Birds, Mai Po and the Canon 5D mk III

My stats tell me that these three topics bring in the readers like nothing else. And here you have all three for the price of one. Today was my second attempt to test the 5D3 for bird photography but to a degree I was frustrated again by dreadful light. I met up with John & Jemi Holmes (see link to their splendid blog on the blog-roll) and a number of other HK birding stalwarts in the boardwalk hides. Some just had scopes but most people had the big glass out for a 2.1m forecast tide. I arrived dull and early at 6.30am and made my way down to the hide. The light was poor and although it threatened briefly to improve it was grey and overcast for the majority of our time there. The birds were out in force and as always a joy to watch. The tide was evenly paced but stopped too short. The small waders were not really within decent photographing range.

It is strange when you first go out with an 800mm lens you think you should be able to get anything. But you can’t! And the difference between a 5D3 with a full frame sensor, the 1D with a 1.3x crop factor and the 7D with a 1.6x is huge. All these shots were taken with the 5D3 but do take into account the considerable distances and the sizable crops to get much at all. I did get one half decent Caspian tern.

Caspian tern

But it is a white bird against a white background – yuk. The carrot nose is its sole redeeming feature, I’m afraid.


Here’s old carrot nose again with a bunch of Gull-billed terns. Smart aren’t they? No shortage of GBTs today 🙂

Gull-billed terns

John H’s sharp eyes picked out one of the 18 Nordmann’s Greenshank counted today:

Nordmann's greenshank

That’s him, just right of the front bird. He has the distinctive white markings. What you lose in subject size using a full frame sensor I guess you make up in resolution. This was a very long shot. It might win the Longest Drive competition at Augusta. But it is still quite acceptable as a record shot.

We also had another colour-ringed Black-faced spoonbill today.


The excellent HKBWS Black-faced spoonbill recording site tells me that this bird was ringed in Suhaam, South Korea, on 29th June 2010 as a juvenile.

When the light is bad and the birds too distant there is always one other way to pass the time – flocks. I only took a few flock shots but here are a couple:

Curlew sandpipers

Wader flock

I thought about a “guess the number of birds in the flock” competition but someone might actually try to count them and expect me to judge the result.  The noise the wader flocks make as they fly in over the top of the hides is  surprisingly loud and startling. More swoosh than Nike I can assure you. One of the great simple pleasures in life. Nevertheless I am still unable to decide whether the 5D3 is a suitable camera for bird photography. It will certainly go to Antarctica with me – very light for traveling and I doubt the penguins will be as far away as the stints etc. today. At the moment I am leaning towards sticking with my 1D IV for birds on the mudflats but otherwise I think there is a strong probability the 5D3 will replace it. I do so like the full frame sensor.  And oh yes, we did have a Little stint today and some lucky people even saw a single Spoon-billed sandpiper from the new hide.

As I have said before, no day at Mai Po is ever a disaster it is simply the degree of productivity. The experience is always rewarding. So all being well it will be the same procedure again next week with perhaps a more favourable tide.

4 thoughts on “Birds, Mai Po and the Canon 5D mk III

  1. Very nice images, Andrew. I really like the Caspian on white…a very lovely high key image. Also, I love the second image of the flock…moody, with lots to look at. My eyes like wandering through images like this…

  2. Emilie, several reasons. The 1D has a 1.3x crop factor so extra reach. The 1D will AF beyond F5.6 with a teleconvertor. The 5D will not autofocus beyond F5.6 with the TC. That’s not too critical as I often use manual focus but it’s nice to have the choice. And the 1D does 9 fps versus a claimed 6 for the 5D. I rarely shoot flat out but again it’s nice to have the option of the extra 3 frames per second.

I'd be delighted to hear what you think

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