Japan Gear Bag and Japan Gear Bag Retrospective « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Japan Gear Bag and Japan Gear Bag Retrospective


It is 5:30am on Friday morning. I was in bed by 8:30pm on Thursday night but jet lag struck early; I woke often to read for 15 minutes and was wide awake by 4:30am. I decided to drive up to Kissimmee this afternoon to scout for the Gatorland Mini IPT. If you would like to join us for the Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning session, please shoot me an e-mail asap.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear, especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

The Streak: 477!

Today’s blog post marks a totally insane, irrational, illogical, preposterous, absurd, completely ridiculous, unfathomable, silly, incomprehensible, what’s wrong with this guy?, makes-no-sense, 477 days in a row with a new educational blog post. As always–and folks have been doing a really great for a long time now–please remember to use our B&H links for your major gear purchases. For best results use one of our many product-specific links; after clicking on one of those you can continue shopping with all subsequent purchases invisibly tracked to BAA. Your doing so is always greatly appreciated. Please remember: web orders only. And please remember also that if you are shopping for items that we carry in the BAA Online Store (as noted in red at the close of this post below) we would of course appreciate your business.

This image was created on an eagle boat trip out of Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan with the hand held Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and the rugged, blazingly fast Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3 off the ice: 1/4000 sec. at f/5.6 in Manual mode. AWB.

Though AI Servo/Center Large Zone/Shutter Button AF was active at the moment of exposure, the active AF points did not show up on the RAW file. That is only the second time that I have seen this. In any case, the image is quite sharp on the bird’s eyes. Click on the image to see a larger version.

FocusTune/LensAlign Micro Adjustment: 0.

Image #1: Steller’s Sea-eagle, incoming adult

My 2017 Japan Gear Bag

I knew all along and once again that the big decision for this trip would be whether to bring the lighter, smaller 500mm f/4L IS II or the bulkier, heavier, and longer 600 II. By the narrowest of margins I opted for the 600 II (while dreaming of Red-crowned Cranes in flight).

Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. There is not a lot of walking on the Japan IPT. I will need the extra reach at the two crane sanctuaries, primarily Tsurui-Itoh where the extra reach really helps in the morning when the Red-crowned Cranes are flying in. And I will also use it for the Whooper Swans for flight and with either TC for tight head portraits.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. This lens will be on my shoulder for most of the trip either with a 5D Mark IV or a 1D X II via a Black Rapid strap. The 100-400 focal length fits beautifully with the 600 II. I will be using it as I always do for just about everything. That will include catch-as-catch-can flight and action, portraits, and as my main lens on a tripod for the Snow Monkeys. The close-focus there will be amazingly valuable… It was a pretty easy decision to leave the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at home as I can cover the missing 70-100 with the 24-105.

I am also bringing the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens. Many would think that it counterfeits the 100-400 II to some degree and it obviously does, but there are lots of advantages that come along with its lighter weight (as compared to the 600 II) and its wider f/4 aperture (as compared to the 100-400II). I will use it for hand held flight for the two species of sea-eagles that we will likely get to photograph, for the Whooper Swans in flight, and for the Red-Crowned Cranes when they are landing close to us. Lastly, the 400 DO II offers a good measure of insurance should fate claim my 600 II.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. This all-purpose B-roll lens will be in my Vested Interest Xtrahand vest where it can be grabbed whenever it is needed or used on a tripod for scenic photography.

I am bringing the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens for scenic photography even though I am not very good with this lens…

Camera Bodies

I took two of my favorite bird photography camera bodies with me, two Canon EOS 5D Mark IVs. In addition, I brought along the rugged, blazingly fast Canon EOS-1D X Mark II,
primarily as a back-up while realizing that it has a frame-rate advantage over the 5D IV and that its more powerful has AF drive speed advantages especially when using TCs.


I am making this trip with two Canon 1.4X III TCs and two 2X III TCs. With my style of bird photography–tight, clean, and graphic–I cannot afford to be without both TCs in the event of an accident or malfunction–or loss. 🙂 Most common in the malfunction category would be that the locking pin sticks; when that happens, there is a risk of having your camera body hit the ground.

Think Tank Rolling Bags

I will be using the larger of my two Think Tank rolling bags, the Airport Security™ V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag. Everything above fit easily into my Airport Security™ V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag on Saturday afternoon. It tipped the scales at 45 1/2 pounds for this trip; the legal limit for US flights is 40 pounds. Nearly all countries in the world give you slack as far as the 40 pounds goes on the way back to the US. As far as the extra 5 1/2 pounds, I have only been hassled for weight once in more than three decades of flying around the world. And never in Japan. I hope that I do not give myself a kine-ahora.

Please click on my Think Tank affiliate link here or on the Think Tank logo-link in the right column of each blog post page to earn a free gift when you purchase any Think Tank product.

Think Tank Urban Disguise Laptop Shoulder Bag

I love this amazing bag as it has tons of room and enables me to bring tons of extra stuff. If you are forced to gate check your roller you can get more than a few items in this bag, especially if you are not a diabetic.

Please click on my Think Tank affiliate link here or on the Think Tank logo-link in the right column of each blog post page to earn a free gift when you purchase any Think Tank product.

Delkin Flash Cards

As always, I will have a 128gb Delkin e-Film Pro Flash Card in each camera body so that I never have to change cards in the field thus reducing the risk of losing a card…. Please note the new lower prices here. I do have a few extra 32 and 64gb cards in a Delkin CF Memory Card Tote, mostly to protect against operator error.

Vested Interest Xtrahand Vest

I use a custom-designed Vested Interest Xtrahand Magnum vest that John Storrie knows as the BIRDS AS ART Big Lens Vest. It is based on their Magnum vest and then customized to fit my needs. In addition to carrying a ton of stuff comfortably in the field, it gives you a measure of protection should your roll aboard be gate-checked on a puddle jumper or on other flights.

If you do a search for “vest’ or “vested interest” on the blog it will take you to many mentions in both the blog and the Bulletins with lots of additional information. See especially here and here.

Click here to learn more about Xtrahand Vests. You can always call John at 940 484 2222 to discuss customizing your vest. If you think that you might order, be sure to have a tape measure in hand. Please let him know that we sent you.

Gear Bag Retrospective

In retrospect I would not have changed a thing. On most field sessions in Hokkaido I had the 600 II on the Induro tripod, often with a TC, most often with the 1.4X III, and the 100-400 II on my shoulder via the new Black Rapid Curves strap. I probably made more than 90% of my images with those two lenses. I used the 24-105 or the wide angle-zoom only rarely.

It turned out that I used the 400 DO II only on the sea eagle boat trips; that turned out to be a great decision. I used it almost always with the 1.4X except in the pre-dawn when I worked at f/4 to save a stop of ISO (or gain a stop of speed). The extra reach at 560mm at f/5.6 as compared to being at 560mm at f/8 with the 100-400 II and the 1.4X TC always saved me one stop of ISO. On the sea-eagle trips I kept the 100-400 II on my shoulder via the Black Rapid Curve strap and the 400 DO at my feet. I must admit to using the 400 DO II about 80% of the time on for the sea-eagles. When we got close to some sea-eagles perched on the ice on our last Rausu trip, I used the 400 DO II with the 2X III TC to create some tight body-parts portraits.

At the Monkey Park I relied 100% on the hand held 100-400II and did quite well. The four-stop IS and its close focusing ability were a big plus.

This image was created on an eagle boat trip out of Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan with the hand held Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 2X III, and the rugged, blazingly fast Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, ISO 1000. Evaluative metering +1 1/3 stops off the early morning ice: 1/500 sec. at f/8 in Manual mode. AWB.

AI Servo/Center Large Zone/Shutter Button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The system activated a rectangular array of six AF points that fell nicely on the right side of the bird’s neck, precisely on the same plane as its eye.

FocusTune/LensAlign Micro Adjustment: -5.

Image #2: White-tailed Sea-eagle perch on ice floe

The Huge Surprise

The biggest surprise for me was that once I tried the 1D X Mark II for flight I became so enamored with the frame rate (and the AF accuracy) that I used it quite often – heck, almost exclusively — for flight photography with both the 600 II/1.4X III and the 400 DO II/1.4X II TC combinations. See the upcoming blog posts for lots more images; the proof — as they say — is in the pudding.

Before you run off to purchase your 1DX Mark II do consider that while the frame rate is great for pure flight and action situations, you can purchase two 5D Mark IV bodies for the price of a single 1DX II. More importantly, consider the fact that the 1DX II is the worst Canon camera in several generations of camera bodies as far as sensor dust is concerned. And even worse, more than a few individual 1D X II bodies (including mine) spray tiny oil drops on the sensor.

Enlarge Image #1 to note the two large dust spots, one below the primaries on the bird’s left wing, the other well above the middle of the bird’s right wing. Worse yet, note the large oil spot just below the right wing, about 2/3 of the way out. All of those when working wide open at f/5.6 when sensor dust is generally not a problem. See the upcoming Canon EOS-1DX II Sensor Oil Spotting Problems blog post for additional information.

To sum up, the 5D Mark IV — where sensor dust is only very rarely present — is still my favorite bird photography camera body but I must acknowledge that the 1DX II is pretty darned good for flight and action despite the smaller file size.

Your Favorite?

Which of today’s featured images is your favorite? Please be sure to let us know why you made your choice.

Please Remember to use my Affiliate Links and to Visit the New BAA Online Store 🙂

To show your appreciation for my continuing efforts here, we ask, as always, that you get in the habit of using my B&H affiliate links on the right side of the blog for all of your photo and electronics purchases. Please check the availability of all photographic accessories in the New BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially the Mongoose M3.6 tripod head, Wimberley lens plates, Delkin flash cards and accessories, and LensCoat stuff.

As always, we sell only what I have used, have tested, and can depend on. We will not sell you junk. We know what you need to make creating great images easy and fun. And please remember that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

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In all blog posts and Bulletins, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors. Just be right :).

11 comments to Japan Gear Bag and Japan Gear Bag Retrospective

  • avatar Jeff Robinson

    It looks like you have a cut & paste error in your equipment list. You list using the 100-400 with a “5DS R OR A 1D X”. Given my knowledge of your current equipment bag (and the list of bodies you said you took), that should be “5D Mark IV or 1D X Mark II” now.

    As always, thanks for the details of why you chose the gear you did.

  • My old 1D-X initially had the oil problem – took it in to CPS & came back fine and haven’t seen the problem since. Have you sent yours in to have the issue addressed?

    Sorry to hear about the dust problem. I was hoping that with the advances recently that the latest bodies would have little to no dust issues. My 7D MkII has only shown ONE dust spot via FoCal2 since I got it – and that totally amazed me.

  • avatar Kerry Morris

    This information and your honesty is appreciated!
    Image #1 is too far off – if it was closer I might prefer it.

    I prefer image #2. the detail is wonderful in the whole shot. The image is showing us the bird’s eyes are laser focused and the bill quite menacing, yet it’s such a regal bird.

    can’t wait to see more of the Japan images. And Peru.

  • avatar Bob Allen

    That Steller’s Sea-eagle image is great. Really love the clear eyes looking forward.

    It doesn’t look like Vested Interest has closed; their website is still active
    Artie, have you talked with John lately?

    Re: Canon tc’s. If I recall correctly, version II models were produced to *also* work with APS-C Canon camera bodies. The version III models have improved circuitry and dust seals. Just yesterday, I tested a version *I* 1.4x with EOS 5D Mark IV and L lens; it worked fine. The 1.4 *I* did not work with EOS 7D Mark II. A brand new version *III* 1.4x worked with both bodies.

    I too would like more discussion about the I, II, & III differences. It could be that most folks would be fine with the earlier teles.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Bob. John Storrie has been talking about closing up shop for a while but I cannot confirm it for sure …

      The old 1.4X TC thing makes no sense to me. At some point I will run it by Chuck Westfall. And I will get to the various TCs as I understand them soon.


  • avatar Elinor Osborn

    Just a note that the Vested Interest company has closed.

    • avatar Elinor Osborn

      In answer to my phone call with a question on vests, I received a phone call a day or two ago from John Storrie saying he had closed the business.

  • avatar Ralph Fletcher

    Artie, these kind of retrospectives are useful. Thanks. Do you think the Newest version of the
    Canon teleconverters (1.4 and 2) are substantially better than version 2? Do you notice a difference? Also I’m hoping you’ll post a tutorial on how to do the micro-adjustment for Canon
    lenses. Thanks.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      The Series III TCs are designed to communicate with the newer (Series II) lenses as far as AF is concerned. More soon on the various TCs.

      I will be finishing up the LensAlign/FocusTune tutorial when I get back from the School for The Work in mid-March.