Eagle Photography Equipment Choices

I debated with myself long and hard about what equipment to take on my Bald Eagle Tour in Alaska last week.  With all the restrictions in air travel these days you must figure out how to carry the least amount of camera gear to get the job done.   I only check one bag and I wish I didn’t have to even do that but I can see no way around it.  The only camera gear in my checked bag was my tripod and ballhead.  My carry on bags consisted of a cheap generic rolling suitcase in which I had my EF500mmF4, EF300mm F2.8, 1.4 and 2x teleconverters, 2 Cameras, flash, etc.  My other carry on was the excellent Think Tank UD 60 which looks more like a computer bag than a camera bag but is set up to hold a good amount of camera gear and your laptop.  In this I had my computer, external drives, a 24-105mm, 70-200mm F4 IS, my third camera and lots of accessories.. 

Bald Eagle in a Steep Dive

I took 3 camera bodies along with me the Canon Eos 1DmkIV, the Eos 7D and the Eos 5DmkII.  Of the 3 the mkIV got the most use.  For action photography it’s remarkable.  The 10 FPS frame rate allowed me to capture many unique wing positions and the peak of action like in the above image where the eagle just went into a steep dive.  While examining my images from last week it seems that if you do your part the camera will focus correctly nearly every time.  Where I did miss focus it was generally my fault.  I usually had the camera set up with a chosen single focus point with the surrounding AF points activated.  I also used Automatic Focus Point Selection or (Ring of Fire) and it performed very well but occasionally focused on a  wing tip.  For this mode it’s very important to make sure you acquire your target with the center focus point first.  If you do the camera locks on to the subject very well.

Bald Eagle Fishing. Eos 1D MKIV

The files delivered by the MkIV were just beautiful with great detail and low noise.  I used ISO’s up to 2500 and have absolutely no issues with any of them.  The camera is just a joy to use.  I had several others on the tour with the MkIV and they were raving about the camera as well.

Bald Eagle Eos 1D MKIV

A couple of my custom function settings may be of interest to you when photographing birds in flight.  CF-III-2 AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity I set to slow which really worked well for the flying eagles in the snow.  It seemed the camera did not get distracted by the falling snowflakes and held focus nicely on the bird.  CF-III-3 AI Servo 1st/2nd image priority I had set to #3 Release/Tracking priority.  My thinking on this is that if I see some incredible action about to happen  I can aim and fire the camera as quickly as possible. The shutter release overrides the AF tracking.  You may not get the shot in perfect focus but often you do.  After the 1st shutter release the AF tracking takes priority and the camera will not fire unless it thinks the focus is correct.  You can hear your frame rate change as the camera works to achieve focus.

Eagle flying in snow. Canon 1D IV

I didn’t use the 7d or the 5d MkII nearly as much…. The 1D Mk IV was just so good!  I actually had pretty good results when I used the 7D and I think I could have done quite well with just that camera.  The 8 FPS and good AF makes the camera a great value.  The 5DmkII has great resolution and beautiful files but is not my first choice for this kind of photography due to the low frame rate (4FPS) along with the longer shutter lag and viewfinder blackout (twice as long as the mkIV).  That being said the AF was very accurate when I did use it.  I had the 5D set to center point focus with the surrounding assist points activated.  When you hear opinions about the 5DmkII stating that it can’t focus,  don’t believe it. That is just plain wrong. In my next post I’ll discuss the lenses I took along and how they performed.

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2 thoughts on “Eagle Photography Equipment Choices”

  1. Agree with you on the 5dII focus. It was my only camera for a while before I got the 1d4, and my only complaint was the 4 fps.
    Hope to join you next year!

  2. Drives me nuts when I hear that.. My understanding is that most complaints are abut the outer AF sensors in really low light with very shallow DOF type photography. My biggest problem is the VF blackout time which is about double of the mk4 and that makes tracking action through the VF tough…. The AF itself is plenty fast and very accurate. Loving your blog by the way.. Need to link your blog from mine…..

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