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Tiger Marathon 2016 – Field Updates

The 2016 edition of Tiger Marathon – the annual back to back tiger photography tours by Nature Wanderers – ended this week with some exemplary sightings in Ranthambhore and Corbett National Park. While the lakes were productive again in Ranthambhore, we also got the opportunity to photograph the newly crowned mother T60 and her 3 cubs. Sessions with Noor (T39) and T57 were equally intense and productive.

Corbett on the other hand along with expected elephant action was ruled by Paarwali sightings as the river mermaid of Ramganga gave multiple opportunities for photography in typical Corbett habitats. Here are a few images created in the past fortnight.

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Canon 1DxM2 – Field Test

Pench National Park Canon 1DxM2, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS2

Pench National Park
Canon 1DxM2, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS2

Dudhwa National Park Canon 1DxM2, Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2

Dudhwa National Park
Canon 1DxM2, Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2

The much awaited successor of the Canon 1Dx – the top end Canon camera for sports and wildlife photography – was announced and launched by Canon recently. Thanks to Canon India for giving me the opportunity to use the first sample unit of this new machine in the challenging field conditions of Indian forests. Having used the 1D predecessors like the Canon 1DM4 and Canon 1Dx extensively in the last 5 years, I was particularly intrigued to know more about the Canon 1DxM2 because for me Canon 1Dx was the complete camera and I wasn’t expecting an upgrade so soon.

Using a Fine Detail (FD) picture style introduced in the Canon 1DxM2 for shooting portraits

Using a Fine Detail (FD) picture style introduced in the Canon 1DxM2 for shooting portraits

Drawing a direct comparison between the Canon 1Dx and Canon 1DxM2, here are some broad level observations (please note that I tested the camera for still photography. The Canon 1DxM2 records 4K videos which is not covered in my field tests):

Muted Shutter Sounds
In comparison to the predecessors like the 1DM4 and the 1Dx the first thing you realise about the 1DxM2 is the relatively muted tone of the shutter. As per the tech specs an advanced mirror flapping system has been introduced which will probable and possibly reduce in-camera vibrations while firing bursts of 12-14 fps. Typically on a Canon 1Dx I tone done my fps to reduce in camera vibrations while firing a burst so that the probabilities of some images turning out to be tad soft goes down while shooting some fast action. I shot some fast Dhol action sequences in Pench National Park at 14fps in challenging low lights early morning and was pretty satisfied with the series in terms of image sharpness.

ISO 200, f6.3, 1/1000. Fired a burst at 14fps. All images in the series have the required detail

ISO 200, f6.3, 1/1000. Fired a burst at 14fps. All images in the series have the required detail

ISO 3200, f5.6, 1/500 Shot using a Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2 lens. A burst at 14 fps was fired for this series

ISO 3200, f5.6, 1/500
Shot using a Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2 lens. A burst at 14 fps was fired for this series

Expanded Viewfinder Grid
The 61 point AF grid through the Canon 1DxM2 viewfinder looks a bit more expanded as compared to the Canon 1Dx. It essentially means that your in-camera composition is better.

Aided with the expanded AF point grid, here is an in-camera composition of cheetals grazing in morning light at Pench National Park

Aided with the expanded AF point grid, here is an in-camera composition of cheetals grazing in morning light at Pench National Park

Low light performance
I pushed the Canon 1DxM2 ISO to a maximum of 3200 during some misty conditions at Dudhwa National Park and the noise was workable and can easily be removed using noise reduction tools.

ISO 3200, Extreme Low Light.

ISO 3200, Extreme Low Light.

View Finder Guiders
A feature which was introduced in the Canon 7DM2 has been pushed in the new Canon 1DxM2 as well. If you look through the view finder of this body, you can see some of your basic camera settings like White Balance, Metering Modes, AF Drive, Shooting Modes and a horizon stabilisation bar. The font colour is however black and the display works very well only when you are shooting with bright backgrounds.

A screenshot of the icons you can see through the view finder of the Canon 1DxM2

A screenshot of the icons you can see through the view finder of the Canon 1DxM2

Advanced AF for f8 lenses
Typically while using a Canon 1Dx with Canon 500mm or 600mm f4 lens and a 2x converter, only the centre focus points used to be active. A noted beneficial feature with the Canon 1DxM2 is that all 61 focus points remain active with f8 lenses (if you are using the new generation 1.4x and 2x converters). 41 of those points are cross-type, having both horizontal and vertical line sensitivity. 5 central points are dual cross-type and have wider baselines that offer high precision focusing for F2.8 and faster lenses.

Touch Screen
While shooting using the Live View feature you can now touch the LCD of the Canon 1DxM2 to focus your subject. The feature is good for shooting videos as well.

I mounted the camera on a beanbag and used the Live View AF touch screen feature to focus on the subject at the corner of the frame. Using Canon 1DxM2 and Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2

I mounted the camera on a beanbag and used the Live View AF touch screen feature to focus on the subject at the corner of the frame. Using Canon 1DxM2 and Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2

During my field testing period, I was constantly put forward 3 critical questions by fellow photographers:

– I am using a Canon 5DM3 and wanted to upgrade to a Canon 1Dx. Do I now buy a Canon 1DxM2?

I would say absolutely yes because it is a new improved technology and since you have already made up your mind to invest in a state-of-the-art Canon DSLR then the Canon 1DxM2 should be your obvious choice.

– I am using a Canon 1Dx as of now. Do I absolutely need to sell this off and buy the Canon 1DxM2?

I would not recommend that as Canon 1Dx in itself was a revolutionary technology by Canon and if your field usage is not extreme, you can stick on that body for the time being. You may end up loosing money selling the 1Dx and opting for an upgrade which I can think can be avoided.

– I am using a Canon 1Dx and was planning to buy another one for my second lens. What should I do now?

If you fall under this user segment, I feel you should go in for a Canon 1DxM2 as your second body. A combination of both bodies would serve you feel and you can make the 1DxM2 as your primary long lens body and use the 1Dx as the secondary body with your 70-200mm or the 100-400mm.

So what are my expectations from Canon next? Well we have seen dramatic improvement in bodies, I think it is time to think about the lenses too. Introducing an inbuilt converter the Canon 200-400mm f4 was a great innovation. With the kind of tough dusty scenarios in wildlife photography, using these top end bodies with in-built converters for prime lenses would be the next level of innovation. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section…

And the rhododendrons blooms…

A74I4150_V5C8629A74I3165-low res18_V5C8809A74I3398_V5C8879It is mid March and the green canopies of Eastern Himalayas are slowly gaining some more colors. Amidst this changing dynamics we spent another fortnight with the red jewels of the forests and some sessions were very productive for photography.

The highlight was a new individual red panda we tracked and followed. He has lost his one eye due to reasons we could not decipher but he was bold and agile in sprinting through the rhododendron and moss trees. We called him ‘The Pirate’…

Presenting a few images and memoirs from the March edition of The Red Panda Expedition.

 

 

 

Mystic Corbett…

Have blogged about mystic forms of Corbett in the past and here is another brief update from the foothills from the Himalayas where early morning rays mingles with the mist to create some divine light with a midas touch which sparkles any subject in such majestic backdrops. This time it was some deer species like the hog deer and in search for mist and light, we bumped into a tiger sitting in a dramatic saal forest.

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Cherubs of the mist…

Reporting from the lap of the Himalayas under the shadow of the mighty Kanchenjunga range where we are currently following a family of the rare and elusive Red Panda in the wild. It has been an absolute spectacle watching and observing the mysterious lifecycle of this wonderful jewel of Eastern Himalayas. The green moss struck trees in this emerald forest light up when an innocent looking creature opens its red coils against some majestic backdrops in a mystic forest.

Here are some moments… Many more to come!

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Keoladeo Updates…

The annual Canon-Nature Wanderers Keoladeo expedition just got over. Bharatpur is back in action after a dull season in 2015. The painted stork colonies are back and so are the darters and cormorants fighting over the fresh fishes. Our photography group worked a lot around Saras Cranes in the mystic winter backdrops of the Keoladeo marshes. Not to miss some winter visitors like the Siberian Rubythroat that added a sparkle to the portfolios of images being created.

As always, the workshop was full of experimentations, learning and new techniques which our shutterbugs tried in challenging light scenarios. Here is a brief glimpse of images created during the 2016 edition of the photo tour.

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Jan 2016 Travel Diaries

The beginning of the new year has been a bit low on travel as a lot of work is being done around some exciting wildlife programs to be conducted in the coming months of 2016. Though my colleagues Sagar Gosavi and Jagdeep Rajput conducted some extensive programs in Corbett National Park, I squeezed in time for a photography tour commitment in Kanha and did a impromptu game drive in Ranthambhore.

Here is a brief visual diary of some images created in the first fortnight of 2016. Stay tuned for some exciting updates this February and March.

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