Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fly on Bird of Paradise

Don't really have anything interesting to say about this image. I wanted to photograph the bird of paradise against the green of our lawn from a particular angle.

The most straightforward way to frame the image in a way where the lawn was in the background and the flower was positioned in a desirable way was to use a tilt shift lens (tilting the plane of focus) which is I did for this second image.

Technical Specs: First: Nikon D3s, 105 VR, f/32, 1/160s, ISO 5600. Second: Canon 1Ds3, 90 TS-E, f/4, 1/80s, ISO 100.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron

I went for a stroll along Charleston Slough yesterday and saw this little fella. I only had the chance to fire off a couple of frames before he took off.

Technical Specs: Canon 1D Mark IV, 800 f/5.6 IS, f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 100.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mallard Hybrid?

I have been trying to identify this duck for the last couple of days. Its the only image I have of the duck, I photographed it in San Diego in January. It has several distinctive features (like the bill color, underside and head color) but looking through my books I can't find an exact match. My best guess is that its some kind of Mallard hybrid. This site has a bunch of them but I don't see an exact match there either.

Technical Specs: Nikon D300s, 200-400 VR @ 310mm, f/4, 1/400s, ISO 400.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Western Gull Portrait

There's something about the post and head angle of this Western Gull image that I like and keep coming back to.

Technical Specs: Canon 1Ds Mark III, 800 f/5.6 IS, f/8, 1/1000s, ISO 400.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Which Ibis is this?

As I was photographing this Ibis, there was a lot of debate as to which kind (Glossy, White-faced or some hybrid). Several folks had their various field guides with images of various Ibis throughout the year.


I am fairly certain its a White-faced Ibis even if some of the face coloring isn't an exact match of other images I have seen. Any ornithologists (professional and aspiring welcome) want to comment?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

1D Mark IV Low Light Image Quality and Autofocus

First, if you haven't already done so, go out and get the new Lightroom 3.0 Beta 2, its awesome. I fully admit that I'm biased, but I'm also very proud of what the Lightroom and Camera RAW teams have put together here. Even if I didn't work here, I can guarantee you that I'd be there credit card in hand to upgrade to Lightroom 3.


I have been using Lightroom 3 exclusive for my RAW processing for a while now so all of my comments and observations are with LR3. The above image was taken at ISO 4000, hand held at 1/25s @ f/2.8 in terrible lighting (~3.5 EV). For an ISO 4000 image, I am very pleased with the image quality. This was processed with the default color NR and just a little bit of luminance NR. Here is a 100% crop:


Here is another test image at ISO 6400 in very bad fluorescent lighting (1/100s, f/2.8 ~= 3 2/3 EV).

Once again, the noise levels are controlled and the detail is good. In particular I am pleased with the low levels of shadow noise:


Finally, here is am image taken at ISO 12,800:

This was taken at 1/100s, f/2.8 (~2 2/3 EV). Once again, here' s a crop (higher color NR and some luminance NR):

With the amount of reach the 1D Mark IV offers for bird photographers (due to its high sensel density) I find very little to complain about when it comes to image quality.

There have been a few people who have made comments about the 1D Mark IV's "low light" auto-focus performance (some being critical of it, others refuting the criticism). Any statements made about such performance without a clear quantitative description of the light levels (either by EV level or combination of ISO, aperture & shutter speed) are useless.

I have noticed some quirks in low light auto focus. Most notably, it seems that the 1D4 walks off a cliff at certain light levels (right around 2 EV to 3 EV by my observations). In the images of the plastic tub above, the light level was around 2 2/3 EV and the camera had no problem locking on (with an f/2 lens). However in the image below, the camera refused to acquire focus on any part of the net.

I eventually had to use live view to get focus (which worked without issue). The image was taken at ISO 2500, f/1.4 & 1/25s (~ 1 EV). What I find curious is that I was using an f/1.4 lens which should allow a lot of light to the auto-focus sensors.

In contrast, the Nikon D3s is able to lock on quickly and accurately on the same subject in the same light level with an f/2.8 lens (i.e with 2x less light reaching the AF sensors), taken at ISO 51200, 1/60s:



Not only is the D3s able to lock onto a static subject, its able to track a moving subject with reasonable accuracy. Here is the first frame where the D3s locked on instantaneously:

and then I've created an animated GIF sequence cropped down to show how the D3s maintains focus and continues to track the plane even at these ridiculously low light levels (same as above):

I did a similar test with the 1D Mark IV and the results were so embarrassingly bad (the camera couldn't lock on at all) that I immediately deleted the images.

Here is another example of the D3s' low light prowess (ISO 16000, f/2.8, 1/60s ~= 1 2/3 EV), focus was on the "For Assistance" sign and the lock was lightning fast:
and a 100% crop:



One last example of the D3s locking onto something in light and contrast so low that I could barely even see the object.
I had to reset the focus and do this a couple of times just to believe that it was a fluke and that the D3s was actually consistently locking onto the garbage can. Here is a 100% crop:



Very impressive indeed. I know I've praised the performance of the D3s a lot in a post that is supposed to be about the 1D Mark IV's low light performance. Its difficult to not compare these two cameras since both were released around a similar time at almost the same price point. The 1D Mark IV's auto focus performance isn't bad and I'm certain that in light conditions that most wildlife and sports photographers work in they are unlikely to encounter its deficiencies. Its just the D3s is so very good.

Finally, I see these two bodies as complementing each other rather than competing. There is no doubt in my mind that for bird photography the 1D Mark IV is the better tool. Its auto focus is very competent and ISO performance up to 6400 is good enough to deliver richly detailed files with controllable noise. All this with a pixel pitch that puts an impressive number of pixels on your subject. For extreme low light conditions (less than 4 EV), the larger sensels of the D3s and its auto focus system make it the better tool.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Three Waterfalls

I went for a longer hike at Big Basin yesterday. I wanted to hike to and photograph three of the major waterfalls in the park, Berry Creek Falls, Silver Falls and Golden Cascades Falls. The total hike was around 10 miles and it took me about 6 hours to complete (with all the photographic stops).


Berry Creek Falls was the first and arguable the most impressive. As I rounded the corner on the trail the above image was what I saw.


After spending about 15 minutes photographing the falls from far away, I hiked up and photographed it up close. I did the most experimentation (and took the most images) with Berry Creek Falls. Some of it worked (like the close up above) and others not as well. You can see more images in the gallery.


Another 20 minutes of hiking later, I came up on Silver Falls (pictured above).


And finally, nearby is Golden Cascades Falls. After a quick rest, it was time for the 5.8 mile hike back to the park headquarters. The hike was definitely strenuous (especially with a 20lb pack of gear on my back) but the falls were beautiful and there's something relaxing about hiking in a redwoods forest.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Shorebirds in Flight

Later this past week, I had the chance to do some handheld flight photography with the 1D Mark IV and the 500mm lens.

Due to the location, tide and light at that time of day, shorebirds were the most abundant targets (I was hoping for some raptors but didn't see any).

The 1D Mark IV's auto focus performance was very good. In general, the birds take a fairly predictable path with minimal clutter in the background or foreground to confuse the AF. However, since I was hand holding, keeping the AF point on the bird throughout the entire flight sequence was a challenge.

Regardless, I got several entire sequences of the birds in perfect focus.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

American Avocet in Breeding Plumage

Just wanted to share several images I made on Saturday of Avocets in their beautiful breeding plumage.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hand holding the 800


I finally had the chance to spend some serious time with the 1D Mark IV. Just to change things up a bit, I decided to leave the Wimberley at home, opting instead to hand hold my 800mm lens. The lens weighs about 10 lbs, the body another 3 lbs or so. Now 13 lbs may not seem like a lot but trying it at eye level as steady as possible for a few minutes...

I walked around for about 2 hours photographing various subjects. The light was very good and the Ibis (pictured above) was co-operative resulting in some of my best Ibis images so far this year.


Since I've been shooting mostly on a tripod with my Wimberley this year, I'd forgotten how refreshing hand held bird photography can be. Being able to move quickly to follow a subject and being able to very pick point in the direction of new action is great. It isn't without challenges though. At that focal length, it takes a lot of effort to keep the AF point on the intended part of your subject, not to mention things like shake.

The Black Phoebe above was taken at 1/500s at f/7.1 and ISO 400. Here is a view of the actual pixels.

Thats some fine detail, especially considering it was hand held.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Canon 1D Mark 4 Thoughts

Though I've had the opportunity to use the 1D4 for nearly two weeks now, sadly I've been ridden like a pony at work leaving little time to do much else. Well until now. The 1D4 is an impressive camera and there are already several reviews out there. Some comparing it to the Nikon D3s, others to the 1Ds Mark III. I won't rehash a lot of whats already been said. I am more interested in what this body can offer for my photography.

The foremost thought on most people's minds is what the auto focus is like. I didn't experience any of the more severe issues with the 1D Mark III. The most notable thing about the AF on the Mk 3 series in my mind is that it has more of a tendency to jump to the background when the AF point leaves the subject (even for a moment) and refuses to come back onto the subject.

The 1D Mark IV tends to jump away less and when it does, if you bring the AF back onto your subject, it returns quickly. I photographed this Ibis hand holding my 800mm lens and it was challenging to keep the AF point on the on the bird's head. At 10 FPS, it would move off the bird and onto the background as the AF point drifted (due entirely to my weak arms), but would almost instantly snap back onto the bird when I got the AF point back on target. This was not something I could get the Mark III bodies to do even with experimenting with all kinds of AF custom functions.

The other big question is image quality, especially at high ISOs. The image quality is decent. On a per pixel level, noise levels are generally comparable to the 1Ds Mark III, though the 1D Mark IV seems to have less noise in the deep shadows. This may not seem impressive as the 1Ds Mark III is over 2 year old technology, however keep in mind that the pixel density of the 1D Mark IV is higher, so progress has been made. The 1D Mark IV is definitely a better choice over the 1Ds Mark III for focal length limited photography.

The current champion of focal length limited photography is the 7D and one question I was very curious about is figuring out at what focal length the noise levels of the 7D negate its ability to resolve details.

The 1D Mark 4 files even at ISO 1600 require little noise reduction in post processing and take sharpening very well. In contrast the 7D does require some work at and above ISO 800 to get the very best out of it.

My own quick testing indicates that the 7D is still king of resolving detail for focal length limited photography up to ISO 400. At ISO 800, its possible to get more detail with the 7D with work (especially if the image is well exposed or exposed to the right). At ISO 1600 and beyond I'm not sure the 7D offers much more in terms of resolved detail and the 1D Mark IV files post process a lot easier.

This last image is only one in this post taken with the 7D, it was taken at ISO 400 but was a little under exposed so had to be pushed by about half a stop. Even this results in noise which comes out in the smooth areas when sharpening and makes it more pronounced than a similar image I shot with the 1D Mark IV at ISO 1600 (the first one).

I have a few more thoughts regarding auto focus performance in extreme low light, but thats a subject for another post :)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sempervirens Falls


This is the last set of images from the Big Basin hike. Due to the rains in the days leading up to the hike, there was a good amount of water at the falls.







Friday, March 05, 2010

The Prisoner

It is difficult to convey just how freakin' huge the tree in the middle is. Chad and I both found this group of trees to be fascinating with the tree in the middle encircled by its 'guards'.

It was very challenging to photograph, the image you see is the result of both an HDR merge and a panoramic stitch done with a tilt shift lens. I used a total of 16 individual images to make this 28 mp composite. I'm looking forward to being able to make a very large banner print.

This is a single exposure made with a tilt shift lens to maximize the angle of view while minimizing perspective distortion.

Technical Specs: Canon 1Ds3, 24mm TS-E II, f/13, ISO 200, varying shutter speeds.