Canon Announce new 16-35mm F4L IS Lens – The Last Piece of the Puzzle?

Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that it is not often that I write about new equipment. Equipment and gear are hot topics in photography and in a nutshell ‘gear talk’ equals ‘internet hits’ so there is good reason to throw in regular equipment posts (and many websites do just this). However, I view lenses and cameras very much as tools of the trade. Outside of the service they provide to help me create photographs they are not something I feel compelled to write about all that often. Every now and again however, a new piece of equipment gets announced that catches my attention and today was one of those days.

If you are a Canon shooter like myself you are no doubt well aware of the gaping hole in the current lens line-up. Specifically, a good (sharp to the corners) wide angle zoom lens suitable for use on a full frame sensor. The current 16-35mm F2.8L MKI and MKII and 17-40mm F4L are sadly lacking in this area (and thats being polite). A high quality wide -angle zoom is really the only lens missing from Canon in what is otherwise an outstanding lens line up. The 24-70mm F2.8L MKII is arguabley the best mid range zoom on the market for 35mm cameras and the 70-200mm F2.8L IS MKII is also outstanding. The 200-400mm F4L IS with inbuilt 1.4 Teleconverter simply has no peer and stands alone as the ultimate telephoto zoom lens. Add a high resolution wide angle to this mix and Canon really does have the perfect lens line-up where flexibility of zooms is required. And the great news is we just might get such a lens with this new announcement: Canon today announced the new 16-35mm F4L IS lens and the initial MTF charts (although theoretical) look very promising.

According to Canon: The 16-35mm F4L IS lens has been introduced as an alternative to the current 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens and incorporates an Optical Image Stabilizer. While the f/2.8 lens offers a faster maximum aperture, the stabilization system in the new lens compensates up to 4 stops to reduce blur when shooting with slower shutter speeds. And as an L-series lens, it provides the best Canon has to offer in terms of dust and water resistance, as well as overall durability.

Optically, its combination of three aspherical and two UD lens elements minimizes aberrations throughout the zoom range and contributes to the creation of beautiful high-contrast images. A flourine lens coating reduces ghosting and flares and its circular 9-blade aperture enables pleasing background blur. The Lens Hood is included with the lens to block stray light from entering the lens.

An inner focusing system, combined with ultrasonic autofocus motor (USM), realizes fast, quiet, and accurate autofocus and, when necessary, full-time manual focus is available. The minimum focus distance throughout the zoom range is 11″ and its filter thread diameter is 77mm. L-series lenses are designed to meet the utmost in physical and optical standards and are regarded as a high point in the Canon DSLR lens line. The EF mount of this 16-35mm f/4L is designed for full-frame cameras, such as the current Canon 1DX and 5DMKIII cameras.There will probably be much ado on the internet over the coming days about this lens sporting an F4 aperture, but quite honestly for landscape F4 is just fine.  For the sort of photography I do where I am often shooting from zodiac or ship the flexibility of a 16-35mm is a huge boon and an F4 aperture is plenty fast enough with high ISO cameras like the 1DX. I would envision most landscape images being shot around F5.6 – F8 with this lens. The observant amongst you may note from the specifications that this new lens sports a nine blade aperture diaphragm where as the current 16-35mm F2.8L IS MKII uses seven. I would not be surprised if we see a MKIII version of the 2.8 lens announced this September at Photokina complete with all new optics and nine-aperture blades (just saying).

In the meantime, the new 16-35mm F4L IS lens is already available for pre-order from B&H Photo for $1,199 USD.  Am I going to buy one? You bet – I already placed my pre-order.

Expedition : Wild Polar Bears 2015 – SOLD OUT

In July 2015 I am leading a unique expedition to the pack ice north of Svalbard to photograph Polar Bears living and hunting on the sea ice. This expedition has been more than 10 months in the planning and has been designed to provide the very best possible opportunities to Photograph Polar Bears in their natural environment. With the reduction in Arctic sea ice the Polar Bears in Svalbard are dwindling in number and the number of years left to photograph them is unfortunately limited. Late July is the ideal time to photograph Polar Bears north of Svalbard due to the dwindling ice around the archipelago. I had been planning to announce this new expedition to photograph wild Polar Bears  was now open for bookings; however, due to initial expressions of interest and subsequent bookings the trip is already completely sold out.

If you are interested in travelling to the very top of the world to photograph Polar Bears living and hunting in their natural environment on the pack ice you can still email me to be put onto the waiting list or to express your interest in a future expedition.

This photograph scored a Silver with Distinction at the recent Epson Victorian Professional Photography Awards and was part of my winning Portfolio for Science, Environment and Nature photographer of the Year 2014.

Nillumbik Prize Finalist

I was thrilled to learn a few days ago that for the third year in a row my work has been accepted into the Nillumbik Prize and subsequently into the finals. The Nillumbik Prize is one of the oldest art shows in Victoria and the Prize celebrates artists and works from the Nillumbik region and recognises contemporary work of excellence in any medium. The prize features some incredible artwork across a very diverse range of mediums including everything from sculpture to photography. Over the last few years I have only seen a few other photographs make the finals so it is a great honour to again be included this year. The photograph ‘Antarctica – An Epic Sense of Scale‘ will be on show from the 30th of May at Montsalvat Art Gallery in Eltham as a 24″ x 100″ fine art print on Moab Somerset Museum Rag. This print recently scored a Gold award at the Victorian Professional Photography Awards and was part of the winning portfolio for the 2014 Creative Photographer of the Year and 2014 Epson Victorian Professional Photographer of the Year. Be sure to click on the image below to see it full size. If you stop past the Gallery please be sure to drop me an email and let me know what you think.

Iceland 2014 Winter Aurora Workshop Report

In March 2014 I led my annual winter workshop in Iceland with my good friend and fellow Nature photographer Daniel Bergmann. Winter is perhaps my favourite season to visit Iceland (although I do miss access to the highland regions. Look for a brand new Highlands workshop for 2015 I will be announcing here in the coming days). During winter the normally vivid green landscape of Iceland is transformed into a monochromatic moonscape. Waterfalls and glacial lagoons partially freeze, and the landscape is often covered in fresh snow making for superb landscape imagery. The entire country is evocative of a winter scene from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and it provides superb opportunities for landscape photography.

During the workshops ten day duration we travelled from the capital city of Reykjavik to Mývatn in the north where we spent several days photographing spectacular winter scenes including the geothermal region of Námafjall and what I regard as Iceland’s most beautiful waterfall – Goðafoss (which roughly translates as the waterfall of the Gods).  Goðafoss is located in the Mývatn district of North-Central Iceland at the beginning of the Sprengisandur highland road. The water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters. This winter photograph of Goðafoss scored a Gold Award at the recent Victorian State Print Awards here in Australia.We also photographed at several locations around the partially frozen lake Mývatn. Mývatn is a lake near Akureyri in North Iceland. The lake was formed during a massive eruption some 2300 years ago. Today the area is best known for the huge numbers of birds that visit in the summer, and for the weird and inspiring volcanic features that surround the lake. The geothermal features at Námafjall are some of my favourite in Iceland. Sulphur belches from the boiling mud pits and fumaroles giving the whole location and incredibly alien off-world feeling. In winter the vents and mud pits are surrounded by snow and ice and there is a fabulous juxtaposition between the pristine snow and the orange mud and rock. Check out the video below shot just for fun of one of the participants walking through one of the larger fumaroles.Some of the participants were fortunate to see and photograph both male and female Gyr Falcon by the side of lake Mývatn. The Gyr falcon is the worlds largest falcon and I have been wanting to see and photograph them for some years now. Although I was finally fortunate to spot one during this trip I was not able to get a photograph. Several of the participants however did get some fantastic images of a female Gyr Falcon by the shore of lake Mývatn where she was perched out of the buffeting wind. Daniel and I raced to this location with our long lenses but she had already left by the time we arrived.

The north of Iceland can be a crazy place in winter with frequent snow storms and regular road closures and thus when the opportunity arose to head south during a twenty four hour weather window we were quick to bug out and make our way to Egilstadir on our way to Höfn and Gerði and the renowned Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.  Our timing was perfect with the road east opening just in time for our departure  (the road closed again the following day due to another wild snow storm). Along the way we photographed spectacular mountain scenery in this part of the north of Iceland under fresh snow in ideal conditions. The mountain passes of Iceland are incredible in winter and we were well equipped to deal with the snow and ice conditions in our modified super jeeps.At Gerði in the south we spent three days photographing around the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, Fjallsárlón and the Vatnajökull glacier. These areas are perhaps Iceland’s most well known photography destinations and with good reason. The icebergs that calve off the terminal face of the Vatnajökull glacier and are washed out to sea through a narrow channel and then deposited onto the black sand beach provide limitless opportunities and we spent many hours wandering the shore of the lagoon and beach making images. Along with the lagoon itself and the myriad of icebergs that drift in in its half frozen surface there is a lifetime of photography in just this small area.

We also visited the remote Stokksnes peninsula where we photographed dramatic storm light and lenticular clouds over the jagged mountain peaks. Stokksnes is a fabulous location in Iceland that has only recently started to become well known amongst landscape photographers. The black san dune hummocks and tussock grasses makes for wonderful foreground set against the dramatic mountain peaks. I have visited this area many times over the last few years and I have never known it to be free from wind. Our visit this year was no exception with strong winds, racing clouds and dramatic light.We also headed into a spectacular and wondrous ice cave under the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier where we spent several hours photographing the incredible formations, colour and texture found in the glacial ice. This was one of the largest and most impressive ice caves I have ever experienced. The cave extended for more than three hundred metres and through the use of a zodiac and our mountain guide we were able to navigate quite a distance into the cave via the river. The river in this cave rises and falls with swings in the temperature and we were fortunate to be able to penetrate quite deeply into the cave.

The ice cave provided us limitless possibilities for macro detail and abstract photography with the inside of the ice cave akin to some sort of alien spaceship. 

We also travelled up to the terminal face of the Svínafellsjökull glacier where we photographed some large seracs and ice stacks during a clearing winter storm. From the Jökulsárlón lagoon we travelled to the small sea side town of Vik where we photographed the incredible Reynisdrangar sea stacks and basalt column formations along the coastline. This is perhaps my favourite beach for photography in Iceland. There are quite often large rocks in the sand that make for ideal foreground material and the wild surf makes for fantastic imagery.

Iceland in winter can be a real mixed bag of weather but we were fortunate to have some very cooperative weather during our trip that resulted in some wonderful photographic opportunities. The workshop was capped off with a nearly on demand showing of the Aurora (northern lights) over the glacier on our last night at Vik.

Our participants for this workshop came from North America, Australia, and Hong Kong and represented a broad range of experience and skill set. With a ratio of just six to one Daniel and I were able to ensure that those who needed more assistance or were learning to use filters and other equipment for the first time were able to get some fantastic images.

Daniel Bergmann and I have just opened bookings for our 2015 Iceland Aurora Workshop which will focus on the dramatic coastal landscapes of the Snæfellsnes peninsular as well as the east cost including Vik, the spectacular Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and night time Aurora photography. If you would like to reserve a place please drop either myself or Daniel an email at info@jholko.com. There are limited places remaining.

Don’t forget you can now download a free copy of the Visionary Insights eBook directly from this website.

New eBook Now Available for Download: Visionary Insights

Over the last few months I have been collaboratively working on a new (and completely free) ebook titled Visionary Insights which I am excited to announce is now available for Download Here. This new ebook was written in collaboration with nine other outdoor photographers with one goal in mind: To help elevate the emotional power of your images – regardless of what equipment or software you currently own and use. Together, we discuss some of our creative insights and processes which you can use and apply to your own photography to consistently create more evocative images.

These are definitely not the typical basic tips you commonly find on the web. Rather, these are intended to be little-known insights gleaned from decades of combined in-the-field experience. They are the creative thought processes of the photographer. The intention here is simple: No fluff. No theory. Just insights that will help pack your photos with punch. Each insight is accompanied by an example photograph as well as a video exploring the creative process behind that image in much greater depth.  I am excited to share this new creative resource and hope you find it of benefit in your photography. Just click on either of the two images or the download button below to download your free copy. If you want to learn even more there are optional expanded videos also available for download.