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Recent Blogs from Better Photography

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Canon 400mm f2.8

One of the challenges of using super-telephoto lenses is their size and weight. Even with weightlifter arms, holding a 400mm f2.8 or 600mm f4 for long periods of time gets pretty tiring, so much so that many photographers have opted for the lighter 100-400mm and similar zooms. While these zooms are remarkable for their size and price, they don't quite provide the sharpness and clarity of a super-telephoto.

So, what if someone could design a super-telephoto that is a lot lighter? Would that solve the problem? You bet!

Canon has released not one, but two lightweight super-telephotos, the EF 400mm f2.8L IS III USM and the EF 600mm f4L IS III USM. Both are claimed to be the world’s lightest in their class, making them ideal for action and wildlife photography.

In addition to weight, super-telephotos have to be kept incredibly still to ensure sharp images – or you use fast shutter speeds to compensate. Then again, the five-stop Image Stabilizer (IS) technology in these new lenses will let you shoot hand-held, as camera shake is significantly reduced.

So how light are these lenses? When we handled the 400mm, we wondered if it were a mock-up! The EF 400mm f2.8L IS III USM’s weight is 2840 g (previously 3850 g), and the EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM’s is 3050 g (previously 3920 g). These are really significant weight savings!

Sporting the familiar white finish that Canon L-Series super-telephoto lenses are known for, the light colour acts as a thermal insulation coating to ensure the lenses operate consistently in all temperatures. The protective weather sealing guards against dust and moisture, while inside, fluorite lens elements virtually eliminate chromatic aberration, boosting resolution and contrast, according to Canon. The Air Sphere Coating (ASC) is designed to reduce flare and ghosting and both lenses have a nine-bladed diaphragm, producing a pleasing 'blur'.

The lenses incorporate a ring-type USM autofocus motor which, along with a high-speed CPU, enables fast and quiet focusing. And when shooting video, the lenses provide pull-focus effects with power focus controls and focus presets. Instant adjustments can be applied via the full-time manual focus control and focusing speed can be customised with electronically-controlled manual focus for extreme precision.

Two preprogrammed focusing positions can be recalled instantly with the twist of the preset ring. Controls for focusing mode, focusing range, focus preset recall and IS are all conveniently located for seamless control.

For more information, visit www.canon.com.au/.

Iceland With Medium Format

If there’s one location in the world that really deserves a medium format camera, it has to be Iceland. The volcanic island is incredibly weathered and textured, from the abrasive lava flows to the fine green grass growing out of black volcanic soil.

Set your lens to f11 (or whatever your optimum aperture is), ensure the camera is rock solid (so no camera shake), and then check your focus: the resulting quality of detail found in a medium format file is a wonder to behold!

While I love shooting with medium format, you do have to think a little differently. For instance, I don't own zoom lenses for medium format (they exist, but they are relatively short in range and rather large to carry around). Instead, I have a small collection of lenses: 23mm, 55mm, 80mm (equivalent to a 50mm on a DSLR), 110mm and 240mm. It's a useful range, but I find myself using my feet a lot more as I move myself into position.

Of course, sometimes you can't change your position easily. Take the little village behind Hellnar in Iceland shown here. I love this location because, to my eyes, the buildings are so simple and neat, plus the black woodwork contrasts strongly against the vibrant green grass. And then there's the little church in the background - who doesn't love photographing the churches spotted all around Iceland! It reminds me a little of a Jeffrey Smart composition (an Australian contemporary painter).

The challenge for me was the 110mm lens I was using was a little long for the framing I had in mind (and that you can see above). The only other lens I had with me was 55mm, and that was too wide. (The 80mm would have been perfect, but sometimes I don't travel with my 80mm because I find I rarely use it when I have the 55mm or 110mm to choose from. Silly me!).

I wanted to fit in just a little more than I could, but if I walked backwards, the terrain meant I lost my view, so what was the solution?

Stitch! Stitching isn't just for panoramas. I simply worked out my left and right sides of the photo and took three frames and opened them up in Photoshop to quickly stitch together. In terms of post-production, it's nothing more than a little darkening of the sky and foreground, and setting the exposure to reveal the rich colours.

And it's a medium format frame, the original measuring 14,000 pixels across, so plenty of information to make a nice big print!

If you're interested in exploring Iceland, I am running a photo tour there at the end of October/early November 2019 with Better Moments (a photo tour company based in Denmark, but not related to Better Photography!) It's also being hosted as a Phase One tour, meaning if you come along, you can use a Phase One medium format outfit for the duration of the photo tour and I'll be there to help you use it. Of course, it's not compulsory to use a Phase One camera - everyone and all camera brands are welcome!

For details, check out the website or click here.

Have A Look At My Last Voyage To Antarctica!

I’ve been playing around with video again and you can see a small production on YouTube detailing my last voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia with Aurora Expeditions. It was also my last voyage on the ageing Polar Pioneer, the diminutive ship being replaced by the larger, more luxurious Greg Mortimer next season. Gotta say I’m looking forward to it!

This is the link: https://youtu.be/ZszMPZIpK4k

This was my fourth voyage to Antarctica and it continues to surprise and impress. I don’t think it will matter how many times I visit, the weather and local conditions are always so different, that familiar places never look quite the same.

For instance, I visited St Andrews on my very first voyage, but the weather or itinerary had disappointingly precluded us from landing on later voyages - until this time. And this time, I was disappointed not to be landing at Salisbury Plains (too much swell on the beach and probably too many seals as well), but the alternative the following day was to visit St Andrews.

And St Andrews was completely different to the first visit. Instead of a bleak overcast day, it was bright and sunny. Behind the beach we walked over luxurious green grass instead of bare earth and mud, and you could be forgiven for wondering if this really was South Georgia! And then there was the number of King Penguins. Being a little later in the season (December instead of November), there were probably double the number of penguins – I think the number was around 250,000!

What I love about lots and lots of penguins is the opportunity to take a pattern shot. It’s the same photo, but everyone is different! And when you can combine the adults in black and white with the adolescents in orange brown, there is no shortage of patterns to play with. You'll see video versions of some of my stills in my little YouTube production.

So, enough with the writing! Where’s the video? Check it out here!

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