Friday, 7 August 2015

Because I'm worth it

One of the benefits of working like a dog recently has been a few more pennies in the savings jar, enough at least for me to feel able to spoil myself with a new Canon 7D Mark II and 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 II zoom lens. First impressions of both are pretty good.

The most obvious improvements to the camera compared to the original 7D are the reduced grain at higher ISO ratings (and the increased upper limit at 16000 ISO), the ability to set the ISO range (thus giving a minimum as well as a maximum ISO), a faster high speed burst (10 frames per second compared to 8 for the old 7D), and the ability to shoot onto SD and CF cards (and both at the same time, if you want an instant back-up). Best of all, there is a release button on the main dial to stop you accidentally switching modes - the absence of this has cost me some good shots in the past.

This Willow Warbler was photographed out of the car window at an inconvenient angle in imperfect light - f5.6, ISO640 and a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second.
A distant Buzzard (f5.6, 1/500th, ISO500, handheld)
House Sparrow in the gloom at Llanuwchllyn station on the Bala Lake Railway - I was impressed with how little grain there was at ISO4000 (f5.6, 1/500th, handheld)
The only down sides so far are the loss of the AF area selection mode from the 'Quick' menu (though it's easy enough to do on the back of the camera) and the shorter battery life (though that's probably got more to do with the Image stabiliser on the new lens than the camera itself). Focusing is said to be a big improvement as well on the 7D Mk II and while I haven't tested that sufficiently yet to verify, there were certainly a few more 'keepers' in sequences of flyover Ravens and Peregrines than I would have expected from the 7D.
Peregrine over the garden of our temporary home in Snowdonia (f5.6, 1/4000th, ISO400, handheld)
Raven fly-past (f5.6, 1/1000th, ISO400, handheld)
Red Kite in horrible light, not far from our holiday home (f5.6, 1/1250th, ISO400, Exposure comp +2, handheld)
As for the lens, well it appears as sharp, if not sharper, and as quick, if not quicker, than my trusty 400mm f5.6. The Image Stabiliser provides the equivalent of a few extra stops of light, useful for my usual m.o. of hand holding the lens rather than relying on a tripod. Part of my thinking in getting this lens was that, as well as needing a second good lens if and when the 400mm keels over, as it has done a couple of times in its 5 year life, I wanted a bit more versatility for insects and landscapes without changing lenses, and the 100-400 range certainly gives that. The close focus - about 3ft compared to 10ft with the old 400mm f5.6 - promises to open up a new world of possibilities, making it virtually a macro without the hassle of an additional lens, and without having to scrabble around on my hands and knees to take pictures of small critters.
Annoyingly, with my new lens making more decent photographs of insects possible, I will now have to start identifying bees. But for now, here is a bee sp. Zoom down at 100mm, f4.5, 1/800th, ISO400, handheld.
Ditto, Hoverfly sp. x 2. f5.6, 1/640th, ISO640, handheld.
And a Meadow Brown in close-up. The combination of zoom and close-focus meant I was nowhere near flushing the butterfly but could still get a reasonable close-up. F5.6, 1/640th, ISO500, handheld.
Weight was my only real concern about the new lens - it is quite a bit heavier than the 400mm, but having invested in a new comfy sling strap at the same time, I can't say I am noticing much difference at the moment. Ask me how it feels after a birdless slog around Swineham, and I might view it differently, we'll see. But there is always the monopod option if it gets too much.

Given that it's just a lump of metal and glass, I feel strangely guilty about forsaking the old 400mm lens, though it will certainly not be retired just yet. It can just have a little rest. Like I am at the moment, in a dreamy cottage with under floor heating in Snowdonia, a holiday destination selected after I was inspired by the landscapes we passed en route to twitching the Cretzschmar's Bunting on Bardsey. And yes, I know one is not supposed to post whilst away from home as it lets burglars know you are not there. It's OK, though, we have guard guinea pigs. And, almost as fierce, my sister-in-law house sitting.

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