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Canon 90D – Does it fit in your wildlife kit?

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A stiched panorama using a Canon 90D and Canon 18-55mm kit lens
What is the use of a cropped sensor body for a wildlife photographer? Let us look into it from 2 aspects.
 
Are you an amateur photographer looking for a camera body with good features in the budget segment? There is a whole range of Canon APSC (cropped sensor) cameras across different price segments you can opt for. It all started with the Canon bodies like the Canon 50D and the Canon 7D which were perfect for wildlife photography because of the built and high frames per second. The low light performance of these cameras was a cause of concern and then came to Canon 7D Mark II with some more advanced features.
 
Once you migrate to higher end camera bodies and enter the 5D and 1D segments do you still need for a cropped sensor body? In my opinion you do. Here is my take on this on the basis of my experience with various Canon bodies in the past 12-13 years.
 
From the 40D, 50D and the 7D I used all the Canon cropped censor bodies and as an amateur photographer I was happily making use of these semi professional cameras with the old version of the Canon 100-400mm IS1 which was my staple kit for years. High ISO performance was a pain point but I got used to living with it and experimented with photographic techniques like use of slow shutter speeds to tackle such scenarios. 
 
My next step was a migration to the Canon 1D Mark IV which again was the top end flagship model but a cropped sensor body again (1.3x cropped). I had started using prime lenses and started loving the combination. For the next 4-5 years I was married to the 1DM4 and then migrated further to the Canon 5D Mark III and later on to the Canon 1Dx and the Canon 1Dx Mark II. Though Canon kept on coming out with more and more technological marvels in the form of these full frames but there was one camera body which was a permanent fixture in my kit – the Canon 1D Mark IV. Do you wonder why?
 
Being an excellent cropped sensor body for me the 1DM4 was my tool to get better reach whenever it was needed. It acted as an additional tele converter which I used time and again was shooting close portraits or getting that perfect composition which needed that extra bit of focal length. The 10 fps and the decent low light performance was an added bonus.
 
However with the every evolving technology I was constantly looking for a 1DM4 replacement in the past few years. In 2014 Canon upgraded the 7D with the 7D Mark II. I was still not confident of letting go of my 1DM4 as I wasnt confident if the 7DM2 would fit into that shoe. Hence I continued my journey with various full frames as and when they were launched and the 1DM4 still occupied that same old slot in my camera bag.
 
Recently I had the opportunity to use the Canon EOS 90D. A cropped sensor body again which was built on two key features – focus and speed. I straight away put the camera into a rigid field test in hazy weather conditions in Manas National Park in Assam. The light was poor and the opportunity was perfect for me to answer some of my questions pertaining to this new cropped sensor body by Canon. Here are some of my observations: 
 
  • 45 cross type focus points – The moment I looked through the view finder of the Canon 90D the huge gamut of 45 cross type focus points which occupied a substantial area of the view finder caught my immediate attention. Composition and focusing becomes fun with this wide spread of focus points and I had a great time composing my subjects in various parts of the frame
  • 32.5 megapixels – I am not a fan of cropping images and strongly believe in in-camera compositions. A camera packed with megapixels means that you get better details and that was the pick of the features for me. Even if you have to crop up 15-20% of the image you have enough data in the image to make a completely useable image.
  • ISO performance – All cameras perform well in good light conditions. The challenge is when the light is tricky. In Manas I got the opportunity to test out this camera in two different light situations. A backlit capped langur and the results were satisfactory. I then encountered a herd of elephants and in hazy conditions I photographed this herd at various ISOs ranging from ISO 800 to ISO 1600. The noise at ISO 1250 and ISO 1600 was perfectly manageable. 
  • The Flip Screen – While shooting from a vehicle I usually struggle to take a low angle shot. A lot of times I am seen hanging out from the window at times with the camera attached to a monopod and a remote trigger to take wide perspectives of subjects close to the vehicle. I do get the results but its purely a hit and trial technique and the composition does go for a toss. With a flip screen life becomes easier as you do get to see the composition and frame when your eye is off the view finder and this feature was very handy.
  • Focusing & Speed – I refer back to the capped langur troop that was moving in thickets with the sun hitting their backs. The limited openings in the tree meant that the camera needed to be fast in catching the focus and the burst firing at 10 fps was adequate enough for catching the fine moments on the tree. 
So would the Canon 90D find an entry into my camera kit and would I be finally bidding farewell to my trusted partner – 1DM4? I guess I will have to do it with a heavy heart. I feel the Canon 90D is a body which would perfect for terrains and projects where one needs reach and the cropped sensor stacked with heavy duty prime lenses can make that fine difference. The perfect examples are snow leopard expeditions or a birding expedition. The 4K videos with slow motion features also makes it an ideal filming cameras for documenting wildlife.
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Asian Elephants in Manas National Park. Canon 90D and Canon 100-400mm IS2. ISO 800, f5.6, 1/400
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Asian Elephants in Manas National Park. Canon 90D and Canon 100-400mm IS2. ISO 1250, f5.6, 1/400
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Asian Elephants in Manas National Park. Canon 90D and Canon 100-400mm IS2. ISO 2500, f5.6, 1/500
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A capped langur in Manas National Park. Shot on Canon 90D and Canon 100-400mm IS2. ISO 400, f5.6, 1/640

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

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section…