Newsletter of E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer and www.EJPhoto.com
All contents ©2004 E.J. Peiker
(Vol 2 , Issue 3)
A Spring and Summer of Travel and Hiking Photography
Wow I have been traveling a lot! It all started in April with a trip to Yosemite and and Triple D Wildlife Ranch animal shoot in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This was followed by trips to Kauai, the Smoky Mountains, Southern California, The Rockies of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho and will continue through the summer with a week in Florida followed by trips back to Colorado, South Dakota, and Montana. I have taken thousands of photographs of wildlife and landscapes. I even got to photograph a blizzard in June in Yellowstone National Park.
While on Kauai, I twice chartered a Hughes 500 Helicopter with no doors which allowed me to get some great aerial shots of this spectacular island. An article on shooting from helicopters that I authored can be read here: http://www.naturescapes.net/062004/ej0604.htm
While in the Rockies and Smokies, I averaged over 9 miles on foot per day and formed some strong opinions on photo gear for the hiking photographer. The large amount of hiking with equipment I did during my visit to these parks had me seriously questioning my equipment choices due to weight. The current line of Canon pro gear that I use is not well suited for this type of photography nor is any other manufacturer's system. I hiked with a Canon EOS 1Ds, EF 16-35 f/2.8L, EF 24-70 f/2.8L, and EF 70-200 f/2.8L lenses with a Gitzo 1348 tripod and Kirk BH-3 ballhead. The consumer grade gear currently available is also not a good solution due to large field of view multipliers (1.5 to 2.0 depending on camera and manufacturer) and a lack of ruggedness and waterproofing. During a 5.4 mile hike with an elevation rise of 1400 ft in Rocky Mountain National Park I contemplated what the ideal kit for hiking/photography in our National Parks would be. The Canon Professional Digital bodies are too heavy but lighter weight consumer models do not offer the full frame sensor and high megapixel count I need for my landscapes. There is a niche for a lightweight (EOS 10D minus the vertical grip like) body with a full frame sensor similar to the 1Ds. This would cut the camera weight down by at least 50%. The 70-200mm f/2.8L is the wrong choice for a short to medium telephoto zoom in my opinion. The 70-200mm f/4L which offers identical image quality at half the weight (and price!) would be a better choice. After the Rocky Mountain/Grand Teton, Yellowstone trip, I immediately ordered the 70-200 f/4L for subsequent trips. This is a drop in weight from 3.5lb to 1.5lb without sacrificing any image quality. By shedding that weight I can carry an extra liter of water if needed.
The 70-200 f/4L is a fantastic lens that gets very little recognition. It has among the best resolution of any zoom lens made by any manufacturer, is light weight, uses professional grade fluorite optical elements and is built to the same rugged standards as the flagship 70-200 f/2.8L IS lens and is arguably more rugged in practice due to not having the IS element. Overall I am extremely impressed with this lens so far and highly recommend it over the f/2.8 lenses due to its greater versatility.
I would like to see the camera manufacturers develop a professional grade optic in the 20-55mm f/5.6 range. It would be about half the weight of 24-70 f/2.8L lens and it would replace both the 24-70 and 16-35 on hiking photography trips. In landscape photography, faster apertures than f/5.6 are simply not needed very often due to the shallow depth of field of larger apertures. All of the slower lenses on the market are not professional grade and offer too many image quality compromises. Serious landscape photographers can not live with significant pincushion distortion, barrel distortion or chromatic aberration.
I found the Gitzo 1348 Tripod with a Kirk BH-3 head to be good hiking companions but the balky, easy to overtighten, and difficult to adjust Gitzo legs caused me to miss a number of shots – I am still looking for the ideal hiking landscape tripod - one that can support at least 20lb and weigh in at 4lb and have leg locks that are easy to use and reliable. Note that I use mirror lock-up with a delayed automatic shutter release via the self – timer for almost all landscape photos to ensure maximum sharpness. The BH-3 ballhead performed flawlessly even with the 300mm f/2.8 and 2x converter – I feel that the rhetoric about needing a heavier ball like the Arca Swiss or Kirk BH-1 to be false. I feel it is the perfect hiking tripod head - the Acratech may rival it but I haven't used one enough to give it a full evaluation for the hiking photography task.
The Kinesis belt system for carrying lenses and other photo gear is absolutely the best solution in my opinion for hiking distances with gear. I prefer the heavier belt as it can easily be worn without the need of a shoulder harness and is adequately padded for comfort. I will never go back to vests or photo backpacks. Check out these products at www.kinesisgear.com.
Look for a complete report of all of my travels and what I learned about photographing them on NatureScapes in the fall.
Canon EOS 1D Mark II Finally Arrives
After a long wait, Canon finally started shipping the 8.3 MegaPixel, 8.5 frame per second EOS 1D Mark II camera. Many wildlife shooters have eagerly awaited its arrival due to its combination of high speed and high pixel count. Overall the camera is good but in my opinion is far from great and needs some firmware upgrades to reach its full potential. The camera is the most responsive camera yet with a shutter lag of only 40ms and it doesn't take much pressure at all on the shutter button to fire off frames at greater than 8 per second. Autofocus tracking of moving subjects is noticeably more accurate as is flash exposure with the new ETTL-2 system. Battery life is phenomenal with 1000-1500 images between batter recharges. Digital noise is at a new low for DSLRs with ISO 800 being quite useable. On the downside, images come out of the camera extremely soft, even softer than EOS 10D images although they do sharpen nicely. Photos have a tendency to have a muddy look straight out of the camera due to about 1 stop more dynamic range than its predecessors - I verified this with some extensive testing. Unfortunately the upper 10% of the brightness range is essentially unusable (from about 230 to 255 in brightness values) as the camera seems to be unable to distinguish shades of white. The AF, while very fast with good light and good contrast is a very slow performer in low light - much slower than its predecessor. In low contrast or low light, the AF creeps up to acquire focus lock in an attempt to not overshoot or miss focus altogether. While the thought behind this is logical, in practice it is very annoying to have the camera creep up to the focus lock point. Overall I am neutral on the camera, it does some things very well but has some significant weak points. I still much prefer the EOS 1Ds for landscapes and am eagerly awaiting its successor. For animal and action shooting, the 1D Mark II is the tool of choice. A rumored firmware release is touted to resolve some of these problems. A more complete review is available on NatureScapes at http://www.naturescapes.net/062004/ed0604.htm
The Waterfowl Project
Last quarter, I wrote about the Great Waterfowl Project. I have a goal of photographing all 171 species of waterfowl on planet Earth. This does not include domesticated and cross bred species. I am happy to report that my list continues to grow and now stands at 91. Since last quarter, Hottentot Teal, Marbled Teal, African Pygmy Goose, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Swan Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Red-billed Pintail, Koloa, and Comb Duck have been added. While in some cases, I still need better shots than what I have, it is great to be able to continue to grow this list. The complete updated list is always available at EJPhoto.com by clicking on this link:
DuckShop 2005 Slots Filling Up
As of this writing, half of the slots for this winter's DuckShops are filled with the December slot still wide open - note that all ducks except Ruddy Duck will already be in breeding plumage in December. I had planned on offering some other DuckShops in different parts of the country but some of these spots are currently embattled and I can't be certain that photography will be possible there this winter. If you are interested in attending, learning how to shoot these beautiful animals, and getting professional quality images of 12 to 15 species of ducks, please click here:
© 2004 - E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer.
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