The Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm Lens Meet a Huge Alaska Yukon Moose
I've just returned from 17 days of field testing in some great locations with the Canon EOS R5 (best camera ever), Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens (awesome lens), and an assortment of other gear.
A solid set of images of this huge Alaska Yukon moose was the reward for packing gear nearly three miles into the Alaska mountains. On this afternoon, the cloudy sky created soft, shoot-from-any-direction lighting, and the light rain saturated the fall-colored foliage and hemlock backdrop. I couldn't have scripted a scenario much better than this.
Working in the thick forest meant a zoom focal length was required clear obstructions while facilitating ideal framing that included, at times, a significant amount of the environment around the subject(s). The need to move and work fast meant there was no time for tripod setup. While the RF 100-500 does not have the widest aperture, its image stabilization system coordinating with the R5's in-body image stabilization meant that nearly all of my images were sharp. I came away very impressed and have been re-training my brain to shoot handheld at longer shutter speeds throughout the trip. That is when the animal was motionless.
When photographing wildlife, I usually use manual exposure mode with the aperture wide open (unless the scenario dictates otherwise) along with auto ISO. These settings enable the top dial to be quickly rolled to the minimum shutter speed required to stop any camera or subject motion (or until ISO 100 is reached) in the current shooting scenario. Often, after getting the insurance shots with a relatively fast shutter speed, I capture images at progressively longer exposures attempting to better what has already been captured. Exposure compensation was adjusted as appropriate as moose are very dark animals, encouraging the camera to overexpose the scene.
For this shoot (and for most wildlife photography), AI Servo AF was used, readying the camera for any movement the animal makes. For the moose photos, touch and drag AF was used with the small AF point selected. While this camera's animal eye AF is awesome (game-changing for most wildlife photography, including birds), the black around the moose's eye caused animal eye AF challenge enough times that I opted for the also-good alternative selection method. When I did my job correctly, nearly all images were focused correctly.
118mm f/4.5 1/500s ISO 1600
Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm Lens Capture a Chillin' Bull Moose
I can attest to the sleeping qualities of the tundra. In general, I avoid photographing wildlife from a downward angle, and unless obstructions such as tall grass are present, you will often find me photographing wildlife from a squatted or seated position. However, when the subject is lying down on the ground, it can be especially challenging to get down to their level. In this case, I was flat out, lying down on the tundra alongside this huge bull moose. With the tundra under me, I have seldom had such a comfortable shooting position — a very welcomed restful position after hiking the miles necessary to get to this location.
Shooting handheld, taking advantage of the excellent image stabilization this camera and lens provide, gave me the ability to get into unique positions very quickly on this adventure.
159mm f/5.0 1/125s ISO 320
Snow Capped Mountains at Hatcher Pass, Mat-Su Valley, Alaska
Hatcher Pass is always beautiful, but a recent snow leaving the mountains capped in white made this pass especially picturesque.
The distant mountains with craggy peaks were beautiful, and I was searching for some foreground to go with that background. At the same time, I was searching for Pikas. Pikas live in rock piles, and rock piles make great foreground subjects, so the location had the potential for a win-win combination.
While a couple of pikas were heard (they sound like a squeak toy), the rocks proved best as a foreground on this afternoon.
The 28mm focal length was selected to keep the distant mountains relatively large in the frame. While mountains surrounded this location, the mountain peaks with the most character were what I wanted to emphasize (along with the cloud formation over them). The width provided by a 15mm angle of view (that lens was in the MindShift Gear BackLight 18L) would have been filled with mountains, but the 28mm choice on the already-mounted Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens de-emphasized the already-large rock in front of me and added emphasis on the craggy mountain peak. At the same time, 28mm was not too long of a focal length to achieve sharp focus through the entire image at f/11, an aperture not greatly affected by the softening effects of diffraction.
I recently returned from an intense three weeks in Alaska and Colorado, working in the field with some great gear. As always, the trip was extremely valuable educationally, and the stack of images to be sorted through is a bit overwhelming. This picture was among the low-hanging fruit.
28mm f/11.0 1/50s ISO 100
A Beast Emerges, Massive Bull Moose, Alaska
There is something incredibly photogenic about a huge, dangerous animal emerging from dense cover. Seeing the large paddles approaching through the brush is a bucket list-grade experience.
Often, the key to wildlife photography is predicting where the animal is headed, selecting a photogenic environment along that path, and being in that place with a ready camera. Though highly simplified, that plan sometimes works, as in this case. Getting non-obstructed moose images meant finding the next opening on the moose's route.
159mm f/5.0 1/500s ISO 2500
Giant Bull Moose Environmental Portrait, Alaska
Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500 Lens Create Giant Bull Moose Environmental Portrait, Alaska When the subject is in a great environment, incorporating that environment into the portrait is usually the priority. While I love tightly-framed wildlife portraits, capturing a great environmental portrait is a more significant challenge.
Of course, with that set of antlers in the frame it is difficult to take a bad picture.
Right, the 1/200 shutter speed is a relatively long exposure for photographing close wildlife. The beast paused (he was watching a cow) long enough for me to roll the shutter speed down to this setting. With auto ISO selected in manual exposure mode, the camera then chose a very low noise ISO setting despite the dark light levels.
100mm f/4.5 1/200s ISO 500
Huge Bull Moose Appears Out of the Fog
The fog was so thick this evening that I was concerned about getting lost (at least to the point of requiring the compass), and the low visibility hindered subject locating abilities. Having this monster walk into visibility was thrilling.
Despite the capabilities of this incredible camera and lens, the tiny water droplets in the fog noticeably impacted the contrast and resolution of this image, as always.
When the fog effect is undesired, a circular polarizer filter can cut the reflections significantly, improving clarity. However, in this case, I welcomed the fog's differentiating look (and didn't want the light loss incurred by CPL filter use).
One makes the most of an opportunity such as this one. The Canon EOS R5 and ProGrade Digital 325GB CFexpress 2.0 Cobalt Memory Card combination supports holding the shutter release down as long as desired (until the card is full) in high-speed continuous shooting mode, the strategy implemented for this moment. The moose beginning to angle away was provided the logical endpoint to the burst as, at that time, I expected no better images to be made.
The animal was walking at a steady pace but not so fast that the R5's framerate couldn't capture a plethora of images. This particular image stood out as a favorite because of the overall body position. The bull is angling slightly toward the camera (when in doubt of this, use the antler base juxtaposition, minimally indicating head angle) with its legs evenly separated. The front leg lifted and showing slight motion blur illustrates motion.
The RF 100-500 proved an outstanding choice for this moose hunt.
114mm f/4.5 1/200s ISO 2500
Fun with the Canon RF 100-500mm: Are You Watching for Patterns and Textures?
Pattern and texture images usually rank among the least liked images I share. Still, I like them — and they are quite useful. Use pattern and texture images for subtle yet beautiful decor. These images are also ideal for backgrounds, including with words and other images over them. For example, this white ice scene would make holly leaves and red berries pop for a Christmas theme.
While hiking up a mountain toward a rockslide to find pikas, I discovered a small iced-over pool of water (welcome to the first day of fall in Alaska). The consistent pattern of ice crystals immediately caught my attention. The friends with me were not interested in interrupting the pika chase for ice crystals, but this ice pattern was one of those photo opportunities I knew I would later regret passing up. So, I quickly captured some handheld images.
With a flat, 2-dimensional subject, any focal length would produce a similar result if the same composition was included, and the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens provides an extensive range to choose from. In this case, the widest available focal length was the easiest to work with, including the easiest to hold steady.
While the creatively blurred ice crystals option was available, keeping everything in focus seemed optimal at the time. With a relatively close subject and a telephoto focal length, the depth of field was limited. Especially since I was working quickly, f/11 seemed the best aperture, providing enough depth of field to forgive any misalignment over the flat surface without going too far deep into the softening effects of diffraction.
The longer I shot, the more I liked what I was shooting. So, I continued to shoot additional images, overshooting to ensure the ideal alignment and pattern was captured in sharp resolution – without motion blur.
After many minutes of this perfection attempt, I hurried to catch up with the others. While I did not have the regret of passing up an opportunity, my first thought in the field was that I regretted not taking the few minutes to set up the RRS TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head that were in the MindShift Gear BackLight 18L. Doing so would have made the alignment easier and would have ensured steadiness.
Fortunately, that concern was needless.
The f/11 aperture at ISO 100 meant that a 1/60 shutter speed was required to push the histogram to the right side of the chart area (white ice is a bright subject). Impressively, the R5 and RF 100-500 combination produced 100% sharp handheld shots in this scenario, despite the somewhat awkward straight down shooting position and unstable footing. Perhaps more impressive is that I managed to sufficiently square the camera over the ice (within the f/11 depth of field) for every shot.
100mm f/11.0 1/60s ISO 100
Canon RF 100-500mm Lens Captures Cow Moose with Big Bull in Rut
When multiple animals are in the frame, the composition challenge increases considerably, and the juxtaposition becomes critical to a good image.
Spending enough time in the right remote places aids in that good juxtaposition happening.
This day brought a blue sky background scenario. The camera's exposure was set to push the blue channel barely against the right edge of the histogram, retaining the brightest blue details.
During post-processing, I wanted the animals to be brighter than the original exposure provided. Therefore, taking advantage of the Canon EOS R5's exposure latitude, the same RAW file was processed at the initial exposure and again at brighter settings.
The two files were layered in Photoshop with a layer mask separating the animals and ground from the sky. The sky adjustment contained in a masked layer permits full control of the sky brightness in the final image. The result shared here has just enough blue dialed in to not be white.
The RF 100-500 has proven an outstanding choice for run and gun wildlife photography.
100mm f/11.0 1/400s ISO 1000
Camouflaged Willow Ptarmigan in Alaska
We were at the gold mine to photograph picas, but the picas were not especially cooperative. However, a willow ptarmigan, a far less common subject for me, came by to show off his incredible camouflage, posing for a few photos.
500mm f/7.1 1/400s ISO 320
How to Expose a Silhouette, Bull Moose, Alaska
Most often, a wildlife silhouette opportunity comes unexpectantly and is fleeting.
Because the sky is typically very bright relative to the subject, the camera's meter usually selects silhouette exposure settings that lead to underexposed images, and correcting the underexposed images during post-processing yields increased noise.
To quickly acquire the right camera settings this opportunity, rules are ideal. For example, with a blue sky in the background, instruct the camera to create exposures X number of stops higher than it thinks is necessary.
Unfortunately, too many rules are needed to accommodate all scenarios. The primary reason that auto exposure + EV rules do not work is that the percentage of the frame filled with the subject and foreground changes dramatically, possibly during the same opportunity if varying exposures with a zoom lens. Also affecting the exposure rule is the sky color, ranging from bright white to deep blue or even the darkness of storm clouds.
While spot metering on the focus point can result in a more stable exposure basis for rules to work from, even animal color varies. For example, black bears are considerably darker than mule deer.
Mirrorless cameras with electronic viewfinders programmed to show the actual image brightness make establishing the ideal silhouette exposure settings considerably faster and easier than doing the same with a DSLR. While I often have the EVF histogram turned off due to interference with my brain's compositional abilities, that tool clearly shows the selected exposure, especially the bright side's available dynamic range. Even without the histogram enabled, the brightness can be discerned by looking at the brightest areas on the EVF.
What is the ideal silhouette exposure? That answer depends on the final look desired. If the animal and foreground are to be pure black, expose the sky to the preferred brightness. If a high key look is desired, expose for a normal animal brightness, letting the sky become blown — pure white and blinking on the LCD.
To gain the most post-processing latitude or if you don't want to decide what the final image should look like while frantically trying to capture the momentary opportunity, use the expose to the right strategy. Create an exposure that pushes the histogram graph lines to the right edge of the chart. There will likely be some small areas of the image showing over-exposed blinkies during image review, but not large areas of blinkies indicating loss of detail. The goal is to retain detail in the highlights while capturing as much detail as possible in the shadows.
If photographing landscape, an HDR technique would be implemented for this scenario. Unfortunately, animals tend to move before the multiple exposures can be recorded. If your animal is motionless and your camera is locked down on a tripod, bracketing exposures is a great option.
The expose to the right option was chosen for this bull moose image capture. The sky is bright but still blue. Using Photoshop, the moose was selected and brightened slightly.
270mm f/5.6 1/200s ISO 800