Red Foxes

This past winter I had some incredible opportunities with red fox. Surprisingly, this pair hunted right near the road and were accommodating enough to allow for some really close photos. How close is close? I was able to capture many images using just a 70-200mm lens with 1.4x teleconverter, which is not only a very short focal length for a wild animal, but also gave great flexibility in framing.

Here are two photos of the female (vixen) that I particularly liked. I believe there are several more worthy of posting.

Red Fox Portrait

Red Fox Portrait (click to enlarge) Full frame image with Canon 1DIV + 800/f5.6IS

Red Fox stalking prey

Red Fox stalking prey (click to enlarge) - Canon 1DIV 70-200 x1.4

View more, or order a print at my gallery!

Importance of backups

One of the challenges of working with digital images is that there is considerable computer knowledge required. Not only do you need to understand how to process your images for maximum effect, but there is also a need to know how to organize and store your images. One of the most important strategies is having an effective backup plan. Hard drives are easily the most common component to fail in a computer, and thus there is a clear need for having a proper backup.

My strategy is to keep my master files on my desktop’s hard drive. Every night a script runs and makes an incremental backup of my photos, which results in having a mirrored copy on a dedicated file server. By using an incremental backup the time required to backup is drastically cut down, as it only needs to copy over the changes. Having just one form of backup is not enough. Offsite backup needs to be considered for maximum effectiveness, as it’s quite possible to have something drastic happen that could compromise keeping backups onsite (fire, theft, lightning strikes…). To guard against these possibilities, I keep an external hard drive at a relative’s house, which is updated every few weeks with any new files.  It’s also important to spin up any backup external hard drive every so often, to ensure their mechanical components are running smoothly; it won’t do you any good to have an offsite backup if that drive then dies.

Recently I lost my main photo hard drive (Seagate 1500GB 7200.11 model) to a failure. I had gone out for an evening of photographing ducks, and came home with about 15GB of images. I uploaded these to my computer and then left for a few hours. When I arrived home, my computer was giving me a black screen. I performed a hard reboot, and once the computer started up again, it was clear there was a hard drive issue, with loud clicks coming from the computer and large delays in hard drive detection when booting the computer. I mistakenly thought this was due to my main hard drive, and spent too much time copying off all the data from it. Only later did I realize that the delays were actually because my photo drive was not able to be mounted because there were issues communicating with it. By now, that drive was no longer accessible, and it was not possible to simply copy off the files. I tried various techniques, and what eventually worked was to freeze the drive overnight in a ziplock bag in the freezer, which helps to shrink the bearings and give some extra access time. I was able to copy the data off at the low-level with dd_rescue to the replacement drive, and then mount and fix file system errors. However, I wasn’t able to see all of my files, and even after using photorec to recover files that were hidden, it was clear that I had lost that evening’s shoot. Fortunately the file server had a backup of everything else, and I didn’t lose anything beyond that evening’s photos. As a result of this, I know make a point of immediately running an incremental backup from my computer to the file server as soon as I upload new photos. As unlikely as it was, a hard drive failure between the time of photo upload and the nightly backup happened, and hopefully this step will prevent the loss of files in the future.

Macro photography using a telephoto lens

While it’s not an obvious choice for closeups, a supertelephoto lens can be surprisingly capable at macro photography. It’s not possible to get close enough for extreme macro photography of small bugs, but other wildlife such as butterflies or snakes are very well suited to this method of photography. In the middle of the summer I was walking around trying to find birds to photograph, and although I failed with that, there were many monarch butterflies around. While I didn’t have an extension tube, I was able to get close enough by using a 1.4x converter on my 600mm lens. An extension tube would have made it possible to get even closer, so I’ve now made a point of carrying an extension tube with me, because you never know what opportunities might present themselves.

There are several advantages to using a telephoto lens. Not only can you blur the background more than you could with a short macro lens (say 100mm), due to the focal length compression, but you you can shoot at wider apertures and benefit from a higher shutter speed. Whereas most macro lenses will be shot at f16 or narrower, to ensure enough depth of field when close to the subject, a telephoto could be used at around f8. Additionally, thanks to the extra working distance, you are less likely to scare off your subject. In this case I was 10-20 feet away from the butterflies, and this made it far easier to photograph without them leaving.

Monarch Butterfly on Teasel (600mm and 1.4x)

Monarch Butterfly on Teasel (click to enlarge)

Monarch Butterflies (600mm with 1.4x)

Monarch Butterflies (click to enlarge)

Monarch Butterflies (300mm with 1.4x)

Monarch Butterfly roost (click to enlarge)

Canon 1D III for sale (now sold)

Due to having purchased a 1D IV, I am selling my III. I’m amazed at how fast this body depreciated; it’s certainly your best bang for the dollar right now in my opinion.

I’ve owned it for 2 years, purchased it new, and put 55k shutter actuations on it (shutter lifetime is 300k). I can’t say I’ve ever had any issues with the focus. It has had all the Canon repairs done, and the firmware is the latest available. Comes with all accessories and box.

I’m looking for a Canadian sale at this point. The camera is available for pickup in the GTA, or shipping at your expense. The asking price is $2300 SOLD.

Canon 1D Mark IV initial impressions

I’ve now owned the new 1D Mark IV for about 3 weeks, and have shot approximately 6000 frames with it. Overall I’m quite happy with the body, and here are some more specific thoughts.

Battery life: It is noticeably much shorter than the 1D III, perhaps no better than 2/3 of the Mk3 battery life, using the same battery. When photographing on a cold winter’s day, I definitely have to swap batteries well before the end of the day, while I never had to do so with the Mk3. Certainly some of this can be attributed to the LCD, which has more current draw to support the far higher resolution, and the fact that I like leaving the info screen displayed on the back LCD at all times. It certainly beats having to look at the top of the camera for a quick glance at what settings you’re using. I get a maximum of about 1500 shots per charge, when previously I have gotten 3000+ with minimal image review.

Ergonomics: I found it very strange that the body is essentially identical to the Mk3 series. While that camera had very well-thought out and user-friendly ergonomics, I wish they would have included some of the 7D features. For instance, the 7D can switch AF modes by hitting the AF button, then FEL to toggle between modes (single point, expansion, zone etc).  On the IV I wish it was possible to do something similar to change between different expansion levels. Currently, you have to go into the camera menu to toggle between none, left/right, surrounding or all 45 point expansion., which is not feasible to change while looking through your viewfinder, and it’s caused me to miss shots. The IV shares a similar LCD to the 7D, and it is sharp and accurate, though slightly deceiving in terms of brightness – it would have been nice if it had auto brightness as some other bodies do.

AF: This is the section everyone wants to read due to the problems with the 1D III. While I had no major issues with the III, I can say that the IV is definitely better. Tracking against busy backgrounds is hugely improved, and initial acquisition speed is just as zippy as with the III. I also like the fact that the 24-105/4, 70-200/2.8IS + 1.4x and 300/2.8IS + 1.4x now focus using the cross-type AF points, of which nearly all are now cross type. One thing that I immediately noticed was how well the camera tracked with expansion points enabled. I typically shot without expansion with the III, especially against busy backgrounds, but with the IV it actually helps to keep them enabled and gives you more leeway in how accurate you have to track the bird. If I had left them enabled on the III it would have focused on the background, but here it actually helps maintain the focus – a big plus in my books. I still find that 45 point AF is not the best choice unless you have a large subject or a clear sky, but it is still improved from the nearly unusable 45 point mode on the III. I can safely say I’ve gotten shots with the IV that I would not have earlier, as the AF just holds onto the target so well.

Image Quality: While the images may seem a touch softer at 100% view, that is not entirely a fair comparison with the resolution increase to 16MP, as you should now compare that to about 116% view on the III. I’m quite satisfied with the image quality, and the resolution is great for more cropping latitude, and 16MP on a 1.3x crop is probably about as high as is possible without compromising high ISO image quality. It’s great to be able to crop a vertical shot out of a horizontal capture and still be left with 7MP. The high ISO improvement is not nearly as much as Canon claims, but there is an improvement. Keep in mind that I rarely shoot above ISO1600 for bird photography, and from what I’ve heard the higher ranges are the ones that have seen the most improvement. AWB has improved substantially, and is bang on in nearly every circumstance.

Here are several photos to show the AF tracking.

Against such a background and with the bird so small in the frame, the 1D III would have never been able to track so accurately. The entire sequence was sharp, even with me moving off the bird slightly.

The sensor and AF of the 1D IV made this possible. It's a full height vertical crop out of a horizontal image, taken at ISO1250. There is no noise to be seen in the fullsize image, even after increasing the exposure by a stop in processing.

Northern Hawk Owls Part 2

Ottawa was host to at least one hawk owl last winter. They are more common at those latitudes, but still don’t occur that often; in fact I haven’t seen one this year, although there have been a few scattered reports. The light was better than on my previous trips to the local hawk owl the previous year.

Northern Hawk Owl (perched)

Northern Hawk Owl perched (click to enlarge)

Northern Hawk Owl in flight

Northern Hawk Owl in flight (click to enlarge)

Northern Hawk Owl catching prey

Northern Hawk Owl catching prey (click to enlarge)

Northern Hawk Owl on birch

Northern Hawk Owl on birch (click to enlarge)

See more raptor images here

The year in review

What a year it’s been. From winter raptors and Algonquin Park photography early this year, to the shorebirds and songbirds of spring and summer, it’s been an extremely productive year for photography. I managed to add 68 birds to my life list, which now stands at about 210 species. Yesterday I finished off the year by adding the much sought-after boreal owl to my list. Next year should yield many more birds, particularly with a trip to Florida in February, and more targeted shooting for specific species in the spring and summer. I am also eagerly looking forward to delivery of the 1D Mark IV, which should further expand the boundaries of what is possible photographically.

Happy New Year to all!

Blue-Winged Warbler

As mentioned in my previous post, the Blue-Winged warbler is the “cousin” to the Golden-Winged warbler. Its habitat is quite similar, though it’s range is more southerly, yet expanding northwards. The Blue-Winged is exceptionally common in my area, and their buzzing song often emanates from the shrubbery, particularly any raspberry bushes. Despite their commonness, I have not photographed them too extensively, with the exception of one fantastic afternoon in the summer of 2008, in a field just minutes from my house. This particular male was extremely accommodating and allowed for many close views over the course of an hour or two. The species forages nearer to the ground than other tree-top dwelling warblers, making photography much easier, and affording closer views and better angles.

The Brewster’s warbler hybrid sometimes occurs in my area as well, and my one chance at photographing one was ruined by my inexperienced self having written it off as a first year Blue-winged in poor plumage. At least I’ll know for next time!

Blue-Winged Warbler in habitat

Blue-Winged Warbler in habitat (click to enlarge)

Blue-Winged Warbler singing

Blue-Winged Warbler singing (click to enlarge)

Blue-Winged Warbler profile

Blue-Winged Warbler profile (click to enlarge)

View more, or order a print at my gallery!
See more warbler images here

Golden-Winged Warbler

This spring I had the pleasure of having several opportunities to photograph one of the most attractive wood warblers, namely the Golden-winged Warbler. This dashing little beauty is sadly declining across its range, and being pushed northwards, due to its southerly cousin, the Blue-winged Warbler, which is moving northward, perhaps due to warming climates. Both are closely related, and where their ranges overlap they often create hybrids (Brewster’s and Lawrence’s warbler). These hybrids are typically less hardy than their pure species, and are not all that common.

Currently, the best place to find the Golden-winged warbler seems to be near the Canadian Shield area, or in northern Michigan. It can also be found south of these areas, but only irregularly. Thankfully, the Golden-wingeds seem to be holding their own in the northern areas, with the Blue-winged being a rare sight in the Shield. The threat is still potent, and there is a possibility that through hybridizing (cross-breeding) with the blue-winged race and reduction of the golden-winged gene pool, the golden-winged race may no longer exist in a decade or so, according to some experts. As it stands now, this species is classified as ‘near threatened’ by the IUCN.

Golden-Winged Warbler on Tamarack

Golden-Winged Warbler on Tamarack (click to enlarge)

Golden-Winged Warbler

Golden-Winged Warbler (click to enlarge)

Golden-Winged Warbler seen in typical habitat

Golden-Winged Warbler in habitat (click to enlarge)

View more, or order a print at my gallery!

See more of my warbler images here