Birder's Guide

DEC 2015

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

Issue link: http://bg.aba.org/i/605604

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26 Birder's Guide to Gear | November 2015 Lessons from a Photo Big Day The one sacrifce you make with a lens this light is that it has only a f/5.6 maxi- mum aperture, so it's not great at letting in extra light in low-light situations. That, plus the fact that the 7D sensor gets very grainy at ISO settings over 800, means that you have a "slow" setup—in other words, a setup that shoots at slower shut- ter speeds in any given situation compared to a lens/body combination with a lower maximum aperture, like f/2.8, and a better low-light sensor, like the 5D Mark III. This rig isn't well suited to low-light situations without a fash. You can always increase the ISO to compensate, but you'll wind up with fairly grainy photos. On the other hand, for a Photo Big Day, you're not try- ing to get pleasing grain, just identifable photos, so it wasn't too much of an issue. The 70D might be a better choice than the 7D, because the sensor seems to han- dle low light a little more effectively and the body is lighter. One drawback of the 70D is that it has a more limited buffer than the 7D, and it uses SD cards (rather than CF cards like the 7D). These cards are cheaper, but they tend to have slower read/write speeds, and that can limit the number of photos you can shoot continu- ously. It's important to get SD cards that will write at least 45MB/second to maxi - mize the number of shots that the 70D takes in a row (which is 7 frames per second), especially when shooting birds in fight. In actual practice, even with the faster SD cards, the 70D can "buffer out" in rapid shooting conditions, leaving the shooter unable to take photos while the camera writes onto its SD card. This rarely, if ever, happens with the 7D or the 7D Mark II. Image quality is margin - ally better with the 70D, and it also has somewhat less grain at higher ISOs; the 70D could be shot up to ISO 1600 com- fortably. Finally, the 70D has a few extra features, such as built-in WiFi, which means that an image can be browsed and uploaded to an iPhone in the feld, and then edited and put on Facebook or other social media in just a couple of minutes. The 7D Mark II wasn't available at the time, but many us have now upgraded to that body, and are very pleased with it. It's a major step up in image quality, has better low light performance (by a stop or two), and has improved focusing. We highly recommend it for bird photogra- phy. Of course, if your budget allows, you might look at the Canon 1DX, but it is three times the price of a 7D Mark 2, and, while it has better low-light image quality, I actually prefer the 7D Mark 2 for focus- ing and body weight. AdditionAl GeAr ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– A few notes on accessories. First, the two tripods in the car never got used. Using a tripod is slow, and it is a liability when shooting birds on the fy or when you're hopping in and out of a car. In the past, slow flm speeds and enormous lenses demanded the use of a tripod. With to- day's light lenses and digital bodies like the 5D Mark III, which can shoot great quality images at high ISOs, tripods are often unnecessary. Not to say that they can't be great when using a 600mm f/4 lens and staking out one spot, or for do- ing nighttime shooting, but they have become much less useful to the modern bird photographer. The real key to sharp- ness is to have a high shutter speed and fast/accurate autofocus. If shutter speed is over 1/1600 of a second and the focus is locked on, chances are most of the images will be just as sharp with or without a tri- pod, and even slower speeds are possible with stationary birds. Second, because marking the location of each photo was important for the Pho- to Big Day, the team needed GPS technol- ogy. Scott had a dedicated Canon GP-E2 GPS unit attached to his camera, which adds GPS location data to every shot and records the trip route. Alternatively, a tra- ditional GPS device, or even an iPhone, can create a GPS log. The team also used a Garmin handheld GPS unit that kept track of the whole event. The log from a GPS device can then be matched to the time stamp on the photo, and the loca- tion can be added after the fact. Software like HoudahGeo (Mac) or PhotoLinker (PC) makes this a fairly straightforward process, but it's still a somewhat clunky

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