Tern Landing

Sometimes Fortuna smiles at you. This image was shot with the very last rays of the setting July Sun illuminating the tern. Even the 7D Mark II’s autofocus was struggling, and I was able to shoot just one frame.

Whiskered Tern Landing

Whiskered Tern Landing

But this one frame turned out to be my favorite from the day. Shutter speed at 1/500s was slow enough to let the bird’s wings go blurred, but luckily its head is tack sharp. A few clouds caused the background water and sky to go muted pastel, while the bird is burning in the setting Sun. No flash, just available light.

The Tiny General

Earlier this month I spent a few days on photographing whiskered terns. On Lake Tisza they pretty much ignore the “tourists” and with care and patience you can stay invisible in the colony without disturbing their daily lives.

And they do lots of interesting things: feeding, fighting, you name it, they do it. My favorite time there is when the chicks are still young and brown. But don’t get fooled by the tiny plumeballs – their behavior is fully tern-ish from day one.

The chick on the image below was asking for some delicious fish or frog (I guess, because stopped yelling after getting the bottom half of a frog) during the evening feeding session.

The Tiny General

The Tiny General

First Flight Shooting with the 5D3

Yesterday evening I went out to Lake Tisza for a two hour flight shooting test. Courtship feeding was in progress these days in the whiskered tern colony and I thought that that could be a good test for auto focus capabilities, and a chance for me to learn to use the new AF system.

I’ve used two lenses: a 500mm f/4L IS USM with the 1.4x II extender, and a 400mm f/5.6L USM. Both lenses had an 600EX flash attached to a bracket with a Better Beamer – for just a gentle touch of fill light. I shot handheld with both lenses. Yes, it is not the funniest thing to follow fast moving birds with about 6kg of glass and metal, but wanted to know how it feels with the smaller body of the 5D3.


The new AF system worked quite well. It was as good if not better than the aging system in my 1D Mark II. Coming from the 1D2, the ability to show the active AF points in the finder was a real boon – I could instantly refocus when the system catched the otherwise busy background.

I was surprised that I did not feel the need for the grip when shooting with the 500mm. Although the 5D3 is not that much bigger than the 5D2 was, it fits my largish hand much better. I was able to grip the body securely and maneuver the 500mm lens with it. I was even more surprised that with the 400mm I could use the grip – the rig felt somehow nose-heavy. Or I just missed the hand strap. This point needs more testing. But at the moment I think I will work without the grip for at least a month or so.

Images are first class, there’s nothing to complain about them. I really love the huge 22 megapixel files – I can crop them as needed later without risking my usual A3+ sized bird print quality.

For those interested in the f/8 thing. I started to avoid shooting with the 2x teleconverter since the 1DX specs arrived – just to see if there’s anything I miss with it. Actually I have gained a lot – better image quality (the 2x II is quite a lemon). I also had to push myself and move closer to the birds. It proved to be great fun – the closer you are the more you became a part of their lives. Bottom line: don’t feel a burning need for the f/8 focusing capability at the moment. I just let those images that would need the 2x go.

Courtship Gift

Regarding the bad things. There a few of course. The most irritating of them is the auto brightness control algorithm. On several occasions the screen remained so dark that I can’t see a thing on it (it was golden hour, so the sunlight was quite muted). When I pressed the play button sometimes brightness came back. So I ended up turning off the auto thing and controlling brightness myself.

Another observation that makes me sad is the inability to judge sharpness from the LCD. I do AF microadjustment check/recalibration before each shot for the actual working distance. But frankly I was unable to judge where the focal plane is without cranking up JPEG sharpening seriously. But that have a negative side effect on the histogram and blinkies. I would like to see the LCD image properly sharpened for the camera’s display (or even a custom function that would allow slightly over-sharpening it so that one can judge sharpness much easier) without affecting the JPEGs and the histogram. Maybe in the 5D4 or 5…

All in all I really love the 5D3. It is a joy to work with this camera. Is it perfect? Far from it. But if I treat is as a tool then I’m sure it will produce some great images in the upcoming 3-4 years.