Points in Focus Photography

Canon’s 100-400 maybe isn’t the best-built lens, the push pull design makes the bearings and zoom lock prone to picking up sand or dust from the lens’s body. However, it is one of my favorites. I actually like the push pull zoom for a lens of the range, and my copy is very sharp.

However, for me the biggest advantage of the 100-400 is that it’s nearly identical in size to a 70-200 f/2.8. That makes it easy for me to size my bags and pack my gear; need speed take a 70-200, need reach take a 100-400.

Unfortunately, the 100-400 has a well-known tendency to suffer from failures in the zoom mechanism.

This is just what happened to me this morning at the BirdPhotographers.net meet up. Kicking the morning off and everything is running great; the lens is smooth as butter. Walk around a couple of times, and go to adjust the zoom position and bam, zoom won’t slide, zoom lock ring is stuck, and the focus ring is stiff and feels like there’s grit in it.

Hopefully the fix won’t be as expensive as I fear it will be.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher before the failure: Wakodahatchee Wetlands

If you use the camera enough, you’ll end up memorizing them without doing anything at all

It’s often suggested that memorizing the aperture number sequence is something photographers should do. Unfortunately, the people proffering this never seem to be able to articulate why all that well. If it’s such a good idea, shouldn’t it be easy to point out how beneficial it is?

When someone tells me, I should do something; in a way, it’s a sales pitch. The product is the idea, in this case memorizing the f-numbers. The price is some of my free time. The payoff is whatever the benefits of doing the thing are.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say I have a limited amount free time; that makes my free time valuable. Therefore, I think it’s reasonable to expect someone presenting an idea to actually be able to convince me of its merit.

If you know the f-numbers you can adjust the exposure more quickly, for example, if you know f/5.6 allows twice as much light as f/8 you know you have to change your shutter speed from 1/60th to 1/30th.

Not very much of an argument is it?

Even worse, I’d say the way it’s presented is a bit disingenuous. Those full stops make everything nice and easy; substitute f/7.1 and f/3.2 and it’s not so easy anymore. Doing that also makes it apparent that you need to memorize more than just the whole stops which is often the only thing mentioned by the proponents.

Since what needs to be remembered is already snowballing, why stop there? Why not memorize the shutter and ISO speeds too?

Moreover, you don’t adjust exposure settings in a vacuum. You do it with a camera and cameras provide several solutions that involve no memorization at all. In fact, 3 technologies come to mind that have largely render memorizing f-numbers unnecessary.

  • Auto Exposure
  • The Meter
  • Click-stops at each setting

Even if we ignore the first two, you can easily keep the exposure the same by changing the shutter’s value by the same number of clicks as the aperture’s. In fact, coupled with the camera’s meter after a while it becomes so second nature you just do it.

However, I think the most damning reason not invest any time on this is simple; if you use the camera enough, you’ll end up memorizing them without doing anything at all. Off the top of my head, I can recite most apertures, shutter speeds and ISOs in 1/3-stop increment and I never actually spent a minute trying to memorize them. Just seeing them in the viewfinder enough times was all it took.

I’m willing to take this a step further, I don’t think think it’s necessary for most photographers to understand how the f-number is derived at all; there’s simply nothing intrinsically useful about it for most photography.

However, what is important is understanding how the aperture affects the image and that equal f-stops pass the same amount of light regardless of the focal length. The former, is important for controlling creative aspects of the image, in other words, depth of field. The latter tells us that if an exposure is 1/60th f/4 ISO 100, it will be the same regardless of whether the lens is 10mm or 1000mm.

My advice, if you want to spend time doing anything, practice handing your camera and changing lenses. Being able to change settings without thinking about where the controls are can have a massive positive impact on all of your photography simply by letting you get shots you otherwise would have missed. Being able to change lenses quickly can help keep dust off your sensor as well as keeping you shooting so you don’t miss the critical moments. Either way, there’s no substitute for familiarity and practice when handling your camera in the field.

These are a few frames of one of Florida’s Crested Caracaras from my time at Viera Wetlands in early December. This individual photographed while feeding on a fish found on the side of the levee.

The Crested Carcara is a ground-inhabiting bird of prey that is closely related to Falcons. It’s found primarily in open habitats like grasslands, scrub deserts and seashores.

The Florida population has been isolated from the rest of the Caracara range (most of South and Central America) since the end of the last ice age. In Florida its range extends throughout Okeechobee, Osceola, Highlands, Glades, Polk, Indian River, St. Lucie, Hardee, DeSoto, Bervard, Collier and Martain counties.

Caracaras, like other raptors, are opportunistic and will eat carrion, steal food from other birds, and hunt for small most other small prey items. However, unlike vultures, Caracaras will almost always avoid rotting carrion. The individual photographed here had managed to find an fairly fresh fish (or possibly run off another bird for it’s fish) on the side of one of the trails embankments.

Crested Caracara populations have been declining due to loss of habitat due to development for some time. The Audubon’s Crested Caracara is listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List and the Florida populations considered a threatened. The Florida populations face uncertain futures since the majority of the land in it’s range is privately owned, and thus not under Federal protection.


  1. Crested Caracara, eNature.com
  2. Northern Caracara, Wikipedia.com

Seasons Greetings and Merry Christmas from Points in Focus.

Loggerhead Shrike Tree Topper. Viera Wetlands, Melbounre, FL.
Christmas Bokeh, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Walt Disney World, FL.

That little excursion around south and central Florida a week back that took me to Sanibel also brought me to Walt Disney World and the many attractions there. I’m not as much of a fan of Disney as I was when I was a kit but I do appreciate the incredible level of detail they put into making you feel like you were somewhere else. Details like rundown power lines and even non-functional electrical meters on the building in Animal Kingdom’s Africa and Asia areas really helps complete the suspension of reality.

Animal Kingdom isn’t one of my favorite parks attraction wise–thought the Kilimanjaro Safari is absolutely fabulous and one of my all time favorite Disney rides–it is, however, full of exotic looking buildings and architecture and well though out detailing which makes it quite interesting photographically.

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Sanibel Birds

One of the things I like most about shooting on Sanibel Island is that you don’t really need a really long lens. The majority of the birds are so use to people that you can very easily get within frighteningly close distances with out ever spooking them. In some cases they almost seem like they want to pose for you.

Gulls on the Beach

One thing I really enjoyed in last year’s visit, was working a Royal Tern colony. I have a soft spot for terns, as far as I’m concerned they rock. As long as I stayed still laying in the sand they had no problem getting so close that I could get frame filling shots with a 150mm lens.

This year, I was hoping for a repeat performance. However, that was not to be and I didn’t have the time and light to search much more of the beach than I did.

There were some Ring-Billed Gulls that were more than happy to sit still and pose. So I settled for them to kick the day off. In fact, this one was so comfortable with me while I was working him that it sat down and took a nap.

A ring billed gull.
A ring billed gull.

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You can’t say that technology isn’t moving at anything less than a frightening pace. I use to think it was cool, at this point I feel like I’m constantly struggling to keep up. Photography has morphed into a combination of photography and videography that’s slowly gaining an ever growing emphasis on video especially in journalism. Now the major magazine publishers are looking to take their magazines into the digital age as well.

Of course who can blame them. In our world of short attention spans and an ever increasing desire for what’s shiny, still images and paper magazines are becoming increasingly problematic to sell.

Even worse the rest of the world is seemingly waging a virtual two pronged attack against the traditional media with social media on one side and bloggers on the other. Couple that with the ease of duplicating digital content and the widespread perception that everything online should be free and it becomes hard to see ways to add enough value to traditional media to keep people paying.

Recently though, it seems that at least two major media companies have started investigating ways to present their content in a format that takes advantage of the digital medium. However, I fear the idea of a digital magazine will ultimately go nowhere partly for technical reasons and partly because they won’t have the foresight to really embrace the digital medium.

Digital magazine technology was recently demoed by Time Inc. for Tech Crunch and it appears there might be a bright idea buried in it, even if I think it’s doomed. It appears in the case of the Time’s prototype, to leverage a widely available framework (Adobe Air which is based on the ubiquitous Flash environment) to present the digital magazine on top of a commodity computing platform (in this case a HP tablet computer).

Read on to see my take on the technology.

20091020_loRes_1dmkiv_3qToday Canon introduced the EOS 1D Mark 4, the fourth generation in their professional cameras aimed at low light and action photographers. As I’m writing this, information is just starting to trickle in, but from what I’ve seen the 1D Mark 4 isn’t nearly what I was expecting.

What is apparent to start with is that the 1D mark 4 looks to fix many of the deficits of the 1D mark 3 and put Canon back in the running with Nikon in the high ISO noise performance game.


Like the D3S that was just announced a few days ago, the Canon EOS 1D Mark 4 supports ISO sensitives up to ISO 102,400 in expanded mode. The base ISO range is from 100 to 12,800, with H1 (25,600), H2 (51,200) and H3 (102,400) expanded options as well as a Lo (ISO 50) option.  I think again, like the D3S, the EOS 1D Mark 4 is a camera where expanded ISOs, at least the high ones, are no longer absolutely necessary for low light shooting.

That said, the ISO 3200 shot from Canon Japan (Sample 5) looks pretty solid to me.

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