I’ve been asked to share my Canon EOS 5Ds R camera settings a number of times, so this is just a quick post to share a list of the main changes I make. There are other changes, but I feel these are the ones that are important to my shooting as a mainly landscape and wildlife photographer.
I’ve used the menu name from the camera for reference. For example, the first item is SHOOT2 which is the second of the menus with the Camera icon, on the far left.
I’ve also added my reason for selecting this setting in parenthesis after each setting.
Color space = Adobe RGB
(This gives the JPEG preview created a wider color space, and affects the histogram slightly, but because I shoot raw, it doesn’t make a difference for my final image)
Grid display = 3×3+diag
(I like to have these lines visible to help me with composition and to keep horizons straight when I’m hand-holding the camera.)
Case 2, but set Tracking sensitivity to -2, Accel./decel. tracking to 1 and AF pt auto switching to 0.
(I’ve found these to be the best settings to track wildlife and birds in flight, even against a contrasty background. If you don’t shoot these subjects, you’ll need to find your own best settings.)
AI Servo 1st image priority = Focus (far right)
AI Servo 2nd image priority = Focus (far right)
(Setting both of these to Focus can slow focusing down slightly, but I don’t want a photo that isn’t in focus anyway, so I’d rather take a frame-rate hit than get a bunch of out of focus images.)
One-Shot AF release priority = Focus
(Same reason as above.)
VF display illumination = Auto
While in the screen where you select Auto, hit the Q button and select Illuminated
(This makes the focus points display when focus is achieved.)
Highlight alert = Enable
(Displaying blown out highlights helps you to prevent, well, er, blown out highlights.)
Histogram dis = RGB
(I use a technique called Expose to the Right or ETTR, so I look at the histogram to check that the image information is almost touching the right side of the histogram, but the single Brightness histogram can be misleading, because it’s an average of all three colors. I turn on the RGB histogram and ensure that the right-most color is almost touching the right shoulder.)
Viewfinder display = Electronic level = Show, Grid display = Show, Show/hide in viewfinder = Everything on
The main thing here is having the Electronic level always displaying in the viewfinder. I just like to get my images level. Everything else is optional, but I turn it all on.)
Safety shit = OFF
(I don’t want the camera doing anything automatic. I just don’t.)
Multi function lock = Everything on
(I use this so that I can flick the Lock switch on the back of the camera, and it will lock my dials, so I can’t accidentally change my shutter speed or aperture, especially when I’m using a Black Rapid strap, with the camera dangling upside down. You have to disengage the Lock switch to make any changes, but I find this less annoying than finding I’m accidentally changed my shutter speed from 1/1000 to 1/15 and all of my images are supernova.)
Custom Controls = I set these up as in the following image…
(Again, this is totally up to you, but I like these settings. One of the main ones is setting the SET button to magnifying the image. Canon cameras used to have Zoom buttons easily accessible with your thumb, but since they removed these buttons, I use the SET button as you see below. Note too that I set the shutter button to only meter, and not activate the autofocus. I focus only with the back focus button. If you don’t use this technique, and don’t want to try it, I don’t recommend changing this.)
Canon EOS 5Ds R Custom Controls
I also add the following items to My Menu. The main takeaway here is adding the Tracking sensitivity, Accel./decel. tracking and AF pt auto switching settings to this menu. This gives me easy access to these settings to tweak them as necessary for fast paces AI Servo shooting.
Canon EOS 5Ds R My Menu
Note that many of these settings are available on earlier 5D cameras and many other Canon cameras.
I hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.
Over the last six months or so, many people have asked for my opinion on ISO Invariance, and I didn’t really have one, because I hadn’t done any tests for myself, so I corrected that, and today will share my results.
Let’s start with a bit of information about ISO Invariance, as this is perhaps a new term to some people. I first started to hear this term when the Sony Alpha 7R II camera was released. This camera has a very wide dynamic range, meaning it can capture a wider range of tones from total black to full white than most other cameras.
We measure dynamic range in stops, which are the measurements used to describe increases or decreases in exposure. We might talk about making our shutter speed one stop slower for example, which could be something like changing it from 1/250 of a second, to 1/125 of a second. One stop faster would mean changing 1/250 of a second to 1/500 of a second.
In terms of aperture, one stop smaller or slower than f/8 would be f/11, and one stop wider or faster than f/8 would be f/5.6. We can also use ISO to change the exposure, for example, making the sensor one stop more sensitive, by changing ISO 100 to ISO 200. We’ll use the ISO for most of our tests that I’ll share with you shortly.
DxO Mark puts the Sony Alpha 7R II at 13.9 stops of dynamic range. The Nikon D810 which also uses a Sony sensor beats that with a huge dynamic range of 14.8 stops, and my Canon 5Ds R comes in at just 12.4 stops in their tests. Compared to just a few years ago, all of these cameras are capturing enough dynamic range to give us a lot of freedom in our photography, although obviously to varying degrees.
The wide dynamic range of the Sony and Nikon cameras though raised the question of ISO Invariance and whether using Expose to the Right techniques that I use is still necessary. Exposing to the Right or ETTR is basically where we adjust our exposure for any given scene so that the highlights are on the right side of the histogram.
Basically you will see more noise in the mid-tones of a photograph compared to the lighter areas, and the shadows are even more noisy than the mid-tones. This means that we can create cleaner images by exposing them with the information in the scene as close to the less noisy right side of the histogram as possible, even if we then reduce the brightness of the image in post processing later.
In a great article published on DPReview called “Sony Alpha 7R II: Real-World ISO Invariance Study” they share some test results which show that because the noise floor is so low in the Sony Alpha 7R II and Nikon D810 with its Sony sensor, it can actually be beneficial to keep your ISO down at 100 or 200, and photograph your scene much darker, and brighten it in post. This is basically the opposite to Exposing to the Right.
The idea is that all we are doing when we increase the ISO is making the pixels more sensitive to light or amplifying the signal, but with such high dynamic range on these cameras, the noise added by increasing the ISO in camera is comparable to the noise added by pushing the exposure in post processing, but with the added benefit in the latter, of stopping highlight areas from blowing out or blooming.
This got me curious, as I know that my 5Ds R does not have such a wide dynamic range as these Sony sensor cameras, so I did a test to see if Canon EOS 5Ds users could benefit from this technique, or if it was better to continue to use ETTR techniques. Here are my results…
First of all, I shot six frames of a guitar, in my studio, with just light coming in through the lace curtain in my window. The guitar is black and shiny, so you can see the reflection of the curtains, and it has some chrome on there too, which also reflected light. I adjusted my exposure at ISO 100, so that my resulting photograph was just starting to blow out the reflection of the window in the chrome and a little bit in the reflection of the curtain on the shiny black guitar. This is probably how I would expose this photograph if I was exposing to the right (below).
ISO 100, f/8 for 1 second
For this exposure, my shutter speed was down to 1 second at f/8, with ISO 100. In Lightroom, I can adjust the Exposure of my images up to +5 stops, buy increasing the Exposure slider all the way over to the right. So, I adjusted my 1 second exposure at ISO 100, to the same exposure at ISO 3200, which is 5 stops more sensitive than ISO 100. Just double the numbers five times to check for yourself. (100 -> 200 -> 400 -> 800 -> 1600 -> 3200)
Because I was going to be increasing the sensitivity of my sensor by five stops, I also needed to decrease my shutter speed by five stops to start my test. So that would be 1 second halved to, 0.5 seconds, then 1/4 sec, 1/8 sec, 1/15 sec to 1/30 of a second. I then shot a series of six images, starting at ISO 3200 at 1/30 of a second, and continued to shoot five more frames, decreasing the ISO by one stop for each image. In this screenshot from Lightroom (below) you can see the ISO 3200 image in the top left, going down to the ISO 100 image in the bottom right.
ISO 100 to 3200
Next, I went into the Develop module in Lightroom, and increased the Exposure slider for the images from ISO 1600 to 100. I increased ISO 1600 by 1 stop, making it the same brightness as the ISO 3200 image. I increased the ISO 800 image by two stops, the ISO 400 image by three stops, the ISO 200 image by four stops, and the ISO 100 image by five stops, making them all look the same brightness, as you can see in this screenshot (below). I literally just clicked the number to the right of the Exposure slider in Lightroom, and typed in 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 against each image.
ISO Invariance Tests
As you can see, in the thumbnail view, it’s hard to tell the difference between the ISO 3200 image in the top left, and the ISO 100 image in the bottom right, with its +5 stops of Exposure applied in Lightroom. Let’s take a look at the amount of noise that is added to these images though, as we increased the ISO. Click on the image on the top left, and then navigate back and forth through these images with your mouse or arrow keys on your keyboard. Note that the images might automatically advance, but to stop that, just place your mouse over the image.
For me, I can see no real difference in the amount of noise between ISO 3200 and ISO 1600 pushed by 1 stop, and ISO 800 pushed by 2 stops. From the ISO 400 image pushed by 3 stops I can start to see a little bit more noise, and ISO 200 pushed by 4 stops gets quite bad, and ISO 100 pushed by 5 stops is really noisy.
What does this tell us?
So, what does this tell us? Well, whereas the Sony sensor cameras are showing results proving that you can push images up to 5 or 6 stops without seeing very much noise added, based on this test alone, it would seem that with the Canon 5Ds R, you could push your images by up to 3 stops without degrading the quality of the image, assuming that there was some reason for you to be using a high ISO in the first place.
For example, imagine I wanted to photograph a bird in flight in low light, which would require that I increase my ISO to get a faster shutter speed, and there was a lot of dark areas in the scene, I could shoot at say 1/1000 of a second at ISO 100, then push my exposure in post to +3 or +4 at a push, and not see any more noise than I would have seen if I shot the same scene at ISO 800 or 1600.
Keep in mind at this point, that the amount of noise that you would see at ISO 800 or 1600 is minimal anyway, and I’m not saying that either of these methods is better than the other, but it’s one technique that we could keep in our digital toolbox in case it becomes useful at some point.
High and Low ISO Comparison
I’m going to state the obvious here before we move on, but if however, you don’t need to worry about shutter speed, and can do a longer exposure, it is always going to be better to shoot at a lower ISO and increase the length of your shutter speed, for cleaner images.
Here’s a diagonal splice of two images to illustrate (below). The top left triangle is ISO 100 for 1 second, and the bottom right triangle is ISO 1600 at 1/30 of a second. Don’t forget to open up your browser window and click on the image to view it at 100% to see the detail. The version that is embedded in the blog post has been reduced in size a little.
ISO 100 for 1 sec and ISO 1600 for 1/30 sec 100% Crop
From this, you can see that there is a certain amount of grain in the image, even at ISO 1600, although ISO 3200 looks very similar to this. We can even see a little bit more grain in the highlights on the chrome, and there is really no blooming to be seen in the ISO 100 image, so personally, I’d always go for the ISO 100 shot when shutter speed is not an issue.
White on White
The next question I asked myself was, does this mean that my use of the Expose to the Right technique with the 5Ds R and possibly my earlier Canon cameras a total waste of time?
The first test I did was a predominantly dark scene, with a few areas of highlights. For something like my Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes or Whooper Swans, on a white snowy background, we’re talking mostly white on white, with some dark patches on the animals. I don’t have a Red-Crowned Crane handy, or a field full of snow for that matter, but I do have this almost white cat ornament with some darks spots, and a roll of seamless, so I used these things for my next test.
Here you can see a screenshot from Lightroom of a photo of the white cat on the white background, shot in Aperture Priority mode, with Exposure Compensation set to zero on the left, and Exposure Compensation set to + 1 1/3 of a stop on the right (below).
Invariance Test White Cat on White Background
The cat has a little bit more reflectivity than the cranes usually have, but I stopped increasing the exposure at 1 1/3 of a stop, to prevent a patch of his belly from blowing out. Usually for a snow scene, if it was overcast/shade, like this, I would probably be a third or two-thirds more than this, but let’s continue with this example, as it is enough to draw some conclusions. It also represents a real world scenario, where I might leave the camera in Aperture Priority mode at zero Exposure Compensation, then increase the exposure later.
Click on the top left image below and again, with your browse window opened up wide, look at the noise in the dark patch above the cat’s eye. I’m sure you’ll agree that in every case, the image that was shot with 1 1/3 of a stop in Exposure Compensation applied in camera is cleaner than the one shot at zero Exposure Compensation, then pushed by 1 1/3 of a stop in Lightroom. Also, you’ll see that as the ISO is increased, pushing the image by 1 1/3 of a stop in post introduces a lot more grain than you’d see as opposed to increasing the exposure in camera.
For me, this test shows that for lighter subjects, you definitely get cleaner images by adjusting the exposure, and essentially exposing to the right in camera, than you do by leaving exposure to the camera and then lightening them later. This isn’t so noticeable at ISO 100, so again, ISO invariance is at play here. The difference is less noticeable and probably more acceptable at ISO 100 than it is at the higher ISOs.
Average Scene Test
Finally, I wanted to see what happened when I photographed a scene with a variety of tones and colors that pretty much average out to a zero compensation exposure, so I shot a series of photographs of an X-Rite Digital ColorChecker SG card, at ISO 100, 400, 1600 and 6400. I then adjusted the shutter speed, making three more frames at each ISO which were minus 1, 2 and 3 stops, as you can see here (below).
Average Scene Tests with X-Rite ColorChecker SG
Once I had these images in Lightroom, I increased the Exposure of the under exposed images by +1, +2 and +3 with the Exposure slider, making them all the same brightness. Here is a 100% crop from each image, and again, you’ll need to click on these with your browser window wide, and navigate back and forth with your mouse or arrow keys to make a comparison.
As you can see, once again, at ISO 100, you can push the image by 2 stops, even 3 if necessary, and really see very little degradation in the quality of the image. At ISO 400, we’re probably talking 2 stops, and at ISO 1600, even pushing the image 1 stop introduces a lot of grain, and at ISO 6400 pushing the image at all pretty much ruins the image. This is in line with our earlier findings though. The invariance is only really valid in the high ISOs and quickly degrades as we increase the ISO.
OK, so what conclusions can we draw from this? Well, with the Canon EOS 5Ds R and probably the 5Ds as well as the 5D Mark III which all had very similar dynamic range, I think we can safely say that if you are shooting in a situation where ISO 100 gets you to within 3 stops of where your exposure needs to be for an average tone or dark scene, then shooting without any kind of exposure compensation, either in an automated mode or in Manual, and then increasing the Exposure in post, you will not really see any degradation in the quality of your images.
If you are shooting a brighter scene, at least from these tests, ISO 100 does still show a slight increase in noise in the dark areas if you push in post as opposed to increasing the exposure in camera. For this reason, it’s probably still better to expose to the right, and get your whites white, when shooting winter scenes such as a white bird on white snow. Having said that, the amount of degradation is negligible at ISO 100, and if it’s a toss-up between fighting with exposure to avoid blowing out highlights, and under exposing just a little bit, this certainly does mean that we can give ourselves a little bit more wiggle-room, even for white on white winter scenes.
I can see me perhaps at least trying only going over by +1 stop, and maybe even trying zero compensation in next year’s winter tours, to at least see how the image looks with a true, real-world example. I expect that at ISO 100 this will be a valid way to shoot, as we only need to push the image up by 2 stops. It may also be fine up to ISO 400, if my tests above are anything to go by. Below ISO 400, and you really don’t want to be pushing your images in post.
I still need to get my head around applications of this in the field, but I’d say that on the Canon 5Ds R, if ISO 100 can get you to within 3 stops of the shutter speed that you need to freeze a subject, this is now a viable shooting technique. Allow the image in camera to fall dark, and increase the exposure in post. As I mentioned earlier though, the resulting images don’t look a lot different to those that you will get by increasing the ISO, so the benefits to Canon shooters at this point in time, are really minimal in terms of images quality, but if this technique helps you to avoid blowing out highlights or adjust for a certain shutter speed, it’s worth bearing in mind.
Let’s also bear in mind that during these tests, I have been looking at my images while zoomed in at 100% on 50 megapixel files. This is the level of detail that I like to work at, because I sometimes print large or need to crop my images, but if you are only shooting for web, or low resolution images, the differences that we can see will be less important to you. I’d recommend you think through this yourself or do some similar tests to make up your own mind how useful relying on ISO Invariance could be for your own shooting workflow.
If you are shooting with a Nikon D810 or the Sony Alpha 7R II, and this is the first you’ve heard of ISO Invariance, do check out that article on DPReview, as you may well be able to benefit from this more than us Canon users at this point in time. Either way, I hope this episode has been useful, and helped to shed some light on the topic of ISO Invariance. I’ll continue to update you through the blog and podcast as implement at least some parts of what I’ve found in my own shooting.
The Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop 2017
Before we finish, I’d like to mention that we have just started taking bookings for an incredible 17 day tour in Namibia from June 3 to 19, 2017. There are just a few spaces left, so they might already be gone by the time you see this post, but check out the tour page at https://mbp.ac/namibia and sign up if you’d like to join us. If it is already sold out, please contact us to be placed on the cancellation list.
This week we continue our series of episodes to walk through 40 images from my second Japan Winter Wildlife tour for 2016, and today we visit the Whooper Swans, Sulphur Mountain and the majestic sea eagles.
We pick up the trail on day eight of the tour, which was our second morning with the Whooper Swans at Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido, Japan. On one of the two days at this location, we sometimes take a drive to the Bihoro Pass to photograph the sunrise over this caldera lake, but as this is a wildlife tour, we generally give preference to capturing some beautiful wildlife, and the forecast was for snow this day, which meant the pass would be in cloud.
I decided to take the group back to Sunayu to see if we could get something different from the previous morning, which was pretty spectacular, and boy am I glad that I made that decision. I didn’t think we could beat the previous day, but I actually think in some ways we did just that. The swans were flying in through a beautiful mist with snow in the air, so they looked like they were flying inside a giant softbox, as we can see in this photograph (below).
Swans from Heaven
Swans from Heaven Histogram
Here you can see just how soft the light was. The majority of the information in this image is in the top 8% or so of the histogram, with a thin slither of detail running along the bottom to the middle. In fact, I’ll post a screenshot here (right) so that you can see what I mean.
Of course, if we simply left the exposure to the camera to set, that histogram would show all of the information in the middle, and the beautiful white swans would all be a middle grey, which would not look very nice at all. So, to overcome that, I use Manual mode and set my exposure based on a frame full of white snow on the frozen lake, and ensure that my exposure is around +2 and do a test shot, then adjust so that the histogram on the camera shows me that the right-most data is just about touching the right shoulder, meaning the information I’m capturing is white, but not overexposed.
I know this isn’t new to many of you, but in case this isn’t making much sense, here is my process for this. First of all, I decide what aperture I want, based on the scene. As there is going to be more than one swan in the scene, I want a deepish depth of field, so I went for f/11. I also know that I need to have a relatively fast shutter speed to almost but not totally freeze the swans in flight, so I chose 1/400 of a second. This needs to be a bit faster for a single bird up close, but for a scene like this, 1/400 of a second is just about fast enough. Then, with the camera pointing at nothing but the white snow, I adjust the ISO while watching the caret on the exposure meter move until it reaches +2. In this light, that took me to ISO 800. Note that +2 is generally about right for overcast snow, but for snow in bright sunlight, you sometimes only need to adjust to +1 or +1 and 1/3 of a stop.
Then, once the exposure was set like this in Manual mode, we just wait for the birds to arrive. I often call out my settings so that the group can check it against their settings. Sometimes a member of the group calls out for my settings, so I shout them back, and we all just make sure we’re set during the downtime between fly-ins. It is of course necessary to keep updating these settings as the sun gets higher in the sky, but the beauty of setting them like this in Manual mode is that when you have something else in the frame, like the dark trees in the background that we looked at last week, the exposure doesn’t move, which is exactly what we want.
The swans are white, and the snow is white, so we want to record them that way in our images. If we use Exposure Compensation with +2 stops of exposure dialed in, when the birds are over a dark background like the trees, the meter will be fooled into increasing the exposure too much, trying to brighten up the trees, and that would result in totally overexposed swans and snow.
Of course, with the mist, we have to rely on our ears to know when the swans are coming. In the first photograph, you can see that the middle swan in the right side group is calling. They often call like this as they fly-in, which helps us to know that they are coming, so that we can look for them emerging from the mist for shots like this.
In the next image here (below) you can see a larger group that flew in and dispersed somewhat as they landed. I like the way they are forming an arch in this photograph, with the one at the bottom left with his paddles down, as he comes in to land. As I often say, these birds are incredibly beautiful, with a wing span between 205 to 275 cm, which is 81 to 108 inches. That’s a nine foot wingspan for the largest of these birds.
They’re heavy too, some weighing up to 11.4 kg, or 25 pounds, so it’s hardly surprising that in all their beauty, they can look a little bit clumsy sometimes, especially when they spread those bit black feet out as we can see here. The red-crowned cranes are beautiful, and the sea eagles majestic, but some of the participants leave with a deep love for these Whooper Swans, and I’m totally with them on that.
This was just 17 seconds after the first shot we looked at today, so my settings were the same at 1/400 of a second exposure at f/11, ISO 400. My focal length at this point was 105mm, so I had my 100-400mm lens almost wide open for this shot.
This last photo of the Whooper Swans (below) was shot ten minutes later, and was our last fly-in before we went back to the hotel for breakfast. Here, the swans had circled around, and looked like they were going to land, as in the previous image, but these three kept going and flew directly over our heads. I was probably pointing my camera up to around 10 degrees off straight up for this shot, and you can hopefully see from the angle of the swans that they are about to fly overhead.
The light was still incredible as well. My exposure was the same as the first few images, as the sun was well over the trees behind us now, so pretty stable, but just illuminating that mist all around the birds, really, just like they were in a giant soft box. As we walked back to the bus there was a wonderful buzz in the group as we all knew that we’d witnessed some sublimely beautiful moments during this pre-breakfast shoot. It doesn’t get much better than this.
After breakfast, we had a bit of a drive over to Rausu, the fishing village where we’d spend the next three days photographing the sea eagles, but on the way, as usual, we stopped for a quick shoot at Iozan, or Sulphur Mountain. Unfortunately, the mist that had made the swans so beautiful was doing it’s thing over at the mountain too, so the conditions weren’t great.
I remember that everyone in the group had already walked back to the bus as I was still trying to capture something in the occasional brief moments of clarity, as the wind blew the mist away for literally just a split second at a time. I had pretty much given up on the images too, thinking that they were not going to work out, but then when I looked at this one, it felt as though I was looking at the fumaroles underwater, and not a total throw out, so I decided to include it here to help document our trip (below).
My settings were 1/125 of a second exposure at f/11, ISO 200. I was using my 24-70mm f/2.8L II Lens for this shot, at 67mm. After this stop, we drove to a number of places where there are sometimes Ural Owls, but unfortunately we didn’t find any. In fact, we drove back out from Rausu a number of times as I tried to give the group an Ural Owl photo, but we weren’t able to find one on this trip.
The following morning, we went out for our first shoot from the boat at Rausu, where we were to shoot the Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles. The El Niño weather this year took it’s toll on Tour #2 as well, and this became the first year that we didn’t have any sea ice at all. It just didn’t come. Thanks to my negotiation a few years ago though, we now go out anyway, and get great shots of the sea eagles taking the fish from the water, which I personally think actually looks better than them catching them off the top of the sea ice.
Here we can see a Steller’s Sea Eagle from the front as he takes a fish from the sea. There was a storm coming, and winds were high, so there was a bit of swell as well, and the light was relatively low. My settings were 1/1000 of a second at f/8, ISO 1600, so it was workable, and the results really do show what it was like this year.
Steller’s Sea Eagle Catching Fish with One Foot
As I’ve mentioned in previous episodes, the Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies that I used on this trip really did work well in terms of autofocus during the entire trip. I found them more capable of snapping focus onto the bird than my 7D Mark II and even better than my old 1D X. I was sometimes raising the camera and focusing literally just moments before I released the shutter, and there was probably less than 2% of my images in which the focus snapped to the background water. The success ratio was much higher under similar conditions than when using my other cameras.
Of course, the slower frame rate makes the 5Ds more difficult to use for wildlife, but I found this liberating too. I had to be much more deliberate when choosing the moment to release the shutter, and I was shooting many of these eagles shots with just one frame, or a burst of two to three frames, rarely more. I actually feel as though the limitations that I placed on myself by taking only two 5Ds R bodies, actually made me hone my skills further, possibly even making me a better photographer.
You can also see here that I have a little bit of movement in the wing tips of the eagle. This is something that annoys the hell out of some bird photographers, but this is exactly why I like to photograph big birds like this at around 1/1000 of a second. It’s fast enough to freeze most of their motion, but leaves a bit of blur in the wing tips on some frames, and that’s just the amount of dynamism I like in my photographs.
When there’s no ice, the pace of shooting is incredibly fast. The eagles are hungry, and they are literally in their hundreds, so we are shooting maybe five to ten swoops like the one in this next photograph (below) each minute some times. I selected this image to show you from hundreds of frames, and still this was only one minute after the last photograph.
Steller’s Sea Eagle Swooping to Catch Fish
As you can see there was a little bit of snow in the air too, which I quite like. I think it adds atmosphere to the images. My settings here were the same as the previous photograph. Again, I was using Manual mode as usual, so unless the light or my intensions change, it’s pretty much locked in. I’m still exposing to the right though. If you look at the white on the eagle’s wings and legs, they are pure white, almost but not quite overexposed. If you left the exposure to the camera these bands of white would be totally blown out. In fact, I’d say that on the camera, the white on this Steller’s Sea Eagle probably were flashing as they started to look overexposed to the camera. Lightroom actually gives you about two thirds to a stop of exposure back, as it reprocesses our images.
A few minutes later again, here we see a White-Tailed Eagle coming in to catch his fish. I had actually changed my ISO from 1600 to 1250 for this shot, so I imagine I had been checking my images and saw that the white on the eagles was close to blowing out, and brought my exposure down by a third of a stop. Again, when I make changes, I call out my new settings to the group.
White-Tailed Eagle Swooping to Catch Fish Talons Forward
I like the snow in this photo again, adding a bit of atmosphere, and the pensive look on the face of the eagle focusing on that fish, is one of the things that makes these birds so awesome. I always feel so privileged to be around these magnificent animals.
These last three images were from the first day with the eagles. We were photographing some of the eagles on the harbor wall from the boat just briefly as we finished our shoot, but the wind was getting stronger and stronger by the minute, as the storm approached, so we had to cut it short by a few minutes, and then our driver forged through the fresh snow that was already making road conditions very difficult, even for the ten minute ride back to our hotel. We were to be locked down for the rest of the day as the storm passed, so we had a morning to look through our photographs, and I did a workshop session through the afternoon.
Unusually for Rausu, the storm did pass overnight, so although we were not able to go out for a dawn shoot, we did go out after breakfast for a second session with the sea eagles. In this next image you can see that the sun was poking through the clouds a little bit, which actually increases the contrast quite a lot, making for darker shadows. I do like how the light has caught the water in this photograph though (below).
Steller’s Sea Eagle Catching Fish
The wind was still blowing from the land out to sea, which means that the birds would always fly towards the land with the sun behind them. This is the luck of the draw really. We can’t control the wind direction, but we can make the most of the conditions we are dealt. I have a lot of photographs that I’m happy with from this second morning, although it was probably the least productive of the three days due to the lighting, until the last ten minutes or so that is.
We went back to the harbor wall for a while, and at first, I was not expecting much, but then I realized that the eagles were, to a degree, struggling to land on the snow covered harbor wall because of the still high winds. This meant that they would just float over the wall, sometimes folding their wings back a little to reduce the drag, and allow themselves to fall closer to the wall in an attempt to land, as we can see here (below).
Steller’s Sea Eagle Making a Fist
This is another one of my favorite photos from this year’s winter wildlife tours. This Steller’s Sea Eagle looks like a boxer with his fists clenched, about to lunge forwards across the ring to deal a mighty blow against his opponent. The other beautiful thing about this and the following image that we’ll look at, is that the eagles are over a large expanse of snow on the harbor wall at this point, so that is reflecting light back up, illuminating the underside of the birds, which makes for much more beautiful images.
This next photograph (below) is one that we also looked at in episode 514, when I walked you through my image editing and selection process for tour #2 this year. Take a look if you’d like to see a 100% crop of the eagles face, and you’ll probably understand why I am so excited about shooting wildlife with the 5Ds R bodies. The results are absolutely spectacular.
Steller’s Sea Eagle Coming in to Land
Of course, this is as the Steller’s Sea Eagle opens his wings to slow his decent as he gets closer to the harbor wall. According to my EXIF data, this was less than a second after the previous photograph. They were both shot at 08:08:49. They were both shot at 1/1000 of second, at f/10, ISO 400 too, as I was able to bring the ISO down slightly as we photographed over the wall, due to the better light.
That takes us to the end of our 10 photographs for today, so we’ll wrap it up there for this episode. I’ll be back next week where we’ll take a look at a photograph of an adorable Norther Red Fox from later this day, and a few more photographs from a dawn shoot with the eagle on our third and final morning with them, before we head over to Utoro on the other side of the Shiretoko Peninsula for a little bit of landscape work, and a stunningly beautiful woodpecker to end our tour.
2018 Winter Wonderland Tours
Before we finish, I’d like to remind you that we are now taking bookings for the 2018 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours. For details and to book your place, visit the tour page at https://mbp.ac/ww2018. Our 2017 tours are already sold out, but if you’d like to be put on the wait list, please contact us.
After using the Canon EOS 5Ds R digital SLR camera for just over four months now, today I’m going to do a follow-up review to let you know how I’m getting on with this new ultra-high-resolution offering from Canon.
If you didn’t catch my earlier 5Ds Review, you can check that out in Episode 478. That review contained a lot of test photos and I went into detail on how it is totally possible to shoot with the 5Ds R hand-held and still get sharp photos. This has been one of the main things that people have been asking about since that review, so I’ll include an update on this, now that I’ve been shooting in the field in Namibia and Iceland, and I’ll share some example photos with some 100% crops to really show you the results I’m continuing to get with this camera, and we’ll touch on a lot of other areas that people have been asking about as well.
Am I Still In Love?
My initial impressions as I started to use the Canon EOS 5Ds R was just WOW! I didn’t hold anything back as I relayed my enthusiasm for this new camera from Canon, and I know that some people probably thought that this was partly just coming from the newness and finally having a camera with amazing, ultra-high resolution, that our friends in the Nikon and Sony camps were already enjoying.
I have to tell you though, that after shooting with the 5Ds R for the last four months, I’m as in love with it now, as I was when we first met. In fact, the first vote of confidence came as I started to prepare for my Namibia Tour, and realised that I could not use my old 5D Mark III as a backup camera. It’s a great camera, and I don’t want anyone still shooting with one to take this the wrong way, but I knew that if anything was to happen to my 5Ds R, I could not bear to go back to the 22 megapixels of my 5D Mark III now.
A few years ago when I almost killed my 5D Mark III in Iceland, seeing just how weatherproof it was, it was really hard to shoot landscape for a few days with the 18 megapixels of the 1DX, until the 5D came back to life a few days later. The 1DX was my backup camera on that trip, and I still hated having to shoot with the lower resolution, and that was only a 4 megapixel difference. Dropping from 50 megapixels to 22 if I had to fall back on my 5D Mark III would have broken my heart.
Two Canon EOS 5Ds R Bodies
The image quality from all of these cameras is of course incredible, so if you don’t need any more than 22, then the 5D Mark III is still an amazing camera to own, but I felt so strongly that I personally couldn’t handle dropping back to that resolution if something happened, that I actually bought a second 5Ds R body shortly before leaving for Namibia. Of course, with both cameras being exactly the same, that meant that it wasn’t a backup body as such. I just shot equally with both cameras, and it actually saved me from changing lenses in the dusty conditions as much as I would have done with just one main body. So, I’m not only still in love with my 5Ds R, I’m now two-timing her.
So, let’s look at some examples of images as I reiterate that for me, I’ve found there to be absolutely no problem shooting hand-held with the 5Ds R, despite the high resolution. I should add though, that I have been perhaps more conscious than ever of using the focal length as the minimum shutter speed rule of thumb, even with lenses that have Image Stabilisation. This means of course, that say for example, I am shooting at 100mm, I would try to make my shutter speed at least 1/100 of a second or faster. If shooting at 50mm, my minimum shutter speed would ideally be 1/50 of a second or faster.
Of course, there are other factors that come into play, like going faster to stop movement in the subject, but using this as a minimum shutter speed when hand holding the camera has pretty much prevented me from seeing any issues with blurred shots due to the high resolution. I have shot some images slower than this, often getting good results, but that increases the risk of blurred images, and yes, I have had some at slower speeds.
For this photograph of a Juvenile Blacksmith Lapwing (below), shot hand-held in Namibia, I was at a focal length of 400mm and therefore selected a shutter speed of 1/400 of a second, at f/8, ISO 500. This was shot with the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens.
Juvenile Blacksmith Lapwing
Here is a 100% crop of the head of the Lapwing, and I think you’ll agree that the sharpness is there. Click on the image to view it at full size for the web, as the embedded version here is reduced in size a little to fit in the blog content size. Remember too that if you want to stop the images from advancing automatically while you study the detail, just place your mouse over the image.
Juvenile Blacksmith Lapwing 100% Crop
No Moiré So Far
Another thing that I know people have been concerned about, is the possibility of seeing moiré in photographs shot with the 5Ds R, as it has the low-pass filter effect cancelled, which gives you sharper images than the standard 5Ds body, but it increases the risk of getting nasty patterns, called moiré, forming in man made textures and some naturally occurring textures. Well, having shot some 8,000 photographs of natural subjects since June, at this point I’ve still not seen a single image that exhibits moiré.
Bird feathers do seem to be causing a little bit of moiré for some people, so I think I might see this with some of the larger birds I’d be photographing during my Hokkaido winter wonderland workshops in January and February next year, as bird feathers can form an evenly distributed pattern, but I don’t expect this to be a big problem. Even the conversation I’ve seen online about this seems to be somewhat over-dramatised.
Some People Aren’t Happy Unless They’re Unhappy
The tendency for people to get really worked up about gear seems to be getting worse as the technology advances, and the pace of development increases, but there does seem to be a lot of heated debate about the 5Ds and camera technology and gear in general. People have tried really hard to pigeon-hole the 5Ds as a landscape and still life camera, because they say it can’t be used hand-held (huh!?) despite the most vocal forum members around the world not even owning one of these cameras.
People generally raise a ruckus to protect themselves from their own egos and emotions. For one reason or another they decide that they don’t want to invest in a new piece of gear, which is their choice of course, but instead of just making the decision and being happy with it, they have to spend countless hours online talking about why they don’t need the thing that they’ve decided not to buy, or why what they already have is THE best possible gear to own. I’m pretty sure it’s just their way of justifying their decision, and probably rooted in a desire to actually own the thing that they’re getting all worked up about.
New Really Right Stuff L-Bracket
One such conversation that was brought to my attention, was the fuss about Really Right Stuff redesigning the L-Bracket for the 5Ds. As I mentioned in my earlier reviews, the 5D Mark III L-Bracket fits fine on the 5Ds, and I have continued to use mine on my first body without any problems, but, the guys at Really Right Stuff decided to take the opportunity, especially with the higher resolution in mind, to redesign the bracket. They have built in an additional component that fixes the top of the L-Bracket to the camera strap loop on the side of the camera, as you can see in this photograph (below).
New Really Right Stuff L-Bracket
You basically clamp the silver component that you can see here to the camera strap loop, then fix the camera strap to a new loop in the bracket. It works well, and although you have to unscrew this to get the L-Bracket off now, it’s like a 30 second job, and in my opinion totally worth it for the additional stability and security.
The reason people are getting upset though, is because they see it as an unnecessary design change, and therefore have to give Really Right Stuff a hard time because now they have to justify not buying the latest model. Hello! So what!? If you really believe the new design has no benefits, then just use your old bracket, or if you never owned one, buy the old Mark III bracket or buy from another manufacturer.
Sure, the new design is more expensive. It has additional components that cost money to develop and produce. I have continued to use both brackets, because I have two 5Ds Rs and needed an extra one, so I thought it was worth getting the updated version. I can’t say I’ve noticed any problems with my old one on the 5Ds, but I haven’t used it much in the portrait orientation. I do reach for the camera with the newly designed L-Bracket a little more when shooting from a tripod though. Why risk seeing an issue, right?
Himba Lady Taking Smoke Bath
Anyway, I won’t go on about this, but really, it’s bewildering to me how some people seem to spend so much energy complaining about a companies decision to innovate, and dare I say it, try to increase their bottom line. Really Right Stuff have never been a budget camera support company, so what’s the point in getting all bent out of shape about this?
High ISO Still Not an Issue
Another assumed issue with the 5Ds that I dispelled in my earlier review, was that people, including me before the 5Ds was released, thought that a camera of this resolution would have poor high ISO capabilities. We looked at a series of test shots, in direct comparison to the 5D Mark III, and saw that their was very little difference between the two cameras. Based on my tests, I’ve set my mental soft-ceiling for how high I’ll take the 5Ds R ISO to 3200, but also using up to ISO 6400 if necessary, and 12800 at a push.
I shot this photograph of a Himba lady (right) at ISO 6400, with a shutter speed of 1/80 of a second at a 50mm focal length. The only light entering the hut was though a small entrance that you have to crouch down to walk through, but it was not practical to try and set up any kind of lights or reflection, plus, I prefer this kind of lighting. That’s why I asked her to do inside the hut.
Here is a 100% crop of just the ladies face and some of her clay covered hair. Again, click on the image to view it at full web size (below). As you can see, there is a little bit of grain, but for ISO 6400 and what this enabled me to do, I am not concerned about this at all. I should also mention that I did not apply any noise cancellation to this image in Lightroom. Apart from reducing the exposure slightly to increase the mood, and adding a bit of a vignette, this is straight out of the camera.
Himba Lady 100% Crop
ETTR to Maximize ISO Performance
Now, before you run out and shoot a bunch of images at ISO 6400 because I told you it was OK, note that you have to expose your images more carefully to maximise ISO performance. I always shoot using a technique called ETTR, or Expose To The Right, which means that I expose my images so that the information on the histogram is as close to the right shoulder as possible without over-exposing the image.
You can see in this photograph that the whites of her eyes are very white, which is just how I want them to be. As I just mentioned, I actually reduced the Exposure slider in Lightroom for this image, to increase the mood of the image, but shooting this nice and bright, then adjusting that way really helps to keep any noise that can creep in at bay, especially in shadow areas. Check out Episode 381 for more information on Exposing to the Right.
Still Blown Away by the Level of Detail
As I look through images from the last four months, the hair on the back of my neck stands up as I explore the incredible level of detail captured in these 50 megapixel images. Here is a wide angle photo made with the EF 11-24mm f/4 L lens at the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon in Iceland (below). This was shot at f/14 for a 1/200 of a second exposure, ISO 100.
Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
And here is a 100% crop from the centre of the bottom edge of the photograph (below). This is pixel for pixel, cropped at exactly 1440 x 960 pixels, but when you consider how crisp and clear the detail is, compared to how small a portion of the original image it is, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is pretty impressive.
Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon 100% Crop
Young Himba Man
Of course, if necessary, this enables you to crop in very tightly on photographs, especially if you only need it for Web use. I personally prefer not to do that, but the option is there if you need it. Just don’t post anything too heavily cropped somewhere that might end up in a request for commercial use or a print, as you couldn’t print something like this much larger than a postage stamp.
Here’s another fun example of the amount of detail. This photograph almost feels a little bit Bladerunnerish to me, when Harrison Ford uses a computer to delve into details of a photograph trying to find some clues to the whereabouts of the escaped Replicants.
This young Himba man (right) was standing in the doorway of the hut inside which I photographed the woman that we looked at earlier, and I crouched down in front of the hut to get a good angle. You don’t have to take my word for it though. We can just look in his eyes for proof (below). Again, click on the image to see the largest web version. This was shot at f/5.6 for 1/100 of a second, ISO 320, with my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm.
Young Himba Man 100% Crop
So far, we’ve looked at images from some of Canon’s highest quality lenses. The new 100-400mm, the 24-70mm f/2.8L and the 11-24mm f/4L lenses, and these of course are coping fine with the high resolution of the sensor.
In fact, the feeling I get having tested all of my lenses now, is that the 5Ds R is bring out more from my lenses than my 5D Mark III did at 22 megapixels. I was starting to get a little disappointed with the results from my 70-200mm f/2.8 L lens for example, but the 5Ds R has totally revived this great workhorse lens.
Probably the lowest quality lens I own is the 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake lens. I sometimes drop this on the camera, almost as a glorified body cap, because it’s so small I can still drop the camera into a space in my camera bag that I usually use just for storing a body without a lens on it. I sometimes put this lens on the camera when I’m just going for a walk around town, and don’t necessary need one of my bigger zoom lenses. It’s also just a nice focal length as a walkabout lens.
Well, just to show you the image quality, here’s a photo of my favourite building here in Tokyo, which you’ve seen before, I’m sure (left). Of course, I’ve converted this to black and white, but take a look at a 100% crop from the building, and again, I’m sure you’ll agree that the image quality is totally acceptable, and this is from a $149 dollar lens.
Cocoon Building 100% Crop
Canon actually released a recommended lens list, with all of the lenses that they considered to be good enough to work with the 5Ds and 5Ds R cameras. Sadly, just a few days later, they took the page down, but do a search on the Web if you are interested, as there are plenty of copies of it around.
I don’t know why Canon took this page down. Maybe it was too controversial, and caused a stir with people that didn’t find their favourite lens included. It is actually quite an extensive list though, so it does show how confident Canon are in the ability of these high resolution bodies to work with their lenses. I just wish they had the guts to stick by their original decision to publish the list.
Not a Wildlife Camera?
The other bit of pigeon-holing that people have been doing, is trying to rule out the 5Ds as not being capable of shooting wildlife. Of course, at 5 frames per second, it’s not the ideal camera for wildlife, especially birds in flight, when it’s nice to have more frames to chose the best wing position from, but, as far as my field tests have shown me, the auto-focus of the 5Ds is very capable of locking on and tracking with subjects, as we can see in this image of a flock of flamingoes flying in front of a sand dune in Namibia (below).
Flamingoes against Dune
And here is a 100% crop of the two flamingoes in from the centre of the frame (below). I shot this hand-held at f/8 with a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second, ISO 1250, at 312mm with the 100-400mm lens. This amount of detail is plenty for me, for this kind of photograph, so absolutely no complaints here.
Flamingoes against Dune 100% Crop
Although I might get some more birds in flight shots this year, I will be using my 5Ds R bodies for the Snow Monkeys and the cranes, swans and sea eagles that we shoot in Hokkaido on my Winter Wonderland Tours in January and February next year, so I’ll report back on how the cameras fair in this really challenging situation during my tour updates. If you don’t visit my site regularly, maybe you could sign up for our newsletters, specifically blog posts via email, so that you won’t miss those updates early next year.
I actually shoot with three bodies a lot of the time on my Hokkaido tours, so I will be taking the 7D Mark II as well, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll stick with the 5Ds bodies for the majority of my shooting. I started photographing the wildlife in Hokkaido with my old 10D, with 7 focus points and just 3 frames per second, and I have some shots from back then that I’m still proud of, so I’ll probably just make it work. My thinking is that I’d rather have less images at 50 megapixels than more at 20 megapixels.
That choice for you is yours to make of course. I personally would just rather have fewer high resolution files. Although the 7D Mark II is an absolutely wonderful camera, if I find myself using it very little during the upcoming winter season, I’ll probably sell it in March next year.
Yes, I Sold the 1D X
One other question I’ve been asked a lot, is whether or not I’m holding on to my Canon EOS 1D X body now that I’m using the 5Ds, and bearing in mind that I also have the 7D Mark II. Well, the answer is yes. I actually sold the 1D X to help pay for my second 5Ds R. The 1D X is another great camera, but the 7D Mark II at almost a quarter the price is just as good, if not better in some aspects, so I knew that I was not going to shoot much with the 1D X any more, and there’s no reason for me to keep it sitting around collecting dust.
Incredible Print Quality
The last thing that wanted to touch on is something that I was not able to really report on in my earlier reviews, and that’s the print quality from these beautiful big image files from the 5Ds R. Well, with all the traveling I’ve been doing, I still haven’t printed a lot, but from what I have done, I can happily report that the print quality is every bit as amazing as I thought it was going to be.
This is one of the major benefits of such a high resolution camera. For example, I printed this image of the Himba people herding their goats on 24 x 36 inch paper, including borders, with the actual printed image size at 20 x 30 inches. This gave me a native resolution for print of 285 ppi or pixels per inch. I printed directly from Lightroom, and turned on the Print Resolution checkbox under the Print Job panel, and set it to 300 ppi, so Lightroom upsized the image very slightly for me before printing.
Himba Goat Herding
I can of course do this with smaller files, like the 22 megapixel files from the 5D Mark III, but at the same size, 24 x 36 inches, they only have a native resolution of 192 ppi, and having printed these images out many times at this size, experience tells me that you have to use a third party tool like ON1 Software’s Perfect Resize to increase the size of the image to 300 ppi before you print to ensure that the final print looks any good. If you don’t upsize for a print of this size, the image looks soft, and quite poor quality.
It does work of course. The quality can be brought back by upsizing, and you don’t generally look at a 2 x 3 foot print with your nose against the paper, unless you are a photographer of course. 🙂 But, having the higher resolution right there in your base image not only removes the necessity to upsize for print, but you aren’t actually creating pixels. You have enough resolution to send straight to the printer, so the end results are just stunning.
I’ve photographed the face of the print to give you some idea, although it really just doesn’t come across. You have to dive into the photo in real life to fully appreciate how beautiful these images are when printed.
Himba Goat Herding on Breathing Color Pura Bagasse matte media
I printed this image on Breathing Color’s new Pura Bagasse Smooth matte media, and photographed the face of the print in my studio with a Profoto Studio light in a 2 x 3 foot softbox, so it’s quite smooth light, off to the right, at about a 30° angle, so that it highlights the texture of the paper just a little, but hopefully gives you an idea of the fidelity of the print. The hairs on the goats, and every detail if faithfully reproduced, and remember the printed area here is 20 x 30 inches, so it’s a good sized print.
Himba Goat Herding on Breathing Color Pura Bagasse matte media
I have to admit, I had not even noticed the trampled plastic bottle between the little goats legs in this photograph, until I looked at the large print. As usual, I did go over the print at 100% to check for dust spots before printing, but it wasn’t until I saw the actual print that I saw the bottle, and that to me is part of the fun of printing this large, and now, with this amount of resolution.
Has the File Size Been Crippling My Computer?
Having processed all these photos over the last few month, with much of the editing done on my MacBook Pro Retina computer, and the rest done on my 27″ iMac, I can still confirm that I am not feeling any stress with the speed of the images being displayed on the screen, because the files are much larger than my previous camera. Sure, it can take a few seconds sometimes for images to load if they don’t have a preview built, but if you build previews on import, it’s usually less than a second, if not almost instant.
I generally set up Lightroom to create Standard Preview images of 2880 pixels, which is big enough for me to get my initial view on both my MacBook Pro and my iMac. Then of course, when I jump to the Develop module to make any adjustments, Lightroom creates a larger preview anyway, as required, but this too is usually a pretty quick process, just a second or so.
If you are the impatient type, this may concern you, but personally, I think the additional information recorded in the images is worth the wait. There was a comment on my original review of the 5Ds R, about the amount of time required for the preview of the files to display on the back of the camera after making an exposure. This does take a little longer with the 5Ds, but I honestly hadn’t even noticed it until he mentioned it.
The reason I bring this up, is because you may be concerned about some things that simply don’t bother me, and if they don’t bother me, they are unlikely to end up in this kind of review. If you have any questions or would like me to test something specifically, and if it’s not too time consuming, drop me a note in the comments below, and I’ll try to answer as best I can.
We’ll start to wrap it up there for this four-months-in review, but I do hope you’ve found this useful. If you are on the fence regarding whether or not to pull the trigger on the 5Ds or the 5Ds R, you really don’t have any reason from the camera’s technology point of view to hold off. Of course, not everyone needs or wants this level of resolution in a camera, and if that’s you, don’t sweat it. No one is forcing you to buy this camera. If you are undecided for any of the reasons that we touched on today though, please don’t be. It’s an amazing piece of engineering.
If you do decide to buy one, and you shop with our friends at B&H, please use the links that I’ve embedded in this blog post. You know that the opinions expressed here are my honest, from the heart opinions, and in no way biased to make you buy these cameras. I paid for both of mine, with hard earned cash, just as you will if you spring for one, but I put a lot of work into these reviews, and you can help to support my efforts, by using our links.
As I mentioned in my initial review, I’ve never been happier to be a Canon user. I know that mirrorless are great, and a lot of people are getting amazing results with them, but for me, I still like the full SLR format, and the range of lenses, autofocus and having everything at my fingertips just still feels great. The addition of the 11-24mm lens and the release of the updated 100-400mm lens, and then the release of the 5Ds camera bodies, have pretty much removed any temptation to stray from the fold, at least for the next few years I imagine.
I recently visited the Shigakougen or Shiga Highlands in Nagano here in Japan, as part of my trip to test the Canon EOS 5Ds R, and one of my main goals was to capture the blue-green summer foliage, so today we’re going to walk through three separate shoots on June 22, 23 and 24, 2015.
On June 22, I’d spent the afternoon with the Snow Monkeys on my first summer visit, and we looked at photos from the monkeys in the last episode. The monkey park closes at 5pm in the summer, which gave me another couple of hours of daylight, so I headed up the mountain to the Shigakougen area, as I was hoping to get some landscape photos of some of the many ponds in the area.
As you arrive in the highland plateau after driving up the mountain, the first pond is called Ichinuma, which literally means the first pond or number one pond. I parked my car in the car park down the road, and walked around to Ichinuma, and as I arrived the air was clear, and I recall thinking that I’d love it if we got a little bit of mist to add atmosphere to the images. I’d made maybe three exposures of the lush greenery on the other side of the pond, and then all of a sudden, a mist rolled in across the surface of the water and some low cloud came over from the back of the trees, as we see in this image (below). I couldn’t believe my luck, with this mist coming in this way, perfectly on cue!
Ichinuma in the Mist (Panorama #2)
Although the 50 megapixels of the 5Ds R is plenty to give me some great large prints, even if I crop down to this kind of panorama, I had been using the 100-400mm Mark II lens, and picking out just small sections of the trees, as we’ll see in some other images after this. I had just rotated the camera in the lenses tripod ring, to capture some vertical shots to stitch together for a panorama, so I went ahead with the series of frames as the mist rolled in.
The thing that you have to be careful with when shooting in conditions like this is if you aren’t relatively quick getting your images, the mist and cloud can move so far that it makes it difficult for Photoshop to stitch the images together because the content of the adjacent frames can be too different. I was shooting in Live View, as I often do for landscape work, and there’s a bit of a lag after making your exposure before the image comes back, and you can make the next exposure, but as soon as it came back, I panned the camera around by around half a frame, to give Photoshop plenty of overlap, and then quickly shot my next frame.
The final image that we see here (above) is from five vertical images, and is a whopping 140 megapixels. I can print this image at 24 x 43 inches at 432 ppi, without any resizing, which will give absolutely amazing detail in the final print. These images were shot at 0.6 sec, f/10, ISO 100 at 112mm.
As quickly as it rolled in, just five minutes after the last image, the mist was gone, as we can see here (right).
I was feeling really fortunate to have arrived when I did and get that beautiful mist and low cloud, but with it gone, I concentrated again on capturing the lush greens.
The line of bright yellow-green color along the waterline is from ferns, giving way to the green leaves on the azalea bushes around the base of the trees. When you zoom in on this image, you can actually see spots of orange red as the azalea were flowering, another reason that I decided to visit this area at this time.
Although I like the wide aspect of the panorama images we’ll look at today, and also the landscape orientation images, here I went for a vertical orientation to emphasize the vertical tree trunks and their reflection in the water.
Note that I also composed this so that none of the tree trunks are cut off along the side edges of the image. It can be difficult with woods to find a good place to frame your shot, but it really helps with images like this if you can find a good clean edge like this.
Note that I had also zoomed in to 148mm so as not to include any of the sky, now that the low cloud was gone. The sky was just white and lacked texture, so would have just been a distraction. This was shot at 0.8 sec, f/10 at ISO 100.
This next image (below) is another stitched panorama, from six vertical frames this time. Again, this is the shot that I had just set my camera up for when the mist rolled in, so with the missed gone, I shot another series of images and stitched them together in Photoshop. Again, my goal here now was to capture the lush greens, with that flash of brighter green from the ferns punctuating the line between the real and the reflected world.
Ichinuma Panorama #3
The resulting image is this time 160 megapixels, and can be printed at 24 x 44 inches at 453 ppi, which again is going to give incredible detail. Of course, I could print much larger, but I’m basing this on my own large format printer’s maximum width of 24 inches. If I had a 44 inch large format printer, I could print this at 44 x 82 inches still at 244 ppi, and that would be amazing too, and this all made possible by the 5Ds R with its 50 megapixel sensor and a bit of stitching. Of course with a lower resolution camera I could have done multi-row stitches, but I never felt it worth going to that much trouble.
I spent a total of 15 minutes at Ichinuma on the 22nd, before heading back down the mountain to a business hotel for the night. The next morning I got up bright and early and went back to the monkey park until lunch time, then after grabbing something to eat at the convenience store, I drove back up to the highlands. I had booked a hotel just across the road from Ichinuma on the 23, as I wanted to get back to the pond at dawn the following day.
For now, I was going to make the most of the afternoon driving around the various spots I know in the area. I drove past them all initially, because the sun was still high, and went up to the highest point at Shibu Pass (Shibutouge), which is just inside the border on Gunma Prefecture, next to Nagano Prefecture, where I made this photograph (below).
Shibutouge (Shibu Pass)
This was shot with the new 11-24mm f/4 L lens from Canon, which I reviewed in episode 465. I opened the lens right out to 11mm for this shot, at f/11, ISO 100 for 1/100 sec, and processed it in Silver Efex Pro 2 for this beautiful contrasty black and white. The scene at this time of year is nothing really special, so I was really happy to see this somewhat dramatic sky, that lasted really just a few minutes shortly after I arrived, and then a bank of cloud came over from behind me and it poured with rain for a while, so I was lucky here with my timing again.
Shibutuoge, which is about 20 to 30 minutes past the main pond area, was the furthest I went, and having done a u-turn, I stopped at the location where I shot this next image of Yokote Mountain, again with some nice stormy skies (below). This was again shot with the 11-24mm at 15mm this time, for 1/60 sec at f/14, ISO 100.
Yokoteyama Stormy Skies
At this location I’d actually done a few series of bracket shots, thinking that I might have to do some HDRs because the sky was so bright, and I was still at this point thinking that the 5Ds R probably had slightly less dynamic range compared to my 5D Mark III. As I suspected might be the case though, I got home and found that I simply hated all of the HDR images that I was able to create from my bracketed images. I also found that my usual claim, that I can usually get everything I need from a single frame, even when parts of it seem very dark, continued to be the case with the 5Ds R.
It can be scary when you see the base image in the camera, but I now know that I can trust my instincts again, even with the 5Ds R. Here (below) is the original photo of the previous image, straight out of the camera, so that you can see what I mean. I just expose to the right, so that the brightest part of the scene is on the far right side of the histogram, and there is enough detail in the shadows to bring it all back out with some slider adjustments in Lightroom. You’d think that there was no information in the black foreground here, but as we see from the previous image, that’s not the case.
Yokoteyama Stormy Skies (Original)
I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the 5Ds R actually has slightly better dynamic range than the 5D Mark III according to DxO Mark’s tests. They have the 5D Mark III at 11.7 EV and the 5Ds R at 12.4 EV dynamic range, which is surprising, but great to hear.
I continued to drive back down the mountains towards Ichinuma and stopped at another pond on the way, called Kidoike. It was raining, so I decided to go with the flow, and include the droplets of rain in the surface of the pond, as you can see if you look closely in this photo (below).
Kidoike Reflection with Rain
Again here, I’m watching the edges of the frame, trying to find the best place to cut off the scene, so as not to have dissected tree trunks. I’d have preferred a smooth clear reflection, but I think the soft summer rain adds a different kind of mood to this image, which I don’t dislike too much either. This was a 0.5 sec exposure, at f/14, ISO 100 at 105mm. I headed back to my hotel for the night after this final visit to the Kidoike.
On the morning of June 24, I got up at 4am, for a dawn shoot. The sun was set to rise at 4:32am I think it was, so this would give me just enough time to throw on some clothes, grab my camera and go back across to Ichinuma. Because I’d gotten some shots with mist on the surface of the water two days before this, I actually considered going back to Kidoike first, because it had been raining the previous day, and I wanted that clear reflection. I decided to stick with my original plan though, as I really wanted to capture a different mood at Ichinuma.
I wanted to capture the foliage in the dawn light which I figured would give it the blue-green look that I associate with Japanese summer foliage, and I was lucky enough to get that, back at Ichinuma, as planned (below). As I’ve mentioned in the past, there is a very blurry line between the colors blue and green in Japanese culture. Ao means blue, and midori means green, but the Japanese will often also refer to green, as “ao” which is blue, but they really green. Confusing, I know, but that’s how it is.
Ichinuma with Dawn Mist
This image was shot at 0.3 sec, f/16, ISO 200 at 100mm. I actually really wish I could somehow get a white horse on that shore in this photo. There is a Japanese artist named Kaii Higashiyama (1909-1999), who created a wonderful series of paintings depicting blue-green scenes very much like this photograph, but he painted in a majestic white horse. They are truly beautiful prints. The best example I can find online to show you is on the cover of a children’s book called “The White Horse” here.
I spent maybe 15 minutes at Ichinuma, as I was confident I’d gotten my shots, and I wanted to get back up to Kidoike while the sun was still behind the mountains. Once direct sunlight hit these ponds the mist would be gone, and the blue-green would be gone too. As I drove up towards Kidoike, a valley filled with morning mist came into view, so I had to stop the car and walk back up to where I made this photo (below).
Birch Trees in Mist (Shigakougen)
I seem to be really attracted to birch trees. I think they’re perhaps my favorite tree. I just love the contrast that their white trunks provides, as in the other images we’ve been looking at today too. This was actually quite challenging, as the valley has ski lifts and telegraph wires and other structures strewn all over the place. I shot something a little wider than this too, but there was a large pole to the left, and wires running all over the top, and I don’t have the patience on the computer to mess around removing them. This image still captures the mood of the scene though.
I love being out at dawn when all of this is happening. It’s just a shame that Japan doesn’t adjust the clocks in the summer time. The sun rises around 4:30 and sets just after 7pm in summer time. We could put the clocks forward by two hours and actually be able to utilize the light evenings, but the fear is that the salary men would have an even harder time dragging themselves out of the office if it was still light outside.
There is still talk of doing this, but I wish they’d hurry up. It would open up many photographic opportunities in both the mornings and the evenings. The reality is that to get to any of these places from Tokyo, you pretty much have to drive through the night and sleep in the car for a while, or stay in a hotel, which is what I generally end up doing these days.
Let’s look at the last image of this series, from back at Kidoike, shortly before the sun hit the top of the trees (below). This is another stitched panorama, from around six frames. I used the new panorama stitching feature in Lightroom 6 to create this one. It’s actually really good. It is quick and saves the resulting file as a DNG so you still get all of the benefits of a raw file.
The only problem is that you can’t easily fill in areas where there is background showing. In this image there was a slither of white in the top left, that I was not able to crop out, or I would have gotten too close to the top of some of the trees, so I ended up going into Photoshop anyway, to content aware fill that slither of white. Again, I’m longing for a while horse here. Maybe some day I’ll make enough money to put on a production and actually make that happen. 🙂
The exposure for this one is 1/5 sec, f/11, ISO 100 at 100mm. We can tell that the light was coming up as the sun came over the mountains, because the shutter speed was much faster at this point. Shortly after this, the sun hit the lake, the mist disappeared, and the contrast got up so I packed my stuff into the car, and started to drive back to Tokyo.
I hope the very similar theme in most of these images wasn’t too boring for you. I had a definite goal with these images, which affected the composition and time of the images. I’m very happy with the results, and can’t wait to actually start printing some of these. Some of them are already available as fine art prints if there are any collectors among you, and believe me, these are going to look stunning! They may well be some of the first 5Ds R fine art prints to hit the market too, which is pretty cool.