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 Nature Photography :: About equipment :: Digital


Canon EOS 1Ds mk2
Canon EOS 1D mk2 N x 2
Canon EOS 10D x 2
10D Battery pack x 2
17-40/4 L zoom
24-105/4 L IS zoom
100/2.8 macro
70-200/2.8 L IS zoom
400/4 DO IS
1.4x converter
2x converter
Right-angle finder
Extension tubes
420EX flash
580EX flash
MT-24EX macro flash
STE2 flash transmitter
Gitzo 2220 tripod
Tamrac 5578 backpack
Wimberly quick release clamps
Wimberly Plamp
Better beamer flash extender

I've owned Canon professional camera equipment for over 30 years, starting with my first F1 in the mid-seventies. In 2004, after two or three years following the progress of digital equipment, I finally bit the bullet and purchased a digital kit.

Because I had old Canon FD equipment (which was totally incompatible with Canon's EOS system) I may just as well have bought into Nikon or maybe Olympus. I stuck with Canon because I felt they had the best solution to my needs, and also because in 30 years of using Canon equipment it has seldom let me down.


Canon EOS 1DS mk2

This is my landscape camera. At 16.7 mpx it was the world's best 35mm-format digital camera for about a week a couple of years ago. It's just as good now, it's just that the new cameras got better.

But it doesn't matter, the quality of the images this camera produces is quite unbelievable.

This camera is used for bushwalking when I am primarily looking for landscape photos, and to be fair a 5D would be better as it weighs 890gms and the 1d is 1500.

So why not buy a 5D at less than half the price? Mostly because I often use two cameras at the same time with different lenses, when I do this I like the two cameras to be exactly the same physically so when I swap I'm not fumbling with a different user interface.



Canon EOS 1D mk2 N

If this isn't the world's best camera for photographing wildlife (at the time of writing) I'll eat my Landcruiser. Whereas the 1Ds (above) has amazing quality and reasonable speed, the 1D has amazing speed and good quality.

At 8mpx and 8fps this camera is tuned for sport and wildlife. It also has a smaller sensor than the 1Ds effectively making all lenses 1.3x longer, always a good thing with wildlife photography.




Canon EOS 10D

While not a pro-quality camera the 10D was very good in its day. These bodies are now just kept as backups.

Battery packs for 10D
At first I wasn't going to buy battery packs for the 10Ds, reasoning that it would stop me getting the camera low enough for some macro work. This is true, but I haven't really noticed that has been a problem. Anyway it's a fairly quick job to remove the pack.

Now I have battery packs I'm glad I bought them, the most obvious reason is the improved ergonomics when shooting vertical. Of course the ability to hold two batteries is good as well, however I find that I usually run it with only one, an ability that's useful, and not well known.

I keep the other in the camera case, this is the digital photography equivalent of a reserve petrol tank. You can have all the low-fuel warning lights in the world on your dashboard, but there's nothing quite like a spluttering motor at the traffic lights to send you straight to the petrol station.

Similarly I find the act of changing batteries to be a very loud and clear message that I'm at the 50% mark (when I'm carrying two batteries).

Of course this battery changing may happen at an inappropriate moment, so I sometimes insert the second one if it looks like I'm getting low, and may have to concentrate 100% on taking photos.

The Canon battery pack will accept two batteries with unequal charge, running off the most highly charged until they are equal.



17-40 f4 L zoom

The selection of a wide-angle zoom was one of the main reasons I delayed my move into digital. What really tipped the balance for me was an analysis of my photos.

Although I've always had very wide lenses, down to 14 or 16mm, and considered myself a keen wide-angle user, I found that wasn't necessarily the case.

In analysing the 1000s of images on my database I found that only about 300 where taken with lenses wider than 28mm. If I narrowed the search to those images I considered to be "good", I had only about 30 wide angle (<28mm) shots. When I looked at my "best", there was only 3.

This realisation finally got me over the wide angle hurdle, so, as the 17-40 is equivalent to 27-64 on the 10D (22-51 in the 1D Mk2), and it's half the cost of the 16-35, my decision was made. At f4 it's a little slow, but I can live with that in a wide lens.

The bottom line is that you tend to see photos that it's possible to take with the equipment you have. For years I used a 5x4 camera with only two lenses, 90 and 210mm (roughly equivalent to 30 and 70mm lenses on a 35mm camera). No super wides here, and yet I made some of my best ever images with that combination.



24-105 f4 L IS zoom

Fantastic lens and, on a full-frame camera at least, the ideal walk-around bottle. It's a bit long for this on a 1.6 factor camera (38-168mm equiv) but fills the gap between my 17-40 and 70-200 (which I mostly use on a 1.4 converter) nicely.

Fantastically sharp, and the IS is great. I'll never buy a lens without IS again.



100 f2.8 macro

You can stick any lens on extension tubes to get macro capability, and that's what I used to do. But a good macro lens will blow you away.

Firstly the quality is way better, the lens is designed for this job.

Secondly, with a longer focal length, you get an improved working distance. To get 1:1 (approx.) with extension tubes I used to put a 28mm lens on a 25mm tube. This worked, but the subject was in focus when about 20mm from the lens. Very few subjects will allow you to get this close, and those that do want to attack their reflection.

With a 100mm macro you can get 1:1 with the lens's front element still being about 150mm from the subject.

Even at 2:1 I'm still several inches from the subject.

I always wanted a 180 or 200mm macro but they are very expensive. With the 10D I get the equivalent of 160mm for a reasonable price and weight, and on the 1D it's a 130mm lens.

This is a fantastic lens, the sharpest thing I've ever seen by itself, and still very good with the 1.4 converter and/or extension tubes.



70-200 f2.8 L IS zoom

This is one serious lens, with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 112-320mm on the 10D (91-260 on the 1D Mk2). It's heavy (1.3kgs), but nowhere near as heavy as a 112-320/2.8 would be, even if Canon or Nikon made one. The closest I know of is the Sigma 120-300/2.8 which weighs in at 2.6 kgs, twice weight of the 70-200.

As the 300/2.8 focal length is almost an industry standard for large wildlife, this is a perfect lens for this application on a crop factor camera.

The IS works well, the auto focus is fast, and the lens is very sharp, all of which you would expect for 3500-odd dollars.

This is probably the best lens of its type in the world. Unbelievably sharp even at 2.8, extremely good with the 1.4 converter, and still pretty good with the 2x, if you stop down one stop.



400 f4 DO IS

Pics I take with this lens are RAZOR sharp, even wide open with the 1.4 and 2x converters. In fact one image with the 2x is so sharp it looks like it's been taken with a 50 1.8.

I do get some soft shots but that's my technique, or lack thereof. A 1.4x lives almost permanently on this lens giving a 35mm equivalent focal length of 727mm (on my 1Ds Mk2) in a package I can handhold and carry around just in case I need it.

This is one fantastic lens.




1.4x converter

Works well with my 70-200, and in fact is almost permanently mounted to this lens. Loss of image quality is not noticeable (unlike the 2x).

This converter gives me a 157-488 equivalent focal length on the 70-200 and the 10D, (127-364 on the 1D), a nice range for most large and/or approachable wildlife, and still fairly fast at f4.



2x converter

This doubles my 70-200, giving me a 35mm equivalent of 224-640/5.6 (182-520 on the 1D Mk2). As it happens this range is good for most smaller wildlife, especially birds, which is why I bought the converter.

The combination is a little slow for my liking (f5.6) and really should be stopped down at least one stop for sharp images. This makes the 70-200 an f8 lens which is even slower, although still very usable in the field.



Right-angle finder

Don't leave home without one. One reason I stayed with the Canon F1 for 30 years was the speed finder, a device that allows you to look down into the camera and easily take low-angle photos without breaking your neck. The speed finder worked well, but was difficult to use when shooting vertical photos at ground level.

The right angle finder is better than the old speed finder, allowing the easy shooting of either horizontal or vertical photos with, if required, the camera right on the ground.

For a lot of macro work this is essential.

The only disadvantage the right-angle finder has is that it's a separate piece of equipment that must be attached or removed according to the needs of the shot. The old speed finder was part of the camera.

The right-angle finder has it's own dioptor adjustment, but there's no détentes, so I find that I'm resetting the focus every time I use it.

Some gaffa tape will be applied before long.


Extension tubes

The Canon documentation states that some lenses may not auto focus when placed on extension tubes. I find that the 70-200 zoom works with the tubes, but it's with the 100 macro that I need them the most, and that does tend to focus hunt more than normal on a 10D.

In general, when shooting macro with an extension tube, I switch to manual focus. However, if the subject is particularly fast moving, I'm more likely to get the shot with the auto focus enabled, it still misses, but not as much as I do. Normally macro work is done in manual exposure mode anyway so the above is of little importance.



420EX flash

In the past I've never been much of a user of flash, but that's because I hadn't encountered these new-generation versions. The 420 is fantastic, handling fill flash and off-camera macro work effortlessly.

But why not buy the next model up, the 550 (or 580)?

I wanted to be able to use the flash in wireless mode (see the STE2 below), the 550/580 can do that of course, but it's a lot more expensive, mostly because it can be a controller as well as a slave. The 420 can only be a slave.

But if you only need one flash, the 420+STE2 is a more versatile combination, allowing for both on- and off-camera flash. These two devices costs about the same as a single 550/580.

If you need two flashes anyway, and plan to always use one of them on-camera, then I'd get a 420 and a 550/580.



580EX flash

Just like the 420 only more so. This is now my primary flash for everything except macro. It's normally mounted on top of the 70-200's or the 400's tripod mount with the STE2 as a controller and a Better Beamer to increase its punch. This is a great combination for bird photography.



Better Beamer flash extender

The Better Beamer flash extender is basically a fresnel lens that you mount in front of your flash. It concentrates the flash beam so you can either use flash at a greater distance or use less power when the subject is close.

It weighs almost nothing and folds down flat so it will fit in a pocket and/or take up no room in your bag.


MT-24EX Macro flash

This is an amazing flash and I would recommend it to anyone who is into macro photography.

Used with both flashes mounted on the lens the light can be a bit flat depending on the subject, even with the ratio set to 8:1. eg. head A has 8x more light than head B.

It is however easy to remove one or both of the flash heads and place them further from the lens to give a more interesting light. I find that, so far, I have only done this once or twice, preferring to use a third flash if the subject will stay still long enough for me to set it up.

Each flash head has a hot shoe and a 1/4" threaded hole on the bottom, so you can mount them to just about anything if you wish. A friend of mine who has been using some special flash arms is considering buying this flash and mounting the heads on his existing arms. This will work well, and give more options with the lighting as the heads will be placed further apart.

After some use
Although there are about 20 possible ratios to select, ie. 8:1 through to 1:8 plus only head A or B, I find that I always use the two extremes, that is 8:1 or vice versa. This is because I'm trying to create light that is as interesting as possible. Unfortunately, to get from one extreme to the other you have to go though all the other possibilities by pressing a button a hundred times or holding it down and waiting for what seems like hours as it auto repeats.

It doesn't sound like a big deal, but when you only have seconds to get a shot this can be a bit frustrating.


STE2 flash transmitter

The STE2 will control the EX flashes wirelessly. This works well, and I find it very convenient to just place the flash on the ground and work around a subject without any wires.

However, you do need to keep the flash's sensor pointing roughly at the camera, and this has caused me to miss shots because I didn't realise that things weren't aligned as well as they should have been. It's very good, but not perfect.


Wimberly quick release clamps

For years I used a cheap quick release clamp, and to be fair it did a reasonable job. It was never very secure, but while it worked I didn't have the incentive to upgrade.

My cheap clamp broke a couple of years ago, so now I've moved to the Wimberly system, which is based on the Arca Swiss standard.

This stuff is very expensive, a few clamps and plates cost around A$550, but they do work well, and should last forever.

VERY well made, all the parts fit together like they were made for each other, which I suppose they were.


Gitzo G2220 Explorer tripod

I own about 300 tripods, and they all suited my purpose at the time they were purchased. But these days I need a flexible pod, one that is "macro friendly", that can independently move each leg, and with a centre column that can easily go to the horizontal or even upside down.

The original macro friendly tripod was the Benbo, and in fact I still own a Benbo 1 which I bought about 20 years ago. They are great, but I've grown to dislike the way that the entire tripod is held together by a single clamp, undo the clamp and all three legs plus the centre column can collapse. You get used to it of course, but it can be difficult to adjust, for example, just one of the legs when the centre column is poking out horizontally.

Also the Benbo 1 is quite large, way too big for backpacking. They do make a smaller version called the Trekker, but I felt it was time for a new approach.

Enter the Gitzo 2220 Explorer. Each leg is independent with an infinitely adjustable angle, and the centre column can be easily flipped to any angle and rotated. In short, exactly what I want.

There are several tripods on the market that have removable centre columns which can be inserted in various other configurations, the new Manfrotto 190 is one that springs to mind. However, removing and replacing the column in a different hole is nowhere near as convenient as just loosening a knob. Trust me on this.

Why not carbon fibre?
Several times over the years I've looked into buying a CF tripod, and, so far, I've come to the conclusion that they just aren't worth the money.

However I am looking at getting one soon, a saving of even just 1kg is a lot at the end of a 10k walk.


Wimberly Plamp

This marvelous gadget clamps to a solid object, usually the tripod leg, at one end, and a moving object at the other, thereby stopping the moving object from moving. For macro work this is invaluable.

First impressions
This device is made from parts you can easily get from a hardware or engineering shop, and in fact I did consider making my own. However, the price of the components was nearly as much as the Plamp, for example, the flexible part is just a coolant hose from a milling machine, $30 (Aus) from a shop in my town. It's only $45 for the entire Plamp and there's no mucking around.

The small clamp does appear to be a bit strong for my liking, it may actually crush a small plant. I'll see how it goes in the field.


Tamrac 5578 backpack

No exaggeration, I've owned just about EVERY camera case/backpack ever made, mostly because my kit, and photography style, has changed over the years.

I have two Lowepros, one is an over-the-shoulder type, good for short sorties, but it doesn't fit all my gear, and becomes a real pain in the shoulder very quickly. The other is a Nature Trekker, not bad, but a crappy harness and still not large enough.

After some research I decided to give Tamrac a try. In these days of digital photography I felt that the external compartments would be useful for memory cards, batteries etc. Plus the tripod should fit snuggly in between the compartments.

First impressions
The pack is longer and narrower than the photos indicate, that's fine by me.

The pockets in the external compartments don't hold batteries that well. I find I have to put 6 AAs in each so they're in tight enough not to fall out when I open the compartment. Trouble is, I use batteries in lots of four, not six.

My tripod fits nicely in between the compartments and straps on securely.

Overall, everything fits snuggly and appears to be safe and secure.

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