My Learning Curve - Part 1

2 (ia) Equipment - Cameras Canon 7D MK II, 7D MK I, 50D, 40D, 30D, 20D

Circa 2009 - Canon 50D rigged for butterfly/dragonfly work with Battery Grip, Canon 300mm F4 IS plus 1.4 x Extender and Canon Extension Tube EF 25 II. Wildlife Watching Supplies - Lens and Camera Covers, Neoprene Lens Covers.

Review of Canon 7D MK II Versus Canon 7D MK I

For my wildlife use the upgrade to the MK II has been a real game changer and, though long awaited, one of the most worthwhile upgrades to date.

This article has been written following 18 months use.

The internet is littered with many detailed articles on the 7d MK II, I will therefore restrict the following to my personal view from a wildlife photography perspective.

The change from the MK I to MK II was a smooth one for me, the only element of effort needed was to understand the new auto focus system. For this I read the manual supplied, researched the internet and then eventually simply bought and followed the excellent set-up guide by Glenn Bartley, link below:

Link To – Glen Bartley's Canon 7d MK II Setup Guide

I was a bit annoyed that my MK I batteries and Grips did not fit the MK II and feel these are relatively expensive items to rebuy. I bought Canon products but you can get non-canon versions from eBay/other sources which I understand work well, though I believe that for non-canon batteries you can have problems with the camera displaying battery levels.

AUTOFOCUS - Having set my 7D MK II as above, I have found it to be easy to use and the new autofocus system has lead to many more flight image 'Keepers' and also I think quicker and more accurate autofocus across the range of lenses. For me the improved autofocus and increased AUTO FOCUS POINTS (helping with composition options and wider view auto focus capability) would have been reason enough to upgrade from the MK I.

FRAMES PER SECOND - the MK II moves to 10 fps versus MK I of 8. In theory this is a significant and worthwhile attribute, but in practice I haven't really thought that its 'saved the day' on any images. I think as long as a camera is capable of more than 5 to 6 fps that's good enough for wildlife photography. However, that said, I still like the fact its now10 fps and the noise is good. Regarding shutter noise, I would say the MKII is certainly more than acceptable for wildlife work in comparison to other cameras.

The 2.2mp or 12.2% increase in PIXEL COUNT from 18 to 20.2mp has been a useful help for cropping capability, and I am glad to say without loss of OVERALL PICTURE QUALITY- clarity, colours, 'smoothness' etc. - indeed there has been in my opinion a worthwhile improvement in these attributes.

The biggest improvement for my uses has been in Noise, I see on the internet that many have bemoaned the fact Noise improvement was not more pronounced, and I guess if you consider all cameras available then people do have a point, but as a dedicated canon user (due to investment in lenses etc.) and a wildlife photographer, Noise improvement on this type of 1.6x cropped body has been a real game changer for my photography as follows.

NOISE - With the Canon 7D MK II I am happy using ISO800 for normal use, can go to ISO 1250 if needed and would push to ISO1600 if I had to. For the Canon 7D MK I the equivalent ISO's would have been 400, 500 and only 640! This change from Normal ISO use from 400 to 800 has been a significant change for me personally and one I am still adapting to. It has lead to a complete rethink and overhaul of camera use and equipment. All of which has been of great benefit to the number and quality of images I am able to produce each year.

The biggest benefit has been in terms of what I would call my 'walkabout' kit which I use 90% of the time. Previously this comprised - Canon 7D MK I, Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS, Canon Extenders 1.4x and 2x, Extension Tube EF 25 II, Gitzo Tripod and Markins Ballhead. All carried via a Scopac as below:

However, this has now been replaced with the lighter and more manageable (and therefore more easily and more often used) handheld kit of - Canon 7D MK II (without battery grip but with easyCover Silicone Armour Skin), Canon 100-400mm L IS F5.6 MK II and Canon Extender III 1.4x below:

This simplification makes me a very happy chap indeed. It can be used in 95% plus of situations as the previous kit. It simply leads to more photographic opportunities because I carry the kit more often now and it's quicker and easier to use so I do not miss as many opportunities. The image quality is in many cases on a par with my old kit and if used appropriately almost always produces 'acceptable' quality images. It has also allowed me to take more flight shots and more creative close-up/macro images. This change has been a real personal revelation in the way I think about my photography, a real positive change (thank you Canon).

I believe the Canon 7D MK II is, for me, the best wildlife camera option regardless of budget or manufacturer. I have considered other makes but have too much invested in canon gear to suffer the monetary hit of a change, and also changes to a 1DX, Canon 5DS or 5DSR and keep coming back to the 7D MK II as being the best tool for most of my wildlife work. We all have the common problem of putting enough quality and accurately focused pixels onto our subject who in most cases is difficult to get close too in the field. The 1.6x cropped sensor, autofocus, and overall image quality of the 7D MK II make it, for me, the best tool for the job out there regardless of manufacturer, particularly when teamed with their new generation of Canon image stabilised L lenses.

CONCLUSION - The 7D MK II is a significant improvement on the MK I due to its Noise, Autofocus and Pixel count capabilities. I would not hesitate in recommending an upgrade if wildlife photography is your thing.

A useful side effect of its introduction has been an increase in good second hand 7D MK I cameras on eBay etc. and for those on a budget the MK I is still a very good option indeed and at second hand prices represents outstanding value.

For an excellent in detail review of this camera please follow the link below:

Link To – Digital Photography Review Canon 7D MK II

I would like to finish this section by mentioning the Canon 100-400mm F5.6 L IS MK II - this lens has also been an even longer awaited update. The old 100-400mm was for a number of years my primary lens, but I missed out on many good images due to it being soft until f8 and not practical to use with an Extender. I was therefore 'forced' to use the Canon 300mm f2.8 as above. The MK II however changes all that. Like being able to now use ISO800 with the Canon 7D MK II, this lens has been another game changer for me. Its image quality is excellent across all focal lengths and F stops and it will produce good images with a 1.4 Extender (MKII or MK III) though you loose all but the central focus points on a Canon 7D MK II. The conventional twist zoom is a useful change from the old push pull. It focuses quicker which is a boon for flight shots and has a closer minimum focus distance which is excellent for 'macro' images.

For me the timing of the Canon 7D MK II and release of the Canon 100-400mm F5.6 L IS Mk II were perfect and have lead to a real positive step for my wildlife imaging.

The following is probably one of the best reviews I've found so far for this great lens:

Link To – The Digital Picture Review of Canon 100-400mm F5.6 L IS MK II

Review of Canon 7D Versus 50D

As per my usual format, I list below a number of sites who thoroughly review the Canon 7D, and therefore confine my comments to differences that matter to me when undertaking wildlife photography.

I have been using a 7D now for the last 9 months in a wide range of wildlife photography scenarios but have not yet felt the need to explore its video capability.

The body is very similar to the 50D, but the flip up flash and view finder are noticeably larger due to the increased view finder field of view (more on the benefit of this later). There is a different arrangement of "On/Off" buttons and LCD Screen menu buttons and of course the 7D can capture HD video therefore it has some extra buttons and functionalities. All in all I found absolutely no hassle in moving from the 50D to 7D from the point of view of using the camera functions.

As with my move from a 40D to a 50D, one of my main motivations for the 7D was the roughly 20% increase in pixel count to 18mp on the same size 1.6x crop sensor (Canon 50D 15.1mp). This increases your cropping opportunity, always a significant factor for a wildlife camera.

Though the 7D has an increased pixel count to my eyes the noise levels are superior to the 50D. For me that means I'm "Comfortable" using ISO400, "OK" using ISO500 and "Would Use" ISO 640 if I had to. Previously on a 50D I would have used a maximum of ISO500 and been worrying about noise.

The 1x or 100% viewfinder as opposed to the 0.95x or 95% 50D view finder is of benefit when composing ,in poorer light or when undertaking macro work. I really like this.

I have noticed less occurrence of the dreaded '99 error' with my 7D than 50D's, though when upgrading to the 7D I did feel the need to go to 16GB cards as a minimum and with write speeds of 60MB/S and above (due to the increased file sizes and my inreased interest in improving my flight photography skills). The batteries and battery packs for the 7D are also new so your 50D gear won't fit (more expense!).

I now come to, what for me is the 7D's biggest reason to buy.......its improved autofocus capabilities. I have found much superior to the 50D. With a little perseverance in its understanding and set up it really is a valuable leap forward for the wildlife photographer (if the 1D's are another leap forward again, then I now understand why the 1D's are standard pro gear bodies). In all the 7D autofocus system is faster and much more precise, a real asset in the field.

As with the 50D I've not found the need to use the micro focus adjustment to customize lens and camera body focusing nor have I been inclined to use many of the 7D's or 50D other miriad of functionalities. I guess some of that is due to the fact I am not yet interested in the video function and I take all my images RAW.

Therefore in summary I would say the 7D is a worthwhile upgrade if you will get value from the improved autofocus system, slightly improved noise performance and increased pixel
count. From a wildlife photography perspective they are, to me, valuable improvements but to others they may not be worth the extra money. If a tight budget is a serious factor in your camera choice then I still think a new or second hand Canon 40D should be high up on your list.

Link To – Digital Photography Review of Canon 7D

Link To – Luminous Landscape Review of Canon 7D

Link To – Image Resourcing comparison imaging tool Canon 7D Vs 50D (or any other two cameras)

Review of Canon 50D Versus 40D

I list below a number of sites who thoroughly review the Canon 50D, and therefore confine my comments to differences that matter to me when undertaking wildlife photography.

The body is almost identical to the 40D, but I am not fond of the silver coloured control dial, though this is a rather trifling niggle. I found absolutely no hassle in moving from the 40D to 50D from the point of view of using the camera functions, so there was no learning curve to go through there.

The biggest benefit to me of the 50D over the 40D lies in the 5mp (50%) increase in pixel count to 15.1mp on the same size 1.6x crop sensor. With Canon "L" lenses and good technique I can see an increase in image detail and love the increased cropping ability it offers.

Even though a higher pixel density usually means more noise, I had hoped the RAW images at ISO 400 would show less noise than a 40D at the same setting, but to my eyes I feel the 50D is probably on a par with a 40D at this ISO level, or perhaps slightly worse. So there may be little benefit from a purely noise perspective between the two cameras when shooting RAW at ISO 400 or less. However if I run the 50D images through noise reduction software on my PC any minor differences in noise disappear and the resulting images appear to be superior with the 50D, I believe this is due to the increased detail of the 50D images. Your noise appraisal may be different if you shoot higher ISO settings or Jpeg’s. Here the 50D may offer less noticeable image noise due to increased ‘in-camera’ noise suppression compared to a 40D aided by the higher image detail of increased pixel density, but I suggest you investigate this for yourself via reputable website reviews.

I have appreciated the grealy improved 50D LCD screen resolution, image review capability is much enhanced.

Though some report the 50D auto focusing quicker I haven’t noticed any difference in speed between the 50D and 40D.

I like the idea of better weather sealing with a 50D.

For me the following aren’t really of benefit from a wildlife/RAW perspective, so they make no difference between the cameras:

• 4 levels of auto lighting optimization

• Auto ISO range 100 -1600

• Contrast detection AF in Live View mode

• Face detection in Live View mode

• In camera illumination (vignetting) correction for JPEGs

One feature I haven’t yet tried, because I haven’t yet had the need too, but feel is a useful difference between these cameras is the microfocus adjustment on a fixed or lens by lens basis.

In summary the two biggest benefits from my perspective have been the increase in pixel count (leading to increased image detail and greater cropping options) and LCD screen resolution (allowing better image review capability). For these reasons the upgrade price difference between selling a 40D second hand and buying a 50D is worth it, but for others I can understand why it may not be. From a new buy perspective, the decision may be a little harder and heavily influenced by budget. When this is the case a 40D stands out as an excellent camera at a very competitive price only you can make the value judgement of increased pixels, better screen resolution, microfocus adjustment and other features.

Link To – Review of Canon 50D

Link To – Digital Photography Review of Canon 50D

Link To – Image Resourcing of Canon 50D

Link To – Bob Atrkins Review of Canon 50D

Link To – Camera Labs Review of Canon 50D

Link To – Image Resourcing comparison imaging tool Canon 40D Vs 50D (or any other two cameras)

Review of Canon 40D Versus 20D and 30D

What follows are my initial reactions upon receipt of Canon's 40D, the sucessor to their successful 30D. I will update this review once I have been able to properly field test this camera over the next few months. I have tried to detail differences between the 40D, 20D and 30D which I have not yet read about in online or magazine reviews of the 40D.

Upon receipt of the 40D I immediately noticed that the camera body is very slightly larger than the 20D or 30D, this is a definite plus for me and makes it more comfortable to hold without a Battery Grip. It also accepts the 20D/30D battery grip so no extra expense needed there when upgrading...phew...the Canon Battery Grips always seem quite over priced to me. The body also appears more purposeful to my eye, being similar in style to a 5D.

The increase in screen size to 3 inch is a real upgrade and a much needed one in order to keep up with the competition. Along with the image enlargement option this means that you can more effectively view your images in detail immediately after each shot to identify blur than on the previously smaller screen of the 20D and to some extent the 30D. The online view (though this can only be fully utilised in manual focus mode) with its grid feature will be useful for aligning the horizon and I assume obviate the need for a spirit level. The screen image quality definitely appears better than the 20D/30D, though this may be more a function of the larger screen than any increase in real detail.

Like the 30D I am pleased that the 40D has more ISO divisions than the 20D. I find this very useful in practice, jumping straight from ISO200 to ISO400 on the 20D while being able to chose ISO’s between these on the 30D and 40D means you can fine tune exposure/noise/shutter speed.

I very much like the quieter shutter release on the 40D, a big improvement on its predecessors who were extremely loud.

As far as the new menus and buttons are concerned I adapted very quickly, so no grumbles in that respect. I notice that the top screen is angled slightly towards the user, this should make it marginally easier to see the display, so a nice touch. The 40D now has 3 new custom options on the Mode Dial where you can register custom camera settings. I have not been used to this feature before so am interested to see how I can use this in practice.

On a pracicality note, I very much appreciate the flash hot shoe being bare metal rather than the black style on the 20D/30D. The black style always looked shabby after a few outings with a flash unit as the black wore away.

Like the 30D the 40D has a high speed shooting option now with 6.5 fps. I am certainly looking forward to this feature aligned with the reputed improved auto focus system. I hope it will significantly increase my bird flight 'keepers'.

I have not yet been able to test noise levels for myself but from what I have read the noise levels at higher ISO’s are very much reduced compared to the 20D/30D. Noise has been an issue for me in the past so I am looking forward to any improvements the camera can offer here. If I can get away with using ISO 400 when I would normally have been resticted to ISO 200 with a 20D then image sharpness and image exposure options will be significantly improved.

The real plus over the 20D/30D is definitely the increase to 10.1mp and the holding of the 1.6* crop factor sensor. This will be a real bonus when it comes to cropping pictures to an acceptable degree during image processing. I can see a real improvement in image detail even in the few test images I have taken to date, the 40D is a real step up over the 20D/30D in this department.

I am very interested to see how the dust reduction system performs in practice and also the Dust Delete Data capability. If these work effectively they will be a real plus point in my book.

Therefore in summary the 40D is a definite improvement on the 20D/30D and well worth considering. The introduction of the 30D was a bit of a non event in some ways, the only tangible benefit for me being the increase in screen size and increased ISO divisions. However the 40D is a step change in evolution and I expect many will now upgrade from their beloved 20D’s/30D’s.

The following link provides a comprehensive technical review of the Canon 40D, NB - this link takes you to an introduction page, near the middle top of the link page there is a drop down menu to access the full contents Link To - 'dpreview' of Canon 40D

Update Following Six Months Use

I have encountered nothing to dispute any of the above, but further too or in addition I can say:

I have had no mechanical faults.

The increased pixel count has been a real boon allowing greater cropping possibilities which is always of huge benefit with wildlife photography.

The dust reduction system is working a treat. I always keep lens changing to an absolute minimum which helps greatly but I have had no dust issues in the last 6 months, with a 20D I would have had to remove dust from the sensor at least 2 to 3 times.

The increased ISO division is also proving a real plus point over the 20D and I also think that the 40D sensor has improved noise characteristics. I have no facts to prove this but, at the highest ISO levels you are probably likely to permit yourself to use, I feel the noise level with the 40D at ISO500 is about the same or a little less than a 20D at ISO400. I therefore now feel quite comfortable shooting, where necessary, at ISO320 and ISO400 with the 40D whereas with a 20D at ISO400 I was always a bit nervous.

I have encountered more frequent technical glitches with the 40D than 20D, by that I mean when the software seems to loose its way and you get the error 99 message. This is easy to resolve by simply turning the camera off, waiting a moment, and then back on and if that fails I take the battery out, put it back in and turn the camera on. I wouldn't say this has been a problem though.

A niggling point was the fact I had to download the free Adobe DNG application in order initially process its RAW images to digital negatives for subsequent working in Photoshop CS2. I understand this is not necessary with Photoshop CS3. You could perhaps argue this is nothing to do with the camera and so this comment may be unfair.

So all in all I am very happy with the 40D and would certainly recommend one to others.