Mirrorless macro with the Canon EOS RP

Exciting times are ahead of us with Canon entering the mirrorless market with a bang. After the successful launch of the EOS R, Canon had followed up with the release of an ‘entry-level’ full-frame mirrorless camera, the EOS RP.

In Canon’s current full-frame lineup, the EOS RP is comparable to the EOS 6D mark ii (announced 2017) using a very similar sensor and packed with new technology and upgrades. After having reviewed the EOS R for wildlife photography, I decided to change things up and use the EOS RP for macro photography, highlighting some new features and discussions on using this mirrorless system for macro work.

I had the opportunity to test out Canon’s older mirrorless systems (EOS M5, M50, etc) specifically for macro work, but it steered me away from the mirrorless systems for the many reasons I mentioned in an older article I wrote regarding equipment for macro photography. This review serves as a follow up to that article.

Many macro photographers have been using mirrorless systems for years but I was never convinced and stuck to DSLRs. That being said, the new R mirrorless system is truly a game changer in my opinion, here are some of my insights regarding:

  • Exterior & Ergonomics
  • User experience (Image quality & performance)
  • New possibilities with focus stacking (extreme macro & focus-bracketing feature)
  • Making the switch to mirrorless

Do note that this review is based on field work/shooting and not studio shooting. Most images were created using the Canon EOS RP, Canon Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM unless otherwise stated.

Disclaimer: Locations would not be disclosed to protect the arthropods from poaching.

Exterior and Ergonomics

The first thing to strike you when you see this camera would be the sheer size and built. This body is made of magnesium alloy, has weather sealing and weighs ~485g. It comes in the standard mirrorless body size everyone is so used to (unlike the EOS R). However, Canon decided not to retain the touch bar and mode screen you see on the EOS R but rather kept to the traditional design of their camera bodies.

Compared to DSLRs, it definitely has an advantage in terms of size and weight. Often, macro photographers are required to shoot with one hand and mirrorless systems are less taxing on the wrists. This affects stamina in the field and you’ll see lesser motion blur even when you gradually tire out. If you have larger hands and need more surface grip, you may purchase the Canon EG-E1 extension grip for EOS RP. The grip only serves as an extension to the body and it’s not your typical battery grip.

The body uses the LP-E17 battery (same as the M5, M50) and located next to the battery is the single SD card slot. Buttons are in their standard positions and you should have no problems adapting to the body especially if you are a Canon user.

The articulating screen makes it easy to photograph subjects in unusual positions without disturbing them, particularly useful if you need to get down real low. In the full frame lineup, only the EOS R, EOS RP and 6D mark ii bodies have this articulating screen.

Tiger Beetle (Cicindela aurulenta) @ 1/160th, f/11, ISO100 (single shot)

Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda sp.) @ 1/160th, f/13, ISO 100 (single shot)

User Experience

Being equipped with a similar sensor as the 6D mark ii, image quality from the CR3 files are exceptional. Having the 26.2MP Dual Pixel CMOS sensor would grant you enough pixel density for extended cropping power.

Stick Insect @1/125th, f/10, ISO 100 (single shot)

As you can see, every detail is retained even at tight crops, definitely a delight for macro photographers.

Spiny harvestman (Podoctidae) @1/125th, f/10, ISO 100 (single shot)

Additional cropping power is fantastic to have for any kind of macro/wildlife photography. Firstly, it gives you loads of compositional freedom if you did not nail the image to start with. Secondly, there are many occasions when the subject is so tiny that even 1:1 magnification does not suffice, the additional cropping power can still render your image usable. Other mirrorless/micro four-thirds systems that I have come across have terrible cropping ability.

Yes, you should always aim to compose and get your framed shot right out of the camera to reduce the need to crop and retain that resolution, but in the field, circumstances change and only with practice can you increase your hit rate. Cropping is inevitable in a lot of scenarios, just use it to your own discretion and purpose (printing, web use etc). The Weevil below stood at no more than 5mm.

Giraffe Weevil Beetle @1/125th, f/10, ISO 100 (single shot)

Colours were accurate once you make minor adjustments to your white balance settings. Auto white balance would not work well due to different flashes emitting different colour temperatures. Once set, the tonal quality you get is amazing, take note of the colours in all the images.

Dead Leaf Mantis (Deroplatys dessicata) @ 1/125th, f/10, ISO 100 (single shot)

Shooting with a mirrorless system for macro work proves to have numerous benefits you won’t find in DSLRs. For one, using an EVF (electronic viewfinder) provides a live preview of how the image would be rendered before taking the shot, useful when you need to switch up camera or flash settings.

A large advantage of the EVF would be focus peaking, a function that only a handful of DSLRs have when shooting in live view. Compared to other mirrorless cameras I’ve used, the lag in the EVF when shooting in low light is present but very subtle. It did not affect my shooting at all.

Bird Dung Spider (Pasilobus sp) @ 1/125th, f/14, ISO 100 (single shot)

Focus peaking is extremely useful in macro especially when we use manual focus most of the time. You can easily set the colour and level of peaking in the EOS RP menu and you are good to go. Nailing focus on tiny subjects and getting those compound eyes have never been easier!

Twig Spider (Ariamnes sp.) @ 1/160th, f/14, ISO 100 (single shot)

However, having also used the EOS R for macro, I find that the peaking in the EOS RP is not as pronounced compared to the EOS R even at the high setting. The EOS R comes with a focus guide, another feature used along with focus peaking for even more accurate focus. I was hoping the EOS RP would come with it but it did not.

Wrap-around Spider @ 1/160th, f/10, ISO 100 (single shot)

What about battery life? Mirrorless systems have a bad reputation when it comes to this. I requested for more batteries from Canon to aid in doing this review and even on 3-4 hour shoots, I did not need to change a single battery. Surprisingly, I was getting more battery life than I ever could on the M5/M50 even though they use the same battery.

Ixorida (Mecinonota) pseudoregia @ 1/125th, f/10, ISO 100 (single shot)

Similar to the EOS R, the CR3 raw files produced by the EOS RP can be easily used with Adobe software once you convert them to DNG if the adobe raw update does not work. Alternatively, Canon’s Digital Photo Professional Express (DPP Express) software can handle the new raw format. A DPP Express app is also available on the App store for iPads.

New Possibilities with focus stacking

In my opinion, probably the largest benefit of the EVF and the mirrorless system for Canon users is the use of extreme macro lenses such as the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1–5x Macro, my review can be read here. This lens is notoriously difficult to use in the field and is much preferred for studio work and experienced macro photographers.

Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1–5x Macro at 1x magnification (left) & extended at 5x magnification (right)

Being fully manual, this extreme macro lens needs a lot of ambient light for you to even see and locate your subject, which is why a simple focus light will not be enough when shooting in the field at any magnification larger than 1. The EVF and focus peaking helps a lot with using this lens out in the field, making it easier to do handheld focus-stacking due to the shallow depth of field the lens produces. The image below is shot with the MP-E 65mm lens.

Jumping Spider (Hyllus keratodes) @ 1/100th, f10, ISO 100 (4 image handheld stack at 4x magnification)

When I first heard about the new focus-bracketing feature of the EOS RP, I was extremely excited to test it out. The end result is the same as traditional focus stacking, to obtain a larger depth of field.

You will find four settings in the menu to control this feature.

  1. Activate Focus Bracketing (Enable/Disable)
  2. Input number of shots (2 to 999)
  3. Focus increment (1-10)
  4. Exposure smoothing (Enable/Disable)

Activation is pretty much self-explanatory. Next, you simply input how many shots you want the camera to take. It will only shoot an appropriate number of photographs until infinity focus is reached, you can choose 100 shots but the camera may stop at just 30. Focus increment depends on how narrow or wide you want the focus change to be, 1 being narrower (smaller) changes, or 10 being wider (broader) changes. Lastly, although exposure smoothing is disabled by default, I would suggest to keep it on for macro work. It helps to keep exposure consistent throughout the different focusing distances in case of any light change.

Do note that focus-bracketing would only work on lenses capable of autofocus, Canon has compiled a list of compatible lenses for this feature and the MP-E65 is not one of them.

Jumping Spider (Hyllus keratodes) @ 1/100th, f/2.8, ISO 800 (25 image handheld stack)

What I noticed when using this feature is that you definitely need a tripod to keep perfectly still, as you can see above, the hairs are not aligned perfectly. The camera is adjusting the autofocus of your lens between each shot and any small vibration you make can affect the final image when you stack. Your flash will not go off as well as it can’t keep up with the fast shutter and number of shots. Thus bumping up your ISO or using a larger aperture is inevitable.

In summary here are my thoughts on it:

  • As with all stacking, your subject has to be static, a few seconds is all you need for traditional stacking. For this focus bracketing you will need to set up your tripod and get the right framing before hitting that shutter.
  • The feature will not work well out in the field at night, unless you have elaborate light set ups to keep ISO levels down. It will work much better in the day, although finding static subject may be challenging.
  • Without a flash, aperture has to be large. the shallow depth of field would require even more shots if that is what you desire. Harsh light coming from your focus light may introduce highlights in your final image.

Making the switch to mirrorless

A major concern for most DSLR users are the compatibility of the current native DSLR lenses with the mirrorless system in terms of performance and reinvesting in getting those mirrorless lenses. The ability to seamlessly blend Canon’s new R mirrorless system with the current EF lenses in the market without a drop in performance is simply mind-blowing. In addition to the already massive lineup of EF lenses, Canon is releasing a lot more native RF lenses to go alongside the R system.

The only native RF macro lens currently available is the RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM which only goes to 1:2 magnification (1/2 life size). It can be used as wide-angle prime lens delivering fantastic sharp images and close ups. However, for macro work, I do not see myself using it due to the lack of at least 1:1 magnification.

In the present macro landscape, I strongly believe getting the EOS RP is really bang for the buck. At that low price point, it is the simplest way a beginner or anyone in fact, can jump into full frame easily. I focused this review on a very niche genre of photography. There is so much new technology packed in this little body that I did not cover, but just imagine the results you can get with all the other lenses you can use with the EOS RP!

Benefits compared to other mirrorless systems:

  1. The ONLY full frame mirrorless body in the market that costs ~$2k SGD
  2. Ability to use ALL EF, EF-S lenses seamlessly
  3. Huge support of professional RF lenses
  4. Packed with new technology and features
  5. Lesser EVF lag in low light
  6. Fantastic battery life

The EOS RP however, is not for the serious videographer and I would not use it for wildlife/sports photography. Any other genre would be a sure win for me.

My experience the EOS RP has been remarkable and exciting. I used it in several of my shoots over the past month and I’m glad to have used it to photograph and discover rare and exotic arthropods I’ve not encountered before! Here are shots of an extremely rare Crab Spider you can find locally.

Bird Dung Crab Spider (Phrynarachne ceylonica) @ 1/160th, f/14, ISO100 (4 shots handheld stack)

So what do you think? Would you invest in the EOS RP?

Do share this article if you like what you see! More to come!

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Wildlife photography with the Canon EOS R

Is the EOS R suitable for wildlife photography?

Here is my experience using the EOS R. I will not discuss too much technical specs and all the features of the camera. My aim is to discuss the capabilities and suitability of the EOS R for wildlife photography while providing some insights on how you can set up your EOS R to shoot wildlife.

In my time spent with the EOS R, I focused only on certain aspects that will affect you as a wildlife photographer. This review covers my testing and thoughts on:

  • Exterior & Ergonomics
  • Image quality & Performance
  • User experience + customisation
  • Using extenders
  • AF system (acquisition, tracking & capturing action)

To set things straight, I don’t fancy using mirrorless systems simply due to the nature of the photography I do, especially wildlife. Which is why it was challenging adapting from being used to shooting with an EOS 1Dxii / EOS 7Dii to the EOS R. Having used mirrorless bodies (M5, M50 etc) from Canon before, none of them gave me the confidence in getting my shots. Here’s why :

1) Shooting with an adaptor (EF-M to EF) slows down autofocusing, rendering quick AF acquisition and tracking an utter pain. Not even mentioning the loss of image quality.

2) The ergonomics of the set-up is poor for handheld shooting. Mounting a large lens on a tiny body throws everything off balance. Imagine all the weight resting on your left hand and being almost weightless on your right.

3) EVF slows everything down. Nothing is faster than seeing your scene as it is, in real-time with 0 lag.

4) Slow frame-rates and inferior auto focusing systems.

5) Battery life. One battery is never enough.

So did the EOS R change my opinions on these issues? Read on!

Exterior & Ergonomics

When I first received the EOS R, I was pleasantly surprised about its size. Definitely no where near the size of your usual mirrorless body but just slightly smaller than a DSLR.

The weather-sealed magnesium alloy body is built like a tank. At first glance, you would have noticed the new Multi-Fn touch bar and the new LCD screen. As expected, the functions of these buttons, dials and bar can be customised according to your workflow. I personally did not find the need to use the touch bar at all. The new LCD screen is pretty cool. Even when the camera is switched off, it will still show the last mode the camera was in.

The EOS R only uses a single SD card slot. Heave a sigh of relief, it’s not one of them XQD cards slots.

Best part yet? It uses the same LP-E6 batteries as the semi-pro / pro Canon bodies.

Using the Canon Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R, I mounted an EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens and headed out to get some shots. The camera felt just like a downsized DSLR and had great balance for handheld shooting.

Minimal edits were made to each photograph.

Image quality & performance

Copper-throated Sunbird (female) @ 1/400th, f/5.6, ISO2000 (Sungei Buloh)

Copper-throated Sunbird (male) @ 1/250th, f/5.6, ISO1250 (Sungei Buloh)

This couple was nesting in the mangroves of Sungei Buloh, lighting was terrible and these sunbirds as you would expect, have very erratic movement, not staying in one place for long. The EOS R handled low light situations really well and images shot at higher ISO are completely usable, preserving all that detail. More examples below, shot approximately 30min before sunset.

White-breasted Waterhen @ 1/640th , f/5.6, ISO 1250 (Pasir Ris Park)

Yellow Bittern @ 1/640th, f/5.6, ISO 2500 (Pasir Ris Park)

The image quality is truly fantastic. The 30.3 megapixel sensor is the same one found in the highly popular EOS 5D mk iv and the results speak for itself. The camera’s dynamic range is awesome. Although you should always aim to get your exposure right the first time, it always helps to bring out detail when your subject is mostly black/white, or when shooting in harsh lighting.

User Experience & Customisation

Oriental Magpie Robin @ 1/160th, f5.6, ISO 2000 (Pasir Ris Park)

The EOS R lacked a joystick, something I rely on a whole lot with moving my AF point(s). You most definitely would not want to keep tapping on the 4-way control, you would’ve missed the shot by then. A workaround is to use the responsive vari-angle LCD touch screen 3.15″ (8.01cm) to move your points.

Shooting handheld, I would not be using the camera in live mode (live preview) but rather through the electronic view finder (EVF).

Under the AF menu, head to Touch & drag AF settings and use these settings.

1) Touch & drag AF – ‘Enable’

2) Positioning method – ‘Relative’

3) Active touch area – ‘Btm right’

While looking through the EVF, I could simply use my thumb to move points around swiftly and get the compositions I want. Especially since I shoot with single point AF 95% of the time, the touch & drag makes it much faster than using a joystick.

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo @ 1/50th, f/5.6, ISO 200 (Lor Halus)

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo @ 1/160th, f/5.6, ISO 800 (Lor Halus)

With 5,655 manually selectable AF points covering almost the entire screen, it gives you further compositional freedom.

Usage with the 1.4x iii Extender

Shooting at 400mm on a full-frame body can only give you that much reach, more often than not, it is not enough. The AF system in the EOS R is Canon’s most advanced system yet, allowing full autofocus control, even at f/11 (100-400mm mkii + 2x iii extender). I didn’t have a 2x extender so I slapped on the 1.4x extender (560mm @ f/8) and gave it a shot. To keep it short, I was blown away by the results.

Changeable Lizard @ 1/100th, f/8, ISO 500 (Lor Halus)

I have no idea what happened to this lizard but it was dried up and stuck on a tree. Look at those details!

Red-breasted Parakeet @ 1/250th, f/8, ISO 800 (Lor Halus)

Yellow-vented Bulbul @ 1/250th, f/8, ISO 100 (Lor Halus)

Little Grebe @ 1/800th, f/8, ISO 2000 (Lor Halus)

Images were not soft and the details you get even after cropping is insane. This is truly a game changer. Note that all the shots were handheld.

AF System

I got used to operating the EOS R and decided to take it a step further, making the attempt to photograph the endangered Grey-headed Fish Eagle (GHFE) hunting at Ulu Pandan. To fully commit to doing this review, I left my usual set up at home with the risk of missing all the shots.

The DSLR bodies I use, the EOS 1Dxii or the EOS 7Dii, are fast bodies with superior auto-focusing systems. Similarly, the EOS R gives you precision control over tweaking Tracking Sensitivity, Accel./Decel. Tracking and AF pt auto switching.

As you can see in the photos above, the EOS R performs well with fast subject acquisition (Canon claims focus speeds as short as approximately 0.05 seconds) and the ability to focus in low light (EV-6) / low contrast situations (getting the eyes sharp despite the black feathers).

But how does it deal with birds in flight? Are action shots possible?

Purple Heron @ 1/320th, f/5.6, ISO 125 (Ulu Pandan)

The lighting conditions were terrible that day. Harsh light casted shadows and blown out the highlights. This Purple Heron came by the canal for breakfast and was definitely not disappointed by the abundance of fish. As expected, a family of Smooth-coated Otters showed up and enjoyed their Catfish meals too.

Brahminy Kite @ 1/1600th, f/8, ISO 1600 (Ulu Pandan)

Brahminy Kite @ 1/1000th, f/8, ISO 1600 (Ulu Pandan)

Soon after, two Brahminy Kites started circling and made several attempts to snatch the fish from the Otters. Despite the harsh light, the EOS R handled it pretty well and I could still save some feather details on the raptor.

I was shooting with a single-point AF / expand AF area and AI servo (continuous focusing). A huge downside is that the EOS R can only shoot at 5 fps in AI servo. Without those extra frames, it’s likely to miss out on interesting shots that could have been captured. Furthermore, you will lose a second or two when you visually acquire the subject through the EVF (since it takes time to switch from live view to the EVF preview) and this can’t be helped, an optical viewfinder will obviously not have this problem. Many people have also mentioned a “lag” in the EVF during bursts, but that is due to the image preview that shows up on the EVF after each shot. Turn off image preview in the menu and it would be less frustrating.

Grey-headed Fish Eagle @ 1/160th, f/5.6, ISO 250 (Ulu Pandan)

After 2-3 hours, the Sun rose high as ever, but eventually, the star of Ulu Pandan appeared. The GHFE is near-threatened but they seem to be doing well in Singapore! This particular individual had captured the hearts of residents and photographers by hunting for catfish everyday in the canal.

In wildlife photography, it is of utmost importance that you are familiar with your camera and being quick to adapt to the situation. For example, I always shoot in manual mode (M) but I register presets on C1,C2,C3 for a quick switch of settings, for static subjects, or birds in flight. Being able to anticipate the subject’s behaviour and change crucial settings fast when you need to will get you optimal results.

The absence of the mode dial on the EOS R made it tough to switch over to my custom modes and changing modes was a two step process.

Grey-headed Fish Eagle @ 1/2000, f/5.6, ISO 500 (Ulu Pandan)

You can see the dive sequence I managed up above, note that there were many other frames that you don’t see here. Although I was shooting at only 5fps, I was pleasantly surprised at how the AF system acquired and tracked the eagle in every single frame.

After the successful dive, it flew to the barrier but clumsily dropped the fish. That only meant more opportunities for action shots.

Grey-headed Fish Eagle @ 1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 200 (Ulu Pandan)

Well, I would consider that shoot a success!

Be reminded that all these were shot with the EF-EOS R adaptor, at 400mm and cropped. The image quality coming from the new CR3 raw files were simply amazing. If your adobe software isn’t reading the new format, download the raw update from Adobe’s website, or simply convert them to DNG.

The following are other shots I made with the EOS R, Canon Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens combo.

Little Egret @ 1/800th, f/5.6, ISO 200 (Sungei Buloh)

Little Egret @ 1/1250th, f/5.6, ISO 320 (Sungei Buloh)

Smooth-coated Otter & Estuarine Crocodile @ 1/1250th, f/5.6, ISO 400 (Sungei Buloh)

Golden Orb Weaver @ 1/400th, f/5.6, ISO 500 (Pasir Ris Park)

I had a really positive shooting experience with the EOS R. I absolutely had my doubts on using a mirrorless system to shoot wildlife, especially with Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera. It still isn’t the perfect camera for wildlife photography but it truly surpassed my expectations. A higher fps capability would certainly entice me more to switch over. Critics talk about the EOS R lacking in-body image stabilisation (IBIS), I believe with great technique, you can overcome this easily.

This camera is definitely not a toy. In Canon’s lineup, it is on par with the 5D mkiv and at a similar price point. The EOS R has many other capabilities I did not cover here that is meant to improve workflow and give users the best of new technology. I was also sent the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The inclusion of the control ring in front of the new RF lenses (also customisable) is another awesome innovation by Canon.

However, looking at the 2019 lineup, Canon photographers can look forward to more professional-grade R lenses to be coupled with the EOS R or the EOS RP.

Even if Canon does not release any super telephoto R lenses, just use the adaptor for your EF lenses. It gets the job done!

Do share this article if you like what you see! More to come!

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