Victorian State AIPP Professional Photography Awards 2019

Tomorrow is the official kick off for the 2019 Victorian Professional Photography Awards. Being held at Melbourne Polytechnic Fairfield Campus, Building P, 101 Yarra Bend Road, Fairfield, I will be in attendance as a judge on both Tuesday and Wednesday this week. I will be judging the Nature, Travel and Landscape categories. If you are local, or in the area with some free time its well worth stopping past to check out some of the award winning prints and watch some judging. Hope to see you there.

 

Canon EOS R Mirrorless Camera Field Tested

Those of you who followed my recent landscape workshops to the Great Ocean Road and Tasmania (Read the Trip Report) will already be aware that I took the plunge and purchased a Canon EOS R mirrorless camera body to test in the field. It was not a decision I took lightly and I thought long and hard on the implications before I bought into this new RF mount system (more on RF below). I was quite prepared to take the gamble and sell the camera if I decided it did not work for me and the style in which I like to photograph. As it turned out, I am keeping the camera and it will serve as my dedicated landscape camera going forward. By way of some back story, I have been looking for a light weight landscape camera for some time now and was keen for it to be a mirrorless camera. Although the 5D MKIV has many appealing properties I really wanted something smaller and lighter with an EVF. I specifically wanted an EVF for my landscape camera for the focus peaking feature which is an absolute god send when using tilt and shift lenses. I have tried previous generations of the Sony A7 series; but frankly those cameras are not for me. They left me frustrated at their ridiculous ergonomics and scratching my head at their confused menu structure.

Unlike the vast majority of You Tube camera video reviews (does anyone actually use these videos to make buying decisions?) I wanted to actually spend a good amount of time in the field with the camera to really get my head around it before I made up my mind on what I like and what I did not like. Two weeks of intensive use in Victoria at the Great Ocean Road and in Tasmania gave me a great opportunity to come to grips with the camera and really see how it performs in the field  for my style of photography (specifications are really useless for anything other than armchair evaluation and armchair evaluation is about as useless as it gets for assessing the tool during real field work).

My impressions of the Canon EOS R are based on the application I intend to use the camera for – Landscape photography where I am primarily based on a tripod. My thought process for choosing the EOS R was fairly simple: I wanted a camera that was light weight for hiking and one with which I could utilise my existing Canon tilt-shift lenses (with or without adapter). I did seriously consider the Fuji 50 Medium Format but ultimately decided the lack of tilt shift lenses was a deal breaker for me (I have no interest in focus stacking in post).  I was also less than thrilled at the wallet breaking concept of purchasing into an entirely new lens system (I did try the Fuji camera on several occasions and found it an outstanding camera). Packing the same sensor as the Canon EOS 5D MKIV, the EOS R was perhaps the obvious choice. So how did it perform as a dedicated landscape camera?

In short, the Canon EOS R performed exceptionally well in the field and far better than I had thought it might have as a dedicated landscape camera. I very much appreciated its light weight form factor (especially on hikes) and surprisingly to me I also very much enjoyed the cameras ergonomics (although I have not as yet made up my mind about the touch bar). The buttons more or less fall naturally under my fingers (except for the AF button which is a little too close to the side of the camera for me – but I have big hands). I found the Electronic Viewfinder to be amongst the very best I have tried and although it is not as good as a high quality optical prism I did find it acceptable in most situations. Like all EVF’s, the display in the EOS R tends to fall apart in near darkness and is horrible for high speed capture (more on this below).

When it comes to battery life we need to be crystal clear.  Compared to something like a Canon EOS 1DX MKII battery life in the EOS R (and indeed all mirrorless cameras) is abysmal. I can get thousands of shots on a single charge with a 1DX MKII (even in sub zero temperatures). With the Canon EOS R I was lucky to get 100 shots. For landscape photography where I am utilising a tripod this really isn’t too much of an issue for me and it just means I need to carry a spare battery (no big deal as the batteries are small and light). Even a heavy days landscape photography is usually less than 100 images anyway so battery life is really close to irrelevant. Nonetheless I find the need to carry a 2nd battery an annoyance and the need to change it frequently even more so.

I know the arm chair experts out there are at this point brandishing pitchforks and fire brands with cries of ‘Dynamic Range!’  So, let’s clear up the DR issue right now: Yes, the EOS R has the same sensor as the 5D MKIV and yes it does not have the 14+ stop Dynamic Range of the Sony Sensors. But who cares? Im yet to see a single photograph that is worth the paper it is printed on that actually uses even close to 14 stops of Dynamic Range. Call me old school, but I want to make photographs in soft light with a limited dynamic range and if the sky falls outside of the sensors capability to record it I am more than happy to use a graduated ND filter to tame the Dynamic Range. The new range of high quality optical glass filters on the market are superb and have no negative impact on image quality.

As a wildlife camera and for the sort, type and style of wildlife imagery I pursue I am afraid the EOS R is all but useless. Its frame rate is just far too slow for subjects such as birds, its auto focus is not a patch on the EOS 1DX MKII in the field and the EVF is simply sub optimal with fast moving subjects. The time may come when a mirrorless camera is the weapon of choice for wildlife, but until that time the 1DX MKII and its replacement the 1DX MKIII will be my tools of choice for serious wildlife work.

Canon had a number of solid engineering reasons to develop the new RF mount for its mirrorless system. Frankly, none of those reasons offer me anything I don’t already have in my current EF mount so I think it highly unlikely at this point that I will be purchasing any dedicated RF lenses. The new Canon EOS 1DX MKIII when its officially announced will be EF mount. Working Pros such as myself are fully geared for EF mount and we are not about to dump tens of thousands of dollars of glass when the tools we currently have are more than sufficient for our needs. Canon know this and are not about to abandon their core high end market just because they have a new mount in two different mirrorless bodies. We will get a professional mirrorless camera from Canon with an RF mount, but don’t expect to see it until after the 1DX MKIII is announced.

During my testing of the EOS R I also inadvertently tested its weather sealing when I slipped on moss covered rocks at Hopetoun falls in Victoria and temporarily submerged both myself and the camera in the river – whoops! I managed to kill a 24-70mm F4L IS lens in the process, but the camera was absolutely fine. It not only survived the short dunking, but it didn’t skip a beat in the process. Once I extracted myself from the river I simply dried off the camera and kept shooting. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend you try this (I may have just been lucky) it is pretty solid evidence that the EOS R is quite a tough little camera with more than decent weather sealing.

In conclusion, I found the EOS R to be a fantastic tool for serious landscape photography and have decided to keep the camera for just this purpose. I love the focus peaking feature with tilt shift lenses and I really like the light weight form factor. I will definitely not be using it to photograph wildlife though. The cameras slow frame rate, EVF and focus tracking make it sub optimal for my wildlife work. The EOS R would likely also make a very nice walk around camera or travel camera for those looking for a light weight alternative to a traditional DSLR. If I were looking to use it for this purpose I would probably consider one of the new RF lenses so I could do away with the RF to EF converter. For landscape photography on a tripod though the converter is a small price to pay for the convenience of tilt shift lenses. I am looking forward to using the EOS R later this year on my landscape workshop in the Faroe Islands. I will also be taking an EOS 1DX MKII with a 400mm f2.8L IS MKIII for the Puffins.

The photograph below was taken at Freycinet Peninsula on the East Coast of Tasmania with the Canon EOS R with the RF to EF adapter, a 1.4 TC MKIII and the 24mm F3.5 MKII TSE lens (giving me an RF mounted 35mm f3.5 TSE equivalent).  Obtaining infinite depth of field with focus peaking with this setup in the field is an absolute joy and a pleasure. Exposure time was two minutes with a 3 stop Medium NISI Graduated Optical Glass Filter.

Great Ocean Road and Tasmania Workshop Reports 2019

In May and June of 2019 I lead two back-to-back landscape workshops to the Great Ocean road region of Victoria and both the East and West coasts of Tasmania with my co-leader and friend Phillip Bartlett. Both of these workshops were structured to provide outstanding and varied opportunities for landscape photography as well as the opportunity to see and experience the wild coastal region of the Great Ocean Road and World Heritage Wilderness areas of Tasmania. Both of these locations offer world class landscape opportunities, yet both remain relatively unknown on the world stage (at least for now). We planned to not only photograph the fantastically varied landscape of these two locations, but also enjoy the fantastic fresh food and produce both of these locations are well known for.

In May and early June in southern Australia we are in the transitional phase from Autumn to Winter and the weather is often varied and unsettled. It can be quite cold, occasionally wet, but also extremely beautiful. Sunrises and sunsets are often intermixed with dramatic cloud and when the wind is up it can result in wild weather as storms and squalls roll in from Antarctica to smash into the coastline. As it turned out and as expected, we experienced a little bit of everything weather wise during both workshops. Our workshops were deliberately timed in the hopes of some dramatic weather and light and we encountered both during the two workshops. As also expected we lost a day, or part thereof on each trip due to intermittent rain, but we more than made up for it with beautiful light on several occasions.

We began our workshops with three days of intensive landscape photography along the spectacular Great Ocean Road and Otway forest region of Victoria. I have been travelling and photographing this part of Victoria for many, many years now and over this period of time have discovered many wonderful locations to photograph and learned a lot about the ideal time to visit these locations. Contrary to popular thought, many of the more obvious locations for sunset actually work much better at sunrise with the massive sandstone sea stacks picking up their own equivalent of an alpine glow before the sun crests the horizon. Sunset is in many ways too obvious for the westward facing sea stacks and experience has shown me sunrise usually provides better light and better opportunities. Typically, there also fewer photographers around and one almost always has the location to themselves – as we frequently did. Knowing where and when to photograph is key to getting great results along the Great Ocean road and there is simply no substitute for local knowledge in this regard. This time I decided to include a fellow participant for scale to show just how gigantic some of these sea stacks truly are.

During our time in Victoria we also made several stops at some of the Otway Ranges waterfalls. On both workshops we were blessed with ideal shooting conditions that included low cloud and mist – perfect conditions for this sort of forest photography. Despite Victoria being somewhat unknown for its waterfalls we do actually have several fantastic places that offer superb opportunities when the conditions are optimal. My own preference is always overcast light with low cloud for the soft box light effect. The addition of mist or light rain also adds a further element to really add mood to the photographs. Recent rains ensure the waterfalls are in full flow and at their best for making photographs.

After we finished in Victoria we returned to Melbourne and made the short flight down to Tasmania where we spent the next few days exploring and photographing the world heritage region at Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Claire National parks. Cradle Mountain is without doubt the jewel in the crown and heart of Tasmania. This rugged and wild region of the island offers an opportunity for mountain and forest photography that is as unique as it is impressive. Cradle mountain itself forms an ideal photographic back drop to Dove Lake (the large alpine lake that rests in front of the mountains), whilst the surrounding old growth forest adds a primordial feel that gives the whole place that fantastical ‘Tolkien’ look. The opportunities for dramatic and unique imagery in this area are as expansive as they are untapped and we explored and photographed quite extensively during our time in the area. With our luxury accomodation just outside the park we were perfectly positioned to maximise our time in this area. Some of us even took the opportunity to hike to Marions look-out and walk many of the forest trails. For those that were keen there was also wildlife opportunities with Wombats and Wallabys in abundance.

From Cradle Mountain we travelled south to the small seaside town of Strahan on the wild West Coast where we were based for two nights. During our time in Strahan we took a day cruise out to Hells Gates (the narrow entrance to the harbour) and then on up the Gordon river – an extremely scenic journey into the pristine old growth world heritage forest. Our cruise included a stop at Sarah Island on our return. Overcast light with low cloud and mist is again ideal for this sort of forest photography and we made the most of the opportunities provided to us. We were also fortunate to get fantastic reflections on the river. On our first trip we also tried to find and photograph the Fairy penguins (now known as the Little Penguin) at Bonnet Island but had only marginal success with only a couple of penguins arriving on the island well after dark. The population of Fairy penguins has been in decline at Bonnet Island in recent times and my feeling is this is now pretty much a dead end for penguin photography.  In lieu of the penguins we took an opportunity to photograph Tasmanian Devils on the second workshop at the sanctuary near Cradle Mountain which proved productive and worthwhile.

From Strahan we travelled East to Coles Bay in Freycinet National Park where we spent several more days exploring and photographing this rugged and exposed peninsula. The Freycinet peninsula possess some of the most amazing granite boulders to be found anywhere on earth. Pink and orange granite boulders adorn both sides of the rocky peninsula and offer limitless opportunities for landscape photography. Perhaps best of all, this hidden gem is virtually untouched and un-photographed by world standards. During the many hours we spent photographing in this region at both sunrise and sunset we did not encounter a single other photographer – a rare treat these days.

From Freycinet we travelled South to Hobart where we wrapped up with a final sunrise photography session atop the rock riddled, Mount Wellington. The days are short this time of year in Tasmania; with sunrise around 7:30am and sunset around 5pm. This timeline is absolutely perfect for this type of workshop and meant we could get in a full days photography from sunrise to sunset before ending our day with a fantastic locally produced meal in one of the nearby restaurants. With many of the towns in Tasmania located on or near the coast the fresh seafood on offer is amazing with some of the best fish, oysters and scallops to be found anywhere.

Landscape photography in Tasmania is an absolute joy. Free from the crowds of tourists and photographers that have inundated many other corners of the world, Tasmania remains a quiet back water, mercifully blessed with fantastic food and wine, and world class landscape for the travelling photographer. Although I have been to Tasmania many times in my life, I never tire of returning to this small Island just a short stones throw from my home in Melbourne. The landscape is as irresistible as the fresh seafood and as such I will return again next year for one more workshop to the Apple Isle. You can drop me an email to register your interest.

Footnote: On the second workshop I decided to take a Canon EOS R mirrorless camera with me. This was the first time I had spent with the camera in the field and I was quite surprised with my findings. I will have some more detailed thoughts in another post in the next few days. My conclusions might surprise you.

Photo of the Month June 2019 – Golden Eagle Landing

The photograph of the month for June 2019 is of a magnificent Golden Eagle coming into land on the snow in northern Finland in winter. Photographed from a private hide during my Finland workshop in February earlier this year (Read the Trip Report); the image was captured with a Canon EOS 1DX MKII and 600mm F4L IS MKII Lens (I had not yet updated to the MKIII). The key to capturing really sharp, powerful moments of birds in flight such as this is a combination of anticipating the animals behaviour and having everything set and ready on your camera so that once the action starts you are immediately shooting and not fumbling with settings. In this case, I knew it would be really difficult to accurately track the eagle with a single focus point  (even with surrounding focus points) as it came in to land at high speed, so I used multiple points with ‘Case 3’ Auto Focus (telling the camera to instantly focus on objects as they came into frame). I also ensured I stopped down the lens enough for adequate depth of field in case the focus points grabbed the tip of the wing (as they are prone to do) to give me the best possible chance. I set my cameras shutter speed to at least 1/1000th of a second and to high speed capture at 12 frames per second which meant as long as I could keep the eagle in frame I was going to get sharp images.