics are made up of Swedish (that's important), Italian, Irish and English.  Your basic European mutt.   My dad was a salesman and my mom took various jobs to help pay the bills.  I was brought up to respect others, but also to stand up for myself and not lie just to appease others.  But there is more to the story than that.  You see, what I didn't realize as a child is that biology was going to play a major role in how others perceived me and how I interacted with others.

Looks are Very Deceiving 
By the time I became a teenager, I knew I was different than everyone else.  I had plenty of friends, but I knew people perceived me differently.  There was something about how I looked that made me more polarizing.  Those around me either really liked me or really didn't.

As I grew older and went through high school and college I noticed that if anyone got in trouble in a room, it would be me.  People would tend to look at the floor, rather than engage me directly in conversation.  Oh how I longed for good conversation and still do to this day.  I longed for good friends and still do to this day.  So why you may ask have people treated me so differently?

It wouldn't be until about 2008 that I found my answer.  One day my manager told me that the workers found me intimidating.  I honestly laughed out loud when I first heard this because it was so ridiculous to me. After multiple sources from different companies and even some friends told me this, I soon realized that there must be something to this.  Another term I heard bandied about is, "you seem very intense."  What the heck does that mean?

At this point, I began to do research on how people look and how they are perceived and I found some very compelling evidence to suggest that the way our head and body is shaped does indeed affect, profoundly, how we are perceived.  Combine looks with self confidence and you have a soup made for disaster.

Just as someone who is beautiful seems to get all the breaks, the guy who has harsh, strong features is thought of as someone not to be messed with and to be avoided.  It is some weird innate thing that we simply can do nothing about.

The Big Brow
Studies have shown that when someone looks at you for the first time, they often hone right in on your eyes.  This means, that your whole eye and forehead structure comes into play within the first 5 seconds you meet someone.  With some men, the first thing they see are deep set eyes and a large brow.  Humans seem to know innately that someone with a big brow is stronger and tougher.  They know innately that you are not the person they want to hang out with or that you are a person they want for protection.  In fact, studies have shown  that big brow does more than just stick out of your forehead!  That brow actually reinforces your entire facial structure to prevent your skull from taking damage.  So there seems to be some science to support their innate feelings toward me and others like me.  Of course, you guessed it.  I have a big brow.  This is the number one factor in looking intimidating!

Big Chest Cavity and Shoulders
This one is common sense and we see this all the time.  What does a body builder have that makes him look tough?  A big strong chest, abs and shoulders. So when someone sees a man with a big chest and shoulders, they can be intimidated and even more so for women (who seem to be the worst offenders).  We see football players and wrestlers and military fall into this category.  So again we have a very polarized attraction here. Either others are completely intimidated and run away from you or they see you as someone to protect them.  These of course are both the wrong reasons to befriend someone.  Again, you guess it, I have a big chest cavity and shoulders.

Deep, Booming Voice
Those who have big voices get lots of attention and for many this is simply a turn off and for others it can be intimidating.  So this is strike three for me.  I was made with a big voice that you can hear from one side of the building to the other.  This does make me a fairly good singer though!

Being a Big Guy is Not Intimidating
Having big shoulders or height does not make you intimidating.  They are fairly normal traits.  Intimidation (by looks) is all in the head structure and vibe you give off.  Notice I am not talking at all about personality.  That is a topic for another day.  Personality really gets into the psychological which is above my pay grade most likely.  I will say, however, that if people tell you that you are big and tough long enough, you will eventually play the part.  Watch out for that!

Other Warning Signs You Might be Intimidating

  • People see you as making a good police officer or military man when choosing a career.  This is a big warning sign!
  • People look at the floor in your presence.
  • People won't confront you directly, but instead immediately escalate the issue to the next level at work.  
  • People always email you and never call you (not always because of this but could be a warning sign).
  • People may say you are unapproachable (even though they have never approached you).
  • People refer to you as "big guy" even though you are of average height.

The Good News
The good news is that generally, none of the above speaks anything about who I really am in my heart of hearts.  People around you will try to shape you into a monster because that is how they perceive you.  They will try to compartmentalize you because that is what people do.  There is nothing you or I can do about this in general.  The only thing you or I can do is be the best person we can be. You can win people by utilizing the parts of your personality that are in fact likable.

And then, there is also the opposite sex and how they are attracted or not attracted to you.  Just as there are people who innately seem to hate you without knowing you, there are women who find the "big guy" to be attractive.  I would assert that it is not looks they find attractive per say, but rather that this is someone who can protect them and be their strength.  It cuts both ways however.  Just as there are women who find these traits irresistible, there are probably more who find it detestable (especially in modern times).  Good luck guys.

Conclusion
Realize this, there is simply nothing you can do about your looks or how people perceive you. Also, to a large degree there is nothing you can do about your personality.  I didn't really get into that topic here because it is such a huge can of worms, but your personality is what God gave you and it really cannot be altered for the most part.

When we judge someone by mere appearance we make ourselves the worst kind of person.  Furthermore, realize that you will suffer setbacks based on your looks.  Work will become harder and it will be harder to make friends and keep them.  Also, be aware that if you are also an introvert, you have just about doomed yourself to a life of solitude (for the most part).  That may actually be desirable for you :)  I hope at some level though, you do seek the company of others.

Those who really know me, know that I am not intimidating at all.  One of my friends told me that he just doesn't understand why people tell me that.  It is really simple, if you don't know someone, you judge them by their appearance and that is always a big mistake!

Unfortunately, a huge portion of the world's society hasn't gotten the memo that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover!