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Photography Workshops by Canon Northern Explorer of Light Christopher Dodds

 

 

 

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Monday
Nov172014

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM mini-review

My friends at Canon Canada have done it again; another box with a prototype inside arrived, this time it was the new, and much anticipated, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. I have an "MT" sample, which basically means that it is a pre-production sample and I can't share images from this lens. I was granted permission to post a picture of the lens, so here I am in my favourite weather conditions, with the lens on a newly released EOS 7D mark II; truly a killer, and "must have", wildlife imaging combination! (Image courtesy and copyright Julie Morrison - Thank-you!)


Despite the continual debate about it's consistent sharpness, the original Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens was almost always mounted on a second camera body and slung over my shoulder for nearly a decade. The copy I had was consistently sharp and produced many "portfolio" images, which continue to sell for publication and as prints. I see history repeating itself again, as I anticipate having the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens paired with the new Canon EOS 7D mark II slung over my shoulder while out with my tripod-mounted super-telephoto lens and Canon EOS 1DX in the future.

First impressions: The lens features a completely new design with the old push-pull to zoom lens barrel replaced by a much more weather resistant and user friendly turn to zoom variable torque twist ring. The new lens collar features an easy to remove lens foot and the lens is adorned by a new lens hood with a push button lock release and a sliding window to accommodate filter adjustments (mount the window on the bottom of the lens in wet or snowy weather to keep the front element clean and dry). No detail was over-looked by the Canon engineers when redesigning this beast; it even includes an improved pinch-lock style 77mm lens cap.  It is a little heavier than its predecessor, but the improvements to design, image quality and weather sealing are, in my opinion, worth every ounce....and I did get to test the weather sealing while out in the wet snow for an extended shoot as seen in the image above (but let's not tell my friends at Canon what I do to their prototypes - smile).
It's even more of a beast if you install a Canon Extender EF1.4X III between the lens and camera; Yes, it still auto-focuses and offers a focal length of 224-896mm! Image quality is still impressive with a Canon Extender EF2X III, but the lens needs to be manually focused at a mind-blowing 1280mm.

Less apparent new features are the lens now "features one fluorite and one super UD element to help provide impressive contrast and resolution with reduced chromatic aberration across the entire zoom range. Canon’s new Air Sphere Coating (ASC) helps significantly reduce backlit flaring and ghosting, while fluorine coatings on the front and rear lens surfaces help lessen smears and fingerprints. A 9-blade circular aperture renders beautiful, soft backgrounds, and a 3 mode (standard, panning and exposure only) Optical Image Stabilizer provides up to 4 steps* of image correction." - Canon product page.

Auto-focus speed and accuracy are impressive, with zippy performance only usually expected in the most expensive optics. I haven't tested the lens for birds in flight yet, but my initial impressions are that AF acquisition time and speed are remarkably good. As I discovered way back in 2011 while testing the Canon EF70-300mmL IS USM, the new optics and coatings improve resolution and contrast, which greatly improve the already impressive new auto-focus systems in the latest Canon cameras. The minimum focusing distance has been reduced to only 3.2 feet (my test unit focuses much closer than that), making it a fantastic walk around lens for details in nature too!

As always, I don't spend my time looking at specifications or MTF charts, but I do closely examine the images and evaluate image quality for my "real life" use; big prints. While important to note that I have based this mini-review on a pre-production unit, it is unlikely that image quality will change with a production model; It would be hard to make it better.

In conclusion, if you are looking for an incredibly versatile wildlife, nature, birds-in-flight, sports and action set-up that won't break your back or bank account, then the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, paired with the new Canon EOS 7D mark II and a Canon Extender EF1.4X III truly are a wildlife photographer's new secret weapon! It's a relatively compact, packable and manageable kit that I won't be caught without!

From the Canon product page:
"The EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens delivers a superb combination of cutting-edge performance, compact construction and brilliant resolving power that’s great for sports and wildlife photography. The lens features one fluorite and one super UD element to help provide impressive contrast and resolution with reduced chromatic aberration across the entire zoom range. Canon’s new Air Sphere Coating (ASC) helps significantly reduce backlit flaring and ghosting, while fluorine coatings on the front and rear lens surfaces help lessen smears and fingerprints. A 9-blade circular aperture renders beautiful, soft backgrounds, and a 3 mode (standard, panning and exposure only) Optical Image Stabilizer provides up to 4 steps* of image correction. The new inner focusing AF system helps ensure fast and accurate focus down to 3.2 ft. with a .31x maximum magnification. Usability enhancements include a rotation-type zoom ring with adjustable zoom torque for more precise, customizable zoom performance, a redesigned tripod mount that can be attached and detached without removing the lens from the camera, and an all-new lens hood with a side window that makes it simple to adjust specialty filters-like polarizers-without the need to remove the hood. Ruggedly constructed with advanced dust and water sealing for durability in a range of environments, the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens is a stellar performer with refined controls for a wide variety of situations."

 

Tuesday
Oct212014

Canon 7D mark II 1,600 ISO image

Northern Gannet (Morus Bassanus, Fou de Bassan, NOGA) Parc national de l'Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé, Bonaventure Island, Quebec Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds www.chrisdoddsphoto.com All Rights Reserved. Canon EOS 7D MKII, 200-400mm F4 L IS USM XT, (@400mm). ISO 1,600, F6.3 @ 1/4,000s Manual. "Photograph made with a beta (non-final) sample of Canon EOS 7D Mark II. Image quality may not represent the final output from shipping cameras but is likely to be very close." - fine print courtesy Canon Canada Inc.

Here's a full frame Northern Gannet against a dark background in light fog from my recent short trip to Bonaventure Island. There is a flurry of activity in my inbox and on the internet from folks wanting more high ISO images from the 7D mark II, so I carefully chose this one made while testing the auto focus against the dark background which would make noise more visible. While there is some noise as expected, it certainly performs amazingly well. The level of detail in the white feather is awesome and the 13" x 19" print I made with my Pro 1 printer is fabulous.

Remember to minimize noise with any digital camera by exposing properly in camera and avoiding big crops.

Kudos

A friend I meet on a photography workshop in Alaska mentioned Chris Dodds as one of his favorite photographers. After doing a little research I booked the Ospreys of Lake Blue Cypress workshop with Chris. It was an action packed three days filled with many opportunities to photograph Ospreys nesting and in-flight from a pontoon boat. The workshop was first class and well organized. Chris is a great workshop leader and has a pleasant and easy going personality with unlimited knowledge of camera equipment, technique, post processing tips and nature. I learned so much and had such a good time meeting and photographing with Chris that when I returned home I signed up for my next workshop. Now I am looking forward to seeing him again for the Winter Snowy Owls of Quebec & Ontario workshop. Thanks Chris!

Eloy Castroverde Florida USA

Thursday
Oct162014

Canon 7D mark II hands-on mini review

Northern Gannet (Morus Bassanus, Fou de Bassan, NOGA) Parc national de l'Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé, Bonaventure Island, Quebec Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds www.chrisdoddsphoto.com All Rights Reserved. Canon EOS 7D MKII, 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM II, (@200mm). ISO 800, F5.6 1/4,000s Manual. "Photograph made with a beta (non-final) sample of Canon EOS 7D Mark II. Image quality may not represent the final output from shipping cameras but is likely to be very close." - fine print courtesy Canon Canada Inc.

Canon EOS 7D mark II review

My friends over at Canon Canada have been keeping me busy testing and trying the newly announced Canon EOS 7D Mark II. I have been busy building a portfolio of images made with the new camera that I will present at various dealer launches of the camera for Canon. In keeping with tradition, I won't list all of the features and specifications which can be found on the Canon 7D Mark II product page found HERE.

I had access to the first generation pre-production unit on Sept. 15, but didn't get my hands on it until I returned from Arizona on Sept. 23. There were rules in place to prevent images from being posted from the pre-production unit; easy to understand that Canon didn't want the critiques to get their hands on images before the firmware and hardware were tweaked enough to properly represent what the camera is capable of. To be crystal clear: I am A Canon Northern Explorer of Light, an ambassador for the brand. I am not under any obligation to mislead you or misrepresent this camera; I am not begging you to purchase through an affiliate link here which will give me any commission.  This is simply my review of this much anticipated camera.

I wanted to put the camera through it's paces at one of the best locations I know;  somewhere there are beautiful birds and lot's of them, somewhere that if the weather is right, there would be non-stop action to photograph. I jumped behind the steering wheel, set my GSP and drove the 14 hours to one of my favourite places: Bonaventure Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) off the southern coast of Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula.

The weather, the Northern Gannets and the new camera performed flawlessly. I was blown-away by the Dual Digic-6 processor driven auto focus system. In low contrast,  cloudy and slightly foggy conditions, shooting white birds against near white backgrounds, the auto-focus was unbeatable. I started with my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens, and quickly went through all of the lenses and extender combinations to see if there were limits. Even shooting with a lens+extender combination with a maximum aperture of f/8 (600mm f/4L IS USM II and 2X III extender … yes, 600mm  with doubler =1200mm X 1.6 crop factor= 1920mm), the auto-focus proved it may even be slightly faster/better than the professional Canon 1DX. Throw in 10 frames per second capture rate and no noticeable shutter lag and this truly is a dream camera body for bird photographers and action/sports/press photographers alike.


The BIG Question: how is the noise?


Almost every single time someone on a workshop tells me that their camera is noisy at any given ISO, I can clearly show them they are constantly underexposing their images and correcting their poor  field craft via software after the fact. There are various ways to correct poor exposure mistakes; the most obvious of which is to slide the exposure slider to brighten it. Since digital cameras see and record light like our eyes see it, there is much more detail in the highlights, than the shadows. Underexposing an image limits the data captured at the time of exposure and there is no way to replace that missing information without introducing noise to the image. I see these mistakes mostly amongst photographers using some of the most expensive cameras on the market; they have paid a lot of money for a camera, but are recording about half of the data it is capable of recording had the image been properly exposed to start with.

While discussing the performance of a camera at high ISO, it is important to note that physics dictates that a smaller sensor would have more noise than a larger sensor of the same type. This is of particular importance while comparing the 7D mark II to Canon's flagship professional camera body, the 1DX. The 1DX, in my opinion, remains the very best camera money can buy for high ISO noise preformance; but at a much higher price point.

So, what about the 7D Mark II noise? Simply put: the camera produces amazing results. I used the camera at 200, 400, 800, 1,000, 1,200 and 1,600 ISO without feeling concerned at all. The files are rich and full of detail; images made at 1,600 ISO did show a little noise in the shadows, but there is a tremendous improvement over those same files from the original 7D. I have played around with ISO settings up to 16,000; impressive performance for an APS-C sensor, but I might start to reach for my 1DX if anything above 3,200 ISO is required for the task.

In conclusion

The Canon EOS 7D mark II totally rocks! If you weigh the features, file size and quality against the price, it is a worthy 1DX contender. There is little reason to own a 1DX if you regularly work below 1,600 ISO and the 7D mark II makes an awesome and economical back-up to anyone with a 1DX. I know that I will replace my second 1DX with the lighter 7D mark II. I will be keeping a 1DX in my camera bag, but will likely favour the lighter 7D mark II on most occasions; to be honest, I haven't picked-up my 1DX since getting my hands on the 7D mark II. The 1.6X crop factor was a welcome treat after using full frame cameras for so long; not having to add an extender also meant not loosing a stop from the maximum aperture of the lens I was using, which meant I didn't have to increase my ISO to maintain my desired shutter speed.
I love the weight and feel of the camera, which truly is much more rugged, weatherproof and professional feeling than the original 7D. I will have a hard time using any camera now without all of the information available through it's new viewfinder display; level, shooting mode, settings, file format, etc. are all available without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. Throw in 10 frames per second capture rate and no noticeable shutter lag and this truly is a dream camera body for bird photographers and action/sports/press photographers alike. The GPS and compass is a very welcome addition and the camera, as a whole, represents tremendous value.

Stay tuned for more about the 7D mark II in future posts.

Tuesday
Aug192014

Canon Pixma Pro-1 Review

American Bald Eagle SNOWGLOBE from my Bald Eagle Photographic Expedition (Hailiaeetus leucocephalus, Pygarge a tete blanche, BAEA) Kachemak Bay (near Homer), Alaska ©Christopher Dodds All Rights Reserved. Canon EOS 1DX, EF 200-400mm F4 L IS USM with Jobu L-Bracket  Jobu Jr.3 deluxe gimbal head and Jobu Designs Algonquin Tripod ISO 6,400, f/4 @ 1/3,200s Manual mode. Click HERE to order a print or license image for publication.


Don't just post it; Print it!

I have a mission and a message; there is nothing like the printed photograph; your images deserve to be printed and hung on your living room wall, not just posted to your Facebook wall! It is simply amazing to realize just how many pictures are taken every day, and how few of those images make it to print!

It's no secret that I'm a perfectionist; I push myself to be better at my passion and craft each and every time I am out with my camera; from capture through to the print. I don't feel the image is finished until I have experienced the big picture; my own tactile response to my own work is, perhaps, the most rewarding part of the image making process to me.

As I mentioned in my Canon IPF6400 Review HERE, as a master printer, I am continuously working to master the art of the digital print. I continue to use and love my Canon IPF6400 for prints larger than 14" wide, but have now added a Pixma Pro-1 printer to my print production regime for anything up to 14" wide.

Initial impression

The Canon Pixma Pro-1 printer arrived and I couldn't wait to give it a try; I quickly set-up the printer and grabbed a 13" x 19" sheet of Canon Pro Platinum Photo Paper. I opened a favourite Bald Eagle image with lots of blacks in the background and I selected the canned paper profile and pressed print. No head alignment, no nozzle check, no custom paper profile: WOW, what a print! I was so impressed with the first print, I grabbed it and brought it to my Canon presentations at the Henry's show in Toronto; it blew everyone away! I was, and continue to be wowed by this printer!

As is typically the case with my reviews, I won't be listing all of the technical specs which can be found on the Canon website HERE. I will simply try to highlight my favourite features and the reasons I have added this printer  to my studio, and why I feel this is the very best printer in it's class. I will try to keep it short.

Full disclosure

My introduction to the Canon line-up of printers came after my being named the very first Canon Canada ambassador, or Canon Northern Explorer of Light, some two and a half years ago. I had been using another popular brand of LFPs (Large Format Printers). I had invested so much time figuring-out workarounds for all of their shortcomings, I was foolishly reluctant to change. Although Canon has, and does, continue to sponsor me as a Northern Explorer of Light, I am under no contractual obligation to try to sell you anything. I am simply sharing my experience and making a personal recommendation to help you avoid the frustration of choosing the right printer, and avoiding the frustration of choosing the wrong one (because, after all, I had already done that to start with - smile). This is a testament to the printer I chose for my print production.

Designed for production priced for play

The Canon Pixma Pro-1 Printer is a heavy and solid machine; it is designed to be used for production, but priced within reach of any amateur. The most important cost-saving features are that this baby has the largest ink cartridges (36ml) in its class (which lowers the cost per drop), and it doesn't need to pump gallons of ink to clean the print head every single time you go to make a print; something I had hated with my old printers. The plain truth of the matter is that I have yet to have any problems with this printer or clean the print heads; even after leaving the printer idle while away on my frequent workshops. If you are looking for a way to justify investing in this printer, it's quick, easy and simple: I seem to be averaging about CAD$2.73 per 13" x 19" print for ink plus the cost of the paper; in my case, my preferred paper is the Canon Platinum Pro Photo Paper which lists for CAD$4.00 per 13" x 19" (CAD$39.99/10 sheets). So, with a cost per print of about CAD$6.73, it doesn't take many print sales for this printer to pay for itself. By the way, for those who claim the photographic print business is dead, here's a free tip; make a few prints of your favourite images and always have them around your home and office - it is much easier to sell a print if people can see it live, and not have to wait for it.

The very best Black & White printer on the market

After carefully examining a series of black & white prints that I produced; I feel this is, by far, the very best black & white printer on the market. There are four resident black grey ink cartridges and a clear Chroma Optimizer to smooth-out the differential gloss (evens out the surface for viewing under different lighting sources and controls the amount of light reflected on your prints so your blacks appear richer, deeper, and truer). This printer produces the closest thing to an old-fashioned black & white print that I have ever seen! If you need more convincing that this is, in fact, the best black & white printer on the market, have a look at what Henry Wilhelm had to say HERE. Who is Henry Wilhelm? He and his company conducts research on the stability and preservation of traditional and digital color photographs and motion pictures. His company publishes brand name-specific permanence data for desktop and large-format inkjet printers and other digital printing devices. Wilhelm Imaging Research also provides consulting services to museums, archives, and commercial collections on sub-zero cold storage for the very long term preservation of still photographs and motion pictures. Read more about Henry Wilhelm HERE.

Immense colour gamut

The Canon Pixma Pro-1 uses the 12 ink Lucia system and those four black grey colours aren't just for black & white printing; they provide a massive boost to the overall colour gamut of the printer. I can't say I have ever seen a finer digital print!
 

The most nozzles

The print head contains over 12,000 nozzles, or 1,024 nozzles per colour. This is about five times more nozzles than it's closest competitor. Why is this important? Simply because it means that you can still produce perfect prints if some of the nozzles are clogged! Print Heads are consumables, so they do eventually start to clog; having so many nozzles means that you are still in business making awesome prints as some start to clog. More print heads equates to less clogging, less cleaning and faster printing.

Biggest ICC colour profile collection

Rather than convince you that you should only buy Canon papers, Canon has taken the high road and encourage you to try different papers with a massive array of ICC profiles for a growing collection of papers. Take a look at the largest selection of third party ICC profiles recognized by the provided printer software HERE.


Print speed

As I found with the IPF6400, the Pro-1 produces prints much faster than anything else I have found on the market.


Saves time and money

The ink travels from the cartridge to the print head in a dedicated tube which eliminates the need to flush expensive ink when switching between matte and glossy ink and back again. This feature saves time and money.

Conclusion

In conclusion, The Canon Pixma Pro-1 printer produces, in my opinion, industry leading print quality at blazing speed at a cost effective price. The colours are true, rich and vibrant and the black & white images are the best that can be produced with this technology. No matter what genre you pursue, this printer will not disappoint. The Pro-1 has earned it's place in my studio and impresses me every time I use it!

Tuesday
Aug122014

Least Auklet Portrait and Visitags

Least Auklet Portrait (Aethia pusilla, Starique minuscule, LEAU) Saint Paul Island, The Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, Alaska. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds. Canon EOS Canon EOS 1DX, 600mm F4 L IS II, 2X Extender III, Canon 25mm Extension Tube II. Jobu Designs Algonquin Tripod & Jobu Jr. 3 ISO 3,200s, f/13 @ 1/160s Manual exposure. PURCHASE A PRINT or LICENSE IMAGE FOR PUBLICATION HERE.

Here's another image from my hugely successful Saint Paul Island Photo Expedition. Just love getting to within minimum focusing distance of the seabirds that call Saint Paul Island home.

Simply amazing just how quickly the July 2015 trip is booking; do have a look at the workshop details HERE

Canadian Wildlife and Nature Photographer and Canon Northern Explorer of Light Christopher Dodds photographing owls in the Canadian winter (Feb,. 2014). Photographed with a prototype of the new Jobu Designs Algonquin Tripod & Jobu Jr. 3, Canon 200-400mm f/4-5.6 with built-in tele-extender, 600mm f/4 IS L II, Tamrac Expedition 9X camera bag and two Canon EOS 1DX camera bodies. Photo copyright and courtesy of Michael J. Lang (thanks, Michael)

I shared this image of me from my Winter Snowy Owl Photo Expeditions some time last winter. It has become the subject of many emails asking where I got the yellow name tag. I love my bright yellow luggage tags and have at least enough so every bag gets one. These really do ensure there is no confusion if another similar bag shows-up on the luggage carousel at the airport. There is a clear pocket on the inside for your contact details (where you should indicate your email address and mobile number). These tags are simply bombproof! Get yours at www.visitag.com