West & Central Virginia 11/3-5/14

All photos are Marshall Faintich

I normally do not post much camera information on my wildlife blog postings, but my new Canon 7D Mark II camera body arrived late Monday afternoon, and this report is being posted on both birding and photography list servers.

I am not a professional photographer. I started doing birding and wildlife photography in December 2006 after I retired, and have since taken about 340,000 wildlife photos (mostly birds). Most of them were taken with a Canon 400mm L f/5.6 lens and several Canon DSLR camera bodies (400D: 35,000+, 50D: 102,000+, 7D 176,000+). Each successive camera body offered more features for better photos, but even with my 7D, I still experienced some problems. The most common problems were noisy images at ISO>800, and birds in flight sometimes out-of-focus, expecially when the birds were in front of trees or below ridge lines.

I had programmed three custom settings on my 7D camera body, and could switch between them without taking my eye from seeing a bird through the camera view finder. These custom settings were then tweaked from nominal values as required for exposure and focus.

C2: my go-to setting for perched birds and general wildlife - Manual, ISO 400, f/8.0, 1/800 second, One Shot AF using either the central focus point or the central spot focus.

C3: my go-to setting for birds in flight - Shutter speed priority, ISO 400, auto aperature, 1/1600 second, exposure compensation for background sky brightness, and AI Servo AF using the central focus point with four expansion focus points for continous focus of a series of flight shots.

C1: my setting for difficult lighting - either highly variable lighting such as in a wooded area, or very dark/shaded areas - Manual, AUTO ISO, f/6.3, 1/640 second, One Shot AF using either the central focus point or the central spot focus.

The new Canon 7D Mark II camera body was designed for better image quality at high ISO values, and faster autofocus. I had been waiting for several months for this new camera body to be released. I usually need to take at least 1,000 photos before I start to feel comfortable with new equipment, and I just finished my first 1,000 shots with my 7D Mark II.

November 3

The camera body arrived late in the afternoon, and by the time I opened the box and set a few shooting parameters on it, the sun had already set below the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, and it was getting dark. I took a few shots of my bird feeder through a window using the AUTO ISO that jumped up to the maximum 16,000! I needed to do a little noise removal, but I got a few photos of a Purple Finch at this ridiculously high ISO setting.


Purple Finch at ISO 16,000

November 4

Before setting out on my first day of tests, I programmed the C1, C2, and C3 modes to the same values as on my 7D, except that on C3, I used the new AI Servo Case 5 for erratic subject movements, and used the new expanded 8 autofocus points around the central focus point for birds in flight.

Walt Childs and I headed out to the Blue Grass Valley in Highland County along the Virginia/West Virginia border, as there are usually hawks and eagles (both Bald and Golden in the winter), as well as lots of perched birds. It was supposed to be sunny all day, but by the time we arrived at 10:45 a.m., it was starting to get cloudy. There were still a few small patches of snow on the ground from a snowfall a few days earlier. All of the hawks we saw were Red-tailed and far away from us, and there weren't very many birds to be seen. I suppose that they moved to lower elevations becuase of the snow and many hadn't returned to the Blue Grass Valley.

I did get to start my photo tests, and soon realized that the eight point expansion AF wasn't pulling in the distant birds in flight, and that the central zone AF was doing better a job. Also, the AUTO ISO was doing a very good job with little noise visible at higher ISO values. This allowed me to rely on AUTO ISO to take care of exposure, while I could concentrate on "digging out" a good focus (auto or manual) on difficult bird shots - birds buried in leaves or behind branches.

All of the following shots were taken in RAW format, cropped and coverted in the Canon DPP program to 16-bit TIFF, and then processed in Adobe Photoshop 5.0 (yes, the 1998 version). In Photoshop, I usually do some resampling to no larger than 600x900 pixels, histogram level adjustment, a little bit of hue and saturation adjustment, and then gaussian blur correction using the FocusMagic plug-in. No other sharpening or noise removal was applied. I had about the same percentage of "keepers" (good photos) as with my 7D, but I was taking more difficult photos. I expect this precentage to improve as I learn how to better use the new camera body and tweak some of the parameters. For example, I haven't yet determined if any micro-focus adjustments need to be applied to the camera settings.


Hairy Woodpecker
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/640 second


Northern Mockingbird
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 160, f/6.3, 1/640 second


American Robin
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/5.6, 1/1600 second


Red-bellied Woodpecker
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/5.6, 1/1600 second


Red-bellied Woodpecker
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/5.6, 1/1600 second


Black-capped Chickadee
C2: One Shot AF, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/400 second


Black-capped Chickadee
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 2000, f/8.0, 1/800 second


Female American Kestrel
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/9.0, 1/1250 second


Male American Kestrel
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/5.6, 1/1600 second


Red-tailed Hawk
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/9.0, 1/1250 second

We then headed south from Monterey, Virginia on route 220, and stopped when we saw a perched Bald Eagle.


Bald Eagle
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 1000, f/8.0, 1/800 second

When we got to Warm Springs, we headed east to Swoope, Virginia. As soon as we parked at Smith Lake, we saw our second Bald Eagle of the day. It was already 3:00 p.m., and with the heavy overcast skies and resumed standard time, it was already getting a bit dark.


Bald Eagle
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/5.6, 1/800 second

The Bald Eagle took off, and a couple of minutes later, I saw it again at the far side of the lake, and it flew and perched on a distant tree.


Bald Eagle
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/7.1, 1/800 second


Bald Eagle
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/5.6, 1/1600 second


Bald Eagle
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/6.3, 1/800 second

There were a good number of smaller birds in the vegetation around the lake, and the AUTO ISO worked like a charm for me. Some of the high ISO shots were a little noisy, but it was really dark!


Carolina Wrens
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 3200, f/8.0, 1/800 second


Carolina Wren
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 2000, f/8.0, 1/800 second


Lincoln's Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 2500, f/8.0, 1/800 second


House Finch
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 2000, f/8.0, 1/800 second


White-throated Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 3200, f/8.0, 1/800 second


Song Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 4000, f/8.0, 1/800 second


Song Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 5000, f/8.0, 1/800 second


Downy Woodpecker
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 3200, f/8.0, 1/800 second


White-crowned Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 3200, f/8.0, 1/800 second

A few birds flew across the lake.


Belted Kingfisher
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/5.6, 1/1600 second


Green-winged Teals
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 800, f/8.0, 1/800 second

And a a white-tailed buck stood across the lake.


Buck
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 4000, f/8.0, 1/800 second

November 5

After looking at some of my first day's photos, I wanted to try some more difficult shots using the AUTO ISO. I knew that there should be a good number of sparrows in the grasses and trees at Old Trail in Crozet, Virginia, so I made the short drive there. It was still mostly cloudy, but brighter than late yesterday afternoon.


Song Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 1000, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Field Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 640, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Field Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 640, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Song Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 640, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Song Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 800, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Swamp Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 1000, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Swamp Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 1000, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Swamp Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 1250, f/8.0, 1/640 second


White-throated Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 2500, f/8.0, 1/640second


Ruby-crowned Kinglet
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 1250, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Ruby-crowned Kinglet
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 1600, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Blue Jay
C2: One Shot AF, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/500 second


Pileated Woodpecker
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/10, 1/800 second


Red-tailed Hawk
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/7.1, 1/1000 second

I next went to Lickinghole Creek and reservoir. There weren't a lot of birds there, but three Wilson's Snipes made it worthwhile.


American Goldfinch
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 640, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Song Sparrow
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 1250, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Killdeer
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 800, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Killdeer and Wilson's Snipes
C1: One Shot AF, Auto ISO 1000, f/8.0, 1/640 second


Killdeer and Wilson's Snipes
C3: AI Servo AF, ISO 400, Auto f/5.6, 1/1600 second

I must say that after my first 1,000 shots with the new 7D Mark II camera body, I am impressed with the low noise at high ISO values and the new AI Servo autofocus. Most of the noise in the higher ISO shots could be removed with noise reduction processing, but that process was not part of my initial testing. The only complaint that I have about the new camera body is that my list of excuses for not getting a good photo has been greatly reduced :-)



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