Canon EOS R3 and Eye Control AF Capture Alert 10pt Whitetail Buck
Subjects that move are prime candidates for the use of servo AF, continuous focusing vs. the focus distance locked for one shot. Using servo AF requires a focus point or area continuously positioned on the desired point of focus.
Aside from vehicles, moving subjects usually have eyes, and usually that means the focus point or area must be on the subject's eye, with the subject looking into the frame. Maintaining the focus point or area over the eye of a moving subject while maintaining the ideal composition is often a huge challenge, especially for wildlife photography. An animal turning its head the other direction historically required a significant amount of joystick pressing when using a camera with an adequate number of AF points to competently accomplish the goal, and by the time the focus point was in position at the other side of the frame, the animal would turn its head in the other direction (one of Bryan's Laws of Photography). Add thick gloves, and this challenge increases significantly.
In addition to the joystick, the R3 has a pair of Smart Controllers for positioning the AF point or area. The AF-ON buttons have been enlarged, and a touchpad is built into them. Simply slide a thumb across the button to rapidly position the AF point or area.
With a conventional joystick and AF-ON button design, two thumbs are required to make focus point or area position adjustments while pressing an AF-ON button. In servo mode, the R3's Smart Controllers are functional while the AF-ON button is pressed, and this feature works even with thick gloves on.
In addition to having the ability to focus nearly anywhere in the composition, the latest mirrorless cameras have the ability to identify and track a subject, and more specifically, subject eye detection and tracking have been game-changing. When the eye is identified, the camera tenaciously tracks the eye throughout the entire frame, freeing the photographer to concentrate on composition and image capture timing. Thick gloves are not an issue.
The Canon EOS R3 adds vehicle subjects to its detection capabilities, filling in much of the remaining active subject identification needs.
Additionally, the R3 has body detection that takes over when the eye disappears. That feature was at times a hinderance with the whitetail buck as I wanted a looking away deer's antlers or head to be in focus vs. the deer's backside. However, the body is sometimes the next-best focus option, such as when an ice skaters spins.
The R3 brings us a very intriguing new method of AF point positioning. What if you could simply look at the subject you wanted to focus on? The R3's Eye Control AF allows the photographer to position the AF point or area at the speed of look. Look at the subject and the AF point is there, with no buttons to press or slide across.
Eye Control AF requires calibration for each user, and the calibrated performance can be individually different. Calibration is fast and easy. Select a menu option, and follow the prompts in the viewfinder that guide the eye to look at a dot in the center of a small circle sequentially positioned in the center and 4 sides of the viewfinder, with the M-Fn button press recording the look for each.
Canon recommends using the calibration process numerous times, including in different lighting and multiple camera orientations, to refine the data the camera has available. The lens in not involved in this process as the Infrared LEDs in the EVF (notice the enlarged viewfinder size surrounding the viewing area) track the eye position without eyeglasses, and a second set of infrared LEDs track eye position with eyeglasses. Separate calibration profiles are accepted, and useful for with and without eyeglasses and contact lenses and for multiple camera users. Profile data can be saved to a memory card for use on other R3 bodies.
Once calibrated, a small target consisting of two concentric circles (by default, configurable) moves around the viewfinder with your gaze. Look at the subject, and that is where the camera will position the indicator, and that is where the camera will focus or initiate subject tracking.
While the Eye Control graphic is needed, it is obvious and a bit annoying to always have over what you are directly looking at. This graphic, in addition to the focus area and subject tracking indicators, starts to create a busy viewfinder.
Using Eye Control involves a short learning curve as focus should be initiated before or after looking around the frame to study the composition.
My first experience with Eye Control was not stellar. After creating many refinements, I found the R3's calibration inaccurate for my eyes. Most of the time, the indicator did not position directly on the subject I was looking at. The experience was disheartening, but Canon shared that this feature would not work optimally for everyone.
On a whim, I deleted the calibration data and started over. The new calibration, even with only a few refinements delivered significantly improved accuracy.
Packing up the R3 along with many lenses in the review queue, I headed to Shenandoah National Park for five days of wildlife (and some landscape) photography. More specifically, the whitetail buck in rut were the primary targeted subject.
This shoot started with the R3 set to servo AF, animal eye detection selected, subject tracking on, and Eye Control AF enabled (by default, pressing the Set button quickly enables or disables this feature). Accurate focusing on the deer meant looking at the deer's eye and half-press the shutter release to initiate focusing. The R3 usually detected the eye and immediately locked tracking on it, tracking it throughout the frame while providing visual feedback in the viewfinder. While Eye Control AF is not always perfect, I was still using this strategy when I packed the camera for the trip home. The R3's AF performance with Eye Control outperformed any focus method I've used prior.
If Eye Control is found not performing well, immediately creating a calibration refinement can improve accuracy. Not too long into the shoot, I realized that the vertical calibration refinement was not yet created. In seconds, calibration refinement was created, and I was back in the game vertically.
When photographing with large telephoto lenses in strong winds, up to 40 MPH / 64 KPH on this trip, keeping even a motionless subject in the frame can be challenging, and keeping a manually selected focus point on the subject's eye becomes extremely challenging. With the R3, I could simply look at the deer's eye, half-press the shutter release, and then concentrate on fully pressing the shutter release when the framing looked right. This strategy works just as well with heavy gloves on (temperatures were as low as the mid-20s / -3 C).
AS mentioned, the R3's subject detection recognizes bodies, and it recognized deer bodies quite well. However, when the buck were facing away (I sometimes like images of animals facing away, looking into their environments), the head or antlers needed to be in focus vs. the closest body area. With the R3, simply looking at the antlers while initiating subject tracking worked very well.
The 10pt whitetail buck shared in this post came in fast and close, offering only seconds to grab the shot. A glance at the eye followed immediately by pressing the shutter release down made the quick capture easy.
Want an R3? Use one of the links on the site (supports us) to order it. As I write this, prepare to wait in line. This outstanding camera will be difficult to find in stock for a long time.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1000
Big Whitetail Buck Feeding on Red Berries in Shenandoah National Park
Patches of red berry bushes in Shenandoah National Park had my attention, and I was spending time near them, hoping that whitetail deer photo opportunities incorporating the berries would show up. A couple of days prior, I photographed a smaller buck eating the berries, but the images were not remarkable.
On this morning, I discovered an impressive 12pt point buck bedded near a berry-favorable area.
Bedded deer can get up at any moment, but they can also stay down for many hours. When it comes to antler size, bigger is almost always better, and I knew that few bigger bucks were in the area. Thus, I committed to hanging with this buck for the long haul.
Not too long after I sat down, there was a solid thump sound behind me. The doe and fawns hanging with the buck immediately got up and walked toward the sound. An apple had fallen from an apple tree, and the deer were going to eat it. Soon after this, the buck got up and began to move away — straight into the berries.
While incorporating the red berries was the goal, the thick berry bush branches were a visibility obstacle.
Traditionally, a camera attempting to autofocus on an eye in the brush led to the camera focusing on the closest branch in the view. In this situation, obtaining a keeper image typically required manual focusing, a challenge when the animal is erratically moving and the depth of field is shallow.
Game-changing is that the Canon EOS R-series camera's animal eye detection can often focus through the brush, creating a high percentage of properly focused images despite obstructions, such as those seen beside this buck's eye. This outstanding feature is one of many reasons to move to one of the latest mirrorless interchangeable lens camera models.
While this animal was not moving especially fast, its head was, and the Canon EOS R3's high frame captured the relatively few moments when the eye was visible in the obstructions.
I'll likely share more images of this buck. We spent the next 5 hours having an adventure together.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 320
Bull Elk in the Meadow, Rocky Mountain National Park
Photographing animals from or below their level is often preferred, which means a level or tilted upward camera. However, when the scenario is right, the perspective from an elevated point of view can be excellent.
In this case, a large bull elk was defending his harem of cows in a large meadow. Getting lower was not an option, but the lush grasses and their curving seed plumes create a nice background.
The R5 put a lot of good images on the card during this bull's defensive stand. Still, the leg separation and differentiating body position especially led to this image getting selected for sharing.
As usual, the 600mm f/4 background blur makes the animal and its impressive antlers stand out.
600mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 1250
Canon EOS R3 and RF 600 Lens Big Buck Portrait Session, Shenandoah National Park
I spent most of a day trying to stay far enough away from this buck to keep it in the frame. What a great problem to deal with.
Finding the ideal clearings in the woods was an even more significant challenge. Foreground obstructions, background distractions, and mottled light problems were high on the day's list of photography challenges.
Challenge reducing was the impressive performance of the Canon EOS R3 and RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens, immediately snapping focus on the eye I was looking at, capturing the ideal moments in time. Being able to position a focus point anywhere in the entire frame instantly is incredible.
This buck was in the woods, and the woods are full of distracting lines. As is often the case, the Canon RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens blurred the background distractions away. Few lenses, primarily only the 400 f/2.8 and 800mm f/5.6 options, can compete with 600mm f/4 background blur.
As mentioned, foreground obstructions were on the challenge list this day, and a downside to using the 600mm focal length in the woods is finding a clear path to the subject. The key is to predict where the animal will go (or where you most want it to go) and be in position when it arrives.
We typically want wildlife subjects to appear large. Especially when photographing whitetail deer, I frequently shoot from close to the ground as long as the surroundings provide a good line of sight. This camera position increases the likelihood of a catchlight in the animal's eye, adding life to the animal.
600mm f/4.0 1/1000s ISO 500