Last month I mentioned I have plans to photograph a few new sujects and posted a photograph of Blueberries in a bowl shot in a lightbox I made out materials I had on hand. One of the limitation I found in photographing new things in new ways was that I didn’t own a “real” flash. The built in flash on the Canon 7D is a bit lacking. So I did some research and I purchased a Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT Flash earlier this month.
It has been a long time since I’ve purchased a new piece of equipment. I’ve stuck with the gear I slowly accumulated between 2007 and 2011 for the most part. The important part is using the equipment, not talking about it, debating gear choices online, or otherwise obsessing over it. Perhaps that will be a post all its own soon. I knew nothing about flashes, so I had to do a bit of research before I settled on this one. That was the easy part, learning to use it will be a bit more interesting.
Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT Flash – Back
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I made these photos in that same lightbox. I spent a few days learning about a few settings, how to trigger the Speedlight with my 7d’s on camera flash, and a number of other things new to me. Having done this, it was a bit frustrating to try to make a photograph of this flash unit without being able to actually use it for the photo!
Freshly picked Fraser Valley Highbush Blueberries in a bowl.
Experimenting with my lightbox – a bowl of blueberries (Purchase)
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In early 2015 I decided to try something new photographically, which is probably a good idea to do from time to time. Occasionally I want to photograph something that isn’t a landscape, nature or macro subject. I’d seen many tutorials on how to construct your own lightbox on the internet, so last spring I built one. Then I didn’t use it for a few months as I made excuses about not having the right equipment (I didn’t) or subjects (I did). When I was picking blueberries at the end of last summer I decided I would try to get a “product” shot of these fresh blueberries in a bowl. Typically my blueberry related photography has been more along the lines of blueberries still on the bush. Next it was a matter of finding a relatively photogenic bowl which was harder than I’d first anticipated.
After a number of exposures only using my Canon 7D’s built in flash and two desk lamps shining in the sides of the lightbox, I fully realized that this was a whole new kind of photography thing altogether. I’ve never tried to artificially light subjects, and not owning a dedicated flash seems to be a bit of a drawback in that regard. However, trying something new shouldn’t always be easy, and so there were many ugly exposures before this one came to life. So, thinking this was my best effort so far, I put it up on the blog here which drew my attention to how “white” the background of the image is (or isn’t, in this case). That is my point here though – I’m trying something new and that is not something that usually starts with success right away. I am hoping I will soon regard this image as a failure, even though right now it is the best of its type that I have – because that would mean progress has been made.
I believe I will soon be buying a flash for this kind of photography and a few other uses I have in mind. Once I spend some actual cash and not just time putting together a cardboard and poster paper lightbox the real “pressure” will be on!
Late last summer I decided I wanted a bit more focal length than my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM could offer. Not being able to afford a really long telephoto lens, I looked into the Canon Extenders. Having eliminated the 2x version, I had a choice between the Canon 1.4x EF Extender II ($350) or the newer model the Canon 1.4x EF Extender II ($499). I read many reviews of the new extender over the old one, and it just didn’t seem to be worth the extra $150, at least for me so I went with the mark II version.
Vernon Mountain Pasture (Bubo scandiacus)
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An extender attaches between a compatible lens and the camera body to give some added magnification with that lens. So the Canon 1.4x EF Extender would make a 200mm focal length more like 280mm. While there can be some image degradation, this does allow for a relatively cheap way to achieve the magnification found in longer focal lengths. An extender is also lighter and smaller than a lens, coming in at only 2.9″ x 1.1″, 7.8 oz. (72.8 x 27.2mm, 220g). An extender doesn’t take up much room in your bag or add much weight during a long hike. Using the 1.4x extender your lens operates 1 stop slower than it otherwise would. So my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM lens can only open up to f/5.6, not f/4. This is something to consider, depending on the camera you are using. I’ve been happy with the results from my Canon 7D with higher ISO performance, so if I am shooting wildlife with this combination, I will bump the ISO up a bit to compensate for what would otherwise be slower shutter speeds at f/5.6.
Of course, an extender is only as good as the lens it is sitting behind. All of the sample photos you see here were shot with the extender and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM lens. I love this lens for both wildlife and landscape shooting – and I wrote a separate review of the 70-200 in a guest post Dan Bailey’s Blog.
I asked my contacts on social media and in a few photography forums if anyone had used both the II and III versions of this extender and what they found to be improved in verion III over II. The apparent differences were not worth $150 in my opinion – especially behind the 70-200 lens I would be using it with. Many mentioned there was less Chromatic Abberation (CA) in the newest version. I decided to buy the less expensive version but to keep an eye open during post processing for CA. At this point I have only seen this in one photo, and it was a poorly exposed throwaway that was of no consequence. There still may be situations where this becomes an issue, but as I am aware of it and what shots I’ve made with the extender, I do not foresee this being an issue in the long run.
The 1.4 extender III also has improvements in the coating on the outer pieces of glass – and it is said to not pick up fingerprints like the version II. There are also improvements to better match improvements in some of Canon’s super telephoto lenses that were released at about the same time. I am not worried about fingerprints, and I am unlikely to own some of the really long telephotos anytime soon. I can currently think of better ways to spend $8000. If I come into a landslide of money I will be able to upgrade my extender in addition to purchasing really long glass.
Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) -click to enlarge-
Another issue with extenders can be image degradation. As you are placing more and more pieces of glass between your sensor and subject, image quality is likely to decrease slightly. I have not really noticed this in any of my images taken with the EF Extender II – though I am not one to do too much “pixel peeping” at 100% looking for flaws either.
If you are on a budget and looking to get a bit more reach out of a lens like the 70-200, the Canon 1.4x EF Extender II might be the perfect way to do it. For the new super-telephoto lenses the newest version may be more appropriate. Using the version II for almost 8 months I’ve had no issues and am happy with the photographs I have been able to make with it. Glad to say buying this accomplished exactly the purpose for which I purchased it!
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens -click to enlarge-
Today I have the privilege of being a guest blogger on Dan Bailey’s blog with my review of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens which you should go read now! Dan is a great adventure photographer from Alaska and in addition to great photography writes a lot of blog posts that always have interesting and useful information. You should also check out his ebooks!
When I first started getting serious with a “real” film camera I had a 28-90mm kit lens. Eventually I wished to move on from just taking random snapshots and actually gain more skills and take better photos. I read a bit on the internet about lenses and bought a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. The “nifty fifty”. It was at this point that I realized the difference lens quality can make. I couldn’t believe how sharp and clear the shots with the 50mm were.
A few years after buying the 50mm I upgraded to a DSLR – A Canon 30D. Wow not only could I take 100’s of shots at one time, I was not paying for film and developing so I could actually afford to experiment and try new things. The 28-90mm kit lens was a bit better on the DSLR (cropped out some of the edge anomalies) but still had nothing on the 50mm. On the APS-C sensor of the 30D (1.6x) the 50mm was more like an 80mm lens. I really wanted to go wider so that I could get more into a shot. I saved up and bought a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5. Good quality and really wide compared to the 50mm. I shot with the 10-22mm and the 50mm (the kit lens now relegated to a drawer for bad behaviour) for quite a while. I wanted to determine what I was missing the most before I went in that direction with a new lens.
Alpenglow on Nodoubt Peak in North Cascades National Park
A year or so after I bought the 10-22mm I filled in the gap between my lenses with the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. At that point I had opted for crop sensors over full frame (largely due to price of both long lenses and the FF cameras) so the 17-40mm was not on my list. From there I went to a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM to get a bit more reach for wildlife. What I had not really anticipated is that I would be using this lens so often for landscapes.
Abstract Chilliwack River
Often as a beginning photographer I read about wide angle lenses as the be all and end all of landscape photography. Walking in to a camera shop and being asked what I like to shoot – the answer of landscapes would push wide angle lenses in my direction. I was rather surprised to learn what I had been missing in a longer telephoto lens for landscapes. In some scenes I have found it difficult to use the wider focal lengths in that they actually get too much into the frame. Ironic considering this is why I earlier had thought I needed a wide lens. The details of the scene are there, but are drowned out by distracting elements that take the viewer’s eye away from what is important. So my initial impression that I would always want to be at a wide angle all the time has actually changed to looking at the details and what is more essential.
I never would have predicted this sort of outcome when I started. I see many posts and articles devoted to gear and purchasing wide lenses for landscapes. I wonder how many of the beginners reading these thing will eventually start to favour longer lenses for their landscape photography? Would they be better off getting a telephoto lens before a really wide angle one? Maybe this is just a normal evolution for a photographer. Regardless, I am happy I have moved away from all wide angle all the time – the variety of shots possible at longer focal lengths is liberating.
I realize I may be a bit late to the party obtaining a Canon 7D – but I wanted to pass along my first impressions regardless. A few weeks ago I upgraded my DSLR from a Canon 30D to the newer 7D. The difference between the two is quite noticeable even in the first few hundred exposures I have tested it with. Better dynamic range with the 7D, larger number of frames per second. Live view, bigger, better LCD, 18 vs 8 megapixels etc.
Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium)
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A year or so ago I had to make a decision. Do I go for the EF-S type lenses and be somewhat more tied to a APS-C sensor camera like the xxD series and 7D lines or stick with EF lenses only? I wanted a wide angle zoom, and that seemed to be a choice between the EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM or the 17-40mm f/4 L. Both are great lenses, but I went for the 17-55mm over the 17-40mm – somewhat committing me to the crop sensor fork in the road. The other benefit to the crop sensor camera is that it would give me more reach with the telephoto lenses (the 70-200 for example) without having to pay the price for a long lens (like the 300mm L). Those two reasons are why this is not a discussion comparing the 30D to a 5D Mark II.
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
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The weather here has been pretty bad, even for spring in Southwestern British Columbia – lots of rain and still cold – the “spring” monsoon. Consequently – only a few of the early to rise plants have starting budding out their leaves, and only the really early flowers are out. So I have not gone on many trips yet to photograph spring, but instead ventured into the backyard with my macro lens (Canon 100mm f/2.8) on the 7D. The world suddenly becomes a whole lot larger with a macro lens.
What I have appreciated the most so far about shooting macro with the 7D is the opportunities the live view gives me. The 30D does not have live view, and I didn’t think it would be as useful as it is. To be able to zoom in using the screen and focus on a specific aspect of the shot is very valuable. I suspect that is more valuable to a macro photo but it will no doubt become handy with some landscapes as well. The ability to actually consider raising the ISO beyond 400 for a shot that requires a faster shutter speed without introducing a lot of noise has also been very nice. With the 7D I don’t have to be too afraid of going well over 400 ISO, though I try to stick with 100 for a non-moving subject.
Weeping European Larch (Larix decidua)
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Another plus to the 7D is the actual LCD on the back. The image of the shot I just took seems much more representative of the actual file compared to the 30D view screen. I think the only downside I can see to the 7D, and its NOT really a downside is the size of the resulting files. I have been used to 8 megapixel images which were somewhere between 6 and 9 megabytes each – and the 7D is an 18 megapixel camera with 22-24 megabyte files. This will force me to be a bit more discerning on which images to keep. Though storage is cheap, its not unlimited at the moment, so I will likely cull more than I used to. I’ll be careful to keep those “maybe” images as I never know how I will feel about an image tomorrow – or next year even. The increased file size has also made both of my 2gig CF cards seem rather small since they will only hold about 70 images each now. I do have 4 gig and 8 gig cards as well, but it might be time to finally get a 16 just so I do not run out of space.
So I have nothing but good things to say – and am happy that I finally upgraded. Soon I will have some landscape shots of some manner to show here for further consideration. I think the monsoon might end early next week…
Earlier I mentioned my debate between the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM lenses. I ultimately chose the f/4 L IS version. What I did not do before is include a few photos of the lens itself.
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With Hood (Canon ET-74):
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I love this lens. Not only does it give me added range over my previous longest lens – the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro, but the colour and sharpness of this lens is great. It should be, its an “L” lens. Harder to fit in my bag but totally worth it. The IS is great, as it is on the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. I cannot imagine buying a non-IS version of a lens if an IS version is available in the future.
I tested this lens out today in the backyard, mostly hand held… and I was quite happy with its performance. I have other lenses that I consider to be good quality optically but this one was pretty fantastic (even if some of my shots weren’t 😉 ).
Black Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Second picture is a 100% crop of the first. This was an experiment, I realize the larger version is a bad photo.
I have put together some of my favourite images made in the last year into this 11"x17" (28cm x 43cm) nature calendar. Included are 12 photographs of landscape and nature scenes from British Columbia and Washington State.
I am a landscape and nature photographer based in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. Most of my subjects are in Southwestern British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest's Washington State. My photography is available for licensing as stock, fine art prints, and giclée canvas wraps.