: : wildlife photography through the lens of an animator : :

Friday, October 16, 2009

My photographic gear

People keep asking what my equipment is, how I use it, if I'm happy with it. Decided to write a few words about this.

I've had several film cameras. The first one was a Смена 8М, documented in a photo from 1974 or 75.

My first digital camera was Fuji FinePix S5500, a compact ultra zoom, quite good for its price and 2004. I took some nice photos with it and the best ones are available on this bloG, carefully indexed with a special label. It was fast for a compact, but not fast enough for birds in flight. I soon realized I needed something much better, and, unfortunately, much more expensive.
For a long time I was reading and getting familiar with Nikon models, but when I was about to make a purchase, circumstances were more favorable to buy a Canon. I don't regret. I bought an EOS 30D body,
and an EF 70-300 IS USM lens. That was the best equipment I could afford. I was hoping to be able to buy some more and better lenses later, but it never happened. I don't see such thing happening in a foreseeable future either. For a while I was dreaming to get a battery grip to get a better hold on the camera when taking vertical photos, but have given up on this too.
All the photos on this bloG (except those labeled with FinePix) are taken from a hand held camera with this body and lens, almost always at 300mm.
I tend to shoot at ISO 320-640 most of the time, using short image bursts (HiSpeed) of twos or threes to try to capture action. Most of the action shots are taken on Shutter Priority (TV) mode. I find that 1/1250 to 1/2000 is usually fast enough to freeze birds in flight.

Am I happy with the lens? I don't know.
  • It has a very nice and pleasing bokeh. Many times even if there's nothing in focus I will stare at an image and enjoy the beautiful blurry painting that the lens has produced.
  • It can be sharp. Every now and then I get an image that amazes me with its crispness. I don't know if it's due to a combination of factors, but such images are very rare. One in a thousand I'd say.
  • At 100% images are generally soft. It might be due to the specific subjects, being quite small and feathery. Maybe the AF system gets confused. It can be due to shaky hands, but it shouldn't matter much at high shutter speeds. It could be due to the Image Stabilizer / Auto Focus conflict, but I have tried to shoot with stabilizer switched off. I don't know.
  • Many times AF is too slow. I know. I only have F5.6 at 300mm. There's not enough light.
Those rare sharp images show me what the sensor and the body are capable of. Obviously a lot. But even this sensor is too small for the contemporary expectations. 8 megapixels are just not enough for a decent crop.

What do I do to the photos in the computer? Nearly nothing. I crop them to get a pleasing composition. Rarely adjust levels, if exposure is not good, but the image is otherwise worthwhile. Then scale down to 1024 by whatever and publish to the blog.

Why are there no EXIFs in the photos? Not on purpose really. I use such an old version of Photoshop (Five!) which just cannot keep them when re-saving the jpg. And I don't think they are too important either.

I wish I could afford to spend much more money on equipment, which would produce much better images, but as photography is only a spare time activity for me, it is not currently possible.

[Quick update: August 2016]
Some two years ago I finally bought a better lens - the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM.

I have only posted a few photos of Sammy the seal, taken with this lens. AF is much more accurate and sharpness is generally better at all F-stops, decreasing the amount of failed photos significantly.

However, I have a feeling that the bokeh is not as pleasing as it were with the cheaper 70-300, but this may just be subjective. I can only imagine what the performance of this lens could be on a better, newer body.