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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Settings and controlling Depth of Field (Macro)

This article serves as a guide to those who are venturing into Macrophotography.

Images are all taken with the Canon EOS 80D & Canon EF 100mm f2.8L IS USM.

1/200th, f/10, ISO 100

To get your settings right, it is imperative that you understand basic exposure, and how aperture, ISO and shutter speed work together with your camera’s metering modes to achieve a properly exposed shot. With all kinds of photography, your settings will change based on the conditions you are faced with, whether shooting in the day or night, photographing a skittish subject, a tiny or large subject and the list goes on~ However, the nature of macro photography does not need you to be blazing fast with assessing situations and switching settings on the spot as you would with wildlife photography (birding) for that matter.

As you read further, once again I reiterate that most of my shoots happen at night, where there is minimal or no ambient light at all. Shooting with sufficient ambient light would definitely make it much easier, just master shooting at night and you will have no issues in the day.

Here is your basic exposure triangle (photo cr. https://photographylife.com/what-is-exposure-triangle)

As you can see, I added the red circles for reference.

To make things simple, I always shoot at ISO 100. With the aid of artificial lighting from your flash units, this is not a problem obviously. ISO 100 will get you the cleanest shots and it is a setting that I use 90% of the time.

Sometimes, you may need to bump up a few stops (I usually cap at 400) when you are faced with larger subjects that you can’t go 1:1 or more, subjects like this Deroplatys desiccata below. With larger or distant subjects, depending on how your diffuser directs light, you may need more ambient light to light up your subject, increasing your ISO may help this slightly. Full frame cameras perform better in this situation. You may utilise brighter torches (preferably those without hotspots) to light up your subject as well. All in all, just keep it at ISO 100 unless you really need to.

Dead-Leaf Mantis (Deroplatys desiccata) @ 1/160th, f/11, ISO100

Next shutter speed. As a general rule of thumb for all kinds of hand held photography, if you are shooting at 100mm focal length, use 1/100th of a second to eliminate motion blur. But as mentioned in my previous article, “Introduction to Macrophotography“, you will be shooting at high magnifications in macro which means magnified vibrations. To curb this, bump up your shutter speed a stop or two. As you get better with your technical skills in the field, you can bring down your shutter speed. Needless to say, if you are faced with a skittish subject or one that moves about a lot, bump it up. Something people may oversee is that your exposure settings directly affect your flash power, whether manual or ETTL. By reducing your shutter speed, you allow your flash to give out lesser output and in turn allows your flash to recycle much faster, essential if you intend to do handheld stacking.

Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda davidbowie) @ 1/100th, f/11, ISO100

Lastly, your aperture settings. This is an important one as it determines how much Depth of Field (DOF) you are getting, I will discuss this below. The sweet spot of most lenses are at the f/8 region and you can get a decent DOF at f/8 but I would recommend anywhere between f/8 to f/16. As a rule, do not go above f//16. Simply put, any value larger than f/16 introduces diffraction and loss of detail when you zoom in. You can get away with those shots for your Instagram or what not, but not for large prints.

If you want to understand the physics behind diffraction, check out this link: https://photographylife.com/what-is-diffraction-in-photography

However, if you are using adaptors/diopters like the Raynox DCR150/250, or any specialised macro lenses that enable you to go further than 1:1, you may want to bump this up a little simply because of the shallow DOF but diffraction will still occur. Remember, we are shooting in the field, not the studio. If you want to shoot at extreme magnifications, you need to focus stack to get a decent DOF.

Okay, so what’s this whole DOF thing?

DOF is basically the focused region of your photo. Having certain areas of your photo in focus and the rest blurred out can help draw the attention of your audience to the subject matter, just like in portraiture, isolating the subject from the background and creating beautiful bokeh. On the contrary, you need a large DOF in macro to get more regions in focused. Here are some rules that govern the control of DOF:

1) Aperture

Larger aperture (smaller f-stop value) = Shallower DOF

2) Magnification

Higher the magnification = Shallower DOF

3) Focal Length

Longer focal length = Shallower DOF

4) Subject Distance (SD)

Closer SD = Shallower DOF

As you can see, many factors affect DOF. You can also achieve a larger DOF if you align your subject on the same focus plane. A slight difference in shooting angle can affect how much your photo gets in focused.

Trilobite Beetle @ 1/125th, f/10, ISO 100

Huntsman Spider (Gnathopalystes sp.) @ 1/160th, f/11, ISO 100

If you simply are not getting enough DOF for your liking, or that your set up (usage of higher mag/adaptors) requires f/16 and above, you may need to do focus stacking (another article on that soon).

White-banded House Jumping Spider (Hypoblemum albovittatum) @ 1/200th, f/10, ISO 100 Handheld Stack

To achieve accurate colours, Auto White Balance may not always work as different flash units emit different colour temperatures. By shooting RAW, you can easily adjust this in post. When out in the field, you can take a photo of your finger and see if your camera is capturing the correct skin tone, and adjusting your white balance (K) as needed.

Spot metering will work best, especially in low light. Evaluative metering will not make sense if there is nothing behind your subject, rendering the background black as your flash is unable to light up background

Twig Spider (Ariamnes sp.) @ 1/125th, f/14, ISO 100

I will not go through all the benefits of shooting RAW, there are tons of articles out there. Simply put, shoot RAW and you will have a better platform to adjust exposure and colour correction.

Look out for the next article on “Techniques in Macrophotography” where I will teach you how to focus and overcome the absence of ambient light with proper techniques as well as light manipulation.

Contact me if you have questions or clarifications!

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

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#macrophotography #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography #tutorials

“Tarantula Fishing” at Bukit Fraser, Malaysia

During our 3 day trip to Fraser Hill, there was no doubt that we were going to head out to explore and discover the creatures of the night. Our goal was to look for the 3 species of Tarantulas that Fraser Hill is known for, mainly from the Coremiocnemis Genus. They are Coremiocnemis hoggi, Coremiocnemis cunicularia and Coremiocnemis obscura (ranked in order of rarity). To sum it all up, we had a pretty productive trip, scroll down for more photos and a video!

Being a nocturnal species, Tarantulas are more active at night, look carefully and you just might spot some long hairy legs sticking out of a hole. In the day, these burrows would just appear to be plain, empty holes in the ground. Take a look at some of my shots of these arachnids in their natural environment~

Some of these photographs are light 2 image stacks.

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

Look at how the colours blend in with the environment!

<Coremiocnemis hoggi>

Tarantulas whether they are arboreal or terrestrial species are ambush predators, waiting in their burrows for crickets, roaches or even small mammals like mice to come along. These spiders have poor eyesight but that does not stop them from being formidable hunters, the tiny hairs that cover their body are hyper-sensitive to the surrounding environment, sensing and feeling out any vibrations close by. Once the potential prey comes close enough, Tarantulas strike with insane speed and accuracy (arguable haha), injecting venom from their large fangs.

<Coremiocnemis hoggi>

“Tarantula Fishing” (not an official term) is essentially teasing the arachnid out of its burrow using an object like a stick or blade of grass. When coaxing, think “cricket” and gently brush along the parameter of the burrow and you will see the Tarantula slowly creeping out of its burrow, waiting to strike. Some species are more skittish than others and would not stay out for long once out of its burrow, take a video that you can review later for your own purposes.

<Coremiocnemis hoggi> grabbing the stick we used.

Look at that deep purplish-blue colouration! Coremiocnemis hoggi can be identified by the two hind legs that are “bushier” than the other legs. This was also the first shot I took where the entire spider came out of its burrow. Its sheer size was astonishing.

<Coremiocnemis hoggi>

This is a widely known method used by biologists, scientists, hobbyists and photographers/film makers (just to name a few), for a myriad of purposes like observation, documentation, research etc. Do note that the spiders are not harmed in any way and this is just part of their natural behaviour. Needless to say, continuous attempts to coax the same spider out from its burrow would cause unnecessary stress to it and it would probably just stay in the burrow and ignore you.

One of my favourite shots from the trip!

Entire spider out from its burrow.

Fun fact: This species of Tarantula is named after Stephen Hogg, a.k.a. the Stephen of Stephen’s Place in Fraser. He observed and documented these spiders years before they were officially described.

Another method people use to coax the spider out from its burrow is the “flooding method” where a low pressure stream of water is introduced into the burrow and the spider will naturally exit the burrow. I’ve seen people do this to rehouse their Tarantulas at home and it seems pretty effective (we did not do this).

Sling

There is definitely a healthy population of Tarantulas in the area we found them. Burrows were rather close to one another and we saw many slings (lingo that refers to baby spiders, or early instars). Juveniles are hard to ID as they mostly look similar but this one is probably hoggi.

<Coremiocnemis cunicularia>

Another species known to be found in this area is Coremiocnemis cunicularia and it has a pretty similar colouration to hoggi but does not have the bushier hind legs. This particular individual has a really dark, black colouration and its a possible cunicularia.

<Coremiocnemis cunicularia>

This species is rather uncommon as compared to hoggi and we probably only encountered only 2-3 of them. Some Tarantulas stayed in their burrows and some did not come out enough for us to get a positive ID.

Still awaiting a positive ID of this one, but it could possibly be the rare obscura. The temperament of this individual was so different from the rest. It was daring enough to grab onto the stick, refusing to let go and kept its pursuit. Watch the video I compiled below to see what I mean!

Being the largest spiders in the world, they inject fear into the majority of people, but do know that although they inflict a painful bite, their venom is not potent enough to kill and is only comparable to a bee sting. As long as you keep a distance and respect the arachnid, you would not be harmed!

Watch the simple video compilation I did to show you how these shots were taken. Disclaimer: I had no intention to do a video in the first place so you could probably tell its pretty messy~ video is unlisted on Youtube.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqSi71-QZxg

The Tarantulas shared this wonderful habitat with other spiders like the Huntsman Spider you see above. I could not find an ID for this one but it has a gorgeous pair of chelicerae. Black stripes and a dash of blue in front? I’ve never seen that before on a huntsman. Do dm me if you know huntsman this is!

This one had an overall redder coloration but with similar chelicerae. Possible Lunula?

Other interesting ambush predators you can find there are the Funnel Web Spiders, much smaller in size than the Tarantulas with smaller burrows. These guys are way more skittish and don’t stay out at all, at most a second or less.

Lastly, the elusive Malaysian Black Trapdoor Spider (Liphistius malayanus) can be found in that area as well. It is one spider with a really unique round abdomen! This specimen was not extracted from its home, but instead, this was just a really unusual and pretty sad sight to see.

You will rarely find Trapdoor Spiders out of their burrows especially in the day, they cannot survive in hot temperatures and stay in their burrows to keep cool. We chanced upon this huge Trapdoor Spider crawling and tumbling across this sandy slope in the scorching Sun with no burrow in sight when we were birding in the morning (this was shot with a telephoto lens). Naturally we returned to the location at night and found that this individual had been crushed along the roadside, probably a victim of roadkill.

If you want to see how the trapdoor hunts and how its home looks like, check out this video done by bugsnstuff on Youtube.

It will give you a good idea on how interesting this species is 🙂

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

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#macrophotography #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography #malaysia #bukitfraser #fraserhill #hoggi #coremiocnemis #tarantula #spiders

Macrophotography Equipment

Having the right gear and being prepared for multiple scenarios can significantly increase your chances of getting that winning/record shot. As a follow up from my previous article “Introduction to Macrophotography”, this article serves to help photographers of all levels in deciding on what kind of equipment they would need for macro photography.

<Western Rough Wolf Spider (Venator immansueta)>

Let’s start off with the type of camera body, namely DSLR, Mirrorless and Micro 4/3 systems. Ergonomics aside. These cameras have sensors of different sizes which affects the amount of light the camera takes in, the crop factor, low light performance and many more. There are several factors to consider when deciding your type of camera body, do note however, that all types are capable of taking fantastic photos. To ease the discussion, I will group mirrorless and m4/3 systems together under ‘mirrorless systems’ due to their vast similarities. My recommendations and opinions are also skewed towards the macro photographer that shoots out in the field, rather than studio work.

DSLR vs Mirrorless / Micro Four-thirds (m4/3)

The cameras I own are all DSLRs. Having tried all the systems, I noticed a large difference in terms of the user experience in the field. Lets look at some factors to consider when deciding on your body type.

Ergonomics, Size & Weight

Undoubtedly, DSLR cameras are heavier and bulkier, so if you are looking to carry as little weight as possible, especially while travelling, or having a set up that is easier on your wrists, DSLRs may not suit you. Lugging around a set up that weighs approximately 3kg could potentially reduce your stamina and could tire you out extensively during long (~4hr) shoots. In most occasions, you will be required to shoot with one hand, while the other is holding a leaf / stick that your subject is on (just like the photo I took of Andrew above). Note however, that the sheer weight of a DSLR, large lens, a flash and a diffuser could make shooting one-handed a pain and that is probably the biggest advantage of using a mirrorless system. If you have larger hands, the grip of DSLR cameras would benefit you. Getting used to the button placements on your camera is helpful, you wouldn’t want to fumble around with your camera out in the field. DSLRs have generally more buttons than Mirrorless systems and I find it easier for quick changes but not for one-handed operations.

Functionality

Most mirrorless systems and the newer DSLR cameras come with the latest technology and fancy features like touch screens, wifi and what not. These features are hardly used in macro photography and it should not be a concern, good to have but not a necessity.

A major difference between the systems are the viewfinders. DSLRs have a mirror that reflects light coming through the lens into another mirror or prism which then reflects the light into the optical viewfinder (OVF) that allows the user to preview the photo. This is also the main reason for the bulk of DSLR cameras. A mirrorless system, as the name suggests, lacks the mirror and prism which then allows it to be so compact. They then make use of an electronic viewfinder (EVF) to simulate the optical viewfinder to preview the shot.

If you shoot with a DSLR, turn your camera to live view and adjust your exposure, the preview of your shot would change as well, just like an electronic viewfinder. There are many considerations here. The colours when shooting in live view may not be an accurate representation of your image and in some mirrorless systems, there is a terrible lag present during the preview, especially in low light. When shooting at high magnification, you simply cannot afford any lag. Focusing is generally done manually by moving the camera forward and backwards until you get the subject in focus so with all the magnified movements, coupled with lag, it only results in missed shots and tons of frustration.

The batteries from DSLR cameras are of higher capacity and can last for hours. If you go for a mirrorless system, you definitely need more than 2 batteries since the EVF takes up battery as well.

All this being said, look out for the newer full frame mirrorless systems from Sony and Nikon, they seem really promising!

Choosing your lens

Regardless of your system, there are a vast variety of dedicated, true macro lenses for you to choose from. Do your due diligence before making your purchase as it may affect numerous factors down the road.

Focal length & focusing distance

DSLR macro lenses have a much larger range of focal lengths compared to Mirrorless macro lenses. Standard focal lengths to look out for is 60mm to 100mm primes although Canon even has a 180mm macro lens. The focal length of your lens would affect your minimal focusing distance. This is extremely important. Having the ability to shoot further and still fill your frame would greatly increase your hit rate especially when shooting skittish subjects such as jumping spiders. Not to mention it is definitely safer and preferred to keep those fingers away from dangerous vertebrates such as scorpions or venomous arachnids. Personally, I usually shoot with the highly popular Canon EF 100mm f2.8 L Macro lens on an EOS 80D (APSC) body and shooting macro is simple even at an effective 160mm (1.6x crop factor).

I had the opportunity to take the newly introduced EOS M50 and EF-M 28mm f/3.5 STM Macro Lens with Built-In Ring Light out for a review. I coupled the setup with a diffuser I borrowed from Andrew.

The results from this combination was fantastic and I was getting tact sharp images handheld even with the super macro mode that goes 2:1, however, the largest issue was in fact the short focusing distance to get to just 1:1 (almost just a cm). It resulted in many missed shots especially when attempting to shoot orb weavers or insects deep in bushes. Cropping power was not great either. The combo is more suited for studio work and the built-in focus light is definitely not bright enough to help you in focus in the dark. I’ll attempt to build a separate diffuser for this set up and try again. That being said, having a decent minimal focusing distance to get to 1:1 would greatly increase your hit rate.

Depending on your shooting style and what you would like to achieve you can explore other options such as wide macro lenses such as the Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Angle Macro Lens for more interesting compositions, the MP-E65mm f2.8 1-5x Extreme Macro Lens to get even closer, or the newly introduced Laowa 24mm f/14 2x Macro Probe which can help you pull of some interesting shots not possible with normal macro lenses. Some of these lenses may not allow you to focus to infinity so just to reiterate, do your research before purchase!

My recommendation however is to get the basics right with a regular macro lens before venturing out into these specialised macro lenses as they can be extremely difficult to handle and beginners will have a hard time getting good results with them.

Alternatives

For those who are unsure or unwilling to invest fully in a macro set-up yet can turn to simple alternatives that are available in the market such as extension tubes, close up filters, diopters, reversal rings etc. The popular ones are extension tubes from Canon/Kenko that can be stacked for you to focus even closer (note, not really useful in the field). The more expensive extension tubes come with contact points that still allow autofocus and full aperture control, others are fully manual. Users can also explore into getting diopters such as the Raynox DCR 250, an inexpensive method to get up to 2.5:1 but depth of field (DOF) would be severely reduced (more on this will be touched on in an article about settings and mastering DOF).

Supplementary

Full-Frame vs Crop-Sensor

Is it worth the investment in an expensive full frame camera for macro? Not necessarily. In order to achieve the highest detail and magnification possible, what matters is pixel density. Trying not to get too technical here, the most pixels per square millimetre of your camera’s sensor would give you more detail. To illustrate, even if you have a 50 megapixel full frame camera, you would probably get more detail using a 24 megapixel APSC Crop sensor camera as the smaller sensor has more pixels per square millimetre as compared to the full frame sensor. Furthermore, in most wildlife/macro photography, the unspoken truth is that most of the photos are cropped. With the larger field of view on a full frame camera, you will still have to crop in to match the same magnification of a photo from a cropped sensor.

Nonetheless, full frame cameras are really useful due to their superior low light performance and image quality. You do not always have to shoot at 1:1 in macro, sometimes you just can’t! It would not be possible to project a large tarantula or large mantis at life size on a full frame 35mm sensor. This is where cropped sensors lose out as you will have to take steps back and there will be the issue of getting more ambient diffused light on a huge subject.

In conclusion, the advantages that come with full frame cameras are not as essential in macro photography and you can get away with awesome images with just a cropped camera.

Flash

Flashes are essential for macro and don’t bother leaving home for a macro shoot without it unless you tons of natural light. Pop-up flashes don’t work because of the output and how low it is located. You would not want your pop-up flash to cast a shadow over your subject because of your lens! To compensate for the relatively higher shutter speed (for magnified shakes or longer focal lengths), the large DOF (F8-16) and during low light situations (night shoots), get yourself a flash unit.

For basic macro photography, you do not need to be a master of flash photography, a simple speedlight, whether fully manual or with TTL functions will get the job done. Flashes can be expensive especially if you go for the big brands but cheaper alternatives are available (Yongnuo, Godox etc). Do note however, that if you go for the 3rd party flashes, there may not be after service support available in your country. After my YN 568EXii died on me, I opted for a cheap SGD$30 Neewer TT560 manual flash and it has been working fine ever since. (FYI, cheaper flashes may not come with full hotshoe contact points and may only have a single contact point to trigger your flash, this means that you may not be able to trigger your flash in live view, rendering your articulating screen useless).

Once you get used to your flash, you can explore other techniques like slaving another flash for additional lighting/backlighting, 2nd curtain sync etc.

Canon EOS 6Dii + EF 100mm f2.8 L + MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite Flash

Canon EOS 5DSR + EF 100mm f2.8 L + YN-14EX Ring Flash

Besides standard speed lights, there are other options such as ring lights, twin strobes, twin flashes, or even small slave flashes that you can trigger wirelessly. It is really up your creativity on how you want your set up to work. Choosing a flash unit is important as it determines how you will build your DIY diffuser which is probably the most important aspect of macro photography. Stay tuned for tutorials on how to diffuse light for macro.

Other Considerations

Look out for build quality in the gear you are purchasing. Other features such as optic/image stabilisation are really especially useful if you intend to shoot handheld and not with a tripod/monopod. If all your gear is weather-sealed, you wouldn’t have to worry much about rain, it happens sometimes!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you would like to contribute some pointers to this discussion!

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#macrophotography #tutorial #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography #gear #canon #mirrorless #DSLR

Introduction to Macrophotography

<Broad-headed Bark Spider (Caerostris sp.)>

Here we explore this niche genre of photography and how one can get started to take good macro photos!

In my conversations with many about my work, this question occasionally pops up, “Why is it called macro photography instead of micro photography? Doesn’t macro mean big and micro mean really really small?” Well, Canon and Nikon often use these terms interchangeably in regards to their lenses but just to put it out there, macro photography is the art of making small subjects, look big (visible to the naked eye).

Why Macrophotography?

There are endless possibilities when it comes to the micro world~ with all that is going on in our lives, we don’t pause and take the time to appreciate the little things in life* pun intended. My interest in the micro world started even before I owned my first DSLR. I was using an Olloclip 3 in 1 mobile lens for the iPhone 4 and was amazed at the intricate details I could capture, whether it was the objects around me, or the little jumping spiders found in my garden. This gave me the opportunity to explore this strange, beautiful yet rarely seen world.

Whether you are shooting in the studio or out in the field, macro photography poses various challenges to the shooter, many of which are unique to this genre (although you will definitely utilise some common techniques in photography). Some of these challenges would include control of depth of field, light, focus, composition and diffusion, all of which I will be talking about in a separate article. There is something new to discover and learn at every single shoot and sharing these discoveries with others are always a joy!

<Jumping Spider (Bavia sp)>

What is magnification?

Essentially, macro photography is shooting at 1:1 magnification or more. Dedicated macro lenses are able to achieve 1:1 magnification. In a nutshell, it means that your subject is projected at life size onto the camera’s sensor. To illustrate, imagine a subject that is 3cm in length, it would be projected at 3cm on a 35mm full frame sensor, resulting in A LOT of details. If the equipment you are using enables you to shoot at higher magnifications, say 3x life size, the ratio would be 3:1. In contrast, the subject (2cm) being projected at 1cm on the sensor, it is regarded as 1:2.

Is this considered close-up photography? Nope. Close-up photography refers to you being able to fill your frame with your subject. Just because the lens you are using or your camera coming with a “macro mode”, does not mean you are shooting true macro. Simply put, macro lenses enable you to capture the finest details and produce razor sharp images. If i’m using a telephoto lens to zoom in close to a subject, it would be considered pseudo-macro (close up photography) and you will be able to see the difference in image quality. The Macro mode you see on DSLRs and Point & Shoot cameras only assist you in taking close-ups by reducing the minimal focus distance between you and your subject. The shot below is an example of close-up photography, shot under natural light with the Canon EF 100-400mm mkii.

The concept of magnification isn’t as simple as it seems. There are many factors and concepts that come to play when shooting at different magnifications. In many cases, it would also determine the equipment that you need. Do note that sensor size does not affect the degree of magnification ~

In a nutshell, when shooting at higher magnifications, any sort of movement is also magnified. Kinda like looking through binoculars and noticing the difficulty in keeping a steady image. Increasing your shutter speed would then be inevitable. As your magnification increases, your depth of field also decreases, so be prepared to bump up that f-value of yours. Couple all this together with the fact that most macro shoots happen at night, the time when the forest comes alive.

Now, those with experience in photography would probably be wondering so how do you compensate for so much loss of light? Well that’s when flash and diffusion come in. I’ll touch on that as well as settings and techniques in upcoming articles.

How do I get started?

Lets talk a bit about the basic gear needed for Macro photography. Definitely there will be photographers out there who will tell you that “its not about the gear, its about the photographer.” Thats true only to a certain extent. Having the right gear to suit your needs can open up many doors and provide a better platform to further explore your craft. That being said, you do not need expensive gear to take good macro photos.

Needless to say, you would need a camera body and a lens (assuming you invest in a macro lens and not in any alternatives like extension tubes/diopters etc, more on that next time).

However, regardless of which system you use, or camera body type for that matter, you definitely need a macro lens. Besides the ability to go at least 1:1, macro lenses also reduce optical distortions and you won’t have much problem with colour fringing. The fine details and razor sharp images you get in macro lenses cannot be replicated even with the sharpest lenses out there. Furthermore, macro lenses are also suited for portraiture and are fantastic to add to your arsenal. You would also need a flash to help with your depth-of-field, the pop up flash on your camera wouldn’t really help much. A standard speedlight would suffice although you can explore with ring flashes and twin/strobe flashes. I recommend starting with a regular speedlight before looking at alternatives until you understand how diffusion works and how to properly design one.

I hope that you now have a better understanding on this genre of photography and the fundamental concepts that drive this art form. I’m just scratching the surface here, do watch this space if you are keen to learn more (or you can contact me if you have any questions). With just your camera, your macro lens and a flash, you should be able to take pretty interesting macro photos and begin to explore the micro world!

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#macrophotography #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography #introduction

Rediscovered after a decade?

It started off as a casual shoot at a location we do not frequent. The night was filled with relentless mosquitos and the wet, muddy terrain made it even worse. It was also my first time seeing such large numbers of Golden-spotted Tiger Beetles, yellow Lynx Spiders, Swamp Eels and Crickets, all within a straight ~150-200m walk. Regardless of the sheer number of common subjects that night, it was a wonderful opportunity to practice and get improvement shots….until we spotted something amazing, something that kept us busy for a good hour or so. Well, before that and as always, here is a quick summary of the shots that night.

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

Tiger beetles are these cool metallic beetles with crazy huge jaws. If you stroll along any of our nature parks, chances are high that you will see tiger beetles on the ground, however, they are so skittish in the day that its near impossible to get close. Thankfully for us, we can safely admire and photograph them at night when they are more cooperative. Usually we would spot one or two individuals, but in this particular location, the numbers were crazy, easily 50 or more. Check out some of the shots below!

This particular species is the Golden-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela aurulenta) and its the most common Tiger Beetle we have in Singapore. Whats interesting about their mating behaviour is something called ‘Mate-guarding’ (the bottom two photos). The males use their large mandibles to grab onto the thorax of the female to prevent any other males from mating with his partner. This behaviour can last for a really long time until the male is satisfied that the other suitors are discouraged. First time seeing this!

Here’s the more uncommon Neocollyris celebensis. Only one individual was spotted that night and it flew away before I could get a nicer background…

Two species of Shield Bugs dropped by, namely the Giant Shield Bug (Pycanum rubens) (top) and Shield Bug (Cantao ocellatus) (bottom).

Hoppers

Spiders

This Garden Spider (Parawixia dehaani) we found had a much redder colouration than previous Garden Spiders I’ve photographed before. I actually checked my white balance multiple times just to make sure I captured accurate colours. I noticed that it has yellow hairs on the sides of its carapace too, something I have never noticed before. Gorgeous arachnid!

The World’s smartest spider, capable of designing tactics and assessing situations to hunt. This particular species is Portia Labiata and it was spotted hiding on the underside of some leaves. Interested in learning about why its named the smartest hunter? Check out this short documentary clip by BBC Earth to find out more 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDtlvZGmHYk

Lynx Spiders (Oxyopes birmanicus) were everywhere that night. Something interesting about Lynx Spiders are the long hairs on its legs that act as a basket to trap prey when it hunts!

Juvenile Crab Spiders waiting in ambush on a single blade of long grass.

Huntsman Spider and Twig Spider with egg sac

Here we go……if you are following me at @thru_de_lenz on Instagram, you may have seen all the hype where my friends and I chanced upon one rare and unusual critter. In my many years of venturing down the roads less travelled, I have witnessed a fair share of weird, strange looking creepy crawlies that never cease to amaze me. This one was no exception. To be honest, I was slightly creeped out by this critter that looked like it came straight out of some sci-fi movie, kinda like the first time you see a house centipede up close. Thankfully the sole specimen was feeding on a leaves that was within our reach and was cooperative in allowing us to properly document the sighting.

Wait. What is that?? Why does that caterpillar have 4 long legs?? It looked like mix between a stick insect, a centipede and a caterpillar. Excitement filled the air, we weren’t even sure if this species was even recorded in Singapore before! The second the caterpillar noticed our presence, it curled up into this defence/general resting posture and thats when we started shooting away! Soon after it got comfortable with us, it started feeding again, showing off those long thoracic legs.

Doesn’t it look freaky?! We managed to identify the species as a Lobster Moth Caterpillar (Neostauropus Alternus) and soon after I contacted my friend Sean, who specialises in entomology, he referred me to this publication by Dr T.M. Leong (https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/app/uploads/2017/06/2008nis159-164.pdf) written in 2006 on the sighting of this species in Singapore. Prior to the publication, the only data collected on the occurrence of this species was from 88 years ago. This truly is one rare caterpillar. Do read the publication to learn more about this species!! Dr Leong has since been notified about the recent sighting.

So what do you think? Is this the best find of 2018 so far?

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#macrophotography #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography

Macro Adventure 020618

Finally back with the MAC team for a macro shoot after a long hiatus due to school and work. It was a crazy and exciting night filled with intriguing and rare subjects! Furthermore, I managed to do some thorough testing with the new diffuser that I made and I’m more than impressed! The light is so soft and bright that it really brings out the textures in the subject. Look at the photos and let me know what you think! Do let me know if I got any of the IDs wrong and any help with the unidentified species would be greatly appreciated 🙂

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

Assassin Bugs

We came across several species of Assassin Bugs and I will compile a species list of all the Assassin Bugs I have came across in a separate post in the future once I have more content. Assassin bugs are predatory insects that have a long beak that they use to pierce and suck those juices out from their prey. They are known to bite humans as well and in other countries, some spread the lethal Chagas disease (thankfully there aren’t any cases in Singapore). We were fortunate enough to document these fascinating predators feeding and you can clearly see that prominent long beak in action! Some species are also capable of incredible camouflage, do scroll down to learn more!

 <Inara flavopictara>

Assassin Bug (Acanthaspis cf. quadriannulata) sucking body fluids from prey

One of the highlights of the night! Finally coming across an Acanthaspis petax when I’m fully equipped with my gear. This Assassin Bug wears the carcasses of its prey by secreting a sticky substance and placing the exoskeletons on top of it. The prey masks the smell of the Assassin bug and enables this predator to live amongst its prey undetected! Absolutely an amazing bug and I had a hard time trying to get the ants in focus as well~ This species has been documented and featured so many times and heres a link to Micro Monsters where you can learn more in a short video (hosted by DavidAttenborough).

Similar to the Acanthaspis petax, the Masked Hunter excretes a sticky substance where dust and lint from the surroundings settle on its back to provide full camouflage! It probably serves as a deterrent cause I doubt any predator would want a mouth full of dust anyway. Look closely and see if you can spot its eyes! The 2nd shot is the same species shot in Malaysia~ Here are 3 other species we saw that night!

Valentia hoffmanni, Reduviidae / Unidentified, Reduviidae / Acanthaspis sp in respective order.

Spiders

Although there weren’t many Huntsman Spiders or Jumping Spiders around, we still managed to find some pretty cool Arachnids!

Here’s a comparison of the Female (top) and Male (bottom) <Ornamental Tree Trunk Spider (Herennia multipuncta)> showcasing sexual dimorphism at its best. You can usually find these spiders on the trunks of trees!

Gorgeous juvenile <Heteropoda Lunula> found hiding in between two leaves!

Unusual looking Orb weaver (Araneidae sp)

Two Harvestmen Spiders, one eating a mushroom and another with two yellow stripes at the sides.

Worms

We also came across the usual Hammerhead flatworm, one with an unusual grey and white colouration and an unidentified worm~

Other notable finds

The only cockroach that I’m willing to shoot (to date), the cute Pill Cockroach (Perishpaerus sp) that has just moulted which results in the red colour. They are usually just black. Doesn’t it look like its wearing shades?

Fly infected with Cordyceps. Should have spent more time with this subject but I was too tired after close to 6 hours of shooting. Tried to get to eye level but the stick was too short and was curved upwards 😦

Flatid Bug Nymph (Flatidae)! Really an unusual looking critter! It has four flipper-like feelers in front of its face!

These shots really show off how soft and spread the light is, you can “see” the texture on the subjects! The Asian Camel Cricket was so large that each time it hopped we could hear the cricket landing with a thud on those dead leaves! The only amphibians we saw were Asian Toads, Four-lined Tree Frogs and this Black Spotted Sticky Frog, laying in ambush to slurp up insects that cross its path.

From top to bottom:

  1. Possible Flatid Planthopper
  2. Wasps nest
  3. Snail with emerging shell
  4. Leaf Katydid
  5. Mantis (Leptomantella sp.)
  6. St Andrews Cross Spider
  7. Bark Scorpion (Lychas sp)

TOP find of the night

The rarest find of the night was a pregnant, female Boxer Mantis! I have personally only come across the nymph of this species and they both look spectacular! Heres a comparison, nymph was shot some time back

Don’t they look amazing! But WAIT there’s more!!!

Look at all those spikes! While shooting this mantis, we noticed that only at a certain angle, a beautiful iridescent blue can be seen on the inner-side of her front legs. Took a long time getting the shot especially after my focus light died on me~ Check out the results below!

Nature is simply mind-boggling and each shoot brings about new discoveries and lessons learnt! If you ever want to learn more about our biodiversity or macro photography in general, feel free to contact me!

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

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#macrophotography #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography