Thursday, July 25, 2013

Evening Encounters and Fast Lenses

Young Bull Elk With Bachelor Group of Whitetail Bucks in Background: GH3-Lumix 14-140-ISO 800-1/30 Sec.@  f6.3
In many cases wildlife that is seen away from the tourist areas on Winslow Hill is much more shy than that seen at the viewing areas. In some instances, even the same elk that are quite trusting at the viewing areas are more wary when you encounter them in other areas and the whitetail deer are usually hard to get up close wherever they may be found.  This is one of the reasons that I love the ability of certain video cameras to really reach out.  It has been especially fortunate that some DSLRs have gained the ability to film at long range in recent years, and in some cases this translates into better performance on long range still photos as well.  I have really fallen in love with the Panasonic GH3 for this very reason. Overall, it  is not in the same league as the 5D MK III as a stills camera, but it is capable of doing some fine long range work.  The camera features a Micro 4/3 sensor, which is the equivalent of using a 2X extender on a full frame sensor camera such as the 5D MK III, but while a 2x extender makes a 300mm f2.8 the focal length equivalent of a 600mm f5.6, the 2x crop factor sensor of the GH3 gives one the same reach while still retaining the f2.8 maximum aperture.

Long Range Bull: GH3-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L-ISO 200 1/50 Sec.-severely cropped
The downside is that the Panasonic lenses are not as good optically as the  Canon L series lenses and the telephoto zooms that are available for these cameras are not fixed aperture lenses, so they usually start at a maximum of f4 when at their widest setting and go to smaller apertures such as f5.6 or f5.8 when zoomed in to the maximum.  This is somewhat offset by the Panasonic lenses performing much better than expected in comparison to the Canons because it seems there is some sort of electronic optimization between the Panasonic lenses and body that maximize performance and good high ISO performance means they do allow one to film reasonably late in the evening, but once can film or photograph even later with the fast lenses.  The bottom line is that I really like the Panasonic Lumix 14-140mm.  It takes blistering sharp stills and video and the auto-focus even works reasonably well for video.  The 100-300mm does reasonably well on video and stills, but the Canon primes beat it hands down for sharpness in both still and video modes.  It is very bad at hunting for focus in certain situations so I use in in manual focus mode a great deal of the time, which means that the lack of auto-focus with the Canon lenses on the GH3 is not a big minus when comparing them to the 100-300mm.

As a result, I usually carry at least one Canon L prime lens along and on my first back-country trip last week, I carried the 300mm f2.8.  When it was not mounted on the camera, I carried it hanging from one shoulder by the lens strap, while on the other shoulder I carried a camera bag for spare batteries and  lenses ( Panasonic Lumix 14-140mm and 100-300mm) and plastic garbage bags to protect the gear in case of thundershowers.   I also carried the 5D MK III with 17-40mm around my neck.  As it turned out I used the 14-140mm Lumix and the 300mmf 2.8 Canon L quite a bit, but didn't use the 100-300mm once

On the following evening I carried the 70-200mm f2.8 IS L II lens instead of the Lumix 100-300mm. I had an encounter with a bachelor group of whitetail bucks in which the fast lenses and the ability to shoot long range video paid off.  The bucks never got close enough for good still photography, so I took only video and in many cases used the extended telephoto mode of the GH3 as in the video still capture below.

Bachelor Group of Whitetail Bucks: GH3-Canon 300mm f2.8 L-ETC mode-(video frame capture) 1440mm 35mm focal length equivalent
It was quite late when I left the meadow and the low light ability of the f2.8 lenses really paid off when I ran into bulls on two occasions as I returned to the parking lot.  One was 2D,  a bull that is familiar to many elk photographers.

Bull 2D: GH3-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L-IS0 800-1/50 sec.f?
Photoshop does not show the lens meta-data because the M4/3 adapter between the camera body and Canon lens does not transmit that information. The shutter speed and ISO are shown since those are camera body settings,  but I would expect that the lens was stopped down to no more than f4 and it was possibly wide open.

It was definitely wide open on the last encounter of the evening  when I found a bull grazing along the edge of a tree line at dusk.

Late Evening Bull : GH3-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L-IS0 3200-1/20 sec.f?
In this case I cranked the ISO up to 3200 and used 1/20 sec., which I am not comfortable with even when using a very stable video tripod.  This would have been a good situation for the 5D MK III with its' good high ISO performance, but there was no chance to use it as any changing of equipment may have frightened this bull that was already on full alert.  As it turned out the GH3 did a very creditable job.

On the next evening there was a strong threat of thunderstorms so I did not venture far from the vehicle, but that is a story for another post.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.