Secrets to Success with the Hand Held 100-400 II/1.4X III Combination « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Secrets to Success with the Hand Held 100-400 II/1.4X III Combination


I set the alarm for 3:15am so that I could meet my three private clients at Nickerson at 5am. We had a great time and the boys and girls learned a ton despite the difficult wind (15+ mph from the NW) against sun conditions. Tonight is the meet and greet for the Nickerson Beach IPT. The one thing that always amazes me is that 90% of the folks at Nickerson (and most other locations that I visit regularly) have no clue as to how to try and make a good image. And that goes for double in difficult situations.

I prepared this blog post at my Mom’s in about one hour after optimizing the image on my flight to ISP on Monday past. If I did everything right, it should be published automatically at 6am on Thursday, August 13, 2015.

Thanks to All!

Thanks to the many who have been participating here on the blog more frequently after my recent plea for increased interactivity.

Razorbill Iris Exposure Answer

Many gave answers that would likely receive full credit on an exam but nobody gave the text book answer that I was looking for, the one that showed a complete and thorough understanding of exposure theory. Here is my answer:

The (middle-dark toned) iris of a Razorbill in a properly exposed RAW file will be about 1 1/2 stops underexposed because the correct exposure for a middle-dark tone needs to be about 1 1/2 stops more than the correct exposure for a bright WHITE in the same light. In other words, to be properly exposed, bright WHITEs need less light than a middle tone and middle-dark tones need more light than middle tones….

Learn more in the chapter on exposure in the original classic, The Art of Bird Photography (in softcover only) and in the “Exposure Simplified” section of The Art of Bird Photography II (ABP II: 916 pages, 900+ images, on CD only). Best bet: Save $10 by ordering the two-book bundle here. I can only wish that the info in these two comprehensive books had been available when I started in 1983….


This image was created with the tripod-mounted Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III (at 560mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X.. ISO 400. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/400 sec. at f/9 in Manual mode. AWB.

Center AF point/AI Servo Expand (by necessity)/Rear Focus AF as framed. The active AF sensor was fell on a spot to the right of and just below the bir’s eye. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial.

Image #1: Breeding plumage Pacific race Brown Pelican scratching.

Secrets to Success with the Hand Held 100-400 II/1.4X III/1D X Combination

Sorry; there will be nothing earthshaking here.

#1: Whatever the camera body, hand holding the 100-400 II with the 1.4X III TC yields the very best results when the sun is shining. That goes for double if you are using a 7D Mark II or another 1.6X crop factor body.
#2: For topnotch results when the sun is shining, work right on sun angle with your shadow pointed directly at the subject.
#3: Do not use One-Shot or Rear Focus and re-compose AF; doing so will result in unsharp images should you shift your position even a fraction of a millimeter as you do when you are breathing. With all due respect to the doubters, this too goes for double if you are using a 7D Mark II or another 1.6X crop factor body; with denser pixels the effects of gear shake will be greater on a pixel level with a crop factor camera than with a full frame body.
#4: The corollary to #3: always work in AI Servo mode and, after choosing a spot on the bird that will yield a sharp eye, have AF active at the moment of exposure.
#5: Even when working with AI Servo AF actively tracking, be sure to support your left forearm for added stability (and thus, increased sharpness). For today’s image my left forearm was resting on top of a cliff. I was standing in a natural, chest-high trench.

Note: The speed of initial AF acquisition with this combo is slowed as it is whenever a TC is added to the mix. This goes double for the 7D II or any of the pro-sumer bodies because the pro bodies have stronger batteries that better drive the AF system. My best advice for combatting this problem is to pre-focus at the approximate distance to the flying birds.


San Diego offers a wealth of very attractive natural history subjects. With annual visits spanning more than three decades I have lot of experience there….

2016 San Diego 4 1/2-DAY BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-Tour (IPT) JAN 8 thru the morning of JAN 12, 2016: $1899 (Limit: 10)

Meet and Greet at 7:00pm on the day before the IPT begins
Two great leaders: Arthur Morris and Denise Ippolito

Join us in San Diego to photograph the spectacular breeding plumage Brown Pelicans with their fire-engine red and olive green bill pouches; Brandt’s and Double-crested Cormorants in breeding plumage with their amazing crests; breeding plumage Wood and Ring-necked Duck; other species possible including Lesser Scaup, Redhead, and Surf Scoter; a variety of gulls including Western, California, and the gorgeous Heerman’s, all in full breeding plumage; shorebirds including Marbled Godwit, Willet, Sanderling and Black-bellied Plover; many others possible including Least, Western, and Spotted Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Black and Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Plover, and Surfbird; Harbor Seals (depending on the current regulations) and California Sea Lions likely; and Bird of Paradise flowers. And as you can see by studying the two IPT cards there are some nice landscape opportunities as well.

Did I mention that there are wealth of great birds and natural history subjects in San Diego in winter?


Though the pelicans will be the stars of the show on this IPT there will be many other handsome and captivating subjects in wonderful settings.

The San Diego Details

This IPT will include five 3 1/2 hour morning photo sessions, four 2 1/2 hour afternoon photo sessions, five lunches, after-lunch image review and Photoshop sessions, and a thank you dinner. To ensure early starts, breakfasts will be your responsibility.

A $499 non-refundable deposit is required to hold your slot for this IPT. You can send a check (made out to “Arthur Morris) to us at BIRDS AS ART, PO Box 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL, 33855. Or call Jim or Jennifer at the office with a credit card at 863-692-0906. Your balance, payable only by check, will be due on 11/1//2015. If we do not receive your check for the balance on or before the due date we will try to fill your spot from the waiting list. Please print, complete, and sign the form that is linked to here and shoot it to us along with your deposit check. If you register by phone, please print, complete and sign the form as noted above and either mail it to us or e-mail the scan. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via e-mail.


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14 comments to Secrets to Success with the Hand Held 100-400 II/1.4X III Combination

  • avatar Joe

    Hi Artie, regarding AF speed, I read this from Chuck Westfall when comparing the 1DX, 5DIII & 7DII – “lens drive speeds will vary with all three cameras based on differences in optical formulas (for example, rear-focusing vs. full optical system extension, etc.). However, when all else is equal, the EOS-1D X and EOS 7D Mark II are capable of driving EF super-telephoto lenses faster than the EOS 5D Mark III, specifically during the first second of lens drive. This is due to differences in the circuitry of the camera body and these select lenses”
    So it sounds like it’s not only the battery voltage that plays a big part in AF speed.


  • avatar Chuck Carlson

    More info on the battery packs: 1DX vs. 7D2. The 1DX battery pack runs at 11.1 volts while the 7D2 runs at 7.2 volts. That’s the difference.

  • avatar Chuck Carlson


    Thanks for the lesson on the Razorbill exposure challenge. That’s going to help me!

    RE the 7D2 battery grip and how it uses two battery packs

    My instruction manual for the BG-E16 battery grip says “if two battery packs are inserted, power is supplied simultaneously by both of them.” When I check battery status, it shows power in both battery packs goes down together, rather than one draining and then the other. I don’t have an extender to check performance. Nor does the manual say that the battery grip would help when using an extender.


    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey Chuck,

      Thanks for correcting my mis-information. I had thought that I heard it from a reliable source….. artie

    • avatar Geoff

      I just recently got the batter pack and I see both batteries draining together at about the same rate. However, I don’t believe it gives any extra boost to lenses like what is claimed with a 1D battery.

  • avatar colin bradshaw

    Can I just clarify what you mean by “after choosing a spot on the bird that will yield a sharp eye, have AF active at the moment of exposure”.

    My camera is set up for rear button focus only. Are you saying that I should still be pressing that when I press the shutter release or are you suggesting that, for this combo, we go back to having focus activated by shutter release?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      To have “AF active at the moment of exposure” folks using the shutter button need to be pressing the shutter button at the moment of exposure. Folks using rear button AF need to be pressing that button at the moment of exposure. 🙂 All AI Servo AF of course.


  • avatar Frank Sheets

    Hi Artie. I have a technical question regarding your post for today. You mentioned that the battery capability for cameras like the 7DII are not up to par with the pro level cameras, like a 1DX, and hence can impact the AF quality. In the case of a 7DII, would a battery pack help, or would it matter. I am not sure what a pro-sumer body is. If the battery pack will not help the 7DII, 1.4X combo for quick focus needs, perhaps leaving the 1.4x off specifically for BIF is best, then crop. Thoughts? Love the Pelican!

    Frank Sheets

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      The batteries in the vertical grip work one at a time. One runs down to nothing and the second is the back-up so no help there :). Pro-sumer bodies are those like the 7D, 7D II, and the 5D III that are quite excellent but do not fit into the pro bodies class like a 1D X or a 1D IV. artie

      ps: thanks for your kind words.

  • avatar John H


    Although the shot was taken at F9 the camera will autofocus wide open which with the 100-400 F5.6 + losing 1 stop for the 1.4 convertor is F8


  • Oh, what an image Guru! Did the combo AF at f/9?

    • Sorry, I can see it did AF. However, wondering how, as the common understanding is the lens does AF with 1.4 extender up to f/8 only.

      Could u please educate me on this?


      • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART


        The effective aperture here is f/8: f/5.6 lens plus 1.4X TC…. So that combo will AF at any aperture that you can set. Take an f/5.6 lens and add a 2X TC and you get to effective f/11. No camera will AF at f/11. artie

        ps: see the recent post on using the 100-400 II with the 2X III TC….