Canon EOS R and a Maui Sunset
An evening sail was part of the Canon Hawaii 2018 announcement event and I saw a great sunset in the making as the boat was coming ashore, returning to the beach in Lahaina. I hurried down the ladder and ran across the beach to find a clear composition. With a Canon EOS R and Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens in hand, the rest was easy.
Photographing the ocean (usually) is a type of action photography as the scene is constantly changing. Water reflects and smooth water provides the best definition of whatever is being reflected. Although they nicely reflect sky color in general, most oceans I've visited are far from smooth. However, the thin layer of water remaining on the sand immediately after a wave recedes is often quite smooth and can provide some definition of the colorful clouds, the subject most often desired to be reflected. Consider timing the capture of some of your beach images for this wave position.
Another beach photography consideration is what the leading edge of the waterline looks like. I like the frothy white roll clearly delineating the sand and water as seen in this image, but other options can also work well.
I always find a great sunset to be photographically irresistible. Islands often have very long distance views of the setting (or rising) sun, making them ideal locations for watching this time of the day through a viewfinder.
24mm f/11.0 1/250s ISO 400
Twin Falls, Road to Hana, Maui
I signed up for an east Maui rainforest waterfall hike and knew that the path could be wet and muddy. What I didn't know was that, thanks to a just-previous hurricane, "wet" meant I would be fording swift rain-swollen streams up to waist-deep with the MindShift Gear Trailscape 18L camera backpack being held overhead. That certainly upped the hike's entertainment value (and provided a new understanding of how well Gore-Tex trail-running shoes hold water).
Having both stories and images always makes an adventure better.
The Canon EOS R and Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens were used to capture this idyllic Hawaiian rainforest waterfall. Aiding was a Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer filter, cutting reflections and increasing saturation. These filters are nearly a requirement for waterfall photography. An f/8 aperture would have provided adequate depth of field for this 29mm image, but the narrower f/11 opening permitted a longer exposure, creating a more strongly motion-blurred waterfall.
29mm f/11.0 1.3s ISO 100
Is the Canon EOS R a Good Sports and Action Camera?
There are a few features that make a camera especially well-suited for capturing sports and other challenging action.
A fast frame rate is one such feature. A camera that can capture images in rapid succession is more likely to capture the perfect subject position than a camera that captures images at low frequency. For this feature, the EOS R has a relatively fast frame rate, but only when not tracking and adjusting the focus distance. Not all action involves changing focus distances (such as the wave crashing example in the Canon EOS R review), but if your subject is moving enough to leave the camera's initially-focused depth of field, as is typical for many sports, continuous focusing is required and in that focus mode, the EOS R's 5 fps frame rate is on the slow side of the spectrum.
Another feature required for photographing subjects in motion is maintaining a continuous view of that subject in the viewfinder. Optical viewfinders have a short blackout period for each image captured (while the mirror is raised) and cameras with short blackout specs are more-highly desired than those with long ones. Electronic viewfinders, with few exceptions, have a pause in the EVF video feed as each image is captured and the duration of this pause can hinder a photographer from keeping a subject properly framed. This pause is only a minor issue for subjects moving directly toward or away from the camera, but keeping subjects properly-framed as they are moving from side-to-side or moving erratically becomes a challenge with most EVFs, including the EOS R's.
If the subject focusing distance is changing, especially if it is changing rapidly, autofocus tracking and prediction performance becomes critically important. If the subject is out of focus, the image, regardless of the frame rate it was captured at, is likely going to be deleted.
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens and its just-introduced replacement, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens are ultra-popular sports lenses and I mounted one on the EOS R to photograph a cross country meet with. While this lens is not going to create the focus challenge that, for example, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens will when compared at the same distance, focusing on a very close and fast-approaching runner at 200mm f/2.8 is quite challenging to an AF system. I thought the EOS R did a great job on this cloudy day that included some light rain earlier in the meet. A high percentage of my images were sharp (when I kept the subject properly framed).
Note that, while the image shared here appears very sharp at this resolution, my 1/1250 shutter speed was not quite fast enough to stop the lateral motion at this distance. Though the image is properly focused, the motion blur degraded image sharpness slightly at full resolution. I was starting a burst capture when the subjects came close to being ideally framed and continued to photograph until they passed by.
Another feature that is often helpful for action photography is the ability to sustain the frame rate for a large number of images. The EOS R's buffer depth, when using a fast memory card, is very good, allowing a relatively long period of action to be captured. While usually not as desirable as a fast frame rate, a large buffer can increase the number of great shots captured in a burst and I can credit the image shared here to that feature.
For those using the shutter release to time their captures or to time the first capture in a high speed frame rate sequence, a short shutter lag is important. The EOS R checks that box and the fast AF makes timing single shots quite successful.
Overall, the EOS R is lacking a few key features to make it the ideal sports and action camera. It is not that camera, but it can certainly do that job if needed. I don't recommend purchasing an EOS R for dedicated sports and action photography, but the EOS R stands ready to fill in for the occasional action needs it encounters. Of course, if your action is not leaving the established depth of field, the EOS R can do 8 frames per second and that rate is quite fast, making it suitable for such needs.
200mm f/2.8 1/1250s ISO 250
Canon EOS R, Maroon Bells and Brilliant Aspens
I was in Aspen, Colorado for two nights and the primary goal was to capture another set of classic Maroon Bells lake reflection images that included the amazing fall aspen color. After arriving at the hotel late in the evening on the first night, I set the alarm for 2:40 AM and went to bed. Probably no one thinks getting up at 2:40 AM is fun and ... that I was dragging my wife and youngest daughter with me ... raised questions about my sanity. Still, this is one of the most beautiful locations in the country and I calculated that it was going to be worth the sleep deprivation (and potential grief from the family) to get the perfect position along Maroon Lake.
Upon stepping outside, the heavy cloud cover was obvious and occasional light rain followed us. Landscape photographers live for the openings in breaking storm clouds and I stayed with the plan. I was one of the first photographers to arrive at the side of the lake, but I immediately encountered disruption of the plan. The first issue was that a rope now lines the path around the lake, preventing close access to the water. The second issue was that the lake level was extremely low. The restricted access and now-distant, very shallow lake combined to provide a dirt/stone former lake bottom as the image foreground and the lake was now small enough that the reflections were rather unexciting at the proximity available. In addition, the aspen leaves had changed (and many dropped) about a week early this year, courtesy of the drought that also accounted for the drained lake.
I continued to stay with the plan, remaining standing in my spot, alongside a large number of other photographers, from about 3:30 AM until close to 9:00 AM, waiting for a break in the clouds. That never happened and I finally decided that a decent photo was not likely to happen. The hike I promised the girls was looking like a great option and that became the plan.
After all of the early AM effort, the best scene of the day showed up in front of us while hiking near the far side of the lake. An opening in the clouds allowed sunlight to penetrate, brightly lighting a grove of aspens that were still holding their brilliantly-colored leaves. The key to getting my favorite Maroon Bells image on this trip was just being out in a great location, watching for something good to happen.
The Canon EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens were perfect hiking companions.
65mm f/8.0 1/100s ISO 100
Giving the Canon EOS R's Eye AF a Workout
After a casual portrait session with the R and the RF 50mm f/1.2L Lens I thought I'd share a quick update on the Canon EOS R's Eye AF performance.
This indoor, ambient window light session netted 157 images. Of these images, 10 were 2/3 body portraits, 82 included head and shoulders (or were framed slightly wider) and 64 were headshots with a significant number of those being close to minimum focus distance. All images were captured at f/1.2 for the shallowest, most-AF-challenging depth of field possible and eye detection AF was exclusively in use.
Of the 157 images, ten were focused on eyelashes (usually acceptable, mostly close to the iris), two were focused a similarly-short distance behind the iris and only two images misfocused beyond iris-to-eyelash distance. The other 143 were optimally focused on the iris.
That the camera was being handheld with me in a somewhat squatted position and the subject standing (sometimes leaning against a wall) meant that our movement could easily have caused any of the less-than-perfect results. I remain very pleased with the EOS R's portrait AF capabilities and the RF 50mm f/1.2L is a very impressive lens, perfect for portraits.
50mm f/1.2 1/400s ISO 200
Monarch Butterfly and Chrysalis
After spending over a decade trying to establish milkweed plants on our property (what monarch caterpillars eat), healthy plants finally emerged a couple of years ago – in the flower beds next to our house, not close to where we were trying to grow them. While most "weeds" are not welcome in the flower beds, we embraced what we got and allowed them to prosper in place.
This year, milkweed plants started growing randomly throughout the yard, though frequent lawn mowing kept their visibility near nothing. After an especially long period of rain, the yard crop started showing leaves and my observant daughter spotted a monarch laying eggs on them. Prior to the next lawn cutting, she and my wife removed over 40 eggs from the rogue plants.
Most of the eggs were transferred to the being-tolerated flower bed plants and several were raised indoors, which produces perfect specimens for photographic purposes. The ideal time to photograph butterflies is just after they emerge as their wings are in perfect condition and they remain mostly still for a couple of hours. Knowing when that time is coming involves observing the monarch chrysalis color. Newly-formed chrysalises are bright green in color, but they turn very dark just prior to emergence of the butterfly stage.
I saw this opportunity coming and had some gear ready. When your camera is an EOS model with a hot shoe, the set of lighting accessories available, both Canon brand and third party options, is vast. For this image, I used a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash for a very even light on the subject. With the dual MR-14EX flash tubes configured for equal power, this flash creates a flat light, often void of shadows. When the subject is as vibrantly-colored as this one, flat lighting works quite well.
The background is a piece of orange paper (I tried a variety of colors) being held with a Delta 1 Grip-It Single Arm with 1" Clamp (extremely useful accessory) and lit with a remotely-controlled Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Flash. Alternatively, I could have used a white paper and gelled the flash to create the desired color.
The background light being positioned behind the foreground light meant that it did not influence the lighting on the subject and the background being far enough behind the foreground meant that the foreground light did not influence the background brightness.
While I didn't expect the Canon EOS R to have any trouble with Canon's Speedlite system (other EOS models don't), it is always nice to have reassurance, especially for a new camera line. Or, maybe this test was just the excuse I needed to spend a couple of hours photographing the monarch.
At macro focus distances, depth of field becomes very shallow. One of the keys to capturing this image was to align the camera so that the wing was perfectly parallel to the imaging sensor, perpendicular to the center of the lens' image circle. Still, f/16 was needed to obtain the depth of field necessary to keep almost the entire butterfly sharp.
100mm f/16.0 1/200s ISO 100
Canon EOS R, RF 50 f/1.2L and a Model on the Rocks
I have to wonder what a model thinks when the assignment to wear a parachute dress at Dragon's Teeth (Kapalua, Maui, HI) comes in. "I get to wear an enormous dress designed to blow in the wind while standing barefoot on sharp rocks in extreme wind next to an ocean with occasional rogue waves that send salt water spray over everything nearby for an entire very hot, sunny day!" Pick me! Pick me! [Finding Nemo]
This model obviously accepted Canon's request and she managed the assignment very professionally. Parachutes are designed to ease the landing, but in this case, the parachute was more likely to cause a liftoff (followed by a perilous landing). I would have been more comfortable if she had a crash pad beside her, but she stayed on her feet through even the strongest wind gusts.
A 50mm lens does not create the extreme background blur that long telephoto lenses can create, but the 50mm angle of view allows a closer camera position that provides a more intimate look while the f/1.2 aperture still provides a strong background blur that makes the subject stand out. The look is unique in a very positive way.
The extremely wide f/1.2 aperture allows handholding in very low light levels but with a white dress in the sun, even a 1/8000 shutter speed is not always fast enough to avoid blown highlights at f/1.2 and ISO 100. In direct sunlight, a neutral density filter or, as used in this example, a circular polarizer filter on the lens.
When water is on the horizon, I usually want the image framed with the horizon level. Electronic viewfinder levels have greatly improved my original captures in this regard, but with the wind and unstable footing, I still managed to get a small degree of tilt that needed to be corrected in this image.
An ultra-wide aperture lens is generally selected to make use of those ultra-wide apertures. Often, especially with 50mm ultra-wide aperture lenses, the image quality at the widest apertures is not good and often describable as "dreamy". While dreamy can be nice on occasion, it is not usually what I am going for. With this lens, f/1.2 results are very sharp, showing good resolution and contrast. I have not hesitated to use this lens wide open and ... haven't stopped it down very often. The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens is a compelling reason to get a Canon EOS R camera.
50mm f/1.2 1/8000s ISO 100
Curved Aspen Trees of Ophir, Colorado
Upon locating these intriguingly-curved aspen trees in the San Juan Mountains near Ophir, CO (south of Telluride), I had hours of entertainment before me. Aspen tree trunks are beautiful and their fall leaf color is amazing. With the numerous curving trunk shapes (likely caused by an avalanche when the trees were younger), there were seemingly endless angles and perspectives to use for images here. Helping was that the lighting/weather was constantly changing, ranging from snowing to sun shining bright enough to create shadows with subsequent images appearing different without even moving the camera. It was perfect.
I have many hundreds of images to choose from (I'll likely share more). Many of them were captured with a wide angle zoom lens, but this particular perspective seemed ideal for 50mm and I happened to have the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens in the MindShift Gear FirstLight 30L backpack I was carrying. I originally thought this image was captured with that lens, but ... this happened to be the last image taken with the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens prior to mounting the RF 50.
Using a "standard" or "normal" focal length makes keeping both very close and very distant subjects in sharp focus a challenge, even at f/16. For this image, I focused on the foreground trees for one frame and on the background trees for a second frame. For a simple focus stacking technique, I loaded the two images as layers in Photoshop and used a layer mask to determine which image the foreground trees were showing from.
50mm f/16.0 1/5s ISO 100
The Merry Christmas Story for 2018
Putting up the Christmas tree is a highly-anticipated annual event at our house. We visit a local tree farm, driving up into the hills to select the perfect tree. The off-road 4x4 driving with the family might be my favorite part of the entire process. That, and causing the girls to complain about the trees I suggest. They think we need the tallest tree available, although I'm not fond of driving home with an enormous tree across the back of the SUV (on a Hitch Haul), usually with the trunk barely clearing the guard rail while the top is hovering above the road's center line on the other side.
I "get" to put the finally-agreed-upon tree in the stand (twice this year – it ran out of water and needed to have the stump cut off again to eliminate the sap seal) and try to keep it upright for the season (we understand firsthand that a fully decorated tree falling over is traumatic, at least to young kids). Oh, and I also "get" to string the lights, regardless of the height. Photographing the Christmas tree is the last job and one of my favorites. Who can resist capturing all of those sparkling lights?
While I photograph the result of a lot of work every year, I don't remember if I've ever used the same lens more than once for this task. There always seems to be a new one on hand that would work great for the task. This year, the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens on a Canon EOS R seemed like a perfect option.
Deciding on a composition is always an early decision for this task and this year I opted for a straight-on view from a level camera position. I wanted the windows to remain vertically straight and any camera tilt would create converging or angled lines. I determined that the timing for this photo should be during the blue hour so that a touch of color would show through the windows. With windows in the frame, reflections had to be controlled and in this case that meant that I needed a dark house. So, an afternoon when the girls were going Christmas shopping seemed ideal. That way, the have the house would be empty with no one's interests being hindered (i.e. a relaxed shoot). The exposure would not have to be timed for when no one was walking on the floor, creating vibrations for both the camera and the hanging ornaments. And, no one would care that the lights were off.
After sitting at my desk all day, I needed to get some exercise, ideally in the form of a trail run, before it was dark. A late start on that task meant that an increased pace was necessary. Despite a blown out sock along the way (requiring a stop and reversal to prevent a hot spot from becoming a blister), I still managed to complete my tough 3k course in near record (for me) pace. Phew. there was just enough time to cleanse the scene and set up the camera prior to the ideal shooting time.
Experience taught that when the outdoor ambient light was ideally balanced with the indoor light, an ISO 100 exposure of 30 seconds at f/16 would be ideal. Why f/16? Do you see the stars on the candles sitting on the windows? Every light on the tree also has a similar-but-smaller star. You need a narrow aperture to make those happen. Also note that a wide max aperture lens often creates the biggest stars and the RF 28-70's stars are awesome.
While f/22 will create even larger stars, the strong softness caused by diffraction at this setting is hard to accept. While some diffraction effects are visible at f/16, this seems to be an optimal choice for balance between star size and sharpness. Using a +1 sharpness setting is a good compromise for using f/16 over the sharper f/11 setting. Nice is that the deep f/16 depth of field makes it easy to keep everything in the image sharp.
Scene prep involved moving a couple of items (couch, ottoman, ...) out of the way and smoothing the carpet. As I began setting up the camera, my oldest daughter called (from the shopping excursion) to ask questions about a Christmas gift she was putting together for her husband. I of course wanted to help her, but ... the light was fading (so much for the relaxed shoot). Her questions were answered just in time to finalize the setup and begin shooting. It is difficult to visualize when the perfect blue hour light balance is achieved, so I usually opt to shoot through the period of time that contains the ideal balance. Then, during post processing, there is again a struggle to decide which time was best because subsequent images appear quite similar.
When there was no more blue left in the windows, I knew that additional images were not going to look any different than those already captured (without choosing a new perspective) and I went to find warmer clothes (there had been no time to change out of my running clothes prior to the shoot).
Amazingly, the girls opted for a tree that I selected this year! They did a great job decorating the tree (as always) and they like the results of my final job, the formal tree picture. That is ... my final job until I get to clean up the results of the Christmas morning package destruction (and later take the tree out).
That is probably more than you wanted to know about this Christmas tree, but ... from my family to yours, we wish you a very warm Merry Christmas! And, I wish you many memory cards full of memories from the day!
28mm f/16.0 30s ISO 100
The Clouds Have Rolled Away and the Sun is Risen
It was an early morning in Crested Butte, Colorado and the sky was dark, heavily overcast and quite uninspiring. Then the clouds rolled away and suddenly there was bright light bringing life to the fall-colored aspens.
I was primarily shooting with the Canon EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens this morning. As there was adequate light, shooting this combination handheld permitted rapid and significant location and composition changes as dictated by the rapidly changing light.
58mm f/8.0 1/100s ISO 100
Maui Tiki Torch with a Sunset Background
While it is always great to photograph a beautiful sunset, better is to find a way to create sunset images that are different from the hordes of others in my archives. A silhouette often makes a good sunset image differentiator, adding a little something to the image, and in this case, a tiki torch hints at the location the image was captured at.
Note that sunsets do not always have to be in focus. To mix things up a bit, I decided that I wanted the tiki torch and its flame to be sharp with the background going out of focus. Thus, a wide aperture was selected. The wide aperture had the secondary purpose of enabling a flame-freezing shutter speed.
The composition decisions for this image were made primarily for overall balance in the frame. The tiki torch is dark and heavy, so placing it near the center was helpful for balance. I wanted the torch flame in the frame along with the other flame, the sun, along and the color surrounding it was another subject of primary interest. With the latter seeming stronger than the prior, moving the tiki torch slightly to the right seemed to make sense. Keeping the perimeter of the frame clear of lines often helps keep the viewer's eye in the frame.
As the flame was changing rapidly, I captured a burst of images and later selected the flame shapes I liked best.
The Canon EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens are a perfect walkaround combination. The camera and lens used to capture this image were on loan, but I eventually added this pair to my personal kit.
88mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 100
The Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens Rocked at the Concert
Credentialed access to a 4 hour concert in a 15,000-seat indoor stadium seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the Canon EOS R and Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens a workout while the mostly high-energy performers also got a workout.
When photographing low light action, one historically had to choose between a moderately wide aperture (f/2.8) in a zoom lens and an ultra-wide aperture (f/1.4 for example) in a prime lens. With the RF 28-70, you can have both a wide aperture and a zoom focal length range. While some prime lenses still have the wide aperture advantage, the RF 28-70 f/2 L lens bridges the divide and, especially from an image quality perspective, is an outstanding option for low light needs including concert photography.
The spot lights happened to be on the singer (Ledger) in this image, allowing a very clean ISO 800 with a shutter speed adequate to stop most of the motion at f/2. Other images were captured at ISO settings as high as 6400 where the 1-stop advantage this zoom lens has over most other zooms makes a considerably bigger difference in image quality.
At concerts, the location of the action is often unpredictable and changing fast and that means focal length changes are required, ideally fitting for a zoom lens. Yes, some prime lenses could have given me another 1-stop lower ISO setting, but I would have minimally needed multiple cameras to cover the same range and often the performers were moving so fast that the shot would have been long gone by the time the cameras were swapped. Shooting wider and cropping later is an option, but lower resolution images are the result.
Also great for fast moving subjects was the R's touch and drag AF. With the left hand adjusting the focal length and the right thumb moving the focus point as needed for ideal framing, the EOS R was an ideal choice.
Every shoot teaches new lessons and here are a few concert photography tips from that night.
First, if photographing with a media pass, know without a doubt which gate you are supposed to enter through and be ready to politely ask for a additional opinions when the first person(s) thinks they know the different gate you are required to enter through. This saves walking half way around a stadium to the shipping and receiving area and waiting for a security guard to make a series of phone calls to figure out what you already knew and send you back to the other side of the stadium. If opting to ignore this advice, strongly consider arriving at least 1 hour early.
Also if photographing with a media pass, make sure that you have a signed copy of that pass (minimally on your phone) with you because the media reps for some reason may not have your name on the list. If offered a label with your name handwritten on it, request a lanyard because your camera strap is going to peel the label off within 10 minutes of your arrival, leaving you without the pass. Minimally attach the label to something that avoids the peel-off risk.
While your media pass may specify where you are supposed to photograph from, the media pass may not have been updated since the 360° stage was implemented. The specified locations may not exist and those working the show may have no clue about the topic or even how to get to the floor from the entrance level. Arrive early enough that if the instructions do not align with reality there is time to figure out where you are permitted to go without negatively impacting the show (it is probably not being performed for you).
Oh, if the tour is promoting a 360° stage, just get a ticket and leave the camera at home. Within seconds, the performer can be a basketball court distance away and even two cameras with complementing zoom lenses are not adequate. Compounding the problem is that you will have backs toward you for at least 270° of the stage.
I'll add these notes to the concert photography tips page.
28mm f/2.0 1/500s ISO 800