Steve Richards: - Photographer - Visual Artist - Image Maker

KAHU Nature Photography


I learnt many years ago that buying quality optical gear will never disappoint. If you want to achieve the best results having the best gear for the job will certainly help. Digital photography, powerful computers and the software available has changed photography forever. These incredibly powerful tools are available to almost anybody who wants to take up photography seriously.
To be successful, you must learn how to use all these tools, use them quickly, use them efficiently and use them properly and continue to learn and improve your technique. You need to understand all the settings on the camera body and lens, and the body has to be suitable for what you are trying to photograph.
Buying camera gear is about buying into a system. Both Canon and Nikon are excellent and produce a large range of different lenses for all types of photography.
I primarily do landscape and bird photography, so decided on Canon, because the lens selection suited my styles best. Many photography scribes consider Canon has a weakness at the wide angle end, compared to the Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f2.8G ED. I decided to get one of these lens for my Canon bodies using an adapter, and have used it extensively.
The introduction of the EOS 11-24mm f4 has changed all that. I much prefer the Canon TSE 24mm MKII f3.5 L for landscapes by controlling the depth of field using the tilt function, is a huge advantage and suits my style better. I find super wide lens too wide, and I prefer stitching multiple shots taken with the 24mm TSE lens. No barrel distortion for easy stitching, incredibly sharp corner to corner, detailed images, beautiful colour rendition, make this my favourite landscape lens.

Summer Ahuriri Valley - P2

I think Canon fell behind Nikon over the last few years, with the introduction of the D800 and D810, 36 MP cameras, particularly for landscape photography were you want as much detail as you can get. I seriously considered getting a D800E for landscape photography, and use the Nikon 14-24mm, but figured that Canon would bring a larger MP camera out sooner or later. So for a couple of years I concentrated on bird photography and improving my technique, rather than landscape photography.

I was excited to hear that Canon are releasing a 50MP camera, in June 2015. I put my name down for the 5DSR, keen to try it for landscape and also for bird photography. With the higher MP camera, I can't wait for the upgrade of the Canon 45mmTSE and 90mmTSE lens to come to the market. I use the 1.4x and 2x extenders on the TSE 24mm, which is not ideal, so intend getting a Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4 lens in the interim. I also love using my 300mm and 500mm Super telephotos for landscape and on a panoramic head and stitching multiple shots to create stunning panoramas.

I was fortunate enough to get one of the first shipment of 5DSR to arrive in New Zealand. After using it for a year I am really enjoying learning how to get the most out of this camera. You definitely have to concentrate on your technique, and if hand holding you need to push your ISO higher to get faster shutter speeds. I have found that post processing my other cameras compared to the 5DSR is quite different. The images straight out of the camera definitely have much more contrast, something I don't particularly like. I have had to change my Lightroom import presets quite a lot for this camera, and after a lot of experimenting in the post processing, are starting to get the photos just how I like them. I have found making my own profiles for the 5DSR has made a huge difference and have improved my work flow.

Tora rocks - Wairarapa - Canon 5DSR - 24MM TSE Lens

For bird photography I believe the Canon Super Telephoto Lenses are the best available. The quality of the optics are absolutely superb even using the 1.4x and to a lesser extent 2x Extenders. The build quality is fantastic and they are extremely tough and durable. In fact two of the worst moments I have had was when on a trip driving around the South Island, suddenly a bird opportunity presented itself. I quickly stopped my 4WD, jumped out to grab my camera from the back seat. Suddenly my 1DIV  and 300mm F4 lens were crashing onto the tar sealed road.  Once was bad enough but a few days later it happened again. I had the camera and lens serviced and incredibly they were both perfect!  How's that's for tough and durable!  By comparison one day I was cleaning my 5D MkII and 14-24mm Nikkor,  when the lens rolled off a coffee table (about 300mm) onto my carpeted lounge floor. The I immediately checked the lens and it was obvious that the lenses inside were way out of alignment and wouldn't focus correctly. 

My preferred style is to handhold my camera when photographing birds, particularly birds in flight. I brought the EF 300 F2.8L IS first and was blown away by the quality of the images. I decided I wanted a longer lens either a 500mm or a 600mm.  After trying them both, I found the Canon EF 500mm f4 L IS II USM with a 1.4x extender was as physically big and as heavy as I could comfortably handle. In very windy conditions with the 2x extender on, it is is more than a handful to control but is great on a tripod. If I was mainly a  tripod shooter I would have got the superb 600mm lens. 

Kereru in flight

My bird shooting setups are the Canon EOS 1DX + Canon EF 500mm f4 L IS II USM and Canon EOS 1DIV + Canon EF 300mm f2.8 L IS I USM. Since getting the Canon EOS 1DX, the Canon EOS 1DIV has become my backup camera, or I lend it to a mate, when we go out shooting together. 
  The Canon EOS 1DX out performs the 1DIV in every aspect.  Some bird photographers are concerned at losing reach with the full frame 1DX, but the advantages of this camera out weigh this in spades. The exposure system on the 1DX is fantastic, and the AI Servo and focusing system is a great improvement. Post production of the images is much easier. If the exposure is correct and the image is tack sharp,  most images need very little adjustment. 
I have started using my 5DSR with my Canon EF 500mm f4 L IS II USM, for shooting birds.The feather detail I have got is extraordinary for stationary birds, and for long shots that need a lot of cropping. Holding the camera steady can be an issue, so getting a good rest and using a higher shutter speed is imperative to get critically sharp focus.

Here is the list of gear I currently use.

1 x Canon EOS 1DX Mark II,  1 x Canon EOS 1DX, 1 x Canon EOS 1DIV 

1 x Canon 5DSR  x Canon EOS 5D MKII 

 Canon EF 50mm f2.5 Macro 

 Canon EF 100mm f2.8 USM Macro 

 Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8 L I USM 

 Canon EF 24-105mm f4 L 

 Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L IS USM 

 Canon EF 300mm f2.8 L IS I USM 

 Canon EF 500mm f4 L IS II USM

 Canon TSE 24mm MKII f3.5 L 

 Canon EF 1.4x III Extender 

 Canon EF 2x III Extender 

 Canon EF 25 Ext. Tube II 

 Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f2.8G ED + Adapter (Sold)

 Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS USM (Sold) 

Canon EF 300mm f4 L IS USM (Sold) 

Slik Carbon fibre tripod,   Jobu Killarney Carbon fibre tripod,  Manfrotto Panoramic Head,   Manfrotto Geared Head,  Jobu Gimbal Head 

Lee Graduated ND filters