All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween 2012
Halloween 2012, Cary, NC | Canon 5D Mark III and 50mm f/1.2L lens | Exposed 1/40 sec. @ f/7.1, ISO 5000

Can you tell that a couple of the members of the household are a wee bit obsessed with birds?  Remarks on the 5D Mark III on loan from Canon Professional Services, as well as the recently announced Focus Tune from Michael Tapes Designs, intended to introduce a bit of automation to setting Autofocus Micro Adjustments with LensAlign to follow in the coming weeks.

Walk in the Woods

Spider's Web
Spider’s Web, Medoc Mountain State Park, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.2L | Exposed 1/200 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 400

This weekend we went exploring a bit.  Rain pushed our plans back a bit but we arose early Sunday morning and headed out towards Medoc Mountain State Park, about ninety minutes northeast of the Triangle.  Once a volcanic mountain, the “peak” is now 325 feet above sea level and is entirely forested.  All the same, it was a gorgeous, cool (if humid), overcast, and surprisingly minimally-buggy morning hiking in the woods.

Shelves of Mushrooms
Shelves of Mushrooms, Medoc Mountain State Park, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.2L | Exposed 1/100 sec. @ f/1.2 ISO 400

As with a lot of hiking in the East, I find myself looking down at my feet a lot.  This has the benefit of avoiding (most) roots and errant rocks, but it also gives me the opportunity to see things that others might easily miss.  The small details are often just as interesting as the whole.

Moss and rotting log
Moss and rotting log, Medoc Mountain State Park, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.2L | Exposed 1/50 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 100

While I packed several lenses for the trip, I found myself hiking the majority of the time with my new 50mm f/1.2L.  Some of that is the “new, shiny” effect of a new lens, but it’s also that I’m trying to work within the limitations of a fixed focal length: using the “human zoom” of getting closer or backing away from my subject, and thinking a bit outside of the box.

Tiger Swallowtail
Tiger Swallowtail, Medoc Mountain State Park, North Carolina | Canon 5D Mark II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro | Exposed 1/250 sec. @ f/4, ISO 400

When we returned to the trail we found a cluster of Tiger Swallowtails sitting on the ground.  I did not expect them to stay put while I ran to the car to grab my macro lens, but sure enough one let me approach!  It was a good day for walking in the woods.

Exploring South Florida with a 300mm f/2.8

Juvenile White Ibis
Juvenile White Ibis at Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida. | Canon 7D and 300mm f/2.8 L IS II with 1.4x TC | Exposed 1/125 sec. @ f/4, ISO 500

Last month we spent a few days in the Florida Keys and worked our way northward into the Everglades before embarking on a two-day road trip home to North Carolina.  I had borrowed a 300mm f/2.8L IS II lens from Canon Professional Services and was field testing it as a potential replacement for the 400mm DO IS lens.  This was also the final trial for my Canon 7D before making a decision to keep or sell the body.

I will admit that I was impressed by the new 300mm, but while it is wickedly sharp and the Image Stabilization system is incredibly good, the lens does begin to “feel” heavy in hand rather quickly.  This is especially true when in an awkward position to begin with, as in the image above, where I was crawling through the grass in the parking lot to Anhinga Trail (hence the blurred/hazy green effect on the lower part of the Ibis’ body) and keeping the front element of the lens propped up on fingertips became trying after a few minutes.  This lens weighs a full pound more than the 400mm DO, although it is a full stop faster.  That same Image Stabilizer is the reason that on a tripod this lens can do some amazing things.

Waiting.  American Alligator
Waiting. American Alligator, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida. | Canon 7D and 300mm f/2.8L IS II lens and 2x TC | Exposed 1/15 sec. @ f/8, ISO 800

The exposure information in the image above is accurate: I shot this at 1/15 second on a tripod, at f/8, for an effective 960mm (with the 7D’s 1.6x factor.)  And the results are sharp, to boot!  So, while I’m not actually convinced that optically the 300mm f/2.8 is any sharper than the 400mm DO in real world testing, the Image Stabilizer runs circles around the sibling that is ten years its senior.

Tern silhouette, Jekyll Island, Georgia | Canon 7D and 300mm f/2.8L IS II lens | Exposed 1/800 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 200

For birds in flight the 300mm seems to be a great combination with the 7D.  Even in lower light and backlit situations, like this silhouette at sunset, the two in combination yielded several “keepers.”  That said, while I came away impressed with the 300mm f/2.8 and the 7D, I have decided not to keep the latter (and at the moment I simply cannot afford the former.)

The 7D is a very capable and versatile camera, but I simply do not use it enough to justify holding on to it.  It’s a camera that I think would have been more frequently in my bag had it been equipped with a smaller (and less noisy) sensor.  It’s my hope that its next owner will find more use for it than I have.

Summer in the Keys
Summer in the Keys | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.2L | Exposed 1/2500 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 100

What has become a go-to favorite, for me, is my 5D Mark II and the 50mm f/1.2L that my partner encouraged me to acquire after field testing one from Canon back in May.  Everything it produces has a special “look.”

More to come.

Summer on the Beach

Summer on the beach, May 29, 2012 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.2L | Exposed 1/2500 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 100

The week before I helped Summer settle in for a month-long internship in Florida I borrowed a 50mm f/1.2L lens from Canon Professional Services.  Over the time I had the lens in my possession, she commented numerous times that I was using my camera more since I’d gotten that lens than in the entire time she’s known me.  While I thought it might break the budget, I am now considering acquiring one for myself before the Canon rebates expire at the end of the month of June.  While you can read plenty of reviews online that pan the lens for a myriad of issues (many of which can be resolved with focus calibration) the reality is that this lens makes really beautiful images.  Bokeh is soft and creamy…it just has a special “look” that it’s f/1.4 brother simply doesn’t share.  And is it worth the cost?  I don’t know if it’s worth it to anyone else, but if it keeps me in the game–makes me want to pick up my camera and make more images–then it’s worth it to me.  It’s worth it to us.

2nd Thirty Days – Day Five

Today I have to return to Canon the 50mm f/1.2L lens that I’ve been enjoying so much.  It is remarkable just how superior this lens is to the 50mm f/1.4 that I have been using for a few years now.  Is it sharp?  Of course, the 50 f/1.4 is no slouch, either.  However, the contrast and the bokeh of the 50 f/1.2L are simply amazing.  Am I buying one?  Not right now, but it’s definitely on my “wish list” for the next couple of years!  Highly recommended.

Why is Chris Dunn sad?
Why is Chris Dunn sad? | Canon 5D Mk. II and 50mm f/1.2L lens; exposed 1/100 sec. @ f/2, ISO 160
Ah...her Sweetarts were stuck in the vending machine!
Ah...her Sweetarts were stuck in the vending machine! | Canon 5D Mk. II and 50mm f/1.2L lens; exposed 1/125 sec. @ f/2, ISO 160

Mito seems to have the same expression, though...
Mito seems to have the same expression, though... | Canon 5D Mk. II and 50mm f/1.2L lens; exposed 1/160 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 160

One (OK, two) more reason(s) to like the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Calin at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
Calin Ilea at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park | Canon 1D Mk. III and 50mm f/1.2L; exposed 1/320 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 100

Two more reasons to like this lens: the smoothest background one could ask for that isn’t solid sand/water/etc., and ridiculously sharp wide open.  This is f/1.2, folks.  Shallow depth of field but helped by a couple feet of distance?  Sure.  But the 50 f/1.4 can’t do this.  Why Calin looks so concerned about the grill is another matter altogether…

A thought about equipment…

What the Duck - 3-7-2010
What the Duck - 3-7-2010 |

For the past few days I’ve been working with a Canon 50mm f/1.2L lens from Canon Professional Services.  It’s a fantastic lens: built solidly, weather-sealed, fast, smooth bokeh.  I’m hoping to get a 35mm f/1.4L from CPS next, as it’s one that a few of my friends absolutely rave about.  And I’d like to see a 1D Mk. IV, and wouldn’t mind comparing my 5D Mk. II to the 1Ds Mk. III.

But, as much as I like new equipment, any camera is better than no camera, and no camera guarantees excellent pictures.  Gear is no replacement for experience, and lack of gear should not be a limiting factor for any photographer.  Instead, we should all aspire to make the most with what we have.

Even people like me, who enjoy tinkering…

2nd Thirty Days – Day Two

30 Days - Day 2 - Meg Burcke
Meg Burcke | Canon 7D and 50mm f/1.2L lens; exposed 1/640 sec. @ f/1.2, ISO 400

Given that my friend Lillian Kelly posted an image of me making an impromptu portrait of Meg Burcke after the three of us got out of class on Friday afternoon, I felt compelled to post one of the results.

More after the jump!

Continue reading “2nd Thirty Days – Day Two”