General Bird Photography
What do you think of the Canon EOS 3?
In my opinion, the EOS 3 is Canonís finest body, far surpassing the EOS 1N. Need proof? I am selling all my 1Ns. In no way, shape or form, however, is the EOS 3 the answer to all my photographic dreams. My fondest wish for the "3" was that it would be a camera body with an almost "all-screen" autofocus system that would perform perfectly for photographing birds in flight or in action. It is, but not all the time...
Physically, the EOS 3 is very similar to the 1N. All of the dials and buttons are in the same place; and, with a few minor differences, camera operation is pretty much the same. There are, however, some exciting new Custom Functions (which will be discussed later in this article). The "3" has an extremely bright viewfinder, but the biggest plus in my book is the extremely fast autofocus it provides when used with tele-converters on long telephoto lenses. The EOS 3 on the EF 600mm f/4.0L lens with a 1.4X teleconverter focuses as fast or faster than the 1N on the same lens without the 1.4X. Likewise, autofocus with the 500mm f/4.5 L/1.4X TC combination (although limited to the central AF sensor only--no big deal for most bird photography) is fast and accurate. Finally, this lightweight lens is an attractive choice for bird photographers who do not have the strength or the desire to carry a 13+ pound monster around in the field.
The EOS 3 autofocuses down to effective apertures as small as f/8, allowing autofocus with the following combinations: the EF 600mm f/4.0L with 2x TC, the EF 400 f/5.6L with the 1.4X TC, and the EF 300mm f/4.0L (IS or not) with the 2X TC. I just love slapping the 2X on the 600 f/4 and blazing away on distant birds with an effective 1200mm focal length. And the 400mm f/5.6L lens with the 1.4X TC is effective as a lightweight, handholdable 560mm f/8 flight shooting lens. On sunny days, try some of Fujiís multispeed film (RMS--rated at EI 320 for a two stop push) with this combo to ensure a fast shutter speed.
With the power booster, film literally flies through the camera body at 7 frames per second. No longer do I have to feel completely inferior when shooting next to Moose Peterson with his Nikon F-5. A minor change that makes this camper happy is that center-weighted average metering is available without having to set a custom function; a blank rectangle in the metering box on the LCD denotes CWA metering.
The Manual Focusing Point Selection (MFPS) mode is great, especially for static subjects. With so many AF sensors to select from, you can focus exactly where youíd like to and still utilize AI Servo mode. You can select any one of the 45 individual AF sensors rather quickly by pressing the focusing point selector button on the top right back corner of the camera and then turning the main dial (the one just behind the shutter button) to move the active sensor from side to side and/or the quick control dial (the big one on the back of the camera) to move the active sensor up or down. When photographing yet another beautiful Brown Pelican in La Jolla, CA, this one laying down and staring right at me, it was a snap to select a sensor that fell precisely on the birdís eye. By moving the active sensor up and down in the array with the quick control dial, double focusing points can be selected. With a little practice, this works especially well when attempting to create off-centered compositions of single birds in flight. To get around the grid even faster, select Custom Function 13-2; this reduces the number of active sensors to 11.
To me, the EOS 3's Automatic Focusing Point Selection Mode with its 45- point elliptical AF array represents both the best and the worst of Canonís newest body. To set Automatic Focusing Point selection mode, first push the focusing point selector button and then turn either the main dial or the quick control dial until all the AF sensors along the perimeter light up red. You are now in Automatic Focusing Point Selection mode (AFPS). Because the elliptical array of AF sensors covers a hefty portion (23%) of the viewfinder, I had hoped that when in this mode (in conjunction with the AI Servo mode--designed for moving subjects) the AF system would provide a sort of "all screen" autofocus. You begin autofocus acquisition in this mode simply by placing the ellipse over the subject and depressing the shutter button. Though the EOS 3 manual says nothing about the subject, it is my understanding that initial focus acquisition is fastest if the central center--which in automatic focusing point selection mode is not illuminated--is first placed on the subject. This system performs flawlessly when shooting tight head shots of tame birds like gulls or pelicans and when making vertical head and neck portraits of long-necked birds like herons and egrets as long as the subject is basically parallel to the film plane. In this situation, the system fulfills my dream of all-screen AF. I can move the subject anywhere in the frame as long as part of it is covered by the ellipse; the subject will remain in sharp focus. In similar fashion, the system also works well with fairly large-in-the-frame subjects that are moving towards the camera.
There are, however, several real problems with using the Automatic Focusing Point Selection mode for bird photography (and, I suspect, for many other types of photography as well). First, with subjects the same size, or slightly smaller than the focusing ellipse, the system--at times--fails to see the subject at all, even when thereís lots of contrast, and rarely, even with only the sky as background. Second, the problem--again, at times--may be even worse when attempting to photograph birds in flight against backgrounds other than sky, such as water or distant woods or mountains. In these cases, the system may fail to see even a large-in-the-frame subject.
Third, since the AFPS mode is designed to lock onto the closest thing that it "sees," the system--at times--fails to achieve sharp focus when attempting to photograph subjects like swimming ducks. Acquire focus on the duck and the system often locks onto the water in front of the duck--the closest "thing" that the AF system can see. (When using AFPS with Canon A2 series bodies, Elan II series bodies, or with the 1N bodies, all the sensors (which are on the horizontal centerline) are active, but the central sensor is dominant. This central sensor dominance is--most unfortunately--not evident when using the EOS 3 in AFPS mode. It should be. On the "3," if there was an option to activate an entire row or column of sensors, AF performance would be greatly improved in many, many instances.
With large-in-the-frame birds, the system (again--when in AFPS mode) will lock onto the near-shoulder of a bird moving parallel to the film plane rather than locking onto the eye with the central sensor and holding focus on the eye. For flight shooting, I simply use MFPS and light up the central sensor, place it on the birdís head or neck, and fire away. When making head-and-shoulders portraits of pelicans looking directly at the camera, AFPS will lock onto the closest part of the subject, the bill tip, resulting in an out-of-focus eye.
On other occasions, AFPS mode has worked perfectly, allowing me to capture images that I had visualized for years, but had been unable to capture on film. For more than a decade, Iíve tried (unsuccessfully) to get a shot of a shorebird jumping up and forward and flapping its wings after bathing. Using AFPS mode with the 600mm lens/1.4X TC recently at Little Estero Lagoon in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, I pulled the shot off not once, but twice, in a single afternoon. The extra coverage given by the elliptical array of focusing sensors saved the day.
Lastly, as far as autofocus modes, we are left to consider the eye-control feature. Some photographers, including George Lepp, swear by the EOS 3's eye control feature. And Iíve got to admit, when eye control works, it is wonderful. Simply look (within the ellipse) at the point on the subject that youíd like to be in sharp focus and AF is attained. My problem is that no matter how many times I recalibrate the eye control settings, I have problems with the system "reading" my eyeball. Iíll look at a right central sensor, and the system will incorrectly think that Iím looking at an upper right sensor--Iíll miss the shot. This occurs when working in horizontal format. In vertical format, I, and others, have even more difficulty. Perhaps, I need to enter different calibrations for the prime lens alone, with a 1.4X, with a 25mm tube, etc.. Or perhaps, I need to enter different calibrations for different lighting conditions--bright sun, overcast, low light, etc.. Or, I may need to take more care in how I position my eye in the viewfinder. (This can be pretty difficult when working at ground level as I love to do.) Iím sad to say that, at present, eye control is just not reliable enough for me.
When I took my two EOS 3s out of their boxes, I checked the meters by pointing at the clear blue north sky about 35-40 degrees up from the horizon and noted that both were off, consistently indicating about 2/3 of a stop of underexposure. (With 100 ISO film at f/5.6, a telephoto lens should indicate a middle-toned exposure reading of 1/750 or 1/800 of a second.) I simply began rating my Velvia at EI 64 for a one-stop push. Every single EOS 3 that I have had in my hands has read from 1/3 to 1 1/3 stop too dark. While Canonís official position is that the problem is rare, you can send your body to John DiMauro at the Jamesburg, NJ, repair facility and request a software reload. As I shoot so much, I have been reluctant to take the time to send my bodies in, but others report perfectly functioning meters after the software reload. By the time you read this, Iíll surely have sent my EOS 3 bodies to New Jersey.
The EOS 3's evaluative meter is, as far as I can tell, extremely similar to the 1Nís evaluative meter. It gives you a perfect exposure for a white wall on a sunny day, and for overall middle-toned scenes in all lighting conditions, but canít tell a white wall in low light and will overexpose overall dark scenes. To achieve perfect exposures with the EOS 3, youíll need to add light to overall light scenes in less than full sun, and subtract light when photographing overall dark scenes, just as you would with all modern cameras except the Nikon F-5. I would love to see Canon buy the patent for the F-5's RGB color matrix-metering system, the only metering system in the world that can tell a white wall (or a white sky) on a cloudy day, or give you the correct exposure for overall dark scenes (without compensation). With the EOS 3, dialing in exposure compensation is fast and easy, as it has been on all Canon bodies for more than a decade.
Of the EOS 3's 17 Custom Functions, here are the ones that I use:
CF-2-1 I use this occasionally to leave the leader out when changing film mid-roll.
CF-4-3. I set this CF only rarely when I need to prefocus manually (as long as CF 7 is set at 0 or 1) when using the 600mm f/4.0/2X TC combination. This CF switches AF activation from the shutter button to the AE lock button (which is next to the focusing point selector on the back, top right of the camera body). When working at 1200mm, AF can have a difficult time "finding" a distant subject. After prefocusing manually, simply engage AI Servo AF by depressing the AE lock button with your right thumb. Keeping your thumb on the button will maintain predictive AF, and you make the picture simply by pressing the shutter button completely.
Using CF-4-3 also allows you to toggle between focus lock and AI Servo for subjects that are constantly moving and then stopping. Work with AF set to AI Servo mode. When the subject stops, focus on the eye by depressing the AE lock button and then release the button. Make the picture. If the subject begins walking or flying, depress the AE lock button and keep it depressed to engage AI Servo AF. Make the picture by depressing the shutter button. This gives you the best of both worlds: One-shot AF for a static subject and AI Servo AF for a moving subject without having to switch modes. Though this will take some getting used to, I plan to give it a serious go.
CF-8-1 The frame counter counts down, showing how many frames you have left.
CF-9-1 This allows you to shoot one AEB sequence after another. The default setting (CF-9-0) cancels AEB after a single three frame sequence.
CF-10-3 When using manual focusing point selection (or eye control), this setting causes the active sensor to flash brightly, making it easier to see when working in bright, sunny conditions.
CF-12-1 This sets mirror lockup (useful for shooting static subjects at very slow shutter speeds).
CF 13-2 This reduces the number of sensors from 45 to 11, making it faster to move around the ellipse when working in MFPS mode. (Choosing CF-13-2 rather than CF-13-1 keeps the spot meter linked to the central sensor.)
CF-14-1 This cancels automatic flash reduction and gives me complete control of fill-flash ratios.
CF-16-1 This setting, called "safety shift," will automatically alter the exposure settings if you have picked too fast a shutter speed when working in Shutter Priority or too small an aperture when working in Aperture Priority.
CF-17-1 or 2 These settings activate additional AF sensors adjacent to the sensor that you have selected, thus giving better AF performance when working in AI Servo mode with subjects whose movements are irregular. I use CF-17-2 for greatest coverage.
All in all, I love my EOS 3s, primarily because of the improved autofocus performance when using long lenses with teleconverters. Iíve made hundreds of wonderful images (and quite a few spectacular ones) with my EOS 3s in a relatively short time, but there is still room for improvement.
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