April 12, 2015

SUBJECT: Heron Rookery and the Canon 7D Mark II


heron rookery

Great Blue Heron Pair
Canon 7D Mark II, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec., ISO 800, 840mm
(Canon 600mm f/4 II lens + 1.4x TC)

It took me a while after the release of the Canon 7D Mark II to take the plunge. I love my Canon 5D Mark II camera. It's the best all-around use Canon camera currently on the market. I love the fact that it's a full-frame sensor camera. It's autofocus capabilities are top-notch. The 5D Mark III's full-frame sensor has the distinct advantage of being able to capture birds-in-flight with less risk of clipping a wing out of frame.

So why the change?'s not so much as a change, but having an additional camera at-the-ready. I have been living with just one camera for bird photography for a while now and especially since Jo has now retired, we plan to both use cameras on our birding trips.

Anyhow, I have been giving the camera the run-through and it is very impressive. I won't bore you (this time) with all the bells and whistles that have already been reviewed by others. Instead here are a few items that I found interesting:

  • One item I have not heard anyone report on is autofocus with dark birds on dark backgrounds. With all previous cameras that I have owned, I have found them all to really struggle focusing with this scenario. The 7D Mark II is definitely better with low-contrasting subjects and backgrounds. Not perfect, but definitely better.

  • Tests that I have conducted comparing focal-length-limited scenarios between the 5D Mark III and 7D Mark II, clearly show the 7D's ability to resolve feather detail while keeping noise at a minimum. Noise is still slightly higher, but resolution differences can be seen even at 50% zoom. At 100% zoom, the differences are very noticeable. The Canon 7D Mark II's smaller pixel-pitch on a 1.6 cropped sensor easily out-resolves the 5D Mark III when photographing from a set distance, same focal length, etc.

  • The shutter is quiet!!! Better than the 5D Mark III and much better than the 1DX. This is great for photography from a blind in which birds can be spooked by the sound of the shutter.

  • Of course, 10 frames-per-second also is an advantage over the 5D Mark III when photographing fast birds in flight when you want that perfect shot of a wing fully extended.

There are of course a few disappointments that need to be mentioned:

  • Since videography is a big deal to me, I am (once again) disappointed with the murky sub-standard codec used to record video. Not only is 4k video not available on this camera, but 1080p looks like crap compared to the Panasonic GH4 which continues to be my go-to camera for videoing birds and other wildlife.

  • The dynamic range continues to be an issue with Canon sensors. In most cases, this isn't a huge deal as seen in the image below. I had a tough job with bad lighting on a Great Horned Owl nest. Pulling the shadows out in Photoshop definitely helped with these images, but Sony-based sensors found in Sony, Nikon, Panasonic and other cameras would have done a better job.
great horned owl with owlet
Great Horned Owl and Owlet
Canon 7D Mark II, f/6.3, 1/800 sec., ISO 1600, 840mm (Canon 600mm f/4 II lens + 1.4x TC)

The bottom line is that for serious birders who want to photograph their feather friends, the 7D Mark II is made for you!

Here are some more photographs taken with the 7D Mark II at a nearby rookery:

great blue heron carrying branch
Great Blue Heron carrying branch to nest
Canon 7D Mark II, f/8, 1/800 sec., ISO 800, 600mm (Canon 600mm f/4 II lens + 1.4x TC)


great blue heron in-flight
Great Blue Heron in-flight
Canon 7D Mark II, f/8, 1/1600 sec., ISO 800, 840 mm (Canon 600mm f/4 II lens + 1.4x TC)


great egret
Great Egret in-flight
Canon 7D Mark II, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec., ISO 640, 840 mm (Canon 600mm f/4 II lens + 1.4x TC)


double-crested cormorant carrying branch
Double-Crested Cormorant carrying branch to nest
Canon 7D Mark II, f/5.6, 1/1,600 sec., ISO 640, 840mm (Canon 600mm f/4 II lens + 1.4x TC)


double-crested cormorant with feather
Double-Crested Cormorant carrying feather to nest
Canon 7D Mark II, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec., ISO 640, 840 mm (Canon 600mm f/4 II lens + 1.4x TC)


And finally...I had to throw this pic in for the finale this week. I was about to leave the Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington, IL when I noticed a pair of sandhill cranes by the front door of the nature center. As the sign reads, they are closed on Fridays and although I told the pair of cranes the center was closed, they insisted on attempting to enter the premises. (I think they saw their reflection in the window and stared intently at themselves for at least 10 minutes.)

sandhill cranes at crabtree nature center door
Canon 7D Mark II, f/8, 1/1250 sec., ISO 800, 191 mm (Tamron 150-600mm lens)


—Alan Stankevitz

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All photographs © 2002-2015, Alan Stankevitz

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