Too many cameras not enough imagination. A while ago I decided on impulse to do a 1:1 photography workshop. I feel I know a reasonable amount about the technical side of photography but I don’t really have a creative streak in me. I can go out and ‘copy’ what others have done but it is rare to feel that I really like a photograph I have taken. If somebody asks me to pick out 20 photos I have taken that I like enough to show then I struggle. I can go back over 10 years and still not find that many. It is also impossible to decide what others will see in your images. Some of my all time favourites have had very limited engagement when posted. Others, that I regard as run of the mill and upload more or less as a back up, well some of them get a very positive response. So I take what I think will please me.
I went through a phase of thinking only black and white photography was ‘serious’. Colour was a fad that will pass. Mind you I also wondered whether digital would ever catch on. And phones? Don’t make me laugh. Now I actively look for colour, shoot exclusively digital and love having my phone available. It will even shoot in RAW if I wish. I still prefer black and white but some things work better in colour. One of the joys of digital cameras is that you can shoot both at the same time. As I did this morning. I took RAW files and black and white jpegs at the same time. The RAW files record what you see in colour and the jpegs process in camera to the settings you have chosen. I thought this would cure me of a temporary lust for a Leica Monochrom, a bank balance wrecking camera that shoots solely in black and white. It worked. For now.
So back to the workshop idea. I noticed that a local gallery was exhibiting work by a Hong Kong resident American photographer, Michael Kistler, and that he offered workshops either on a group basis or solo. I did a couple of group workshops a while ago. They are heavily dependent for success on working with like-minded people. I opted to work with Michael alone. (http://michaelkistlerphotography.com) I explained to him before we met what I wanted. Just a little help with the creative juices and maybe some new techniques. We met up and I was very happy with the way it went. I am going to do one session a month for a while. In between the sessions he also reviews some of my shots and gives me feedback. He understands I am not a hard core street photographer. I shoot wildlife more than anything but I enjoy the contrast in styles and approach. I refuse to be tagged as anything. My new Canon R5 has replaced my Fuji for wildlife and I have gone back to my rangefinders for walkabout sessions. The Fujis will still get an airing as the lenses are so good and I took one out today. The rangefinders slow me down and one thing I have reverted to working with Michael is to shoot fully manually. Nothing set to Auto. I choose the aperture, shutter speed and ISO individually. When light conditions change I have to choose which one to adjust – usually the ISO.
I don’t know whether I am getting any better but I enjoy it. I have tried to improve my processing skills but try not to over-manipulate shots. I am not a purist. I will crop and edit to get the desired result but as much as possible should be done when the shutter is pressed. Here are some images from the last couple of weeks.
My random thoughts on a month with the Canon R5. I am a totally amateur / hobby photographer with no commercial aspirations.
My views on the R5 have evolved over the time and that is common as I become more familiar with the camera. When I first bought it I had already researched how to set it up. Fortunately there is no shortage of videos on the internet explaining how to do so. It took me only a couple of hours. I don’t shoot video so I don’t worry about the overheating issue. At the time I bought it I was unaware of an issue with the camera freezing up. This happened the first time I took it out but it has not happened again in a month of reasonably heavy use. The freeze lasted about 30 seconds then back to normal. There seems to be no known fix yet. I have updated the firmware and this may have improved things, some of which I mention below.
A lot of media attention has been on the eye-tracking and this is excellent when it works. I have had some odd failures. It failed to locate the eye on a wild boar – possibly insufficient contrast. It failed to find the eye of a pipit – maybe the bird was too small or too distant but that was very disappointing. However when it works it is a wonderful aid and it has worked with larger birds and even with a Laughingthrush. So I would not buy the R5 just for the eye-tracking but when it works it is a real bonus. Typically it will track something using multiple focus points in a group and I am happy with the results.
I have experimented with different metering modes. I find it under exposes slightly across the board. However when I import to Lightroom Classic and activate the camera’s profile correction it seems to brighten the image slightly. Images look fine through the viewfinder (with image simulation selected) but they just look dull / maybe 1/2 stop underexposed on import. I have been using Jan Wegener’s video tutorials on You Tube and he has stopped using PS/LR as his RAW converter for R5 files. He is using Canon’s proprietary software and I have downloaded it to try. JW’s view was that Adobe renders the files dull / underexposed, confirming my impressions. DPP deals with this. It is just a very clunky suite which he describes as having a 1990’s feel to it. I agree. But until Adobe upgrades PS/LR to cope better with the Canon algorithms this may be a necessary evil. I played with a photo of a Laughingthrush and it imported looking very different. The Canon DPP file looks brighter and warmer. More experimentation required here but so far I have not gone to DPP full time.
I have a love hate affair with the electronic shutter. I actually like to hear the mechanical shutter, which is itself very quiet. Sometimes the very quiet click makes the bird look at the camera. However tracking birds in flight I found the mechanical shutter leaves me with blacked out moments in the viewfinder. I have the camera set to ’smooth’ and I don’t think this is good enough. When I use the electronic shutter I sometimes forget to check what drive speed I am set to and end up taking ’stills’ in High Speed mode. That’s just user error / laziness. After lots of experimenting with both modes I have gone back to mechanical and we’ll see how it goes for birds in flight.
Battery life sucks if you use the screen. I was getting about 350-400 frames per battery. So I carry 2 spare new higher power batteries and happily old 5D batteries fit too. However with the screen folded in and no regular review I managed over 1500 images with a single battery charge and 11% capacity left. You can read this off the menu and it resets to zero each time you charge it. I don’t remember if my old 5D3 had this information but anyway it seems I could expect upwards of 1600 shots per charged battery. This is quite acceptable. The answer seems to be if you check settings a lot, chimp a bit and shoot single frames then battery life is poor. If you have the camera set up and don’t need a lot of changes, don’t chimp and shoot bursts then the battery life is fine. So far 2 batteries will see me through a day without a problem.
The body is light and fits easily in a small backpack with my 100-400mm mk II lens attached. At times I find the body too small and I may yet opt for a battery grip just to bulk it up. The * button and the AF point selection button are too small and close to the edge for me. Colour rendition is good but there is no matching camera profile in PS/LR. Using my 100-400mm mk II lens I get exceptionally sharp, clean images. And of course that means I am using the adapter to attach my EF lenses. This is quite simply superb – I am never aware of any lag and indeed I suspect the AF is faster than on my 5D3 without an adapter. I have the control ring adapter but I am not sure it is worth it. Using a long lens it is very uncomfortable trying to adjust the adapter because you end up having both hands close to you leaving the lens unsupported. With a tripod or short lens this would not be an issue. I am slowly adapting my technique as this is useful.
I set my adapter to adjust the AF method. I previously had this set to ISO but there realised the Mode button outer ring is already programmed to do this! A case of RTFM, I suppose. AF is generally outstanding. I back-button focus and set the * button to AF tracking so I can switch rapidly between the spot and tracking. High ISO is a massive upgrade on all my other cameras including the Fuji. I have no problem shooting at ISO 6400 and have my ISO set to auto, 100-12,800 and I trust the camera still to give me great files. This is so good its almost worth buying just for this performance upgrade. (I wrote this after 2 weeks and I am still impressed). I expose to the right and push the shutter speed up, trusting the ISO is manageable. I have moved to fully manual now with the R5. So I set the aperture, ISO and adjust only the shutter speed or, if I know I need higher shutter speeds I set aperture and TV and adjust the ISO. I only ever have to move one dial. The files are 45megapixels and can be heavily cropped and still produce good detail. No complaints here. I photographed a Crested Goshawk high in the sky and it was very small in the frame. The detail exceeded my expectations. My Fuji would never have given me this sort of result.
You do need a high speed / capacity card and one of the two slots takes only a CFexpress card. I needed a new card reader too. Annoying. But they write super fast and have no buffer problems. The viewfinder is large and bright – another improvement. I find the VF big enough to be useable for adjusting settings without having to flip the screen out. It has a built in 1.6x crop mode.(I keep forgetting this but it is useful). With a 1.4x TC attached this gives me 896mm of reach. I use the DoF button to activate the AF options. Usually it is set to servo. With the zoom attached the body feels too light and the combination is a bit front heavy. I would hate to use a long prime on this body without a tripod. The articulated screen is going to be very useful for macro.
So do I recommend the R5? If you want to go mirrorless, yes. But be aware of the quirks. I won’t be going back to my 5D3 in a hurry but I will probably keep it for night time shooting of moths where I would be concerned about having to change batteries at a bad time.
Hong Kong is a sad, browbeaten, political and economic shipwreck but today we celebrate. We can exert ourselves in the country parks without a mask. The Maskstapo have retreated and I can climb The Peak without suffering oxygen starvation and steamed-up glasses. At 6am I rose and went out as the sun heaved itself over the horizon. For the first time since early in the year there was a slight chill in the air. Everything was dew-bedecked and not much stirred in the hedgerows. I walked 12km in total. In my backpack an optimistic ‘bird lens’. It stayed there as I drew a blank on migrants. To be honest the macro lens did not see a lot of use either. My rule of thumb is if I see one new species or make one acceptable photo on my wanderings then it has been a successful outing. Today I found a friendly mantis, Hierodula patellifera. There is a tree that normally buzzes with bees and wasps and hosts a few nectaring butterflies. Today it was empty. However as I started to walk on I felt I was being watched. I turned and looked up slightly to find myself staring at HP. It hardly lived up to its name of Giant Asian Mantis. Quite modest in size but beautifully camouflaged. There was no Fee Fi Fo Fum about this one. I took quite a few photos and left it to resume whatever it was doing. Perhaps like me it was contemplating the destruction of civilisation. Lorelei, the original Rheinstone Cowgirl, lures us towards the rocks of September, which lie in wait as we nonchalantly think we have navigated the treacherous waters of August. I can’t wait for 2020 hindsight and, please, pretty please, the end of the orange supremacist in the White House and his odious family and parasitic entourage.
I came out of retirement almost 2 years ago to work part time for 3 months. That was the plan. Like most best laid plans it went agley. Enough is enough though and I am semi-retiring again. At the most I will do 2 days a week so I can walk more and spend more time with our granddaughter. We have, fingers crossed, a grandson on the way too. Life will never be empty or dreary. I never expected to require a navigation course in Duplo avoidance. I never expected to become the world’s leading authority on Peppa Pig. I hear ‘Baby Shark’ every day and have become an expert in changing batteries in toys to stem the tears of disappointment when they run down after only a week of non-stop use. I have spent more time in Mothercare than a camera shop. I even helped change a nappy (diaper) once. I wonder how today’s parents would cope if nappies still had to be boil-washed and reused rather than discarded. My next challenge is how to pay the school fees that will be needed to keep the grandchildren out of the local schools.
What else is changing? Well the aches and pains become more frequent and soon we will leave our Mid Levels eyrie and live in our own apartment for the first time since we bought it in 2011. Smaller but closer to the grandchildren. What to do with Lulu is a problem as dogs are not allowed. Probably I will rent a small dog-friendly apartment for her and one of our helpers and I will use it as a study, library and photography refuge. We can’t give up Lulu. She is almost 12 years old and has been a faithful if temperamental companion and she deserves to live out her days in comfort.
What hasn’t changed is the pleasure I take from photographing the local wildlife. Here are a few of this summer’s snaps.