Photo Tip: Gearing Up! ____ 2012/04

Skunk Cabbage—with bokeh. A focus stack of eight images. Canon 5D III, 90mm f/2.8 TS-E @f/5.6,  1/13sec, iso100.
Skunk Cabbage. Focus stack of eight images. 90mm lens.

We all make decisions about photography gear based on perceived need, cost or cost-effectiveness and—as pro photographer John Shaw pointed out—the “lust factor”. I’m guilty on all counts. Here’s what I did last month.

Spring is always a transition. In our local (Kirkland, WA) watershed park, Indian Plum blossoms early. Next up are the dazzling Red-flowering Currant and conspicuous Skunk Cabbage. The lovely Trillium opens, the pink Salmonberry blooms and Rufous Hummingbirds whiz by. Ah, the signals of spring. As I write on April 4, our backyard Bewick Wren wings in moss to a nest box; a Red-breasted Nuthatch plasters pitch around its entrance hole. Today I kayaked across Lake Washington. Most of the wintering Scaup and Goldeneye have left, and a few summer Swallows and Osprey have arrived.

Canon 5D III and Rikonon 24mm f/1.4.
Canon 5D III and Rikonon 24mm f/1.4.

Despite all this activity, I didn’t photograph in March.  I didn’t photograph when in Wisconsin (Canoecopia), and I skipped the Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival. Instead I did a photography spring cleaning—with Billy-Bean-baseball-huge changes. My Canon 5D Mark II and 7D are gone. I’ve added three cameras and two lenses.  This is the year for gear.

Great Blue Heron. Perfectly clean at ISO 800. Canon 5D III, 500mm f/4L @f/5.6,   1/8000sec, iso800.
Great Blue Heron. Perfectly clean at ISO 800. Canon 5D III, 500mm f/4L @f/5.6, 1/8000sec, iso800.

The biggest news is the Canon 5D Mark III is now my go to camera, replacing the 5D Mark II. I’m excited by its feature set, and pleased Canon finally gave it a professional autofocus system that seems to be proving itself for bird photography. I’m also pleased they held the full-frame, gapless pixel count to 22MP. I don’t need more pixels to make sales. It should be a great low-light camera. In any case, I feel the 5D III replaces both the 5D II and the 7D. The 5D III gets on base and slugs with the best. There may be times I’ll wish for the 7D’s 1.6x crop factor, especially for birds, but otherwise the 5D III is superior in every way.

Surfbird in light rain, looks pretty grainless for 1600 iso. Canon 5D III, 500mm f/4L @f/5.6,  1/2000sec, iso1600
Surfbird in light rain, low noise for 1600 iso. Canon 5D III.

I got the Canon 24-105 f/4L lens in a kit with the 5D III. With it I’ll be able to carry just a single lens and still get good coverage for kayaking—and especially for backpacking. Also new is a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, for night shooting and maybe some video. The Rokinon is a $700 experiment. We’ll see.

The second camera I purchased—after much deliberation—is a Canon G1 X, a 14MP G12 upgrade with a huge (1.85 crop factor) sensor. The sensor size caught my interest, but the waterproof case (WP-DC44) that’s available for it sealed the deal. I now have a convenient path to roughwater or in-the-water shooting that isn’t limited by fear of trashing my dSLR (I’ve taken some pretty substantial on-the-water risks with my dSLR’s). With the G1 X occupying a small space in my kayak cockpit, I can mount a big tele on my 5D III for wildlife shooting and still have quick coverage of wider-angle scenics. I expect magazine cover art quality from the G1 X.

Lastly, I picked up a tiny GoPro Hero2 video cam at REI. At $300, this may be the fastest ROI of any of the purchases. In 2009, I reviewed an early model Hero and several other compact adventure cams for Sea Kayaker magazine. What I liked about the Hero, then as now, was the super-wide field-of-view. The quality was just ok then, but two generations later, the Hero2 is capable of producing quality 1080p video in action environments that are so impressive it boggles my mind. You can check out GoPro’s promotional video at: .  I like the idea of taking the Hero2 into unique environments not covered by such hyperventilating promotion—i.e. the less frenetic but no less compelling world of sea kayaking.

Alrighty. Then.  Spring cleaning’s done, decisions made, time to get out shooting. The spring flowers and birds await; the sea kayak beacons.