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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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.


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Announcements:
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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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There are very few photo web sharing sites that understand why we use their sites, but one or two do.  There are predominately two types of photographers using these sites. 

1.  Those who are looking for a home for all their photographs to act as a portfolio.


2.  Those who are looking for social exposure to their photographs.


Now some of us may not be in either camp, but most of us fall more into one than the other.


So where am I going with all this?

I am going to postulate that there is a general flaw with sites like Flickr, View Bug, 500px and so forth.  That is they are free to use for basic uploading, but have some serious limitations on social exposure and make you pay for maximum social exposure.

I will further postulate that most serious photographers are looking predominantly for social exposure, and more than just a home for their portfolio. Therein lies the rub as they say.  If all they want is a home for their photography, they would just rent a site at Square Space and be done.  To further complicate the issue, having all your images on just one social media outlet doesn't give one the exposure he may need.  


So, the photo sharing site is hoping to make money because servers are expensive. I totally get that proposition, but at the same time, they have to realize that we would be paying for several of these sites to get maximum exposure and that is a drag economically to an already expensive career or hobby that isn't as lucrative as it was in the late 1990s.  


Sure, there are always going to be people willing to pay, but these sites were designed for the masses and I think the pay to play model is woefully lacking.  Not only that, but you pay and they make no promises as to what kind of exposure you are going to receive.  Is this a fair model for both?  I don't know and I don't really have the answer to the problem, but I know this isn't it.


ViewBug has perhaps the most interesting model of them all.  Paying to play here puts you into various competitions with the off chance to win a camera or some such thing.  I have to say as of late the prizes are getting pretty weak, but the concept is interesting to say the least.


So, if I were to add up the sites I would like to pay to play on, the cost would currently break down like this.


ViewBug - 6.99 per month

500px - 5.99 per month
Flickr - 5.99 per month

Personal Website - 10.00 per month on average

That totals to 28.97 per month.  This doesn't include rental of domains, email and so forth. And don't even get me started on Facebook and Instagram.  They are charging 5 to 10 dollars a pop for boosting posts. On top of that we spend thousands on equipment just to get into photography.  


So let me leave you with this.  If you are doing this, do you feel like you have been rewarded?  If you are not doing it but are thinking about it, can you recoup the money paid out to these companies?


EOS 6D Mark II Front with Open LCD
Photo Courtesy of Canon USA

There is a camera that has been sleeping quietly in the Canon lineup.  It is a camera that has most of the features that many photographers are interested in.  It is a camera that might not be as innovative as the latest mirrorless camera.  It is also a camera that, frankly, you might want.

That sleepy camera is the Canon EOS 6D Mark II.  Boasting an all new autofocus system, 6.5 frames per second, and a full frame 26 megapixel sensor, the 6D II is certainly a good option for many.  But, why does it get negative or no press at all?  Why is it frowned upon?  Is there any substance to what people are saying?  I can only speak from my own experience with this camera.  This review will be my own experiences, and what I think this camera can and can't do.  First, let's look at the full list of specifications.

Specifications
  • All new 26.2 megapixel full frame sensor
  • 45 cross type AF points (all cross type depending on lens)
  • Single DIGIC 7 processor
  • 6.5 frames per second continuous shooting for 21 raw exposures.
  • Max shutter speed 1/4000
  • No 4K video
  • 1080p video up to 60 fps
  • 4K time-lapse movies
  • Autofocus available at f8 with modern Canon glass (not guaranteed with 3rd party)
  • WI-FI is built in
  • GPS is built in
  • NFC is built in
  • ISO 100 to 25,600 (expandable to 102,400)
  • Lights which flicker (eg. fluorescents) can be managed with the anti-flicker mode
  • Flash sync speed of 1/180
  • Touchscreen during video for better focusing
  • Singe SD card slot
  • Duel pixel AF live view video recording
  • Fully articulating viewfinder
  • Canon LP-E6N battery
  • Released June 2017

Build Quality/Fit and Finish
The 6D Mark II is a pleasure to shoot, and the ergonomics are similar to that of it's APS-C cousin, the Canon EOS 80D. Canon, has always favored a larger, easy to handle grip, and when compared to other mirrorless cameras, such as Sony, it really stands at the top of the list. 

Canon has also made a real effort in the last several years to make sure that its newer cameras have a fully articulating view screen, and the 6D II boasts just that. Although a modest size, the 3.0 inch touch screen viewfinder is easy to read and operate. 

Button locations have changed slightly with this model.  The "Q" button is now located down by the base of the thumb cutout on the back of the camera.  At first I found this a bit odd, but quickly got used to it.  I especially like that canon left the AE-Lock button and the auto-focus point selector up in the right corner of the camera as it has been there for many years and is comfortable to me.

I wish I could say I liked all the buttons on the Canon 6D Mark II, but I can honestly say I hate their clunky selector disk.  I have no idea why they do not have a joystick on all their cameras for adjusting auto-focus points and moving around the menus.  Come on Canon, that is a no-brainer. It should no longer be a feature, but should be standard.
Video showing touch interface

The menu system is easy to operate and should be familiar to anyone with a fairly modern Canon camera. I found the touch screen to make moving around the menu system much easier and a huge bonus for me.  That might be worth the price of admission right there, but I am not quite willing to fold on that feature alone.

Now, this next wish is not a huge deal, but why not put a popup flash into this camera? After all, it is not targeted toward the pro market and frankly, I would find it useful. The popup flash, in my world, is good for acting as a master flash in a multi-flash master/slave setup. I don't use it as an actual flash, but it might be nice for some at Christmas or family get togethers to give them a little built in flash help. The bottom line is that everything about the ergonomics of the 6D Mark II just felt like a Canon.  It was comfortable and easy to operate.  I give it a solid green checkmark in this category.

Autofocus
In order to test the 45 point AF system, I took the camera out to my son's last soccer game of the year.  I felt like this would be a good test for a Camera that is targeting the generalist photographer.  To say I was skeptical of what the autofocus could do would be a great understatement.  Due to the sensitive nature of putting images of children online, I elected not to show the pics. You will have to trust me on it. Thanks for understanding. 

For me, to fairly test the camera, I programmed the AE-Lock button to be the back button focus button.  Since this is how I have my personal cameras setup, I thought I would have a better chance at an accurate auto-focus review. My lens selection for this test would be my Sigma 150-600 C.

As my testing began, I realized right away that 45 AF points on a full frame sensor is just too few to cluster in the center of the screen. It really made it difficult to put a sensor on the eye of the soccer player, and I ended up placing the center sensor on the player's chest or stomach and hoping for the best. I would really like to see 65 points spread out across the viewfinder or even spread the 45 points out more. Some have speculated that Canon simply dropped the 80D AF sensor directly into the 6D Mark II. I don't know about that one, but it sure does look that way!


The AF performance was much better than expected.


Now, what really blew my mind is how well this AF system locked on. I had quite a few keepers that day to say the least. I read some "internet experts" who said that its AF system struggled. A this point in the game my question was, "struggles compared to what, a 1DX Mark II?" OK, I'll give you that, but for the target market of this camera, it is more than good at autofocusing. I am not sure I would trust it for a great deal of birds in flight photography, but for general wildlife, I think it would work fine. It might even surprise us with birds.

The greatest autofocus feature of this camera is not the standard autofocus sensor, but the touch screen focus using live view. It is accurate, fast and doesn't jar the camera. Using the dual pixel AF with touch screen was a match made in heaven. Simply touch the face of the person or object you want to focus on, and the lens slides into focus. Of course you can see the benefits of this feature, particularly when shooting video.

Image Quality
I am not going to lie to you, the Canon 6D II has taken a great deal of criticism about its image quality and particularly how it relates to the original 6D.  Testing has shown that the new sensor does not have the highlight/shadow recovery that was capable in its predecessor.  Now, I am sure that Canon had its reasons for this, and I am sure they are pretty darn good reasons!  However, to  the average consumer, it just looks like shoddy work.  Playing devils advocate, understand that this sensor came out before the new announcement from the Canon CEO saying that Canon had been slack for too long and was going to be more innovative in the future.  It still doesn't excuse the lack of dynamic range of the new sensor, but may offer some insight.

Day two of my testing involved taking photographs of hummingbirds. After the shoot, during post processing I will say that I did notice the lack of dynamic range, but it did have more dynamic range than my Canon 7D Mark II (if that is any consolation).  Now, I do think it should have at least similar dynamic range to the 6D, but if all you care about is dynamic range, then you need to take a course on photography and learn to shoot the scene properly.


Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Canon EF 300mm F4 @ f14, 1/180th, ISO 100
Canon 7D Mark II, ISO 100, 1/200, Canon EF 300 F4 @ f14
In the first image above we have a fairly significant crop with the 6D image and it retains a great deal of it's quality.  The bottom pic, for purposes of basic comparison is almost full sensor and is from my 7D.  I personally though the 6D had better image quality.  Click on the images to get a better idea.  They were both pretty dang good though. You be the judge.

Overall, I thought the image quality was certainly a cut above any APS-C sensor, and I think would serve many people very well.  I would be happy to shoot with it.  I thought the sharpness of the sensor was great, the color on par with other Canon sensors and the "cropability" of the final raw file to be excellent.


Video
To be honest, I don't think this camera was targeted toward serious videographers or cinematographers, but what it does do is provide a platform for VLOGs. So much so that Casey Neistat switched to it as his vlogging camera. If you don't know who Casey is then you have been living under a rock.
Video showing fully articulating screen
No, it does not produce 4K video and the 1080 video is somewhat suspect, but with that fully articulating screen and touch focus, it has pulled through as a contender. If we could couple the video quality of the Sony with the usability of the Canon, we would have the best video camera on the planet!

Although I am trained as a videographer, in the end I am really a stills guy. So putting together a large critique of the video system of this camera is not going to happen here. What I did see of it, I liked, with lack of 4K being the only caveat in my mind.


Can I use this for Wildlife?

Although I have already alluded to the fact that it can be used for wildlife, I want to hone in more on that topic and break it down by genre.
  • Animals running? Yes, effectively
  • General Birds in Flight? Yes, but less effective than 1 Series or 7D II. It only supports 6.5 fps so that might keep you from getting all the wing positions and so forth.
  • Animal Portraits? Yes, perfectly
  • Hummingbirds? Yes, perfectly
  • Songbirds in Flight? Not ideal unless using studio flash technique with Photo Trap. 1/4000th of a second top shutter speed might not be enough for ambient shots, but largely depends on the bird's speed.
  • Low Light Animals? Yes, good low light capability
Listen to 6.5 FPS 

Conclusion and Wrap up
So, what lead me to do this review?  Well, to be honest, I am looking for a good full frame camera to fill in the cracks on my Canon EOS 7D Mark II.  One of the biggest cracks in the 7D is the fact that it is a poor landscape camera at best.
For those times when image quality trumps all, it is great to have the flexibility of the full frame IQ.  There is nothing quite like the look of full frame images and they seem to only be getting better.  Honestly, I thought the overall IQ was great.

So, would I buy this camera say over a used Canon 5D Mark III?  That is the question I have to answer now.  In many ways the 6D Mark II is a better camera, but in many ways, the 5D III is.  It really comes down to whether the articulating screen is more important than more autofocus points on the 5D.  That debate will go on inside my noggin until I finally make a decision, but I won't decide today.  


I hope this review will help you make a good decision.

If what you want is a good, general full frame camera with a few extra bells and whistles, but has a lower price tag, then this camera is for you.  I have listed what I think are the pros and cons below.



PROS

  • Full frame sensor
  • Improved 45 point AF system (much better than I thought)
  • 6.5 fps gets us closer to that magic 8fps for birds in flight and fast action.
  • Fully articulating touch LCD screen
  • F8 autofocus possible
  • WIFI, NEF, Bluetooth, GPS
  • Great feel and ergonomics

CONS

  • Less dynamic range than expected
  • Lack of joystick on back of camera
  • AF points all clustered in the middle of the viewfinder
  • No 4K video
  • Viewfinder not 100% coverage (more like 98%)
  • Lack of popup flash to act as a master in a multi-flash setup.

As usual, make it a great day and get out there and enjoy nature!

Video Review of the Canon 6D Mark II...
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If you haven't already done so, it is time to setup the hummingbird feeders. I have a great deal of activity at my feeders and have started photographing the ruby-throated hummingbird.

As many of you know, I expand The Hummingbird Project in my backyard every year. This year, I am using different flower arrangements and other unique backgrounds to really make the image pop. If you are unfamiliar with The Hummingbird Project check out these links to get you started and following my journey.

Hummingbird Project:
http://blog.mattcuda.com/2016/06/the-hummingbird-project.html
http://blog.mattcuda.com/2018/02/june-was-month-for-hummingbirds.html

Hummingbird Photography Podcast Episode:
http://www.mattcuda.com/app/podcast/Episode16.mp3

My Goals for the Hummingbird Project this Year

  • Create images showing the birds from different angles
  • Create images of the birds in different settings. This might involve different locations or different backgrounds.
  • Keep from duplicating previous years photography
  • Don't get so hung up photographing the birds that I forget to enjoy their behavior
A male ruby-throated hummingbird gathering nectar from penstemon. 

I encourage all nature photographers to make an effort to photograph these amazing little birds at least one time. There are numerous approaches you can use to capture images of these little guys, so I encourage you to view the above links to find out more. I tend to gravitate more toward the "artsy" side of things with hummers. It gives them the formal, somewhat regal, images they deserve.





In this Episode of Reviews from the Blind, I take a look at the Canon EOS R and if it can be used as a wildlife camera.



It is no secret that the world of photography is moving away from the DSLR and toward Mirrorless.  Canon and Nikon could no longer sit back and watch companies like Sony and Fujifilm dominate the mirrorless market.  Of note, Canon has had several mirrorless cameras over the years, including the EOS M, but, although a fine camera, it lacked features that series photographers needed.  

Canon's latest response to the growing mirrorless market is the Canon EOS R.  As promised, I got my hands on an EOS R, and ran it through my normal wildlife photography testing.  Although this camera is not marketed toward the wildlife or sports photographer, I still wanted to see just how far I could take this body, and what the results would be.

Canon EOS R
Canon's EOS R Mirrorless Camera (photo courtesy of Canon)
Specifications
  • Lens Mount - Canon RF (EF with adapter)
  • Weight - 1.45 lbs / 660 g
  • Sensor - CMOS 30.3 Megapixel / Full Frame
  • File Formats - JPEG, RAW, MP4
  • ISO - 100 to 40,000 (Expansion possible to 102,400)
  • Shutter - Electronic and mechanical (30 seconds to 1/8000)
  • Bit Depth - 14 Bit
  • Memory Card Format - SD, SDHC, SDXC
  • Image Stabilization - NONE
  • Focus Modes - Continuous-Servo AF, Manual, Single Servo AF
  • Frames Per Second - up to 8 fps.  Only 5 fps in AI Servo!
  • Viewfinder - LCD, 3,690,000 DPI
  • Viewfinder Coverage - 100%
  • GPS - Yes
  • Wi-Fi - Yes
  • Bluetooth - Yes
  • Price - $2,299 US

Build Quality/Ergonomics 

Picking up the EOS R, I found it to feel smaller than my Canon EOS 7D Mark II, and I also found it slightly less comfortable, however, it does have a nice grip when comparing it to its other mirrorless competitors in this price range.  The overall build quality seemed comparable to my 7D Mark II.

The EOS R lost ground with me on layout of the buttons.  I found them difficult to find and in some cases operate when compared to the 7D Mark II. I particularly struggled to find the AF-ON button when using back button focus.  I do feel confident, that with daily use, I could get much faster in the basic operation.  If you are someone who has both a DSLR and want to guy the EOS R, you might find it difficult to switch back and forth.  Perhaps the biggest loss to me was the thumb wheel which is normally located on the back of the Canon bodies.  On this camera the "wheel" is really just a disc with arrows on it.  It is very similar to how the Rebels operate.  Canon really "cheaped" out here and I can't help but ask "Why?"


Canon EOS R
Photo showing the amazing fully articulating touch screen, but also the somewhat horrible disc shaped navigation control often found on cheaper Canon cameras.

The EOS R redeems much of what it lost with the odd positioning of its buttons with the use of a fully articulating touch screen.  I found this to be a great "go-to" when I was having trouble with the manual buttons.  Also, the articulating screen will make this attractive for videographers, vloggers and landscape photographers.

The menu system is exactly what you would expect from Canon, and I had no difficulty moving from tab to tab and selecting the correct options.  Of course, being able to create your own custom menu tabs is a big help as it is with other Canon cameras.

While looking through the viewfinder, I could definitely tell I was looking at a screen.  I am not saying it was terrible, but I could tell it wasn't real.  The reason I mention this, is I have heard others say that the screens are so good now, you can't tell very well that you are not looking through a traditional viewfinder.

Also, related to the viewfinder, I noticed that there was some lag between shots and sometimes it would freeze for a moment before getting back to the correct live view of the scene.  This caused some confusion as to what the subject was doing, and did I actually miss something?  Perhaps this feature can be turned off?

Finally, I had a total failure of the camera right when I needed it most.  It actually froze up, and I had to remove the battery and essentially reboot the camera.  I chalked this up to it being a new design.  I remember when my old 7D classic used to freeze up like this, and I had to remove the battery on it also.  

Auto-focus
First, let me say that overall I was very pleased with the auto-focus system.  I am not going to tell you that it was 1 Series fast, but it did a fine job, and would handle most of your normal photography needs.

As you may know, I am a wildlife photographer, who specializes in wild bird photography.  So that was where I spent my testing time.  The auto-focus did not let me down when paired with my Sigma 150-600 and the Canon EF to RF adapter.  It quickly found focus but from time to time, it would focus to infinity and just stop.  After fiddling with with the lens and placing it on different targets, it would slide in to where I wanted it to go.  The latter is very important.  This lens does not slam into focus like a 1 Series.  It slides into focus and valuable time is lost.  Although a useful feature for video, still photographers will find this a disadvantage.

I used the EOS R in Servo mode, which makes the lens continually focus when holding down the shutter button half way or using the AF-ON button.  Note, when you switch to Servo, the 8 fps drops to about 5 fps.  This made me laugh a bit, since AI Servo is where you need the 8 fps. I am sure that Canon knew that, and simply hit a hard wall on the engineering side.


Dark-eyed Junco - Canon EOS R, ISO 1000, 1/800, Sigma 150-600 C, f6.3

I did not have time to go somewhere to photograph birds in flight this time, but my gut feeling is that it would not be nearly as good at action as the Canon 7D Mark II or Canon 1DX Mark II. To be fair to Canon, that is really not who this camera is designed for.

Throughout my two days of shooting, I noticed a very strange thing happen while using servo.  I held the AF-ON button down, it focused and then as I fired off a burst, it would go out of focus almost every time. During this time, I never moved my auto-focus point off the bird's head.  My guess is that this is a bug in the firmware.  Finally, the lag I experienced when firing bursts of 5 fps was pretty bad. It was almost like it was trying to preview while firing 5 fps. 

My guess is there is a way to turn this off, but I did not find the setting for it.  If there is a setting, this should be enabled by default when shooting in servo mode.

EF Mount Adapter
You can't talk about the EOS-R without talking about the amazing EF to RF mount adapter.  This adapter will convert your existing EF mount lens to the RF mount.  Since all I had were EF lenses, I used it extensively.  

I found it to work quite well, but perhaps some of my early autofocus issues could be attributed to this adapter.  Having said that, I was really amazed at how well the conversion worked.  My particular adapter also had a ring which can be programmed to control whatever you want it to.  It would make a great aperture ring, for example.


Canon EF to RF Adapter - $99 to $199 depending on the version of the adapter.

I have used the MC-11 with Sony cameras to adapt my Sigma 150-600 and they did not work at ALL!  Good job Canon!  You made it work to almost perfection!

Image Quality
In general, I found the image quality to be excellent, and not at all unexpected.  The auto white balance seemed to achieve a very nature look, and I did not have to warm the scene up in post (in most cases).  Canon seems to make auto white balance better on ever new camera model.


Northern Cardinal - Canon EOS R - ISO 1250, 1/1000, Sigma 150-600 f6.3, 468 mm (cropped in post)

I did shoot almost exclusively between 800 and 1600 ISO,  just to get a feel for an ISO a little on the higher side of things.  The results were good, but not great.  I think this is due largely to the 30 megapixel sensor.  It was better than my APS-C, but not as good as I would like to see. The shadows seemed particularly noisy, even in decent light.  Cleaning up the noise in post was not difficult at ISO 1600.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of the 30 megapixel sensor in wildlife photography was in the cropping advantage.  I could crop an image in half and still have a solid 15 megapixel image.  In wildlife photography, this is a powerful feature. 


Northern Cardinal - Canon EOS R - ISO 1250, 1/1000, Sigma 150-600 C, f6.3, 600mm


Conclusion and Wrap Up
First, I applaud Canon for taking their first step in making a serious mirrorless camera. This camera is not a camera to laugh at, and in many cases will be all the photographer would need.  I particularly think this would make an amazing landscape and macro camera.  The 30 megapixels delivers great detail, and having a fully articulating LCD display allows for low angle shots and vlogging.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room.  The price of $2,299 dollars is a bit on the high side.  I would like to see this camera come down to about $1,800.  Although a really nice camera, it simply does not have the feature set to support this price point.  Compared to my Canon 7D Mark II, it is a loser in my opinion in most respects.  Yes, I am being tough here and of course it is just my opinion. Remember though, I am a wildlife photographer and not a landscape photographer.  That is the perspective of this review.

As far as wildlife, I would not recommend this camera as a primary wildlife camera.  Canon hasn't positioned this camera on the market as a fast action camera, so that should not come as a surprise to you.  Having said that, It would fill in some of the cracks in my kit as a good static bird and wildlife camera.  Having a viewfinder that simulates my exact exposure cannot be overlooked as an awesome feature.  I could also see this camera as a good camera for use with a trigger trap.  Since it can support higher ISOs which can help increase shutter-speed, it could be very useful in this role.

So, in general, I recommend this camera, IF you are the right audience for this model. I am looking forward to the more feature rich/professional version of this camera. Good job Canon and keep them coming! You are on the right track for sure.