Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 

Brad Hill: Blog: Archive: All of 2011

Past - and still largely relevant - blog entries from 2012. Enjoy...

31 December 2011: The Top Ten Images of 2011

One of the things I like best about New Year's are all the "top ten" lists out there - top ten music albums, top ten songs, top ten news stories, et cetera. Well...here's TWO top ten lists from me. The first is a list of what I consider my top ten images captured and/or first processed in 2011. These are simply my favourite shots - not necessarily those that sold the best or got the most page views or anything else. Just shots that stir something in me. The second list consists of my top ten shots as "picked" by others. The method of ranking isn't scientific, but includes page views on THIS website, page views on the Nature Photographer's Network (NPN), comments left on the images on NPN, and direct feedback (via email) I received about the images. Interestingly, you'll find there's only a small degree of overlap between the two lists.

Feedback on these lists absolutely welcome. As always, lots more information about each image can be found by clicking on the tabs under the image. And...with no further ado...

My Favourite Ten Images of 2011:

1. Celebrating the Wild Life. Breaching Humpback Whale. A challenge to capture, a challenge to process. Love the angle of right dorsal fin. I'm still amazed by the grace exhibited by this 40-ton mammal...

2. The Ethereal Great Bear Rainforest. Moody. Atmospheric. To me this image is what I think of when I think "Great Bear Rainforest".

3. The Sentinel. A Bald Eagle touched by the sun for a fleeting moment. Not a bad perch, either!

4. October. A beautiful female grizzly bear doing what bears do in October. Odd framing? Yes. But one of those images that - for some reason - always draws me back...

5. Drip Dry. An intimate portrait of a female grizzly found in the Khutzeymateen Inlet. Shots like this are the reason why the 400mm f2.8 VRII has become my favourite wildlife lens.

6. Trees. Just a few trees? Yes. Shot in Gwaii Haanas National Park (within the Haida Gwaii - formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). Love the light and texture.

7. Sunset Magic. Light and colour - complete with not-too-bad a subject - that only the Khutzeymateen can deliver...

8. Early Autumn Sunrise Over Smithers. Just an "f8 and BE THERE" moment and with lots of technical flaws. But I like it.

9. Eye-to-Eye. Very simple? Yes. But definitely not-so-simple to capture. The 400mm f2.8 WIDE OPEN!

10. Reflecting on a June Morning. Just a reflection in a pond. One of those bits of natural art that spontaneously "happen" out there - the trick is always simply in seeing them. Pretty much straight out of the camera...


My Top Ten Images of 2011 - According to Others:

1. An Inside Joke. While a little too "happy" and cliche for my taste, this image definitely captures the essence of the Khutzeymateen. And it generated an avalanche of comments and feedback both on NPN and directly to me via email.

2. Eye-to-Eye. This one's on my list too...so I guess I can't argue with it being here!

3. Celebrating the Wild Life. Another one I can't argue with! ;-)

4. Eye-to-Eye 2. Spirit Bear eyes and salmon eyes! This one WAS fun to shoot, but to me it's more of a novelty shot than a wall-hanger! Not shot in 2011 - but first processed and displayed in 2011.

5. Autumn Sunrise. Adult grizzly being struck by first sunbeams of the day. I love the sunbeams, but have to say I'm not fully thrilled with the angle of the bear. Others apparently disagree (which is OK with me!).

6. October. Another one that appears on both lists - but I seem to like it a little more than others!

7. Simple. And Simply Soaked. One very wet grizzly bear! I was actually surprised that an image with this much negative space was so popular. I like it myself but didn't think others would. Don't mind being wrong.

8. Cirque du Dolphin. One of my goals on the trip I shot this image on was to get one Pacific White-sided Dolphin fully out of the water. So a bit of a bonus when I lucked out and captured this. Amazing natural pattern, but lighting a bit drab for my taste.

9. The Original Cute Little Devil. American Martens ARE cute...but boy do they have teeth (and they really know how to use 'em). I do like this shot too - what a cutie!

10. The Rare & Elusive Harboreal Seal. I guess documenting a never-photographed-before species draws attention. And, some actually didn't catch on that it was a joke!


Feel free to let me know how you feel about my choices or those of others. Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

Cheers...and a have a really great (and safe) New Year's...

Brad

25 December 2011: Merry Christmas!

To all of you who celebrate Christmas - Merry Christmas. To all of you who don't - have a great day!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

24 December 2011: Only ONE Spot Remaining on All 2012 Photo Tours!

This may be a first - here we are in the dying days of 2011 and almost all my photo tours for 2012 are sold out! For 2012 all that remains is ONE spot on the "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" Instructional Photo Tour in late September of 2012. This final spot will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Full details available on the Photo Tours page of this website - or simply download this brochure (PDF: 2.2 MB).

For those of you who've missed out on my 2012 photo tours but are still interested in visiting the beautiful coast of British Columbia with your cameras soon I have two suggestions...

1. 2013 Photo Tours! I have posted information about my photo tours coming in 2013 and I am already taking bookings (and the trips are beginning to fill). All currently scheduled 2013 photo tours are on BC's spectacular coast - in the spring I'm offering the Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen tours (both instructional and "photo op" style trips), in the summer it's Orcas, Humpbacks and More: Aquatic Mammals of the Central Pacifi c Coast (instructional photo tour), and in the autumn you have two different "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" trips to choose from (one is an instructional tour, the other an "exploratory photo tour"). All details (dates, pricing, etc.) are on my Photo Tours page.

2. Go with Who I Go With! Currently I work with Ocean Light II Adventures for all my photo tours. All their trips offer fantastic photo opportunities and there are still some spots remaining for most of their trips, including the Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen, Haida Gwaii Aboard the Ocean Light II, The Orca Explorer, and The Great Bear Rainforest Explorer. Check out the good folks from Ocean Light II Adventures out right here!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

24 December 2011: Nikon D4 Announcement Coming on January 6?

In recent months I've refrained from speculating on just when we're likely to see the announcement and release of Nikon's new professional DSLR flagship for sports/action/wildlife shooters (the D4) simply because this year's events in Japan and Thailand have wreaked havoc on Nikon's "normal" product delivery schedule. Consequently, no one really had a clue at all when new cameras were coming from Nikon. But I'm hearing enough whispers and web chatter (from sufficiently diverse sources and not just nikonrumors.com) that I'm beginning to believe that the announcement of the D4 is finally imminent. Many sources believe that the day will be January 6, 2012 and they just may be right. This is just days before the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) International Convention and Trade Show in Las Vegas (January 10-13, 2012) and most camera makers like to harness/leverage the hoopla of the tradeshow to promote their major new product releases.

What are the key specs of the D4? I'm hoping that it's spec'd very similar to the recently announced Canon EOS-1D X which appears to be a very well-balanced professional-level photographic tool (scroll down to entry of October 18 for EOS-1D X details). Of course, we know with equal or near-equal specs that the D4 will, in the real world, outperform the I-D X in both ISO and autofocus performance in the field (whoa boy, that statement oughta generate an inbin full of hate email!). And, most Nikon pundits are guessing that the full-framed D4 will be in the 16-18 MP resolution range with the ISO performance as good or better than the D3s and capable of shooting continuously in the 11-14 fps range. The most detailed list of specs I've seen for the D4 can be seen right here.

Of almost as much interest (at least to me) is the persistent rumour that the successor to the D700 - most likely named the D800 - is also coming soon (though likely not announced on January 6, but ya never know...). Of particular interest is the increasingly prevalent thought that Nikon is going to make a big effort to differentiate the D4 and D800 far more than they did with the D3 and D700 - the whispers are is that the D800 will sport a 36 MP (7360 x 4912 pixel) sensor. When I first heard this a few months back I literally scoffed at the suggestion, but this is one of those rumours that just won't die (so I guess it's another "ya never know"). A 36 MP D800 would be targeted more at the studio and landscape photographer market and obviously couldn't offer the ISO performance of the D3/D3s/D4 lineage of cameras. More "theoretical" specs of the D800 can be viewed here. If this is true, you can at least say that deciding between the D4 and the D800 won't be as hard as it was between the D3 and D700.

Anyway, now Nikon-o-philes have something to look forward to keep them from falling into a post-holidays funk in early January!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

19 December 2011: It's Time to Take Action Against the Northern Gateway Pipeline!

Right now two major pipelines are being proposed to take output from Alberta's tarsands to two different markets. The Keystone XL pipeline is getting most of the news, especially in the United States. This proposed pipeline will deliver hydrocarbons from the tarsands to refineries in Texas. Once described as a "no-brainer" by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Keystone XL pipeline has become a political football in the US (fortunately, no college football coaches with odd proclivities are involved). Long story short, it's not clear at all if the pipeline is going to be approved or will ever be built.

Enter proposed pipeline #2 - Enbridge's Northern Gateway. This goal of this pipeline is to take some more of those same hydrocarbons from northern Alberta right across British Columbia to Kitimat on the north central BC coast (and a parallel pipeline will send natural gas condensate in the opposite direction for use in decreasing the viscosity of the heavy crude coming from Alberta). Kitimat is in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. Once there the highly condensed carbon will be loaded on super-tankers destined for Asia. And, of course, they'll be passing through the narrow and treacherous inlets of the Great Bear Rainforest - the largest intact tract of temperate rainforest left on earth. Basically through the same waters that claimed the Queen of the North passenger ferry on March 22nd, 2006 (and they sink even less than oil tankers - right?). The consequence of a super-tanker filled with Alberta's best going down in the waters of the Great Bear Rainforest would be absolutely devastating to this globally unique ecosystem.

Those in Canada who believe there is NOTHING more important in life than money (even if it means ramping up Canada's carbon footprint) are using the potential delay (or even termination) of the Keystone XL pipeline as "proof" that Alberta-based oil companies should diversify their markets and are pushing even harder to ensure the valves on the pipelines delivering oil to Asia are turned on and the Northern Gateway pipeline is pushed through. The Canadian Government seems to be in FULL support of the project and their spinmiesters are in overdrive - the minister of Natural Resources (Joe Oliver) has taken to referring to the Northern Gateway pipeline project as a "nation-building" exercise (implying, by extension, that anyone opposing the project is somehow unpatriotic and even un-Canadian!).

A few basic realities are turning the Northern Gateway project into a looming environmental battle of epic proportions. First, those that will benefit MOST from the pipeline moving oil to Asia (who interestingly largely reside in Alberta) are those that are taking the least risk if there's an pipeline leak or oil tanker accident. Conversely, those with most at risk (all the inhabitants of the Great Bear Rainforest, including many coastal First Nations communities) will accrue virtually no benefits. So you can well imagine how well the thought of oil tankers going through the Great Bear Rainforst is going over to those that actually live there (see this image of a sign prominently posted at the main pier in Hartley Bay - a First Nations village in the Great Bear Rainforest - and the official position of the village).

Second, while Alberta's short (and possibly mid-to-long-term) prosperity is tied to fossil fuel extraction, BC's future prosperity is tied much more closely to maintaining "Super, Natural BC" (one of their recent advertising slogans) in as pristine a state as possible (along with, of course, sustainably "harvesting" renewable resources, such as forestry and fisheries). And, not surprisingly, study after study has shown that the majority of the residents of BC, and especially the VAST majority of First Nations communities, are completely against both the pipeline and the thought of oil tankers on the northern coast. Even the premier of BC - Christy Clark - is currently refusing to endorse the Northern Gateway pipeline project. Given that she IS a politician hoping to maintain her position in the next election, it is hard to conclude anything other than even she knows what will happen if she supports this project - she'll be absolutely skewered in the next provincial election!

So - to be clear and succinct: Alberta - the majority of us in BC do NOT want your oil flowing through our province. You take the bulk of the benefits, we take the bulk of the risks. That's a bad deal.

TAKE ACTION! Enough background and ranting (this one has me REALLY worked up!) - how can YOU take action against the Northern Gateway Pipeline? Fortunately, the two best conservation organizations on the BC coast have some clearly defined steps you can take. And ALL it will take is a few minutes of your time with no need to open your wallet.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation's Oil Free Coast Action Page.

Pacific Wild's No Pipeline/No Tankers Action Page.

Please take just a few minutes to say "no" to oil tankers on the northern BC coast and help save the Great Bear Rainforest for future generations.

Want a little more (and arguably slightly more objective) info before taking a position or action? Hey - I can respect that. Just check out the article on Wikipedia entitled "Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines".

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

17 December 2011: Field Test: The Nikon V1 - Fun with the V1!

I've just posted the first two segments of my field test of the Nikon V1 - the Introduction and Chapter 1 (relax - only two chapters are planned!). This field test was written from the perspective of a serious wildlife photographer (that would be me) looking to use the V1 as a day-to-day "walk-around" camera - not as my primary working camera. The field test is already chock-full of information and should be of use to virtually any one considering investing in this new camera system.

Too busy to read the full field test? Here's my Executive Summary...

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: I really like the V1 - I think it's an EXCELLENT product and well worth the money. It meets my requirements as a walk-around camera with flying colors. And it is just a ton of fun to use. It's NOT perfect (as my long list of dislikes/things I'd change shows) but its responsiveness, including fast and accurate AF, high frame rate, large buffer capacity, and its far-more-than-acceptable image quality combine to make the V1 the walk-around camera I have been looking for for years. In day-to-day use I far prefer it to the only competing system I have fully tested and used myself - an Olympus E-P3 kit. In my very ordinary hands I can use the V1 to capture good images of dynamic subjects over a far wider range of actual (and unpredictable) field conditions than I could with competing products.

Wanting a little (or a LOT) more info about the V1? Then read the whole 8300+ word field test here: Field Tests: The Nikon V1- Fun with the V1!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

12 December 2011: One Spot on 2012 Spirit Bear Photo Op Photo Tour Opens Up...

I just received a cancellation that opens up ONE spot on my autumn 2012 "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest - Just the Photo Op, Please!" photo tour. The dates of this tour are October 3-12, 2012. This spot will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more details about this trip just download this brochure (PDF: 2.1 MB). For details on ALL my 2012 and 2013 photo tours, please visit the Photo Tours page of this website.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

8 December 2011: Canon 400mm f2.8 Lens for Sale; Nikon V1 Field Test Almost Done...

Just two quick updates today...

1. Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Telephoto Lens For Sale

Nope, I haven't switched over to the dark side - but a good friend of mine has a virtually new Canon 4000mm f2.8 lens for sale. And you can see the details here on my Gear 4 Sale page...

2. Nikon V1 Field Test ALMOST ready.

Based on the amount of email I'm getting asking me about my thoughts on the Nikon V1 it appears there's an absolute ton of interest in the camera. I'll be posting my field test of the V1 very soon (hopefully not later than next Monday) - I'm doing this one as an evolving, "living" document - but the first chapter should contain easily enough information for most to make an informed purchasing decision on whether this fascinating new camera system is for them. So...stay tuned!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

28 November 2011: New Field Test: LensCoat RainCoat Pro Rain Cover

Ever find yourself shooting in the rain or snow and wishing you had a rain cover (or, more likely, hesitating to shoot in the rain or snow because you don't want to get your pricey DSLR and lens wet and you DON'T have a rain cover)? Well...maybe it's finally time to consider getting yourself a quality rain cover! And to help you out with this, I just finished and posted a new field test of LensCoat's new rain cover - the RainCoat Pro - to this website. Here are the critical bare bones details:

The Executive Summary:

The LensCoat RainCoat Pro is a versatile rain cover that offers a good blend of moisture protection, breathability, convenience and ease-of-use, and value for the money. Lightweight and compact, it easily justifies the room in occupies in even the most accessory-stingy nature photographer's camera bag or pack.

Read my full field test here: Field Tests: LensCoat's RainCoat Pro Rain Cover

Don't care to read about a rain cover and just want to get one? Well, the RainCoat Pro is available right here on Outdoor Photo Gear's website...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

21 November 2011: Nikon V1: VERY Initial Impressions...

Anyone who read my November 7 blog entry would have probably guessed I was about to acquire and start playing with a Nikon V1. My V1 kit arrived on Friday, complete with two lenses - the 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 L zoom and the 1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 L zoom. With the 2.7x crop factor of the new "CX" sensor format, this means I'm walking around with the equivalent (in 35mm - or full-frame - terms) of the equivalent of a 27mm to 297mm total focal range (in a very compact and lightweight kit).

Why am I even bothering with a "lower end" camera system when I own a state-of-the-art DSLR "kit" from Nikon? Simply because I want - and having been looking for for years - a compact and light "walk-around" kit that I can have with me at almost all times. I'll go into a detailed requirements list for MY "ideal" walk-around kit at a later date (which should help readers get an idea whether or not they have the same needs), but suffice to say that I want a camera that is compact, light, durable, responsive and "fast", and produces images of AT LEAST moderately high quality. A few years back I purchased an Olympus E-P1 Pen (with two lenses) hoping it would fulfill these "walk-around" needs. And, I have to say I was disappointed - I found if I took the E-P1 OFF its "automatic everything" settings it was slow and cumbersome to use. Basically, more often than not it actually got in the way of capturing moderately high-quality, spontaneous images.

Fast forward to mid-year 2011...I upgrade the E-P1 Pen to an E-P3 Pen (complete with their optional electronic viewfinder). The result? Better - much better. The camera is dramatically faster and easier to use (when I moved OFF the "automatic everything" settings) and the BIGGEST improvement was in the autofocus system. BUT...to a lesser degree than the E-P1, the camera still occasionally "got in the way" of capturing moderately high-quality spontaneous images. But for many static subjects - not too bad!

Fast forward once more - to November 2011. Nikon introduces a compact mirrorless camera system new from the ground up - the Nikon 1 system. But, it has a much smaller image sensor than even the Olympus system. So I instantly pre-judge the system as unsuitable for my needs. Then Rob Galbraith posts a review of the camera on his website and I begin to think I erred in "writing off" the Nikon 1 system before even trying it (read Rob's review of the V1 here...). For those who don't know, Rob is an accomplished sports photographer and possibly even a bigger tech geek than I am. And...the needs of a sports photographer in a walk-around camera - specifically the need for responsiveness and speed in a camera - aren't that different from a wildlife shooter...

Which brings us to the delivery of my V1 kit last Friday. And here are my VERY initial impressions of the system (and bear in mind I have NOT had the chance to systematically test the camera and lenses yet - these are gut feelings after shooting about 250 images with the camera and two lenses).

Overall Camera "Usability": Hmmmm...this camera - autofocus, frame rate, and the rate that the buffer clears - is FAST, FAST, FAST. In that regard it leaves my Olympus E-P3 in the dust. And, when you take over the camera's controls yourself (with single point user-controlled AF point selection, and aperture priority, and start making exposure compensations, etc.) the camera is STILL fast to use - the controls are intuitive and the buttons/controls ARE logically laid out and your fingers quickly figure out where to go. I'm impressed.

Image Quality: At the end of the day, this is the kicker - right? Well, it's easy to assume that the small (even tiny by DSLR standards) sensor on this camera is its Achilles heel and that the image quality will suffer (that's the main reason I had written off this camera before trying it). But...surprisingly...if you go to dxomark.com and check out and compare the CX sensor of the Nikon V1 and J1 (the V1's little brother) to the sensors of its competitors (like that in the Olympus E-P3) you'll find the sensor stacks up very well (even scoring slightly higher than the E-P3). YES, the camera lags in its low-light (high ISO) performance - this is clearly shown on dxomark.com's figures AND I'm noticing it already in my own shooting (and, at this point, I'm thinking I'll rarely take this camera over ISO 400 or so, but please bear in mind this is a very preliminary judgement that may change with more use). But...at low ISO's the images are looking VERY clean and sharp (both in the JPEG and the raw format output). My gut feeling right now is that this jump in image quality over my E-P3 (and it IS a significant jump in overall image quality) is primarily due to the 1 Nikkor lenses simply being better than those on my Olympus. I'll begin posting images shot with the V1 later this week...

Complaints & Nits? Nope, the V1 isn't perfect - far from it. I'm surprised that - given the viewfinder is an electronic one - there is no display option that gives the user a live histogram while shooting, And, I'm missing having an image playback option that gives a blown highlight warning (those "blinkies"). And, I wish I could turn off the instant image review feature in the viewfinder - it can slow things up during action shooting (and make it tough to follow a quickly moving subject).

At this point I don't think it's too early for me to say that I'm really going to like walking around with my Nikon V1. I think anyone who has had experience with other mirrorless cameras and then picks this camera up and actually USES IT (rather than simply looking at the specs and then dumping on the camera in on-line forums) will be VERY pleasantly surprised. It's a little too early to say that Nikon has hit a home-run with the V1, but I think it's very, very possible...

In about a week I'll post a more detailed review of the Nikon V1, with the first "chapter" being more details of my early impressions (complete with images). I'll then add additional chapters (and images) as I continue to use the camera and try it in more and more shooting situations.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

18 November 2011: First Announcement: 2013 Photo Tour Information!

What? 2013? Yep, I've had enough individual requests for this information that I've gone ahead and put together my core program for photo tours in 2013. Below you'll find JUST the broad outline, but ALL DETAILS (dates, pricing, etc.) are available right here on my photo tour page. I am accepting bookings now. All trips listed below take place on the Pacific coast of British Columbia, Canada. Here are the broad strokes:

1. Khutzeymateen Grizzlies Instructional Photo Tour - late May 2013
2. Khutzeymateen Grizzlies "Photo Op" Tour - late May 2013 spilling into early June!
3. Orcas, Humpbacks and More Instructional Photo Tour - mid August 2013
4. Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest Instructional Photo Tour - first week of Oct 2013
5. Great Bear Rainforest Exploratory Photo Adventure - 2nd week of October 2013.


For more information either check out my Photo Tours page or email me at me at seminars@naturalart.ca

NOTE: There is high to very high demand for these trips and some WILL sell out very quickly. So if you are interested it would be best to contact me quite soon, especially in you're looking for multiple spots (e.g., for a group or family) on a specific trip.

Looking for a trip in 2012? While most of my trips are sold out, I do have a few spots left on my "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" Instuctional Photo Tour in late September of 2012. More info? Yep, you guessed it - just check out my Photo Tours page!

Cheers...

Brad

10 November 2011: The PERFECT Christmas Gift for the Nature Photographer in Your Life?

If you live within traveling distance of Calgary, Alberta and are looking for the PERFECT gift for the nature photographer in your life, here's something you may just want to consider - a GREAT seminar (by your's truly) on Wildlife Photography! Here are the details:

SEMINAR: Wildlife Photography: From Documentary Images to Wildlife Art

WHERE: Vistek Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
WHEN: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM

SEMINAR OVERVIEW: Join award-winning nature and wildlife photographer Brad Hill (that would be me!) for a 4-hour journey into the intricacies of creating extraordinary wildlife images. This seminar will discuss both the technical and creative aspects of capturing eye-catching wildlife images with a modern digital SLR as well as some key post-processing techniques essential in making your images stand out from the crowd! From the discussion of the why's and how's behind detail-rich flight shots of birds through to breath-taking and expansive animalscapes you'll be given the tools to assist you in making the transition from images simply OF wildlife to the creation of true wildlife art.

WHAT YOU'LL LEARN:

• The key technical issues to consider in choosing the right photographic gear to meet your wildlife photography goals
• Which digital SLR characteristics REALLY matter to a wildlife photographer
• How to maximize the usefulness of the gear you already own
• Both basic compositional principles and some advanced creative techniques so you can make the most of your time in the field
• A host of handy field tips from an experienced professional wildlife photographer

WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Anyone within traveling distance of Calgary and with an interest in wildlife photography who owns, or plans to own, a digital SLR. The material will be of equal benefit to photographers of all levels, from enthusiastic novice through to seasoned intermediate and advanced photographers (including professionals).

OTHER CRITICAL DETAILS:

DURATION: 4 hours (10 AM - 2 PM)
COST: $150 CAD
MAXIMUM NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: 15
HOW TO REGISTER: Choose any of these methods:

1. Online here on Vistek's secure website
2. Email Dave Law at Vistek Calgary
3. Phone Dave Law at Vistek Calgary - 1-800-561-0333 ext. 2226

Hope to see you there!

Cheers...

Brad

7 November 2011: Counterpoint: My Perfect "Walk-around" Camera - Perhaps the Nikon V1??

Those who read my previous entry on the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR zoom lens know that I'm curently preparing a "field review" called "My Perfect Walk-around Kit" that compares the merits of a Nkon DSLR paired with 16-35mm VR and 28-300mm zoom lenses with those of an Olympus E-P3 matched with both a 14-42mm and 40-150mm zoom lens. The choice of these two "kits" is driven off my unique requirements for a "walk-around" system AND what I considered to be the best available products.

But...I completely and intentionally omitted considering the new Nikon 1 system in my comparison. Why? Well, to be honest, largely because of the small sensor size and because of Nikon's previous less-than-stellar offerings in the "non-DSLR" market. However, based on a new review by a highly credible source, it appears as though I (and likely thousands of other working photographers) blew off the Nikon 1 system as unsatisfactory for my needs far too quickly! Interesting, very interesting...

Will I lay my hands on a Nikon 1 system (specifically a V1 because I can't live without the electronic viewfinder and the J1 doesn't have one!) and add that system to my coming field review? I'm thinking about it - and if Nikon happened to send a V1 and two lenses my way I WOULD definitely test and review the system. Which means it's a definite maybe that my review will include Nikon's "new from the ground up" Nikon 1 system. Stay tuned...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

1 November 2011: Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Zoom: The Perfect "Walk-around" Lens for ME?

I'm ALWAYS on the look for a way to ensure I can have a quality (and useful) camera with me in the field at ALL times (and see next paragraph on "Context" for why this important to ME). This is partly why a few years back I purchased the Olympus E-P1 and, more recently, the Olympus E-P3. And most recently, this search for the perfect "walk-around" setup has driven a new lens acquisition...Nikon's 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S. And I acquired this lens despite the fact that my previous experience with "super zooms" (specifically Nikon's 18-200mm) left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. My initial thoughts on the 28-300mm? Read on...

Some Critical Context: I go on some pretty great photo trips where I'm doing some very serious photography and use some very serious camera equipment. BUT, I also happen to literally "live in a cabin in the mountains" and on my daily walks (often with my dogs) I have a decent chance of running into some pretty amazing scenery AND some pretty compelling wildlife, including bears (both grizzlies and black bears), wolves, cougars, coyotes, elk, deer (both white-tails and muleys), badgers, eagles, osprey, wolverines and...you "get the picture". And that's the point - while the probability of getting a great image out of a nearly randomly scene/subject is low, it's a whole lot lower if I DON'T have a camera with me. In short, I want to "get the picture" myself!! ;-)

So...I really want to have a camera/lens that I can ALWAYS carry AND that can handle everything from expansive scenes through to wildlife. And, that camera has to produce at LEAST "OK" images. So, the kit I desire has to be light, compact, and with real-world convenience (has to be easy to "put-on", doesn't interfere at all when I'm walking over rough terrain, is light enough that I hardly notice it, etc.).

So...Attempted Solution #1: Use a small Micro 4/3 system and carry one extra (and light) lens. This is my Olympus E-P3 with 14-42mm kit lens plus 40-150mm Olympus zoom. And, I effortlessly carry this set-up on a belt system (more details on this when I do my formal "My Perfect Walk-around Kit?" field test). How does the set-up work? OK. And OK enough so that I HAVE captured images with this setup that I've sold and have appeared in calendars and the like (like this image (captured with my Olympus E-P1) which is in the 2012 Wild BC Calendar.

And...Attempted Solution #2: Use a QUALITY super-zoom (if any such thing exists) on either a Nikon D7000 or D3s and carry one other lens along. Which is why I decided to try the Nikon 28-300mm super-zoom and start carrying it - along with Nikon's excellent (and totally handy) 16-35mm VR zoom - on my daily excursions into the field (again on a belt system, albeit a LARGER belt system with shoulder straps). While I haven't shot enough with the 28-300mm lens yet (or processed enough images yet) to make any definitive statements about the 28-300mm lens yet, I can already confidently say that this lens is a BIG step-up from Nikon's previous attempt at producing a super-zoom. I can't honestly recommend the lens YET, but suspect I will be soon!

So...stay tuned...coming attractions to include image captures from both my Olympus E-P3 kit and Nikon's 28-300mm zoom, a full field test of the 28-300mm zoom, and a comparative field test of two different set-ups vying to become "My Perfect Walk-around Kit". I suspect many will find the information quite useful...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

26 October 2011: 2012 Photo Tours Update...

Many of the available spots for my photo tours into the Great Bear Rainforest in 2012 have recently sold, so it's probably appropriate that I provide an update for the status of each tour. Note that much more information about each of these tours may be found on the Photo Tours page of this website. Anyway...

1. Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour (May 23 to 30, 2012). Only ONE spot remaining. More info? Download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 1.9 MB).

1 November 2011 UPDATE: Sorry - this trip is now totally SOLD OUT for 2012. Details for 2013 version of this trip to be announced in early November...

2. Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen "Just the Photo Op Please!" Photo Tour (May 29 to June 3, 2012). Sorry - this trip is totally SOLD OUT for 2012.

3. Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest Instructional Photo Tour (September 24 to October 3, 2012). THREE spots remaining. More info? Download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 2.2 MB).

4. Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest "Just the Photo Op Please!" Photo Tour (October 3 to 10, 2012). Sorry - this trip is totally SOLD OUT for 2012.

I will be posting the list (and details) of my 2013 photo tours in early November 2011.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

26 October 2011: Interview on CBC Radio This Coming Friday...

Visitors from BC Canada may be interested to know that I'm being interviewed and taking call-in questions on CBC Radio One this coming Friday (the 28th). I'll be on the show called "BC Almanac" and, from what I gather, will be featured on the second half of the 1-hour show (which runs from noon to 1 PM PST). So...if you have any nature photography-related questions - here's your chance to put me on the spot! The show airs across BC and can be listened to live anywhere in the world at www.cbc.ca/radio/ (make sure you choose the Vancouver broadcast).

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

26 October 2011: Olympus E-P3 Viewfinder Woes Fixed?

I mentioned back in early September (see my Sept. 5 entry below) that I had replaced my disappointing Olympus E-P1 mirrorless Micro 4/3 camera with the E-P3 and my initial impressions were very favourable (anyone want to buy a E-P1 at a great price??). Since that time I acquired an electronic viewfinder for the E-P3 - maybe I'm too old to be taught "new" tricks, but I simply have NOT been able to acquire a taste for shooting images using ONLY a LCD screen. And, best of all, if you install the optional viewfinder you can now even SEE what you're shooting if you're out using the camera in bright sunlight! Initially I was just THRILLED with the viewfinder and thought my "dream" (OK, that's a bit dramatic - substitute in "thought" for "dream") of having an extremely portable and highly useable camera with decent image quality was realized.

HOWEVER, very shortly after getting the electronic viewfinder I discovered a major glitch with it - it only worked about 50% of the time. The problem wasn't in seeing through the eyepiece - that worked fine. However, the camera's controls (such as the re-positioning of the AF bracket, or the dial to change the aperture setting) ceased to function when the viewfinder was in place. I found I could get the controls working if I restarted the camera between one and 5 times, but this was an extremely inconvenient workaround. I suspected I had a "lemon" of a viewfinder (or camera) but late last week I tried other copies of the viewfinder (and the camera) and the problem was always there. So while the viewfinder wasn't TOTALLY useless, it's value to me was severely hampered by this bug...

Just yesterday I was about to write a not-so-glowing (i.e., scathing) commentary about the problem when I received a RSS feed from dpreview.com entitled "Olympus issues firmware v1.1 for Pen E-PS, fixing minor bugs." I followed the links and...YIPPEE...Olympus both acknowledged the viewfinder bug and issued a firmware update to solve the problem. After FINALLY figuring out how to get and install the update (the execution of the delivery of the update kinda left something to be desired - see next paragraph) I tested my camera and "presto" problem solved! I'm now again looking forward to using my E-P3 (complete with working viewfinder!) as my #1 casual "walk-around" camera.

An important note to anyone looking to upgrade their E-P3 firmware. Don't follow the link on dpreview.com OR go to the E-P3 download support page on Olympus's website - all it says is "No software available at this time." Instead, simply download and install the "Olympus Digital Camera Updater" (found right HERE) on your computer, plug your camera into your computer, and follow the simple instructions to install the update. Don't waste time with "Olympus Master 2" software - it doesn't seem to work the E-P3.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

18 October 2011: The New Canon Flagship - the EOS-1D X

Canon has just announced their new "flagship" DSLR - dubbed the EOS-1D X (see full details here on dpreview.com). In short, this camera sports a 18 MP full-frame sensor, all new autofocus (AF) system, and is intended to replace BOTH the EOS-1Ds Mk III AND the EOS-1D Mk IV. In producing the camera (which apparently won't be shipping until March 2012) camera has joined Nikon in making a bold statement - there's a lot more to improving a camera's image quality than just adding additional pixels to a sensor! While it remains to be seen how this camera will actually perform in the field, at least on paper it looks like Canon has finally produced a camera that can go head-to-head with Nikon's D3/D3s (and with more pixels than the Nikons). I think this is GREAT news - not only will it push Nikon to even higher heights, but perhaps it will prevent even more serious Canon shooters from jumping ship (which, in turn, means that Nikon MIGHT be able to soon meet demand for their pro products, rather than falling further and further behind in satisfying demand!). Uhhh...that last comment was a joke (sort of).

Some other random musings about the camera...

1. Why the 5-6 month wait between the product announcement and ship date? I don't shoot with Canon cameras and can't really judge the performance of their pro products. However, between friends who shoot Canon and clients on my photo tours who shoot Canons, I have seen a LOT of dissatisfaction being expressed towards Canon in the last 18 months or so. In fact, most of the Canon shooters I'm acquainted with (and I'm NOT saying this is representative of the entire population of Canon shooters) are either about to switch to Nikon or are at least contemplating the switch (despite the high cost of a pro shooter to make a brand switch). From the Canon shooters I've talked to the main complaints they have about their cameras pertain to sub-standard performance of both the AF system and when shooting at high ISO settings. Looks to me like Canon is well aware of these complaints and the issue with losing marketshare to Nikon among pro and enthusiast shooters. It could be interpreted that the long gap between announcement date and ship date of the 1D X is an attempt to prevent existing Canon shooters from jumping ship ("Wait, wait! The camera you want IS coming!!"). Kinda reminds me of about 5 years ago (when Nikon was hemorrhaging users to Canon) when Nikon announced the D2x with a huge gap between announcement and ship dates. How the tables have turned!

2. An end to the megapixel race? I'm already reading on some forums that Canon has now officially ended the megapixel race. Well, it kinda seems to me that Nikon officially did this about 3 years ago when they resisted the trend to more and more pixels with the announcement and shipment of the 12 MP D3. There were TONS of skeptics (and whining) about the low pixel count of the D3 - but only until images shot with it started circulating! But good for Canon for acknowledging (and following) Nikon's lead in upping real-world camera performance and image quality!

3. And what about the Nikon D4? OK...time to gloat a little - the spec of the Canon EOS-1D X is almost EXACTLY what I've been saying I want in the coming D4. I just hope Nikon is thinking (or WAS when they designed the D4) the same thing!

Will the announcement and the shipment of the 1D X be enough to keep Canon users AS Canon users? I can't say...and I know of several Canon shooters who have said they ARE willing to give Canon ONE more chance (but one more ONLY). For Canon's sake, the 1D X better perform in the field as well as Canon claims it will...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

17 October 2011: Back in the Saddle...

I'm now back from two consecutive tours of duty (photo tours, that is) in the Great Bear Rainforest. As always, the Great Bear Rainforest presented us with both tough challenges and great rewards. While we DID have to deal with about normal amounts of rain (for a RAINforest!), weather never really knocked us off our schedule or, for that matter, never impacted much on our photographic success or enjoyment. And I came back with an even GREATER appreciation for the natural beauty and biological riches of the region. The highlights? Well...

1. The Wildlife: Well, the Great BEAR Rainforest did live up to its name. We found and photographed Spirit Bears on both trips (but had to work like heck to find them on the 2nd photo tour!). We saw and photographed grizzlies (including mothers with cubs) in several locations. But...species other than bears definitely tried to steal the limelight! Between the two trips we saw almost countless humpback whales, and watched them bubble-netting and breaching in several places. Coastal wolves? Yep, both saw them and heard them howling. The howling was particularly fascinating - it occurred mid-day and seemed to really disturb the grizzlies (mother and cub) we were watching and photographing at the time. And then there was the eagles (everywhere!), American Martens scurrying after black bears (going for salmon scraps from those sloppy bears!), orcas, seals, sea lions, and more! I've already begun posting images from the trip in my Gallery of Latest Additions - expect at least one or two new images to show up in there each week over the next few months...

2. The Camera Gear: Trips into the Great Bear Rainforest almost always point out "flaws" (or limitations) of camera gear. The unique challenges presented by this environment include the generally low lighting levels (which really drives home the need for cameras that perform well at high ISO settings) and the rainy (and humid) conditions - which tests both the enviromental sealing of cameras AND the quality of raincovers! On the two trips we had both Nikon and Canon shooters...here's a few observations about what worked well and what worked less well...

The Nikons: The low light levels on these trips left the users of the full-frame Nikons smiling (there were D700's, D3's an D3s's along on the trips). Between the two trips there were 4 D7000's in use (including mine). Unfortunately, two of four of them didn't handle the moisture well - in both cases the Multi Selector toggle on the camera body failed (quit working). This meant the D7000 users who did NOT have a Battery Grip (which has another multi-selector toggle on it) could not shift the position of the focus brackets (in shooting mode) or scroll between images (when in playback mode). None of the pro Nikons on the trip (which presumably have better environmental sealing) showed this problem.

The Canons: If I'm being completely honest there was more than little envy shown by the Canon shooters of what the full-frame Nikons could do in low-light conditions. There were also a few comments by Canon shooters about displeasure about the AF capabilities of their cameras, mostly by users of the 5D MKII. Like with Nikon, there was one camera model that showed a "problem" that affected the success of image capture - two (of 3) 7D's seemed to have problems with the fine-tuning of their AF systems (and in both cases it was with the 70-200mm f2.8 lens).

Camera Accessories: The single most important accessory on these trips is, in most years, the rain cover. On this trip there were a number of brands covering a wide range of price points. Both the AquaTech's and Think Tank rain covers seemed to perform the best overall (but they ARE the most expensive of the rain covers available). We also had ONE RainCoat Pro (from LensCoat) along and it also did an admirable job. All three of these brands of rain covers (plus other brands) can be compared right here on Outdoor Photo Gear's website...

Stay tuned for more tales from the Great Bear Rainforest in the coming days and weeks - and don't forget to keep your eye on my Gallery of Latest Additions for new images shot in the Great Bear...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

25 September 2011: Off to the Great Bear Rainforest...

First thing tomorrow AM I leave for an extended trip to the northern coast of BC. I'll be leading two consecutive "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours. I have a full "crew" of keen photographers from all over the world joining me to photograph and experience this pristine and globally-unique ecosystem.

I'm looking forward to the experience and testing a lot of new equipment under what can be quite gruelling conditions. And, by the end of the this trip I'll be able to give a definitive answer to the age-old question "Can an Olympus E-P3 micro 4/3 system compete head-to-head with the full-framed Nikon D3X??" ;-)

I'll be back online with lots of new images, product tests (including the Cotton Carrier System, several of the new offerings from LensCoat, and more detailed impressions and observations about the Olympus E-P3) and lots of other original and interesting content starting the week of October 15. In the interim - good luck with your own shooting and may Photeus smile upon all of you!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

17 September 2011: 2012 Khutzeymateen Photo Tour Brochures Now Available...

The brochures for my two "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" Photo Tours (spring 2012) are now available for download. Here's a little more info about the tours and downlaod links for the brochures.

Photo Tour #1. Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour.

OVERVIEW: Back by overwhelming demand! This photo tour combines a full day of professional photography instruction with 5 days of fabulous grizzly bear viewing and photography in the Khutzeymateen Inlet. Following our day of photography instruction in Prince Rupert, BC, we will travel to the Khutzeymateen via floatplane. We'll then stay aboard the beautiful Ocean Light II - a comfortable 71' ocean ketch (sailboat). We will be assisted by two professional bear guides during our 5 days of working intensely with the spectacular Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen (in the most magical setting imaginable)! This trip is simply an extraordinary experience and provides unsurpassed photographic opportunities!

PHOTO TOUR TYPE: Instructional Photo Tour
DATES: May 23 to May 30, 2012.
NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: Limited to 6.
CURRENT NUMBER OF AVAILABLE SPOTS: 4.

MORE INFORMATION? Download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 1.9 MB) for more information and details about this unique instructional photo tour. For registration inquiries contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca

Photo Tour #2. Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen - Just the Photo Op, Please!

OVERVIEW: This photo tour offers a reduced instructional component (no full day of instruction before the trip) and 4 full days spent photographing the Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen. It is geared toward photographers who primarily want access to the area and the bears in a non-crowded environment (all the photo tours are limited to 6 individuals to ensure everyone has good shooting angles) and who may not have the time for the longer instructional photo tour.

PHOTO TOUR TYPE: Photo Op Tour
DATES: May 29 to June 3, 2012.
NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: Limited to 6.
CURRENT NUMBER OF AVAILABLE SPOTS: 1.

MORE INFORMATION? Download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 2.1 MB) for more information and details about this amazing photo tour. For registration inquiries contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca

Cheers...

Brad

16 September 2011: My Enigmatic D7000

I've now pretty much completed a full field season of using (and testing) the Nikon D7000. Most of what I first thought about the camera (and what I wrote in my "Very First Impressions" review) still holds - for most day-to-day use this is a great camera. But, if I'm being honest, I can't say great things about the autofocus performance of my D7000 when it's paired with my super-telephoto lenses of focal lengths greater than 200mm. My complaints? See the September 16 update in my review "The Nikon D7000 - Very First Impressions..." for all the gory details...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

5 September 2011: Good-bye Olympus E-P1; Hello Olympus E-P3

Just last Thursday I acquired the latest model of Olympus's "Pen" series of Micro 4/3 mirrorless interchangle lens cameras - the E-P3. And in acquiring this camera my "old" E-P1 went up for sale (details on my "Gear 4 Sale" page). My E-P3 acquisition logically leads to at least three questions:

1. Why do I even have a Micro 4/3 camera anyway? Anyone following this blog and website will know that I use Nikon DSLR's for my "serious" shooting and that I have no shortage of Nikkor lenses. So - what need could I have for an "inferior" camera (compared to my professional level Nikons)? Well - I live in a very rural area (basically out in the woods) and am out wandering in the countryside at LEAST once a day (I do have active dogs that need a lot of exercise). On any given day I have a decent chance of running into many different species of wildlife including deer, elk, bears, coyotes, wolves, cougars, and more (not to mention the abundant birdlife). And, I can run into just the right light to turn the normal great scenes found around my property into amazing ones. But...even with iron-willed discipline and dedication it simply isn't practical or possible to carry a professional (and professionally-sized!) SLR kit with me every time I go out my door. So, I want (and believe I have a need for) a "f8 and "BE there!" camera that's small enough for me to carry with me whenever I head out of my cabin. And I want to be able to carry only one extra lens and be able to cover a wide range of focal lengths. And, of course, I want/need DECENT image quality (but am willing to compromise some on this to gain portability).

2. Did the Olympus E-P1 meet this need? Mostly. With the 14-42mm kit lens and ONE other very small and lightweight lens (the Micro Zuiko 40-150mm zoom) I have the focal range (in 35mm equivalence) of 28-300mm covered. Image quality is good enough (and far surpasses image quality of "high-end" point & shoots like the Canon "G" series). Shots I captured with this kit have been good enough to be accepted (and published) on 2012 wall calendars. But, if I'm being honest, the lack of ease - and speed - of use of the E-P1 (especially the autofocus) meant that while my "f8 and BE there" setup worked fine for scenic or landscape shots, it was lacking when shooting almost all wildlife (tho' I DID capture this image of a wild cougar with it).

3. Why the upgrade to the E-P3? Almost everything I read about the E-P3 indicated that the "shortcomings" of the E-P1 (most notably a slow autofocus and an overall slow/awkward ease of use) had been addressed and that with the introduction of the E-P3 the "promise" of the Micro 4/3 system had finally been fulfilled (which, if true, would actually give me the "f8 and BE there" camera that I'm looking for). And, I can say that after having the camera for a few days that the E-P3 has a MUCH better AF system than the E-P1 and E-P2 and is MUCH easier to use in the field (and has some pretty cool features - like a neat touch-screen feature where you touch the portion of the LCD screen where you want the camera to focus and it instantly focuses AND shoots an image). Does the E-P3 really meet all my needs as a lightweight, portable "f8 and BE there" camera? It's a little early for me to say so definitively, but I can already say it's a whole lot closer to what I want/need than the E-P1 was! And, I'm pretty sure I'm going to quite like this little camera. Stay tuned for more feedback on the E-P3 as I use it over the coming weeks and months...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

30 August 2011: Back from the Coast, Back in the Saddle

I'm back from leading my 2011 "Orcas, Humpbacks, and More!" Instructional Photo Tour. The trip was a great success - and although we found tons (quite literally!) of Orcas, the stars of the week were definitely the humpbacks, sea otters, sea lions, and dolphins. If you take a gander at my Gallery of Latest Additions you'll get a feel for the kind of spectacles we witnessed and photographed! I'll be posting more images in there over the coming days and weeks - so keep an eye on that gallery...

And a few other quick updates...

Spirit Bear/Great Bear Rainforest Photo Tours SOLD OUT!. While I was away the remaining spots for my autumn "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours were snapped up. And...I'm getting a lot of interest/enquiries about the 2012 Spirit Bear trips (likely because of the article on Spirit Bears in the August edition of National Geographic magazine). So...if you're thinking about participating in the 2012 tours, it might be an idea to contact me soon!
So...what happened to the D4 announcement? Well...if I'm being honest, the real answer is "I dunno!". I was quite surprised that Nikon DIDN'T announce new DSLR's back on the 24th. And, I'm thinking we ARE going to hear an announcement for the D4 and one other high-end DSLR in the not-to-distant future. And, to be honest, while I would LOVE for Nikon to announce a quality, professional (or near professional) DX body, Nikon's current offerings don't leave us wanting for too much...

All for now - lots more info and updates coming soon...so stay tuned...cheers...

Brad

15 August 2011: Off Chasing Orcas...

Just a quick FYI to let everyone know that I'm heading out first thing tomorrow AM for a 10-day trip to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. I'm going up there to lead my "Orcas, Humpbacks & More" Instructional Photo Tour.

I'll be back online on or about August 28th. In the interim - may Photeus bless you with good subjects and good light!

Cheers...

Brad

PS: If you're curious about my Photo Tours, all the info can be found on - not surprisingly - the Photo Tours page of this website. Only ONE spot remains on my 2011 tours (that being a single slot available on the first of my two autumn "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" Instructional Photo Tours (scroll down to my first 12 August entries for all the details).

15 August 2011: Greetings to Visitors from the Slovak Republic!

Late last week I noticed a HUGE surge in traffic to this website from the Slovak Republic. With just a few clicks I discovered that my website had just been listed as "highly recommended" (using a loose Google translation) by one of the major photography "portals" in the Slovak Republic (check it out here if you'd like).

So...to the thousands of visitors I've had from the Slovak Republic in the last couple of days - welcome! And...enjoy. Oh, and by the way, I'm Canadian, not American! ;-)

Brad

12 August 2011: Stuff I Use Preview - AquaTech Soft Lens Hoods

I'm currently testing a lot of new equipment (mostly accessories) that will soon be featured as either full-fledged Field Tests or at least discussed on my Stuff I Use sections of this website. For the last month or so I've been using AquaTech's "soft" lens hoods on all my super-telephoto lenses (the full name of these lens hoods is a mouthful - "AquaTech Soft Collapsible Hood for Long Lenses"). Next week I'm off for a week of shooting Orcas and Humpbacks and will be using these hoods on both my 400mm f2.8 and 600mm f4 lenses. I want to incorporate those experiences with the hoods in my "final" field test, but can already say I REALLY like these hoods. Here's a quick and dirty summary of my thoughts on them:

What are they?. Simple - a cordura-like collapsible lens hood that rolls up and fastens together with velcro and buckles. A good picture of them can be found here on Outdoor Photo Gear's website.
Why would you need them? I'd like to say "because some of Nikon's lens hoods suck", but I'm not like that. So I'll just say that because they're collapsible (or "flattenable") they take up WAY less space in a pack or duffle bag (so are GREAT for traveling) AND if you happen to damage or lose one of the uber-expensive lens hoods for any of Nikon's or Canon's super-telephoto lenses they're a WAY cheaper replacement option.
How well do they work? Excellent. I have tested them on a 200f2 VR, a 200-400mm f4 VR zoom (these two lenses take the same hood, as does the 300mm f2.8 VR) and both my 400mm f2.8 and 600mm f4 VR (one size fits both of these lenses). Protection seems great, I've had no vignetting issues, and they're firm enough to hold even a 600mm (with pro body attached) in an upright position (balanced on the front of the hood). NOTE: I wouldn't recommend leaving any of your super-telephotos sitting this way (upright on end of hood) for any extended period or on an uneven or unstable surface with ANY hood.
Any drawbacks? A couple extremely minor ones. First they don't attach QUITE as fast as a standard hood, especially the first time when you're figuring out how to put it on! And...one quirky thing which is probably reasonably unique to how I work - when packing my 400mm or 600mm lenses around in the field using my backpack-style Lowe Pro LensTrekker with a pro body on I have always needed to use the "half hood" position (one of two hoods "forward", second hood reversed) in order to fit them in. And, there ISN'T a half-hood position with the AquaTech hoods. The solution - in this case I simply use my stock hoods.
Can I honestly recommend them? Yep, with no hesitation.
Where to go for more info or to get these? The place I like to get accessories like this from is Outdoor Photo Gear - go directly to information on these hoods with this link: "AquaTech Soft Collapsible Hood for Long Lenses".

My "full" Field Test of these hoods will appear this autumn (tho' there's no a whole lot more to say about a lens hood!). Other products I'm testing right now include the unique "Cotton Carrier Camera System" and LensCoat's "Raincoat". Field tests of these products will also appear this fall...

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

12 August 2011: Autumn Spirit Bear Photo Tour - ONE Spot Left!

I'm now down to just ONE spot left remaining on my autumn "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" Photo Tours. This tour visits the same region featured in the August 2011 cover story in National Geographic - the area they referred to as the "Wildest Place in North America".

The barebones details:

OVERVIEW: Don't miss out on this amazing and unforgettable trip! The Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest Instructional Photo Tour 2010 combines a full day of professional photography instruction with 8 days of touring the Great Bear Rainforest in search of Spirit Bears, Grizzlies, several species of whales - all while travelling through some of the most photogenic scenery on Planet Earth! You will be given the tools and the opportunity to capture breath-taking, professional quality images of rare, endangered bears and absolutely stunning scenery.

This is an all-inclusive trip (once one arrives in Prince Rupert, BC) that includes 2 nights of accommodation in Prince Rupert, all meals in Prince Rupert, a full day of photo instruction in Prince Rupert prior to the trip, floatplane transport to and from the Ocean Light II sailboat, and 7 full days aboard the Ocean Light II in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, Canada.

PHOTO TOUR TYPE: Instructional Photo Tour.
DATES: September 26 to October 5, 2011.
NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: 6.
CURRENT NUMBER OF AVAILABLE SPOTS: ONE.
COST: $4900 Canadian plus 12% Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Currency converter available here.
REGISTRATION: Contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca to reserve your spot!

MORE INFORMATION? Download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 535 KB) for more information and details about this unforgettable tour of discovery.

Cheers...

Brad

05 August 2011: So Where the Heck Are Your Spirit Bear Photos??

Sigh. Since the August issue of National Geographic Magazine (which has Spirit Bears as their cover story) hit the shelves and mailboxes I've been getting a bunch of emails all pretty much saying the same thing: "Where the heck are YOUR Spirit Bear photos?"

Well...I knew that article was coming out so I went and did something really, really sneaky. I hid them in the last place anyone would expect to look - in my Bear Gallery!

So...if you're looking to see cool images of Spirit Bears on this website you have two options. First, you can work your way through my Bear Gallery - there's 13 or so Spirit Bear images sprinkled throught there. Or...to make your life easier you can just use this handy, dandy listing to go directly to ANY of the Spirit Bear images. And...don't forget - there's a TON of information to be had about each shot just by clicking on the tabs BELOW the image. Want to see LARGER versions of the images? Just click on the main image and a significantly larger image will appear in your browser window.

Spirit Bear Cub in Fall Foliage.
Spirit Bearing Down
A Spirited Sentinel
Pure Focus
Gone Fishin'
Black & White - Harmony - Nature Photographer's Network 2007 Wildlife Image of the Year!
The Eyes of a Spirit. One of my personal favs...
Spirit Bear in Intertidal Zone
Spirit Bear in Garden of Nature
Curious Kermode in Crabapple Tree
Spirit Bear Fishing
Eye-to-Eye
Peekaboo!

By the way - if you DON'T subscribe to National Geographic but would still like to see the Spirit Bear images captured by Paul Nicklen for the article, they can be viewed right here on National Geographic's Website (and the article by Bruce Barcott may be read right here).

Interested in capturing your OWN Spirit Bear images?? Well...it just so happens that I have ONE spot left available on each of this autumn's two "Spirit Bear and the Great Bear Rainforest" Instructional Photo Tours. Just visit my Photo Tours page for the barebones details or, if you want more detailed information, just download this brochure (PDF: 535 KB).

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

05 August 2011: Nikon D4 and D800 - Coming August 24th?

A well-connected and normally quite reliable "Nikon-o-phile" (Thom Hogan) has posted some predictions about product announcements that are expected from Nikon in the coming days. Here (in verbatim form) are Thom's latest predictions:

• D700 replacement: August 24 announce, October delivery.
• D3s replacement (D4): August 24 announce, December delivery to NPS pros
• Nikon mirrorless: January CES announce, February delivery
• D300s replacement: February announce, delivery shortly thereafter
• D3x replacement: not predictable at the moment, but late 2012 seems to be the earliest plausible possibility

My thoughts on this schedule? Well...I think the D4 is a slam dunk. Expect it. But what about a D700 replacement (presumably a D800) at the same time? To me the only way it makes sense for Nikon to announce TWO new full-frame cameras (i.e., the D4 and D800) at the same time would be to have them targeted at VERY different markets. So, if we DO see a D800 announced on or around the 24th of August, I expect it will be priced significantly lower than the D4 AND differ greatly in one or more specs. I'd speculate that this spec differentiation will be in the form of greatly enhanced video capabilities. Which would make the D800 basically a Canon 5D MkII (and possibly MkIII) killer. Personally, I have much higher need for a quality DX body (i.e., a D400), so in that regard I'm hoping Thom is wrong (but he likely isn't!). I suppose Nikon may be thinking the D7000 can keep those wanting a quality DX body happy for awhile?

Stay tuned - we don't have long to wait!

Cheers...

Brad

03 August 2011: Six New Images Added to "Other Mammals" Gallery...

Six new images just found their way way into my permanenent "Other Mammals" Gallery. The new images feature Steller's Sea Lions, Orcas (Killer Whales) and Humpback Whales, and there are two pretty impressive "animalscapes" captured in the Johnstone Strait region of northern Vancouver Island. The bulk of the new images begin right here. Enjoy!

Cheers...

Brad

02 August 2011: 15 New Images Added to Bear Gallery...

I've just finished adding 15 new images to my ever-growing collection of images in my Bear Gallery. A few of the images are sprinkled throughout the gallery (so start here at the beginning if you want to see them all), but the majority of them are lumped together and begin here. Check 'em out!

Cheers...

Brad

25 July 2011: For Sale: Olympus E-P1 Camera and Wimberley Tripod Head...

26 July UPDATE: Sorry...the Wimberley Head listed below has been sold and is no longer available.

I've just put two used items up for sale. The first is my Olympus E-P1 Micro 4/3 camera with a 14-42mm zoom lens. And the second is a Wimberley Tripod Head - the original version of their popular gimbal head (formally known as the WH 101).

All details can be found on my Gear For Sale page of this website.

Note that I typically price my used gear at prices to ensure they move fast. So if you're interested in either of these items it's probably best to contact me right away...

21 July 2011: National Geographic Features the Spirit Bear...

The August issue of National Geographic magazine is featuring the Spirit Bear - in fact it's their cover article! And that would be the very same Spirit Bear that is the primary target species of my annual "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" Instructional Photo Tour. I was wondering how long it would take Nat Geo (and others) to realize what a fascinating animal the Spirit Bear is (and of course, how exhilarating it is to photograph this exceptionally rare carnivore).

Are YOU interested in photographing the Spirit Bear? Well...if you are...it just so happens I have some openings remaining on this September/October Spirit Bear Instructional Photo Tours. For more information simply scroll down below to my June 27 blog entry or simply download this informational brochure:

Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest (PDF: 535 KB)

And...if you'd like a sampling of the types of images I've captured of Spirit Bears on this photo tour over the years, just head into my Bear Gallery and scroll through the images - the first Spirit Bear image appears here.

20 July 2011: The Coming Nikon D4 and Nikon D???

OK - slot this blog entry into the category of "speculative". But, between the increasing amount of web chatter about Nikon's coming(?) announcement of new camera bodies, and the amount of email I've been getting asking me about what's coming, I decided it was time to say something publicly about what I know (or...more accurately - what I'm guessing). For the umpteenth time, I have NO inside knowledge of what Nikon is coming out with - I'm not privy to the information, I'm not under NDA (a Non-Disclosure Agreement).

Anyway...in the last month or two there has been a tremendous number of rumors circulating that Nikon is going to announce two new high-end camera bodies either in late August or September. For the record, I think this is LIKELY. The wild card that has thrown some doubt on the readiness of the new products has been the impact of the tsunami on Nikon's (and some of their parts suppliers) manufacturing capabilities. But supposedly this variable (the impact on production) is under control now. If Nikon has the ability to hold to their model introduction schedule that has held for a number of years (pretty much since the D1 was introduced) it IS logical we'll see some new products in August or September.

So...what cameras are coming? Here's what I'm hearing (and thinking):

1. The Nikon D4:

Most sources (which vary dramatically in credibility) seem to be in unison on this one - the successor to the D3/D3s is in the offing. I agree. And that's where the consensus ends. If you do a little web-surfing you'll see widely differing claims about the specs of the D4. Some are saying it will be an 11-15 fps high-speed machine with about an 18 MP sensor and ISO performance rivaling the D3s. Others are saying it will be in the 24 or even 32 MP range (which is ludicrous) with ISO performance of the D3 (NOT the D3s). And...most are arguing that it will offer greatly enhanced video capabilities.

What do I think Nikon will introduce? No clue.

BUT, here's what I'd LIKE to see (i.e., the D4 I WANT). Take a D3s, increase the sensor resolution to the 16-18 MP range and find a way to keep ISO performance identical. And that's ALL I care about! Sure, I'd like 11-15 fps, but it's not critical for me. Video performance? Well...I DO appreciate why this is important to others, but I could care less about it (at least for now).

The question I KNOW I'm going to get: "Why only 16-18 MP?" Because the world is changing. A few short years ago my primary thought was "more resolution - I want to be able to print BIG." But...between web images, email-sized images, images sized for computer-delivered presentations, images sized for hand-held devices and tablets, images sized for eBooks, etc. I spend INFINITELY more time down-sizing images than I do up-sizing them (or wishing I had a camera with more resolution). And, even 12 MP images are plenty big for most print uses (including most coffee table books). Besides, isn't that what the D3x (or, in the near future, a D4x) is for? I want my D4 fast, snappy, with fantastic high ISO performance, and without unnecessarily large files that just need to be trimmed back (in resolution) anyway!

2. The "Other" New Nikon:

OK...I'm hearing two different things on this one. Here are the options...

Option A: The Nikon D400:

This camera is the replacement/upgrade of the D300/D300s. So think cropped-sensor (DX). Resolution? Hearing lots of things here - from the 16-18 MP range through to 24 MP. ISO performance? Some are arguing it will match the D3/D700, but that's simply NOT going to happen if it's 24 MP with a cropped sensor. Video performance? Enhanced full HD videos with features I don't understand at all (or care about!).

What do I think? No clue. I've even publicly stated that I wonder if Nikon will even bother replacing the D300s (and that the D7000 might end up as the "flagship" DX body).

What do I reasonably want? I DEFINITELY want a high quality DX body and my perfect DX body (for now) would be this: environmentally sealed with build quality of D700 (not the current D300s build quality), 16-18 MP sensor, ISO performance of at least the D7000 (which is arguably 1.5 stops better than the D300s), identical AF system to the current D3s (not just "similar to" or "like the D3s").

Option B: The Nikon D800:

This is the successor to the very successful (and very excellent) D700. Most rumormongers are labeling this as the Canon 5D MkII "killer" and say it will have a FX sensor of 24-32 MP, ISO performance of its predecessor, top-notch video capabilities, yada, yada, yada.

What do I think and what do I want in a D800? Full stop. I don't think this camera is in the offing - yet. So I'm not going to even guess!

Why? I think it is illogical - from both a marketing AND market-need perspective - to introduce TWO FX bodies simultaneously (IF Nikon has a D300s replacement in their plans). To me it makes a whole lot more sense for Nikon to introduce a D4 and D400 simultaneously and then drop the D800 on the market 6 to 12 months later.

But is Nikon logical? Not always. So I could be dead wrong...

Last question to answer (if I don't address this my inbin WILL be full!): What will I be doing in new camera acquisitions? Well, if my pure guesses are right and we see a D4 and D400 simultaneously announced in August or September (and if my spec wishes are close), I'll PROBABLY keep my D3s and D7000 and buy a D4. I will most likely hold on acquiring a D400 until Nikon announces the D800 and then reassess what best matches my needs.

What if I'm dead wrong and Nikon introduces a D4 and D800? I'd likely do the same thing - keep my D3s and D7000 and buy a D4.

What if I'm even MORE dead wrong and Nikon announces a D400 and D800 (and no D4). My moves would then be heavily dependent on the specs of the new cameras...but it's very possible I would make NO move and wait for the D4.

Watching the rumour-mill over the next month or two should be interesting!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

19 July 2011: New Opening on 2012 Khutzeymateen Grizzlies "Just the Photo Op, Please" Tour

A single spot has just opened up on my Spring 2012 Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen "Just the Photo Op, Please" Photo Tour. This tour has been my most in-demand photo tour over the last two years. Here are some key details about it:

OVERVIEW: This photo tour offers a reduced instructional component compared to the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour (no full day of instruction before the trip) and 4 full days spent photographing the Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen. It is geared toward photographers who primarily want access to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary in a non-crowded environment (all the photo tours are limited to 6 like-minded individuals to ensure everyone has good shooting angles) and who may not have the time for the longer instructional photo tour.

PHOTO TOUR TYPE: Photo Op Tour.
DATES: May 29 to June 3, 2012.
NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: Limited to 6.
CURRENT NUMBER OF AVAILABLE SPOTS: ONE.
COST: $3199 Canadian plus 12% Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Currency converter available here.
REGISTRATION: Contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca if you'd like more information or if you're interested in snagging this last available spot for 2012! But...on this one - if ya snooze, you'll lose - this spot will go very quickly...

Cheers...

Brad

12 July 2011: Back from Gwaii Haanas...

I'm back behind my computer after a little over a week in Gwaii Haanas National Park and National Marine Reserve. No clue where that is? OK - it's basically the southern half of Haida Gwaii. Oh...that didn't help either? OK, Haida Gwaii is an isolated island archipelago off the western coast of British Columbia that used to be known as the "Queen Charlotte Islands". It is the ancestral home of a group of native Canadians known as Haida. And, it offer spectacular scenery and is almost as unique biologically as the Galapagos (in fact, many call it the "Galapagos of the North"). Gwaii Haanas is the name of the national park (and marine reserve) that takes up the southern 50% or so of the archipelago. The cool thing is that the national park and marine reserve combine to provide full protection of the area from sea bottom through to mountain peak (and everything in between!!).

This was my third trip to Gwaii Haanas but the first one where we did a significant amount of exploring of the rainforest on foot. The forest and scenery was nothing short of stunning! And, it gave me the opportunity to re-discover the joys and the quality of my wide angle lenses! I was even able to do a little head-to-head testing of the 24-70mm f2.8 and the 16-35mm f4 VR (in the overlapping price range). The results? Well..I'm still super-impressed with the optical quality of the 24-70mm f2.8 lens (it pretty much defines "sharpness"), but is that 16-35mm f4 VR ever handy! Just keep your eye on my Gallery of Latest Additions over the coming days and weeks to see what I mean...

Lots more coming soon...

Brad

27 June 2011: Cancellation Opens Up ONE spot on Spirit Bear Photo Tour...

Late last week I received a cancellation from someone who has reluctantly given up their spot on my first of 2 "Spirit Bear and the Great Bear Rainforest" Instructional Photo Tours this coming autumn. So, to be clear, there is now ONE spot up for grabs on a first-come, first-served basis.

Oh...need a few more details about the trip?? OK - here ya go:

OVERVIEW: Don't miss out on this amazing and unforgettable trip! The Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest Instructional Photo Tour 2010 combines a full day of professional photography instruction with 8 days of touring the Great Bear Rainforest in search of Spirit Bears, Grizzlies, several species of whales - all while travelling through some of the most photogenic scenery on Planet Earth! You will be given the tools and the opportunity to capture breath-taking, professional quality images of rare, endangered bears and absolutely stunning scenery.

This is an all-inclusive trip (once one arrives in Prince Rupert/Bella Bella, BC) that includes 2 nights of accommodation in Prince Rupert (or Bella Bella), all meals in Prince Rupert (or Bella Bella), a full day of photo instruction in Prince Rupert (or Bella Bella) prior to the trip, floatplane transport to and from the Ocean Light II sailboat, and 7 full days aboard the Ocean Light II in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, Canada.

PHOTO TOUR TYPE: Instructional Photo Tour.
DATES: September 26 to October 5, 2011.
NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: Each trip limited to 6.
CURRENT NUMBER OF AVAILABLE SPOTS: ONE.
COST: $4900 Canadian plus 12% Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Currency converter available here.
REGISTRATION: Contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca to reserve your spot!

MORE INFORMATION? Download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 535 KB) for more information and details about this unforgettable tour of discovery.

Cheers...

Brad

23 June 2011: So...Why No 400mm f4 VR??

Being an idiot, I thought that yesterday's blog entry would both help out some folks AND reduce the amount of questions I received by email at the same time. Well, based on the email I've received in the last 24 hours, it DID help quite a few folks. Did it reduce the number of gear-related questions I was getting? Yeah, right...had the opposite effect!! I think I was asked about every permutation and combination of Nikon gear possible - like..."so...how does the 300mm f4 plus 2x TC compare to the 600mm f4?" (don't know, don't own a 300mm f4, and won't until they put VR on it). But after sorting through all the questions the most obvious one (to me) is NOT being asked, specifically:

Nikon - why no 400mm f4 VR lens??

I may be naive, but it seems to me that a small(ish) 400mm f4 lens - WITH a VR on it - would solve SO MANY problems for SO MANY photographers (wildlife and sports shooters, plus others) AND it would sell like hotcakes. Hell, make it a pro-quality lens and charge $2500 to $3000 for it (or even a touch more) and I think it would STILL sell like hotcakes! Would it cannibalize the sales of either the 300mm f2.8 VRII or the 400mm f2.8 VRII? Don't think so - different animals! I'd buy it (in a flash) and wouldn't dream of giving up my 400mm f2.8 VRII (and I gave up my 300mm f2.8 VRII a while ago because the 200mm f2 VR plus 1.4x TC works SO darn well). And I know of tons of people (many with emails currently sitting in my inbin) who would buy it in a second but won't consider the 300mm and 400mm f2.8's because of their price points. Put it on a quality DX body (oh right, Nikon doesn't HAVE one of those right now!!) and you have a 600mm f4. Add a 1.4x TC to it and it becomes a 550mm f5.6 lens on a FX body. Seems so darned logical to me...

And...while I'm dreaming, here's another question that I have (tho' I HAVE heard this one a few times):

Nikon - why no VR on the 300mm f4??

I'm guessing this lens IS on Nikon's "needs updating" list and I'm further guessing that adding a VR on it WILL happen before much longer. If that happens I just might consider buying that one too...adding a VR to that lens would have a huge impact on its overall usability.

If anyone can give me a serious answer to these questions (especially the one on the 400mm f4 VR) feel free to drop me a line!

Cheers...

Brad

PS: to those of you sitting in my inbin - patience, I WILL get to your questions... ;-)

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

22 June 2011: Getting That Extra Reach - Confusion Reigns Supreme...

I always get a lot of questions about camera gear (mostly Nikon gear)via email, but it seems like the apparent delayed release of Nikon bodies because of the damage done by the earthquake and tsunami has added such a big "wild card" to the equation that there's a LOT of real confusion among serious enthusiasts regarding what they should add next to their stable of gear. In most cases the questions I'm getting are from wildlife photographers and I've noticed a common thread in their situation. In the last month I've received the following question from no less than SIX different photographers from all corners of the globe. Which tells me there's a LOT of folks out there with the same question (and close to the same configuration of gear - Nikon must have sold a LOT of D700's and 200-400mm zooms!). And it tells me that many would benefit from this blog entry. So...here's a composite of "the" question, followed by my answer:

THE QUESTION: "I own a D700 (FX body) and both a 70-200mm VRII zoom and the 200-400mm zoom. I mainly shoot wildlife but find this gear combination doesn't give me quite enough reach in many situations. Should I buy a a DX body (like a D300s or D7000) OR get a longer super-telephoto prime lens (400mm f2.8, 500mm f4, or 600mm f4)?"

THE HUGE CAVEAT: Every photographer is different (different "eye", different physical characteristics) and shoots under different conditions. It is IMPOSSIBLE for me to say exactly what will work best for anyone else - I can only say what works for ME. I often shoot in low light conditions and am in situations where I MUST hand-hold camera/lens combinations that I normally wouldn't (e.g., 600mm lenses from an inflatable boat). Thus low light performance is of particularly high importance for ME. While I'm only slightly larger than "average", experience has shown that I CAN hand-hold big lenses better (= much sharper final output) than many (though I have no doubt that others - likely ex-NFL players but possibly including ballerinas - could be even more proficient at hand-holding a 600mmm lens than I am). PLEASE keep these biases in mind when reading what I have to say below...

MY ANSWER:

1. The DX Dilemma: OK - I might as well tick off a bunch of folks (and Nikon) right away: there is no current DX camera that I find acceptable as a solid, professional-level WILDLIFE camera - period. What about the D300/D300s? I had problems with durability of my D300 (I went through 2 bodies before giving up on that camera). It is entirely possible this was just a coincidence and that many users have found this camera to be sufficiently durable for their needs. BUT, remember what I said above about me needing good low-light (high ISO) performance? I personally don't like the output of the D300/D300s above between ISO 640 and ISO 800 (depending on the scene). So...D300/D300s is a no-go for ME, but if you shoot a lot in bright light it may well be a viable solution for you.

The D7000? I have said it before and will say it again: This is a great $1000 camera. It has a really wide dynamic range and at 16 MP you end up with a LOT of pixels dedicated to your subject (as a wildlife camera). I have been very happy with my D7000 when paired with my 16-35mm f4 VRII lens, my 24-70mm f2.8 lens, and my 70-200mm f2.8 VRII lens. However, I have been much less pleased with how this camera pairs up with the really "big" glass - including the 200-400mm f4 VR, the 400mm f2.8 VRII, the 500mm f4 VRII, and the 600mm f4 VRII). The problem - autofocus. When using all of these lenses with the D7000 I have experienced two major problems with autofocus - the Dynamic Area mode works very poorly (if at all) and, simply put, the AF on distances at a moderate distance (above about 30 meters) simply isn't that accurate (and yes I have gone thru AF-tuning with the body). Bottom line? The D7000 is a great "all-around" camera with "normal" length lenses and a surprisingly good landscape camera (very high dynamic range and lots of pixels!). But the woes I have encountered with the AF system when using long telephotos makes it tough for me to effectively use as a wildlife camera and I honestly can't recommend it for this purpose.

In summary: I'm REALLY hoping that the NEXT top-of-the-line DX camera satisfies my needs as a wildlife photographer - the current ones don't. In my opinion this is a gaping hole in Nikon's lineup for the serious wildlife (or sports) shooter. Is the D400 coming? When is the D400 coming? Don't know - and don't know...we all just have to wait and see...sorry but that's the best than I can say!

2. The Super-telephoto Solution? So...if I can't whole-heartedly recommend the current crop of DX cameras for serious wildlife photography - what about getting a longer focal length lens (a super-telephoto lens) to get that extra reach? OK - good news here - Nikon has some great options in super-telephotos. But you may have to break the bank to get one (if you can find one!). I own both the 400mm f2.8 VRII lens and the 600mm f4 VRII lens and a few months back Nikon was generous enough to send me a 500mm f4 VRII lens to test. I do have a longer review of the 3 coming, but with the time constraints I currently face (hey, it's shooting season) that review isn't likely to see the light of day until late autumn. So here's a quick and dirty summary of what I think after owning 2 of 3 of these lenses AND shooting the 3 of them side-by-side for 10 days:

The 400mm f2.8 VRII: Stellar lens. Arguably Nikon's best telephoto lens optically. Bitingly sharp, exquisite out-of-focus zones. Super fast and accurate AF. Pairs very well with both the 1.4x TC-14EII and the 2x TC-20EIII teleconverters. Very big, very heavy.

The 500mm f4 VRII: Excellent lens. Not quite as sharp as the 400mm or 600mm and surprisingly the AF is not quite as efficient (especially in focus-tracking) as the other two, but still awfully good. Not as TC friendly as the 400mm f2.8 VRII. If you shot this lens alone (not beside the 400mm or 600mm) you'd be absolutely THRILLED with the image quality coming out of this lens. Significantly lighter and narrower than either 400mm f2.8 or 600mm and handles pretty much like the 200-400 (which CAN be a huge factor for many users).

The 600mm f4 VRII: Another stellar lens - 50% more reach than with the 400mm f2.8 and only an almost undetectable trade-off optically compared to the 400mm. Very, very good AF performance - actually quite amazing that a lens this big can focus so fast (on a D3s body). Smaller maximum aperture (cf. the 400mm) makes TC's somewhat less useful, especially in the case of the 2x TC-20EIII where AF performance is "iffy". Like with the 400mm f2.8 - very big and very heavy (but a little BIGGER and HEAVIER than the 400mm f2.8).

What do I recommend? Depends on the user. If image quality is of primary concern I'd say the 400mm f2.8. It's TC-friendliness turns this lens - when combined with both the 1.4x and 2.0x (the new one - the TC-20EIII) - into a really formidable option and is what I'd recommend for those driven by ultimate image quality (I actually PREFER the 400mm f2.8 VRII plus 1.4x TC OVER the 500mm f4). I think those fixated on image quality (I'm one of those!) should seriously consider the 400mm f2.8 plus TC's option. BUT (and this CAN be a huge "but" for some users) if portability and/or packing your lens around on your back is something you care about, the lighter weight and girth of the 500mm f4 may make it the lens for you.

There. No more confusion - right? And if you follow my advice (wait if you want to go DX, stand in line to get a 400mm f2.8 VRII or 500mm f4 VRII) you're likely to keep your money in your pocket for quite some time AND Nikon is likely to experience a reduction in cash flow. Probably not great for the economy...but that IS the way it I see the current "reach" conundrum...

13 June 2011: Spirit Bear/Great Bear Rainforest Photo Tours Sold Out...

Just a quick update to advise potential participants that all the spots on both my 2011 "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" Instructional Photo Tours are now gone. There ARE spots left remaining on most of my 2012 photo tours, so if you're interested check out the details on my Photo Tour page on this website...

At present there is ONE spot left for my August 2011 "Orcas, Humpbacks & More: Aquatic Mammals of the Central BC Coast" Instructional Photo Tour - for more info go HERE on my Photo Tour page, or download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 916 KB). If you still have questions (or would like to book this late spot), just contact me (at seminars@naturalart.ca).

Cheers...

Brad

07 June 2011: Back from the Garden of the Grizzlies...

I've returned from my back-to-back photo tours in the Khutzeymateen Inlet on the northern BC coast - AKA the "Garden of the Grizzlies." As always, the Khutzeymateen delivered in a MAJOR way! The participants on my first tour (the full Instructional Photo Tour) experienced 5 days of near perfect shooting conditions, which in the Khutzeymateen tends to mean "not too much sunlight"! Those on my second tour (the "Photo Op" tour) had to contend with more direct sunshine, but observed (and photographed) some very unusual behaviours, including watching an adult male grizzly attack a female grizzly with cubs (the upshot of which was the male fleeing while trying to tuck its tiny tail between its legs!!). The cool thing is that everyone left with some great memories AND great images (and the images from the two groups were VERY different).

With my own shooting I chose to do things a little differently this year - I decided to shoot primarily with a prime lens (my 400mm f2.8 VRII) and go after portraits and/or scenes featuring a lot of negative space. And, I spent a lot of time shooting 3 camera bodies head-to-head - the D7000, the D3s, and the D3x. I'll have a LOT more to say about the relative merits of these 3 cameras as tools to capture wildlife images in the near future (after I've had more time to process and analyze the images from the trip). But at this point I can say this: In the low light world of the Great Bear Rainforest, NOTHING comes close to touching the D3s as my camera of choice!

Images from the trip have begun to start appearing in my Gallery of Latest Additions, with many more to be added in the coming days and weeks. Check 'em out if you have a minute...

Oh...and if anyone is interested in joining me in the Khutzeymateen in 2012 - there ARE a few spots left for my full Instructional Photo Tour (sorry, the "Just the Photo Op, Please" tour is sold out). For details about the 2012 tour, just check out the Photo Tour page on this website...

Cheers...

Brad

20 May 2011: Off to the Khutzeymateen...

I'm just finishing organizing gear and getting ready to depart for my annual spring pilgrimage to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary in northern BC. I'll be spending 9 full days in the Khutzeymateen and will be shooting with my trusty D3s (as my primary camera) and both a D7000 and a D3x - should be good fun! I push off early on the morning of the 21st and will be gone until about June 5th - so expect no web updates during that time.

I have a full slate of clients joining me both for my Instructional Photo Tour (5 days) and my "Just the Photo Op, Please" tour (4 days) and all seem extremely excited and keen! Should be an amazing time! If YOU"RE interested in heading into the Valley of the Bears sometime in the future, check out my Khutzeymateen photo tour options on my Photo Tour page of this website.

"See you" in a couple of weeks...cheers...

Brad

16 May 2011: "Comparative" Field Test Report of Nikon 500mm f4 VRII Lens Coming...

Considering purchasing one of Nikon's premiere super-telephoto lenses and can't decide between the 400mm f2.8 VRII, the 500mm f4 VRII, and the 600mm f4 VRII? I own both the 400mm and the 600mm and back in April Nikon sent me the 500mm lens to take for a spin (or two). So I spent about 10 days doing head-to-head field tests of these three wonderful lenses. I have a detailed "Field Test Report" coming but given the approach of the busiest part of my annual cycle (field season is here - yippee!) it may be awhile (late summer, early fall?) before I can put the report together. In the interim, and partly due to the amount of email I have received asking about my thoughts on the 500 VRII, and at the risk of being misquoted or taken out of context, I have no reservations in sharing a few of my thoughts on how the three lenses stack up FOR ME. This material will likely be similar to the points I make in my "Executive Review" in the final report. So...

1. For Perspective: All 3 of these lenses are absolutely top-notch, stellar lenses. Anyone owning any ONE of them is likely to be tickled pink with their lens's performance. I AM splitting hairs here, and I did test only ONE copy of each lens (although I've long believed that Nikon's quality control on these professional these lenses is so high that between-copy variation on the super-telephotos is quite low).

2. Image Quality: All 3 of these lenses are very sharp and all 3 have good colour and contrast. And, of high importance for me - all had very high-quality, buttery smooth, out-of-focus zones (i.e., all had very good bokeh). I did find the 400mm f2.8 to be the sharpest of the lot, and the resolution (think detail seen in a distant subject when blown up huge on your computer) is unmatched. The 500mm and 600mm were very close in sharpness, but I'd give the 600mm a slight edge. When shot wide open (f4 for the 500mm and 600mm lenses; f2.8 for the 400mm) the 400mm lens definitely ranked first in having nothing short of exquisite bokeh.

3. Autofocus Performance: Differences in autofocus performance were only noticeable when I pushed the lenses to the max - in this case that means when acquiring and maintaining focus on a rapidly moving subject (my dogs running at me at full speed). Not surprisingly, the 400mm outperformed the 500mm and the 600mm by a noticeable margin - there were considerably more in-focus shots seen in bursts of images of my running dogs than with either of the other two lenses (even when I paired the 400mm with a 1.4x teleconverter (the TC-14EII). Surprisingly, the 600mm did slightly better than the 500mm in keeping a rapidly moving subject in focus.

4. Real World Usability: The 500mm is considerable lighter and somewhat shorter (with hood reversed) and much narrower than the 400mm and 600mm lenses. The weight of the 500mm lens is 8.6 lb (3.88 kg), while the 400mm weighs in at 10.6 lb (4.8 kg), and the 600mm at 11.1 lb (5.06 kg). In the field this 2 or so pound weight differential can make a HUGE difference - the 500mm feels and handles almost like the popular 200-400mm f4 zoom while the 400mm and 600mm feel similar to one another and WAY heavier! Moreover, you're going to find that the 500mm will fit into more cases and packs than the other two lenses. So...if you're going to hump these lenses around on your back, the lighter and trimmer 500mm is DEFINITELY the best choice of the 3. If you are prone to carrying your lenses any significant distance it would be a grave error to ignore this very real day-to-day concern.

5. A Final Curve in the Mix: The 400mm f2.8 VRII pairs up VERY well with the TC-14EII teleconverter, becoming a 550mm f4 lens. This is partly due to its wonderful optics, it's f2.8 maximum aperture (allowing full functioning of a pro camera's AF system) and possibly some "magical synergism" (optical matching?) between the lens and the TC. I knew this in advance so spent a lot of time comparing the 400mm PLUS TC with the 500mm lens shot native. Despite not being a huge fan of teleconverters for MOST of my shooting, I have to say that the 400mm plus TC combo slightly (as in VERY slightly) outperformed the 500mm in both image quality AND autofocus performance!

6. The One to Buy? After using these lenses side-by-side for 10 days and after looking at THOUSANDS of resulting images I would say this: If you're going to buy ONE super-telephoto to take into the field (including carrying it any distance at all), I think the 500 is the lens to go for. But, if you can put up with the weight and bulk of the other two lenses (and be honest with yourself here!!), I'd say the best thing for most users to buy would be the 400mm AND the TC-14EII teleconverter. And the 600? Well, I love mine - if you need/want a 600 you know it yourself and don't need me to tell you what to do!

There - that's the short-winded version of my Field Report. Long-winded version coming later...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

11 May 2011: Join Me for a Week of Shooting in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii)?

I always enjoy this time of year - the migrating birds are all coming back and starting into spring party mode (breeding season), the local mammals are either chasing each other around to breed or are giving birth, and the trees and other plants are coming to life. And, I'm in the midst of locking down all the details and logistics for my field trips - both those I'm running as workshops plus the ones where I'm just exploring an area and shooting for myself. On that note, I've just added a new adventure to my category of "shoot for myself" trips - one week in the spectacular Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) in early July. The Haida Gwaii is known by many as the "Galapagos of the North" and offers an amazing diversity of subject matter for virtually any type of nature photography - aquatic mammals (including whales, sea lions, seals, etc.), sea birds, black bears, tidal pools and tidal flats, unbelievable scenery, and lots, lots more.

I'm headed into the Haida Gwaii with Ocean Light II Adventures, who use a 71' sailboat (aptly named the Ocean Light II!) as their floating (and very mobile) basecamp. We'll spend the bulk of the week in Gwaii Haanas National Park in the southern half of Haida Gwaii. During that week we'll explore with the Ocean Light II, plus by kayak, and also hike trails on some of the islands.

As it turns out, we have a few berths left on the boat, so we can accommodate a few more intrepid adventurers and nature photographers. So...if you're interested in joining us and shooting with me for a week, here's a chance to do so! Here are the bare bone details:

• Dates: July 2 to 9, 2011
• Trip Cost: $3000 CAD plus applicable taxes (12% HST) from Sandspit, BC

For me the goal of this trip is to fully experience what Gwaii Haanas has to offer and to do LOT of shooting. This is NOT a formal workshop or Instructional Photo Tour (tho' it COULD become one in the future) - I am going on this trip to enjoy myself and do a lot of shooting. And it's always fun to have a few more enthusiastic photographers (of ANY level) along!

To get a flavour for - and additional information about - both the trip and the region, visit the Gwaii Haanas page on website of Ocean Light II Adventures. For any other info feel free to contact either Jenn at Ocean Light II Adventures (email: adventure@oceanlight2.bc.ca) or myself (photography@naturalart.ca).

Cheers...

Brad

2 May 2011: And ONE MORE Update to my D7000 Field Test...

Shortly after I discovered a minor "problem" with the AF system of the D7000 when used with some of Nikon's biggest telephoto lenses Nikon updated the firmware of the camera (to firmware v1.02). And, I instantly started receiving email asking me if the firware update "fixed" the problem. The short answer: No. For the long answer, see the 2 May 2011 update in "Field Tests: The Nikon D7000 - Very First Impressions...".

Since I "exposed" this minor limitation on the AF system of the D7000 my "D7000 First Impressions" field test has received crazy traffic. And, the problem has been REALLY exaggerated on some websites. AND, I've been misquoted on a BUNCH of websites. So...I think a major reality check is in order and feel compelled to say this: The AF issue I reported on MY D7000 would be quite an insignificant and un-noticed (and possibly non-existent) problem for MOST users of the 7000. It occurs only when using some quite exotic (and quite rare) lenses, AND it ONLY occurs in Dynamic-Area AF mode. If I didn't have the opportunity to shoot the D7000 right beside the top-of-the-line D3s the odds are I would not have even perceived this limitation in AF performance as a "problem". Perspective IS important - this is a $1000 camera being paired with huge lenses that approach 5 figures in price...that's quite a mismatch! I call things the way I see them and am very willing to share everything I know and learn about my chosen gear. Despite what I recently discovered about the AF system of the D7000, I still think it's a GREAT camera for the price. 'Nuff said.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

20 April 2011: Update to D7000 Field Test...

My intentions to use my D7000 to photograph eagles in flight during spring migration went sideways when I discovered some limitations of the camera's AF system when paired with Nikon's premium super-telephoto lenses. See the update in "Field Tests: The Nikon D7000 - Very First Impressions..." for all the details. Darn it all - I was hoping the $1000 D7000 would do everything my $5000 D3s would do! ;-)

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

19 April 2011: Update - 2011 Photo Tours...

I've received a few emails asking me about the status of my 2011 Photo Tours (spaces remaining, etc.), so here's an updated summary:

1. Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen:

• Instructional Photo Tour (23 to 30 May): Sold out.
• "Just the Photo Op" Photo Tour (29 May to 3 June): Sold out.

NOTE: In 2012 I will again be offering a full Instructional Photo Tour and a "Just the Photo Op" Tour in the Khutzeymateen. The "Just the Photo Op" Tour is already sold out, but a few spaces remain in the full Instructional Photo Tour. For additional information about the Instructional Photo Tour (including reserving your spot), just contact me (at seminars@naturalart.ca) or go HERE on my Photo Tour page.

2. Orcas, Humpbacks & More: Aquatic Mammals of the Central BC Coast.

• Instructional Photo Tour (17 to 26 August, 2011): ONE spot remaining. 3 options for additional info: Contact me (at seminars@naturalart.ca), go HERE on my Photo Tour page, or download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 916 KB).

3. Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest:

• Instructional Photo Tour #1 (26 September to 5 October): TWO spots remaining. 3 options for additional info: Contact me (at seminars@naturalart.ca), go HERE on my Photo Tour page, or download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 1.1 MB).
• Instructional Photo Tour #2 (4 to 13 October): Sold out.

Cheers...

Brad

12 April 2011: Update to my Nikon TC-20EIII (2x) Teleconverter Field Test...

Nikon Canada was kind enough to loan me a 500mm f4 VR for field testing for a few weeks (thank you Nikon Canada!). I spent a LOT of hours in the field tesing the lens, especially pitting it against my beloved 400mm f2.8 VR and against my 600mm f4 VR. Along the way I also tested the lens performance when combined with both the 1.4x (TC-14EII) and the newer 2x (TC-20EIII) teleconverters. A full review of the lens will be coming soon, but in the interim I have added the results of the 500mm f4 VR paired with the TC-20EIII to my detailed TC-20EIII Field Test.

The bottom line for the 500mm f4 VR used with the TC-20EIII? On my admittedly subjective "Usability Rating" index it scores badly - I rate it as "Very Low to Low" (sorry Nikon, but I have to tell it like it is). Read the entire field test of the TC-20EIII here, or go directly to my comments on the 500mm f4 VR pairing with the TC-20EII right here...

Stay tuned for my more complete comparative review of the 500mm f4 VR in the near future (and you'll find I DO have many positive things to say about the lens there, it just doesn't happen to be as teleconverter friendly as the 400mm f2.8 VR is!).

Cheers...

Brad

4 April 2011: ANOTHER Unexpected Opening: This Spring's Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Photo Tour

11 April Update: This spot has now sold - so the 2011 Khutzeymateen Photo Tours are back to being sold out. There are 4 (of a total of 12) spots remaining for the 2012 Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen photo tours - see my Photo Tour page if you're interested in one of these trips.

This year is definitely going to go down as "the year of last-minute cancellations" (and it's probably a reflection of the less than stellar state of the world economy). Anyway...just this morning I received word that unexpected events have forced one of my clients that was coming on this spring's popular Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour to cancel his participation. So...a single spot is now open for this spring's trip. This is my most popular photo tour and always sells out well in advance (one of my two trips into the Khutzeymateen for 2012 is already sold out!). Here are a few key details:

DATE: May 23 to May 30, 2011
PRICE: $4250 CAD plus applicable taxes (all inclusive once in Prince Rupert, BC)
BAREBONES ITINERARY: One full day of photo instruction in Prince Rupert followed by 5 full days spent with the Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen.

Need more information? Just download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 476 KB) or contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca to claim your spot!

If you're into a world class photo experience, you absolutely don't want to miss this one. First come, first served!

Cheers...

Brad

29 March 2011: The DoF Thing Continues...

The depth-of-field (or DoF) discussion that began in my Gallery of Latest Images last week seems to be continuing this week (funny how the "photo blog" that passes as my Gallery of Latest Additions seems to have a life of it's own - I never know what I'm about to do with that until I sit down in front of the computer!). Anyway...

• Go here: My Estuary, My Water, and MY Reflection for a brief discussion on optimizing (rather than maximizing) your DoF and...
• go here: At Peace in the Great Bear Rainforest for a discussion on using a thin DoF in "animalscape" shots.

In both cases just click on the "In the Field" link under the image to see the discussion.

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

23 March 2011: Got a DoF Thing Happening...

Anyone who has spent time with me in the field, or attended any of my seminars/photo tours, knows that I'm quite anal about the importance of controlling my depth-of-field (or DoF). Wildlife photographers often have very little control over many of the variables that influence the images they capture, but depth-of-field is ONE thing we have at least SOME control over. DoF - and how it can be controlled and used - has been the main focus of my recent ramblings (and freshly posted images), in my Gallery of Latest Additions. So...if you're curious about my thoughts on DoF, check these images out:

• Start here: Red Squirrel - Just How MUCH DoF??; (click on the "In the Field" tab below the image to see my comments), and then...
• go here: Clark's Nutcracker - The Eye!; (and again just click on the "In the Field" tab below the image for the commentary.

Cheers...

Brad

14 March 2011: Nikon 400mm f2.8 VRII with the 2x TC-20EIII Teleconverter

For some reason, I've been receiving an inordinately large amount of email asking me how well Nikon's 400mm f2.8 VRII super-telephoto lens pairs up with the now not-so-new 2x TC-20EIII teleconverter. This pairing produces an 800mm f5.6 lens with VR capabilities. Add this combination to a DX body, and you end up with the functional equivalent of a whopping 1200mm lens.

My field test of the TC-20EIII contains information on this pairing (the full field test is here, or go directly to the comments on the TC-20EIII paired with the 400mm here), but most of the images in that review were shot close to wide open and only on an FX body. Because MANY of the folks interested in this lens/TC combination would be shooting with a DX body, this past weekend I decided to shoot some new images with the 400mm f2.8 VRII and TC-20EIII on a D7000. Because image sharpness is better evaluated with hi-res images (especially when viewed at 100%), I left the images in quite hi-res states, including one full resolution image. And, as you can see if you check out the images, I didn't hesitatet to stop down to "squeeze" quality out of the images. If you do view the images, note that there ARE some depth-of-field "issues" - but that's hardly surprising when you photograph a small subject at about 9 meters (just under 30') with a 1200mm lens! And, of course, I'd best add the diet-commercial caveat: individual results may vary! ;-)

Here's the new images:

Red Squirrel - Classic Pose; Half res (2464x1632 pix; 1.6 MB)
Red Squirrel - Vertical; Half res (2464x1632 pix; 1.2 MB)
• Very well-mannered Red Squirrel: Half res (2464x1632 pix; 1.2 MB) and Full res (4928x3264 pix; 4.9 MB)

Cheers...

Brad

8 March 2011: Photographer Jailed for Baiting Wildlife...

It's easy to make an ethical argument against baiting wildlife with food for the purpose of photography - more often not the practice either directly harms the subject or, if there's no direct harm, the resulting association the animal makes between humans and food often leads to its demise (thus the well-known - and true - phrase: "A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear"). But even if one is exceptionally careful and finds a way to bait an animal without causing real or potential harm for it, here's another good reason for NOT baiting wildlife for the purpose of photography:

Photographer Jailed for Baiting Wildlife.

Sigh. Some people just never learn. Duh...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

3 March 2011: Major Website Update: "Stuff I Use" Sections

I just finished a major update to the what was formerly known as the "Camera Gear" sections of this website (which was woefully outdated!). The section is now more accurately named "Stuff I Use". Here's a quick & dirty roadmap to what's where:

Stuff I Use - Part I: Cameras
Stuff I Use - Part II: Lenses & Teleconverters
Stuff I Use - Part III: Everything Else I Drag Into the Field

Check the changes out...cheers...

Brad

1 March 2011: Two Unexpected Openings: This Spring's Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Photo Tour

3 March 2010 UPDATE: Both spots for this trip have been snapped up...so...I guess it's "ya snooze, ya looze! ;-)

Last night the unexpected happened - unforeseen circumstances forced two of my clients to cancel on my popular Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour scheduled for this spring. So...this means two spots are now available for this spring's trip. This is my most popular photo tour and always sells out well in advance (one of my two trips into the Khutzeymateen for 2012 is already sold out!). Here are a few key details:

DATE: May 23 to May 30, 2011
PRICE: $4250 CAD plus applicable taxes (all inclusive once in Prince Rupert, BC)
BAREBONES ITINERARY: One full day of photo instruction in Prince Rupert followed by 5 full days spent with the Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen.

Need more information? Just download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 476 KB) or contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca to claim your spot!

If you're into a world class photo experience, you don't want to miss this one. First come, first served!

Cheers...

Brad

17 February 2011: The Brave New World & Pitching Away Pixels

Our brave new digital/online world has changed the way we receive news, get much of our entertainment, and to varying degrees, how we run our lives. In recent weeks I've received a few emails, and been in a few discussions, where it's become apparent to me that living in the digital age has permeated the "mindset" of many new photographers, especially young ones. Some of the consequences of this mindset shift are interesting. Here's two questions I've come across recently that will help illustrate what I mean:

1. Don't images need to be sharp at 100%? This question - and the related question of "Should I trash images if they're not sharp at 100%?" were posted on one of the forums found on the website of the Nature Photographer's Network by someone relatively new to nature photography. And, for clarification, the term "100%" as used here means that the image is being viewed at a magnification where one image pixel corresponds to one pixel on your computer monitor (also known as 1:1). There's absolutely nothing wrong with the question - it's one that many novices have. But what surprised me were some of the ANSWERS that photographers (of variable experience) started posting - such as "No...they need not be sharp because an image at 100% will almost never look good because you are viewing it so close you can see the pixels" and "No, because you never use all the pixels anyway."

It soon dawned on me that these answers were coming from photographers whose images are most commonly being used and/or viewed online (on websites or being sent by email with the expectation that they'd viewed only on a computer monitor, etc.). To experienced (and often older) photographers who make make large prints or who regularly shoot images for magazines or books, this "image will only be viewed online anyway" perspective may seem quite narrow. But, to a growing number of younger photographers, online viewing IS the primary use of their photographs.

But, back to the "sharp at 100%?" questions: There's not a single correct answer to these questions - whether or not YOUR images should be sharp at 100% will be determined by the answer to this question:

Are you going to use (or need) every pixel in the image in your chosen method of displaying it? If the answer to this question is "yes", then you're right in throwing out images that aren't sharp at 100%. BUT (and this is a HUGE but), these days VERY FEW images are being used in a way where all pixels (and sharpness at 100%) are needed. Here's what I mean...

A. Images destined for the web (or distribution via email): Take a Nikon D7000 - this 16.2 MP camera produces images with a little over 4900 pixels on the long axis. Try to find a computer monitor ANYWHERE that has a width of 4900 pixels - they don't exist (or are EXCEPTIONALLY rare and otherwordly expensive). The BIGGEST images used on this website are 1200 pixels. Which isn't too far off 25% of the pixels found on that D7000 camera. Thus, if you're using a full-frame image on this website it has to be downsampled (reduced in resolution) a LOT to get it down to 1200 pixels. AND while the act of downsampling an image can reduce the amount of detail in it, in general it increases an image's apparent sharpness. So...if the image can look sharp on your computer monitor at about 25% magnification, then it can look OK on this website. SO, for virtually any form of online display use of a non-cropped image, you DON'T need to begin with an image that is tack sharp at 100%.

B. Images for Print Use: Most inkjet printers will produce good results at a resolution of about 150 dpi or higher. If we take that same D7000 camera that has about 4900 pixels on the long axis, then that means if you use ALL pixels you could produce a print about 33" wide (4900 divided by 150 = 32.67"). To have that print tack sharp at 33", the original file WILL have to be quite sharp when viewed at 100%. BUT, how often are you printing at this size? If you're printing at HALF that size, well, you can downsample your image by 50% (which will be equivalent to viewing it at 50% on your monitor), and the act of downsampling will increase the apparent sharpness (i.e., it needn't look tack sharp at 100%). MOST amateurs aren't printing images 27" wide on a regular basis, so normally they don't need images that are tack sharp at 100%.

BUT...If you have much higher aspirations than 16" wide inkjet prints - think National Geographic or Nature's Best Magazine - these images are printed using much higher resolutions (often up to 450 dpi). To have your image printed relatively large (approaching full page) at these resolutions, you're likely to be using ALL or most of the pixels in your image. Which means it better be darned sharp when viewed at 100%.

C. Cropped Images: If you're going to crop your images a LOT (crop, NOT downsample them), then you very well might have to start with tack sharp images (at 100%). Say I'm going to show an image on this website and only want to display the "regular" size version (750 pixels on long axis). If I'm using that D7000 with 4900 pixels on the long axis, you could theoretically crop off 4150 pixels (4900 - 750 = 4150 pixels) and STILL have a tack sharp shot shown on this website, BUT ONLY IF THAT IMAGE WAS SHARP AT 100%. Conversely, if you're not cropping this much (and most folks don't crop that much) you're likely to be downsampling (reducing the resolution of) your image for most uses and, again, this means your image might not need to be tack sharp when viewed at 100%.

So...YOUR answer to the question of "sharp at 100%?" will be totally dependent on how YOU are using your images. Me? Well, if MY images aren't tack sharp at 100%, I almost always delete them. If I didn't I end up with tens of thousands of images on my hard-drive which would have very, very limited use (or commercial value). About my only exception to this is if the subject is SO unique (think Sasquatch in a desert or a cougar/grizzly hybrid) that the image would have value regardless of image quality.

2. Does one really benefit from pro glass on a small sensor camera (e.g., Nikon D300) for images that are going to be posted on the web anyway? I received this question via email about a week ago. It's another good question and obviously related to the question above.

My answer? Well...If you limit the discussion of lens and optical quality to image sharpness, it would be hard to argue for the expense of buying pro glass for images primarily used for web presentation. However, pro lenses also tend to have less image softening on the edges, less chromatic aberration, less vignetting, better colour saturation and contrast, and...most importantly...much better bokeh (smoothness of out-of-focus zones) than "consumer" lenses. Some of these variables ((like bokeh) don't differ between DX and FX cameras AND aren't influenced or improved when you downsample an image for web use. So...it really comes down to what is "acceptable image quality" to the individual shooter - and this varies TREMENDOUSLY between shooters. So...again no single correct answer to this question.

Me? Personally I have tried repeatedly to use cheaper "non-pro" lenses (like Nikon's handy 18-200mm super-zoom) and I simply could not live with the loss of image quality. BUT, I'm anal! And I do I know of MANY shooters who are absolutely fine with shooting consumer glass (and for who buying pro glass would be a complete waste).

Is the "Brave New" world of electronic display of images "dumbing down" our appreciation of images and image quality (and, at the same time, reducing the need for quality hi-res digital cameras)? I suppose it's possible - there's those out there who are happy with images shot on an iPhone (and have recently helped overthrow governments with such images). So...who the heck am I to say!!

Rant over...cheers...

Brad

14 February 2011: HUH? So...Is it Lightroom or Capture One Pro??

Based on the email I've been receiving lately, it would appear that between this blog and the contextual information associated with the images in my Gallery of Latest Additions, I've confused a lot of folks about what I'm using to convert my raw Nikon (.nef) image files. So, in an effort to clear up the confusion, and to bring a woefully outdated section of this website into the current decade, I've just completed a major re-vamp of my Digital Tools page. And in case anyone out there isn't totally confused, I decided to rename the page - it's now known as my Digital Darkroom page! Here's an explicit roadmap to the changes:

1. Digital Darkroom: My Workflow - Hardware & Software. Go to this page for a discussion of my raw workflow and the software applications I use.

2. Digital Darkroom: My Workflow - Computer Hardware. Go to this page for a discussion of the computer hardware I use.

Still confused about the software I'm using? Sigh. Just email me at feedback@naturalart.ca!

Cheers...

Brad

1 February 2011: F-Stop Tilopa BC Photo Backpack...VERY Interesting...

As almost any serious nature photographer knows, there's no such thing as the perfect camera backpack for all uses or users. There are simply too many possible gear combinations that one COULD need for a given excursion, and too many type of uses (short hike vs. long hike, air travel vs. car trip, etc.) to prevent anyone from designing or producing a camera backpack that could meet all possible needs/users. The end result: many serious outdoor photographers end up owning a number of different "use-specific" backpacks. If I include "sling style" packs, I have a total of 7 camera packs in my office (and I use 6 of them quite regularly).

So...the last thing I'd EVER need would be yet ANOTHER camera backpack - right? Well, that's what I thought - but now I have yet ONE more en route to me (coming any day!), and I have to say I'm real excited about it! The pack? F-Stop's new Tilopa BC photo backpack (BC stands for Backcountry). I won't endorse or recommend a product until I try it, but after looking closely at this pack I'm thinking I may have found a real favourite here. Unlike most photo backpacks, which are often little more than padded cordura "boxes" with hip and shoulder straps attached, the Tilopa BC is the closest thing I've seen to a "real" backpack in shape and function. And, the folks at F-Stop have done one of those "hey, why didn't someone think of this before?" things - instead of having a large main compartment with moveable, padded dividers, they've got interchangeable internal "guts" that come in a number of sizes. They call these "guts" Internal Camera Units (or ICU's). Going for a long hike where you want to only bring a little camera gear? Use the size small ICU and leave more room in your pack for non-camera gear. Want to carry a LOT of camera gear a short distance and you need very little non-camera gear - use the size large ICU. You get the picture? No? Maybe you don't and seeing a picture or two (or 60) would help? Go here for more looks at this pack than you could ever imagine!

Anyway - my Tilopa BC pack will be here in a week or less. Stay tuned for my honest first impressions of it shortly thereafter, followed by a much more detailed Field Test a month or two after that...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

1 February 2011: Status Update - 2011 and 2012 Photo Tours

A quick update regarding available slots left in my 2011 and 2012 Photo Tours (see my Photo Tour page for more information about each of these trips):

A. 2011 Photo Tours:

1. Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen: Both the full Instructional Photo Tour and the "Just the Photo Op, Please" tours are sold out.

2. Orcas, Humpbacks, & More: Aquatic Mammals of the Central Pacific Coast: One spot remaining. Go here for more info, or download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 916 KB).

3. Spirit Bears & The Great Bear Rainforest: Total of four (of 12) spots remaining. Go here for more info, or download THIS BROCHURE (PDF: 1.1 MB).

B. 2012 Photo Tours:

1. Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen: Instructional Photo Tour - 4 (of 6) spots remain (go here for more info). The "Just the Photo Op, Please" tour - Sold out.

2. Orcas, Humpbacks, & More: Aquatic Mammals of the Central Pacific Coast: Six spots remaining. Go here for more info.

3. Spirit Bears & The Great Bear Rainforest: Instructional Photo Tour - 5 (of 6) spots remain. The "Just the Photo Op, Please" tour - 5 (of 6) spots remain. Go here for more info for both of these trips.

Feel free to contact me via email if you're interested in any of these trips.

Cheers...

Brad

17 January 2011: Petition to Keep Oil Tankers Out of the Great Bear Rainforest

One of my favourite places on Planet Earth (and the area in which many of my photo tours take place) is a region known as the Great Bear Rainforest. It's located on the northern coast of British Columbia (Canada) and is the largest temperate rainforest left on earth (and the ONLY one with all members of its historic ecosystem still present). Not only is this pristine wilderness home to grizzlies, wolves, rare Spirit Bears, massive old growth trees, orcas, humpback whales and countless other species of plants and animals, but it stores the same amount of carbon dioxide annually produced by 28 million vehicles. To call the Great Bear Rainforest absolutely invaluable (on SO many levels) may be the biggest understatement ever made!

VERY long story short: Enbridge - the world's largest pipeline company - is pushing to build a pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands across northern BC to the coastal town of Kitimat where this crude oil will be loaded onto super-tankers which will navigate through the dangerous waters of the Great Bear Rainforest (the same waters that have claimed countless vessels, including the Queen of the North ferry back in March of 2006). With 250 oil tankers picking their way through the narrow channels of the Great Bear Rainforest each year, there is no doubt there will be oil spills - the only real questions about the inevitable oil spills are "when?", "where?", and "how bad?".

You'd think after the recent Gulf of Mexico disaster that maybe we'd have learned something??

On the positive side, neither the oil pipeline nor the tanker traffic are a "done deal" yet. And, you can influence the decision on whether or not the inevitable disaster will be permitted to occur. So...

Please sign the petiition "Stop Oil Tankers in Canada's Great Bear Rainforest":

www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Stop-oil-tankers-in-the-Great-Bear-Rainforest

It will take just 2 minutes of your time. Do the right thing - stand up and have your voice counted.

Thanks...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

13 January 2011: Wildlife Photography: Make A Public Ethics Declaration

Like so many human endeavors, wildlife photography has the potential to do great good OR great harm, all depending on how it is practised. As wildlife photographers it makes sense on so many levels to ensure we do more good than harm. But just how do we ensure that's the case?

A popular UK website (wildphotos.org.uk) has taken it upon itself to produce a simple 4-point ethics declaration that can help guide our actions in ensuring we keep wildlife photography on the positive side of the ledger for its subjects. Here is their simple yet inclusive list of ethical principles:

1. We will always put the welfare of our subjects and care of the environment above any photographic aims.

2. We will never use live bait or any bait that will adversely affect the behaviour of an animal.

3. We will always be honest in declaring the circumstances under which a photograph has been taken.

4. We will never use digital manipulation to misrepresent a subject or mislead the viewer.

If you support these simple guidelines, you can publicly declare this support on the WildPhotos website right here: WildPhotos Ethic Declaration.

This is one of those "Just Do It" things. Takes 2 minutes of your time. Please sign up. I did. And please practise what you preach!

Cheers...

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca

9 January 2011: 2012 Photo Tours: Available Slots Disappearing...

As expected, the limited number of spots for my 2012 Photo Tours are beginning to disappear, and in some cases, really fast. My 2012 Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen "Just the Photo Op, Please" tour is already sold out and I'm down to 4 spots for my "traditional" Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour. I've taken a number of enquiries (and a few bookings) for my 2012 "Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest" Photo Tours (both the full instructional photo tour and the "photo op" tour).

Bottom line: If you're considering joining one of my photo tours in 2012 it would probably be a good idea to contact me soon. A detailed listing of all tours can be found on my Photo Tour page. Contact me at seminars@naturalart.ca for more information (or, of course, to reserve your spot!).

Cheers...

Brad

3 January 2011: HNY...and 2012 Photo Tour Information Now Available!

Hey all - Happy New Year! May Photeus provide you with great light and wonderful subject matter in the coming year!

I've just posted details of my 2012 photo tour offerings on my Photo Tour page of this website. My small, intimate photo tours are extremely popular and historically have sold out very fast - often more than a year in advance of the tour. Here's some highlights of what I'm offering in 2012 (more tours may be added at a later date):

1. Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen: As in 2011 I'll be offering both a full 6-day Instructional Photo Tour and a 4-day "Just the Photo Op" style Photo Tour in 2012. My Khutzeymateen trips always sell out exceptionally fast (just watch!), so if you're interested in being one of under 200 people (and far, far fewer photographers) permitted into this amazing world in 2012, you'd best contact me pronto! More info here on my Photo Tour page...

2. Orcas, Humpbacks & More - Aquatic Mammals of the Central Pacific Coast: This Instructional Photo Tour was first offered in 2011 and I'm repeating it for 2012. This tour visits the nutrient-rich Johnstone Strait Region of northern Vancouver Island and features an amazing concentration of Orcas and other marine mammals. Stunning wildlife with stunning backdrops! What more can you ask for? More info here on my Photo Tour page...

3. Spirit Bears and the Great Bear Rainforest: I've offered this tour for several years now and it's always amazing and always different! In 2012 I'll be offering my "standard" Instructional Photo Tour plus, for the first time, a slightly shorter "Just the Photo Op" style tour. During both tours you'll explore the Great Bear Rainforest on the northern BC coast in search of Spirit Bears, Grizzly Bears and many species of aquatic mammals. These trips are true trips of exploration and provide fantastic photo ops. A "once-in-a-lifetime" experience (really!). More info here on my Photo Tour page...

Looking for a great photo tour for THIS year?? I still have a few spots left for selected trips in the late summer and autumn of 2011. Details on that same Photo Tour page!

Cheers...and once again - have a great 2011 (I'm planning on it!!).

Brad

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca



Blog Archive - not so fresh but still very readable and relevant...

2013 - The Whole Shebang
2012 - Almost The Whole Shebang
2011 - The Whole Shebang
2009 - October to December2009 - July to September2009 - April to June
2009 - January to March 2008 - October to December 2008 - July to September
2008 - April to June 2008 - January to March 2007 - October to December
2007 - July to September 2007 - April to June 2007 - January to March