Wildlife Portraits Project – Australian Dingo

Every time I have visited Healesville Sanctuary in the past to photograph wildlife the Dingo’s have been sleeping (I think they might actually sleep more than cats). On my last visit they were up and moving around so I couldn’t resist ripping off a few frames on my way past. This frame ended up as quite a nice portrait – handheld with the 300mm F2.8L IS at F5.6 1/100th of a second.

Australian Dingo

Compact Flash and Secure Digital Cards – The Cost of Being at the Cutting Edge

I had to order some new Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) memory cards for my Iceland trip a day or so ago and I was struck by what it costs these days to be at the cutting edge of memory card technology. By way of introduction and example: A 32 Gigabyte Compact Flash card with a write capability of 90 MB/s costs in the order of $450+ Australian dollars; yet a 32 Gigabyte Compact Flash card with a 60 MB/s write speed only costs around $230 Australian. Thats a difference of more than $200 for the same size card but with a write speed one third slower. The immediate and obvious question is – Does that extra speed make a difference? And is it worth the price of admission?

From my point of view as a contemplative Landscape, Nature and Wilderness Photographer the answer to both questions is a resounding ‘NO’. My reasons are fairly straight forward and it has a lot to do with how I choose to set-up my camera. You see, my Canon 1DSMKIII is capable of taking both CF and SD cards and writing to both cards simultaneously. This is a great feature as it means I can load a 16 Gigabyte CF and 16 Gigabyte SD card into the camera at the same time and set the camera to record the RAW file to both cards at the same time – effectively giving me a RAID1 array for data redundancy in my camera. What this means in layman’s terms is if one card goes bad I still have the other card with exactly the same RAW images on it – An excellent in the field back up. The only downside of this set-up is it effectively halves the number of frames one can take without changing cards – but since memory is now so cheap this really isn’t an issue. The only other problem with loading both CF and SD cards and writing to both simultaneously is that you are then limited by whatever card has the slowest write speed to clear the cameras internal memory buffer. There is no point having a CF card capable of writing at 90 MB/s if the matching SD card that the camera is simultaneously writing to writes no faster than 30 MB/s. The CF card will clear the camera buffer faster than the SD card but you still wont be able to shoot again until the camera has finished clearing its buffer by writing the same files to the slower SD card. So that extra speed and cost is wasted. Thus in this example if the fastest SD card one can buy writes at 30 MB/s there is no point buying CF cards that write any faster than 30 MB/s. A 32 Gigabyte CF card with a write speed of 30 MB/s only costs about $100 – A whopping saving of $350 over the 90 MB/s write speed card! For the same capacity!

So, if I don’t need cards capable of writing at 90 MB/s a second who does?

There are numerous applications where it might be beneficial to have CF cards capable of these kind of blistering write speeds. A motor-sport photographer shooting with a Canon 1DMKIV in motor drive at ten frames per second has a good practical use for this kind of card speed. It is arguable that someone shooting with a 60 megapixel Phase One Medium Format Digital Back might also have an application for this type of card. The slower paced Landscape, Nature and Wilderness photographer like myself doesn’t need this kind of write capability and for a change can pocket the savings (us landscape photographers don’t often get this kind of win!).

So what did I order?

For my Iceland trip I ordered (in addition to the cards I already have) two Sandisk 16 Gigabyte 30 MB/s CF cards and two Sandisk 16 Gigabyte 30 MB/s SD cards – total cost $395.80. If I had ordered the same sized cards but with a 90 MB’s write speed I would have paid an additional $330 just for the CF cards (Sandisk currently dont make SD cards with write speeds faster than 30 MB/s) and effectively wasted my money by being unable to take advantage of that extra speed because of my set-up to shoot to both cards simultaneously. It is perhaps fair to say I have traded some speed for data protection – but that is a compromise I am prepared to make every-time.

Iceland Volcano – Katla Situation Update

T-Minus three weeks until I leave for Iceland and all is quiet on the volcano front. Eyjafjallajokull is quietly steaming away in the background on the webcam (when visibility is good – lately it has been terrible) and Katla is eerily silent. Even the earthquakes have slowed of late with only minimal activity in the last week – I hope this is not the calm before the storm. This is the quietest Katla has been since I started monitoring it back in May.  The Modern Survival Blog has an interesting story today on earthquakes – in 2010 they are apparently up 133 percent across the globe – Mother Nature stretching her legs? I am continuing to monitor the status of both Eyjafjallajokull and Katla on a daily basis and will do so up until I leave later this month. The Icelandic Met Office has some great reports for anyone interested in daily updates.

Iceland – ‘Final’ Equipment Check List

Its only a few weeks now till I leave for Iceland for three weeks dedicated landscape and nature photography; which means its definitely time to finalise my photographic and non photographic equipment for the trip. The non photographic equipment is pretty much confined to a few sets of suitable trekking clothes, Gortex jacket / pants, boots, personal items etc. The photographic equipment on the other hand requires considerably more thought. I have pondered the equipment to take for months now and my revised check list is as follows:

  • Canon 1DSMK3 Camera Body (going to serve as my primary DSLR Camera workhorse for the trip)
  • Two Spare Batteries and Battery Charger (should be heaps – I get over 1000 frames out of a single charge)
  • Canon S90 Point and Shoot (Going to serve as a back-up in the unlikely event the 1DSMK3 falls over)
  • Flip HD Camcorder or my Canon HD Camcorder (I cant decide as yet which to take)
  • Canon 17mm TSE Lens (my widest lens for the trip – with TSE a Bonus!)
  • Canon 24mm F1.4L MKII Lens (My Favourite Landscape Lens)
  • Canon 50mm F1.2L
  • Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS
  • Canon 300mm F2.8L IS
  • Canon 1.4x Tele-Extender
  • Canon Macro Tube
  • Canon 580EX Flash with a ST-E2 Remote Trigger
  • Cable Release and Bubble Level
  • An assortment of LEE Hard and Soft Graduated Neutral Density Filters / Filter Holder
  • The LEE Big Stopper 10 Stop ND Filter
  • A couple of Circular Polarisers
  • A Slew of Compact Flash and Mini SD cards – totalling around 100 Gigabytes
  • My Mac Book Pro / accessories and Back Up LACIE rugged hard drive
  • Arctic Butterfly (for Sensor Cleaning), lens cleaning tissue, lens cleaning fluid, grey card etc.
  • Gitzo Tripod and Really Right Stuff Ball Head
  • My much loved shooting vest
  • Lowe Pro Nature Trekker II Camera Bag and Lowe Pro Compact Backpack (which will hold pretty much all of the above except the tripod and shooting vest). I need to split all of this gear into two bags in order to meet the carry on airline weight restrictions per piece of luggage.

The above equipment list pretty much covers me for all the major focal lengths – except 35mm (which I have decided I can live without for this trip). I know in many ways all of this equipment flies against the current trend of many photographers to travel as light as possible; typically packing only a zoom lens or two to ease the travel discomfort. But, I am approaching it from a different angle and am prepared to wear the travel discomfort and to some extent the excess baggage for flexibility and maximum quality when in the field. Since I wont be doing any serious hiking and will have a 4WD for the trip moving all this around shouldn’t to bothersome.

Other Items I need to Take

  • Down Sleeping Bag
  • Petzl LED Headlamp
  • Shooting gloves

Whats not coming? (but might sneak in at the last minute).

  • Canon 85mm F1.2L (I can cover this focal range with the 70-200mm F2.8L IS)
  • Canon 5D Camera Body (I want to take this… my heart says yes… my head and wallet say NO!)
  • Canon 14mm F2.8L MKII – Off the radar and out of budget for this trip

Snow Leopard – Its a Mac Thing

It isn’t really a ‘Mac Thing’ (or maybe it is!) – But the Snow Leopard is definitely my ‘favourite’ of the big cats (I also have a soft spot for the Persian Leopard); which accounts for my continual return visits to photograph them whenever possible at the Melbourne Zoo. This photograph was taken during the same shooting session as ‘Snow Leopard in Profile‘, but captures a very different moment and feeling. My only regret with both of these photographs is that this is a captive animal and not wild. But since Snow Leopards are native to a foreign country, endangered and extremely rare I hope you will forgive the captive nature of these photographs and instead enjoy them for their merit in their own right. I used the Canon 300mm F2.8L IS lens for this shot at ISO400 on the 1DSMK3. I have had a few emails from readers asking me how I photograph these animals without any ‘bars or cages’ in the shot – ‘Did I have special access?’ The answer is no – I photographed all of the animals either in the wild or from normal public Zoo access. The trick when faced with caged animals is to use a lens with a wide aperture like the Canon 300mm F2.8L IS and to put the lens as close as possible to the bars; whilst putting the animal as far away from the bars as possible. This effectively throws the bars or cage so far out of focus that they become invisible. Its a very useful technique to photograph captive animals.