So do you shoot Canon or Sony?

This is a story about how I got into a fight the other day.  Not a real fight in a grungy bar or someplace like that.  Or anything that involved fisticuffs or any real physical violence. An online fight on Instagram.  Well maybe an exchange of words really, not to say that things don’t get out of hand on social media pages sometimes.  I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw a post with a Sony camera body and I think 3 different Canon lens mounted.  And one of the first comments on the post was to the effect of why, if Sony cameras are so good, do 90% of the posts show them with Canon lenses.

Now the question could obviously be interpreted as a genuine query on why this general observation would be so.  Or, and this was the more likely intention, it was a backhanded swipe at Sony using one of the common reasons people use not to buy the camera bodies – Canon and Nikon glass is considerably better.  If you haven’t noticed this already, camera nerds can be very very brand loyal.  To the point that they will pick fights with users of other brands in what can only be described as almost religious zeal. One of the first questions a camera nerd will ask is what brand are you shooting on.  Then they will tell you about what brand they are on and how it is better than your own.  Even I was guilty of that and some would argue this post talks to the same.

To an extent, with my limited use of my Sony camera and lens and the limited time Sony has been in country, I will concede that Canon and Nikon have the best range of lenses but Sony is indeed catching up.  Sony mirrorless mount lenses were limited in the past but the range is constantly being added to.  However, I have to admit that the good to great lenses come at quite astounding prices.  Sony recently announced a $12000 400mmF2.8 lens for wildlife photographers which is going to break the bank of many Sony users as soon as it lands.  If you look at the ratings on DXO mark for some of the GMaster lenses you will see that they actually are much better than their Canon and Nikon counterparts on the high megapixel count camera bodies.  My Sony 100-400mm Gmaster ranks a few points higher than the Canon 100-400mm MkII lens and almost as high as the 200-400mm Canon lens.  But the cost of the Sony is about 30% more than the Canon and what I have also been finding of late is that the availability is also an issue here on the Southern tip of Africa.

So for the compromise of the loss of a little (sometimes hardly noticeable) quality and saving a lot of money, a lot of Canon lenses get used in combination with the Sony bodies.  It just makes sense to use the best body you can get your hands on with the best lens you can get your hands on.  And Canon lenses in particular work really well with the Metabones adapters, losing very little autofocus speed and the quality of the lenses are for the most part close to what you would get with the native Sony lenses for stills (with the caveat that it may not be as great when shooting video).  Nikon lenses on the other hand don’t, or rather don’t have an adapter currently that performs the same as the Metabones does. So this is part of the reason that there are so many Canon lenses being used on the Sony bodies, and maybe not so many Nikon lenses.

The other part I have mentioned before.  For the R32 000 I paid for my Sony Alpha A7III, I would not be able to even get a Canon camera body that currently comes even halfway close.  The 6D MKII is full frame but slower on the frame rate and low light performance is worse than the 6D MKI so worse than the Sony and almost no comparison on the autofocus.  The 5DMKIV has a higher megapixel count but is closer to R60 000 all in and also is slower on the frame and autofocus is also perhaps not as well suited for action and fast moving objects.  So a lot of other Canon users are moving across to Sony and have a lot of glass that they bring with them.  Why not the same with Nikon?  Because Nikon has for a large part, kept up with the Sony bodies’ performance in the last few years and actually are better camera body makers than Sony so the need to change is not as great.  And without the added bonuses of being able to migrate expensive lenses across, I think fewer Nikon users may be tempted by the Sony camera bodies.  There are actually a number of stories of Canon users who got tired of waiting and switched to Nikon as well.

You are probably thinking that’s all well and good but Canon will probably catch up with their own Mirrorless Full Frame camera body soon.  And indeed, that’s exactly what some of the rumours are saying.  Canon and Nikon have both recently announced their intentions to build a new mirrorless full frame camera aimed at directly competing with Sony.  And I believe that they may well do it, except they are about 5 years behind already so it has to be a massive leap forward in terms of technology but would also require a massive mind shift on the part of the predominantly DSLR manufacturers.  And that is they will have to aim to cannabalise some of their own DSLR sales to slot the mirrorless full frames into the current line up.  Canon has been particularly bad at this though, deliberately down speccing cameras so that they do not compete with each other in recent years (perhaps the reason why the 6D MKII was a bit of a damp squib).  So I believe they know what needs to be done but whether they will do it is still debatable.

I think, for what its worth, Canon should perhaps try an alternate tack.  They know how to make lenses and how to make a lot of different lenses.  If I were Canon I would approach the guys at Sony and offer to make their lenses for them, with the correct mount to fit the Sony systems.  Like Tamron and Sigma currently do with their lenses.  Keep making the DSLRs because there are pros who will never switch off Canon so the market may be shrinking but could be there for a while.  And avoid the distraction of trying to out-compete Sony on the full frame mirrorless front and perhaps carve a new niche as lens suppliers.  But then again time could well prove me wrong and they could make a good show of it.  Maybe by this time next year we will know, I just got a case of the proverbial ants in the pants and could not wait that long to see if they came close. And as much as I love my Canon lenses, if I can shoot with them on the Sony body then why not?  So do I shoot Canon or Sony?  Both actually.  And DJI to boot.

First Impressions: Sony A7III (and possibly the 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 GMaster by association)

The Backstory

So.  Have you read enough about the Sony Alpha cameras already?  Actually if you are not a camera geek like me you probably haven’t heard much of the Sony camera’s currently taking the world by storm.  Unless you are friends with me on any form of social media – then you probably heard too much in the last couple weeks and you are probably hoping that I would stop.  And I promise that this blog post is the culmination of what has been an exciting few weeks.  I therefore ask that you bear with me and maybe this is the last you’ll hear of it…for now!

Continue reading “First Impressions: Sony A7III (and possibly the 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 GMaster by association)”

Which lens to choose for beginner wildlife and nature?

Ask me when did I get into wildlife photography and I would struggle to answer. Before getting my first DSLR I had been to the Kruger a total of 1 times in my life, late in 2005 I think it was.  My progression was first into landscape photography, documenting the places I had been travelling to and I started of shooting wide.  The transition to long lenses I think only started late in 2011 when I got a 70-300mm USM and even then the next step up did not come for a long while. So I will run you through some of the lenses I have owned and used and still use in some instances and hopefully guide your own journey. Continue reading “Which lens to choose for beginner wildlife and nature?”

Getting more Air time!

So if you read my blog a few months back on the trials and tribulations of setting up the DJI Spark you will know how excited I was for my first foray into droning and drone photography (Spark of insanity ) But almost as much as it excited me the littlest drone in the DJI line up did leave me frustrated for the 4 months or so I did own it.  Flying through a WIFI connection to the phone, the biggest bug bear I had was that the furthest out I could get it before losing signal was just over 100m at the limited height of 120m.  Limited battery life was addressed through multiple batteries and the ease of flying with the remote was actually quite impressive.  And then, in almost an ultimate act of insanity and almost to fulfill the prophecy I laid out in September, on the 30 December, the little spark flew out about 70m over the waves of Nature’s Valley and about 4m high then started to come back in reverse and decided to spit its own battery out and plummet into the knee-deep water of the Southern Indian Ocean.

Continue reading “Getting more Air time!”

Is it talent or hard work and experience or simply having the right equipment that counts most?

One of my quotes of all time is from Albert Einstein that goes “I have no particular talent, I am merely extremely inquisitive”. Now I make no claim to be anywhere close to the genius that was Einstein but I would say that  I too have no particular talent except perhaps for being curious.  And that can get you a long way sometimes but perhaps curiosity is not all you need (cos we all know that love is all you need).  I’ve, in the last couple months, been having a recurring conversation with a few different people on the topic of natural talent versus hard work towards a goal versus having the better tools on hand to finish the job and buying some luck with that.  The conversations seem pretty pointless because they inevitably lead nowhere because this debate is as old as time. I mean I’m sure even the early cavemen had hunters who made more kills because of a better spear or fishermen who caught fish easier because they were fishing 7 days a week.  But let me give you my take because you’ve already read so far in, you might as well read on…

Continue reading “Is it talent or hard work and experience or simply having the right equipment that counts most?”

Spark of insanity…

I don’t usually do pure tech reviews.  Mostly because by the time I decide to buy anything I have done loads and loads of research and generally am half way to being in love with it already so am generally biased towards being positive.  I think the same is true about the DJI Spark that I recently purchased but it hasn’t been all positive for a change so I decided to write it up on here.

I have been following Casey Neistat after a friend brought his channel to my attention late last year.  He was sent a prototype version so I had the first view of the smallest drone in the DJI line up months before it even became available here in South Africa.  Then he got the real version and his review was just brilliant (with an apology to his wife at the end but that’s Casey for you!).  So after doing more research, speaking to the guys at ODP and much advertising hype I decided that come September I will be getting one.  And I was going to pay full price for it and everything, then the white fly more combo went on special and a quickly grabbed it up!  That’s why people like Casey are social media influencers I guess, they influence you into buying what they get sent…although his reviews are not sponsored. Continue reading “Spark of insanity…”

Pivotal Pilanesberg

It is amazing that most of us can look back and pin-point the turning points in our lives that may have lead us to where we are now, yet at the time we didn’t realise that we were on the cusp of something amazing.  I was reminded the other day on exactly one such moment by facebook and it got me thinking about all that it has lead to since.  In August 2015 I decided on a whim to make a drive to the Pilanesberg National Park.  I can’t remember the exact reasoning but it was around the public holiday long weekend and for whatever reason I had not gone down to Durban so it must have been pure whim that made me drive the 180km to get there.

It was my first visit to the park and I had no idea what to expect or what to do and to be honest I cannot for the life of me remember how much of the day went. What I do remember is stopping in the late afternoon at Mankwe dam to walk out to the bird hide to see what all the fuss was about.  And after sitting around for a few minutes there was a little bit of commotion as a pied kingfisher came up to a dead tree right in front of the hide and proudly sat down with his catch.  Not being big into birds at the time I did not know what happens next, but the seasoned photographers and birders did and quickly turned their attention to the kingfisher.  The bird then started beating the fish about quite rapidly and violently to descale and tenderise the fresh catch before tossing the little meal around to position it and swallow it whole.

I was shooting with my 550D and 70-300mm Ultrasonic lens, which to that point had served me extremely well.  But on that afternoon I found myself struggling.  The 550D’s frame rate is about 5 frames per second which was decent enough to catch some of the action but missed half of it.  The afternoon sunlight was rather harsh and I think even today I would struggle to deal with it.  But the combination conditions and equipment limitations (at least in my head anyway) left me wanting to get better.  And I think this is where my transformative journey in nature and in particular birding began.

I went back to the park in December 2015 with a new 7D mkii camera body and a second hand 300mmF4LIS lens that I purchased in September and October respectively.  And that was my first introduction to some of the beautiful bird species to be seen in the park, including the white fronted bee-eaters and lesser striped swallows.  The photography improved and I also got one of my favourite pictures in the park shot from the Rathlogo hide of 4 zebras having a drink.  I also went with Tannie Wilma and Oom Hans which in itself was a great experience and possibly the inspiration to do the big year of birding I attempted in the course of 2016.

 

Through 2016 I did not make many a turn past the Pilanesberg.  The park, which played a big role in inspiring the big year of birding as well as the Sanparks challenge I am currently completing, unfortunately took a back seat as I went trekking through the rest of our beautiful country.  However I did manage one visit if I recall correctly and spent a nice afternoon at Mankwe dam again shooting a very young baby elephant and it’s protective family.

 

This year I have been to the park 4 times and each one was special in it’s own rights.  The first trip in march for my birthday yielded a pair of cheetah walking through the long grass after the good summer rains.  I was actually shooting a ruffous-naped lark when a couple saw me and directed me to follow them as they had been following the cheetahs for a while and they would come of the grass soon.  And sure enough, no sooner than I had turned around, the cheetahs emerged casually walking through the long late summer’s grass.  I don’t think I made the most of the opportunity but I chalked that down to excitement more than anything else.

I then decided in early June to join Heinrich Neumeyer, the leopard whisperer of the Pilanesberg to try to track at least one leopard down.  In the end we did see a leopard on the safari, late in the afternoon when the light was too bad for decent photographs.  But we also saw the big five in one day, elephants, rhinos, lions and buffalos to-ing and fro-ing in the early morning light and the late leopard.

 

I hired a lens to shoot with on the day and fortunately, as it turns out, left my 1.4x extender on the back of it.  Heinrich and Gerrie tracked extender down for me so just to make sure I got it back safely I went back to the park a month later, the first weekend of July and went for my second tour with Heinrich.  This time around we got got to see not one leopard but 5 and they were all in full daylight, offering some superb opportunities to photograph the notoriously elusive cats.  Before the trip in early July I had seen a total of 3 leopards.  Two in the dark and one briefly on safari in 2013 when I visited Kapama with Maja.  So to see 5 in a day was extraordinary to say the least!  I still managed to mess it up though and cut of the tail of one of the leopards crossing the road.  Heinrich has promised to find me more leopards the next trip though because he owes me one…

 

The latest in the string of Pilanesberg adventures was on Women’s day last week.  I decided to make a day trip because the holiday being a Wednesday was ideal for a one day sojourn.  And I decided to invite a few friends along so we had a full car of photographers.  I lead the expedition, given my love for the park, so this was the inaugural Pluckan Pilanesberg Tour (PPT).  And while we didn’t get to see any of the big cats and the elephants somehow managed to elude us, it was all in all a great day.  Well I think anyway.  I did manage to seen two new bird species and photograph one (secretary bird below) and got some half decent rhino shots. Oh and we also saw a brown hyena which is the only hyena species in the park but were cut off just at the most inopportune time.  As I said, Heinrich owes me one! I think the last trip made me realise that sharing the experience can bring its own rewards. So the park keeps inspiring me in different ways, mostly to get better with each return trip.  And I shall be back sooner than I know it (possibly even by the end of this month) so the next edition of PPT is coming soon!

The Pluckan easy guide to moving off shooting automatic

Zig Ziglar is quoted as saying you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.  So when a budding photographer recently asked me how they move from shooting pictures using the full automatic mode to shooting using the manual mode on their recently purchased DSLR my immediate response was almost to say turn the dial until it is pointing to the big M and then take it from there.  Of course there is more to it than that and for many photographers it can actually be quite a daunting prospect moving to the Manual mode on their camera.  Why would you want to move off the automatic mode if the camera manufacturer was kind enough to add in a mode to allow photos to be taken almost as soon as you get the camera?  Photos which are perfectly fine 80 or maybe even 90% of the time. All at the risk of completely spoiling photos that you may not get the opportunity to shoot again.  Because, of course, if you never start, if you don’t move that dial, then you will find it very hard to learn. Continue reading “The Pluckan easy guide to moving off shooting automatic”

Brand new, Second hand or renting…

Anyone who takes up photography as a hobby will know that as a hobby it can get very expensive very fast.  Even a basic DSLR or more advanced bridge camera come with a price tag that is a few thousand Rand or more.  As you move from being a hobbyist to a more serious enthusiast the problem compounds as the need for better equipment, or sometimes admittedly only a perceived need, forces you to consider more and more expensive equipment.  I found myself in that dangerous spiral of the constant need to buy better, faster and sharper lenses after I made the decision to upgrade my camera body towards the second half of last year.  I thought I had made it through that dark (and costly) patch after some careful consideration on what equipment I look to buy and what I can rent if the need arises.  Then earlier this month Canon made the announcement of the 5D MarkIV camera body that I have been waiting for almost all of this year and it has seen me spiraling back into the mire… Continue reading “Brand new, Second hand or renting…”

Pelican low key

My guide to capturing low key nature photographs

I recently made a trip down to Durban and had some time on a Saturday morning to get out to the Botanic Gardens, one of my favourite places to visit when I am in Durban (see the previous post on the other places to see when in Durban: I’m coming home…part 2 of 2).  It was a clear, sunny morning, creating light that lend itself perfectly to shooting, unlike most of my previous visits that were mostly cloudy and on one occasion raining.  The large patches of shade on the small pond created by the trees that surround it and shooting indoors in the orchid nursery allowed me to try my hand at some low key shots of the birds on the pond and some of the orchids, resulting in some of the pictures in this post.  I got a number of questions on how I achieved these dramatic shots and so I will try to explain some of the technique behind the photos. Continue reading “My guide to capturing low key nature photographs”