Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Canon 1D Mark IV first experiences

Although I'm currently running at the rate of one expensive DSLR a year - a farcical renewal rate - I finally took the plunge and got the new 1D Mark IV (1D4) in early May. Since it saw only limited service the first weekend I didn't get a feel for the camera until a couple of weekends later. It goes without saying that the camera is fast, but from the AF point of view and also in terms of overall handling and motor drive speed. In line with the 1D Mark III it's more difficult to take single shots with this camera. Not impossible, but it requires attention.

But what about the image quality ? In pixels/mm2 this outranks my previous favorite - the 5D Mark II - by 27.2 full-frame equivalent pixels to 21.0 megapixels. This is around the same margin that the 5D2 bested the 1D3 (21 vs 17.1) but of course the 1D series tends to have a heavier aliasing filter. And so it is: eye-balling of the pictures suggests that for wildlife the 1D4 has around the same image quality as the 5D2, at best very slightly better. This is no bad thing, since the 5D2 produces very nice images.

Noise on the 5D2 still seems to be a little lower than the 1D Mark IV - perhaps the natural trade-off between pixel size and noise hasn't been overridden by technology advances this time. But the new Lightroom 3 beta 2 has a quite effective noise reduction filter that largely renders the difference moot. While I'd not choose the 1D4 over the 5D2 for low light landscape work, for wildlife work the fast AF on the 1D4 and the APS-H crop factor wins out in most circumstances.

Gotchas: the AF is a little cranky, since with the left-right AF assist points set and using the center focus points it liked to grab the background rather than the subject; the video option is buried in the menus unlike with the 5D2 where I can go into Live View and into Video mode with two button pushes.

Brewster's Warbler, Stirling Forest

This adult male "Brewster's Warbler" was apparently unpaired and by far the most vocal Vermivora warbler in this part of Stirling Forest. I've hardly ever seen a Brewster's, much less photographed one, so this was a special start to my day. Brewster's are Golden-winged X Blue-winged Warbler hybrids, and in fact may be back-crosses with Golden-winged. As hybrids they display quite a range of variation but they tend to be grayer, with little yellow but lacking the black throat and mask of Golden-winged. It's not difficult to see the Blue-winged heritage in this bird either.

While this is a spectacular bird its mere existence speaks to an ongoing micro-tragedy: that of the slow extirpation of Golden-winged Warbler in the NYC metro area because of the introgression of Blue-winged Warbler into the gene pool. In this competition the more numerous Blue-winged always seems to win (Lawrence's Warbler is the other side of the hybrid appearance spectrum). NJ now has no strongholds of Golden-winged Warbler, although Stirling Forest (NY) is still pretty good for Golden-winged. The nearby Old Mine Rd (NY) Golden-winged population appears primed to succumb to the local Blue-winged Warblers.

Prairie Warbler, Stirling Forest, May 22nd

Adult male Prairie Warblers, alternate plumage. This was at a scrubby area in Stirling Forest. Prairies don't seem to be all that fearful since several tee'd up to sing territorially whenever they saw me. This particular spot appeared to be at the boundary of at least two territories and the birds were so busy defending territories and attracting mates that they essentially ignored me.