Star Trail with Canon R5 and R6

I finally got a chance to create a star trail with my Canon R5. The star trails — and night photography in general — I’ve done with mirrorless cameras in the past have been disappointing. Not so with the Canon R5 and R6. The results are just as good as anything I created with my Canon 5D Mark IV.

Star trail, or the light left behind as the Earth rotates, Texas Hill Country on a winter night.

Star trails, like the image above, are fairly easy to do.  You’ll need some equipment to capture the images and Photoshop to blend the images.  You’ll also need a dark sky with an unobstructed view.  The view above is pointing directly north at Polaris.

Equipment: Camera with a bulb setting, sturdy tripod, programmable shutter release like the Vello Shutterboss II, fully charged battery, storage card. The photo above is made up of 20 photos. More time, more photos, better spiral.

Set the programmable shutter release to take 99 or 399 photos at a 4 minute exposure with a 1 second interval. Attach the programmable shutter release to the camera.  (Suggestion: Do this inside in the light because it’s darn hard to read the instruction book in the dark when you’re trying to shoot.)

Before walking outside, set your camera’s focus to infinity. This varies by lens manufacturer so here are some tips.

Outside under a dark sky, put the camera on the tripod and point it at the North Star for a star spiral.  Compose the photo to include some foreground or an interesting subject in the foreground. 

Check your focus to make sure the lens is set to infinity. Take a couple of test shots make sure the stars are in focus.  (Suggestion: take these images at a really high ISO so the exposure is quicker.  Enlarge these photos on the LCD panel to check focus. Delete them when ready to start shooting.)

Set the camera to Bulb, f/3.5 or f/4.0, ISO 800, IS or VR off, MF.  If your lens has 2.8 then ISO 400 might be okay. A lens with 3.5 as the lowest f/stop might mean you’ll need to use ISO 800. Take some test shots to determine what works for your camera.

Make sure the camera is locked down on the tripod.  Press the “Start” button on the Vello Shutterboss II.  Monitor the first couple of shots to make sure the shutter stays open for 4 minutes, closes, and then reopens.  Let the camera keep shooting for at least 30 minutes but hours are better.

To process the images, follow these instructions precisely to create a layer blend in Photoshop. (1) Download the images into Photoshop Bridge or Lightroom. (2) Highlight all the images.(3) Click Tools>Photoshop>Load Files into Photoshop Layers. Photoshop should open with the images in a layer palette. Lightroom users click Photo>Edit>Edit in Photoshop Layers (4) All the photos will open into a layer palette in Photoshop. (5) Highlight all of the photos in the stack and change the blend mode to Lighten.  (6) Viola!! (7) Flatten the image and save.

Make any necessary exposure, contrast or other corrections in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.

Canon R5 Failing to Focus

I ordered my Canon R5 when it was announced in February 2020. The camera finally arrived in July 2020 and I was totally excited about the new experience of using this much anticipated camera.

Life was good — but the camera wouldn’t focus. The R5 was amazing 95% of the time. Yet, 5% of the time it just wouldn’t focus. It failed to acquire focus.

I shot some video footage so I could share my experience with others. I played with settings. I figured out workarounds. But, by November 2020 I felt like I was beating my head against the wall. Why wouldn’t this camera acquire focus.

Then, my R6 arrived. The R6 never refused to focus. It might hesitate here and there like the Canon 7D or Canon Rebel but it never refused to focus.

That’s when I realized something was wrong with my Canon R5. I contacted Canon Professional Services. They offered some suggestions to my settings — but nothing I hadn’t already tried.

Finally it was time to send the R5 to the shop. I shared my videos with Canon and talked with the technicians.

Here are changes to my settings recommended by Canon Professional Services:

  • AF Menu –Tab 4 – Lens electronic MF ; this is currently set to OFF.  If you set it to One-Shot-Enabled the lens will manual focus by the focus ring if shutter is half depressed. This will make it behave like a long telephoto on a EOS 1D-X body
  • AF Menu- Tab 5 – Initial Servo AF Point for Tracking;  Suggest second selection Tracking will start with the selected AF point
  • AF Menu – Tab 3  – Case 3 or 4 might work better for birds  in flight or moving objects than Case 1
  • AF Menu – Tab 4  – Switching tracked subjects – might want to try “Initial Priority”

So far, so good! I’ve used the R5 for a week and it’s worked as expected. I’ll keep you posted.

Canon R6 and a Small Bird

Snowy plovers are only 6.25 inches tall. They are not a large bird and are easy to overlook as they blend into the beach.

I found this one yesterday on the Texas City Dike in Texas City, Texas. (Is that enough Texas’ for you?). I was walking along the shore and carrying the Canon R6 with the 100-500mm RF lens and 1.4x extender.

The bird let me get fairly close and even let me crouch down a few times.

The camera kept focus no matter how quickly the bird scurried along the beach.

All were shot with Aperture Priority, f10, shutter speed 2000, ISO 800, wide zone auto focus.

Canon R6 — Very Impressive

My Canon R6 arrive last week and today was the first time I had a chance to take it out for a test shoot.

I am impressed!!

My outing today was mainly to test the auto focus on the R6 compared with the more expensive R5. Conclusion: I can’t see any difference.

The Canon R6 reminds me of my Canon 5D Mark IV and I was not disappointed with the R6.

My first bird this morning was a ring-billed gull. It was just standing on the beach so not much of a challenge. Canon R6, 100-500mm lens with a 1.4x extender. Auto focus 1, Servo, one focus point.
Sanderling running on the beach. Same setting as above but using wide area auto focus. The camera stayed in focus. My job was to keep the camera on the bird.
Sanderling with the same settings as above. Remember, these birds seem to never stand still.
Royal tern in flight. Wide area auto focus. There were 10 or 12 shots in this series as the bird flew by. All were in focus.
Brown pelican going into a plunge dive. With the R6 on rapid release, I captured 10 or more shots as the pelicans did their dive. Each was in focus..

Notice that I compared the Canon R6 to the Canon 5D Mark IV when comparing auto focus capabilities. My Canon 5D Mark IV always beat my 7D Mark II in the auto focus arena. The 7D Mark II would miss a shot here and there in a series. The 5D Mark IV got all the shots in a series in focus. That’s the same thing I saw in my test today with the Canon R6. It held auto focus throughout the series without missing a single shot!

Not once today did I notice the Canon R6 hunting for the subject. I pointed the camera at the bird, the camera locked on the focus, and I clicked the shutter button. We were working as a team — the camera and me.

I’ll post a more thorough comparison of the Canon R5 and Canon R6 in the next few days. This is just the beginning.

Sequence of brown pelican diving.

Firmware Update for Mirrorless Cameras

I have to admit that historically I didn’t worry about updating the firmware in my digital SLR cameras. The cameras worked and they always worked. So why update the firmware?!

Mirrorless cameras, on the other hand, have a lot more electronics and keeping the firmware up-to-date is a good idea.

There have been three firmware updates for my Canon R5 since it was introduced. One in August, another in September, and another in November 2020. Canon wouldn’t issue these updates if they weren’t necessary. These updates fix a “bug” or tweak a setting.

Get the firmware updates from the Canon site. Sony, Olympus, and Fuji users will find the firmware updates on their camera manufacturer’s site.

Download the firmware to your computer. Then double-click to open the folder. You’ll find instructions and an EOSR5110.FIR file. The name might change with the update but the file extension remains the same.

Copy or move the EOSR5110.FIR file to an SD card. (I do this with a card reader.) Plug the card reader into your computer. Open the card reader on your computer, open the firmware update in another window, then click and drag the xxxxxx.FIR file to the SD card.

Put the SD card in the Canon R5. Turn the camera on and go to the wrench menu 5. Scroll down to Firmware Update. If you’ve done everything right, the camera will find the file and show the screen blow.

Click the OK button and you’ll see the screen below.

It’s a pretty simple process and worth doing to keep your camera in tip-top shape.

Hope this helps!

Reset Button to the Rescue

There comes a point with all good things when “too much is too much.”

Yep, same applies with camera settings. I’ve seen camera settings get tangled over the years and the only resort is to reset the camera.

This might sound like a drastic measure but it’s really not. The reset button returns the camera to factory settings. Everything is cleared out and we can start from the beginning.

Recently two friends complained that their Canon R5 had simply stopped taking good pictures. EB complained that his R5 was producing soft images. PE complained that her R5 was giving soft and noisy images.

EB called Canon and the technician suggested pushing the Reset button. After EB pushed the Reset button, the camera was back to producing lovely images.

When PE complained about her soft and noisy images I told her about EB’s experience. I also sent an email to Canon Professional Services to see what they thought about the Reset option.

“The EOS R5 does have a lot of features built into it to where the user is able to customize it for their own shooting needs. There may be some features which may change the way the camera takes pictures and sometimes if the wrong setting is set on the camera, the results may not be what some photographers are looking for. At least clearing the settings will restore the camera’s settings back to default, allowing the photographer to begin with a clean slate to customize the camera for their shooting needs.”

Canon Professional Services

I’ve seen the Reset button used over the years with great success. RE had pushed so many buttons on his Canon 600 flash that reset was the only way to make it work again. Students in class have had to resort to the Reset button when a hodge-podge of features had been set on their camera by “helpful” friends or spouses.

Nikon DSLR cameras have green buttons that reset the camera.

Our new mirrorless cameras come with settings, menu options, and features that we never dreamed of 20 years ago. It’s tempting to select everything when we first get the camera based on blog posts, friend’s advice, and YouTube videos. Yep, been there and done that.

The Reset button might be the solution when things get tangled and the camera stops producing great results.

Olympus puts their Reset button under the camera menu. Sony puts their Reset under the tool box menu.

I pass along my experiences so you’ll have a great time with your camera. Cheers!