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
Sunrise behind the Alaska Range, Denali National Park
With a very early alarm in the past and the road lottery ticket on the windshield, a friend and I drove the lead vehicle deep into Denali National Park this morning. We were focused on photographing the Denali peak at first light, but with color in the sky and fog in the foreground, I couldn't resist pausing for a few moments to capture this image.
This scene is one of the many reasons the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens is part of my standard landscape kit. With the mentioned goal remaining a high priority, this was a jump out of the car, sit, shoot, and jump back in the car scenario. With no time for tripod setup, the Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500 combination IS was counted on to make the shot sharp, and it did.
When driving by a scene that calls for a photo, I often regret not heeding that call. The captured image is usually worth far more than the very little time and effort the stop typically requires. This was one of the latter cases. Within three minutes of stopping, we were back on the road.
118mm f/8.0 1/25s ISO 200
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
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
Elk Bugling in the Smoke, Rocky Mountain National Park
I love a challenge, and photographing outdoors often presents many challenges. When planning my Rocky Mountain National Park trip, I considered many factors for the timing. Smoke was not one of them.
Smoke filling the air was troublesome overall, but this scenario illustrated making the most of a unique situation. The decreased air clarity meant that contrast decreased rapidly with distance, creating distinct layers of mountains.
I love a tight portrait of a beautiful animal, but it is often more challenging to include that animal in a beautiful landscape. Environmental wildlife images require the photographer to think like a landscape photographer – and a portrait photographer.
Sony camera owners should consider the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens for this purpose. While the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens is a great wildlife lens and has a long end advantage, I sometimes find 200mm to not be wide enough for this type of imagery. That said, this range would have worked great for this photo.
300mm f/8.0 1/500s ISO 125
The Canon EOS R5 Takes on Extreme Dynamic Range During Intense Denali NP Sunset
Direct sun on snow delivers an extremely bright subject. Evergreen trees in the shade are an extremely dark subject. This scene provided both.
While an overhead sun is a bit brighter than a setting sun, this a very intense sunset scene. Bracketing exposures for potential HDR use is the safe way to photograph such a scene, but I was shooting handheld with the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens and relied on the Canon EOS R5's capabilities to capture all of the brightness levels in this scene in a single exposure.
When photographing landscape at sunrise and sunset, the red channel is usually the one to watch. The light is strongly warm-toned, and the directly lit portion of the scene will push the red channel high on the histogram.
In Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP), this image's exposure was reduced by 1 stop, bringing the red channel in the brightest pixels to at or just below 255, with detail remaining in this channel. The foreground was then processed at a brighter setting and combined in Photoshop.
The setting sun hitting the tops of the Alaska Range and the clouds whisping over it in Denali National Park was breathtaking. Or, maybe I was just holding my breath too much while shooting furiously.
223mm f/8.0 1/40s ISO 200
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
Run and Gun with the Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500, Incoming Bull Moose, Alaska
A large bull moose is a good animal to run out of the path of.
This image is brought to your by the R5's incredible AF system paired with the versatile RF 100-500's outstanding image quality. This camera and lens combination is perfect for the quick catch-the-shot and get-out-of-the-way moments.
200mm f/5.0 1/500s ISO 200
A Gnarly Mountain Sunset Silhouette in Badlands National Park
You don't leave when the sun sets, do you? Usually, the best show is yet to come when the fiery ball goes below the horizon.
With primarily flat ground outside of Badlands National Park, the sun is not blocked by tall nearby mountains when the sun is at a low angle. This scenario bodes extremely well for sunrise and sunset sky color, creating an above-average percentage of great opportunities, especially during the storm season.
Sunrises and sunsets can be seen nearly anywhere, and they are often beautiful — highly photogenic. But, having a great foreground can give sunrise and sunset images an additional positive element, and when you are somewhere special, make your images show that place.
My least favorite foreground element is a power line. My most favorite foreground element is a glassy reflective lake or pond. However, a mountain with character ranks just behind that favorite. So when it became apparent that the skies would light up after sundown this evening, I headed for such a mountain.
Upon arrival on the scene, the first task was to set up a Canon EOS R5 with an RF 15-35 mounted with an also interesting close foreground. With exposure duration bracketing established for later HDR compositing, getting the time of day bracketed was the remaining key for this camera's capture. Pressing the shutter release frequently (using the 2-second self-timer) took care of the latter goal.
As this scene's primary intrigue seemed to be the incredible sunset color fronted by the gnarly character of the Badlands mountain, a panorama capture was calling me. The Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens mounted on another R5 was the perfect option.
The first task was to establish a manual exposure. The scene brightness varied significantly throughout the proposed pano, promising a range of auto exposures that would increase the stitching challenge later. This manual exposure was established by pushing the red channel, much brighter than the green or blue, against the right side of the histogram.
After autofocusing on the mountains (I depend on the R5's excellent AF accuracy), the AF/MF switch was moved into the MF position. Having all images focused at the exact same distance eliminates any focus breathing issues for panorama stitching.
The image captures ensued. The camera was rotated from left to right, capturing vertically orientated images with at least 1/3 scene overlap between frames (more like 50% overlap, which was overkill). The frames were captured in quick succession to reduce cloud movement and sky brightness change between the frames. The viewfinder grid was used to keep the images vertically aligned. Upon pressing the shutter release, the height of the horizontal grid line was noted against the background and maintained as the camera was panned.
When quickly capturing frames handheld, it is easy to rush the shots and end up with blurry images. Ensure that the camera is still for each gentle press of the shutter release (with a slight lag to the release of the press — a follow-through of sorts) to ensure sharp images. A tripod works best for this task, but that support was under the RF 15-35 mentioned above, and there was not enough capacity to bring two tripods on this trip (my preference). The RF 100-500 and R5 coordinated IS were not stressed by the 1/100 second shutter speed and delivered a 100% sharp image rate.
I mentioned that the exposure was established to protect the red channel. That exposure provided a dark foreground. While the foreground needed to stay dark for a natural balance, making foreground details slightly visible seemed a good idea. Taking advantage of the R5's dynamic range, the original frames were processed brighter. Note that the brighter foreground is much easier to see in a larger version and with a darker background.
Photoshop's Photomerge feature with "Reposition" selected created the pano from 16 source images. Unfortunately, that PS feature created a slightly different resulting image from the brighter-processed source files than from the darker ones. Creating 16 HDR images to use for the stitching source seemed too much work (and likely prone to additional differences), so the foreground pano was manually position-adjusted where it did not properly align. A small area of the sky was processed slightly darker and blended into position. The final images measure over 300 megapixels. For improved display on devices, the image was cropped on the right side, with a sense of balance used to establish where the right side should be.
100mm f/5.6 1/100s ISO 100
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
Put a Sky Behind It, Bull Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
When you get a good but fleeting photo opportunity, you shoot continuously, capturing as many images as possible in the time allotted. When your gear (and you) are performing well, even a small window of shooting time can create a challenging selection project later. Probably no one wants to see 100 images of the same scenario, so at some point, you have to pick one (or a few) to call the best.
That was the case in the results from this morning shoot, thanks to a lone bull meandering to the top of a grassy ridge as the sun rose behind a solitary tree. I think lone trees with character are interesting subjects. So often, a significant portion of a composition is background, and the sky often makes a great background, especially for lone trees and especially at sunrise or sunset.
Having a bull elk to go along with the sunrise silhouetted tree took the point score up a few levels. The problem (a good problem) was that selecting an individual image from this encounter was a challenge.
Why did I select this one?
Overall, it seemed that the composition had a good balance. The dark ground creates a nice base for the image, and the bright clouds appear to arch over the tree at this moment. The elk is in a readily identifiable position, with all four legs clearly delineated.
When you see a faunascape, take advantage of it. Sure, I love tightly framed wildlife portraits, but a pleasing landscape background with an animal in it is another, often greater, challenge.
A great feature of the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens is the vast range of focal lengths it places at your fingertips. In this case, the RF 100-500 enabled a rapid selection of wide to tight compositions. Awesome lens.
200mm f/5.0 1/125s ISO 250
Stuck to a Pine Tree in Rocky Mountain National Park
It's all about the scents. He's not physically stuck, but the desire to leave his scent was holding him against the tree.
Rocky Mountain National Park has areas of straight-trunked pines that call me to photograph them. Add an animal, and I'm all in for that image.
The lines in nature running in primarily horizontal and vertical directions result in a uniqueness to this image. Of course, it is hard to make a bad image when a 6x6 bull elk is in the frame.
In this case, the focal length range provided by the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens permitted getting the ideal subject framing while moving in front of obstructions — other pine tree trunks. A high percentage of my favorite images are currently being captured with this lens.
186mm f/5.0 1/320s ISO 1600
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
Guarding the Lamb in Badlands National Park
A heavenly light directs the eye to a pair of bighorn sheep ewes standing guard over a bedded lamb on top of this Badlands National Park ridge.
I was photographing the large thunderhead moving in when these bighorn sheep showed up. Then the cloud opened just wide enough to put a spotlight on the sheep.
I love it when wildlife photography and landscape photography combine.
135mm f/11.0 1/250s ISO 100
Aftermath of the East Troublesome Forest Fire, Rocky Mountain National Park
The name of this forest fire came from its origin, but "Troublesome" was an understatement. If there could be any consolation, the fire's destruction provided unique photo opportunities.
Once again, a telephoto lens, the excellent Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens in this case, got the call for a landscape scene. The long focal length permitted a small section of the forest to be isolated. The bright curved lines of the blown and burnt tree trunks stood out in contrast to the charred forest floor.
451mm f/8.0 1/60s ISO 160
Battle of the Bulls, Rocky Mountain National Park
Bull elk fights are exciting to watch, but most don't end well for one competitor or from a photography perspective. When elk fight, they lower their nose down, leaving the most important parts of a wildlife composition, the eyes and heads, occluded by the thick, tall grass common in the fight venues.
Another frequent hindrance to a good elk fight photo is being in the right position to photograph a single bull with a long prime lens. A second bull in the frame often requires at least twice the working distance, and the fight may be over by the time that distance is traversed. Also frequent is for one elk's back side to turn toward the camera, blocking all of the action.
Despite the excitement, I remembered to roll the shutter speed to 1/3200 (M mode, auto ISO, wide-open aperture) to freeze the action. The lens was zoomed to a focal length that contained the erratic action and focused on the mix of antlers and heads. Holding the shutter release down in continuous shooting mode ensured that this short fight produced a solid number of keeper images.
In this image, both bulls' eyes are visible, and the flying dirt helps to portray the intensity of the battle between these big bulls. Adding to my interest are the seemingly indifferent cows, along with the calf leaping out of the danger zone on the right side of the frame.
I often process my images to honor the original 3:2 aspect ratio, but that practice is not always optimal unless the end-use dictates such. Elk fights are often compositionally wide, and in this case, a wide crop seemed appropriate.
176mm f/5.0 1/3200s ISO 320
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