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Photography Workshops by Canon Northern Explorer of Light Christopher Dodds

 

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Entries in Sony (4)

Friday
Sep152017

Atlantic Puffin with Capelin Bouquet

Atlantic Puffin with Capelin bouquet (Fratercula arctica, Macareux moine, ATPU) Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada, Réserve de parc national du Canada de l'Archipel-de-Mingan, Quebec, Canada. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds. Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Camera & Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master OSS @ 400mm. Full frame image. ISO 3,200 f/5.6 @ 1/3,200s Manual exposure mode. PURCHASE A PRINT or LICENSE IMAGE FOR PUBLICATION HERE.

Here’s another image from my Deluxe Puffins Galore Workshop in Quebec. The photographic opportunities with the Puffins and Razorbills were endless! The Sony Alpha a9 auto-focus was simply unbeatable; it locked onto the small and fast Puffins and Razorbills time and time again! So far, at least eight of the fine folks who joined my four back-to-back trips have ordered a a9 with the Sony 100-400 after they tried my loaner.

As I continue to write my short & detailed auto-focus set-up guide, I continue to test my Sony equipment and am simply blown away by the image quality, the auto-focus performance and just love how light and manageable it is. I am going off to spend a few days with the Metabones adapter which will allow me to use my Canon 600mm f/4 II with the Sony Alpha a9, then my great friends Al & Fabs @ CasaForns have gifted me a Sigma adapter which will be here next week for me to test; thanks AL & Fabs. Stay tuned, but everything I am hearing is that they should work-out just fine

Wednesday
Aug302017

Sony Alpha a9 High ISO Birds in Flight Performance

Atlantic Puffin RAINFLIGHT (Fratercula arctica, Macareux moine, ATPU) Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada, Réserve de parc national du Canada de l'Archipel-de-Mingan, Quebec, Canada. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds. Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Camera & Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master OSS @ 400mm. Full frame image. ISO 8,000 f/5.6 @ 1/2,500s Manual exposure mode. PURCHASE A PRINT or LICENSE IMAGE FOR PUBLICATION HERE.

Atlantic Puffin THE RETURN (Fratercula arctica, Macareux moine, ATPU) Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada, Réserve de parc national du Canada de l'Archipel-de-Mingan, Quebec, Canada. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds. Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Camera & Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master OSS @ 400mm. Full frame image. ISO 20,000, f/5.6 @ 1/2,500s Manual exposure mode. PURCHASE A PRINT or LICENSE IMAGE FOR PUBLICATION HERE.

Razorbill (Alca troda, petit pingouin, RAZO) Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada, Réserve de parc national du Canada de l'Archipel-de-Mingan, Quebec, Canada. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds. Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Camera & Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master OSS @ 400mm. Full frame image. ISO 20,000, f/5.6 @ 1/2,500s Manual exposure mode. PURCHASE A PRINT or LICENSE IMAGE FOR PUBLICATION HERE.

Sony Alpha a9 High ISO Birds in Flight Performance

Here are a few more images from my recent Deluxe Puffins Galore Workshop. As I am sure you can tell from the camera settings, we had a day of really foul weather. It was the perfect occasion to get the Sony a9 wet and see what it is made of! Although I did use a LensCoat rain cover, the rain was so hard and constant that I did manage to fog the viewfinder by the end of the day; I put the camera body with its body cap off into a zip-lock bag full of white rice to clear it out overnight.

Yet again, the camera amazed me; not only was it locking onto everything I pointed it at in low contrast and heavy rain, it excelled at high ISO! The details in the files are exceptional; Do take the time to read the setting I used under each image. The images above are all full-frame and lightly processed with some mild noise reduction applied. I don't post raw images, because I don't use Raw images for anything other than a starting point. It wasn't that long ago when 800 ISO was noisy, and here I was using 8,000 and 20,000 ISO!

The Sony Raw images require much less processing than my Canon 1DX Mark II, or files I have from other digital cameras that I have used. Although there is noise at 20,000 ISO as expected, the details in the darks are exceptional!

TIP: In order to get the most out of an image, but particularly at extreme ISO, remember that it is critical to expose the image correctly and try not to crop much! All cameras see light like us, they haven't yet figured out how to record darkness. If you brighten an image while processing it, then you are introducing noise.

Stay tuned for more about my time with the Sony a9

Thursday
Aug242017

Sony a9 for birds in flight photography

Atlantic Puffin with Capelin (Fratercula arctica, Macareux moine, ATPU) Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada, Réserve de parc national du Canada de l'Archipel-de-Mingan, Quebec, Canada. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds. Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Camera & Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master OSS @ 400mm. Full frame image. ISO 640, f/5.6 @ 1/5,000s Manual exposure mode. PURCHASE A PRINT or LICENSE IMAGE FOR PUBLICATION HERE.

Sony a9 for birds in flight photography

Well, here it is; the first Puffin image I made with the Sony a9 and Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master Lens. After getting everyone in my first group for my Deluxe Puffin Workshop settled into their rooms in the lighthouse, and with a delicious lunch in our bellies on July 29, we headed down to the beach and started working on birds in flight. It was around four when I first lifted the new Sony rig to my eye for the first time. I didn’t take any pictures while tracking the first few Puffins, instead I tried to understand the autofocus system and what the autofocus settings were all about. I headed into this a little blind, as no one that I spoke to at Sony had much insight into where to start; using mirrorless cameras for birds-in-flight was uncharted territory (for the most part). I needed to quickly understand what choices I had to tweak the autofocus system to best track these little erratic bullets as quickly as possible.

I had seen a few blog posts with sample images from the a9 where the autofocus had failed; A Robin flying from its perch in a tree surrounded by a clutter of branches and a Turkey Vulture sticking its head out from long grass. Both sequences of images were out of focus, and the author left out some critical information about which AF settings he had used. Both sequences were out of focus because of user error (in my opinion); the AF point cluster that the photographer had likely chosen was set to large, so the camera didn’t have a chance, given the situation. I would have chosen single point to ensure the camera knew what to focus on. We need to know how our cameras work, what settings are available and when and how to choose them! BTW, those sample images I mentioned; neither one of them would have been sharp with any camera that had pretty-much all of their AF sensors active.

Before leaving for the trip, I downloaded the instruction manual and autofocus guide to iBooks, which made it available (and searchable) from my iPhone, iPad and MacBook; something I highly recommend everyone do this for every piece of equipment they own.

Download the a9 Instruction manual HERE

Download the Sony AF Guide HERE

Back to the Puffin image above; given the contrasty light and blue sky, this was a relatively easy image (for a practiced birds-in-flight photographer). I’ll be back shortly with more about my time with the Sony a9 soon, and will post more images of birds-in-flight and some high ISO images in the coming days. I will share my thoughts on adding, or switching to Sony, and more likes and dislikes. Stay tuned!

Kudos

My teenage son (an avid youth nature photographer) and I just came back from Chris' Puffin trip. We had a day of pouring rain, a day of cloud cover and a day of sunshine and Chris gave practical advice on how to get great images no matter what the weather. Chris is skilled at meeting each photographer where they are as he gives individual customized attention out in the field. Chris uses a variety of teaching strategies (including great metaphors!) to make complex information concrete and understandable. My son came back with incredible images - puffin portraits in beautiful golden light, puffins and razorbills with fish in flight, beautiful groupings, single puffins in grass, flowers and rocky cliffs. He also came back with a wealth of tips, tools and strategies. And amidst all of the superb photography instruction and individualized attention, there was also lots of camaraderie and great stories. Chris is not only an excellent teacher but an outstanding host. Can't wait for our next Chris Dodds adventure!

Deborah & Christopher Graham Ontario | Canada

Thursday
Aug172017

Sony a9 and Sony G Master 100-400mm lens ready for bird photography

Atlantic Puffin PORTRAIT OF A CLOWN (Fratercula arctica, Macareux moine, ATPU) Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada, Réserve de parc national du Canada de l'Archipel-de-Mingan, Quebec, Canada. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds. Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Camera & Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master OSS @ 400mm @ minimum focusing distance. Full frame image (top to bottom; left and right cropped to square aspect ratio). ISO 2,500, f/6.3 @ 1/1,600s Manual exposure mode. PURCHASE A PRINT or LICENSE IMAGE FOR PUBLICATION HERE.

 

Sony a9 and Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master Lens: Ready for Bird Photography?

 

Canadian Nature and Wildlife Photographer Christopher Dodds with Sony FE 100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master Lens


My friends over at Sony Canada sent over a Sony a9 and Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master Lens for me to test while leading my four consecutive Deluxe Atlantic Puffins Galore Workshops in Puffin Paradise. The workshops were a huge success, with crew after crew of wonderful participants and awesome photographers who all made boatloads of Atlantic Puffin and Razorbill images, while enjoying life on a tiny island and the ambiance of a lighthouse with gourmet meals - it was fabulous! Learn more & sign-up for my 2018 Deluxe Puffins Galore trip HERE.

The Sony a9 is the first mirrorless camera I have tested that is capable of replacing my current Canon 1DX mark II camera bodies. So, why did I consider adding, or moving away from my current Canon set-up in the first place? Like all of my workshop clients and friends who travel and constantly worry about getting camera gear in the cabin of the airplane as carry-on (or who may be tired of lugging all of the “big and better” stuff around), I am always on the lookout for smaller, lighter, better and more manageable cameras; In this case, the a9 offers some incredible specs. to the birds-in-flight photographer, as seen on the Sony website HERE.

The camera arrived moments before we left for the long drive, and because it uses Contrast and Phase detection autofocus points built into the sensor, I didn’t have to worry about delaying my departure, and taking the time to micro-calibrate the camera and lens before leaving; My Canon SLR cameras have a separate auto-focus sensor, which require micro-calibration (or, to be more specific; require me to go through the process of micro-calibration to make sure the camera and lens combination are producing sharp images, even if no calibration is required). Having undertaken the time consuming task of the micro-calibration of all of my Canon cameras and lenses, and any combination possible with tele-converters countless times …… this is huge!

The Sony a9 and G Master 100-400 feel great in the hand, and seem perfectly balanced and easy to hold; a whopping two and a half pounds lighter than my Canon 1DX with Canon 100-400!

I quickly set-up the camera for birds-in flight action photography and immediately found the autofocus to be almost a magical dream of perfection. The AF points cover 93% of the surface of the sensor; this seems to be a huge advantage for keeping really fast and erratically moving subjects in the viewfinder. Initial autofocus acquisition seems so fast with this camera, that I had absolutely no hesitation hammering away the moment I had the target in the viewfinder. The results are remarkable! I spent every moment (unfairly) trying to make the Sony a9 fail with circumstances that I know none of the other brands can keep-up with; I was on a beach at low tide in low contrast light, aiming at Puffins flying low over seaweed covered rocks. All of the Canon cameras that I own, and Nikons I have owned and used would focus on the seaweed covered rocks. I could point the camera at the Puffin while it was tiny in the frame (well before I would normally try to acquire autofocus), and the camera would pick-up, and focus on the Puffin nearly every time. It seemed like there was an algorithm in the firmware that was looking for something moving in the frame to target. It would lock-on and stay with the Puffin all the way along its flight path towards me. Autofocus systems are challenged by objects moving towards the camera at a constant rate of speed; as an object approaches a camera at a constant rate of speed, we must move the focusing ring faster to keep the object in focus (or the camera’s autofocus mechanism must accelerate its adjustment). This often proves challenging to even the best autofocus systems; the Sony a9 kept-up every time! I was blown away.

I quickly realized that there was a lag between the live view on the back of the camera, and it’s automatic switch to the EVF (electronic viewfinder) when the camera is brought up to the eye. This felt awkward and interfered with my “target acquisition”,  so I switched to EVF display only, and was surprised that there was no menu choice to use the EVF for shooting, and the rear LCD to display the menu; In other words, when the camera is set to use the EVF display, you have to use the EVF for live-view (perfect), and menu adjustments (not-so-perfect). I quickly set-up a custom menu, with it’s first option to switch back the display to the rear LCD screen for when I want to make menu changes. The EVF was remarkably good and didn’t take long to get used to. Not having to drive the rear LCD increased battery life immensely, and I regularly filled a 128GB card with 2,200 RAW images on a single charge with battery life to spare.

I installed a Black Rapid Sport strap to sling the camera (and lens) over my shoulder at my waist; I quickly adapted to partially depressing the shutter button as I lifted the camera to my eye to “wake” the sensor and EVF. Since SLR cameras don’t need to keep the sensor energized to project an image in an EVF, this is not a problem when using a traditional SLR with optical viewfinder. This seemed a pain at first, but it really didn’t take long to develop muscle memory, and it became reflex very quickly.

I set the camera to silent mode, which seemed really strange @ 20 frames per second, but I quickly grew to love the silence, and think this to be a huge bonus while photographing flighty subjects like warblers that take-off at the sound of a camera shutter.

The image files are fantastic! At first, I thought there may be a huge gain in dynamic range, but after spending time with the files, I feel it is fair to say there is about 1/3 to 1/2 stop gain in dynamic range at higher ISO, but files at lower ISO seem to compare with those from the Canon 1DX mark II. I haven’t gone to great lengths to scientifically test them, as I will leave that to others and all I am really interested in is getting the better image. Files seemed richer, sharper and more saturated than those from the Canon 1DX mark II. Although I applied the same workflow to the images from the Sony a9 as I do to images from my Canon 1DX mark II, I only needed to apply about half as much of everything to produce some extremely awesome results.

In conclusion, I fell in love with the Sony a9 and Sony FE100-400 F4.5-5.6 G Master Lens! It’s a super light and manageable combination @4.5 pounds that can be hand-held all day long. The autofocus system is second to none (that I have used), it’s silent 20 frames per second with a huge buffer will keep even the most trigger happy birds-in-flight shooters happy, and the files this camera produces are stunning. This is the perfect combination for those who don’t choose the weight or reach of a super telephoto lens (as there are none currently offered by Sony….but they would be wise to jump on a native Sony e-mount 500 or 600mm f/4 lens soon!). Paired with a second body and wider zoom, it would be the perfect kit for an African Safari!

I haven’t yet tried any of the adapters which allow you to use Canon and Nikon lenses at 10 frames per second, mostly because I don’t see an adapted lens as a long term or reliable solution. Please do take the time to make comments here if you can offer any insight from your experience with any of the adapters available; We would love to hear your thoughts.

I’ll be back shortly with more about my time with the Sony a9 soon, and will post images of birds-in-flight and some high ISO images in the coming days. I will share some of things I learned about using the camera and offer some suggestions for menu choices. I will share my thoughts on adding, or switching to Sony, and more likes and dislikes. Stay tuned!

Kudos

I’m an experienced wildlife photographer and I’ve had puffins on my bucket list for several years. Around my Colorado home, I scout my own sites and work my network of photography buddies, so I know what it takes to find good sites, get in and then have the wildlife cooperate, to get good pictures. I’ve even been a scout for a leading professional photographer, looking for superior deer and turkey subjects and locations.
 
Regarding puffins, I’d considered renting hide times, but most involved day-trips on boats. Most importantly, time in the hide is limited and you won’t necessarily be able to shoot when they’re feeding, nor will you likely shoot in ideal light. Angle of view is often not ideal from a hide.
 
I don’t know how, but I ran across Chris’ Deluxe Puffins Galore Workshop at the Mingan Archipelago National Park of Canada. It sounded too good to be true. You can shoot ALL DAY and have gourmet meals morning, noon and night. Hang on.
 
The “galore” part of the title is entirely true. I took over 13,000-shots in my three-days. It required merciless culling to get down to under 200 for sharing. I have many worthy of framing and the culls contain many shots that I might have been happy with, had I not had so many superior shots.
 
There are rules, to protect the birds, about where you can go on the islet, but that in no way excludes you from puffin activity. For example, every evening, we sat in chairs as puffin filled our frames landing, taking off, kibitzing, posing, all in ideal light. By the end of the first day, I didn’t know how I’d possibly improve my shots, but I did, indeed, add to my archive.
 
Importantly, Chris is an affable and professional guy, but he pays close attention to safety, respect of our subjects and comfort of his guests. Everyone in my group was experienced, with good equipment. In fact, I was the only newbie. All had shot with Chris before. Guess what, I’ve signed up for his Snowy Owl Adventure, next January. I suspect that won’t be my last.
 
Chris delivers a premium product, in every way. Planning information was thorough and detailed, making it crystal clear what you needed to get there, to wear, etc.. The only thing left was to take the pix.
 
This is a premium product and a photographer’s dream. This is THE way to shoot Atlantic puffin.

Dave Stephens Colorado | USA

Visit Dave's Portfolio from the trip HERE.