I recently blogged that I had received email notification that one of my photographs from Antarctica had been selected as a finalist in the 2012 Outdoor Photographer of the Year ‘Spirit of Adventure’ category. This was the first time I have entered Outdoor Photographer of the Year and I was thrilled to have been selected as a finalist. I was subsequently very humbled a few days ago to receive news that I had not only been selected as a finalist, but had won the 2012 Outdoor Photographer of the Year competition in the ‘Spirit of Adventure’ category. The winning photograph was shot on my last expedition to Antarctica and was of mountain climbers nearing the summit in rapidly deteriorating weather. It was photographed from the deck of the Ocean Nova with a 300mm F2.8L IS lens at F7.1 1/2500th of a second hand held with the Canon 1DMKIV. The announcement of my win was officially made on the 16th of January on the Outdoor Photographer of the Year website and will also appear in the March issue of Outdoor Photography magazine. There was an awards ceremony on Saturday the 19th of January at the Outdoors Show in ExCel in London. An exhibition of all the finalists work, including my own winning photograph was on display from the 17th – 20th of January. I am told the quality and quantity of images entered was exceptional across all categories. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the exhibition and awards ceremony due to other commitments. If you stopped past please let me know what you thought. I admit to feeling really inspired and re-invigorated with the news and am very much looking forward to returning to Antarctic this November. A higher resolution version of this photograph can be seen on my website in the Antarctica Portfolio.
I find myself getting very enthusiastic about photographic equipment again lately with the pending release of Canon’s new 200-400mm F4L IS lens with inbuilt 1.4x teleconverter. This new super telephoto zoom lens promises to be a game changer for photographers who shoot at these kinds of focal lengths thanks to its inbuilt 1.4x teleconverter and reported superb optics. Canon claims that this new lens “will offer an unsurpassed combination of versatility, first-class optical performance and an enhanced weather-proof construction.” They also claim it will be just shy of a wallet smashing eleven thousand dollars MSRP; which is going to give a lot of photographers serious cause to stop and consider whether this lens is going to be worth the price of admission. The good news is that Canon had a slew of prototypes of this new lens at the London Olympics a few months ago and by all reports and feedback this lens is an outstanding performer and lives up to Canon’s claims.
For Photographers who need a super-telephoto zoom in the 200mm – 560mm range with superb optics this lens is likely to be worth every cent. After spending time shooting from the deck of ships I have come to the realisation that there is no substitute for a high quality super telephoto zoom lens. For shooting wildlife such as penguins, seals, polar bears, walrus and birds from the deck of a ship where the required focal length is always different I expect this lens will likely prove the ultimate no compromise choice for ‘getting the shot’. It is the lens I have decided to take with me on the expeditions I am running to the Arctic and Antarctic in August and November next year. I will also take it to Iceland in March and China in May.
With a focal length of 200mm – 400mm or 280mm – 560mm with the 1.4 TC in place this lens will also be very popular with sports photographers simply because of the extreme versatility it will provide. It is not quite as fast as a 300mm or 400mm F2.8 but I expect this small sacrifice in speed will be a small price to pay for the added flexibility this lens will bring to many sports shooters. I expect this lens to be in hot demand with sports and wildlife photographers when it is released early next year; even with its horrendous price tag. I am hoping to take delivery of this lens in late January next year and will be doing some extensive testing with it before I head to Iceland in March. Look for a full review early in the New Year.
One of the real highlights of my trip through France was the opportunity to visit the alpine town of Chamonix. Widely regarded as the mountaineering Mecca of France, Chamonix is a magnet and playground for mountaineers and alpinists from around the world. With its high altitude mountains, precipitous and jagged peaks, and high quality granite spires it is easy to see why.
The town itself is filled with all manner of outdoor clothing, mountaineering and adventure shops. The only other place I can recall seeing such a collection of stores and brands in such a small a geographical area was in Ushuaia at the bottom of South America from where the majority of Antarctica expeditions depart. In short, if you can’t find it in Chamonix you probably don’t need it (although the prices might leave you reeling).
With a day free in Chamonix before heading for Venice, I jumped at the opportunity to take the two cable cars up to the Aiguille Du Midi at just over 12,600 feet for some mountaineering photography.With no real mountains to speak of in Australia, I am not used to high altitude climbing and suffered from constant lack of breath, light-headedness and a severe headache after twelve hours at nearly 4000 metres. Whilst my Austrian companion seemed unaffected by the altitude I was forced to stop every few minutes to try and catch my breath as we made our way up the ridgeline. It was worth the pain, however, as the opportunity to photograph climbers returning from Mont Blanc along a very exposed ridge provided breathtaking views and photographic possibilities. We were taking a little bit of a chance with this climb as it was very windy and the pressure was dropping, with the possibility of a forecast storm. Spindrift was whipping off the peaks and, with eleven people loosing their lives on Mont Blanc in the last few weeks, I was less than thrilled at the thought of getting caught in an exposed position. I was, however, very keen to get some photographs, because the wind was whipping clouds and fog across the mountain at a rapid rate which was creating a lovely play of light. In the end, I climbed only a relatively short distance up the ridge as the conditions were just too dangerous for my experience at that altitude.This was the first opportunity I had to use the Canon 1DX at high altitude in cold weather and it did not disappoint. At -15 degrees Celsius the Canon 1DX performed flawlessly and I was able to squeeze out nearly 600 frames without any effort, finding no need to warm the battery or swap it for another from a warm pocket. This is remarkable performance in such a hostile environment and is consistent with my experience with the 1DS MK3 and 1D MKIV cameras in Antarctica.I hope to return to Chamonix in the future and spend more time in the stunningly beautiful French Alps. Along with the Andes mountain range in South America, they rate as some of the most rugged and beautiful mountains I have seen.
For now, I have arrived in Iceland and am looking forward to heading out into the wilds tomorrow morning.
The Internet forums were abuzz with talk of the merging of the Canon 1DS and 1D lines into the new ‘multi-media powerhouse’ 1DX DSLR, when Canon announced it late in 2011. I actually predicted the merging of the 1DS and 1D lines in my blog HERE just prior to leaving for Antarctica. However, I was way off beam on the effective mega pixel count. I did not expect Canon to announce a new 1 series camera with a lower pixel count than the 1DS MKIII (I was quite sure at the time that the camera would be at least 30+ mega pixels). I had been hoping any announcement from Canon would come well before my Antarctic expedition so that I could take one of their new cameras with me. However, in typical Canon fashion they announced the product literally months before actual planned release. If rumors are to be believed, it was Canon’s way of heading off Nikon’s impending D4 announcement – read into that what you will. Irrespective, as of today the camera is still not even available for pre-order at B&H. Planned release for the 1DX was March this year, but I am now hearing the first cameras will not be delivered in Australia before April at the earliest. I ordered my 1DS MKIII the day they were announced and it took nearly three months to receive the camera in Australia, and this is simply not good enough. Canon should take a lesson from Apple’s marketing department. When Apple announce a new product it is almost always available that very same day – or very shortly thereafter. With the Olympic Games only a few months away it is quite obvious that the bulk of new 1DX cameras will first be delivered to photographers attending the Games. Although I was quick to put my name down for the 1DX, I doubt I will actually receive one before April at the earliest.
I have been holding off making any comment on the 1DX until I had an opportunity to actually see some sample images from the camera in order to consider the implications from moving to a new body with a lower pixel count than my existing 1DS MKIII. I was preparing a post with my thoughts on the 1DX, when Nikon officially announced the world’s “worst kept secret” – the 36 mega pixel D800 and D800E. In case you missed it, the D800 and D800E are identical, with the exception of the use of a traditional anti-alias (blurring) filter on the E version to remove potential moiré issues. The announcement of the D800/E is highly significant in 35mm digital terms. There is no doubt that Nikon has really thrown down the gauntlet to Canon with the announcement of the D800/E cameras. The Nikon also marks a serious move into low-end medium format digital resolution at a price point that must be keeping medium format camera manufacturers up at night. Importantly for Nikon, it also effectively kills Canon’s 5D MKII Golden Goose. Up until now, Nikon had nothing to compete with the amazingly low street price and high pixel count of the 5D MKII. Nikon photographers had to purchase a D3X at $8000 US dollars to compete on a purely mega pixel basis. A 5D MKII, on the other hand, could be had for under $3000 US dollars. I shudder to think how many 5D MKIIs Canon has sold, but you can bet its many tens of thousands more than Nikon’s D3X.
With the D800 and D800E slated to ship in March/April at an estimated retail price of $3000 and $3,300 US dollars respectively, the game has well and truly changed for landscape and studio photographers. The pendulum has now swung firmly back toward Nikon. Landscape photographers with bags of Nikon glass can rejoice as their prayers have been finally answered in the D800 and D800E. With an effective pixel count of 36.3 mega pixels, the D800 and D800E ‘should’ be able to produce stunning files with exceptionally fine detail.
There are, however, some serious caveats to consider. Firstly, lens quality, camera technique, and diffraction are going to play a very significant role in final output quality from these two new cameras. I suspect any lens that is not up to the task is going to really disappoint with these cameras. Likewise, poor technique and stopping down too much will result in mushy files that fail to utilize the full sensor’s capabilities. However, on the flip side of the coin, a good sharp prime lens shot at F5.6 on a tripod with mirror lock-up, cable release etc. should result in a file with stunning detail. I do predict an outpouring of ‘this lens is soft!‘ from Nikon shooters as the D800 finds its way into end-user’s hands. One thing is for sure, and that is the D800/E will clearly test the limits of not only Nikon’s best glass but also its users’ techniques.
Nikon wasted no time putting sample images from the D800 online for potential purchasers and armchair critics to scrutinize. I don’t want to spend a lot of time critiquing the sample files since they are 8 bit jpeg files and it remains unclear how they were processed. Suffice to say at this point, the jpeg files are not without issues, but they do show a significant amount of high frequency detail that has been captured by the camera’s sensor. They are (for all their issues) quite impressive, and if I were a Nikon shooter I would be salivating over these limited samples. Incidentally, I think the move by Nikon to offer a D800E without the traditional form of anti-alias filter for landscape photographers is a brilliant move on their part. Anyone looking to purchase an expensive medium format system in the sub 40 mega pixel bracket would now seriously have to consider a D800E as a more cost- effective viable alternative. Medium format manufactures have long touted the superiority of their sensors because of the lack of the AA filter. By removing the filter Nikon has removed this argument effectively, thus neutralizing one of medium format’s unique selling propositions. The Nikon also uses a CMOS sensor, which means it can handle much longer exposures than most medium format sensors.
In a move that can only be considered a knee-jerk reaction, Canon has finally released limited sample jpeg files for the 1DX. It can hardly be a coincidence that 1DX files appear online within 24 hours of Nikon’s D800 announcement! Interestingly, the files provided to date are quite restricted in their ISO range. There are, as yet, no really high ISO files available (as of this post), which is where the 1DX is really supposed to shine. Additionally, none of the samples to date are of subjects with high frequency detail. This is not really surprising since the 1DX is clearly not targeted at landscape photographers and it would be better compared against Nikon’s new D4 camera. Those files that have been made available are extremely impressive, however. They are exceptionally clean and free of noise, smooth and, without overdoing the superlatives, they are gorgeous. These 8-bit jpeg files also upscale very nicely in Photoshop to 200%. 16 Bit Tiff files should look even better. It is difficult to make further comment on the sample files to date as, like Nikon, the Canon files are 8 bit jpegs and it remains unclear how they have been processed. I suspect they are either jpegs straight from the camera or have otherwise been processed in Canon’s own Digital Photo Professional software.
Canon made quite the show when they announced their new 1DX camera in late 2011. Clearly the 1DX is targeted at Sports, Photojournalist and Wedding photographers (and not Landscape and Studio photographers). With its low-light capabilities and its gazillion frames-a-second capabilities it is also going to be an outstanding camera for Wildlife photographers. If I were only shooting wildlife I would be ecstatic at the new 1Dx and very excited by the sample files posted to date. However, I am primarily a landscape photographer and mega pixels are important to me in order to make large prints. There is no substitute for cubic inches, as they say in the automotive game. Yes, the quality of those pixels is of critical importance.
I don’t want to get into the whole pixel game, sensor size, or noise debate in this post since that is a can of worms that needs a thesis of its own and this post is not intended to be a technical analysis of either Canon or Nikon cameras. There are plenty of technical comparisons already available online, and DXO will no doubt post their own findings in due course. I merely point out that, at the end of the day, it is the actual output file that matters and not the specifications. If (and I consider it a big IF) Canon can produce a file from the 1DX that can be upsized 200% in Photoshop and provide a better image than a native 36 mega pixel file, then the 1DX may yet prove a viable landscape camera. However, I suspect that Canon hasn’t as yet revealed all their cards and are holding back a large mega pixel camera to compete against the Nikon D800/E. I have no inside information to confirm this; it’s just a gut feeling based on the needs of the marketplace. If Canon is to announce such a camera they will need to do so soon, since we are likely to see somewhat of a flood of 5D MKII’s on the second-hand market as Canon owners abandon their cameras for Nikon’s newest bad boy on the block. For the Canon stayers, this may be an excellent opportunity to pick up some cheap pre-loved glass from those switching camps. For Nikon it’s an opportunity to lead the field in pixels and sales—at least for the time being.