February has been all about hopping between various tiger habitats of India. The month started with Ranthambore where my guests spent some productive sessions with Noor (T39) and cubs and the T60 separated male cubs. Glimpses of Machali Junior (T84) raised hopes of her pregnancy. The lakes have been drying up gradually the effects of a scanty monsoon is now clearly visible.
We then moved on to the action area of Dhikala in Corbett National Park where the winter mist continued to fascinate our guests. The elephants have dwindled as compared to January but still there were sizeable numbers considering we are still in the fading part of winters of India.
Post the sad demise of my friend and elder brother Rajwardhan Sharma, I had to gather a lot of courage to go back to Bandhavgarh. I avoided it for the past few months but work commitments have got me here again.
I have just arrived amidst memories of Raj saheb and as I am gearing up for the week out here in Bandhavgarh, his pleasant memories and the hours of time we have spent together are reinstating my belief that Bandhavgarh will never be the same without him.
It has been a hectic but productive June till now. We started our work in Ranthambhore working on T60 and cubs when a news from Bandhavgarh caught our attention. A tigress called Spotty in the Tala zone of Bandhavgarh had given birth to her first litter. Weighing various pros and cons we changed gears and rushed to Bandhavgarh to start some extensive tracking for the newly seen cubs. A 7 day project resulted in some brilliant images of 2 month old tiger cubs for our guest who showed remarkable patience and perseverance in extreme weather conditions.
Monsoons showers have started hitting tiger parks and as we enter the last 10 days of the season lets wish the wild denizens of India a safe monsoon.
Experienced Tadoba summers after a gap of 4 years. May 2012 was the last I spent a fortnight in the blazing sun and scorching heat of Tadoba. 4 years down the line, I led a small group of photographers who braved the heat to spend hours with the Sonam and Maya family – the current heartthrobs of Tadoba. The cubs have been shaping up quite well since I last saw them in December 2015. It was also a first experience for me with the majestic Bajrang male who is fathering Sonam cubs. He for sure is a charismatic tiger and would be instrumental in propelling the dynasty of tigers in Tadoba.
Recharging at home after a hectic 45 day travel schedule. Stay tuned for June diaries as we enter into the last month of the tiger season in India before the monsoons…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section…
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.
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.
Winter photography in tiger parks is always special. The magical morning mist and the soft light filtering through the forest canopies makes you as a photographers look of images rather than tigers. I just completed a 1800 km marathon in central India covering various parks of Madhya Pradesh. The experience was not just about the Rajbehra cubs in Bandhavgarh or the Baghin Nala cubs in Pench but creating some awesome images in the stunning winter backdrops of central Indian forests.
A lot of work is yet to be seen and processed… sharing some of the images. This would probably be my last post for the year 2015. Wishing you all a very happy new year and great luck and light for 2016!
I love challenges being thrown on me… specially when it is around finding and photographic young tiger cubs in the wild. The failure rates are high but the taste of success is sweeter.
This time it was in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Central India. I was visiting the park after a gap of 3 years but the memories of my early days in Tadoba were still fresh. It was a great team of friends and photographers I worked with during that time and as I traversed through the bamboo thickets of various areas of the park, the nostalgic moments of the past full of fun and hard work were bringing a smile on my face. The females I worked on during those days were all devoted mothers now and the Tadoba legacy continues…
Here is some work we did on Maya (the current breeding female in Pandherpauni) and her cubs during the 1 week marathon in Tadoba.
My focus on T19 (Krishna) in Ranthambhore kept me away from one of my favorite hunting grounds in central India. I am very found of Bandhavgarh for its habitat, tiger photography potential and the people… working in this central Indian tiger heartland is always great fun. Made up for the entire season in the last 10 days as I was escorting my photographer guest from the UK. Our focus was the Patiha female and her three 8 month old cubs. Working on tiger cubs outside the Tala zone was a challenge and a different experience from my past Bandhavgarh endeavors. However we got 3 exclusive photo opportunities with the family over the 9 day period which were good enough for an excellent portfolio. More than the images tracking the family in the Patiha area and understanding some new areas of the park was a great learning experience.
Post Bandhavgarh, we spent a few days in Panna National Park and it was awesome to witness the success story of Panna. T1 – the queen of Panna – is in great shape with her 4th litter of 2 cubs. The park has some tremendous potential and is an excellent tiger habitat. Photographers should watch out for Panna – another excellent location with great photographic potential.
It is the end of April out here in Ranthambhore and probably for the first time the forest is looking lush and green even as the temperatures soar up. The water table which had shot up because of the March rains is all getting dried up very fast and all this is giving us the unique opportunity to photograph tigers in a lush green semi-monsoon habitat.
While T19 (Krishna) and her cubs are keeping the shutters busy, T39 (Noor) and her 2 young cubs have also made an entry into the tourism zones. Even the other zones have seen some awesome tiger sightings in the form of T42 and T13 mating and T8 and her cub giving good photo opps in the Kundal area of Ranthambhore.
Here is a brief photographic journey through Ranthambhore through the month of April.
A lot of ‘whys’ are put forward during my workshops and photo tours. Why did I use this lens to shoot a particular image? Why did I expose this image in this way? Why did I use a particular combination of ISO, shutter, aperture etc? My standard response is it all depends on what you as a photographer have envisioned for a particular image and what you want to create…
For this particular image here are a few responses to some of the Whys:
- Why did I go for a tight composition?
- Because the habitat in which the tiger was walking for full of clutter which wasn’t appealing for a wide shot. I had a choice of a Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2 and a Canon 70-200mm handy with me this time. My decision to go tight was mainly to deal with the clutter of a dense Dhonk vegetation which is omnipresent in a place like Ranthambhore.
- Why did I underexpose the image?
- Just to capitalize on the patches of cut light falling on the face while the subject was in motion. I did not shoot a lot of images when the subject was walking in the shade areas and was just preparing myself to shoot for the light patches. Even before the tiger started walking the light patches in the Dhonk forest something which I found interesting to play with. As soon as the subject started moving towards those light patches, I metered for those patches only. I did miss some moments when the subject was walking in shade areas but that was not the image I had created in my mind.
- Why did I compose vertically?
- Because it was too close and a horizontal composition may have resulted in some part of the leg being cut from the frame which would have looked odd. I knew there was little margin for error in the composition but it was worth the risk because it was this sort of an image which I had visualized in my head…Nature photography is all about visualization and knowing what you want out of something happening in front of you. The quicker you think the more comfortable you would be in answering you Whys…–
Equipment Used : Canon 1Dx, Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2, ISO 200, f4, 1/2000. Mounted on a NW BLite Bean Bag
It is February and Ranthambhore has already started loosing some of its charismatic winter colors. Days are warm and sunny consistently and the dense fog and gloomy weather conditions have given way to golden morning mist over the lakes. All these dramatic changes in the last 20 odd days have had an impact on the sightings of the 2 devoted mothers and their doting cubs. While T19 (Krishna) has been keeping photographers busy around the lakes, T39 (Noor) made a reappearance in the park after a 20 day disappearance and if the weather continues to warm during the days, the sighting trends would surely improve further in the coming days.
The last 20 days, I was focussed on the lakes and had some memorable encounters with the lake denizens. The female cub of Krishna always surprised me with her antics. She is bold and independent and would climb on trees, induce the other siblings to indulge in play fights, stalk deer fawns and one fine afternoon she pulled off a stunner by swimming right across the Rajbagh lake like a Sunderbans tiger in the company of crocodiles who had literally surrounded her during a 50 meters lap. We had named her Machali junior because of a fork mark on her cheek which bears resemblance to her famed grandmom – Machali. She is certainly the dominant princess of the lakes.
News and rumors around new born cubs of T41 have also raised the hopes for summers and overall Ranthambhore is gearing up for some exciting tiger action starting March.
Here is a brief photo-diary of some Krishna and cubs moments in the last fortnight:
It is Christmas today and in case you shutterbugs want to present yourself with the aspiration and much talked about Canon 7D Mark 2, here is a brief field report of my experience with this latest APSC launch by Canon. I had the privilege to rough out a demo Canon 7D Mark2 provided by Canon India over a period of 15 days in Ranthambhore and Kanha in varied light conditions and shooting scenarios. This review is by no means a detailed technical review which has already been done by a host of online forums and portals. It should purely be considered as a field review of my experience using this body and since I deal with varied photographers on a daily basis, I would also attempt to suggest the need of a Canon 7D Mark2 for different strata of lensmen.
5 years back the Canon 7D had taken the market by storm. A robust, well built magnesium alloy body with 19 AF points, the Canon 7D which shot at 8fps was built for wildlife and sports photography. Priced at around USD 1699 in September 2009, Canon literally captured the amateur market as the Canon 7D had become an obvious choice of enthusiasts wishing to pick up their maiden camera for wildlife. Along with the Canon 100-400mm and the Canon 300mm f4, the amateurs and serious amateurs swore by this combination for years. At times I was amazed to see the rapid uptake of this combination during my safaris in various parts of India and I certainly believe that this affordable combo played an instrumental role in the uptake of wildlife and nature photography in India in the last 5 years. The Canon 7D also acted as a great back up body for the Canon 1D Mark4 and Canon 5D Mark2 users of those times.
However the Canon 7D had its own pain points in the form of low light performance, loss of details, color rendering etc. It was also said that Canon has essentially given this camera the look and feel of a pro body but the performance is way below standard and the ISO performance of the Canon 7D was always a subject of debate. Some photographers believed that being a cropped sensor Canon could have reduced the megapixels of the Canon 7D to around 12mp which would have improved the noise performance in low light situations. Over the time, Canon 7D – despite of its limitations – had become like an essential element of your camera kit.
A lot of hopes were pegged on the Canon 7D Mark2 which is expecting to wipe off the Canon 7D woes and having used the 7D extensively during the 2009-2011 period, I was also eager to unfold the 7D Mark2 mystery as I grabbed hold of this light weight body in early December in 2 of India’s leading tiger reserves – Kanha and Ranthambhore.
My first impressions of the Canon 7D Mark2 were positive.
- A 65 all cross type focusing grid through the view finder opens a world of compositional and framing opportunities for you. Specially helpful while showcasing the habitat and the environment of your subject
- Toggling between focusing modes on high end machines like the Canon 5D MarkIII and Canon 1Dx is a task. It is normally a 2-3 step process. The smart nob provided next to the thumb joystick of the Canon 7DM2 was a delight to use. It definitely helps a lot if you want to go from spot focusing to the various zone focusing (expand 4, 9 points) while looking through the view finder
- The view finder console also enables you to see all your camera settings – WB, metering modes and a smart alignment scale on the top to ensure that your horizons are always in line.
Winter wildlife photography in India is definitely a joy for photographers. The early morning mist mingles with the morning light to give some dramatic colors which make even the most common subjects look photogenic. However a lot depends on the camera you are using as the winter light in the morning is very soft and requires a camera with good low light performance. The Canon 7D Mark 2 was put to test to shoot barasinghas (swamp deer) in the open meadows of Kanha on day 1 and the results were at par with the Canon 5D Mark III which was used to shoot the same subject. However the light wasn’t very soft at this point of time and most of the images were shot at ISO 400-500. Here are some of the results.
The following evening, light in Kanha was superb. A jackal emerged from the dense saal canopies of Kanha towards an open patch of grasslands and the Canon 7D Mark2 was tested in routine good light conditions and the details and color rendering was spot on. I felt there wasn’t any comparison that could be drawn with the Canon 7D as till now the Canon 7D Mark 2 was performing at par with my high end bodies like the Canon 5D Mark3, Canon 1D Mark 4 and Canon 1Dx. Infact I was enjoying using the focus points toggling button and the view finder console more than the three top of the league machines lying in my bag. Here are the results:
I am not in favor of excessive cropping of images as according to me framing and compositions need to be in-camera as much as possible, but in this era of digital photography when cameras are a part of this megapixel race, cropped composition is a trend followed by a lot of photographers. Packed with 20 MP, the Canon 7D Mark 2 retains sufficient image details when cropped by as much as 60 percent. Here is a cropped version of a spider’s web from Kanha National Park.
Canon 7DM2 – ISO performance
The above mentioned facts were some obvious improvements which were expected from a Canon 7D upgrade. The big question however still remained in my head : how will the Canon 7DM2 fare in a tricky light condition? Can it be trusted like the big brothers – 5DM3 and 1Dx when it comes to ISO performance?
As I was traversing through the saal tracks of Kanha National Park with this question pondering in my head, the opportunity I had been waiting for came on a platter. A full grown male Bengal Tiger was caught taking a nap in the middle of the road. The light conditions were poor and it was time for an acid test for the Canon 7D Mark2. Being attuned to a 1Dx and 5DM3, I started shooting at 3200 ISO straight away and the results were definitely not at par with the top of the line Canon bodies. I then slowly experimented with varied ISOs ranging from 800 to 1600. My lens was a combination of a Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2 and a Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS2. In all circumstances I was a bit skeptical going above 1600 ISO which according to me was the maximum threshold in the given light condition. The results were remarkable at 1000-1600 ISO specially among the entire gamut of cropped sensors available in the market till date.
Given below are some of the results:
Drawing parallels for the Canon 7D Mark2 with heavyweights full frame sensors like the Canon 5D Mark3 and Canon 1Dx would be an unfair comparison as the latter do have a superior low light performance and definitely have an edge when used at ISO 2000-3200. However amongst the cropped sensors including its predecessor, the Canon 7D Mark2 does work brilliantly between ISO 1000-1600. I do recall that years back when I was on a Canon 7D, the brain was tuned not to boost the ISO above 800 (640 at times).
Using the in-camera live view feature
In the middle of this testing phase for the Canon 7D Mark2, I shifted my workstation from Kanha to Ranthambhore and while I was still looking for a good opportunity to test the 10fps of this body, my first day in Ranthambhore gave me an opportunity to try something very interesting with the 7DM2 : The Live-view feature.
Using the live view for still photography is not something we regularly do since we are more comfortable shooting from the optical viewfinder. However, a DSLR live view feature is definitely useful when the subject is still and not in motion and you have the luxury of time to compose and frame in a manner that the subject lies beyond the reach of the focus points of your DSLR. Even in high end full frame bodies like the 5DM3 and 1Dx, using the live view can become a bit frustrating at times. You need to press the AF repeatedly to fine tune the focus and at times you need to focus manually as well after magnifying your subject to 100% to ensure the focus is precise. The Canon 7D Mark2 live view feature is an absolute delight as the camera is built to focus automatically. Even when the subject occupies a small part of the frame, you can just magnify by 50% or 100% and the camera will automatically focus on the subject. Ofcourse, this works brilliantly when you are shooting videos and unlike most of the DSLRs including the big Canon machines, the 7DM2 hooks on to the focus automatically.
Here is a tiger image shot on the Canon 7DM2 using this live view feature:
The Canon 7DM2 – 10fps test
At 10fps, the Canon 7DM2 was slated to be a mini Canon 1DM4 (the 1Dx predecessor shot brilliantly at 10fps). I encountered a fast jackal fight sequence during my Ranthambhore field days. The situation was tricky because of the presence of foreground grass which I purposely did not want to avoid in order to check the AF of the 7DM2 specially on a burst mode. The subjects were back lit as well. It was an awesome experience shooting this action sequence with the 7DM2 and 400mm f2.8 combo. Of the 5-6 frames that I got, none of the images had soft focus. It was more like using a 1Dx which can be relied on blindly in case of fast action and precision when it comes to focusing.
So what’s my verdict on the Canon 7DM2?
I am not a tech or camera guru to give any verdict. I am just an artist who tries to create images from whatever equipments are around me. However here are my suggestions on the basis of which you can base your Canon 7D Mark2 purchase decision:
- A fast DSLR which can perform well in low light is a basic pre-requisite for wildlife photography. In case you are planning to learn wildlife photography and want to pick up your maiden DSLR, the Canon 7D Mark2 is a must for your kit. It has some built in features of high end Canon cameras like the 5DM3 and 1Dx and given the price point Canon is marketing this product at, it would definitely aid your photographic visions.
- For serious amateurs and pros who already have a range of Canon DSLRs in their kit, having the Canon 7DM2 in your kit is a good option. A lot of times we need range in order to create the exact frame we have visualized and instead of putting on a teleconverter which would impact your aperture as well, you can just swap bodies and use the 1.6x cropped sensor of the Canon 7DM2. In good light situations, you wouldn’t miss your top of the league bodies for sure.
My overall verdict for the Canon 7D Mark2 is a definite yes for all kind of nature photographers. Canon has carefully dealt with the issues of Canon 7D and am sure photography would be great fun for young amateurs wishing to step in the field of wildlife photography armed with this new Canon machine.
2 breeding females, cubs and a lot of photographic opportunities lie ahead in Ranthambhore this season. Have you planned your visit this season?