An Update on Brazil’s Pantanal

Young female jaguar in Pantanal.

I’ve traveled to the Brazil’s Pantanal region several times to photograph jaguars, Toco toucans, giant anteaters, and other amazing wildlife. This part of the world reminds me to Tanzania. There’s wildlife at every turn and the photo opportunities are amazing.

During the summer of 2020 we started seeing news reports in the US about the horrible fires in the Pantanal. One especially heartbreaking photo showed a jaguar rescued from the flames in a rehab facility with bandaged paws.

Fellow photographers were sending me links to news reports. So I thought I’d send an email to Charles Munn, founder and owner of SouthWild. SouthWild is the tour company Strabo Photo Tour Collections uses to coordinate all my trips to Pantanal.

Here’s the update Charles Munn sent about the Pantanal:

The pantanal is half the size of California.
It is and always has been a fire-adapted ecosystem, designed to have periodic dry season fires, originally set by lightning prior to humans arriving 12,000 years ago, and then set every year or two or five by humans.
The plants and animals evolved with periodic, widespread fires, for perhaps 100,000 years.
The Pantanal had a longer, drier dry season this year than any time in the last 47 years.  The extra dry year and the fires set by some ranchers here and there have caused about 25% of the Pantanal to burn.  By early October, the fires were done and the first rains have started, thankfully.
“A report from 3 weeks ago from two naturalist guides at different times in different boats ..(the guides who have guided for SouthWild) said that they racked up 18 good Jaguar sightings in a week. That is a high or extra high number of sightings.   Yet another colleague had 11 Jaguar sightings in 2 days.  All of these Jaguar results involved NO assistance from radio calls from other boats, because the pandemic has reduced boats in Jaguarland to the point where there is no radio system this season.
There was a lot of fire in the heart of Jaguarland in August and September, but it is done now, and all of these Jaguar reports have come from AFTER the fires were over.
None of our lodges in the Pantanal has had its birding trails or lodges affected by the fires. There were some fires near SWP lodge, but the fire was kept out of the forests that we use for birding.
As tragic as the fires have been, they now are done, and it would appear that things will look pretty normal normal next year, that is assuming that rains that have started in Oct will intensify in Nov and continue for the normal rainy months of Dec, Jan, Feb, March.

Charles Munn

“One more detail I should make clear:
Most of Pantanal is …seasonally flooded (and then seasonally dried out) grasses..
not forest
for decades, perhaps millennia, the Three Brothers River in the heart of Jaguarland has a thin ribbon of forest along 80% of the riverbank, and just grasses along the remaining 20%.
where there is forest along the riverbank, it averages only 20 meters wide….almost nothing…..
and in many places it is only 10 meters wide
and then all the rest of the habitat behind this narrow gallery forest…for km and km…. is …grass…..
Therefore, the fires were worse this year than in decades, but the Pantanal is designed to survive and bounce back from fire.

Charles Munn

I hope Charles’s information adds to what you’ve read or seen in the US news. My hope is to one day return to the Pantanal and enjoy the fabulous photography and people in that area of the world.

My Photos From Pantanal if you’d like to take a look.

Canon R5 Mirrorless — Focus Stacking

My test of the Canon R5’s Focus Bracketing — or focus stacking — continues.

This is a 10-photo blend of a gulf fritillary butterfly.
A blend of 10 images gives the long-tailed skipper sharp detail throughout.
Here’s a close-up of the image above. Notice that there’s tight detail on the skipper and on the vegetation.

I’ve been working with the Canon R5’s focus bracketing (or focus stacking) since I bought the camera. Overall, I’ve been impressed. Here are my previous blog postings on this topic.

Questions have come up during my tests and in talks with other photographers.

What increment should be used? The Canon R5 comes set at increment 3. That’s a good starting point and what I used on my first tests.

I changed to increment 7 for the purple passionflower blooms. I like 7 now.

How many photos are needed for a good photo stack? Obviously, that depends on how deep the subject is. I used 10 on the long-tailed skipper and 10 on the red passionflower bloom. The skipper is much smaller than the flower.

In my tests, 10 photos seems to be a sweet spot. The Canon R5 takes less than a second to fire off the series of images. Push the shutter button one time and the camera does the rest.

I used Photoshop’s focus stacking and tried 3, 5, or 1o images. The stacks with 10 images were smoother and better aligned.

Where should the focus point be at the start of the stack? Focus should be on the closest point to the camera. That’s a lesson learned.

On the long-tailed skipper, I focused on the wing closest to the camera. In earlier tests, I focused on the head and the wing closest to the camera wasn’t sharp.

On the red passionflower, I focused on the flower in one photo. In the second photo, I focused on the buds in front of the bloom. Notice the difference?

Red passionflower bloom. Focus point at the beginning of the focus stack was on the bloom.
Red passionflower bloom. Focus point at the beginning of the focus stack was on the buds in front of the bloom. NOTE: The fuzzy area to the left of one bud needs a bit of post-processing work.

All photos were taken with the Canon R5, 100-500mm lens, 1.4x extender, f/11, ISO 400.

Questions? What’s been your experience with the R5’s focus bracketing? Does your mirrorless camera have focus bracketing or stacking? Experience?

Here’s my review of the Olympus focus stacking.

Canon R5 Mirrorless — Focus Stacking

Here’s another test of the Canon R5’s focus stacking. My more detailed post on Focus Stacking for Focus Bracketing can be found here.

Blend of 10 images merged together in Photoshop to get the entire set of blooms in focus.

Here’s a view of my menu setting for this series of photos.

Canon, Olympus, and other mirrorless systems have focus stacking. Here’s my review of focus stacking using Olympus.

So far, the Canon R5 has impressed me with its focus bracketing. I can’t wait to get out and work with it on different subjects.

Have you worked with Focus Stacking or Focus Bracketing on your camera? Results? I’d love to hear from you.

Canon R5 Mirrorless — Focus Stacking or Bracketing

Photographers have fought against depth-of-field since the beginning. To get more depth of field, we have to use a smaller aperture and that means a slower shutter speed. It’s just the way photography works.

For years, we’ve been able to take photos of a subject, focus in different places, and then blend those photos later to increase our depth-of-field. Then about 10 years ago camera manufacturers started putting focus stacking in the camera. Today, Canon calls it focus bracketing in the Canon R5.

To activate focus bracketing on the R5, go to Shooting Menu 5. The menu then offers options such as how many photos to take and how far to focus into the scene.

A little icon shows on the shooting screen while Focus Bracketing is active. Push the shutter button and the camera rapidly fires a series of photos. It doesn’t blend the photos in camera but provides the RAW files for blending later. I use Photoshop to do my blending. (Instructions are below.)

Notice the tiny imperfections in the photo on the left. Look closely at the tails. See the little blue highlights? That’s where the birds moved their tails. Focus bracketing doesn’t work well on moving subjects.

My instructions for blending a focus bracket (1) Open all the photos in Photoshop in a Layer. In Bridge, highlight the photos then select Tools>Photoshop>Load Files into Photoshop Layers. In Lightroom, highlight the photos then select Photo>Edit In>Open in Layers in Photoshop; (2) Select all the photos once they are in the Layers Pallette; (3) Select Edit>Auto Align; (4) Select Edit>Auto Blend, (5) Select Layer>Flatten.

I suggest you focus a bit closer than needed for your first photo of the series. That way you get some foreground in focus.

Have you tried focus stacking or focus bracketing? Success?

Canon R5 Mirrorless — Autofocus with Fast Birds

I finally got a chance to sit on the beach and play with the Canon R5’s autofocus. At heart, I’m a bird photographer. How would this new camera function on fast moving birds? My DSLR is a Canon 1Dx. I hoped the new mirrorless had autofocus equal to or better than that camera.

Another shot from the series of the reddish egret fishing. The autofocus is set to stay on the eye of the bird. ISO 3200, 1/8000 shutter speed, f/10, spot meter, 100-500mm lens, 1.4x extender.

Can the autofocus on the Canon R5 separate one bird flying from a flock of birds? I took 14 frames of this black skimmer flying into a group of birds roosting on the beach. Below you can see the first seven frames plus bloopers.

The R5 fires 14 frames a second so the above is only 1/2-second of shooting. What happens next?

Settings on the above: Aperture Priority, ISO 640, Shutter speed 2000, f/10, spot meter, Servo, Large Zone AF Horizontal, AF-2, 100-500mm lens at 500mm with 1.4x teleconverter.

On small birds like this semipalmated plover, the R5’s autofocus was spot on.
Flying osprey and the R5’s autofocus was right on target.
Quick and tiny sanderling was no match for the Canon R5’s autofocus. Got the shot!

Conclusion — the Canon R5’s autofocus system is equal to – if not better – than the Canon D1x’s system.

What’s been your experience with the R5? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Next up — Canon R5’s focus stacking.

Canon R5 Mirrorless — High ISO

Below you’ll see photographs taken with the Canon R5 mirrorless and the 100-500mm lens with the 1.4x attached. That’s 700mm hand-held.

I thought it would be interesting to photographed at different ISO settings.

ISO 3200

The above photos at ISO 3200 are perfectly acceptable. The first photo is cropped to 100%. The second image is enlarged to show detail. Probably enlarged to 200%+.

ISO 5000

Above is an image from the same session. The first photo is enlarged to 100% and shot at ISO 5000. The second is highly enlarged to show the grain and quality.

ISO 32000

I decided to really push the R5. I raised the ISO to 32,000. The first photo is cropped to 100%. The second photo is enlarged even more to show the grain.

At ISO 32,000 we finally start to see unacceptable grain. Still nice but grain is obvious.

All photos have been processed in Adobe Camera Raw. I used a bit of Noise Reduction. The slider was moved to 25 in the first two images and 50 in the last image.

What do you think?

Canon R5 Mirrorless — Autofocus on Hummingbirds

I headed out with the Canon R5 in hand attached to the new 100-500mm lens and 1.4x extender. This would be my first time to try action photography with the R5 and first outing for the 100-500mm.

Ruby-throated hummingbird; photographed with the Canon R5 and 100-500mm lens

I decided to work with hummingbirds. These little gems are a challenge for any action photographer. Right now, we’re in the middle of hummingbird migration on the Upper Texas Coast so I knew there would be plenty of subject.

Kleb Woods Nature Park in Tomball, Texas, has 15+ hummingbird feeders this time of year and usually attracts lots of hummers. I wasn’t disappointed. From 12:30 to 2:30 pm on a warm Saturday afternoon I shot 1326 photos. After basic editing in Adobe, I had 494 keepers. I was super happy with 110 of my photos. Not bad for two hours of work.

Overall, I was very pleased with the R5 and 100-500mm lens.

In one feeding series, I shot 49 images as a ruby-throated hummingbird flew in and out to the feeder. The ruby-throat flew in, took a drink from the feeder, hovered, took another drink, hovered, took a drink, hovered , drank, hovered, drank, hovered, drank. Six sips of nectar with hovering in-between. I kept 39 photos out of that session. 39 out of 49, or 80%, is not a bad success rate with hummingbirds.

In another series, I took 90 photos as a hummer visited the feeder. That group had 23 shots that were worth keeping because they were sharp and in focus. That 25.5% or a quarter keepers.

Within about an hour, I figured out settings with the new camera and got into the groove of photographing hummingbirds in flight. I’ve photographed hummingbirds like this hundreds of times, but this was the first time I let the camera take the lead.

I set the R5’s auto-focus and then I let it do the work.

I found the greatest success with (1) Servo, (2) Subject to Detect: Animals, (3) Servo AF 2, (4) Large Zone Horizontal AF. Yes, this last one is a big change for me. (I’ve always been a single-point autofocus person.)

An hour into the shoot, I fired off 22 shots of a male ruby-throated hummingbird during one feeding session. That series lasted less than a minute and I threw away two. Keeper ratio 22 out of 24.

An auto-focus system should be able to do a pretty good job when there are only two objects in a frame: feeder and hummingbird. What happens when the hummingbird is at a bush with foliage in every direction?

I stepped over to a hamelia bush to continue testing the Canon R5’s autofocus capabilities. When a hummingbird flew down to a flower, I took 36 shots and kept 6. That’s only 16% keepers but several of those were tossed in the trash because the bird had its back to the camera.

When a hummer came in to feed on the hamelia and there was a clean background, my keeper rate was 100%. The Canon R5 kept the bird in focus the entire time it visited the flower — and I kept the camera on the bird.

What happened when there were several items in the frame?

In one series of photos, I had a feeder with three hummers hovering around the feeder. The Canon R5 kept focus on the hummer in the center of the frame. It’s autofocus system didn’t get distracted by the hummer on the right edge of the frame or the one on the left.

Through the viewfinder of the R5, we see tiny blue dots flashing on the subject to let us know that the camera’s found the subject and is in focus. These dots are similar to the red dots we see on the Canon 5D Mark IV or the D1X. Nice confirmations to let us know the camera is doing its job.

Check back for my review of the R5’s ISO.

Playing With Bubbles

Patterns in a bubble that look like a planet.

We learn so much about photography when we play. The photo above is a simple bubble but the view is magical.

Here’s what you need to create this photo.

1/8 of a cup of water, 1/8 of a cup of dish liquid, 2 tablespoons of glycerin, small dish, long straw. Lightly mix the three liquids in a small dish. Lightly mix is the key.

Put the dish on a black background.

Camera on a tripod with a lens focused to minimum distance. I used a Canon R5 with a 24-105mm lens. Shutter release is helpul but off-camera flash is the magic. Camera in the Manual mode, f/16, 1/200th of a second shutter speed, ISO 500, flash at ETTL. This means that your flash is going to do the work since the camera’s light meter won’t be balanced.

Put the straw in the liquid and slowly blow. Your goal is to create one bubble. If you blow fast, you get lots of little bubbles. One bubble and slowly blow to make that bubble bigger and bigger. The bubble will stay for one or two minutes thanks to the liquid solution.

Things that will drive you crazy are (1) reflections from overhead lights, (2) reflections from nearby windows, (3) reflection from the flash.

My advice is to “work it” to get rid of all those reflections. Turn off the lights, set-up away from a window, and hold the flash to the side. If you have a softbox handy or diffuser handy, then use those.

Wishing you success. This is a fun one!

Learn more about photography in my online classes.

Canon R5 — First Impression

Canon R5 photo taken at 1/40 of a second shutter speed, f/4, ISO 1600, hand held. See below for 100% enlargement.

A RAW file that is a whooping 51MB to 54MB! That’s huge.

Let Me Concentrate on the Body:

On/Off switch is on the top left. Perfect placement for left thumb activation.

View finder is incredibly bright.

With meter balanced, I love that the viewfinder lightens and darkens as the camera is pointed at lighter and darker areas.

If you are too close to focus on your subject, there are tiny, thin orange lines along each corner of the viewfinder. Those lines turn white when the subject is close enough to focus on.

Focus indicator boxes are blue in Servo and green when the camera is set to One Shot. I don’t often shoot in One Shot but this is a nice visual reminder for those who move between the two auto focus modes.

The icons for front dial or back dial are visible through the viewfinder. These are visible as well on the back of the camera if using live view.

M-Fn button on the top right front just like in the 5D Mark IV. Push the M-Fn button, and you can quickly change ISO, white balance, drive, focus, or exposure compensation. Click the M-Fn button with the tip of your finger, lean the finger over, and rotate the quick dial on the front. Simple to change often used items. All this can be seen through the viewfinder without taking your eye off the subject.

M-Fn button and other controls on the top of the Canon R5.

ISO is also adjustable with the back Quick Control Dial 2. I loved the ISO button on the 5D Mark IV and the 1DX. It was so easy to access. The adjustment via the Quick Control Dial 2 looks just as easy. Remember, we can also change ISO with M-Fn button.

Menu layout is exactly the same as we’ve seen on Canon cameras from the Rebel to the 5D Mark IV to the D1X. There are 30 menu items plus the green My Menu favorite.

Multi-controller button (little toggle joy stick) on the back is like the one on other Canon cameras. Lots of functions depending on what you’re doing with the camera. Convenient for my thumb on the back of the camera.

The rear focus button is right next to the multi-controller. Ergonomically, this is the right position for my hand.

The top display panel has basic information when shooting. Mode, battery level, f/stop, ISO, shutter speed, ISO are all there on top. Press the Illumination Button, though, and lots of icons appear. One glance and I can see AF mode, drive mode, white balance, release mode, meter mode, picture style, and recording card. Icons, of course, because the space is small but everything I need to know when shooting.

There’s a new “Control Ring” on the front of RF lenses. Rotate it and nothing happens. Rotate it while holding the shutter button half-way down and I can change the exposure compensation. Of course, the Control Ring is customizable.

Control ring on the front of the 24-105mm RF lens

The INFO button on the back of the camera has moved to the right of the rear display screen. Easy to access with your right thumb. Press the INFO button once for classic display screen, press again for live-view screen, press again for live-view with icons, press again for live-view with level and histogram, press again for uncluttered clean screen for live-view.

Classic display screen that’s familiar to those using Canon Rebel, 7D, 5D, and 1D models.

In one of those live-view screens, press the Q button and all the common icons show on the back of the camera for easy changing.

Live view screen with icons accessible by the Q button.

Touch screen on the back of the camera is activated with the Q button, too.

Video is activated with the touch of a button. Push the red button with your shutter finger and video is on. This is a great improvement over the twist lever and push on the Canon 1Dx and the Canon 5D Mark IV.

The R5 has in-body image stabilization. We’ve seen this in other mirrorless cameras but it’s a first most Canon cameras. This means we can hand-hold the camera and shot at lower shutter speeds. See below — I enlarge the file to 100% using 1/40th of a second shutter speed and ISO 1600.

100% enlargement at ISO 1600 and 1/40 shutter speed hand held. Should be grainy and blurry but it’s not.

Thanks to Hunt’s Photo & Video for getting this camera and lens to me. I know equipment is in short supply so my sincere thanks.