Child Departs for College. Forlorn Parent/Photographer takes to the streets with a camera. And other stuff.

Boy says goodbye to the critical member of the family, The Studio Dog.

So it's all played out now. We drove the boy to the Austin airport and sniffled as we watched him go through security and then we drove back home and looked around the empty house. The Studio Dog knew something was afoot and she eyed us with harsh judgement for somehow banishing her best friend. 

I kept my camera over my shoulder to get a few last snaps like this. 
Not a great image but one that Belinda, Studio Dog and I will 
like having around until the winter holidays. 

Then of course I shook off all the sentimental fussiness, grabbed my favorite walking around optical machine and headed out to do the routine route; the quick tour of downtown Austin. I had my shooting camera perfectly set up. I was using the Olympus OMD EM-5 (in black) with the full on battery grip, the miraculous 25mm f1.4 Pana/Leica lens with hood, all held together with a black cloth strap that's soft and pliable and compfy to wear over one's shoulder. Auto ISO, aperture set at f4.0-f5.0 and color turned up to exciting. There is something very comfortable about the way the EM-5 is laid out, especially when one adds the battery grip to the whole package. It's just a fun camera to shoot and the Pana/Leica normal focal length lens is just right. 

The neat thing about walking through familiar territory is noticing all the things that have changed. The progress of giant, new building projects. A flock of new industrial cranes. The progress of the new $300,000,000 library building, built on some of the most valuable property in Austin, during an age when everyone downtown has instant internet access to almost anything written and nearly for free on their laptops and their phones. I'm always puzzled by the reason for the new library and also its location and who it is intended to serve...

But the Olympus camera does a nice job documenting the construction and the library's share of cranes...

I took a bit of heat around the web for my prediction that Canon and Nikon would eventually run into trouble if they didn't start introducing some innovations that other companies have already mainstreamed, like EVFs. I couched it all in terms of reducing the feedback loop of picture taking. Many traditionalist rushed to defend the optical viewfinder and disparage the whole idea of needed progress. The main reasons they trotted out in defense of OVFs were sports photography that requires AF tracking and a quaint subsection of photography called, "BIF." 

BIF (damned abbreviations and jargon!) is supposed to stand for "birds in flight." In another age they would have been referred to more poetically as, "birds on the wing." Apparently, and almost unbeknownst to me, there are legions of people who take their cameras out and try to shoot very tightly cropped images of birds as the birds fly around. This apparently requires the use of optical viewfinders. Given that sparrows and even hawks are pretty damned tiny, not to mention the dimensions of a finch, I would think that people who practice this unusual pursuit would probably need 800 or 1200mm lenses to have even the remotest chances of filling the frame with the flying trophies. Which means that their cameras pretty much must be on tripods as the last time I looked those lenses were devilishly heavy and unwieldy. Not the sort of optical construction that one hand holds. 

I presume all that stands between success and failure is the magic of phase detection auto focus. Hence the imagined need for the optical viewfinders. I imagine that all of this must have been true until the Panasonic GH4 with its DfD focusing magic. I've tried it with a borrowed Panasonic 100 to 300mm and it's pretty good. That 300mm has the reach of a 600mm on a full frame camera but I still don't think that's enough magnification to fill a frame with a flighty and nervous bird in flight. On the wing. All BIF-oriented. I'm going to venture a guess that the limiting factor for BIF-ing with m4:3 is not the AF or the AF-tracking but the availability of very fast, long lenses. 

I'd be interested to know where all these BIF images end up. I don't ever see them as I scout around the web looking at images and sites by photographers. I've never seen or heard of an ad agency requesting a BIF-fer and outside of a few low pay nature magazines I've never seen a printed BIF magazine cover either. Are there readers of VSL who regularly BIF?  I'd be interested to hear in the comments your rationale for spending valuable time looking for and tracking the photographing birds on the wing. What drives you to take these kinds of images and what real world impediments are various cameras and lenses putting in front of you? And what do you do with the successful images once you've captured them?

The other rebuttal from the must have/love the OVF crowd is the old standby, SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY. And again, I'm guessing that we're really concentrating on soccer, track and field and American football. Baseball is so unbelievably visually boring (as well as constrained to small, bound spaces) and slow moving that I can't imagine any modern camera not fast enough to catch the endless spitting that seems to constitute the majority of the time spent on field by the players.  Need to catch the action? The batting swing takes place at a stationary position at home plate. They stand still. You have all the time in the world to lock focus. Next, they slide into first base. Again, all you need to do is focus on first base. It doesn't move around! Pop fly? Again, the slow trajectory of a pop fly gives you endless time to lock onto whoever is positioning themselves to catch the ball....

And I know all the cameras are capable of covering swimming. The sport is highly predictable and very linear. You can prefocus on the start. You can prefocus on the finish. You can track a straight line swim. (But you'd be better off going manual and tracking along with the race since water splashes routinely trick the AF and cause shifted focus...

What other sports require fast AF? Do you deal with that sport? Really? Just about every camera made in the last year will do a decent job with most sports. But I'll readily admit, having photographed a lot of top tier gymnastics, that using a top of the line (Nikon D4) with a newish 300mm f2.8 is going to get you a specific look and do it without missing very many frames, even on the rush to the pommel horse. It's specialized. Really specialized. I'd probably use a couple of D4's and some big fast lenses if I made a good living photographing that sport...Something with a huge buffer and great high ISO performance. You'll need it since flash is banned from competitions.

So do you shoot lots and lots of sports? The kinds of sports that move fast (not bowling or golf...) and erratically? Well, maybe you will have to wait a few years until the EVFs become absolutely instantaneous and maybe you will have to wait until the big fast primes come to m4:3 and other mirror less cameras. I can accept that. But I also think that people who never shoot anything moving faster than their lunch like to trot out these arguments because they don't like to think about the future and they don't like to acknowledge change. I look at a lot of portfolios and web sites. Again, not seeing the huge volume of demanding sports imagery.

Finally, two people mentioned the fact that EVFs eat batteries and they mention having day long assignments that mean having to change batteries with an EVF cameras. I laughed my ass off when I read that. Apparently no one remembers the days of pro digital cameras working on metal nickel hydride batteries. My big Kodaks got about 80 shots out of what seemed to be a one pound battery. My buddies who shot with the Nikon D1x carried around five or six batteries to get them through the day and that was a time when there were few third party batteries and the Nikon battery product was something like $125 a whack. 

I just bought a couple of extra batteries to use with my Olympus EM5s for a trip this Fall. I bought Wasabi Power replacement batteries for cheap. I can buy two of them with a charger for about $25. If I'm shooting with the EM-5 and the battery grip it's rare not to get through a shooting day without changing a either battery. I bought them for the extraordinary times when I might shoot a crap ton of images and stay late to shoot some more. It takes me a few seconds to change out a battery. This is an argument upon which the entire decision to skip or embrace a system is based upon? Ridiculous. 

But underneath all of the rhetoric it was never my intention to "sell" a system to anyone or to claim that one system was the perfect fit for all humans who photograph. My argument was that EVFs bring some powerful shooting tools to people that make shooting in most situations easier, more satisfying and fun, more controlled and more predictable. EVFs and their "always on" feedback loop of pre-chimping imagery are easier cameras for rank amateurs to use well, and in the hands of skilled users they offer certain advantages that aren't duplicated nearly as elegantly by various, traditional live view schemes on mirrored cameras. I don't own stock in any of the mirror-less camera making companies and I'm not out shorting Canon and Nikon stocks on the Nikkei. I'm making observations based on my experience and the feedback I hear (constantly) from well schooled enthusiasts and pros. The leitmotif is that once you've pre-chimped with a good EVF you'll never want to go back. The other verse is, once you've shed two thirds the weight of a big kit and still realize that you can take just as great a photograph you'll never want to go back to being a pack mule. It's pretty much logical. 

But Kirk! You just told us last week that you bought a Nikon D7100. What the hell is up with that? 

I'm in a government program for photographers that's modeled on the agriculture programs here in the U.S. The government pays me big bucks and gives me tax credits to buy equipment I don't need and then put it in a boxes and promise never to use it.... (JUST KIDDING). 

But seriously, I do photography for a living and have done so for many, many years. Not all jobs fit one set of cameras and lenses. If I shoot exterior architecture that requires in-camera perspective control I'll rent (not hire, that's what you do with people....) I'll rent a Canon 5D 3 and a couple of perspective control lenses. We don't have those in m4:3rds. If a client comes to me and asks for files that can, A. be blown up to huge sizes, and, B. Examined at very close viewing distances, I'll probably rent a medium format cameras and the right lenses. Or, at the least, I'll rent a Nikon 810 and the right stuff to go with it. But those are just every once in a while situations and those are not cameras I want to use on a day to day basis to shoot stuff that's largely destined for the web. 

The D7100 fits a special niche. I do shoot a lot of event style stuff.  I need at least one camera and flash in my bag that is great with flash photography. Not pretty good, but great. Fast moving flash. Not set up with slaves or CLS and chimp flash but ready, aim fire, got it, good flash. I wasn't getting that with my Sonys (which I sold) and I wasn't getting it with my Olympus or Panasonic cameras and their flashes. I needed it and wanted it so I researched and experimented and liked the D7100 and it's circle of usable, iTTL flashes. The proof is in the eating of the pudding and my first two jobs that required quick, automated flash went even better and more deliciously than I expected them to. I also used the D7100 for some detailed images of museum artifacts against white backgrounds. Not with the auto flash but with a big studio rig. I chose to use the D7100  because I still have a collection of Nikon macro (micro in Nikon parlance) lenses and, locked down on a tripod in a studio, the live view is good enough. I was shooting for maximum resolution. Sorry m4:3 guys but a good, big 24 megapixel sensor can still do some stuff very well. Especially this new sensor from Toshiba.

At any rate it's all good stuff and it all mostly fun to shoot. There are constant trade-offs between ultimate image quality and haptics. Weight and fun. Speed and obtrusiveness. Etc. etc. The bottom line is that everyone gets to shoot with whatever they want. But as far as reading comprehension goes it's not okay to read into an article whatever the hell you want and then go spew your inaccurate interpretation into the marketplace. We will all eventually be shooting with EVFs and when they are fully exploited there will be very few people who will be able to discern the difference between the EVF and an OVF.  The secondary reason for the  technical/manufacturing shift will be cost savings and profits for the makers. Little hi-def screens are much, much cheaper than silvered precision glass pentaprisms.

Cameras will get smaller and smaller until they reach an equilibrium between size and handling. The phone camera acceptance shows us that. Sensors will get better and better and at some point we'll stop talking about them altogether. Then we'll focus on "magic lenses" and have the same kinds of battles over optics. I'll keep shooting what I like for fun and writing what I think photography is all about now and in the near future. The distant future is largely unknowable. 

We're past the point where every little specification is "mission critical." We've hit critical technical mass and we'll be staying here for a while. That's why it will be so hard, economically, on all the camera makers. 

My walk downtown was therapeutic and fun. The files from the EM5 are great. Just as good as the GH4. At the sizes I use them they are as good as the files from any camera on the market. Maybe better if pleasing color is a primary metric. 

You can hold onto whatever you like but eventually everything will change and we'll be looking at new ways to make the same old images. And then it might even dawn on us to try and make new kinds of images. And I'm all for that.

Please help support 
The Visual Science Lab
buying and reading our latest book.
It's an exciting novel about.....
....what else? A photographer.

Final Note: Ben has arrived at college, moved into his dorm room, had two delicious meals, unpacked and met his room mates and suite mates. All the worrying about logistics on my part is over. I hope he has maximum fun. He deserves it.


Ananda Sim said...

Man shoots with cameras from both camps, gets dubbed as a turncoat from both camps and lobbed with grenades in the crossfire.

Luckily survives because the EVF brigade misses because they are blinded by display lags and blanking as the image writes to buffer, and the OVF brigade misses by that much, due to some backfocus and they can't tell whether he is really in focus as they can't magnify

Anonymous said...

I like Kirk's gear articles precisely because he is not a Kool-Aide drinking fan boy for either side. He calls them as he sees them. And that's good.

cfw said...

I feel sorry for Studio Dog. Maybe you should adopt him a friend at the local shelter?

Frank Grygier said...

Anyone who shoots video with a DSLR and uses the OVF raise their hand.

Anonymous said...

¡Una más! Use the right tool. One size does not fit all. Simple concepts, that many photographers can't seem to grasp.

Kirk Tuck said...

To cfw, Better than that, I built her a desk next to mine in the studio. I'm thinking of making her a full partner but right now she's in charge of security...

Murray Lord said...

Well I need to put my hand up as one of the phantom BIF photographers Kirk. I regularly photograph seabirds in flight from the back of boats. White Canon lenses (100-400 in particular) seem to be everywhere on such trips, and one of the reasons I went for a Canon 7D over one of their lesser bodies was to maximise autofocus speed. Another reason was that you were using one at the time and seemed impressed - how many cameras have you purchased since then? ;-)

Just occasionally an X100 is perfectly adequate for photographing seabirds from the back of boats though - see [URL="http://www.pbase.com/mklord/image/152988106"]this photo[/URL]

Dave Jenkins said...

The best thing about being a parent is that if you don't mess it up too bad you get to keep them as adult friends.

In a different vein, when I saw the first photos you had made with the Vivid setting on your EM-5, I immediately set mine the same way. Velvia lives!

Anonymous said...

No more cameras for me. I think I'll pick up a used Etch A Sketch. Now I'll have to work a bit to chimp...

Maybe I'm being too hasty here: I'll use my twin lens reflex and a polaroid as a remote device for feedback.

nigelrobinson said...

Kirk, if Studio Dog became a partner, would she need an OVF, EVF or ARF (Actual Range Finder)?

Bill Tyler said...

You asked about birds in flight, why people spend valuable time photographing them, obstacles, and uses of the images. I photograph wildlife, including birds, as a hobby. I spend valuable time on it in the same way other people spend valuable time watching football, riding dirt bikes, or sailing. Why not? I enjoy it, I learn some biology, and get to see behaviors that interest me. I don't photograph birds only, or even mostly, but when I do photograph them, they're usually more interesting when showing some behavior rather than just sitting.

I use two main camera systems, Canon (5Dmk3) and Micro 4/3 (Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Panasonic GH4). The Canon long lenses are just better than anything available in Micro 4/3. I can get sharp images with a Canon 500mm lens + 2x extender. The equivalent is just not available in Micro 4/3. So the first limitation is lack of really long lenses. That's something that's likely to change over time.

The other significant limitation of Micro 4/3 is that AF just isn't quite as quick. And, at least with the bodies and lenses I have, it has more of a tendency to hunt. That's mainly a problem with fast-moving animals or birds. Micro 4/3 is fine as long as the distance isn't too great and the motion isn 't erratic. The Canons aren't perfect either, they're just enough better to be noticeable.

The size and weight advantages of Micro 4/3 are significant. The Olympus 75-300 covers the equivalent of 150-600mm, and I can carry it in my pocket. Under ideal conditions, good light, subject that isn't moving, etc., I can get good results with it. Not quite as good as with a Canon lens of equivalent focal length, but at a fraction of the weight and a small fraction of the cost. There's a lot of value in having a camera & lens with you instead of sitting at home.

It seems to me that the issue isn't whether one camera type or another is the _one true camera type_. It's picking a tool to do a job, recognizing that different jobs need different tools, and also realizing that our tools are evolving rapidly. The best tool today probably won't be the best one tomorrow.

Rick Baumhauer said...

Speaking as a "recovering" BIF-er (birds were my route into photography, circa 2003 with the Canon Digital Rebel/300D), I will just offer a popular saying in that community: you will never spend more money to make less than shooting birds (in flight or otherwise). Also, just to be clear, sparrows and finches are not typical targets for BIF - they're just too small and fast-moving to make decent targets, though some do get lucky at times. More typical would be large wading birds (herons, egrets, etc) and birds of prey (hawks, falcons, eagles, owls, osprey, etc).

Part of it is a love for birds and for being in the places where they are; part of it is the technical challenge of actually getting the shots. This is a community that is also obsessed with pixel-level sharpness and viewing everything at 100% - as you surmise, reach (and its attendant monetary and transportation requirements) is a limiting factor, so heavy cropping is often necessary. The quest is to maximize the "number of pixels per duck", either via long lenses (big money) or dense sensors.

The 'budget' setup for BIF is a Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f/5.6L lens (or a D7100 with the new 80-400), which puts you in the 600-650mm equivalent range. On the Canon side, anything with a better AF system (1D series, or 5D III) costs a LOT more money and loses the reach advantage of the cropped sensor, which pushes you toward the much more expensive 500/600/800/1200mm lenses with 1.4x or 2x teleconverters.

I won't pretend that it isn't satisfying to get really great wildlife shots, of birds or otherwise. The process is certainly more relaxing than many other photographic pursuits. That said, once I started shooting commercially, I became much less concerned with having a kit that worked for BIF, to the point that I'm not at all certain that it will be worth upgrading from the little Olympus 75-300 lens to the new Pro 300mm F4 when the latter is released next year. I just don't do that type of shooting enough to justify the cost (he said, months before actually handling the lens and setting off the cycle of want).

BIF also tends to be the favored target for a certain type of shooter - think people who make (or made) a lot of money at their (typically high-pressure) day job. They can afford a hobby that involves a $15-20k cost of entry, along with the multi-day workshops in far-flung locations with the luminaries in the field (Arthur Morris, et al) to hone their skills. The BIF shots are then shown to other BIF enthusiasts on such sites as Birdphotographers.net or Naturescapes.net. There is virtually no commercial incentive to spend the money to do BIF - you might get very lucky and win a few photo competitions, but nothing beyond that. Those that are famous for doing it well typically make their living from showing others how to do it, not by selling the resulting images for large sums.

Anonymous said...

I'm just finally getting around to upgrading my Epl1 to an Ep5 - photos like these just whet my appetite even more!

Hope the boy enjoys college too (and y'all get used to the peace & quiet).


Ps - I agree on the evf points, I think the latest generation are good enough to no longer be disorientating. I was never sold on digital slr ovfs anyway, advocates seem to be defending based on familiarity rather than practicality. Saying this as someone who still uses ovfs when shooting film.

Don Baldwinson said...

Studio Security Dog, a tip. Fit a TOUGHENED clear glass front door. When religious tracts or a too wide smile approaches the door, Studio Dog will throw itself against the TOUGHENED glass in a bugling fury, allowing you to sneak a peek, and decide whether to answer or not. After the initial jump back, they don't stay for long. Studio Dog and Owner a happy team.

Anders said...

Hi Kirk,
I usually always enjoy reading your posts and thoughts, but regarding EVF's I'm not sure why you are so concerned.

I accept EVFs and I can see the advantages, but personally I prefer a big bright OVF on a FF camera and that's it.

Also the love for the 4/3'rd format is fine, but personally I prefer the old-fashioned 3/2 format like 36x24mm or 24x16mm and so on.

So would I choose a camera with an EVF, yes of course, currently I have a Nikon V1 and it is absolutely fine.

I could also see myself getting a Sony A7xx when the next iteration appears or hopefully Nikon produces a very small FF camera.

In the meanwhile I enjoy shooting with my Coolpix A (which has incredible IQ for the size and Price), Nikon V1 and Nikon D810 :-)

ColinB said...

So you're asking whether VSL readers who do BIF are reluctant to switch to a MFT CSC because an EFV is inferior to a DSLR OVF, particularly when it comes to AF, leaving aside the question of PDAF versus CDAF? Just wanted to clear that up.

Ray said...

I started covering sports, Australian Rules Football amongst many others (for an Australian newspaper), with an Olympus E-1, which had possibly the dimmest OVF in existence at the time. I managed to do very well indeed and kept on with an E-3 and E-5. I'm now retired from all of that, but if I'd had my E-M1 in those days, I would have revelled in the sheer pleasure of the EVF, as well as the other aspects of the camera. I never want to go back to an OVF and I do have experience with Nikons and Canons and not forgetting all of my film gear.

Govis said...

Apparently the Nikon 1 System and its 70-300 lens are excellent for birds in flight especially given the magnification possibilities.

Anonymous said...

In the old days people moved en masse from viewfinder/rangefinder viewing. The latter was declared dead, the former the inevitable wave of the future.

A stubborn and loyal few stuck to viewfinder cameras, and somehow makers like Leica managed to survive. These rebels said there was something about direct viewing, about sensing the real world and events in real time, not rendered through mirrors and prisms, that resounded with what they were trying to do. They felt they were artists, not photographers, and nothing could as directly translate what they saw in reality as readily as the immediacy of a window on the world.

Not dissimilar to those who prefer the immediacy of reflex viewing over seeing things in a little TV. There is no discernable lag in a DSLR viewfinder, no tearing, no hesitation. There are infinite megapixels, real life full dynamic range, real life full contrast and color. You are right there, right now with your subject.

EVF is not an inevitable progression of reflex viewing, no more than reflex viewing is an inevitable replacement of the viewfinder viewing of a Leica digital camera today.

They are alternatives, with distinct advantages.

Camera makers who tried and failed to make any dent in the DSLR world (Olympus, Fuji, Sony) now turn to mirrorless, and proclaim that DSLR is dead. It's self serving, of course, but incomplete.

Best to view through cameras and viewfinders with our eyes open and not becoming susceptible to either-or marketing hype.

Mark W. said...

Congratulations on a successful send-off. As a former Upstate New Yorker I wish Ben the best of success enduring the upcoming winter!
Regarding BIF I haven't found a good replacement yet for the Canoe/D7000/70-300 system yet. The lens is the right size to hand hold, the camera is fantastic with its autofocus and metering, and a canoe (preferably with a Minnesotan in the back) is an absolute requirement for being where the birds are.
See http://mawphoto.smugmug.com/Linganore-Birds/i-T5R4Q5G

I've moved on to the Fuji system for people and fun simply because of the lenses. Contrary to all I read on the web, the Fuji 60mm is my favorite since it does double duty as a macro and portrait.
Kudos on the book. I LOVED IT.
Kudos also on the Craftsy classes. I have enrolled in all your classes to date and enjoyed and learned from each.

Malcolm said...

There I was, a puffin colony on Iceland. In my hand my second-hand EOS 1D with suitably sexy L lens on the front. Oh boy, what with my super-fast autofocus and my expensive optics was I ever going to get some good shots of puffins in flight!
Err, no, as it happened. Trying to keep track of a jinking bird in flight with such a small angle of view was nigh on impossible. I can see why Monty Python nailed theirs to a perch! As for autofocus, by the time the lens had moved the bird was gone. Nice blue sky though! I got a few small out of focus blobs at the edge of the picture and that was my lot. Oh, and some shattered dreams :(

Paul said...

I spent an enjoyable afternoon with Ananda Sim and others in Melbourne yesterday afternoon, the challenge was to take only 36 shots.
I added to the degree of difficulty by shooting square format in monochrome. Thanks to the EVF and options of the EM1 I could see the effect in real time through the viewfinder. It would have been a lot more trial and error with my Canon gear.

Godfrey DiGiorgi said...

Your love and concern for Ben is heartwarming, a wonderful and touching thing to read. I'm sure he'll be fine—he's on the threshold of his life.

Regards the foofawraw over EVF, OVF, etc ... eh? who really cares? This stuff is an infective meme that drives sane people to say silly stuff. I do my best to let it go and concentrate on doing what is important to me, which isn't debating to others what equipment type is best or not. I have a ton of different equipment and I enjoy using all of it from time to time.

I also have been amazed (or rather, surprised) by the passion of the "birds in flight" contingent. I just don't share that intense interest, although I do occasionally take a picture of a bird soaring and such. Likewise, I enjoy taking photos at the race track occasionally—and no one's paid me to do that for many years now. Given the extreme niche needs of both these endeavors, well, the fact that my camera equipment might or might not be so suitable for it is of very little concern to me, and I'll muddle along. I don't do much photomicroscopy either ... :-)

Tarjei T. Jensen said...

Puffin BIF seems to require a pretty fast lens (at least F/4) and a camera with a very good AF system.

You need to find the flight routes and place yourself so that you get ample time to focus on the bird and hopefully get an AF lock on.

White birds and bland weather does not a happy BIF photographer make.

I use the Canon 70-200 F/4 L IS with reasonable results with puffins. I'm positioned right above the nests (fenced off, so its safe for the birds).

The 100-400 didn't work well. And neither was the 400 F/5.6 a success this year.

As far as tripods are concerned, most BIF is handheld and often the photographer are camoflaged, near a feeding or nesting place.

E.g. yestday I was flat on the ground on a beach photographing waders. And was not alert when the ultimate BIF opportunity arrived : a raptor going full out 2 yards away. It didn't score, but I'll try again and get it during approach.

Stan Yoshinobu said...

Congratulations to your family and especially Ben! New chapter and I suspect opportunities for you to flex your travel photography muscles :)

Craig Yuill said...

Well, I am one of those BIF enthusiasts. One day back in the late 1990s I rented a 300mm f/4 lens, wound up taking a number of decent (for the time) bird photos with it, and got hooked. I don't take such photos for monetary gain, just personal satisfaction.

Truth be told, most of the bird photos I take are of birds that are perched. But many of those birds, particularly the smaller ones, move around a lot - so it can be very difficult to get a decent photo of those birds even if they are not "on the wing". A good focusing system and appropriate lens is needed when taking photos of birds.

For the past few years I have been using the Nikon D7000 (DSLR) and V1 (mirrorless) cameras to take these photos. I have been using the current AF-Nikkor 70-300 FX-format lens with both cameras, or the 30-110 1 Nikkor CX-format lens with the V1. Operationally, for still photos, the D7000 tends to kick the V1's butt.

Compared to the V1's EVF, the focusing points in the D7000's OVF are much narrower, allowing me to more precisely focus on a specific spot. Unless I can get really close to the bird and get a nice, tight composition, the relatively-large focusing spots on the V1 regularly leads to misfocusing where the background or foreground gets focused on rather than the bird itself.

I have also found the V1 has a bit of viewfinder lag. I regularly find that if a bird is moving (and especially when it is "on the wing") its position in the photo is not what I saw in the viewfinder when I pushed the shutter-release button. Sometimes the bird is completely missed. This type of result happens much less frequently with the D7000. Newer DSLRs and mirrorless cameras might produce different results, but Thom Hogan's experiences with more-recent DSLRs and mirrorless cameras indicate DSLRs still have an advantage for nature and bird photography.

That said, the days of using big cameras with massive lenses for bird photography might be over to some extent. Newer, smaller, relatively-inexpensive long-telephoto zooms from Nikon, Sony, and Tamron have been getting solid reviews. A few winters ago a flock of snowy owls relocated to the area I live in for a month or two, causing a lot of excitement. Groups of one-to-two dozen photographers congregate around the small area favored by the owls. The typical rig being used to capture photographs was made up of a full-frame Canon DSLR attached to a very-large super-tele lens, each costing anywhere from $10000 to $20000. The typical photographer using these rigs not surprisingly looked like they were middle-aged or senior, likely retired and living off of a healthy pension. I have a feeling I will be seeing less and less of this type of rig in the future.

Tarjei T. Jensen said...

I forgot to mention the longish primes.

The new trend on long lenses is to buy them short and fast and then use teleconverters to get range.

eg. 200mm F/2 with one or two 2x converters to get 400/F4 and 800 F/8. Also the 1.4x converter for intermediate size.

Some do the much the same with the F/2.8 versions. But usually just one 2x converter.

This reduces the cost of a long tele dramatically. And if your camera body does F/8 AF you are in happy land.

I got the impression that it was mostly Canon users who use multiple converters.

Mark said...

Hi Kirk,

Although I can imagine a working pro in your field of work never comes into contact with wildlife or bird photography, a LOT of hobbyist photographers enjoy being out into nature and photographing birds and animals. I'm one of those readers who photographs birds, also "on the wings".

For me personally, it's the relaxing solitude, away from all the hassle of life. It's only you, nature and yes, some piece of tech they call a camera. Photographing birds for me is something special, because it gives you a little peek into the life of those creatures in their natural habitat.

Street photographers, reporters and you yourself take images of people in their surroundings. Birds photographers do the same, just a different subject.

My images first and foremost end up as prints in my home. I also tend to post them online for others to enjoy.

On the OVF/EVF subject: I shoot with Sony gear whoch you know has their SLT line, all with EVF. Now I shoot with the last dSLR they made, but won't be affraid of using EVF when it's time to replace my camera. I know a lot of excellent bird photographers who shoot Sony with EVFs and do lots of BIFs without any problems. The lag old EVF systems had is not a problem nowadays, but many photographers still seem to be affraid of that, although they never used it themselves to really know.

Tom Northenscold said...

There are plenty of BIF shooters out there. One whose podcast I listen to is Martin Bailey. His Nature of Japan portfolio is available at http://www.martinbaileyphotography.com/nature-of-japan/.

I've tried my GH3 for our daughter's lacrosse games. The EVF blackout made it really difficult to track the action, which is not highly predictable. My camera of choice for action is my D700 with the battery grip and 8 AA batteries. With that setup I can shoot 8 fps. The AF performance on the D700 is excellent...maybe not up to D4s standards, but plenty good enough for my needs.

Here in Minnesota, swimming is an indoor sport, so the lighting can be challenging, especially as the days get shorter. Last Fall my daughter was on the swim team. Out of 307 keeper images, 300 were shot at an ISO of 4000 or above. In that kind of lighting my D700 is going to outperform my GH3.

Don't get me wrong, I love my GH3. It is a great camera. I just took it to the Minnesota State Fair and had a great time shooting with it. The fully articulating LCD was really helpful. It is a terrific street camera and when I want to go lighter, it is my camera of choice. As others have written though, it's about picking the right tool for the job. Sometimes that right tool is a full-frame DSLR with a good old-fashioned OVF.

Michael Gatton said...

I'm seeing a blue theme here - blue is the color of sadness but you have turned it into the great blue yonder that your son is venturing into. Best wishes!

Anonymous said...

"There is no discernable lag in a DSLR viewfinder, no tearing, no hesitation. There are infinite megapixels, real life full dynamic range, real life full contrast and color."

None of which is what the sensor is seeing and capable of recording. A simple fact that the dSLR luddites seem to ignore, time and again.

It doesn't really matter how great the OVF view is, when the sensor cannot capture it. The OVF delivers the view your eye can see through an open aperture and a mirror box, whereas the EVF represents the view the sensor can see and is capable of capturing.

It's a WYSIWYG view, to which you can also add some further data. Therefore it has some benefits and perks the OVF simply cannot deliver. It's not 100% accurate or flawless, obviously, but neither is the typical OVF view. Both are just shooting aids, both practical compromises as such.

It's not about the EVF being better, it's about it being more practical in a digital camera. In a film SLR the OVF is a no-brainer, obviously, but in a native digital camera an EVF is an equally logical (and natural) choice. Especially when you start shooting both stills and video. It makes practical sense to eliminate unnecessary bulk and mechanical clutter between the lens and the sensor. Times change. Better get used to it.

Arguing about which viewfinder is better is pointless and somewhat silly waste of time. Why should anyone care what others choose to shoot with, anyway? Each to their own. Let it pass. You too, Kirk. ;-)

I wonder why do some people still seem to think that mirrorless (EVIL, CSC, MILC etc.) equals mFT? Purposeful self-delusion by the Canikon luddites and hardcore mFT geeks, perhaps? Whatever it is, such a view of the world seems surprisingly narrow in 2014.

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks for your permission to let it pass..... I'm happy to be enabled...

Anonymous said...

How about lens based preferences irregardless of EFV and OVF options.. And does the ability to have feedback via the EFV aid our ability to pre visualize our photographic work?

Anonymous said...

You're welcome, Mr. Tuck. Carry on, now that you have permission. ;-)

Robert Hudyma said...

I read your post, Studio Dog needs a companion, Studio Dog II.

I have two dogs that needed a forever home and my life is twice better for it.

Studio Dog will thank you.

Steven Lawrence said...

I have both the Nikon 1 V3 and the Nikon D600. I cannot wait until all their cameras have an evf as the V3 does. The benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. Just one example, manual focusing is much easier on an evf.

Nick in Mass. said...

Danny in New Zealand takes remarkable BIF and BNIF (birds not in flight) photos entirely in manual mode with an EVF-equipped Sony NEX-7. He posts fairly regularly in some of the DPR forums.



from his Web site:


theaterculture said...

Kirk, I must angrily correct you here on a crucial point that nearly invalidates everything else you've ever said in your life:

You almost never see somebody sliding INTO first. Sliding back to first a dozen or more times during an interminable sequence of pick-off attempts, sure, but into first, no. Just no.

Kirk Tuck said...

Please forgive me. I spoke about something I didn't know enough about. I saw one entire baseball game in my life. That was one too many.

Doug said...

Kirk: It's one thing to start a viewfinder controversy, but dissing baseball crosses a line that no sane human being should ever cross. It's un-American, frankly. The next thing you'll say is you don't like hot dogs or the 4th of July. I can no now longer read your blog. You are dead to me.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Doug, Baseball is an interesting game. People stand around. A lot. Then there's a small flurry of activity and then.....more standing around. I guess it's meditative in a way. Like watching grass grow. Or watching golf. But just because I don't understand it doesn't mean you can't enjoy it.

But from what little I've seen if you want to fit in you'll have to learn to spit. A lot.

Jerry said...

Let me come to your defense on baseball, Kirk. Some of my best memories of growing up took place on the baseball field. It is great game to play. Watching (like all sports as far as I'm concerned), not so much. It's the doing (in anything), not watching others do.

Chad Thompson said...

And people said no "serious" photography could be done on 35mm when the Leica 0 came out. Of course anyone who has tried to load one might agree. I think 4x5 might actually be easier to load than one of those things.

Anyway, these past few years I've been on a video project that involves a fair amount of birds on the wing - something as small and spastic as the Least Tern comes out great. This week I'll be seeing how well a print from a frame of the 4K settings comes out. I'm guessing it'll work well enough for some uses.

Chad Thompson said...

As an aside, try shooting the GH4 during events with an SBxxx flash on top set to A mode. It works really well if you don't change aperture a ton. Otherwise it gets to be a little fiddly.

Mike Rosiak said...

Baseball = field chess

A game of battle strategy, with an occasional move of the pieces - sometimes with some athleticism.

Ray said...

Clearly few here have ever watched cricket (or they love it and remain silent) and, even worse, had to photograph it every summer for years. Baseball is exciting compared to cricket.

Doug said...

Kirk: As you might imagine, I am indeed an excellent spitter and have taught both my daughters the same, much to my wife's chagrin!

As you can see, my self-imposed exile is over. After standing around and thinking about it (and spitting here and there), you are alive to me once again.

Dave Jenkins said...

It's not likely that anyone much reads this far down the comments, but as a follow-up to Chad's aside, I've used the Oly EM-5 for quite a bit of event work with a Nikon SB-28 flash set to Auto mode. It works really well until the light gets low. Then you're flying blind and focus becomes very precarious. And since you can't pre-chimp flash, you lose the biggest advantage of mirrorless.

neopavlik said...

The library is where you can rent free DVDs, and a place of free internet access for senior citizens, or people of limited funds.


Studio Dog is cute.

The Crave building looks like Titans Tower (from Teen Titans Comics).

Ed Waring said...

I work primarily as an events and wedding photographer and I've just shot my first couple of jobs using a Fuji X-E2 as my primary camera. Previously I was using Pentax DSLR's. I found the EVF quite fantastic tbh! The Fuji EVF was fast and responsive right down to the lowest light (I think the darkest shot I took was F1.2, 1/30 ISO 6400). I was still using a Pentax body for fast telephoto and switching between them really showed how dark the OVF is in that kind of environment. Focus on the Fuji's remained plenty fast enough and shooting in manual focus mode with one touch AF and peaking engaged gave me instant visual confirmation of what the camera had chosen to focus on. When shooting flash with the camera and Yongnuo flash in full manual I switched the EVF so it didn't preview manual exposure so the viewfinder remained clear and bright. I used the 0.5 sec preview so immediately after each flash shot I was shown the capture in the viewfinder for just enough time to check quickly exposure and focus. Much easier and quicker than chimping. I don't own a FF DSLR but compared to my much loved Pentax MX the viewfinder in the Fuji appears the same size to me and is so much brighter and clearer. I shot a friends garden party for fun on the weekend using an old Pentax manual 50mm and the experience was so close to using my old MX (which I miss terribly) but just better! So easy to focus, so clear. There's deffo some gotcha's and I'm still getting used to the experience but I must admit I'm sold. For me it seems that this level of EVF makes my job easier and more enjoyable.