Lumenzia for Wildlife

The Lumenzia Photoshop extension

Yet more on the usefulness of the Lumenzia Photoshop extension, the short cut to great looking images of all types and styles.

I had an email from client and blog follower David Sparks after my last post about this useful mighty Photoshop tool.

He sent these before and after rail shots:

20141002  D4S6303 900x599 Lumenzia for Wildlife

Before adding Lumenzia. Click for larger view.

20141002  D4S6303 Edit 900x599 Lumenzia for Wildlife

After adding Lumenzia. Click for larger view.

difference 900x599 Lumenzia for Wildlife

Comparison overlay – see how the left side of the image has that extra presence – and that’s just with the click of a couple of buttons in the Lumenzia GUI. Click to view larger.

Here is what David had to say in his email:

Andy, here is a before and after.  Processing was much, much faster than usual, using Lumenzia.

Thanks for bringing it to my attention….I’m working my way through your Image Processing in LR4 & Photoshop + LR5 bundle and enjoying it very much.

And as my friend and blog follower Frank Etchells put it:

Excellent recommendation this Andy. Bought it first time from your previous posting… at just over £27 it’s marvellous icon smile Lumenzia for Wildlife

What gets me puzzled is the fact that these Lumenzia posts have had over 500 separate page views in the last few days but less then 3% of you have bought it – WTF are you guys waiting for…


Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Donations would help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.


Colour Editing in Photoshop

Colour Editing in Photoshop using the Channel Mixer

I’ve just uploaded 3 video lessons on THE BEST way to do selective colour changes in Photoshop using the Channel Mixer.

This is a far better and more accurate way to change the colour of something whilst maintaining all its original tonality, and it is vastly better than the commonly touted Hue saturation method.

HueSat doesn’t do the job with 100% fidelity, and you are very limited in the colour choice.

Using the Channel Mixer method you can effectively make every single colour in the Pantone colour spectrum simply by using Pantone/RGB conversion figures.

If you watch the videos on YouTube it may take a minute for the HD play option to activate.

Part 1 is here:

Part 2 here:

Part 3 here:

The demo file can be downloaded on the link below:

There are many instances where you might want or need to change the colour of an object in your image, and this is exactly what the Channel Mixer exists for; not for creating crappy black and white conversions as some crackpots think.

Give it a try for yourself by downloading the file and following along with the videos – the file has the path built into it, put these paths are simple to make with then pen tool.

Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Donations would help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.


Lumenzia – Not Just for Landscapes

Luminosity Masking is NOT just for landscape photographs – far from it.

But most folk miss the point of luminosity masking because they think it’s difficult and tedious.

The point, as I always see it, is that luminosity masking allows you to make dramatic but subtle changes and enhancements to your image with what are actually VERY fast and crude “adjustments”.

This in reality means that luminosity masking is FAST – and way faster than trying to do “localised” adjustments.  But the creation of the masks and choosing which one to use is what crippled the “ease factor” for most.

But with this new Lumenzia extension is so snappy and quick at showing you the different masks that, if you know what area of the image you want to adjust, the whole process takes SECONDS.

Let’s look at a White-tailed Eagle taken just 15 days ago:

Straight off the 1Dx it looks like this:

raw 1 of 1 900x600 Lumenzia   Not Just for Landscapes

RAW unprocessed .CR2 file (CLICK to view in new window)

Inside the Develop Module of Lightroom 5 it looks like:

camera 900x518 Lumenzia   Not Just for Landscapes

RAW unprocessed – (CLICK to view in new window)

A few tweaks later and it looks like:

Lr5adjust 900x518 Lumenzia   Not Just for Landscapes

Tweaks are what you can see in the Basics Panel + CamCal set to Neutral, and Chroma Noise removal in the Lens Corrections Panel is turned ON – (CLICK to view in new window)

Sending THIS adjusted image to Photoshop:

ps1 900x563 Lumenzia   Not Just for Landscapes

(CLICK to view in new window)

All I want to do is give a “lift” to the darker tones in the bird; under the wings, and around the side of head, legs and tail.

Using a BRUSH to do the job is all fine ‘n dandy BUT, you would be creating a localised adjustment that’s all-encompassing from a tonal perspective; all tones that fell under the brush get adjusted by the same amount.

A luminosity mask, or indeed ANY pixel-based mask is exactly what it says it is – a mask full of pixels. And those pixels are DERIVED from the real pixels in your image.  But the real beauty is that those pixels will be anywhere from 1% to 100% selected, or not selected at all.

Where they are 100% selected they are BLACK, and any adjustment you make BEHIND that mask will NOT be visible.

Pixels that are NOT selected will be WHITE, and your adjustment will show fully.

But where the pixels are between 1% and 99% selected they will appear as 1% GREY to 99% grey and so will show or hide variation of said adjustment by the same amounts…got it?

The Lumenzia D4 mask looks like it’ll do the job I want:

ps2 900x563 Lumenzia   Not Just for Landscapes

Lumenzia D4 mask (CLICK to view in new window)

Click the image to view larger – look at the subtle selections under those wings – try making that selection any other way in under 2 seconds – you’ve got no chance!

The “lift” I want to make in those WHITER areas of the mask is best done with a Curves Adjustment layer:

ps3 900x563 Lumenzia   Not Just for Landscapes

Select “Curve” in the Lumenzia GUI – (CLICK to view in new window)

So hit the Curve button and voilà:

ps4 900x563 Lumenzia   Not Just for Landscapes

The Lumenzia D4 mask is now applied to Curves Adjustment Layer – (CLICK to view in new window)

You can see in the image above that I’ve made a very rough upwards deflection of the curve to obtain an effective but subtle improvement to those under-wing areas etc. that I was looking to adjust.

The total time frame from opening the image in Photoshop to now is about 20 seconds!  Less time than the Lightroom 5 adjustments took…

And to illustrate the power of that Lumenzia D4 Luminosity mask, and the crudity of the adjustment I made, here’s the image WITHOUT THE MASK:

ps5 900x563 Lumenzia   Not Just for Landscapes

The effect of the luminosity mask is best illustrated by “hiding” it – bloody hell, turn it back on ! – (CLICK to view in new window).

And at full resolution you can see the subtleties of the adjustment on the side of the head:

ll lum 900x563 Lumenzia   Not Just for Landscapes

With Lumenzia (left) and just the Lightroom 5 processing (right) – (CLICK to view in new window).

If you want to get the best from your images AND you don’t want to spend hours trying to do so, then Lumenzia will seriously help you.

Clicking this link HERE to buy Lumenzia doesn’t mean it costs you any more than if you buy it direct from the developer.  But it does mean that I get a small remuneration from the developer as a commission which in turn supports my blog.  Buying Lumenzia is a total no-brainer so please help support this blog by buying it via these links – many thanks folks.

Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Donations would help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.


Lumenzia for Easy Luminosity Masking

Lumenzia for Easy Luminosity Masking..

I’m a really BIG fan of Luminosity Masking, and the ease by which you can use them to create really powerful adjustments to your image inside Photoshop – adjustments that are IMPOSSIBLE to make in Lightroom.

For a while now I’ve been selling a luminosity mask action set for Photoshop, and up until a week ago I had plans to upgrade said action set to produce even more custom masks.

That is until a good friend of mine, Mr. Omar Jabr, asked me if I’d come across this new product, LUMENZIA, that made the production and deployment of luminosity masks and their derivatives EVEN EASIER.

intro 900x624 Lumenzia for Easy Luminosity Masking

An original RAW file open in Lightroom (right) together with the final image (left) – 99% of the “heavy lifting” being done in Photoshop using the Lumenzia Extension and it’s luminosity masking functions.

In all honesty I am so excited about this amazing software extension that I’ve abandoned all plans to further develop my own action set for Photoshop – to do so would be a truly pointless exercise.

There is so much more to Lumenzia than the production of the standard 4 or 5 Darks,Lights and Midtone luminosity masks that mine and other available action sets produce.

To get an idea of just how powerful Lumenzia is just click HERE to visit the applications home page – and just buy it while you are there; purchase is a “no brainer” and one of those digital imaging JDI’s (just do it)!

The inclusion of a luminosity masking function based on the Zone System gives you instant recourse to masks based on Ansel Adams 11 zone system of scene brightness – a classic approach to the quantification of subject brightness range created by arguably the greatest landscape photographer the world has ever known – IMHO of course.

AAZone Lumenzia for Easy Luminosity Masking

In order to instal Lumenzia you will need to install the correct Photoshop Extension Manager for which ever version of Photoshop you are running – CS6, CC, or CC2014 (it is not intended to be installed on CS5 or lower).

1. Buy Lumenzia

2. Follow the download link, and download the .Zip folder.

3. Extract the folder contents.

4. Locate the “com.lumenzia.zxp” file in the extracted contents, right click and choose Open with: Adobe Extension Manager v.xx

You should see:

a Lumenzia for Easy Luminosity Masking

Click Install, and you should see:

b Lumenzia for Easy Luminosity Masking

If you are running Mac OS 10.10x Yosemite you may have a slight problem with the CC2014 Extension Manager not being able to find the application pathway to Ps CC2014.  If you get a message from the Extension Manager waffling on about needing Photoshop v11 or higher don’t stress, the fix is a little brutal but really simple:

Go Applications>Utilities>Adobe Installers and UNINSTALL (that’s right!) BOTH Photoshop CC2014 and Extension Manager CC2014, then log back in to your CC account, go to the Apps tab and re-install Photoshop CC2014 AND Extension Manager CC2014 sequentially – that will cure the problem and only take about 5 or 6 minutes.

Open a RAW file in CameraRAW, or better still Lightroom. Get your camera calibration and contrast under control as I’ve banged on about so many times before, negate any chromatic aberration and do a bit of effective noise reduction if needed, then send the image to Photoshop:

3 900x563 Lumenzia for Easy Luminosity Masking

Go Window>Extensions>Lumenzia

Go Window>Extensions>Lumenzia and the Lumenzia interface will appear – I like to drag it into the right hand tools palette so it’s not encroaching on the work area.

The first thing that amazed me about Lumenzia is the fact that you can create luminosity masks without creating 12 or 15 separate Alpha channels with the image – this makes a HUGE difference to the file size of the image, not just from the disc space PoV but it can also have file handling speed benefits in terms of tile rendering speed and scratch disc usage – if you don’t understand that just think of it as a GOOD thing!

For example:

5 900x560 Lumenzia for Easy Luminosity Masking

The final adjusted image (prior to a couple of tweaks in Lightroom) on the left is 271Mb including all layers being intact; the image on the right, though not yet processed, has been prepared for processing by running a luminosity mask action set and developing a stack of Alpha channels; it is now over 458Mb:

6 900x562 Lumenzia for Easy Luminosity Masking

…just because of the Alpha channels. And we have also got 50 steps of History that have to be retained by Photoshop; as you’ve now realised, the joke is that it’s double the size of the Lumenzia processed image and we haven’t begun to start making any adjustments yet!

There is lot’s more to Lumenzia, such as surface sharpening and easy dodge and burn layer creation – it’s going to take me a week to digest it all.

Prior to working with Lumenzia my one question was “how good are the masks” – well they are pixel-perfect.

Creating pixel-perfect luminosity masks is the most tedious of jobs if you do it the maual way – so much so that most folk take one look at the process and go “No thanks…..”

Photographers like myself couldn’t really help alleviate the tedium until the advent of CS6 which gave us the ability to write an ACTION that involved the operation of a PREVIOUSLY recorded action – so the luminosity mask action set was born.

But the developer of Lumenzia has topped it all by the proverbial country mile and given us a totally unique way of making the tedious and complex very easy and simple.

Once you have made your purchase you’d do well to go and watch the developer videos that are available online; you will get links to the training and support pages in your purchase receipt.

And to top it all off we can even generate Alpha channels and selections if we want or need to, and we can mask on the basis of Vibrancy and Saturation; yet another processing wheeze known by few, and used by fewer still.

The developer has given me permission to demonstrate and teach the deployment of Lumenzia, and to promote it as an affiliate.  I’ve been offered affiliate-ships before but have rejected them in the past because basically what was being peddled was either crap or too expensive; or BOTH.

But whatever you think the opinion of yours truly is worth, I can honestly say that Lumenzia is most definitely NEITHER of the above – it’s that good I’ll never use anything else ever again, and at under 40 bucks you’re going to make one hell of a difference to your images with so little effort it’s unreal.

Click HERE to buy and download

LUMENZIA – BUY IT – go on, get on with it!

lum Lumenzia for Easy Luminosity Masking

Lumenzia GUI for Photoshop CC2014


Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Your donation will help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.


Canon 1Dx & 200-400 f4 L IS USM

A Nikon users thoughts on using the Canon 1Dx and the 200-400 f4L IS USM.

D4D1006 Edit 900x879 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

The Canon 200-400 f4 L IS USM on the 1Dx – overall a staggeringly good pairing that I’m really going to miss when I have to give it back!

For years now, my “standard” wildlife photography lens has been the only 200-400f4 that was ever available, the Nikon.

An epic lens; sharp, good resolution in terms of line pairs per millimetre, and most importantly a boon to in-camera composition. It makes an excellent job of everything I ever ask it to do, from cute Red Squirrels 2 metres in front of me, to thumping great Norwegian Sea Eagles barreling towards me at thirty miles per hour and 30 metres out.

However; it’s not without it’s little idiosyncrasies, in fact I often describe it as “a pig” of a lens to use. Sharpness at 50 meters is questionable, and beyond 75 metres is pathetic – the bottom of a milk bottle could do better.

And it hates teleconverters as a rule – yes it’s sharp, but the resolution drops through the floor.

But if you wanted the compositional versatility that only a 200-400 can give you, then you had no option but to shoot Nikon.

Until that is, the day Canon did the unthinkable and launched their version of a 200-400 f4. And they gave it an internally switch-able 1.4x teleconverter giving you an effective 200 f4 to 560 f5.6 working range – WOW!

I first got hold of one of these babies about 4 weeks after they became available; a client at a Drummond Street workshop I was doing for Calumet brought it in stuck on the front of a 1Dx. I’d torn the lens from his poor hands before he knew what was happening, and whipped it outside, stuck the 1Dx in AF case 2, auto iso, 10 frames per second, manual exposure at 1/2000th and f6.3 and began rattling off frames of passing traffic – I was astounded by the lenses performance.

Over the following 18 months I had one or two further opportunities to “have a bash” with the 1Dx + 200- 400 combo, and it honestly impressed the “bejesus” out of me every time; so much so that I’ve recommended any Canon user that asked me to just BUY ONE. And buy one they did!

I’d also had access to a raft of CR2 raw files shot with this combo from one or two other photographers “who know what they are doing”; especially from my old pal Steve “Judith Chalmers” Kaluski of Untamed Images.

As many folk know, I run Eagle Photography workshop tours to Norway every now and again, and with a winter workshop in February 2015 coming up I was thinking that 200mm to 560mm would make this lens perfect for Norway.

Seeing as I “sold” half a dozen of these lenses for Canon I reckoned they owed me a favour – big time.

So I had a word in a few ears at Calumet, and Reece Piper kindly sent me a 1Dx on loan. Canon UK were not quite so forthcoming – basically saying they hadn’t the stock availability to lend me one for upwards of a month. But my favourite Geordie Lass June Lown came to the rescue and volunteered her newly acquired 200-400, bought on the recommendation of yours truly, for the testing and trip to Norway.

So the scene was set for an epic journey into the inner workings of the lens and the 1Dx you have to hang off the back of it in order to get the “best?” out of it.

Testing & Evaluation

Back in the days of yore, when we all shot film, lenses were tested on a full optical test bench, and the MTF charts produced thusly actually meant something. If the lens tested good, but you got soft images you KNEW you had a camera body lens mount problem, or that the pressure plate that held the film in the proper plane was distorted.

But now, certain manufacturers don’t even measure MTF – they use a calculator to work them out based upon theoretical values NOT real ones. And then we have entities like DXO Labs, who test lenses on cameras. This is lunacy if you are wanting to know about TRUE LENS performance, simply because the quality of lens output (the image projected into the sensor plane) is effected by the vagaries of the item that lives there – the sensor!

And on top of that, when testing under non-laboratory conditions, the performance of the lens is further clouded by inaccurate or unsuitable camera settings, especially those pertaining to auto focus.

So field testing of lenses is not simply a case of “point – squirt – evaluate”; it has to be done with more than a modicum of intelligence when it comes to camera AF settings. You have to do TWO things:

1. UNDERSTAND COMPLETELY how the AF system works and what the parameter control adjustments actually do.

2. Evaluate your subjects behaviour in terms of the aforementioned parameters and adjust them accordingly.

You may be interested in acquiring, for a small fee, my pdf guide to Long Lens Autofocus for Canon & Nikon systems.

Previous experience with the 1Dx had led me to treat the camera with a little trepidation for one single reason – its sensor. As a Nikon user I am used to working with sensors which have perhaps the highest Dynamic Range, lowest Base Noise, and highest Signal-to-Noise (S/N) ratios of any popular 35mm format camera body.

KF1 900x625 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

On the left is a Canon 1 Dx CR2 file, right is a Nikon D4 NEF file. Both images were shot at identical ISO, aperture, Ev comp and shutter speed within milliseconds of each other on a dual camera rig. The birds cheek patches are “blown” on the CR2, but the highlight detail is all there in the Nikon file.

This is indicative of the shorter Dynamic Range of the 1Dx sensor. The common perception is that the Nikon D4/4s sensors have roughly 1.5 stops greater dynamic range than the Canon 1Dx – this in effect means that the Nikon speed machine can cope with a least DOUBLE the subject brightness range that the 1Dx can handle.

Note: I find enabling Highlight Tone Priority, shooting menu tab 2 setting D+, does NOT sort the problem out in high contrast situations like this – it just gives you problems with the darker tones in the image.

So are there any other “sensor vagaries” on the Canon 1Dx that can effect the overall image quality – you betcha there is…

When I picked the camera up from Calumet I also “accrued” the 100mm f2.8 L macro lens, specifically to test the sensor base noise levels on a studio hi-speed flash shot I wanted to do. I had already done the setup shots the day before on the Nikon D4, as part of my drive to show single-body owners how versatile they can be with their photography.

You can read my article on the 1Dx sensor noise HERE

GX2R6630NTM 800x900 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

Canon 1Dx + 100mm f2.8 macro. Nikon SB800 flash & Calumet ProSeries wireless.

The original CR2 file looks like this (left) and the Nikon setup shot is on the right:

GX2R6638b 900x640 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

But if we open the images in Photoshop and use a standing wave curves layer over the top of them – as we would do when retouching the images – we see the extreme pattern noise in the 1Dx sensor (above), while we have virtually none in the Nikon file.

GX2R6638c 900x640 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

We can see more clearly the pattern noise in the 1Dx sensor if we view the images at 100% magnification.

fullREZ2 900x615 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

Custom Curve layer at 100% – now that pattern noise on the Canon sensor is obvious.

We can derive from this shoot/test that the Canon 1Dx is a bit more “photon-hungry” than your average Nikon pro body sensor, but then doesn’t have the dynamic range capability to cope with lots of photons when it sees them.

Now let’s be real about all this for a moment; the 1Dx sensor is old tech in all fairness to Canon, though I’ll counter that by throwing the venerable Nikon D3 into the argument – that body is older than a 1Dx and has a sensor that performs far better in both dynamic range and base noise departments.

In reality though, the pattern noise, though always present in 1Dx images, is usually hidden or masked by actual image/subject detail so that, for the most part, you don’t see it AT ALL – just don’t try going for low ISO when photographing the “Black Cat in the Coal House at Midnight”, with a 1Dx if you have an aversion to heavy Photoshop work.

As I said before, as a Nikon user, the sensor output of the 1Dx leaves me grimacing a little to say the least. But, climbing back on the fence of neutrality I can see that dedicated Canon users might not notice the problems I see if only on the basis of “what you’ve never had you never miss”.

And as I was to discover, there’s something of a bonus with this sensor that this Nikon user was not expecting…..more later.

The ongoing banter between Nikon and Canon users is all very well, and usually good for a bit of a laugh between fellow photographers BUT, the reality is this – ALL pro level 35mm format camera bodies from either Canon or Nikon have their good points and bad points; and not a single one stands head- and-shoulders above the rest ON ALL COUNTS.

“What the Lord giveth with one hand, he taketh away with the other” is definitely the one saying that springs to my mind when I get asked about cameras! If you know what you are doing it doesn’t matter which one you use, you’ll invariably find 10 things wrong with it in the first 30 minutes!

I don’t like the feel of the 1Dx – it feels like I’m holding a brick – BUT SO WHAT?
I hate the menu system – it’s mental – BUT YOU GET USED TO IT
I dislike the sensor output – BUT IT’S FIXABLE for the most part.
Buttons & button+button or dial combos – COME ON GUYS, I’m neither double jointed or gifted with four hands!

There used to be a very large version of this image on the web that sums up Canon buttons, but I can only find a small version of it now:

post 958 1312724019 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

Sadly the “Call Spock” button will not work any more – RIP L.N.

My list of gripes and niggles about the 1Dx could go on but, sensor output notwithstanding, that list could be easily matched or exceeded by my list of niggles about Nikon cameras! So expanding on them any further is a pointless exercise.

Likewise, comparing the two 200-400s as separate lenses is a somewhat pointless activity too – they are different beasts by a country mile, and I would liken the task to attempting a comparison between the iconic Z28 Pontiac Firebird and the equally iconic Aston Martin DBS – as I said, pointless.

But I feel justified in comparing certain aspects of the camera bodies, and seeing as I have already dealt with the sensor comparison to a degree, I’ll now look at the other main fundamental difference I see between Canon and Nikon; and that is the autofocus system.


I am going to make a very broad and sweeping statement now, and that is Canon autofocus is generally better than Nikon autofocus – FACT.

What do I mean by better?

I mean that it is more controllable and furnishes the user with a greater ability to tailor the autofocus to suit the behaviour of the intended subject. But the more eagle-eyed reader will have spotted my use of the word “generally”; that is there to indicate a caveat – and the caveat is this:

Only if you know what you are doing!

If you DON’T, and you start fiddling with settings such Acceleration/Declaration tracking, then you risk getting in a proper old mess and you’ll wish you HAD bought Nikon!

My soon-to-come Autofocus Guide to Nikon and Canon – available from this very boutique – goes into the nitty-gritty of autofocus in great detail – so buy it..

In a nutshell, you can tailor the Canon autofocus system to cope with how the subject moves ALONG the lens axis; that’s where your AF has to do the most work. Is it moving towards the camera at a constant speed, or is it moving towards the camera in a stop-go-slow-fast-slow manner? With the Canon 1Dx AF system you have 5 different settings you can use to cover this manner of movement. And these settings are all independent of your AF point group settings.

On a Nikon you have NO independent way of setting the camera to cope with this aspect of subject movement. Using a nine point group on a Nikon tends to favour subjects that move in a constant direction and speed, while the 21 point group favours the more erratically moving subject; which has always seemed a little silly to me and somewhat short-sighted of Nikon.

After 6 weeks of working with the 1Dx in conjunction with the 200-400mm on all manner of moving subjects in terms of size, speed and proximity to the camera I have come to the conclusion that only Cases 2 & 6 are of any real use to me as a wildlife photographer. But I have a tendency to select Case 3 and modify it in terms of Tracking Sensitivity and Acceleration/Declaration Tracking as a scene/subject presents itself.

The third parameter adjustment – AF Point Switching – for the most part I have tended to leave at the default setting of 0, though a setting of 1 has proved useful when dealing with the more erratically moving subject when you too are moving somewhat erratically, such as being in a small boat at sea.

GX2R1779 900x600 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

White-tailed Eagles locking talons – 1Dx + 200-400 hand held from boat, AF Case 6, 9 point AF expansion, AF point switching +1, Manual Exposure, Auto ISO 1/2000th, f6.3 ISO 640

For the sort of work that I do within this focal length range, I would only ever use the AF Area Modes of Spot, Expanded (what I call 1 with 4 friends) and Expanded AF Surround ( 1 with 8 friends). Under NO circumstances do I want to leave the camera to decide on what part of the subject I’m focussing on, so Zone and Auto are off my radar. For the same reason I never use the 3D tracking mode on my Nikons. But having said that, I can very well envisage photographers using much shorter focal lengths benefiting from the other modes in certain circumstances due to the greater inherent depth of field they have at their disposal.

But what impresses me most is the speed of the AF using this camera and lens combination, it makes my D4 and Nikon 200-400 look like a clockwork toy; even though I always thought it was fast enough….

GX2R1935 900x555 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

1Dx + 200-400 hand held from boat, AF Case 6, 9 point AF expansion, AF point switching 0, Manual Exposure, Auto ISO 1/2000th, f6.3 ISO 640

I only hit the AF activation on this bird a split second before the shot was taken – razor sharp, see for yourself:

GX2R1935cu Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

So, I get to this juncture and have to start asking myself a couple of questions:
1. Would this shot, for instance, look even better via a Nikon D4/D4S sensor ?
2. Would I have got this particular shot using the D4 or a D4S and my Nikon 200-400?

The answer to the first question is YES – it would; there would be somewhat less noise for starters, and the extra dynamic range would at least facilitate easier processing. Being so used to NEF files I find I have to do a more delicate balancing act between highlight and shadow tones when processing 1Dx CR2 files.

Using the 1Dx I’m a lot more concious of the fact that I need to “watch” my highlights when shooting, and that when it comes to processing it’s like I’ve gone back to 12bit RAW files – and it’s years since I’ve processed one of those babies!

The answer to question 2 though is a little more problematic. Under the EXACT same circumstances the answer is most likely a NO as it was basically “snap-shot”, and that sort of shooting rarely works out too well on Nikon using an f4 lens when a fast-moving subject is right on top of you.

Using an f2.8 would have pulled this shot off under the same circumstances without a problem.

Had I framed up on this eagle 4 or 5 seconds beforehand and let the AF track it until it got to this position then YES I would have got the same result; as long as I had been in a 21 point group. But I usually don’t favour a 21 point group on Nikon because it’s just that bit harder to be precise – I want focus on the eagles eye and I couldn’t give a you-know-what about its other bits – so I usually opt for a 9 point group.

Bearing in mind that this bird is DECELERATING RAPIDLY, the Nikon 9 point group and its fixed “speed tracking preset” might allow the predictive side of the Nikon AF system to advance the focus a little closer to the camera than needed at the moment the shutter opens; because the “preset” is more geared toward a CONSTANT subject speed.

And seeing that the camera isn’t exactly stable either, being in a small boat, the new Nikon 4 point group might have made an even bigger cock-up because it always attempts to focus on the nearest point – which ISN’T the eagles eye.

It’s all about the Accel/Decel tracking…..(ADT – my acronym!)

On the 1Dx Canon give you 5 totally independent ADT settings, and Nikon give you 2 fixed presets which are enslaved to separate AF point groups.

Shooting large subjects at distance – such as football – makes for light work in terms of ADT and predictive AF due to the inherently large depth of field for any given f-number. But shoot smaller, faster moving subjects at much shorter distances and those same ADT settings will make a huge difference to the focus accuracy of the captured image.

When shooting somewhat slower moving subjects I always like to switch to a single AF point and place it over the subjects eye.

I like the Spot AF setting on the 1Dx for this sort of work, especially when I can get the composition I want using one of the centre diagonal cross-type sensors, as in this Lynx below:

GX2R3322 Edit 900x600 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

1Dx + 200-400 at 400mm AF Case 2, spot AF, Manual Exposure, Auto ISO 1/250th, f7.1 ISO 1000 IS Pos 2 – just because I could!

GX2R3162 Edit 900x600 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

1Dx + 200-400 at 400mm AF Case 2, spot AF, Manual Exposure, Auto ISO 1/250th, f7.1 ISO 200 IS Pos 2 – just to see HOW low I could go!

The Arctic Fox above is shot with Spot AF using a conventional cross-type sensor from the centre left column.

The Wolves below are shot with a diagonal cross-type sensor from the centre column placed over the right eye of the wolf in the middle of the shot, but this time I’m in AF point expansion – 1 with 4 friends – with AF point switching set to +1. This covers off any movement of the wolfs eye up, down, left or right and increasing the point switching from 0 to +1 means that the active Af point will switch to one of those “4 friends” in order to follow the eye if I can’t move the camera fast enough:

GX2R3715 Edit 900x600 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

1Dx + 200-400 at 366mm AF Case 2, single point AF expansion, Manual Exposure, Auto ISO 1/1000th, f7.1 ISO 4000 – I’m being a bit more sensible now – if you call standing taking pictures of this pair of bad boys with nothing twixt me and them except fresh air sensible!

Canon Spot AF uses just the centre portion of the selected AF sensor and so you can do some very precise focussing using this AF mode.

Where I find it a real boon is when working off a tripod or from a hide where the camera is rock steady on some form of gimbal or ball head, as in this type of shot. And it really comes into its own when using the 1.4x built-in TC on the 200-400:

GX2R0154 Edit Edit 900x600 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

As you can see from the screen-grab below I have a single AF point selected and located exactly where I want it:

Screen Shot 2015 03 02 at 10.33.21 900x638 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

What you can’t see is that Spot AF – which I think Canon ought to re-name “precision” – is only using the centre portion (perhaps 50%) of the area marked in red; so the main focus is concentrated where the eagles beak has dug into the side of the Pine Martens head – very cute and cuddly I must say…

Autofocus Conclusion:

Nikon AF is rather “simplified” and to be honest it has served exceptionally well over the years. But the one niggle I’ve always had is that I WANT to dictate what the AF does, and how and when it does it – I loathe and detest being dictated to, especially by some algorithm written by lab tech who wouldn’t know his “arse from his elbow” when it comes to a good picture.

It’s as if those Nikon guys think I’m an idiot and they know best – it’s not true fellas!

In all fairness, they sell cameras to folk who “aspire”, and those folk need some sort of instant gratification. Also, those same folk would not do the sort of photography that I do “as norm” – yes, I AM NIKON; but I am also a minority!

So I can see why Nikon make use of “preset averages” in a lot of their control algorithms – I just wish they made pro versions of their cameras with a lot of these so-thought-of Intelligent functions left out; I for one would certainly be a lot more chilled out of they did.

Canon have always been notorious for crediting their users with more than a modicum of intelligence, yet they still give the “L plate” folk half a chance by offering certain levels of automation and presets.

As someone who uses all the facilities on a camera body close to the boundaries of their design criteria – and sometimes past ’em! – I find the 1Dx AF system fabulous in terms of both speed and tractability, and it negates all the niggles and gripes about the Nikon system that I have soon got to return to….

Unless of course some retailer, or those lovely guys at Canon take pity on me!

A Nikon Users Final Judgement on the 1Dx + 200-400mm f4 L IS USM

For the least 6 weeks I’ve been on something of a journey that’s for sure.

Strange “buttonograhy” has caused me some head-scratching! I’m a back button focus man myself, so no prizes for guessing which button has given me most confusion – that’s right, the STAR BUTTON!

My brain simply cannot retain what its function is, so when I hit it accidentally with a gloved thumb, I’ve developed a really simple remedy for getting rid of it – TURN THE CAMERA OFF then back on again! That’s a proper Andy Pandy fix that is!

When I get into situations where my subjects are moving into and out of the sun, and scene contrast changes constantly, I still adopt my preferred method of shooting, and that is FULL MANUAL with auto ISO.

The venerable Nikon D3 didn’t handle this too well; the ISO was always a “little sticky” at at coming back down to the lower numbers. The D4 is a lot better, but still comes a little unstuck from time to time.

The Canon 1Dx has performed flawlessly and has just come back from 7 days in Norway where it has been permanently in Manual Exposure with Auto ISO from the very first to the very last frame of the trip, and the Auto ISO function has performed perfectly on every frame.

Here is a situation where this method of shooting paid dividends, with one of the most rarely seen raptors on the planet – the Goshawk:

GX2R4008 900x600 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

Goshawk in the rain – 1/60th sec, f5.6, Manual Exposure + Auto ISO 12800

We were in the darkest heart of a chunk of Boreal Forest, at dawn, and it was chucking it down with rain – gloomy is not a word that does the lack of light justice.

Like a ghost this male Goshawk materialises in front of us and we need to get the shots. With so little light, and the teleconverter switched in we need to pick the shots off each and every time the bird stops moving its head. So the fastest speed we can use is 1/60th sec, which on a gimbal mounted rig at 560mm is just do-able with good technique.

Slipping the IS into Mode 2 and using Spot AF continually on the Goshawks eye we got a large number of razor sharp images in the poorest light I think I have ever shot in.

Here is a 100% crop from that image:

GX2R4008 2 900x600 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

Now considering that this image is from a sensor that I’m not overly keen on, let’s compare it to a shot on a sensor I’m usually far happier using – that of a D4S, that happened to be about 3 feet to my left and operated by a client, Mr. Paul Atkins, using the Nikon 200-400:

D4S5252 900x600 Canon 1Dx & 200 400 f4 L IS USM

The same 12800 ISO, both these shots are pretty much straight from the sensor with minimal processing.

Well, I know which I prefer, and it isn’t the one done with a black lens!
A lot of folk think 400 ISO is high – well it isn’t; even though it used to be.

As I have said before in this article, the 1Dx sensor – as far as this Nikon user is concerned – is a little short in the performance stakes; but is it?

At more conventional speeds below 3200 ISO I firmly come down on the side of Nikon.

From 3200 ISO to 5000 ISO I don’t think there is much between them, but above 5000 ISO the Canon 1Dx excels by a country mile; and Nikonophilles can argue the toss with me ’til the cows come home – but I have the images to prove it – so “boo-hoo, sucks to you chaps”…

With all DSLRs, as we increase ISO we shorten Dynamic Range, but it would appear that, even though the 1Dx is shorter than a D4S in that department to begin with, it hangs on to it a lot longer – and that means more images you can make money from; or win competitions with, which ever floats your boat.

When the end of the Universe comes and it’s “lights out” for everyone, just make sure you’ve got a 1Dx in your hand – Shutterstock and Getty will rip your arm off for the shots ‘cos they’ll still be around somewhere, and God won’t get rid of them that easy!

Sadly, I’ve got to give the 1Dx back to Calumet so that they can hire it to some un-appreciative plebs and recoup the dough they’ve lost while yours truly has been jollying it up with the Vikings.

And as for the glorious 200-400, well, that’s got to go back to the lovely June Lown who loaned it to me in the first place.

So many thanks to June, and to Reece Piper from Calumet for agreeing to the long loan 1Dx, and to John Willis from Calumet Manchester for knowing everyone, and for “lubricating the gears” that make the world go around.

In closing I suppose I need to answer the question I’ve been asked a lot since word of my Canon-ising escaped into the general UK wildlife scene – am I ditching Nikon?

No is the short answer; not even if I could afford to.
BUT, if I could afford to I WOULD buy a 1Dx and 200-400 f4 L IS USM – today!

I would dump my Nikon 200-400, but keep the D4/D4S for use with a big prime. But given the choice my standard wildlife “go to” lens would be the Canon 200-400 in conjunction with a 1Dx. It would get more shots than it would lose me, and Canon can always get rid of my gripes about the sensor by upgrading it – as long as they don’t lose the superb high ISO performance.

Right, that’s it – I’m off to go curl up in a corner of my office and cry at the thought of giving this gear back to its rightful owners….

I WANT THIS RIG…do I really have to give it back?

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