5DSr for Eagles

5DSr Eagles and Fish

November, 2015 was a pretty good year for Eagles at Conowingo Dam.  Not that every day was good, but when it was good, it was fantastic.  November and December are the months for eagles at Conowingo and this was the first year for my new, 51 megapixel, full frame, Canon 5DSr.  I was not disappointed.  What a great camera.  I have probably 100+ more eagle shots from this year and I will post them later in the year.

See my other blog pieces for more Eagles:

5DSr Is Everything

This camera does it all.  Super detail for hyper-nerds, beautiful colors with a great metering system, and finally, a fantastic focusing system that tracks birds!  No, the shutter is not super-fast like Canon’s top pro camera the 1DX series, but it is fast enough.  I wish it had better high ISO performance with less noise, but you can’t have everything.  For now, this camera is great.

I shot these eagles with my Canon 500mm L f/4.0 IS lens with the Canon EF 1.4x II extender (teleconverter) thus giving 700mm.  This is just about right for shooting birds, but you still will be cropping deeply as even an eagle is a small part of the resulting photo and you will have to crop it down.  When you do crop, all kinds of noise, fuzz, and imperfections appear.  So when you read blogs that tell you a new camera can be pushed to super high ISOs, well, they are just wrong if you are going to crop.  You still have to be conservative and shoot at lower ISOs.

The new 5DSr gives me the following advantages over my pretty-darn-good 5D Mk II:

  • Shooting at 500 ISO is fine as in these shots here (360 for my 5D MII) , and maybe I can go to 800 for shots at dusk
  • Focusing is fast and accurate and is pretty good at picking out an eagle from the background
  • There is just less processing required in LightRoom to get a photo just right

My camera settings for most of these shots:

  • Mode: Manual (yes sir, REAL MAN mode actually pronounced MAN ya’ all)
  • ISO: 500
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/2500
  • AI Servo Tracking: Case 2 (a slower mode that won’t jump focus and lose the bird)
  • AF Point Selection: Zone AF (center group only to keep the system from grabbing the background)

Now I was never happy with the 1.4x teleconverter as I thought it fuzzed up my shots and slowed my focus down, especially when cropping as you need to do when you shoot birds, but for some reason, I get better quality and focus speed with this new 5DSr body.  I don’t know why, but I do.

Case2Regarding Case 2 for tracking….. you would think that shooting bird in flight, you want a super-fast focusing system that just grabs the bird in milliseconds.  Well you really don’t.  For one thing, it is virtually impossible to put a bird into the center of your frame and hold him there as he flies around.  If you take the focus points off of the bird, a fast focus camera will jump and focus on the background and wreck all your shots.   So a slower system, actually one that is fast to focus but slow to react, is the better system and the 5DSr has many options to tune the system.  Canon’s Case 2 is set up perfectly for Eagle tracking.  Case 1 is pretty lousy as it is too fast and jittery.

FpointsI use the center focus point group, Zone AF, with Case 2.  If you use the broader focus points, the system will almost always grab the background and not the bird.  By using the center points only, I can swing the camera around, and when I get the bird in the center of the frame, I press the shutter half way and hold it there…. zap… it focuses on the bird.  Now I track the bird in the viewfinder as best I can, which is not so good and the center points will move from the bird…. but Case 2 makes the system slow to react so I can get the bird back on center and the computer keeps it there.   You still need a ton of practice and some luck, but I do love this camera as I just get more and better shots with it.

Eagle in Tree

For that Eagle eating that fish… well he scoops one up from the river and flies right over my head into the tree next to me!  Wow!  He is too close and I can’t get him into frame with 700mm magnification.  I throw my arm around my equipment and move back, plant it, snap some shots and then he flies away.  You have to act fast if you want these shots.  To act fast, you need practice and no camera will do this for you.

The Equipment:

  • Canon 5DSr
  • Canon 500mm L f/4.0 IS
  • Canon EF 1.4x II extender (teleconverter)
  • Gitzo 3530LS carbon fiber tripod
  • Wimberley II gimbal head
  • LightRoom 6
  • Lotsa luck

Location Types: Conowingo Dam. Galleries: Eagle. Tags: 500mm, 5DSr, and teleconverter.

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