This blog entry is the third and final review on the Sony a7 III with the MC-11 adapter.  Read to the conclusion for a surprise ending.

The testing continued on the a7 III by taking the camera to the Greensboro Science Center in Greensboro, NC.  The local chapter of the CNPA (Carolina Nature Photographers Association) had an outing at this location, so why not end the testing at this location and later shooting songbirds.

Without a doubt this series, with the exception of the Canon 7D Mark II, has been the largest review on gear I have ever undertaken.  Thousands of images, hours of post processing, and wading through all my logical as well as illogical conclusions were all part of the process.  

Arriving at the Greensboro Science Center, we had a brief time of socializing in front of the building and then we were whisked off by our guides to photograph the animals.  The Science Center is not a huge facility, but they do have some interesting animals that you might not find in other locations.  One animal they have is the maned wolf.  This wolf is a solitary wolf found in South America.  He eats small rodents and even vegetation as part of his diet.  They are also in a large enclosure which means I can test different modes and techniques without my subject running off.

I started out photographing this animal using the single point expand autofocus option with lock-on, just as I had before.  However, I noticed that with the maned wolf, the autofocus wanted to grab focus on the nose of the wolf.  It is important that you use a single point when photographing animals with long noses.  This is how I would have photographed them when using my Canon 7D II, but I wanted to see just how smart the camera was.  Note that according to Sigma customer service, animal eye detect is not fully supported with the MC-11.  Just with any camera, it really comes down to knowing which autofocus mode to use for a given situation.  Below is an image I took of the maned wolf.

Maned Wolf - Sony a7 II, Sigma 150-600C, MC-11, 600 mm, ISO 2000, 1/200th
Here, lock-on mode worked.  I think mainly this was due to the eye being more prominent and easy for the lock on to follow. The nose being off to the left slightly also helped.

A few days later, I was back to photographing songbirds and that is where I will end the testing.  By now in the testing, I was really getting the hang of all the button locations and quirks of using the Sony.  Below is an image of a mourning dove using single point expand without lock-on.

Mourning Dove Before a Storm - Sony a7 III, Sigma 150-600C, 600 mm, ISO 1600, 1/400th

So, I hope this testing was helpful to you in some way.  I can tell you, that for me, it was fun and interesting to test out this fairly new beast, but I still have one question to answer.  Would I keep it? Wow, that is is a big question isn't it, and the answer for me was not an obvious one.  I wish I had a clear answer on it based on the testing, but one day I would say I was keeping it and the next day I wanted to return it.  

In the end, I had to look at my findings from a completely logical perspective. I couldn't base a decision on emotion or some reviewer online. So, in the end I decided to keep it and here is why:


  1. Canon offers no full frame camera at this price point with so many features, period!
  2. I can adequately use my Sigma 150-600mm lens via the MC-11.  It isn't perfect, but it will work good enough
  3. Focus peaking is a feature I will use all the time
  4. Great image quality, but not amazing
  5. 4K Video - I find myself dabbling in this more every day
  6. In body image stabilization
  7. Lock-on mode is awesome for moving subjects
  8. Animal eye detect with Sony lenses
  9. Silent shutter (do I need to say why I like this)
  10. Great low light performance

Is it as great as people say it is online?  No, it isn't.  Is it better than anything else at this price point?  Yes, it is and that is the bottom line isn't it?  If money was no object, I would have an a9 or a Canon 1DX Mark II.  It comes down to a personal decision based on what your needs are.  I have my own needs, just as you do.  I needed a full frame camera that can fill in the gaps in the Canon 7D Mark II.  It needed to have great low light performance at the least, since my Canon does not.

It is also important to note that I have no plans to abandon my Canon gear.  I have a great deal of time and money tied up in Canon products and I still think the Canon 7D Mark II has great image quality and the fact it is APS-C gives me the extra reach I need in many situations.  For the situations that my 7D II can't handle, I get out the Sony.  It is really that simple!  Even if I were to switch completely to Sony it would be at least two years until that happens.  My experiences with this camera will help mold that decision.


Again, I hope you enjoyed this series on the Sony a7 III.  Now, get out there and enjoy nature.





If you haven't already done so, please check out Part I of this series as it will help you understand this blog entry better.

Gear Used for Testing



For the second series of tests, I decided to head to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.  Here, I was better able to test the Sony against mammals and shoot some water features.  Since, I live close to the Smokies, I can make it to the location on a day trip.

After about a 3.5 hour drive, I was on location at Cataloochee, NC.  This is an area of the Smokies I often go to, to photograph Rocky Mountain Elk.  On this day, however, there were no elk to be found.   Not only were there no elk to be found, but no turkeys either.  Both, are usually common here.  After some head scratching moments, I found myself photographing Cataloochee Creek. That is the great thing about the smokies. There are always opportunities and sometimes you just have to switch to Plan B when you are at a location.

As the testing continued, I noticed I was becoming fairly familiar with the Sony, so finding the right settings was not difficult at all.  I have to say though, I missed having the top LCD that I have gotten so used to using on the Canon DSLR cameras.  It is nice to just glance down on it and make quick changes.  However, you can pop out the back viewfinder on the Sony and kind of accomplish the same task by using the various display options.

I put my Sony A7 III on my tripod, changed to uncompressed RAW and made several images from 20 to 30 seconds of the water.  Some images were made using a polarizing filter and some were not.  For a lens, I chose the Canon EF 24mm f2.8 set at f22. My ISO was set to 100.  Really there was too much diffraction at f22. I would have been better off using f11 and focus stacking.  

I thought that overall, the image quality was amazing.  It is easy to see why Sony cameras are used so heavily by landscape photographers.  I particularly thought the greens were well represented, but I thought the dynamic range could have been a little better.  Below is an example of the shots at Cataloochee Creek.

Cataloochee Creek - Sony A7 III, 30 Seconds, 24mm, f22, ISO 100
My day was certainly not over at this point, so I loaded everything back in the car and headed over a couple mountains to Cherokee, NC to see if there were any elk near there.  I arrived maybe 40 minutes later at this location, but again, found no elk.  Such is the life of a wildlife photographer.

So, at this point, I had a choice.  I could wait here and see if the elk would make an appearance, or I could make a  two hour run over to Cades Cove in Tennessee.  Being in a fairly adventurous mood, I headed for Cades Cove.  At the same time, the clouds began to move in.  This was actually a blessing and would allow me to shoot all day long.

Two hours later, I arrived at Cades Cove and entered the car touring loop.  The first pass was quiet, but on the second pass, I found a few whitetail does to try my hand at.  I was using the expand flexible spot with lock-on mode for all of the doe shots and my ISO was 1600 plus.  Below are two images from that fairly short shoot.

Cades Cove, TN - Whitetail Deer (ISO 1600, 1/800, Sigma 150-600, 347mm)


I spent another couple hours here and also photographed some turkeys.  I didn't think they were really good enough to put in this blog, I left them out.  At this point in the game, it was getting to be later in the afternoon.  Knowing that I was now close to five hours from home, I decided it was best to head back up over the mountains.

As I came back into the Cherokee, NC area, I was met with a good surprise.  The herd of elk were making their way toward the main road to cross.  I quickly made a u-turn and pulled off the side of the road.  I knew I wouldn't have much time, so I quickly got my gear together and headed over to the open fields they were crossing.

Almost as soon as I started shooting I noticed an elk calf running to catch up with the herd.  I switched on the camera and started shooting.  This would be a good test for the camera's tracking.  Later, I determined the burst only got about 1 frame sharp out of the series.  This was a bit of a disappointment for me.  I should also note that I had a good lock on the elk's head, so there was no user error here.  Below is the best image and even it is not super tack sharp.  It is acceptable sharpness.

Cherokee, NC - Elk Calf Catching up with the Herd, Sigma 150-600, f6.3, 600 mm, ISO 500, 1/2000

I continued to monitor the herd, but it was getting harder as they tried to make the crossing across the road.  I managed to get this shot below of one of the bull elk heading for the road.

Cherokee, NC - Bull Elk in Velvet, Sigma 150-600, f6.3, 421 mm, ISO 1250, 1/2000

At this point it was quickly getting late and I really needed to head home.  That is, if I wanted to get home before midnight.  So, I reluctantly gathered my gear and off I went.

On this second outing with the camera, I certainly became much more acquainted with how it works and felt like I was becoming much more proficient.  However, there are still several more tests to come, before I am ready to put my seal of approval on it.  Here are the pros and cons from photographing mammals in the Smokies.

PROS

  • The buffer is really great when using compressed raw.  I never ran out of buffer when shooting these animals.
  • Being able to see the camera lock and follow the animal, even when using the expansion modes was awesome.  I call it the dancing green AF points.
  • Great image quality when photographing at higher ISOs.  By higher, I mean anything between 1600 and 6400.
  • Flip up screen was very useful when photographing low level flowers and fungi.
  • MC-11 loved my Canon 100mm Macro.  It drove the autofocus without issue.
  • Great looking greens in the landscape shots.


CONS

  • Unable to switch to silent mode because of the potential for distortion from running Elk.  That is a big bummer!
  • Autofocus seemed to struggle a bit on the running elk, even though it showed locked on.  Two of the best poses were missed. This is most likely and MC-11/150-600 issue.
  • Single point shooting not as effective as expansion modes with lock-on.  This causes focus to grab the noses and not the eyes.
  • Animal eye detect is not available at the time of this writing for the MC-11. I put a request in for Sigma to introduce it, but who knows.  That would have prevented the issue above.
  • It would be nice to be able to shoot uncompressed RAW with a deep buffer. 







In essence this is the first of several entries to discuss the Sony A7 III.  Particularly, I will be writing about the A7 III with the Sigma 150-600 C lens attached via the Sigma MC-11 adapter.

For those who follow my blog, podcast and YouTube channel, you will know that I have been interested in Sony's line of mirrorless cameras for some time.  I have watched as each new camera launch ushered in a new age of mirrorless  technical features.




Having said all that, I am a Canon photographer.  I have a great deal of money tied up in lenses, flashes, bodies and other accessories.  For me to move to another system like Nikon would mean that I would have to replace everything.  However, that is not true when moving to Sony from Canon.  All I needed was a Sigma MC-11 converter and my Sigma lens could be used.  But, would it be that simple in reality?  That is what I am going to explore of the next several blog entries.

Initial Setup of the Sony A7 III

As with any new camera there are always configurations to perform.  I followed Sony's recommendations for wildlife photography.  They are pretty much as follows:
  • Set Focusing Mode to AF-C (Continuous AF)
  • Set Focus Area set to Flexible Spot 
  • Set Drive Mode to Continuous Hi (8 fps)
  • Set Image to Compressed Raw (uncompressed RAW will fill the buffer up too rapidly) 
  • Make sure the MC-11 Adapter Has the Latest Firmware
  • Make sure the 150-600 has the Latest Firmware
I saved these settings as "1."

Specifications

  • Megapixels: 24.2
  • Body Style: Magnesium Alloy
  • Autofocus:  Fast Hybrid AF (phase-detection/contrast-detection AF)
  • ISO: 100-51,200
  • Shutter Speed:  30 seconds to 1/8000
  • Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
  • LCD: 2.95 inch with 921,600 dots
  • Drive Modes:  Single, Continuous Hi/Hi+
  • Burst:  8 to 10 FPS depending on drive mode and compression
  • Battery: NP-FZ100 (610 shots)
  • Battery Charging:  Internal with USB cable / External charging available via a charger sold separately


Build Quality and Feel

Right away I noticed how much smaller the A7 III is when comparing it to my Canon EOS 7D Mark II.  My pinky actually dangles off the bottom of the grip. I did not find it uncomfortable though, and both 3rd party grips and a Sony grip can be purchased to make moving to a vertical easier.  The grip will also extend the battery life as it allows me to put two batteries in it.

I found the buttons, for the most part, to be well positioned.  I ended up making the AE-lock button into a back button focus button, since I always shoot with back button focus.  The one button I found hard to get to was the AF-On button.  It is positioned up against the right side of the viewfinder.  By the way, I should also mention that there are numerous buttons the body that can be programmed to whatever the photographer needs. One button I actually think I like better on the Sony is the shutter button, but I am not sure yet. 


Test #1 - Songbird Photography (Day 1)

The first test that any kit has to be able to do for me is to be able to quickly snap into focus when photographing songbirds in a setup studio environment.  I spend a lot of time photographing birds in this scenario and it is an absolute must for me.

In this test, the conditions were quite rough.  It was stormy and heavy cloud cover.  However, it turned out to be a good place to test low light conditions both from a focusing and high ISO perspective.  My ISO ranged from 1000 to 12,800. 


Cottontail Rabbit - High ISO at 12,800!!   The equivalent noise on my 7D Mark II in these conditions would have been 3200 or 6400.

During this test, the focusing of the camera seemed to be hit or miss.  At times it seemed to lock on fine and then suddenly would hunt all the way to infinity and back in a very very slow manner.  It was as if it was switching from phase detect AF to contrast AF and back again.  This was very frustrating to say the least.  On a scale of 1 to 10, one being the worst AF I have ever used and 10 being the best, I would place it at about a 5.  Had it not hunted on many occasions, I would have given it a 7 or better.  It is possible that the "Lock-on" feature will work better.  I have seen some thoughts to that effect online.  I will try that out on day two.


What I did find absolutely amazing was how great the image was at higher ISOs.  That is honestly something I am looking for in my next camera body.  When I am shooting a lens with a minimum aperture of 6.3, I need to have clean shots at 2000 ISO. Right now, with my 7D Mark II that is not possible.  So, I would give it a clear 10 here.  Sony is second to none in image quality.  Below are two test images I took on day one.  I did not have any bird images I thought passed the test on noise and quality.


Sony A7 III - Sigma 150-600 C - MC-11 Converter - f 6.3, ISO 1000, 600 mm, 1/1250, Some cropping done


Roughly 100% Crop of  Original without Additional Sharpening Applied (600mm)

I should also note that the menu system of the Sony is not nearly as complicated as people say it is. Maybe I am just good at navigating menus, but I thought it was quite intuitive and easy to use.  It is just like anything new.  You have to get used to it.

Test #2 - Songbird Photography Day 2 (A MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH)

With somewhat disappointing auto-focus results on day one, I changed my Focus Area strategy to use the Single Point Expand with Lock-on for day 2.  It turned out to be a huge boost to the AF performance.  Sony engineers, it would appear, spent a great deal of time perfecting Lock-on.  For this second day,  it was like shooting with a new camera.  I had increased my keeper rate easily by 75%, and it was actually fun to watch the focusing system stay with the bird.  I could lock on and recompose my images with the confidence that the focusing system would stay right where I locked on (in most cases).


Eastern Bluebird - Lock-on Engaged (this is the secret to using the Sigma 150-600 C) Focus and recompose was easy with Lock-on mode.

However,  the AF was not without issue.  I did notice that it wanted to grab the background on occasion and not let go.  In order to fix this, I had to manually focus back to the general area I wanted to focus in.  This was a disturbing problem, but with such a high keeper rate, it was hard blame the camera too much. After all, this is an adapted lens.  With a Sony native lens, I do not think this would be a problem.

Taking the images back for post processing, I was amazed at the detail of the images with standard AA sharpening applied.  They were sharper, for the most part, than anything out of my Canon 7D Mark II at 600 mm.  It should be noted that some of this was perceived sharpness due to being farther away from the subject and gaining more depth of field.  But, even so, it was a clear winner on sharpness.  Was it better than any other Canon product?  I can't say that for sure.  I think Canon has some amazing full frame sensors out there.  The win might go to Sony on this front as well.  The EOS R has a great sensor though.



100% Crop - Sony A7 III - Sigma 150-600 C - MC-11 Converter - ISO 1000



Common Grackle - Sony A7 III, Sigma 150-600 C, f6.3, 421 mm, ISO 2000, 1/1600

Day 1 and 2 Pros and Cons

PROS

  • Amazing image detail and sharpness even with higher ISOs
  • Single point expand with Lock-on blew my mind. 
  • Single point expand made it easy to focus and recompose even in AF-C (continuous tracking)
  • Shutter button was always easy to find and shoot with
  • Built in five way image stabilization
  • Great AF tracking when following birds from branch to branch
  • Easy to "clean up" images in post

CONS

  • Unable to use silent shooting due to distortion possible with moving subjects
  • To get good write speeds to the SD card, I had to use compressed RAW.  This gives up data such as high dynamic range.
  • Would like to see a 30 mp sensor size on such a new camera.
  • Seemed to focus much slower when using Non-lock on modes (with MC-11 converter).
  • Limited cropping in post due to 24 mp sensor size
  • AF would grab and hold the background and not let go on several occasions on each day








There are primarily two camera companies who have been embedded in the greater NYC area since practically I was born.  They are B&H and Adorama.  The latter company being the topic of this discussion.

I have used Adorama from time to time over the years, and really haven't had any issues to speak.  This experience or review is not really about how bad Adorama is, it is about its business model and customer service. That is why I choose not to use them anymore.  It is a personal decision based solely on my demanding needs as a professional.

Recently, I acquired a Sony A7 III to act as a test camera, which will help me decide if I want to give Sony a second look or just stick with Canon.  Realizing I would need a Sigma MC-11 adapter, I ordered one from Adorama.. They seemed to be the only one who had one in stock at the time.  Upon placing the order, I immediately realized that it was shipping USPS.  That was strike one.  Shipping sensitive electronics through USPS to a professional is risky at best.

On July 5, I received a notification from USPS that they could not find my address.  I called the local USPS office and they said they already sent it back to Adorama.  So, I immediately contacted Adorama to see if they could send me another one out. They could clearly see what happened when viewing the tracking number.  They could see it was a "no-fault" kind of situation.  No, they simply could not bend the policy.  I would have to wait for them to receive it back and then wait two more days for the refund to be issued.  

Again, I am looking at this from a professional's perspective and not from someone who has a ton of time to burn.  I had scheduled a shoot for the weekend, which would now have to be cancelled.  Of course, I turned around and ordered one through Amazon with hopes of getting it quicker.  

So, now it is a waiting game, my shoot cancelled and a weekend ruined because of the USPS and Adorama.  

Understand, I am not saying that Adorama is terrible, but for a professionals needs, you better plan way ahead just in case something goes amiss.  For me, I just can't use a company that can't bend the rules to make a customer happy.  If they had just sent that other one out immediately, they would have made a friend for life and the risk to them would have been minimal. 

That really only leaves B&H, Amazon and KEH with which to do business.  By the way, I really love the customer service at KEH.  It is by far the best customer service for a working pro I have ever used.  KEH doesn't always have the equipment in stock, but when they do, I will always go with them.






As you know, my primary focus in  photography is birds, followed by mammals, followed by macro and then finally, landscapes.  Up until the last four years, I hadn't really wanted to invest time into taking photographs of insects.  However, there are times now that I will pick up the camera and see what I can do with these little guys.  Make no mistake, however, I am not in love with the creepy crawlies, but you have to admit, they are incredibly designed.  The closer you get, the more amazing the detail becomes, and so I try to capture that detail when I can.

The Love of Macro
Macro photography and insect photography go hand in hand.  The more you love macro, the more tempted you become to photograph insects and spiders.  I do have a secondary love for macro photography in nature, and I crank out a few macros a year to supplement the endless shots of birds I create.  You need this love too if you are to be successful with insect photography.


Banded Orange Heliconian Butterfly, Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF 300mm F4L

Gear for Insect Photography

Lenses
The most important piece of equipment you will need is a macro lens.  Macro lenses are defined as having at a minimum a 1:1 magnification ratio.  That means that if you had a one inch sensor on your camera, your lens could take a 1 inch subject and fill that sensor from edge to edge.  Of course, this is at its closest focusing distance.

Insects can obviously see the photographer and that makes the insect want to jump or fly away from us.  For this reason, if you are serious about insect photography, I recommend a longer macro in the 150 mm to 180 mm range.  This will give you a better working distance, and you are less likely to scare the insect.  Later, in the techniques section, I will discuss how you can use a shorter macro in the 60 mm to 100 mm range to not scare the insect.  If you cannot afford the larger more expensive 180 mm macro buy a 90 or 100 mm macro.

The Butterfly Lens
There is one specialty lens that I need to mention here, and it certainly bears mentioning.  That is the butterfly lens.  So you are saying that you looked through the whole B&H catalog and didn't see a butterfly lens?  Well, you would be correct, but it is still in there nonetheless.

The butterfly lens was coined by several photographers including the famous bird photographer Art Morris.  You can classify the butterfly lens as any long lens in the 200 to 400 mm category that can close focus to at least a 1:4 image magnification. 

This butterfly lens was born out of the idea of needing a fast focusing, hand holdable and close focusing lens to follow butterflies from flower to flower and even capture them in flight.  The butterfly lens I use is the Canon EF 300mm F4 lens.  It has a 1:4 image magnification ratio and works great for this role.  The Canon EF 100-400 II has a 1:3.x image magnification ratio and fits nicely into this role.


Canon EF 300 F4 L (Butterfly Lens)

Camera Bodies
Ah, here is where things get really easy for you.  You do not, under any circumstances, have to have a great camera body.  Even a Canon EOS Rebel, Sony A6000 or Nikon D3500 will work.  This is where I depart from my normal wisdom of needing a pro body.  In bird photography, you really need a high end body, but for insect photography, you generally don't.  



However, if you want maximum image quality, I do recommend something full frame.  This will give you incredible details without suffering from micro-lens diffraction that APS-C sensors often suffer from.  A used Canon 6D would be a good inexpensive choice. As with anything we buy, there is always a trade-off.  Furthermore, I recommend that your camera have some kind of live view for focusing manually.  We will get into the focusing piece of the puzzle in the techniques section.

The Tripod
As with any nature photography, you need a good, steady tripod.  Don't waste your money on big box department store cheap tripods.  They simply don't provide a super steady rest for your camera.  I recommend looking at mid sized tripods from Manfrotto and Enduro.

Cable Release
I recommend using a cable release.  For those who do not know, a cable release is a way to release the camera's shutter without actually touching the camera.  You simply plug the cable release into the side and press the button on the cable release to fire off the shot.  If you do not have a cable release you can use the camera's internal timer.  The point is, that you do not want to be touching your camera, when making shots at a low shutter speed.  The vibrations from your hands will kill the shot!

Techniques for Insect Photography
This section will most likely get a little lengthy because there are numerous techniques involved in insect photography, so take a deep breath and read on.

Time of Day
As with most nature photography, the morning hours yield the best results for photographing insects. During the morning hours, before the sun has had time to start warming our section of the world, the insects are in sleep mode.  The technical word for this cold weather slow down is called torpor.  This is the perfect time to photograph the insect.  Remember how I said you didn't need a 180 macro?  Well, this is where you don't need that big macro.  You can get great shots of the critters during this time with a 90 or 100mm macro.  

Lighting
Lighting is something that will make or break any nature shot.  The best light, in my opinion, for insects is soft sun light coming from a cloudy day.  This type of light cast no harsh shadows and softens the image.  Also, insects are less apt to come out of torpor, because they don't have the hot sun hitting them.  Be aware that you will need to allow for the lower light conditions by adjusting your exposure.  More on exposure calculation in a little bit.  


Bumblebee - Canon 7D, Tamron 70-300 SP VC, Extension Tubes, Soft Lighting

Second to overcast days, is direct light.  This can be sun light directly over your shoulder or sun light at a 45 degree angle.  In the morning, the light will be low to the horizon and provide a softer and warmer tone.  This type of lighting is fabulous and quite easy to work with.  Just remember, the timer starts when that warm sunlight starts hitting the insect.

The final type of lighting is flash lighting.  They make special flashes called ring lights that attach to the end of your macro lens.  This flash provides a soft and directional light for very tight macro images.  This is a perfectly valid approach, but honestly is my last choice.  It might  be your first choice and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!  Note that they also make rigs where you can mount two small flashes on a bracket at 45 degree angles on either side of your lens.

Location
Another great thing about insect photography is it doesn't require that you travel to remote areas of the world.  You can find great macro subjects in your own backyard.  That is where I recommend you start.  As you get better at photographing these insects, start looking for a meadow.  The meadow I am talking about is a field with maybe waist high weeds and flowers.  This is a great place to find insects in the morning.  Remember to watch your lighting and don't forget your tripod.  

Look very closely on the backs of leaves and the stalks of the weeds.  Insects are masters of camouflage and you can walk right past them.  Spiders, although not insects, can have large, dewy webs left over from the night hunt they were on.  This can be a great macro.  Shoot it with the sun behind it for great backlighting.  Obviously flower beds and botanical gardens are a great place for both bees and spiders.

Don't forget there are other places that offer photographers a perfect place to photograph insects.  There are butterfly farms that allow photographers to come in and photograph many different types of butterflies.  These are great locations for making images and for general practice.  Do not overlook these!

Exposure
What a can of worms!  You can have the lighting, location and gear, but if you can't tell the camera how to make the image, you will fail.  I am not going to go into all the theory on how to create the right exposure.  If you are reading this and you don't know about the exposure triangle, I encourage you to do additional research or check out Brian Peterson's book on exposure.

If you just want a non-perfect place to start, this is what I suggest for general exposure that will get you most of the way there.  However, please do yourself a favor and learn exposure the right way.  Learn how to manually adjust your exposure.  Now having said that, here is the quick and dirty way to achieve exposure.

1.  If you are on a tripod, set your lens aperture to F22
2.  Set your shutter speed to 1/125th of a second
3.  Turn on auto-ISO.  Consult your owners manual on how to turn on auto-ISO.

Now, do I use the above approach? Only on rare occasions.  I have always been a manual exposure guy.  The biggest takeaway above is the F22.  F22 will allow you to get as much of the image in focus as possible and still, you will only have a few millimeters in focus.  Macro work has very shallow depth of field.  This is why insect photographers often use advanced techniques such as focus stacking.  That is a blog entry for another day.

Focusing and Taking the Shot
1.  Switch your lens to manual.  Except in the case of chasing butterflies, I always use manual focusing.
2.  If you are using a DSLR, put your camera into live view mode so you can zoom in to see where to focus.
3.  Zoom in to the eye of the insect and focus.  You are looking for ultra-crisp details!
4.  Plug in your cable release or set your camera to use the 2 second timer.
5.  Check focus one more time.
6.  Fire off the shot.

Composition
Composition is a subject that I could also spend many pages of written text talking about, but there are two main points I want to drive home with you.

First, remember your subject.  Your subject is the insect and the perch that it is on.  If you have a great subject and a great perch you are halfway there.  Secondly, watch your backgrounds.  In the image below, you can see I have a perfectly clean green background which helps keep the attention of the viewer on the subject.  Busy backgrounds keep the viewer from experiencing the image to its fullest.  Also note, that a centered image is best for this square crop (IMO). 


Tiger Longwing Butterfly
Polydamas Swallowtail Butterfly
In the above composition, we see two things going on.  First, the subject is placed roughly in the left third of the image, while the lines of the leaf he is perched on draws the eye the rest of the way through the image and then back to the subject.  Dividing your image into thirds and placing your image near the intersections of the thirds is called using the "Rule of Thirds."  The lines of the leaves represent a concept called "Leading Lines."

Conclusion
This really just touches the surface of the world of insect photography.  I could probably write a book on the subject and many who do this daily have done just that.  Yes, I know that insects creep many people out and I get that, but give it a try. I think you will find it to be a whole new world within our world.


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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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Sony A7 III
Image courtesy of Sony Corporation of America



As I was sitting here today, I found myself pursuing the merits of the Sony A7 III.  In fact, I would say I was drooling a bit for the camera.  After all, what is there not to like?  I mean a great sensor, animal eye tracking, 399 phase detect auto-focus points, 10fps and 2x better AF over the last generation.  All that for a price just under $2,000 US.  
The questions that run through my head are endless, but there is one question that stops me cold.  That is, what is wrong with my current gear?  I mean, when it comes right down to it, what does the $2,000 get me, and is it worth losing the money that could go toward trips to photograph wildlife and scenics?  That is where everything falls apart.   Am I doing all this so I can get the next greatest piece of gear, or do I do this to create and attempt to master and make the next great photograph.

Well, for those that follow my blog, podcast and YouTube channel, you probably know what I am about to say.  GEAR IS ONLY HALF THE EQUATION!  Therein lies the issue though, doesn't it?  It really is about half the equation and that is why wildlife photographers, in particular, are heavy into their gear.  That is why we are willing to spend the money to get one more feature that increases our AF percentage, or gets us more megapixels for cropping.  Perhaps no other genre, with the exception of sports, is so gear centric.

I know there are some already, mostly landscape and portrait photogs, who are already saying my thoughts are ridiculous.  To them, I say, so be it.  I have seen gear make the difference time and time again in difficult scenarios.  It doesn't replace our abilities, but enhances them and make us realize our potential.  Look at it this way, if gear really didn't matter, we would all still be shooting film, right?  But, we don't because digital is efficient, gives us more creative choices, and is cost effective.  

So fine, where is the line then?  I mean, we have to have a line somewhere.  We just can't keep buying new gear and making excuses!  Those who follow me also know I am big on saving money and finding the best deals on gear for your budget.  So, I have this constant dichotomy going on in my brain. 

Honestly, I don't have the answers today.  I mean, I really don't.  I know my 7D Mark II makes great images and I can really push that camera past what many can. I know, that I could take that 2K and use it toward a trip to Yellowstone or Alaska.  Isn't that a better use of the money?  In the end, I would have to say YES, but it still leaves me, and I think us all, wondering, "what if?"  

In the end, there is simply no silver bullet, but only choices.  There isn't one answer, and I think that is the real crux of the problem.  We want it to be black and white and instead it is completely gray for many of us.  We find ourselves being our best salesmen on buying new gear.  We can talk ourselves into gear better than the best used car salesman can talk someone into buying that old clunker.  

So we all have a choice.  Choose wisely.


________________________________________________

Announcements:
Check out the latest podcast episodes
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
________________________________________________
My Website: http://www.mattcuda.com


Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/mattcuda

Newsletter
http://www.mattcuda.com/Home/Newsletter


You may also contact me directly to purchase prints: matt.cuda@mattcuda.com