A Venture into Wildlife Photography

Wild Spanish mustangs on the beach at the Outer Banks of NC.

A friend recently let me borrow Canon’s 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L series lens and I thought I would try my hand at some wildlife photography. I wasn’t in search of anything too exotic, I’d walk some of nature trails and get shots of birds, deer or whatever else might be out. After my first trip I was incredibly disappointed. As the sun was setting and casting a beautiful golden light, I was able to capture images of a solitary male cardinal and a pileated woodpecker, among other things. However, when I viewed the images on the computer, it appeared as though I was shooting from a mile away, despite shooting at 400mm (see image below)! So I asked my friend Ken Conger – who is an exceptional wildlife photographer – how in the world he could capture such tight shots of birds, since I knew he uses a 400mm prime lens. What I learned, and had not realized, is that the Canon 1D series uses an APS-H sensor size which means you get a 1.3x cropping factor. Other Canon models, such as the 50D, use an APS-C sensor and you get a 1.6x cropping factor. The Canon 5D, which is what I use, utilizes a full frame sensor and you don’t get any cropping. Thus, using a Canon 1D and 1.4x extender with a 400mm lens now gets you to a whopping 728mm (= 1.3 x 1.4 x 400)! That’s 82% more than what I was shooting at. Now I don’t feel quite so bad about the shots I got – and realize that the 5D is not ideally suited for wildlife.

Pileated woodpecker
Shooting with the 5D at 400 mm.

So while the combination of the 5D and 400 mm may not be ideal for shooting small birds, I was able to get some nice shots of larger animals. The photograph of the wild mustangs (above) is a good example. I was also able to get a reasonably good shot of an osprey in flight. Getting birds in flight is hard! Of the 50+ images I snapped off while the osprey was soaring overhead, only a handful were “keepers”. I like this one in particular because not only are the eyes sharp, but they are looking directly at the camera!

An osprey flying overhead.

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