Pushing the Limits with the Canon EOS-5D Mark III--2X III Teleconverter--800mm f/5.6L IS Combination

catlle-egret-breeding-plumage-_a1c5163-gatorland-kissimmee-fl

Cattle Egret, mega-breeding plumage. This image was created with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens, the 2XIII teleconverter, and the Canon EOS-5D Mark III. ISO 400. Evaluative metering at zero confirmed by histogram check: 1/640 sec. at f/11 in Manual mode–early morning light at 7:56 am.

I love the soft light, the exquisite sharpness, the multi-colored background, and the bright colors of the soft parts. The soft parts include the lores–the skin in front of the eye, the bill, and the feet (that are of course not seen here). These bright colors are the result of increased hormonal flow during the breeding season. Lores, bill, and additional clean-up work was done; see below for details.

See immediately below for AF info. Wait: autofocus with an f/5.6 lens and a 2X TC with a camera that focuses only to f/5.6…. How can that be??? As I said, read on for the AF info :)

Pushing the Limits with the Canon EOS-5D Mark III–2X III Teleconverter–800mm f/5.6L IS Combination

Many folks are asking, “Won’t you miss the 1.3 crop factor of your Mark IV body and its ability to focus to f/8?” The answer, as detailed in part in Gear Strategy here, is yes, at times. But…. Whenever I can get close with the 5D III I wind up with a lot more pixels on the bird. With tame birds that works out to a 22.3 megapixel to 16.1 megapixel advantage for the 5D III. If my math is correct that works out to a 38 1/2 per cent increase in pixels on the subject. Not to mention that I love the 5D III files and that those files exhibit at least a half stop better high ISO noise control than Mark IV files. When working with skittish or otherwise unapproachable subjects the MIV has a small advantage. Throw in a teleconverter and that becomes a large advantage. Again, see the Gear Strategy post here.

However, by knowing your gear inside and out you can push the limits of your lens/camera set-up. When I saw the drop-dead gorgeous Cattle Egret in mege-breeding plumage I knew that I wanted to capture a full frame head portrait. And I wanted it with everyone of my newly available 22.3 megapixels. Do understand that you need a qualifying situation…. This bird was one of a pair that sat for a few minutes at a time so rather than go to the Mark IV with the 1.4X TC on the 800 I went for the whole nine yards. I mounted the 2X III TC on the 800 in front of the 5D Mark III. I made sure that AF Mode was set to Live Mode. Then I framed the image through the viewfinder and pre-focused. Then I turned on Live View, pressed the * button for Rear Focus AF, and made a series of images. Additional important details on this technique will be included in the 5D Mark III User’s Guide and the update of the EOS-1D Mark IV User’s Guide. (It will take me a while to get to the latter.)

If the bird changes its position or moves to a new perch, you need to start from scratch. Live Mode/Live View AF works only with static subject. BTW, the image above was not a result of luck; I created 4-7 sharp keepers of this and several other pose/background combinations.

Have you ever seen a more beautiful individual of this species?

a1c5163-gatorland-kissimmee-fl

This JPEG represents the original capture from which the image above was created.

Bill clean-up was done with the Patch Tool, the Clone Stamp Tool, and the Spot Healing Brush, all as described in detail in Digital Basics. The old wound on the chin was covered with a warped Quick Mask as described in detail in APTATS I.

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The BIRDS AS ART 1st International Bird Photography Competition has been going great guns. Additional folks are getting in on the fun each day. And many folks who had previously finished their entries have been taking advantage of the extension by uploading even stronger images. Thanks to those who responded to my Hand of Man pleas; it is now one of our strongest categories. While each of the following categories has some very strong images there is still room for improvement: Small in the Frame/Environmental, Pleasing Blurs, Youth, and especially Captive (photographs of captive, zoo, pet, or rehab birds).

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Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear used to create the images in today’s post. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our Shopper’s Guide.

Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens. Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
2XIII teleconverter. This TC is noticeably sharper and is designed to work best with the new Series II teleconverters.
Canon EOS-5D Mark III. Man, I am in love with this camera body. Both the files and the AF system are superb.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

LensCoats. I have a LensCoat on each of my big lenses to protect them from nicks and thus increase their re-sales value. All my big lens LensCoat stuff is in Hardwood Snow pattern.
LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers. I have four tripods active and each has a Hardwood Snow LegCoat on it to help prevent further damage to my tender shoulders :) And you will love them in mega-cold weather….
Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod. This one will last you a lifetime.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head. Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
CR-80 Replacement Foot for Canon 800. When using the 800 on a Mongoose as I do, replacing the lens foot with this accessory lets the lens sit like a dog whether pointed up or down and prevents wind-blown spinning of your lens on breezy days by centering the lens directly over the tripod.
Double Bubble Level. You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.
The Lens Align Mark II. I use the Lens Align Mark II pretty much religiously to micro-adjust all of my gear an average of once a month and always before a major trip. Enjoy our free comprehensive tutorial here.
BreezeBrowser. I do not see how any digital photographer can exist without this program.

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29 comments to Pushing the Limits with the Canon EOS-5D Mark III–2X III Teleconverter–800mm f/5.6L IS Combination

  • avatar Robert Kaplan

    A beautiful portrait Artie. My favorite Florida bird.

  • avatar Allan Warner

    Great results, Artie.

    Is this use of AF for live view similar to the one described in paragraph 2 on page 5 of your 7 D User’s guide and attributed to Dave Hardcastle?

    Does it work on 1 D IV as well as 5 D III and 7 D ?

    It seems as if camera is somehow fooled into thinking f 8 is really f 5.6—but how?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      It is not similar to the method in the 7D Guide, it is one and virtually the same; the camera is focusing using contrast off the sensor. It is not using the camera’s regular AF system. It works on the 1D IV and the 5D III. The camera is not fooled at all in this case; the aperture is f/11. Lastly, there is one additional step that will be revealed in the 5D III Guide and in the 7D and Mark IV guides when I have time to do the updates.

  • avatar Ted Willcox

    An amazing image for a 2X Teleconverter on a 800mm lens.

  • Simply magnificent, Artie. I was not the least bit surprised that you put determination ahead of knowledge–but given the level of the latter, the former is beyond the pale. Keep at it! The other thing I would add (I barely ever comment) is that the degree to which you share your knowledge is also beyond the pale–something useful in every blog post.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks John for your more than kind comments. Note: John has been on my Galapagos trip twice. My July 2013 trip might well be my very last. If you are a Happy Camper what are you waiting for???

  • avatar Bill Richardson

    Nice shot and great tip. It does seem the cattle egrets are a bit more colorful this year. Lucky us.

  • avatar Kflap

    Dear Kflap,

    re:

    The images from the MkIII look very good.

    I like to think that I have something to do with that.

    Two things have me concerned about the new body. First, the D800 from Nikon – with AF to f/8 and much larger file sizes.

    The D-800 has a dark viewfinder. I do not need 36 mp and there is a very good chance that neither do you. And the D-800 has half the frame rate of the 1DX.

    Second, the recall on MkIII bodies for problems already.

    I can assure you that my camera has performed perfectly in a great variety of nature photography applications.

    I moved to Canon years back when Nikon did not have any big & fast glass. Now it seems to me Nikon has passed Canon with its current offerings.

    No wonder all of my images suck. More seriously, you must be joking. Right now Canon big glass destroys Nikon big glass. Far lighter, far sharper, and killer four-stop IS. Do you create images or do you–as I suspect– spend all of your time spreading your rubbish on the internet?

    Canon still do not have reliable strobe control.

    That’s funny. My 580 EZ worked perfectly this morning. I wish that I had known what you know….

    Canon metering is still way behind Nikon.

    I guess that that is why I am unable to create properly exposed images. Man, your lack of knowledge is a hoot.

    This new D800 has me considering either a switch or a body to take advantage of the prime Nikon glass I still have.

    I am guessing that whatever you do it will not help. For your information good photographers make good images with whatever gear they are using. And most lenses are a lot sharper than most photographers and I gotta say that your ignorant comments above are proof of that.

    Canon did not give much of an upgrade with the MkIII while Nikon is playing a completely different game at this point.

    In view of the spectacular 5D III images that I have been posting it would seem that everything you say above would qualify as worthless information. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. artie

    • There’s no recall on the 5D Mk III – the top LCD light leak affecting metering will probably be handled by firmware, probably something as simple as turning the LCD light off when the shutter is activated.

      And to echo the point Art is making: if you can’t take awe-inspiring images with the 5D Mk III in any situation you’re likely to encounter, a D800 ain’t going to help you.

      As to your metering comment, I’ve literally not lost a single image (from my 7D – same meter as the 5D Mk III) to inaccurate metering since I bought it in December 2009: not one.

      Assuming you’re posting here in the context of bird photography, the D800 isn’t in the same game as the 5D Mk III – and I wouldn’t have one over my 7D.

      • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Thanks Keith. There is no digital camera that gets the right exposure in nature photographer more than 20% of the time. Anyone who disagrees with that statement is an idiot. It’s up to the photographer and the photographer’s brain to come up with the right exposure.

        • Just for clarity Art, I think we’re saying the same thing about the metering: I’m not saying that the meter on the 7D/5D Mk III is “infallible”, but that used properly, and with experience of how to adapt and adjust to the prevailing circumstances, it won’t cost the photographer images.

          It’s funny, but he worst-metering camera I’ve ever owned was the Nikon 200 – the camera that put me squarely in the Canon camp: it was more unpredicatble than a slot machine, and could not be anticipated.

          • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

            Thanks again Keith. All digital camera meters are wrong about 80% of the time. Yes, Nikon meters are different from Canon meters but they both need help from humans most of the time. Most times when I and folks think that the camera screwed up it is simply a reflection of operator error. I fixed your typo. :)

          • Well, I think it’s mostly subjective. I’ve used the Nikon D200 for a long time and, for what concerns exposure, in those 80% of times exposure was my own responsibility it went wrong only when I did it wrong. In any case it happened only very few times. Curiously, I find that the more recent D7000 is more unpredictable.

            As I have said 1,000 times, if you are working in constant light there are no hard exposures; anyone should be able to adjust the exposure and come up with a perfect histogram quickly 100% of the time. No matter the camera or the metering system.

  • avatar cheapo

    Artie, exquisite is the word for this creature! It would be interesting to know how far you were from the subject. Could that be included in each image info?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      In this case I was about 20 feet from the bird. Too much trouble to post it every time and there is not much to learn from knowing the distance. The distance in the EXIF data is often whacky anyway…..

  • avatar Jon

    The main advantage of Live view is that you can magnify the image to check precisely what component of the image is accurately focused. I have used Live view mainly for macro work but I must admit I find it limited when used in daylight.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Not! I use Live View/Live Mode focus to focus much more accurately than I can focus manually…

  • avatar George Cottay

    Well, there’s always one student who doesn’t get it. That’s me on AF with the 800 and 2X. Once we have achieved focus manually what advantage are you seeing with the Live View AF?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Ah,my bad. I don’t see such good any more. Live View Live Mode AF is far more accurate that I could ever be focusing manually. I must add, however, that the viewing screen on the 5D III is so much brighter than any before it that even I can do a reasonably good job of focusing manually in a pinch (which usually means in a rush).

  • avatar Ely Teehankee

    The bird is beautiful just as you have created it with the 5D Mark III. How would you anticipate the performance of the 1D X using your present set up?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Amazing. A 5D III on steroids. Much more rugged with the pro body that I feel. With almost double the frame rate. And more power to drive AF faster (I think)> I am still trying to get a definitive answer on that :).

  • Amazing – have never seen those colors in one of these guys. Artie, how much of your success is due to the fact that you’ve been working with birds so long you can tell when one is going to sit still long enough to set up a killer shot as opposed to grabbing a quick shot?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Dave, In part; knowing your subjects is always a component of photographic success. But for me I do believe that my determination ranks ahead of that as a factor in my success :).

  • avatar Charles Scheffold

    That is a beautiful bird – nice work.